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Thursday, June 16, 2022

Students, Teachers Call For Stricter Gun Laws at Beaver's March For Our Lives Rally



Photo: Community organizer Julian Taylor speaks behind students at Beaver County’s March For Our Lives rally on Thursday, calling for stricter gun laws. “These are our future lawyers, our future presidents, our future leaders,” he said. “It’s time for us to have their back.”

By Chrissy Suttles

Beaver County Times

June 10, 2922 - BEAVER — In April, Iain Eastman’s former student opened fire on two teens in a Chippewa Township parking lot.

Those bullets missed the intended targets – instead striking a nearby structure – but it’s not the first time Eastman’s been touched by gun violence.

A Blackhawk High science teacher and father, Eastman is also a hunter and gun owner of three decades. Responsible firearm owners, he said, have an obligation to advocate for common sense gun laws in America.

As an educator, he vividly remembers his first in-service day dedicated to active shooter training in the wake of Sandy Hook’s massacre. Rather than improving curriculum, he spent the day learning how to disarm an assailant and build barricades to protect his students.

“There’s not a safe place anymore,” he told a crowd of about 100 people on the steps of the Beaver County Courthouse Thursday night. “There’s no ‘Beaver bubble’ that’s gonna protect us anymore. I used to teach in Baltimore. Four years after I left, there was a shooting on the first day of school in the cafeteria.”

Blackhawk High science teacher Iain Eastman speaks at Beaver County's March For Our Lives rally in Beaver Thursday.

Just weeks after an 18-year-old man slaughtered 19 children and two teachers with an AR-15-style rifle at a Texas elementary school, local residents, politicians and activists honored the victims and demanded stricter gun laws at a March For Our Lives rally in Beaver.

Eastman said he knows gun control works because fully automatic weapons – as opposed to semi-automatic weapons like AR-15-style rifles used in Uvalde and other mass shootings – are already highly regulated in America and rarely end up in the hands of civilians.

'What if that happened to me?'

Among the demonstrators Thursday were local students who shared the trauma of enduring regular active shooter drills and questioning their safety in the classroom. One Aliquippa Middle School student whose first name is Dashawn said he was afraid to return to school after hearing about the recent Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

“What if that person came to my school?” he asked. “It just had me thinking…what if that happened to me? How would my mom feel?”

Residents of all ages honored the victims of gun violence and demanded stricter gun laws at a March For Our Lives rally in Beaver.

Aliquippa Mayor Dwan Walker’s sister, Diedre, was shot and killed by her former boyfriend at her Valley Terrace apartment more than a decade ago.

“She was murdered by a man that should never have had a gun, stole a gun and shot my sister,” he said. “My mom still cries. I still cry. I miss her every day. It’s been 12 years, and I still wish I could hear her voice in my head. But I can’t.”

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Understanding 'The Correlation of Forces'


Why Russia Fumbled in Ukraine, China Lost Its Way, and America Should Exercise Restraint

By Michael Klare

Tomdispatch

In Western military circles, it’s common to refer to the “balance of forces” — the lineup of tanks, planes, ships, missiles, and battle formations on the opposing sides of any conflict. If one has twice as many combat assets as its opponent and the leadership abilities on each side are approximately equal, it should win. 

Based on this reasoning, most Western analysts assumed that the Russian army — with a seemingly overwhelming advantage in numbers and equipment — would quickly overpower Ukrainian forces. Of course, things haven’t exactly turned out that way. The Ukrainian military has, in fact, fought the Russians to a near-standstill. The reasons for that will undoubtedly be debated among military theorists for years to come. When they do so, they might begin with Moscow’s surprising failure to pay attention to a different military equation — the “correlation of forces” — originally developed in the former Soviet Union.

That notion differs from the “balance of forces” by placing greater weight on intangible factors. It stipulates that the weaker of two belligerents, measured in conventional terms, can still prevail over the stronger if its military possesses higher morale, stronger support at home, and the backing of important allies. Such a calculation, if conducted in early February, would have concluded that Ukraine’s prospects were nowhere near as bad as either Russian or Western analysts generally assumed, while Russia’s were far worse. And that should remind us of just how crucial an understanding of the correlation of forces is in such situations, if gross miscalculations and tragedies are to be avoided.

