Category Archives: exploitation

How America Went From Mom-and-Pop Capitalism to Techno-Feudalism

The crisis of 2020 has created the greatest wealth gap in history. The middle class, capitalism and democracy are all under threat. What went wrong and what can be done?

In a matter of decades, the United States has gone from a largely benign form of capitalism to a neo-feudal form that has created an ever-widening gap in wealth and power. In his 2013 bestseller Capital in the 21st Century, French economist Thomas Piketty declared that “the level of inequality in the US is probably higher than in any other society at any time in the past anywhere in the world.” In a 2014 podcast about the book, Bill Moyers commented:

Here’s one of its extraordinary insights: We are now really all headed into a future dominated by inherited wealth, as capital is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, giving the very rich ever greater power over politics, government and society. Patrimonial capitalism is the name for it, and it has potentially terrifying consequences for democracy.

Paul Krugman maintained in the same podcast that the United States is becoming an oligarchy, a society of inherited wealth, “the very system our founders revolted against.” While things have only gotten worse since then thanks to the economic crisis of 2020, it’s worth retracing the history that brought us to this volatile moment.

Not the Vision of Our Founders

The sort of capitalism on which the United States was originally built has been called mom-and-pop capitalism. Families owned their own farms and small shops and competed with each other on a more or less level playing field. It was a form of capitalism that broke free of the feudalistic model and reflected the groundbreaking values set forth in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights: that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including the rights to free speech, a free press, to worship and assemble; and the right not to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process.

It was good in theory, but there were glaring, inhumane exceptions to this idealized template, including the confiscation of the lands of indigenous populations and the slavery that then prevailed. The slaves were emancipated by the US Civil War; but while they were freed in their persons, they were not economically free. They remained entrapped in economic serfdom. Although Black and Indigenous communities have been disproportionately oppressed, poor people were all trapped in “indentured servitude” of sorts — the obligation to serve in order to pay off debts; e.g., the debts of Irish workers to pay for passage to the United States, and the debts of “sharecroppers” (two-thirds of whom were white), who had to borrow from landlords at interest for land and equipment. Today’s U.S. prison system has also been called a form of slavery, in which free or cheap labor is extracted from poor people of color.

To the creditors, economic captivity actually had certain advantages over “chattel” slavery (ownership of humans as a property right). According to an infamous document called The Hazard Circular, circulated by British banking interests among their American banking counterparts during the American Civil War:

Slavery is likely to be abolished by the war power and chattel slavery destroyed. This, I and my European friends are glad of, for slavery is but the owning of labor and carries with it the care of the laborers, while the European plan, led by England, is that capital shall control labor by controlling wages.

Slaves had to be housed, fed and cared for. “Free” men housed and fed themselves.  Free men could be kept enslaved by debt by paying them wages that were insufficient to meet their costs of living.

From ‘Industrial Capitalism’ to ‘Finance Capitalism

The economy crashed in the Great Depression, when Franklin D. Roosevelt’s government revived it and rebuilt the country through a public financial institution called the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. After World War II, the US middle class thrived. Small businesses competed on a relatively level playing field similar to the mom-and-pop capitalism of the early pioneers. Meanwhile, larger corporations engaged in “industrial capitalism,” in which the goal was to produce real goods and services.

But the middle class, considered the backbone of the economy, has been progressively eroded since the 1970s. The one-two punch of the Great Recession and what the IMF has called the “Great Lockdown” has again reduced much of the population to indentured servitude; while industrial capitalism has largely been displaced by “finance capitalism,” in which money makes money for those who have it, “in their sleep.” As economist Michael Hudson explains, unearned income, not productivity, is the goal. Corporations take out cheap 1% loans, not to invest in machinery and production, but to buy their own stock earning 8% or 9%; or to buy out smaller corporations, eliminating competition and creating monopolies. Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis explains that “capital” has been decoupled from productivity: businesses can make money without making profits on their products.  As Kevin Cahill described the plight of people today in a book titled Who Owns the World?:

These latter day pharaohs, the planet owners, the richest 5% – allow the rest of us to pay day after day for the right to live on their planet. And as we make them richer, they buy yet more of the planet for themselves, and use their wealth and power to fight amongst themselves over what each possesses – though of course it’s actually us who have to fight and die in their wars.

The 2020 Knockout Punch 

The final blow to the middle class came in 2020. Nick Hudson, co-founder of a data analytics firm called PANDA (Pandemics, Data and Analysis),  argued in an interview following his keynote address at a March 2021 investment conference:

Lockdowns are the most regressive strategy that has ever been invented. The wealthy have become much wealthier. Trillions of dollars of wealth have been transferred to wealthy people. … Not a single country did a cost/benefit analysis before imposing these measures.

Policymakers followed the recommendations of the World Health Organization, based on predictive modeling by the Imperial College London that subsequently proved to be wildly inaccurate. Later studies have now been done, at least some of which have concluded that lockdowns have no significant effects on case numbers and that the costs of lockdowns substantially outweigh the benefits, in terms not just of economic costs but of lives.

On the economic front,  global lockdowns eliminated competition from small and medium-sized businesses, allowing monopolies and oligopolies to grow. “The biggest loser from all this is the middle class,” wrote Logan Kane on Seeking Alpha. By May 2020, about one in four Americans had filed for unemployment, with over 40 million Americans filing jobless claims; and 200,000 more businesses closed in 2020 than the historical annual average. Meanwhile, US billionaires collectively increased their total net worth by $1.1 trillion during the last 10 months of 2020; and 46 people joined the billionaire class.

The number of “centi-billionaires”– individuals with a net worth of $100 billion or more – also grew. In the US they included:

  • Jeff Bezos, soon-to-be former CEO of Amazon, whose net worth increased from $113 billion in March 2020 to $182 billion in March 2021, up by $70 billion for the year;
  • Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, whose net worth increased from $25 billion in March 2020 to $164 billion in March 2021, up by $139 billion for the year; and
  • Bill Gates, formerly CEO of Microsoft and currently considered the “global vaccine czar,” whose net worth increased to $124 billion in March 2021, up by $26 billion for the year.

Two others are almost centi-billionaires:

  • The net worth of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, grew from $55 billion in March 2020 to $95 billion in March 2021, up by $40 billion for the year; and
  • The net worth of Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway grew from $68 billion in March 2020 to $95 billion in March 2021, up by $27.6 billion for the year.

These five individuals collectively added $300 billion to their net worth just in 2020. For perspective, that’s enough to create 300,000 millionaires, or to give $100,000 to 3 million people.

Philanthrocapitalism

The need to shield the multibillionaire class from taxes and to change their predatory corporate image has given rise to another form of capitalism, called philanthrocapitalism. Wealth is transferred to foundations or limited liability corporations that are designated as having charitable purposes but remain under the ownership and control of the donors, who can invest the funds in ways that serve their corporate interests. As noted in The Reporter Magazine of the Rochester Institute of Technology:

Essentially, what we are witnessing is the transfer of responsibility for public goods and services from democratic institutions to the wealthy, to be administered by an executive class. In the CEO society, the exercise of social responsibilities is no longer debated in terms of whether corporations should or shouldn’t be responsible for more than their own business interests. Instead, it is about how philanthropy can be used to reinforce a politico-economic system that enables such a small number of people to accumulate obscene amounts of wealth.

With $100 billion, nearly anything can be bought – not just land and resources but media and journalists, political influence and legislation, regulators, university research departments and laboratories. Jeff Bezos now owns The Washington Post. Bill Gates is not only the largest funder of the World Health Organization and the Imperial College London but the largest owner of agricultural land in the US.

And Elon Musk’s aerospace manufacturer SpaceX has effectively privatized the sky. Astronomers and stargazers complain that the thousands of satellites it has already launched, with many more in the works, are blocking their ability to see the stars.

Astronomy professor Samantha Lawler writes in a piece for The Conversation:

SpaceX has already received approval for 12,000 Starlink satellites and is seeking approval for 30,000 more. Other companies are not far behind […]

The point of the Starlink mega-constellation is to provide global internet access. It is often stated by Starlink supporters that this will provide internet access to places on the globe not currently served by other communication technologies. But currently available information shows the cost of access will be too high in nearly every location that needs internet access. Thus, Starlink will likely only provide an alternate for residents of wealthy countries who already have other ways of accessing the internet

[…] With tens of thousands of new satellites approved for launch, and no laws about orbit crowding, right-of-way or space cleanup, the stage is set for the disastrous possibility of Kessler Syndrome, a runaway cascade of debris that could destroy most satellites in orbit and prevent launches for decades…. Large corporations like SpaceX and Amazon will only respond to legislation — which is slow, especially for international legislation — and consumer pressure […] Our species has been stargazing for thousands of years, do we really want to lose access now for the profit of a few large corporations?

Public advocacy groups, such as the Cellular Phone Task Force,  have also objected due to health concerns over increased electromagnetic radiation. But the people have little say over public policy these days. So concluded a study summarized in a January 2021 article in Foreign Affairs. Princeton professor and study co-author Martin Gilens wrote:

[O]rdinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. … Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences … of economic elites and of organized interests.

Varoufakis calls our current economic scheme “postcapitalism” and “techno-feudalism.” As in the medieval feudal model, assets are owned by the few. He notes that the stock market and the businesses in it are essentially owned by three companies – the giant exchange-traded funds BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street. Under the highly controversial “Great Reset” envisioned by the World Economic Forum, “you will own nothing and be happy.” By implication, everything will be owned by the techno-feudal lords.

Getting Back on Track

The capitalist model has clearly gone off the rails. How to get it back on track? One obvious option is to tax the uber-rich. As Chuck Collins, author of The Wealth Hoarders: How Billionaires Pay Millions to Hide Trillions (2021), writes in a March 2021 article:

A wealth tax would reverse more than a half-​century of tax cuts for the wealthiest households. Billionaires have seen their taxes decline roughly 79 percent as a percentage of their wealth since 1980. The “effective rate” on the billionaire class—the actual percentage paid—was 23 percent in 2018, lower than for most middle-​income taxpayers.

He notes that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-​Mass.) and co-authors recently introduced legislation to levy a 2 percent annual tax on wealth starting at $50 million, rising to 3 percent on fortunes of more than $1 billion:

The tax, which would apply to fewer than 100,000 U.S. residents, would raise an estimated $3 trillion over the next decade. It would be paid entirely by multi-​millionaires and billionaires who have reaped the lion’s share of wealth gains over the last four decades, including during the pandemic.

Varoufakis contends, however, that taxing wealth won’t be enough. The corporate model itself needs an overhaul. To create a “humanist” capitalism, he says, democracy needs to be brought to the marketplace.

Politically, one adult gets one vote. But in corporate elections, votes are weighted according to financial investment: the largest investors hold the largest number of voting shares. Varoufakis argues that the proper principle for reconfiguring the ownership of corporations for a market-based society would be one employee, one share (not tradeable), one vote. On that basis, he says, we can imagine as an alternative to our post-capitalist model a market-based democratic society without capitalism.

Another proposed solution is a land value tax, restoring at least a portion of the land to the “commons.” As Michael Hudson has observed:

There is one Achilles heel in the globalists’ strategy, an option that remains open to governments. This option is a tax on the rental income – the “unearned income” – of land, natural resources and monopoly takings.

Reforming the banking system is another critical tool. Banks operated as a public utility could allocate credit for productive purposes serving the public interest. Other possibilities include enforcement of anti-monopoly legislation and patent law reform.Perhaps, however, the flaw is in the competitive capitalist model itself. The winners will inevitably capture and exploit the losers, creating an ever-growing gap in wealth and power. Studies of natural systems have shown that cooperative models are more efficient than competitive schemes. That does not mean the sort of “cooperation” coerced through iron-fisted totalitarian control at the top. We need a set of rules that actually levels the playing field, rewards productivity, and maximizes benefit to society as a whole, while preserving the individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

• This article was first posted on ScheerPost.

The post How America Went From Mom-and-Pop Capitalism to Techno-Feudalism first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Biden’s Appeasement of Hawks and Neocons is Crippling His Diplomacy

Biden with NATO’s Stoltenberg (Photo credit: haramjedder.blogspot.com)

President Biden took office promising a new era of American international leadership and diplomacy. But with a few exceptions, he has so far allowed self-serving foreign allies, hawkish U.S. interest groups and his own imperial delusions to undermine diplomacy and stoke the fires of war.

Biden’s failure to quickly recommit to the Iran nuclear deal, or JCPOA, as Senator Sanders promised to do on his first day as president, provided a critical delay that has been used by opponents to undermine the difficult shuttle diplomacy taking place in Vienna to restore the agreement.

The attempts to derail talks range from the introduction of the Maximum Pressure Act on April 21 to codify the Trump administration’s sanctions against Iran to Israel’s cyberattack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility. Biden’s procrastination has only strengthened the influence of the hawkish Washington foreign policy “blob,” Republicans and Democratic hawks in Congress and foreign allies like Netanyahu in Israel.

In Afghanistan, Biden has won praise for his decision to withdraw U.S. troops by September 11, but his refusal to abide by the May 1 deadline for withdrawal as negotiated under the Trump administration has led the Taliban to back out of the planned UN-led peace conference in Istanbul. A member of the Taliban military commission told the Daily Beast that “the U.S. has shattered the Taliban’s trust.”

Now active and retired Pentagon officials are regaling the New York Times with accounts of how they plan to prolong the U.S. war without “boots on the ground” after September, undoubtedly further infuriating the Taliban and making a ceasefire and peace talks all the more difficult.

In Ukraine, the government has launched a new offensive in its civil war against the ethnically Russian provinces in the eastern Donbass region, which declared unilateral independence after the U.S.-backed coup in 2014. On April 1, Ukraine’s military chief of staff said publicly that “the participation of NATO allies is envisaged” in the government offensive, prompting warnings from Moscow that Russia could intervene to protect Russians in Donbass.

