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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Support for Maduro shows what "democracy" looks like to white-Left

We hear it from all sides:

Amy Goodman called him "the democratically elected president of Venezuela" on Democracy Now, 15 May 2019. Medea Benjamin of Code Pink has also anointed Nicolás Maduro "the democratically elected leader" of Venezuela. Veterans for Peace has also recently come out with a statement in support of what they are calling "the democratically elected government of Venezuela."

These opinions are very representative of what I refer to as the white-Left when it comes to the recently "elected" president of the "socialist" government of Venezuela. Examining the 2018 Venezuela election, even in brief, as I do here, can give us a very revealing view of just what "democracy" looks like to these people who seek to claim the mantle of leadership in the socialist revolution we badly need in the United States.

Not only does the Maduroist democracy they defend not pass the smell test, it stinks.

There is another reason why this trip is worth the journey. Maduro is far ahead of Trump when it comes to abuses of executive powers. Studying how he has corrupted state power and rigged elections in Venezuela, can alert us when Trump attempts to employ these same tactics here. For example, this is one Trump hasn't tried...yet, but its par for the course in Maduro's Venezuela:
The 2018 Venezuelan Presidential Election Timeline

The road to the election these white Leftists hold up as an example of democracy was long and riddled with potholes placed there by President Maduro. To shorten this narrative we will skip over the Bolivarian Revolution, the death of its leader Hugo Chávez, and Maduro's rise to power in snap elections in 2013, to more recent events framing the 2018 election.

Venezuelans queued to have their signatures on a petition for
a recall referendum validated
On 2 May 2016, Maduro's Venezuelan opposition presented a petition for a recall referendum on President Maduro to the National Electoral Council (CNE). As the recall movement gained momentum that Summer, successfully completing phrase one by collecting one percent of voter signatures in every state, the Maduro-controlled CNE extended the time frame of phrase two into 2017, so that should Maduro lose the recall vote it wouldn't trigger a new election. Instead, his vice-president would replace him.

The CNE also set very strenuous conditions for the recall vote petition drive. In 24 states in just three days in late October, they would need to collect and verify 4 million signatures from 20% of the voters. Then a week before this drive was to start, the CNE cancelled it! They cited voter fraud in the petitions they had previously certified for phrase one. An estimated 1.2 million Venezuelans hit the streets to protest the cancellation.

Mr. Maduro’s governing United Socialist Party had lost control of the National Assembly in the 2015 elections. With it now in opposition hands, the Maduro government held a special election on 30 July 2017 to elect members of a new super-body, the Constituent National Assembly (ANC), with the power to rewrite the constitution. The last time this body was convened was in 1999, and it was assembled following a referendum. This time it was convened by presidential decree. While the opposition called the election a fraud and boycotted it, more than 6000 Venezuelans ran for 545 constituent seats, but Maduro decided who could run. His wife and son were elected, and close ally, former foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez, was elected president.

Maduro's ruling Great Patriotic Pole (GPP) also won 18 out of 23 state governorships in regional elections held on 15 October 2017. To that point protests against the Maduro government had left 125 people dead and thousands wounded or in jail. That election should have taken place in December 2016, but the CNE delayed it in what many saw as a violation of the constitution, which Maduro excused, saying:
“Holding elections is not the priority. Venezuela’s priority is to recover the economy.”
A little over a year latter, elections were again a Maduro priority. The presidential election had been scheduled for December 2018. Although it wasn't a constitutional requirement, Venezuelan presidential votes traditionally took place in December. Then Maduro's ANC did something many don't think it had the constitutional authority to do, it announced that the presidential election would be brought forward from December to "sometime before May." On 23 January, Maduro told a rally of his supporters:
"They [the ANC] should find the closest date, to get this out of the way so we can begin to make a great revolution."..."If it was in my hands, the election would be this weekend."
Mexico, one of several foreign governments mediating talks in the Dominican Republic between Maduro supporters and his opposition, said it was withdrawing its support for the talks to protest the Maduro government's move.

On 7 February, the electoral season was suddenly truncated to three months when the government announced the election would be held on 22 April. That move was widely condemned in Venezuela and internationally, with many saying the results would be invalid.  For example, the NGO Foro Penal announced on 23 February that it could not endorse the election, and:
[T]hat the institute's position is based on the fact that the ANC does not have constitutional powers to call elections because it would only be empowered to write a new Constitution.

The ANC, even if it had been validly constituted and convened, and that is not the case, does not have constitutional or legal powers to interfere in the political life of the nation by calling for elections. Nowhere in the Constitution is it said that this body can make calls of an electoral type.
The Democratic Unity Roundtable [MUD], the main opposition coalition, announced a boycott. On 1 March, the date was pushed back to 20 May after a deal was made with former Lara Governor Henri Falcon to break ranks with the boycott and give the race some legitimacy by running against Maduro. Still, the Carter Center refused to send an observation team, as did many others. After the opposition protested, the UN refused to send a mission. Smartmatic the Venezuelan-owned electronic voting machine company that had been involved in the majority of the Bolivarian elections, stopped Venezuelan operations in March 2018, saying it could not guarantee the validity of election results through its machines.

The majority of the most popular leaders were banned from participating in the election by a variety of government administrative and legal procedures. These included Henrique Capriles, a candidate in the 2012 and 2013 elections. The government banned him from public office for 15 years for alleged misuse of public funds, a punishment that if applied regularly, would strip the Maduro government bare. Also banned were Leopoldo López, sentenced to 14 years for his part in the 2014 protests, Antonio Ledezma, who was placed under house arrest, Freddy Guevara, who had his parliamentary immunity removed and fled, and David Smolansky currently in exile, as well as María Corina Machado and Miguel Rodríguez Torres, former defense minister and dissident chavista.

Tibisay Lucena
Not satisfied with keeping his strongest contenders out of the race, the main opposition parties were also disqualified. All those that participated in the boycott of the 2017 municipal elections where forced to re-register with the CNE. Popular Will [VP] and Puente were banned for refusing to re-register for the second time in less than a year. Justice First wasn't allowed to re-register. Primero Justicia [PV] was invalidated. The Democratic Unity Roundtable [MUD], historically the most important opposition card, was blocked by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice. Only Acción Democrática was re-validated. On 12 April the president of the CNE, Maduro ally Tibisay Lucena, announced that the campaign for presidential elections and legislative councils would begin in 10 days and last for 25 days to end on 17 May. She also said political parties and individuals that promote abstention would be sanctioned. Maduro was bragging that 10 million Venezuelans would show up to vote. They didn't, in spite of the threats.

Teodoro Campos, opposition lawmaker and security chief of Venezuelan
presidential candidate Henri Falcón, receives help after suffering an injury
during a Falcon rally in Caracas, Venezuela, April 2, 2018. REUTERS / Rayner Peña
Henri Falcon, the only well-known name allowed to run against Maduro, saw his security adviser Colonel Teodoro Campos in intensive care after he was attacked by pro-government colectivos not ten days after Falcon had dutifully sent his representatives, along with Maduro's, to plead for UN legitimacy for what most were calling a rigged election. The UN refused.

On May Day, Maduro told supermarkets that if they raised prices ahead of the election, he would punish them because after 20 May "I'll be president anyway...by hook or by crook." A day earlier, he had mandated a 95.4% increase in the minimum wage. Since inflation surpassed 13,800% last year, that was the third adjustment that year. Conveniently, it came just three weeks before the snap election.

A poll conducted by Meganalisis, a polling company with 39 years of operation in Venezuela, between 9 April and 14 April indicated that 61.7% said they did not plan to vote, and 65.4% saw Falcon as "a collaborator" with Maduro. 85% said the country was in a “grave humanitarian crisis” and that people “were going hungry.”

Twelve days before the 20 May election, the NGO Venezuelan Electoral Observatory (OEV) issued a 50 page report detailing irregularities in the process which:
[F]rom the call made on January 23 until the start and development of the campaign, have been marked by shortening of the lapses, violations of the 1999 Constitution, the Organic Law of Electoral Processes (LOPRE) and its regulations, which cut stages that in previous elections such as the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections of 2015, went from weeks to just days in 2018.
It criticized the disqualification of candidates and outlawing of political parties, summing up:
"The OEV has accumulated enough evidence to indicate that it is an event marked by different violations of existing laws. In effect, the political rights of Venezuelans, as voters and as citizens, have been drastically limited by the rules of the game imposed by the electoral referee."
It added this about the Maduro government's treatment of indigenous people:
Also, since 2016 the electoral justice that is imparted in the country "is not impartial", citing the cases of the indigenous deputies of Amazonas who were dismissed from their positions for alleged irregularities in their election, which after two years have not been proven, while the allegations of fraud made by the candidate for the Governor of Bolívar, Andrés Velásquez in October 2017, have not been investigated.
While the CNE allowed voter two months to register at 1,300 places nationwide for the 2012 presidential election, this was reduced to 10 days, 10th to 20th of February, for the 2018 election at only 531 locations nationwide.

