Sunday, March 30, 2008

Without a party the revolution is difficult

Aldo Díaz Lacayo’s article – Without a party the revolution is difficult – appeared in Managua’s El Nuevo Diario last November. It is a vital contribution to understanding the controversial role of the newly established Citizens’ Power Councils and their relationship to both the FSLN (Sandinista National Liberation Front) and the Ortega government.

Díaz is a prominent Nicaraguan diplomat and historian. A leading FSLN ideologue, he is a close collaborator of Daniel Ortega. He was named ambassador to the UN but has been unable to assume duties in New York for health reasons.

His article helps to debunk the notion of the monolithic character of the FSLN. The Sandinista party is a mass movement and is home to many diverse currents and conflicting interest groups, including (as Díaz points out) an organized group of capitalist investors.

Below is my English translation of the article. The original Spanish appears following the end notes.

Felipe Stuart C.


Without a party the revolution is difficult

By Aldo Díaz Lacayo

El Nuevo Diario | noviembre 23, 2007

The Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional [Sandinista National Liberation Front/FSLN] is more a circumstantial party [partido presentido ](i) than an organic entity. Leaders at all levels feel part and even active members of its structure, but they are not. And the few who really are active are aware of its organic weakness.

This is not a new situation. It is a consequence of the brutal demobilization of 1990; a product of the “save your own skin” syndrome that attacked the whole world left after the fall of real socialism; of the 1994 modernicist (ii) rupture that offered itself as a supposed surpassing of that syndrome, convinced that the historic Frente Sandinista would never again return to power; of the withdrawal of the counterpart (iii) for electoral reasons; and then two intervening electoral defeats that reduced to a minimum any expectation of getting back into government.

In other words, the Frente Sandinista’s return to government took place at a time when the party’s institutions were extremely weak, and in a situation of maximum ideological heterogeneity. It occurred in a country bankrupted by neoliberalism aggravated by the oil crisis; in a situation of great world instability and hence a revolutionary international ambience. Its return to government took place in highly contradictory conditions: very negative within the country but extraordinarily positive externally, even taking into account Nicaragua’s weakness in the face of imperialism.

The fundamental challenge of Daniel Ortega Saavedra’s government is how to surmount this new national and international reality given such structural weakness. He cannot evade that challenge. As well, he is obliged to meet it by giving preference to strategic solutions stemming from his revolutionary commitment. That means he must cope with headwinds and risk inevitable errors and the outburst of old and new contradictions. He has to do that to combat the dictatorship of global capitalism (as he calls it), now in crisis, and to consolidate the revolutionary tendency on the national level, and throughout the Americas and the South as a whole.

That is the structural background to the discussion that is taking place within Sandinismo (iv) and in our country. This background is real, but not yet grasped. Precisely for that reason, the discussion arising within the circumstantial party [FSLN] is projected to public opinion as personal differences, rather than the expression of objective contradictions. It is cast as a discussion between organic-historic party leaders and de facto upstarts, ignoring that the scaling of the struggle always produces new leaderships; and, in that sense, all authorities are in practice de facto.

It’s true that personality differences impinge on the handling of political-ideological contradictions. Holding positions of power strengthens one’s capacity to handle them, as in the case of the current discussion. One aggravating factor is that one of those positions is represented by the wife of the president. That lends an undesirable family bias to the discussion. However, despite all its potential graveness, none of that annuls the existence of the objective conditions.

The fundamental contradiction is that the thesis of a social democratic socialism is being promoted within the circumstantial party though the commercial activism of well known leaders – and also with the undesirable, but natural support of the local right, and their counterparts in all latitudes – while President Daniel Ortega Saavedra has decided to orient his government to revolutionary socialist positions along the same lines as the Sandinista revolution and what is occurring in South America.That is Daniel Ortega’s explicit political will, whether or not he is managing to impart his government with a revolutionary socialist orientation. He is doing that alone, with the active support of his wife Rosario [Murillo] He is aware that this adds an important subjective element to the fundamental contradiction, no doubt in order to get to its root and overcome it. He is applying that line without concession either to the circumstantial party or the opposition. He is confronting in a combative spirit limitations imposed on him by general conditions in which he is operating, and he is taking on the contradictions that this confrontation is producing, above all that between his heartfelt discourse and the reality.

The situation becomes complicated because prior to the consolidation of the South American revolutionary tendency, the social democratic orientation was general throughout the South and then came to dominate the ranks of the Frente Sandinista, also in a circumstantial way. And, as well, because the contradiction between social democratic socialism and revolutionary socialism is still not fully developed. It is not even foreseeable at this time in definitive form. Only the government, and more concretely President Daniel Ortega, has the capacity and hence the responsibility to cut through this impasse. The contradiction has suddenly taken form in the Citizens’ Power Councils (CPC) that the government has designed as its basic instrument to handle, and if possible, overcome the national crisis through a socialist orientation and through mobilizing the citizenry. Their very nature, therefore, imbues the CPCs with a highly political-ideological potential and makes them the likely structure of a real new party, drawing in citizens of other political sympathies and thereby reactivating the Sandinista revolution. Frequent social mobilization inevitably results in increased ideological consciousness of the people.

Given the actual condition of the Frente Sandinista and the country, the CPCs were born from power and logically for power. For that reason they are in contradiction with the established partisan and national powers. That same reason explains why they exacerbate contradictions within the circumstantial party and provoke radical rejection by the right of all stripes. All of this is aggravated because they are starting up with activists with ideological deficiencies and with little or no awareness of the contradiction involved, motivated to act by policies of leaders who are also in power, and thereby taking up their defense.

The ideological corollary of this critical analysis to the new Sandinista reality in its national context, without qualifying it in any way, is that the circumstantial party is a permanent cause of political-ideological contradictions. Political struggles for control of the party dilute its ideological goals and run the risk of keeping it in permanent instability, forever on the edge of splits, or being converted into a traditional party of a democratic-representative ilk, without grassroots support. To put it another way, the revolution becomes much more difficult without a real, ideologically united party.

Translator’s Endnotes

(i) The original Spanish reads: “Más que orgánico, el Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional es un partido presentido.” The author explains his use of this term (presentido) in the very next sentence. He uses it several times later in the article without attempting to qualify his meaning, leaving it open to various perceptions.