Sticking to their usual tired script, U.S. and NATO officials are pretending that Russia is the aggressor for conducting military exercises and troop movements within its own borders in response to Kiev’s escalation. But even the BBC is challenging this false narrative, explaining that Russia is acting competently and effectively to deter an escalation of the Ukrainian offensive and U.S. and NATO threats. The U.S has turned around two U.S. guided-missile destroyers that were steaming toward the Black Sea, where they would only have been sitting ducks for Russia’s advanced missile defenses.

Tensions have escalated with China, as the U.S. Navy and Marines stalk Chinese ships in the South China Sea, well inside the island chains China uses for self defense. The Pentagon is hoping to drag NATO allies into participating in these operations, and the U.S. Air Force plans to shift more bombers to new bases in Asia and the Pacific, supported by existing larger bases in Guam, Japan, Australia and South Korea.

Meanwhile, despite a promising initial pause and policy review, Biden has decided to keep selling tens of billion dollars worth of weapons to authoritarian regimes in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Persian Gulf sheikdoms, even as they keep bombing and blockading famine-stricken Yemen. Biden’s unconditional support for the most brutal authoritarian dictators on Earth lays bare the bankruptcy of the Democrats’ attempts to frame America’s regurgitated Cold War on Russia and China as a struggle between “democracy” and “authoritarianism.”

In all these international crises (along with Cuba, Haiti, Iraq, North Korea, Palestine, Syria and Venezuela, which are bedevilled by the same U.S. unilateralism), President Biden and the hawks egging him on are pursuing unilateral policies that ignore solemn commitments in international agreements and treaties, riding roughshod over the good faith of America’s allies and negotiating partners.

As the Russian foreign ministry bluntly put it when it announced its countermeasures to the latest round of U.S. sanctions, “Washington is unwilling to accept that there is no room for unilateral dictates in the new geopolitical reality.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping echoed the same multipolar perspective on April 20th at the annual Boao Asian international business forum. “The destiny and future of the world should be decided by all nations, and rules set up just by one or several countries should not be imposed on others,” Xi said. “The whole world should not be led by unilateralism of individual countries.”

The near-universal failure of Biden’s diplomacy in his first months in office reflects how badly he and those who have his ear are failing to accurately read the limits of American power and predict the consequences of his unilateral decisions.

Unilateral, irresponsible decision-making has been endemic in U.S. foreign policy for decades, but America’s economic and military dominance created an international environment that was extraordinarily forgiving of American “mistakes,” even as they ruined the lives of millions of people in the countries directly affected. Now America no longer dominates the world, and it is critical for U.S. officials to more accurately assess the relative power and positions of the United States and the countries and people it is confronting or negotiating with.

Under Trump, Defense Secretary Mattis launched negotiations to persuade Vietnam to host U.S. missiles aimed at China. The negotiations went on for three years, but they were based entirely on wishful thinking and misreadings of Vietnam’s responses by U.S. officials and Rand Corp contractors. Experts agree that Vietnam would never violate a formal, declared policy of neutrality it has held and repeatedly reiterated since 1998.

As Gareth Porter summarized this silly saga:

The story of the Pentagon’s pursuit of Vietnam as a potential military partner against China reveals an extraordinary degree of self-deception surrounding the entire endeavor. And it adds further detail to the already well-established picture of a muddled and desperate bureaucracy seizing on any vehicle possible to enable it to claim that U.S. power in the Pacific can still prevail in a war with China.

Unlike Trump, Biden has been at the heart of American politics and foreign policy since the 1970s. So the degree to which he too is out of touch with today’s international reality is a measure of how much and how quickly that reality has changed and continues to change. But the habits of empire die hard. The tragic irony of Biden’s ascent to power in 2020 is that his lifetime of service to a triumphalist American empire has left him ill-equipped to craft a more constructive and cooperative brand of American diplomacy for today’s multipolar world

Amid the American triumphalism that followed the end of the Cold War, the neocons developed a simplistic ideology to persuade America’s leaders that they need no longer be constrained in their use of military power by domestic opposition, peer competitors or international law. They claimed that America had virtually unlimited military freedom of action and a responsibility to use it aggressively, because, as Biden parroted them recently, “the world doesn’t organize itself.”

The international violence and chaos Biden has inherited in 2021 is a measure of the failure of the neocons’ ambitions. But there is one place that they conquered, occupied and still rule to this day, and that is Washington D.C.

The dangerous disconnect at the heart of Biden’s foreign policy is the result of this dichotomy between the neocons’ conquest of Washington and their abject failure to conquer the rest of the world.

For most of Biden’s career, the politically safe path on foreign policy for corporate Democrats has been to talk a good game about human rights and diplomacy, but not to deviate too far from hawkish, neoconservative policies on war, military spending, and support for often repressive and corrupt allies throughout America’s neocolonial empire.

The tragedy of such compromises by Democratic Party leaders is that they perpetuate the suffering of millions of people affected by the real-world problems they fail to fix. But the Democrats’ subservience to simplistic neoconservative ideas also fails to satisfy the hawks they are trying to appease, who only smell more political blood in the water at every display of moral weakness by the Democrats.

In his first three months in office, Biden’s weakness in resisting the bullying of hawks and neocons has led him to betray the most significant diplomatic achievements of each of his predecessors, Obama and Trump, in the JCPOA with Iran and the May 1 withdrawal agreement with the Taliban respectively, while perpetuating the violence and chaos the neocons unleashed on the world.

For a president who promised a new era of American diplomacy, this has been a dreadful start. We hope he and his advisers are not too blinded by anachronistic imperial thinking or too intimidated by the neocons to make a fresh start and engage with the world as it actually exists in 2021.

The post Biden’s Appeasement of Hawks and Neocons is Crippling His Diplomacy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

China Aces Western Hypocrisy

There’s a new dawn evident: China is not putting up with what it sees as hypocritical Western interference in its sovereign affairs. Sanctions are being met with rapid counter-sanctions, and Chinese officials are vociferously pointing out Western double standards.

There was a time when the United States and its allies could browbeat others with condemnations. Not any more. China’s colossal global economic power and growing international influence has been a game-changer in the old Western practice of imperialist arrogance.

The shock came at the Alaska summit earlier this month between US top diplomat Antony Blinken and his Chinese counterparts. Blinken was expecting to lecture China over alleged human rights violations. Then Yang Jiechi, Beijing’s foreign policy chief, took Blinken to task over a range of past and current human rights issues afflicting the United States. Washington was left reeling from the lashes.

Western habits die hard, though. Following the fiasco in Alaska, the United States, Canada, Britain and the European Union coordinated sanctions on Chinese officials over provocative allegations of genocide against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang. Australia and New Zealand, which are part of the US-led Five Eyes intelligence network, also supported the raft of sanctions.

Again China caused shock when it quickly hit back with its own counter-sanctions against each of these Western states. The Americans and their allies were aghast that anyone would have the temerity to stand up to them.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau bemoaned: “China’s sanctions are an attack on transparency and freedom of expression – values at the heart of our democracy.”

Let’s unpack the contentions a bit. First of all, Western claims about genocide in China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang are dubious and smack of political grandstanding in order to give Washington and its allies a pretext to interfere in China’s internal affairs.

The latest Western sanctions are based on a report by a shady Washington-based think-tank Newlines Institute of Strategic Policy. Its report claiming “genocide” against the Uyghur Muslim ethnic minority in Xinjiang has the hallmarks of a propaganda screed, not remotely the work of independent scholarly research. Both China and independent journalists at the respected US-based Grayzone have dismissed the claims as fabrication and distortion.

For the United States and other Western governments to level sanctions against China citing the above “report” is highly provocative. It also betrays the real objective, which is to undermine Beijing. This is a top geopolitical priority for Washington. Under the Biden administration, Washington has relearned the value of “diplomacy” – that is the advantage of corralling allies into a hostile front, rather than Trump’s America First go-it-alone policy.

Granted, China does have problems with its Xinjiang region. As Australia’s premier think-tank Lowy Institute noted: “Ethnic unrest and terrorism in Xinjiang has been an ongoing concern for Chinese authorities for decades.”

Due to the two-decade-old US-led war in Afghanistan there has been a serious problem for the Chinese authorities from radicalization of the Uyghur population. Thousands of fighters from Xinjiang have trained with the Taliban in Afghanistan and have taken their “global jihad” to Syria and other Central Asian countries. It is their stated objective to return to Xinjiang and liberate it as a caliphate of East Turkestan separate from China.

Indeed, the American government has acknowledged previously that several Uyghur militants were detained at its notorious Guantanamo detention center.

The United States and its NATO and other allies, Australia and New Zealand, have all created the disaster that is Afghanistan. The war has scarred generations of Afghans and radicalized terrorist networks across the Middle East and Central Asia, which are a major concern for China’s security.

Beijing’s counterinsurgency policies have succeeded in tamping down extremism among its Uyghur people. The population has grown to around 12 million, nearly half the region’s total. This and general economic advances are cited by Beijing as evidence refuting Western claims of “genocide”. China says it runs vocational training centers and not “concentration camps”, as Western governments maintain. Beijing has reportedly agreed to an open visit by United Nations officials to verify conditions.

Western hypocrisy towards China is astounding. Its claims about China committing genocide and forced labor are projections of its own past and current violations against indigenous people and ethnic minorities. The United States, Britain, Canada, Australia have vile histories stained from colonialist extermination and slavery.

But specifically with regard to the Uyghur, the Western duplicity is awesome. The mass killing, torture and destruction meted out in Afghanistan by Western troops have fueled the radicalization in China’s Xinjiang, which borders Afghanistan. The Americans, British and Australians in particular have huge blood on their hands.

An official report into unlawful killings by Australian special forces found that dozens of Afghan civilians, including children, were murdered in cold blood. When China’s foreign ministry highlighted the killings, the Australian premier Scott Morrison recoiled to decry Beijing’s remarks as “offensive” and “repugnant”. Morrison demanded China issue an apology for daring to point out the war crimes committed in Afghanistan by Australian troops.

It is absurd and ironic that Western states which destroyed Afghanistan with war crimes and crimes against humanity have the brass neck to censure China over non-existent crimes in its own region of Xinjiang. And especially regarding China’s internal affairs with its Uyghur people, some of whom have been radicalized by terrorism stemming from Western mass-murder in Afghanistan.

China is, however, not letting this Western hypocrisy pass. Beijing is hitting back to point out who the real culprits are. Its vast global economic power and increasing trade partnerships with over 100 nations through the Belt and Road Initiative all combine to give China’s words a tour de force that the Western states cannot handle. Hence, they are falling over in shock when China hits back.

The United States thinks it can line up a coalition of nations against China.

But Europe, Britain, Canada and Australia – all of whom depend on China’s growth and goodwill – can expect to pay a heavy price for being Uncle Sam’s lapdogs.

• First published in Sputnik

The post China Aces Western Hypocrisy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Will Drones Really Protect Us?

I’m seated in the police Zoom briefing with other council representatives for my small seaside town in England. Our Chief Inspector is telling us about the crisis we have with soaring heroin addiction in the town. The recent surge is contributing to a general increase in crime. The next section of the briefing is about the future use of police surveillance drones, and how they could become useful in combating crime.

A few months ago, Nigel Farage, a far-right politician, arrived in my town to film himself on our tourist beaches; aiming to drum up hate and hostility toward migrants and refugees arriving in the UK on precarious inflatables, having just traversed the channel of water between England and France. Farage complains that the new arrivals are taking up hotel spaces, he triggers the public by saying it’s all coming out of the public purse, we can’t afford to look after our own citizens let alone refugees, and that these people will one day take their homes and jobs. The Home Office considers proposals to use water cannons on the migrant sea crossers, while Home Secretary, Priti Patel suggests the transportation of migrants and refugees to Ascension Island in the South Pacific, harking back to the 18th century, when Britain deported convicts to the penal colony of Australia.

The British Army Watchkeeper drone has been commissioned to help with surveillance of people crossing the Channel. The Watchkeeper was initially developed when the British military requested £1 billion to develop a military drone. An Israeli arms company, Elbit Systems, was awarded the contract to design and develop the drone. When completed in 2014, it was transported to Afghanistan for ‘field testing’.

Was a ‘field testing’ in Afghanistan part of the tragic mistake made when a U.S. weaponized drone killed my friend Raz Mohammed’s brother-in-law and five of his friends? The young men were enjoying an early evening gathering in their orchard in Wardak province Afghanistan. All the men were unarmed, none of them were involved with the Taliban. Their instant deaths were the result of a ‘signature strike’ – a targeted killing based on racial profiling, the men ‘fitted’ the demographic of the Taliban – they were wearing Pashtoon clothing, in a Pashtoon village, men of fighting age – that was enough to get them killed.

Our local Chief Inspector finishes talking about police surveillance drones. At present, in my area of  Sussex, they are mainly using surveillance drones for traffic and ‘operations’, though elsewhere in the UK they have so far been used to survey a Black Lives Matter protest and another at an immigration centre.

Knowing how I would come across to others in the Zoom room, I decided to take the risk of sounding like a ‘conspiracy loon’ and plunged in – I highlighted the military method of ‘racial profiling’ during surveillance and targeted assassinations, how the US police have started using drones armed with non-lethal weapons (tasers, pepper spray, rubber bullets) against their own civilians, often anti-war, environmental and anti-racist protestors. The chief inspector was a little taken aback but quickly started to respond that British police were not like the military or the US police, that drones are really useful for helping lost people on mountain tops, and that having a drone operator walking around town, while flying a surveillance drone, would be great for community engagement.

I suddenly recollect a fight which broke out in our town centre and wonder how a drone would have helped. Some sort of argument had arisen amongst the ‘street community’, a mixture of people who gravitate on the street to drink, to buy or take heroin and crack, or wait for their methadone subscription from the local rehab centre based above an arcade of shops which shadows the street community and the raucous outbreak. Shoppers walked past, some looking at the commotion, others head down, not wanting to inadvertently get dragged into a drug fueled hullabaloo. A young woman, weathered skin, tattered clothing, decaying teeth, aged beyond her years screams obscenities at another member of the community. Her gaunt face reminded me of people I’ve seen in Kabul who have become addicted to heroin, the people who live under a bridge, huddled in small groups, heads under a scarf as they cook up opium on a spoon. Their eyes are distant – friends and family say they are gone.

