Category Archives: Internationalism

I’m Still Here, Though My Country’s Gone West

Berlin, Fackelzug zur Gründung der DDR

A mass rally with the Free German Youth that marked the founding of the German Democratic Republic in the Soviet Occupation Zone, October 1949.

A full generation has elapsed since the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) collapsed in late 1991. Two years earlier, in 1989, the communist states of Eastern Europe dissolved, with the first salvo fired when Hungary opened its border. On 3 March 1989, Hungary’s last communist prime minister Miklós Németh asked the USSR’s last President Mikhail Gorbachev whether the border to Western Europe could be opened. ‘We have a strict regime on our borders’, Gorbachev told Németh, ‘but we are also becoming more open’. Three months later, on 15 June, Gorbachev told the press in Bonn (West Germany) that the Berlin Wall ‘could disappear when the preconditions, which brought it about, cease to exist’. He did not list the preconditions, but he said, ‘Nothing is permanent under the Moon’. On 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall was knocked down. By October 1990, the German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik or DDR) was absorbed into a unified Germany dominated by West Germany.

As part of the unification, the structures of the DDR had to be demolished. Headed by the Social Democratic politician Detlev Rohwedder, the new rulers created the Treuhandanstalt (‘Trust Agency’) to privatise 8,500 public enterprises that employed over 4 million workers. ‘Privatise quickly, restructure resolutely, and shut down carefully’, Rohwedder said. But before he could do this, Rohwedder was assassinated in April 1991. He was succeeded by the economist Birgit Breuel who told the Washington Post, ‘We can try to explain ourselves to people, but they will never love us. Because whatever we do, it’s hard for people. With every one of the 8,500 enterprises, we either privatise or restructure or close them down. In every case, people lose jobs’. Hundreds of firms that had been public property (Volkseigentum) fell into private hands and millions of people lost their jobs; during this time, 70% of women lost their jobs. The stunning scale of the corruption and cronyism only came out decades later in a German parliamentary inquiry in 2009.

LPG Mansfeld, Solidaritätsbekundung mit Vietnam

Cooperative farmers handing over a flag of solidarity with the motto ‘Solidarity Hastens Victory’ written on it to the Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, 1972.

Not only did the public property of the DDR slip into the pockets of private capital, but the entire history of the project vanished in a haze of anti-communist rhetoric. The only word that remained to define the forty years of DDR history was stasi, the colloquial name for the Ministry for State Security. Nothing else mattered. Neither the de-Nazification of that part of Germany – which was not conducted in the West – nor the impressive gains in terms of housing, health, education, and social life occupy space in the public imagination. There is little mention of the DDR’s contribution to the anti-colonial struggle or to the socialist construction experiments from Vietnam to Tanzania. All this vanished, the earthquake of the reunification swallowing up the achievements of the DDR and leaving behind the ash heap of social despair and amnesia. Little wonder that poll after poll – whether in the 1990s or the 2000s – show that large numbers of people living in the former East Germany look back longingly for the DDR past. This Ostalgie (‘nostalgia’) for the East remains intact, reinforced by the greater unemployment and lower incomes in the eastern over the western part of Germany.

In 1998, the German parliament set up the Federal Foundation for the Study of Communist Dictatorship in East Germany, which set the terms for the national appraisal of communist history. The organisation’s mandate was to fund research on the DDR that would portray it as a criminal enterprise rather than a historical project. Fury governed the historical undertaking. The attempt to delegitimise Marxism and Communism in Germany mirrored attempts in other countries in Europe and North America that hastened to snuff out the reappearance of these left ideologies. The ferocity of efforts to rewrite history suggested that they feared its return.

This month, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research partnered with the Internationale Forschungsstelle DDR (IF DDR) to produce the first of a new series, Studies on the DDR. The first study, Risen from the Ruins: The Economic History of Socialism in the German Democratic Republic, goes beneath the anti-communist sludge to unearth, in a reasonable way, the historical development of the forty-year project in the DDR. Based in Berlin, the authors of the text sifted through the archives and memories, interviewing those who helped construct socialism in Germany at different levels of society.

Peter Hacks, a poet of the DDR, said in retrospect, ‘The worst socialism is better than the best capitalism. Socialism, that society that was toppled because it was virtuous (a fault on the world market). That society whose economy respects values other than the accumulation of capital: the rights of its citizens to life, happiness, and health; art and science; utility and the reduction of waste’. For when socialism is involved, Hacks said, it is not economic growth, but ‘the growth of its people that is the actual goal of the economy’. Risen from the Ruins lays out the story of the DDR and its people from the ashes of Germany after the defeat of fascism to the economic pillage of the DDR after 1989.

Leipzig, Straßenschild Lumumbastraße

A monument to Patrice Lumumba built by Leipzig’s Free German Youth; the street was later renamed ‘Lumumba Street’ in a ceremony with Congolese students, 1961.

One of the least known parts of the DDR’s history is its internationalism, wonderfully explored in this study. Three brief extracts make the point:

  1. Solidarity Work. Between 1964 and 1988, sixty friendship brigades of the Free German Youth (the DDR youth mass organisation) were deployed to twenty-seven countries in order to share their knowledge, help with construction, and create training opportunities and conditions for economic self-sufficiency. A number of these projects still exist today, though some have taken on different names, such as the Carlos Marx Hospital in Managua, Nicaragua; the German-Vietnamese Friendship Hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam; and the Karl Marx Cement Factory in Cienfuegos, Cuba, to name but a few.
  2. Learning and Exchange Opportunities. Overall, more than 50,000 foreign students successfully completed their education at the universities and colleges of the DDR. The studies were financed by the DDR’s state budget. As a rule, there were no tuition fees, a large number of foreign students received scholarships, and accommodation was provided for them in student halls of residence. In addition to the students, many contract workers came to the DDR from allied states such as Mozambique, Vietnam, and Angola as well as from Poland and Hungary seeking job training and work in production. Right until the end, foreign workers remained a priority, with contract workers growing from 24,000 to 94,000 (1981-1989). In 1989, all foreigners in the DDR received full municipal voting rights and began to nominate candidates themselves.
  3. Political Support. While the West was slandering Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) as terrorists and ‘racists’ and conducting business with the apartheid regime in South Africa – even providing arms shipments – the DDR supported the ANC, provided the freedom fighters with military training, printed their publications, and cared for its wounded. After black students in the township of Soweto launched an uprising against the apartheid regime on 16 June 1976, the DDR began to commemorate international Soweto Day as a sign of solidarity with the South African people and their struggle. Solidarity was even extended to those in the belly of the beast: when Angela Davis was tried as a terrorist in the United States, a DDR correspondent presented her with flowers for Women’s Day and students led the One Million Roses for Angela Davis campaign, during which they delivered truckloads of cards with hand-painted roses to her in prison.

The memory of this solidarity no longer remains either in Germany or in South Africa. Without the material support provided by the DDR, the USSR, and Cuba, it is unlikely that national liberation in South Africa would have come when it did. Cuban military support for the national liberation fighters at the 1987 Battle of Cuito Cuanavale was crucial for this defeat of the South African apartheid army, leading eventually to the collapse of the apartheid project in 1994.

Berlin, 10. Weltfestspiel, Demonstration, Ehrentribüne

The Free German Youth, a member of the World Federation of Democratic Youth, hosted the Tenth World Festival of Youth and Students in Berlin, 1973.

Organisations such as the Federal Foundation for the Study of Communist Dictatorship in East Germany (Berlin) and the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation (Washington, United States) exist not only to denigrate the communist past and to malign communism, but also to make sure that communist projects in the present carry the penalty of their caricatures. To advance a left project in our time – which is imperative – is made much more difficult if it must carry the albatross of anti-communist fabrications on its back. That is the reason why this project, led by IF DDR, is so important. It is not merely an argument about the DDR; it is also, at its core, a broader argument about the possibilities opened by experiments to create a socialist society and the material improvements they create, and have created, in the lives of the people.

Socialism does not emerge fully fledged nor perfectly formed. A socialist project inherits all the limitations of the past. It takes effort and patience to transform a country, with its rigidities and class hierarchies, into a socialist society. The DDR lasted for a mere forty years, half the life expectancy of the average German citizen. In its aftermath, the adversaries of socialism exaggerated all its problems to eclipse its achievements.

Volker Braun, an East German poet, wrote an elegy to his forgotten country in October 1989 called Das Eigentum or Property.

I’m still here: my country has gone West.
PEACE FOR THE PALACES AND WAR ON THE SHACKS.
I myself have given my country the boot.

What little virtue it possessed burns in the fire.
Winter is followed by a summer of desire.

I might as well get lost, who cares what’s next
And no one will ever again decipher my texts.

What I never possessed, from me was taken.
I will eternally long for what I didn’t partake in.

Hope appeared on the path like a trap
You grope and grab at the property I had.

When will I say mine again and mean we and ours.

Our quest here is not to reverse direction and exaggerate all the achievements while hiding the problems. The past is a resource to understand the complexities of social development so that lessons can be learnt about what went wrong and what went right. The IF DDR project, in collaboration with Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, is invested in this kind of archaeology to dig amongst the bones to discover how to improve the way we humans stretch our spines and stand upright with dignity.

The post I’m Still Here, Though My Country’s Gone West first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Engaging the World”: The “Fascinating Story” of Hamas’s Political Evolution

On February 4, representatives from the Palestinian Movement, Hamas, visited Moscow to inform the Russian government of the latest development on the unity talks between the Islamic Movement and its Palestinian counterparts, especially Fatah.

This was not the first time that Hamas’s officials traveled to Moscow on similar missions. In fact, Moscow continues to represent an important political breathing space for Hamas, which has been isolated by Israel’s Western benefactors. Involved in this isolation are also several Arab governments which, undoubtedly, have done very little to break the Israeli siege on Gaza.

The Russia-Hamas closeness is already paying dividends. On February 17, shipments of the Russian COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, have made it to Gaza via Israel, a testament to that growing rapport.

While Russia alone cannot affect a complete paradigm shift in the case of Palestine, Hamas feels that a Russian alternative to the blind and conditional American support for Israel is possible, if not urgent.

Recently, we interviewed Dr. Daud Abdullah, the author of ‘Engaging the World: The Making of Hamas’s Foreign Policy’, and Mr. Na’eem Jeenah, Director of the Afro-Middle East Center in Johannesburg, which published Dr. Abdullah’s book.

Abdullah’s volume on Hamas is a must-read, as it offers a unique take on Hamas, liberating the discussion on the Movement from the confines of the reductionist Western media’s perception of Hamas as terrorist – and of the counterclaims, as well. In this book, Hamas is viewed as a political actor, whose armed resistance is only a component in a complex and far-reaching strategy.

Why Russia? 

As Moscow continues to cement its presence in the region by offering itself as a political partner and, compared with the US, a more balanced mediator between Israel and the Palestinians, Hamas sees the developing Russian role as a rare opportunity to break away from the US-Israel imposed isolation.

“Russia was a member of the Quartet that was set up in 2003 but, of course, as a member of the (United Nations) Security Council, it has always had an ability to inform the discourse on Palestine,” Abdullah said, adding that in light of “the gradual demise of American influence, Russia realized that there was an emerging vacuum in the region, particularly after the (Arab) uprisings.”

“With regard to Hamas and Russia the relationship took off after the (Palestinian) elections in 2006 but it was not Hamas’s initiative, it was (Russian President Vladimir) Putin who, in a press conference in Madrid after the election, said that he would be willing to host Hamas’s leadership in Moscow. Because Russia is looking for a place in the region.”

Hamas’s willingness to engage with the Russians has more than one reason, chief among them is the fact that Moscow, unlike the US, refused to abide by Israel’s portrayal of the Movement. “The fundamental difference between Russia and America and China … is that the Russians and the Chinese do not recognize Hamas as a ‘terrorist organization’; they have never done so, unlike the Americans, and so it made it easy for them to engage openly with Hamas,” Abdullah said.

On Hamas’s ‘Strategic Balance’

In his book, Abdullah writes about the 1993 Oslo Accords, which represented a watershed moment, not only for Hamas but also for the entire Palestinian liberation struggle. The shift towards a US-led ‘peace process’ compelled Hamas to maintain a delicate balance “between strategic objectives and tactical flexibility.”

Abdullah wrote:

Hamas sees foreign relations as an integral and important part of its political ideology and liberation strategy. Soon after the Movement emerged, foreign policies were developed to help its leaders and members navigate this tension between idealism and realism. This pragmatism is evident in the fact that Hamas was able to establish relations with the regimes of Muammar Gaddhafi in Libya and Bashar al-Assad in Syria, both of whom were fiercely opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.

In our interview, Abdullah elaborated:

From the very beginning, Hamas adopted certain principles in respect to its international relations and, later on, in the formation of a foreign policy. Among these, there is a question of maintaining its independence of decision-making; non-alignment in conflicting blocks, avoidance of interference in the affairs of other states.

Mr. Jeenah, an accomplished writer himself, also spoke of the “delicate balance.”

“It is a delicate balance, and a difficult one to maintain because, at this stage, when movements are regarded and regard themselves as liberation movements, they need to have higher moral and ethical standards than, for example, governments,” Jeenah said.  “For some reason, we expect that governments have to make difficult choices but, with liberation movements, we don’t, because they are all about idealism and creating an ideal society, etc.”

Jeenah uses the South Africa anti-apartheid struggle which, in many ways, is comparable to the Palestinian quest for freedom, to illustrate his point:

When the liberation movement in South Africa was exiled, they took a similar kind of position. While some of them might have had a particular allegiance to the Soviet Union or to China, some of them also had strong operations in European countries, which they regarded as part of the bigger empire. Nevertheless, they had the freedom to operate there. Some of them operated in other African countries where there were dictatorships and they got protection from those states.

Hamas and the Question of National Unity

In his book, which promises to be an essential read on the subject, Abdullah lists six principles that guide Hamas’s political agenda. One of these guiding principles is the “search for common ground.”

In addressing the question of Palestinian factionalism, we contended that, while Fatah has failed at creating a common, nominally democratic platform for Palestinians to interact politically, Hamas cannot be entirely blameless. If that is, indeed, the case, can one then make the assertion that Hamas has succeeded in its search for the elusive common ground?

Abdullah answers:

Let me begin with what happened after the elections in 2006. Although Hamas won convincingly and they could have formed a government, they decided to opt for a government of national unity. They offered to (Palestinian Authority President) Mahmoud Abbas and to (his party) Fatah to come into a government of national unity. They didn’t want to govern by themselves. And that, to me, is emblematic of their vision, their commitment to national unity.