Food for Votes!

Probably, the most despicable thing Maduro did to win the election was to use his control of the food supplies for his starving people to buy votes. Many people would show up at Maduro rallies simply because food might be handed out. The New York Times reported, 18 May 2018:
A large majority of Venezuelans are dependent on the government for subsidized groceries distributed by local councils loyal to the president. Food has even entered the election, potentially controlling the way Venezuelans will vote.

Many people receive their subsidies using a special identity card that is playing a big role in this election. For Sunday’s vote, Venezuelans have been told to present these cards at stations run by Mr. Maduro’s governing party at polling places — so that party organizers can see who has voted and who has not.

“Everyone who has this card must vote,” Mr. Maduro has said at his campaign rallies, directly linking government handouts to voting. “I give and you give.”
These special identity cards are used in the “carnet de la patria,” or “Fatherland Card” system which was developed in 2018 with the help of the Chinese telecom giant ZTE. It is patterned after the smart card ID system Beijing uses to track the social, political, and economic activity of its citizens. Anthony Daquin, a Venezuelan technical adviser who was for the program before he saw its potential for abuse by the government, said “they were looking to have citizen control.”  He told Reuters that when he raised his objections, he was detained, beaten and extorted by intelligence agents. Last year the Maduro government spent $70 million with the Chinese telecom giant to set up the Venezuelan tracking system:
The database, according to employees of the card system and screenshots of user data reviewed by Reuters, stores such details as birthdays, family information, employment and income, property owned, medical history, state benefits received, presence on social media, membership of a political party and whether a person voted.
In November 2018, Reuters also gave this example of card misuse by the government:
When scanning their cards during a presidential election last May, employees at several government offices were told by bosses to message photos of themselves at polls back to managers, they said. A Justice Ministry document reviewed by Reuters featured a list of state employees who didn’t vote.
It further reported:
Ahead of the vote, ruling party officials urged voters to be “grateful” for government largesse dispensed via the fatherland cards. They set up “red point” kiosks near voting booths, where voters could scan their cards and register, Maduro himself promised, for a “fatherland prize.”

Those who scanned their cards later received a text message thanking them for supporting Maduro, according to several cardholders and one text message reviewed by Reuters. The prizes for voting, however, were never issued, cardholders and people familiar with the system said.
The New York Times produced this video on how Maduro used food to buy votes. It accompanied the 10 January 2019 article Venezuela Is in Crisis. So How Did Maduro Secure a Second Term?

Maduro also used Cuban doctors to coerce Venezuela voters. The New York Times interviewed sixteen doctors who had worked at Mission Barrio Adentro, a clinic in a poor neighborhood, All sixteen said they were required to participate in voter fraud. The doctors said they were ordered to tell patients that if they didn't vote for Maduro they would lose medical services. The doctors also were given counterfeit cards to vote even though they were not eligible voters. They witnessed vote tampering with officials opening ballot boxes and destroyed ballots, and they were told to instruct easily manipulated elderly patients in how to vote. In an even more desperate move, the Maduro government had other government employees dress up as fake doctors to go out and dispense medicines for votes without really knowing the medicine. “They were putting the lives of so many people at risk, the lives of children, all to win votes,” said Dr. Raúl Manuel, one of the Cubans interviewed.

Maduro's final campaign rally on 17 May was an example of corruption that Donald Trump will undoubtedly try to top because the Tal Cual newspaper called it the "greatest demonstration of corruption" for its "shameless" use of state resources. The paper published the PSUV party operational plan for the rally. Instead of assigning tasks to party members, they were assigned directly to the ministries and other public agencies: PDVSA, the state-run oil company, was responsible for the main stage, the backing, the sound system, and generators. The Ministry for Mining Development was responsible for decoration. The Defense Ministry was responsible for fireworks, and other agencies were responsible for portable toilets, refreshments, etc. The plan even specified that those closest to the stage should be militia members dressed as civilians.

When election day finally rolled around almost exactly a year ago, 20 May 2018, incumbent Nicolás Maduro won in a landslide, getting 68% of the vote in an election that had the lowest voter turnout for a presidential race in Venezuelan history, with less than half the voters casting ballots.

The countries that have refused to recognize the results of this election include Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Lucia, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Many of the countries that did recognize the results where either shaky on democratic traditions, such as Turkey and South Africa, or themselves ruled by authoritarians that pretend to be the people's choice, including Russia, China, Syria, Cuba, Iran, Belarus, and Egypt. His election was also recognized by a number of countries dependent on Venezuelan oil, including St. Vincent, Grenadines, Antigua, Barbuda, and Dominica.

Today Maduro may enjoy the militant support of the white Left, but it is estimated that he has the support of less than 20% of the people he so "democratically" rules over. He maintains his grip on power largely because the military backs him. At the beginning of the year Human Rights Watch published the result of an investigation into the lengths Maduro has been willing to go to to insure the loyalty of his army:
Venezuela: Suspected Plotters Tortured
Military Officers, Family Members Detained and Abused

9 January 2018
(Washington, DC) – Venezuelan intelligence and security forces have detained and tortured military personnel accused of plotting against the government, Human Rights Watch and the Venezuelan nongovernmental group Foro Penal said today. Authorities have also detained and tortured the family members of some suspects in an effort to determine their whereabouts.

Some detainees were subjected to egregious abuses that amount to torture to force them to provide information about alleged conspiracies. In most cases, members of the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM) or the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) carried out the arrests. More...

As we can see from the quotes from Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, and Veterans for Peace that began this post, they and many other representatives of the white Left, don't just oppose the blatant imperialist aggression coming from the US toward Venezuela, and its attempts to use popular discontent against the Venezuelan government to make mischief, they positively stand with that government against the people when proclaiming that the Maduro government has been democratically elected is to make a mockery of the term.

Kevin Zeese is a member of the Embassy Protection Collective, a group of US Maduro supporters from the white Left that have gone from fighting US imperialism to supporting the Maduro wing of the internal Venezuelan struggle by occupying the abandoned Venezuelan Embassy in the name of that government. Their support for Maduro is based on his claims to have been legitimately elected president. Because they see Maduro as fighting US imperialism, their need to support him causes them to overlook the bankruptcy of the process that kept him in power. They do this by taking the narrowest possible, and most technocratic view, of the electoral process. This is how Zeese assured Democracy Now listeners and viewers that Maduro's election was on the up and up:
I was in Venezuela last May for the re-election of President Maduro. There was actually an election. He was not a dictator. Nine million people voted. Maduro received 6 million votes. There were more than 150 international election observers, and they unanimously came out and said that it met international standards for democracy, there was no fraud, and Maduro was legitimately elected.
Those Maduro friendly international election observers that everyone cites as proof the election was fair, wrote a letter to the EU protesting that body's decision not to recognize the results of the election. Among other things, their letter made this extraordinary claim:
There was no vote buying because there is no way that a vote CAN be bought. The procedure itself precludes any possibility of anyone knowing how a voter cast her or his vote.
Of course, many Venezuelans don't believe that their "Fatherland Cards" only record if they voted, not how they voted. This is especially true because PSUV party members were telling voters that the card did record how they voted. For example Reuters reported:
Current and former Cantv employees say the database registers if, but not how, a person voted. Still, some voters were led to believe the government would know. The belief is having a chilling effect.

One organizer of a food handout committee in the west-central city of Barinas said government managers had instructed her and colleagues to tell recipients their votes could be tracked. “We’ll find out if you voted for or against,” she said she told them.
I'm sure Kevin Zeese wouldn't know anything about that. I'm sure the Maduro government is "democratic" enough for people of color as far as the representatives of the US white Left in the Embassy Protection Collective are concerned, but they would never accept this "democracy" for themselves.

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

Click here for our posts on the 2016 US Election
Click here for a list of our other blogs on Syria
Click here for a list of our other blogs on Libya

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Apocalypse Idlib - Is Assad's final assault beginning?

There is the very real fear that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, together with his Russian and Iranian backers, are starting their bloody effort to destroy the last opposition held area of Idlib. While the area has been dominated by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaeda, there are also an estimated 3 million civilians in Idlib that face immediate peril. The Russian and Syrian air forces have launched massive air strikes against civilian targets, especially hospitals. One resident, Mustapha Hassan, a father-of-five, observed:
“It is methodological destruction and expulsion because we demand freedom. This is happening under the eyes of the world. The world has no sense of humanity.”

