The true banner of capitalism: 'sterilise the weak, abuse the poor, exploit the dependent'

Throughout Scandinavia, in France, the USA, Switzerland and in many other leading Capitalist nations, a vicious policy of 'eugenesia' has been promoted over the last 50 years. Its stated aim – nurturing the strong and cleansing the weak ('racial improvement') – is to ensure the health necessary to capitalistically exploitable labour whilst ridding society of its 'useless', 'burdensome' population. Deliberate inhumanity. With the development of 'genetic engineering' and with science held under lock and key by profiteering industry, the abuses perpetrated by capitalism on women, the poor and the sick can only become more insidious.

Racial 'purification' and 'cleansing' has always been a tool of the most reactionary and vicious regimes, but as the revelations in August 1997 of the forced sterilisation of at least 73,000 thousand women throughout Scandinavia (60,000 in Sweden, 11,000 in Denmark, over 1,000 in Finland and over 1,000 in Norway) from 1935 to 1976 show, such ideas are endemic in modern 'democratic', bourgeois societies.

Almost simultaneously, similar barbarities are reported to have been practised on more than 60,000 people in the United States from the 1940s up until the early 1970s. The American historian P Reilly states that about another 60,000 Americans were forcibly sterilised in the 1930s alone, and that 34 States had laws that could impose the practice. ‘Delinquents, cripples and the mentally ill’ – both men and women – were forcibly sterilised.

Laws drawn up around the world in the 1930s, show common contempt for working people by all imperialist states. The idea of an ideal biological type that Hitler drew together for German imperialism is an obvious example, but it was neither new nor did it die with him. In Canada, families of 700 out of 3,000 victims of forced sterilisation between 1928 and 1972 are taking action in the courts in Alberta and British Columbia. In the Swiss Canton of Vaud it was 1986 before the 1928 law permitting the sterilisation of the mentally 'retarded' was abolished. Swiss specialists are sure that such acts continue illegally. In Austria Green Party spokespersons say that such acts still take place behind closed doors. In France, this September, a report showed that 15,000 women in psychiatric institutions had been sterilised without their permission and that a de facto policy of eugenics 'could be' [sic!] developing. Forcible sterilisation is still legal in France.

These crimes take place because the ruling class, the owners of the wealth of nations, must intimidate those without property if they are to keep control. They hold the poor and oppressed in contempt and fear. By constantly asserting the 'inferiority' of certain sections of workers the rich class aim to split solidarity within the working class – especially the weak and unemployed – between those with 'desirable' and 'undesirable' physical and mental conditions. It also consequently provides them with sections of the population they can abuse and experiment on.

Where private property is well established this is done particularly by attacking the unemployed (and especially women), the uneducated, and sick workers – those, in short, who are not immediately suited to work for the owners of property. Where private property is still expelling earlier (eg aboriginal) users of the land, or preventing reoccupation, the idea of 'inferiority' again 'justifies' violence against the poor in order to seize that land.

In short, 'eugenesia' is a product of 'modern' capitalist class rule. This system of the rich enriching themselves, has no direct concern for those out of work, or indeed for the conditions of life of the workers outside working hours. Capitalism never has enough money for itself, it will certainly not give it away without a fight – which also explains why the Social Democratic dream of a democratic capitalism is both an illusion and a deceit.

Social democracy and eugenesia

The present European public outcry arose from the Swedish revelations. In Sweden, one example will suffice to show the arbitrary and repulsive nature of 'eugenesia' as a policy of dividing the workers. Maria Nordin, now 72, was classified as ‘intellectually inferior’ (not owning glasses she couldn't see the blackboard at school) and was sent to a school for 'deficient' pupils, where a Dr Ingvarsson told her that she 'was not very clever and cannot have children'. She signed a sterilisation order to escape from the institution. Her claim for compensation was rejected in 1996. Now, after this year’s newspaper headlines, the Minister of Social Affairs Margot Wallstrom says that ex-gratia payments – state charity – will be paid to victims: ie the state refuses to accept legal and moral responsibility of its own laws. She now passes off these horrors as a result of 'the spirit of those times', but we can see that they are also clearly in the spirit of the present.