But the question of national unity, however coveted and urgently required, is not just controlled by Palestinians.

The PLO is the one that signed the Oslo Accords,” Abdullah said, “and I think this is one of Hamas’s weaknesses: as much as it wants national unity and a reform of the PLO, the fact of the matter is Israel and the West will not allow Hamas to enter into the PLO easily, because this would be the end of Oslo.

On Elections under Military Occupation

On January 15, Abbas announced an official decree to hold Palestinian elections, first presidential, then legislative, then elections within the PLO’s Palestine National Council (PNC), which has historically served as a Palestinian parliament in exile. The first phase of these elections is scheduled for May 22.

But will this solve the endemic problem of Palestinian political representation? Moreover, is this the proper historical evolution of national liberation movements – democracy under military occupation, followed by liberation, instead of the other way around?

Jeenah spoke of this dichotomy:

On the one hand, elections are an opportunity for Palestinians to express their choices. On the other hand, what is the election really? We are not talking about a democratic election for the State, but for a Bantustan authority, at greater restraints than the South African authority.

Moreover, the Israeli “occupying power will not make the mistake it did the last time. It will not allow such freedom (because of which) Hamas (had) won the elections. I don’t think Israel is going to allow it now.”

Yet there is a silver lining in this unpromising scenario. According to Jeenah, “I think the only difference this election could make is allowing some kind of reconciliation between Gaza and the West Bank.”

Hamas, the ICC and War Crimes 

Then, there is the urgent question of the anticipated war crime investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Yet, when the ICC agreed to consider allegations of war crimes in Palestine, chances are not only alleged Israeli war criminals are expected to be investigated, but the probe could potentially consider the questioning of Palestinians, as well. Should not this concern Hamas in the least?

In the Israeli wars on Gaza in 2008, 2012 and 2014, Hamas, along with other armed groups had no other option but to “defend the civilian population,” Abdullah said, pointing out that the “overriding concept” is that the Movement “believes in the principle of international law.”

If Hamas “can restore the rights of the Palestinian people through legal channels, then it will be much easier for the Movement, rather than having to opt for the armed struggle,” Abdullah asserted.

Understanding Hamas

Undoubtedly, it is crucial to understand Hamas, not only as part of the Palestine-related academic discourse, but in the everyday political discourse concerning Palestine; in fact, the entire region. Abdullah’s book is itself critical to this understanding.

Jeenah argued that Abdullah’s book is not necessarily an “introductory text to the Hamas Movement. It has a particular focus, which is the development of Hamas’s foreign policy. The importance of that, in general, is firstly that there isn’t a text that deals specifically with Hamas’s foreign policy. What this book does is present Hamas as a real political actor.”

The evolution of Hamas’s political discourse and behavior since its inception, according to Jeenah, is a “fascinating” one.

Many agree. Commenting on the book, leading Israeli historian, Professor Ilan Pappé, wrote,

This book challenges successfully the common misrepresentation of Hamas in the West. It is a must-read for anyone engaged with the Palestine issue and interested in an honest introduction to this important Palestinian Movement.

• (Dr. Daud Abdullah’s book, Engaging the World: The Making of Hamas’s Foreign Policy, is available here.)

The post “Engaging the World”: The “Fascinating Story” of Hamas’s Political Evolution first appeared on Dissident Voice.

On the Streets, In Union Halls, On the Frontlines: Have Guitar, Will Travel

Each couch by the street has a story
I wonder what this one maybe
Did they leave their home and move into a car
Or find a sofa to sleep on at a friend’s house
Did they stay near, or go far away
Disappear without a trace […]
When they come to evict your neighbor, what will you do?

— “Each Couch by the Street” song by David Rovics

Songs For Today | David Rovics

When I checked the Street Roots archives by putting in the search window, “David Rovics,” I got one hit:  a March 8, 2010 press release, “Peace groups, parents, children and folk musicians Steve Einhorn, Kate Powers, and David Rovics will all be at the rally outside Portland Public Schools headquarters.”

It was a protest against military influence in Portland’s K-12 Portland Public Schools. He was there singing to inspire parents opposing a $320,000 revenue contract for Starbase, a 25-hour educational program funded out of the Department of Defense recruitment budget.

Fast forward a decade: If you’ve been part of the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, you might have heard David Rovics perform social justice and protest songs outside Mayor Ted Wheeler’s condo or at Revolution Hall after the election.

The 53-year-old father of three (ages one, four and 14 years) has been working the protest concert circuit since 1993, helping lift spirits at WTO protests, environmental actions, antiwar events, and more.

Think of Rovics as an iteration of Joe Hill, a la Arlo Guthrie-Phil Ochs-Pete Seeger-Joan Baez. And Buffy Sainte-Marie, for sure!

Journalist Amy Goodman referred to Rovics as “the musical version of Democracy Now!” Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan called him “the peace poet and troubadour of our time.”

David Rovics - WikipediaAccolades aside, we talked about the landscape before and now during (and post) Covid-19 being littered with dwindling hope for all artists. Many artists will not make it, study after study bear out.

“I definitely know folks who have either gotten on unemployment or gotten a job not related to their art, as a result of the pandemic.  Of course, I also know a lot of artists who had to throw in the towel long before the pandemic, as a result of Spotify, Amazon, etc., and theses corporations’ cannibalistic orientation towards the arts.”

He came to Portland from Berkley almost 14 years ago, and he too, like so many artists I have spoken with, experienced a Portland that was a Mecca for artists – thriving music, theater and graphic arts scenes that allowed creatives to live and provided venues at affordable rents in order for artists to show their stuff.

Progressive U.S. singer banned from entering New Zealand

That nirvana didn’t last long – “Artists started clearing out of the city, with most of the Black population from the inner neighborhoods moving to the exurbs.” That wave started around 2007.

Rovics is acutely aware that most of the thriving artists who might weather economic tsunamis are white artists, but there are thousands upon thousands of BIPOC artists who continue working but do not have those “safety nets” underneath them.  The mainstream and commercial art scene will continue to be a white wave.

This gentrification is now coupled with lack of income(s), Rovics says, as artists who used to be able to show and sell their work (and bar-tend and wait tables), and in the case of musicians, perform and then peddle “merch” at venues, have zero options for in-person engagement.

Mounting debt, continuing eviction threats, and increasing vulnerability to disease and illness also are additional factors to the mental health stress of artists. David knows of artists who just have shut down, and can’t work. Others are manic, going through sleepless periods but producing a lot. For Rovics, he fits this latter category, but he admits he is not immune to GAD – general anxiety disorder. He told me he watches a lot more news feeds than he did before the pandemic, and doesn’t sleep through the night.

David Rovics & David Rovics - The Radio8Ball Show

“The whole response of this country has been a disaster,” he points out. “Whole industries have collapsed. There have been anemic shreds of money, but it will not magically keep society as we know it going. What is it, the day after Christmas when unemployment benefits run out?”

We both agreed Charles Dickens, if alive, would be in a 24/7, 365 days a year flurry of creativity and commentary.

There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth! Poverty and oysters always seem to go together. To close the eyes, and give a seemly comfort to the apparel of the dead, is poverty’s holiest touch of nature.

— Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs Gone Haywire

It’s difficult to not keep circling back to the fact many people – artists included – are both depressed and inspired by the events that have unfolded since February. “I’ve talked to a lot of artists who tell me the isolation takes away that creative edge. I also know of people succumbing to more serious mental health issues. I have one friend in a psychotic episode who was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning.”

Painting in a studio by yourself is one thing, but Rovics points out that because all venues for performing artists are shuttered, touring musicians are really having it hard. “They are addicted to performing, so this isolation has been devastating.”

The pandemic might be the last nail in the coffin for truly independent, thriving, outside-the-box artists. Rovics has studied the wave of predatory capitalists running Spotify and Amazon that has helped move the minuscule profits from artists to investors: millionaires and the billionaire owners like Jeff Bezos (Amazon).

Posts by David Rovics | Orbitt.net

The music industry has been trying to separate music from politics for years now, trying to get artists to believe that politically oriented music is not attractive for mainstream audiences so they produce work that is safe and preferably only between two people. But artists are part of society too, so they can’t expect to be above politics, he stated in a 2009 interview.

Spotify is another beast Rovics condemns.  According to Rolling Stone’s Tim Ingham, “In total, at the close of last year, SEC documents show that exactly 65 percent of Spotify was owned by just six parties: the firm’s co-founders, Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon (30.6 percent of ordinary shares between them); Tencent Holdings Ltd. (9.1 percent); and a run of three asset-management specialists: Baillie Gifford (11.8 percent), Morgan Stanley (7.3 percent), and T. Rowe Price Associates (6.2 percent). These three investment powerhouses owned more than 25 percent of Spotify between them — a fact worth remembering next time there’s an argument about whose interests Spotify is acting in when it makes controversial moves (for example, Spotify’s ongoing legal appeal against a royalty pay rise for songwriters in the United States).”

The problems artists are facing are part of a many-headed Hydra Rovics calls “vulture capitalism.”

He also confronts this problem from renter’s and the affordable housing lenses. He naturally comes to the conclusion that Capitalism in this sense is fraught with parasites:

“The way forward is about solidarity, but achieving solidarity will require moving beyond the false consciousness that says it is okay to run a society like this,” he states. “That housing is a privilege, whose cost is to be determined by profit-minded individuals and corporations, protected by the state’s armed enforcers. We must collectively come to realize that housing is actually a right, that we must demand, as a society. And that a rent strike is an activity to engage in not only if you can’t afford to pay the rent, but if you believe that it is wrong to pay the rent, when so many others are unable to. That an injury to one is an injury to all. That the parasites in this society are not the unemployed, the homeless, the recipients of meager government aid programs, the housing insecure, the couch-surfers, the car-dwellers. The parasites are those who own multiple properties, and profit off of renting them to people who need housing. This is a parasitic activity, whether hiding behind the fig leaf called ‘mom and pop,’ or whether ‘mom and pop’ has successfully managed to turn their little operation into a bigger one.”

David Rovics - Home | Facebook

The people who control the rents for galleries, theaters and cinemas answer to the owners, the investment boards and many times to behemoth property management entities, he states.  And while artists’ careers will pile up by the wayside like those couches in Portland he wrote a song about, what is worse is that the “art” that is and will be coming out of the corporations controlling culture will be narrowed down and basically “crap.”

The reverberations of artists not making it go way beyond the axiom of “where you find one successful artist, you will find a thousand starving artists behind them.” The hoarders of capital are the dream hoarders, and these Titans of Predatory Capitalism are galvanizing a highly commercialized, denuded, lowest-common-denominator “arts.” Disneyfication, infantilization, consumerist, apolitical and anti-working-class pabulum might be another way to couch what is happening in the arts.

Rovics and I talk intensely about these series of preventable events in a Time of Covid.

No matter where the reader stands on this question of what is art, the fact of the matter is people need housing to not just survive and shield themselves from the elements, but to be dignified, spiritually available to the world and to be creative.

Rovics is part of Artists for Rent Control (ARC) and a more recent group, PEER – Portland Emergency Eviction Response (his creation). When I went to PEER’s website, I found a plethora of information, podcasts of mostly Rovic’s songs and ways to stave the flow of blood that both artists and non-artists living in Portland face with their housing.

PEER is definitely grassroots, sort of a network with no financial backing or lobbying clout. It has one clear strategy, and one tactic.

The goal is the abolition of forced eviction as an option for landlords and police forces. The implementation of the goal is to form a large and militant rapid response team that can respond quickly to attempted evictions as they are occurring, and at that point either stop them from happening, or move the tenant back in to the property after the police leave the scene,” Rovics states. “Specifically, or at least ideally, the process we’re talking about goes something like this: Tenants facing potential eviction because they’re pretty sure they’ll be unable to pay the back rent due when the eviction moratorium is over are faced with various decisions. They may have family they can move in with — a majority of young adults now live with their parents in the US, for the first time since the 1930’s. A tenant will often prefer to move into a vehicle or do any number of other things other than attempt to stay in their home after receiving an eviction notice. Forgive the harshness of this sentence, but these are not the tenants that are tactically of interest to PEER. We are looking to work with tenants who want to challenge their eviction notice by attempting to stay in their homes. We realize the stakes are high, and you do, too. People may decide to try to stay in their homes because they have no other options they want to consider, or because they want to challenge the whole system of forced eviction, or both.

Seeds of Creativity, Germination into Activism

Escalation in Portland - CounterPunch.org

Rovics grew up in New York with two musicians as parents. They also taught music, and they were progressive and anti-establishment. He started touring in the 1990s dialed into groups like Students for Environmental Action. He did a lot of college campuses concerts. He worked as an activist songwriter/performer in the anti-war and Occupy Wall Street movements. He was a long hair white guy with a guitar and anger.

“In places like Germany and Scandinavian countries, unionism has always been strong. I’ve performed in trade halls, union halls, theaters. Take a country like Denmark – the government supports the arts in a big way.” Even punk rock squat concerts were financed by governments and unions.

Before the pandemic, Rovics toured Europe two months in the Spring and two more in the Fall. He said he was paid well. “Students and activists would come in for free, drink cheap beer and my merchandise sales were significant.”

So, Spring would have Rovics crisscrossing nine countries, mostly in Scandinavia. Then in the Fall he would tour in Britain and Ireland. Each concert, each interaction created a bigger and broader group of adherents and fans. Getting people’s emails is like a gold mine, the musician tells me.

While the gigs attract a wide variety of people, he emphasizes it is mostly left-wing idealists and organizers unified in the  anti-war, anti-imperialism, global justice, environmental movements. Not all left-wingers fit the same mold, though, so socialists, anarchists, hippie environmentalists and even in Ireland Sein Fein members would populate the audiences in his concerts.

Even though Rovics — before he started his own family — lived out of a vehicle as he toured, and was homeless for two years in his youth, he knows he came into the world and into the arts with a boatload of white privilege and that his two musician parents and his life back east provided him with untold advantages.

“I play for people across the board, from wealthy to the homeless.” He has written and performed songs about homelessness.

When I asked him about artists forced onto the streets because of the pandemic, Rovics said he wasn’t aware of any in Portland who hit that far into rock bottom land. “I was just talking with a panel discussion of artists —  one in Detroit who got a job as a welder, another in New York who got on unemployment, another artist who has felt very inspired by the pandemic,  and one who has not done anything in months, because of the negative impact of the isolation she’s experiencing.”

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.