The Telegraph reported:
Assad regime vows to crush Syrian rebellion once and for all in Idlib

By Raf Sanchez, Middle East correspondent Joseph Haboush, Beirut
9 May 2019
Assad regime forces have vowed they will crush the Syrian rebellion once and for all in the province of Idlib, saying there will be “no green buses” like the ones that allowed rebel fighters to evacuate after past defeats.

After eight months of relative quiet following a Russian-Turkish ceasefire deal, Syrian regime forces and their allies have launched a fierce air and ground assault on Idlib, the last remaining province in opposition hands.

Nearly 80 civilians, including 23 children, have been killed and 12 hospitals have been targeted by Russian and Syrian regime warplanes in the last ten days, according to the White Helmets rescue group.

Around 3 million civilians are trapped in Idlib, which is dominated by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda. Aid groups warn of mass civilian casualties and vast refugee flows if Assad’s forces launch an all-out assault.

Syrian regime troops and allied militias have so far focused their ground offensive on the southern edge of the province and this week captured the strategic town of Kafr Nabudah.

Fighters from a pro-regime unit posted a video of themselves celebrating amid the ruins of the town and warned they would push on into the rest of Idlib. “There will be no green buses this time,” one fighter said. “They will be buried under the roofs of their houses.” More...

Friends, please see the urgent plea below from medics, humanitarians and White Helmets in northwest Syria. They’re calling on us to bear witness and spread word of the massacres they’re facing. Read the full letter, share it with everyone you know, and check for ways to take action here.
We are rescue workers, medics and humanitarians struggling right now to save our people from relentless Syrian regime and Russian airstrikes. In eight years, we have never witnessed such ferocious attacks on Idlib. We are devastated that the world has turned its back on us.

We fear that the full-scale military assault we have been dreading has begun. In the past 12 days alone, 122 civilians have been killed, 22 of them children. 13 hospitals and medical facilities have been bombed with patients still being treated inside. On Sunday, three hospitals were destroyed in the space of just three hours. Kafranbel Surgical Hospital alone was bombed four times with only three to five minutes between each airstrike. Injured and sick, our patients had to run for their lives, some of them with their IVs still attached.

Already, one White Helmet volunteer has died in a double-tap strike when an airplane bombed a house and then circled back to bomb the people that had gathered to help. Separately, one of the White Helmets’ main warehouses was targeted and dozens of ambulances as well excavation vehicles used to lift people out of the rubble were destroyed. We feel responsible for the communities we serve and increasingly helpless with every blow to our capacity to save lives.

Time and time again we’ve witnessed attacks by the Syrian regime and Russia on hospitals and civil defence centres ahead of major escalations. We’ve seen it in Aleppo, East Ghouta, Daraa, and elsewhere. After those offensives, residents were forcibly displaced to Idlib — this time the people of Idlib have nowhere left to flee. With the Turkish borders closed to them, people are sleeping in the open air, without shelter.

The areas we are operating in are covered by a Russian and Turkish demilitarisation agreement that is supposed to protect civilians. But civilians are not being protected, they are being hunted. The whole time we are pulling survivors from the rubble, they are screaming the names of their children or parents or siblings and asking us if they are alive. In ambulances and in hospitals, we have the terrible job of informing them that their loved ones are dead. Many end up wishing they hadn’t made it. We are physically and emotionally exhausted and worry that the worst is yet to come.

To humans everywhere, we ask you to bear witness and spread the word about what’s happening in Idlib. Share our letter and send it to your politicians and journalists you might know.

To the guarantors of the demilitarisation agreement and members of the UN Security Council, we hold you accountable for every civilian life lost and demand you uphold your responsibility to stop the bombs.

To donor governments, we ask you to immediately allocate funding to allow the organisations on the ground to respond to the humanitarian crisis.


Medics, humanitarians and White Helmets in northwest Syria

A May 9th Washington Post opinion piece by Josh Rogin claims:
Only Trump can save Syria’s Idlib, but time is running out

There is little that can stop the brutal assault underway in northwest Syria, where Russian, Iranian and Assad regime forces have launched a major military offensive as millions of civilians flee for their lives. But the record shows that if President Trump acts to try to halt the slaughter, it will have real impact on the ground. Even a presidential tweet could save lives. Time is of the essence.

There’s a lot going on right now in U.S. foreign policy. The Trump administration is dealing with an escalating Iran crisis, North Korea missile firings, a shaky China trade negotiation and an attempt to oust the Venezuelan regime. It’s no mere coincidence that Bashar al-Assad and Moscow chose this moment to retake the last rebel-held area of Syria using scorched-earth tactics, committing atrocities along the way.

The region of Idlib holds about 3 million civilians, including 1 million children, who were moved there from across the country because they would not submit to the Assad regime. And now there is deafening silence from the international community about their brutal slaughter. More...
The Telegraph is reporting:
Evil will triumph if the West fails to act in Idlib

By David Nott and Hamish De Bretton-Gordon
11 May 2019
The final battle for Idlib, one of the last pockets of Syria still holding out against Assad, seems to have begun. With the Syrian regime viewing civilians still living in the area as terrorists, three million people face either being killed or forced to flee as refugees. And the methods being used to crush the resistance are grimly familiar. In the last 10 days, 12 hospitals have been destroyed in attacks mounted by Russia and Syria – unconscionable crimes that have proved a useful tactic for Putin and Assad but which have gone largely unchallenged by the international community. More...

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

Click here for our posts on the 2016 US Election
Click here for a list of our other blogs on Syria
Click here for a list of our other blogs on Libya

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

@DemocracyNow: Has Virginia's First Lady made cotton racist?

The campaign to force Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to resign has reached such a fever pitch that some of his opponents are now claiming that even mentioning cotton is racist. I kid you not. This bizarre assertion was prompted by the way Virginia's First Lady conducted a tour of the statehouse for a group of young pages. Since she has been a strong support for her husband and has been outspoken in backing his refusal to resign, it was only a matter of time before his opponents in Virginia Democratic circles turned their fire on her. This is how Democracy Now reported this latest outrage against black Virginians:
Virginia’s First Lady Apologizes for Handing Cotton to Black Students

Virginia’s first lady Pam Northam has apologized after she handed out cotton to African-American students touring the Governor’s Mansion and asked them to imagine being an enslaved cotton picker.

The incident came as Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, continues to resist mounting calls from within his own party to step down after claims he posed for a racist photo seen in his 1984 medical school yearbook page depicting a man wearing blackface next to a man wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Northam has denied that he is in the photo, but he did admit to wearing blackface on another occasion that same year and apologized. [Note: I blogged about this in Northam blackface: Does Democracy Now really believe most Michael Jackson impersonators are racist?]

After the latest incident, Leah Dozier Walker, the mother of one of the students handed cotton by first lady Pam Northam, said in a statement, “The governor and Mrs. Northam have asked the residents of the commonwealth to forgive them for their racially insensitive past actions. But the actions of Mrs. Northam, just last week, do not lead me to believe that this governor’s office has taken seriously the harm and hurt they have caused African Americans in Virginia or that they are deserving of our forgiveness.”
She should have never apologized. That was her big mistake. She had nothing to apologized for. But by saying in an email “I regret that I have upset anyone,” she allowed the media to break the story with what sounds like an admission of quilt, which then is spun into an example of continued racist behavior. An apology is something we will never hear from the real white supremacists, like those in the White House.

To explain why I think she had nothing to apologize for, it is necessary to bring in some facts that Democracy Now found convenient to leave out.

First to set the scene: At the end of the state Senate session, it has been the tradition that the young people who had served as pages for the Senate be given a tour of the Executive Mansion. The traditional tour focused on..well, you know what it focused on. This year Pam Northam, who was a teacher herself, decided to shake things up a little my making the history of the African American slaves that build the mansion in 1813, among other things, a much bigger part of the tour. To improve the tour she met with experts at Monticello to learn more of its slave history, and invited a speaker to deliver a program titled “How Oral History Gave Voice to Monticello’s Enslaved Community.”

The tours are normally lead by trained docents. This year Pam Northam decided to take part in leading the tours herself. Yes, this row is very much in the "tradition" of leaving no good deed unpunished.

This year the tour took place on 21 February and involved 100 pages, only 3 of which were African American. I think both Leah Dozier Walker and Democracy Now should be raising hell about the fact that so few of the pages are African American when they are 19.55% of the Virginia population, but apparently that wasn't a problem for them because they never mentioned it. The example of Virginia racism they wanted to highlight was the way the other Northam insulted the kids with cotton.