The Concept in Practice Before Ukraine

The notion of the correlation of forces has a long history in military and strategic thinking. Something like it, for example, can be found in the epilogue to Leo Tolstoy’s epic novel, War and Peace. Writing about Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, Tolstoy observed that wars are won not by the superior generalship of charismatic leaders but through the fighting spirit of common soldiers taking up arms against a loathsome enemy.

Such a perspective would later be incorporated into the military doctrine of the Russian Bolsheviks, who sought to calculate not only troop and equipment strength, but also the degree of class consciousness and support from the masses on each side of any potential conflict. Following the 1917 revolution in the midst of World War I, Russian leader Vladimir Lenin argued, for example, against a continuing war with Germany because the correlation of forces wasn’t yet right for the waging of “revolutionary war” against the capitalist states (as urged by his compatriot Leon Trotsky). “Summing up the arguments in favor of an immediate revolutionary war,” Lenin said, “it must be concluded that such a policy would perhaps respond to the needs of mankind to strive for the beautiful, the spectacular, and the striking, but that it would be totally disregarding the objective correlation of class forces and material factors at the present stage of the socialist revolution already begun.”

For Bolsheviks of his era, the correlation of forces was a “scientific” concept, based on an assessment of both material factors (numbers of troops and guns on each side) and qualitative factors (the degree of class consciousness involved). In 1918, for example, Lenin observed that “the poor peasantry in Russia… is not in a position immediately and at the present moment to begin a serious revolutionary war. To ignore this objective correlation of class forces on the present question would be a fatal blunder.” Hence, in March 1918, the Russians made a separate peace with the German-led Central Powers, ceding much territory to them and ending their country’s role in the world war.

As the Bolshevik Party became an institutionalized dictatorship under Joseph Stalin, the correlation-of-forces concept grew into an article of faith based on a belief in the ultimate victory of socialism over capitalism. During the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras of the 1960s and 1970s, Soviet leaders regularly claimed that world capitalism was in irreversible decline and the socialist camp, augmented by revolutionary regimes in the “Third World,” was destined to achieve global supremacy.

Such optimism prevailed until the late 1970s, when the socialist tide in the Third World began to recede. Most significant in this regard was a revolt against the communist government in Afghanistan. When the Soviet-backed People’s Democratic Party in Kabul came under attack by Islamic insurgents, or mujahideen, Soviet forces invaded and occupied the country. Despite sending ever larger troop contingents there and employing heavy firepower against the mujahideen and their local supporters, the Red Army was finally forced to limp home in defeat in 1989, only to see the Soviet Union itself implode not long after.

For U.S. strategists, the Soviet decision to intervene and, despite endless losses, persevere was proof that the Russian leaders had ignored the correlation of forces, a vulnerability to be exploited by Washington. In the 1980s, under President Ronald Reagan, it became U.S. policy to arm and assist anticommunist insurgents globally with the aim of toppling pro-Soviet regimes — a strategy sometimes called the Reagan Doctrine. Huge quantities of munitions were given to the mujahideen and rebels like the Contras in Nicaragua, usually via secret channels set up by the Central Intelligence Agency.

While not always successful, these efforts generally bedeviled the Soviet leadership. As Secretary of State George Shultz wrote gleefully in 1985, while the U.S. defeat in Vietnam had led the Soviets to believe “that what they called the global ‘correlation of forces’ was shifting in their favor,” now, thanks to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere, “we have reason to be confident that ‘the correlation of forces’ is shifting back in our favor.”

And yes, the Soviet failure in Afghanistan did indeed reflect an inability to properly weigh the correlation of all the factors involved — the degree to which the mujahideen’s morale outmatched that of the Soviets, the relative support for war among the Soviet and Afghan populations, and the role of outside help provided by the CIA. But the lessons hardly ended there. Washington never considered the implications of arming Arab volunteers under the command of Osama bin Laden or allowing him to create an international jihadist enterprise, “the base” (al-Qaeda), which later turned on the U.S., leading to the 9/11 terror attacks and a disastrous 20-year “global war on terror” that consumed trillions of dollars and debilitated the U.S. military without eliminating the threat of terrorism. American leaders also failed to calculate the correlation of forces when undertaking their own war in Afghanistan, ignoring the factors that led to the Soviet defeat, and so suffering the very same fate 32 years later.