— Victor Hugo

We talk much about activism welded to the arts – “Activists, many of whom are barely making a living or working two jobs just to make ends meet, are also stressed out for a variety of reasons, but they tend to be among the happier people in society because they are trying to do something. That is empowering. My line of work permits me to travel around the world regularly and I meet people like that all the time and they’re lovely.”

Not so ironically, the murder of a friend in 1993, was to him, a seminal moment in his life: a gang shooting that was intended for someone else. He was moved to action on a global justice plane. He composed a song about it in “Song for Eric”:

San Francisco at night
And the warm summer breeze
Walking back alleys
Just as free as you please
And I think of those poor boys
Who drove up to say
“Give us your money”
And then they blew you away
With one pull of a trigger
Your sweet life was through

Every time I see that street, I think of you

Ballad of a Wobbly | David Rovics

As a final (side note), I contacted David to help facilitate another piece for this column about two artists and two others associated with the arts concerning their thoughts on Art in a Time of Covid. What unfurled was a deep discussion with this inspiring man, active in Portland on many levels. While he is not “down so long everything looks up to him,” David and his family have been on a rent strike and are having issues making ends meet.

“As of November 21, just in case it’s of interest to your editor, my family’s situation is that we have been denied unemployment since last April, inexplicably, so other than the $1,200 per adult and $500 per kid we received from the feds early on, we have gotten no federal aid.”

They’ve also been denied food stamps because they make too much money, but they’ve been getting the supplementary food aid ($500 for a family of five) Oregon has added to the usual amount people get over recent months.

The reality is an anarchist like David Rovics is optimistic and less hopeful in the same breath He tells me social democratic countries are faring far better than capitalist countries like the USA. He believes system change is best taught through storytelling. “People get turned off if you tell them what should and should not be.” Being a troubadour allows him to relate to the individual struggles of our time, set forth universalities hardcore lectures on the ills of war, capitalism and climate change can’t facilitate, he believes.

This statement Rovics made in 2019 in response to the “concentration camps” set up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) highlights this dichotomy of hope and struggle:

“We all had that conversation when we were kids about how if we could go back in time and shoot Hitler, even though we’d be sacrificing our lives in the process, we’d do it, but we probably wouldn’t, and we don’t.  The overwhelming majority of humanity, quite sensibly, according to the historical record, don’t stick their necks out like that unless they think there’s at least some remote chance of coming out the other end with their heads intact, along with a victorious social movement and an end to the fascist dictator they’re trying to get rid of in the first place.  Social movements are based on optimism, and this isn’t an optimistic moment in America.  So, this is what it’s like.”

Check his music here, and these are David’s top picks of his current work: Say their Names; Anarchist Jurisdiction; Essentially Expendable; Each Couch by the Street; Wear a Mask. David Rovics music

David Rovics | ReverbNation

 

 

The post On the Streets, In Union Halls, On the Frontlines: Have Guitar, Will Travel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Total Reset” is Wishful Thinking: The Daunting Task of Reordering US Foreign Policy

A new term has imposed itself on the conversation regarding the impending presidency of US President-elect, Joe Biden: “The Total Reset”. Many headlines have already promised that the Biden Presidency is ready to ‘reset’ US foreign policy across the globe, as if the matter is dependent solely on an American desire and decision.

While a ‘total reset’ is, perhaps, possible in some aspects of US policies – for example, a reversal of the Donald Trump Administration’s decision to abandon the Paris Agreement on climate change – it is highly unlikely that the US can simply reclaim its position in many other geopolitical battles around the globe.

President Trump was often accused of leading an ‘isolationist’ foreign policy, a misleading term that, according to Stephen Wertheim’s Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy, was deliberately coined to silence those who dared challenge the advocates of military adventurism and interventionism in the first half of the twentieth century.

Trump was hardly an ‘isolationist’ in that sense, for he merely invested more in economic warfare than firepower. However, traditional US foreign policy makers felt that an American ‘retreat’ from crucial geopolitical fights, especially in the Middle East, has undermined US influence and emboldened regional and international contenders to fill in the political vacancy resulting from that alleged retreat.

Even if that were true and that a Biden Administration is keen on reclaiming the US position in the Middle East and within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), such a task will not be easy.

It is convenient to assume that US foreign policy is entirely dictated by a single administration. While, indeed, each American president is often affiliated with a particular ‘doctrine’ that serves the purpose of defining him and his presidency, the truth, backed by historical facts, is rather different.

For example, President George W. Bush launched a war on Iraq in 2003, which associated him with the ‘preemptive war’ doctrine. Yet, it was also Bush who ordered the final ‘military surge’ in Iraq as a prelude to a subsequent withdrawal, a process that continued during Barack Obama’s two terms in office and, again, under Trump. In other words, US behavior in Iraq followed a blueprint that, despite the seemingly contradicting rhetoric, was adhered to by different administrations.

In 2012, Obama declared his own version of the ‘total reset’ by announcing the ‘Pivot to Asia’ plan. This seismic move was meant to illustrate a growing belief that America’s real geopolitical challenge lies in the Pacific region, not in the Middle East. Obama’s ‘doctrine’ at the time was, itself, an outcome of burgeoning discourse championed by US foreign policy think-tanks with allegiances to both Democratic and Republican policymakers.

While Trump is often ridiculed for his over-emphasis on China as America’s greatest threat, Obama, too, made the trade war with China a centerpiece in his foreign policy agenda, especially during his second term at the White House. Obama’s frequent visits to Asia and many decisive speeches at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conferences were largely meant to solidify an American-led Asia-Pacific alliance with the single aim of torpedoing China’s perceived military and economic expansionism in the region.

Trump’s economic war on China was, undoubtedly, an American escalation which translated growing frustration among Washington’s elites into practical steps, however hasty and, at times, self-defeating. Still, the anti-China policy was hardly the brainchild of President Trump or his administration.

With that in mind, one wonders how would Biden be able to achieve a ‘total reset’ when US foreign policy is but the total aggregation of previous policies under past administrations? Even if one is to assume that Biden intends to author a whole new doctrine independent from those of his predecessors, such a task is still too daunting.

Indeed, the world is vastly changing, leaving the US with the opportunity to merely renegotiate its positions as a central global power – but, certainly not as the world’s only hegemon.

Just look at the Middle East region of the last few years to appreciate the US dichotomy. What started as a political feud between Turkey and Russia in Syria and almost escalated into an all-out military confrontation, eventually subsided, bringing Ankara and Moscow closer together.

While Turkey has, for years, charted a whole new political course, cautiously walking away from the declining NATO alliance, while looking to create its own zones of influence in Syria, Libya, Eastern Mediterranean and, finally, in the New Caucasus region, Russia too was asserting itself as a global power in these same regions and beyond.

Certainly, Turkey and Russia still stand at different ends of the spectrum regarding various geopolitical conflicts. However, they have learned that they must coordinate to fill the vacuum created by the US-NATO absence. Their cooperation has, indeed, already delivered concrete results and allowed both countries to claim victories by relatively stabilizing the situation in Syria, largely marginalizing NATO in Libya and, finally, achieving a ceasefire in the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno Karabakh.

If Biden is to reinsert the US back into these conflicts, his administration will find itself in the position of fighting on multiple fronts, against friends and foes alike.

While it is too early to determine the nature of Biden’s foreign policy doctrine, it behooves the new administration to alter its perception of itself and the world at large, and to understand that sheer military power is no longer a guarantor of political and economic influence.

Instead of advancing such wishful thinking as a ‘total reset’, it is far more practical and beneficial to consider an alternative that is predicated on dialogue and a multilateral approach to political and economic conflicts.

The post "Total Reset" is Wishful Thinking: The Daunting Task of Reordering US Foreign Policy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

How Che Guevara Taught Cuba to Confront COVID-19

Beginning in December 1951, Ernesto “Che” Guevara took a nine-month break from medical school to travel by motorcycle through Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. One of his goals was gaining practical experience with leprosy. On the night of his twenty-fourth birthday, Che was at La Colonia de San Pablo in Peru swimming across the river to join the lepers. He walked among six hundred lepers in jungle huts looking after themselves in their own way.

Che would not have been satisfied to just study and sympathize with them – he wanted to be with them and understand their existence. Being in contact with people who were poor and hungry while they were sick transformed Che. He envisioned a new medicine, with doctors who would serve the greatest number people with preventive care and public awareness of hygiene. A few years later, Che joined Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement as a doctor and was among the eighty-one men aboard the Granma as it landed in Cuba on December 2, 1956.

Revolutionary Medicine

After the January 1, 1959, victory that overthrew Fulgencio Batista, the new Cuban constitution included Che’s dream of free medical care for all as a human right. An understanding of the failings of disconnected social systems led the revolutionary government to build hospitals and clinics in under-served parts of the island at the same time that it began addressing crises of literacy, racism, poverty, and housing. Cuba overhauled its clinics both in 1964 and again in 1974 to better link communities and patients. By 1984, Cuba had introduced doctor-nurse teams who lived in the neighborhoods where they had offices (consultorios).

The United States became ever more bellicose, so in 1960 Cubans organized Committees for Defense of the Revolution to defend the country. The committees prepared to move the elderly, disabled, sick, and mentally ill to higher ground if a hurricane approached, thus intertwining domestic health care and foreign affairs, a connection that has been maintained throughout Cuba’s history.

As Cuba’s medical revolution was based on extending medical care beyond the major cities and into the rural communities that needed it the most, it was a logical conclusion to extend that assistance to other nations. The revolutionary government sent doctors to Chile after a 1960 earthquake and a medical brigade in 1963 to Algeria, which was fighting for independence from France. These set the stage for the country’s international medical aid, which grew during the decades and now includes helping treat the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the late 1980s and early ’90s, two disasters threatened the very existence of the country. The first victim of AIDS died in 1986. In December 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, ending its $5 billion annual subsidy, disrupting international commerce, and sending the Cuban economy into a free fall that exacerbated the AIDS epidemic. A perfect storm for AIDS infection appeared on the horizon. The HIV infection rate for the Caribbean region was second only to southern Africa, where a third of a million Cubans had recently been during the Angolan wars. The embargo on the island reduced the availability of drugs (including those for HIV/AIDS), made existing pharmaceuticals outrageously expensive, and disrupted the financial infrastructures used for drug purchases. Desperately needing funds, Cuba opened the floodgate of tourism.

The government drastically reduced services in all areas except two: education and health care. Its research institutes developed Cuba’s own diagnostic test for HIV by 1987. Over twelve million tests were completed by 1993. By 1990, when gay people had become the island’s primary HIV victims, homophobia was officially challenged in schools. Condoms were provided for free at doctors’ offices and, despite the expense, so were anti-retroviral drugs.

Cuba’s united and well-planned effort to cope with HIV/AIDS paid off. At the same time that Cuba had two hundred AIDS cases, New York City (with about the same population) had forty-three thousand cases. Despite having only a small fraction of the wealth and resources of the United States, Cuba had overcome the devastating effects of the U.S. blockade and had implemented an AIDS program superior to that of the country seeking to destroy it. During this Special Period, Cubans experienced longer lives and lower infant mortality rates in comparison to the United States. Cuba had inspired healers throughout the world to believe that a country with a coherent and caring medical system can thrive, even against tremendous odds.

COVID-19 Hits Cuba

Overcoming the HIV/AIDS and Special Period crises prepared Cuba for COVID-19. Aware of the intensity of the pandemic, Cuba knew that it had two inseparable responsibilities: to take care of its own with a comprehensive program and to share its capabilities internationally.

The government immediately carried out a task that proved very difficult in a market-driven economy – altering the equipment of nationalized factories (which usually made school uniforms) to manufacture masks. These provided an ample supply for Cuba by the middle of April 2020, while the United States, with its enormous productive capacity, was still suffering a shortage.

Discussions at the highest levels of the Cuban Ministry of Public Health drew up the national policy. There would need to be massive testing to determine who had been infected. Infected persons would need to be quarantined while ensuring that they had food and other necessities. Contact tracing would be used to determine who else might be exposed. Medical staff would need to go door to door to check on the health of every citizen. Consultorio staff would give special attention to everyone in the neighborhood who might be high risk.

By March 2, Cuba had instituted the Novel Coronavirus Plan for Prevention and Control. Within four days, it expanded the plan to include taking the temperature of and possibly isolating infected incoming travelers. These occurred before Cuba’s first confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis on March 11. Cuba had its first confirmed COVID-19 fatality by March 22, when there were thirty-five confirmed cases, almost one thousand patients being observed in hospitals, and over thirty thousand people under surveillance at home. The next day it banned the entry of nonresident foreigners, which took a deep bite into the country’s tourism revenue.

That was the day that Cuba’s Civil Defense went on alert to respond rapidly to COVID-19 and the Havana Defense Council decided that there was a serious problem in the city’s Vedado district, famous for being the largest home to nontourist foreign visitors who were more likely to have been exposed to the virus. By April 3, the district was closed. As Merriam Ansara witnessed, “anyone with a need to enter or leave must prove that they have been tested and are free of COVID-19.” The Civil Defense made sure stores were supplied and all vulnerable people received regular medical checks.

Vedado had eight confirmed cases, a lot for a small area. Cuban health officials wanted the virus to remain at the “local spread” stage, when it can be traced while going from one person to another. They sought to prevent it from entering the “community spread” stage, when tracing is not possible because it is moving out of control. As U.S. health professionals begged for personal protective equipment and testing in the United States was so sparse that people had to ask to be tested (rather than health workers testing contacts of infected patients), Cuba had enough rapid test kits to trace contacts of persons who had contracted the virus.

During late March and early April, Cuban hospitals were also changing work patterns to minimize contagion. Havana doctors went into Salvador Allende Hospital for fifteen days, staying overnight within an area designated for medical staff. Then they moved to an area separate from patients where they lived for another fifteen days and were tested before returning home. They stayed at home without leaving for another fifteen days and were tested before resuming practice. This forty-five-day period of isolation prevented medical staff from bringing disease to the community via their daily trips to and from work.

The medical system extends from the consultorio to every family in Cuba. Third-, fourth-, and fifth-year medical students are assigned by consultorio doctors to go to specific homes each day. Their tasks include obtaining survey data from residents or making extra visits to the elderly, infants, and those with respiratory problems. These visits gather preventive medicine data that is then taken into account by those in the highest decision-making positions of the country. When students bring their data, doctors use a red pen to mark hot spots where extra care is necessary. Neighborhood doctors meet regularly at clinics to talk about what each doctor is doing, what they are discovering, what new procedures the Cuban Ministry of Public Health is adopting, and how the intense work is affecting medical staff.

