Archive | November 22nd, 2017

US Military No Longer Cool With Narcotics Labs in Afghanistan, Bombs Them

An Afghan policeman decorates himself with opium plants as they destroy the crop, on a farm on March 14, 2013, in Babaji village-Helmand Province, south east Afghanistan. (Photo: Majid Saeedi / Getty Images)

An Afghan policeman decorates himself with opium plants as he destroys the crop on a farm on March 14, 2013, in Babaji village, Helmand Province, southeast Afghanistan. (Photo: Majid Saeedi / Getty Images)

The US Commander in Afghanistan announced several airstrikes on Sunday against opium production facilities, marking a shift in the Pentagon’s approach toward the booming illicit drug industry in the country.

Army Gen. John Nicholson reported that roughly ten opium laboratories in the Northern Helmand province were destroyed in the barrage.

The purported aim of the strikes was to cut off Taliban insurgents’ revenue streams.

The Washington Post noted the assault was the “first significant use” of new authorities President Trump bestowed upon the Pentagon, giving military commanders more latitude in targeting decisions.

Nicholson added that more strikes against Afghanistan’s opium network “will continue.” The Drug Enforcement Administration reports there are as many as 400 to 500 such facilities across the country.

Since the US occupation of Afghanistan began at the end of 2001, the Pentagon has been unable to get a handle on illegal opium production — despite spending vast sums on counternarcotics. In some cases, officials turned a blind eye to illegal drug activity when it was conducted by warlords who had forged alliances with the US during the war.

According to Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko, the US has spent $8 billion trying to stem the flow of Afghan narcotics.

Last year, Sopko told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he feared Afghanistan was descending into a “narco-terrorist state.”

One of the largest recipients of federal dollars to dismantle opium production in Afghanistan was the defense contracting firm Academi — formely known as Blackwater. According to data from SIGAR, Academi was paid $309 million between 2002 and 2013 to clamp down on drug manufacturing.

During that time, opium production steadily increased, and the total value of the crop grew by roughly $1 billion between 2012-2013.

Sunday’s strikes were carried out in conjunction with the Afghan armed forces.

“We’re determined to tackle criminal economy and narcotics trafficking with full force. It’s the main source of financing violence and terror,” Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Twitter Monday.

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Iraqi Civilian Describes US Airstrike on His Home That Killed His Wife, Daughter, Brother and Nephew

NOVANEWS

Image result for SADDAM IRAQ CARTOON

Today we spend the hour looking at a damning new report that reveals how US-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq have killed far more civilians than officials have acknowledged. An on-the-ground investigation by the New York Times Magazine titled “The Uncounted” found the actual civilian death toll may be 31 times higher than US officials admit. We interview one of the survivors featured in the report. Joining us from Erbil, Iraq, Basim Razzo describes the 2015 US airstrike on his home in Mosul, in which his wife, daughter, brother and nephew were killed. Video of the strike on his home shows a target hit with military precision.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I’m Juan González. Welcome to all of our listeners and viewers around the country and around the world. Today we spend the hour looking at a damning new report that reveals how US-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq have killed far more civilians than officials have acknowledged.

The Pentagon claims its air war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State has killed few civilians. But an on-the-ground investigation by The New York Times has revealed the US-led military coalition is killing far more civilians in Iraq than it has acknowledged. The Pentagon claims just 89 of its airstrikes have killed civilians since 2014. But the Times found the actual rate of civilian deaths may be 31 times higher than the US is admitting. In fact, the report reveals that as many as one in five coalition airstrikes on ISIS targets in Iraq resulted in civilian deaths.

The reporters write, “In terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history.” The investigation comes as US military officials continue to insist coalition bombing in Iraq has been precise in hitting its targets. This is Army Lieutenant General Stephen J. Townsend.

ARMY LIEUTENANT GENERAL STEPHEN J. TOWNSEND: I reject any notion that coalition fires were in any way imprecise, unlawful, or excessively targeted civilians. I would argue that this is, I believe, the most precise campaign in the history of warfare, and we have gone to extraordinary measures to safeguard civilian lives.

AMY GOODMAN: But The New York Times investigation reveals many of the American-led airstrikes against Islamic State militants actually killed civilians. One of the survivors they interviewed, Basim Razzo, described a coalition airstrike on his home in Mosul, Iraq, in 2015 in which his wife, daughter, brother, and nephew were killed. Video of the strike on his home shows a target hit with military precision.

Well, today we are joined by that man, Basim Razzo. He’s joining us from Erbil, Iraq, via Democracy Now! video stream. We’re also joined in studio, here in New York, by the two reporters who co-authored this New York Times investigation headlined “The Uncounted.”

Azmat Khan is an investigative journalist and a Future of War fellow at New America and Arizona State University, and Anand Gopal is an assistant research professor at Arizona State University and the author of No Good Men Among the Living. I want to start off in Erbil, Iraq, with Basim Razzo. Basim, that is not actually your longtime home. You lived in Mosul until 2015. Can you describe what happened on that fateful night when your home was hit by a US airstrike?

BASIM RAZZO: Good morning, Amy. Thank you for having me on your program. That night, as I said in my story, I went to bed around 1:00. I had just checked my daughter to see if she was asleep, and I lied down. And then I woke up to a devastating explosion. Did not realize what had happened. I felt that I was in a nightmare, but then I felt that something had happened, because I looked up to the skies and I could see the stars.

There was a terrible smell in the air. And then I started feeling my legs, pinching myself. I thought I was in a dream or in a nightmare, but no, it was reality. I looked to the left at my wife, and all I could see was debris. And I started shouting her name — “Mayada, Mayada.” She did not answer me. I started shouting at my daughter, Tuqa. No answer. And then I started shouting at my brother’s house, but I could not hear a sound.

Minutes later, I could hear a sound from far away, and it seems that it was the groundkeeper that we have. His house was about 500 meters from my house. Minutes later, he started shouting at me. He said “Uncle Basim, Uncle Basim, I am coming, I am coming. But I need to get a ladder so I can climb up. Are you OK?” I said to him — his name is [inaudible]. I said [inaudible] “Please, help me. I think I am very hurt and something is broken. I cannot move.”

I tried to stand up, but I fell down. I reached to my back because I felt my back was warm. And I touched my back, and then I felt something in my left arm. Something was warm. And it was blood. My back has been injured. My left foot had broken. My bed was in a v-shape, which resulted in a break to my hip. I tried to just move a little bit, but I could not move at all.

So minutes later, I could hear our groundkeeper climbing up to me. And then he came to me and he said “Are you OK? Are you OK?” I said, “I am badly hurt. What has happened to the other house?” That was my brother’s house. He said “I don’t know.” But I could hear a female sound. And then when I started shouting at her, it was my sister-in-law, Azza. And she said “Basim, everybody’s gone.”

But I could not see anything. It was very dark. The bombing has damaged the electricity. The street was dark. Everything was dark. And then about half an hour later, I could see somebody was walking, entering the farm with a torch light. And they climbed up the ladder and three members of ISIS were looking down at me. So the first thing I said to them, I said, “Are you happy?”They looked at me in disgust and they left me. They climbed down the ladder and they left.

But they had called an ambulance, but they did not let the ambulance come right away.
Because usually when there is a bombing, most of the time it is followed by a second bombing, so they wanted to stay out. So they left for another like 15 minutes. And then when they could hear that the planes were out of the sky, they ordered the ambulance to enter my farm.

And they took me down, put me on the ambulance, and they rushed me to the hospital. When I reached the hospital, it was chaos. I was disoriented. I didn’t know what was happening. I was in pain. And then I looked around and I could not know anybody. It was all ISIS members. But some person, he tapped on my shoulder and said, “Uncle Basim, don’t worry, I know you are here, my son.” He said, “I will be here for you. Don’t worry. Don’t worry.”

So he started rushing me — he cleaned my wound in my back. They did some x-rays for me. They did a CT scan for — they were afraid that I have like brain damage or hemorrhage. Thank God, I did not have anything. They put a cast on my left foot. And then I woke up the next morning around 10:00 with my brother-in-law and another friend, and they had told me what just happened. They told me that all my member family are gone.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Basim Razzo, our deepest condolences to you and your family. You mentioned that your brother’s house was next door. How many total members of the family were in both houses, and how many survived, and what kind of injuries did they have?

BASIM RAZZO: In my house, it was me, my wife, and my daughter. Two lost their life — my wife and my daughter. In my brother’s house, which was about 20 feet away from my house, it was my brother, his wife, and his son. Only his wife survived. So total, four deaths, two survivals.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you describe the last day with your wife and your daughter?

BASIM RAZZO: Well, usually, before ISIS, I could come home late, like 10:00 or 11:00.
But since ISIS entered Mosul, it is better for me and more comfortable for me to be home early. I would sit with my family, sit with my brother’s family, after sundown. We will go out to the farm. So it was just a regular everyday. I would come home from work around 5:00 or 6:00. I’d have dinner with them.

AMY GOODMAN: You had had a party the night before at your brother’s house?

BASIM RAZZO: We had a party, like a party for women. And my daughter and my wife attended that party. And then we just have tea. And then when it’s — and it is sundown, when the temperature cools down a little bit. Because you know, it was September. It is very hot in September in Iraq. So about 8:00 or 9:00, we would go out to the front yard. We would have tea, maybe some cold drinks. Maybe we will have some fruits. And then we would stay late until like 10:00 or 11:00. And that was my hours before my accident.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And your mention of the strike — how often were these airstrikes visited on Mosul or on your neighborhood in particular? Were these regular occurrences or was this an unusual occurrence in your neighborhood?

BASIM RAZZO: Well, at that time, there was not that much bombing, before the liberation of Mosul. You would hear some bombing every now and then, but it was not that often. But you could hear drones in the sky. But for bombing, it was not that often.

AMY GOODMAN: There is a picture in The New York Times investigation of your daughter Tuqa on the night before the airstrike. She’s got that sparkler you describe.

BASIM RAZZO: Yes. She had found it somewhere. I think it was — I don’t know if we had bought it earlier for her birthday, but it was left somewhere, and she had found it. And she lit it. And I was shouting at her because it was dangerous to light it inside. I told her, “Tuqa, honey, why don’t you go outside?” She said, “No, it’s not working. I think it is damaged because of the humidity, so it is not sparkling that much. So I will be safe. I’ll be safe.” So thank God she was safe. But she lost her life later.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back and hear what happened next. Has the US claimed responsibility for what it did to your family? We will be joined by the two reporters who have investigated the attack on not only your home and your brother’s, but so many others in Mosul, Iraq.

 

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Experts Warn It Would Take More Than One General to Thwart “Illegal” Nuclear Strike

NOVANEWS

By Jon QueallyCommon Dreams 

While a top US nuclear military commander made global headlines over the weekend after he stated plainly on Saturday that he would resist any order from President Donald Trump that he deemed “illegal,” including an unlawful directive to carry out a nuclear strike, experts warn that individual objections such as that could be overcome by a commander-in-chief determined to launch an attack.

Speaking at a security convention in Nova Scotia, Canada, Gen. John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command, said that his role in the event of the president ordering a nuclear strike would be to offer both strategic and legal guidance, but that he would not betray the laws of war simply because Trump ordered it.

“I provide advice to the President,” Hyten answered when asked how he would respond to a nuclear attack being ordered. “He’ll tell me what to do, and if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m gonna say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ Guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options of a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.”

But is it that simple?

What would happen if a president ordered a nuclear strike, but the commanding general refused, believing it to be illegal? The truth is, no one knows. http://apne.ws/MsGfH4o 

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Trump era sparks new debate about nuclear war authority

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s hard to overstate how thoroughly the U.S. military has prepared for doomsday — the day America gets into a nuclear shooting war. No deta

apnews.com

As reporting by the Associated Press points out on Sunday, a simple refusal by even a top commander like Hyten might not be enough to stop a commander-in-chief bent on having such an attack carried out:

Brian McKeon, a senior policy adviser in the Pentagon during the Obama administration, said a president’s first recourse would be to tell the defense secretary to order the reluctant commander to execute the launch order.

“And then, if the commander still resisted,” McKeon said as rubbed his chin, “you either get a new secretary of defense or get a new commander.” The implication is that one way or another, the commander in chief would not be thwarted.

Hyten’s remarks follow a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week in which the president’s authority to launch nuclear weapons was held on Capitol Hill. As Common Dreams reported, “Trump’s behavior throughout his campaign and presidency has heightened concerns about the threat of nuclear annihilation and has, for monthsprovoked global demands that the US Congress strip Trump of his nuclear authority.”

While Hyten’s comments on Saturday likely brought some relief to those concerned about Trump’s finger on the nuclear button, Bruce Blair, a former nuclear missile launch officer and co-founder of the Global Zero group that advocates eliminating nuclear weapons, said there’s an another important caveat that shouldn’t be missed: The Strategic Command chief, Hyten in this case, could be bypassed by the president.

A president can transmit his nuclear attack order directly to a Pentagon war room, Blair told the AP. And from there the news outlet reports, the order “would go to the men and women who would turn the launch keys.”

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The “Redneck Revolt” Is Showing Up at Gun Shows and KKK Rallies to Combat White Supremacy

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Last year, following the presidential election, I wrote a column suggesting that people who identify as White consider working in their own families and communities to address the racism and bigotry that helped to put Donald Trump in office. I asked what if the well-intentioned White allies who have moved to urban centers to “help” communities of color had instead remained in their own communities — however racially regressive and intolerable — and worked to make them better at engaging in race relations.

I later discussed two communities doing this kind of work. In Maine, a Truth & Reconciliation Commission investigated how generations of Native children had been taken from their homes, against the wishes of their families, and placed in foster care with White families. From that process came the organization Maine Wabanaki REACH, a cross-cultural group that worked to implement suggestions that came out of the commission to help heal that community. And the Truth-Telling Project, founded in Ferguson, Missouri, following the police-killing of Michael Brown, is not only working within its community to address police violence enacted on the mostly Black community, but also with White communities in other states. The TTP is helping them with their approach to truth-telling in their local areas, and unlearning racism.

My thinking is this: Our best hope for changing deep-rooted attitudes that perpetuate racism and White supremacy is for people from similar backgrounds to work together toward that end. Conversations between people with shared life experiences could perhaps more effectively change minds and, ultimately, behaviors. This is a strategy of Redneck Revolt.

The self-described anti-capitalist, anti-racist, anti-fascist group was founded in the summer of 2016 to challenge working-class White people to stand against White supremacy.

In an open letter called “To Other Working Americans,” Redneck Revolt put out a call for its fellow working-class rural White people to “reject the idea of whiteness.” That is, they wrote, “to reject the idea that our allegiance is somehow determined by what skin we have, even when our real living situations are so different.”

Media and some progressives want to lay blame for the Trump presidency at the feet of working-class White people, yet it is this demographic that makes up Redneck Revolt. The organization recruits working-class and poor Whites in rural areas — the target of far-right and White nationalist groups.

This is intentional.

They are rural White people challenging other rural White people to connect to their local communities so that they can build the kind of relationships that defend each other against the divisions caused by right-wing politics. They do this by sharing the history of struggle experienced by all working-class Americans and immigrants: people of color, White people, and LGBTQ communities.

“Race affects us all differently,” co-founder Tyler said in a Redneck Revolt podcast, “but what unites us is our shared struggle to survive — the working-class folks, poor folks.

“And there are people who systematically benefit from our struggle.”

To be clear, that’s the wealthy.

With about 40 chapters nationwide, Redneck Revolt members can be found “counter recruiting” at gun shows, country music concerts, and White nationalist/Ku Klux Klan demonstrations around the country.

Modeled after the Rainbow Coalition, the group builds alliances with non-White organizations. It’s not uncommon to see them show up at a Black Lives Matter protest in support of that movement’s efforts.

Redneck Revolt’s immediate work is organizing White working-class people to attend to the needs of their local communities. This includes food programs, community gardens, clothing programs, and needle exchanges (in addition to their armed self-defense programs, which comes from the organization’s roots in the John Brown Gun Club). All this organizing is done as a coalition with organizations of color.

This is what it looks like when White folks exercise self-determination in their own communities — naming for themselves who are their allies, what is their real enemy, what needs to be done to heal and build community on all sides of the color line.

Getting more serious about that sort of work is Scalawag Magazine, which on Nov. 2 announced an in-depth reporting initiative on how Southerners are challenging White supremacy. In a recent New York Times article, Alysia Nicole Harris, the editor of Scalawag, said: “Ultimately, we believe that the South is going to be the voice that emerges to lead this conversation about trauma and healing, because here is where the trauma was the thickest.”

This is hopeful news. For decades, Whites have worked alongside communities of color for civil rights. It is reassuring to know there are White allies bold enough to hold their own people accountable to disrupt racism and White supremacy.

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Imagining a New Social Order: Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin in Conversation

NOVANEWS

By C.J. Polychroniou, Truthout 

Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin discuss how the left can save the US from neoliberal excesses.

Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin discuss how the left can save the US from neoliberal excesses. (Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

We live in an age of illegitimate neoliberal hegemony and soaring political uncertainty. The evidence is all around: citizen disillusionment over mainstream political parties and the traditional conservative-liberal divide, massive inequality, the rise of the “alt-right,” and growing resistance to Trumpism and financial capitalism.

Yes, the present age is full of contradictions of every type and variety, and this is something that makes the goals and aims of the left for the reordering of society along the lines of a true democratic polity and in accordance with the vision of a socialist reorganization of the economy more challenging than ever before.

In this context, the interview below, with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin, which appeared originally in Truthout in three separate parts, seeks to provide theoretical and practical guidance to the most pressing social, economic and political issues facing the United States today. It is part of an effort to help the left reimagine an alternative but realistic social order in an age when the old order is dying but the new has yet to be born.

Noam Chomsky is professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT and laureate professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Arizona. Robert Pollin is distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. These two thinkers are pathbreakers in the quest to envision a humane and equitable society, and their words can provide a helpful framework as we strive — within an oppressive system and under a repressive government — to fathom new ways of living together in the world.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, the rise of Donald Trump has unleashed a rather unprecedented wave of social resistance in the US. Do you think the conditions are ripe for a mass progressive/socialist movement in this country that can begin to reframe the major policy issues affecting the majority of people, and perhaps even challenge and potentially change the fundamental structures of the US political economy?

Noam Chomsky: There is indeed a wave of social resistance, more significant than in the recent past — though I’d hesitate about calling it “unprecedented.” Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the fact that in the domain of policy formation and implementation, the right is ascendant, in fact some of its harshest and most destructive elements [are rising].

Nor should we overlook a crucial fact that has been evident for some time: The figure in charge, though often ridiculed, has succeeded brilliantly in his goal of occupying media and public attention while mobilizing a very loyal popular base — and one with sinister features, sometimes smacking of totalitarianism, including adoration of The Leader. That goes beyond the core of loyal Trump supporters…. [A majority of Republicans] favor shutting down or at least fining the press if it presents “biased” or “false news” — terms that mean information rejected by The Leader, so we learn from polls showing that by overwhelming margins, Republicans not only believe Trump far more than the hated mainstream media, but even far more than their own media organ, the extreme right Fox news. And half of Republicans would back postponing the 2020 election if Trump calls for it.

It is also worth bearing in mind that among a significant part of his worshipful base, Trump is regarded as a “wavering moderate” who cannot be fully trusted to hold fast to the true faith of fierce White Christian identity politics. A recent illustration is the primary victory of the incredible Roy Moore in Alabama despite Trump’s opposition. (“Mr. President, I love you but you are wrong,” as the banners read). The victory of this Bible-thumping fanatic has led senior party strategists to [conclude] “that the conservative base now loathes its leaders in Washington the same way it detested President Barack Obama” — referring to leaders who are already so far right that one needs a powerful telescope to locate them at the outer fringe of any tolerable political spectrum.

The potential power of the ultra-right attack on the far right is [illustrated] by the fact that Moore spent about $200,000, in contrast to his Trump-backed opponent, the merely far-right Luther Strange, who received more than $10 million from the national GOP and other far-right sources. The ultra-right is spearheaded by Steve Bannon, one of the most dangerous figures in the shiver-inducing array that has come to the fore in recent years. It has the huge financial support of the Mercer family, along with ample media outreach through Breitbart news, talk radio and the rest of the toxic bubble in which loyalists trap themselves.

While Trump keeps the spotlight on himself, the “respectable” Republican establishment chips away at government programs that benefit the general population.

In the most powerful state in history, the current Republican Party is ominous enough. What is not far on the horizon is even more menacing.

Much has been said about how Trump has pulled the cork out of the bottle and legitimized neo-Nazism, rabid white supremacy, misogyny and other pathologies that had been festering beneath the surface. But it goes much beyond even that.

I do not want to suggest that adoration of the Dear Leader is something new in American politics, or confined to the vulgar masses. The veneration of Reagan that has been diligently fostered has some of the same character, in intellectual circles as well. Thus, in publications of the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University, we learn that Reagan’s “spirit seems to stride the country, watching us like a warm and friendly ghost.” Lucky us, protected from harm by a demi-god.

Whether by design, or simply inertia, the Republican wrecking ball has been following a two-level strategy. Trump keeps the spotlight on himself with one act after another, assuming (correctly) that yesterday’s antics will be swept aside by today’s. And at the same time, often beneath the radar, the “respectable” Republican establishment chips away at government programs that might be of benefit to the general population, but not to their constituency of extreme wealth and corporate power. They are systematically pursuing what Financial Times economic correspondent Martin Wolf calls “pluto-populism,” a doctrine that imposes “policies that benefit plutocrats, justified by populist rhetoric.” An amalgam that has registered unpleasant successes in the past as well.

Meanwhile, the Democrats and centrist media help out by focusing their energy and attention on whether someone in the Trump team talked to Russians, or [whether] the Russians tried to influence our “pristine” elections — though at most in a way that is undetectable in comparison with the impact of campaign funding, let alone other inducements that are the prerogative of extreme wealth and corporate power and are hardly without impact.

The Russian saboteurs of democracy seem to be everywhere. There was great anxiety about Russian intervention in the recent German elections, perhaps contributing to the frightening surge of support for the right-wing nationalist, if not neo-fascist, “Alternative for Germany” [AfD]. AfD did indeed have outside help, it turns out, but not from the insidious Putin. “The Russian meddling that German state security had been anticipating apparently never materialized,” according to Bloomberg News. “Instead, the foreign influence came from America.” More specifically, from Harris Media, whose clients include Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, and our own Donald Trump. With the valuable assistance of the Berlin office of Facebook, which created a population model and provided the needed data, Harris’s experts micro-targeted Germans in categories deemed susceptible to AfD’s message — with some success, it appears. The firm is now planning to move on to coming European races, it has announced.