Putin’s Ukraine Miscalculations

Much has already been said about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s miscalculations regarding Ukraine. They all began, however, with his failure to properly assess the correlation of forces involved in the conflict to come and that, eerily enough, resulted from Putin’s misreading of the meaning of the U.S. exit from Afghanistan. Continued

Monday, January 31, 2022

Can Ukrainians Survive East-West Conflict & Their Own Bad Actors?

 



The ethnic and cultural history within the formation of Ukraine, among other things, makes the resolution of the current situation immensely challenging.

By Jerry Harris and Garret Virchick

Ukraine has once again exploded into contention between Russia and the West. Where should the Left stand in this conflict? More importantly, caught between East and West, how can Ukraine resolve its internal problems based on its independence and self-determination?

To understand today’s situation, we need to start with a bit of history. In 1654 significant parts of modern-day Ukraine were incorporated into Tsarist Russia. The southern and eastern sections were added in 1920, while the far western region integrated in the 1940s, after 200 years under Austro-Hungarian rule. Crimea was added in 1954, and Ukraine as a modern nation came into existence in 1991, when 93 percent of the country approved a referendum declaring itself an independent state.

But that overwhelming vote in favor of independence contrasts starkly with the diversity of opinions about the current state of affairs in the country. There are deep divisions in Ukraine stemming from the regional divisions of history, language, identity, culture, and religion.

INDEPENDENCE AND THE RISE OF THE OLIGARCHS

After independence, the economy of Ukraine revolved around the export of raw materials, such as agricultural goods, iron ore, and coal. The eastern part of the country was industrialized and closely integrated with Russia. The western parts are more agrarian and looked increasingly towards the European market. The oligarchs that came to power through the privatization of state-owned corporations did little to develop the internal market, instead exporting billions to offshore tax havens.

As in many countries, globalization followed by the worldwide economic collapse in 2007 wreaked havoc in Ukraine. GDP fell, national debt grew, and millions left the country to find work in Russia and the EU, causing a 13% drop in the population. This economic crisis and the corruption of the ruling class brought on the recent turmoil. Although outside interference by Europe and the U.S. played a role in stoking the anger of the people, the root of the rebellion that took place in 2013 wasn’t foreign manipulation but internal conditions.

EUROINTEGRATION VS NATIONALISM

The modern globalized economy has seen a heightening of the contradiction between transnational capitalists and national capitalists. Transnational capitalists in Ukraine called for deeper integration into the European economy. These billionaires advocated ending protections for the internal markets in exchange for recognition from Europe, which would destroy various sectors of industry and increase unemployment. This strategy was opposed by national capitalists still attached to the internal economy and lacking sufficient capital to join the transnational elite.

This contradiction laid the groundwork for political upheaval in 2013, as President Victor Yanukovych sought loans to meet Ukraine’s skyrocketing debt obligations. The $17.5 billion offered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) came with neoliberal “reforms” that the transnational capitalists favored. The $15 billion Russian package contained no such reform demands and was backed by Ukraine’s national bourgeoisie.

Yanukovych vacillated between the two packages. His political base was in the country’s pro-Russian east. In the end he opted for the Russian package, which outraged Ukrainians in the country’s west who wanted stronger ties with Europe. This set off massive demonstrations that came to be called Euromaidan, after Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the central square in Kyiv where the protests took place. The civil unrest combined with government repression became increasingly violent on both sides with 130 confirmed deaths. By February Yanukovych was forced to resign and fled to Russia.

DEMOCRACY OR NEOFASCISM?

While the mass of Maidan protesters were largely liberal pro-Western activists, the absence of progressive leadership left a vacuum that was filled by anti-Russian right-wing nationalists, many of whom celebrated the pro-Nazi activities of Ukrainian fascists in World War II. With an ideological, cohesive, and motivated membership, they were able to play a leadership role.

Yanukovych was replaced as president by one of the lesser Ukrainian oligarchs, Petro Poroshenko. Many people in the eastern region felt that this violated the national elections. Some had never fully accepted the 1991 split with Russia. A movement arose that began to call for autonomy or independence. In response, the new government in Kyiv launched armed attacks which they called an anti-terrorist offensive, even though the eastern protests were no different than the beginnings of the protests in the west. Ethnic and regional differences were inflamed. Supporters of the new government labeled Eastern Ukrainians as vulgar, ignorant, and less educated. In the east, the new government was painted as a fascist junta, a threat to Russian language and cultural rights.