In this way, every Cuban citizen and every health care worker, from those at neighborhood doctor offices through those at the most esteemed research institutes, has a part in determining health policy. Cuba currently has eighty-nine thousand doctors, eighty-four thousand nurses, and nine thousand students scheduled to graduate from medical studies in 2020. The Cuban people would not tolerate the head of the country ignoring medical advice, spouting nonsensical statements, and determining policy based on what would be most profitable for corporations.

The Cuban government approved free distribution of the homeopathic medicine PrevengHo-Vir to residents of Havana and Pinar del Rio province. Susana Hurlich was one of many receiving it. On April 8, Dr. Yaisen, one of three doctors at the consultorio two blocks from her home, came to the door with a small bottle of PrevengHo-Vir and explained how to use it. Instructions warn that it reinforces the immune system but is not a substitute for Interferon Alpha 2B, nor is it a vaccine. Hurlich believes that something important “about Cuba’s medical system is that rather than being two-tiered, as is often the case in other countries, with ‘classical medicine’ on the one hand and ‘alternative medicine’ on the other, Cuba has ONE health system that includes it all. When you study to become a doctor, you also learn about homeopathic medicine in all its forms.”

Global Solidarity in the Time of COVID-19

A powerful model: Perhaps the most critical component of Cuba’s medical internationalism during the COVID-19 crisis has been using its decades of experience to create an example of how a country can confront the virus with a compassionate and competent plan. Public health officials around the world were inspired by Cuba’s actions.

Transfer of knowledge: When viruses that cause Ebola, mainly found in sub-Saharan Africa, increased dramatically in the fall of 2014, much of the world panicked. Soon, over twenty thousand people were infected, more than eight thousand had died, and worries mounted that the death toll could reach into hundreds of thousands. The United States provided military support; other countries promised money. Cuba was the first nation to respond with what was most needed: it sent 103 nurse and 62 doctor volunteers to Sierra Leone. Since many governments did not know how to respond to the disease, Cuba trained volunteers from other nations at Havana’s Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine. In total, Cuba taught 13,000 Africans, 66,000 Latin Americans, and 620 Caribbeans how to treat Ebola without themselves becoming infected. Sharing understanding on how to organize a health system is the highest level of knowledge transfer.

Venezuela has attempted to replicate fundamental aspects of the Cuban health model on a national level, which has served Venezuela well in combating COVID-19. In 2018, residents of Altos de Lidice organized seven communal councils, including one for community health. A resident made space in his home available to the Communal Healthcare System initiative so that Dr. Gutierrez could have an office. He coordinates data collections to identify at-risk residents and visits all residents in their homes to explain how to avoid infection by COVID-19. Nurse del Valle Marquez is a Chavista who helped implement the Barrio Adentro when the first Cuban doctors arrived. She remembers that residents had never seen a doctor inside their community, but when the Cubans arrived “we opened our doors to the doctors, they lived with us, they ate with us, and they worked among us.”

Stories like this permeate Venezuela. As a result of building a Cuban-type system, TeleSUR reported that by April 11, 2020, the Venezuelan government had conducted 181,335 early Polymerase Chain Reaction tests in time to have the lowest infection rate in Latin America. Venezuela had only 6 infections per million citizens while neighboring Brazil had 104 infections per million.

When Rafael Correa was president of Ecuador, over one thousand Cuban doctors formed the backbone of its health care system. Lenin Moreno was elected in 2017 and Cuban doctors were soon expelled, leaving public medicine in chaos. Moreno followed recommendations of the International Monetary Fund to slash Ecuador’s health budget by 36 percent, leaving it without health care professionals, without personal protective equipment, and, above all, without a coherent health care system. While Venezuela and Cuba had 27 COVID-19 deaths, Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, had an estimated death toll of 7,600.

International medical response: Cuban medicine is perhaps best known for its internationalism. A clear example is the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010. Cuba sent medical staff who lived among Haitians and stayed months or years after the earthquake. U.S. doctors, however, did not sleep where Haitian victims huddled, returned to luxury hotels at night, and departed after a few weeks. John Kirk coined the term “disaster tourism” to describe the way that many rich countries respond to medical crises in poor countries.

The commitment that Cuban medical staff show internationally is a continuation of the effort that the country’s health care system made in spending three decades to find the best way to strengthen bonds between caregiving professionals and those they serve. By 2008, Cuba had sent over 120,000 health care professionals to 154 countries, its doctors had cared for over 70 million people in the world, and almost 2 million people owed their lives to Cuban medical services in their country.

The Associated Press reported that when COVID-19 spread throughout the world, Cuba had thirty-seven thousand medical workers in sixty-seven countries. It soon deployed additional doctors to Suriname, Jamaica, Dominica, Belize, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. On April 16, Granma reported that “21 brigades of healthcare professionals have been deployed to join national and local efforts in 20 countries. The same day, Cuba sent two hundred health personnel to Qatar.

As northern Italy became the epicenter of COVID-19 cases, one of its hardest hit cities was Crema in the Lombardy region. The emergency room at its hospital was filled to capacity. On March 26, Cuba sent fifty-two doctors and nurses who set up a field hospital with three intensive care unit beds and thirty-two other beds with oxygen. A smaller and poorer Caribbean nation was one of the few aiding a major European power. Cuba’s intervention took its toll. By April 17, thirty of its medical professionals who went abroad tested positive for COVID-19.

Bringing the world to Cuba: The flip side of Cuba sending medical staff across the globe is the people it has brought to the island—both students and patients. When Cuban doctors were in the Republic of the Congo in 1966, they saw young people studying independently under streetlights at night and arranged for them to come to Havana. They brought in even more African students during the Angolan wars of 1975–88 and then brought large numbers of Latin American students to study medicine following Hurricanes Mitch and Georges. The number of students coming to Cuba to study expanded even more in 1999 when it opened classes at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). By 2020, ELAM had trained thirty thousand doctors from over one hundred countries.

Cuba also has a history of bringing foreign patients for treatment. After the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, 25,000 patients, mostly children, came to the island for treatment, with some staying for months or years. Cuba opened its doors, hospital beds, and a youth summer camp.

On March 12, nearly fifty crew members and passengers on a British cruise ship either had COVID-19 or were showing symptoms as the ship approached the Bahamas, a British Commonwealth nation. Since the Braemar flew the Bahamian flag as a Commonwealth vessel, there should have been no problem disembarking those aboard for treatment and return to the United Kingdom. But the Bahamian Ministry of Transport declared that the cruise ship would “not be permitted to dock at any port in the Bahamas and no persons will be permitted to disembark the vessel.” During the next five days, the United States, Barbados (another Commonwealth nation), and several other Caribbean countries turned it away. On March 18, Cuba became the only country to allow the Braemar’s over one thousand crew members and passengers to dock. Treatment at Cuban hospitals was offered to those who felt too sick to fly. Most went by bus to José Martí International Airport for flights back to the United Kingdom. Before leaving, Braemar crew members displayed a banner reading “I love you Cuba!” Passenger Anthea Guthrie posted on her Facebook page: “They have made us not only feel tolerated, but actually welcome.”

Medicine for all: In 1981, there was a particularly bad outbreak of the mosquito-borne dengue fever, which hits the island every few years. At the time, many first learned of the very high level of Cuba’s research institutes that created Interferon Alpha 2B to successfully treat dengue. As Helen Yaffe points out, “Cuba’s interferon has shown its efficacy and safety in the therapy of viral diseases including Hepatitis B and C, shingles, HIV-AIDS, and dengue.” It accomplished this by preventing complications that could worsen a patient’s condition and result in death. The efficacy of the drug persisted for decades and, in 2020, it became vitally important as a potential cure for COVID-19. What also survived was Cuba’s eagerness to develop a multiplicity of drugs and share them with other nations.

Cuba has sought to work cooperatively toward drug development with countries such as China, Venezuela, and Brazil, Collaboration with Brazil resulted in meningitis vaccines at a cost of 95¢ rather than $15 to $20 per dose. Finally, Cuba teaches other countries to produce medications themselves so they do not have to rely on purchasing them from rich countries.

In order to effectively cope with disease, drugs are frequently sought for three goals: tests to determine those infected; treatments to help ward off or cure problems; and vaccines to prevent infections. As soon as Polymerase Chain Reaction rapid tests were available, Cuba began using them widely throughout the island. Cuba developed both Interferon Alpha 2B (a recombinant protein) and PrevengHo-Vir (a homeopathic medication). TeleSUR reported that by April 20, over forty-five countries had requested Cuba’s Inteferon in order to control and then get rid of the virus.

Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology is seeking to create a vaccine against COVID-19. Its Director of Biomedical Research, Dr. Gerardo Guillén, confirmed that his team is collaborating with Chinese researchers in Yongzhou, Hunan province, to create a vaccine to stimulate the immune system and one that can be taken through the nose, which is the route of COVID-19 transmission. Whatever Cuba develops, it is certain that it will be shared with other countries at low cost, unlike U.S. medications that are patented at taxpayers’ expense so that private pharmaceutical giants can price gouge those who need the medication.

Countries that have not learned how to share: Cuban solidarity missions show a genuine concern that often seems to be lacking in the health care systems of other countries. Medical associations in Venezuela, Brazil, and other countries are often hostile to Cuban doctors. Yet, they cannot find enough of their own doctors to go to dangerous communities or travel to poor and rural areas as Cuban doctors do.

When in Peru in 2010, I visited the Pisco policlínico. Its Cuban director, Leopoldo García Mejías, explained that then-president Alan García did not want additional Cuban doctors and that they had to keep quiet in order to remain in Peru. Cuba is well aware that it has to adjust each medical mission to accommodate the political climate.

There is at least one exception to Cuban doctors remaining in a country according to the whims of the political leadership. Cuba began providing medical attention in Honduras in 1998. During the first eighteen months of Cuba’s efforts in Honduras, the country’s infant mortality dropped from 80.3 to 30.9 deaths per 1,000 live births. Political moods changed and, in 2005, Honduran Health Minister Merlin Fernández decided to kick Cuban doctors out. However, this led to so much opposition that the government changed course and allowed the Cubans to stay.

A disastrous and noteworthy example of when a country refused an offer of Cuban aid is the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After the hurricane hit, 1,586 Cuban health care professionals were prepared to go to New Orleans. President George W. Bush, however, rejected the offer, acting as if it would be better for U.S. citizens to die rather than to admit the quality of Cuban aid.

Though the U.S. government does not take kindly to students going studying at ELAM, they are still able to apply what they learn when they come home. In 1988, Kathryn Hall-Trujillo of Albuquerque, New Mexico, founded the Birthing Project USA, which trains advocates to work with African-American women and connect with them through the first year of the infant’s life. She is grateful for the Birthing Project’s partnership with Cuba and the support that many ELAM students have given. In 2018, she told me: “We are a coming home place for ELAM students—they see working with us as a way to put into practice what they learned at ELAM.”

Cuban doctor Julio López Benítez recalled in 2017 that when the country revamped its clinics in 1974, the old clinic model was one of patients going to clinics, but the new model was of clinics going to patients. Similarly, as ELAM graduate Dr. Melissa Barber looked at her South Bronx neighborhood during COVID-19, she realized that while most of the United States told people to go to agencies, what people need is a community approach that recruits organizers to go to the people. Dr. Barber is working in a coalition with South Bronx Unite, the Mott Haven Mamas, and many local tenant associations. As in Cuba, they are trying to identify those in the community who are vulnerable, including “the elderly, people who have infants and small children, homebound people, people that have multiple morbidities and are really susceptible to a virus like this one.”

As they discover who needs help, they seek resources to help them, such as groceries, personal protective equipment, medications, and treatment. In short, the approach of the coalition is going to homes to ensure that people do not fall through the cracks. In contrast, the U.S. national policy is for each state and each municipality to do what it feels like doing, which means that instead of having a few cracks that a few people fall through, there are enormous chasms with large groups careening over the edge. What countries with market economies need are actions like those in the South Bronx and Cuba carried out on a national scale.

This was what Che Guevara envisioned in 1951. Decades before COVID-19 jumped from person to person, Che’s imagination went from doctor to doctor. Or perhaps many shared their own visions so widely that, after 1959, Cuba brought revolutionary medicine anywhere it could. Obviously, Che did not design the intricate inner workings of Cuba’s current medical system. But he was followed by healers who wove additional designs into a fabric that now unfolds across the continents. At certain times in history, thousands or millions of people see similar images of a different future. If their ideas spread broadly enough during the hour that social structures are disintegrating, then a revolutionary idea can become a material force in building a new world.

• Author’s Note: Updates since this article was written for the June 2020 print issue of Monthly Review include the following:  By May 22, seventy-two countries had requested Interferon Alpha 2B. Cuba has sent healthcare professionals to at least thirty-seven countries to collaborate in combating the pandemic.  Over the past six decades over 400,000 Cuban medical professionals have worked in 164 countries and improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

Battle Against COVID-19 in a Fragmented World has Ruined illions of Lives

It is not only about physically surviving the pandemic. People miss people, and places, sometimes desperately. And they die when separated.

We are bombarded by briefings and numbers. We are scared into submission by horrifying medical stories, by shocking images, and then, simultaneously, by predictions of economic and social downfall. Day and night, day and night.

But somehow, so often during this so-called coronavirus emergency, we tend to forget that people are people, not numbers, and that bare survival is far from everything.

*****

For decades we were told: “You are living in a globalized world. Borders have become redundant”. Some reluctantly, others happily, accepted.

Rich Westerners invaded all corners of the world with their yachts, villas and third and fourth homes.

Poor Philippine and Indonesian maids and hotel employees have migrated to the Gulf, in search of decently paid jobs.

Interracial, intercontinental marriages and relationships became the norm.

By the end of 2019, hundreds of millions were living in several parts of the world, simultaneously. For different reasons, both rich and poor individuals. For some it became a lifestyle, for others bare necessity.

For better or worse, cultures were increasingly becoming intertwined. To many, the color of skin was increasingly irrelevant. At least to those few hundreds of millions, who have been living on this planet Earth, not just in Asia or Europe, Oceania, the Middle East, South or North America.

I have written a lot about this trend. Some of it was clearly positive, while I have been criticizing, decisively, many elements.

But it was the reality, and as many of us believed, an irreversible, permanent one.

Human beings were breaking up the chains of their past. Suddenly, they felt free to step out of their traditional cultures, religions, habits. They formed relations with human beings coming from other parts of the world. They were marrying people with thoroughly different cultures and backgrounds. They were moving to far away places. And not only young people. Often their parents, seduced by wanderlust, were deciding to retire thousands of miles away.

Men and women were doing research in deep rain forests, some of them deciding to stay there forever. Others were ruining these forests, becoming rich on shameless plunder.