Since Sweden has been the apple of the social democrats’ eye for many a year this exposure of eugenesia there has prompted a sweeping attack on any 'Left' politician or thinker by some establishment hacks. In a melodramatic, deliberately confusing and Eurocentric article in The Guardian (30 August 1997) by a Jonathan Freedland, it is suggested that 'the early history of British Socialism (from the 1880s to the 1930s) contained the seeds of the atrocities that were to come' (ie Nazism, Pol Pot and Swedish 'eugenesia'). In the process Freedland shamefully smears Darwin and Marx as the beginning of 'the trouble', and even Keynes' father is treated as a socialist (!) so to use his views on social selection to bolster the argument. It is true that many self-declared social democrats and 'liberals', clear allies of British Imperialism, flirted with eugenics whilst the mass of workers demanded proper wages and health care. Freedland actually states: 'Many of the left, were members of the upper middle-class or lower aristocracy...' and so it is easy for us to identify the real class basis of the reactionary ideas held by the Webbs and others. But Freedland does what the rich always try to do, constantly promote and introduce as socialist a few highly publicised ideas held by self-declared 'friends of the people' that are completely against the interest of the working class. In this way genuinely democratic working class ideas can be completely overlooked, a false perspective imposed and the reactionary abuses of private property let off the hook.

Social democratic politics are counter-revolutionary. Their ideas are reactionary. Social democracy arose on the back of the 'welfare state'. This was created by the ruling classes as a means of absorbing the militant demands of the masses of workers especially after the second world war. It has essentially been aimed at improving the quality and reliability of labour hired by business as world markets expanded. But where workers are too old, beyond cheap repair or quiescent, capitalism at best abandons them, and worse, often uses them as a means of social experiment. In this context 'eugenesia' is applied both to split and intimidate different sections of the working class and of course to reduce the costs of the 'welfare state' compromise. This murderous ideology - 'eugenesia'- clearly flows from protecting a system based on the accumulation of society's wealth in a few private hands.

Black and poor

In the USA the Kennedy Commission of 1972 documented 24,000 cases of forced sterilisation in the previous period, yet despite publicity of this sort, in 1973 the two children (aged 14 and 12) of a black couple – Mr and Mrs Reif – were forcibly sterilised while attending a hospital in Alabama (where neither social democracy, nor Keynes, Darwin nor Marx find much favour, Mr Freedland!). The Southern Poverty Law Centre discovered the existence of hundreds of such cases in the 1940s and 1950s – the victims were all black and poor. The health 'authorities' justified these as a means of eradicating poverty. For the rich of course, poverty is always the fault of the poor, who will insist on breeding!

The US Sexual Sterilisation Act (officially in operation until 1973) saw eugenesia applied to a wide group of 'undesirables' – ‘alcoholics, the mad, sexual delinquents, degenerates and cripples’, and was extended to the weak and elderly. Until the 50's, eugenesia was defended by a wide group of 'scientists' and 'doctors' – there being an America Society of Eugenesia (later rebaptised the Society for the Study of Social Biology). Today Florida and California have laws that permit chemical castration.

Oppressed peoples

An obsession with 'superiority', superiority of achievement and so of intellect and morality, of capacity to beat other classes, is what marks the leading ideas of bourgeois political leaders, especially in all the imperialist states. The idea of 'national blood' arose with the capitalist nation state. It was the 'sons of the blood' that carved out capitalist empires, and the threat of 'rivers of (national) blood' is the clarion call of the bourgeois xenophobe.

Seizure of raw materials is vital for capitalism. If aboriginal land users are branded 'intellectually' or 'culturally inferior' peoples, then it may be easier to seize the land from them. All the rich do is, oh so very kindly, 're-educate, re-educate, re-educate' them. For some 50 years, up to the 1960s, over 100,000 Australian aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their parents – legally kidnapped – and placed in white foster homes. Many suffered physical and sexual abuse from their new 'superior' culture. 'Assimilating' the children would kill off the 'backward' culture that had lasted 40,000 years. In May an inquiry (the Wilson Report) ordered by the previous Government describes the policy as 'genocide'. Crocodile tears – this September more licences for Oil exploration in Aboriginal lands were issued (as well as in other ecologically unique areas). Naturally the Australian government (like the Swedish) is still refusing liability for compensation and doesn't want to apologise.