(ii) The author, in a letter to the editor of El Nuevo Diario, protested that the copy editor had changed his word “modernicista” to “modernista.” While acknowledging he had used a neologism that does not appear in standard Spanish dictionaries, he explained that the word has come into use with a special twist in meaning that was vital to his point. “As I understand it, he wrote, “in political-ideological terms modernicismo implies a rationalization of modernity. That is, using the concept of modernity in logical but intangible terms in order to justify a decision. In the political-ideological case I refer to, I mean the justification for abandoning the historical orientation of the Frente Sandinista.” See Con todo respeto, corrigiendo al corrector -

(iii) A reference to a social democratic split from the FSLN that subsequently formed the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), an electoral party.

(iv) The term Sandinismo refers to the broad Sandinista movement and culture of Nicaraguans and takes in a majority of people with anti-imperialist traditions and concepts.

<<<<<<<<<<< >>>>>>>>>>>>

Sin partido la revolución es difícil
Por Aldo Díaz Lacayo
15:45 - 23/11/2007

Más que orgánico, el Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional es un partido presentido. Dirigentes de todos los niveles se sienten parte y hasta miembros activos de su estructura, pero no lo son. Y los pocos que realmente lo son, están conscientes de su debilidad orgánica.

Esta situación no es nueva, es consecuencia de la brutal desmovilización de 1990, producto del síndrome del “sálvese quien pueda” que atacó a la izquierda universal, después de la caída del socialismo real; de la ruptura modernista de 1994, que se dio como supuesta superación de este síndrome con la convicción de que el Frente Sandinista histórico jamás regresaría al gobierno; del repliegue de la contraparte por razones electorales; y desde luego de las dos derrotas electorales intermedias, que disminuyeron al máximo la expectativa de este regreso.

En otras palabras, el regreso al gobierno del Frente Sandinista se dio en condiciones partidarias de extrema debilidad institucional y de máxima heterogenización ideológica; en un país en bancarrota neoliberal, agravada por la crisis petrolera; en medio de una gran inestabilidad mundial, y por lo mismo en un entorno internacional revolucionario. Un regreso, pues, en condiciones políticas altamente contradictorias: muy negativas a lo interno, pero extraordinariamente positivas a lo externo, aún considerando la debilidad de Nicaragua frente al imperialismo.

Cómo acometer esta nueva realidad, nacional e internacional, con tanta debilidad estructural es el reto fundamental del gobierno de Daniel Ortega Saavedra. No puede soslayarlo. Y está obligado, además, a asumirlo privilegiando soluciones estratégicas desde su compromiso revolucionario; contra el tiempo, a riesgo de inevitables errores y del afloramiento de viejas y nuevas contradicciones. Para combatir la dictadura del capitalismo global, como él la llama, actualmente en crisis, y consolidar la tendencia revolucionaria, nacional, americana y del Sur.

Éste es el trasfondo estructural de la discusión que se está dando en el sandinismo, y en el país nacional. Un trasfondo real pero aún no asumido. Precisamente por esto la discusión aparece a lo interno del partido presentido y se proyecta a la opinión pública como diferencias personales, y no como expresión de contradicciones objetivas; como una discusión entre autoridades partidarias orgánico-históricas y de hecho-advenedizas; ignorando que en la práctica todas las autoridades son de hecho, y que el escalamiento de la lucha siempre produce nuevos liderazgos.

Es cierto que las diferencias de personalidades inciden en el manejo de las contradicciones político-ideológicas, y que las posiciones de poder potencian este manejo, como es el caso de la discusión actual; con el agravante de que una de estas posiciones está representada por la esposa del Presidente, lo cual le imprime a la discusión un sesgo familiar no deseado. Sin embargo, a pesar de toda su gravedad potencial, nada de esto anula la existencia de contradicciones objetivas.

La contradicción fundamental es que a lo interno del partido presentido y con el activismo mercantilista de connotados dirigentes --y también con el indeseable, pero natural respaldo de la derecha local y de todas las latitudes--, se impulsa la tesis de un socialismo socialdemócrata; mientras que el presidente Daniel Ortega Saavedra ha decidido orientar su gobierno hacia posiciones socialistas revolucionarias, en la misma línea de la revolución sandinista y de la que se está dando en Suramérica.

Con independencia de que el Presidente esté logrando darle a su gobierno una orientación socialista revolucionaria, ésta es su voluntad política explícita. Y la está implementando sólo con el apoyo activo de su esposa Rosario, consciente de que le agrega un importante elemento subjetivo a la contradicción fundamental, sin duda para radicalizarla y superarla; aplicándola sin concesiones, ni al partido presentido ni a la oposición; enfrentando con espíritu combativo las limitaciones que le imponen las condiciones generales en que está actuando, y asumiendo las contradicciones que este enfrentamiento produce, en primer lugar entre su discurso sentido y la realidad.

La situación se complica porque antes de la consolidación de la tendencia revolucionaria sudamericana, y en general del Sur, y también en forma presentida, la orientación socialdemócrata primaba en las filas del Frente Sandinista; y también porque aún no está plenamente conformada la contradicción socialismo socialdemócrata/socialismo revolucionario. Ni siquiera es previsible en este momento su conformación definitiva. Sólo el gobierno, y más concretamente el presidente Daniel Ortega Saavedra, tiene la capacidad y desde luego la responsabilidad de romper este impasse.

De pronto, la contradicción ha tomado cuerpo en los Consejos de Poder Ciudadano, CPC, diseñados como instrumento fundamental del gobierno para manejar, y de ser posible, revertir la crisis nacional con orientación revolucionaria, a través de la movilización ciudadana. Por su propia naturaleza, entonces, son una instancia de altísimo potencial político-ideológico y probable estructura del nuevo partido real, cooptando a ciudadanos de otras simpatías políticas y reactivando así la revolución sandinista. Porque inevitablemente la frecuencia de la movilización social se traduce en aumento de la conciencia ideológica del pueblo.

Por otra parte, por las actuales condiciones del Frente Sandinista y del país, los CPC han nacido desde el poder, lógicamente para el poder, y por la misma razón en contradicción con el poder establecido, partidario y nacional, lo cual explica porqué exacerban las contradicciones a lo interno del partido presentido y provocan el rechazo radical de la derecha, en todos sus matices. Y todo esto con el agravante de que están arrancando con una militancia con deficiencias ideológicas, con poca o ninguna conciencia de la contradicción planteada, actuando en consecuencia por motivaciones políticas alrededor de liderazgos también de poder, y asumiendo así su defensa.