Nevertheless, all is not bleak by any means. The most spectacular feature of the 2016 elections was not the election of a billionaire who spent almost as much as his lavishly-funded opponent and enjoyed fervent media backing. Far more striking was the remarkable success of the Sanders campaign, breaking with over a century of mostly bought elections. The campaign relied on small contributions and had no media support, to put it mildly. Though lacking any of the trappings that yield electoral success in our semi-plutocracy, Sanders probably would have won the Democratic Party nomination, perhaps the presidency, if it hadn’t been for the machinations of party managers. His popularity undimmed, he is now a leading voice for progressive measures and is amassing considerable support for his moderate social democratic proposals, reminiscent of the New Deal — proposals that would not have surprised President Eisenhower, but are considered practically revolutionary today as both parties have shifted well to the right [with] Republicans virtually off the spectrum of normal parliamentary politics.

Offshoots of the Sanders campaign are doing valuable work on many issues, including electoral politics at the local and state level, which had been pretty much abandoned to the Republican right, particularly during the Obama years, to very harmful effect. There is also extensive and effective mobilization against racist and white supremacist pathologies, often spearheaded by the dynamic Black Lives Matter movement. Defying Trumpian and general Republican denialism, a powerful popular environmental movement is working hard to address the existential crisis of global warming. These, along with significant efforts on other fronts, face very difficult barriers, which can and must be overcome.

Bob, it is clear by now that Trump has no plan for creating new jobs, and even his reckless stance toward the environment will have no effect on the creation of new jobs. What would a progressive policy for job creation look like that will also take into account concerns about the environment and climate change?

Robert Pollin: A centerpiece for any kind of progressive social and economic program needs to be full employment with decent wages and working conditions. The reasons are straightforward, starting with money. Does someone in your family have a job and, if so, how much does it pay? For the overwhelming majority of the world’s population, how one answers these two questions determines, more than anything else, what one’s living standard will be. But beyond just money, your job is also crucial for establishing your sense of security and self-worth, your health and safety, your ability to raise a family, and your chances to participate in the life of your community.

Building a green economy in the US generates roughly three times more jobs per dollar than maintaining our fossil fuel dependency.

How do we get to full employment, and how do we stay there? For any economy, there are two basic factors determining how many jobs are available at any given time. The first is the overall level of activity — with GDP as a rough, if inadequate measure of overall activity — and the second is what share of GDP goes to hiring people into jobs. In terms of our current situation, after the Great Recession hit in full in 2008, US GDP has grown at an anemic average rate of 1.3 percent per year, as opposed to the historic average rate from 1950 until 2007 of 3.3 percent. If the economy had grown over the past decade at something even approaching the historic average rate, the economy would have produced more than enough jobs to employ all 13 million people who are currently either unemployed or underemployed by the official government statistics, plus the nearly 9 million people who have dropped out of the labor force since 2007.

In terms of focusing on activities where job creation is strong, let’s consider two important sets of economic sectors. First, spending $1 million on education will generate a total of about 26 jobs within the US economy, more than double the 11 jobs that would be created by spending the same $1 million on the US military. Similarly, spending $1 million on investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency will create over 16 jobs within the US, while spending the same $1 million on our existing fossil fuel infrastructure will generate about 5.3 jobs — i.e. building a green economy in the US generates roughly three times more jobs per dollar than maintaining our fossil fuel dependency. So full employment policies should focus on accelerating economic growth and on changing our priorities for growth — as two critical examples, to expand educational opportunities across the board and to build a green economy, while contracting both the military and the fossil fuel economy.

A full employment program also obviously needs to focus on the conditions of work, starting with wages. The most straightforward measure of what neoliberal capitalism has meant for the US working class is that the average wage for non-supervisory workers in 2016 was about 4 percent lower than in 1973. This is while average labor productivity — the amount each worker produces over the course of a year — has more than doubled over this same 43-year period. All of the gains from productivity doubling under neoliberalism have therefore been pocketed by either supervisory workers, or even more so, by business owners and corporate shareholders seeing their profits rise. The only solution here is to fight to increase worker bargaining power. We need stronger unions and worker protections, including a $15 federal minimum wage. Such initiatives need to be combined with policies to expand the overall number of job opportunities out there. A fundamental premise of neoliberalism from day one has been to dismantle labor protections. We are seeing an especially aggressive variant of this approach today under the so-called “centrist” policies of the new French President Emmanuel Macron.

What about climate change and jobs? A view that has long been touted, most vociferously by Trump over the last two years, is that policies to protect the environment and to fight climate change are bad for jobs and therefore need to be junked. But this claim is simply false. In fact, as the evidence I have cited above shows, building a green economy is good for jobs overall, much better than maintaining our existing fossil-fuel based energy infrastructure, which also happens to be the single most significant force driving the planet toward ecological disaster.

It is true that building a green economy will not be good for everyone’s jobs. Notably, people working in the fossil fuel industry will face major job losses. The communities in which these jobs are concentrated will also face significant losses. But the solution here is straightforward: Just Transition policies for the workers, families and communities who will be hurt as the coal, oil and natural gas industries necessarily contract to zero over roughly the next 30 years. Working with Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Brian Callaci at [the Political Economy Research Institute], and in conjunction with labor, environmental and community groups in both the states of New York and Washington, we have developed what I think are quite reasonable and workable Just Transition programs. They include solid pension protections, re-employment guarantees, as well as retraining and relocation support for individual workers, and community-support initiatives for impacted communities.

The single most important factor that makes all such initiatives workable is that the total number of affected workers is relatively small. For example, in the whole United States today, there are a total of about 65,000 people employed directly in the coal industry. This represents less than 0.05 percent of the 147 million people employed in the US. Considered within the context of the overall US economy, it would only require a minimum level of commitment to provide a just transition to these workers as well as their families and communities.

Finally, I think it is important to address one of the major positions on climate stabilization that has been advanced in recent years on the left, which is to oppose economic growth altogether, or to support “de-growth.” The concerns of de-growth proponents — that economic growth under neoliberal capitalism is both grossly unjust and ecologically unsustainable — are real. But de-growth is not a viable solution. Consider a very simple example — that under a de-growth program, global GDP contracts by 10 percent. This level of GDP contraction would be five times larger than what occurred at the lowest point of the 2007-09 Great Recession, when the unemployment rate more than doubled in the United States. But even still, this 10 percent contraction in global GDP would have the effect, on its own, of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by precisely 10 percent. At a minimum, we would still need to cut emissions by another 30 percent within 15 years, and another 80 percent within 30 years to have even a fighting chance of stabilizing the climate. As such, the only viable climate stabilization program is to invest massively in clean renewable and high energy efficiency systems so that clean energy completely supplants our existing fossil-fuel dependent system within the next 30 years, and to enact comparable transformations in agricultural production processes.

The “masters of the universe” have made a huge comeback since the last financial crisis, and while Trump’s big-capital-friendly policies are going to make the rich get richer, they could also spark the next financial crisis. So, Bob, what type of progressive policies can and should be enforced to contain the destructive tendencies of finance capital?

Pollin: The classic book Manias, Panics, and Crashes by the late MIT economist Charles Kindleberger makes clear that, throughout the history of capitalism, unregulated financial markets have persistently produced instability and crises. The only deviation from this long-term pattern occurred in the first 30 years after World War II, roughly from 1946-1975. The reason US and global financial markets were much more stable over this 30-year period is that the markets were heavily regulated then, through the Glass-Steagall regulatory system in the US, and the Bretton Woods system globally. These regulatory systems were enacted only in response to the disastrous Great Depression of the 1930s, which began with the 1929 Wall Street crash and which then brought global capitalism to its knees.

Of course, the big Wall Street players always hated being regulated and fought persistently, first to evade the regulations and then to dismantle them. They were largely successful through the 1980s and 1990s. But the full, official demise of the 1930s regulatory system came only in 1999, under the Democratic President Bill Clinton. At the time, virtually all leading mainstream economists — including liberals, such as Larry Summers, who was Treasury Secretary when Glass-Steagall was repealed — argued that financial regulations were an unnecessary vestige of the bygone 1930s. All kinds of fancy papers were written “demonstrating” that the big players on Wall Street are very smart people who know what’s best for themselves and everyone else — and therefore, didn’t need government regulators telling them what they could or could not do. It then took less than eight years for hyper-speculation on Wall Street to once again bring global capitalism to its knees. The only thing that saved capitalism in 2008-09 from a repeat of the 1930s Great Depression was the unprecedented government interventions to prop up the system, and the equally massive bail out of Wall Street.

An effective regulatory system today would be one guided by a few basic premises that can be applied flexibly but also universally.

By 2010, the US Congress and President Obama enacted a new set of financial regulations, the Dodd-Frank system. Overall, Dodd-Frank amount to a fairly weak set of measures aiming to dampen hyper-speculation on Wall Street. A large part of the problem is that Dodd-Frank included many opportunities for Wall Street players to delay enactment of laws they didn’t like and for clever lawyers to figure out ways to evade the ones on the books. That said, the Trump administration, led on economic policy matters by two former Goldman Sachs executives, is committed to dismantling Dodd-Frank altogether, and allowing Wall Street to once again operate free of any significant regulatory constraints. I have little doubt that, free of regulations, the already ongoing trend of rising speculation — with, for example, the stock market already at a historic high — will once again accelerate.

What is needed to build something like a financial system that is both stable and supports a full-employment, ecologically sustainable growth framework? A major problem over time with the old Glass-Steagall system was that there were large differences in the degree to which, for example, commercial banks, investment banks, stock brokerages, insurance companies and mortgage lenders were regulated, thereby inviting clever financial engineers to invent ways to exploit these differences. An effective regulatory system today should therefore be guided by a few basic premises that can be applied flexibly but also universally. The regulations need to apply across the board, regardless of whether you call your business a bank, an insurance company, a hedge fund, a private equity fund, a vulture fund, or some other term that most of us haven’t yet heard about.

One measure for promoting both stability and fairness across financial market segments is a small sales tax on all financial transactions — what has come to be known as a Robin Hood Tax. This tax would raise the costs of short-term speculative trading and therefore discourage speculation. At the same time, the tax will not discourage “patient” investors who intend to hold their assets for longer time periods, since, unlike the speculators, they will be trading infrequently. A bill called the Inclusive Prosperity Act was first introduced into the House of Representatives by Rep. Keith Ellison in 2012 and then in the Senate by Bernie Sanders in 2015, [and] is exactly the type of measure that is needed here.

Another important initiative would be to implement what are called asset-based reserve requirements. These are regulations that require financial institutions to maintain a supply of cash as a reserve fund in proportion to the other, riskier assets they hold in their portfolios. Such requirements can serve both to discourage financial market investors from holding an excessive amount of risky assets, and as a cash cushion for the investors to draw upon when market downturns occur.

This policy instrument can also be used to push financial institutions to channel credit to projects that advance social welfare, for example, promoting investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The policy could stipulate that, say, at least 5 percent of banks’ loan portfolios should be channeled to into clean-energy investments. If the banks fail to reach this 5 percent quota of loans for clean energy, they would then be required to hold this same amount of their total assets in cash.

Finally, both in the US and throughout the world, there needs to be a growing presence of public development banks. These banks would make loans based on social welfare criteria — including advancing a full-employment, climate-stabilization agenda — as opposed to scouring the globe for the largest profit opportunities regardless of social costs…. Public development banks have always played a central role in supporting the successful economic development paths in the East Asian economies.

Noam, racism, inequality, mass incarceration and gun violence are pathologies that run deep inside American society. How would a progressive government begin to address these problems if it found itself in a position of power in, say, the next decade or so?

Chomsky: Very serious problems, no doubt. In order to address them effectively, it’s first necessary to understand them; not a simple matter. Let’s take the four pathologies in turn.

Racism certainly runs deep. There is no need to elaborate. It’s right before our eyes in innumerable ways, some with considerable historical resonance. Current anti-immigrant hysteria can hardly fail to recall the racist immigration laws that at first barred [Asians] and were extended in the 1920s to Italians and Jews (under a different guise) — incidentally, helping to send many Jews to gas chambers, and after the war, keeping miserable survivors of the Holocaust from US shores.

Of course, the most extreme case for the past 400 years is the bitter history of African Americans. Current circumstances are shameful enough, commonly held doctrines scarcely less so. The hatred of Obama and anything he touched surely reflects deep-rooted racism. Comparative studies by George Frederickson show that doctrines of white supremacy in the US have been even more rampant than in Apartheid South Africa.

The Nazis, when seeking precedents for the Nuremberg laws, turned to the United States, taking its anti-miscegenation laws as a model, though not entirely: [Certain] US laws were too harsh for the Nazis because of the “one drop of blood” doctrine. It was not until 1967, under the impact of the civil rights movement, that these abominations were struck down by the Supreme Court.

And it goes far back, taking many strange forms, including the weird Anglo-Saxon cult that has been prominent for centuries. Benjamin Franklin, the great American figure of the Enlightenment, pondered whether Germans and Swedes should be barred from the country because they are “too swarthy.” Adopting familiar understanding, he observed that “the Saxons only [are] excepted” from this racial “defect” — and by some mysterious process, those who make it to the United States may become Anglo-Saxons, like those already accepted within the canon.

The national poet Walt Whitman, honored for his democratic spirit, justified the conquest of half of Mexico by asking, “What has miserable, inefficient Mexico … to do with the great mission of peopling the New World with a noble race? Be it ours, to achieve that mission!” — a mission accomplished by the most “wicked war” in history, in the judgment of General-President U.S. Grant, who later regretted his service in it as a junior officer.

Coming to recent years, Henry Stimson, one of the most distinguished members of the FDR-Truman cabinets (and one of the few to oppose atomic bombing) “consistently maintained that Anglo-Saxons were superior to the ‘lesser breeds’,” historian Sean Langdon Malloy observes in his book, Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb — and again reflecting not-uncommon views, asked to have one of his aides reassigned “on the slight possibility that he might be a Hebrew,” in his own words.

The other three maladies that you mention are also striking features of US society — in some ways, even distinguishing features. But unlike racism, in all three cases, it is partially a contemporary phenomenon.

Take inequality. Through much of its history, the US did not have high inequality as compared with Europe. Less so, in fact. That began to change in the industrial age, reaching a peak in 1928, after the forceful destruction of the labor movement and crushing of independent thought. Largely as a result of labor mobilization, inequality declined during the Great Depression, a tendency continuing through the great growth period of regulated capitalism in the early postwar decades. The neoliberal era that followed reversed these trends, leading to extreme inequality that may even surpass the 1928 peak.

Mass incarceration is also period-specific; in fact, the same period. It had reached high levels in the South in the post-reconstruction years after an 1877 North-South compact gave the South free rein to institute “slavery by another name,” as Douglas Blackmon calls the crime in his study of how the former slave-owning states devised techniques to incarcerate much of the Black population. By doing so, they created a renewed slave labor force for the industrial revolution of those years, this time with the state, rather than private capital, responsible for maintaining the slave labor force — a considerable benefit to the ownership class. Turning to more recent times, 30 years ago, US incarceration rates were within the range of developed societies, a little towards the high end. By now they are 5 to 10 times as high, far beyond those of any country with credible statistics. Again, a phenomenon of the past three decades.

The gun cult is also not as deeply rooted as often supposed. Guns were, of course, needed to conduct the two greatest crimes of American history: controlling slaves and exterminating [Native Americans]. But the general public had little interest in weapons, a matter of much concern to the arms industry. The popular gun cult was cultivated by gun manufacturers in the 19th century in order to create a market beyond governments. Normal capitalism. Methods included concoction of “Wild West” mythology that later became iconic. Such efforts continue, vigorously, until the present. By now, in large sectors of the society, swaggering into a coffee shop with a gun shows that you are really somebody, maybe a Wyatt Earp clone. The outcomes are sobering. Gun homicides in the US are far beyond comparable countries. In Germany, for example, deaths from gun homicide are at the level of deaths in the US from “contact with a thrown or falling object.” And even these shocking figures are misleading. Half of suicides in the US are with firearms, more than 20,000 a year, amounting to two-thirds of all firearm deaths.

Turning to your question about the four “pathologies” — the four horsemen, one is tempted to say — the questions virtually answer themselves with a careful look at the history, particularly the history since World War II. There have been two phases during the postwar period: regulated capitalism through the ’50s and ’60s, followed by the neoliberal period from the late ’70s, sharply accelerating with Reagan and his successors. It is the latter period when the last three of four pathologies drove the US off the charts.

During the first postwar phase, there were some significant steps to counter endemic racism and its devastating impact on the victims. That was the great achievement of the mass civil rights movement, peaking in the mid-1960s, though with a very mixed record since. The achievements also had a major impact on the political system. The Democratic Party had been an uneasy coalition, including Southern Democrats, dedicated to racist policies and extremely influential because of seniority in one-party states. That’s why New Deal measures [were] largely restricted to whites; for example, household and agricultural workers were barred from Social Security.

The alliance fell apart in the ’60s with the fierce backlash against extending minimal rights of citizenship to African-Americans. The South shifted to Republican ranks, encouraged by Nixon’s overtly racist “Southern strategy.” The period since has hardly been encouraging for African Americans, apart from elite sectors.

Government policies could go some way towards ameliorating these social pathologies, but a great deal more is needed. Such needs can only be fulfilled by dedicated mass popular activism and educational/organizational efforts. These can be facilitated by a more progressive government, but, just as in the case of the civil rights movement, that can be only a help, often a reluctant one.

On inequality, it was low (by comparative standards) during the period of regulated capitalism — the final era of “great compression” of income as it is sometimes called. Inequality began to increase rapidly with the advent of the neoliberal era, not only in the US, though the US is extreme among developed societies. During the tepid recovery from the Great Recession of 2008, virtually all gains went to the top few percent, mostly 1 percent or a fraction thereof. “For the United States overall, the top 1 percent captured 85.1 percent of total income growth between 2009 and 2013,” an Economic Policy Institute Study revealed. “In 2013 the top 1 percent of families nationally made 25.3 times as much as the bottom 99 percent.” And so, it continues. The latest Federal Reserve studies show that “The share of income received by the top 1 percent of families rose to 23.8 percent in 2016, up from 20.3 percent in 2013. The share of the bottom 90 percent of the distribution fell to 49.7 percent, the lowest on record in the survey’s history.” Other figures are grotesque. Thus, “Average wealth holdings for white families in 2016 were about $933,700, compared with $191,200 for Hispanic families and $138,200 for black families,” a product of deep-rooted racism exacerbating the neoliberal assault.

The gun culture, too, has expanded rapidly in recent decades. In 1975, the NRA formed a new lobbying arm — a few years later, a PAC — to channel funds to legislators. It soon became one of the most powerful interest-group lobbies, with often fervent popular participation. In 2008, the Supreme Court, in an intellectual triumph of “originalism,” reversed the traditional interpretation of the Second Amendment, which had previously respected its explicit condition on the right to bear arms: the need for “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State….” That provision was understandable in 1790. There was almost no standing army. The world’s most powerful state was still an enemy. The slave population had to be controlled. And the invasion of the rest of what became the national territory was about to be unleashed. Not exactly today’s circumstances.

Since 2008, our “constitutional right to bear arms,” as declared by the right-wing Roberts Court, has become Holy Writ.

There are many contributing factors to the sharp break between the two postwar periods — neither [of] which began to approach what is surely possible in the richest society in world history, with incomparable advantages.

One leading factor is the financialization of the economy, creating a huge bloc of largely predatory institutions devoted to financial manipulations rather than to the real economy — a process by which “Wall Street destroyed Main Street,” in the words of Financial Times editor Rana Foroohar. One of her many illustrations is the world’s leading corporation, Apple. It has astronomical wealth, but to become even richer, has been shifting from devising more advanced marketable goods to finance. Its R&D as a percentage of sales has been falling since 2001, tendencies that extend widely among major corporations. In parallel, capital from financial institutions that financed business investments during the postwar growth period now largely “stays inside the financial system,” Foroohar reports, “enriching financiers, corporate titans, and the wealthiest fraction of the population, which hold the vast majority of financial assets.”

During the period of rapid growth of financial institutions since the ’70s, there seem to have been few studies of their impact on the economy. Apparently, it was simply taken for granted that since it (sort of) accords with neoliberal market principles, it must be a Good Thing.

The failure of the profession to study these matters was noted by Nobel laureate in economics Robert Solow after the 2008 crash. His tentative judgment was that the general impact is probably negative: “the successes probably add little or nothing to the efficiency of the real economy, while the disasters transfer wealth from taxpayers to financiers.” By now, there is substantially more evidence. A 2015 paper by two prominent economists found that productivity declines in markets with rapidly expanding financial sectors, impacting mostly the sector most critical for long-term growth and better jobs: advanced manufacturing. One reason, Foroohar observes, is that “finance would rather invest in areas like real estate and construction, which are far less productive but offer quicker, more reliable short-term gains” (hence also bigger bonuses for top management); the Trump-style economy, palatial hotels and golf courses (along with massive debt and repeated bankruptcies).

In part for related reasons, though productivity has doubled since the late ’70s when finance was beginning to take over the economy, wages have stalled — for male workers, declined. In 2007, before the crash, at the height of euphoria about the grand triumphs of neoliberalism, neoclassical economics and “the Great Moderation,” real wages of American workers were lower than they had been in 1979, when the neoliberal experiment was just taking off. Another factor contributing to this outcome was explained to Congress in 1997 by Fed Chair Alan Greenspan, when testifying on the healthy economy he was managing. In his own words, “Atypical restraint on compensation increases has been evident for a few years now and appears to be mainly the consequence of greater worker insecurity.” Insecurity that was, as he noted, markedly increasing even as employment prospects improved. In short, with labor repressed and unions dismantled, workers were too intimidated to seek decent wages and benefits, a sure sign of the health of the economy.

The same happened to the minimum wage, which sets a floor for others; if it had continued to track productivity, it would now be close to $20 an hour. Crises have rapidly increased as deregulation took off, in accord with the “religion” that markets know best, deplored by another Nobel laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, in a World Bank publication 20 years ago, to no effect. Each crisis is worse than the last; each following recovery weaker than the last. None of this, incidentally, would have come as a surprise to Marxist economists, who pretty much disappeared from the scene in the United States.