Experimental material

Yet in the end the actual 'proof' of the permanent superiority of those in authority is simply asserted by the inhuman abuse of the ruled. Apart from animals as such, why not use 'inferior groups' for experiments? Earlier this year the deliberate denial of penicillin in experiments over 40 years, the fostering of syphilis in groups of black people in Tuskegee (Alabama again), was revealed. Patients were deceived into thinking they were being treated, whilst in fact they were simply the object of a perverse study. The US president apologised (of course).

But in August the US Defense Department admitted that 20,000 air force and navy staff (imperial cannon fodder) were subject to radium experiments between the 1940s and the 1960s (no need to watch The X-Files). In the 1950s, Inuits were treated with radioactive iodine. Blacks with 'low intelligence quotients' suffering from cancers and attending the Medical Faculty of the University of Cincinnati Ohio, had radiation applied all over their bodies. Food at a Massachusetts school for 'backward' ('difficult') children was laced with radioactive elements, as was food supplied to conscientious objectors (like laboratory rats) of the Mennonite Faith in exchange for escaping military service. So far $6.5m dollars has been paid out to people impregnated with radiated materials, mostly to maintain military morale.

If this sort of abuse becomes difficult inside the imperialist states, then of course it will still be carried on by the same owners against oppressed peoples elsewhere. Precisely the same sort of medical experiment deceitfully imposed on Afro-Americans earlier is now being undertaken in Africa itself. A mixture of placebo and actual drugs preventing the transmission of the AIDS virus are being handed out in 15 different trial (9 are US financed) on 12,000 women in 11 'developing countries'. These are Burkino Faso, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The funding states are the US, France, Belgium, Denmark and South Africa. This would not be possible in the Imperial heartlands themselves. More than 1,000 babies are likely to inherit AIDS rather than receive protection against it.

In Britain, 'Gulf War syndrome' is clearly believed by the victims and their advisors to be the result of the use of soldiers in de facto experiments, either with serum, chemicals or the use of depleted uranium in weapons. All this arises from the fact that the ruling classes in their fight to keep control of the world's wealth will unhesitatingly 'waste' and remove working people for any purpose that suits them and that they think they can get away with.

Alvaro Michaels

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 140 December 1997/January 1998

One to miss

Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932

Royal Academy of Arts, 11 February – 17 April, £16

(Gallery guide £2.50)

Designated ‘a thrilling, chilling show’ by the Financial Times, the gallery guide to Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 correctly notes:

‘The freedom and euphoria of the Revolution produced some of the most remarkable talents in art, theatre, music literature and architecture.’

The next sentence, however, is a clue to the politics of the exhibition:

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Necessary trouble - The rising tide of organised resistance in the United States

Necessary Trouble Americans in Revolt Sarah Jaffe

Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt

Sarah Jaffe, Nation Books, New York, 2016, 352pp, ISBN 978-1-5685-8536-9 (hardcover) ISBN 978-1-5685-8537-6 (ebook)

Sarah Jaffe’s Necessary Trouble provides the fullest account yet of the social movements that have arisen in the US since the financial crash of 2008. The author travelled widely across the states to speak to a huge variety of people in revolt, including members of Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, OUR Walmart (Organisation United for Respect at Walmart), Fight for $15 (minimum wage) and the victims of environmental degradation, toxic energy corporations and extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy. She even spoke to members of the Tea Party.

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The George Jackson Brigade and organising behind bars – book review of Lumpen by Ed Mead

‘The first duty of a captured revolutionary is to escape; barring that, the second is to transform the prisons from instruments of repression into schools of liberation and revolution.’ (p205)

Lumpen is the autobiography of former US prisoner Ed Mead, who served 18 years for his part in a 1976 bank robbery committed by the George Jackson Brigade (GJB). GJB was an armed propaganda unit named after political prisoner George Jackson who was murdered by guards in San Quentin prison in 1971, which was active in Seattle in the mid-1970s. 