El corolario ideológico de este análisis crítico, sin valoraciones de ninguna especie, sobre la nueva realidad sandinista en el contexto nacional, es que el partido presentido es causa permanente de contradicciones político-ideológicas. Porque los objetivos ideológicos se diluyen en las luchas políticas por el control del partido, con el riesgo de mantenerlo en permanente inestabilidad, siempre al borde de la ruptura, o de convertirlo en un partido tradicional, sin arraigo popular, al mejor estilo democrático-representativo. Dicho de otro modo, sin partido real, ideológicamente unitario, la revolución se hace mucho más difícil.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Hillary's Nasty Pastorate

It is difficult for people outside the United States to understand the complexities, idiosyncrasies, crudities, and subtleties of US politics. It is far easier for those born and raised in such a violent, racist society, that speaks and thinks in codes, and specializes in denial of obvious realities, to grasp the significance of events and statements by political leaders.

Barbara Ehrenreich’s piece from The Nation on “Hillary's Nasty Pastorate” helps to decode at least one element of the campaign (its religious dimension) and to understand the great philosophical divide between her and Obama.

This article can be found on the web at

Felipe Stuart


The Nation
March 19, 2008

There's a reason Hillary Clinton has remained relatively silent during the flap over intemperate remarks by Barack Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. When it comes to unsavory religious affiliations, she's a lot more vulnerable than Obama.

You can find all about it in a widely under-read article in the September 2007 issue of Mother Jones, in which Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet reported that "through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as "The "Fellowship," also known as The Family. But it won't be a secret much longer. Jeff Sharlet's shocking exposé The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power will be published in May.
[ ]

Sean Hannity has called Obama's church a "cult," but that term applies far more aptly to Clinton's "Family," which is organized into "cells"--their term--and operates sex-segregated group homes for young people in northern Virginia. In 2002, Sharlet joined The Family's home for young men, forswearing sex, drugs and alcohol, and participating in endless discussions of Jesus and power. He wasn't undercover; he used his own name and admitted to being a writer. But he wasn't completely out of danger either. When he went outdoors one night to make a cell phone call, he was followed. He still gets calls from Family associates asking him to meet them in diners--alone.

The Family's most visible activity is its blandly innocuous National Prayer Breakfast, held every February in Washington. But almost all its real work goes on behind the scenes--knitting together international networks of right-wing leaders, most of them ostensibly Christian. In the 1940s, The Family reached out to former and not-so-former Nazis, and its fascination with that exemplary leader, Adolf Hitler, has continued, along with ties to a whole bestiary of murderous thugs. As Sharlet reported in Harper's in 2003:

During the 1960s the Family forged relationships between the U.S. government and some of the most anti-Communist (and dictatorial) elements within Africa's postcolonial leadership. The Brazilian dictator General Costa e Silva, with Family support, was overseeing regular fellowship groups for Latin American leaders, while, in Indonesia, General Suharto (whose tally of several hundred thousand "Communists" killed marks him as one of the century's most murderous dictators) was presiding over a group of fifty Indonesian legislators. During the Reagan Administration the Family helped build friendships between the U.S. government and men such as Salvadoran general Carlos Eugenios Vides Casanova, convicted by a Florida jury of the torture of thousands, and Honduran general Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, himself an evangelical minister, who was linked to both the CIA and death squads before his own demise.

At the heart of The Family's American branch is a collection of powerful right-wing politicos, who include, or have included, Sam Brownback, Ed Meese, John Ashcroft, James Inhofe and Rick Santorum. They get to use The Family's spacious estate on the Potomac, The Cedars, which is maintained by young men in Family group homes and where meals are served by The Family's young women's group. And, at The Family's frequent prayer gatherings, they get powerful jolts of spiritual refreshment, tailored to the already powerful.Clinton fell in with The Family in 1993, when she joined a Bible study group composed of wives of conservative leaders like Jack Kemp and James Baker. When she ascended to the Senate, she was promoted to what Sharlet calls the Family's "most elite cell," the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast, which included, until his downfall, Virginia's notoriously racist Senator George Allen. This has not been a casual connection for Clinton.

She has written of Doug Coe, The Family's publicity-averse leader, that he is "a unique presence in Washington: a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship with God."

Furthermore, The Family takes credit for some of Clinton's rightward legislative tendencies, including her support for a law guaranteeing "religious freedom" in the workplace, such as for pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions and police officers who refuse to guard abortion clinics.

What drew Clinton into the sinister heart of the international right? Maybe it was just a phase in her tormented search for identity, marked by ever-changing hairstyles and names: Hillary Rodham, Mrs. Bill Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton and now Hillary Clinton. She reached out to many potential spiritual mentors during her White House days, including New Age guru Marianne Williamson and the liberal rabbi Michael Lerner. But it was the Family association that stuck.

Sharlet generously attributes Clinton's involvement to the under-appreciated depth of her religiosity, but he himself struggles to define The Family's theological underpinnings. The Family avoids the word Christian but worships Jesus, though not the Jesus who promised the earth to the "meek." They believe that, in mass societies, it's only the elites who matter, the political leaders who can build God's "dominion" on earth. Insofar as The Family has a consistent philosophy, it's all about power--cultivating it, building it and networking it together into ever-stronger units, or "cells." "We work with power where we can," Doug Coe has said, and "build new power where we can't."

Obama has given a beautiful speech on race and his affiliation with the Trinity Unity Church of Christ. Now it's up to Clinton to explain--or, better yet, renounce--her long-standing connection with the fascist-leaning Family.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

“ I’d call it being Black in America’

Paul Kellogg has written a hard-hitting and superb defense of Barack Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. I recommend it not just for what he says, but for its excellent journalistic form (it is posted below).

I think, however, that his comments fall short of capturing the dynamic behind Obama’s Philadelphia speech that I commented on yesterday.

It is true that the dredging up of Wright’s comments by Obama’s opponents put him “on the defensive.” In response Obama, for reasons Paul explains very cogently, decided that he had to “completely reject” Wright’s statements as “not only wrong, but divisive.”

But that is not the only element of this response.

He also said, following an extensive eulogy of Wright’s positive contributions to the Black community and cause, that “Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.”

And to sharpen this side of his message he added: “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.”

Obama speech captures his difficulty of sitting on the horns of a dilemma. His broad youth constituency, and not just among Blacks, would find Wright’s denunciations of the system and Black oppression as right on. But, as Paul explains, “Obama’s campaign is in a double prison. First he is up against the deep racism of a society founded on slavery and only recently emerging from apartheid-like conditions in the American South, a society then that is deeply racist. Second, he is trapped inside a Democratic Party whose origins and history are dripping with that same racism. It was the Democratic Party “Dixiecrats” who for generations tried to preserve White privilege in post Civil War United States, the Democratic Party which has taken turns with the Republicans waging racist wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.”

