Category Archives: Interview

Provoking the Bear and the Dragon and Hoping for the Best?

Peter Koenig, PressTV Interview Transcript
19 June 2019


Moscow, June 18, 2019 (AFP)

Russia on Tuesday called for restraint to avoid escalation in the Middle East after the US said it was deploying additional troops due to heightened tensions with Iran.

“We are urging all the sides to show restraint,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists in response to a question on the deployment. “We would prefer not to see any steps that could introduce additional tensions in the already unstable region.”

The United States said Monday it has approved the deployment of 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the troops were being sent “for defensive purposes” as the US has blamed Iran for last week’s attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Tuesday that US plans to increase its troop presence in the Middle East were aimed at provoking armed conflict. Such actions “cannot be seen otherwise than as a deliberate course to provoke war,” Ryabkov told journalists, quoted by RIA Novosti news agency. He said that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo while visiting in Russia last month had stated that US troops were in the region not to start war but prevent it.

Pompeo said at a news conference with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on May 14 that “we fundamentally do not seek a war with Iran.”

“If that’s the case, the US should refrain from further reinforcement of its presence and from other steps, including dragging and pushing its allies in various parts of the world into stepping up pressure on Iran,” Ryabkov said. Tensions between Tehran and Washington have escalated since the US last year quit a multi-nation nuclear deal with Iran, a close ally of Russia.

Peskov said Tuesday that “our starting point is still that Iran will remain within the framework of the nuclear deal and will maintain adherence to its obligations.”

PressTV: Could you please comment on this?

Peter Koeing: What Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Tuesday that US plans to increase its troop presence in the Middle East were aimed at provoking armed conflict – is very true; and is very important to take note of.

To me it looks like the commando behind Trump has decided to put Venezuela on the backburner, that, for now, Iran is more important.

Controlling Iran, means basically controlling not only the entire Middle East with all its riches, but it’s also contributing to the Chosen People’s – Israel, the Zionists’ – overall goal to exert hegemony over the world’s finances – controlling the globe’s economy.

Domination of people by military power and domination of the economy by financial power, go hand in hand.

Let’s face it, to engage in war – or provoke war – were also the two ‘false flag’ attacks on the Norwegian and Japanese oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Only an absolute moron, or someone who has never lived on planet earth, would not understand that these were two flagrant “false flags”; and Pompeo’s immediate accusations without a shred of proof, were the usual “Pompeoisms” – lying, deceiving, stealing, – or as he said literally what they did at the CIA, “We lied, we cheated, we stole”. Well, these people do not change.

By engaging Iran in a war, Washington knows they would also engage Russia and China – and that’s what they want. The two super powers are their last stronghold to conquer.

And people who are narcissistic and full of themselves, as are the characteristics of neoliberals and neofascists, who want to run the show, they do not see their own limits – they see only their own power with impunity.

It’s like a drug for them. They act under addiction… addiction for power and dominance. They are even ready to destroy themselves for power and dominance.

If we analyze one particular incident on this globe, like the announcement to deploy a 1000 more troops to the Middle East – have they said where? – not that I know – then we always have to see the entire picture.

It’s part of a Chess game – a Chess game they – the US and the international handlers behind them – only are allowed to win. That’s why they never give up an objective. They may put it on the backburner for a while, like what they are likely doing with Venezuela, but in the long run, as the they see the Big Picture only, Full Spectrum Dominance, they will continue – until their collapse.

And why is the collapse the logical outcome? – Because such a war cannot be won. By nobody.

From Dollar Hegemony to Global Warming

There has been an on-going tectonic shift in the West since the abandonment of the Bretton Woods agreement in 1971. This accelerated when the USSR ended and has resulted in the ‘neoliberal globalization’ we see today.

At the same time, there has been an unprecedented campaign to re-engineer social consensus in the West. Part of this strategy, involves getting populations in Western countries to fixate on ‘global warming’, ‘gender equity’ and ‘anti-racism’: by focusing on identity politics and climate change, the devastating effects and injustices brought about by globalized capitalism and associated militarism largely remain unchallenged by the masses and stay firmly in the background.

This is the argument presented by Denis Rancourt, researcher at Ontario Civil Liberties Association, in a new report. Rancourt is a former full professor of physics at the University of Ottawa in Canada and author of ‘Geo-economics and geo-politics drive successive eras of predatory globalization and socialengineering: Historical emergence of climate change, gender equity, andanti-racism as state doctrines’ (April 2019).

In the report, Rancourt references Michael Hudson’s 1972 book Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire to help explain the key role of maintaining dollar hegemony and the importance of the petrodollar to US global dominance. Aside from the significance of oil, Rancourt argues that the US has an existential interest to ensure that opioid drugs are traded in US dollars, another major global commodity. This explains the US occupation of Afghanistan. He also pinpoints the importance of US agribusiness and the arms industry in helping to secure US geo-strategic goals.

Since the fall of the USSR in 1991, Rancourt says that US war campaigns have, among other things, protected the US dollar from abandonment, destroyed nations seeking sovereignty from US dominance, secured the opium trade, increased control over oil and have frustrated Eurasian integration. In addition, we have seen certain countries face a bombardment of sanctions and hostility in an attempt to destroy energy-producing centres that the US does not control, not least Russia.

He also outlines the impacts within Western countries too, including: the systematic relative loss of middle-class economic status, the rise of urban homelessness, the decimation of the industrial working class, corporate megamergers, rising inequality, the dismantling of welfare, financial speculation, stagnant wages, debt, deregulation and privatisation. In addition, the increased leniency in food and drug regulation has led to the dramatic increase in the use of the herbicide glyphosate, which has been concurrent with upsurges of many diseases and chronic ailments.

In the face of this devastation, Western nations have had to secure ongoing consent among their own populations. To help explain how this has been achieved, Rancourt focuses on gender equity, anti-racism and global warming as state doctrines that have been used to divert attention from the machinations of US empire (and also to prevent class consciousness taking hold). I recently asked Denis Rancourt about this aspect of his report.

Colin Todhunter:  Can you say a bit about yourself and how you came to produce this report? What is it meant to achieve?

Denis Rancourt:  I’m a former physics professor, environmental scientist and a civil rights advocate. I currently work as a researcher for the Ontario Civil Liberties Association ( During a conversation about civil rights issues I had with the executive director of OCLA, we identified several important societal and economic phenomena that seemed to be related to the early 1990s. So, I eventually settled in to do some ‘heavy lifting’, research wise.

While there is no lack of hired intellectuals and experts to wrongly guide our perception, my research demonstrates a link between surges in large-scale suppression and exploitation of national populations with the acceleration of an aggressive, exploitative globalization.

CT: In your report, you’ve described the consequences of the abandonment of Bretton Woods and the dissolution of the USSR in terms of dollar hegemony, US militarism and the devastating impacts of ‘neoliberal globalisation’ both for nation states and for ordinary people.

DR: There is little doubt that Russian and Chinese analysts have a solid understanding of what I have outlined in my report. For instance, foreshadowing Trump’s trade war, the People’s Liberation Army Major-General Qiao Liang’s April 2015 speech to the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee and government office, included the following:

Since that day [dissolution of Bretton Woods], a true financial empire has emerged, the US dollar’s hegemony has been established, and we have entered a true paper currency era. There is no precious metal behind the US dollar. The government’s credit is the sole support for the US dollar. The US makes a profit from the whole world. This means that the Americans can obtain material wealth from the world by printing a piece of green paper. […] If we [now] acknowledge that there is a US dollar index cycle [punctuated by engineered crises, including war] and the Americans use this cycle to harvest from other countries, then we can conclude that it was time for the Americans to harvest China…

CT: You discuss the need for states to ensure consent: the need to pacify, hypnotize and align populations for continued globalization; more precisely, the need to divert attention from the structural violence of economic policies and the actual violence of militarism. Can you say something about how the issue of global warming relates to this?

DR:  Irrespective of whether the so-called ‘climate crisis’ is real, exaggerated or fabricated, it is clear, from the data in my report, that the ethos of global warming was engineered on a global scale and benefits the exploiters of the carbon-economy and, more indirectly, the state.

For example, one of the studies that I review shows that a many-fold increase in mainstream media reporting about global warming suddenly occurred in the mid-2000s, in all the leading news media, at the same time that the financiers and their acolytes such as Al Gore decided to make and manage a global carbon economy. This media campaign has been sustained ever since and the global warming ethos has been institutionalized.

Carbon sequestration schemes have devastated local communities on every occupied continent. If anything, carbon schemes − from wind farms to biofuel harvesting to industrial battery production to solar-cell array installations to mining uranium to mega hydro-dam construction and so on – have accelerated habitat destruction.

Meanwhile, economic and military warfare rages, glyphosate is dumped into the ecosphere at unprecedented rates (poured on GM herbicide-resistant cash crops), active genocides are in progress (Yemen), the US is unilaterally withdrawing from nuclear treaties and forcing an arms race with next generation death machines and US-held extortionary loans are serviced by land-use transformation on the scale of nations; while our educated children have nervous breakdowns trying to get governments to “act” on “climate”.

In the early-1990s, a world conference on climate environmentalism was an express response to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This was part of a global propaganda project intended to mask the new wave of accelerated predatory globalism that was unleashed now that the USSR was definitively out of the way.

CT: What are your thoughts on Greta Thunberg and the movement surrounding her?

DR:  It is sad and pathetic. The movement is a testament to the success of the global propaganda project that I describe in my report. The movement is also an indicator of the degree to which totalitarianism has taken hold in Western societies; wherein individuals, associations and institutions lose their ability for independent thought to steer society away from the designs of an occupying elite. Individuals (and their parents) become morality police in the service of this ‘environmentalism’.

CT: You also talk about the emergence of gender-equity (third wave feminism) and anti-racism as state doctrines. Can you say something about this?

DR: In my report, I use historical institutional records and societal data to demonstrate that a triad of ‘state religions’ was globally engendered and emerged on cue following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This triad consists of climate alarmism, exaggerated tunnel-vision focus on gender equity and a campaign of anti-racism focused on engineering thoughts, language and attitudes.

These state ideologies were conceived and propelled by UN efforts and the resulting signed protocols. Western academia enthusiastically took up and institutionalized the program. Mainstream media religiously promoted the newly minted ethos. Political parties largely applied increased quotas of gender and race elected representatives.

These processes and ideas served to sooth, massage and occupy the Western mind, especially among the upper-middle, professional and managerial classes and the elite classes of economically occupied territories but did nothing to alleviate the most violent and globally widespread forms of actual racism and misogyny as a result of predatory globalization and militarism.

Ironically, the global attacks on human dignity, human health and the environment were in proportion to the systematic and sometimes shrill calls for gender equity, anti-racism and climate ‘action’. The entire edifice of these ‘state religions’ leaves no room for required conflicts of class and expressly undermines any questioning of the mechanisms and consequences of globalization.

CT: Can you say something about the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests), Brexit and the Trump electoral phenomenon?

DR: Combine aggressive globalization, constant financial predation, gutting of the Western working and middle classes and a glib discourse of climate change, anti-racism and gender equity and something has to give. French geographer Christophe Guilluy predicted the reactions in some detail, and it is not difficult to understand. It is no accident that the revolting working- and middle-classes are critical of the narratives of climate crisis, anti-racism and gender equity; and that their voices are cast by the mainstream media as racist, misogynist and ignorant of science.

It seems that any class which opposes its own destruction is accused of being populated by racist and ignorant folks that can’t see that salvation lies in a carbon-managed and globalized world. It becomes imperative, therefore, to shut down all the venues where such an ‘ignorant lot’ could communicate their views, attempt to organize and thereby threaten the prevailing social order.

In Prison for 37 Years, Mumia Abu Jamal Finally has the Right to Defend Himself

Mumia Abu Jamal just turned 65. Known as “The Voice of the Voiceless”, he has spent most of his life in prison – 37 years now – after his death sentence in 1982. “A vindictive trial” as denounced by his supporters around the world. The evolution of this court case seems to show that, despite everything, they are right. After the commutation of the death penalty to life imprisonment in 2011, a landmark decision has just been made: the Pennsylvania court finally accepted for the first time that Mumia’s defense can appeal the sentence. Interview with Jacky Hortaut, animator of the French collective “LIBERONS MUMIA”.


Alex Anfruns: Can you explain why Mumia was convicted?

Jacky Hortaut: It’s a relatively classic case in the United States. Mumia is African-American.  At the time he was a quite brilliant journalist working for several radio stations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was accused of killing a police officer. I would like to qualify: a white police officer. It is rather in the other direction that this is happening in general, especially today. Just look at the number of African-American citizens who have been killed by police officers in recent years…But he was charged with the opposite: it was the black journalist who killed a white police officer; he was charged with this homicide while he himself had been seriously injured during the crime.

It happened at the end of the night, on a major arterial road in Philadelphia. At the time, Mumia could not live by his job as a journalist alone, so he worked as a part-time taxi driver for economic reasons. That day, when he left a client around three or four in the morning on a major road in the city, he recognized his brother with his arms held high, detained by a policeman. So he left his vehicle on the boulevard, crossed it and when he arrived at the scene of the police checkpoint, there was a shooting. A policeman was killed, Mumia was seriously injured. The police immediately took him to the police station. Noticing that Mumia was losing a lot of blood, and panicking at the thought that he might die on the spot, the police took him to the hospital. Under the protection of the medical profession, it took him several months to recover and be tried on the charge of murder… The trial was instituted… He was never able to defend his innocence, nor offer any argument, because from the first hearing in which he participated, he was immediately arrested and imprisoned….

From the subsequent hearings, it was discovered that the trial was vindictive from beginning to end, with no possibility for him to present witnesses. In addition, his public defender had only a few days to address the case. Knowing that there is no investigating magistrate in the United States, it is incumbent upon the defense to challenge the prosecution’s position and thus conduct the investigations. You can imagine that in a few days or weeks, in a death penalty case, Mumia was not defended under normal conditions, if we refer to international standards. The trial was racist and expeditious.