Heroin addiction in impoverished British towns has soared in the last 10 years. At the crime briefings I attend as a Councillor, no one ever talks about where this cheap high-quality opium has flooded in from, the root cause probably considered ‘too political’. But in reality, heroin supply to Britain has careened in the last decade, namely due to the ‘solar revolution’ in Afghanistan. This has enabled farmers to use electricity generated from solar panels to pump untapped water from 100 meters under the desert. Now, where there was once an arid dust belt, there are now fields of thriving poppy, punches of colour lighting up the desert, too much of a lucrative cash crop for Afghan farmers to pass up.

Many of the newly blooming fields are in Helmand, the Afghan province where Britain was assigned to fight the Taliban. Britain was also delegated, at the 2001 International Bonn Conference on Afghanistan, the responsibility of counter narcotics in Afghanistan. Considering Afghanistan was the first country in the world where weaponized drones were used – the 2001 unsuccessful assassination of Osama Bin Laden – and thereafter used as a “playground for foreign nations to kill Afghans like a video game” — as one of my young Afghan friends once described to me; it’s highly unlikely British Intelligence Agencies were unaware of the newly blossoming industry, much of which is growing in Helmand, a ‘hotspot’ for drone strikes and aerial surveillance. Today Afghanistan produces 90% of the world’s heroin, 3% of the Afghan population are addicts, and production of the crop has more than doubled, from 3,700 tonnes in 2012, to 9,000 tonnes in 2017.

And so, in my home town, deprivation, crime, conflict and all the ills associated deepen. Drones are sent in to ‘solve’ the problem. To date, at least 40 UK police forces  have either purchased a drone or have access to using one. In the area of Sussex and Surrey, there are 23 drones and, according to a recent Freedom of Information, they were used 108 times between January- June 2020.

Afghans are amongst the refugees washed up upon our beaches in flimsy dinghies, their channel crossing overseen by the very same Watchkeeper drone used to exacerbate war which drove them from their homeland. The most vulnerable in our society, from Britain to Afghanistan, are seized by the scourge of heroin and the conflagration of violence caused by war. The vaunted “eyes in the skies,” the surveillance drones, won’t help us understand these realities. The proliferation of weaponized drones will unleash more misery.

Momentum for campaigns to ban land mines, cluster bombs and nuclear weapons began with grassroots efforts to tell the truth about militarism and war. I hope a surveillance drone will get the message painted on large banners we’ve held, standing along our seacoast, proclaiming a welcome for refugees and a longing for peace.

The post Will Drones Really Protect Us? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Will Drones Really Protect Us?

I’m seated in the police Zoom briefing with other council representatives for my small seaside town in England. Our Chief Inspector is telling us about the crisis we have with soaring heroin addiction in the town. The recent surge is contributing to a general increase in crime. The next section of the briefing is about the future use of police surveillance drones, and how they could become useful in combating crime.

A few months ago, Nigel Farage, a far-right politician, arrived in my town to film himself on our tourist beaches; aiming to drum up hate and hostility toward migrants and refugees arriving in the UK on precarious inflatables, having just traversed the channel of water between England and France. Farage complains that the new arrivals are taking up hotel spaces, he triggers the public by saying it’s all coming out of the public purse, we can’t afford to look after our own citizens let alone refugees, and that these people will one day take their homes and jobs. The Home Office considers proposals to use water cannons on the migrant sea crossers, while Home Secretary, Priti Patel suggests the transportation of migrants and refugees to Ascension Island in the South Pacific, harking back to the 18th century, when Britain deported convicts to the penal colony of Australia.

The British Army Watchkeeper drone has been commissioned to help with surveillance of people crossing the Channel. The Watchkeeper was initially developed when the British military requested £1 billion to develop a military drone. An Israeli arms company, Elbit Systems, was awarded the contract to design and develop the drone. When completed in 2014, it was transported to Afghanistan for ‘field testing’.

Was a ‘field testing’ in Afghanistan part of the tragic mistake made when a U.S. weaponized drone killed my friend Raz Mohammed’s brother-in-law and five of his friends? The young men were enjoying an early evening gathering in their orchard in Wardak province Afghanistan. All the men were unarmed, none of them were involved with the Taliban. Their instant deaths were the result of a ‘signature strike’ – a targeted killing based on racial profiling, the men ‘fitted’ the demographic of the Taliban – they were wearing Pashtoon clothing, in a Pashtoon village, men of fighting age – that was enough to get them killed.

Our local Chief Inspector finishes talking about police surveillance drones. At present, in my area of  Sussex, they are mainly using surveillance drones for traffic and ‘operations’, though elsewhere in the UK they have so far been used to survey a Black Lives Matter protest and another at an immigration centre.

Knowing how I would come across to others in the Zoom room, I decided to take the risk of sounding like a ‘conspiracy loon’ and plunged in – I highlighted the military method of ‘racial profiling’ during surveillance and targeted assassinations, how the US police have started using drones armed with non-lethal weapons (tasers, pepper spray, rubber bullets) against their own civilians, often anti-war, environmental and anti-racist protestors. The chief inspector was a little taken aback but quickly started to respond that British police were not like the military or the US police, that drones are really useful for helping lost people on mountain tops, and that having a drone operator walking around town, while flying a surveillance drone, would be great for community engagement.

I suddenly recollect a fight which broke out in our town centre and wonder how a drone would have helped. Some sort of argument had arisen amongst the ‘street community’, a mixture of people who gravitate on the street to drink, to buy or take heroin and crack, or wait for their methadone subscription from the local rehab centre based above an arcade of shops which shadows the street community and the raucous outbreak. Shoppers walked past, some looking at the commotion, others head down, not wanting to inadvertently get dragged into a drug fueled hullabaloo. A young woman, weathered skin, tattered clothing, decaying teeth, aged beyond her years screams obscenities at another member of the community. Her gaunt face reminded me of people I’ve seen in Kabul who have become addicted to heroin, the people who live under a bridge, huddled in small groups, heads under a scarf as they cook up opium on a spoon. Their eyes are distant – friends and family say they are gone.

Heroin addiction in impoverished British towns has soared in the last 10 years. At the crime briefings I attend as a Councillor, no one ever talks about where this cheap high-quality opium has flooded in from, the root cause probably considered ‘too political’. But in reality, heroin supply to Britain has careened in the last decade, namely due to the ‘solar revolution’ in Afghanistan. This has enabled farmers to use electricity generated from solar panels to pump untapped water from 100 meters under the desert. Now, where there was once an arid dust belt, there are now fields of thriving poppy, punches of colour lighting up the desert, too much of a lucrative cash crop for Afghan farmers to pass up.

Many of the newly blooming fields are in Helmand, the Afghan province where Britain was assigned to fight the Taliban. Britain was also delegated, at the 2001 International Bonn Conference on Afghanistan, the responsibility of counter narcotics in Afghanistan. Considering Afghanistan was the first country in the world where weaponized drones were used – the 2001 unsuccessful assassination of Osama Bin Laden – and thereafter used as a “playground for foreign nations to kill Afghans like a video game” — as one of my young Afghan friends once described to me; it’s highly unlikely British Intelligence Agencies were unaware of the newly blossoming industry, much of which is growing in Helmand, a ‘hotspot’ for drone strikes and aerial surveillance. Today Afghanistan produces 90% of the world’s heroin, 3% of the Afghan population are addicts, and production of the crop has more than doubled, from 3,700 tonnes in 2012, to 9,000 tonnes in 2017.

And so, in my home town, deprivation, crime, conflict and all the ills associated deepen. Drones are sent in to ‘solve’ the problem. To date, at least 40 UK police forces  have either purchased a drone or have access to using one. In the area of Sussex and Surrey, there are 23 drones and, according to a recent Freedom of Information, they were used 108 times between January- June 2020.

Afghans are amongst the refugees washed up upon our beaches in flimsy dinghies, their channel crossing overseen by the very same Watchkeeper drone used to exacerbate war which drove them from their homeland. The most vulnerable in our society, from Britain to Afghanistan, are seized by the scourge of heroin and the conflagration of violence caused by war. The vaunted “eyes in the skies,” the surveillance drones, won’t help us understand these realities. The proliferation of weaponized drones will unleash more misery.

Momentum for campaigns to ban land mines, cluster bombs and nuclear weapons began with grassroots efforts to tell the truth about militarism and war. I hope a surveillance drone will get the message painted on large banners we’ve held, standing along our seacoast, proclaiming a welcome for refugees and a longing for peace.

The post Will Drones Really Protect Us? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Why Middle-Class Left Liberals Should Dump the Democratic Party: Finding Common Ground with Socialists

Many of you in the middle class are opposed to socialism. You still think there is some chance for you under capitalism and you fear that the socialists will take what little you have and divide it among the shiftless and thriftless. You need not have the slightest fear. The socialist has no use for your small capital; it would do (them) not the least good. (They are) after the earth, the trusts, and the machinery of production. Besides, soon you will have nothing to divide. When the big capitalists get through with you, you will be ready for us. You may not be ready yet, but you are ripening very rapidly. When you have been stripped of what you have, when you have become proletarians, when you have become expropriated, you will be ready to join us in expropriating the expropriators.

— Speech by Eugene Debs over 100 years ago in Chicago about the middle-class fear of socialism

Orientation

Almost five years ago I wrote an article in Counterpunch: “Lost at Sea: Left Liberals Have No Party.” In that article I challenged the blithe interchangeability of the words “liberal” and “democrat”. I tracked eight historical changes of liberalism from left-liberal, to centrist-liberal to right-center liberals (neoliberals). I also argued that the words liberal and democracy are used interchangeably by liberals, even though it wasn’t until the 20th century that liberals were clearly for democracy (translated as universal suffrage for white males).

The problem with my article as I see it today is that I lumped upper middle-class left liberals with middle-class liberals. Two years later I wrote another article called “The Greater of Two Evils: Why the Democratic Party is worse than the Republican Party for 85% of the U.S. Population.” In that article, I outlined how, since the 2008 crash, the social classes whose wealth grew were the ruling class, the upper-class and the upper-middle-class, constituting about 15% of all social classes. Everyone else was doing worse, including the middle-class.

In my first article I slurred the differences between the upper-middle-class and the middle-class, advocating for both classes to get out of the Democratic Party. I have since come to see (as I will get into later) that the upper-middle-class has done very well under the umbrella of the Democrats and it is not in their material interests to leave. This is no longer true of the middle-class. Historically, the material interests of the middle-class and the upper-middle-class has more in common with each other than the working-class. In other words, the difference between news anchors, lawyers, senior managers on the one hand and high school teachers, librarians and supervisors on the other hand are more differences of degree than kind. After all, they all did mental work, as opposed to the physical work of the working-class. However, in the last 50 years middle-class life has gotten far worse than the life of the upper middle-class. It has gotten bad enough to be able to say it is closer to the working-class. Whether they realize it or not, for middle-class left liberals, the Democratic Party has left the building 40 years ago.

My claim in this article is that:

  1. Middle-class FDR liberals need to leave the democrats and be part of building a new party
  2. Middle-class left liberals need to form alliances with the working-class and the poor, not the upper middle-class
  3. The new party should advocate for socialism

What follows is why this should be so.

Difference Between FDR Liberals and Neoliberals

Left liberal values

Left liberals are broadly for the following. They are pro-science as well as for investing in scientific research and development as well as investing in infrastructure. They are for the separation of church and state as well as for the use of reason in problem-solving, such as raising children through what is called “authoritative parenting”. They support the matriarchal state: universal health care, unemployment, pensions, food stamps and a minimum wage automatically raised to keep up with inflation. They expect the state to intervene in the economy to soften the hard edges of capitalism, following a Keynesian economic policy. They are committed to gradual change and a lessening of race and gender stratification. Left liberals support an expansion of unions. This left liberalism has been present in the United States for roughly 40 years, from the mid-1930s to the mid-1970s.  Since then, Democratic Party has slid further and further right to the point that their platform today is a center-right neoliberal party which embodies none of these values. The problem is the collective denial left liberals have in ignoring this fact.

Right-wing neoliberal values

Neoliberals are directly opposed to the matriarchal state. They support the economic policies of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Von Hayek with minimum state involvement in the economy.  Neoliberals have withdrawn funding from long-term science programs. They have presided over the rise of New Age thinking initiated by Marilyn Ferguson’s book The Aquarian Conspiracy. Neoliberals have become extreme relativists championing the rise of identity politics which began in the early 1970s. Neoliberals have lost hope and have failed to bring the principles of the Enlightenment forward. They have abandoned investment in profits made on manufacturing and instead make their profits on the defense industry, arming the entire world. Under their rein most of the remaining profit is invested in finance capital.

Neoliberals have presided over the destruction of unions over last fifty years.  They have stood by and watched the full-time, well paid secure working-class jobs disappear.  Work hours under neoliberalism have gone from 40 hours per week to at least 50 hours per week for those lucky enough to be employed full-time. In general, the standard of living has declined in the US so that the next generation can expect to make less than their parents. It’s no accident that credit cards became available to the working-class in the early 1970s, so workers didn’t have to directly face the fact that their standard of living had declined. The civil rights movement spoke to what minorities had in common with organized labor, which was low-cost housing and fair wages. Today we have individualist identity politics where being recognized for your identity along with using politically correct language is all that is asked for. In the 1960s, community college was free. In the last 50 years the cost of college education is so high that student debt appears to be debt for life.