Hence, Obama must both reject Wright’s comments, but embrace the man and his contributions to the Black community.

Paul does not comment on another important element of the speech which I pointed out in my post yesterday. Obama forcefully challenges the reactionary ruling class notion of that US society is as good as it gets, and will always be as it is. This reactionary and self-serving ideology of the rich traces its lineage to Alexander Pope’s famous “An Essay on Man: Epistle I.”
All nature is but art, unknown to thee;
All chance, direction, which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony, not understood;
All partial evil, universal good:
And, spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.

Obama’s rejection of that ideology is an important opening for socialists in the United States to build on, to take to its logical conclusion. The US people can not only change race relations in their country, they can change class relations. Moreover, to tackle racism in any lasting way they must get at its roots which are deeply embedded in class exploitation.

Obama’s speech invites discussion and debate on some very fundamental issues. He poses questions that he cannot answer. But, it is an advance that the leader of an important wing of a major bourgeois party raises them in the heat of his battle for the presidential nomination.

The Marxist left should engage his supporters among youth, in the Black communities and movements, among immigrants, and in the labor movement in further debate on those questions.

Felipe Stuart

‘I wouldn’t call it radical – “ I’d call it being Black in America’

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

Old sermons by Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor, have caused a storm of outrage to sweep through the presidential campaign in the United States. It is really a storm of hypocrisy. The outrage should be saved for the conditions faced by African Americans, conditions that remain appalling long after the end of slavery and Jim Crow.

In one of the sermons, Wright says: "The government gives them [African Americans] the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human."[1] An ABC news reporter asked parishioners whether they thought Wright’s views were extreme. One said: “He spoke the truth, he continues to speak the truth, and people can label that as radical, but I say it’s insightful.” Another said, “No, I wouldn’t call it radical, I’d call it being Black in America.”[2]

The United States Census tells us something about being Black in America. Black men are twice as likely as Whites and Hispanics not to finish high school, and Whites and Hispanics are twice as likely as Black men to graduate from university with a Bachelor’s degree or more. Unemployment for Black men is in double digits, twice that of Black and Hispanic men. For Black women, unemployment rates are more than twice that of White women. The poverty rate for Blacks in 2001 was 23 percent, compared to 8 percent for non-Hispanic Whites. Put this figure another way – one poor person in four in 2001 was Black, far in excess of their share of the population.[3]

The American prison system tells us something about being Black in America. Black men in America are more than six times as likely as White men to end up in prison. For White men in 2006, 487 out of every 100,000 were in jail. For Black men the figure was an appalling 3,042 per 100,000.[4] For young Black men, the figures go from appalling to barbaric. One in nine black men, ages 20 to 34, are serving time in prison.[5] Put this in the terms used earlier – for every 100,000 young black men in America, eleven thousand, one hundred and eleven are in prison. These numbers only hint at the terrible reality faced by these young people. American prisons are cauldrons of rape. In the first ever survey of sexual abuse in the prison system, the group Stop Prisoner Rape reported that in 2007 alone, approximately 60,500 inmates were “subjected to sexual abuse.”[6] “God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.” These are the facts. But these facts notwithstanding, Wright’s comments have put Obama on the defensive. “I completely reject” them Obama told a town-hall meeting at a high school in Plainfield Indiana, March 15.[7] Obama is up against the racism in American society from a different front. The more his candidacy has emerged as a credible one, the more the campaign inside the Democratic Party has polarized on racial lines. Obama’s campaign has captured the hope of millions. But to get elected, he needs to speak to a section of the electorate that does not want to hear about America’s systemic racism – and that means distancing himself from Wright.

According to John Ibbitson, in the Globe and Mail, “in early primaries, Mr. Obama often took a majority of the White vote, or at least of White male voters; in Mississippi’s primary last week, Mr. Obama took 92 per cent of the Black vote but only 26 per cent of the White vote.”[8] These kinds of statistics will figure prominently in the selection of the Democratic standard bearer.

Neither Obama nor Hillary Clinton can win enough delegates through the remaining primaries and caucuses, to secure the candidacy. Each will need to win over the non-elected delegates to the convention, the several hundred “super delegates” — party elders and full-timers – who will hold the balance of power. There is a real possibility that these super delegates will give the candidacy to Clinton, even if Obama has won more states, more delegates and more popular vote than her. There will be many of those super delegates open to an argument that a Black candidate cannot win the votes of substantial numbers of white American voters.

Obama’s campaign is in a double prison. First he is up against the deep racism of a society founded on slavery and only recently emerging from apartheid-like conditions in the American South, a society then that is deeply racist. Second, he is trapped inside a Democratic Party whose origins and history are dripping with that same racism. It was the Democratic Party “Dixiecrats” who for generations tried to preserve White privilege in post Civil War United States, the Democratic Party which has taken turns with the Republicans waging racist wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and around the world.

But even if the campaign of one man inside an old, establishment party will not transform this grim reality, we need to angrily reject the indignant howls of those “offended” by the comments of Obama’s pastor. Let them learn from Wright to direct their rage against the prison system, the education system, and the economic system, which remain to this day stained top to bottom with racism.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Barack Obama’s Speech on Race

Although I don’t agree with Obama on many questions he addresses in this talk, I have to say that it is a brilliant and powerful presentation.

He argues that US society can be changed. He says that it is not condemned to remain forever a dinosaur world of racist and sexist oppression. That is an important concept that the US ruling class fears. What he fails to acknowledge is that real change can only come about by uniting the exploited and oppressed majorities of the country in a struggle against the mostly white ruling class and their economic system. His call for unity is rooted in projecting an ethical concept of change, of uniting “all good men and women” to the cause of change for the betterment of all. Nevertheless, if his campaign can help break apart the ideological straitjacket of what-is-must –always-be, it will provide openings for more effective strategies for changing the system.

Obama’s approach is not new. If one looks back historically, there are many examples of similar ethical appeals for change. But it is striking a chord now in US society because of the depravity of ruling class politics and the predator culture brought to its most acute expression over the last two decades under both the Clinton and Bush administrations. This is a culture that glories in the contrast between obscene wealth and growing poverty, in permanent war, in torture as a legitimate aspect of justice, and in an insane and irrational assault of the environment.