Despite much lofty rhetoric about “free markets,” like other major industries (energy, agribusiness, etc.), financial institutions benefit enormously from government subsidy and other interventions. An IMF study found that the profits of the major banks derive substantially from the implicit government insurance policy (“too big to fail”), which confers advantages far beyond the periodic bailouts when corrupt practices lead to a crash — something that did not happen during the earlier period, before bipartisan neoliberal doctrine fostered deregulation. Other benefits are real but immeasurable, like the incentive to undertake risky (hence profitable) transactions, with the understanding that if they crash, the hardy taxpayer will step in to repair the damage, probably leaving the institutions richer than before, as after the 2008 crash for which they were largely responsible.

Other factors include the accelerated attack on unions and the radical reduction in taxes for the wealthy, both natural concomitants of neoliberal ideology. Another is the particular form of neoliberal globalization, particularly since the ’90s, designed in ways that offer very high protection and other advantages to corporations, investors and privileged professionals, while setting working people in competition with one another worldwide, with obvious consequences.

Such measures have a mutually reinforcing effect. As wealth becomes more concentrated, so, automatically, does political power, which leads to government policies that carry the cycle forward.

A primary goal of the neoliberal reaction was to reverse the falling rate of profit that resulted, in part, from growing labor militancy. That goal has been achieved with impressive success. The professed goals, of course, were quite different. And as always, the reaction was buttressed by ideology. One staple has been the famous thesis of Simon Kuznets: that while inequality increases in early economic development, it begins to decrease as the economy reaches a more advanced level. It follows, then, that there is no need for redistributive policies that interfere with the magic of the market. The Kuznets thesis soon became conventional wisdom among economists and planners.

There are a few problems, however. One, as [American University economics professor] Jon Wisman observes, is that it wasn’t a thesis, but rather a conjecture, very cautiously advanced. As Kuznets explained, the conjecture was based on “perhaps 5 percent empirical information and 95 percent speculation, some of it possibly tainted by wishful thinking.” This slight qualification in the article was overlooked in a manner not uncommon when there is doctrinal utility in so doing. Other justifications fare similarly.

One might almost define “neoliberalism” — a bit cruelly, but not entirely unfairly — as an ideology devoted to establishing more firmly a society based on the principle of “private affluence, public squalor” — John Kenneth Galbraith’s condemnation of what he observed in 1958. Much worse was to come with the unleashing of natural tendencies of capitalism in the neoliberal years, now enhanced as its more [brutal] variants are given virtually free rein under Trump-Ryan-McConnell Republicanism.

All of this is under human control, and can be reversed. There are many realistic options, even without looking beyond short-term feasibility. A small financial transaction tax would sharply reduce the rapid trading that is a net loss to the society while benefiting a privileged few, and would also provide a progressive government with revenue for constructive purposes. It’s common knowledge that the deterioration of infrastructure has reached grotesque proportions. Government programs can begin to address these serious problems. They can also be devoted to improving rather than undermining the deteriorating public education system. Living wage and green economy programs of the kind that Bob Pollin has developed could go a long way toward reducing inequality, and beyond that, creating a much more decent society. Another major contribution would be [an equitable] health care system. In fact, just eliminating the exorbitant patent protections that are a core part of the neoliberal “free trade agreements” would be a huge boon to the general economy — and the arguments for these highly protectionist measures are very weak, as economist Dean Baker has shown convincingly. Legislation to put an end to the “right to scrounge laws” (in Orwellian terminology, “right to work laws”) that are designed to destroy unions could help revive the labor movement, by now with different constituencies, including service and part-time workers. That could reverse the growth of the new “precariat,” another matter of fundamental importance. And it could restore the labor movement to its historic role as the leading force in the struggle for basic human rights.

There are other paths toward reviving a vital and progressive labor movement. The expansion of worker-owned and managed enterprises, now underway in many places, is a promising development, and need not be limited to a small scale. A few years ago, after the crash, Obama virtually nationalized a large part of the auto industry, then returning it to private ownership. Another possibility would have been to turn the industry over to the workforce, or to stakeholders more broadly (workers and community), who might, furthermore, have chosen to redirect its production to what the country sorely needs: efficient public transportation. That could have happened had there been mass popular support and a receptive government. Recent work by Gar Alperovitz and David Ellerman approaches these matters in highly informative ways. Conversion of military industry along similar lines is also quite conceivable — matters discussed years ago by Seymour Melman. [There are all] options under progressive initiatives.

The “right to work” legislation that is a darling of the far right will probably soon be established solidly by the Roberts Court now that Neil Gorsuch is in place, thanks to some of Mitch McConnell’s more sordid chicanery in barring Obama’s nominee. The legislation has an interesting pedigree. It traces back to the Southern Christian American Association, an extreme racist and anti-Semitic organization that was bitterly opposed to unions, which its leaders condemned as a devilish contrivance in which “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes.” Another enemy was “Jewish Marxism,” the “Talmudists” who were planning to Sovietize the world and were already doing so in the US through the “Jew Deal,” known elsewhere as the “New Deal.”

An immediate objective of moderately progressive policy should be to sharply cut the huge military budget, well over half of discretionary spending and now expanding under the Republican project of dismantling government, apart from service to their wealthy/corporate constituency. One of many good reasons to trim the military budget is that it is extremely dangerous to our own security. A striking illustration is the Obama-Trump nuclear weapons modernization program, which has sharply increased “killing power,” a very important study in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reported last March. Thereby, the program “creates exactly what one would expect to see, if a nuclear-armed state were planning to have the capacity to fight and win a nuclear war by disarming enemies with a surprise first strike.” These developments, surely known to Russian planners, significantly increase the likelihood that they might resort to a preemptive strike — which means the end — in case of false alarms or very tense moments, of which there are all too many. And here, too, the funds released could be devoted to badly needed objectives, like quickly weaning ourselves from the curse of fossil fuels.

This is a bare sample. There’s a long list.

The United States spends more money on health care than any other nation in the world, yet its health care system is highly inefficient and leaves out millions from even basic coverage. What would a socialized health care system look like in the US, and how can the opposition from the private insurance sector, big pharma and the medical industries in general be overcome?

Chomsky: The facts are startling. It’s an international scandal, and not unknown. A recent study by the US-based Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan health policy research group, found that once again, as repeatedly in the past, the US health care system is the most expensive in the world, far higher than comparable countries, and that it ranks last in performance among these countries. To have combined these two results is a real triumph of the market. The roots of the achievement are not obscure. The US is alone in relying on largely unregulated private insurance companies. Their commitment is to profit, not health, and they produce huge waste in administrative costs, advertising, profit and executive compensation. The government-run component of the health system (Medicare) is far more efficient, but suffers from the need to work through the private institutions. The US is also alone in legislation barring the government from negotiating drug prices, which, not surprisingly, are far above comparable countries.

These policies do not reflect popular will. Poll results vary, depending on how questions are formulated, but over time, they show considerable, often majority support for a public health system of the kind found elsewhere. Usually, Canada is the model because so little is known about the rest of the world, though it is not ranked as the best. That prize has regularly been won by the British National Health Service, though it, too, is reeling under the neoliberal assault. When Obama’s [Affordable Care Act] was introduced, it included a public option, supported by almost two-thirds of the population. It was unceremoniously deleted. Popular opinion is particularly striking in that [it] receives so little mainstream support, even articulation; and if even brought up, is usually condemned. The main argument against the far more successful systems elsewhere is that adopting their framework would raise taxes. [However, single-payer usually results in] cutting expenses considerably more and benefitting the large majority — so the experience of other countries indicates, [as does] US Medicare.

The tide may be turning finally. Sanders has received considerable support, even within the political system, for his call for universal health care to be achieved step-by-step in his plan, by gradual extension of Medicare and other means. The temporary collapse of the fanatic seven-year Republican campaign to destroy “Obamacare” may provide openings as well — temporary collapse, because the extremist organization in power has means to undermine health care and are likely to use it in their passionate dedication to destroying anything connected to the reviled Black president.… Nevertheless, there are new openings for some degree of [reason], which could greatly enhance people’s welfare, as well as improving the general economy.

To be sure, there will be massive opposition from private power, which has extraordinary influence in our limited class-based democracy. But it can be overcome. The historical record shows that economic-political elites respond to militant popular action — and the threat of more — by endorsing ameliorative measures that leave their basic dominance of the society in place. New Deal measures of social reform are one of many illustrations.

Bob, you produced recently an economic analysis for the backing of a single-payer bill in California (SB-562) and worked on Bernie Sanders’s proposal for universal health care, so what are your own views on the previous question?

Pollin: A socialized health care system for the US — whether we call it “single-payer,” “Medicare-for-All” or something else — should include two basic features. The first is that every resident … should be guaranteed access to decent health care. The second is that the system achieves significant overall savings relative to our existing system through lowering administrative costs, controlling the prices of prescription drugs and fees for physicians and hospitals, reducing unnecessary treatments and expanding preventive care.

In our study analyzing the California single-payer proposal, we estimated that providing decent coverage for all state residents — including, in particular, the roughly 40-45 percent of the state’s population who are presently either uninsured or who have inadequate coverage — would increase total costs by about 10 percent under the existing system. But we also estimated that operating the single-payer system could achieve overall savings in the range of 18 percent relative to the existing system in the areas of administration, drug prices, fees for providers and cutting back on wasteful service delivery. Overall then, we found that total health care spending in California would fall by about 8 percent, even with the single-payer system delivering decent care for everyone. My work on the Sanders’s Medicare for All bill is ongoing as of now, so I will hold off on providing estimates of its overall impact.

Let’s consider how transformative the California-type outcomes would be. Under single-payer in California, decent health care would be established as a basic human right, as it already is in almost all other advanced countries. Nobody would have to forego receiving needed treatments because they didn’t have insurance or they couldn’t afford high insurance premiums and copays. Nobody would have to fear a financial disaster because they faced a health care crisis in their family. Virtually all families would end up financially better off and most businesses would also experience cost savings under single-payer relative to what they pay now to cover their employees.

How can the opposition from the private health insurance sector, big pharma and the medical industries in general be overcome? It obviously will not be easy. Health care in the US is a $3 trillion business. Profits of the private companies are in the hundreds of billions, even while most of the funding for our existing health care system comes from the federal, state and local government budgets. As one example of how to respond to this political reality, we can learn from the work of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United. The nurses’ union has been fighting for single-payer for over 20 years. They bring enormous credibility to the issue, because their members see firsthand how the health and financial well-being of especially non-wealthy people in the US suffer under our current system.

There is no secret as to how the nurses’ union fights on behalf of single-payer. They believe in their cause and are highly effective in the ways they organize and advance their position. The basics are as simple as that.

Noam, higher education in the US is a terribly expensive affair, and hundreds of billions are owed in student loans. First, do you think that a system of free higher education can coexist alongside tuition-charging universities? Secondly, what could and should be done about student debt?

Chomsky: The educational system was a highly predictable victim of the neoliberal reaction, guided by the maxim of “private affluence and public squalor.” Funding for public education has sharply declined. Tuition has exploded, leading to a plague of unpayable student debt. As higher education is driven to a business model in accord with neoliberal doctrine, administrative bureaucracy has sharply increased at the expense of faculty and students, developments reviewed well by sociologist Benjamin Ginsburg. Cost-cutting dictated by the revered market principles naturally leads to hyper-exploitation of the more vulnerable, creating a new precariat of graduate students and adjuncts surviving on a bare pittance, replacing tenured faculty. All of this happens to be a good disciplinary technique, for obvious reasons.

For those with eyes open, much of what has happened was anticipated by the early ’70s, at the point of transition from regulated capitalism to incipient neoliberalism. At the time, there was mounting elite concern about the dangers posed by the democratizing and civilizing effects of 1960s activism, and particularly the role of young people during “the time of troubles.” The concerns were forcefully expressed at both ends of the political spectrum.

At the right end of the spectrum, the “Powell memorandum” sent by corporate lobbyist (later Supreme Court Justice) Lewis Powell to the Chamber of Commerce called upon the business community to rise up to defend itself against the assault on freedom led by Ralph Nader, Herbert Marcuse and other miscreants who had taken over the universities, the media and the government. The picture was, of course, ludicrous but it did reflect the perceptions of Powell’s audience, desperate about the slight diminution in their overwhelming power. The rhetoric is as interesting as the message, reminiscent of a spoiled three-year-old who has a piece of candy taken away. The memorandum was influential in circles that matter for policy formation.

At the other end of the spectrum, at about the same time, the liberal internationalists of the Trilateral Commission published their lament over “The Crisis of Democracy” that arose in the “terrible” ’60s, when previously apathetic and marginalized parts of the population — the great majority — began to try to enter the political arena to pursue their interests. That posed an intolerable burden on the state. Accordingly, the Trilateral scholars called for more “moderation in democracy,” a return to passivity and obedience. The American rapporteur, Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, reminisced nostalgically about the time when “Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers,” so that true democracy flourished.

A particular concern of the Trilateral scholars was the failure of the institutions responsible for “the indoctrination of the young,” including the schools and universities. These had to be brought under control, along with the irresponsible media that were (occasionally) departing from subordination to “proper authority” — a precursor of concerns of the far-right Republican Party today.

There is no economic reason why free education cannot flourish from schools through colleges and university.

The right-liberal spectrum of concerns provided a good indication of what was to come.

The underfunding of public education, from K-12 through colleges and universities, has no plausible economic rationale, and in fact is harmful to the economy because of the losses that ensue. In other countries, rich and poor, education remains substantially free, with educational standards that rank high in global comparisons. Even in the US, higher education was almost free during the economically successful years before the neoliberal reaction — and it was, of course, a much poorer country then. The GI bill provided free education to huge numbers of people — white men overwhelmingly — who would probably never have gone to college, a great benefit to them personally and to the whole society. Tuition at private colleges was far below today’s exorbitant costs.

Student debt is structured to be a burden for life. The indebted cannot declare bankruptcy, unlike Trump. Current student debt is estimated to be over $1.45 trillion, [more than] $600 billion more than total credit card debt. Most is unpayable, and should be rescinded. There are ample resources for that simply from waste, including the bloated military and the enormous concentrated private wealth that has accumulated in the financial and general corporate sector under neoliberal policies.

There is no economic reason why free education cannot flourish from schools through colleges and university. The barriers are not economic but rather political decisions, skewed in the predictable direction under conditions of highly unequal wealth and power. Barriers that can be overcome, as often in the past.

Bob, what’s your own response to the question I posed above?

Pollin: Student debt in the US has exploded in the past decade. In 2007, total student debt was $112 billion, equal to 0.8 percent of GDP. As of 2016, total student debt was [more than] $1 trillion, equal to 5.6 percent of GDP. Thus, as a share of GDP, student debt has risen approximately seven-fold. As of 2012, nearly 70 percent of students left college carrying student loans, and these loans averaged $26,300.

The rise in student debt reflects a combination of factors. The first is that the private costs of attending college have risen sharply, with public higher education funding having been cut sharply. Average public funding per student was 15 percent lower in 2015 than in 2008, and 20 percent lower than in 1990. The burden of the public funding cuts [has] been worsened by the stagnation of average family incomes. Thus, in 1990, average tuition, fees, room and board amounted to about 18 percent of the median household income. By 2014, this figure had nearly doubled, to 35 percent of median household income.

Despite these sharply rising costs, college enrollments have continued to rise. There are many good reasons for young people to go off to college, open their minds, develop their skills and enjoy themselves. But probably the major attraction is the fact that income disparities have increased sharply between those who go to college versus those who do not. This pattern corresponds with the stagnation of average wages since the early 1970s that we discussed [previously]. The reality under neoliberalism has been that, if you want to have a decent shot at a good-paying job with a chance for promotions and raises over time, the most important first step is to get a college education. The pressures to go to college would be much less intense if working-class jobs provided good pay and opportunities to advance, as was the pattern prior to the onset of neoliberalism.

Virtually all student debt in the US is now held by the federal government. It would therefore be a relatively simple matter to forgive some, if not all of it. This would enable young people to transition much more easily into creating their own households and families. At the same time, if the government is going to enact a major program of student debt forgiveness, it should be at least equally committed to relieving the heavy mortgage debt burdens still carried by tens of millions of non-affluent households in the aftermath of the 2007-09 financial crash and Great Recession. Similarly, the government should also be at least equally committed to both lowering the costs of college education in the first place, and [supporting] better wages and work opportunities for people who do not attend college.

The blueprint for a progressive US that the two of you have sketched out requires that a certain course of political action is carried out … which includes educating the masses in getting from here to there. How is this to be done, especially given not only the peculiarities of American political culture, but also the balkanization of progressive and left forces in the country?

Chomsky: The answer is both easy and hard. Easy to formulate (and familiar), and hard to execute (also familiar). The answer is education, organization [and] activism as appropriate to circumstances. Not easy, but often successful, and there’s no reason why it cannot be now. Popular engagement, though scattered, is at quite a high level, as is enthusiasm and concern. There are also important elements of unity, like the Left Forum, novel and promising. And the movements we’ve already mentioned. Significant efforts are underway, such as those alluded to briefly [before], and there’s no reason why they cannot be extended. While the left is famous for constant splits and internal disputes, I don’t think that’s more so now than in the past. And the general mood, particularly among young people, seems to me conducive to quite positive changes.

It is not idle romanticism to recognize the potential that can be awakened, or arise independently, in communities that free themselves from indoctrination and passive subordination.

I don’t feel that there is anything deep in the political culture that prevents “educating the masses.” I’m old enough to recall vividly the high level of culture, general and political, among first-generation working people during the Great Depression. Workers’ education was lively and effective, union-based — mostly the vigorous rising labor movement, reviving from the ashes of the 1920s. I’ve often seen independent and quite impressive initiatives in working-class and poor and deprived communities today. And there’s a long earlier history of lively working-class culture, from the early days of the industrial revolution. The most important radical democratic movement in American history, the populist movement (not today’s “populism”), was initiated and led by farmers in Texas and the Midwest, who may have had little formal education but understood very well the nature of their plight at the hands of the powerful banking and commercial sectors, and devised effective means to counter it….

I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen remarkable examples elsewhere. I recall vividly a visit to an extremely poor, almost inaccessible rural village in southern Colombia, in an area under attack from all sides, where I attended a village meeting that was concerned with protecting their resources, including irreplaceable water supplies, from predatory international mining corporations. And in particular. a young man, with very little formal education, who led a thoughtful and very informed discussion of sophisticated development plans that they intended to implement. I’ve seen the same in poor villages in West Bengal, with a handful of books in the tiny schoolroom, areas liberated from landlord rule by Communist party militancy. The opportunities and, of course, resources are vastly greater in rich societies like ours.

I don’t think it is idle romanticism to recognize the potential that can be awakened, or arise independently, in communities that free themselves from indoctrination and passive subordination. The opportunities I think are there, to be grasped and carried forward.

Pollin: I think it is inevitable that leftist forces in the US would be divided, if not balkanized, to some extent. Among the full range of people who are committed to social and economic equality and ecological [justice] — i.e. to some variant of a leftist vision of a decent society — it will always be the case that some will be more focused on egalitarian economic issues, others around the environment and climate change, others on US imperialism, militarism and foreign policy, others on race and gender equality, and still others on sexual identity.

I certainly do not have the formula for how to most effectively knit all these groups together. But I do think we can learn a lot from the major successes out there. The 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign is a first obvious example. Another is the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United (CNA/NNU) that I mentioned [before]. This is a union, fighting first for the well-being of its members, who are overwhelmingly women, with a high proportion being women of color. At the same time, CNA/NNU has been in the forefront of campaigns for single-payer health care and even the Robin Hood Tax on speculative Wall Street trading.

There are other progressive organizations that have proven track records of success. One is the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), which has long been active around both living wage and other worker rights issues, as well as community economic development and environmental justice. A more recently formed coalition is NY Renews, which is comprised of 126 organizations in New York State who have come together to advance a serious program in the state to both dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and expand good job opportunities. The Washington State Labor Council — part of the AFL-CIO — has also been committed and innovative in bringing together coalitions of labor and environmental groups.

The US left needs to learn and build from the achievements and ongoing work of these and similar groups. In fact, as Margaret Thatcher used to say, “there is no alternative” — if we are serious about successfully advancing a left alternative to the disasters caused by 40 years of neoliberal hegemony.

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The American Roots and 21st Century Global Rise of Fascism

NOVANEWS

By Mark Karlin, Truthout

(L-R) US Senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, former-Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, former-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, former-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence and former-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly attend a joint news conference with President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the East Room at the White House February 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

(L-R) US Senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, former-Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, former-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Senior Advisor Jared Kushner, former-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence and former-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly attend a joint news conference with President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the East Room at the White House February 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

Like the frog in boiling water, Americans may not realize that democracy is over and the country has descended into fascism until it is too late. In this interview, David Neiwert tells Truthout what’s new about the so-called “alt-right” and in what ways it’s a continuation of American white supremacy. The author of Alt-America also outlines how Donald Trump won over the support of far-right groups and gave their worldview a place in the White House.

Mark Karlin: Is the term “alt-right” a rebranding of a fringe white supremacist movement that has been in place for decades or should it be recognized as a distinct entity?

David Neiwert: It’s definitely a rebranding of white supremacist thought, but it is much more than just that — it’s an entire rewiring of the movement and an expansion of it as well, which is why simply calling them “Nazis” isn’t accurate. This isn’t your grandfather’s Klan. It’s been rewired to not only take advantage of technology and its rapid changes, but to leverage them as weapons. It’s also been remade entirely to appeal to young people — namely, white males ages 16-30 — using such nontraditional appeals as humor and irony and openly transgressive “wit.”

David Neiwert. (Photo: Verso Books)

David Neiwert. (Photo: Verso Books)In the end, when you dig down into their thinking and examine the ideology they are promoting, it really isn’t anything new, nothing that eugenicists and white supremacists of bygone days hadn’t said already. But it’s presented in social media in adroit and new ways that are very effective with young people whose exposure to real history is shallow to begin with.

What in Donald Trump’s statements and actions have empowered the “alt-right,” which you call a “long-discredited” alternative universe, and those groups who preceded the “alt-right,” to feel that this is their moment?

Trump’s origins as a politician in 2011 revolve around his adoption of an extremist (and profoundly bigoted) right-wing conspiracy theory, namely, the so-called “birther” conspiracy positing that President Obama’s birth certificate was somehow faked.