Neoliberals have supported the explosion of the prison-industrial complex which has expanded many times over since the 60s despite the rate of crime going down. The police departments have been equipped with military weapons that make the equipment of police prior to the 1970s pale in comparison. They have presided over the growth of the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical companies which now have control over our physical and mental health. The official diagnostic manual was 50 pages in 1950. Today the same manual is well over 1000 pages. Today upper-middle-class parents are no longer authoritative but instead are practicing a form of “permissive parenting”, which easily results in spoiled, narcissistic children, with helicopter parents fretting endlessly over their little darling’s self-esteem. Please see Table A for a comparison.

Differences Between Middle Class and Upper Middle Class

Not everyone is middle-class

In the United States, most people think of themselves as middle-class. Last time I checked 80% of the working-class mistakenly thought they were middle-class. Why? Because in Yankeedom, it’s an embarrassment to be working-class. So too, upper-middle-class people, nervous about being seen as well-to-do, play down their wealth. Nevertheless, there are real parameters around what it means to be middle-class, as I’ll get to. But first the social class composition.

Social class composition

Based on the work of William Domhoff, in his books Who Rules America and The Powers That Be, the ruling-class and the upper-class together compose about 5% of the population. They live off stocks and bonds and don’t have to work. Their investments are principally in oil, mining, the military and banking. They have been characterized as “old money” and are mostly Republicans.

The upper-middle-class is about 10% of the population. They make most of their money off scientific innovations like computers, internet and electronics. They are called “new money” and are mostly Democrats. Upper-middle-class people are also doctors, lawyers, architects, senior managers, scientists and engineers, as well as media professionals such as news commentators, magazine and newspaper editors, college administrators and religious authorities.

The middle-class consists of about 25% of the population. Occupational examples include high school and grammar school teachers, registered nurses, librarians, corporate middle managers, self-employed artisans and tiny little mom-and-pop operations. The middle-class is at the bottom rung of the Democratic Party not well-represented at all.

The working-class is about 40% of the population and consists of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers. The skilled working-class include carpenters, welders and electricians, wait-staff and store clerks who are likely to vote Democrat. Their interests are not represented by the Democratic Party either. The semi-skilled are bus drivers or train operators and along with unskilled are less likely to vote. The last 10% consist of what Marx called the “lumpenproletariat” who live by their wits as prostitutes, hustlers, gamblers or those on welfare. These folks are not likely to vote either.

Income is not the most important determinant of social class: the nine dimensions of social class

When most Yankees try to understand social class, the first thing they think of is how much income a person has. But this is only one of the nine dimensions of social class, and not the most important one. Most of these dimensions are covered in the work of Marxist Erik Olin Wright as well as some of the followers of Max Weber. The first dimension of social class is technical, and this consists of three parts: a) the proportion of mental and physical work the job requires; b) the amount of independence or interdependence the kind of work involves; and c) the proportion of the work that is mechanical rote work versus creativity. So typically, a good upper-middle-class job will involve mental work, be independent from others and involve creativity. At the other end of the spectrum is unskilled working-class labor which predominantly involves physical labor and working with other people, while the work itself is repetitive. Other social classes have various combinations in between.

The second dimension of social class is political and economic authority relations. This consists of two sub-categories. The first is the degree of power the person has over resources, tools, goods and services. A capitalist has control over all these things. Workers usually have control over none of them, except that skilled workers might own their own tools. The second sub-category has to do with the proportion of order-giving and order-taking involved. The owner of a company gives orders and takes no orders. His workers take orders and don’t give orders. Middle-class people in corporations may give orders to workers but must take orders from senior management. This category is simply – who gets to boss around who and under what conditions.

The third dimension of social class is mobility. How easy is it to move up or down the class hierarchy both within one’s lifetime or across generations? The fourth dimension of social class is resources. Most people think of resources in terms of income. But wealth also includes assets such as inheritance, real estate, stocks, bonds and property. Sometimes upper-class people may work only part time, but it would be deceptive to make sense of their class position by some part-time job when they have an inheritance.

The fifth dimension of social class is education. This consists of the number of years of school completed as well as the quality of the school attended. The sixth dimension of social class is status. This is the degree of prestige in which one’s occupation is held by others. One reason why income is unstable as an indicator of social class is that some workers can make a good deal of money, such as unionized garbage collectors, but have low status. Conversely, an adjunct college instructor can have high status among the Yankee population but make significantly less money than a garbage collector.

The seventh dimension of social class is lifestyle and consumption patterns. This has four sub-categories. The first is health – birth and death rates. As many of you know, working-class people die on average seven years younger than people in the middle and upper-middle-classes. The second sub-category is how people dress, their speech patterns, body mannerisms and manners. The third sub-category is their recreational habits – whether they ski, play baseball or go bowling. The last sub-category is their religious beliefs. Religions are class divided. In the case of the protestants, there are the Unitarians, Episcopalians and Presbyterians near the top and Baptists and fundamentalists at the bottom.

The eighth dimensions of social class is the degree of awareness people have of their social class. Generally, the upper class and the ruling class are extremely class conscious and are very fussy about who is allowed into their circles. The upper-middle-class and the middle-class tend to be less class conscious. In countries other than the United States, the working-class is very class conscious. But here in Yankeedom, workers see themselves as “temporarily indisposed millionaires”. The last social dimension of class is the ability to take collective action. Capitalists at the end of World War II and soon thereafter organized a big campaign to win back the allegiance of workers. The ruling class has exclusive clubs in which they organize class strategy. The World Economic Forum and the Bilderberg group are examples. At the other end of the spectrum, when workers join unions or strike, they are showing class consciousness. No social class fits neatly into each dimension. There are what Wright calls “contradictory class locations” where a person is caught between two classes either between generations or within their lifetime.

Why does class count?

Why have I gone over the dimensions of social class in such detail? One reason is to show that upper middle-class people and middle-class people are not interchangeable. They vary in the technical division of labor, authority relations, class mobility, resources, education, status, lifestyle, degree of class consciousness and their willingness to take collective action. They also differ in their attitudes towards the meaning of work, as well as in their attitudes towards time and eating habits. If we want to suggest that the middle-class should break its alliance with the upper middle-class and get out of the Democratic Party, we have to expand and deepen their differences as I am starting to demonstrate.

Summary: two reasons why middle-class left liberal should get out the Democratic Party

Summarizing, the first thing we needed to do is to establish that the Democratic Party is a center-right neoliberal party which has next to nothing to do with being left-liberal. This is reason A to get out of the Democratic Party. The second reason is that the Democratic Party serves the interests of the upper-middle-class not the middle-class. The most obvious indicator of why the middle-class should no longer align themselves with the upper-middle-class is to understand what has happened since the crash of 2008. Both Thomas Piketty and Richard Wolff argue that the “economic recovery” was very class specific. The rulers, the upper class and the upper middle-class have done considerably better in that “recovery”. All other social classes, including the middle-class, have done worse. The middle-class, economically and in other dimensions, is far closer to the working-class than it has ever been. Reason B to get out of the Democratic Party.

But can these two classes really get along? There is a built-in tension and discomfort about doing mental work and physical work; there are differences in the degree of status in the two classes’ occupations.  If we want to move middle-class people and working-class people closer together, we have to understand their commonalities and where the tension points are in their differences.

Similarities and Differences Between Middle Class and Working Class People

Similarities

The biggest similarity between the two classes is a decline in the standard of living. This includes income, work stability, increase in hours worked and lack of benefits. Another commonality is sports. Working-class people and middle-class people can unite around being fans of baseball, football and basketball professional teams. In terms of music, rock or country rock might bring these two classes together. Another commonality is that both classes have what sociologists have defined as achieved status. Unlike the upper classes, they usually do not come into life with an inheritance. Lastly, both classes see hard work as a virtue.

Differences

One of the major differences between these two classes is that middle-class people make their living primarily by doing mental and/or supervisory work. Working-class people make their living primarily with their hands and their bodies. A second major obstacle to overcome is that middle-class jobs usually have higher status. The third difference is that middle-class people often give orders to working-class people, but the reverse is not the case. This can lead to jealousy and resentment among working-class people. Middle-class people are very individualistic and not likely to organize as a class. There is likely to be tension between the classes when the working-class agitates to start a union or take strike action. There are also differences between the classes around the meaning of work. For working-class people, the meaning of work is less important than the money and material benefits. Some middle-class people might trade off a higher paying job for work that seems socially redeeming to them.

In terms of resources middle-class people today are likely to own their own home and have stocks and bonds. Working-class people’s assets are usually a car and possibly a home. Mostly they do not own stocks. Whatever savings account they have, that is it. There are also differences in their health conditions. Working-class people are likely to have eating, drinking and smoking problems and middle-class people are healthier. Working-class people are more likely to go to gambling casinos and play the lottery. Middle-class people see that as a waste of time and money.

Another tension point is education. Usually, middle-class people will have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, while working-class people will have no degree or an associate degree at best. Middle-class people will dress, speak and have manners that will be different from the working-class, and this will produce class tensions. Middle-class and working-class people will attend different religious denominations. Working-class religious services invite submission, confessions of being a sinner as well as altered states of consciousness like speaking in tongues, singing and dancing in the church aisles. In middle-class religions, there is less pressure to make you feel like you are a sinner. At the same time, sermons are designed to appeal to what is reasonable rather than to force you to have a revelatory experience which alters one’s state of consciousness.

Middle Class People Meet Socialists

Surely you are kidding

Let’s suppose middle-class left liberals have enough doubts about the Democratic Party because they are no longer New Deal liberals, and they’re starting to see that the party no longer looks out for middle-class interests. Let’s assume that economic, political and ecological disasters will continue to plague capitalism, and somehow a third party – a mass party – has emerged founded on socialism and is getting up a head of steam. This party has some working-class support as well as some union support. What would it take for middle-class left liberals to join?

Fears Middle-class Liberals Have About Socialists

Dictatorship and one-party rule

In its propaganda war with socialism, capitalists inevitably point out some of what it perceives to be the dictatorial tendencies of communism – in Russia, China and Cuba – as the archetypal example of socialism. What it does not do is study the conditions under which one-party rule occurred and what the authorities were up against. I am not going to get into pros and cons of this here because this kind of socialism – whether Stalinist or Maoist – is only one type of socialism. There are six types of socialism. Starting from the right and moving leftward there are social democrats and then three kinds of Leninists – Maoists, Stalinists and Trotskyists. Continuing leftward, there are left communists or council communists and the anarchists. In my efforts to convince middle-class liberals of the feasibility of socialism I will address as much as I can what most or all of these types are in agreement on. For now, let’s just say that dictatorial rule is not a foundational principle of socialism, even for the Stalinist and Maoist parties that have been called dictatorial by capitalists.

Furthermore, I think it is ludicrous for members of the Democratic Party to complain about the one-party rule of socialists when in Yankeedom there are only two parties. The Democratic Party is hardly democratic when it only serves the interests of the about 10% of the population (Republicans serve the ruling and upper classes) and leaves over 85% with no representation at all. The party I call the “Republicrats”, representing 15% of the population, is one party, the party of capital.

Confusion of personal property with social property

We socialists have a running joke on our Facebook posts, mostly in reaction to over-the-top conservatives who think we want to abolish personal property. We say “yes indeed, we are coming for your tooth brush.” That perceived threat is accompanied by imagining that socialists are all having group sex. But seriously, when we socialists say we want to abolish private property we only mean social property. We want to abolish capitalist control over water, food, energy systems, tools, all the necessities that people need to live. We don’t believe resources that everyone needs in order to live should be privately owned. On the other hand, personal property will remain with the individual as it would under capitalism.

Discouragement of innovation

Capitalism has a very shallow and narrow understanding of human nature. Capitalists imagine that people are lazy at heart and unless the carrot is held in front of people – the prospect of being a millionaire – they will do nothing. Further, they look at the types of “leisure” activities a working-class person enjoys after another 50-hour work week and take those as representing what human nature is really like. For example, on Friday night the worker wants to play cards. On Saturday he watches a ball game and have a few beers and on Sunday he sleeps in. For the capitalist this is lazy. What the capitalist thinks is that if workers did not have to work, then playing cards, watching football, drinking, getting laid and sleeping is all he would ever do. What the capitalist doesn’t understand is that the entire weekend is not leisure at all. Its recovery from the week and preparation for the new week.

Under conditions of socialist work, alienation would be minor – and I am being conservative here. The natural collective creativity on the job will arise. People will work less, perhaps 30 hours a week at first. Because workers will control the workplaces as well as decide what to produce, how to produce it, how much they should work and how they will be compensated, work will be a joy, not a curse as under capitalism. There will be plenty of room for innovation, in fact, much more than under capitalism where most workers are imprisoned in wage labor and told not to be curious and not have their own ideas about how things should be run.

All this collective creativity gives the lie to the ridiculous capitalist notion that people want socialism because they want “free stuff” with no contribution. All socialist plans have a budget and decisions have to be made about what and how the budget will be spent. No one will “get out of working”. What the capitalist cannot imagine is that under socialism people will want to work. The idea of not working would be painful – not liberating.

Equality of poverty

In its heyday, between the 1930s and the 1970s, the Swedish Social Democratic Labor Party was a socialist society which produced great material wealth. The socialist countries that have been showcased by capitalists as poor – the Soviet Union, China and Cuba – were only poor during certain times of their existence. What capitalists fail to inform us of is that before the socialist revolutions, as Michael Parenti points out, those countries were even more poor. What material wealth does exist in capitalist societies has taken hundreds of years to build up. In China today, absolute poverty was eradicated within 40 years.

There will be far more innovation than existed under capitalism because under socialism the workplaces will be controlled by the workers and workers’ activities will be guided by an overall plan. To cite one instance, before Yugoslavia was destroyed by capitalists, Yugoslavian productivity under worker self-management was higher than in any capitalist country. The same was true during the Spanish Revolution under worker self-management in both industry and in agriculture.