So many stories, good and bad. So many reasons, wonderful and horrible, of globalized or internationalized life.

Then suddenly, the end. Full stop!

COVID-19, or call it novel coronavirus, has arrived.

It came from nowhere, its mortality rate low, that of the common flu, but remarkably contagious.

Abruptly, our world stopped.

Almost all proverbial liberties have been taken away from the people. So fast, and without plebiscites, referendums, debates. Police, drones, surveillance, have rapidly been employed against the citizens, virtually everywhere.

And then, almost from the start of the pandemic, the borders began closing down. Borders, which we used to be told, were there to stay open forever.

And the international, or for some of us internationalist life, was suddenly arrested.

The changes were implemented so rapidly that most of us had no time to react. We watched, helplessly, as frontiers were closed, airlines cancelled flights, and the movement of people came to an abrupt stop.

Across the border lines, disappearing beyond the horizon, were our families, or loved ones, our colleagues and comrades, as well as countries and cities for which we longed for.

*****

There was nothing much we could do, because this brutal global lockdown was performed “for our own good”. We found ourselves sheltered in prison, ‘so we, and others, could survive’. Or that’s what we were told.

We have not been allowed to take risks, nor to dare. Our loved ones have not been allowed to dare either.

We have all become soft and so easy to manipulate.  All that talk about freedom and democracy has quickly been forgotten.

In just one or two months, our planet has become fragmented, as never before. Borders have been closed, even between the countries of Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East.

Europeans, for instance, who were forced into great sacrifices in exchange for a borderless continent, were suddenly stuck with those existing sacrifices, but also with the re-erected frontiers.

With shocking speed, all the gains made by humanity — gains towards an open world — were annulled, liquidated.

I have to repeat: people were not asked. Nobody consulted them.

While several airlines began receiving billions of dollars in government subsidies, there has been no compensation for those hundreds of millions of people whose lives have been virtually ruined, reduced to near nothing by the travel bans, which have amounted to imprisoning multitudes in their current locations.

*****

Right now, almost the entire South America is “out of reach”, and so is Asia. Foreigners cannot enter the United States. Actually, most of the countries have turned themselves into fortresses.

Imagine that you have relatives living in a different part of the world. Imagine that your spouse is there, somewhere, or your house, or important work which you love, passionately. Imagine that some neoliberal government is using COVID-19 lockdown to cover up the speeding-up of the destruction of its rainforests, as is happening right now in places such as Brazil and Indonesia. Imagine that such governments are dispossessing indigenous people, and you cannot continue your work, which is to expose crimes against humanity and nature.

Millions of people depend on your investigative work, but you cannot go. The borders are closed, planes are not flying. “It is all for your own good”. “It is all for the sake of others”.

You may want to ask: “What about the good of those millions who are being robbed, impoverished, even killed by events unrelated, or just partially-related, to the COVID-19? Do they have the right to live? Do they have the right to be protected, defended?”

But, not many are asking those questions! And if they do, the mass media is not paying attention.

The novel coronavirus, it appears, is now all that matters, at least to some, or to the majority. Or to the regime.

It is like those proverbial hospitals, which are letting people die from cancer and strokes, because their emergency rooms and beds are being used exclusively to treat COVID-19 patients.

There is something essentially and morally wrong with this approach. Something deeply wrong, philosophically and logically, too.

*****

Do governments in, say, Europe, have the right to tell a husband whose wife is dying in Japan or Korea, that he cannot jump on a plane and go, in order to be with her?

Can a scientist be prevented from flying to a lab, on the other side of the world, if he or she is working on some urgent project that could improve life on our planet?

Can I be prevented from flying to Venezuela, where U.S. and Colombian mercenaries have just attempted yet another coup against a legitimate government?

Apparently, the answer is “Yes!”

It is the “new normal” yes.

Four or five months ago, it would all have been considered insane, unacceptable, even criminal.

But now, a flu pandemic, has suddenly created a new ‘morality’, as well as thoroughly new rules and norms for humanity.

And we do not have to look for important missions, or life and death situations, only.

There are hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of people, who are simply living on this beautiful planet of ours, not in just one particular country, and who cannot exist in any other way. Their culture is multiculturalism. I do not say that it is good or bad. It is simply a fact. Their health, even medical supplies, depend on this ‘lifestyle’, as well as their emotional well-being, and their work.

Without being able to travel, their personal relationships are falling apart, their houses and apartments are literally collapsing, and their life is losing its meaning.

Is anyone compiling statistics on how many human lives are being affected, or even ruined in this manner? The number is definitely staggering.

*****

Caution, of course! Caution is essential. The coronavirus should not be taken lightly. But not the extreme approaches, which could, for decades to come, set back those countless positive gains that have been made by our civilization.

To travel, to explore; getting to know “the Other”, trying to understand, to live with each other as one humanity: this is one of the great advances made by humankind. Imperfect, sometimes hypocritical or half-hearted, but a great advance, nevertheless. Not globalization, but internationalism, when things are at their best.

We thought that we could take these advances for granted. We strongly believed that they couldn’t be removed from us.

We fought for the others, for the people of all nationalities and races, to be able to enjoy them soon, too. We thought that we could win.

And now, all of a sudden, we have realized that everything was just a mirage.

One strike of a pen by some government official, and all our liberties can disappear, get cancelled. We get pushed into the corner, as if we were cattle, or kindergarten children.

True rights are only those rights that can never, under any circumstances, be taken away from us.

*****

The most frightening is the absolutism, extremism with which the regulations have been introduced.

A state of siege, perhaps, but not outright incarceration.

Travel could have been made difficult, but still possible.

I will say it as an anecdote, but there is some truth in it: I have a combat gas mask, which I use when covering riots, uprisings and revolutions. It has a huge filter. There is no way that if I was wearing it, I could get infected, or infect other people on an airplane. If that is not enough, I would be willing to wear some plastic disposable suit, all the way from, say, South America to Asia, with transit points in Europe. It would be an extremely uncomfortable, but safe (for me and everybody) way of travel. And when in Asia, say Japan, I’d be happy to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine. And even pay some reasonable fee, for ‘causing bother’.

But if I really need to go, if it is a matter of life and death for me, there should be some draconic option for me and for millions like me.

But there isn’t! The borders of the entire Asia and of South America are closed, hermetically. Even the borders of the United States are sealed, despite the fact that it has the highest rate of infected people. Only citizens and green card holders can board the inbound planes.

And so, human lives continue being ruined, on a just recently unimaginable scale.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, can be done, it appears. All of us are at the mercy of our regimes.

We had no idea, but now we know.

Even when these restrictions are lifted, nothing will ever be “normal”. People will be well aware of the fact that their lives can be shattered again, on any pretext, at any time.

*****

If a cure, or prevention, are ten times, or even hundred times deadlier than the disease, then it is immoral to be applying them.

Also, it is essential to remember, that there are many different ways in which human beings can die. Some people could easily perish even if their lungs are intact, and hearts are beating. They could die from sorrow, from the absence of loved ones, or from the meaninglessness of life in confinement.

Today’s struggle, and combat should not be exclusively against COVID-19. The battle should be simply for life, for each and every human life, no matter what viruses, conditions or circumstances are endangering it.

• First published by the 21 Century Wire

The Two Internationalisms

In recent years, internationalism — cooperation among nations for promotion of the common good — has acquired a bad reputation.

Of course, internationalism has long been anathema to the political Right, where a primitive tribalism and its successor, nationalism, have flourished for many years.  Focusing on their nation’s supposed superiority to others, a long line of right-wing demagogues, including Adolf Hitler (“Deutschland Über Alles”) and Donald Trump (“America First”), have stirred up xenophobia, racism, and militarism, often with some success in public opinion and at the polls.  Numerous nationalist imitators have either secured public office or are hungering for it in many parts of the world.

But what is new in recent years is the critique of internationalism on the political Left.  For centuries, internationalism was a staple of the progressive, avant garde outlook.  Enlightenment thinkers promoted ideas of cosmopolitanism and the unity of humanity, critics of war and imperialism championed the development of international law, and socialists campaigned for replacing chauvinism with international working class solidarity.  In the aftermath of two devastating world wars, liberal reformers roundly condemned the narrow nationalist policies of the past and placed their hopes for a peaceful and humane future in two world organizations:  the League of Nations and the United Nations.

A key reason for the decline of support for this internationalist vision on the political Left is the belief that internationalism has served as a cloak for great power militarism and imperialism.  In fact, there is some justification for this belief, as the U.S. government, while professing support for “democracy” and other noble aims, has all too often used its immense military, economic, and political power in world affairs with less laudatory motives, especially economic gain and control of foreign lands.

And much the same can be said about other powerful nations.  In their global operations during much of the twentieth century, were the British and French really concerned about advancing human rights and “civilization,” the Germans about spreading “kultur,” and the Russians about liberating the working class?  Or were they merely continuing the pattern — hough not the rhetoric — of their nationalist predecessors?

To continue this subterfuge, starting in 1945 they all publicly pledged to follow the guidelines of a different kind of global approach, cooperative internationalism, as championed by the United Nations.  But, when it came to the crunch, they proved more interested in advancing their economies and political holdings than in developing international law and a cooperative world order.  As a result, while pretending to honor the lofty aims of the United Nations, they provided it with very limited power and resources.  In this fashion, they not only used the United Nations as a fig leaf behind which their overseas military intervention and imperialism continued, but ended up convincing many people, all across the political spectrum, that the United Nations was ineffectual and, more broadly, that cooperative internationalism didn’t work.

But, of course, cooperative internationalism could work, if the governments of the major powers — and, at the grassroots level, their populations — demanded it.  A fully empowered United Nations could prevent international aggression, as well as enforce disarmament agreements and sharp cutbacks in the outrageous level of world military spending.  It could also address the climate catastrophe, the refugee crisis, the destructive policies of multinational corporations, and worldwide violations of human rights.  Does anyone, aside from the most zealous nationalist, really believe that these problems can be solved by any individual nation or even by a small group of nations?

Fortunately, there are organizations that recognize that, in dealing with these and other global problems, the world need not be limited to a choice between overheated nationalism and hypocritical internationalism.  In the United States, these include the United Nations Association (which works to strengthen that global organization so that it can do the job for which it was created) and Citizens for Global Solutions (which champions the transformation of the United Nations into a democratic federation of nations).  Numerous small countries, religions, and humanitarian organizations also promote the development of a more cooperative international order.

If the people of the world are to stave off the global catastrophes that now loom before them, they are going to have to break loose from the limitations of their nations’ traditional policies in world affairs.  Above all, they need to cast off their lingering tribalism, recognize their common humanity, and begin working for the good of all.

How to find a Tiger in Africa

Agostinho Neto declaring independence of Angola 11 November 1975

What I want to do here is something very simple. I want to explain how I began to search for Agostinho Neto. I also want to explain the perspective that shapes this search.1

When I was told about the plans for a colloquium I was asked if I would give a paper.2 I almost always say yes to such requests because for me a paper is the product of learning something new. So I went to the local bookstores to buy a biography of Dr Neto. The only thing I found available was a two-volume book by a man named Carlos Pacheco called Agostinho Neto O Perfil de um Ditador, published in 2016. The subtitle of the book is “A história do MPLA em Carne Viva”. When I went to the university library I found another book, a collection of essays by Mr Pacheco and a book by Mr Cosme, no longer in print.3

Obviously the sheer size of Mr Pacheco’s book suggested that this was a serious study. Since these two ominous tomes were the only biography I could find in print in a serious bookstore, it seemed to me that the weight of the books was also designed as part of Mr Pacheco’s argument. The two volumes, in fact, comprise digests of PIDE4 reports and Mr Pacheco’s philosophical musings about politics, culture, psychology etc. There is barely anything of substance about the poet, physician, liberation leader and first president of Angola, Agostinho Neto, in nearly 1,500 pages.

As I said, I knew little about Dr Neto, but I knew something about Angola and the US regime’s war against the MPLA.5 I was also very familiar with the scholarship and research about US regime activities in Africa since 1945—both overt and covert. I also knew that dictators were not rare in Africa. However, in the title of Mr Pacheco’s book was the first time I had ever heard Dr Neto called a dictator. What struck me was that Dr Neto was president of Angola from the time of independence until his death in 1979—a total of four years. In contrast his successor remained president for almost 40 years. So my intuition told me if Agostinho Neto was a dictator he could not have been a very significant one. However, I wanted to know what the basis of this charge was. Certainly he was not a dictator on the scale of his neighbour, Joseph Mobutu.6 I reasoned that Agostinho Neto was called a dictator for the same reason all heads of state are called “dictators” in the West—because he held office by virtue of processes not approved in London, Paris or Washington. In the jargon of the “West”—a euphemism for the post-WWII US Empire—anyone called a communist who becomes a head of state must be a dictator, since no one in their right mind could elect a communist and no communist would submit to an election.

However, there was apparently more to this accusation than the allegation that Dr Neto must be a communist and therefore a dictator. Agostinho Neto had good relations with the Cuban “dictator” Fidel Castro and he enjoyed the support of the Soviet Union. When there still was a Soviet Union, anyone enjoying its support, no matter how minimal or ambivalent, could be considered at least a “potential dictator”. Then I read about a brief but serious incident in 1977, an attempted military coup against the Neto government on 27 May, led by Nito Alves and José Van Dunen. The coup was defeated and all sources agree there was a purge of the MPLA and many were arrested and killed. Writers like Mr Pacheco argue that Dr Neto directed a blood bath in which as many as 20-30,000 people died over the course of two years. There appears to be agreement that many people were arrested and killed but the exact figures vary.7

However, I still wondered whether this incident and its apparent consequences were enough to justify calling Dr Agostinho Neto, dictator of Angola.

While researching for this paper, while searching for Agostinho Neto, I found many people who had an opinion about him but very few who actually knew anything about Neto, and often they knew very little about Angola.

First I would like to deal with the coup attempt and the aftermath because that is the most immediate justification for this epithet. I am unable to introduce any data that might decide the questions I feel must be raised, but that does not make them less relevant to an accurate appraisal of Dr Neto’s four years in office.

  1. How, in the midst of a civil war, and military operations to defend the country, including the capital from a foreign invader—the Republic of South Africa—are the casualties and deaths to be distinguished between police actions and military actions? What reasonably objective apparatus existed to produce the statistics upon which the count could be based?
  2. What was the specific chain of command and operational structure in place to direct the purge on the scale alleged by Dr Neto’s detractors? What was the composition of the forces operating under government direction during this period? What was the composition of the command at local level?

Without claiming to answer these questions—they would have to be answered by research in Angola—there are some points that make the bald assertions of those like Mr Pacheco, who claim Dr Neto is responsible for the violent aftermath, for the thousands of victims, far from proven.

Casualty reporting during war is highly unreliable even in sophisticated military bureaucracies like those of the US or Britain. There were rarely bodies to count after saturation bombing or days of artillery barrage. To add a sense of proportion Sir Douglas Haig, commanding the British Expeditionary Force at the Somme during World War I, ordered the slaughter of nearly 20,000 British soldiers in one day with total casualties of some 50,000—the excuse for this was war.8 One’s own casualties are usually a source of embarrassment. But in Angola, like in other African countries, the presence of a stable and professional bureaucracy capable of generating any kind of statistics was certainly sparse. Whether those statistics can be deemed objective is another issue.

The absence of written orders or minutes is not by itself proof that no orders were given. In fact, as has been established in the research on the whole sphere of covert action, written orders can be issued “for the file” while operational orders are transmitted—deniably—by word of mouth.9 Then the question has to be answered in reverse: how did the actual enforcement officers receive their instructions and from whom? Here it is particularly important to note that the MPLA could not have replaced all police and other security force rank and file with personnel whose loyalty to the new Angolan government was certain. This means that many police or other security personnel had been performing under orders of the New State officers until independence and were still on duty.10 The actual relationships these personnel had to the people in the districts where they were deployed would have been known, if not notorious. It is not unreasonable to infer that a general purge would give opportunities to people at all levels to solve “problems” arising from the fall of the Portuguese regime.

Then there is one other factor—a question raised by the fact that Mr Pacheco’s book relies almost entirely on PIDE reports about the MPLA. One can, in fact, read in several accounts of the independence struggle that the MPLA was thoroughly infiltrated by PIDE operatives. So do we know if the orders which rank and file personnel took were issued by bona fide MPLA cadre acting on instructions from the president or issued by PIDE operatives within the MPLA command structure? In fact, it is a highly practiced routine of covert operations, also by the PIDE during the independence war, to appear and act as if they were the MPLA while committing acts intended to discredit it.11 While it is true that the Salazar/ Caetano regime had collapsed the people who had maintained the regime—especially in covert operations—did not simply disappear. Moreover, the world’s premier covert action agency, the CIA, was an active supporter of all MPLA opposition and certainly of factions within the MPLA itself. We know about IA Feature because of the revelations of its operational manager, John Stockwell.12 We also know that the PIDE and the CIA worked together and we know that the US ambassador to Portugal during the period (1975 to 1979) was a senior CIA officer.13 We also know many details about the various ways in which covert operations were run then.14 What we do not know is the extent to which it may have been involved in the coup against Dr Neto. But there is room for educated guessing.

I do not believe it is possible to reconstruct the events of the purge with evidence that can provide reasonable assurance of what responsibility Agostinho Neto bears for the deaths and casualties attributed to that period—beyond the vague responsibility which any head of state may have for actions of the government apparatus over which he presides. There, are however, grounds for a reasonable doubt—for a verdict at least of “not proven”.

Which brings me to my second argument: from what perspective should the brief term of Agostinho Neto as president of the Angola be examined.

First of all we must recognise that Angola prior to 1975 was a criminal enterprise.

It began with the Atlantic slave trade, which really only ended in the 1880s (although slavery did not end). Then, like in all other colonies created by Europeans, a kind of licensed banditry was practiced, euphemistically called “trade”. By the end of the 19th century most of this organised crime was controlled by cartels organised in Europe and North America.15

Why do I call this organised crime and not commerce? First of all if one uses force to compel a transaction; e.g., a gun to make someone give you something, this is generally considered a crime and in Europe and North America usually subject to punishment as such. To travel to a foreign land with a gun and compel transactions, or induce them using drugs or other fraudulent means, does not change the criminal character—only the punitive consequences.

Angola’s economy was based on stolen land, forced labour, unequal/ fraudulent trading conditions, and armed force, the colour of law not withstanding. Neither Portuguese law (nor that of any other European state) would have permitted inhabitants of Angola to come to Portugal, kidnap its youth or force its inhabitants to accept the same conditions to which all African colonies and “protectorates” were submitted.

In other words, Agostinho Neto was the first president of an Angolan state. He, together with his supporters in the MPLA, created a republic out of what was essentially a gangster economy protected by the Portuguese dictatorship in Lisbon. Does this mean that all European inhabitants of Angola were gangsters? Certainly it does not. However, it can be argued that many Europeans or children of Europeans who were born in Angola recognised this when they began to demand independence, too. Some demanded independence to run their own gangs free of interference from abroad and some certainly wanted an end to gangsterism and the establishment of a government for the benefit of the inhabitants.

The performance of Dr Neto as president of Angola has to be measured by the challenges of creating a beneficial government from a system of organised crime and defending this effort against foreign and domestic armies supported by foreigners, specifically the agents of the gangsters who had been running the country until then.

But stepping back from the conditions of Angola and its plunder by cartels under protection of the New State, it is necessary to see Dr Neto’s struggle and the struggle for independence in Angola within the greater context of African independence. Like Nkrumah, Lumumba, Toure, Nasser, Qaddafi, Kenyatta, Nyerere and Cabral, what I would call the African liberation generation, Neto was convinced that Angola could not be independent without the independence of all Africa.16  In other words, he was aware that the independence from Portugal was necessarily only partial independence. Like the others of this generation Neto rejected race as a basis for African independence.

The position of African liberation leaders who rigorously rejected racialised politics has often been criticised, even mocked as naïve. It has often been pointed out—accurately—that the African states were created by Europeans and hence the ethnic conflicts that have laid waste to African development are proof that these liberation leaders were wrong: that either Africa could not transcend “tribalism” or that the states created could not manage the inherited territories in a modern way.

On the contrary, the African liberation generation was well aware of the problems inherited from European gangster regimes. Moreover they understood quite well that race was created by Europeans to control them, that there was no “white man” in Africa before the European coloniser created him. The “white man” was an invention of the late 17th century. First it was a legal construct—the granting of privileges to Europeans in the colonies to distinguish and separate them from African slave labourers. Then it was elaborated into an ideology, an Enlightenment ideology—white supremacy. By uniting the colonisers, who in their respective homelands had spent the previous thirty odd years slaughtering each other for reasons of religion, ethnicity, language, and greed, the Enlightenment ideals of ethnic and religious tolerance or even liberty bound Europeans together against slave majorities. By endowing these European servants with the pedigree of “whiteness” the owners of the plantation islands could prevent them from siding with other servants—the Africans—and overthrowing the gangsters and their Caribbean drug industry. The white “identity” was fabricated to prevent class alliances against the new capitalists.17

It is not clear if the African liberation generation understood the impact of African slavery in North America. Many post-war liberation leaders have admired the US and seen in it a model for independence from colonialism. Perhaps this is because in the preparations for entering WWI, the US regime undertook a massive propaganda campaign of unparalleled success in which the history of the US was virtually re-written—or better said invented. There are numerous stories about photographs being changed in the Soviet Union under Stalin to remove people who had fallen from favour or been executed. There is relatively little attention devoted to the impact of the Creel Committee, a group of US advertising executives commissioned by President Woodrow Wilson to write the history people now know as “the American Dream” and to sell it throughout the world.18 This story turns a planter-mercantile slaveholder state into an “imperfect democracy” based on fine Enlightenment principles of human liberty. In fact, the contemporaries of the American UDI saw the actions in Philadelphia and the insurgency that followed in the same terms that people in the 1970s saw Ian Smith and his Rhodesian National Front. It is very clear from the record that the US regime established by the richest colonials in North America was initiated to avert Britain’s abolition of slavery in its colonies. It was not an accident that African slaves and Native Americans were omitted from the protections of the new charter. On the contrary the new charter was intended to preserve their exclusion.

Which brings me to my concluding argument. I believe there are two widely misused terms in the history of the post-WWII era, especially in the histories of the national liberation struggles and so-called Third World: “Cold War” and “anti-communism”. Since the end of the Soviet Union it is even very rare that these terms are explained. The reintroduction of the term “Cold War” to designate US regime policies toward Russia is anachronistic and misleading.

To understand this we have to return to 1945. In San Francisco, California, shortly before the end of formal hostilities representatives of the Allies met and adopted what would be called the Charter of the United Nations. Among the provisions of this charter were some ideas retained from the League of Nations Covenant (which the US never ratified) and some new ideas about the future of what were called non-self-governing territories (i.e. colonies, protectorates etc.) The principle of self-determination, a legacy of the League used to carve up Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman Empire, was to be extended to all empires. After the propaganda war by which colonial troops (natives) were deployed in masses against Germany, Italy and Japan, to defend freedom and independence, it became clear that the exhausted and even more heavily indebted European colonial powers could not return to the status quo ante. Britain was incapable of controlling India and with the independence of India it would become increasingly difficult to justify or sustain rule of the rest of the empire. The Commonwealth idea basically kept the “white” dominions loyal.19 But how were the “non-whites” to be kept in line? The US regime made it clear that there would be no support for European empires of the pre-war type. So the stated policy of the Charter was that independence was inevitable—meaning that all those who wanted it had a license to get it.

At the same time, however, an unstated policy was being formulated—penned largely by George Kennan—that would form the basis for the expansion of the US Empire in the wake of European surrender. That unstated policy, summarised in the US National Security Council document0 – NSC 68 – was based on some fundamental conclusions by the regime’s policy elite that reveal the essential problem with which all liberation movements and new independent states would be faced but could not debate. NSC 68 was promulgated in 1947 but remained secret until about 1978.

Kennan who had worked in the US mission to the Soviet Union reported confidentially that the Soviet Union, although it had won the war against Germany, was totally exhausted and would be incapable of doing anything besides rebuilding domestically, at least for another 20 years! In another assessment he pointed out that the US economy had only recovered by virtue of the enormous tax expenditure for weapons and waging WWII. It would be devastating to the US economy—in short, a massive depression would return—if the war industry did not continue to receive the same level of funding (and profit rates) it received during the war.

Furthermore, it was very clear that the US economy consumed about 60 per cent of the world’s resources for only 20 per cent of the population. Kennan argued the obvious, that this condition could not continue without the use of force by the US regime.

Although the US appears as (and certainly is) a violent society in love with its military, in fact, foreign wars have never enjoyed great popularity. It has always been necessary for the US regime to apply extreme measures—marketing—to generate support for wars abroad. The war in Korea was initially just a continuation of US Asia-Pacific expansion (aka Manifest Destiny).20 When US forces were virtually kicked off the Korean peninsula, the machinery that had sold WWI to the masses was put in motion and the elite’s hatred of the Soviet Union was relit in what became known as the McCarthy purges. The McCarthy purges were necessary to turn the Soviet Union—an ally against Hitler—into an enemy even worse than Hitler (who, in fact, never was an enemy of the US elite, some of whom counted the Führer as a personal friend.21  It was at this point that anti-communism became part of the arsenal for the unstated policy of the US regime. Anti-communism was enhanced as a term applicable to any kind of disloyalty—meaning failure to support the US regime in Korea or elsewhere. It also became the justification for what appeared to be contradictions between US stated anti-colonial policy and its unstated neo-colonialism.

The term “Cold War” has been attributed to US banker and diplomat Bernard Baruch and propagandist Walter Lippman. It has become accepted as the historical framework for the period from 1945 until 1989.  However, this is history as propaganda. The facts are that as George Kennan and other high officials knew in 1947, the Soviet Union posed absolutely no threat to the US. On the contrary the secret (unstated) policy of the US—declassified in the 1990s—was to manufacture enough atomic weaponry to attack the Soviet Union twice. Generals like MacArthur and Le May were not extremists. They simply discussed US strategy openly.22 The point of the “Cold War” was to create a vision, which would explain the non-existent Soviet threat as a cover for the unstated policy of US imperial expansion—against national liberation movements—while officially supporting national liberation.

Together with anti-communism, the Cold War was a propaganda/ marketing strategy for undermining what every member of the African liberation generation knew intuitively, that the liberation of Africa depends not only on the liberation of every African country on the continent but on the liberation of the African diaspora. Anti-communism and the Cold War myth successfully isolated African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans from the international struggles for liberation and human dignity and an end to racist regimes.23 In that sense anti-communism is a direct descendant of white supremacy and served the same purpose. It is particularly telling that Malcolm X, who had matured in a sectarian version of black consciousness- the Nation of Islam—was assassinated after he returned from Mecca and an extensive tour of Africa and began to argue not only that African-Americans must demand civil rights, but that they must demand human rights and that these are ultimately achieved when humans everywhere are liberated.24 Malcolm was murdered not just for opposing white supremacy but also for being an internationalist.

If we look at the fate of the African liberation generation we will find that those who were committed internationalists and non-racialists were also socialists and not did not confuse possessive individualism with human liberty. We will also find that all the leaders of newly independent African states who were most vilified, deposed or murdered were those who did not surrender those ideals or the practices needed to attain them. They were not Enlightenment leaders building on European hypocrisy. They were Romantic revolutionaries who knew that there was no salvation—only honest struggle for liberation.25 I believe that Agostinho Neto was one of those Romantic revolutionaries. And the honest struggle is not over.