While leading a group of about 20, Pam Northam held up samples of raw cotton and tobacco, and after handing the cotton around to the group, according to daughter Alexandra Walker, she said:
"Can you imagine being an enslaved person, and having to pick this all day?"
Oh! the outrage! What an insensitive, racist thing to say!

While both Leah Dozier Walker and Democracy Now said that only the African American pages were handed the cotton, other observers said that was not the case. Although she handed it off to the page that was closest to her, who happened to be African American, it was intended for, and passed around the group. Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. (R-Franklin), whose daughter served as a page this session, said Northam handed the cotton around to all of the students:
“The first lady’s intent was to show the horrors of slavery and to make sure everyone felt the pain they felt in some small measure,”
The Washington Post interviewed ten of the pages involved in the tour, and they had a different story:
“In all 10 cases, the pages or their parents insisted that the first lady — a former science teacher — conducted their tours with sensitivity and with no special focus on the black pages.”
Walker's take was very different. She wrote a letter 25 February to lawmakers and the office of Gov. Ralph Northam to complain about the cotton incident. She said that Alexandra Walker, her eight-grade daughter was one of the three African American children she hand the cotton to, and because of that:
"[H]er visit to the Governor's Mansion left her upset and deeply offended." 
Apparently, she has a very shielded and sensitive daughter. Maybe St. Catherine's School, the elite, predominantly white female prep school her daughter attends should give her more of a real world education. If she became "upset and deeply offended" by being asked to touch cotton in the executive mansion, she will be truly traumatized by life on most city streets. Walker continued:
"Can you imagine how offended these children felt, and also how powerless they felt in that moment to advocate for themselves?  Why would ANYONE ask children to imagine something like that, let alone African American Children?  There are no words to truly convey how horrified I was to hear this account from my daughter and how outraged I am that Mrs. Northam would represent the Commonwealth in this manner." 
On 1 March she tweeted as if her daughter had once been a slave, and was now traumatized by being forced to relive it:
I do not expect for non black students or parents to understand the pain and suffering African Americans associate with cotton -  or of being asked to relive the horrors associated with the racist institution of American slavery - even in a historical context.
What utter nonsense! My grandfather began as a share cropper in North Carolina. Later, he owned the land. When my mother would take my brother and I down for summer vacations, he would have us pick cotton, among other things. He didn't do it to be mean or racist, and he didn't have us do this because we added significantly to the farm's productivity. He did this so that we would have some hands-on experience with our history.

Handling raw cotton in the executive mansion is not quite the same experience as handling it in the field, but it's a start. I wonder how many of those children where "reliving" the experience of handling raw cotton? I don't think I have since those days on my grandpa's farm some sixty years ago.

One of the convenient facts left out by Democracy Now is that the cotton bool was never actually handed to Walker's daughter by the First Lady, according the letter Alexandra wrote that her mother attached to her email. In that letter she said she did not take the cotton, but her friend did. She wrote “It made her very uncomfortable.”

BTW, Walker is more than just a concerned parent, she oversees the Office of Equity and Community Engagement at the state Education Department, and is a partisan in the current struggle for political power in Virginia. She also opposed Northam before this incident. She retweeted Larry Sabato on 9 February, and she sent out two tweets the next day criticizing Governor Northam for saying the first 20 Africans to arrive at Point Comfort, VA were treated as indentured servants:
They were brought were to be SLAVES Governor!! There is a DIFFERENCE.
These are all details Amy Goodman neglected to mention. She went on in the letter:
“The Governor and Mrs. Northam have asked the residents of the Commonwealth to forgive them for their racially insensitive past actions. But the actions of Mrs. Northam, just last week, do not lead me to believe that this Governor’s office has taken seriously the harm and hurt they have caused African Americans in Virginia or that they are deserving of our forgiveness.”
Oh, the horror! They'll want to ban handing out cotton to children. I hope that doesn't extend to cotton candy.

First a racist photo was discovered on Northam's 1984 yearbook half-page. Then he admitted to doing a Michael Jackson impersonation that same year. Then he went on national television and said that the first Africans in Virginia before racial slavery was established, were treated as indentured servants. Now his wife is going around the executive mansion handing out cotton to black kids! Is this not worst than the racists in the White House?

Walker goes on to misrepresent what actually happened. In her telling, the African American pages were singled out for this cotton treatment:
“I can not for the life of me understand why the first lady would single out the African American pages for this — or — why she would ask them such an insensitive question.”
A letter written by her daughter was attached to Walker's submission. Her daughter described the incident as “beyond inappropriate, especially considering recent events” involving Gov. Ralph Northam, and then went on to say:
“It was very testing to know I had to go somewhere, and I had no choice as to if I went, I had to be respectful, and be on my best behavior, even when the people in positions of power I was around were not doing the same.” 
Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar said “we received no complaints” after the mansion visit, but they were certainly hearing about them now.

Del. Marcia S. “Cia” Price (D-Newport News), a member of the Black Caucus had some.. She thought that cotton itself is such a symbol of racism that it shouldn't be handed to students:
“The cotton itself is a symbol of murder, rape, displacement and the radiating effects of the transatlantic slave trade that black Virginians are still experiencing today. I don’t know that you have to have actual cotton handed to the children to understand slavery was bad.”
Have these people lost their minds? Cotton itself is a symbol of murder? Then I should burn my T-shirts and blue jeans! Cotton itself is a symbol of rape? Am I condemned forever then to sleep on polyester if I can't afford silk?

African American opinion writer for The Washington PostJonathan Capehart fastened on the same way "for African Americans, cotton is not an abstraction. It is as integral to our family history as it is to the nation’s." The title of his article was Hecuva way to end black history month, which I guess he thinks fits because he published it on 28 February even though the cotton was handed round a week earlier.

While these attacks on the Virginia governor and his wife masquerade as struggles against white supremacy, they are really quite the opposite. The critical fight against white supremacy today is directed clearly at the worldwide white nationalist movement being lead by Alexandr Dugin and Vladimir Putin from Moscow, and their sycophants that have obtained (usually with their help) positions of power in the West. Their greatest success has been helping Donald Trump take the White House. In the United States, the fight against white supremacy means squarely confronting this Trump cabal, and the racist policies emanating from it everyday.

This charge that Pam Northam somehow was practicing racism when she handed raw cotton to some of the most privileged teenagers in Virginia, including three that were African American, is the practice of identity politics at its worst. It plays right into the hands of the Fox News crowd that is looking to trivialize what is really the leading threat to human existence because it stands in the way of effective action against all the others, including capitalism and climate change.

If there was one question that should have been pressed with regards to this Virginia Governor mansion tour, it is why only 3 out of the hundred pages that were on it were African American in a state in which they are 20% of the population. This question got neglected by Democracy Now in its effort to drive Ralph Northam out of office.   

Syria is the Paris Commune of the 21st Century!

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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

@BootsRiley reboots, unblocks me to mock me but it backfires

After posting Blocked for talking Venezuelan trash to @BootsRiley, I continued to send out tweets calling on @BootRiley to address the core question of the welfare of the Venezuelan people:
[I had sent the tweet above out with the wrong picture for the caption before correcting it.]
Others also weigh in:

While some raised a demand that Boots Riley unblock me:
Meanwhile Riley continued talking trash about me while still blocking me. Talking about me behind my back, social media style:

Apparently, when I sent out this tweet:

He thought he had me in a gotcha, so he unblocked me to accuse me of "manufacturing consent":

Was he doing that kind of feverish research on every picture I posted of the Venezuelan famine, hoping to find one he could debunk? Even if I had made such a mistake, it would have been entirely besides the point. In addition to blogging and tweeting about revolutionary justice issues when I have the time, I also have a day job working in the Engine Room of the Internet, so my vetting may not always be the best, but in this case, it did past the test, as you shall see. If I thought it would trick him into unblocking me, I may have made such a "mistake" on purpose. Fortunately, I didn't have to. He was so happy to find a site [or cite] claiming it was a photo of any place but Venezuela, that he didn't look any further and see if that was really the earliest example to be found. He was willing to ignore the dozens of posting of this picture claiming it was taken in Venezuela, as well as the unlikeliness of finding Latino looking people in the Congo, in favor of a single Peruvian source claiming otherwise. That is how far he is willing to mash his mind to support Maduro.