Obamas’s refusal to trash his former pastor, Reverend Wright is also important to note. While stating his disagreements, he also explained the roots of Wright’s anger and anti-system views in the experience of Black oppression. My sense is that this shows Obama’s awareness that his youth base is largely sympathetic to Wright’s views or at least regard them as a legitimate part of a necessary rethinking in the imperial heartland.

It will be interesting to see whether the giant US media monopolies will give any play to this speech, or whether Obama’s campaign will have to pay an arm and a leg to get it disseminated on a mass scale.

Felipe Stuart C.
March 18, 2008


Barack Obama’s Speech on Race

The following is the text as prepared for delivery of Senator Barack Obama’s speech on race in Philadelphia, as provided by his presidential campaign.

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together – unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working-and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man who's been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

[Closed due to the housing crisis]

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Monday, March 17, 2008

World Banker and His Cash Return Home

Please take the time to read this most interesting item from the New York Times on the experience of emigrant workers and the issue of family remittances at

Somewhile back I submitted another New York Times article on emigrant workers and family remittances. This issue is also discussed from a Nicaraguan point of view in my blog at

Dilip Ratha’s experience and contribution to understanding this phenomenon is indispensable to developing a clear understanding of the complexities of this process.

I would appreciate the opportunity to interview Ratha about the methodology used to calculate remittances.

The reason is simple. I have spent a lot of time over the last 25 years away from Nicaragua. But I always sent money back to my family. Most of it was not sent though Western Union or the banks (they take a big chunk out of your apple). Most went in the wallets of kind friends who agreed to take modest sums from Canada to my family. How is that kind of remittance captured in World Bank calculations? I know from personal experience in my own barrio in Managua that recipients of remittances deeply resent the rip off of businesses like Western Union and the banks.

I recently transferred a modest sum of money from Canada to my own bank in Managua, and was charged $25 at that end, $15 dollars by a transfer bank in Miami, and another $15 by the local bank! The only word I know for that is parasite – in this case three of them.

I think our Nicaraguan government should nationalize the process of transfer of remittances and reduce to real cost the price of making money transfers. Given that we have a free trade agreement with the USA, Nicaragua should set up a network of agencies in that country to handles low cost (non-profit) family remittances. And banks here should be banned from levying charges against their own clients. They already reap profit from the interest earned from these funds.

Felipe Stuart

March 17, 2008

World Banker and His Cash Return Home

SINDHEKELA, India — An important man from the World Bank recently arrived in this isolated village, where monkeys prowl rutted roads, rain pours through the school roof and the native son who achieved the most did so by going away.
Lessons about global poverty were waiting, but so were his sisters’ chapattis. Migrant and migration scholar, Dilip Ratha was home.

No one has done more than Mr. Ratha to make migration and its potential rewards a top-of-the-agenda concern in the world’s development ministries. And no place has done more to shape his views than this forgotten hamlet, where he studied under the lone streetlight and began a poor boy’s improbable journey to the front ranks of an elite field.

“When I think about the effects of migration, I think about Sindhekela,” he said.
Working from his office in Washington five years ago, Mr. Ratha produced the first global tally of remittances, the money that migrants send home, and stunned experts from himself on down with the discovery of their size. Gathered from a trickle of hard-earned cash, the sums now exceed $300 billion a year.

In subsequent work, Mr. Ratha, 45, has pushed to reduce money-transfer fees and increase the productivity of the money that is sent. Allies say his work has prompted projects in governments and beyond that could benefit millions of people. Skeptics argue that if migration brought development, Mexico would be Switzerland.

A soft-spoken man whose seeming diffidence disguises his drive, Mr. Ratha is gripped by his cause. “Some people say I paint too rosy a picture of migration and what it can achieve,” he said. “But I realize the importance of dollars coming in because I know poverty firsthand.”

If he is enthusiastic about migration, he has lived it on especially favorable terms. He has never crossed borders illegally or worked with dirty hands. He commands a salary 100 times higher than he would if he had never left home. With it, he has educated two younger siblings, paid for a nephew’s life-saving operation, and built a big house for his father.

Spanish: One thing is to believe in God, another is believing in a monetary sect!

Limits of Giving
Yet a visit to Sindhekela last month also suggests the limits of long-distance giving and the migrants’ psychological strains. Old friends want money. A younger brother has squandered his help. An effort to upgrade the local high school has met with ambiguous results.

His father, at 78, worries about dying alone. His older sister frets that he eats with a fork. Both speak Sambalpuri, meaning his Venezuelan wife and his American sons, all English speakers, cannot talk to them.

Globe-trotting technocrat, village boy made good, Mr. Ratha is like many migrants torn between two worlds and fully at home in neither. “On bad days, I do feel lonely in a way that I can’t explain,” he said.

There are about 200 million migrants worldwide, supporting as many if not more people at home. That suggests that remittances may reach almost a tenth of the world’s population: India ($27 billion), China ($26 billion) and Mexico ($25 billion) are the leading beneficiaries. But in relative terms, small countries gain the most, with some increasing their national incomes by more than 20 percent. Egypt gets more from remittances than it does from the Suez Canal.

Most of the money is spent on consumption — food, clothing or a birthday bash — which leads some economists to discount its impact on development. But Mr. Ratha argues migrants would invest more if they had better options. And he regards higher consumption among the poor as a very good thing.

“It’s not just about economics,” he said. “Having someone who’s doing well abroad brings confidence to the family. They can hold their heads high.”

Holding heads high has been a challenge in Mr. Ratha’s corner of India. Per capita income in the state of Orissa is about $400 a year, half the national average. The neighboring village, Khariar, made international news two decades ago when a hungry woman raised about $3 by selling a child. Sambalpuri, his first language, lacks a written script.

By local standards, Mr. Ratha’s family enjoyed a comfortable life. His father, Gopal, had a primary school education and a state job as a land assessor. As a Brahmin, he was expected to avoid physical labor, but he bought a speck of land that a sharecropper worked. The Rathas had little cash but plenty of rice.

While Mr. Ratha’s older sister left school after third grade, he grew up inexplicably hungry for books. His father saw him with a promising future as a village postmaster. But high test scores brought a scholarship to a two-year college, and his father felt obligated to find the money for room and board. “I felt like I was putting a tremendous burden on him,” Mr. Ratha said.

More scholarships took him to a university in Delhi, a 42-hour train ride, where he studied under Marxist economists and practiced English by watching Clint Eastwood films. He wanted to attend an American graduate school but lacked the application fees. Teaching fellowships sustained him at the prestigious Indian Statistical Institute until he finished his Ph.D.