But while the “birtherism” attracted a Tea Party crowd in his direction initially, and his campaign-opening speech denouncing Mexican immigrants as “rapists” cheered the nativist/white nationalist contingent, the event that really connected Trump to the “alt-right” was his release, on August 16, 2015, of his “immigration plan” — a document that may well have been written by Ann Coulter or his staff white nationalist, Stephen Miller, because it almost perfectly parroted the immigration agendas previously delineated by white nationalists and nativists, such as Coulter, Jared Taylor or Patrick Buchanan. That was the moment we saw the “alt-right,” almost completely across the board, jump aboard Trump’s bandwagon. And nothing he has done since has persuaded them to get off.

Why do followers of the fringe right feel such an extreme sense of victimhood?

It’s an essential component of the right-wing authoritarian (RWA) personality, which features compartmentalized thinking and a zero-sum approach to matters of race and gender. Inevitably, RWAs conceive of themselves as heroic, and an essential component of the dynamic of constructing heroism is that it not only requires the creation of an enemy, but also claims of victimization at the hands of this enemy.

My own experience, having grown up around this personality type, is that the victimhood is ultimately a kind of projection, because RWAs always create whole classes of victims by virtue of their frequently bigoted behaviors, people whose lives are negatively affected by their prejudice, and disdain for the values of equality — and so they claim victimhood as a kind of projection, a defense against being called out for their own bad acts.

Isn’t it a misconception that people in the US should be more worried about fanatical Islamic terrorism than the frequent acts of domestic terrorism?

Yes. In fact, I spent five years compiling a definitive database on domestic terrorism in the United States as part of a project for Reveal News/Center for Investigative Reporting and the Nation Institute Investigative Fund, which was published this past summer and detailed precisely how much greater the threat is — nearly a two-to-one difference in American homegrown far-right political violence than in that inflicted by radical Islamists over the past nine years. Yet, our law-enforcement apparatus and our media focus are overwhelmingly directed toward anyone with a Muslim background, but treats right-wing terrorists like Dylann Roof as “isolated incidents.” In many regards, this skew is the product of a profoundly irresponsible mainstream media.

In what respect is the rise of “alt-right” forces to the level of the White House shared by movements around the world?

The rise of the radical right in the US is just one piece of a global dark tide, and it’s a frightening phenomenon, really. In Europe, the far right is rising, not just in the UK, where the Brexit vote reflected a rising nationalism, but in Germany, where the far-right party won an increasing share of seats in Parliament recently, and in places like Poland, where thousands of young xenophobic nationalists recently marched en masse, as well as Hungary, where the new prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is also an unabashed nationalist in the Trump mold.


Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of TrumpHow the extreme right gained so much power and influence in the United States.

Click here now to get the book!


We have seen a rise in authoritarianism in regimes in Asia as well, beyond the largest authoritarian regime of them all, China. In Myanmar, for instance, where the military junta in charge is leading an ethnic-cleansing campaign against the Muslim Rohingya people; and in the Philippines, where the populist president openly leads a campaign of murderous, eliminationist violence against “drug users” and journalists.

Why is it important to note, as you do in your book, that what Trump has unleashed is an incremental descent into fascism?

Americans have always fancied themselves immune to fascism. After World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed, we patted ourselves on the backs and said, “It can’t happen here!” And in telling ourselves that, we lied — because fascism’s own roots lie buried, in places, in [US] soil: The Nuremberg Laws were modeled on Jim Crow, the Brownshirts were inspired by the Ku Klux Klan, and both Hitler’s Lebensraum program and the Holocaust itself were built on the Nazis’ admiration of the genocide of Native Americans in the United States.

In the ensuing years, we became increasingly facile about what fascism means and how it works, tossing it about as an easy insult, and then ultimately twisting its meaning on its head for partisan political purposes, as right-wing figures like Jonah Goldberg and Dinesh D’Souza have done in recent years. It never was anything other than right-wing populism gone metastatic — a cancerous manifestation of an already toxic worldview. But because we have enabled such populism, often under the guise of “libertarianism,” to creep into our mainstream politics, we have become vulnerable to its profound animus towards all of our democratic institutions, as well as their cynical manipulation of such staple democratic principles as free speech.

Americans want to believe that their democracy will just keep on running as it always has, but it is like any other system when it comes under direct attack — ultimately every bit as vulnerable as we allow it to be.

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Pentagon explanations for Niger operations can’t conceal strategic interests

 NOVANEWS
NY Mag

Almost on a daily basis the recounting of circumstances involving the killing of four United States Green Berets in the West African state of Niger has shifted. Even senior members of the Senate have stated that they had no idea that Pentagon troops were conducting offensive operations in the country. Niger, a former French colony, is ranked as the world’s fourth largest producer of uranium, a fact which has been interestingly omitted from the limited discourse on the deaths of the troops deployed under the banner of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

A recent report published in the Washington Post claims that the only African American soldier in the group of dead troops, Sgt. La David Johnson, had been kidnapped and killed execution style. Purportedly, people living in the area where Johnson’s body was discovered indicated that his hands were bound behind his back with a gaping wound in the rear of his head. (Nov. 10)

Other reports say that the Nigerien troops, who were ostensibly on a patrol mission with the AFRICOM forces, fled while the Green Berets stood and fought the alleged assailants. Who these “hostile elements” were has still not been clearly defined. What has been mentioned is that they are somehow affiliated with ISIS. (Guardian, Nov. 4)

AFRICOM in a statement issued on November 12 said it was investigating the incident in order to report its finding to the family of the slain soldiers. Nonetheless, the family of Johnson complained about what they described as the insensitive nature of a phone call received from President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the news reports of the Green Beret’s death.

Family members of Johnson also noted that they were prohibited from viewing what was said to have been the remains of the African American soldier. They, along with Congresswoman Fredrica S. Wilson of Florida, have expressed their dissatisfaction with the response of the White House, particularly the subsequent utterances of administration chief of staff Gen. John Kelly, who came to the defense of Trump saying that the president’s actions were appropriate.

U.S. military misrepresents African interventions

A report published on the AFRICOM website dated October 23 utilizes what many may consider to be racist terminology in regard to the character of Niger and other African states. This attitude was echoed by members of Congress as well as the White House.

This article by AFRICOM writer Jim Garamone said: “ISIS seeks to survive in the dark corners of the world where local inhabitants lack the power and expertise to control the violent group, Dunford (Pentagon chair) said. ISIS operates where it can exploit weaknesses in local government and local security forces, he added. Libya, Somalia, West Africa, certain places in Central and Southeast Asia are places where ISIS and like groups choose to operate.”

Later in this report Garamone quotes the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John Dunford as saying: “If you think of those enablers as connective tissue between groups across the globe, our strategy is to cut that tissue, while enabling local security forces to deal with the challenges within their countries and region. Our soldiers are operating in Niger to build the capacity of local forces to defeat violent extremism in West Africa. Their presence is part of a global strategy.”

The same article goes on to make even more contradictory claims stressing: “The United States is working with nations around the world to improve their military capabilities and capacities, Dunford said. U.S. troops, he added, have been working with forces from Niger for 20 years, the general said, training more than 35,000 soldiers from the region to confront the threats of ISIS, al-Qaida and Boko Haram.”

Yet the Boko Haram insurgency which originated in neighboring Nigeria only began in 2009 after the country’s military attacked the headquarters of the organization in Maiduguri city in Borno state in the northern region. Prior to this time Boko Haram had largely functioned as an above-ground group focused on its own notions of the Islamic religion.

ISIS arose after the collapse of the Pentagon occupation strategy in Iraq over the last six years when Washington sought to curtail growing Iranian influence in the region. Even al-Qaeda had not been cited as an existential threat in West Africa prior to recent years. This was clearly not the case in 1997 as Dunford asserted.

Moreover, what is never addressed is the supposed strategic and security interests of the U.S. in Niger, West Africa and the continent as a whole. The presence of Pentagon military forces in Africa has rapidly grown over the last decade.

These policies have been consistently implemented through successive administrations both Republican and Democratic. The destruction of Libya, Ivory Coast and Sudan all occurred during the administration of President Barack Obama.

Obama continued to prop up the western-oriented regime in the Horn of Africa state of Somalia where genuine stability and security remain elusive. Constructing drone stations in Niger is part and parcel of a broader strategic plan to further dominate Africa military and economically.

The Sahel region of West Africa is a treasure trove of valuable minerals and other natural resources including oil, gold, uranium and natural gas. U.S. military occupations although said to be based on cooperative efforts between the host governments and Washington, clearly the Pentagon represents the interests of international finance capital based on Wall Street.

Much is made within the western press that the intervention of AFRICOM follows the request of regional states. These governments, however, are not in any position to refuse Pentagon interference in their internal affairs. If they dare to challenge the purported authority of the White House to send special units of the U.S. military into their countries they, of course, will face concerted efforts to remove their administrations from office.

In fact in Mali during early 2012, a U.S.-trained lower-ranking military officer staged a coup against an elected government. There was no level of remorse or contrition expressed by the-then Obama White House.

Niger people must assess present course

Obviously, the White House along with Wall Street corporations view the African continent as a source of wealth through the exploitation of natural resources including land and waterways. The question is what will the Niger people gain from this Pentagon military intervention which appears to have no end in sight?

Since its independence from France in 1960, the country has been subjected to draconian debt impositions of finance capital. Under the military occupation of the Pentagon such problems will not be overcome. Military and economic “support” from the U.S. comes inevitably at a heavy price. There is the entire history post-colonial Africa to attest to this analysis.

Just three weeks after the killing of the four AFRICOM soldiers, demonstrations erupted in Niamey, the capital, against the economic policies of President Mahamadou Issoufou. The unrest was prompted by an austerity budget which is the stock and trade of neo-colonialism led by the U.S.

According to a report on the protest actions: “Twenty-three police were hurt and a police station was set on fire in demonstrations against financial reforms late Sunday (Oct. 30) in the Niger capital of Niamey, the interior minister and private TV stations reported. The police commissariat at the Habou Bene market, the country’s biggest trading spot, was torched and the front of the building housing the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), Niger’s voting watchdog, was vandalized, private television reported.” (Citizen, Oct. 30)

The report goes on to report that: “Local civil society organizations have for weeks been denouncing the 2018 budget for imposing austerity on one of the poorest countries on the planet…. More than 80 percent of Niger is covered by the Sahara desert. Its economy has been affected by falls in both oil prices, which it officially began exporting in 2011, and uranium, of which it is a major exporter…. The country also has to spend resources to combat attacks by Boko Haram, whose Islamist insurgency has spilled over from Nigeria, as well as from jihadists, including the Islamic State group, near the border with Mali.”

These developments portend much for the future political situation in Niger. Regional African states should take notice of the parallel between U.S. military presence and social instability.

In the long term African Union (AU) member-states and their affiliates such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) must eventually move towards independent economic and security policies. Otherwise the dependency upon the West will undermine efforts aimed at genuine growth and prosperity.

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55 years after: Political legacies of the Cuban Missile Crisis

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The last two weeks of October 1962, 55 years ago, was the closest the world has come so far to a widespread nuclear exchange in what has become known as the “Cuban Missile Crisis.”

The first use of nuclear weapons

In August 1945, the United States government, having, at that moment, a monopoly of the “atom bomb,” unilaterallydropped nuclear explosives, successively, on the civilian inhabitants of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the time of this clear war crime Japanese imperialism’s conquests and vast expansion in China, the Pacific Rim, and Southeast Asia that began in the 1930s had shrunk sharply. The Japanese rulers were utterly alone and isolated politically; their German Nazi ally was defeated, smashed and under occupation. Japanese imperialism was in headlong retreat under intense attack from, on the one hand, rival colonial powers and imperialists fighting to get their colonial territories back, and indigenous independence forces in the remaining lands they occupied, on the other. The latter was a mass upsurge for national independence and included resistance to Japanese aggression in parts of Manchuria in China, as well as Korea, Vietnam and the “Dutch East Indies,” now Indonesia. At the time the decision to explode the nukes on Japanese cities was made, the Japanese navy was incapable of any operations and the Japanese merchant fleet was destroyed. The Japanese government had begun to send out “peace feelers,” fully aware of its hopeless situation. Washington’s utterly ruthless action – rationalized as necessary to prevent mass casualties for US soldiers in a ground invasion of Japan – finalized the defeat and prostration of the Japanese Empire in the Asian-Pacific “theater” of World War II…and sent an unmistakable shock and signal to the world for all time.

Devastated: Hardly any buildings in Hiroshima were left standing after the massive atomic bomb blast

Hiroshima, August 1945

Cuba in the eye of the storm

The young leaders of the Cuban Revolution, now holding governmental power, were in the very eye of the storm during those last two October weeks of 1962. In the end the diffusing and resolution of the Missile Crisis – in the sense of reversing and ending the momentum toward imminent nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union – came when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev gave way to US President John Kennedy’s demands and agreed to halt further naval shipments of nuclear missiles to Cuba and withdraw those already in Cuban territory. Khrushchev further agreed to the removal of Soviet medium-range conventional bombers, very useful to the Cubans for defending their coastlines, and a near-complete withdrawal of Soviet combat brigades.

For his part, Kennedy made a semi-public conditional formulation that the US government would not invade Cuba (this was not legally binding or attached to any signed legal or written document). Kennedy also agreed, in a secret protocol, to withdraw US nuclear missiles from Turkey that bordered the Soviet Union.

The Cuban government, which had, at great political risk, acceded to the Soviet proposal to deploy Soviet nuclear missiles on the island, was not consulted, or even informed, by the Soviet government, at any stage of the unfolding crisis, of the unfolding US-Soviet negotiations. With Cuban representatives completely excluded, the five points [1] Cuba wanted to see addressed and included in any overall agreement coming out of the crisis were ignored altogether under US insistence and Soviet acquiescence. The entire experience was both politically shocking and eye-opening for the Cuban revolutionaries. They came out of it acutely conscious of their vulnerability and angered over their exclusion.

Washington plans direct invasion

By April 20, 1961, the revolutionary Cuban armed forces, led by Fidel Castro, were victoriously mopping up on the coastal battlefields and detaining survivors from the routed counter-revolutionary Cuban exile “army.” An army organized by the US government and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs (Playa Giron to the Cubans). This major operation to overthrow the “Castro” government and destroy the Cuban Revolution had been devised by the Dwight Eisenhower White House and carried out by the new Kennedy Administration in its third month after taking office.

At the time of their April 1961 victory at the Bay of Pigs over the counter-revolutionary exiles, Fidel Castro declared that the Cuban Revolution was a socialist revolution and that he was a “Marxist-Leninist.” Castro’s declaration corresponded to the social and economic deeds and policies being implemented by the revolutionary government (and to the profound internationalism of the Cuban leadership team). By 1962 the major domestic and foreign privately-owned major means of production in utilities, transportation, heavy and light industry, manufacturing, mining, and oil refining had been nationalized (mostly with fair compensation) by the workers and farmers government. [2]

Concurrent with this, the revolutionary government established a state monopoly of foreign trade and the first shoots of central economic planning began which would supersede the old neo-colonial capitalist market. With all its flaws and contradictions, pressures and counter-pressures, a qualitative class transformation of the Cuban state had been realized in a dynamic way. Certainly, bipartisan Washington and the entire bourgeois political spectrum in the US from left to right had no illusions in this regard. The hostility of the US Democratic and Republican parties to “Castro’s Revolution” was monolithic and poised for aggression at that time.

Playa Giron was as humiliating and unacceptable for Washington as it had built confidence and was invigorating for the Cuban revolutionaries. It was certainly no secret to anyone paying the slightest attention that not even a nanosecond passed between Washington’s debacle at the Bay of Pigs and the planning for a new invasion. But this time it would be directly by US forces without the proxy agency of the mercenary “troops” of the former ruling classes of Cuba, who were by then ensconced in southern Florida. Since October 1961 the Pentagon officers assigned to prepare for the US invasion of Cuba had been revising, updating and “polishing” the concrete details. These “operational plans” were continually reviewed with President Kennedy.

Cuba faced an imminent, violent one-two punch: intensive aerial bombardment followed by large-scale invasion on multiple fronts. It was less than ten years since the last major US war in Korea, a former Japanese colony artificially divided in the aftermath of World War II. The impact of US bombing on the northern Korean state and its capital of Pyongyang could not have been encouraging to the Cuban leadership. Virtually the entire city was flattened by US carpet bombings. According to the Australian journalist and eyewitness to the carnage Wilfred Burchett, “There were only two buildings left standing in Pyongyang.”

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Pyongyang, Korea in 1953. US saturation bombing flattened 18 of North Korea’s 22 cities, an unequaled level of destruction in modern wars.

All in all Washington dropped some 635,000 tons of bombs (plus over 30,000 tons of napalm) on northern Korea. This compares to 503,000 tons of bombs dropped in the entire Pacific Theater during World War II by all sides.

While the numbers of civilian deaths from the US bombing assaults in Korea are inexact, well over 1 million Koreans in the north died, some 12-15% of the total population by conservative estimates. If you add injuries and the missing the figure reaches 3 million. (For a comprehensive, classic account of the origins and development of the Korean War see The Hidden History of the Korean War by legendary US journalist I.F. Stone first published by Monthly Review Press in 1952. It can also be downloaded at the Amazon Kindle Store.)

The 2017 Kennedy assassination files

At the end of October 2017, amid some hoopla, the Donald Trump White House allowed the release of nearly 2900 previously “classified” US government files and documents pertinent to the November 22, 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy. Other files and documents were held back for now.

A number of these documents reference US violent plots against Cuba, including assassination attempts against Fidel Castro and other revolutionary leaders by the Kennedy Administration. These reconfirm what has long been known on the massive military force Washington was planning to employ to invade and occupy Cuba and crush the revolutionary government after the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961.

638 Ways to Kill Castro

One document, a memo from August 8, 1962 – over two months before the discovery of Soviet nuclear missiles on Cuban territory – states, “In order to seize control of key strategic areas in Cuba within 10-15 days with minimum casualties to both sides [an absurd throwaway line regarding what could only have been horrific slaughter and massive dead and wounded] about 261,000 US military personnel would participate in the operation.” The memo was addressed to a “Special Group” within the Kennedy White House that was coordinating intensifying US efforts to eliminate the revolutionary government led by Fidel Castro. The October 30, 2017 USA Today writes, “While this and other documents had nothing to do with the actual assassination, it was included in the files because of the connection between Kennedy’s desire to remove Castro from power, his support of Cuban exiles to help him, and the affinity of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald for the Castro government.”

The “operational plans” for the US invasion of Cuba were to involve the initial dispatching of 90,000 troops and was projected to reach the 261,000 figure. This for a country of six million people. (For comparison, the population of Vietnam was around 40 million during the years of the US war in the 1960s and early 1970s. US troop levels reached over 500,000. Massive US military operations, in the air and on the ground, killed millions of Vietnamese, perhaps 10% of the Vietnamese population).

There is no question that once “the dogs of war” were unleashed against Cuba, with the accompanying propaganda onslaught, Washington would wage a war of annihilation under the rote cover of “democratic” and even “humanitarian” verbiage. Cuban resistance would be fierce. Mounting US casualties would, in the initial period, feed war fever and US aggression. In short: Cuba faced unheard of death and destruction…and the clock was ticking.

Operation Mongoose

By this time President Kennedy’s “Operation Mongoose” was in effect. “Mongoose” was essentially a large-scale terrorist campaign and US intervention inside Cuba employing sabotage, bombings, murder, and so-called “psychological warfare.” Kennedy’s cynical purpose was to undertake and carry out any means deemed necessary to disrupt and demoralize Cuban society through constant, incessant violent attacks and economic sabotage to the point where the social and political conditions would be created for a full-scale US invasion.

But Kennedy and his civilian and military “advisors” continued to underestimate both the caliber of the revolutionary leadership and the capacities of the Cuban working people and youth they were terrorizing, as well as the Revolution’s determination and competence to organize their defenses.

Above all, the US rulers were not used to facing such a politically savvy enemy. The young Cuban revolutionary government, with the indefatigable Fidel Castro as its main spokesperson, was adept and quick on its feet in effectively exposing to world public opinion Washington’s anti-Cuba campaign through a vigorous, public, and factually accurate counter-offensive based on telling the truth about what the Revolution was actually doing and what the US government was actually doing.

The logic behind “Operation Mongoose” was bluntly laid out in an internal memorandum of April 6, 1960 by L.D. Mallory, a US State Department senior official: “The majority of Cubans support Castro … the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship. … every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba.” Mallory proposed “a line of action that makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and the overthrow of the government.”

On July 26, 1961 – the national holiday declared by the revolutionary government commemorating the July 26, 1953 attack led by Fidel Castro and Abel Santamaria on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba – the CIA attempted to assassinate Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, and Che Guevara during the celebrations. The CIA plan was, if the murders were “successful,” to stage a provocation against the US base at Guantanamo and make it appear to be Cuban revenge for the murder of their top leaders. This would then be the pretext for a full-scale US invasion. Here on full display is the cynical mendacity operating at the top of the US government in the drive to bring back the power of the landowners, rich playboys, segregationists, gangsters, and pimps – the full flower of “democracy” to the benighted Cuban masses suffering under literacy drives, free medical care, desegregated public facilities, and the crushing of the US Mafia.

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Raul Castro and Che Guevara

During the next month of August 1961, the CIA organized one of its most pernicious campaigns against the revolutionary government. Its agents spread lies through a built-up rumor mill that there was a Cuban government policy to take all children away from their parents by force and raise them in “state institutions.” Some 15,000 Cuban families, overwhelmingly from middle- and upper- classes full of prejudice and hostility to the Revolution, panicked and sent their children mostly to the US in response to a Big Lie, under the CIA’s infamous “Operation Peter Pan.”

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CIA-hatched “Operation Peter Pan.”

The Revolution advances its social program

So, while all this criminal activity was going on, the Cuban Revolution advanced its program of social justice and human liberation for the oppressed and exploited majority as the most effective counterforce to the Yanqui aggression. On February 26, 1962 Cuba’s now fully legal and rejuvenated labor unions provided the people power for the campaign of Cuba’s Ministry of Health to carry out a nationwide drive for vaccination against polio. By the end of the year the disease was completely wiped out on the island. It took the United Nation’s World Health Organization, then far more subject to pressure from Washington than now, 43 years to finally recognize that Cuba was the first nation in the Americas to accomplish this.