@pplswar replied to @BootsRiley:

This prompted Boots Riley to unleash his "proof":

Some questioned the single DRC citing from a Peruvian source:

Then I responded in a series of tweets:

While others found even earlier sources that claimed it did indeed show Venezuelans foraging for food:

And so it goes in TwitterLand.
I oppose any military intervention in Venezuela and Trump's machinations, but neither do I support the Maduro regime, which is the primary problem the Venezuelan people face now. Libya, to name one example, has had to grapple with the same drop in oil prices. If US imperialism finds Venezuela "ripe" for intervention now, as say before 19 April 2013, it is because the corrupt Maduro regime has so improvised the people, and turned so many away from the Bolivarian Revolution, that his continued refusal to step down only strengthens the hands of the imperialists and the right. It is long past the time for him to go!

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Sunday, March 3, 2019

Northam & 1st 20 Africans: Slavery vs Indentured Servitude: Which aids racism?

Gayle King interviews Ralph Northam
Perhaps the main reason so many people objected to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam calling the first 20 Africans to land in Virginia in 1619 indentured servants, and not slaves, is that they believe the conditions of slavery were so much harsher than those of indentured servitude, that calling these Africans indentured servants amounts to a cover-up of their reality. That is because the popular image that we have been sold of the indentured servant is that of a lower-class European, perhaps a little down on his luck, that has decided to exercise his option to make a new start in a new land, and so has entered into a contract to trade so many years of labor for passage to Virginia, and a little land and money at the end of his term. To be sure, he would work hard, but he was not a slave, and he did enter the contract voluntarily. Compare this to the African slaves: Kidnapped in their own country, and brought to this one under conditions so harsh that half didn't survive the journey.

The truth is that the only real difference between the two forms of chattel bondage is that unlike slaves, indentured servants expected to be in bondage for a set number of years, and then freed. Reality stepped on this difference because most indentured servants died within the first few years of service, and only a minority ever finished their term and received their "freedom dues."

This perceived different caused one participate in the current debate to tweet out that indentured servitude was the original white skin privilege. Never mind that he is calling it "white skin privilege" even before the English started calling themselves "white," he is showing his ignorance of the reality of indentured servitude to such a degree that I don't want to embarrass him by naming him. Far from a privilege, indenture servitude represented a deprecation of English workers from tenant farmers and wage laborers, a reduction to terms of bondage, which paved the way for the perpetual bondage, that when combined with white racism, became the American slave system.

What did it mean to be an indenture servant in the Virginia of 1619?

Let us begin with the myth of a contract voluntarily entered into. That was rarely the case. Consider this passage from The Barbarous Years, The Peopling of British North America, The Conflict of Civilizations 1600-1675, by Bernard Bailyn, 2012, p81.:
The [Virginia] company’s coercive power was directed mainly at the most vulnerable element in Jacobean society, the vagrant children. How many hundreds of children and petty criminals the company managed to collect from the streets and public institutions of London is not precisely known, but some of the numbers were recorded. Between August 1618 and August 1620 the company obtained from Bridewell Hospital, a detention center and jail for vagrant children, “idle wastrels, petty thieves, and dissolute women,” at least 337 of its charges to be sent to Virginia as “apprentices.“
Five months before a Dutch man-of-war sold the colony "20 and odd Negroes" in August of 1619, the Diane docked with 80-100 London children said to have been found starving in the streets. They desired their transport about as much as the Africans did. Others had simply been kidnapped, or were escaping prison or the gallows. Very few can be said to have voluntarily entered into bondage in Virginia.

The voyage these new settlers took could sometimes rival the slave ships in their lethality. This was one of the worst tragedies of 1619:
Of the 180 passengers whom the embattled Elder Francis Blackwell led from Amsterdam to Virginia. no fewer than 130, including Blackwell himself, died on that voyage of seven months. They had been “packed together," it was reported. “like herrings: they had amongst them the flux, and also want of fresh water. so as it is here [London] wondered at that so many are alive, than that so many are dead."
Those that succeeded in getting to Virginia weren't likely to live very long. Here's an example from "Barbarous Years," p.91:
The death rate in these larger properties, as well as on the ordinary farms, continued to be devastating. We do not know how many of the 280 settlers sent over to Martin’s Hundred survived the journey, but approximately half of those who did were dead by the end of 1621. A year after 34 men were sent to Berkeley Hundred to join 4 already on the property, 31 were reported dead, 2 of them “slayne.” Of the 120 men and boys sent on the Seaflower to Bennett’s Welcome in 1621, only 10 were alive in 1623, and more than half of the deaths were the result of disease, exhaustion, and malnutrition.
Map of Virginia colony created by John Smith in 1612
It's important to remember that the colonial population of Virginia was tiny by modern standards. We are talking about 700 people in 1619. It was founded in 1607, and although it had grown rapidly between 1619 and 1624, there were still only 1,200 people in the colony in 1624. The death rate was so high that although about 6,000 people had been sent there between 1607 and 1624, the loses to disease, deprivation, and conflicts with the native people was such that only about a fifth survived. Three thousand died between 1619 and 1622 alone, and those in bondage suffered the worst conditions. What this meant for most was that a seven year term of indentured servitude was a life sentence, only a minority survived to collect their "freedom dues." Most indentured servants would die before that dream was fulfilled.

The true condition for indenture servants was such that they should, "more properly called slaves," according to Daniel Defoe. If Northam's detractors argued in that sense, they would be right. Indenture servitude has been so prettified by history that the term doesn't impart an image of its true condition as well as chattel bondage, or slavery, but that's not what they mean. They mean that those first 20 Africans labored under categorically worst conditions than their English, Irish and Scot counterparts right from the beginning, not that all indentured servants should be called slaves.

This was the Virginia in which the Dutch ship unloaded 20 Africans.

The first Africans that landed in Virginia in 1619, started their journey aboard the Portuguese slave ship San Juan Bautista on a voyage from Angola. They probably were captured by slavers along the Angolan coast. Their trip was typical for these deadly voyages filled with terror and hunger. About 350 Africans begin the voyage, but only 147 were still on board when it docked near its destination, Vera Cruz, Mexico on 30 August 1619. English pirates on two Dutch raiders hoping to steal gold and sliver attacked the San Juan Bautista, and instead captured 50 of the Africans. One of these ships, the White Lion, headed for the nearest English port and quickly exchanged 20 Africans for food at Point Comfort, VA. More came in the second ship, the Treasurer, weeks later.

It is the status of these Africans that all the fuss has been about, ever since Gayle King rebuked VA Governor Northam for saying they were indentured servants, instead of slaves on CBS This Morning 11 February 2019. Supporters of the governor's position point to the lack of the legal status of slavery in Virginia to argue that they should be properly considered indentured servants. Supporters of Gayle King say that by 1619, African slavery was being widely practiced in the Atlantic World. Slavery didn't require legal status. They were captured by slavers, transported aboard a slave ship, and bound for slavery in Vera Cruz. So, obviously they should be considered slaves, and calling them anything else is an attempt to prettify slavery.

I think the dialectics of their status is a bit more complicated. Leaving aside the question of whether people, who by all accounts have yet to labor under slavery, should be considered slaves, clearly the Portuguese considered them property in slaves to be sold into slavery. However, these twenty Africans were unloaded in Virginia for food rather than profit. They probably didn't expect to get top dollar in a port where there was no legal status that allowed perpetual servitude, or slavery yet, and no well defined slave system, as existed in Mexico at the time. There are good historical reasons for this.

16th century class struggle in England made slavery illegal.

A mid-sixteenth century class struggle in England around attempts by the emerging bourgeoisie to put a portion of the workers in chattel bondage [see especially Kett's Rebellion (1547-1550)], resulted in the Statute of Artificers in 1563 which, among other things, outlawed slavery in England. It also stipulated that workers would be paid a wage [Perhaps the first minimum wage law? Guaranteeing that at least it wouldn't be zero!], and limiting the length of an unpaid "apprenticeship" to seven years [A maximum slave law?]. This was English law for the next 250 years. It wasn't repealed until 1813.

Kett's Rebellion 1549
This was the law that those first English planters brought to Virginia. This law was also among the less noble reasons they would decide to fight for independence and the "liberty" to develop their racial slave system unhindered by English law in 1776. Remember seven of the first twelve US presidents came from Virginia. The American Revolution wasn't a Boston tea party, this developing slave economy was the driving force behind their "War of Independence."

This early working class victory against English slavery made a different in her colonies. Of all the colonies in the Atlantic World around 1619, English colonies stood uniquely alone in depending on Europeans for basic plantation labor. In Virginia, some of this was provided by wage workers, and much by small tenant farmers "working by halves," which meant sharing his crop with the land owner. But most labor was provided by indentured servants, whose status was quickly descending to that of chattel bondage, particularly after 1622.