AA: Did any human rights organization investigate your case?

JH: Yes, after this trial and Mumia’s death sentence in 1982, organizations like Amnesty International, the UN Commission on Human Rights and even the European Parliament produced reports that made a lot of noise. In particular, Amnesty USA said that there were dozens of legal reasons to consider that Mumia had been convicted under unacceptable conditions. In any case, he has never had a chance to defend himself. Mumia was then 28 when he was sentenced to death.

French Campaign for Mumia’s Liberation

AA: Today he’s 65 years old and still in prison, but during that time his case has gone through a lot of ups and downs. How did Mumia escape from death row?

JH: He remained on death row for 30 years. When one is sentenced to death in the United States, the appeal procedures are very lengthy. First it was tried in the state that tried him under its own laws, then in the federal courts under the laws that apply throughout the United States. Until the early 1990s, Mumia used all of his resources. Every time they were rejected, even the Supreme Court of the United States, the highest American court. Later, Mumia faced two death warrants. The first, in 1995, resulted in increased mobilization in the United States and increased awareness throughout the country. This mobilization allowed the order to be lifted and Mumia was not executed.

But four years later, in 1999, there was another attempt. Mumia was even better known on the planet, and there was a huge international mobilization that led the state governor to overturn his decision, only a few hours before the scheduled execution, and since 2000, Mumia has had several defense teams, but above all he has benefited from a mobilization that has only grown around the world. From that moment on, the correlation of forces dealt more with the question of the conditions under which Mumia had been sentenced, with the aim of obtaining a review of his trial; and at the same time, his defenders were able to help him financially and legally to multiply the evidence of his innocence.

This work during the first decade of 2000 led the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 to finally consider the conditions under which his death sentence had been passed as questionable. However, even though he was found guilty, the Court refused to review his trial. But that allowed his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment, and he was released from death row in 2011, after spending 30 years there. This first victory was a stimulus to continue the fight. To say life imprisonment is like saying second death sentence – a slow death sentence in Mumia’s words – without the possibility of parole. This is the judicial situation Mumia finds himself in today.

AA:  In December 2018, the Pennsylvania court accepted for the first time that Mumia’s defense could appeal. What did this development allow in the trial?

JH: This is the best news we’ve had since 2011, the most important judicial event in his trial. This decision was made by a court that had been asked to consider a new appeal of Mumia’s defense, based on the new jurisprudence of the U.S. Supreme Court, which now prohibits the same magistrate from getting involved multiple times in the same person’s case. This jurisprudence applies in particular to trials where the result could be the death penalty.

Mumia’s case was the case of a convicted person who had received a new trial. In Mumia’s case, the judge in question was Ronald Castille, who had been a prosecutor in Philadelphia and then a judge of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court before becoming its first president. And each time Mumia’s case was reopened by his defense in the presence of that magistrate, the appeals were systematically dismissed. That is no longer possible under U.S. law today, thanks to this new jurisprudence of the Supreme Court. So, after more than a year of numerous hearings, the judge – the only magistrate who has accepted Mumia’s ability to testify by telephone since his death sentence – acceded to Mumia’s request for a new appeal.

AA: But in the last days of 2018 Mumia’s defenders received a cold shower… What happened?

JH: Yes, that low blow was given by the new Philadelphia prosecutor. However, he was someone who enjoyed good press among the African American community, but also, more generally, in human rights organizations. He was brilliantly elected as a prosecutor in 2017 after an exemplary career as a lawyer, where he defended all cases of human rights violations. He has received great sympathy from the poorest, from the victims of racism and discrimination. This explains the disappointment and anger of Mumia’s defenders when, a month after the judge’s decision to grant him the right to a new appeal, he challenged it by simply asking for its annulment.

AA: Well, his intention had the opposite effect!

JH: Indeed, there was a strong mobilization during February and March for that prosecutor to withdraw his challenge and for Mumia to benefit from the fullness of the judge’s decision. Finally, the mobilization won the game! The French collective contributed to this success. At the beginning of April, the prosecutor withdrew his challenge, which means that the judge’s decision can be implemented. His defense appealed immediately. Thus, the court case has been restarted, whereas in recent years we hardly believed in it anymore. It is a considerable event.

AA: 37 years in prison must have been a difficult experience from every point of view. What can you also tell us about Mumia’s state of health?

JH: In recent years, Mumia has faced very difficult conditions, even after leaving death row. Although in a medium security prison he has contacts with other prisoners, this was not possible during the 30 years he spent on death row because he was totally isolated.

Four years ago, Mumia was very sick because he had hepatitis C. He almost died. This time, too, he had to fight an absolutely incredible legal battle, with a strong international mobilization, in order to get better care. As a result of that mobilization, the Pennsylvania Correctional Service was ordered to provide treatment. Once the disease virus has been eradicated, Mumia is better off, but the after-effects have not disappeared, such as liver cirrhosis and, more recently, the appearance of glaucoma.

AA: For those who know a little about Mumia’s work, we know that he is a committed journalist: he regularly expresses himself about current events in the world, through his letters and writings sent from prison… How would you describe Mumia’s morale over the years?

JH: Absolutely, Mumia is a scholar: he has many qualities, this great Mumia. He is not only tall in size, but also in ideas. He wrote about ten books during his captivity. He works regularly as a freelance on “Prison Radio”. It is a very popular radio station that gives prisoners the opportunity to communicate with their families.

Mumia talks about global issues, U.S. politics, human rights, justice, the death penalty, mass imprisonment.  As he says, he does his job as a journalist from prison!

•  First published in Investigat’Action

Timir Basu focuses on Labor in India

Labor around the world is facing a hostile situation to the extent and intensity unprecedented in labor’s history. At the same time, labor in the Global South and Global North is theoretically, organizationally and politically unarmed. In this perspective, Timir Basu, a revolutionary once organizing the poor peasantry, and after passing hard time behind bars, organizing the labor, and delivering his tasks as editor of Frontier, the radical weekly from Kolkata, for decades, focuses on labor in India, a large economy in the Global South, in the following interview. The interview was taken in April 2019 by Farooque Chowdhury.


Farooque Chowdhury: You were actively involved with organizing the poor peasantry along revolutionary lines. That was days of organizing armed struggle, years ago. Then, after getting out of prison, you actively got involved with organizing unions. You were simultaneously writing on labor and unions/labor movement in two famous weeklies – Economic and Political Weekly and Frontier. Later, over the years, as editor of Frontier, you keenly observe the labor and labor movement in India. What’s the present condition of (a) the labor, and (b) the labor movement in this south Asian country?

Timir Basu: Labor has been on the defensive everywhere since the 1990s, more precisely since the beginning of ruthless aggression of neo-liberalism. And, the South Asian region is no exception.

As for India, labor here is doubly disadvantaged because of a backward manufacturing process inherited from the British colonial rulers. Indian big business houses never tried to modernize their industry despite tremendous advance in technological up-gradation in manufacturing in Europe and America. Indian business tycoons are industrialists with feudal mindset. Also, they never tried to explore and expand market beyond a certain point. Unlike the Chinese capitalists who are latecomer in the race, they remained satisfied with captive market. They were always apprehensive of losing control over their family business empires in case of expansion. But with rapid march of globalization, technological up-gradation became the buzzword in new corporate culture dominated by Ambanis and Adanis, in place of old Tatas and Birlas. They began to automate their production lines with the sole purpose of cutting labor cost, not the improvement in quality of products. This is the main reason why Indian goods are not competitive in international market despite the advantage of cheap labor. Indian economy is not immune to global recession. Despite pompous claim of high growth rate and fairy tale of GDP, joblessness remains the perennial headache of all governments irrespective of color. Barring services sector the much-touted organized sector has been witnessing systematic killing of jobs.

Trade Union movement in general even in the organized sector finds it increasingly difficult to arrest the falling membership and boost the sagging morale of workers who are in constant threat of losing job. They work under the state of fear-psychosis, always encountering uncertainty and insecurity. The old way of placing charter of demands with major thrust on wage revision and compensatory allowance in proportion to rise or fall in consumer price index no longer works. Labor offensive in the form of strike in isolation here and there, quite often fails due to lack of solidarity support.

The phenomenal growth of services sector has created a new generation of employees who are essentially footloose, and May Day has very little meaning to them unless they are politically motivated. They are not interested in the past but what they fail to grasp is they protect their future without knowing the past. Labor movement in the era of digital economy looks more fragmented and the “cybertariat” is yet to stand on its own feet.

FC: What’s the major hindrance – theoretically or politically or organizationally or assault by capital/opponent classes – the labor movement in India is facing now?

TB: For the decline of labor movement what is theoretically valid for workers in the West is equally valid for workers in India. The collapse of Soviet Russia gave employers, more precisely corporate employers, extra leverage to curb their bargaining power. The model of’ socialist societies’ where workers used to enjoy better living standards and social security was no longer there. Socialism itself became a dirty word. The post-Soviet situation also helped right-wing forces organize trade unions under their banner of reactionary and backward ideology. Reversal in China gave them extra teeth to coerce labor and brakes on trade union rights.

Tragically, most workers in the organized sector came under the sway of political right while the left continued to wander in ideological wilderness. In truth, they are still in search of an appropriate strategy in the changed context. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) controlled Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and [Indian National] Congress controlled INTUC together control most organized membership of unions and don’t allow workers to go on strike even in case of gross violation of workers’ rights.

FC: Which class dominates the labor movement in India?

TB: The middle class as a whole dominates Indian labor movement. It doesn’t matter whether unions are left-controlled or rightist led, leadership always comes with middle class background. Communist and socialist outfits deploy whole-timers to organize trade unions. Right-wing forces too do the same. This tradition has been continuing since beginning of trade union movement in the 1920s. For economically sound big unions, trade union bureaucracy is a nightmare to ordinary workers. The trade union bureaucracy is part of the management now. In the name of maintaining industrial peace, this leadership sometimes openly works against the interests of workers. It’s not that leaders from the working community are rare. But in course of time, they too acquire the status of middle class. Once P C Joshi, the secretary of undivided Communist Party of India, made a unique observation – “workers being promoted to leadership become babus”, the well-off Indian middle class. Declassed in reverse order!

The system of “recognized unions” is a nice device to corrupt TU leaders who do nothing in workplace, but provide consultancy to management. Their sole job is to keep vigil on aggrieved workers on behalf of management and pacify workers at the time of unrest.

FC: Divisive/sectarian politics by factions of the dominating capital is a crucial issue in this big economy. This divisive/sectarian politics of the dominating capital produces an equal and opposite reaction – concentrating on issues in the way, which is also essentially divisive/sectarian, and increasingly confining into another form of divisive/sectarian slogans. Both of these are acting as a tool in the hands of the dominating capital, and harming unity of the working classes, the wage-slaves, the exploited. Do you find slogans – program/demand/movement – from the labor that stand against all forms and colors of divisive/sectarian politics irrespective of appearance and sound, and stand on class line?

TB: It is the basic weakness of labor movement in India that even the far-left, not to speak of official left, does raise the question of class. Nor do they educate wage laborers on class line. Frankly speaking, they consciously keep trade unions free from politics. As a result, it is no problem for capital to divide workers by manipulating divisive and sectarian issues through their paid agents when it is necessary. When the ruling parties spread war hysteria, no protest emerges from workers’ platform as if workers are not affected by such propaganda.

In India one major problem affecting workers and workplaces is caste. Despite toiling for decades side by side in an establishment, workers remain vulnerable to caste and religious prejudices. They remain immune to progressive ideas – no change in their outlook. They come with prejudice and they go back with prejudice. Management encourages prejudice and obnoxious religious practice as Marwari businessmen would patronize in building up Hanumana, the monkey-chief who was an ally of Ramchandra during Rama’s Lanka expedition, temple inside factory premises so that their workers could worship there.

Despite encounter with modern urban life, workers assiduously nurse feudal values. Once a permanent worker in Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation’s mains department summed up the situation nicely: “the parcel that came from Bihar went back to Bihar after retirement without being opened”.

FC: Should the labor with a heroic history of trampling divisive/sectarian politics tolerate and give space to a seemingly pro-people, but fundamentally divisive/sectarian politics as an answer to the divisive/sectarian politics of the dominating capital/factions of the ruling classes in this economy with many competing components/regions/sections?

TB: As workers are not politically trained, they sometimes get swayed by divisive maneuvering of capital. Workers talk politics not at factory gate. No doubt, they discuss elections but they do it as common people, not as workers. So the working class perspective is totally missing in their discourse in roadside teashops or shanties where they live.

FC: The country with its geo-strategically important position and vying for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council is a hot bed for meddling/cajoling/pressure by imperialism. What impact is this making on the labor?

TB: Labor being apolitical they do hardly bother about India’s quest to get a permanent seat in UN Security Council. For one thing, they definitely take interest in Pakistan-bashing. Jingoism is a time-tested tactic to divert public attention. Again, leftists don’t counter it from their workers’ platform.

FC: Do you find the so-called NGOs, which are, in essence, longer and informal arms for implementing parts of foreign policy of a number of powerful states, influencing/intervening/organizing unions?

TB: Yes, NGOs are operating throughout the country. Most people, not to speak of workers separately, do hardly question NGO’s source of funds and NGOs’ action program. But their influence among workers, particularly in TU movement is negligible. It’s basically a middle class enterprise trying to have their presence felt among rural people and marginalized communities.

FC: How are the radical unions reacting to the imperialists’ moves at different levels of life in India including the areas of manufacturing and trade?

TB: Radical Unions’ response to global capital’s anti-national activities and naked interference in some cases is too inadequate to be taken seriously. One area that is totally neglected by radical unions and their rightist counterparts as well is ecology and climate. Imperial capital means unlimited plunder of natural and human resources, and in the process, they destroy ecological balance, inviting climatic catastrophe and engendering future generations. Tragically enough, radical unions don’t consider destruction of ecology as a serious threat to humanity. They talk about it very casually. It’s not on the agenda of their party. Nor is it on their TU agenda. In this area, some NGOs work in their own way and highlight climate change and its adverse impact on society and economy. But their target audience is educated middle class. So workers in Vedanta’s aluminum smelting plant are least bothered about the disaster brought about by their company in indiscriminate mining of alumina bearing hills. However, these mining activities are displacing thousands of tribal inhabitants and killing small rivulets and streams, which sustain life in the hilly region.

FC: Suffering of the farmers chained to credit capital, and their protests in India are now widely known. Bollywood, it should be Mullywood, has produced at least one feature film on this suffering. How is the labor in the industrial part of the economy reacting to these suffering and protests; i.e., expressing solidarity, joining the marches, etc. or having a position of onlooker, indifferent, no move to build up an alliance, etc.?

TB: Communist parties have been propagating the concept of worker-peasant alliance since their inception. But in practice they do precious little. It’s just a theoretical proposition to be discussed in party congresses and conferences. Jute workers struggle against retrenchment and arbitrary shutdown, but plight of jute growers is not their headache.

The idea of worker-peasant alliance cannot grow in isolation. Political parties and unions they control never try to chalk out any common program, which can be practiced jointly. Workers at best are onlookers, rather passive onlookers even when farmers march in thousands in scorching sun. Communists formulate this worker-peasant alliance strategy by borrowing from classical Marxist literature, but what they practice in the field will never succeed in building worker-peasant alliance. In the recent farmers’ long march to Mumbai, many middle class people showed sympathy to marchers – but no central TU came forward with a clear-cut strategy to support their cause. That TUs are asking workers to withdraw labor even for a day to protest farm suicides is unthinkable.

FC: What are the major (a) successes, and (b) failures of the main part and radical part, if identified in this way, of the labor movement in this country?

TB: Some labor welfare schemes have been incorporated in some labor acts. These are successes. But the present dispensation is trying to take away these hard-earned rights under the garb of “labor reforms”. And here unions of all shades, including unions owning allegiance to the ruling parties, are protesting rather half-heartedly. Here they fail miserably to put up a united fight without which workers are going to face medieval tyranny.

The development of an ever more technological complex manufacturing process is root cause of re-skilling of labor force. What they call fourth industrial revolution is all about maximization of automation. Maybe, automation has reached its limits after massive introduction of robots, negating physical presence of labor that was unthinkable at the beginning of the 20th century. Trade unions yet have no answer to automation beyond a certain point. They cannot oppose technological up-gradation. Nor can they resist the advent of labor-eating process even in areas where labor-organizing could have made decisive impact on the broader aspect of bargaining.

FC: Do you like to suggest/propose any step – ideological question, political struggle, relation between unions and radical political party of labor, leadership, inner-union democracy, political education of union members, literature – to the radical part of the labor movement in India?

TB: Well, in the organized sector, TU bureaucracy must be fought out. Even radical unions are not free from this virus. It acts as a brake on labor movement. TUs must raise political issues frequently at workers’ meet, even at plant level, instead of agitating to achieve sectarian goals. Unless TUs educate workers on political lines, this apolitical approach will lead to a more complex situation in which labor will find itself more powerless than ever before.

Capital is global. But now, labor’s resistance is strictly localized, failing to cross the national boundary and make solidarity movement a reality even at regional level. Thus, unions become powerless despite prolonged strike in some work facilities. Gone are the days of international federations and regional or industry-wise groupings. So May 1 is one more ritual, having no lasting impact on the wretched of the earth. Internationally, both left-wing and right-wing labor consolidations hardly make any news these days; they are in limbo. Only revival of socialist outlook internationally can give boost to rebuilding international labor federations without which corporations cannot be confronted effectively.

FC: Thank you for the interview discussing issues related to the labor in India.

TB: Thanks. I like to express my hope that the spirit of May 1 will mend many loose ends that stand in the way of building up powerful labor solidarity across the world.

A Fully Automated Society is Science Fiction

May Day is one of the most important days to the exploited people. Michael D. Yates, director of Monthly Review Press and former Associate Editor of Monthly Review magazine, focuses on US labor and its movement in the following interview from April 2019 by Farooque Chowdhury. Professor Michael Yates, whose academic fields are labor economics and the relationship between capital and labor, also discusses labor’s new initiatives at grass roots level, defying and contesting “official” labor leadership.


Farooque Chowdhury: You have been closely associated with labor in the United States for more than 30 years. You have worked as a labor educator, as negotiator representing unions, as union organizer, and as labor activist. Moreover, you have covered labor widely in your articles and books. Based on these interactions and experiences, please tell us about the present state of labor in the US.

Michael Yates: If we look at some data, we see that, from a numerical standpoint, the U.S. labor movement is weak. Union density (the fraction of wage and salary workers who are in unions) is low. In January 2019, it was 10.5 percent. In 1983, the rate was 20.1 percent. And although the rates are not perfectly comparable for earlier years, when the data collection was not the same, at the time of the merger of the country’s two largest labor federations, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organization (CIO), in 1955, the fraction of workers in unions was much higher, probably in the neighborhood of 33 percent.

Thus, we see that there has been a long-term decline in union density, and this in a country that has historically had much lower percentages of union membership than almost every other rich capitalist country (by comparison, Scandinavian nations have rates in excess of 60 percent, with Iceland over 90 percent.) Even the absolute number of union members has been in decline over the past few years. What is more, the current union density hides the division between private-sector and public-sector workers. In private employment, a mere 6.4 percent of employees are unionized (lower than it was more than 100 years ago), while in the public sector the fraction is 33.9 percent.

However, even in public employment, rates have been falling, and there is a widespread effort, led by capital, to make it difficult for public employees to unionize or maintain membership in existing unions. Public-sector unions typically had contract clauses that compelled those who refused to join the union to still pay a “dues equivalent” to the union, since they too would benefit from whatever the union won in the collective bargaining. Capital waged a long campaign through the courts to nullify such contract clauses. Employers achieved success when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that compelling non-members to pay dues was unconstitutional.

One last point with respect to public-sector workers is that among the highest union densities is that for “protective service” employees. These are police, prison guards, and the like, persons who only by a stretch of the imagination should even be included in the working class, given that their social role is to suppress workers. These employees overwhelmingly serve capital, unlike, for example, public school teachers, transit workers, and so forth.

Another measure of the strength of the working class is the incidence of strikes. There has been a marked decline in the number of strikes involving 1,000 workers or more (these are called “major work stoppages” by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is the source of the data I have been citing). In 2017, there were 7 of these, involving 25,000 workers, slightly higher than the all-time low set in 2009, when there were a mere 5 such strikes, with but 13,000 people out on strike. The trend in major strikes has been markedly downward. The last time there were more than 100 major strikes was in 1981. And the last year in which more than one million workers participated in major strikes was 1979. Compare these numbers to earlier years. Between 1947 and 1979, there was only one year with fewer than 200 major strikes, and years with at least 300 of these strikes were not that uncommon. Also, between 1947 and 1979 (32 years), fewer than a million workers walked off the job in only 7 years.

The year 2018 did see a bit of an upsurge in major strikes, due mainly to the aggressive actions of public-school teachers in the states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, and California. These strikes and a few others (mainly by healthcare workers) have shown that the strike tactic can still yield positive results, as the strikers won significant wage and other increases. The victories by teachers were the result of efforts by the rank-and-file to involve their communities and win their support for demanding better schools and education for the children of people in the communities. What these actions give us is a bit more hope for the revival of a labor movement in the United States.

Yet, overall, we are a long way from any sort of revival. At the top of the internal hierarchies of most unions, we have career bureaucrats interested mainly in their own advancement and security. High salaries abound, democracy is a rare commodity, and statements of principles (much less action on any set of principles) rarer still. Unions are wedded to the Democratic Party, which is at heart as much a party of capital as the utterly reactionary and proto-fascist Republican Party. Unions cannot even come to strongly support the Green New Deal that the more liberal wing of the Democratic Party supports as part of an effort to come to grips with the destruction of Mother Nature now so well underway. What is more, the union chiefs are still supportive of U.S. imperialism. I am afraid it will take more than rank-and-file protests to change things dramatically and in the direction of radical change.

FC: What’s the present condition of the U.S. labor movement?

MY: My answer to Question 1 provides my overall view. I will add here that the U.S. working class, like those everywhere in the world, is suffering from rising insecurity in employment (fueled by many things, including outsourcing of work, laws and court rulings, and sophisticated mechanization), stagnant wages, diminishing benefits such as health care, pensions, and paid leaves, seemingly endless speed-up at work, invasive monitoring/surveillance and drug-testing, unhealthful and unsafe working conditions, and rising temperatures that make working outside increasingly dangerous. Workers feel politically impotent, and all too often, the unions they do have ignored them or, worse, collaborated with employers and engaged in corrupt practices.

We see the unhappiness of workers reflected in several trends. Remarkably high percentages of young persons (ages 22-37) tell pollsters they are more favorable toward socialism than capitalism, and many even identify themselves as democratic socialists. Much of this is due to the success that Senator Bernie Sanders, who identifies himself as a democratic socialist, had his run for the Democratic Party’s nominee for president of the United States in 2016. This was followed by the election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 of several persons, mainly women and ethnic minorities, who also declared themselves democratic socialists. In addition, a political organization, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has grown very rapidly over the past two year and now has in excess of 50,000 members, impressive in a country such as the United States. DSA members have supported many working-class efforts, including strikes, housing struggles, and environmental efforts that would greatly benefit workers, such as the Green New Deal.

It must be noted that what most mean by socialism is not what was envisioned by Marx and Engels and millions of radicals throughout the world ever since the two great communists wrote and worked. Rather, it is the social democracy that has marked mainly the Scandinavian countries, that is, a well-developed state-financed social welfare system buttressed by strong labor unions. Hopefully, as social democracy is found to be no longer possible, as it is faltering even in those nations where it has been strongest, working people will come to see that more radical struggle is needed. There are some groups in the U.S. that do have a radical perspective, such as Philly Socialists (“Philly” is slang for the city of Philadelphia), and they are deeply embedded in working class communities. Hopefully, these organizations will grow and flourish.

Unfortunately, there are workers who are too demoralized to do anything political or even to form labor unions. Depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide are growing more common, and among working-class white workers, life expectancies are falling. Anger and resentment also find an outlet in neo-fascist politics, as evident from the fact that some workers avidly support the criminal and thoroughly anti-working-class administration of President Trump. Trump has used his racism, sexism, and xenophobia to fuel widespread hatred for the “other,” whether the “other” be Black Americans, women, or immigrants. This rightward trend is troubling, and the labor movement, such as it is, must address this forcefully. Unfortunately, top labor union leaders met with Trump soon after he took office, and by no means all labor officials are as hostile to Trump as they should be.

FC: Which parts of the working class dominate the labor movement in the US, and what’s the reason?

MY: In terms of power within the national labor federation (the AFL-CIO), the most conservative unions, mainly in the construction trades, have power that belies their relatively small numbers. These unions typically oppose anything that might threaten the jobs and high pay of their (mainly white and male) members, such as the various oil pipeline schemes so detrimental to the environment. They oppose any sort of Green New Deal as well. Several large industrial, service, and catchall (many kinds of members, from various sectors of the economy) unions have influence based on their relatively large memberships. These would include the Teamsters union, the Service Employees Union, the American Federation of Teachers, and United Autoworkers. They might support more liberal policies and politicians, but they are mired in bureaucracy, hostile to the members’ interest, full of careerists, and often enough corrupt.

The real issue here is that there is no real labor movement to speak of. Plus, overall membership is so low relative to the number of workers in the country, that most laborers have no representation at all. And even where there are specific working-class movements, such as the effort to win at least $15 per hour for fast-food workers, the leaders of such movements are all too often tied to the same bureaucratic and corrupt unions. The only real hope, it seems to me, is for the mass of workers to forge new kinds of organizations. See the question below on what unions should do for more details.

FC: There are initiatives at the grassroots level in the US to go beyond or rise above the “official”/“establishment” labor movement or labor leadership. These seem to be sporadic and isolated. Most of these can’t go that far, but another part thrives. What are the reasons behind all of this – rise of new movement at grassroots level, failures of a part of these, and moving forward by the rest?

MY: The rise of new organizations and movements is due to the overall suffering of the mass of workers and the inadequacy of the current labor movement. These are, indeed, often isolated, but some like workers’ centers, operating inside communities and usually built by immigrant workers, have succeeded. Examples are the Chinese Staff and Workers Association in New York City, the New York Taxi Drivers Alliance, and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida. The last is an organization of farm workers, mainly immigrants. In these examples, we find dedicated leadership, a model based upon active members and real democracy, careful planning of strategy and tactics, and strong community support, built up over longer periods of time. The same rules for success apply as well to worker-managed cooperatives and urban farming ventures. An example worth studying is the Cooperation Jackson movement in the city of Jackson, Mississippi. Here is what I wrote about this organization in my book, Can the Working Class Change the World?:

“The movement in Jackson is called Cooperation Jackson (CJ), and it grew out of various efforts by blacks to build a socialist community in the heart of U.S. capitalism. The rallying cry of the people who began Cooperation Jackson — one of the most notable of these was black radical Chokwe Lumumba, who eventually became Jackson’s mayor, something remarkable in its own right — was ‘Free the Land.’ After doing some preliminary organizing in the area, they acquired land and began to develop an ambitious plan of eco-socialist production, distribution, and education. In the South, global warming is going to inundate low-lying areas with water. This fact and the disaster in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina made these leaders grasp that any scheme that doesn’t take ecology seriously cannot hope to change the world. Therefore, CJ maintained from the beginning that whatever they did had to be based upon the principle of sustaining the environment.”

“The CJ project has four goals: gaining black working-class control of the means of production in Jackson and the area close to it; building and advancing the development of the ecologically regenerative forces of production; making the working class the agent of combining the means of production into socially useful outputs; and democratically transforming Jackson, and then the state of Mississippi, and outward to the entire South. CJ has started cooperatives, a cooperative school, training center, union, and bank. Farms and grocery stores are an integral part of cooperative production. There is much more to CJ, including the use of technologies like 3D printers to make useful goods, the development of substantive political democracy, and eco-friendly public infrastructure. The industrialization plan is particularly ambitious. It can be criticized as not feasible, but in any conceivable future, goods will have to be made using one technology or another. CJ, by beginning to conceptualize this and then implementing it, will help show the way forward.”

Movements such as Cooperation Jackson may hold the key to the building of a radical labor movement in the United States, one concerned with all aspects of working class life and willing to engage in militant collective self-help activities.

FC: What obstacles do these grassroots movements of labor in the US face?

MY: There is the problem of funding. It is best to have members fund activities whenever possible, with solicitations from ordinary people supplementing the group’s treasury. Reliance on existing labor unions or NGOs is usually a mistake because such monies never come without strings attached. There is also the problem of antagonism from capital and the state, which will become worse the more successful the grassroots movement is. There is the problem of developing grassroots experts for all the technical work and organizing that has to be done. There is the problem of burnout from long hours and poor living conditions. There is the problem of turnover in the membership as people move away out of economic necessity, deportations (in the case of undocumented workers), and the like. There is the problem of internal ideological differences, which can split a group apart. Finally, any grassroots efforts must show some results quickly, so that workers benefit. And they must find ways to protect members from capital’s efforts to destroy what they are doing.

FC: What should be done now, in this perspective, by labor at grassroots level, and by writers of labor literature?

MY: I have addressed this above when I wrote about what needs to be done to have a chance at success. What writers can do is publicize all such efforts, writing for those involved and not just about them. Also, coalitions with other similar organizations are necessary, and certainly, education must be a primary component of any grassroots effort. A membership that has learned its history, the nature of the political economy, the struggles needed and the obstacles that will be faced, is more likely to succeed and more likely to have a radical perspective.

FC: What impact has monopoly finance capital, which has been identified and analyzed by John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, made on labor in the US?

MY: Well, monopoly finance capital has certainly increased the overall power of capital, and this, by definition, will inevitably harm the working class. Specifically, two things come to mind. First, as businesses are taken over by finance capital, they are seen merely as collections of assets, to be squeezed for maximum immediate return. Debt will be piled up and assets stripped for money. When as much money has been extracted as possible, the corpse left will be left to rot. All of this will result in shrinking employment, lower wages, reduced or eliminated benefits, and more unsafe working conditions. Finance capital works much like gangsters, who do the same things when they use direct violence to take over a business. Second, monopoly finance capital has meant the elimination of whatever autonomy the states of capitalist countries once had. States are now adjuncts of finance capital, and states are now run according to strict market principles. The state’s assets are stripped too, the result being a diminution of both public employment and public services. Everyone is presumed to be on his or her own, and no one will offer help. The rich will continually get richer and workers will suffer more and more. Good reasons for the working class to finally develop a radical consciousness and get rid of this insidious system once and for all.

One more point bears consideration. Monopoly finance capital, with its relentlessly short-term horizon, acts in such a way that financial bubbles become inevitable, as witnessed by the housing bubble and crisis that struck the United States and then much of the world, in 2007. These bubbles, when they burst, generate economic slowdowns, which now have become deep recessions, that wreak havoc on working-class life.

FC: Has capital’s capacity in the US to bribe workers eroded? If it has eroded, has monopoly finance capital played a role in the erosion? If not, then, is the bribing going on as usual?

MY: It is not so much that this capacity has eroded. What has happened (and see the previous question) is that capital no longer has to bribe labor, which in the past it did from the super profits extracted from workers in the Global South. Profits abound for capital in the Global North. However, labor is now so weak and disorganized, and capital so strong that workers do not have to be bribed to support Northern capital, as they, in effect, were in the past. Some workers support capital without any monetary advantage, and the rest are so habituated to the system that they do not know how to mount an attack on capital. Super profits have always helped to finance the states in the Global North (through taxation), but now even the state offers labor no protection. Tax revenues can be and are used to buttress capital’s profits and power. This situation will continue to prevail until such time as there is a united, global, and radical labor movement to challenge it.

FC: Automation is creeping in. Unionization rates are falling. What’s the impact of automation on labor in the US?

MY: Automation (robotization and other types of mechanization) always lowers employment, at least in the sectors most immediately affected, and thus increases the reserve army of labor. This reserve is now global in scope and mechanization occurs everywhere in the world. This reserve puts downward pressure on wages and every other condition of employment, and it generates some new (and old) types of employment that rely heavily on labor (as in service employment and work done from home). Automation also divides the working class into a tiny elite of scientific workers and everyone else, causing growing wage inequality, which itself impedes labor solidarity. Often enough, just the threat of automation (like the threat of moving operations to other countries) is enough to pressure workers into submission. Automation, by allowing for greater surveillance of workers and building what was once employee knowledge into the machines themselves, greatly enhances managerial control in the workplace.

At the same time, however, automation may make production more sensitive to disruption, just as complex supply chains and logistics do, but this requires that workers understand this, are organized, and willing to disrupt production. The irony is that, under a different, socialist system, more sophisticated technology, developed for the people rather than against them, could greatly ease the burden of many kinds of onerous employment and give rise to much shorter working hours. And freedom for each of us to fully develop our capacities.

I might add that profits derive from the exploitation of living labor and not from machines themselves. Given this, the idea of a fully automated society is science fiction. Machines would have to build and program machines! And there would be, in the end, no living labor to exploit. Automation would automatically end capitalism! This is an unlikely scenario.

FC: Are trade war(s) making any impact on labor?

MY: Trade is always a matter of politics and never just a matter of obvious and shared economic advantage. Thus, given that almost all governments, and certainly that of the United States, are now servants of capital, trade agreements will always benefit corporations and hurt workers. Such was the case with the North American Free Trade Agreement, which harmed workers in all three signatory nations: The United States, Canada, and Mexico, although, no doubt, Mexican workers (and peasants) suffered most. President Trump has begun trade wars with many countries, in part to satisfy his anti-immigrant and xenophobic base. These may upset markets and in that way damage workers in affected industries. Ironically, they also might hurt the bottom line of those economic sectors impacted most by tariffs and quotas. For example, trade wars with China mean that soybean farmers in the central United States will lose lucrative export markets. So far, Trump has always backed away from doing the damage he could do, no doubt because of protests from powerful capitalists. His base is largely ignorant of the nuts and bolts of this, so he can always claim he acted tough with the foreign countries he claims are out to get the United States. Full-scale trade wars can lead to real wars, so there is always a danger of that. And it is still true that corporations are headquartered and protected in the United States, so there is competition among national capitals, despite the fact that production is now so global. So, states will always be keen to protect their national capitals. From a working-class perspective, the struggle should be for as much worker-controlled and localized production as possible, if for no other reason than that trade is very damaging to the environment and wreaks havoc on the poorest workers and peasants worldwide.

FC: Factional fights within the US ruling class are surfacing, sometimes in ugly, crude, and dangerous form. The fight, at times, is questioning the credibility of a number of very essential institutions of class rule. The factions engaged in intra-class conflict are questioning its news-information-views media – the mainstream media or the imperialist media, in whatever way these are identified. Its external adventures, interventions, and aggressions in other lands are facing debacles. Its credibility and that of its media are declining. Today, its audience accepts little of whatever the MSM report. Is there any impact of these on the labor in the US?

MY: I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on ruling class splits. Of course, there are capitalists opposed to Trump. However, in the end, they will accept him because he has been good for their profits (tax cuts, for example, which overwhelmingly benefit capital the most). The situation may be different in other countries, but here I don’t see any segments of capital ready to revolt. In addition, as the Democratic Party has shifted significantly to the right, the center of political gravity overall in the United States has also shifted dramatically to the right, given that the Republican Party is to the extreme right. Trump is an evil maniac, without a shred of morality or compassion, and he is doing things most of us, naively I think, couldn’t imagine happening. And yet, the mainstream media have profited mightily from Trump’s insanity, with ratings going up every time they report on a new Trump scandal. The real danger is the rise of neo-fascism, with its inherent drive to annihilate the “other.” It is possible to imagine that this will continue with or without Trump. The capitalist class is facing unprecedented crises, foremost among them, ecological catastrophe. It faces constant wars too, although capital has never vehemently opposed wars, including the War on Terror. There will soon enough be hundreds of millions of climate (and war) refugees seeking shelter. Beset by unprecedented inequality (which they don’t mind for now, given that they have gotten so much money as wealth and income move from the bottom to the top), the rich will find it hard to hide. What will they do? Demand more democracy and better media? A more educated population? I don’t see this. They will want the state to crack the whip, and they will (and are now) build private, fortified and heavily policed enclaves for themselves. A society run on market principles must have violence at its beck and call. This is really what fascism is all about. Only an aroused working class, allied with peasants, has any chance of stopping this.

FC: The US ruling class is vigorously marketing divisive/sectarian/medieval politics. What’s the impact of this on labor in the US, and what’s to be done by the labor movement?

MY: The working class in the United States is divided along many dimensions: skill, location, education, wage rates, religion, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, and race, among others. Among these, gender, ethnicity, and race are most important. The capitalist political economy here has been patriarchal and racist from its beginning. The latter is the result of a vicious slavery that built the economy, not just through the production of cotton but from the slave-generated money that helped to fuel, and, in fact, led, the country’s industrial revolution. The unpaid labor of women in the home has been a gift to capital. And women could be drawn into market-based production when needed and discarded when not. Employers soon discovered that race and gender could be used to split workers, fomenting competition rather than solidarity among them. This has been done by the allocation of job, with racial and ethnic minorities and women given the worst jobs and white men the best. This along with constant racist and sexist propaganda soon gave rise to the notion that these groups deserved their fate. I have written much about this and refer readers to Can the Working Class Change the World? Here, however, consider some of the results of racism: “A brief look at some data from the United States shows the remarkable disparities between black and white members of the working class. Median black family income is barely 60 percent that of whites, a little more than ten percentage points higher than it was in 1949. Black median household net worth is just 5 percent that of whites. Blacks earn less than whites at all levels of education. Astonishingly, ‘a $10,000 increase in the average annual wage of an occupation is associated with a seven-percentage-point decrease in the proportion of black men in that occupation.’ Besides earnings, when we consider poverty, unemployment, health, education, housing, life expectancy, infant mortality, or the criminal justice system, we must conclude that ‘having a black skin, in and of itself, is a grave economic and social disadvantage, while having a white skin confers considerable advantage.’”

There have been forces within the U.S. labor movement that have actively combated the divisions in the working class, sometimes with success. Usually, these forces have been radical; the Communist Party in the 1930s is a good example. The left-led labor unions, purged from the CIO during the anti-communist hysteria of the late 1940s, often did the same. However, much more needs to be done. Statements of principles of no toleration for racism and sexism by the AFL-CIO and all individual unions are essential, as is action to back these up. Collective bargaining agreements with strong “no discrimination” clauses and a willingness to strike, picket, and boycott over employer violations are necessary. Support for feminist and anti-racist groups in the larger society is a must, as is active participation in the protests and actions of Black Lives Matter and similar groups. Promotion of caucuses of women, Black workers, and ethnic groups, as well as LGBTQ workers, could give these groups of oppressed workers a strong voice in every labor organization. Militant actions on the political front, are badly needed. General strikes to support immigrants, oppose the rise of fascist groups, and the like would show a real commitment to equality.

FC: Is there any impact of the present condition of and trends within the labor movement in the US on the labor movements in other countries?

MY: Historically, U.S. organized labor has been, all too often, an adjunct of U.S. foreign policy, opposing left-wing unions and movements around the world. Therefore, it has been rare for the U.S. labor movement to have a positive, much less a radical, impact on workers’ movements in other countries. Anti-imperialism and opposition to U.S.-led wars on poor countries has never been very strong in the U.S. labor movement. This is still the case. Things may change as workers, especially younger ones, are drawn to social democracy. However, even in social democratic organizations, a U.S.-first view is common and a neglect of what is going on in the rest of the world is as well. Another positive development is the greater radicalism and willingness to organize and join unions of newly-arrived immigrants into the United States. Hopefully, these immigrants will, along with Black and other oppressed workers, succeed in building a labor movement with an international working-class perspective.

FC: What are your suggestions/proposals to labor as a whole and to the labor defying “official” leadership, to deal with the reality that you have pictured in the answers above?

MY: Here is a long quote from my book, Can the Working Class Change the World?, that I think answers this question:

“Labor unions have been a principal response by workers to capital’s exploitation. They are necessary defense agents, and as long as capitalism exists, they will form.

If unions mirror corporations in their structures, which all too many do, there isn’t much hope that they will confront capital. And this is all the more the case if they have entered into a compact with employers that views the two sides as cooperators interested primarily in the profitability of the owners’ businesses. This strategy has failed, the proof being in the deteriorating working conditions and life circumstances of union members and the sharp drop in union densities during the period in which partnership has marked much of the labor movement worldwide. To begin to reverse course, then, labor unions must become democratic, run by the membership, and they must abandon labor-management cooperation schemes. Since it is unlikely that current leaders will seek to do either of these things, the only way forward is to get rid of the leadership. In the United States, a perusal of the magazine Labor Notes shows that there have been frequent attempts by rank-and-file activists to take control of their unions and put them on a democratic and militant path. A few have been successful, most have not. No doubt, the fear of such insurgencies has made some unions willing to mobilize members and take on the companies with strikes, picketing, and boycotts. But reform has proved a daunting task, similar to efforts by political advocates to move the Democratic Party to the left. Those in power seldom want to relinquish control, and they will be as ruthless as necessary to beat back rivals. Still, labor rebellions have been successful, at all levels of unions. Corrupt criminal leadership was defeated in both the Teamsters and the United Mine Workers, for example, and though the rank-and-file victors were subsequently defeated or weakened, neither union is as awful as it once was. In addition, sometimes revolt has taken the form of a new union, one that breaks away from the parent organization. Or, if a group of workers have no representation and no existing union is willing to help them organize, they might establish an independent union. Again, in the United States, an example of the former is the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). Tired of the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) top-down management, its embrace of labor-management cooperation and sweetheart deals with employers, its frequent impositions of trusteeships (the national union takes over the running of a local union) on recalcitrant locals with rebellious and independent leaders, and outright corruption, the NUHW broke away from SEIU in 2009.

Before asking what a democratic union looks like and what it should do, it is proper to say that there are now unions that work in a democratic manner. In the United States, the best example is the United Electrical Workers, an independent labor union that has the distinction of being kicked out of both the AFL and the CIO. Its national office and locals rest on the will of the members. It does not make deals with employers, and it has never been tainted with corruption. Officer salaries and expenses are strictly controlled, and its constitution is a model of democratic principles that the union has adhered to through good times and bad. Other U.S. unions have served their members well, too. The overall trajectory, however, has been toward bureaucratic, undemocratic structures and an increasingly unwarranted faith in labor-capital compromise.

Democracy means more than voting. The structure of the union must be democratic. There should be direct ballot casting by all the members for any office, as opposed to convention delegates, usually chosen by the leadership, voting for those same leaders, as is common in many U.S. unions. Term limits for officers are essential. No advantage of any kind should be proffered to incumbents seeking reelection. Strict limits should be placed on the salaries of union officers, and a careful open audit of expenses should be routine. The rank and file should participate in all union activities, from planning for negotiations, setting demands, strike preparation, and the striking and picketing. Union meetings should be open to all members, especially those with home responsibilities (almost always women), and also held at convenient times. Meeting discussions should be open, and criticisms should be welcomed and debated. Special attention should be paid, in all aspects of the union, to the concerns and needs of racial and ethnic minorities, as well as LGBT members. Retirees should be encouraged to take part in all union actions.

If a rank-and-file uprising is successful, a breakaway union is founded, or an independent union is created, and even if these result in more democracy, it is still necessary to ask: Democracy for what? What are the principles and goals of the organization? The NUHW lists these as its core beliefs:

  1. A strong union is led by its members.
  1. Worker power is the foundation of a just society.
  1. Quality patient care requires that caregivers have a voice in their workplaces and are protected from retaliation.
  1. Healthcare is a human right.

This is a good preliminary set of principles. But more needs to be said and done. First, education must be a priority. Compulsory classes should greet new members, teaching them about the union’s history and that of the labor movement as a whole. And regular short courses, summer schools, and longer learning experiences should be made available, with at least some courses required to maintain membership. In these classes, the construction of a broader array of principles and aspirations can be developed. Several come to mind:

  1. An examination of racism and patriarchy. The objectives here are ending discrimination in the union, building greater solidarity, compelling the employer to behave in a nondiscriminatory manner, and leading the union to play a positive role in combating these divisions in the community and society.
  1. A study of imperialism and militarism. For unions in the Global North, the purpose of this would be to build an understanding of the role of their governments and employers in subjugating the peoples of the Global South, and of the past complicity of unions in this. A radical labor movement cannot become a reality unless it is adamantly opposed to imperial wars, arms production and sales, the infiltration of the military into local economies and daily life, the patriotism of flags and national anthems, the mantra that we must all support the troops. In the Global North, nationalism is a disease that impedes the global working-class solidarity essential for human liberation. Unfortunately, it is so deeply embedded in the institutional structure of capitalist society that the task of eliminating it is formidable. Yet, if the effort isn’t made, there is no hope of the working class changing the world.
  1. A serious discussion of the multiple environmental crises we face. If these aren’t working-class issues, what are? Global warming is a workplace issue. Ecology professor and writer Andreas Malm writes:

    Physical labour makes the body warm. If it takes place under the sun or inside facilities without advanced air-conditioning systems, excessively high temperatures will make the sweat flow more profusely and the bodily powers sag, until the worker suffers heat exhaustion or worse. This will not be an ordeal for the average software developer or financial adviser. But for people who pick vegetables, build skyscrapers, pave roads, drive buses, sew clothes in poorly ventilated factories or mend cars in slum workshops, it already is; and the bulk of exceptionally hot working days are now anthropogenic in nature. With every little rise in average temperatures on Earth, thermal conditions in millions of workplaces around the world shift further, primarily in the tropical and subtropical regions where the majority of the working population — some four billion people — live their days. For every degree, a greater chunk of output will be lost, estimated to reach more than a third of total production after four degrees: in this heat, workers simply cannot keep up the same pace.’

    Given the magnitude of impending disasters, labor must make the environment a major concern. This means opposing all corporate and public actions that exacerbate global warming, the poisoning of air, soil, and water, and the extinction of species, among others. When construction unions lobby for ruinous shale oil pipelines, as happened in the United States, other unions must speak out and condemn such self-serving deeds.

    As democratic unions strengthen and their principles and goals become more class-conscious, they will naturally ally themselves with like-minded unions and community groups. In this way, a labor movement worthy of the name can begin and grow, one concerned with the entirety of the working class, including those in the reserve army of labor and the informal sector.

    A union’s most important immediate concern is with its members’ welfare. Here the question of “democracy for what?” can take concrete form. Labor-management cooperation should be immediately and permanently rejected, replaced by an adversarial relationship that makes no concessions to management. Instead, the union makes demands that challenge capital’s control of the workplace. Higher wages are always on the table, but so must be shorter hours, more paid time off, full parental leave for both parents (for at least a few months), a safe and nontoxic work environment, active union participation in decisions related to both technology and work intensity, an unrestricted right to strike over any issue, a shortened grievance resolution procedure (with rank-and-file participation at all levels), the right not to cross picket lines while on employer-related business, and high monetary penalties for plant closures and relocations. Whatever makes laboring less alienated and weakens capital’s control should be vigorously and relentlessly pursued. Unions should never allow the employer to play one plant off against another, much less cooperate in this, as the United Auto Workers has done. Strong protections for women and racial and ethnic minorities should be part of every contract. When a union faces a multi-plant employer, or more than one employer, it should organize coordinated communications and tactics among the officers on the shop floor, office, or store. Solidarity must be more than a word, and an injury to any worker should anger every sister and brother.

FC: What do you suggest to read/study to learners like me interested to know about labor?

MY: Two of my books might be useful: Can the Working Class Change the World? and Why Unions Matter. Others that are good are: any book by Kim Moody. His last is titled On New Terrain. Steve Early is an excellent analyst of U.S. labor. A google search should give many results. Save Our Unions is good. Paul LeBlanc’s A Short History of the US Working Class is a very good introduction. Joe Burns Reviving the Strike and Strike Back! Show the necessity and usefulness of strikes. Jane Slaughter’s A Troublemaker’s Handbook has great advice for making trouble for the bosses. Labor Notes, the magazine Jane helped to found, is devoted to reporting on strikes and rank-and-file efforts to democratize their unions, as well as the overall state of the U.S. labor movement. Priscilla Murolo’s From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend is good, with much material on women’s labor. Robin Kelley has written excellent books on Black workers, including Hammer and Hoe and Race Rebels. On immigrant farm laborers and their union efforts, read the exceptional Trampling Out the Vintage by Frank Bardacke.

FC: Thank you for the interview with contemporary issues concerning the labor in the US.

MY: You are very welcome. And let me offer solidarity to the workers of the world on this May Day!

On the Ground in Venezuela vs. the Media Spectacle

British photojournalist Alan Gignoux and Venezuelan journalist-filmmaker Carolina Graterol, both based in London, went to Venezuela for a month to shoot a documentary for a major global TV channel. They talked with journalist Paul Cochrane about the mainstream media’s portrayal of Venezuela compared to their experiences on the ground.

Paul Cochrane:  What were you doing in Venezuela, how long were you there and where did you go?

Alan Gignoux: We went in August 2018 for a month to shoot a documentary; I can’t disclose what channels it will be on right now, but it should be on air soon. We visited the capital Caracas, Mérida (in the Andes), Cumaná (on the coast), and Ciudad Guayana (near the mouth of the Orinoco river).

PC: How did being in Venezuela compare to what you were seeing in Western media?

Carolina Graterol: I am a journalist, I have family in Venezuela, and I knew the reality was very different from what the media is portraying, but still I was surprised. The first thing we noticed was the lack of poverty. Alan wanted to film homeless and poor people on the streets. I saw three people sleeping rough just this morning in London, but in Venezuela, we couldn’t find any, in big cities or towns. We wanted to interview them, but we couldn’t find them. It is because of multi disciplinary programmes run by the government, with social services working to get children off the streets, or returned to their families. The programme has been going on for a long time but I hadn’t realized how effective it was.

PC: Alan, what surprised you?

AG: We have to be realistic. Things look worn down and tired. There is food, there are private restaurants and cafes open, and you could feel the economic crisis kicking in but poverty is not as bad as what I’ve seen in Brazil or Colombia, where there are lots of street children. Venezuela doesn’t seem to have a homeless problem, and the favelas have running water and electricity. The extreme poverty didn’t seem as bad as in other South American countries. People told me before going I should be worried about crime, but we worked with a lady from El Salvador, and she said Venezuela was easy compared to her country, where there are security guards with machine guns outside coffee shops. They also say a lot of Venezuelan criminals left as there’s not that much to rob, with better pickings in Argentina, Chile or wherever.

PC: How have the US sanctions impacted Venezuelans?

CG: Food is expensive, but people are buying things, even at ten times their salary. Due to inflation, you have to make multiple card payments as the machine wouldn’t take such a high transaction all at once. The government has created a system, Local Committees for Production and Supply (known by its Spanish acronym CLAP) that feeds people, 6 million families, every month via a box of food. The idea of the government was to bypass private distribution networks, hoarding and scarcity. Our assistant was from a middle class area in Caracas, and she was the only Chavista there, but people got together and created a CLAP system, with the box containing 19 products. Unless you have a huge salary, or money from outside, you have to use other ways to feed yourself. People’s larders were full, as they started building up supplies for emergencies. People have lost weight, I reckon many adults 10 to 15 kilos. Last time I was in Venezuela three years ago, I found a lot of obese people, like in the US, due to excessive eating, but this time people were a good size, and nobody is dying from hunger or malnutrition.

PC: So what are Venezuelans eating?

CG: A vegetarian diet. People apologized as they couldn’t offer us meat, instead vegetables, lentils, and black beans. So everyone has been forced to have a vegetarian diet, and maybe the main complaint was that people couldn’t eat meat like they used to do. The situation is not that serious. Before Hugo Chavez came to power, Venezuela had 40% critical poverty out of 80% poverty, but that rate went down to 27%, and before the crisis was just 6 or 7% critical poverty. Everyone is receiving help from the government.

PC: So food is the main concern?

CG: The real attack on the economy is on food. When you have hyperinflation everything goes up in price, but food has become the main source of spending because this is the variable going up in price at exorbitant levels. Bills like water, electricity, public transport haven’t gone up that much and represent a small percentage of any family spending. This is why the distortions in the economy are not intrinsic, but caused by external factors, otherwise everything should have gone up, no matter what it is.

PC: Alan, did you lose weight in Venezuela?

AG: No! What surprised me was how many people are growing their own vegetables. It is a bit like in Russia, where everyone has a dacha. Venezuela is tropical, so it is easy to grow produce. Mango trees are everywhere, so you can pick a mango whenever you want.

PC: So the crisis we read about everyday is primarily due to the US sanctions?

CG: The sanctions have affected the country. I want to be fair. I think the government was slow to act on the direction the country was being pushed. It was probably not a good idea to pay off $70 billion in external debt over the past five years. In my opinion, (President Nicolas) Maduro decided to honor the external debt, thinking this was the right way to pay our commitments, but at the same time, this economic war started waging internally, and also externally, blocking international loans.

The government should also have taken action against Colombia for allowing over one hundred exchange houses to be set up on the border with Venezuela. These exchange houses eroded the currency as they were using different exchange rates, and that contributed to the Bolivar’s devaluation. I think they should have denounced the (Juan Manuel) Santos government. If Colombia says that Venezuelan oil that crosses its border is contraband, why not currency? Remember, the biggest industry in Colombia is cocaine – narcotics trafficking – and it has grown exponentially, so they’ve an excessive amount of US dollars and need to launder them, which drained the Venezuelan currency. It is induced hyperinflation. Also, in Miami, the Venezuelan oligarchy created a website called DolarToday about 12 years ago to destroy the Venezuelan economy.

PC: What else struck you?

CG: People are still smiling and making jokes about the situation, which I find incredible. People are willing to share, and we were in some tricky situations, like when our car broke down at night.

AG: Everyone says don’t drive at night in Venezuela. We were on the road, and figured we’d only half hour to go, what could go wrong? Then a transformer burned out. I thought I was about to have my Venezuelan nightmare, stuck in the middle of nowhere on a dark road at night. Who would ever find you?

CG: As there were no lights we had to use our phones to let big trucks know we were on the road.

AG: We pretended I was deaf as I couldn’t pass for Venezuelan with my Spanish accent. So, a really old old pick-up truck pulls up, and the occupants looked rather salty, but they were very nice and took us to a petrol station.

CG: I told you Alan, you are not in the US, you are not going to be shot!

AG: I was with three women with money, I thought OK I will be shot, but it all turned out fine, and they thought I was deaf.

CG: We were told we could sleep in a shop but we slept in the car instead, and it was fine.

PC: What about the power cuts that have plagued the country?

CG: During blackouts, people told stories, played music, or went out and talked on the streets. It was a paradise, no TVs, smartphones, but real human contact. People cook together. During the day they’re playing board games, dominoes, and kids are having fun. People with kids are possibly more stressed, especially if you live in a tower block, as if you’ve no electricity, you’ve no water. That is why the US hit the electricity grid as it means no water in Caracas – a city of 10 million people. Luckily there are wells with clean water around the city, so people queue up to get it.

PC: So there was a real discrepancy between the image you were given of Venezuela and the reality?

AG: Sure, there are queues for oil, but people are not dying of starvation and, as I said, poverty is nowhere near what it is like in Brazil. I wouldn’t say a harsh dictatorship, people were open, and criticized the government, and the US, but also Chavez and Maduro. The Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) have admitted they had made bad economic decisions. I thought it would be more repressive, and it wasn’t. People were not fearful about speaking out. I think Venezuelans blame the Americans for the situation more than Maduro.

PC: What do you make of the hullabaloo in February about US and Canadian aid being blocked by Venezuela?

AG: It is a Trojan horse, a good way to get the US in, and why international agencies were not willing to take part in the plan. Instead there has been Chinese and Russian aid.

CG: There’s not the chaos US and Trump were expecting. (Opposition leader and self-proclaimed president Juan) Guaidó is the most hated guy in Venezuela. He has to stay in luxury hotel in La Mercedes, an expensive neighbourhood of Caracas. They have electricity there, as they were prepared, so bought generators. That is why Guaidó went there, and has a whole floor of a luxury hotel for him and his family. While people are suffering Guaidó is trying on suits for his upcoming trip to Europe. It is a parallel world.

AG: You think Guaidó will fail?

CG: Venezuelans are making so many jokes with his name, as there’s a word similar to stupid in Spanish – guevon. And look at the demonstration in La Mercedes the other day (12 March), the crowds didn’t manifest. It is becoming a joke in the country. The more the Europeans and the US make him a president, the more bizarre the situation becomes, as Guaidó is not president of Venezuela! Interestingly, Chavez predicted what is happening today, he wrote about it, so people are going back to his works and reading him again.

PC: There’s plenty of material on the history of American imperialism in South America to make such predictions, also, more recently, the Canadians and their mining companies, in Paraguay, Honduras, and now backing Guaidó.

CG: Exactly. Look at Chile in 1973, what happened to the Sandinistas in El Salvador, in Guatemala.

It is a well rehearsed strategy to destroy an economy using external forces to drive up prices of supplies and products. When you have such a cycle, it explodes.

• Alan Gignoux is a photojournalist, with a particular focus on socio-political and environmental issues. Alan’s work has been published in The New York Times, CNN Traveller, The Independent, Reuters and World Photography News, among others.

Carolina Graterol is a Venezuelan journalist, filmmaker and artist. She has worked for the BBC World Service (Spanish) and Telesur. She is the director of “A Letter from Venezuela” (2019).

Jesus is the way, but we are there to collect the toll…

Frei Betto spoke with the author at the Dominican convent in São Paulo, Brazil.

In the wake of the Brazilian presidential election where reserve army captain Jair Bolsonaro was inaugurated in January to lead the largest country in South America back to the far right, returning it to the narrower US imperial orbit while strengthening ties to the global bullies in Washington and Tel Aviv.

Frei Betto (Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo) served for a short period as an advisor to the PT government. He resigned his office because he could not accept responsibility for some of the decisions taken where he was engaged.1 It is often said in Brazil that the PT lost the elections by their own actions—grossly disappointing their supporters—and turning the election this year into a protest vote, which the party governing since 2002 was bound to lose. Of course, elections themselves do not change the power structures of a state. And the manipulation of elections even to the point of usurping the lawfully elected candidates (e.g. Honduras) has a long tradition in the “backyard” of the United States. Nevertheless the demand for integrity and fairness in government is not restricted to those “white glove” regimes of the North.

Frei Betto discussed the issues made central to the election hysteria: corruption and religion.

Dr T.P. Wilkinson: One explanation given for corruption is the presence of dishonest people in the institution. The other explanation is that there is incoherence between the institution’s structures and procedures and the needs of those working with the institution.

The Reformation that began nearly 500 years ago was partly motivated by the corruption of the Church. Some argued that it was sufficient to purge the dishonest clergy while others argued that the rule of the Church itself was corrupt. They wanted another church or to completely reorganise the existing one.

The last elections have focused attention on corruption. The most publicised response was to put former president Lula in jail. What kind of corruption does Brazil have and what options are there for remedying it? Does Church history offer any lessons?

Frei Betto: Corruption has always existed in human history, including in the group of Jesus (Judas). To combat it, good intentions do not suffice nor the encouragement of the practice of virtues. It is necessary to create a political institution that inhibits and severely punishes corruption. This is the case in Cuba. The construction company Odebrecht2, responsible for corruption in almost all the Latin American countries in which it maintained works, confessed to corruption in of all of them, except Cuba. Does that mean there are no corrupt people in Cuba? Is there no corruption? There is, and I was invited to give a lecture at an important event of the General Comptroller of Cuba in May 2018. However, Cuban officials have to think long before accepting corruption. And in the work of the Port of Mariel, Odebrecht could not corrupt anyone.

Without this institutional mechanism that inhibits and punishes corruption, it tends to spread.

TPW: Fidel and religion:

Not only did Castro give you the opportunity to explain the relationship between him, the Cuban revolution and religion (especially Catholicism). The book also shows your own relationship. At least this is what I saw after reading your prison memoir.

The presidents of the largest countries in the Western hemisphere, the US and Brazil, both claim their policies have a religious foundation. Does that make the present conflict in Brazil (and the US) a religious conflict too? If yes, what are the religious issues? And how might they be resolved? If no, what does the religious rhetoric mean—for those who are religious and those who are not?

FB: Religion, like politics, serves to liberate or to oppress. That of Jesus was liberating; that of the Pharisees and Sadducees, oppressing. In the medieval period religion was used to expand the power of the Church. Dictators like Franco, in Spain; Salazar, in Portugal; and Pinochet, in Chile, used religion to justify the atrocities they practiced.3

Today, oligarchic governments, such as those of Trump, and neo-fascists, such as Bolsonaro’s, use religion to manipulate the conscience of the people.4 This is the “opium of the people” religion denounced by Marx. The religion of the gospel, liberating, is that of Pope Francisco, that of Saint Oscar Romero5, that of Dom Pedro Casaldáliga.

However, the state must be secular. Confessional politics is to yield to religious fundamentalism. As most people in the West are religious, many opportunists take advantage of this to distort the purpose of religion and make money. They announce that “Jesus is the Way” but they are there to collect the toll…

TPW: The Catholic Church in the Middle Ages was probably the great “mass media” of that epoch. Today the Mass Media- mainly owned by private corporations—plays an important role in shaping the perceptions of reality and at the same time creating reality when people act according to their perceptions.

An outside observer, following Brazilian history, cannot avoid seeing that there has always been a complaint about corruption in Brazil, in political and economic life. Yet for the past several years now the PT has been portrayed as the “most corrupt” political party in all Brazilian history. Much of the PT support seems to have been lost because people believe the PT was completely corrupt.

Is this a “perception” of corruption or a “reality”? Can you place the accusations of corruption in Brazil in historical context? The statements of many supporters of military government are based on the idea that the military is not corrupt. However, the regime that the current president supported was also accused of corruption before 1986. Is it possible that the corruption that lost the PT the election is a corruption in the Mass Media, too?

FB: Corruption has always existed in Brazilian politics. The failure of the PT was not to react vigorously when some of its leaders got into corruption. And I must stress that there is no proof that Lula has been corrupted. He is an unjustly imprisoned political prisoner.6 But other PT leaders have become corrupt. A minority that greatly damaged the Party’s image in general. And this was well exploited by PT opponents in the election campaign.

The new Brazilian government, headed by Bolsonaro, has ministers accused of corruption and under investigation.7 The president’s own son, currently Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, will have to explain how one of his assistants, named Queiroz, handled so much money when Flávio served as a state deputy in Rio de Janeiro.

Operation Lava Jato,8 which investigates corruption in Brazil, is a very important initiative, but assumed a partisan character. It sends to jail the PT politicians accused of corruption and leaves in freedom politicians of other parties evidently involved in the corruption.

TPW: When the CEBs began to proliferate in Brazil, one explanation given was that they filled the gaps left because the Catholic Church never had enough priests for the Brazilian masses.

The CEBs were both potentially democratic and potentially competition for the growing Protestant churches. For this reason even conservative clergy were willing to work with these new forms of church.

An analogy could be drawn in secular life. The size of Brazil has always been a problem for those who want to govern it. The country’s administration was concentrated in the coastal cities and the interior was left to the control of the private sector (latifundistas). This has also meant that even though Brazil is a rich country—with much natural and human potential—there has been great difficulty creating and implementing national policies that balance the great differences between the peoples and regions of Brazil.

In the 1950s and 1960s there were movements to develop the Brazil as a whole. In Europe there was a “redevelopment” after the destruction of WWII, which culminated in the European Union. Yet the difference between Germany and Portugal show that even the rich European countries are not able to balance the distribution of wealth between rich and poor regions. And now there are movements to break-up the EU. Do you think it is even realistic to make, let alone expect, successful and sustained socio-economic policies for the entirety of a country as big as Brazil—at a time when, at least in the rich parts of the West, large highly differentiated political entities appear incapable of such policies? Does this mean that all social-economic policy will be surrendered to the private sector?

FB: The economic policy of a country always derives from an ethical option. And in Brazil, except the two terms of President Lula and the first of President Dilma, economic policy was never aimed at reducing social inequality. The goal now, under the Bolsonaro administration, is to make the rich richer and preserve this huge inequality.

By 2018, Brazil was the 9th most unequal country in the world and the most unequal in Latin America. The richest 1% of the population appropriated more than 25% of the national income. And the sum of the wealth of the richest 5% was equal to the sum of the wealth of the remaining 95% of the population. 80% of the Brazilian population – 165 million people – survived with an income of less than two minimum wages per month (R $1,908). And 0.1% of the richest portion concentrates in its hands 48% of all the national wealth. And the richest 10% get 74% of the national wealth. And 50% of the population –104 million Brazilians– share 3% of the country’s wealth.

• Translation assisted by Prof Dr Francisco Topa, Universidade de Porto.

• Read Part One here

  1. Frei Betto published his reflections on this period in A Mosca Azul: Reflexão sobre o poder, São Paulo 2006.
  2. Organização Odebrecht, is one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the Americas. It was founded in Salvador, Bahia, by Norberto Odebrecht in 1944. In 2016, the group admitted to illegal payments to politicians in such countries as the US, Switzerland and Brazil, settling in one of the largest consent decrees in the world.
  3. For a discussion of this topic see Karlheinz Deschner, God and the Fascists, 2013.
  4. For a detailed history of Rockefeller overt and covert promotion of right-wing “Pentecostal” religious groups throughout Latin America, especially in Brazil, see Gerald Colby and Charlotte Dennett, Thy Will Be Done, 1995.
  5. Roman Catholic Monsignor Oscar Romero was murdered by a US-funded death squad, while saying mass in San Salvador on 24 March 1980. He was canonised in October 2018 under Pope Francis. Romero was probably the most notorious victim of the US “Phoenix” political warfare operations throughout Central America. His elevation to sainthood has been seen as at least partial vindication of liberation theology in Latin America—persecuted both politically and ecclesiastically during the previous papacies.
  6. Lula was committed to prison prior to the presidential elections (thus disqualifying him) by a judge who flagrantly disregarded the law whereby an accused is entitled to exhaust the course of appeal before a sentence is enforced.
  7. The Folha de S. Paulo reported in the third week January that the investigation of Flavio Bolsonaro was suspended last week due to his immunity as a deputy and his election to the Brazilian senate. However, new accusations have been made.
  8. “Operação Lava Jato”. This is a kind of designation for police investigations into suspicions of large-scale criminal activity, especially corruption, common to Brazil and Portugal (e.g. Operação Marquês, ongoing). Lavo Jato is a combination of investigations conducted by Brazil’s federal police into corruption, obstruction of justice, etc. that began in 2014.

Fight for Promised Peace Dividend

Ron Ridenour: You wrote the book, The Peace Dividend: the most controversial proposal in the history of the world, (Lulu Publishing). What is the basic idea of this project?

John Rachel:  In 1992 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the citizens of the United States and the world were promised the arrival of a new era of peace and prosperity. The Cold War was over. Much of the money spent in the military standoff with the Soviets, and the preparation for a cataclysmic war, would now be diverted to peaceful ends. This massive reordering of our priorities and the windfall which would result was called the peace dividend. It never arrived.

That same year, Paul Wolfowitz , then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, stated:

Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.  This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power.

The Wolfowitz Doctrine is paralleled by the geo-political analysis of Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor under President Jimmy Carter. Brezezinski’s doctrine was codified in his landmark book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives, a comprehensive theoretical framework rationalizing U.S. supremacy and world domination.

Here is a key passage outlining where the application of American power is paramount:

How America ‘manages’ Eurasia is critical. A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions. A mere glance at the map also suggests that control over Eurasia would almost automatically entail Africa’s subordination, rendering the Western Hemisphere and Oceania geopolitically peripheral to the world’s central continent.

These unapologetic and unambiguous behests for U.S. World Empire are now official and unchallenged policy. It presumes the U.S. will govern the entire planet. The unbridled arrogance advanced by Wolfowitz is now aggressively promoted by neoconservatives – ‘neocons’ – who at present completely control the policymaking machinery of the U.S. government, meaning the Executive Branch and Congress. [Ridenour: The liberals or neo-liberals in the Democratic Party and their allies, the alleged “progressive” cohorts, have adopted this war policy as well.]

“Cooperation”, “coexistence”, “peace”, “respect for the interests of other nations” all are intentionally absent from the operative lexicon of the neocons.

We ask: Why is the world in such turmoil? Why do we have so many enemies? Why is peace now viewed as the stuff of pipe-dreams? The answer to these and related questions is quite simple: almost every current policy decision is an implementation of the neocon divide-and-conquer strategy and agenda. What this means is that the creation of chaos, division, antagonism, confrontation across the globe is quite intentional and specifically engineered to keep any potential challengers to U.S. hegemony weak and ineffective.

This is not just dangerous – probably suicidal – but grotesquely wasteful. Massive federal spending is literally going up in smoke. It’s bombs, bombs, and more bombs. The National Defense Strategy also calls for the relentless, unquestioned, unchecked, completely unwarranted intimidation of Russia and China. Such planning raises the specter of annihilation of life on the planet.

The Peace Dividend Project seeks to engage a vast majority of the American public to reverse this disastrous course, and seeks redress for the enormous damage this aggressive imperial project has done to individuals, families, communities, the entire social and economic fabric of our nation.

RR: What are the finances in this project?

JR:  Trillions of dollars have been collected from taxpayers over the past 26 years – since the promise of a peace dividend – under false pretenses and then squandered. The wars fought over that two-and-a-half decades – still going on in seven countries right now – were and are based on lies. The need to expand the military is a fraud. The entire War On Terror is a con. Conservatively the total cost of this (using the government’s own deflated official figures) comes to $4.82 TRILLION. That is money that should have been put to productive, humane use.

Instead the government took our hard-earned money, blew up cities, destroyed whole countries, killed millions of innocent people (8), including 6,796 [2015 figures] of our own soldiers, created more terrorism than ever (9), and made the U.S. the pariah (10) of the world.

WE DEMAND THIS MONEY BACK! It comes to almost $15,000 per person, nearly $60,000 for a family of four. The $4.82 trillion injected back into the economy will not only provide some immediate relief to those individuals who’ve been most devastated by the fraud, but it will give a much needed boost to our consumer-driven economy, create jobs, opportunity, a new start for those who’ve been held back by the wanton deception and theft. The injection of that huge sum of money into the nation’s cash stream will also mean increased tax revenues for our use.

The war industry will take a temporary hit, but it can be retooled to put all those superb engineering and manufacturing resources to work on our infrastructure, solving the problems of climate change, and creating a sustainably-functioning eco-friendly economy and society. Lots of work, but they’ll just have to start working on green projects instead of nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles.

This is doable. The $4.82 trillion is refundable over three years, about $1.6 trillion per year. That’s only 8.25% of our GDP. Of course, since it’s about 36.3% of our federal budget, the budget will have to be dramatically restructured. The Peace Dividend plan is designed to completely change the course of the nation and how governments do business. The Peace Dividend Project includes a detailed plan (11) for doing just that. It’s much easier than most might think. About as easy as the $16.8 trillion bailout of banks all over the world (12) rationalized by the 2008 financial meltdown.

RR:  What are the conditions necessary for this project to work?

JR:  There must be . . .

  • Sufficient numbers of people oppressed and exploited, producing …
  • Non-negotiable demands for redressing the injustice and abuse, coupled with …
  • An effective mechanism or path for removing the oppressors from power.

Two of those requirements (1,3) already exist, though submerged by a lot of intense propaganda and distraction. The frustration, anger, sense of being shafted by the system exists in spades. Mechanisms are also there. The conditions are ripe. We just need to organize and act.

What has been lacking is the second item, a coherent, cogent “ultimate ultimatum”, setting the U.S. on a completely different trajectory, one that would eliminate the horrible suffering of war, and the onerous price citizens now pay for instable military adventurism. Refusal to fulfill the demand will result in a massive insurrection in one form or another.

RR: How do you expect to reach all the pertinent candidates for national office?

JR: There already are many who want to run for office on a peace platform. This last election, we got 110 candidates  to sign the Contract For American Renewal.

The success of the Peace Dividend electoral strategy depends on inaugurating a firestorm of public outrage over the theft of our tax dollars under false pretenses and used to prosecute fraudulent wars with exorbitantly expensive military junk for profit. When “We want our money back!” becomes viral, truly progressive politicians who want to work for a peaceful future will run under the Peace Dividend banner. Why? Because it is right, and it will guarantee victory for decent politicians who have been locked out by the warmongering establishment – both political parties, the media, the Deep State (Pentagon and CIA). The key is public awareness and outrage, a public unified by the Peace Dividend concept.

RR: How can this project really be implemented?

JR: 1)  Every peace and progressive organization could make the Peace Dividend concept a centerpiece of their publications, public appearances, protests, rallies, every effort to message the public. This doesn’t mean they abandon what they now do. It means that the Peace Dividend is given equal billing. This project is completely compatible with and relevant to, for example: Black Lives Matter, Fight For 15, End Citizens United, immigration reform, even free university and college. Endless war destroys prospects for ending corruption and having a functioning, representative democracy. Peace organizations should especially get involved (such as): World Without War, Black Alliance For Peace, Code Pink, Black Agenda Report, Popular Resistance, US Labor Against The War, Veterans For Peace, War Resisters League, the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity, Peace Action.

2)  High-profile “progressive” elected politicians must be convinced that promoting the Peace Dividend concept is in their own and everyone’s best interest. It will unify efforts for a more just, humane, peaceful world under one “peace progressive” banner. Public figures who are not in elected office and who have spoken out on behalf of peace are easier to identify: Robert Scheer, Chris Hedges, Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, Tom Engelhardt, Glen Ford, Cynthia McKinney, Amy Goodman, Dennis Kucinich, Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, Medea Benjamin, Jill Stein, Ajamu Baraka, Paul Street, Abby Martin, Jimmy Dore, Oliver Stone, Ray McGovern, John Wight, Finian Cunningham, David Swanson, Gareth Porter, Henry Giroux, Paul Craig Roberts, Lee Camp, Cornell West, Richard Wolff, Ann Wright, Ron Paul, Jessie Ventura, Cindy Sheehan, Ron Kovic…

RR: What do you say to critics who reject the idea as “impossible” or “pie in the sky”?

JR: 1)  Something is impossible until it’s not. Human flight, artificial intelligence, a mentally-compromised, corrupt reality show TV celebrity as the President of the United States, come immediately to mind. All impossible. Laughable. Until they weren’t.

2)  What’s truly “pie in the sky” is thinking that the people who directly and enormously profit from war will listen to our pretty please appeals for a kinder, gentler world. These folks only care about money and power. We’re all collateral damage to the empire builders. Peace activists say many of the right things. But the people who need to listen and act – those who make the decisions about war and peace – are not listening. So we have to replace the puppet decision-makers with ones who will listen to everyday citizens and then work for us.

RR: What do you say to peace groups that are active in various projects and think they don’t have time or energy for another?

JR: Current strategies for ending war and promoting peace are not working. We are going backwards. We have more war, greater prospects for yet more war, massive militarization of our society and economy. We need different arguments.

The logic of the Peace Dividend refund is so basic and visceral it can’t be distorted. “You’ve been conned! OUR money has been stolen to fight fraudulent wars. WE deserve a refund!” And as we struggle for that reparation, the insane war system can be stopped in its tracks.

The public is frustrated, unhappy, and many are desperate. They know the government and mass media lie; that the system is rigged. The public is ripe for our calling out the fraud. Many voted for Trump, because he said a lot of the things on the campaign trail they wanted. Yet their trust was once again misplaced. They don’t want traditional answers. That is the beauty of the Peace Dividend idea. It’s fresh! It could start a peace “buzz” in the public! It could even make headlines, which our current peace efforts do not.

RR:  Let’s say hypothetically that you get a candidate contract, that you get enough congressional votes for the peace dividend. You still have the president veto.

JR:  1)  Think back to your high school civics class: Congress can impeach the President, but the President can’t impeach Congress.

2)  A movement of this scale must include the election of a peace-friendly, or better yet a Peace Dividend Refund-committed president.

RR: Let’s say you get the president to sign the dividend contract, you still have a capitalist system with a military empire fortress. You say you want real reform and peace. Why do you think The Establishment is going to let you (the majority) get away with that?

JR: Demanding the Peace Dividend refund and reform agenda is the mechanism by which we truly drain the Washington DC swamp. The new legislators and new president will be bound by contract to put into law the Peace Dividend refund. This will require further legislation, which will completely reorient national priorities. The plan impacts taxation and tax sheltering, subsidies, DoD allocations and war, control of the currency, foreign policy, Wall Street. The weapons industry and corporate autocrats—the ruling elite—will have to abide by these new laws unless they decide to unleash a military attack (public or private). That would be a military coup and would lead to a civil war. While certainly a possibility, that tragic turn of events is beyond the scope of this discussion.

While enacting the Peace Dividend agenda, the way government does business and our dealings with the rest of the international community would be revolutionized such that the real challenges necessary for the continuation of the human race as a viable species could begin to be solved:

1)  Nuclear war and the resulting nuclear winter threatens the survival of the human species.

2)  Climate change threatens civilization and human extinction.

3)  Wealth inequality creates massive suffering and social instability.

4)  Capitalism is an intrinsically flawed, self-destructive, oppressive economic system.

I know the Peace Dividend proposal is an outrageous, unprecedented, completely outside-the-box idea. That is entirely intentional. We must be audacious and uncompromising. We are confronting a ruthless ruling elite enemy that confers us no dignity, literally no place of importance in a world they believe is exclusively theirs to do as they see fit. So the choices are clear:

1)  Either it is the Peace Dividend or some equally outrageous assault on the system or . . .

2)  It is a bloody revolution that will destroy the country or . . .

3)  We live as slaves to suffer and die under the tyranny of perpetual war and capitalist exploitation.

We need to choose and we need to choose quickly. Time is running out.

• John Rachel has a B. A. in Philosophy, has traveled extensively, is a songwriter, music producer, neo-Marxist, and a bipolar humanist. He has written eight novels and three political non-fiction books. His most recent polemic is The Peace Dividend: The Most Controversial Proposal in the History of the World. His political articles have appeared at many alternative media outlets. He is now somewhat rooted in a small traditional farming village in Japan near Osaka, where he proudly tends his small but promising vegetable garden. “Scribo ergo sum.”

The Illusion of the Rich: an Island of Prosperity surrounded by Misery and Suffering

Frei Betto spoke with the author at the Dominican convent in São Paulo, Brazil.

Frei Betto (Carlos Alberto Libânio Christo) was born in 1944 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He began his political engagement as Catholic student and was imprisoned by the military regime that seized power in 1964 and ruled until 1985. I interviewed him first in 1986 after the publication of his book of interviews Fidel and Religion. This is the first of two interviews given in December after the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil.1


Dr. T.P. Wilkinson: When we met in 1986, the Brazilian military regime was considered at an end and elected government was to be restored. 32 years later a man has been elected who claims allegiance to the military regime. He is quoted saying the military should have tortured less and killed more. You were imprisoned under that regime. Could you briefly sketch the developments in Brazil since 1986 as you saw them? Has Brazil returned to military-style rule, if not actual dictatorship?

Frei Betto: The Brazilian military dictatorship began in 1964 and ended in 1985. The civil society of our country has made important accomplishments since then: a new constitution approved in 1988, called the “Civilian Constitution”; social movements of national scale, like the CUT (Unique Workers Central), the MST (Landless Workers Movement), the CMP (Popular Movements Central) and the MTST (Homeless Movement Workers).

We elect five and a half presidential terms, led by progressive politicians: Fernando Henrique Cardoso (two terms, 1995-1998 and 1999-2002), Lula (2003-2006 and 2007-2010) and Dilma Rousseff (2011-2014 and 2015-2016, when it was ended in a leadership coup by vice president Michel Temer). In this period, from 1995 until 2016, Brazil made significant advances in the social sphere, with a reduction of inequality and the inclusion of thousands of families that previously lived in misery and poverty. Only under the Lula government, 36 million people found social inclusion.

TPW: In the 1980s there were several prominent people in the Church who were identified with democratic ideals, peace and justice, for example, Cardinal Arns in Sao Paulo — and as whom I met later Archbishop Dennis Hurley in Durban. There were also ecumenical movements pursuing justice in Brazil and South Africa. However, it seems that once the military dictatorship was ended and the apartheid government replaced by the ANC, the Church lost its profile and many of those people associated with the struggles left the stage. Is there still an active Church-based movement in Brazil and where is it now? What challenges does it face?

FB:  It is necessary to understand that the end of the dictatorship in Brazil coincided with the election of John Paul II, followed by Benedict XVI. There were 34 years of conservative pontificates that did not support the line of the CEB (basic church communities) and the theology of liberation. This opened space for the evangelical churches with their conservative profile.

There still exists at the base a church that is alive and combative, but without prominent figures like Cardinal Arns and Dom Pedro Casaldáliga. Fortunately with Pope Francis this progressive pastoral work resumes. The canonisation of Monsignor Oscar Romero was very important for the recognition of the Church of liberation and the poor. And it is very active in Brazil and Latin America with feminist theology, indigenous theology, black theology and eco-theology.

TPW:  In 1986, there was still a Soviet Union, a GDR, and “competition” in Europe to demonstrate the “best” social-economic system for the majority of citizens. By 1990, all that was gone. Two years ago Fidel Castro died. It is putting it mildly to say the world has changed since 1986. It has been argued that the Soviet Union actually contributed little to social-economic justice in the rest of the world, despite claims to the contrary. However, since its demise there appears to be no limit to the expansion and aggressivity of the “Western” system. Unrestricted capitalism has “won”. It would appear that there is no longer a vision of what a just world could look like capable of providing orientation, especially on a global scale. You are certainly critical but not a pessimist. Where do you see the potential for social justice in future? What obstacles do you consider most important to overcome?