Things like this, and the full array of revolutionary advances taking place in the face of Washington’s mounting terrorist campaign, convinced General Maxwell Taylor, who oversaw Operation Mongoose with Attorney General Robert Kennedy at the White House, that the terrorist operation “mak[ing] maximum use of indigenous resources,” could not and would not do the job of overthrowing the revolutionary government. “Final success,” Taylor explained in a March 1962 report to President Kennedy, “will require decisive US military intervention.” US spies inside Cuba, at most, could help “prepare and justify this intervention and thereafter facilitate and support it.” With the Bay of Pigs debacle still fresh in his mind, and without some of the blinders of more gung-ho invasion advocates, Kennedy hesitated to give a green light to the invasion plans he himself had ordered up. It remained yellow-lighted however, and Kennedy directed that Mongoose terrorism continue and step up.

The terrorist anti-Cuba campaign was not limited to Cuban territory. On April 28, 1962 the New York office of the Cuban Press Agency Prensa Latina was attacked, injuring three staff members.

More seriously, from May 8-18, 1962 a “practice run” for the US invasion of Cuba took place. The full-scale “military exercise” was code named “Operation Whip Lash” and sent an unmistakable signal of intimidation from the US military colossus to the six million people of Cuba.

All this mounting imperialist intervention had only one possible ending point – short of a Cuban surrender, which would never come. Events were coming to a head in Washington, Moscow and Havana. Events that ineluctably posed and placed the nuclear question in the equation.

While the Cuban government and the overwhelming popular majority were mobilized, armed to the teeth, and prepared to fight to the death, they wanted to live in peace and to enjoy the fruits of building a new society after a hard-fought revolutionary triumph. The Cuban leadership fully understood that a US invasion would kill many hundreds of thousands and destroy the Cuban infrastructure and economy. How to stop the coming US invasion was the burning question for the revolutionary government.

Khrushchev rolls the dice

Meanwhile in the Soviet Union, the Soviet leadership was facing a decidedly negative nuclear relationship of forces vis-à-vis Washington. This position of inequality (in the framework of the aptly acronymed Mutually Assured Destruction – aka MAD – nuclear doctrine) was perceived in Moscow as an impediment to carrying out political negotiations and maneuvering with Washington and the NATO powers, and defending Soviet interests in the “geopolitical” Cold War arena.

By April 1962 fifteen US Jupiter nuclear missiles had been installed and were “operational” in Turkey on the border of the Soviet Union. “Operational” meant ready to launch at any moment. Each missile was armed with a 1.45 megaton warhead, with ninety-seven times the firepower of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The official estimate of the “fatality projection” for each missile was one million Soviet civilians.

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The Jupiter deployment in Turkey added to the overwhelming US superiority in quantity and quality in the “nuclear arms race” between Washington and Moscow. According to Anatoly Gribkov of the Red Army General Staff (cited in the television program DEFCON-2 shown on the US Military Channel), “The United States had about 5000 [nuclear] warheads, the Soviet Union 300. And of those [300] only two or three dozen that could hit the United States.” Khrushchev decided to alleviate this “imbalance” by placing missiles on the Cuban island if he succeeded in selling the idea to the Cuban leadership. [3]

Sometime in the spring (April-May) of 1962 the Khrushchev government of the Soviet Union proposed to the Cuban government that Cuba receive nuclear-tipped missiles on Cuban territory.  In no other country (including none of its “Warsaw Pact” allies, who were all politically subordinate to the Soviet government) had the Soviet government located nuclear missiles outside of Soviet territory.

Washington, by contrast, had openly placed nuclear missiles in numerous western European countries as well as Turkey and secretly in Okinawa, Japan, aimed at China. (The United Kingdom and France, both US allies, also had nuclear arsenals by that time. China detonated its first nuclear bomb in an October 1964 “test.”) Additionally, US “strategic” nuclear armed aircraft were in the air ready for attack orders 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. US nuclear submarines were in similar mode, and even more difficult to detect.

While Soviet capabilities undoubtedly lagged behind the US, it was not so much so as to preclude inevitable reciprocal attack in response to any US “first strike.” Soviet missiles in Cuba would theoretically be a further deterrent to any US “first strike” threat. Placing the missiles in Cuba was clearly seen by the Soviet government as a bargaining piece to advance Soviet strategic interests in the nuclear chessboard that animated US-Soviet “diplomatic” maneuvers and intrigue and political objectives on both sides.

Khrushchev evidently presumed that, faced with a fait accompli, Washington would redress the imbalance to the benefit of the Soviet Union. The Soviet missiles, upon being fully operational, would be able to strike major population centers and whole geographic regions of the US, roughly equivalent to the potential death-dealing capacity Washington had through its missiles in Europe surrounding and targeted on the Soviet Union. Of course, the big “if” in all of this reasoning was getting to the accompli. Given US technical proficiency this was a fantasy.

Cuba accepts the Soviet proposal

At the end of May 1962 the first direct presentation of the Soviet proposal was delivered to Fidel Castro and Raul Castro in Cuba by a Soviet delegation led by an alternate member of the Soviet Presidium (an executive decision-making body). The Soviet officials revealed to the Cuban leaders that their “intelligence” told them conclusively that a US invasion was being seriously prepared, to be implemented at any time over the next months. Of course, the Soviets were not telling the Cubans anything they did not already know in general, but there were new specific facts and details. The now-concrete proposal that measures to fortify Cuban defenses would include the deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles on the island naturally led to intense consultations within the top Cuban leadership. The chief government ministers involved were Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, Osvaldo Dorticos, Carlos Rafael Rodriguez, and Blas Roca. The day after the proposal was received the Cuban leadership told the Soviet delegation that the nuclear deployment was acceptable in principle.

In extensive discussions with European journalist Ignacio Ramonet (which became the book My Life: A Spoken Autobiography by Fidel Castro, published in 2006 by Scribner) Fidel Castro referred to the discussions within the Cuban central leadership. He said that besides Khrushchev and the Soviet leadership’s “sincere desire to prevent an attack against Cuba…they were hoping to improve the balance of strategic forces…I added that it would be inconsistent of us to expect the maximum support from the USSR and the rest of the Socialist camp should we be attacked by the United States and yet refuse to face the political risks and the possible damage to our reputation when they needed us. That ethical and revolutionary point of view was accepted unanimously.”

In a speech many years earlier in 1992 Fidel Castro had said, “We really didn’t like the missiles. If it had been a matter only of our own defense, we would not have accepted the deployment of the missiles. But not because we were afraid of the dangers that might follow the deployment of the missiles here; rather, it was because this would damage the image of the revolution, and we were very zealous in protecting the image of the revolution in the rest of Latin America. The presence of the missiles would in fact turn us into a Soviet military base, and that entailed a high political cost for the image of our country, an image we so highly valued.” (cited in October 1962 The ‘Missile’ Crisis As Seen From Cuba by Tomas Diez Acosta, Pathfinder Press)

Legality, secrecy and lies: Losing the moral high ground

Having agreed in principle, Fidel Castro, Raul Castro and Che Guevara repeatedly argued with the Soviet leadership that the deployment should be open and public. The fact was that there was nothing in the Soviet-Cuban agreement to deploy the missiles that contravened any existing international law. In any case, the Cuban leaders were certain that it would be virtually impossible for the shipment, site construction, and land deployment to remain concealed from the highly sophisticated US surveillance technology. Furthermore, that, on the face of it, given the US missiles in Turkey and Italy surrounding the Soviet Union, and with practically open US plans to invade Cuba, open and transparent was the way to go politically and morally. All of this was rejected out of hand by the Khrushchev leadership. The Cuban leaders chose not to push the point and deferred.

In the book with Ramonet, Fidel Castro speaks of the “strange, Byzantine discussion” over whether Soviet arms shipments to Cuba were offensive or defensive. “Khrushchev, in fact, insisted they were defensive, not on any technical grounds, but rather because of the defensive purposes for which they’d been installed in Cuba… [We felt there was] no need to go into those explanations. What Cuba and the USSR were doing was perfectly legal and in strict conformity with international law.”

Castro continued, “We didn’t like the course the public debate was taking. I sent Che…to explain my view of the situation to Khrushchev, including the need to immediately publish the military agreement [on deploying the nuclear missiles in Cuba] the USSR and Cuba had signed. But I couldn’t manage to persuade him…For us, for the Cuban leaders, the USSR was a powerful, experienced government. We had no other arguments to use to persuade them that their strategy for managing the situation should be changed, so we had no alternative but to trust them.”

For the Cuban revolutionaries, the economic, military and political ties forged with the Soviet Union had been a decisive, irreplaceable factor in their survival from the period after the January 1959 triumph of the Revolution through the April 1961 Playa Giron defeat of the US-organized mercenary invasion. Nevertheless, the unfolding of the Missile Crisis, and its ultimate resolution, left the Cuban leadership feeling vulnerable, bypassed, and insulted by the perceived highhanded behavior of the Soviet government led by Nikita Khrushchev.

Fidel Castro’s secret speech

In a major speech over two days to a closed meeting of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) on January 25-26, 1968 Fidel Castro reviewed the entire Missile Crisis. (The entire speech, previously unpublished in any public medium, was printed in 2002 with an official Cuban Council of State English translation, in the book Sad and Luminous Days: Cuba’s Struggle with the Superpowers after the Missile Crisis by James Blight and Philip Brenner published by Bowman and Littlefield Publishers.) Combining great emotion with sharp, cool logic Castro detailed how the “Missile Crisis” unfolded and how Cuba’s relations with the Soviet Union emerged out of the crisis different from what they had been before.

Castro stated that Cuba’s revolutionary leadership looked to the Soviet Union for, “…measures that would guarantee the country’s safety. In that period, we had tremendous faith in the Soviet Union. I think perhaps too much.” Furthermore, “I am sincerely convinced that the Soviet Party bears great responsibility in what happened and acted in a totally disloyal manner in its relations with us.” Referring to the continuing terrorist attacks against Cuba that never stopped after Soviet missiles, planes, and combat troops were removed from Cuba at the “end” of the October Crisis, Castro stated, “Together with the pirate attacks and the U-2 flights, incidents began to flare up at the Guantanamo base [The US military base on Guantanamo Bay was ceded to the US government in the notorious neo-colonial Platt Amendment of 1901 passed by the US Congress and has been maintained to this day against the demands for its return to Cuban sovereignty.] The same Guantanamo base which, we are certain, would have been dismantled had there been a modicum of serenity and firmness during the October crisis. Had they had the presence of mind to have posed and demand correctly from a principled standpoint, had they said that they would withdraw the missiles if satisfactory guarantees were given to Cuba, had they let Cuba negotiate, the crisis might even have turned into a political victory…All the rest are euphemisms of different kinds: Cuba was saved, Cuba lives. But Cuba had been alive and Cuba had been living, and Cuba did not want to live at the expense of humiliation or surrender; for that you do not have to be a revolutionary. Revolutionaries are not just concerned with living, but how one lives, living most of all with dignity, living with a cause, living for a cause…Cuba did not agree with the way the issue was handled; it stated the need to approach the problem from different, more drastic, more revolutionary and even more legal positions; and it totally disagreed with the way in which the situation was terminated.”

“[Around July] we saw that the United States was creating an atmosphere of hysteria and aggression,” Castro bluntly spoke, “and it was a campaign that was being carried out with all impunity. In the light of this we thought the correct thing to do was to adopt a different position, not to get into that policy of lies: ‘we are sending Cuba defensive weapons.’ And in response to the imperialist’s position, the second weakness (or the first weakness) was not to stand up and respond that Cuba had every right to own whatever weapons it saw fit…but rather to adopt a policy of concessions, claiming that the weapons were defensive. In other words, to lie, to resort to lies which in effect meant to waive a basic right and principle.”

Decades later, in the Ramonet book, Castro returned to this crucial political approach, which is much more powerful than the usual technical cast of events when things had reached the stage of the actual nuclear standoff: “There was nothing illegal about our agreement with the Soviets, given that the Americans had missiles in Turkey and in Italy, too, and no one ever threatened to bomb or invade those countries. The problem wasn’t the legality of the agreement – everything was absolutely legal – but rather Khrushchev’s mistaken political handling of the situation, when even though both Cuba and the USSR had the legitimate right, he started spinning theories about offensive and non-offensive weapons. In a political battle, you can’t afford to lose the high moral ground by employing ruses and lies and half-truths.”

The missile transport was the largest sea-borne operation in Soviet history. By the time of the detection of the missiles, and Khrushchev’s decision to remove them under US pressure, there were already 134 nuclear warheads in place and on the ground in Cuba. All three of the SS-4 missile regiments were operational even as Soviet ships stopped moving towards Cuba.

The January 25-26, 1968 speech went into scathing detail on how shocking, given the Soviet insistence on secrecy, the lack of discretion on the Soviet side was in the actual deployment of the missiles, crossing into outright recklessness.

“Uncontrolled forces”

At the height of the crisis, the central Cuban leadership was certain that a full-scale invasion of the island was imminent. As the latest batch of 2017 declassified Kennedy-assassination related documents reconfirm, preparations – “contingency plans” – for such an invasion had been in place for many months prior to the secret installation of the Soviet missiles. This was the only conceivable basis for Khrushchev to make the missile proposal to the Cuban leaders and expect their agreement. In fact, a US invasion of Cuba was on the hair-trigger of being ordered at several concrete conjunctures in the course of the crisis.

The decision to actually carry out a direct, large-scale US military assault was being furiously debated within the Kennedy Administration and the narrow circle of bipartisan Congressional leadership that was privy to the deliberations at the top. As President and Commander-in-Chief, Kennedy had to choose whether to give the order to invade – again, everything was already in place for the execution of an invasion – the island where many nuclear warheads were already in place, targeting US territory and where Cuban armed resistance to the invading troops was certain to be massive, highly motivated, well-led, and creative.  For the immense majority of the Cuban population, having just experienced a profound social revolution, drawing millions into revolutionary struggle and consciousness, Cuba would be fighting from their own territory against a foreign invasion force and massive bombing assaults. Thousands of Cuban civilians would have been instantly killed in these air strikes.

The political consequences of this carnage – against a sovereign people with the gall to make a Revolution, throw out a venal dictator, institute land reform, literacy campaigns, rent reduction, abolishing Jim Crow-segregation, etc. etc. – would certainly have been devastating for Washington even if nuclear warheads were never launched on either side, a dubious prospect at best. Washington would lose the “moral high ground,” so crucial in concrete questions of world politics. Cuba would regain what had been eroded by the secretive, clumsy adventurism of Khrushchev’s “initiative” and its incompetent implementation.

The question of the nuclear weapons that were already on the island and the more that were en route would likely have been rendered secondary and the question of Cuba’s right to self-determination would have again risen to the fore. Kennedy was politically savvy enough to realize all of this and finally rebuffed the advocates of launching an invasion.

Uppermost in Kennedy’s considerations was the physical presence of thousands of Soviet combat troops and military personnel (there were some 40,000 Soviet mechanized combat divisions in Cuba, although the Kennedy Administration seems to have counted less than half the actual number). This fact posed the question that Soviet casualties would be inevitable, further sharply posing the question of questions…would the US invasion inexorably lead to nuclear exchanges? Who actually would – in a hair-trigger political atmosphere – fire first becomes almost a moot, secondary question in the framework of such a political confrontation.

US “intelligence” estimates were that 18,500 US casualties would take place in the first period after a US invasion, according to declassified material obtained by the National Security Archive. The presence of Soviet nuclear warheads and large numbers of Soviet military personnel, fighter jets, anti-aircraft gun emplacements, and so on, was another major factor leading Kennedy to repeatedly postpone the invasion plans and opt for a naval blockade (labeled a “quarantine” for legalistic purposes) surrounding Cuba, and the drama of a relatively slow showdown unfolding over days in the Atlantic while negotiations between Washington and Moscow intensified, negotiations that excluded the Cuban government…as if Cuba had nothing to do with what was happening.

As is always the case when war and combat is actually joined, the “law of unintended consequences” comes into dynamic play. Or, as the historic revolutionary leader of the working-class movement, Frederick Engels, put it, “Those who unleash controlled forces, also unleash uncontrolled forces.”

The letters

On October 26, 1962 Fidel Castro – at the most intense, dangerous point of the entire crisis – wrote a letter to Nikita Khrushchev, which stated:

“Given the analysis of the situation and the reports which have reached us, [I] consider an attack to be almost imminent–within the next 24 to 72 hours. There are two possible variants: the first and most probable one is an air attack against certain objectives with the limited aim of destroying them; the second, and though less probable, still possible, is a full invasion. This would require a large force and is the most repugnant form of aggression, which might restrain them.

“You can be sure that we will resist with determination, whatever the case. The Cuban people’s morale is extremely high and the people will confront aggression heroically.

“I would like to briefly express my own personal opinion. If the second variant takes place and the imperialists invade Cuba with the aim of occupying it, the dangers of their aggressive policy are so great that after such an invasion the Soviet Union must never allow circumstances in which the imperialists could carry out a nuclear first strike against it.

“I tell you this because I believe that the imperialists’ aggressiveness makes them extremely dangerous, and that if they manage to carry out an invasion of Cuba–a brutal act in violation of universal and moral law–then that would be the moment to eliminate this danger forever, in an act of the most legitimate self-defense. However harsh and terrible the solution, there would be no other.”

Khrushchev responded, in a second round of letters with Castro that:

“In your cable of October 27 you proposed that we be the first to carry out a nuclear strike against the enemy’s territory. Naturally you understand where that would lead us. It would not be a simple strike, but the start of a thermonuclear world war.

“Dear Comrade Fidel Castro, I find your proposal to be wrong, even though I understand your reasons.

“… As far as Cuba is concerned, it would be difficult to say even in general terms what this would have meant for them. In the first place, Cuba would have been burned in the fire of war….

“Now, as a result of the measures taken, we reached the goal sought when we agreed with you to send the missiles to Cuba. We have wrested from the United States the commitment not to invade Cuba and not to permit their Latin American allies to do so. We have wrested all this from them without a nuclear strike.

“We consider that we must take advantage of all the possibilities to defend Cuba, strengthen its independence and sovereignty, defeat military aggression and prevent a nuclear world war in our time. And we have accomplished that.

“Of course, we made concessions, accepted a commitment, action according to the principle that a concession on one side is answered by a concession on the other side. The United States also made a concession. It made the commitment before all the world not to attack Cuba.

“That’s why when we compare aggression on the part of the United States and thermonuclear war with the commitment of a concession in exchange for concession, the upholding of the inviolability of the Republic of Cuba and the prevention of a world war, I think that the total outcome of this reckoning, of this comparison, is perfectly clear.”

Castro then responded:

“I realized when I wrote them that the words contained in my letter could be misinterpreted by you and that was what happened, perhaps because you didn’t read them carefully, perhaps because of the translation, perhaps because I meant to say so much in too few lines. However, I didn’t hesitate to do it…

“We knew, and do not presume that we ignored it, that we would have been annihilated, as you insinuate in your letter, in the event of nuclear war. However, that didn’t prompt us to ask you to withdraw the missiles, that didn’t prompt us to ask you to yield. Do you believe that we wanted that war? But how could we prevent it if the invasion finally took place? The fact is that this event was possible, that imperialism was obstructing every solution and that its demands were, from our point of view, impossible for the USSR and Cuba to accept.

“And if war had broken out, what could we do with the insane people who unleashed the war? You yourself have said that under current conditions such a war would inevitably have escalated quickly into a nuclear war.
“I understand that once aggression is unleashed, one shouldn’t concede to the aggressor the privilege of deciding, moreover, when to use nuclear weapons. The destructive power of this weaponry is so great and the speed of its delivery so great that the aggressor would have a considerable initial advantage.

“And I did not suggest to you, Comrade Khrushchev, that the USSR should be the aggressor, because that would be more than incorrect, it would be immoral and contemptible on my part. But from the instant the imperialists attack Cuba and while there are Soviet armed forces stationed in Cuba to help in our defense in case of an attack from abroad, the imperialists would by this act become aggressors against Cuba and against the USSR, and we would respond with a strike that would annihilate them.

“Everyone has his own opinions and I maintain mine about the dangerousness of the aggressive circles in the Pentagon and their preference for a preventive strike. I did not suggest, Comrade Khrushchev, that in the midst of this crisis the Soviet Union should attack, which is what your letter seems to say; rather, that following an imperialist attack, the USSR should act without vacillation and should never make the mistake of allowing circumstances to develop in which the enemy makes the first nuclear strike against the USSR. And in this sense, Comrade Khrushchev, I maintain my point of view, because I understand it to be a true and just evaluation of a specific situation. You may be able to convince me that I am wrong, but you can’t tell me that I am wrong without convincing me.”

Fidel Castro’s exchange of letters with Khrushchev assumes that given the forces in play and in motion – 300,000 Cuban combatants with 40,000 Soviet military personnel, the bulk in mechanized combat brigades, on the ground in Cuba on one side, confronting a US invasion force projected to quickly reach hundreds of thousands, all coming head-to-head while massive US air strikes and countering Cuban-Soviet anti-aircraft fire are unleashed, with enormous naval forces, many armed with nuclear weapons, including torpedoes in combat action – that the US invasion, which he considered inevitable and imminent, would inexorably go nuclear. Following this undoubtedly correct assumption, Fidel Castro’s logic and formulations in his initial letters became necessarily more abstract and algebraic. He presents, in the rush and incredible heat and speed of events, a post-invasion scenario where Soviet forces could strike, in a limited “tactical” use (although those terms are not specifically used)the US forces beforethe US could strike the Soviet forces. The same technical, military logic of “pre-emption” would, of course, dominate the US side which had a clear superiority in both quantity and quality of nuclear weapons deliverance at that point, the full extent of which the Cuban leadership was not likely aware.

The MAD doctrine was based on each side’s nuclear arsenal countermanding the others. The seemingly absurd stockpiling of nuclear warheads and delivery system locations had the “rational” kernel of logic that after a “first strike” or pre-emptive launch of warheads the “other side” would still have enough of an atomic arsenal left to deliver a crushing response. The idea, developed by “Dr. Strangelove” US theorists like Herman Kahn, and accepted by their Soviet equivalents, was to build up and protect a “second strike” capacity in order to obviate a “first strike.” Of course, Washington continued – and continues to this day – to develop a “decisive” first-strike capability, largely through anti-ballistic and “Star Wars” systems to intercept and eliminate the other sides “second strike” (or first, or any strike) giving the US a credible “first strike.”