This conflict led to civil war. The government formed by Poroshenko was in the hands of neoliberal pro-Western elites. But proto-fascist forces were an important part of the governing alliance. The Svoboda party, which claims the tradition of the pro-Nazi Ukrainian Insurgent Army that participated in the mass killing of 70,000 Jewish and Polish citizens in World War II, received six cabinet positions. In addition, to help put down the revolt in the east, right-wing militias like the Azov battalion were recruited. The Azov battalion carries the Wolfsangel flag, formerly used by Hitler’s SS.

Poroshenko was ultimately defeated by Volodymyr Zelensky in the 2019 presidential elections. Zelensky, a reality TV star, rode to victory on an anti-corruption campaign. But his popularity has been waning and his regime is becoming more autocratic. He recently banned an opposition news site and sanctioned its editor.

Ukraine regions. Map by Peter Fitzgerald, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

RUSSIA, CRIMEA, AND THE ROOTS OF THE CURRENT CONFLICT

Under attack and labeled as “terrorists,” the people in eastern Ukraine organized armed self-defense militias to combat the western military offensive. But the battle did not stay internal. Russian arms and volunteers quickly crossed the border to join the fight. Many of these volunteers were reactionary pan-Slavic nationalists. Alexander Borodai, who became prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in the Donbas region of Ukraine, came from a group that published the far-right newspaper Zavtra. His rebel commander, Igor Strelkov, is known as a Christian religious zealot.

In a violation of national sovereignty, Russia invaded Crimea in early 2014 and eventually annexed the region. Vladimir Putin maintained that if the people of Crimea or Novorossiya (a proposed confederation of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic in Donbas) want to secede, they have the legitimate democratic right to do so. Left scholar and activist Alexander Buzgalin pointed out Putin’s hypocrisy, given his denial of democratic rights to nationalities within Russia that also want self-determination.

Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea led to economic sanctions by the West. As Russian Marxist Boris Kargarlitsky points out, “The situation confronting our elites in this respect is more or less straightforward; they cannot enter actively into confrontation with the West without dealing crushing blows to their own interests, to their own capital holdings and to their own networks, methods of rule and way of life.” According to Credit Suisse, Russia’s 110 billionaires control 35 percent of the nation’s wealth. There is no doubt that the economic boycott has hurt.

In the West, Gideon Rachman, the political editor for the Financial Times made similar observations: “The deep connections between politics and business in modern Russia mean that the country’s most powerful people often have a direct personal stake in the continued prosperity of Western Europe. They have business relationships to maintain, investments to protect, houses in the south of France, children at school in Britain…people with international business interests tend not be nationalists. They cannot afford to be.” But this also held true for Western transnational capitalists; the ties are a two-way street crossing borders and nationalist politics. Hurting Russian economic interests hurt Western interests as well.

While the sanctions have hurt, in the long term Russia’s strategy seems to focus on keeping Ukraine out of NATO, protecting Russian language and cultural rights, and maintaining strong ties with the Ukrainian economy.

NATO AND THE RUSSIAN BUILDUP ON THE BORDER

The Ukrainian people are bearing the brunt of the conflict between competing capitalist interests. Transnational capitalists want a country integrated into Europe, and they unite with proto-fascists to ensure that direction. Capitalists rooted in the internal economy support right-wing nationalists and religious zealots to maintain their power. Russia amasses troops on the border demanding that Ukraine not join NATO. Western elites say it’s up to Ukrainians to decide, while holding meetings with Russia without Ukrainian representatives. But what do the Ukrainian people really want?

In a recent article published in LeftEast, Volodymyr Ishchenko points out that Ukrainians are far from unified about NATO. He calls the Euromaidan movement a deficient revolution that did not form any national unity, but simply benefited a section of elite oligarchs. Ukraine’s neutral status is ingrained in its constitution, which expressly forbids it from entering any military bloc. In fact, NATO membership was supported by only a small minority prior to the events of 2014. Although support for NATO membership jumped up to 40 percent after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, it may still be a minority opinion in the population.

Ishchenko further points out the reasons for the increase in support. One is that Russia’s invasion convinced previously skeptical Ukrainians to seek protection against further Russian hostilities. But also, and perhaps more importantly, the survey no longer included the most pro-Russian Ukrainian citizens in the east of the country!