This was because advancing capitalism in England, particular in agriculture, had created massive unemployment and poverty among the "necessitous poor." So even if the capitalist couldn't enslave them at home, they had a "surplus" population that they could export to the colonies to perform the bondage labor being performed in Spanish and Portuguese colonies by the indigenous people or imported Africans.

This was a period when the English still rejected slavery as it was being practiced by the Spanish. As Theodore W. Allen relates in The Invention of the White Race:
When ship captain Richard Jobson in 1620 and 1621 made a trading voyage to Africa, he refused to engage in slave-trading because the English “were a people who did not deal in any such commodities, neither did we buy or sell one another or any that had our own shapes.”
That is very likely the attitude that existed in the Virginia colony at the time as well. Many of those that were freemen, and actually had come to the colony voluntarily, did so for religious reasons. This gave the young colony a certain moral character. The English pirates that took the slaves from the Portuguese, were looking for gold and sliver, not slaves, but they took what they could get. They had investors backing their raids and they couldn't afford to return empty handed, so they took about fifty of the slaves and sailed to the nearest English port. They probably could have gotten more for them if they sold them as slaves at any one of the ports in the Atlantic World where slavery was legal. Instead they sailed for an English port, which reported the ship "brought not any thing but 20 and odd Negroes" which they exchanged for "victuall," meaning food, "at the best and easiest rate they could." Since these Africans also had to be fed, if only to retain their value, [and Mike Guasco thinks they may have been fed] this deal was a double win for the hungry pirates.

The labor markets these early planters had available to them didn't include the slave auctions as they would later be developed, or even the slave markets existing then in Vera Cruz. What they had was a developing market for buying and selling European chattel labor as indentured servants. In 1619 Virginia, the plantation labor was composed largely of European indentured servants. This is the labor force those first Africans became a part of. Even as late as 1676 when the chattel labor force had grown to 8,000, 3 out of every 4 plantation slaves was a European.

Indentured servitude was the well developed system of bondage labor fueling the Virginia planter economy at the time. Almost certainly, these first Africans would have been enrolled in that system. It would be only slowly, amidst much class struggle, between this first landing and the time of the Virginia Slave Codes of 1705, that the "peculiar institution" of racial slavery would be developed for African labor in what would become the United States.

Those arguing they should be considered slaves tend to belittle the fact that permanent slavery was illegal in Virginia at the time. But for the capitalist property owner, laws are extremely important. Illegal slaves couldn't be bought and sold on the open market, would be devalued when accounting for capital wealth, and subject to lost if the "slave" was able to prove she was being held in violation of the law, as Elizabeth Keys did. If racial slavery had already been in place, she would have never had her day in court because she was an African indentured servant. Also, as noted earlier, colonial Virginia was a very small place, with less than a thousand people, there wasn't a lot of room for a thriving black market in African slaves.

Most historians writing about these first 20 Africans agree with Northam that they were treated as indentured servants. What we know about them supports that conclusion. Historian E.R. Shipp, Morgan State University, Baltimore, wrote about this for USA Today, 8 February 2019:
We know that the Africans who arrived in 1619 on the White Lion (and, a few days later, the Treasurer) were from Angola, and we know how they came to be captured. We don’t have all the names, but we do know that captain William Tucker took two of them into his household, Isabella and Antony, and allowed them to marry. When their child William became the first recorded black birth in what would become the USA, he was baptized into the Anglican faith in 1624. We know that a “Negro woman” named Angelo in a 1624 census had arrived on the Treasurer in 1619. Archaeologists have recently discovered graves that might include hers.

“This first group that came survived and created a solid and growing community of people of African descent, with some of them intermingling with English and the Native peoples,” says Cassandra Newby-Alexander, a professor of history at Norfolk State University and a member of various commemoration commissions. Over a few decades, she said, the African presence grew with the arrival of more ships as well as with births. This resulted in “the emergence of racialized politics, law and a bifurcated society.”
Racial slavery and the laws that support it didn't just "emerge," because more Africans arrived. It was purposely build by the colonial ruling class over next hundred years to enslave people who where kidnapped in Africa, and brought to the colonies where their natural skin color was used to brand them as slaves. Shipp goes on to write:
“It’s rather clear that Virginia did not have a set way of dealing with these folks, and it got worked out over time,” Scott, [Daryl Scott, a professor of history at Howard University] says. “They had indentured people in Virginia, and some people may have seen Africans just like they saw other indentured people. We know some people became free, so it looks like they were treated like every other indentured person.”

Other scholars, including Linda Heywood and John Thornton of Boston University, insist that the Africans from the White Lion and the Treasurer were enslaved by the English as they had originally been by the Portuguese slave traders before they were taken by pirates.
This is the debate Northam naively stepped into in his interview with Gayle King.
Doctor Historianess (@historianess) has been a strong advocate of the latter view, that they were slaves when they landed in Virginia and remained slaves, on Twitter.

I don't see how it could possibly work that way in the real world. The Spanish had brought African slaves to "New Spain," as Mexico was then called, as early as 1520. In the sixteenth century it probably had more enslaved Africans than any other colony in the hemisphere. This small colony in Virginia couldn't enslave these Africans as the Portuguese had because they didn't have anything like that slave system to enslave them in. People go with what they know. What they knew, and had immediately available to them, was indentured servitude.

In 1619, the English hadn't even claimed the fraudulent label "white" for themselves yet, and white racism, as would come to define the slave system had yet to be created. For example, English and African enjoyed a freedom to intermingle and inter-marry that would be lost for more than three hundred years. The term "white race" or "white people" entered the English language in the latter 17th century, in the context of racialized slavery and unequal status in European colonies. Those terms didn't appear in English dictionaries before 1690.

Status in Virginia, at that time, depended much more or property ownership and religion, than race. There are many stories that illustrate this brief pre-racial beginnings of the United States. In this period, free Africans had many of the same rights as free Englishmen, including the right to own property, the right to vote, and sue in court. Many enslaved Africans where allowed to earn money, keep livestock, and raise crops for themselves. This allowed some to eventually purchase their freedom.

I've already recounted how a local captain took Isabella and Antony, two of those first 20 Africans, into his household and allowed them to marry. They had a child baptized into the Anglican faith in 1624.

Anthony Johnson arrived from Africa in 1621, having also been captured in Angola, and was sold to a English planter named Bennet as an indentured servant. He was freed after serving his term of indenture. He was one of the lucky few who survived the Powhatan massacre of 1622. The settlement where he was working had 57 men when it was attacked. He was one of the five that survived. By 1640, he had married Mary, an enslaved African woman who had arrived in 1622, started a family, and amassed hundreds of acres of land, and owned indentured servants themselves. Of the five slaves the couple owned, one was African American and four were European American. When much of the Johnson plantation was destroyed by fire in 1653, local officials noted that the Johnson's were “inhabitants in Virginia above thirty years” who were respected for their “hard labor and known service,” and excused Mary and the couple's two daughters from paying taxes for the rest of their lives. In the already quickly changing racial environment, a special tax had been created for "all free Negro men and women.” Local officials ignored that law, allowing the family to rebuild. On two separate cases, one years later, the courts found in favor of Johnson and against his European adversary.  But this era was quickly passing already. Once racial slavery became firmly established, it would be more than 300 years before an African American could receive any justice like this from a Virginia court.

Even as late as 1656, the half-African indentured servant Elizabeth Key was able to sue in Virginia courts and win her freedom, and that of her infant son when her master died, and the overseers of his estate tried to convert her status to that of perpetual bondage.

The first Africans came to America before white racism did.

The lack of white racism in the Virginia of 1619 is reason enough to say it is misleading to call these first 20 Africans slaves, if what is meant is the racialized slavery that was to develop in the next sixty years and then go on to dominate for another two hundred.

Are those that consider even these first Africans to be slaves, saying that white racism existed even then? Or are they saying that white racism was not a decisive component of the slave system as it developed in the United States? Either way, they have a very mechanical view of history as blocks of time with permanent features, when its actual development is dialectic and organic. They are missing out on one of the most dynamic and influential periods in US, and by exception, world history, because if they think there were always "white" people, and they were always racist, and these 20 Africans were never anything but slaves, they will fail to understand the importance of the ensuing period when all that stuff was created.

a brief history of the creation of white racism

The African population of Virginia grew very slowly at first. According to Nell Irvin Painter, [The History of White Peoplep.41], even though Virginia's population had grown to 11,000 by mid-century, only 300 were African or African American. By then the majority were slaves, but there still weren't enough to support a separate stave system based on Africa labor. Starting in 1622, the laws and customs that would support that slave system began being put into place.

