All posts by Vijay Prashad

We Are Human, but in the Dark We Wish for Light

Carelle Homsy (Egypt), Liberté Egypte, 2009.

For over a decade, Alaa Abd el-Fattah has been in and out of Egypt’s prisons, never free of the harassment of the military state apparatus. In 2011, during the high point of the revolution, Alaa emerged as an important voice of his generation and since then has been a steady moral compass despite his country’s attempts to suffocate his voice. On 25 January 2014, to commemorate the third anniversary of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak’s government, Alaa and the poet Ahmed Douma wrote a moving epistle from their dungeon in Tora Prison, Cairo. This prison, which houses Alaa and other political prisoners, is not far from the beautiful Nile and – depending on Cairo’s traffic – not too far from the Garden City office of Mada Masr, where the epistle was published. In cities such as Cairo, the prisons where political prisoners are tortured are often located in quite ordinary neighbourhoods.

‘Who said we were unequalled? Or that we’re an enchanted generation?’ wrote Douma and Alaa, reflecting on the idea that the 2011 uprising was somehow exceptional. ‘We’re human’, they wrote, ‘but in the dark we wish for light’. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information estimates that there have been 65,000 political prisoners in Egypt since the 2013 takeover of the state by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Alaa is being held on a number of charges, but most of them stem from a frivolous and malicious accusation that he organised a protest that lasted for about fifteen minutes; for those fifteen minutes he has been imprisoned for much of the past decade.

Khaled Hafez (Egypt), Forward by Day 1, 2013.

How many sensitive people across the world are being held in prisons, charged with ridiculous indictments? The reports that swim across the internet – many of them from human rights groups based in the West – are not completely credible since they ignore or downplay the record of Western governments and pro-Western regimes. The United States government, for example, denies that it holds any political prisoners despite the fact that there are international campaigns to free people such as Alvaro Luna Hernandez (La Raza), the Holy Land Five, Leonard Peltier (American Indian Movement), Marius Manson (Earth Liberation Front), Mumia Abu-Jamal (MOVE), and Mutulu Shakur (Black Liberation Army). ‘These people are held without just cause, often because they peacefully exercised their human rights – like freedom of expression – or defended the rights of others. They may have organised an opposition party. Reported on abuse and corruption. Taken part in a peaceful protest’. These are the words of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken from 7 December 2021. In a stroke of irony, his words apply to dissidents inside the United States as well as to dissidents from US allies such as Saudi Arabia and Colombia.

On 20 December 2021, less than two weeks after Blinken made these remarks, Egypt’s State Security Court sentenced Alaa to another five years in prison along with Mohamed al-Baqer and Mohamed ‘Oxygen’ Ibrahim, who were sentenced to four years each. At that time, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in his weekly remarks that the US was ‘disappointed’ by these verdicts. A few weeks later, Ahmed Hafez, spokesperson for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry responded by saying, ‘It is inappropriate to comment or touch on Egyptian court rulings’. That was the end of that. Each year, the US government provides Egypt with $1.4 billion in aid, most of it for the military; each year, the US makes a big fuss of withholding a little more than $100 million of this money on the grounds of defending human rights, although the money is later released to Egypt on the basis of ‘national security’. There is a lot of huff and puff about ‘human rights’, but no real concern for the throttling of democratic processes within the country. ‘In the dark’, Douma and Alaa write, ‘we wish for light’. But in the dark, arms deals and ‘national security’ set aside considerations of democracy and human rights.

Slimen El Kamel (Tunisia), Wolves, 2016.