The Global Migrant

By then, a younger brother, Artatrana, was following his path — he earned two Ph.Ds. Their younger sister, Rina, got a master’s degree. When Mr. Ratha finally borrowed the money to reach the United States, he became Sindhekela’s first global migrant.

Other than his brother, a professor in Minnesota, he is thought to be its last.

“We are always citing the example of Dilip Ratha,” said his high school teacher, Mrutyunjay Tripathy, who now runs the school. “Our students are astonished that this young man from Sindhekela flies around in planes.”

When Mr. Ratha reached the World Bank in the early 1990s, most economists saw remittances as small private sums that were irrelevant to development. After years of sending money home, he took a closer look.

Given the scorekeeping at central banks, it was an exercise in forensic accounting.
The International Monetary Fund said the Philippines received $122 million. Mr. Ratha produced an estimate 51 times higher: $6.2 billion. His tallies, first published in 2003, showed that remittances, once dismissed as the equivalent of a rounding error, were nearly three times greater than the world’s combined foreign aid.

“That was a bombshell,” said Kathleen Newland, a founder of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington research group. “Putting it in that context made people see there was this enormous flow of money into the developing world. Dilip really is the person who put remittances on the map.”

In subsequent work, Mr. Ratha has argued that the importance of the money exceeds its sheer size. Unlike foreign aid, it cannot be skimmed by potentates. Unlike investors who flee crises, migrants increase their giving during hard times. The money is directed to the needy. And Mr. Ratha contends it is well-monitored, too, by intimates on the sending end. “It comes with a lot of goodwill, advice, knowledge and punishment if necessary — keeping in mind the welfare of the recipient,” he said.

When officials from more 150 countries met in Brussels last summer, remittances figured high on the agenda. Skeptics smell a fad.

“Remittances: the New Development Mantra?” asked an article by Devesh Kapur of the University of Pennsylvania. He sees the money as a palliative that, while at times helpful in easing poverty symptoms, leaves underlying structures unchanged. “If I ask can you name a single country that has developed through remittances, the answer is no — there’s none,” he said.Some critics fear the focus on remittances obscures broader concerns about migration, including the potential costs to children left behind. “Behind every remittance, there’s a separated family,” said Elizabeth Gibbons, a senior official at Unicef.

Some see the money as a pittance that deflects attention from migrant exploitation. “It tends to justify the way the world economy is being restructured for the benefit of a small elite,” said Raul Delgado Wise of the University of Zacatecas in Mexico.

Mr. Ratha agrees that migration is wrenching and the economic forces that drive it are often unjust. But, “Once people decide to migrate, benefits can occur for local development — that’s the point,” he said.

From Thinker to Doer

Mulling a leap from thinker to doer, he has drafted plans for an “International Remittances Institute,” to provide cheaper ways to send money — fees often exceed 10 percent — and more options for investing it. Easier access to banks, for example, might improve migrants’ savings rates and expand local lending pools.

Back in Sindhekela for the first time in three years, Mr. Ratha went from being a migration expert to mere migrant again, with the attendant tensions. He was annoyed that the money he sent his father for medical treatment went to a relative’s wedding. His father was annoyed that Mr. Ratha refused to honor his caste by wearing a sacred thread.

Father and son had long wrangled over the house that Mr. Ratha had built as a gift. The son is proud of the big master bedroom. His father finds its size off-putting and sleeps on a living room cot.

Mr. Ratha gave the village high school a new classroom, which he intended as a science hall. The state never sent the equipment, and the room houses some aging computers of uncertain utility.

Mr. Ratha, who named the building for his long-deceased mother, professes no donor’s remorse. “The building has served a great purpose,” he said.

He does worry that his generosity may have hurt his half-brother, Tarun, who spent the money on gadgets and a motorcycle and did not finish high school. At 23, he is unemployed and the family blames remittance dependency. “I think it has affected his drive in a negative way,” Mr. Ratha said.

At the same time, his sister Rina said that without his support she would not have earned her degrees or married an architect. “Whatever I am, I am because of him,” she said of Mr. Ratha.

The headmaster wanted another classroom. A neighbor needed medical care. Mr. Ratha needed no reminder that his 9-year-old’s tuition at a Washington private school, $26,000, would support 65 villagers for a year.

Still, he was surprised at the recent progress that Sindhekela had made. The road had been widened and partly paved. Three cellphone towers rose overhead, and the children all wore shoes. In a village once thick with beggars, he saw only one.

There were a variety of possible explanations, including an irrigation project that expanded local harvests. It was no surprise that Mr. Ratha emphasized another: India’s vast internal migration, which was luring villagers to distant cities and bringing rupees home.

“I understand the costs of migration,” he said. “There is a cost to not migrating, too.”

Sunday, March 16, 2008



The second, extraordinary session of the Viva Sandino Congress of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional took place at Managua’s Loma de Tiscapa on March 14.

Its main agenda point was to ratify the candidates of the Frente and the United Nicaragua Wins Alliance for the November municipal elections this year.

President Daniel Ortega’s closing address, however, concentrated on current international issues that have directly impacted on Nicaragua, most importantly, Colombia’s aggression against Ecuador and the Santo Domingo summit of the Rio Group.

Below is a translation of that section of his address. Omitted are some brief remarks at the end about the next point on the agenda, the presentation of the slate of candidates.

March 14, 2008

Good evening brothers and sisters of the National Congress of the Frente Sandinista. Good evening brothers and sisters of the United Nicaragua Wins Alliance; brothers and sisters of diplomatic missions from Cuba who are always here with us, from Venezuela, Libia, Iran.

Our Second Session of the Viva Sandino Congress is taking place just after the recent Santo Domingo meeting of Latin American Peoples managed tear down the war strategy of the Empire, its strategy of dividing and confronting the Latin American peoples. It managed to strengthen Latin American unity! It was a victory for the Latin American and Caribbean peoples who love peace and want the unity of Latin America and the Caribbean.

This historic meeting took place without the representatives of the US government. We Latin Americans provided a lesson that yes, we can come to mutual understandings and overcome our problems; yes, we have to work in a united way as brothers, regardless of our differences.

Consider the great contrast. On the one hand the OAS where the US acts as a divisive factor, one of instability and confrontation. On the other hand, the meeting in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. There the governments most in dispute managed to overcome those tensions and move away from any war threat. We managed to find a road towards understanding…A few weeks or a few days after, the president of the United States launched a ferocious speech that clearly revealed the Empire’s desperation and irritation because the “great loser in Santo Domingo was the Empire that wanted to see us divided and at loggerheads with each other.”