IS THERE A PATH FORWARD?

In December of 1917 the First All-Ukrainian Congress of Councils declared the formation of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. The Congress formed a close alliance with the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and after a long civil war, in 1922 became a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. These first worker-led revolutions inspired millions of people around the world. But while there were tremendous advances made by the working classes, there were also serious mistakes made in these first attempts at building socialist society. Socialism in Ukraine ended in failure with the breakup of the USSR in 1991. To build a truly democratic socialism today it will take a critical examination of both the internal and external factors that led to this collapse.

In the past 31 years post-Soviet Ukraine has done little to solve the problems that arose during those 75 years of Soviet-style socialism. And it is equally true that geopolitical maneuvers by the United States and EU in the West or Putin’s Russia in the East will not provide the answers. Ukraine’s problems must be solved by the diverse sectors of Ukrainian society.

To that end, the U.S. Left must oppose any attempt by the Biden administration to include Ukraine in NATO. The expansion of NATO is doing little to provide peace and stability. Rather its move into Eastern Europe is seen as a provocation, heightening the tensions in the region. CODEPINK, the women-led grassroots organization working to end U.S. wars and militarization, has put out a petition demanding NATO and the US stop escalating the conflict in Ukraine.

Ishchenko suggests that the Minsk Accords, which brought about a ceasefire after the Russian invasion of Crimea and massive fighting, might offer a path forward by involving the pro-Russian, breakaway eastern portions of Ukraine with the rest of the country in decision-making about the country’s future. But there is no international body with the legitimacy and the will to elbow Russia and NATO out of the way and bring all factions of Ukrainians to the table.

As this article goes to press tensions are high in the region, with Russian troops amassing on the border of Ukraine. While nothing is certain, a Russian invasion is a strong possibility. When and if that happens, civil war within Ukraine is likely. There is already maneuvering in Kyiv. Poroshenko recently returned to Kyiv to face charges leveled by Zelensky, who accuses him of treason and support for terrorism during his tenure as president, when he allowed the purchase of coal from mines controlled by Russian-backed separatists in the east. Poroshenko, who has a base in Ukrainian nationalist politics, is criticizing Zelensky for giving ground to Russia in peace negotiations.

Short of the emergence of a progressive people’s movement in Ukraine, there may be little that can be done to stabilize the country and prevent bloodshed. But what is also needed, given the role of Putin’s Russia, is a strategy the Bolsheviks called “revolutionary defeatism.” Lenin called on revolutionaries to wage a campaign advocating the defeat of their own government during World War I as the Tsar sent countless Russian soldiers to die in that imperialist war. Progressives in Russia should consider this if Putin decides to invade Ukraine. Learning the lessons of the past is the order of day for all of us working to build a better, more socialist future.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Stop the new Nuclear Weapons Money Pit Missile, the 'Ground Based Deterrent System'


By Kevin Martin

Peace Action

The U.S. is in the early stages of developing a new nuclear weapons system, an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) dubbed the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent or GBSD but more accurately described as the Money Pit Missile. Its initial price tag is $100 billion, with a lifetime cost of well over twice that. The GBSD is designed to replace the Minuteman III missiles now deployed in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado. Northrop Grumman serves as the main contractor, with many subcontractors involved as usual in large military projects. 

1. Legislation:Critics, including Peace Action and dozens of other organizations, think the GBSD is too expensive and unnecessary, even dangerous and provocative, and runs counter to the direction the US and the world needs to go in, toward eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide. The program’s fate will likely be decided this year, so action to stop this monstrosity before it gets too much traction (and funding) is timely. Following are resources for education and action:

U.S. Senator Ed Markey’s and Representative Ro Khanna’s ICBM Act (Investing in Cures Before Missiles Act)

2. Articles/Reports:

Peace Action President Kevin Martin’s op-ed in Common Dreams

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (long but good article by Elisabeth Eaves, it delves into local, national and global aspects of the issue.)

Excellent op-ed by Judith Mohling of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center

The Guardian on the early state of play on the issue

Covert Action Magazine’s article adds information on policy and politics.

Federation of American Scientists’ report on Alternatives to GBSD. Another report is to be published soon. 

Report by William Hartung (Center for International Policy) on the special interest lobby behind Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles.