We welcome to the programme the writer and lecturer Edward Curtin, who teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, for a conversation on his research into the subject of September 11, 2001, and in particular his analysis of the language used of that event in terms of a hypothesised deep-state policy of linguistic mind control.
We also discuss the very important book 9/11 Unmasked by David Ray Griffin and Elizabeth Woodworth, recently published by Olive Branch Press, which Edward Curtin particularly recommends for its scholarly approach.
Alessandro Bianchi: Let’s start from today’s crisis in the Sea of Azov. The European Union and NATO have given full support to Ukraine after the violation of Russian sovereignty by two Ukrainian vessels. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gave his full support to Poroshenko, who declared martial law. What does a country like Italy risk in continuing its accession to NATO?
Andre Vltchek: Russia intercepted three Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait. The ships had, even according to Ukrainian authorities, several intelligence officers on board, as well as a number of light arms and machine guns. It was clear provocation, as the ships refused to inform Russian authorities about their intentions, and behaved in an aggressive manner. They were passing through Russian territorial waters. Ukrainian intelligence officers were obviously in charge of the entire operation. So, what is really so ‘alarming’ for the West? The ships were stopped, some crew members detained, and there is a serious investigation underway.
The ‘incident’ took place just days before the G20 meeting in Argentina, where Presidents Trump and Putin were supposed to meet. Also, it is only 4 months before the Ukrainian Presidential elections (March 2019), and Poroshenko is trailing behind the two leading candidates with only 8% of support. Ukraine under his leadership is so messed up that many flats in the capital city of Kiev will not be heated during this winter. Logically, Poroshenko provoked the crises, so he could pose as a strongman, hoping to at least gain some popularity. He has imposed martial law for 30 days although originally, he wanted it to last for 2 months. What does it mean? The press will be censored and criticism of the government, limited. Good for the grotesquely unpopular president? Definitely.
Also, it is obvious that the West, particularly the EU and NATO, are behind this new wave of dangerous madness.
Italy is part of both EU and NATO. As I am writing in my new essay, it is a nonsense to believe that “Europeans are brainwashed; that they do not know what the West is doing all over the world”. They know, or they at least suspect – most of them. But they pretend that they don’t know. In Europe, there is a shadowy deal between the government, corporations and the people. People want more benefits, and they do not care that the benefits come from plundering the world. If they get their benefits, they shut up. If they think they are getting too little, they protest, like recently in Paris. But do they care if tens of millions of ‘un-people’ die for those benefits? Of course not!
The same when it comes to Russia, China or Iran. Europeans in general and Italians in particular, know that there is some sort of vicious propaganda against those countries that refuse to yield to the Western diktat. But they will do nothing to stop it. It is sweet, isn’t it, to feel superior, ‘democratic’, and ‘free’. And it is horrible to admit that one lives in a place that is spreading terror to all corners of the world, robbing even the poor of all they have. These six weeks vacations could turn sour, if Italians were to decide to see who is really paying for them. So, they shut up, and will shut up, until it is ‘too late’.
Remember, countries like Russia and China have their own ‘democracies’ (rule of the people). It is not the Western system. Rulers and the masses communicate and interact in a direct way, in a very distinctive manner. And in both Russia and China, the people have ‘had enough’ of being bullied and brutalized by the West, for decades and centuries. Just a little bit more, and things will explode. If pushed further, Russia and China will respond. If provoked militarily, they will defend themselves. The same goes for Iran. Being part of the grouping that is terrorizing the world, Italy will have to pay the price, too.
AB: Russian Minister Sergei Lavrov asked the Western allies in Kiev to “intervene” and “calm down” the Ukrainian authorities, warning about the potential crossing of a “point of no return” between Russia and the West. Is the risk of war real even in light of the great gathering of NATO troops at the border?
AV: Yes, of course, it is real. Just turn the tables around: if Iran or China or Russia or Venezuela or Syria or Cuba did to the West what West is doing to them, would there be real risk of war?
This impunity and racist belief in total superiority, which is so prevalent in the West, has to stop. And soon it will stop. As they say in Chile: ‘By reason or by force’.
AB: You were recently in Syria, a country that thanks to the Russian intervention and the resistance of the Syrian people supported by the regional allies – Iran and Hezbollah above all – is slowly trying to return to normal. What country did you find?
AV: I found a beautiful, confident and proud country. I am also writing a long report about my visit there.
I met many victims, common people, but also a General, and a Minister of Education, who is also an accomplished novelist. His motto is: “Ministry of Education is like Ministry of Defense”. Correct: education without ideology and passion is just a waste of time.
Syria won. And there, the entire Arab world won together with it. Arabs were, for decades, thoroughly humiliated – by the West, by Israel, by their own leaders who were put on the throne by London, Paris and Washington.
As I have written many times, Aleppo is the Stalingrad of the Middle East. The losses were terrible, all over Syria. But the victory is tremendous, too. Pan-Arabism will blossom again. People in all countries of the region are watching and now they know: it is possible to defeat Western imperialism and its spooks, its terrorist implants.
Russia stood by its Arab sister with determination, but also very wisely. It used diplomacy whenever it could, and it used force only when there was no other way. In Syria, the Russians won people’s hearts. ‘Thank you, Russia!’, is everywhere, even engraved on traditional wooden boxes. The Russian language being my native tongue, opened so many doors, as it opened thousands of doors to me in Afghanistan (I never expected it there).
Syria has to finalize its victory, soon. And I will be back to cover events there. At the front if needed.
It is tremendously optimistic and beautiful to be in a country which did not prostitute itself; a country that stood tall, fought hard, for its own people and for the entire region. There is great confidence and kindness on the faces of people. Celebration is not loud, because, after all, so many people died. But people are out, till the morning, men and women, boys and girls. Cafes are packed; the streets of Damascus are bustling. But even in Homs and the destroyed suburbs of Damascus, life is defiantly returning to normal.
What a nation! Yes, they say ‘Thank you Russia!”. As an internationalist, I say: “Thank you Syria!”
AB: The chemical attack by the “rebels” in Aleppo yesterday unmasks the lies in the mainstream of these years. What role did the media play in allowing the terrorist gangs supported and funded by the West and Gulf allies to destroy Syria?
AV: A tremendous role. In Syria, the Western mass media finally ceased to exist. It became a prostitution force for the Empire, nothing else. But we all know that both the media and education are basically used for indoctrinating people, at least in the West and in its ‘client’ states.
There was so much provocation. The Gulf and the Western broadcasting companies were literally igniting the conflict, spreading lies, pushing people into rebellion against the government. They have blood on their hands, the same as Pashtun Service of the BBC has blood on their hands, as the VOA, Radio Free Europe and ‘free whatever’ have blood up to their armpits.
AB: Before Syria you did two important reports in Argentina and Mexico telling about the mutations under way in Latin America. Bolsonaro has won in Brazil, while in the next few days Lopez Obrador is preparing to settle in a Mexico that has turned left. At what stage is the dispute in Latin America, and what are the prospects for the left in the continent?
AV: Well, I worked for three weeks all over Mexico, before going to Syria. My big work in both Argentina and Brazil, had been done earlier.
Look, Ale, you and I know; are very well familiar with Latin America. I used to live in Mexico, Chile, Peru (during the so-called Dirty War) and Costa Rica. I have worked all over the continent.
What happened in Mexico is great, although one could say ‘overdue’. Now let us hope that President-Elect Obrador will be able to turn his magnificent country around, towards socialism. It will not be easy. There is plenty of terrible inertia. There are horrible ‘elites’ of European stock. And there is the United States, right next door, always ready to ‘intervene’. But I think he can do it. I trust him. I travelled all over this huge country, I spoke to people. It was all summarized by a gangster in Tijuana, a man who became a criminal out of desperation. He said, and I paraphrase: “I think it is close to impossible for Obrador to change things, but if he will do what he is promising, I will drop everything, and support him. This is the last chance for Mexico to change things peacefully. If he fails, we will take up the arms.”
Brazil, this is so difficult to explain. But essentially, there, in Latin America, more than anywhere else, the mass media which is in the hands of the right-wing, played an extremely significant and thoroughly destructive role. When I visited Amazonia, around Manaus and Belem, or Salvador Bahia, people would tell me: “Our life improved significantly. Now we have this and this and that. But Dilma has to go!” My God, I thought, am I dreaming? No, I was not. Basically, somehow, the elites hammered into people’s brains that if they are better off now, then it is because of their own personal success. But if some things are not going too well, it is the fault of the government.
“Corruption” is always used in the combat against left-wing governments in Latin America. Microscopes are used, to encounter any wrongdoing. It was used against Kristina Kirschner, against Lula, even against poor Dilma who was not corrupt at all, but suffered from the right-wing and West-backed ‘constitutional’ coup. But just imagine that stupidity, that absurdity: right-wing dictatorships in the Southern Cone but also in Brazil used dogs to rape women; they tortured prisoners, killed, ‘disappeared’ people, robbing everything they could put their hands on. And that is not ‘corruption’, right? Then some company offers to renovate an apartment of Lula’s, and he is in prison! Suddenly those fascists are playing the moral card. Do you know what Bolsonaro will do now? He will screw the entire Amazonia; do it almost ‘Indonesia-style’. He will allow that horrid deal with the Western corporations, the privatization of the aquifer shared with Paraguay, to go through. The third biggest passenger airplane manufacturer on earth – Embraer – will be sold to Boeing, for petty cash. Brazil will lose its rainforest, its industry, and its poor will lose their lifeline – government support. And this is not called corruption! Argentina under Macri is allowing the US to operate in Tierra de Fuego. The entire country is screaming from pain: electricity prices have gone up, the famous film industry is losing support, and the middle class is again going down the drain.
But I am optimistic. Latin American people have a great desire for socialist, in some places, communist societies. Whenever they are left alone, they fight for it, or vote for it. Then they get smashed. The West has overthrown, basically, all the truly left-wing governments of the continent, from the Dominican Republic, to Chile. But the process never stops. It begins all over again.
I only hope that one thing changes: you know, the West was very successful in implanting the idea in the heads of Latin Americans, that after all that has happened, Europe and even the US are somehow superior nations. And so, people look down on the truly great nations like China and Russia, in places like Brazil. It appalls me. I speak the language, and I clearly see what is happening. In Argentina, there is not much of a real left: the intellectuals there are connected to those defunct theories in Europe and North America, like ‘anarcho-syndicalism’. And there is nothing really revolutionary about those ideas. There are too many Westerners influencing Latin American revolutionary movements. They lost at home, became irrelevant, but still they insist on judging the world from a Western perspective. Still, somehow, many of them are admired in Latin America. And it always backfires: Westerners dilute revolutionary spirit. They also kidnap the South-South narrative. I would love to see Russian, Chinese, Venezuelan, Cuban, Syrian, Iranian or South African comrades running the state media in countries where the true left is winning. It would make a great difference!
AB: Argentina continues to sink under the weight of Mauricio Macri’s neoliberal austerity but the mainstream media are silent. Meanwhile, Evo Morales’ Bolivia continues, to the contrary, to record the highest growth rates in the region in a climate of stability. So, socialism works contrary to what they try to make us believe?
AV: Yes, of course, socialism works, Ale. If left alone, if it is not bathed in pus and blood, it prospers. Unfortunately, so far, whenever any country decides to go socialist, the West unleashes its campaign of terror, lies and economic banditry. Socialism is not some extreme utopia, but the most logical goal. The majority of people want to live in an egalitarian society, where they feel secure and safe, and where when sick they get treated, when they are thirsty for knowledge, they get educated for free. They want the state to work for them, not against them. They want their government to control companies, instead of companies controlling their governments.
AB: Meanwhile, in Venezuela, the economic, psychological and media war goes on. Will the Bolivarian government succeed in resisting this unprecedented attack?
AV: Yes, it will. But again, look how fragmented Latin America has become. People in Chile or Argentina watch CNN and FOX and they know much more about Miami or Paris, than about Caracas. The Brazilian President-Elect said that he would murder Maduro – still, people voted for him.
Latin America is mostly run by European elites. They robbed the continent, turned it into the part of the world with the greatest disparities. For any revolution to succeed here, it has to be radical and decisive. Democracy should be direct, not that multi-party idiotism implanted from the West – that is so easy to pervert and divert from outside, or with the use of social and mass media. Latin America cannot try to ape Europe and hope that it will prosper. Europe is based on the plunder of other parts of the world. Latin American countries do not have colonies, and the plunder is internal – the rich of European stock are plundering both the land and the native people.
AB: In one of his last articles Fidel wrote how “The alliance between Russia and China is a powerful peace shield able to guarantee the survival of the human race”. What is the legacy of Fidel Castro today two years after his death?
AV: Just tremendous! Even when the entire Latin America betrayed Cuba, Fidel and his people never surrendered. This is the spirit I admire. Cuba has a big heart – it fought for the independence of several African nations, it helps so many places on earth with their doctors, teachers, and rescue teams during natural disasters. Cuban art is some of the greatest on the planet. That is why Cuba has had a tremendous impact on me personally, and on my work as well. I proudly call myself a ‘Cuban-style internationalist’. I am endlessly grateful to Fidel, to the Cuban revolution and to Cuban people. In many ways, it is perhaps the greatest country in the world. A country I would never hesitate to fight for, or even to die for.
• Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism, a revolutionary novel “Aurora” and a bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”. View his other books here. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter.
Workers demonstrate in defense of Cerámica Zanon and other recuperated ceramics factories, in 2003 (Photo: Indymedia Argentina)
In this interview we talk to Andrés Ruggeri, anthropologist and researcher who directs the Facultad Abierta programme (Open School) of the University of Buenos Aires, dedicated to researching and supporting workplaces recuperated by their workers. Ruggeri tells us about the history of this movement, the challenges it faces, the relations with recent governments in Argentina, and much more.
Ricardo Vaz: Can you tell us a bit about this programme, Facultad Abierta?
Andres Ruggeri: Facultad Abierta (Open School) is something that in Latin America is usually known as a University Extension, understood as the university function that is dedicated to the community. Usually these have to do with cultural aspects, courses, workshops, and this issue has also been commodified recently.
We started the programme in 2002. In the School of Philosophy and Literature of the University of Buenos Aires we set up a tiny extension unit to work with social movements, popular movements, that were flourishing at the time, among them the recuperated workplaces. We quickly turned to the subject of worker self-management, or workers’ control, on one hand doing research, and on the other taking part in the processes, trying to support the organizations that emerged.
RV: So it is not just a matter of doing research and documenting. What is, so to say, the contribution in the opposite direction? What do recuperated workplaces look for from Facultad Abierta?
AR: We never come with an attitude of telling the workers that “this is what needs to be done,” rather we look to work on a joint analysis of the issues, that will help with self-management. There are many aspects to it. One of them is actual participation: spreading information, supporting the occupations, collaboration in specific tasks, as well as articulating with other professionals. For example, we work with engineers, lawyers, accountants, people from the exact sciences, that may on occasion collaborate with a given company.
At the same time through the canvassing of recuperated workplaces, and the reports that are always discussed with the workers, we are generating a body of knowledge. I think at this point the work of Facultad Abierta is something that the movement has embraced as one of its tools. There is a documentation centre of recuperated workplaces that works out of a cooperative which is Imprenta Chilavert. There we document an endless number of things that have fuelled this relationship, as well as share the day-to-day life of this cooperative. At this point, it is sometimes hard to tell apart what is the movement and what is Facultad Abierta.
Facultad Abierta also edits the “Cuadernos para la autogestión,” (“Self-management notebooks”), produced at the Imprenta Chilavert.
RV: Does the movement also extend its reach beyond the Argentinian borders?
AR: Yes, another important development are the international meetings, called The Economy of the Workers. This was also an initiative of ours, in 2007, but it now extends far beyond Facultad Abierta.
These are meetings that bring together workers, activists, movements, and researchers. These international meetings were planned to be held once every two years, and later regional meetings started taking place in the intermediate years. Last year we had the sixth international meeting, with participants from over 30 countries, many different recuperated workplaces from around the world. It took place in Textiles Pigüé – a recuperated factory from the south of the province of Buenos Aires.
RV: The recuperated workplaces [note: we will often use the Spanish acronym ERT (Empresas Recuperadas por sus Trabajadores)] emerge strongly with the crisis in late 2001. Were they building on an existing tradition?
AR: Argentina is probably the Latin American country with the oldest history of cooperativism, dating back to the late XIX century. It is related to the history of migration and the emergence of the workers’ movement itself, just like in Europe. The workers’ movement, trade unions and cooperatives, emerge more or less in parallel, before diverging over time. But a certain tradition of cooperativism remained, even if generally separate from the question of production.
With the implementation of neoliberalism, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a shift in the economic structure: the country starts getting de-industrialised, lots of production chains are destroyed, resulting in lots of unemployed workers. Some unions, very few, start to promote and form cooperatives in the companies that were being shuttered. They were mostly small metal workshops, print shops, these kinds of companies. And the unions were essentially of metalworkers from the south of Greater Buenos Aires, from Quilmes, and the Buenos Aires Graphics Federation. Then in some locations in the interior other cooperatives also sprung up, as means of resisting against this process.
RV: Is it fair to say that these are more cases of abandoned companies than of occupied ones?
AR: It is a bit of both. Actually the workers occupy companies that are being abandoned, it is a simultaneous process. When the bosses are looking to close doors, or when there is a fraudulent bankruptcy, that is the moment when the occupation takes place. In the 1990s, we estimate there were around 30 cases in which cooperatives were set up, because there were many others in which it was attempted but it was not possible.
What happens in 2001 is that this becomes a movement. This movement acquires an identity, calls itself “recuperated workplaces,” organizes, sets forward demands, and in some sense creates a strategy of “what to do” when a company is abandoned, in order to preserve jobs, which is to form cooperatives and fight for expropriation. The movement’s slogan, which is actually borrowed from the MST [Landless Workers Movement, from Brazil], sums it up: “Occupy, Resist, Produce.”
RV: Do new cases of ERT keep appearing after 2001?
AR: According to our estimation of currently existing recuperated workplaces, which is around 380 with some 16.000 workers, there have been more recuperated workplaces after 2001 than the ones that took place at the time. The thing is that in 2001 there was a tremendous concentration of occupations, with massive mobilisations, with lots of social and political impact.
RV: In terms of the relationship with the state, how was the relationship between the Kirchner governments and the ERT? What was their perspective?
Andrés Ruggeri being interviewed during the sixth international meeting (Youtube screenshot, video available here)
AR: Kirchnerismo was very contradictory in what concerns recuperated workplaces, just like they were with many other issues. Nevertheless, they were not hostile to recuperated workplaces, even if they did not particularly favour them. Within their neo-keynesian conception of development, workers’ control and all of this did not really fit. All of the state’s policies for economic recovery were geared towards – and with great success for the most part – recovering employment and production by focusing on the internal market, but with a national bourgeoisie leading the way.
Then as the economy recovered, all these expressions such as cooperatives, small companies, even social movements, would tend to disappear because people would go back to formal employment, thus strengthening the unions. This was the plan. In that sense, the Kirchner governments collaborated with the ERT, with some programmes of subsidies and support. But never with an economic policy, it was rather a social policy, of managing conflict, with the perspective of helping people that had lost their jobs and formed cooperatives. However, ideally these people would go back to work in the formal job market.
Naturally the entire policy of kirchnerismo had this idea as its base, but it morphed over time. At some point, especially with the international crisis in 2008-2009, we see that the economy is troubled and that it cannot meet this goal of full employment. Then state programmes for creating cooperatives appear, although these were “cooperatives” in which the state paid salaries and said what was to be done. In the end you had a kind of two-faced policy, in which the cooperatives seemingly did not fit but were fostered at the same time.
RV: We could say that support towards cooperatives and ERT was due to necessity…
AR: Precisely. And a significant debt of kirchnerismo towards the recuperated workplaces was that it did not contribute to solving the judicial problems that have lingered and are now a liability for many ERT, such as the Hotel Bauen.1 These are usually disputes surrounding property. Not necessarily with the former owners, but since these are often bankrupt companies, they are still involved in legal proceedings, there are still creditors, who want to collect debts with property. The property is in the hands of the workers, but not legally, and that creates many problems.
RV: How was this sector affected by the arrival of Macri?
AR: We produced a report midway through 2016, and subsequent events proved us right. The general economic policy of the Macri government affects cooperatives just like it affects all aspects of the productive economy destined towards the internal market, small and large companies alike. These are the common effects of neoliberal programs, especially in Latin America.
It is a policy dedicated to weakening the working class, to lowering salaries in favour of an economy designed for the exporting of raw materials and energy, and for the prevalence of financial capital. The results are massive layoffs, both in public and private sectors, a decrease in the purchasing power and the consumption capacity of the population. As a result, production goes down, demand goes down, cooperatives cannot fight against that, they need to accommodate. To this we must add the opening up to imports. There are very cheap products coming in especially from China, and national production, cooperative or otherwise, cannot compete.
Finally there is the tarifazo, which is something incredible that has multiplied utility costs in a way that completely breaks cooperatives. Many recuperated workplaces, for example, currently have gas bills that are higher than their revenue. This means they either not pay or try to stop their electricity from being cut off, but this does not stop debt from building up. The goal is somehow to buy time, waiting to see if there is a change in the political arena.
RV: Beyond its economic policy, does the government have an ideological position with regards to the ERT?
AR: Besides the economic choking there is a constant hostility and, when an opportunity arises, the government acts against the recuperated workplaces. The clearest case is the Hotel Bauen, which never saw its situation regularized, it was never expropriated. There was an attempt to do so in the last parliamentary session with the previous correlation of forces of kirchnerismo, it then went to the Senate when Macri was already in office, and Macri vetoed the law.
The same thing has happened to every expropriation bill coming out. The law of expropriations was a mechanism that we had managed to put in place as a way to legalise the ERT. Macri will always use some pretext, but ideologically he is clearly against everything that has to do with workers’ control. This in turn is reflected on the judges, who are ever less inclined to helping the workers.
RV: But the justice system, in principle, would not be a natural ally…
AR: Definitely not. Nevertheless, on labour matters there have often been more or less favourable rulings, as the judicial power is also influenced by mobilisations, by the political context. When the political context was a bit more favourable there were decisions that prioritized the continuity of production, the safeguarding of labour as opposed to the seizure of assets. The bankruptcy legislation was modified, in 2011, to offer a legal way out for bankrupt factories and companies so that they were taken over by workers’ cooperatives. But this always implies putting pressure on the judges.
All of this is now much more difficult. The judges that by nature are against the working class are now much more so. Another thing that macrismo is trying to do is to stop factories from being recuperated. The factory closes and the police is there to ensure that it does close, avoiding any occupation. They stay one step ahead to stop workers from trying to occupy.
RV: Can you describe the relation between trade unions and ERT? Because they operate with different logics.
AR: Trade unions, with the establishment of fordism and of the welfare state, have occupied a place that is generally understood, by the organisations themselves as well, within the framework of struggle, or negotiation, between capital and labour. But the traditional base of the wage-earning, formal worker, has been shrinking with the rise of precarious and informal work, and most of the unions retain a “classical” mindset, they have not found a way to represent these new kinds of workers.
In general it is hard for them to think about what happens to a worker after he loses his job. Some unions simply do not care because they can no longer extract anything from this worker, neither a union fee nor a social security contribution.2 But leaving the corrupt unions aside, the ones that take part in fraudulent closures of companies in exchange for something from the bosses, the traditional union will go as far as trying to stop the company from shutting down, to stop the workers from losing their jobs. However, once these jobs are lost, there is nothing left to do. This is the approach, more or less.
Then there are some unions that have asked themselves: if we do not manage to stop the closure, because there is a general policy, an economic context that leads to this, what do we do? That is where the support for eventual recuperated workplaces appears. Some unions have long understood this issue, and others are coming to grips now.
RV: Are these, for the most part, smaller unions?
AR: Yes, very small unions in general. It also has to do with the interests they have. Unions also work as corporations that negotiate. For the larger unions, especially the industrial ones, it is very hard for them to embrace such as strategy.
Smaller unions, or from specific crafts, are ever more interested in the subject, also because practically all of their companies are shutting down. For example, the union of marroquineros, leather workers, if it does not actively intervene to stop companies from shutting down or to recuperate them somehow, it is doomed to disappear because there will be no workers left. Because of this I see a growing support for this struggles from trade unions.
RV: Turning now to political parties, in Argentina we find this strong ERT movement without there being a strong “workers’” party. How do the leftist parties position themselves vis-a-vis the ERT? Is it a struggle that is common to all of them?
AR: No, leftist parties have not always been favourable to this question of recuperated workplaces. Some have, but here the left is a minority. Within peronismo we could say there is a left, and in general the left in peronismo is very favourable to the recuperated workplaces. I believe that in the large majority of ERT, the leaders identify themselves, despite all the contradictions, with this political position.
The non-peronista left, be it trotskyist or otherwise, also has a very classical conception of class struggle, where self-management in general does not fit. Some have even declared themselves against self-management because, from their perspective, it does not contribute to the path towards revolution. This discussion was very visible in 2001-2002. There were recuperated companies whose leaders identified with some of these parties from the trotskyist left who were against forming cooperatives. Their goal was nationalisation, or state ownership, with worker control.
This is a slogan that may be fine as an horizon, but which is unfeasible with a state that is not a revolutionary state, so to say. Therefore many of these cases ended up in dead ends. With each experience of a recuperated workplace, we can derive many things that question capitalism in its foundations: property, democracy in the workplace, the division of labour, horizontality, all of that. But that is not necessarily the goal of the recuperated workplace. The goal, first and foremost, is to safeguard jobs.
RV: More important than having the correct horizon is addressing the immediate needs of the workers…
AR: Exactly. If the proposal is maximalist and offers no way out to the specific situation, the workers will turn their backs on you. This is a problem of the left. While peronismo perhaps does not have this horizon of workers’ control, nor of the socialist revolution for that matter, nevertheless it understands these situations of workers fighting for their jobs. From the left, where we would expect this, these experiences are often rejected because they do not conform to the manual…
The incomprehension from sectors of the left is due to a lack of ideological flexibility, but also a lack of presence in the working class. Because if it had delegates, workers in each of these experiences, it would understand them much more clearly. Not having them, and coming from the outside, it ends up clashing.
To give an example, in 2001-2002 there were two cases that everyone was hearing about, both in Argentina and abroad, which were Zanon and Brukman,3  which had ties to the PTS [Socialist Workers’ Party], a trotskyist party that is now part of FIT [Workers’ Left Front]. In Zanon the leaders were trotskyist militants and their vision was widely shared by the collective, but in the end Zanon ended up forming its cooperative, and walking the same path as all the others, although it is a very interesting and creative experience. In Brukman it was different. The workers did not even have a union, the militants arrived from outside looking to direct the struggle, but the direction was according to the manual. And with the manual they were doomed.
RV: In a 2006 article you talked about a “social innovation” component in the ERT. What is the importance of the ties to the community for these companies?
AR: Nowadays I think I would not talk about “social innovation” because it is a term that is also being used from the neoliberal side. But yes, clearly there are changes in the economic rationale of a recuperated workplace, which articulates with the political and social spheres. And that would be this question of ties to the community, which I believe are important.
Not all recuperated workplaces have this concern, or this strategy. For the most part, the opening up to the community is something that the workers see as positive, but also a strategy to build strong ties to the neighbourhood, to the people, articulating with organizations, etc. Because the ERT are often small or mid-size companies, and each on its own does not have the strength to implement self-management without these social networks of support, everything that mobilises around a recuperated workplace.
Workers’ assembly in Cerámica Zanon (Photo: La Izquierda Diario).
I think any time a company is recuperated there is a strong wave of mobilisation and support that is generated, reaching way beyond the strength of the workers themselves. Therefore the workers realise this and want to do right by it, to give something back for the support. But later, along these lines of innovation, or of changes in the production rationale, many ERT activities make no sense from a business standpoint. This, I should stress, has nothing to do with “corporate responsibility” or anything of the sort. It has no logic, it does not generate business…
RV: Nevertheless, the goal is also to overcome this separation between economic, social and political spheres…
AR: Of course. Since they transcend this logic, they break the concept that a company is a mere tool for the accumulation of capital. It is broken in two ways. For one, because the workers are not necessarily interested in accumulating capital. What they want is to keep their jobs, and they can possibly manage with much less than it would take for a capitalist to, within his rationale, keep the company running.
At the same time, there is a risk that a recuperated workplace will operate in a conservative fashion, doing the bare minimum to survive, with no growth or renovation. There are ERT that have been around for several years, and it is clear that when the workers retire, or die, the cooperative will disappear. But if on the other hand we take into account this opening up to the community, reaching into social and political spheres, that is another avenue of growth that does not necessarily have to do with accumulation.
RV: A study of around 100 ERT suggested that around 20% of their economic activity is with other ERT or with the solidarity economy. Do you think this is progress in terms of creating a sub-system that is not 100% capitalist?
AR: Yes, but it is much harder than it sounds. The numbers, I believe, are not that high. We usually track this in our reports. But it is a necessary step, one which we are working on. Sometimes, precisely in the context of economic growth we had before, with a dynamic internal market, this was not seen as a priority because each company could survive on its own in the market.
Now that the situation has completely turned, there is a bigger concern that there is a need to build links, even create a sort of special market, with different rules, that will allow both for survival and for growth. This will also demonstrate that an alternative is possible. Nevertheless, it is much more complicated than it looks, even with the 400 recuperated workplaces by themselves. We need to extend to other cooperatives, other types of organisations.
In one case we are trying to articulate Textiles Pigüé, a very recent ERT that produces clothing for children, and another cooperative that produces fabric in the north of Argentina, and we are working on a common product. One of the ideas is also to place production in solidarity networks in Europe, not just for sale but also to bring these products to migrants and refugees.
I do not believe the challenge is just to build chains inside the same sector. Textile factories do not just require products from other textile factories, the same for metallurgical ones. Production can be integrated in other chains and inputs can come from other sectors. We need to create wider networks and also fight in terms of consumption. This means getting people to consume products from sectors where there is no exploitation of labour, or at least not to the same degree as in capitalist companies, and where environmental concerns are taken into account. There are a number of struggles ahead. But this one is a struggle against capitalism in its economic core.
RV: In your opinion, where does the state stand in all of this? Sometimes a very romantic vision is generated, of an ecosystem on the margins of capitalism, but is there not still a need to struggle for the state?
AR: Yes, I think this struggle for the state should not be abandoned. This romantic vision exists, of creating a ghetto where we, the good guys, stand, without capitalism or the state. But the state will still exist. Both the state and capital will not sit idly by while we build the economy of the future! In fact, the experiences of the recuperated workplaces have shown time and again that the struggle is always on 2 or 3 fronts at the same time, against the capitalist market, against the state, even when the state thinks it is helping.
Worker in Imprenta Chilavert. (Photo: Taringa).
Therefore, obviously all the state policy tools we can put to use to strengthen the movement need to be used. No matter how much we want to stay outside or want nothing to do with the state, the state still wants something to do with you. That is the question. And although the neoliberal state is weak in terms of allowing financial capital and large corporations to run rampant, it remains strong and repressive in what regards us, with no concern for legality whatsoever.
RV: Almost all the ERT form cooperatives. Is there a difference between these cooperatives and others which are not borne out of this struggle to preserve labour posts?
AR: Indeed. In general the discourse we find among the workers in recuperated workplaces is that they are cooperatives out of necessity. Because there is also a romantic vision of cooperatives like the one we were just discussing.
Even within this more traditional cooperative movement, for a long time the ERT were questioned because they were not true cooperatives, they were so only out of necessity, did not share the values, etc. And in truth this sector is reviving this old cooperativism, giving it a content that had been lost, of a cooperativism which is not just about companies coexisting with capitalism with no issues whatsoever. On the contrary, they are part of the same capitalist economy with almost no contradictions.
Of course, a cooperative is not the same as a corporation, a capitalist company with a boss, but in many cases it is hard to tell them apart. In general the juridical form is called work cooperative, in the case of the ERT these are cooperatives of the workers. This is not the same as a consumption cooperative, or a credit one, or a housing one, or one that provides services, and which in turn hires workers.
RV: This self-management/worker control component is missing…
AR: Precisely. Even the non-exploitation of labour is not a cooperative principle, for example. Cooperatives will often outsource work or exploit workers just like other companies. I believe the emergence of these cooperatives, the ERT, has generated an important contradiction inside this more traditional cooperativism. It is a breath of fresh air that is bringing back an old tool, which at its inception belonged to the workers.
RV: In their struggle to survive in a capitalist market, the ERT will also be tempted to sub-contract workers, or resort to other practices of capitalist companies. Are these contradictions that need to be confronted all the time?
AR: I believe so. The ERT emerge from different kinds of workers’ struggles. Therefore, at least at the beginning, they are more or less vaccinated against the exploitation of other people. Not necessarily against their own self-exploitation, which is an equally complicated matter. Now, as time passes, the market mechanisms also influence and condition self-managed companies that emerge within capitalism, because it is not a case of a movement that is fighting capitalism and building something else. Rather, these emerge as solutions to the very problems and the lack of options that labour faces in capitalism nowadays.
Therefore, within this context there can very well be processes of bureaucratisation, or of the leaders identifying with market values such as competitiveness, efficiency, etc., and starting to see that the economic viability of the company requires certain kinds of practices. The fact that one works in a context of self-management/workers’ control does not imply that one has the conscience that this is the economic system worth promoting. It is an ongoing struggle to learn from the self-management experience and to change how we envision labour.
• First published in MR on line
• Andrés Ruggeri is an anthropologist and directs, since 2002, the Facultad Abierta programme in the School of Philosophy and Literature of the University of Buenos Aires, dedicated especially to the issue of workplaces recuperated by workers. He is the author or co-author of several works on this subject [in Spanish], including Qué Son Las Empresas Recuperadas (What are the recuperated workplaces) and Crisis y Autogestión en el Siglo XXI (Crisis and self-management in the XXI century). Ruggeri is also the director of the Autogestión magazine.
Only a focused and well co-ordinated strategy to delegitimize and bring down the Zionist regime can bring justice to Palestine. BDS has the best potential for that.
Miko Peled, an Israeli general’s son and himself a former Israeli soldier, is nowadays a noted peace activist and a tireless worker for justice in the Holy Land. He is considered to be one of the clearest voices calling for support of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against the Zionist regime and for the creation of a single democracy with equal rights on all of historic Palestine.
He will be at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool on 23-26 September. I was lucky enough to have the chance to interview him beforehand. In a week that marks the 70th anniversary of the assassination of Folke Bernadotte and the 36th anniversary of the genocidal massacre at Sabra and Shatila refugee camp, atrocities committed in pursuit of Zionist ambition, what Miko says may give those who take dictation from the Israel lobby cause to reflect.
Stuart Littlewood: Miko, you were raised in a Zionist family on a Zionist diet. What happened to cause you to break out from there?
Miko Peled: As the title of my memoir The General’s Son suggests, I was born to a father who was a general in the IDF and then, as the sub-title points out, I embarked on a “Journey of an Israeli in Palestine”. The journey defined for me, and through me will hopefully define for the reader, what is “Israel” and what is “Palestine”. It is a journey from the sphere of the privileged oppressor and occupier (Israel) to that of the oppressed (Palestine) and the people who are native to Palestine. I discovered that it is, in fact, the same country, that Israel is Palestine occupied. But without the journey I would not have figured that out. This for me was the key. It allowed me to see the injustice, the deprivation, the lack of water and rights and so on. The further I allowed, and continue to allow myself to venture into this journey the more I was able to see what Zionism really is, what Israel is, and who I am within that.
SL: Many months ago you warned that Israel was going to “pull all the stops, they are going to smear, they are going to try anything they can to stop Corbyn”, and the reason anti-Semitism is used is because they have no other argument. This has come true with Jeremy Corbyn under vicious, sustained attack even from former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks. How should Corbyn deal with it and what counter-measures would you suggest he takes?
MP: Jeremy Corbyn made it clear during last year’s Labour conference that he will not allow the anti-Semitic accusations to interfere with his work as leader of the Labour Party and as a man dedicated to creating a just society in the UK, and a just world. In that speech he said something that no Western leader would dare to say: “We must end the oppression of the Palestinian people.” He has been right on the money the whole time and his support is growing. I believe he is doing the right thing. I expect he will continue to do so.
SL: And what do you make of Sacks’ outburst?
MP: Not surprising that a racist who supports Israel would come out like this – he represents no one.
SL: The Labour Party’s ruling body, the NEC, has adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism lock, stock and barrel despite warnings from legal experts and a recommendation to include caveats by the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee. This decision is seen as caving in to outside pressure and obviously impacts on free speech which is enshrined in British law and guaranteed by international convention. How will it affect Labour’s credibility?
MP: Accepting the IHRA definition was a mistake and I am sure they will live to feel the sting of shame this has placed on those who voted to adopt it. There are at least two notices out already by the Ultra Orthodox Jewish community, which makes up at least 25% to 30% of UK Jews, that they reject the notion that JC is anti-Semitic, they reject Zionism and they reject the IHRA definition.
SL: Turning to the Occupation, you have said that Israel achieved its aim to make the conquest of the West Bank irreversible 25 years ago. Why do you think the Western Powers still cling to the idea of a Two State Solution? How do you expect the situation to play out?
MP: The US, and particularly the current administration, accepts that Israel has swallowed all of Mandatory Palestine and there is no room for non-Jews in that country. They make no claims otherwise. The Europeans are in a different situation. The politicians in Europe want to appease Israel and accept it as it is. Their constituents, however, demand justice for the Palestinians so, as an act of cowardly compromise the EU countries in true post-colonial fashion, treat the Palestinian Authority as though it was a Palestinian state. That is why, I believe, the Europeans are going ahead and “recognizing” the so-called State of Palestine, even though there is no such state. They do it in order to appease their constituents without actually doing anything to further the cause of justice in Palestine. These recognitions have helped not one Palestinian, they have not freed a single prisoner from an Israeli prison, they have not saved a single child from bombings in Gaza, they have not alleviated the suffering and deprivation of Palestinians in the Naqab desert or in the refugee camps. It is an empty, cowardly gesture.
What the Europeans ought to do is adopt BDS. They should recognize that Palestine is occupied, that Palestinians are living under an apartheid regime in their own land, they are victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide and that this must stop, and the Zionist occupation must end completely and without conditions.
I believe the State of Israel will crumble and that we will see a free democratic Palestine from the River to the Sea sooner than most people think. The current reality is unsustainable, two million people in Gaza are not going away, Israel has just announced – again – that two million of its non-Jewish citizens are not welcome to be part of that state, and BDS is hard at work.
SL: The IDF calls itself the most moral army in the world. You served in the IDF. How credible is its claim?
MP: It is a lie. There is no such thing as a moral army and the IDF has been engaged in ethnic cleansing, genocide and enforcing an apartheid regime for seven decades. In fact, the IDF is one of the best equipped, best trained, best financed and best fed terrorist forces in the world. Even though they have generals and nice uniforms and the most advanced weapons, they are no more than armed gangs of thugs and its main purpose is to terrorise and kill Palestinians. Its officers and soldiers execute with enthusiasm the policies of brutality and ruthlessness which are cruelly inflicted on Palestinians’ everyday life.
SL: Breaking the Silence is an organisation of IDF veterans committed to exposing the truth about a foreign military trying to control an oppressed civilian population under illegal occupation. They say their aim is to eventually end the occupation. How do you rate their chances of success?
MP: They and other NGOs like them could make a huge difference . Unfortunately they do not go far enough, they do not call on young Israelis to refuse to serve in the IDF, and they do not reject Zionism. Without these two elements I feel their work is superficial and will make little difference.
SL: Israelis often accuse the Palestinian education system of turning out future terrorists. How does Israel’s education compare?
MP: The Palestinian education system goes through a thorough vetting process so all claims of it teaching hate are baseless. Israel, however, does a fine job in teaching Palestinians that they are occupied and oppressed and have no choice but to resist. They do it using the military, the secret police, the apartheid bureaucracy, the countless permits and prohibitions and restrictions on their lives.
The Israeli courts teach Palestinians that there is no justice for them under the Israeli system and that they are counted as nothing. I have not met Palestinians who express hate, but if some do it is because of the education that Israel is providing, not because of any Palestinian textbook.
Israelis go through a thorough racist education that is well documented in a book by my sister, Prof. Nurit Peled-Elhanan, titled Palestine in Israeli Textbooks.
SL: Christian communities in the Holy Land have been dwindling fast. The Israelis claim the Muslims are pushing them out but Christians say it’s the cruelty of the occupation that has caused so many to leave. What is your take on this? Are the Israelis trying to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims? Is there a religious war going on to drive the Christians out?
MP: Christians used to make up 12% of the population in Palestine, now they are barely 2%. There is no one to blame for this other than Israel. Israel destroyed Palestinian Christian communities and churches just like they destroyed Muslims. To Israel Arabs are Arabs and they have no place in the Land of Israel. I strongly recommend the late Bob Simon’s excellent report on CBS 60 Minutes from 2012 titled Christians in the Holy Land. At the end he confronts the former Ambassador of Israel to Washington DC who wanted the show cancelled.
SL: Would you call yourself a religious person these days?
MP: I never was.
SL: You know Gaza. How do you rate Hamas on their potential to govern? And could honest brokers work with them towards peace?
MP: I have no way to rate Hamas one way or another. I did speak to people who worked in Gaza for many years, both Palestinians and foreigners, and their assessment was that as far as governing goes, and taking into consideration the severe conditions under which they live, they are to be commended.
SL: Some people say that the Israeli public are largely unaware of the horrors of the occupation and shielded from the truth. If true, is it beginning to change?
MP: Israelis are fully aware of the atrocities and they approve. Israelis vote, and they vote in high numbers and for seven decades they keep voting for people who send them and their children to commit these atrocities. The atrocities are committed not by foreign mercenaries but by Israeli boys and girls who for the most part serve proudly. The only thing that changed is the discourse. In the past there was a facade of a civilized discourse within Israel, and today that no longer exists. Saying that Israel must kill more and more Palestinians is a perfectly acceptably statement today. In the past people were somewhat embarrassed to admit they thought that way.
SL: Israel has carried out a succession of armed assaults in international waters on humanitarian aid boats taking urgent medical and other non-military supplies to the beleaguered people of Gaza. Crew and passengers are routinely beaten up and thrown in jail, and some killed. Should the organizers now give up, or re-double their efforts using different tactics?
MP: The Gaza flotillas are certainly commendable but if the goal is to reach the shores of Gaza they are doomed to fail. Their value is only in the fact that they are an expression of solidarity and one has to wonder if the time and effort and risk and expense justify the result. Israel will make sure no one gets through and the world pays them little attention. In my opinion the flotillas are not the best form of action. No single issue in the ongoing tragedy in Palestine can be resolved on its own. Not the siege on Gaza, not the political prisoners, not the water issue and not the racist laws, etc. Only a focused and well co-ordinated strategy to delegitimize and bring down the Zionist regime can bring justice to Palestine. BDS has the best potential for that but it is not being utilized enough and too much time is wasted on arguing its merits.
Certainly one of the weaknesses on the part of those who care to see justice in Palestine is that anyone with an idea just “goes for it.” There is little co-ordination and hardly any strategy to the very crucial question of how to free Palestine. Israel has succeeded in creating a sense of helplessness on this side and in legitimizing itself and Zionism in general, and that is a serious challenge.
SL: This week was the 70th anniversary of the murder of Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte by a Zionist hit-squad while serving as UN Security Council mediator in the Arab–Israeli conflict. Everyone is keeping strangely quiet about this, even the Swedes.
MP: This was one in a series of many political assassinations perpetrated by Zionist terrorists gangs in which no-one was held accountable. The first was in 1924 when they assassinated Yaakov Dehan. Then in 1933 they assassinated Chaim Arlozorov. The 1946 massacre at the King David Hotel was, of course, politically motivated and caused close to one hundred deaths, most of them innocent people who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Then in September 1948 the assassination in Jerusalem of UN intermediary and member of the Swedish royal family, Folke Bernadotte, who apparently came with plans to end the violence in Palestine, plans that the Zionist establishment did not find acceptable. Bernadotte is buried in a humble family grave in Stockholm, there are no memorial services planned that I know of or any mention of this anniversary by any official Swedish organization. My grandfather was Israel’s first ambassador to Sweden. This was shortly after the assassination and he did a fine job making sure that the Swedish government would keep the issue quiet.
There were many, many more assassinations and massacres – the attack on the USS Liberty comes to mind as well as the part played by the brutality of the Zionist apparatus that sees killing as a legitimate tool for accomplishing its political goals. Little is known or recalled about these brutal killings. Countless Palestinian leaders, writers, poets, etc., were assassinated by Israel.
SL: A lot of hope is pinned on BDS by Palestine solidarity. How effective is BDS and how best can civil society turn up the pressure?
MP: BDS is a very effective but slow process. It won’t work through magic or Divine intervention. People need to embrace it fully, work hard, demand the expulsion of all Israeli diplomats and total isolation of Israel. There is too much tolerance for those who promote Zionism and promote Israel and the Israeli army and that needs to change. Elected officials need to be forced to accept BDS entirely. The Palestine solidarity groups need to move from solidarity to full resistance, and BDS is the perfect form of resistance available.
SL: Are there any other key issues that you’re confronting right now?
MP: Moving from solidarity to resistance is, in my opinion, key at this point. Using the tools we have, like BDS, is crucial. The passing of the Israeli Nation State Law is an opportunity to unite the Palestinian citizens of Israel back with the rest of the Palestinians. We should all strive to bring total unity between the refugees, the West Bank, Gaza and 1948, and demand complete equal rights and the replacing of the Zionist regime that has been terrorizing Palestine for seven decades with a free and democratic Palestine. This opportunity will hopefully be seized.
SL: Finally, Miko, how are your two books doing – ‘The General’s Son’ and ‘Injustice: The Story of The Holy Land Foundation Five’? It seems to me that the latter, which tells how the justice system in the US has been undermined to benefit pro-Israel interests, ought to be a must-read here in the UK where the same thing is happening in our political and parliamentary institutions and could spread to the courts.
MP: Well, they are doing fine, though neither one is a best seller yet, and as we are on the less popular side of the issue it is a tough sell. TGS is out in second edition so that is good, and I would certainly like to see it and Injustice in the hands of more people. Sadly, though, not enough people realize how the occupation in Palestine is affecting the lives of people in the West because of the work of Zionist watchdog groups like the Board of Deputies in the UK, and AIPAC and the ADL in the US.
In this case alone, five innocent men are serving long sentences in federal prison in the US only because they are Palestinians.
SL: Many thanks, Miko. I appreciate your taking the time to share your views.
Chief among the many positive ideas I get from this encounter with Miko is the need for activists to shift up a gear and accelerate from solidarity to full-on resistance. This will mean wider involvement, better co-ordination, revised targeting and sharper strategy. In effect, a BDS Mk2, supercharged and on high octane fuel. Secondly, we ought to treat Zionism and those who promote or support it with far less tolerance. As Miko said on another occasion, “If opposing Israel is anti-Semitism then what do you call supporting a state that has been engaged in brutal ethnic cleansing for seven decades?”
As for Jeremy Corbyn – if he reads this – yes, he’d better come down hard on hatemongers including the real foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Semites, but he must also purge the Labour Party of its equally contemptible ‘Zionist Tendency’. And that goes for all our political parties.
PressTV Interview – Transcript
New Trade Sanctions by the US in the form of tariffs on US$ 200 billion Chinese exports to the US – China in a tit-for-tat move imposed new tariffs on 60 billion of US goods to China
China’s prime minister speaks out about the rise of unilateralism, saying the approach to trade will not solve any problems.
Li Keqiang made the comment at the World Economic Forum in the Chinese city of Tianjin. He said multilateralism should be upheld and the basic principle of free trade should be maintained. The Chinese premier said the trend of globalization is unstoppable, even though there are flaws in the process. Li’s comments come amid heightened trade tensions between China and the United States. Beijing imposed tariffs on 60 more billion dollars-worth of American imports in a tit-for-tat response to Washington’s levies on 200-billion dollars of Chinese goods.
PressTV: What is your take on this?
Peter Koenig: These are indeed “trade sanctions”. US-imposed trade sanctions.
Of course, the Chinese are right. In a world that strives for free trade – unilateralism as demonstrated by the Trump Administration’s-imposed tariffs – is working in the opposite direction.
Two comments, if I may:
First, personally, I have been doubting from the beginning that globalization — and especially globalization in terms of “free trade” — is a good thing. There is nothing FREE.
Free trade among equals is one thing, but “free trade” American style, where they call the shots is, of course, not what is intended. The weaker always suffers, and I am not referring to China. China doesn’t really suffer, they dominate the entire Asian market, having overtaken the US in Asia about three years ago, but I’m talking in general about developing countries that have to accept highly subsidized US and EU goods in order to stay within these “free trade deals”.
And we see that the west cannot be trusted; i.e., President Trump. He is making his own rules. Therefore, free trade and the related globalization is in my opinion not a good thing. It has hurt too many people of mostly poor countries over the past 30-some years, when neoliberalism started driving the agenda of “globalized free trade”.
Trading among friendly nations, nations that share the same objective, the same political and economic ideology, would be a much preferable alternative. There, nobody can bully another nation into accept his conditions.
This is something we may want to move back to — trading among friendly and culturally aligned nations, where trading is a win-win for both parties.
The second point I wanted to make is maybe more important: These tariff impositions have nothing really to do with trade. The Chinese know it and the US Administration knows it.
They, the tariffs, have everything to do with pulling down, weakening the Yuan, the very strong Chinese Yuan, and by doing so, the Chinese economy. The Yuan is an officially declared reserve currency recognized by the IMF and is fast replacing the dollar as the key reserve currency in the world.
That is what Washington is afraid of — and rightly so. Once the dollar ceases being the main reserve currency, the demand for the dollar will decline, and the hegemonic role for the dollar is gone – which may mean the collapse of the dollar-empire — and in the end the end of the empire altogether.
Already the biggest hydrocarbon producers and consumers in the world, China, Russia, Venezuela and Iran are no longer using the dollar for their trade deals, but local currencies or the gold-convertible Chinese Yuan.
So, the end of the dollar hegemony is coming sooner or later, but Washington wants to delay it as long as possible, hoping for a miracle, or actually even preparing for a military intervention to save the dollar.
I was just listening to Dennis Bernstein’s Flashpoints, a news and analysis interview program airing every weekday from 5 to 6 PM on Pacifica Radio’s KPFA. Dennis’ guests were three political analysts and academics talking about the Korea summit, including the politics and history of US-Korea relations. South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s political background came up. Tim Beal remarked, “[It’s] as if Dennis Kucinich had become president of the United States.” K. J. Noh countered, “No, it’s as if William Kunstler or Lynne Stewart had become president.” Noh detailed President Moon’s background as a political prisoner, torture victim under the US-backed Park Chung-hee dictatorship, and brilliant people’s lawyer.