People are naturally greedy

Cross-cultural research on happiness has found that there is a direct correlation between money and happiness when people move from poverty to a middle-class life. However, the movement from middle-class to upper-middle-class and beyond is no longer correlated to happiness. In other words, people who are upper class or upper-middle-class are not any more likely to be happy than are middle-class people. This gives the lie to the capitalist notion that people are greedy and that everyone secretly wants to be a millionaire. What is more likely is that people want to be middle-class. They want basics in material security. After that they want other things; creativity on the job, to be able to contribute to society and to be recognized for their work, to mention only a few things.

Socialists will want to abolish religion

I admit that the state socialist attempt to decree the abolition of religion was a big mistake. I also think that doing so was contrary to the principles of materialism Marxists aspire to. While I stand firm in the ontological belief that there are no gods or god, at the same time I understand the degree to which people wish to hold on to religion as an expression of their alienation of social life. As generations pass and prosperous ways of life become normalized, I predict three things will happen. First, more people will become atheists. Secondly, those who continue to believe in religion will notice that the nature of the gods, or god, will change. The gods or god will blend more with the nature we know because social life will be more likely to begin to resemble heaven on earth. Third, the fundamentalist religions that plague many working-class people will disappear because the working-class will no longer consider themselves sinners or need fire and brimstone to make things right.   

Commonalities Between Middle-Class Left Liberals and Socialists

Need for a mass party

We socialists think you’ll agree with us that we badly need a mass party that can speak to the needs of the 25% of us who are middle-class and the 40% percent of us who are working-class. This party will develop a program and a step-by-step plan for implementation of the plan over the next 5, 10 and 15 years. It will be a dues-paying party and we will implement methods for getting input into what the plan will be. The issues will be prioritized, and everyone will have a say in carrying out the plan. Once the plan is set, people will be able to sign up for tasks they agree to carry out over the course of weeks and months. In addition to a thirty-hour work week, approximately five hours per week will be devoted to this “political” work.

Massive support for Unions

We socialists know that you left liberals have supported unions from the 1930s to the early 1970s. However, we also know that it was under liberal presidents that the best organizers of unions, the communists and the socialists, were drummed out of unions in the 1950s. This limited the vision of unions as they turned into “business unions”. We also think you should be very upset with the neoliberals in the Democratic Party who have not supported unions for the last 50 years, causing union representation in Yankeedom to be now less than 10%. We hold neoliberals directly responsible for the fact that wages, working conditions and job security are pretty much last in the industrial capitalist societies. The vision of unions needs to be built back up to the ways of the Industrial Workers of the World who saw unions as workshops for how to run a society, not merely a way to sustain and improve everyday working conditions.

Society can be engineered

Like you, we socialists agree with the great project of the Enlightenment that a better society can be engineered by its members. Unlike conservatives, we do not accept that social organizations should be ruled by kings, aristocrats, priests or any traditional authorities. Neither do we think society is some kind of reform school in preparation for the next life. We also don’t think society is best governed by the automatic preservation of traditional institutions that have been here the longest. Like you, we agree in the notion of progress.

The value of science and technology in producing a society of abundance

Like you we are very disappointed and angry that capitalists have chosen to invest their profits in warfare and in finance capital rather than in scientific research that could make our lives better. We also think you should blame the neoliberals for allowing this to happen over the course of the last 50 years. As socialists we have always felt that the scientific method is the best way to know things and that science is a crucial ingredient in Marx’s call to “develop the productive forces”. For us, the creation of socialism was never any kind of sacrifice or doing with less. Nor are we unrealistic about human nature. We fully understand that the foundation of socialism has to be the production of more than enough wealth to go around. With abundance in place, there is no motivation for stealing or wanting what others have.

The value of the state overview

We socialists are in complete agreement with the value you hold about the importance of the functions of the matriarchically state. We also think it is important that the matriarchal state take over the realm of overall planning. This does not mean that all social production and distribution is centrally planned with no feedback from the local and regional levels. We see the relationship between the three in a dialectical manner. The local and regional levels feed up to the state level what products and services are needed. The state incorporates our feedback but then makes adjustments based on the fact that at the local and regional level we cannot see the whole. Once the state produces an over-all plan, that is then fed down to the local and regional levels. It will no doubt take a number of times for there to be a smooth “cybernetic” rhythm established.

Micro-level – the value of cooperative learning and authoritative parenting

We socialists are well aware that you middle-class left liberals have always supported public schools. Some of the more visionary of you might have had the money to send your children to a Montessori school. Some of you might have heard the name Lev Vygotsky and associated him with cooperative learning, which is used in Montessori education. What you probably were never told was that Vygotsky was a communist and he and his followers, Alexander Luria and Aleksei N Leontiev, founded a whole school of psychology, the “socio-historical school of psychology”. They developed a theory of cooperative learning that has been applied not only in school settings but in the design of social intelligence tests, the development of theories of cognitive development and in working with the deaf. Vygotsky’s work could be massively applied to the fields of social psychology, and possibly to therapy, as one group in New York City is currently doing.

Lastly, we admire the way that many of you have raised your children using authoritative child-rearing methods. You have avoided both extremes in child rearing. On the one hand are the authoritarian methods of conservative child rearing which raises children who are repressed, frightened and lack curiosity. On the other hand, it is the permissive parenting of upper-middle-class neoliberal parents that has turned out a generation of narcissistic, entitled, ungrateful brats who are the product of neoliberal schooling where the focus was on raising self-esteem in every school program. We think the authoritative (as opposed to authoritarian) method with its flexible structure, welcoming of dialogue, appeal to reason, rather than emotion is the best way to raise children. We are on the same page with you.

Deeper Differences between Middle-Class Left Liberals and Socialists

Commitment to an antiwar international policy

We socialists have always been against wars because we know they are usually turf wars between capitalists about resources and that it is the workers and the poor people who do the fighting, not the capitalists. As far as wars go, we know that your class has supported the Cold War and the war in Vietnam. Beyond the 1970s you seem to have treated these wars with less enthusiasm except for perhaps, the war on Iraq. As it stands now, the capitalists in Yankeedom not only make a fortune in military warfare to “protect our borders” but they also arm the entire world. If counties decided to end their wars the capitalists here would be destitute. These wars need to end, not just because of the senseless deaths at home and abroad, but for pragmatic reasons. All this money could go into the trillions of dollars’ worth of infrastructural work that is left undone. Suppose the military was employed on these infrastructural projects. Suppose the military was employed to build low-cost housing in every city. Living in a society of abundance requires the reinvestment in the military from wars abroad to infrastructure and natural disaster relief at home.

Anti-imperialist international policy

We socialists are also against imperialist wars where capitalists invade other countries to steal their political or economic resources, land and labor to make a profit. This can be most blatantly seen in Africa. Yankeedom also continues its imperialist ventures in Latin America, regularly attempting to overthrow governments there. Why? For the simple reason that freely elected governments (socialist or not) may have the nerve to set their own economic policy, which might not necessarily be friendly to transnational corporations.

Yankee capitalists want to rule the world and they don’t want any competition.

China, Russia and Iran refuse to tow the line and have formed an alliance. The Chinese represent the best hope of the world now. Why are they such a threat to the United States? Because they are making a profit through building infrastructures, not just in China but in other parts of the world. China, Russia and Iran have also withdrawn from the US dollar as a use of international currency, which costs the western banks in significant loss of profits. Yankee capitalists are slitting their own throats, and ours as well, by acting like big-shot imperialists fifty years after their time has passed and their own territory is falling apart. As middle-class people we think you can see that nothing good can come from this and we need to rebuild our own society.

Dismantling the Deep State

Unfortunately, most middle-class people don’t know any more about the FBI and the CIA and what these organizations do to promote themselves, including what is on television and in movies. The FBI has upended or ruined the lives of socialists for decades. Their role in undermining the New Left has been documented in David Cunningham’s book There’s Something Happening Here. The CIA is in a class by itself, the world’s most powerful terrorist organization. I will limit myself to three books: The Mighty Wurlitzer by Hugh Wilford; The Cultural Cold War by Frances Stoner Saunders and The Devil’s Chessboard by David Talbot. Funding for these organization should be ended, and the sooner the better.

 Class Dismissed, Where Left Liberals Missed the Boat

For socialists of any stripe, social class has been the foundation for understanding capitalism. The capitalist class makes its profits by exploiting the working-class. As Marx points out, workers produce all the wealth, but they are given only about 40% in the form of wages (the first four hours of their labor) which allows them to support themselves. But the worker works another 6 hours. Who gets the value from that? The employer. The employer uses the rest of the surplus value produced by the worker to pay the middle-class managers, pay landlords for the use of plant and set aside funds to pay the state in taxes. They claim the remainder of the surplus as profit.  Middle-class people have stood structurally between the working-class and the capitalists, giving orders to workers, taking orders from capitalists. There are other social classes as I’ve discussed earlier but the major dynamic is between the capitalist and the worker.

Middle-class people, like most other classes, do not talk about this because class is about political and economic power between groups. It is uncomfortable and middle-class people among others have been afraid to discuss this. Why? Because they feel guilty, that maybe it is their fault they have a better life? Maybe they owe the workers something? Middle-class people need to get over this, because the fact is, you are sliding south, in the same direction as the working-class. In fact, you now have more in common with working-class people than upper middle-class people.

Race relations: Social Movements vs Individualist Identity Politics

Strange as it may seem, middle-class people have been more comfortable talking about race than class. After all, many middle-class people prided themselves as left liberals by supporting the civil rights movement. This was a social movement in which racial minorities joined together to fix objective conditions such as higher pay, better housing, legal rights. I suspect most of you did not know that Martin Luther King, a paradigm of middle-class respectability, was a socialist.

However, since the mid 1970s, but especially from the 1990s on, race relations have turned from a social movement into something different. Identity politics is a psychological spin-off from the civil rights movement with a very different agenda. In the hands of upper middle-class, neoliberals of all colors, including lawyers and university professors, identity politics has been used to win political seats in the Democratic Party. They do this by focusing on the rights of individuals to recognition, the right to be called a certain pronoun and rights to declare being offended by this or that innuendo. Identity politics has crippled the ability of working-class and middle-class people to form alliances by dragging meetings through competitive battles as to who is more offended than whom. When an organization as corrupt as the ruling class Democratic Party starts babbling about “white privilege” it’s time to get off that sinking ship. The mess that race relations are today is made worse by the upper middle-class neoliberals seizing on identity politics. Here is yet another reason to dump the Democratic Party and any alliance with the upper middle-class. A terrific short book that lays out the limitations of identity politics is Mistaken Identity by Asad Haider.

Democracy is economic and participatory more than political representation

Middle-class left liberals in the 20th century have thought of democracy as synonymous with voting. Democracy was having the right to vote for one of the two major parties. For socialists this is a sham. Both parties are ruling class parties and workers have nothing to say about what candidates are running and what they will do after the election. For us, democracy is economic. We think it is ridiculous to imagine we live in a democracy when we go to work to be bossed around from beginning to the end of the day by the employer. For us, democracy begins and ends in the workplace. Workers should have a say in what is produced, how it is produced, where it is distributed, how long we work and how we are compensated. In addition, within socialism democracy is also present by its involvement in city planning. This includes participatory planning councils at the local level, participating in setting agendas and deciding how city revenue should be spent. Under socialism, political parties will still have their place, but they will operate under direct democracy, not representational democracy.

The future of capitalism

All socialists are against capitalism except for some right-wing social democrats who believe in a mixed economy. For us, capitalism is a system plagued by crises and inherently unstable. Various Marxist crisis theorists have developed theories about how and why capitalism will end. Even non-Marxist political economists have theories about how it will end. Please see my article “Name Me One Capitalist Country That Works: A Thirty Year Reckoning” for more sources. Where I think we can agree is that capitalist profits should not be made on wars, or on fictitious capital. It is the neoliberals, not you, who have made profits on fictitious capital and wars over the past 50 years. Rather, capitalist profits should be made on the production of goods and services. We still think that eventually capitalism will fail even if it only produces goods and services, but we can’t convince you of that until we are further down the road.

What is the place of competitive markets? Some of you might feel that having markets is a better mechanism for quickly finding out what people need and how those goods and services have been delivered. As Michael Parenti writes in Black Shirts and Reds, the central planning mechanisms in the USSR were no bargain. At the same time, we know that during the Spanish Revolution, the workers and peasants self-organized in industry and on farms for 3 years, covering millions of people and had better production records than the Spanish government had before the revolution. So, our choices are more than choosing between the state and the market. In the new society perhaps there might be a minor place for markets instead of state planning or worker planning, but the markets should never be among the major players. We can do better than markets.

• Published first in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post Why Middle-Class Left Liberals Should Dump the Democratic Party: Finding Common Ground with Socialists first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Walmart, Amazon and the Colonial Deindustrialisation of India

In June 2018, the Joint Action Committee against Foreign Retail and E-commerce (JACAFRE) issued a statement on Walmart’s acquisition of Flipkart. It argued that it undermines India’s economic and digital sovereignty and the livelihood of millions in India.

The deal would lead to Walmart and Amazon dominating India’s e-retail sector. These two US companies would also own India’s key consumer and other economic data, making them the country’s digital overlords, joining the ranks of Google and Facebook.

JACAFRE was formed to resist the entry of foreign corporations like Walmart and Amazon into India’s e-commerce market. Its members represent more than 100 national groups, including major trade, workers and farmers organisations.

On 8 January 2021, JACAFRE published an open letter saying that the three new farm laws, passed by parliament in September 2020, centre on enabling and facilitating the unregulated corporatisation of agriculture value chains. This will effectively make farmers and small traders of agricultural produce become subservient to the interests of a few agrifood and e-commerce giants or will eradicate them completely.

The government is facilitating the dominance of giant corporations, not least through digital or e-commerce platforms, to control the entire value chain. The letter states that if the new farm laws are closely examined, it will be evident that unregulated digitalisation is an important aspect of them.

And this is not lost on Parminder Jeet Singh from IT for Change (a member of JACAFRE). Referring to Walmart’s takeover of online retailer Flipkart, Singh notes that there was strong resistance to Walmart entering India with its physical stores; however, online and offline worlds are now merged.