In 1619, about half the property of the colony was cultivated by small independent operators that paid rent-in-kind to the big plantation owners, and there was a growing number of free men, including those that had worked off their term and were now wage workers. This changed abruptly just 3 years later.

Sidney King painting of 1622 attack
A massive attack by the Powhatan natives on 22 March 1622 reduced the colony's population by a third in a single day, in the next year another third would die from privation, and two-thirds of the survivors weren't fit for work. The colonial capitalists used the ensuing crisis to embark on a scheme to reduce tenants and indentured servants to chattel slaves. By that spring, servants' contracts started appearing for the first time that allowed the owner to dispose of the servant to his "heirs and assigns." They had become chattel. This was a qualitative break from the 1563 Statute of Artificers, and it was excused as "Custom of the Country." The next year, attempts to reduce tenants to servants became common.

While living and labor conditions for slaves and indentured servants were very similar, there was this important difference: With indentured servants, eventual freedom provided a powerful incentive for compliance, which is why lengthening the period of indenture was the favored punishment. The slave could not look forward to eventual freedom, and so violence and torture became the principle tools the masters used to gain compliance. This also made running away the only escape.

Increasingly, as the planters started to turn to permanent servitude, this problem began to assert itself, and it became clear that any labor system based on such slavery would require a stratum of the population willing and able to enforce slavery by, for example, reporting runaways, and participating in slave patrols. BTW, the vaunted 2nd Amendment was proposed by Virginia to ensure its "right" to run armed slave patrols, also known as "well-regulated Militias."

There was also the problem that their attempts to enslave everyone, English, African, and Natives alike, just wasn't working out the way they planned. Since the great mass of servants lived and worked together without regards to racial differences that remained as yet largely immaterial, they also revolted together. As the colonial capitalists sought to tighten the screws on their workers, especially in the post-1622 period, this increasing became a problem for them.

"be free or die"

The Virginia record of this period is filled with stories of individual and small group resistance to the worsening bondage they were enduring. Here are just a few examples from The Invention of the White Race:
Freeman Emanuell Rodriggus, an African-American, was brought before the February 1672 session of the Northampton County Court for having “unlawfully entertayned” two runaway European-American bond laborers owned by Captain John Custis of Northampton County.69 In mid-summer 1679, four African-Americans, including one child too young to work, ran away in the company of two free European-Americans, John Watkings and Agness Clerk.70 In November 1690, freeman Edward Short was arraigned for “helping and assisting” European American Roger Crotuff [Crotofte] and African-American bond-laborer John Johnson to break out of the Accomack county prison.71 After Ann Redman, an African-American, took her child and ran away from the plantation of European-American Thomas Loyd in February 1696, she was sought by hue and cry. Some twenty months later Redman was seized from the home of European-American Edwin Thacker, where she had found refuge.72
African and European laborers fought together, often with arms, against the colonial powers and the landowners. In 1661 there was a sizable indentured servants plot over inadequate food rations. Isaac Friend, one of the leaders of the servants, agitated:
"they would get a matter of Forty of them together and get Gunnes, and he (Cluton) would be the first and lead them and cry as they went along 'who would be for liberty and freed from bondage?' and that there would enough come to them, and they would goe through the country and Kill those that made any opposition, and that they would either be free or die for it"
In Virginia there were at least 10 popular or servile revolts between the 1663 Servants’ plot for an insurrectionary march to freedom, to the tobacco riots of 1682. In Bacon’s Rebellion, 1676, an army of European and African bond-servants and freedman recently “out of their time” captured and burned the colonial capital of Jamestown, which Governor Berkeley left in a hurry. Governor Berkeley estimated that about 1,500 European chattel bond-laborers arrived in Virginia that year, "the majority English, with a few Scots and fewer Irish." It took 1100 British troops sent from England in 11 ships to put him back in the statehouse, and they took a while to get there.

This 1905 painting by Howard Pyle depicts the burning of Jamestown in 1676 by black and white rebels led by Nathaniel Bacon.
While there were many similar uprisings both before and after, Bacon's Rebellion is probably what did it for them. Noted author Michelle Alexander wrote of its significance:
The events in Jamestown were alarming to the planter elite, who were deeply fearful of the multiracial alliance of [indentured servants] and slaves. Word of Bacon’s Rebellion spread far and wide, and several more uprisings of a similar type followed. In an effort to protect their superior status and economic position, the planters shifted their strategy for maintaining dominance. They abandoned their heavy reliance on indentured servants in favor of the importation of more black slaves.
Faced with this resistance from a united working class, the law makers, plantation owners, and colonial officers quickly moved forward with their plan to divide the people according to skin color, and make all those with the darkest skin slaves for life:

In 1640, John Punch became the first African American to be sentenced to permanent servitude for daring to run away. For this reason, many historians consider him the "first official slave in the English colonies." I would agree, particularly because his punishment was racist. The two European men that ran away with him got only the usual extension of the term of servitude, but it still had an end date.

On 8 March 1655, John Casor became the first African declared a slave for life in America without having committed a crime first. Ironically, he started out as an indentured servant whose contract was owned by the successful African plantation owner Anthony Johnson written of above. Casor sued Johnson in court, claiming that he'd already served more than twice the seven year length of his indenture. The court ruled in Johnson's favor and declared Casor a servant for life. He thus became the first African made a slave for life without it being as punishment for a crime, which was the justification used in Punch's case.

During the Civil War in England (1649-1660), the Virginia planters remained loyal to the crown. When the monarchy was restored in 1660, William Berkeley returned as governor of Virginia, and the pace quickened.

In 1660, a Virginia Law was enacted that doubled the penalty on "any English servant shall run away in company with any negroes." Note, in their first racist laws, they weren't calling themselves white yet.

In 1662, it was declared that for Negro women, the status of the child would derive from that of the mother. That undercut one of the arguments Key had used to win her freedom, and meant that even when the child of a Negro slave was "got by any Englishman," that child would remain a slave. They also increased the penalties for any "English servant" running away in "in the company of any negro." These examples of working class solidarity had to be stamped out before racial slavery could be made workable.

In 1667, a Virginia law was enacted "declaring that baptisme of slaves doth not exempt them from bondage." This was sold as a humanitarian policy, since it allowed slave owners to "endeavour the propagation of christianity" without fearing the lost of their "property" as a consequence. What corruption in the church allowed that madness?

A 1668 law was titled "Negro women not exempted from tax." This effectively doubled the tax on free African couples, and discouraged Englishmen from marrying African women, but since English women where exempt from taxes, it had the unintended consequent of encouraging free African men to take English brides. This issue would soon be dealt with when all "abominable mixture and spurious issue" was outlawed.

In 1669, a law was passed exempting masters and overseers from prosecution if a Negro slave was killed while being tortured, because slaves cannot "by other then violent meanes supprest." They couldn't throw them in jail, and they couldn't extend the term of someone in permanent bondage, so the law recognized that more violent methods had to be used.

A  1670 law forbid any "Negroes nor Indians" from buying "christian servants." That same year Anthony Johnson died, and a jury ruled that the colony could seize the son’s 50 acre inheritance because he was “a Negro and by consequence an alien.” This wasn't his father's Virginia jury.

After 1672, England got into the slave trade big time. In the next 16 years, the Royal African company transported nearly 90,000 Africans to the Americas. Remember, there were only 300 in 1648, the demographics were changing fast because the colonial capitalists had settled on a solution to their labor problem, and they were moving rapidly forward to build the system we rightly associate with the term slavery.

1676 was the year of Bacon's Rebellion. This armed rebellion by united English and African bond servants terrified the big landowners and capitalists, and cemented their plans to replace the indentured servant system with one based on racial slavery.

In 1680, "An act for preventing Negroes Insurrections" was passed. It declared "it shall not be lawfull for any negroe or other slave to carry or arme himselfe" with just about any weapon known at the time. That law also prescribed "thirty lashed on his bare back well laid on," for "any negro or other slave" that shall "lift up his hand in opposition against any christian." The wording of this law reflects an intermediate stage in the changes afoot. It presumes that all Negroes are slaves, but slavery is not yet the exclusive province of the Negro, and even though the period when Africans could themselves own slaves has long since passed, the masters aren't calling themselves "white" yet, but the use of "christian" to define the master race was problematic since an increasing number of Negroes were being baptized.

A 1682 law declared "Negroes, Moors [Muslim North Africans], mulattoes or Indians who and whose parentage and native countries are not Christian" would be consider permanent slaves. This law created racial slavery, with a thin religious exception designed to exclude Europeans before they had the label "white" to work with.