FB: Socialism had the merit of forcing the rich world to concede more rights to workers. Without the communist “threat”, there would have been no welfare state in Western Europe. Now, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, capitalism no longer needs rings because it does not lose its fingers… It has changed its productive phase for one of speculation and, as Piketty demonstrates, concentrates ever more profits into fewer hands.2

This gaping inequality has a limit, which is the desperation of the poor, like the waves of refugees flooding into the world of the rich and the demonstrations in France, the yellow vests. It is an illusion of the rich to think that they can have an island of prosperity surrounded by misery and suffering.

Seven centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaíah already preached that peace can only exist with the fruits of justice. And we can add today: there will never be peace as a simple balance of weapons.

TPW: Your interviews with Castro revealed a remarkable man quite different from the personality depicted or caricatured since the Cuban Revolution succeeded in 1959. Anyone who followed his writing and speeches, even after retirement, could see that your portrait was accurate and sincere. The survival of the Cuban Revolution after the fall of the Soviet Union could be seen as proof that it was not a “Soviet creation” but a genuinely Cuban phenomenon, like Castro himself. In fact, Cuba managed, despite US policy, to support social-economic change in Latin America, especially in cooperation with Chavez in Venezuela. How do you see Cuba today, especially in relation to its Latin American neighbours?

FB: Cuba resists despite all pressure from the White House. Today, all Latin American countries support Cuban sovereignty and vote in the UN, with the support of more than 170 countries, for the suspension of the blockade. For Cuba’s economy, so damaged by the isolation the country has been condemned to, relations with the progressive governments of Latin America and the world are very important. However, Venezuela faces a serious economic crisis. And Brazil—starting in January—will be governed by a fascist party allied with the US policy of preserving the blockade. Fortunately Mexico now has a progressive government that can strengthen ties of solidarity with Cuba, especially by absorbing Cuban doctors who have been expelled from Brazil.3

TPW: Venezuela has been under a kind of siege since Chavez became president that is at least as challenging as the US embargo of Cuba. Now Brazil has a president who has announced a very aggressive attitude toward the government in Caracas. Venezuela is not as radical as Cuba was. Chavez and Castro were sometimes presented as if they were a pair, both with very personalistic leadership styles. Have you formed a view of the situation in Venezuela, a direct neighbour of Brazil? Sometime around 1962 the US initiated activities that culminated in the 1964 military coup in Brazil under the pretext that Goulart would align Brazil with Cuba and the Soviet Union — something to prevent. Do you see an international context to the recent presidential election results — especially given the vitriolic statements made about Venezuela by the new president and the intense conflict between the US and both Russia and China — part of the so-called BRICS group?

FB:  I think tensions between US and both China and Russia will worsen. The Cold War is back. And Latin America is the target of this conflict. The countries of the Continent know that they cannot go on without the import of their products by China. And they fear Trump’s protectionist measures. So my assessment is that this reheating of the Cold War will be favorable to the Latin American economy.

TPW:  You are described among other places on the website of the Dominican Order in Germany as a “political activist“. One could say that the Dominican order, the OP, was founded as an “activist” order. Not everyone would agree that the order’s history of activism has been very positive — especially those familiar with the history of the Inquisition. Did your activism grow out of your vocation or do you believe your choice to become a Dominican was shaped by an at least latent desire to “preach”, to be an activist? How do you see your activism as a Dominican and the contradictions of the order’s role in history?

FB:  The Dominican Order, like our families, has its side of light and its side of darkness. There is no chemically pure institution. In 800 years of history, the Order had the sad page of the Inquisition, but is also proud to have had among its friars Thomas Aquinas, Savonarola, Giordano Bruno, Fra Angelico, Master Eckhart, Vitoria, Tomaso de Campanella, Bartolomé de las Casas and Father Lebret.

I entered the Dominicans because of my admiration for their presence in Brazil, along with the indigenous movement, the student movement and popular movements. I did not know that I am inscribed in the annals of the German Dominicans as a “political activist.” This honors me very much, because it puts me next to another political activist, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus did not die of hepatitis in bed, but like so many political prisoners in Latin America: he was arrested, tortured, tried by two political powers and sentenced to death on the cross. I thank God for being a disciple of this political prisoner who, within Caesar’s reign, announced another possible kingdom, that of God.

  1. Translation assisted by Prof Dr Francisco Topa, Universidade de Porto.
  2. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013).
  3. In the wake of his election, Jair Bolsonaro demanded that several thousand Cuban physicians employed in parts of the Brazil with little or no medical care would have to leave the country if the Cuban government did not comply with his demands that full wages be paid in Brazil and that families be permitted to move to Brazil with the seconded medical personnel. The Cuban government rejected this attempt by Brazil to extract Cuban medical professionals and deprive Cuba of the income agreed under the Dilmar (PT) government in return for Cuba’s medical mission. See “Cuba to pull doctors out of Brazil after President-elect Bolsonaro comments”, The Guardian, 14 November 2018.

The GMO Issue Reaches Boiling Point in India

In a recent article published on the India-based News18 site (CNN), prominent US biologist Nina Federoff was reported as saying it is time for India to grant farmers access to genetically modified (GM) crops. In an interview with the site, she says there is no evidence that GM crops are dangerous when consumed either by people in food or by animals in feed. Federoff says that the commercial release of various GM crops in India has been halted by the Indian government due to opposition from environmental activists.

She adds that we are rapidly moving out of the climate regime in which our primary crops were domesticated, arguing that that they do increasingly worse and will yield less as temperature extremes become common and pest and pathogen populations change. She says GM will become more or less essential in an era of climate change.

In recent weeks, aside from Federoff’s intervention, GM has been a hot topic in India. In late November, a paper appeared in the journal Current Science which argues that India doesn’t need GM crops and that the track record of GM agriculture is highly questionable. The paper is notable not just because of what it says but because of who is saying it: distinguished scientist P.C. Kesavan and M.S. Swaminathan, renowned agricultural scientist and geneticist and widely regarded as the father of the Green Revolution in India.

I recently spoke with prominent campaigner Aruna Rodrigues about developments surrounding the GM issue in India, particularly the views of Federoff. Rodrigues is lead petitioner in a case before India’s Supreme Court that is seeking a moratorium on GM crops and selective bans.

Colin Todhunter: What do you make of Nina Federoff’s recent comments advocating for GM in India?

Aruna Rodrigues: Nina Federoff is a long-time supporter of GMOs. The last time she offered advice to India (in her role as scientific advisor to Hilary Clinton) was when Bt brinjal (eggplant) was being pushed for commercialisation. She advised that Bt brinjal would be good for India!

CT: She is a high-profile scientist. Did government officials take her advice?

AR: Her advice was straightforwardly ignored by the then Minister of the Ministry of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh. He instituted a unique four-month scientific enquiry and public hearings. His decision to reject the commercialisation of Bt brinjal was supported by advice he received from several renowned international scientists. Their collective appraisals demonstrated serious environmental and biosafety concerns, which included issues regarding the toxity of Bt proteins resulting from their mode of action on the human gut system.

CT: What were some of the other reasons they put forward for rejecting Bt brinjal?

AR: Genetic contamination was the outstanding concern. India is a centre of origin of brinjal with the greatest genetic diversity. Contamination was a certainty. In his summing-up of the unsustainability of Bt brinjal and of its implications if introduced, one of the experts involved, Professor Andow, said it posed several unique challenges because the likelihood of resistance evolving quickly is high. He added that without any management of resistance evolution, Bt brinjal is projected to fail in 4-12 years. Jairam Ramesh pronounced a moratorium on Bt brinjal in February 2010 founded on what he called “a cautious, precautionary principle-based approach.” 

CT: So, it is clear that, despite Federoff’s claims, there are valid reasons why GM has not been commercialised in India, aside from cotton, that is. Can you say something about the health safety aspects of GM crops? Federoff says GM crops are safe for human and animal consumption. Is she correct?

AR: She is wrong. There are numerous studies that indicate the possibility of harm. All the major scientific bodies of the world, including the US National Academies, the World Health Organisation and the American Medical Association, agree that the potential for adverse effect is real and that these crops, both existing, but especially any new ones, need to be tested more thoroughly than they have been in the past (for example, for long-term toxicity for cancer). Meanwhile, agroecology that minimises the use of pesticides and uses no GMO has a proven safety and nutritional record and out-yields GMOs at a fraction of the cost.

CT: Federoff makes a blanket claim about safety. But each genetic modification poses unique risks and as a technology, according to molecular geneticist Michael Antoniou, GM is fundamentally scientifically flawed. So, it is impossible to say up front that they are all safe – or, in fact, that the ones on the market have been rigorously tested because they have not. But a food crop isn’t just eaten. There are effects on the environment too.

AR: Federoff fails to address all the ways GM crops can be unsafe. Existing GM crops do not have a history of safe use in the environment. Even a cursory examination of the US cropping system is enough to prove that the legacy of pesticidal GM crops has fuelled the epidemics of herbicide- resistant weeds and emerging insecticide resistant pests. This proves that you cannot rescue scientifically flawed ways to farm by introducing GM technologies that only exacerbate the most damaging farming practices.

CT: Federoff claims that we need GM if we are to mitigate the effects of climate change and produce sufficient food.

AR: This is rubbish. Agroecology has demonstrated far more effectiveness already than even the best hypothetical hopes of GM crops. But more to the point: it is the machine we call industrial agriculture that is a major cause of climate change. Giving that machine more fuel in the form of GM crops is not a solution but a dangerous distraction from what is needed to halt climate change.

CT: The paper by Kesavan and Swaminathan coincided with a mass march by farmers in Delhi at the end of November. Farmers in India have a list of grievances, with the effects of Bt cotton being a prominent one. Surely, given the devastation caused by Bt cotton (which these two authors say “has failed in India”), to introduce more GM crops at this time would cause further hardship for farmers. The paper by these two eminent scientists could be seen as a timely intervention.

AR: It is certainly courageous of Nina Federoff, given the failure of Bt cotton and her earlier unfortunate advice, to indulge in yet another round of misconceived guidance to the Indian government. I must also express disquiet and surprise that a bold charge has been levelled against that paper by Prof Vijay Raghavan (Scientific Advisor to the PM), which he says is “deeply flawed”. It is expected that any such statement is buttressed with sound data and science, especially when addressing scientists of the stature of Swaminathan and Kesavan. Therefore, without substantiation, a specific response to Raghavan is not possible.

However, it is relevant to the context to state that Bt cotton has failed and within a time-scale of less than 12 years. We need only look at the work of Dr. K Kranthi, ex Director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research, and Prof Gutierrez et al in the paper ‘Deconstructing Indian cotton: weather, yields, and suicides’.

CT: It was predicted that Bt brinjal would fail within 4-12 years. It seems that’s precisely what has happened to Bt cotton in India. So, the last thing India needs is another ill thought out GM experiment pushed through without proper independent assessments that consider health and environmental outcomes or the effects on farmers’ livelihoods and rural communities. But isn’t this what is on the horizon? You have for many years been highlighting flawed regulatory mechanisms in India where GM is concerned. I have been following the current case concerning herbicide-tolerant (HT) GM mustard. It is disturbing to say the least to read about deep-rooted conflicts of interest across the entire regulatory framework and what you describe as ‘regulatory delinquency’ as well as scientific malfeasance on such a massive scale.

AR: Collective regulatory misadventures with Bt cotton must indict the regulators for ‘connected’ farmer suicides in rain-fed Bt cotton cultivation. They must take responsibility. Despite this history of regulatory adventurism with hybrid Bt cotton and Bt brinjal, this has not deterred our regulators as they attempt to introduce HT GM mustard. It is sobering that documents in the public domain reveal clear cover-up, invalid and even fraudulent field trials, the results of which were nevertheless accepted by the regulators. Perhaps, the greatest regulatory mystery surrounds the fact that the regulators themselves admit that there is no claim made by the government that HT (GMO) hybrid mustard out-performs non-GMO hybrids. Therefore, there is no ‘need’ for this GM Mustard. ‘Need’ must be established as a prior regulatory step in risk assessment.

CT: Nina Federoff says that what is preventing the widespread adoption of GM in India is political disagreement and activists. This is a well-worn tactic: try to cast valid criticisms of GM as ‘unscientific’ and politically motivated. But as you have outlined, there are valid reasons why the introduction of GM food crops is being prevented in India.

AR: It is proven in copious evidence in the Supreme Court in the last 13 years that our regulators are seriously conflicted: they promote GMOs openly, fund them (as with HT mustard and other public sector GMOs) and then regulate them. Truth is a massive casualty. This is not lightly stated. It would also be prudent to recognise that unsustainable HT and Bt crops (Bt maize in industrial systems in the West) and failed hybrid Bt cotton in India serve to put farmers on a pesticide treadmill as increasing levels of pest resistance becomes manifest. In fact, a new paper in the journal Pest Management Science based on research over a seven-year period shows progressive field-evolved resistance of pink bollworm to Bt cotton in India.

We also have a new paper by Prof Andrew Paul Gutierrez in which he concludes that extending implementation of the hybrid GM technology to other crops in India will only mirror the disastrous implementation of Bt cotton in the country, thereby tightening the economic noose on still more subsistence farmers for the sake of profits.

CT: Federoff and others are fond of making claims about what GM has or will achieve. GM crops have been on the market for over two decades. Do you see any validity in these types of claims?

AR: Most GMOs on the market now provide technological fixes to kill weeds or pests. They have no trait for yield. Together, they account for nearly 98% of all GMOs planted worldwide. 25 years of official US data on HT crops show they have led to intractable problems of super weeds, significant increases in herbicide use because of resistant weeds, higher farmer costs and no yield advantage. Claims made for GMOs with various traits, for example, drought or saline resistant or providing yield or nutritional enhancement, are futuristic. The few that have been tested for drought resistance and some other traits are according to prominent scientist Doug Gurian-Sherman out-performed by traditional breeding techniques hands-down.