That is because, today, e-commerce companies not only control data about consumption but also control data on production, logistics, who needs what, when they need it, who should produce it, who should move it and when it should be moved.

Through the control of data (knowledge), e-commerce platforms can shape the entire physical economy. What is concerning is that Amazon and Walmart have sufficient global clout to ensure they become a duopoly, more or less controlling much of India’s economy.

Singh says that whereas you can regulate an Indian company, this cannot be done with foreign players who have global data, global power and will be near-impossible to regulate.

While China succeeded in digital industrialisation by building up its own firms, Singh observes that the EU is now a digital colony of the US. The danger is clear for India. He states that India has its own skills and digital forms, so why is the government letting in US companies to dominate and buy India’s digital platforms?

And ‘platform’ is a key word here. We are seeing the eradication of the marketplace. Platforms will control everything from production to logistics to even primary activities like agriculture and farming. Data gives power to platforms to dictate what needs to be manufactured and in what quantities.

Singh argues that the digital platform is the brain of the whole system. The farmer will be told how much production is expected, how much rain is expected, what type of soil quality there is, what type of (genetically engineered) seeds and are inputs are required and when the produce needs to be ready.

This is not idle speculation. The recent article ‘Digital control: how big tech moves into food and farming (and what it means)’ on the grain.org website, describes how Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and others are moving in on the global agrifood sector.

Those traders, manufacturers and primary producers who survive will become slaves to platforms and lose their independence. Moreover, e-commerce platforms will become permanently embedded once artificial intelligence begins to plan and determine all of the above.

It is a clear concern that India will cede control of its economy, politics and culture to these all-powerful, modern-day East India companies.

Of course, things have been moving in this direction for a long time, especially since India began capitulating to the tenets of neoliberalism in the early 1990s and all that entails, not least an increasing dependence on borrowing and foreign capital inflows and subservience to destructive World Bank-IMF economic directives.

But what we are currently witnessing with the three farm bills and the growing role of (foreign) e-commerce will bring about the ultimate knock-out blow to the peasantry and many small independent enterprises. This has been the objective of powerful players who have regarded India as the potential jewel in the crown of their corporate empires for a long time.

The process resembles the structural adjustment programmes that were imposed on African countries some decades ago. Economics Professor Michel Chossudovsky notes in his 1997 book ‘The Globalization of Poverty’ that economies are:

opened up through the concurrent displacement of a pre-existing productive system. Small and medium-sized enterprises are pushed into bankruptcy or obliged to produce for a global distributor, state enterprises are privatised or closed down, independent agricultural producers are impoverished. (p. 16)

The game plan is clear and JACAFRE says the government should urgently consult all stakeholders – traders, farmers and other small and medium size players – towards a holistic new economic model where all economic actors are assured their due and appropriately valued role. Small and medium size economic actors cannot be allowed to be reduced to being helpless agents of a few digitally enabled mega-corporations.

JACAFRE concludes:

We appeal to the government that it should urgently address the issues raised by those farmers asking for the three laws to be repealed. Specifically, from a traders’ point of view, the role of small and medium traders all along the agri produce value chain has to be strengthened and protected against its unmitigated corporatisation.

The struggle for democracy

It is clear that the ongoing farmers’ protest in India is not just about farming. It represents a struggle for the heart and soul of the country. As the organisation GRAIN says on its website, there is an intensifying fight for space between local and territorial markets and global markets. The former are the domain of small-scale independent producers and enterprises; the latter are dominated by large-scale international retailers, traders and the rapidly growing influential e-commerce companies.

It is therefore essential to protect and strengthen local markets and indigenous, independent small-scale enterprises, whether farmers, hawkers, food processers or mom and pop corner stores. This will ensure that India has more control over its food supply, the ability to determine its own policies and economic independence: in other words, the protection of food and national sovereignty and a greater ability to pursue genuine democratic development.

Instead of this, we could, for instance, see India eradicating its buffer food stocks at the behest of global traders and agrifood players. India would then bid for them with borrowed funds on the open market. Instead of continuing to physically hold and control its own buffer stocks, thereby ensuring a degree of food security, India would hold foreign exchange reserves. It would need to attract foreign reserves and maintain ‘market confidence’ to ensure this inflow.

This is one intention of the recent farm legislation and constitutes a recipe for further dependency on foreign finance, unpredictable global events and unaccountable corporations. But mainstream economic thinking passes this subjugation off as ‘liberalisation’.

How is an inability to determine your own economic policies and surrendering food security to outside forces in any way liberating?

It is interesting to note that the BBC recently reported that, in its annual report on global political rights and liberties, the US-based non-profit Freedom House has downgraded India from a free democracy to a “partially free democracy”. It also reported that Sweden-based V-Dem Institute says India is now an “electoral autocracy”. India did not fare any better in a report by The Economist Intelligent Unit’s Democracy Index.

The BBC’s neglect of Britain’s own slide towards COVID-related authoritarianism aside, the report on India was not without substance. It focused on the increase in anti-Muslim feeling, diminishing of freedom of expression, the role of the media and the restrictions on civil society since PM Narendra Modi took power.

The undermining of liberties in all these areas is cause for concern in its own right. But this trend towards divisiveness and authoritarianism serves another purpose: it helps smooth the path for the corporate takeover of the country.

Whether it involves a ‘divide and rule’ strategy along religious lines to divert attention, the suppression of free speech or pushing unpopular farm bills through parliament without proper debate while using the police and the media to undermine the farmers’ protest, a major undemocratic heist is under way that will fundamentally adversely impact people’s livelihoods and the cultural and social fabric of India.

On one side, there are the interests of a handful of multi-billionaires who own the corporations and platforms that seek to control India. On the other, there are the interests of hundreds of millions of cultivators, vendors and various small-scale enterprises who are regarded by these rich individuals as mere collateral damage to be displaced in their quest for ever greater profit.

Indian farmers are currently on the front-line against global capitalism and the colonial-style deindustrialisation of the economy. This is where ultimately the struggle for democracy and the future of India is taking place.

The post Walmart, Amazon and the Colonial Deindustrialisation of India first appeared on Dissident Voice.

History Shows Privatized Space Colonization Will Be Disastrous

Elon Musk and his company SpaceX have become a regular feature in news cycles. SpaceX succeeded in landing a team of astronauts on the International Space Station in November 2020, in partnership with NASA. The next month, the company lost a rocket in an explosion while attempting to land after a test flight. Another rocket exploded during landing in early February. In mid-February, SpaceX launched sixty satellites as part of the Starlink program to provide broadband internet access to the globe, and is now working to double the speed of this internet service and extend it to most of the planet by the end of 2021. Additional crewed missions to the International Space Station are planned for the coming months, as is a four-person civilian-only space voyage.

These accomplishments and setbacks from SpaceX and the world’s richest man are the most recent in a long series of launches by the first private company to engage in spaceflight. SpaceX is pushing many new boundaries to popular acclaim, but they are also simply the most recent continuation of a decades-long effort to privatize space travel, albeit an effort that is accelerating in recent years.

Yet, while SpaceX may be developing beneficial new technologies and finding ways to lower the costs of space travel, their free-market perspective on space exploration will not provide the benefits they claim. Such privatization will only reproduce the Earth’s current exploitative economy and environmental destruction in outer space.

Our climate and economic crises today are not inevitable outcomes of human existence, or of human population growth as other space-obsessed technocrats like Jeff Bezos have argued. They are instead the result of a particular set of social and economic forces, mostly arising during the last five centuries, which constitute capitalism. Capitalism requires the exploitation of both nature and people, leads to outward expansion and colonization, and is really the root cause of climate change.

Yet instead of working to develop new social and economic structures here on Earth, Elon Musk is planning the colonization of Mars explicitly as a backup plan for Earth. He is not alone, as Jeff Bezos’ own aerospace company, Blue Origin, operates with the long-term goal of outsourcing destructive manufacturing to space in order to save Earth by shifting the exploitation of nature and people into orbit. With plans such as these, SpaceX and related companies are advocating escapism instead of dealing with the reality of deteriorating conditions on our own planet. By failing to acknowledge that privatizing industry and taking advantage of workers and the environment are the true causes of these Earthly crises, SpaceX will inadvertently reproduce the same conditions that are destroying the Earth in space.

We need not engage in speculation informed by science-fiction to know this, either. History is full of examples of privatized, for-profit exploration and colonization that have caused more harm than good. For some of the clearest lessons, we can look to the colonization of what is now the United States, just a few hundred years ago.

*****

This past autumn marked the four hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower landing on the shores of what is now Massachusetts. Stories of this ship and its Pilgrim passengers are familiar to many people who were educated in the American school system. As the common narrative goes, these Puritan settlers sought freedom from religious persecution in England, and thus set sail to the “New World.” The Mayflower arrived in North America, and finding the land beautiful and productive, the Pilgrims “fell upon their knees and blessed the God of Heaven” for delivering them to safety and freedom.

Yet key details of this story were not emphasized in our elementary school educations, such as the motivations behind the actual owners of the Mayflower. The Pilgrims did not own the ship they sailed upon, nor could they have afforded the voyage on their own. They needed investors, and the financial backers of this journey were not religious separatists seeking freedom, but some of the modern world’s first international venture capitalists. They funded the Pilgrims in the hope that they could reap the rewards of a profitable colony in North America capable of yielding cheap goods for European markets: largely fish, timber, and furs. The Pilgrims who established a colony at Plymouth may have been seeking liberty, but the financiers who backed them hardly cared. They were just in it for the money, and there was a lot to be made.

There was also a lot of damage to be done. Within fifteen years of the Mayflower making landfall, epidemic disease had decimated the Indigenous population of New England. Wars and genocide followed, with Indigenous peoples being killed and enslaved across the continent, before largely being forced onto reservations which still experience shockingly poor conditions today.

All the while, the land of New England was gradually being divided into privately owned parcels of land in a process known as enclosure. When European colonists arrived in New England, they entered into a variety of agreements with Native peoples pertaining to land rights. European settlers often paid Indigenous tribes or leaders for the right to limited use of tribal land, but the colonists often interpreted these transactions as wholesale, permanent purchase of land. These lands which were often communally owned by the tribe and managed as a “commons” – land or resources collectively owned by a community – were slowly carved up into privately owned parcels over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries.

This privatization of land ownership and the incorporation of colonial New England into a globalized market economy led to profound environmental destruction nearly immediately. Settlers cleared forests for timber and farmland, nearly deforesting much of New England by the early 20th century. Beaver and deer were all but exterminated in the region by the 19th century, hunted for their pelts which were sold for profit in European markets. As early as 1646, Portsmouth, Rhode Island established the first prohibitions on hunting deer out of season, recognizing that the species’ population was dwindling. All of this local extirpation and deforestation occurred within a few decades of European arrival in New England, while the Indigenous peoples of the region had hunted deer and beaver and managed their forests sustainably for millennia prior.

Exploitation of labor arose alongside this exploitation of nature. European settlers in 17th century New England exploited Indigenous hunters to acquire beaver furs, obtaining these pelts at little cost to themselves through the exchange of cheap cloth, metal trinkets, and shell beads. Merchants then in turn exploited these European settlers, paying only a small fraction of what these furs would be worth, and manufacturers back in Europe exploited their workers, paying them less than their labor was worth to produce products like fashionable felt hats for sale to the high-society aristocrats of the time.

This exploitation of nature and labor is not a bug, but a feature of privatized, for-profit capitalist ventures. It is inherent in a capitalist economic model, as history has shown time and again. If profit maximization for the benefit of investors and owners is the goal, as it was for the owners of the Mayflower and as it is for SpaceX, the necessary materials and labor must be cheaply obtained. If they are not cheap, earnings will suffer.

Colonization is a short-sighted solution to this problem. Colonialist companies and nations incorporate peripheral locations into their global economic system, where resources and labor can be cheaply obtained. The mercantile capitalism of the 17th century Atlantic world reflected this economic structure, with abundant timber, furs, and fish being obtained at low costs in New England and returned to European markets where they had greater value. Whether in the form of colonialist extraction of raw materials or the contemporary outsourcing of jobs, this search for cheap labor and resources is necessary for the perpetuation of capitalism, and remains the structuring force behind the global economy to this day.

This same outward expansion in search of cheap raw materials and labor is exactly what will end up driving the colonization of space. The Moon, Mars, and even asteroids may all become the peripheral, privatized, and exploited locations that permit corporations on Earth to profit. Similar to Indigenous understandings of certain land rights in precolonial New England, space is currently viewed as a global commons. This means that all people have rights to it and none should be able to claim exclusive rights over it. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prevents any nation from claiming territory in space, although the treaty is known to be vague concerning the power of corporations in space and will certainly be challenged legally in the coming years. The enclosure and privatization of space may therefore lead not only to the direct and immediate exploitation of the environment and of people, but may also lay the groundwork for long-term systems of exploitation and dispossession.

*****

Elon Musk intends to colonize Mars as soon as possible. Thankfully, there is no potential for genocide of indigenous Martians as there was for Indigenous “Americans” and other Indigenous peoples around the world under European colonialism. Yet because the endeavor is privatized and operating under centuries-old colonialist mindsets, exploitation and destruction will assuredly manifest in other ways.

Mining and resource extraction is one avenue for profit, although Musk acknowledges that it is unclear if the natural resources on Mars could be extracted for the profit of companies on Earth. Even if the costs of transporting raw materials back to Earth are too great, natural resources extracted in space could be manufactured in space and shipped to Earth. Colonization of Mars may therefore differ slightly from cases of colonization on Earth, but the fundamental exploitative relationship remains.