This depth is typical of KPFA’s flagship commute hour radio program. Dennis Bernstein is perhaps the most perceptive interviewer on radio. He never asks any but the most relevant questions, has astonishing recall of political and historical events, and always guides, but never hinders, his guests in giving their take on the issues in their own way. He is also a widely published investigative journalist and poet, and the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2015 Pillar Award from the National Whistleblower’s Conference, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters Gold Reel Award and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Reporting Award. In 2009, Pulse Media dubbed him one of the “20 Top Global Media Figures” of the year.
Now we have the gift of Dennis’s fascinating interviews in this generous collection — Follow the Money: Radio Voices for Peace and Justice (2018, Left Coast Press) — spanning the years of the Obama administration. Bernstein’s editor is Riva Enteen, a San Francisco Bay Area activist and organizer, who comes to the work with a law degree and a decade of experience as past program director of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
The book boasts a foreword by famed journalist, author and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, who expresses special gratitude for the volume because in prison he cannot listen to Flashpoints: “So, the stirring, soul-touching and moving interviews with Dennis and his guests are lost to us. That is until Follow the Money.” (Hear Mumia read the foreword.) In her brief editor’s introduction, Riva aptly suggests that the volume’s 66 interviews done in the seven years preceding the 2016 US presidential election “provide the writing on the wall for the toxic stew we now live in.” The book is dedicated to “the late, great Robert Parry, founder of ConsortiumNews.com, home of many Flashpoints interviews, which continues his tradition of true, courageous investigative journalism.” The book’s very last page reprints Marge Piercy’s celebrated poem, To be of use, which shares the spirit of activism in which the book is offered.
The interviews are grouped into nine broad themes, such as “The Class War,” “Domestic Dissent” and “Global Militarism and Empire.” The interviewees include many of today’s most important journalists and academics on the Left. Their voices are invariably eloquent, insightful, and informative, as these excerpts show:
Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, Partnership for Civil Justice: The Tea Party was having rallies across the US where they were openly carrying weapons. [Some rallies were] outside where the President of the US was speaking, but what does the FBI do? They are going after the non-violent, peaceful Occupy Movement.
Shahid Buttar, First Amendment Coalition: [T]he Obama administration is already our nation’s far-and-away most aggressive anti-press administration. More national security whistleblowers faced prosecution in the last five years than in the entire preceding 225-year history of the Republic.
Birgitta Jonsdottir, member, Icelandic Parliament: I wept. I wept many times over this video. It is painful not only to see the war crimes that happen in this video. … They had kids in their car and they were killed, slaughtered. It was a murder of innocent people who were trying to do a decent thing, by saving somebody who was dying, and the way the soldiers spoke about it was horrifying. Dennis: There was almost a gleeful hysteria. Birgitta: It was “Look at the dead bastards. Line them up, nice. It’s their fault to bring their kids to war.” Who brought the war to Iraq? It certainly wasn’t these people — it was from a country far, far away.
Vernellia Randall, retired professor: Of all the churches [Dylan Roof] could have picked in that town, he picked the church that was celebrating its 193-year anniversary. That’s a church standing since slavery, with membership since slavery. One of the co-founders of the church was hung, murdered by the system, for supposedly organizing a slave revolt.
Martin Espada, poet: “How to Read Ezra Pound” / At the poets’ panel, / after an hour of poets / debating Ezra Pound, / Abe the Lincoln veteran, / remembering / the Spanish Civil War, / raised his hand and said: / “If I knew / that a fascist / was a great poet, / I’d shoot him / anyway.”
Adrienne Pine, anthropologist: To understand why not only the [Honduran] homicide rate, but also the rate of many other forms of violence is so high, is to understand the coup that happened in 2009, a coup that was carried out by military forces trained at the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. … Every Honduran I know has been violently assaulted at one point or another — with a gun. It’s happened in front of me on several occasions. … A month ago I walked by a man who had been killed in a targeted assassination ten minutes earlier, and was lying there on the ground.
Laura Flanders, niece of Alexander Cockburn: [Cockburn] would cause you to stop and think, “Am I accepting drivel today that I would have rejected five years ago?”… “Yes,” because there’s been such an uninterrupted flow of it … Alexander was inspired by [his journalist father] Claud’s courage and extraordinary freshness of voice. Claud loved to tell the story of interviewing Al Capone for the London Times, only to have the story never appear in print — because the gangster’s views on American capitalism were so indistinguishable from Wall Street and the paper’s editorial page … [I]n 1973, shortly after the CIA backed coup in Chile, most of the press, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, wrote that it should be assumed that the US had played no role. Alexander wrote, “In the absence of evidence, it might seem journalistically more responsible to assume there was American involvement.” Given the coups in Guatemala and Guyana, “There seems little reason,” he wrote, “to wait for Kissinger’s memoirs or a Congressional hearing in 1984 to get the full story.”
Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, fired EPA whistleblower: Sacrifice zones are essentially primarily African American, Hispanic communities, and low-income white communities … Flint, Michigan, used to be an area where many African Americans moved to who were escaping from state-sponsored violence in the South, from the Ku Klux Klan, the White Knights, and all the organizations that were dedicated to killing black people in the early 1920s, 30s, 40s. … They went to Flint seeking economic value, jobs in the auto industry … Lead poisoning is irreversible. It’s an inter-generational poisoning. So the children of the fetuses who have been poisoned through their mother’s womb — their grandchildren will most likely be lead poisoned.
Robert Parry, investigative journalist: Dennis: Robert, it looks like the US has entered what you call “the second Cold War.” … Barack Obama is leading the charge. He is a Cold War warrior. Robert: … Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, led the charge in supporting the coup in Ukraine in early 2014. Dennis: Most people don’t know that occurred. Was there a coup? Robert: Of course there was. There was an armed uprising that involved some very far right neo-Nazi militias … Very quickly, despite the unconstitutional change of power, the United States and European Union recognized this as legitimate. … [It is a] Cuban missile crisis in reverse. This time we’re the ones pushing our military forces onto the Russian border, rather than the Russians putting missiles onto a place like Cuba.
The book’s interviews can be dipped into at random or devoured all at once. Anyone engaged by the world will find this book eye-opening, and a keeper.
Author’s Note: You can avoid Amazon and buy the book at a 20% discount through Lulu Press. Also available at Barnes & Noble.
A couple of months ago I did an interview with one of the foremost scholars of rabbinical Judaism, Michael Hoffman. The occasion was the release of his latest book The Occult Renaissance Church of Rome. At the time I did not expect to have to ask for a follow-up interview with him, but when I learned that Amazon had censored his books (please see Hoffman’s own account of this here). Specifically, the ban is on three of his books. A complete ban (Kindle + printed book) on Judaism’s Strange Gods: Revised and Expanded, as well as The Great Holocaust Trial: Revised and Expanded, while his textbook, Judaism Discovered, has been removed from the Kindle. I felt that I had to talk to him again and he kindly agreed to reply to my questions. I submit to you the full text of our Q&A which I will follow-up with a short commentary.
The Saker: Please summarize what happened to your books and Amazon and tells us what specific explanations were given to you. Did Amazon ever offer you a “page and paragraph” list of “offending” passages? Do you have any means of knowing exactly what your book is being banned for?
Hoffman: Whether it is Facebook, Google or Amazon, the excuse most often cited for suppression is “content guidelines’ violation.” Amazon notified us on August 13 that two of our titles, which they have been selling for years and in thousands of copies, Judaism Discovered, our 1100 page textbook published in 2008, and Judaism’s Strange Gods: Revised and Expanded, published in 2010 — were being permanently removed after “review” by the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) unit of Amazon. A facsimile of the KDP notice can be viewed here.
In their e-mail they told us that “…we found that this content is in violation of content guidelines.” In studying their content guidelines one encounters a vague, generic statement about not permitting that which is “offensive.” There is no guidance as to what “offense” has suddenly arisen after these books were sold on Amazon for several years. Like the Red Queen in Wonderland who declared to Alice that, “A word is anything I say it is!” — that which “offends” is anything Amazon says it is. A third book, The Great Holocaust Trial: The Landmark Battle for the Right to Doubt the West’s Most Sacred Relic, was also forbidden.
Does Amazon have the chutzpah to publicly categorize these books as “hate speech” or some other alibi for censorship that could be contested? No, they do not. They leave authors and publishers twisting in the wind, making it more difficult to appeal the decision and report to the public on the tyranny. Although since they allow no appeal, it’s a moot point. Personally, I have no doubt concerning why my books were censored.
The Saker: What is, in your opinion, the true intent behind the ban on the sales of your book? What is Amazon’s interest in this?
Hoffman: I don’t believe Amazon has much interest in this. It is more likely that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is the interested party. Last August 7 the New York Times online published a revealing piece by David French in which he wrote: “We live in a world where the Southern Poverty Law Center, a formerly respected civil-rights organization, abuses its past trust to label a host of mainstream organizations (including my former employer, the Alliance Defending Freedom) and individuals as ‘hate groups,…based sometimes on…outright misreadings and misrepresentations of an individual’s beliefs and views…Amazon recently booted Alliance Defending Freedom from its AmazonSmile charity program because of the center’s designation.”
At around the time in 2017 that the SPLC was trying to interfere with the business operations of people such as myself, by intimidating banks and credit card processors into refusing to process payments for books, Paypal notified us that due to the contents of our website (www.RevisionistHistory.org) we were an embarrassment to their brand and they were terminating our account. As long as Paypal was owned by libertarians, all was well and we had a high customer satisfaction rating for our integrity and dependability. The original Paypal mainly cared about whether you were a responsible seller. A politicized administration eventually took over Paypal and in 2017 we were terminated, very likely on the “advice” of the SPLC.
To return to Amazon, CEO Jeff Bezos founded it in 1994. It was very much a libertarian book operation from the start. From 1994 until a year or two ago, Amazon only refused to sell hard core pornography and books that constituted direct appeals to violence or law-breaking, which is how it should be. Every other type of book was sold, without censorship, which is one reason for Amazon’s early success and increasing market share. Then last year, after Mr. Bezos had reached the status of one of the world’s wealthiest persons, and Amazon’s total value was beginning to approach that of Apple and Google, Amazon staged a huge purge and eliminated more than a hundred World War II revisionist history books published by Germar Rudolf’s CODOH organization (books smeared as “Holocaust denial”). This year it was my turn. Next year it might be any author not part of the university press syndicates or the major houses. Such is the heedless power and immunity of Amazon.