The book takes us through Ed’s life in extensive detail, with the first 100 pages dedicated to his growing up in California, Washington State, Alaska and elsewhere in the US, as his poor white family moved to find work.  His life was harsh and gritty but it was not this which politicised him as, despite some sympathy for the even poorer indigenous Alaskans, his horizons were limited to survival and the pursuit of accessible pleasures.  

What changed his consciousness was prison. Imprisoned initially for various petty crimes, which escalated in seriousness, he became a ‘jailhouse lawyer’ filing appeal writs and other complaints both for himself and, as he grew more successful, for others. However, even this was in the first instance simply a more complex survival tactic until, while serving five years in the United States Penitentiary at McNeil Island, he came into contact with political prisoners, incarcerated for a wide range of activities relating in some way or other to the Vietnam War.

Ed explains how some of these political prisoners filed a writ against the federal prison system entitled ‘The Genocide Complaint‘, which ‘detailed the destructive nature of prisons for both inmates and their families and presented alternatives that would be possible under socialism’. Ed and the other jailhouse lawyers laughed at this legal suit which could never succeed but he quickly realised then that legal success was not the main aim and that the complaint was a mobilising tool for ‘organizing support for prisoners on the street’. (p138) 

A work strike followed in the prison, during which ‘hundreds of people (including actress Jane Fonda and folk singer Pete Seeger) demonstrated on the Steilacoom dock in support of the striking prisoners’ and the prisoners inside set fires and threw paint-bombs. (p141) 

In this atmosphere Ed began to read political literature. First anarchism, which he swiftly dismissed: ‘Anarchists, I discovered, could never be more than liberals (even when they’re armed liberals) as their philosophy itself is just a form of liberalism’ (p143).  Then, first through reading Trotskyist publications, then The Communist Manifesto and other works by Marx and Engels, followed by Lenin and Mao, he and a fellow prisoner following a similar path became convinced Marxist-Leninists.   Of course, ‘this process did not take place all at once… this wasn’t like finding Jesus!  - but rather a lengthy and painstaking study that was coupled with what we believed was sound political practice.  It was a process that took several years, and even today I’m still seeking to understand the complexities of Marxist theory.’ (p144) 

Released from prison in 1972 and convinced that the revolution would take place in the US within five years, Ed immediately became involved in political organising, with a focus on prisoner solidarity, but also in response to the continuing war in Vietnam, as well as to police brutality and racism. There was a palpable sense of political urgency in which ‘the same old marching in circles wasn’t going to get the job done’ (p173).  From showpiece use of incendiary devices as part of public demonstrations, Ed and a group of comrades moved on to an actual solidarity bombing of a racist white construction company in solidarity with the struggle of Seattle black workers’ union the United Construction Workers.

GJB then came into being as a small group of armed revolutionaries, inspired that ‘Fidel Castro started the Cuban revolution by landing on the shores of Cuba…with only twenty-six men, and that with only a nine-person Armed Propaganda Unit, Ho Chi Minh had built a Vietnamese movement that ousted the Japanese, the French and finally the American imperialists’. Many similar groups were springing up across the US at the time and GJB hoped that ‘these units would multiply, eventually joining together to help smash the existing State and sweep the bourgeoisie from power.’ (p186) 

Easy as it now may be to look on this as hopeless naivety, we should remember that in the late 1960s and early 1970s the US state itself did seriously fear that revolution would sweep it from power, prompting it to set in motion massive surveillance, undercover operations and overt terror in order to smash organisations like the Black Panther Party.

GJB, however, was not under surveillance and managed to carry out a significant number of bombings. Although these were always claimed by the brigade, the police did not know who its members were, and might never have done so had it not been for the bank raid, which was carried out to gain funds for more bombings, and which ended in the death of one activist and the imprisonment of Ed and his comrade on the spot, followed by three others who were subsequently rounded up. Even straight after the robbery, the police thought they had arrested some criminals, and might have continued thinking this, had GJB not issued a political statement; this was done with the express purpose of letting the public know that Bruce Seidel, who was shot dead during the raid, was ‘not a criminal but a revolutionary…’ (p205)

Ed was sentenced to a complicated combination of state and federal punishments, including two consecutive life sentences, but began serving them still fully confident that either the revolution would liberate him or he would escape.  In the meantime, he set his mind to organising within prison and spent the whole of what turned out in the end to be an 18-year term behind bars, doing so using all the means at his disposal.