Image result for mutually assured destruction cold war

The fact of a US invasion – that is, its actual occurrence – of Cuba would have set in motion a dynamic that would have rendered moot, useless, and even ridiculous the question of who would “fire” the “first” nuclear weapon, if that could even be determined after the event (if indeed the word after would have any content). Dozens and dozens of ships, planes, and launch sites on the ground, under the control of dozens and dozens of military officers subject to “orders” in what would have been unimaginable chaos and breakdown inevitable in the first nuclear exchange in world history, would anyone have even known who struck first? The key point – the only determinant fact – in whether nuclear holocaust would be unleashed to an unknown degree was whether the US would invade Cuba.

New facts

What is now known about the Missile Crisis is that a situation existed where, at the height of the confrontation, from October 25-28, literally dozens and dozens of military officers well below the executive political “decision makers” in a theoretical chain of command, on both the Soviet and US side, had the capacity and even the authority to push the nuclear button and pull the nuclear trigger.

We certainly know this to be true in the first-hand accounts by Soviet and US military officers and personnel on the ground, on the oceans, and in the air that have become public and from “classified” government documents on both sides. (see Noam Chomsky’s “Cuban Missile Crisis: How the US Played Russian Roulette with Nuclear War” http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/15/cuban-missile-crisis-russian-roulette) in the October 15 Guardian newspaper, which cites several harrowing moments of near disaster.)

The author Michael Dobbs in an October 18, 2012 New York Times op-ed piece (“The Price of a 50-Year Old Myth”) wrote, “While the risk of war in October 1962 was very high (Kennedy estimated it variously at between 1 in 5 and 1 in 2), it was not caused by a clash of wills. The real dangers arose from “the fog of war.” As the two superpowers geared up for a nuclear war, the chances of something going terribly wrong increased exponentially…By Saturday, Oct. 27, the two leaders were no longer in full control of their gigantic military machines, which were moving forward under their own momentum. Soviet troops on Cuba targeted Guantánamo with tactical nuclear weapons and shot down an American U-2 spy plane. Another U-2, on a “routine” air sampling mission to the North Pole, got lost over the Soviet Union. The Soviets sent MiG fighters into the air to try to shoot down the American intruder, and in response, Alaska Air Defense Command scrambled F-102 interceptors armed with tactical nuclear missiles. In the Caribbean, a frazzled Soviet submarine commander was dissuaded by his subordinates from using his nuclear torpedo against American destroyers that were trying to force him to the surface.”

In his Guardian piece cited above Noam Chomsky, referring to the October 26, 1962 letter of Fidel Castro, writes, “As this was happening and Washington was debating and Kennedy was poised to decide on a US invasion, Fidel Castro wrote a letter to Nikita Khrushchev which has been interpreted, over Castro’s sharp objection, as advocating a Soviet nuclear attack – a so-called ‘first strike’ against US territory if the US invasion were to actually occur. Khrushchev himself took the necessarily and purposely algebraic and highly cautious words of Castro as such a call, and used Castro’s wording as practically a cover to carry out the retreat and concessions to Kennedy that diffused the crisis and reverse the momentum towards purposeful or accidental nuclear exchanges.”

An extraordinary gathering

The special January 24-26, 1968 meeting of the PCC Central Committee meeting where Fidel Castro gave his extraordinary speech was in no way fortuitous. It took place at what was perhaps the nadir of the downward spiral of Cuban-Soviet relations set in motion by the October Crisis of 1962. It was held just 107 days after the death of Ernesto Che Guevara and the defeat of his guerrilla forces based in Bolivia.

This on-the-ground fact was a real blow to the Cuban revolutionaries and the perspective of building a continental revolutionary army to take on and overturn the military regimes backed by the ruling oligarchies. These regimes of the Latin American ruling classes were themselves allied with, dependent on, and conjoined with the dominant US power in the Hemisphere. This new objective reality necessarily raised many challenges in the development and direction of Cuba’s revolutionary foreign policy.

Fidel Castro and the Cuban leadership placed an important part of the responsibility for the defeat of Che’s guerrillaon the top leadership of the Bolivian Communist Party which supported the program and perspective of the Soviet leadership in Latin America and opposed the armed-struggle campaign under Che Guevara’s leadership in Bolivia (which was seen as the initial base for a multi-front continental revolutionary movement against the military dictatorships and oligarchies) reneging on previously given commitments. The Cuban revolutionary line in Latin America was opposed – with varying degrees of vehemence – by virtually all of the Latin American Communist parties that looked to the Soviet Union for political direction and orientation. What the Cuban revolutionary leadership considered betrayal in Bolivia, disrupted and undermined the formation and development of urban resistance forces crucial to supplement the rural-based guerrilla struggle under Che’s command, leaving the guerrillas exposed, vulnerable and politically isolated. (See Fidel Castro’s “A Necessary Introduction” in Bolivian Diaryby Ernesto Che Guevara, Pathfinder Press, 1994 for Fidel’s description of the factor of betrayal in the defeat of Che’s guerrilla forces.)

The Escalante affair

Prior to Fidel Castro’s speech, the Central Committee gathering had heard an extensive presentation by Raul Castro, then Chairman of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the President of the Cuban Council of State since 2006. The report was a damning indictment of a secret faction inside the PCC led by Anibal Escalante. Escalante’s faction was composed of former leaders, like himself, and cadres of the Popular Socialist Party (PSP). Before the Revolution the PSP, which had a base in the industrial working class and trade unions, was connected to the dominant currents in the “world Communist movement” and Latin American Communist Parties that looked to the Soviet Union for political direction and program.  (In 1968 the Cuban publisher Instituto Del Libro, Ediciones Politicas, printed a 160-page book, “Information from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba on Microfaction Activities,” [4] which includes Raul Castro’s report and other important documents. It is an exceedingly important document, which illuminates that historical and political period and gives great insight into the caliber and character of the Cuban revolutionary leadership.)

The PSP initially opposed the July 26th Movement (M-26-J) led by Fidel Castro, but by early 1958 they had endorsed the anti-Batista struggle and M-26-J leadership. Joint political and military collaboration was carried out in the last period before the revolutionary triumph. Over the next few years the majority of PSP cadres were successfully integrated into what became the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in 1965. In 1962 Escalante, who had been the top functionary of the Integrated Revolutionary Organization, an initial formation bringing together the currents supporting the Revolution, had come under fierce public criticism by Fidel Castro for “sectarianism” and “bureaucratism” in March 1962 (http://www.walterlippmann.com/fc-03-26-1962.html).

Soviet-Cuban tensions escalated in this mid-1960s period, although never to the point of a public break. Nevertheless, sharp, concrete political and theoretical differences were registered between the Soviet and Cuban leaderships in this period over the US escalation in Vietnam and serious political divergence in Latin America. In several speeches in 1966 and 1967 Fidel Castro publicly excoriated the Soviet government for its economic and political relations with Latin American repressive and reactionary regimes.

The betrayal and execution of Che in 1967 sharpened the existing tensions and was followed by the Escalante intrigue and covert plotting against the revolutionary government. In terms of the economic relations and exchange between Cuba and the Soviet Union during these clashes, there was limited but noticeable Soviet measures affecting the struggling Cuban economy which was being whipped by the US economic blockade, particularly in the Americas. In this period, the first decade of the Cuban Revolution, Cuba struggled with diplomatic isolation in the Western Hemisphere under US pressure, with only Canada and Mexico maintaining formal diplomatic ties.

In the decade following Che’s defeat in Bolivia, all other allied Latin American guerrilla movements into the early 1970s had been crushed, most notably Argentina and Uruguay. At the same time there was a revival of mass urban and rural working-class and popular struggles in a number of Latin American countries, including Bolivia, which pushed open some democratic and political space, including for revolutionaries. In Chile, in 1970, in a byproduct of mounting class and popular struggles, the Popular Unity electoral coalition by two mass workers parties, the Socialist Party and Communist Party, won a plurality of the vote and Salvador Allende, head of the Socialist Party became President. Diplomatic relations were soon reestablished between Chile and Cuba.

The September 11, 1973 US-backed bloody military coup against the Popular Unity government pulverized all democratic rights and political space for many years and was extended by the mid-1970s as military rule was consolidated in Argentina (1976) and in Uruguay after 1973.

Aftermath

The Cuban Missile Crisis was hugely traumatic in world public opinion. Its resolution led to increased propaganda for “peace” and “reconciliation” in both Moscow and Washington, with accompanying worldwide diplomatic maneuvering. This culminated in the actual signing by the governments of the United States, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (formally the Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, which was strongly welcomed in world public opinion when it went into effect in October 1963, one year to the month from the political drama and trauma of the Missile Crisis. The treaty did not ban “underground” nuclear tests which could also lead to radioactive releases into the atmosphere as well as ground water.  The treaty put no limits on the production of nuclear warheads and their fitting onto missiles.) All of this took place as Washington steadily and sharply escalated its military intervention and aggression in Vietnam.

John Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963 and Nikita Khrushchev’s leadership in the Soviet Communist Party and Soviet state came to an ignominious end in October 1964 as he was pensioned off and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev and Alexi Kosygin. The new Lyndon Johnson White House abided by Kennedy’s verbal “pledge” and invasion plans were put in mothballs, although covert action, terrorism, and containment continued. Primary focus and attention shifted to Indochina where Johnson maintained continuity with Kennedy’s intervention and deepened it.

Formal and definite improvements in Cuba’s relations with the Soviet Union began after 1968 (despite tensions over the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and other questions), particularly in economic exchange, through the 1970s and 1980s until the soviet government collapsed in 1991, setting off a huge economic depression and crisis in Cuba. In this period fundamental contradictions and sharp policy differences emerged over Soviet policies in Africa, military tactics in Angola, and the soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which Cuba opposed.

The immediate threat of US-Soviet nuclear exchange and war receded on October 28, 1962 with the announcement that Soviet ships had stopped advancing and that Soviet missiles would be withdrawn. But for Cuba the crisis and the pressure intensified.

Not even two weeks after the supposed resolution of the crisis the world’s “sigh of relief”, 400 Cuban workers were killed when a Cuban exile counter-revolutionary sabotage team, dispatched from the US, blew up a Cuban industrial facility. Right up until his assassination Kennedy was approving terrorist attacks against Cuba. US intervention by proxy never stopped and became systematic. US armed and trained counter-revolutionaries were finally defeated in the Escambray mountains in central Cuba in a campaign from 1963-65.

After a pause and renewal in the late 1960s, Cuba’s revolutionary internationalist foreign policy – in the spirit of Che – reached glorious new internationalist achievements in southern Africa after the great acceleration of events ushered in after the overturn of the hollowed-out Salazarist dictatorship in Portugal in 1974 and the final collapse of the Portuguese Empire in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bassau, and the Cape Verde Islands. Cuban troops stopped the apartheid South African invasion at the gates of the capital Luanda in November 1975 aiming to topple the newly independent Angolan government. Cuba’s revolutionary action and solidarity over the next nearly two decades was decisive in the defending the independence of Angola, winning the independence of Namibia, and in the retreat and unraveling of the South African apartheid state. (See the amazing history of Cuba’s internationalist foreign policies in Africa and southern Africa in the two volumes of the great scholar Piero Gleijeses, Conflicting Missions and Visions of Freedom, University of North Carolina Press.)

Fidel’s last thoughts

On October 22, 2012 Fidel Castro addressed the Missile Crisis on its 50th Anniversary:

“A few days ago, very close to the 50th anniversary of the October Crisis, news agencies pointed to three guilty parties: Kennedy, having recently become the leader of the empire, Khrushchev and Castro. Cuba did not have anything to do with nuclear weapons, nor with the unnecessary slaughter of Hiroshima and Nagasaki perpetrated by the president of the United States, Harry S. Truman, thus establishing the tyranny of nuclear weapons. Cuba was defending its right to independence and social justice.

“When we accepted Soviet aid in weapons, oil, foodstuffs and other resources, it was to defend ourselves from yanqui plans to invade our homeland, subjected to a dirty and bloody war which that capitalist country imposed on us from the very first months, which left thousands of Cubans dead and maimed.

“When Khrushchev proposed the installation here of medium range missiles similar to those the United States had in Turkey – far closer to the USSR than Cuba to the United States – as a solidarity necessity, Cuba did not hesitate to agree to such a risk. Our conduct was ethically irreproachable. We will never apologize to anyone for what we did. The fact is that half a century has gone by, and here we still are with our heads held high.”

Author’s Note: This is updated and re-edited from an October 22, 2012 essay on the Cuban Missile Crisis.

* IKE NAHEM is a longtime anti-imperialist and socialist activist. He is the coordinator of Cuba Solidarity New York (cubasolidarityny@mindspring.com) and a founder of the New York-New Jersey July 26 Coalition. Hewas a central organizer of the March 25-26, 2017 National Conference for the Full Normalization of US-Cuba Relations, held in New York City. Nahem is a retired Amtrak Locomotive Engineer and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, a division of the Teamsters Union. His writings have been published inline in Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, MRZine, Pambazuka News, ZNet, and various Cuban online journals. Comment and criticism can be sent to ikenahem@mindspring.com

Endnotes

[1] In a public statement on October 28, presenting the five points, Fidel Castro said, “With relation to the pronouncement made by the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, in a letter sent to the premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, to the effect that the United States would agree, after the establishment of adequate arrangements through the United Nations, to eliminate the measures of blockade in existence and give guarantees against any invasion of Cuba, and in relation to the decision announced by Premier Khrushchev of withdrawing the installation of arms of strategic defense from Cuba territory, the revolutionary government of Cuba declares that the guarantees of which President Kennedy speaks–that there will be no aggression against Cuba–will not exist unless, in addition to the elimination of the naval blockade he promises, the following measures among others are to be adopted: 1) Cessation of the economic blockade and all the measures of commercial and economic pressure which the United States exercises in all parts of the world against our country; 2) Cessation of all subversive activities, launching and landing of arms and explosives by air and sea, the organization of mercenary invasions, infiltration of spies and saboteurs, all of which actions are carried out from the territory of the United States and some other accomplice countries; 3) Cessation of the pirate attacks which are being carried out from bases existing in the United States and Puerto Rico; 4) Cessation of all the violations of our air and naval space by North American war planes and ships; and 5) Withdrawal of naval base of Guantanamo and the return of the Cuban territory by the United States.”

[2] The private owners of nationalized foreign enterprises in Cuba, with their governments, negotiated satisfactory compensation with the revolutionary Cuban government, in accordance with international law. The US government, at the time, was already planning and organizing for the overthrow of the “Castro” government and was therefore in contemptuous rejection of any negotiations for compensation to US owners of Cuban assets being nationalized. This was a large swath of the Cuban economy, which was dominated by US capital.

[3] In the 1960 Presidential election, the liberal Democrat John Kennedy shamelessly promoted as an important campaign issue a supposed “missile gap” – in the Soviet Union’s favor – between Washington and Moscow, a conscious fabrication. Kennedy also postured to the right of his Republican opponent, Eisenhower’s Vice-President Richard Nixon, on “getting tough with Castro.” On this, Nixon had the disadvantage, as Kennedy was no doubt aware, of being unable to publicly tout the Eisenhower White House’s already advanced plans for the mercenary invasion at the Bay of Pigs, which Kennedy carried out three months after his Inauguration.

[4] Some thirty-five members of the so-called “microfaction” were expelled from the PCC and received prison sentences from two to fifteen years. The most serious charges involved secret activity aimed at forging ties between the “microfaction” and government officials and Communist Party leaders in the Soviet Union, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and Czechoslovakia in their common opposition to the revolutionary line of the PCC, and the large majority of PCC members, in Latin America and on Cuba’s domestic and foreign policies in general. This went as far as to urge Soviet economic pressure on Cuba, for which they were charged with treason. Escalante’s grouping never argued for their political positions openly within the structures and procedures of the PCC, which was their right. In their secret functioning inside Cuba and intrigues with Soviet and Eastern European officials and diplomats, they portrayed Che Guevara as a “Trotskyite adventurer” and the Castro leadership as “petty bourgeois elements” that seized control of the Revolution and who held the working class in contempt. Moreover, the Cuban revolutionary leadership was “anti-Soviet” and did not support Soviet “hegemony.”

Posted in USA, CUBA, RussiaComments Off on 55 years after: Political legacies of the Cuban Missile Crisis

A century after the Bolshevik Revolution: We need a new spectre to haunt the world

Popularresistance.org

In the world we’re living in, it’s not enough to solve the tension between capital and work. The ongoing crisis of civilization urgently demands that we address the tension between capital and nature, which is currently compromising the existence of life in our planet.

Perhaps the recent passing of Fidel Castro Ruz—leader of a process that best incarnated the emancipatory utopias in the region—highlights the absence of a theory capable of transforming the present into a more noble reality. Decades ago, it was common to witness exchanges between the Commander of the Cuban Revolution and numerous delegations of countries that belonged to what we then called the Third World. Today, social movements meet in the Vatican to nourish themselves with the only humanist discourse that is still current.

As a consequence, it is an imperious necessity to go back to learn from the praxis of the peoples that once formed the Non-Aligned Movement, and earlier this century created the movements that gathered in places like the Porto Alegre Social Forum. Our challenge is categorizing and systematizing the knowledge that emerges from their struggles.

One of the contemporary currents of critical thought that emerged from the peripheral world—after the so-called de-colonial turn, led, among others, by Argentine philosopher Enrique Dussel—is the Epistemology of the South(where ‘South’ is a geo-cultural metaphor that refers to every place that is oppressed and plundered by capitalism). The main promoter of this epistemological current is Portuguese scholar and social militant Boaventura de Sousa Santos. This current questions the hegemonic concept of “development”, which motorizes the myth of the limitless progress of the productive forces.

The Epistemology of the South makes several contributions to counter-hegemonic theory, including a respectful criticism of classical Marxism’s self-perception as the universal ideology of the working class in Western modernity.

It also benevolently questions decolonial thought for its focus on the cultural plane at the expense of the economic plane. Sousa maintains that this is a scholarly approach, without emotional strength (“without teeth”, as he says).  And he steers away from the deconstructive approaches of Foucault and Derrida to favor the positive struggle. He also maintains that we have to analyze the continuities and ruptures with the colonial model of Europe and its posterior influence in America, because there are abysmal differences between the colonial forms of the 19th century, characterized by metropolitan enclaves, and the colonial sociability of the 21st century. Lastly, he describes three indispensable categories for the peripheral world: capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy (which entail an ontological degradation of social, racial and sexual nature).

This current proposes a “Sociology of the Absent” is necessary to analyze the elements that hegemonic thought leaves out, creating a universe of people that are excluded from human rights, or socially disappeared. And, on the other hand, it proposes a “Sociology of Emergences” to contribute to the restitution of rights to all human beings, and the coexistence between different experiences in an ecosystem of knowledge that finds balance between scientific thought and popular thought.

It is worth remembering that Gunter Rodolfo Kush, a sociologist specialized in America and defender of contextualized knowledge [pensamiento situado]) considered myths as the form of knowledge of non-scriptural peoples—which positivist social sciences have considered less than civilization by establishing that written word is the frontier between prehistory and history, dismissing knowledge that had been codified in other manners.

In these times, we can’t dismiss any source that can contribute to diversify the monoculture of thoughts.

The body of women was the first colonized territory, prior to the Spanish conquest

Sayak Valencia, who is a doctor in Feminist Philosophy, Theory and Criticism at the Complutense University of Madrid, coined the term gore capitalism for the particular way in which marginalized and vulnerable territories operate under late capitalism. The term comes from US cinema, where it denominates a subgenre of horror movies with graphic and visceral violence. In this form of capitalism, like in the movies, “bloodshed is explicit and unjustified, with a high amount of viscera and dismemberment, frequently mixed with economic precarization, organized crime, the binary construction of gender and the predatory use of bodies”.

This enables some people to transform their situations of vulnerability or precariousness and empower themselves, albeit in a perverse form of self-affirmation, where they turn to violent practices that are profitable under the logic of capital—or “gore practices”. Valencia calls this process of self-affirmation through gore practices “necro-empowerment”, which is related to a concept coined by Achille Mbembe (a brilliant theoretician of decolonial thought from Cameroon) concept of “necro-power”, or the ability to decide on the death of others and the power that emanates from it.

“Endriago subject”(1) is the term Valencia created to denominate the executor of the gore practices of the new capitalism, which combines four forces: lack of basic necessities due to their marginal economic position; excess due to hyper-consumerist desires fueled by the market; frustration due to the impossibility of satisfaction of those needs; and the glorification of violence due to the trivializing and justifying of these actions in media depictions. Set in motion by these four forces, endriago subjects make violence a form of production that enables them to accumulate enough capital to have presence in the international market. This is why Valencia affirms that gore capitalism is an inter-continental struggle of extreme post-colonialism. The endriago subject is a form of adaptation to the environment through deviated practices, which exploit the most aggressive forms of the ideas associated with masculinity and hyper-individualism to get hold of the three functions that the state usually monopolizes: the exploitation of resources, selling security as a commodity and the appropriation of bodies as workers or consumers.

According to Prof. Ester Kandel, yesterday and today democratic vindications are incomplete because they occur in the context of a capitalist system.

The women’s movement has carried out numerous struggles—which have grown in the last few years—against issues like domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual and reproductive rights, abortion, sexual harassment and workplace equality. These struggles visibilize many phenomenons that had been naturalized. Even though several government organisms took initiatives to address these problems there are many problems, difficulties and pains.

Two examples:

  • Spontaneous abortions and fetal malformations
  • Welfare for poor women

The former issue was studied in the Argentine province of Córdoba, which linked the increase in cancer and abortions with the Monsanto model.

In Monte Maíz, cancer and spontaneous abortions were three times more frequent than the national average. But the Minister of Science and Technology, Lino Barañao, defended Monsanto and its agrotoxics, claiming that “glyphosate is like water with salt (…) There are also cases of improper use and death with antibiotics, and nobody complains”

If colonialism is a core element of modernity, because the salvationist rhetoric of modernity is based on the oppressive and condemnatory logic of coloniality, then that oppressive logic (as Argentine semiologist Walter Mignolo said) produces an energy of unhappiness, mistrust, and disengagement among those who react against imperial violence.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, US academic specialized in critical theory of race, has coined the term intersectionality as an analytic concept that systematizes the inclusion of those who are marginalized from the social, cultural, political, economic and academic fields.