It’s important to note that the thought police who removed three of my books were based in the digital division of Amazon, where the electronic Kindle books are marketed and managed. A Kindle permits anyone connected to the Amazon website to read approximately the first thirty pages of any Kindle book free of charge. Consequently, my Judaica scholarship was on display around the world and therefore it was much harder to lie about me and mischaracterize my Talmud and Kabbalah research under those circumstances.
We were also beginning to sell ever increasing numbers of these Kindle books to people in Asia, particularly India and Japan. It’s my hunch that Big Brother is not half so worried about printed books as the digital kind. Removing the three books from the Kindle was the primary objective.
To be banned by Amazon is not equivalent to being banned by any other private business. Most publishers will admit that Amazon has replaced Bowker Books in Print as the industry’s authoritative guide to what books in English have been printed in the past and what is in print now. Amazon is currently the reference source. For a book to be forbidden by Amazon renders it largely invisible. It is equivalent to burning the book. So this is not a matter of Amazon exercising the prerogative of private enterprise. Amazon is a monopoly. It has no rival. If your book doesn’t exist on Amazon, then for most people who are not research specialists, your book doesn’t exist. The consequences for the pursuit of knowledge are ominous.
There is a problem here for Amazon as well. The more Amazon excludes books that embody facts and ideas that constitute radical dissent, the more it becomes a narrow censor’s aperture rather than a reliable bridge to the entire range of the Republic of Letters.
Apologists for censorship of radicals and authentic conservatives often claim that no First Amendment rights are violated when Amazon bans books, therefore it is not a civil rights issue, merely an inconvenience of the capitalist system. In the 1950s however, when the privately-owned movie studios banned certain directors, actors and screen-writers judged to be Leftists or Communists, that action on the part of private enterprise was inscribed in the rolls of the culture wars as the infamous “Blacklist,” and we are still reading and weeping over it sixty-five years later. So it depends on whose ox is being gored.
My Judaica studies are free of “Jew hate,” as anyone who peruses the sections in both books titled “To the Judaic Reader” knows. There we state that the books are dedicated to pidyon shevyuim (redemption of the captive), i.e. rescuing those Judaic persons who are in bondage to the Talmud and the Kabbalah.
Our enemies easily turn to their advantage books containing hatred of “The Jews.” What they absolutely have no credible answer to is a critique predicated, as our books are, on a sincere foundation of true Christian love. Boundary-breaking scholarship united to compassionate concern for the welfare of Judaic people is almost unprecedented in this field. This approach makes my studies of Judaism among the most powerful and effective because they are free of the “hate speech” which is the pivot upon which turns the machinery of liberal-approved censorship. For that reason, making Judaism’s Strange Gods: Revised and Expanded, and Judaism Discovered available on the Kindle undercut decades of hatred and libel. Therefore those volumes had to be suppressed.
The Saker: Since this ban was put in place – what reactions have you heard? who has spoken in defense of your scholarship and right to be heard? has anybody taken your defense or spoken up for you?
Hoffman: Ron Unz allowed me to publish a note on the ban at unz.com and you, the Saker, have taken an interest. Our many friends, readers and subscribers have expressed outrage on Twitter and in e-mail. Meanwhile we have contacted everyone from a columnist for Taki’s website to the legacy media, to no discernible effect thus far. The Washington Post, which is owned by Mr. Bezos, has as its motto, “Democracy dies in darkness.” Yet it is in that very darkness where Amazon’s book-banning dwells, due to the apathy of the media and the American Library Association. To ban books by a vulnerable independent scholar is not exactly a daring move in this age where “hate speech” is anything that offends someone’s cherished myth. The definition is so loose it functions as an inquisitor’s sword.
On the positive side, we have seen an uptick in orders to our own online store for the printed books which Amazon has banned [https://truthfulhistory.blogspot.com/2016/02/judaica-books-and-resources.html]. There is no replacement for the banned Kindle editions, however.
The Saker: What do you believe could be done to resist this state of affairs? what can we all do to put a stop to this kind of censorship?
Hoffman: In a general, the supporters of the lies of the Overlords wage spiritual and psychological warfare with far more dedication, commitment and self-sacrifice than the purported allies of God’s truth. The Cryptocracy’s defenders are 24/7 militants resolved to contend with their perceived foes with every ounce of their being. Whereas on the side of Christian conservative renewal, with honorable exceptions, I find mainly armchair warriors and folks so enormously distracted by the choices offered by the Internet’s deluge of words and images, that they are nearly paralyzed by the spectacle.
Compare the reception Judge Kavanaugh received in the Senate hearings with that of recent Supreme Court nominees Kagan and Ginsburg. The Republicans were too cowed to seriously confront those ladies. Maintaining decorum was the chief concern of the timid GOP at the time, while Kavanaugh faced a near riot in the visitor’s gallery and extremes of withering interrogation and contempt from defiant Democratic senators.
When CODOH’s books were banned we reported the case extensively online and in our printed newsletter. We contacted an executive with the American Library Association to elicit his response and express our outrage. We did what we could even though we have almost no relationship with CODOH. We would do the same for any person of good will who is denied the right to advance human learning with suppressed facts and ideas. This was formerly a truism in America, up until the rise of the punks of social media who seem to be more like a branch of Antifa than an intellectual class invested in discovery and enlightenment.
Advances in human knowledge are achieved on the basis that “error has rights,” for the reason that enshrined dogmas are often wrong and demonized dissidents are sometimes the bearers of rare discoveries. But the epigram of our time is “Error has no rights,” which was the doctrine of the fiery Inquisition, of the head-chopping French Revolution and of the Bolsheviks and Maoists. If error has no rights then neither does truth, in that what is denounced as hateful error by the mob is sometimes a destabilizing, necessary and even cosmic truth.
Reading Hoffman’s words I thought that what happened to him is so typical of the Orwellian world we live in where the what I call the “Skripal rules of evidence” (aka “highly likely”) have replaced even basic evidentiary notions, a world in which false flag attacks are announced weeks in advance, a world in which the Planetary Hegemon has declared urbi et orbi that nothing in the body of international law applies to the “indispensable nation” (or to the parasitic host feeding off it) and where “might makes right” has become the motto by which everybody lives. Of course, the censorship of a book cannot be compared to the initiation of a war of aggression (which is the “supreme international crime” under international law: this was the conclusion of the Nuremberg Trial on this topic: To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole). Still, there is something uniquely devious and evil about the censorship of Hoffman’s books by Amazon, several things in fact:
- What is attacked in not a person or even a group, but ideas, arguably the most precious attribute of mankind. This is therefore not only an attack on a human being, but an attack on the very notion of humanity as such
- While the method is different, the intention here is no different from the book burnings of the Nazis or the Papacy except that in these latter cases it was obvious who ordered the burning of putatively “degenerate” or “heretical” books. Thus the ideological motive of the Nazis and Papists was always clear whereas in the case of Hoffman this ideological motive is hidden (even if obvious with anybody with a modicum of intelligence).
- The ultimate hypocrisy lies in the fact that most so-called libertarians (from the Left to the Right) have nothing to say about this because this is not a case of censorship by government but the action of a corporation which has the “right” to do as it wishes, nevermind that the result is still a clear de-facto infringement of Hoffman’s First Amendment rights and the freedom of academic scholarship.
- The US government and Congress, by allowing monopolistic corporations such as Amazon to have that kind of power are basically engaging in what I would call “censorship by proxy” which is to be expected from a deep state which now does almost everything by proxy in order to bypass fundamental US and international laws (“extraordinary renditions” anybody?).
- Unlike the government which does have to produce at least some evidence before it can censor an individual or organization, a US corporation does not even have to justify itself by a single word. This is viewed as a triumph of deregulation by mindless libertarians who would gladly surrender all their freedoms as long as it is not to the state. In the real world, of course, they still end up handing over their freedoms to the state, except that the state is hiding behind their beloved corporations.
It is also pretty obvious that those who might, at least in theory, have something to say about this kind of censorship by proxy remain silent because, at least according to them, Hoffman is an “anti-Semite” (which, having read many of his books, I can attest is a total falsehood; by way of evidence here are sample pages from his book:
and thus he is undeserving of support. So-called “anti-Semites” are, along with the pedophiles, the “consensus villains” of the day (I explain that in detail here) but what the anti-anti-Semites fail to realize is that each time a “consensus villain” is deprived from his rights, this sets a precedent for everybody else. This is why Yehuda Bauer warned us when he wrote: “Thou shalt not be a victim, Thou shalt not be a perpetrator, And above all, Thou shalt not be a bystander”. To no avail, alas: we live in society of silent bystanders apparently! And when YouTube decides to silence all the Syrian state channels to better prepare for a false flag chemical attack, everybody looks away – “ain’t my problem”…
We all know that in Europe (and in Russia) you can be jailed and your books banned if a court finds them to be “revisionist” or “anti-Semitic” or “hateful” and the like. But at least in Europe (and in Russia), you get your day in court and you can defend yourself against accusations which the state has to prove. In Russia, just last week, a man accused of “rehabilitating National-Socialism” (for reprinting an article by another author!) was found non guilty by a majority of jurors (5 to 3) (the punishment he was facing was a fine and several years in jail). Thank God, in the “home of the brave” no such thing could happen, right?!
True, Hoffman does not risk jail (yet!). But in terms of crushing crimethink, I submit that the US system is much more effective because it allows the deep state to hide behind the veil of corporate malfeasance. There have been plenty of revolutions against a state, but I don’t know of any revolutions against the corporate dictatorship.
You tell me: which is worse, the absence of freedom or the illusion of freedom?
Personally, I find the latter much worse.
I never expected the corporate presstitutes to really care about our freedoms, ditto for the libertarians and the progressive Left. They are all too busy with their narrow ideological agenda. As for the US academic world, it has shown its true face when it allowed the persecution of Professor Norman Finkenstein. But I have to say that I am shocked by the fact that the blogosphere and the so-called “alternative media” has remained so silent in the face of such a blatant censorship by proxy by the deep state against one of the foremost US historians.
- This article was originally published by UNZ Review
Transcript: PressTV Skype Interview with Peter Koenig
31 August 2018
U-S President, Donald Trump, has threatened to withdraw from the World Trade Organization.