Neto’s Funeral in September 1979

• Photos courtesy of Fundação Antonio Agostinho Neto

  1. Monty Python’s Meaning of Life (1983) includes an episode set in South Africa as a parody of the film Zulu (1964). The upshot is that an army medical officer suggests that a tiger could have bitten off the leg of a fellow officer in the night. To which all respond, “a tiger in Africa?!”. Of course, tigers are indigenous to Asia but not Africa. Salazar was also to have attributed the indigenous opposition to Portuguese rule in Africa as “coming from Asia”. See also Felipe Ribeiro de Meneses, Salazar A Political Biography (2016).
  2. Presented at the colloquium “Agostinho Neto and the African Camões Prize Laureates” at the University of Porto, Portugal, on the 40th anniversary of Agostinho Neto’s death.
  3. Leonel Cosme, Agostinho Neto e o sua tempo (2004).
  4. PIDE, Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado, Salazar secret political police, also trained in part by the Nazi regime’s Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo).
  5. MPLA, Movimento popular de libertação de Angola: Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola.
  6. (Joseph) Mobutu Sese Seko, (1930 – 1997) dictator of Republic of the Congo (Zaire), today Democratic Republic of the Congo, aka Congo-Kinshasa to distinguish it from the French Congo/ Congo Brazzaville, previously Congo Free State and Belgian Congo. Mobutu seized power in the wake of the overthrow and murder of Patrice Lumumba and ruled from 1965 until 1997. See Georges Zongola-Talaja, The Congo from Leopold to Kabila (2002).
  7. Alberto Oliveira Pinto, História de Angola (2015); Adrien Fontaellaz, War of Intervention in Angola (2019),
  8. Jacques R. Pauwels, The Great Class War 1914-1918 (2018).
  9. Ludo De Witte, The Assassination of Lumumba (2001) originally De Moord op Lumumba (1999). The Belgian foreign minister during the “Congo Crisis” wrote several memoranda in which the government’s position was that no harm should come to Patrice Lumumba while the Belgian secret services were actively plotting his kidnapping and assassination. Historical research generally privileges documents and they survive eyewitnesses.
  10. Estado Novo, the term used to designate the Portuguese regime under the dictatorial president of the council of ministers (prime minister) Antonio Salazar Oliveira from 1932 until 1968 and then under Marcelo Caetano until April 1974.
  11. This is also discussed in Fernando Cavaleiro Ângelo, Os Flêchas: A Tropa Secreta da PIDE/DGS na Guerra de Angola 1969 – 1974 (2016) history of the PIDE’s Angolan counter-insurgency force. Since the concept and organisation of the Flêchas bears considerable resemblance to the PRU formed by the CIA in Vietnam under the Phoenix Program, it would not be surprising ifCIA cooperation with the PIDE extended to “Phoenix” advice (see Valentine, 1990 p. 159 et seq.).
  12. John Stockwell, In Search of Enemies (1978) Stockwell had left the agency before the extensive covert support for UNITA was enhanced under Ronald Reagan, despite the Clark Amendment. However, Stockwell noted that when he had returned from Vietnam duty and before getting the paramilitary assignment for IA Feature, he noticed that the busiest desk at headquarters was the Portugal desk.
  13. Frank Carlucci (1930 – 2018), US ambassador to Portugal (1975 – 1978), Deputy Director of the CIA (1978 – 1981).
  14. Philip Agee, CIA Diary (1975), and Douglas Valentine, The Phoenix Program (1990) and The CIA as Organized Crime (2017) Douglas Valentine uses the terms “stated policy” and “unstated policy” to show the importance of overt and covert language in the conduct of political and psychological warfare.
  15. See Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (1944) and Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1982).
  16. Ghana, Congo-Kinshasa, Guinea-Conakry, Egypt, Libya, Kenya, Tanzania and Guinea Bissau, Mozambique: Nkrumah was overthrown by a military coup and forced into exile. Lumumba was deposed and murdered by a Belgian managed corporate conspiracy with US/ UN support. Cabral was assassinated. Both Mondlane and Machel were murdered. Years later Qaddafi would be overthrown after massive armed attacks, tortured and murdered by US agents. The general attitude rejecting “race” and “racialism” can be found in the speeches and writings of these leaders, esp. those delivered on the occasion of independence. See also CLR James, Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (1977) and A History of Negro Revolt (1985) See also Jean-Paul Sartre Kolonialismus und Neokolonialismus (1968) in particular “Der Kolonialismus ist ein System” and “Das politische Denken Patrice Lumumbas” originally published in Situations V Colonialisme et Neocolonialisme.
  17. For a thorough elaboration of this see Gerald Horne, The Counter-Revolution of 1776 (2014) and The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism (2018).
  18. George Creel, How We Advertised America (1920) also discussed in Stuart Ewen, PR: A Social History of Spin (1996).
  19. “Dominion” status was granted under the Statute of Westminster 1931 to the “white colonies”: Canada, Irish Free State, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. This gave these colonies so-called responsible government based on local franchise, largely eliminating the jurisdiction of the British parliament in London.
  20. US war against Korea, combined with a Korean civil war, began in June 1950. A ceasefire was agreed on 27 July 1953. However, the war has not officially ended and the US regime maintains at least 23,000 personnel in the country—not counting other force projection (e.g. regular manoeuvres, atomic weapons and naval power, etc.).
  21. Prescott Bush, father/grandfather of two US Presidents Bush, was nearly prosecuted for “trading with the enemy” due to his dealings with the Nazi regime. Henry Ford had even been awarded a decoration by the regime. These were the most notorious cases in the US. There were many other forms of less visible support to the Hitler regime from US corporations before, during and after the war. The fact is that the US did not declare war against Hitler’s Germany. Hitler declared war on the US in the vain hope of bringing Japan into the war against the Soviet Union. See Jacques R. Pauwels, The Myth of the Good War (2002) The US war against Japan was a continuation of its standing objectives for expansion into China—see also Cummings (2009).
  22. This argument has been made and documented in the work of Bruce Cummings, The Origins of the Korean War (1981, 1990) and Dominion from Sea to Sea (2009).
  23. Gerald Horne, White Supremacy Confronted (2019).
  24. Also formulated very clearly in his Oxford Union speech, 3 December 1964. Malcolm X was assassinated on 21 February 1965.
  25. For an elaboration of the term “Romantic revolutionaries” see the work of Morse Peckham, especially a collection of essays, Romantic Revolutionaries (1970).

XXV Sao Paulo Forum Demonstrates that Venezuela is not Alone!

Photo by Alicia Jrapko

From July 25-28 the XXV Sao Paulo Forum took place in Caracas, Venezuela, with the participation of 190 organizations, political parties, social movements, workers’ movements, parliamentarians and intellectuals from Latin America, the Caribbean and several continents.

The date chosen for this historic meeting had a symbolic character to it. During those four days a number of coinciding historical events were celebrated such as the birth of the Liberator Simón Bolívar, the assault on the Moncada Barracks that marked the beginning of the Cuban revolution and the 65th anniversary of the birth of Commander Hugo Chávez.

The Forum of Sao Paulo is the oldest continuing event of progressive unity in Latin America.  The first Forum was held in the city of Sao Paulo Brazil in 1990 as an initiative of the historic leader of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro Ruz and the then leader of the Workers’ Party of Brazil (PT), Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The two put out a call to political parties and organizations from Latin America and the Caribbean to discuss alternatives to neoliberal policies. Since then the Forum adopted the name of the city where it was born. Twenty-six countries from Latin America and the Caribbean make up the member countries of the Forum.

Today, the scenario of all Latin America is very different from previous forums. Of the two leaders who brought the idea of the Sao Paulo Forum to life, one is no longer physically present and the other one is serving an unjust sentence in a Brazilian prison for having had the audacity to lift 30 million Brazilians out of poverty. The triumph of the Bolivarian revolution in 1998, with the popular election of Hugo Chavez, opened the door to a new continental stage where progressive projects sprouted up in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador and El Salvador.  The current situation is very different than it was then.  The integration of Latin America is now in jeopardy, and a number of countries in the region are led by puppet governments subordinate to the designs of the U.S. government. Venezuela has held on but it is in the cross hairs of the empire to bring about regime change at all costs. This reality made the Forum to be held in Venezuela all that more important.  Never before in the 29 years since its inception, has the host country been more besieged and blockaded than Venezuela today and it is here where the destiny of the Great Homeland lays in the balance.

Despite the difficult situation in this South American nation, whose only crime in the eyes of US imperialism has been to divert their vast natural resources for the betterment of those who had been poor and dispossessed, approximately 700 people merged with hundreds of Venezuelans in this critical 4 day meeting to discuss the burning questions of Latin America and also to reinvigorate the same spirit of regional integration sown by those who founded the Forum. Overall those in attendance came to show the world that Venezuela is not alone.

For those delegates coming from the United States they had to go through a series of added hurdles just to get there. After the suspension of diplomatic relations in January 2019 traveling to Venezuela has become more difficult with no direct flights from the US and no consulates to grant visas.  Nevertheless, activists were creative and found the way to be present including representatives of the Collective for the Protection of the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington DC who occupied and protected the embassy for 37 days.

During the opening ceremony of the Forum, the First Vice-President of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) and president of the National Constituent Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, set the tone when he told the enthusiastic audience:

No one will be able to do it alone, it is the unity of the people that is necessary. The more they insist, the more we are going to solve our problems; here in Venezuela the right wing will not be able to govern. The right likes elections when they win, when the people win they don’t like it, the right doesn’t respect the process. They can’t, their nature doesn’t allow them. The right-wing is the same everywhere, we feel the support of the people but those people also need our support. We resisted and marched with the conviction that we are going to win. The people here don’t get depressed because with Chavez they learned to have a voice. We have even been threatened with everything including a military invasion, but we are willing to defend the Bolivarian revolution, which is a revolution for the peoples, not just for Venezuela. No one can do it alone.

Other speakers included Monica Valente, of the Brazilian Workers’ Party, and the Executive Secretary of the Sao Paulo Forum and the Ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to Cuba, Adan Chávez. Also Julio Muriente Pérez, member of the National Hostosian Independence Movement of Puerto Rico. Muriente talked about the popular victory that just took place in Puerto Rico. “Thousands of Puerto Ricans raised the flag of dignity forcing the corrupt governor Ricardo Rosello to resign.” he said, as the audience stood up cheering, “It wasn’t that he resigned, the people took him out.”

It is important to note that this was not just a talking conference but a meeting of activists who on Saturday went out to the street along with thousands of Venezuelans to call for the US hands off Venezuela and all of Latin America. In all meetings inside and the rally outside, participants expressed their support to the only president of Venezuela elected by popular will — Nicolas Maduro Moros.

During the last day of the Sao Paulo Forum, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro reiterated his gratitude to the members of the Protection Collective of Venezuela’s Embassy in Washington. “Their performance reflects high morals for the defense of the dignity and sovereignty of the Venezuelan people,” the president said. He presented the activists with a replica of Simon Bolivar’s sword.

The closing ceremony took place after a walk to the Cuartel de la Montaña, in the 23 de Enero neighborhood, where the remains of Hugo Chávez rest. Present at the closing were Presidents Nicolas Maduro, President of Cuba Miguel Díaz-Canel, Diosdado Cabello, and Mónica Valente.

A Final Declaration of support for Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and other progressive governments under attack by US imperialism, and a demand for the freedom of Lula and other left-wing leaders imprisoned for political reasons was issued.

What the XXV Sao Paulo Forum demonstrated most was the essential and immeasurable examples, inherited from Fidel, to guide the revolutionaries of Latin America and the Caribbean; that is the unity of the left progressive forces and the practice of internationalism.

The Orientalism of Western Russophobia

Last year marked the 40th anniversary of the publication of Edward W. Said’s pioneering book, Orientalism, as well as fifteen years since the Palestinian-American intellectual’s passing. To bid farewell to such an important scholar shortly after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which Said fiercely criticized until his dying breath before succumbing to leukemia, made an already tremendous loss that much more impactful. His seminal text forever reoriented political discourse by painstakingly examining the overlooked cultural imperialism of colonial history in the West’s construction of the so-called Orient. Said meticulously interrogated the Other-ing of the non-Western world in the humanities, arts, and anthropology down to its minutiae. As a result, the West was forced to confront not just its economic and political plunder but the long-established cultural biases filtering the lens through which it viewed the East which shaped its dominion over it.

His writings proved to be so influential that they laid the foundations for what is now known as post-colonial theory. This became an ironic category as the author himself would strongly reject any implication that the subjugation of developing countries is a thing of the past. How apropos that the Mandatory Palestine-born writer’s death came in the midst of the early stages of the ‘War on Terror’ that made clear Western imperialism is very much alive. Despite its history of ethnic cleansing, slavery, and war, the United States had distinguished itself from Britain and France in that it had never established its own major colonies within the Middle East, Asia or North Africa in the heart of the Orient. According to Said, it was now undergoing this venture as the world’s sole remaining superpower following the end of the Cold War with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Today’s political atmosphere makes the Bush era seem like eons ago. Thanks to the shameful rehabilitation of neoconservatism by centrist extremists, Americans fail to understand how Trumpism emerged from the pandora’s box of destructiveness of Bush policies that destabilized the Middle East and only increased international terrorism. Since then, another American enemy has been manufactured in the form of the Russian Federation and its President, Vladimir Putin, who drew the ire of the West after a resurgent Moscow under his leadership began to contain U.S. hegemony. This reached a crescendo during the 2016 U.S. Presidential election with the dubious accusations of election interference made by the same intelligence agencies that sold the pack of lies that Iraq possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction. The establishment has even likened the alleged intrusion by Moscow to 9/11.

If a comparison between the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans and the still unproven allegations of Russian meddling seems outrageous, it is precisely such an analogy that has been made by Russiagate’s own biggest proponents, from neoconservative columnist Max Boot to Hillary Clinton herself. Truthfully, it is the climate of hysteria and dumbing down of discourse to such rigid dichotomies following both events where a real similarity can be drawn. The ‘with us or against us’ chasm that followed 9/11 has reemerged in the ‘either/or’ post-election polarity of the Trump era whereby all debate within the Overton window is pigeonholed into a ‘pro vs. anti-Trump’ or ‘pro vs. anti-Russia’ false dilemma. It is even perpetrated by some on the far left; e.g., if one critiques corporate media or Russiagate, they are grouped as ‘pro-Trump’ or ‘pro-Putin’ no matter their political orientation. This dangerous atmosphere is feeding an unprecedented wave of censorship of dissenting voices across the spectrum.

In his final years, not only did Edward Said condemn the Bush administration but highlighted how corporate media was using bigoted tropes in its representations of Arabs and Muslims to justify U.S. foreign policy. Even though it has gone mostly undetected, the neo-McCarthyist frenzy following the election has produced a similar travesty of caricatures depicting Russia and Vladimir Putin. One such egregious example was a July 2018 article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Russia’s Turn to Its Asian Past” featuring an illustration portraying Vladimir Putin as Genghis Khan. The racist image and headline suggested that Russia is somehow inherently autocratic because of its past occupation under the Mongol Empire during its conquest of Eastern Europe and the Kievan Rus state in the 13th century. In a conceptual revival of the Eurocentric trope of Asiatic or Oriental despotism, the hint is that past race-mixing is where Russia inherited this tyrannical trait. When the cover story appeared, there was virtually no outcry due to the post-election delirium and everyday fear-mongering about Russia that is now commonplace in the media.

The overlooked casual racism used to demonize Russia in the new Cold War’s propaganda doesn’t stop there. One of the main architects of Russiagate, former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, in an interview with NBC‘s Meet the Press on the reported meddling stated:

And just the historical practices of the Russians, who typically, almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favor, which is a typical Russian technique. So we were concerned.