Plus, there are other ways to profit besides the extraction of raw materials. Space tourism by wealthy thrill-seekers is poised to be a cash cow for companies, and a relatively autonomous SpaceX colony on Mars could also have a potentially great degree of freedom to profit from all sorts of business ventures, especially if they are legally independent of the United States government as has been hinted. Musk has also alluded to other “extraordinary entrepreneurial opportunity” on Mars, ranging from manufacturing to restaurants to tourism. However, it remains to be seen just how the financing, ownership, and taxation of these enterprises will be handled in what may be a semi-autonomous colony. In the case of English colonists arriving in North America, it was often the case that the company financing the colony claimed ownership over all property and all economic products of the settlers for a set number of years. Any colonists on a settled Mars will certainly be exploited as well, in one form or another, for the profit of shareholders and company executives. More than a colony of Earth, Mars may become a colony of SpaceX, and this is a troubling thought.

Resisting exploitation is exceedingly difficult in a privately funded, owned, and operated colony because such a colony is, by its very nature, undemocratic. Private companies like SpaceX are not democracies. CEOs are not elected representatives of the employees and business decisions are not voted upon by all workers. Thus, with a corporation calling the shots, settlers on Mars may have disturbingly little input in decision-making processes concerning their businesses and lives.

Fundamentally, the privatization of space exploration is not the beneficial solution that many think it is. It will simply result in a continuation of the colonial exploitation of nature and people as our capitalist global economy transcends our own atmosphere. Exploitation is an inherent part of such for-profit ventures in a capitalist system, and this will carry over into space. Privatized exploration of our solar system will be biased towards profitable ventures instead of those with public benefits and will certainly have numerous detrimental environmental impacts.

As private corporations begin to stake claims and enclose the commons of space, the rest of us lose our rights to it. We must avoid this outcome at all costs. Studying the repercussions of historical and contemporary colonialism on Earth permits us to engage with questions of space exploration from a decolonial and democratic perspective. Space cannot be privatized or exploited for profit, but must remain a commons for the benefit of all humanity.

  • Image credit: Memory-alpha
  • The post History Shows Privatized Space Colonization Will Be Disastrous first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    Black Civil Rights Lawyer in New Orleans Fights Back Against Exploitative Media Organization

    In January, a news organization called The Conversation announced they were spearheading a much needed dialogue about race. But, ironically, they began this project by stealing the words and ideas of a Black organizer.

    The Canadian bureau of The Conversation declared a new podcast called “Don’t Call Me Resilient” that would actively grapple with the difficulty of discussing racism. In their post, The Conversation noted that they had been inspired by the words of Tracie Washington, a civil rights lawyer based in New Orleans, and had named the podcast after a phrase she used in an interview with Al Jazeera. (Full disclosure: Washington is a friend and former coworker).

    Washington’s words are indeed inspiring. “Stop calling me resilient. I’m not resilient. Because every time you say ‘Oh, they’re resilient’, that means you can do something else to me,” Washington said on Al JazeeraHer pointed phrasing cuts to the heart of the way that the strength of BIPOC people and communities has been weaponized against them. Washington deftly uncovers some of the foundational logic of white supremacy — that the bodies of BIPOC bodies and minds are somehow stronger and more able to handle the weight of oppression.

    The problem is not that the folks at The Conversation found inspiration in Washington’s analysis. The problem is that they effectively stole it. The producers and editors at The Conversation, who said they have been working on the podcast for a year, never spoke to Washington or asked her permission to base the name of their podcast after her words.

    The post from The Conversation does not attempt to hide that they based their podcast on Washington’s words. They quote Washington, and then quote Professor Maria Kaika responding to the quote from Washington, and then announce: “Today, we are launching Don’t Call Me Resilient, a new podcast about race and racism in which we discuss solutions in the way Washington and Kaika are suggesting.” They do not address the question of how they will “discuss solutions in the way” Washington is suggesting, without speaking to her.

    The irony of taking a quote from a Black civil rights activist — a quote that comes from a criticism of extractive policies taken against poor and people of color communities — and extracting that quote without permission for a podcast on issues of racism, was apparently lost on the — mostly white — staff at The Conversation. They effectively reproduced the exact same power inequities that Washington’s analysis reveals. “I felt used and exploited,” said Washington. “I felt like I didn’t matter to them as a person. I was just another resource to exploit for their own profit.”

    This follows a long tradition of the co-optation and outright theft of the work and analysis of Black communities, especially Black women. As Black Youth Project has written, “Everything Black women say or do is constant in danger of being just straight-up stolen, reappropriated, or misappropriated.” Just last week, Gimlet Media cancelled a series from their Reply All podcast because of similar hypocrisy. “The legacy of media exploitation of communities of color and in particular of Black people’s pain is long,” responded journalist and author Lewis Raven Wallace, the Education Program Director of Press On, when asked about the actions of The Conversation. “The only path forward for journalism today is to address and make amends for that legacy, and build organizations and outlets that reflect those values at every level.”

    Who knows what may have happened if The Conversation had followed traditional journalistic protocol and actively sought comment from Washington? “Tell me,” Washington asked in an email to the editors at The Conversation, “What makes The Conversation any better than the political and corporate forces I am critiquing, when you are stealing my words and taking them out of context and therefore misusing them? How do you have the nerve to take a quote about exploitative and extractive processes, and then exploit and extract from the person that said the words to begin with?”

    In response to the question of whether The Conversation had received permission from Washington, the producer and host of the podcast, Vinita Srivastava, wrote, “In one of our pitch meetings, one of our producers introduced Tracie Washington to us and her effective campaign in Louisiana. We saw her amazing posters and read a story about her response to the New Orleans environmental city plan. We contacted Washington to see if she would be willing to be a guest on our pod.” What this roundabout statement doesn’t actually say is: Srivastava did not have any contact with Washington.

    Soon after, Srivastava responded directly to Washington’s email. In her email, she took no responsibility for stealing Washington’s words and analysis, writing instead, “I am very sorry if the impact of our work has added to your feelings of your ideas and experiences being exploited.” This is a classic non-apology Instead of acknowledging the harmful effect of her actions, Srivastava redirected to Washington’s feelings. The problem here is that Washington’s words and analysis were used without permission and, yes, she has feelings about it, but those feelings are not the problem. The problem is the harmful action that caused those feelings. “It was so demeaning,” says Washington “It felt like they think I’m stupid, like I don’t deserve any respect.”

    Srivastava later claimed in a conversation with Washington that she had messaged her on LinkedIn. That was the extent of The Conversation seeking Washington’s permission before naming their podcast after her. Is this what passes for journalistic protocol now?

    To confirm how easy it would have been to reach Washington, I googled “Tracie Washington New Orleans” and on the first page of the results I found a site with her phone number. When told this, Srivastava responded “That’s not what Google results showed in Canada.” I also searched on google.ca and again found Washington’s number immediately. This faux naive defense is disingenuous and insulting.

    Washington would easily forgive this if Don’t Call Me Resilient was some scrappy DIY passion project with no funding, but that’s not what’s happening here. The Conversation website lists at least seventeen people and two organizations who worked on the podcast, along with funding by a grant from the Global Journalism Innovation Lab. Actually, there’s a long list of funders and partners.

    Unfortunately, none of these seventeen plus staffers were tasked with making sure they spoke to the person whose words they were using for fundraising and publicity.

    Washington asked for a thorough and public apology from The Conversation. Instead, they offered their half-baked refusal of responsibility. Absent an apology, Washington informed them that she does not give them consent to name their podcast after her words. She demanded The Conversation either change the name of their podcast or pay her for the right to use her words. “I want more than an apology, I want to hear how you are going to make this right,” says Washington.

    Media organizations like The Conversation that claim to be progressive are responsible for ending these kinds of manipulative practices. “New Orleanians and Black communities everywhere are sick of this kind of extractive and exploitative journalism,” says Washington. The public branding of Don’t Call Me Resilient loudly states that exploitation is exactly what it’s trying to fight, but their private actions suggest otherwise, which makes this podcast feel more like the performance of antiracism than a real attempt to dismantle anything.

    The post Black Civil Rights Lawyer in New Orleans Fights Back Against Exploitative Media Organization first appeared on Dissident Voice.

    From the Murder of Berta Cáceres to Dam Disaster in Uttarakhand

    March 2, 2021 was the five year anniversary of the murder of Berta Cáceres, who opposed the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras.  That date was less than one month after the deaths of dozens of people from Tehri Dam disaster in Uttarakhand, India.  The two stories together tell us far more about consequences of the insatiable greed of capitalism for more energy than either narrative does by itself.

    In addition to being sacred to the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras, the Gualcarque River is a primary source of water for them to grow their food and harvest medicinal plants.  Dams can flood fertile plains and deprive communities of water for livestock and crops.  The Lenca knew what could happen if the company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) were to build the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque.  As Nina Lakhani describes in Who Killed Berta Cáceres?, the La Aurora Dam, which started generating electricity in 2012 “left four miles of the El Zapotal River bone dry and the surrounding forest bare.”

    In 2015, Cáceres won the Goldman Environmental Prize for organizing opposition to the Agua Zarca.  She had been a co-founder of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).  The following year, thousands of Lenca marched to the capital Tegucigalpa demanding schools, clinics, roads and protection of ancestral lands.  Indigenous groups uniting with them included Maya, Chorti, Misquitu, Tolupan, Tawahka and Pech.  Lakhani describes that “From the north coast came the colorfully dressed, drumming Garifunas: Afro-Hondurans who descend from West and Central African, Caribbean, European and Arawak people exiled to Central America by the British after a slave revolt in the late eighteenth century.”

    A Garifuna leader, Miriam Miranda remembered that Berta stopped to sketch anti-imperialist murals on the US airbase in Palmerola.  As Berta and Miranda became close during the more than two decades of joint work Berta began to identify with the Garifuna.  She loved going with Miranda to the town of Vallecito to join Garifuna rituals with drums, smoke and dancing while enjoying herb-infused liquor.

    She knew that the Garifuna suffered landgrabs parallel to rivergrabs the Lencas experienced.  Lakhani relates how the government ignored the ancestral land claims of the Garifuna as it gave land to “settlers” who sold them to palm oil magnates.  In less than a decade lands held by Garifuna communities plummeted from 200,000 to 400 hectares.

    Similarly, in the Bajo Aguán region the government allowed construction of a resort on ancient Garifuna burial sites and ancestral lands. The community was not consulted prior to the landgrab and 150 people died resisting it.

    Manufacturing Impressions

    The dam-building elite had a thorn in its side that threatened the megaprojects.  Due in no small part to 1995 efforts of Berta’s mother Doña Austra, Honduras had signed onto the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention of the International Labor Organization (known as ILO 169).  It guarantees the right of indigenous communities to have “free, prior and informed consultations” for any development affecting their land, culture or way of life.

    The first tactic of the elite for getting around this obstacle was to promise enormous benefits such as building roads and schools.  Or else, they claimed that the project would bring electricity for homes, a health clinic, an ambulance, and a flood of jobs.  By the time the project was completed, few or no benefits had materialized.  Who Killed Berta Cáceres? documents what happened in communities that did not fall for empty promises.  For the Honduran Los Encimos dam, the power brokers bused in hundreds of people from neighboring El Salvador to sign a decree favoring the project.  Following an October 2011 town hall meeting when residents voted 401 to 7 against the Agua Zarca dam, the mayor curried favor of the elite by issuing a permit for it two months later.

    Representatives of the company owning the future dam, DESA, repeated the absurd claim that they only bought land from willing sellers.  Dam proponents then denounced Berta’s COPINH organization as causing the division.  In other words, the developers were skilled at shouting that project opponents were doing what they, the dam pushers, were, in fact, doing.  Outside observers would then have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction.  If these impression management tricks failed to overcome Earth defenders, the method of threats and violence remained.

    Threats and Hit Lists

    Berta was rare as she “could understand and analyze local struggles in a global context and had the capacity to unite different movements, urban and rural, teachers and campesinos, indigenous groups and mestizos.”  More than any other reason, this meant that Berta would be targeted by the cabal of business owners, government heads, military brass and foreign investors.

    Berta had told Lakhani that “Seventy million people were killed across the continent for our natural resources.”  When a researcher for the Goldman prize committee visited Berta in Tegucigalpa, she asked him what would happen if she died before receiving the prize money, a question no recipient had asked before.  She had been warned not to stay in the same hotel two nights in a row.

    Nina Lakhani documents how widespread and intensely grisley the murders in Honduras were.  “Olvin Gustavo García Mejía was widely feared by COPINH.”  He boasted of having a personal hit list with Berta’s name on it.  In March 2015, Olvin used his machete to chop off the fingers of a dam opponent.

    Even more revealing were eyewitness reports to Lakhani from First Sergeant Rodrigo Cruz who saw a military hit list which included Berta.  Cruz had survived a specialist training so grueling that only 8 of 200 completed it. The graduation ceremony included killing a dog, eating the raw meat, and getting a hug from the commander.

    On one mission Cruz reported being “ordered to shovel decomposing human remains into sacks which they took to an isolated forest reserve, doused them in diesel, petrol and rubbish and burned.”  At Corocito he saw “torture instruments, chains, hammers and nails, no people, but fresh clots of blood.”  During his Trujillo mission “naval colleagues handed over plastic bags containing human remains.  Later that night they tossed them into a river heaving with crocodiles.”  After seeing Berta’s name on a hit list belonging to his lieutenant, Cruz was sent on an extensive leave.  When he heard that Berta was dead, he fled from Honduras fearing that he himself would be murdered.

    The Honduran elite discovered another weapon for its arsenal against environmental defenders: criminalization.  During a 2020 interview with InSight Crime, Lakhani reported a pattern suggestively similar to that practiced in the US and many other countries: “People are still being killed but really the main weapon being used currently is criminalization.  There’s so much fear involved, and it can really break up and silence a movement. All of your energy and resources go to trying to stay out of prison.”

    2009 Coup as a Game Changer

    On January 27, 2006 Manuel Zelaya was inaugurated as president of Honduras as an advocate of modest reforms such as reforestation, small business assistance, reduction of fossil fuels and an end to open pit mining.  But even these baby steps were too much for the country’s increasingly corrupt elites, who had the military march him out of his home in pajamas and into exile on June 28, 2009.  As bad as the situation was before 2009, the coup intensified the violence.