Trump, in an interview with Bloomberg News, said he will pull out from the organization if it “does not shape up”. The U-S president warned that he could even take action against the WTO. Trump has complained that the US is being treated unfairly in global trade and has blamed the World Trade Organization for allowing it to happen. Regarding tariffs, Trump said he will enact import duties on 200-billion dollars-worth of Chinese goods as early as next week. Following his remarks, Asian stock markets dropped and partially erased gains made in this week’s global rally. Trump has ignited a global trade war by slapping sharp tariffs on goods from the EU, Canada, Mexico, and China.
PressTV: What is your take on this?
Peter Koenig: Well, it looks like this latest threat to exit WTO goes into the same direction as his trade war with the EU and with China, and also with the new NAFTA Agreement – which so far was negotiated only with Mexico and does not include Canada; it eventually would have another name.
The new trade agreement with Mexico was negotiated like all trade agreements with the US, behind closed doors. Canada was invited to also join, but as far as I know, no decision has been taken yet. At the outset it looks like the new “draft” agreement with Mexico is worse than the original – with all the rights and benefits going to big US corporations.
In the case of Mexico, it is really only a “draft”; nothing has been accepted yet. It will be subject to Mexican approval once the new President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador is sworn-in in December 2018.
What Trump is doing – or attempting to do – with tariffs and with sanctions is dividing the world, breaking up alliances; i.e.. trade alliances in the case of WTO. It’s the old rule: “Divide to Conquer” – and conquer in this case means that when alliances like WTO, in the creation of which – by the way – the US and the EU were instrumental, are broken up, the US will engage in bilateral agreements with individual nations, like in the case of the “new NAFTA”, negotiating with Mexico alone, dictating her terms to weaker nations. If Canada will be ready again for a NAFTA-like agreement, the process will be similar, with Washington in the driver’s seat.
What transpires from these negotiations, or tariff impositions – like China and the EU, or even the reneging of the Iran Nuclear Deal – is Make America Great Again, meaning really American Corporatism, not the people.
New bilateral trade deals will continue to allow bilateral outsourcing to cheap labor countries, for example, between the US and Mexico, and the export of highly subsidized US goods. In the case of agriculture, NAFTA killed hundreds of thousands of small farming businesses in Mexico which was one of the key reasons for the massive increase of illegal migration to the US.
This will hardly be different in a new agreement. That’s why nothing is done yet. The progressive new President, López Obrador, may not easily submit to a flagrant one-sided agreement.
The case of tariffs on China for 200 billion worth of merchandise – has a different purpose, namely, to degrade the value of the Chinese currency, the Yuan, which is emerging rapidly as one of the world’s foremost reserve currencies, to the detriment of the US dollar. The Trump move is meant to discourage countries to adopt the Yuan among their reserve currencies. Some success was indeed registered by Trump’s announcement – the Asian markets dropped drastically wiping out much of the gains made during last week’s rally. This, however, will be short-lived, as investors realize the hot air behind the threat and that these tariffs will really make hardly a dent in China’s economy which is dominating the Asian market and doesn’t really depend on exports to the US.
If the US would indeed exit WTO – which is by no means sure, since Trump likes to play god, threatening, fearmongering – and then negotiate under conditions of intimidation and coercion – so, if the US would actually get out of WTO, they – the US – might set themselves up as sort of a competitor to WTO, negotiating individual bilateral deals with nations, especially weaker ones. They would no longer be under the oversight of WTO – and as with the International Court of Justice – to which the US does not belong – complaining would be meaningless.
But we are not there yet.
Sputnik Radio Interview
by Anastasia Romadina
Transcript of a Sputnik Live Radio Interview with Peter Koenig
28 August 2018
The German newspaper “Die Welt” announced that Russia actively seeks to get rid of dependency on the US dollar by purchasing gold and selling the bulk of the Moscow-owned US Treasury bonds.
According to political advisor and author James Rickards, cited by the newspaper, the Russian government pursues “a strategic plan” aimed at protecting the country from “dollar sanctions” by building up Russia’s gold reserves.
Sputnik Radio: The author of the article for “Die Welt” called gold ‘a perfect investment’ for Russia in the face of US sanctions. How much does this assessment correspond to reality? If it is true, why?
Peter Koenig: Yes, Mr. Zschäpitz, from the German “Die Welt“, quoting James Rickards, makes some good points.
The fact that Russia is stocking up on gold is not new. They have been doing this for years, especially during Mr. Putin’s leadership and more so since the imposition of the totally illegal sanctions that are based on falsehood and fabricated reasons in the first place – and continue on fabricated reasons, mostly by the US and the UK.
And to add injury to insult, the Swiss bank Crédit Swiss has just frozen roughly 5 billion dollars of money linked to Russia to avoid falling out of favors with Washington and risking sanctions. This is, of course, further increasing pressure on Moscow to de-dollarize as quickly as possible. Washington must know, of course, what these “sanctions” do. They are talking to Russian Atlantists – or Fifth Columnists – of whom there are still too many in Russia. And the sanctions against Russia are also propaganda-speak “we still command the world”.
These sanctions call for de-dollarization – which is already happening, and this on a rapidly increasing scale, as Mr. Zschäpitz points out. At the same time as Russia is buying gold, Russian dollar reserves have been reduced drastically over the past years.
They were replaced by gold and the Chinese Yuan – since about two years the Yuan has been an officially recognized reserve currency by the IMF. The accumulation of gold has made Russia the world’s fifth largest gold owner. They have increased their gold holdings from less than 500 tons in 2008 to almost 2000 tons in July 2018, including the latest purchase of 26 tons in July 2018.
The Russian Ruble today is covered twice by the value of gold. The ruble is no fiat currency like the dollar-based western monetary system, including the euro. The ruble is a solid currency, despite contrary western propaganda. When the western media demonizes the Russian currency as having lost 50% of its value due to sanctions it is a manipulated half-truth. The 50% loss of value as compared to what? Compared to the US dollar and other western currencies? With a western de-linked economy a 50% devaluation, or any devaluation, is irrelevant.
Being decoupled from the dollar, Russia will no longer be vulnerable to western sanctions and no longer needs the western economy which is already almost the case today. Russia has embarked on an effective “Economy of Resistance”.
As President Putin pointed out already years ago, the sanctions are the best thing that happened to Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. They forced Russia to rehabilitate and boost her agricultural production for food self-sufficiency, and likewise with the industrial sector. Today Russia is not only food-autonomous, but is by far the world’s largest wheat exporter; and Russia has developed a cutting-edge industrial park, no longer dependent on ‘sanctioned’ imports from the west.
And take this – as Mr. Putin pointed out, Russia will be supplying the world exclusively with organic food!
All of this confirms that investing in gold as a reserve currency and in Yuan is a move away from the western dollar economy and towards economic sovereignty. Besides, Russia has had for years a Yuan-Ruble swap agreement with the Central Bank of China, a sign of close economic and trade relations.
By the way, China has also been on a gold-buying spree for years. The Chinese Yuan is also covered by gold, plus by a solid national economy. Therefore, sanctions or ‘Trump’s tariff war’ have also only limited effect on China, if any. They serve more western anti-Yuan propaganda, alleging that tariffs and sanctions may weaken the yuan, thereby discouraging countries to buy yuans for their reserve coffers. It is a fact that the Yuan is rapidly replacing the dollar as a reserve currency.
Besides, both Russia and China are part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – the so-called SCO – and along with 6 other countries the SCO encompasses already close to 50% of the world population and controls about a third of the globes GDP. Dependence on the west is no longer necessary.
SR: The author also speaks about the growing importance of gold. What effect could its increased role have in the international financial system?
PK: It is half-secretly speculated that as a last-ditch effort to save the dollar, the US may return to some kind of a gold standard, thereby massively devaluating the dollar – and the US international debt – all those dollars currently still in many countries’ treasuries as reserves.
Having alternatives to dollars in a country’s reserve coffers, like gold and yuans, is, of course, a great defense mechanism. On the other hand, if such a move back to a kind of gold-standard by Washington, introduced by the FED and the US Treasury-controlled IMF, would take place, it would most likely boost the market value of gold, a good thing for those who have converted their reserves into gold.
Those who would suffer from such a move are as always, the poor countries, those that are highly indebted by IMF and World Bank loans, and may now be asked to pay back their debt in gold-convertible dollars.
SR: What will happen to the dominance of dollar? What impact could it have on the US position on the world arena?
PK: It would most likely accelerate the fall of the dollar, meaning the end of the US-dollar hegemony. It would probably also trigger the fall of the US economy which depends so much on the dollar hegemony, on being able to pressure countries into their following by ‘sanctions’.
I’m not a believer in gold as a sustainable ‘currency-alike’ in the long-run because gold is also vulnerable to high-stakes manipulation and speculation. I more believe in a country’s economy as the true backing of a country’s currency. This is already happening in China, where the currency in circulation is backed by its strong economy. It may be soon, or is already, the case in Russia.
The use of gold, in my view, is but a temporary measure, and will last as long as the world still believes in the godly and historic and ancient powers of this precious metal. Today only about 10% of the available gold is for industrial use, the rest is “reserve money” and for pure speculation. If the world discovers that there is about 100 times more paper gold – gold derivatives – in circulation than physical gold, this miracle perception of gold may disappear. If all the derivative-paper gold would be cashed in at once, guess what would happen?
So, gold is good for now, but a temporary solution, in the longer run to be replaced by the actual strength of a country’s economy.
SR: Amid US sanction policy, there have been calls for switching to national currencies in trade and ditch dollar. How efficient is this approach?
PK: Very efficient.
This is already happening. Russia and China are for years no longer trading in dollars but in local currencies, or even in gold, or in the case of China in gold-convertible yuan, especially for trading hydrocarbons, oil and gas. So are largely India, Iran, Venezuela and other countries that are eager to escape the dollar- hegemony with sanctions.
I think one of the ways out of the nefarious neoliberal globalization is returning to sovereign country economies, with local currencies and satisfying local market needs. External trade with friendly nations, that share similar cultural and ideological values.
This is what China has done. China opened its borders to the west gradually in the mid-eighties, when she was self-sufficient in alimentation, health, education and shelter. And this practice is paying off until today. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to pressure China into anything – political or monetary – as Trump may soon find out or knows already. China is fully autonomous and controls the Asian market, doesn’t really need the west in the long.
What Mr. Putin said about the sanctions being the best thing that happened to Russia – for achieving economic sovereignty – which is really the key, goes in the same direction.
So, yes, local production for local markets with local currencies and trading with friendly nations; i.e., the SCO nations and nations participating in President Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the future.