Our solidarity with the Venezuelan people, with President Hugo Chávez who has been insulted once again by the president of the United States. We have been in telephone communication in the past few days with the president of Venezuela and with President Rafael Correa to help assure that the next OAS meeting on March 17 (where there will also be the sewers of discord) does not get converted into a setback, but rather becomes a continuation and ratification of the will of Latin American governments that was clearly expressed at Santo Domingo.

Likewise, we have to point out how President Felipe Calderón of Mexico expressed himself in his message upon assuming the temporary presidency of the Rio Group (temporary because the position is rotated and it is Mexico’s turn). The president of this country made it clear that yes, it is possible and necessary to have this Organization of Latin American Peoples become an Organization of Latin American and Caribbean States that have common interests and in which those who have other interests like the United States, should not be present.

For example, the OAS lacks the presence of Cuba. It was expelled a long time ago. We are talking about a Latin American space where all Latin American and Caribbean peoples will be present, without exclusion! That is a message of enormous historic transcendance.

The message that we Central American presidents issued two days ago on March 12 in San José, Costa Rica is in the same vein. We met to take a position on the European Union’s proposal for an association with Central America. We said that yes, we are disposed towards an association. But suddenly there appeared spokespersons, men and women Commissioners of the European Union, who tried to lay down conditions of a political-constitutional nature. We don’t even know to what extent they were expressing the positions of their governments. The conditions proposed even went against the Constitutions of Central American countries.

Among other things, they are trying to condition an agreement on acceptance of their demand that Central American countries adhere to the International Criminal Court that is organized by Europeans. They say that crimes committed against humanity cannot be left with impunity.

The first that we would have to judge would be the Europeans! For the crimes against humanity committed against our peoples when they came to raze our originary peoples, the indigenous communities; when they came to rob our resources.

That, logically, did not go over. We have our own legislatures, our own laws. There we decided that conditions could not be imposed….

We were clear – the President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias Sánchez; Antonio Saca of El Salvador; the President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya; recently elected President Álvaro Colom of Guatemala – we were clear in saying that we were open to an association and would work for an association with Europe, but without conditions that try to weaken and discredit the juridical bases of our respective Central American countries. I believe this is an example of maturity, an example of dignity of Central American peoples and governments…Let them respect our sovereignty!

Today the Bi-national Costa Rica-Nicaragua Meeting ended. There too, we expressed a will and an effort to work to overcome obstacles and to strengthen ties between the two bordering countries. We are already working with El Salvador and Guatemala to convert the Golf of Fonseca into a Peace Zone – three Central American countries working together in the Golf.

Nicaragua is working with Costa Rica on bi-national projects. First, the immigration issue. Of equal importance, was the environmental issue, taken up yesterday by the Nicaraguan and Costa Rican delegations in Granada. Also, we are discussing tourism that we want to increase because of the enormous potential we have in this field.

Today we made these agreements public. We are sure that they are going to enable us to strengthen ties with the Costa Rican people. That is going to help the frontier communities and municipalities of both countries to improve their development. The Costa Rican side of the border is more developed and we are obliged look together for external resources to invest in that. Some of the agreements with Costa Rica deal with development and investment in accordance with conditions prevailing on each side of the border.

If there are highways on the Costa Rican side of the border, we will have to find joint resources to build them on the Nicaraguan side in order to improve transportation, sanitary conditions, health, education, etc. We have to increase the potential we have in this zone and also assure the conservation of the environment. We feel happy about the results of this meeting and we established timelines to later weigh them.

Brother and sister delegates, Nicaraguan brothers and sisters, this Congress is meeting at a time when Latin America and Central America is making steps forward towards Integration, towards the Unity of our people.

Translation by Felipe Stuart Cournoyer

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Karl Marx

Karl Marx died on March 14, 1883 - 125 years ago. His family and comrades buried him in London’s Highgate Cemetery. To commemorate and celebrate Marx’s life and historic contribution to the cause of the world’s exploited and oppressed, I am republishing here Frederick Engel’s brief report of the funeral that appeared in Der Sozialdemokrat, March 22, 1883. It includes the text of his eulogy at the funeral. The parting words of Marx’s political and intellectual partner reverberate through history in all languages. The text and the images of Marx and Engels are taken from The Marxists Internet Archive (MIA, at

Che Guevara included Engels’s’ graveside address in his “Síntesis Biográfica de Marx y Engels,” recently published for the first time in the Centro de Estudios Che Guevara-Ocean Press book “Apuntes críticos a la Economía Política.” He believed that no better summary of Marx’s gift to humanity existed when he prepared his plan for his work “Apuntes…” I believe that is still the case.

The hired pens of the exploiters have killed Marx hundreds of times over since he physically perished in 1883. But his work and his discoveries live on. They surface in every battle for human emancipation and every attempt to lay bare the reality of social and economic relations in class society.

Carlos Marx y Frederic Engels, ¡presente!

Karl Marx's Funeral

Der Sozialdemokrat, March 22, 1883

On Saturday, March 17, Marx was laid to rest in Highgate Cemetery, in the same grave in which his wife had been buried fifteen months earlier.

At the graveside Gottlieb Lemke laid two wreaths with red ribbons on the coffin in the name of the editorial board and dispatching service of the Sozialdemokrat and in the name of the London Communist Workers' Educational Society.

Frederick Engels then made the following speech in English:

"On the 14th of March, at a quarter to three in the afternoon, the greatest living thinker ceased to think. He had been left alone for scarcely two minutes, and when we came back we found him in his armchair, peacefully gone to sleep-but forever.

"An immeasurable loss has been sustained both by the militant proletariat of Europe and America, and by historical science, in the death of this man. The gap that has been left by the departure of this mighty spirit will soon enough make itself felt.

"Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means of subsistence and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case.

"But that is not all. Marx also discovered the special law of motion governing the present-day capitalist mode of production and the bourgeois society that this mode of production has created. The discovery of surplus value suddenly threw light on the problem, in trying to solve which all previous investigations, of both bourgeois economists and socialist critics, had been groping in the dark.

"Two such discoveries would be enough for one lifetime. Happy the man to whom it is granted to make even one such discovery. But in every single field which Marx investigated -- and he investigated very many fields, none of them superficially -- in every field, even in that of mathematics, he made independent discoveries.