Thinking about the Global South without colonialist concepts

One of the most unknown and mythologized places in the peripheral world is the so-called “Black continent”. In fact, the colonialist intervention of Africa permeates all cultural manifestations. For example, the fictional story of Tarzan, created in the early 20th century by US writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (and later adapted to comics, cinema and TV) still influences the new generations. In the story, Lord Greystoke, the only child of Scottish aristocrats, was stranded in the African jungle in the late 19th century after a mutiny in the ship they were travelling in. John’s parents died when he was an infant and he was adopted by a pack of gorilla-like monkeys, who call him Tarzan, which means “white skin”. Tarzan develops great physical abilities, like jumping from trees, balancing from lianas and defending his family against any wild animal. In line with his noble heritage, he also possesses great intelligence. Of course, after a while he becomes the single defender of  the tribes he relates with, who are incapable of defending themselves without the involvement of the Western white man.

It goes without saying that, as the other side of the coin on this colonial mythology, the world has seen many contributions made by independentist struggles of the African continent during the second half of the 20th century. Patriots like Amílcar Cabral, from Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, have been among the first to denounce the interrelation between colonialism, capitalism and racism. “We don’t simply fight to raise our flag on our countries or have a national hymn, we fight so that  insults don’t govern our countries, so that our peoples are not exploited by imperialists—not only those with white skin, we don’t want any kind of exploitation, not even by black people”.

As Portuguese academic Marían Paula Menese (CLACSO), our rich and complex reality doesn’t fit into any universalist theory, not even that of some currents of critical thought like the one that supported the failed Cuban struggle in Congo.

Antillan psychiatrist Frantz Fanon also contributed to the matter. In his essay “The Wretched of the Earth”, he writes about the difficult task of defending an Epistemic Justice “colonialism and imperialism have not paid their score when they withdraw their flags and their police forces from our territories. For centuries the capitalists have behaved in the underdeveloped world like nothing more than war criminals. Deportations, massacres, forced labor, and slavery have been the main methods used by capitalism to increase its wealth, its gold or diamond reserves, and to establish its power”.

In order to have this rich theoretical work not remain only in the realm of ideas, we prefer to think that decolonization must be simultaneous to world decolonization, because the epistemic genocide justifies the social genocide: the Belgian colonizers who forcibly disappeared people during the Algerian battle had already erased the hocicos negros from history long before disappearing their bodies.

Connecting the above ideas with our context, it is necessary to mention that Western positivist modernity has canonized the cardinal points future/past and center/periphery in order to present a false dichotomy between civilization/barbarie that benefits the global north. This was first conceived by the founding fathers that created our republics in the image of the European states, through the bloodshed of natives, creoles and Africans.

Of course, our native peoples have a different idea of time, which has nothing to do with the pragmatism of capitalism, expressed in phrases like “time is money”. The urban/rural dichotomy also has created tensions for centuries.

If something has been made clear in the current context in our continent it is the fact that emancipation of a single country is impossible—emancipation has to be regional.

In conclusion, conceiving ourselves as a diverse geo-cultural totality is still a pending task since the dissolution of the Anfictionic Congress of Panama convened in 1826 by the liberator Simón Bolívar.

The few advances made in this regard during the so-called “progressivist decade” of the early 2000s are today threatened by the ongoing conservative counter-offensive, in a moment in history where the ferocious rapacity of global capitalism doesn’t even acknowledge the sovereignty of nation states nor the most elemental democratic formalities.

It might be possible in the immediate future to stop those onslaughts by reestablish (and not depending on institutional superstructures) regional agreements between the grassroots that tend to create something akin to a Federation of Communes of Our America—a necessary condition to act and think together against the evils of colonialism, capitalism and patriarchy that affect us daily.

(1) The endriago is a mythological beast—a hybrid between a person, a hydra, a serpent with multiple heads and a dragon.

Posted in RussiaComments Off on A century after the Bolshevik Revolution: We need a new spectre to haunt the world

The Russian Revolution and Pan African revolutionary traditions

NOVANEWS
Sankara

All over Africa the conditions exist for revolution. But there is urgency to clarify the ideas, organization and leadership necessary for the African Revolution. The Russian Revolution of 100 years ago provides important lessons for African Revolutionaries in their quest to dismantle oppression and build just societies today.

On November 7, 2017, the world celebrated 100 years of the Bolshevik Revolution. The Revolution took place in the midst of the First Imperialist War of 1914-1918 on November 7, 1917. This war was one where the colonial powers fought over the re-division of the world. W. E B.  Du Bois had succinctly outlined the feature of the imperial scramble when he wrote on the African Roots of War. This text preceded the study ofimperialism by Lenin, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. Indeed, at the end of the war, the colonial territories of Germany were handed to Britain and France.

This Bolshevik insurrection had given power to the Soviets (workers, soldiers and peasants) of Russia and her imperial territories. After this insurrection, the leaders of the Revolution grasped the importance of a revolutionary moment and seized power.  Lenin had identified four conditions for a revolution. “Firstly, faced with a profound crisis the ruling class is incapable of governing in the old way and begins to split into different wings, each seeking a different solution to the crisis. Secondly, the middle layers are in ferment. Thirdly, the working class seeks a way out, not on the basis of the old society, but of a new order. It moves into battle in a determined fashion. Fourthly, the most crucial condition, is the existence, at the head of the mass workers’ movement of a clear Marxist leadership, with the necessary strategy, tactics, and organization to guarantee victory.”

The gripping story of the coming to power of this revolution was captured by the American journalist John Reed in the small book, Ten Days that Shook the World. Even today, one hundred years afterwards, the lessons of focus and clarity with respect to the seizure of revolutionary power makes gripping reading. V. I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, N. Bukharin and others established the popular power of the workers, peasants and soldiers into a political party and later created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) out of the remnants of the imperial Tsarist territories. This revolution placed socialism on the agenda for the 20th century. Many Africans were attracted to USSR because Lenin was a proponent of self-determination – “the political separation of those nations from alien national bodies; and the formation of independent nation states.”

In this reflection on the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution we will seek to grasp the Pan African responses to the revolution, the surge of anti-imperialism in the era prior to the capitalist depression, the degeneration of socialism in one country and how, despite this degeneration, the peoples of the Soviet Union led the defeat of fascism. After the Second Imperialist War there was a surge of national liberation movements all over the world with the creation of the Nonaligned Movement out of this wave of liberation. Socialist support for liberation was one of the most important components of world politics in this period after the barbarism of fascism and war. The defeat of Apartheid represented the high point of Pan Africanism at the same moment when the world witnessed the fall of the Communist Party of the USSR and the disintegration of the USSR. The conclusion will seek to understand the meaning of the Bolshevik Revolution for Pan African revolutionaries today.

Walter Rodney has done a tremendous service for African revolutionaries by writing extensively on the Russian Revolution. Rodney elaborated on the challenges facing socialism and in many ways it was a warning about the political decay in the USSR, which became apparent in 1991. This book, which will be published later this year, came from lectures that Walter Rodney had delivered at the University of Dar es Salaam in the seventies when the Tanzanian peoples were grappling with the questions of socialist transformation. The important point of this manuscript is that Rodney was insisting that Africans needed to develop an independent perspective on the Russian Revolution. He had outlined that there were two dominant worldviews on the Russian Revolution, the bourgeois world view and the Marxist view. Rodney wanted Pan African Revolutionaries to have their own view of this episodic event in human history.

Bolshevik Revolution support for Pan Africanism 1917-1927

In the midst of the First Imperialist War, the Garvey movement had launched the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). This was a movement of workers and poor farmers all across the Pan African world with the headquarters in Harlem, New York. Marcus Garvey had formed this organization in Jamaica but by 1916 relocated to New York to build this movement. War and industrialization of the cities in the North had attracted a massive migration of ex-sharecroppers who were fleeing the rampage of the murderous Ku Klux Klan. These migrants fled Jim Crow only to be met by the harsh conditions of the despotism of the factories and segregated neighborhoods. It was in these communities where the UNIA thrived and became the most militant anti-racist formation of the period.

Some of the Garveyites were supporters of organizations that espoused socialism and anti-racism and Harlem, New York, emerged as the epicenter of the political and ideological currents of that time. All the major Pan Africanists from this period were associated with the revolutionary ideas that came out of New York, specifically Harlem. The UNIA, though its headquarters was in Harlem, was international and had branches in every state and city. There were over 400 branches in 40 countries.  For example, Earl Little, the father of Malcolm X, was a prominent Garveyite who was an anti-racist fighter. Those who associated with the European Enlightenment called this period the Harlem Renaissance. Pan Africanists prefer to call this a period of revolutionary ferment in the world.

It was a period of tremendous outpouring of revolutionary energies in music, art, theater, journalism, poetry and political organizing. This period of Pan African Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution was to influence the activities of Pan African revolutionaries for one hundred years. Notable figures who came out of this convergence of socialism and Pan Africanism were: Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, W. E. B. Dubois, Asa Phillip Randolph, Chandler Owen, Richard B. Moore, Harry Haywood, George Padmore, Hubert Harrison, Ella Baker, Cyril Briggs and Otto Huiswood (of the African Blood Brotherhood – ABB. One should note that the full name of the ABB was African Blood Brotherhood for African Liberation and Redemption). The militancy of these anti-racist individuals earned them the label of Black Bolsheviks. The revolutionaries were internationalists and understood the inter-linkages between anti-racism in the USA and the struggle to build socialism in the USSR.

They were clear that the size of a community should not determine the influence of a movement. Cyril Briggs, one of the activists of the ABB, had hailed from Nevis in the Caribbean but as a young person had thrown himself into revolutionary activities in the USA. One should note that all self-respecting Pan African radicals of that period supported socialism and the need for armed self-defense. Leaders such as A. Phillip Randolph had emerged out of this period of revolutionary energy and mobilized for the March on Washington (1943 and the Double V campaign) and the March on Washington in 1963. The newspaper called the Messenger was described as “The most feared black publication” during its era from 1917 until 1928.

The Messenger was one of the mouthpieces of black workers of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. This organization benefitted from the mobility of the porters on the railroad and was the link between progressive revolutionary activities across the USA. Their newspaper, the Messenger, had been effusive in its praise of the Bolshevik Revolution in the January issue of 1918 less than three months after the Revolution. Radical journalism in this period produced many of the literary greats of the USA who were to become icons of US literature in the 20thcentury. Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson and Ella Baker stand out among the giants of this period who are still influential among Pan Africanists and Black Revolutionaries.

The radical journalism and writing of this period reached millions and there was no publication as important as the mouthpiece of the UNIA, The Negro World. While Cyril Briggs and their newspaper called The Crusader was more directed to a class analysis, this activist did not have the pulse of the oppressed masses as the Garveyites did. What united these forces was clarity of the need to oppose Jim Crow, eugenics and poor working conditions. While the UNIA was an all-class movement, socialists such as Harry Haywood, Cyril Briggs and A Phillip Randolph sought to build a clear working class position. These radicals could be distinguished from the Black middle classes who created Blue Vein Societies and reveled in debutante balls and cotillions.

The Communist Party and the Black Belt Theory

Intellectual and ideological independence grew as the ideals of Pan African liberation were refined in this first decade after the Bolshevik Revolution. However, the low levels of understanding of the real history of the USA led the Communist Party of the USA to promote a theory of self-determination for the black belt. Theoreticians from Moscow without understanding the major sacrifices that had been made by the enslaved Africans to produce the wealth of the USA promoted the idea that African Americans concentrated in the Southern states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas constituted an oppressed nation with tangible borders within the U.S. Based on this theoretical position, it was the position of the Communist Party of the USA that Africans in the USA should be given the right to self-determination, up to and including the right to secede from America.

This flawed theory (which was later repudiated) meant wrong political practice in relation to the possibilities of organizing for a socialist revolution in the United States. Experience later exposed the limitations of the US Communist Party when some of these Black Bolsheviks attempted to clarify the real history of black oppression and the impact of white racism and chauvinism. Claude McKay was one of writers from this period who sought to capture in his work the ‘revolt against white cultural standards by seeking to write works reflecting the life of the black masses.’ His poem, If We Must Die, written after the Red Summer of 1919 became a rallying cry against oppression everywhere. McKay took this clarity and independence with him when he travelled to Russia to participate in the Fourth Congress of the Communist International in Petrograd and Moscow. McKay attempted to enlighten the leaders in Russia on the limitations of the theoretical positions of the Communist Party in their efforts to organize black workers. Harry Haywood would be one of the many Black Bolsheviks who served in both the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist Party of the USA. Paul Robeson was another prominent freedom fighter who identified with the struggles of the peoples of the Soviet Union to build socialism. Revolutionaries such as W. E. B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson were persecuted for their opposition to international capitalism. Hundreds of progressive and revolutionary Africans from the United States moved to the Soviet Union and envisaged life in that society as an alternative to the racist and exploitative culture of the West

Pan Africanism and anti-imperialism

Socialism, Pan Africanism and anti-imperialism were the three dominant ideas that came out of this first decade of revolutionary upsurge after November 1917.  While the Pan Africanists sought to mobilize the workers and poor in the Pan African world, the socialists wanted to organize the working peoples, based on the slogan of Karl Marx, ‘Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.’  Many communist parties such as the Chinese Communist Party, the Vietnamese Communist Party, the Indonesian Communist Party, the Indian Communist Party, Mexican Communist Party, Peruvian Communist Party and numerous others drew their inspiration from the successful events of November 1917 and the successful defeat of the white Russian forces.  In fact, the Chinese Communist Party was founded in Shanghai in 1921 and went on to wage a valiant struggle to overthrow the oppressive system in China. Theoreticians of the Indian Communist Party such as M. N. Roy was deployed to grapple with some of the challenges thrown up by the conditions in semi-colonial societies.

Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam was also one of the important leaders of this period who drew from anti-militarism, Pan African nationalism and socialism. Ho Chi Minh had seen the brutal exploitation of nonwhite forces by the French in the First Imperialist War and had travelled briefly to the USA after 1918. He attended the rallies of the UNIA in New York in the heady days of the Harlem uprisings. Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese revolutionaries had brought ideological independence to the movement for national liberation. After defeating French colonialism in 1954, the USA intervened and sought to – (in the words of a General Curtis Le May) –  bomb the Vietnamese peoples back to the stone age. The Vietnamese Communist party demonstrated that a poor country could defeat US imperialism.

During the period of the twenties, nationalist and anti-imperialist movements from all parts of the world began to establish networks to cooperate to oppose colonialism. The end of the First Imperialist War and the demise of the Second International had seen the emergence of the League of Nations where France and Britain benefitted from the mandate system. German Communists working with the Soviets built up linkages with anti-colonial forces from all over the world and the convergence of the anti-imperialist forces of Africa, Asia and Latin America came together in the League against Imperialism. This was a formation that gathered in Brussels in February 1927 to bring communists and non-communists together. Willi Münzenberg, a member of the German Reichstag, representing the Communist Party had been a key organizer of the League against Imperialism.

Under the slogan ‘National Freedom and Social Equality’, 174 delegates participated, representing 134 organizations from 34 countries. Of these, 104 delegates either had travelled from colonial and semi-colonial countries, or were active in Europe in national liberation movements. After the meeting ended there was a decision to create a permanent anti-imperialist organization, the League against Imperialism and for National Independence (better known as the LAI), to “lead the struggle against capitalism, imperialist rule, in support of national self-determination and independence for every people.” The HQ of the League was in Berlin and this organization limped on from 1927 until 1933 when the Nazis seized power. Among the more than 100 delegates there was the Indian National Congress along with the African National Congress (of South Africa) and Egyptian socialists. Albert Einstein, Mme Sun Yat Sen, Richard B. Moore and Jawaharlal Nehru of the Indian National Congress were some of the prominent anti-imperialists who had come together in Brussels in 1927.

Willi Münzenberg had been close to Lenin and emerged as a leading German activist in the work of building socialism internationally. Lenin had reached out to the people in Africa and Asia who wanted to get the imperialists off their backs. He constantly stressed “to the workers of Europe and America that their freedom is inextricably bound up with the freedom of the colonial masses of China, India and elsewhere.” In his theses on the National and Colonial Question Lenin had stated that the Communist International must: “i) seek to bring a union of the proletarian and working masses of all nations and countries for a joint revolutionary strategy leading to the overthrow of capitalism; ii) support the revolutionary movement among the subject nations in all colonies; and iii) support the revolutionary movements in the colonies and the backward countries.”

In the aftermath of the Second International a labor aristocracy had matured within the working classes of Europe. Lenin had signaled the impact of this new class during the war when he wrote that, “a handful of capitalist nations had evolved into global imperial empires, enriching themselves at the expense of the colonized and enslaved peoples of the world… the receipt of high monopoly profits by the capitalists … makes it economically possible for them to bribe certain sections of the workers, and for a time a fairly considerable minority of them, and win them to the side of the bourgeoisie of a given industry or given nation against all others.”

More important was the theory of revolution that had been developed by some of the ‘socialist’ parties in Europe. It was their analysis that the colonial subjects would be guided to revolution by their advanced proletarian brothers of Europe. This kind of reasoning on the advanced nature of the European working class had been accepted by some black Marxists but Pan Africanists rejected this theory of revolution. This analysis was to have its practical implications in the organizing work among black toilers. In South Africa this analysis hid behind the formulation that there had to be a Democratic Stage of the Revolution before there could be a socialist stage in colonized territories.

George Padmore who had hailed from Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean had been a student in the period of the Harlem mobilizations and joined the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA) in 1927. By 1929 Padmore had been deployed to Moscow. The CPUSA had recognized his organizational skills and his grasp of the international conditions of black workers. As an organizer and pamphleteer, Padmore wrote on the conditions of exploitation in the colonies and highlighted the conditions of forced labour. Other African freedom fighters such as A.T Nzula and Jomo Kenyatta had worked with George Padmore in the Soviet Union at this time. The energies from these forces had culminated in an international conference in Hamburg in 1930 on the Negro Worker. These Black Bolsheviks had launched a Comintern-backed international organization of black labour organizations called the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW). The organ of the ITUCNW was the Negro Worker and according to CLR James,  this organ “gave information, advice, guidance, ideas about black struggles on every continent.”  Padmore’s The Life and Struggles of the Negro Toilers was a pioneering text of red Black Internationalism of the Comintern.

The wrongheadedness of the theories of the political leadership of the USSR in relation to the real implications of white supremacy alienated Padmore and precipitated a break between him and the leadership in Moscow.  Later in the era of the Cold War Padmore wrote the book, Pan Africanism or Communism. His displeasures with the leadership had been accumulating and Padmore was alarmed that the party did not grasp the full implications of racism and xenophobia after the National Socialist Party came to power in Germany in 1933. By the time of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 there was a clearer break with the leadership in Moscow when the leadership wanted Africans to subjugate their struggles in favor of the diplomatic and political shifts in the USSR.

George Padmore became an important bridge between the generation of Pan Africanists who had embraced the USSR after 1917 and those who developed independent thinking in the wake of fascism and war. Padmore’s most fruitful years as a Pan African revolutionary came from working with C. L. R. James and Ras Makonnen in the International African Service Bureau (IASB) to mount a massive anti-imperialist campaign after the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. Parallel to the IASB in Europe was the Council on African Affairs (CAA) in North America with Paul Robeson as chairperson and DuBois as vice chair.

DuBois and James were committed socialists and were organizers who understood the centrality of building a social movement among the workers. It was in this period that C. L. R. James wrote the book, The Black Jacobins, to give prominence to the role of the Haitian Revolution in changing the history of slavery. European workers had waxed about the importance of the French Revolution of 1789. C.L.R James has brought to the world the reality that Africans had their own revolutionary traditions that could inform current struggles. In his book on the History of Pan African Revolt, James emphasized the reality that “black peoples are at the center of world events and that the revolutionaries of the world need the Africans as much as Africans need them.” It was within this same era of the rise of fascism, in 1935, when W. E. B. Du Bois wrote the history of the reconstruction era by exposing the central role of the black workers (formerly enslaved) who shifted the historical weight against the salvocracy, Black Reconstruction in America: An Essay Toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880. The intellectual output of black revolutionaries in this period of fascism and war was brought to bear in one of the most focused periods of black revolutionary activity.  Collectively, these revolutionaries provided a dialectical opposite to the bureaucratization and degeneration that stifled creative thinking under Joseph Stalin in the USSR.

These are the forces who were to be in the forefront of the Fifth Pan African Congress in 1945 and the call for full independence of Africa. Some of those elements from the French socialist parties who were from West Africa aligned with the French socialists and their intellectual subordination is still being felt in Africa today.

Kwame Nkrumah, Pan Africanism and Socialism

Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was one of those African leaders who had been inspired by the ideas of socialism and Pan Africanism. Nkrumah had left Ghana when the activist I.T.A Wallace Johnson had been active in Accra mobilizing workers and drawing attention to the case of the Scottsboro boys. The experiences of these young men had become a rallying point for socialists and progressive activists such as Wallace Johnson had organized a fund to support the legal defense of the Scottsboro boys. Johnson, hailing from Sierra Leone, had been among those advocating early for a Union of West African Socialist Republics. This advocacy for West African and Pan African unity had been inspired by the experiences of the USSR. Though the historical record does not show whether Nkrumah was familiar of the work of Wallace –Johnson before he left to the USA, by the time Nkrumah reached London in 1945 he was actively working with the West African Students Union (WASU) and later the West African National Secretariat (WANS).

Nkrumah’s baptism into this world of anti-imperialism and anti-racism movement came at the moment of the Italian invasion in 1935. By the time he had reached the USA the uprisings of Harlem of 1935 were still fresh in the minds of black peoples everywhere and former communists were struggling with the attitude of the Soviet Union to the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. For the next 10 years Nkrumah immersed himself into this ferment of social and intellectual struggles and lent his energies and talents to mobilizing against racism, capitalism and imperialism. Indeed, Kwame Nkrumah had written that the most important influence on his political maturation had come from the Garveyites. Though C. L.R James had introduced Nkrumah to George Padmore, Nkrumah never allowed the ideas that Padmore held about Marcus Garvey to sway his understanding of the importance of the emancipation of Africa. What were the most important lessons of the Graveyites? (a) independent organizing of the working peoples, (b) the importance of the total unification of Africa (c) having an independent voice – hence own publications (d) economic self-reliance, and (e) digging deep into African spirituality. These were the elements that guided the program of Kwame Nkrumah and the Pan Africanism of his tenure. Towards the end of his life, Nkrumah insisted that the only way to free Africa was through a Revolutionary Path.