Clapper, whose Office of the DNI published the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections”, has been widely praised and cited by corporate media as a trustworthy source despite his previous history of making intentionally false statements at a public hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee denying that the National Security Agency (NSA) was unconstitutionally spying on U.S. citizens.

The disclosures of NSA activities by whistleblower Edward Snowden that shocked the world should have discredited Clapper’s status as a reliable figure, but not for mainstream media which has continuously colluded with the deep state during the entire Russia investigation. In fact, the scandal has been an opportunity to rehabilitate figures like the ex-spymaster complicit in past U.S. crimes from surveillance to torture. Shortly after the interview with NBC, Clapper repeated his prejudiced sentiments against Russians in a speech at the National Press Club in Australia:

But as far as our being intimate allies, trusting buds with the Russians that is just not going to happen. It is in their genes to be opposed, diametrically opposed, to the United States and to Western democracies.

The post-election mass Trump derangement has not only enabled wild accusations of treason to be made without sufficient evidence to support them, but such uninhibited xenophobic remarks to go without notice or disapproval.

In fact, liberals have seemingly abandoned their supposed progressive credence across the board while suffering from their anti-Russia neurological disorder. In an exemplar of yellow journalism, outlets like NBC News published sensational articles alleging that because of the perceived ingratiation between Trump and Putin, there was an increase in Russian ‘birth tourism’ in the United States. More commonly known by the pejorative ‘anchor babies’, birth tourism is the false claim that many immigrants travel to countries for the purpose of having children in order to obtain citizenship. While there may be individual cases, the idea that it is an epidemic is a complete myth — the vast majority of immigration is motivated by labor demands and changes in political or socio-economic factors in their native countries, whether it is from the global south or Eastern Europe. Trump has been rightfully criticized for promoting this falsehood regarding undocumented immigrants and his executive orders targeting birthright citizenship, but it appears liberals are willing to unfairly apply this same fallacy toward Russians for political reasons.

In order to make sense of the current groupthink hysteria towards Moscow, it must be understood in its context as an extension of the ongoing doctoring of history regarding U.S.-Russia relations since the Cold War. Americans living within the empire are proselytized into a glorified and nationalist version of their entire background, beginning with merchants and explorers ‘discovering’ the continent and the whitewashing of indigenous genocide. This imaginary narrative includes the version of WWII taught in U.S. schools and the arms race with the Soviet Union that followed. The West presents an entirely Anglospheric perspective of the war starting with its very chronology. For example, it is said that the conflict ‘officially’ began with the September 1st, 1939 invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany. This mythology immediately frames the war from an Eurocentric viewpoint by separating the Sino-Japanese war that was already underway as the Pacific Ocean theater began long before the ‘surprise’ Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and U.S. entry into the conflict.

The truth is that nearly everything Americans are taught about U.S. participation in the war is either a mischaracterization or a lie, with its role in the Allied victory inflated exponentially. The widely held misconception that the 1944 Normandy landings in the Allied invasion of France was the decisive turning point in Europe is a fairy tale. The ‘D’ in D-Day does not stand for ‘decision’ as many Westerners assume, and when the Allied forces converged on Germany from East and West it was the Soviets who captured Berlin. Although Operation Overlord may have been the largest invasion transported by sea in history, the real watershed in the Great Patriotic War was the Soviet victory in the Battle of Stalingrad the previous year, the biggest defeat ever suffered by the German army. The U.S. only took on the Wehrmacht once it was exhausted by the Red Army which bore the real burden of overcoming Germany.

Just three years earlier, the British army had been completely vanquished by the Nazi armed forces. Omitted from Hollywood folklore like Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirk is that the Germans were entirely capable of pressing on with an invasion of the British isles but abruptly halted their advance — what stopped them? Quite simply, Hitler’s fanatical desire to conquer the Soviet Union and eradicate communism which he regarded as a greater threat to the Third Reich than Western capitalism. It is not surprising that the Eastern Front became a higher priority considering that the ruling classes in Britain, France and the U.S. had previously financed the German rearmament in violation of the Treaty of Versailles.

The Germans did not hold the same hatred for the West that it reserved for the Russians. In fact, the Führer personally admired the U.S. so much for the extermination of its natives that he named his armored private train ‘Amerika’, a mobile version of the Wolf’s Lair. The Nuremberg race statutes were partly inspired by Jim Crow segregation laws in the U.S. and many of the defendants at the Nuremberg trials tried to excuse their atrocities by arguing the similarity between Nazi race theories and the eugenicist movement which actually originated in the United States. Auschwitz physician Josef Mengele was even previously employed as an assistant to the head of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics Institute that was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

Hitler also preferred an attack on the Soviets over an invasion of Britain because of the eugenics of Lebensraum. Nazi Germany, like Britain and France, was really an imperial settler colonialist state and Hitler viewed the Slav inhabitants of the USSR as ethnically inferior to the ‘master race.’ The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact had been a strategic move to buy time for the Soviets in preparation for a German onslaught, at the time the most powerful military power in the world. Britain and France had rebuffed Stalin’s efforts to form an alliance in 1938, leaving the USSR no choice but to sign a non-aggression pact with Germany, knowing full well it was only a matter of time until Hitler would eventually embark on his Masterplan for the East. Operation Barbarossa in June 1941 broke the agreement and the German dictator ultimately sealed his own fate. Although the Soviets were victorious, the slaughter that proceeded it had no parallel in human history as 27 million citizens would lose their lives in the fight compared to less than half a million Americans. Even worse, the West has made a mockery of this sacrifice with their refusal to fully acknowledge the USSR’s contribution despite the fact that they did the vast majority of the fighting and dying while 80% of all German casualties were on the Eastern Front.

Meanwhile, the Cold War had already begun before the Second World War even ended. Whether or not Stalin was fully aware of either the U.S. capability or plans to use the atomic bomb against Japan is still a matter of debate, as U.S. President Harry S. Truman changed his story numerous times over the years. Nevertheless, their use is incorrectly attributed by the West to have brought the war’s end and very few Americans realize this tale was told entirely for political reasons. The purported rationale was to allegedly save the lives of American soldiers that would be lost in a future Allied invasion of Japan planned for the Autumn of 1945. Controlling the narrative became crucial in ‘justifying’ the use of such deadly weapons which held the secret motivation to begin an arms race with the Soviets.

Stalin and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had agreed at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 that the USSR would eventually break its neutrality treaty with Japan and enter the Pacific theater later in the year. That was until Roosevelt died of a massive cerebral hemorrhage just a few months later while American nuclear physicists were busy at work enriching uranium in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Then, just a day prior to newly inaugurated President Truman’s meeting with Stalin at the Potsdam Conference in July, the U.S. army and Project Y successfully detonated a nuclear weapon for the first time with the Trinity test as part of the expensive Manhattan Project. After his face-to-face with Truman at Potsdam, whom everyone agrees at least hinted to Stalin of the new U.S. weaponry, the Soviet premier suspected the new U.S. leader would go back on the previous agreement at Yalta with Roosevelt that included compromises with the USSR in the Pacific.

The ugly truth is that the U.S. was well aware that the Japanese were willing to conditionally surrender on the basis of immunity for Emperor Hirohito. However, the U.S. secretly wanted to achieve an Allied victory ideally without Soviet participation so it could demonstrate its exclusive nuclear capability in order to dominate the post-war order. Japan didn’t relinquish following the first bombing of Hiroshima but the second, Nagasaki, three days later — both of which mostly impacted civilians, not its military. What else happened on August 9th, 1945? The Soviet Union declared war on Japan upon realizing that the U.S. was backtracking on its pledge with the underhanded use of ‘Fat Man and Little Boy’ that instantly killed more than 200,000 civilians. The timing gave the appearance that the bomb resulted in the surrender when it was the Soviet invasion of occupied Manchuria in the north against Japan’s military stronghold that was the real tipping point which led to an unconditional acceptance of defeat.

According to the Western narrative, the Cold War only began following Winston Churchill’s invitation to the U.S. by Truman after being surprisingly voted out of office in 1946. At Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, hegave a speech entitled “Sinews of Peace”, widely known as the Iron Curtain speech, where he condemned Soviet policies in Europe and popularized the moniker for the boundary dividing the continent after the war:

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an “iron curtain” has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.

Although the term ‘iron curtain’ predates Cold War usage to describe various barriers political or otherwise, what is not commonly known is that Churchill likely appropriated the term from its originator, none other than the German Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels himself, who used it in reference to the Soviet Union. In February 1945, he wrote in Das Reich newspaper:

If the German people lay down their weapons, the Soviets, according to the agreement between Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin, would occupy all of East and Southeast Europe along with the greater part of the Reich. An iron curtain would fall over this enormous territory controlled by the Soviet Union, behind which nations would be slaughtered.

The ‘Nazi megaphone’ himself may have gotten the term from the Wehrmacht propaganda publication Signal which in 1943 published an article entitled “Behind the Iron Curtain” that described:

He who has listened in on the interrogation of a Soviet prisoner of war knows that once the dam is broken, a flood of words begins as he tries to make clear what he experienced behind the mysterious iron curtain, which more than ever separates the world from the Soviet Union.

Is it any wonder that British newspaper The Guardian is now illustrating cartoons in its anti-Russia propaganda today that imitate Goebbels’ anti-Soviet posters during WWII?  Although Stalin was unaware of Churchill’s lifting of Nazi phraseology, he still detected the resemblance between Western and Third Reich policies toward the Soviet Union in the Fulton speech during an interview with Pravda:

A point to be noted is that in this respect Mr. Churchill and his friends bear a striking resemblance to Hitler and his friends. Hitler began his work of unleashing war by proclaiming a race theory, declaring that only German-speaking people constituted a superior nation. Mr. Churchill sets out to unleash war with a race theory, asserting that only English-speaking nations are superior nations, who are called upon to decide the destinies of the entire world. The German race theory led Hitler and his friends to the conclusion that the Germans, as the only superior nation, should rule over other nations. The English race theory leads Mr. Churchill and his friends to the conclusion that the English-speaking nations, as the only superior nations, should rule over the rest of the nations of the world. Actually, Mr. Churchill, and his friends in Britain and the United States, present to the non-English speaking nations something in the nature of an ultimatum: “Accept our rule voluntarily, and then all will be well; otherwise war is inevitable.” But the nations shed their blood in the course of five years’ fierce war for the sake of the liberty and independence of their countries, and not in order to exchange the domination of the Hitlers for the domination of the Churchills. It is quite probable, accordingly, that the non-English-speaking nations, which constitute the vast majority of the population of the world, will not agree to submit to a new slavery.

It is easy to see the parallels between Stalin’s explanation for the geopolitical tensions underlying the Cold War and Edward Said’s postcolonial theory. From a Marxist perspective, one of Said’s shortcomings was a reductionism in understanding empire to cultural supremacy, one of the reasons he unfortunately conflated Marxism with Orientalism as well. When it came to the Cold War, Said also demonstrated a lack of understanding of internationalism. He wrote:

By the time of the Bandung Conference in 1955, the entire Orient had gained its independence from the Western empires and gained a new configuration of imperial powers, the United States and the Soviet Union. Unable to recognize “its” Orient in the new Third World, Orientalism now faced a challenging and politically armed Orient.

Yet who foremost ‘armed’ the movements of national liberation? The USSR, including support for the Palestinians during most of its history. Nevertheless, Stalin’s description of the West’s prerogative for post-war hegemony based on the belief in its primacy has many overlaps with the idea that the Occident exercised patronizing dominance over the East. Today, even though the Berlin Wall has long since fallen and Eastern Europe is under free enterprise, the political establishment in the West is still clinging to this attitude and misunderstanding of Moscow to fulfill its need for an permanent global nemesis with a desire to eventually colonize Russia with foreign capital as it did under Boris Yeltsin.

Russia has historically possessed a unique and ambivalent identity located between the East and West, having been invaded by both European and Asian empires in previous centuries. Said included Russia in Orientalism in his analysis of European countries and their attitude toward the East, but did not note that Russia is in many respects the Orient within the Occident, as more than 75% of its territory as the largest nation in the world is actually located in Asia while three quarters of its population live on the European side. Russia may be partly European, but it is certainly not Western. Then again, Europe is not a continent unto itself but geographically connected to Asia with the arbitrary division between them based on cultural differences, not landmass, where Russia is an intermediate. Expansionism under Peter the Great may have brought Western European ‘cultural values’ and modernization to Russia, but the majority of its territory itself remains in Asia.

Even after the presumed end of the Cold War, Russia has been excluded from the European Union and instead joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), while developing strong ties with China. As recently disclosed documents from the National Security Archive prove, NATO has broken its promise to Mikhail Gorbachev during the George H.W. Bush administration that it not expand eastward following Germany’s enrollment. It has since added 13 countries since 1999, 10 of which were former Warsaw Pact states. Russia’s alliance with China has been solidified precisely because it is still not treated in the same regard as other European nations even after the adoption of a private sector economy. In order to justify its continued armament and avoid obsolescence, NATO has manufactured an adversarial relationship with Moscow.

Contrary to the widespread perception of his rhetoric, in terms of policy-making President Trump has been equally as hostile to Moscow as his predecessors, if not more so in light of the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). What the usual suspects behind the attempted soft-coup against him fail to understand is that Trump’s tact toward Putin is more likely an inverted version of the ‘only Nixon could go to China’ strategy, an unexpected style of diplomacy based on the pragmatic objective of containing Beijing by dividing America’s two primary foes. The liberals still in denial about their election defeat continue to underestimate Trump, but the Chinese are not fooled. The architect behind Nixon’s détente with Mao, Henry Kissinger, is even believed to have encouraged Trump to ease tensions with Moscow in order to quarantine China and don’t think they haven’t noticed. Ultimately, the divide between Trump and his enemies in the establishment is really a disagreement over strategy in how to surround China and prevent the inevitable downfall of the U.S. empire.

The ongoing demonization of Moscow is ultimately about China as well. It was only a matter of time until the uncertain allegations of election interference were also leveled against Beijing without proof as a Joint Statement from the U.S. intelligence agencies recently showed. Make no mistake — underneath the West’s Russophobia lies Sinophobia and as Washington’s real geopolitical challenger, China will in due course emerge as the preferred bogeyman. The bipartisan hawkishness has created an environment where rapprochement and diplomacy of any kind is seen as weakness and even a sign of treason, making the prospect of peace seemingly impossible. As China continues to grow, it will find itself more squarely in the cross-hairs of imperialism, regardless of whether Trump’s strategy to renew relations with Moscow against Beijing is successful. Until then cooler heads at the highest levels of government must prevail as they thankfully did at the height of the first Cold War for the sake of peace between Russia, the U.S. and the entire world.