"Such was the man of science. But this was not even half the man. Science was for Marx a historically dynamic, revolutionary force. However great the joy with which he welcomed a new discovery in some theoretical science whose practical application perhaps it was as yet quite impossible to envisage, he experienced quite another kind of joy when the discovery involved immediate revolutionary changes in industry and in historical development in general. For example, he followed closely the development of the discoveries made in the field of electricity and recently those of Marcel Deprez.

"For Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation. Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success such as few could rival. His work on the first Rheinische Zeitung (1842), the Paris Vorw?rts! (1844), Br?sseler Deutsche Zeitung (1847), the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (1848-49), the New York Tribune (1852-61), and in addition to these a host of militant pamphlets, work in organisations in Paris, Brussels and London, and finally, crowning all, the formation of the great International Working Men's Association -- this was indeed an achievement of which its founder might well have been proud even if he had done nothing else."And, consequently, Marx was the best-hated and most calumniated man of his time. Governments, both absolutist and republican, deported him from their territories. Bourgeois, whether conservative or ultra-democratic, vied with one another in heaping slanders upon him. All this he brushed aside as though it were cobweb, ignoring it, answering only when extreme necessity compelled him. And he died beloved, revered and mourned by millions of revolutionary fellow-workers -- from the mines of Siberia to California, in all parts of Europe and America -- and I make bold to say that though he may have had many opponents he had hardly one personal enemy.

"His name will endure through the ages, and so also will his work!"

Then Marx's son-in-law Longuet read the following addresses which had been received in French.


On the Grave of Karl Marx - from the Russian Socialists
"In the name of all Russian socialists I send a last farewell greeting to the outstanding Master among all the socialists of our times. One of the greatest minds has passed away, one of the most energetic fighters against the exploiters of the proletariat has died.

"The Russian socialists bow before the grave of the man who sympathised with their strivings in all the fluctuations of their terrible struggle, a struggle which they shall continue until the final victory of the principles of the social revolution. The Russian language was the first to have a translation of Capital, that gospel of contemporary socialism. The students of the Russian universities were the first to whose lot it fell to hear a sympathetic exposition of the theories of the mighty thinker whom we have now lost. Even those who were opposed to the founder of the International Working Men's Association in respect of practical questions of organisation were obliged always to bow before his comprehensive knowledge and lofty power of thought which penetrated the substance of modern capital, the development of the economic forms of society and the dependence of the whole history of mankind on those forms of development. Even the most vehement opponents that he found in the ranks of the revolutionary socialists could not but obey the call that he and his lifelong friend sent into the world 35 years ago:

"'Proletarians of All Countries, Unite!'

"The death of Karl Marx is mourned by all who have been able to grasp his thought and appreciate his influence upon our time.

"I allow myself to add that it will be still more deeply mourned by those who associated closely with Marx, especially by those who loved him as a friend.

"P. Lavrov."
Paris, March 15, 1883.



"The Paris branch of the French Workers' Party expresses its grief at the loss of the thinker whose materialist conception of history and analysis of capitalist production founded scientific socialism and the present revolutionary communist movement. It also expresses its respect for Marx as a man and its complete agreement with his doctrines.

"The Secretary, Lipine."
Paris, March 16, 1883.
The Marxists Internet Archive (MIA,



"In my own name and as a delegate of the Spanish Workers' Party (Madrid Branch), I share the immense grief of the friends and daughters of Marx at the cruel loss of the great Socialist who was the master of us all.

Jos? Mesa y Leompart.
Paris, March 16, 1883.

Then Liebknecht made the following speech in German:

"I have come from the heart of Germany to express my love and gratitude to my unforgettable teacher and faithful friend. To my faithful friend! Karl Marx's greatest friend and colleague has just called him the best-hated man of this century. That is true. He was the best-hated but he was also the best-loved. The best-hated by the oppressors and exploiters of the people, the best-loved by the oppressed and exploited, as far as they are conscious of their position. The oppressed and exploited people love him because he loved them. For the deceased whose loss we are mourning was great in his love as in his hatred. His hatred had love as its source. He was a great heart as he was a great mind. All who knew him know that.

"But I am here not only as a pupil and a friend, I am here as the representative of the German Social-Democrats who have charged me with expressing their feelings for their teacher, for the man who created our party, as much as one can speak of creating in this connection.

"It would be out of place here to indulge in fine speeches. For nobody was a more vehement enemy of phrase-mongering than Karl Marx. It is precisely his immortal merit that he freed the proletariat, the working people's party, from phrases and gave it the solid foundation of science that nothing can shake. A revolutionary in science and a revolutionary through science, he scaled the highest peak of science in order to come down to the people and to make science the common good of the people.

"Science is the liberator of humanity.

"The natural sciences free us from God. But God in heaven still lives on although science has killed him.

"The science of society that Marx revealed to the people kills capitalism, and with it the idols and masters of the earth who will not let God die as long as they live.

"Science is not German. It knows no barriers, and least of all the barriers of nationality. It was therefore natural that the creator of Capital should also become the creator of the International Working Men's Association.

"The basis of science, which we owe to Marx, puts us in a position to resist all attacks of the enemy and to continue with ever-increasing strength the fight which we have undertaken.

"Marx changed the Social-Democracy from a sect, a school, into a party, the party which is now fighting undaunted and which will be victorious.

"And that is true not only of us Germans. Marx belongs to the proletariat. It was to the proletariat of all countries that his life was dedicated. Proletarians who can think and do think in all countries have grateful reverence for him.

"It is a heavy blow that has fallen on us. But we do not mourn. The deceased is not dead. He lives in the heart, he lives in the head of the proletariat. His memory will not perish, his doctrine will be effective in ever broader circles.

"Instead of mourning, let us act in the spirit of the great man who has died and strive with all our strength so that the doctrine which he taught and for which he fought will be put into practice as soon as possible. That is the best way to honour his memory!

"Deceased, living friend, we shall follow to the final aim you showed us. We swear it on your grave!"

Besides those mentioned there were also present at the grave, among others, Karl Marx's other son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, Friedrich Lessner, who was sentenced at the Cologne Communist Trial in 1852 to five years' imprisonment in a fortress, and G. Lochner, also an old member of the Communist League. The natural sciences were represented by two celebrities of the first magnitude, the zoologist Professor Ray Lankester and the chemist Professor Schorlemmer, both members of the London Academy of Sciences (Royal Society).

Signed: Fr. Engels