    Though Barack Obama acknowledged that the coup was a coup, his underling Hillary Clinton quickly altered the official rhetoric, claiming that it was not a coup.  She explained “in her 2014 memoir, Hard Choices, the US ensured that elections could take place before the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, was restored to office.”  This helped the coup ensure that Zelaya and his tiny improvements would not show their face again.

    The economic consequences of the coup were an avalanche of projects attacking the country’s land, water, air and indigenous cultures.  The congress rushed to approve them without studies or oversight required by Honduran law.  During the next eight years, almost 200 mining projects received a nod.  Lakhani records how, during one late night session in September 2010 congressional president Juan Orlando Hernández “sanctioned 40 hydroelectric dams without debate, consultation or adequate environmental impact studies.”  John Perry wrote in CounterPunch that “Cáceres received a leaked list of rivers, including the Gualcarque, that were to be secretly ‘sold off’ to produce hydroelectricity. The Honduran congress went on to approve dozens of such projects without any consultation with affected communities. Berta’s campaign to defend the rivers began on July 26, 2011 when she led the Lenca-based COPINH in a march on the presidential palace.”

    Dubious Partners of Green Energy

    So-called “green” energy companies profited at least as much as other corporations from the great sell-off of Honduran treasures.  Lakhani’s research reveals that on June 2, 2010, the National Electric Company approved contracts for eight renewable energy corporations, including DESA, the owners of the Agua Zarca dam project.  Though it had no track record of constructing anything, it received permits, a sales contract, and congressional approval.  A 50-year license for the dam sailed through without any free, prior or informed consent from the Lenca people.  Lakhani also documents that January 16, 2014 was a particularly good day

    … for solar and wind entrepreneurs as congress approved 30 energy contracts for 21 companies in one quick sitting.  There was no bidding process… After the rivers were all sold, they started on wind and solar contracts…  Honduras boasts more than 200 tax exemption laws, which cost state coffers around $1.5 bn each year.  Renewable energy entrepreneurs have benefited enormously, saving a whopping $1.4 bn between 2012 and 2016.

    Even the World Bank had its finger in the pie, despite its requirement to give socially responsible loans.  It sought to cover up its role in Agua Zarca by channeling funds through intermediaries.

    Lakhani also relates stories of (a) how six members of congress embezzled $879,000 using a fake environmental group, Planeta Verde (Green Planet); (b) connections between a criminal family and the solar company Proderssa; and, (c) the link between the solar plant in Choluteca and Douglas Bustillo, who was sentenced to 30 years for his role in the murder of Berta.

    Jorge Cuéllar writes that:

    DESA’s Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, like similar megaprojects, effectively reconfigures communities into sacrifice zones for insatiable energy needs. “Alternative” energy (Alt E) is just one more category of energy which is added to the mix with fossil fuels.  Increases in Alt E are not replacing fossil fuels, but are mainly being used to create feelings of do-goody.  In cases where there is a preference for Alt E, it is due to short term profit.  As Lakhani explains, “African palms were the most profitable crops because the oil was sold to North America and Europe for biofuel and could be traded in the carbon credit market.

    A Farcical Trial

    On March 2, 2016 Berta Cáceres was brutally murdered in her hometown of La Esperanza in western Honduras.  The trial that followed was a transparent cover up.  As Vijay Prashad notes, none of the executives of DESA, the dam company responsible for the murder, were charged with the crime.  Lakhani reported in the InSight Crime interview that “The crime was never framed as political murder, as gender-based violence or a hate crime against indigenous people despite the vitriolic and racist language that was used in phone chats about the Lenca people. There was a decision to make sure that anybody political, and the military and police as institutions, would be completely left out.”

    Adam Isacson hit the nail on the head in his blog when describing those found guilty as “… just trigger-pullers, mid-level planners, or scapegoats… They are employed by Honduras’s elite, but they aren’t of the elite. They’re on the make, and have found a rare path to social mobility in Honduras, beyond gang membership and drug trafficking.”

    Lakhani’s own account reflects how bizarre and contrived the trial was.  She recalls that “My request to read the admitted documents was denied. ‘Yes, it’s a public trial, yes, the documents are public, no, you can’t read them,’ said the court archivist.”  She heard international observers being told “Don’t worry, people will be convicted” as if it was common knowledge that the outcome had been prescripted.   It was yet another exercise in impression management.

    US Role

    Though there is no evidence that the US directly planned and executed the 2009 coup, its role has been to ensure that the coup remains intact.  As Isacson asks, “Why did 1 in every 37 citizens of Honduras end up detained at the US-Mexico border in 2019, after fleeing all the way across Mexico? Why did 30,000 more Hondurans petition for asylum in Mexico that same year?”  People are fleeing Honduras in such numbers in large part because the coup gang has shown that if it can get away with murdering someone as well known as Berta, it can murder anyone.

    In the New York Journal of Books, Dan Beeton observes that “authors of the assassination have yet to be brought to justice. The US government could insist that this happen; it could pressure Honduran authorities to find and arrest them, but it has not…”  In fact, Lakhani points out that the US is doing the opposite by persecuting those trying to escape from the violence: “… in 2010 US border patrol detained 13,580 Honduran nationals.  The numbers jumped to over 91,000 in 2014 under Deporter-in-Chief Barack Obama.”

    Though the US insists that it does not train the executioners in the Honduran militarized police, it does not deny that it trains the trainers – many of torturers in Central America attended the notorious School of the Americas.  Even if the US were to withdraw its support from individual criminals in Honduras, they would be replaced by clones who would preserve the post-coup structure and power.  Control was successfully passed from a mildly reformist Zelaya government to a criminal extractionist network which permeates state and corporate institutions.  With aide and comfort from the US, the Honduran energy mob has reinvented itself.

    Coming to Uttarakhand

    The story of dams in India may seem highly different from events on the other side of the globe.  But lurking deep beneath surface appearances an eerie consistency links the two.  One similarity between the widely separated areas is that, as in Honduras, the Indian government has aggressively pursued a development strategy of mines, logging and hydro-power.  This often results in tribal people suffering the disruption of their farming systems and relocation.

    On February 7, 2021 a deluge washed away two power plants of the Tehri Dam on the Bhagirathi River in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, India.  At least 32 people were found dead and more than 150 were missing.  The event barely made it to US media but has been extensively covered by the progressive Indian online publication Countercurrents.  With 34 people trapped, “Rescue workers armed with heavy construction equipment, drones and even sniffer dogs were struggling to penetrate the one-and-a-half-mile long tunnel that filled with ice-cold water, mud, rocks and debris.”

    Years before construction of the Tehri Dam began, there was controversy regarding if it should even be built.  Bharat Dogra, a regular contributor to Countercurrents, wrote that “the Environmental Appraisal Committee (River Valley Projects) of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India … has come to the unanimous conclusion that the Tehri Dam Project, as proposed, should not be taken up as it does not merit environmental clearance.”

    The region has a history of dam disasters:

    At least 29 workers were killed in a serious accident at the Tehri dam site (in Uttarakhand) on August 2 2004… On 14 February 2010 six workers died and 16 were seriously injured in Kinnaur district (Himachal Pradesh) when stones and boulders destabilized by the blasting work carried out for dam construction… Over 154 workers were killed in a span of 12 years, as over one worker was killed every month during the construction of the Nagarjunasagar dam.

    Actually Existing Dangers in the Himalayas 

    Several factors compound dangers of dams which are built in hazard-prone region of the Himalayas.  First is the observation by seismologist Prof. James N. Brune that “No large rock-fill dam of the Tehri type has ever been tested by the shaking that an earthquake in this area could produce… Given the number of persons who live downstream, the risk factor is also extreme.”  Second, the reservoirs created by the dams can themselves increase the likelihood of quakes, a phenomenon called reservoir induced seismicity.  Third is the huge tectonic plate below India called the “Indian Plate.”

    As economist Bharat Jhunjhunwala explains, “The rotation of the earth is causing this plate to continually move northward just like any matter moves to the top in a centrifugal machine. The Indian Plate crashes into the Tibetan Plate as it moves to the north. The pressure between these two plates is leading to the continual rise of the Himalayas and also earthquakes in Uttarakhand in particular.”   The result is an earthquake in the region roughly every 10 years.

    Which of these was the primary cause of the February 2021 dam disaster?  None of them.  According to public health specialist Dr. Anamika Roy, the most likely cause was “retreating glaciers which result in the formation of proglacial lakes, which are often bounded by their sediments and stones, and therefore any breach in the boundaries may lead to a large stream of water rushing down the streams and lakes resulting in a flood down streams.”  Dr. Roy thinks that climate change is a leading factor in the formation of proglacial lakes.

    Professor of glaciology and hydrology Dr. Farooq Azam suggests that a hanging glacier falling from 5600 meters could have caused a rock and ice avalanche, leading to the dam accident.  Taken together, these factors indicate that the Himalayan region is a very bad place to build a dam.  We might even say that the reason for the Tehri dam disaster was that the dam was built.

    Social Problems of Dam Disasters 

    Bharat Dogra details a host of problems for those constructing dams in very remote areas such as the Himalayas:

    • First, a large portion of those constructing dams are migrant workers who are less familiar with floods and other risks than are local residents;
    • Second, even if migrant workers begin to understand on-site risks, they have little or no ability to find other employment if companies order them to continue at their jobs;
    • Third, migrant workers typically live in temporary housing that offers little protection;
    • Fourth, not being near to family or friends, they have little ability to go to others with health problems, special needs, distress, or risk; and,
    • Fifth, it is easier for contractors to suppress information concerning accidents so that workers or surviving families may not receive compensatory payments.

    Common to all of these issues is the fact that laboring in remote parts of the world leaves workers out of the pubic eye, meaning that they can easily be ignored or quickly forgotten after a tragedy.

    A different type of tragedy results from the release of water from the dam reservoir.  The two types are (a) routine releases, which are typically scheduled to occur during peak demand for hydropower generation, and (b) emergency releases, which occur during heavy rain or other high water events.  Release disasters are typically due to emergency releases.  But, on April 11, 2005 thousands of pilgrims attending a religious fair at Dharaji in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh were in the water when 150 were swept away by a huge water surge, causing the death of 65.  This was caused by a routine water release from the Indira Sagar dam on the Narmada River.  Bad judgment during routine operation of a dam can be as deadly as bad judgment regarding where to build a dam.

    Dams in the Time of Exponential Growth

    It is an obscenity to call hydro-power “clean” when it is so closely tied to destruction of aquatic life, threats to land-dwelling flora and fauna, displacement of indigenous people and destruction of their culture, murder of Earth defenders, and exploitation of workers.  It is a double obscenity to claim that hydro-power is an “alternative” to fossil fuels when dams can produce more greenhouse gases than does coal.  Not only do their reservoirs produce methane by rotting organic matter, dams interfere with the ability of downstream ecosystems to remove carbon and they require massive amounts of fossil fuel for the manufacture of concrete and steel for their construction and removal of their debris when they reach the end of their live cycle.

    Nor are dams “renewable.” They do not last nearly as long as the rivers they disrupt.  Concrete and steel eventually rot, which leads to construction of yet another dam.

    A core problem of dams is their exponential growth during the 21st century as it becomes increasingly obvious that they can more rapidly replace fossil fuel energy than can solar and wind power.  The climate crisis is fundamentally due to the uncontrollable growth of capitalism, which requires exponential expansion of energy production.

    Exponential expansion means that every year requires not just more energy but a larger quantity of new energy than the year before.  Eternal economic growth was the root cause behind the murder of Berta Cáceres and the hundreds or thousands of other Earth defenders in Honduras and across the globe.  The unquenchable thirst for energy is why India foreshadows a world building an increasing number of dams where dams should not be built.

    To satisfy their need for energy, corporations first grab the low hanging fruit.  Energy fruit can be “low hanging” because it is in an extremely good location, and/or current land owners are eager for the development, and/or those living on the land can be easily swayed.  The nature of first picking that which is lowest hanging means that, once it is gone, the energy corporations will go to the next lowest hanging fruit.  As time goes by, capital will get closer and closer to the most difficult-to-pick fruit until the last drop of energy is sucked from the planet.  Obviously, having less corrupt politicians and an educated and organized people is much better.  But this will not stop them from being victimized – it will only place them later in line.

    Is “free, prior and informed consent” real or an illusion?  As time passes, the commitment to infinite energy growth intensifies pressure to falsify consent.  What is presented to poor people throughout the world who do not have enough to feed and clothe their families is the question “Do you voluntarily choose to improve your life by giving consent to this project which will destroy the lives of your grandchildren or great-grandchildren after you are gone or do you chose to watch your children go without schools and medical care right now?  Thank you so much for your free and prior consent to this dam/wind farm/solar array.”

    There are essential lessons to learn from the murder of environmentalists and dam collapses.  Capital must bring more violence to communities when using less violence for building dams is not as effective.  Capital must build in increasingly unsafe locations after the safest locations are used up.  If dams which threaten the fewest number of aquatic species are built first, then corporate expansion dictates that dams which threaten more riparian extinctions are next in line.  Capital must move into increasingly biodiverse environments after less biodiverse environments are no longer available.

    This is true for the construction of dams just as it is true for fossil fuels.  It is also true for the location of solar arrays and the location of wind farms.  It is likewise the case for mining the massive number of minerals that go into the production of various type of energy.  This is why “alternative” energy cannot be “clean” or “renewable.”  Perhaps it is time to realize that there is only one form of “clean” energy – less energy.

    A webinar at 7 pm CT on March 10, 2021 will honor the life of Berta Cáceres with a panel featuring Nina Lakhani, author of Who Killed Berta Cáceres?: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet.  Email the address of the author below for details.

    The post From the Murder of Berta Cáceres to Dam Disaster in Uttarakhand first appeared on Dissident Voice.