The handed-down mythology is that all African slaves came to this country as pagans. The truth is that about 20% were Muslim, and a few where Christian in their homeland. There is evidence that that may have been the case with some of those first twenty. That law also made it easier to kill slaves. Things were changing fast, and not for the better.

It was to take another nine years for the label "white"  to finally make it into the Virginia laws. It was in a 1691 law titled “An act for suppressing outlying Slaves.”
And for prevention of that abominable mixture and spurious issue which hereafter may encrease in this dominion, as well by negroes, mulattoes, and Indians intermarrying with English, or other white women, as by their unlawfull accompanying with one another, Be it enacted by the authoritie aforesaid, and it is hereby enacted, that for the time to come, whatsoever English or other white man or woman being free shall intermarry with a negroe, mulatto, or Indian man or woman bond or free shall within three months after such marriage be banished and removed from this dominion forever,...
That appears to be the first use of the label "white" to describe people in a law anywhere, and far from bestowing privileges on the people so labeled, it was used to take away their right to marry freely, and forever sealed its association with segregation, racism, and the suppression of sexual freedom.

Also, in 1691, a special fine of 15 pounds sterling is levied against "any English woman" who gives birth to a mulatto child. If the woman can't pay the fine in 30 days, she will have to serve 5 years as an indentured servant. If she is already an indentured servant, she will have 5 years added to her service, and the child will be indentured for 30 years. That same year, the General Assembly required that all newly freed slaves leave the colony, and any master who freed his slaves had to pay for their transport out of the colony. They were forcing movement away from the integrated society that had existed towards one in which black skin would be synonymous with slavery.

In 1692, slaves lose the right of trial by jury even in capital cases. This white supremacist regime was not here to meet those first Africans. It had to be build, bit by bit, law by law, over a century.

In 1698, England becomes the biggest slave trafficker in the Western world, as the number of African slaves transported to her colonies skyrockets from 5,000 a year to 45,000 a year.

By 1705, the Virginia Slave Codes, and a series of so-called racial integrity laws, gave legal definition to the term "white" as in race, and institutionalized white supremacy. Any ambiguity in the status of Africans in American was clarified, and whether free or in chains, all lost rights and all were treated as inferior to any white man. This law also provides my candidate for the first white skin privilege: It forbid the whipping of  "a christian white servant naked, without an order from a justice of the peace."

The Slave Codes even employed the label "white" to punish slave owners who would dare intermarry and cross the color line it was creating by taking away their "white" servants. Although some of those first Africans could own English servants, under the new "white" regime, it was entirely unacceptable to have a person of color in authority over the newly labeled "white" person:
And if any person, having such christian servant, shall intermarry with any such negro, mulatto, or Indian, Jew, Moor, Mahometan, or other infidel, every christian white servant of every such person so intermarrying, shall, ipso facto, become free and acquit from any service then due to such master or mistress so intermarrying, as aforesaid.
The first white skin privileges weren't really new "privileges" at all. No bonus was involved. Rather, the Europeans were forced to declare themselves "white" to preserve the rights they already had, such as the right to vote, be heard in court, and own property. Suddenly, these were only available to those who declared themselves white, assuming they were allowed to. In 1705, that was the main practical effect of such laws. By then, there were few, if any, African's that still had those rights to lose in Virginia.

Most importantly, in return for accepting the "privilege" of not being reduced to slavery, they placed this new bourgeois creation "race," above what really matters, class. That split the power of the working class and allow the capitalist to run roughshod over them ever since.

In 1723, the right to vote was taken away from free Negroes, and the right to free their slaves, at any cost, was taken away from their now "white" masters. This law also forbid Negroes from meeting, or keeping weapons. By then, Virginia had more than 27,000 African slaves. It was a little more than a hundred years since those first 20 Africans landed in Virginia, but now the dual plagues of white supremacy and racial slavery were fully in place.

Is this really a debate about the immutability of white racism?

Perhaps what is really at the core of this debate is that those who say they were treated as slaves from the very beginning are saying that they were treated in a racist manner from the very beginning, because it is undeniable that the slavery that developed in North America was racial slavery. This now brings us to the philosophical heart of the debate, and reveals why it has generated so much energy.

If the English treated the Africans in a racist manner, as slaves as compared to the white privileged indentured servants, upon their first introduction, this supports the thesis that racism is a naturally occurring phenomenon, that was triggered as soon as Africans were present. From that perspective, racism will be almost impossible to overcome, if it can be overcame at all.

If, on the other hand, as the history would seem to suggest, the English initially dealt with these first Africans as indentured servants, it is because they weren't viewing them through the racial lens that would develop over the next hundred years, and continues to trouble us to this day. If this was the case, if racism and "white people" didn't exist in the Virginia of 1619, but instead were unscrupulously created by the rich and powerful of that day, and pushed on people systematically because there was big money to be made, then racism is an unnatural thing, and although its tenure seems long now, it is but a flash in the million year development of humanity that will be overcome shortly.

The bondage slavery of 1619 was not the racial slavery of 1819

Those arguing that the word which properly brings to mind the racial slavery of the Antebellum South, be equally applied to those first 20 Africans can't entirely ignore the class struggle, and dynamic changes of this period. But they argue that these were exceptions that should be discounted.

They seem to be arguing that since this period was so brief, and involved so few people, we can safely ignore it. That is like those arguing for a static universe saying we can safely ignore the big bang because it lasted less than a second billions of years ago. Wrong, genesis matters! The time and place they beckon us to ignore is precisely the time and place that gave birth to white supremacy.

They present a static image of the status Africans in America before the Civil War, namely they were slaves in 1619 and slaves in 1819 equally, however their arguments can't ignore the reality that 1619-1705 was a period of dynamic change for the status of Africans in the colonies.

To say they were slaves in 1619, before the laws, before the system, is to treat it as eternal and wipe history clear of the turbulent class struggle that saw the birth of racial slavery and white supremacy. That serves only the interests of reaction and racism. That is how that argument supports racism.

Those pushing it are serving reaction by promoting its view of a static world in which white racism has always existed, and always will, and the "whites" made slaves of the "blacks" as soon as they could. These are some lousy historians that think like that. A clear-eyed study of historical facts shows us something else: In 1619, the English, Irish, Scots and other European's in Virginia had yet to adopt a common label. White racism and racial slavery had yet to be created. They were created by the ruling class, over the course of the next hundred years, as methods of social control in the furtherance of capitalist profits. This great divide was created to inhibit the class struggle. It has proven to be so effective that they have relied on it ever since, and revered it up in times of crisis, as they are doing now!

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam tried to use a few of his fifteen minutes of fame to bring to the world's attention the approaching 300th anniversary of this extremely important historical event, and he got pummeled for it. Many used the fact that he called those first 20 indentured servants, together with the fact that he did a Michael Jackson impersonation in the 80's, to label him a racist. Never mind, the fact that most sources Google finds on the subject also says they were indentured servants. That doesn't make it right, of course. But it does mean you should probably cut some slack for anyone fairly new to the subject not standing on your side of an active debate among historians.

I wonder how many of our governors, senators or congress people could even tell you about when, where and how the first Africans came to our country the same year as the Pilgrims. Our president likes invoke Pocahontas as a racial attack. I wonder how much he can tell us about the real Pocahontas and how she navigated the English invasion of her native country? I wonder if he even knows that John Rolfe, the Englishman that documented the arrival of those first Africans, was her husband? The Virginia of 1619 was a very small world. It is good that we are discussing this history.

Even though I think Gayle King was wrong, I applaud her for "correcting" Northam because by doing so she sparked a very necessary national conversation. It would have been better if she had pointed out that in 1619 there were no "white people," and African and European workers both were slaves. Even better if she used her position to inform her viewers about the news from Haiti at the time.

Why is white supremacy trying to make a come back now?

That is really the maximum question now! I'm not talking about Northam in the statehouse. I'm talking about Trump in the White House. Why are they working so hard to stoke the fires of racial tension now? Bill Weld, a former governor who may challenge Trump for the GOP nomination gave us a clue on ABC News "This Week" Sunday, 17 February 2019, when he said that "25% of the jobs in the country are about to disappear because of artificial intelligence, and robotics, drones."

Rather than use these technological advancements to unburden humanity, they intend to keep all the profits for themselves, and deliver to everyone else economic dislocation, the likes of which the world has never seen. They are going to want to eliminate what they consider the "superfluous," parts of the population, and racism has always served them well. It's no accident that they are financing its come back quicker than they can build drones and robots.

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