Degeneration of Socialism in one country

It should be noted that the attacks on the socialist experiment in the USSR had begun right after the assumption of power by the Bolsheviks. Counter-revolution reared its head in a war that diverted resources from the building of a socialist economy. During his life-time, Vladimir Lenin had toyed with the ideas of a New Economic Policy (NEP) in order to revive the shattered economy that was hemorrhaging because of war and stagnation. Lenin and thinkers such as Nikolai Bukharin and Preobrazhensky had advocated a mixture of socialism and opening up to western capitalism in this period of transition. The challenges of maintaining power in the midst of war had intensified the debates in the Communist Party about the form of the organization that the party should take. Decisions that were taken in the midst of War Communism were to have a negative impact on the future of building the party.

Emergency measures that were conceived in the period of the NEP proved challenging and ushered in a period of ‘state capitalism on new lines.’ Lenin was to later refer to the decisions made in this period as ‘mistakes,’ referring to the  “measures of coercion dictated by the emergency needs of the war and the Bolshevik party’s inability to mobilize rapidly, and on a voluntary basis, the material and human resources required by the army and for the defense and survival of the towns, were applied on too large a scale and in an arbitrary fashion.” Charles Bettelheim in his massive study of Class Struggles in the U. S. S. R. First Period: 1917-1923 drew attention to the authoritarian traits that emerged in the unleashing of ‘measures of coercion.’ Theoreticians of the ABC of Communism, Nikolai Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, suffered the fate of many who sought to develop a clear and independent mode of thinking in the period of the transformation of class relations within the Communist party.

Leon Trotsky had been another casualty of the internecine debates within the Communist Party after the passing of Lenin. Questions of socialist transformation and the future of the peasantry were matters that under any circumstance required clarity of purpose and the complete mobilization of the social forces who would be in the forefront of building socialism. The conditions of War Communism did not allow for a neat resolution of the challenges thrown up by the need to accumulate the resources in order to industrialize the society.

The debates on the NEP and the repercussions are of importance for all countries trying to conceptualize a post-capitalist society.  One of the important lessons of this period was the degeneration of the party after the intrigues and inner party struggles after the death of Lenin in January 1924. Questions of whether socialism could be built in one country and whether the foreign policies of international socialist parties should be subservient to the needs of the USSR dominated the discussions on socialism. Between the years 1927-1939 this degeneration was compounded by the policies of rapid collectivization. This was a policy to guarantee surpluses from the rural areas to ensure the rapid industrialization of the USSR.

Walter Rodney in his lectures on the Russian Revolution spent considerable time on the question of the peasantry and the challenges of socialist transformation because he had become aware of the need for African revolutionaries to have clarity on the methods of transforming African agriculture. While being critical of the excesses of Joseph Stalin, Rodney at the same time recognized the tremendous sacrifices made by the workers and peasants to build an industrial economy. This forthright work was to be of importance to entire humanity in the Second Imperialist War. The draconian policies of the leadership and mass killings were influenced by internal political struggles as the leader Joseph Stalin built up a cult of personality. Walter Rodney made four points about the degeneration under Joseph Stalin,

1) Stalin encouraged socialism in one country instead of international socialism.

(2) The state did not wither away but became more oppressive and bureaucratic.

(3) Social and economic inequalities were fostered.

(4) There was an inadmissible element of force in building socialism.

In the vanguard party, the ideas of the party became obedient to the Central Committee and the Central Committee became obedient to the great leader. Political obedience stifled creativity all around as the purges created a climate of fear. This issue of the cult of personality in the vanguard party was to bedevil socialist parties for many years. There had been confusion about the real meaning of the formulation ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’.  It was in the era of Fidel Castro of Cuba where there were explicit instructions that there should be no cult of personality. Fidel Castro was so clear about this that in his will he declared that he did not want any airport or any monument named after him.

Imperialist War II, the Russian Revolution and fascism

The rise of fascism as a component of the crisis of imperialism had made a dramatic impact on humanity. Fascist parties had grown all over Europe in the capitalist depression. The defeat of the German socialists and the killing of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in 1919 had been a wakeup call for revolutionaries everywhere as to the true nature of German militarism. After the war Berlin became a cultural space for the anti-colonialists, especially those rallying against British imperialism. It was the defeat of the German Communists that highlighted the reality that the Bolshevik Revolution had to be self-reliant in building a new society and that the period of revolution in Western Europe was to be long in coming. Karl Liebknecht had written on the dangers of German militarism in the period of the First Imperialist War stating that,

“A history of militarism in the deepest sense discloses the very essence of human development and of its motive force, and a dissection of capitalist militarism involves the disclosure of the most secret and least obvious roots of capitalism. The history of militarism is at the same time the history of the political, social, economic and, in general, the cultural relations of tension between states and nations, as well as the history of the class struggles within individual and national units.”

Communists from Italy such as Antonio Gramsci had been warning of the dangers of fascism, but the flawed theory was to be found in the analysis of the leaders of the USSR that the social democratic parties were a greater danger to humanity than the fascist parties. German militarism had consumed the society and had exploded into full blown fascism after the capitalist depression of 1929. In societies where there were colonies, the British and the French practiced fascism in their colonies. In countries such as Spain and Portugal, the fascist parties took power and maintained power for over forty years. The most notorious of these fascists were Benito Mussolini of Italy and the German National Socialist party under the Hitler forces. This was a racist and anticommunist organization who wanted to restore the power of the German bourgeoisie by crushing the German working classes. Today imperialists seek to obfuscate the real meaning of fascism by blaming the atrocities of the Nazis on the idiosyncrasies of Adolph Hitler.

Africans need to study the racism and chauvinism among the European working classes that were developed in this period. A similar brand of chauvinism and racism is now emerging, hence it is necessary to grasp the ways in which a precious generation fought against this militarism.

After the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, the fascists seized power in Spain and fought a war to crush revolutionaries. The Japanese fascists invaded China in 1937 and carried out genocide. The German fascists invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939 and the rest of the fascist rampage left over 20 million noncombatants dead in Europe, with the famous Holocaust coming from this period of fascism.

The important contribution of socialism at this time was to spearhead the defeat of fascism. The attack on the USSR by the fascist armies and with collaboration from the ruling classes of Eastern Europe was one of the deadliest aspects of the Second Imperialist War. The defense of Russia by the socialist workers was one of the most important contributions to humanity in the 20th century. In the United States it was the collective leadership of the black progressives from the twenties that provided the leadership to fight full blown fascism in the USA. Black workers had mobilized to confront the Klan and the Democratic Party under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt developed the New Deal to save capitalism in the USA.

Anti-colonialism and the war against national liberation movements

This victory over fascism emboldened the anti-colonial forces from China to Guatemala and from Indonesia to South Africa. These uprisings marked a new stage in human history with the independence of Vietnam in 1945 and India in 1947. Out of these anti-colonial forces emerged the spirit of Bandung (Indonesia) where the freedom fighters from all over the world committed themselves to bread, peace and justice. The African revolutionaries from Egypt, Algeria, the Congo , South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, Sudan and Kenya were very involved in this new moment of rebellion. It was the moment that influenced the rise of the African revolution in the independence phase 1945-1975. The execution of Patrice Lumumba in January 1961 was a deliberate effort on the part of imperialism to thwart the revolutionary possibilities of Africa. In this Bandung process, there was new sense of solidarity among oppressed peoples and it was in this period when Marshall Tito and Nehru along with Nasser and Nkrumah created the Nonaligned Movement.

Two of the most energetic forces of this movement came from the freedom fighters who were battling white racism in Southern Africa and the embryonic Cuban Revolution. Che Guevara emerged out of the internationalism of the Latin American revolutionary process and threw himself into support for African liberation by joining the struggles for self-rule in the Congo. Guevara was killed by forces of US imperialism in Bolivia in October 1967.

After the defeat of the USA in Vietnam in 1975, imperialism had decided to take a stand for the regeneration of capitalism in Africa. This stand took the form of complete support for the minority white racist regimes in Southern Africa. By 1974, the Portuguese fascists had collapsed and the West decided to support the apartheid regime to fill the vacuum. The alliance between the Cuban Revolutionaries and the Angolan freedom fighters in 1975 had shifted the balance of forces in favor of African revolution. After the first defeat of apartheid in 1976 in Angola, the racists embarked on a Total Strategy against freedom fighters in Africa.

Meanwhile the legacies of degeneration from the era of the purges of the thirties still affected the intellectual and ideological developments of the USSR. The intellectual deficiencies were to be seen in the official publications coming out of the USSR from a publishing house called Progress Publishers. This was a publishing house that was supposed to produce English language texts on Marxism, but it became a mouthpiece for the incorrect analysis of the international situation that came out of Moscow.  It must be stated, however, that on balance, the existence of the USSR was a positive influence for the African liberation forces. That there was another force to counter the weight of the imperialist countries provided room for diplomatic, military and political alternatives. This was most manifest in the Suez crisis of 1956 and afterwards in the links between the OAU Liberation Committee and the countries of COMECON.  In the same measure where the existence of the socialist camp was a boost for freedom fighters, the split between the Chinese and the USSR in the sixties negatively affected African freedom struggles. This was clearest in 1975 when the USSR supported the dictatorship of leaders such as Idi Amin.

The other important development was that African Revolutionaries understood that they had to develop their own theory of revolution. Frantz Fanon, A.M. Babu, A.T Nzula, Claudia Jones, Amilcar Cabral, Ella Baker, Walter Rodney, Eduardo Mondlane, Samir Amin, Thomas Sankara, Julius Nyerere and Kwame Nkrumah were some of the African revolutionaries who understood that the African freedom fighters had to be self-reliant at the intellectual and theoretical level. Amilcar Cabral had been clear on the ideological deficiencies of the established communist parties when he delivered the lecture on The Weapon of Theory in Havana in January 1966 at the first Tricontinental Conference of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Those socialist parties in Egypt, Sudan and South Africa who were ideologically dependent of the USSR suffered a severe setback intellectually after the fall of the USSR in 1991.

The defeat of apartheid

African peoples throughout the world understood that the struggles against imperialism were protracted. By 1980 after the independence of Zimbabwe, the struggles against apartheid in South Africa and Namibia had consumed the African revolutionary project. Imperialism intervened forcefully to impose structural adjustment programmes in order to weaken African peoples and societies and short circuit the Lagos Plan of Action. While the IMF and the World Bank were implementing austerity measures in Africa these institutions were financially propping up the minority white regime. It was the full organization of the South African working peoples along with international solidarity that brought about a new phase in world politics. This phase was accentuated by the military struggles against apartheid in Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Angola. The battles of Cuito Cuanavale 1987-1988 was the culmination of these struggles with the victory over racist apartheid paving the way for the end of apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela. The support of Cuba and the USSR for African liberation must be highlighted in this important phase of African history.

The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991

All of the problems that plagued the USSR following the accumulated decades of coercive economic relations after the NEP came to a head in the period of advanced counter-revolution, the period of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Elementary lessons of how far the counter-revolution would go were clear from the military invasion of the small island of Grenada in 1983. From El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and beyond US imperialists acted like an army of locusts seeking to reverse social gains. The sterling lesson of this period was the mobilization of the Cuban people to withstand this period of neoliberal counter-revolution.

This was also the period when the conservative and militarist forces backed the most reactionary elements in the politics of Latin America. 9/11, 1973 was the dawn of the killings with the military overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile. The Chicago School of Economics then took the Chilean economy as the laboratory of how to implement austerity under military rule. Margaret Thatcher had proclaimed that there was no alternative to capitalism and the military policies of NATO orchestrated to impose neo-liberal capitalism that is now called globalization. It was from among First Nation peoples of the Americas where there was the clearest position that socialist reconstruction must have as a matter of priority the replenishment of the earth and to combat global warming.

In this period, the massive assault on the working peoples brought out the cultural and ideological elements of hyena-type capitalism. The workers and peasants of the USSR and the workers of Eastern Europe had been struggling against the bureaucratization of their societies and the absence of popular participation and expression. This absence led to pent up feelings of frustration. It was the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 that showed just how much the workers in Eastern Europe wanted political freedom and social justice. Two years later the communist party in Moscow collapsed and the USSR disintegrated. After this, the triumphalism of capitalism heralded a New World Order and the end of History.

The collapse of the state-run economies in Russia did not offer any reprieve for the workers and poor peasants of Eastern Europe. Former sections of the USSR such the fifteen republics of 1. Armenia 2. Azerbaijan 3. Belarus 4. Estonia 5. Georgia 6. Kazakhstan 7. Kirghizia 8. Latvia 9. Lithuania 10. Moldavia 11. Russian SFSR 12. Tajikistan 13. Turkmenia 14. Ukraine and 15. Uzbekistan became the terrain for capitalist plunder and rapacious dismantling of social services.

After the invasion by the scions of neo-liberalism, the state corporations of Russia were sold off and a new class of capitalists took power. Workers lost all social security that had existed under socialism. In this dog-eat-dog world, leaders such as Boris Yeltsin were subservient to the West and NATO expanded right up to the borders of Russia incorporating many of the countries in the USSR.

The African Revolution today

After the fall of the Soviet Union the triumphalism of the West was only tempered by the rise of China in the international system. The opportunities for new trading relations for African rulers were opened with the formation of Brazil, Russia, India and Chinese (BRICS) bloc. However, the Chinese revolution found its own challenge with respect to the destruction of the natural environment by coal barons and bankers. These elements have risen in influence inside the Communist Party of China to the point where in the foreign policy of the state the leadership downplayed the revolutionary traditions of China and instead promoted the ideas of Confucius.  Promoting ‘harmony’ and Confucius was consistent with a political leadership that followed the ideas of the World Bank and for good measure sent their children to universities in North America and Western Europe to be trained to be better capitalists.

Under neoliberalism, the combined weight of international capitalists shifted the burdens on to the shoulders of African workers and small farmers. There was an alliance with the African ruling classes who siphoned billions of dollars away in foreign banks as a manifestation of their alliance with imperialism.

Outstanding issues of incomplete self-determination plagued Africa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Central African Republic, Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Sudan. It was in the Sudan and Ethiopia where the Pan African revolutionaries needed to be clear on the objectives of the African Revolution today. In the past forty years, the Ethiopian toilers had registered two successful uprisings and are currently in the midst of a new struggle for social justice and a better quality of life. The experiences of the revolutions of 1974 and 1991 are being studied by a new generation of freedom fighters in Ethiopia. Indeed, the struggles of the workers of Ethiopia to achieve social justice were linked to the struggles of self-determination of the peoples such as the Oromo and the Somalis. It was in Ethiopia more than anywhere else, where a new theory was needed for the African Revolution. The Ethiopian rulers have been able to repress their people with the connivance of other leaders in Africa.

Along with support to big capital in Ethiopia, imperialism has launched a war on terror in order to militarize Africa. Many leaders such as those in Kenya, Uganda and Chad are allied with imperialism in this so-called war on terrorism.  In Kenya, the anti-capitalist and democratic struggles have birthed a new era of popular resistance, but this new burst of energy requires clarity on the objectives of the Kenya theater of the African revolution. Is the resistance simply a struggle for power or a struggle for a new mode of economic organization?

It was in Egypt where the workers, youth and the women opened a new chapter in the African revolutionary process. From the work of Claudia Jones and Ella Baker there had been clarity that revolution had to not only fight against capitalism but against patriarchy. African women, especially at the grassroots represented the social force most focused on changing the patterns of oppression. Capitalist exploitation had been supplemented by male chauvinism and disrespect for women.

Samora Machel and Thomas Sankara were two revolutionaries who understood that African women were central to the African revolutionary challenges. After Claudia Jones and Ella Baker there are numerous Pan African revolutionaries such as Micere Mugo, Wangaari Mathai and Asma Mafhouz who have provided revolutionary leadership.  Nawa El Sadawi of Egypt provided a crucial link between the revolutionaries of the twentieth century and the new revolutionary women of the 21st century. The Egyptian revolution had sent the signal that the backwardness of religious fundamentalism would have to be combated in the process of building a new society. In 2011 with the overthrow of Mubarak, the revolution excited progressives all over the world. In an effort to take this away from the African masses, this revolutionary upsurge was called the “Arab spring”. Furthermore in order to stab this revolution in the back if it arose again after the counter-revolution of General Sisi, NATO mounted an invasion of Libya and unleashed instability in the Sahel region.

The youth in South Africa, ever vigilant in relation to the continuity of struggles opened a new front in the African revolution in the era of Jacob Zuma. As in Egypt, it was the oppressed women of South Africa who were first alert to the oppressive traditions and practice of Zuma.  The South African Communist Party had exposed the weakness of organizations that had been intellectually subservient to the USSR. In fighting against Thabo Mbeki and elevating Jacob Zuma to the presidency, the SACP exposed the distance it had travelled away from the needs of the people.

The youth of South Africa, especially those in universities joined with workers and opposed neo-liberalism and the outsourcing of work within the university. The struggles over access to education were heralded in a major campaign called #FeesMustFall. This movement supported a larger struggle to decolonize education with the attack on the statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town emblematic of this struggle. Then there was the opposition to bourgeois science in the campaign, #ScienceMustFall.

The workers in South Africa broke up the COSATU embeddedness with the ANC government while populists such as Julius Malema sought to take advantage of the ideological vacuum by creating the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party. The South African political economy in the twenty years after the end of formal apartheid had presented another opportunity to revisit the question of the transformation of agriculture and the future of the poor peasants.  The battles over collectivization in the USSR had exposed the reality that the land question was bound up with the clarity of the state to provide the resources for a transformation of agricultural production that would lift the living standards of the most oppressed sections of the peasantry.

Instead, the populism of Julius Malema has taken the land question of Southern Africa as a tool to mobilize without clarity on the forms of organization of the poor that would ensure that the poor of the rural areas would be the principal beneficiaries of land redistribution. In this new battle, the questions of land and the relationship of the peasants on the land are now back on the agenda and African revolutionaries need to study the challenges that faced the Russian Revolution in the past 100 years. What form of property relations should develop in a transformed South Africa? The populism of Julius Malema echoed the populism of Robert Mugabe, but the poor of South Africa were aware that this talk about land redistribution in Zimbabwe had only led to the self-enrichment of a few.

All over Africa from the DRC to Nigeria, to Egypt, Cameroons, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya and Somalia there is urgency to clarify the ideas, organization and leadership necessary for the next round of the African Revolution. In every country the first condition for revolution exists, viz, faced with a profound crisis the ruling class is incapable of governing in the old way and begins to split into different wings, each seeking a different solution to the crisis. Those who had made sacrifices for liberation in Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa had seen that a new class had arisen to benefit from the struggles of the people. Pressures from below had forced the leadership to create the African Union, but even in this enterprise, many of the leaders were so afraid of France that they allowed the army of France to manipulate regional and religious questions in order to maintain military forces in Africa. Morocco, in the meantime sought to maintain the outmoded idea of colonialism by holding on to the territory of Western Sahara. France opposed the creating of an African currency and was very explicit by urging the invasion of Libya on the grounds that this was necessary to save the Euro.

Capitalist crisis, again

After the 2007-8 capitalist crisis there was the rise of racism and xenophobia in the West with reactionary parties occupying political spaces all over Europe. African peoples responded vigorously to this new period of capitalist crisis with the workers and their children in the USA creating the Black Lives Matter movement. Temporarily, this movement placed the ruling class on notice that the black working people were going to lead the resistance against capitalism internationally. In the face of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, counter-revolution reared its head in Brazil, Venezuela and all over the world with the rise of Donald Trump signaling to racists that they can kill with impunity.

The rise of Donald Trump and the call to “make America great again” brought about a new stage of world revolution. It was clear to all that the greatness of the USA would only come out of global warfare. Opposition to US imperialism had grown internationally as the US military became the main basis for supporting the dominance of the dollar as the currency of international trade.  It was in the midst of this crisis where the Pan African revolutionaries were calling on the youth to study the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 so that Africa can learn the strength and weakness of revolutions in the 20th century. Progressive Pan African revolutionaries are holding the line against complete barbarism to be ready for the next round of mobilization for the unification of Africa and the emancipation of oppressed peoples. This author shares the view of the Indian revolutionaries, who stated that,

“The tremendous achievements of the first Socialist State beckon us to understand what was possible and what is possible to create today. The Soviet Union created records, equally relevant today in wiping out poverty, backwardness, and illiteracy, in establishing equality among peoples and nationalities, between men and women. It is an inspiration of what was and what can be, and that is why we say that the era it established of the transition from capitalism to socialism is as relevant today. Capitalism is not the end of history.”

* PROF HORACE G. CAMPBELL is Kwame Nkrumah Chair, Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana.

Further Reading

Charles Bettelheim, Class Struggles in the U. S. S. R. First Period: 1917-1923, Monthly Review Press, New York 1977

Joy Gleason Carew, Blacks, Reds, and Russians: Sojourners in Search of the Soviet Promise, Rutgers University Press, 2010

W. E.B DuBois, The African Roots of War, http://scua.library.umass.edu/digital/dubois/WarRoots.pdf

Harry Haywood, Black Bolsheviks: Autobiography of an Afro-American Communist, Liberator Press, Chicago, 1978

C. l. R. James, History of Pan African Revolt, Charles Kerr, Chicago 1995

Winston James, Holding Aloft the Banner of Ethiopia: Caribbean Radicalism in Early Twentieth Century America.London: Verso Books, 1998

Robin D. G. Kelley, Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression, University of North Carolina Press, 1990

V.I.Lenin, Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1963

V. I. Lenin, What is to be Done? Progress Publishers Moscow , 1963

V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1963

Ernest Mandel, The Meaning of the Second World War, Verso Books, 2011

Kwame Nkrumah, Revolutionary Path, Pan Af Books, London 1973

Jeffrey B. Perry, Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).

John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the WorldPenguin Classics, 1990

George Padmore, The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers,

Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003)

Walter Rodney, The African Revolution, Talk delivered in 1972, https://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/rodney-walter/works/africanrevolution.htm

Theodore Vincent. Black Power and the Garvey Movement. Berkeley, Calif.: Ramparts Press, 1971.

Posted in Africa, RussiaComments Off on The Russian Revolution and Pan African revolutionary traditions

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