Although Lumpen gives us an inspirational look at the possibilities of political organising behind bars, it does not romanticise imprisonment or prisoners. A substantial part of the activity which Ed and his comrades were involved in during the first part of his sentence related to preventing prisoner-on-prisoner rape via education, agitation and direct action, and the book contains frequent descriptions of the need to be armed and vigilant at all times, especially as ‘reactionary prisoners are always the administration’s first line of defence’ (p305). 

The book contains lots of detail about work-strikes and prison protests, some more successful than others. Throughout his time in prison Ed took every opportunity to organise with others, whether those opportunities appeared to be directly revolutionary or ostensibly liberal. Although the prison system in which he was incarcerated was brutal and he spent years in segregation units or being transported to federal prisons in distant parts of the country, including the notorious USP Marion, prior to its total lockdown, there were always opportunities to do something to confront the system.

In addition to detail of what was actually organised, there is plenty of discussion about how best this should be done. The book’s 12th chapter ‘Big Red Redux & Marion’ contains detailed analysis of the ‘four main organizing trends in the nation’s prisons, represented by four different organizations’. It is not possible to repeat all this here but the chapter, and indeed the book, is useful reading for anyone organising around the prison struggle, even in today’s much less revolutionary and far more heavily policed circumstances. And some of the questions dealt with relate not just to prison struggle, but to political work in general, with a later chapter addressing the question ‘should I be working to build cadre or a mass organization?’  (p298), as well as that of whether we ‘talk about communism and socialism in our organizing work’ or refrain from doing so ‘because that alienates people’. Ed’s view is that ‘to pull our punches on this is to underestimate and devalue people’s intelligence. They need to see the goal we are fighting to achieve at every step along the way. They need to understand how a more sane social order could be organized and how it would be of benefit to all of humanity’ (p305).

He wrote to and for numerous political publications, as well as producing his own Red Dragon newsletter, using whatever internal or external typing, copying and distributing mechanisms were available. In addition Ed corresponded with a copious number of activists, supporters and organisations around the world, including between 1990 and his release in 1993, with Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

Lumpen concludes in the present day, with an account of Ed’s involvement in solidarity activity around the 2015 California and Georgia prison protests. The author, now 73 and suffering from advanced lung cancer,  ends on a positive note, encouraging prison readers to become class conscious and all of us to study Marxism – ‘the science of Revolution – of global class war’.

This book is easy reading but is not short and at times there is perhaps a bit too much detail for those not already well-versed in the subject matter.   It is strongly recommended to anyone with an interest in US political struggles of 1970s or prison solidarity at any time. 

Lumpen – the autobiography of Ed Mead

Kersplebedeb Publishing

Published 2015, 360 pages, ISBN: 978-1-894946-78-0, Price $US20 

Nicki Jameson

Review: Out of the Box

out of the box

Out of the Box by Leroy Smith, published 2016, ISBN 978-09955520-0-5

Short of assassinating the monarch, shooting a police officer is about the most risky crime to commit. Do so and every single law enforcement agent will be on your case. And the pursuit of such suspects will extend far beyond these shores. In 1993, Leroy Smith found out just how true this is. He shot and wounded two police officers in Brixton, south London and fled to the USA. Two years on he was arrested by a Swat Team in Connecticut and after a spell in Bridport Correctional Centre, a high security state jail, he was returned to England and sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment.

Smith spent the whole of his prison sentence on Category A in the high security prison estate. Now free, he has written Out of the Box, a brutally honest story of the making of a criminal, in which he pulls no punches, nor makes excuses. He says that he is putting his story out in the hope that other underprivileged young black men will not follow the path he did.

Like many serving time in an unjust system, where black, ethnic minority and poor prisoners are massively over represented and where racism regularly displays its ugly face, Smith became politicised in prison. He educated himself by conversing with political prisoners, supplemented by ‘ten years of watching Newsnight every night, and lots of other news stations…as well as reading non-mainstream newspapers like Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

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