The Arab Spring – whose centre was the stone slab in Tahrir Square – lies in ruins. Tunisia, where the entire process began, struggles with a government that has suspended its democratic institutions in the hope of tackling the social crisis that predates the COVID-19 pandemic but has been exacerbated by it. On 14 January, the anniversary of the overthrow of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, the Workers’ Party of Tunisia led a march from Tunis’ Republic Square to the Central Bank with the slogan ‘No populism, no fundamentalism, no reactionaries. They opposed the old regime of Ben Ali, the Islamists, and now the ‘populist’ presidency of Kais Saied. The Workers’ Party made the point that the economic crisis, which was exacerbated by the International Monetary Fund and that provoked the 2011 revolution, remains unaddressed. The United Nations has also expressed its concern about the use of internal security forces in Tunisia to crack down on basic political rights.

In Morocco, the situation is dire. The political regime centred around King Mohamed VI is called the Makhzen (a term that means ‘warehouse’, referring to the place where the king’s subordinates would be paid). The king is worth between $2.1 billion and $8 billion in a country where nearly one in five people live below the poverty line and where social distress has increased during the pandemic. In 2015, after the 20 February movement had shaken up society in 2011, I visited the Rabat office of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights and heard a realistic briefing about the lack of basic political freedoms in the country. Like brave human rights advocates in other countries, the Moroccans I met listed the names of people who had been unjustly arrested and laid out a picture of the difficulty of building ‘a state of truth and law’ in the country.

Mohamed Melehi (Morocco), Pink Flame, 1972.

At the time, I heard about the case of Naâma Asfari, who had been detained in 2010 and was serving a thirty-year sentence for his activism over the occupation of Western Sahara. His case and that of Khatri Dadda, a young Sahrawi journalist arrested in 2019 and sentenced to twenty years, caught the eye of Mary Lawlor, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. In July 2021, Lawlor said, ‘Not only do human rights defenders working on issues related to human rights in Morocco and Western Sahara continue to be wrongfully criminalised for their legitimate activities, they receive disproportionately long prison sentences and whilst imprisoned, they are subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture’. Pictures of these two men and countless others are often found in the offices of human rights organisations and lawyers who work tirelessly on their behalf. These are people like Alaa and their comrades in similar struggles as far away as Colombia and India.

During the past few years, the Makhzen has tried to strangle Morocco’s main party of the left, the Democratic Way. It has repressed and defamed Democratic Way activists who try to organise in public, and it is preventing the party from using public premises to hold its 5th Congress this year. Despite the obstacles, Democratic Way activists have started the new year by calling for a united struggle of popular forces and has demanded that freedoms and human rights be respected and that political prisoners be released, including members of the Rif Movement, which has mobilised hundreds of thousands of people to demand social rights and justice after a fish vendor was killed by a city trash compactor in 2016. The Democratic Way also opposes the repressive Makhzen and supports the self-determination of the Sahrawi people.

Since 1975, the Moroccan state has annexed Western Sahara, but it has little legal basis for this occupation. In August 2020, the US government inked the Abraham Accords, which meant that Morocco and the United Arab Emirates recognised Israel (and effectively the permanent occupation of Palestine) in exchange for arms deals and US recognition of Morocco’s seizure of Western Sahara. The Polisario Front (the Sahrawi people’s liberation movement) opposed these accords as tensions grew along the Morocco-Algeria border. The Democratic Way also took a courageous stand against the accords that earned it increased repression from the Makhzen.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Morocco as 136 out of the 180 countries on its 2021 World Press Freedom Index. One of the reasons for this poor measure is the violation of the freedom of expression of Moroccan journalists and writers like Omar Radi, Maati Monjib, Hicham Mansouri, and Abdel-Samad Ait Ayyash. Fatima al-Afriqi wrote powerfully about the threats that she faced: ‘The message received, O guards with your machine guns behind sandbags of memories and dreams of my skull … I understood you who inspect my weaknesses and possible mistakes. I raise the white flag and declare by defeat, and I will withdraw from the battlefield’. She continues her brave vigil.

Omar Radi, like Alaa, sits in his cell in Oukacha Prison in Casablanca. He sends us a message: ‘Tyranny is not destiny; freedom has to be achieved, even if it takes a long time. Besides, if my time has come to pay the price on behalf of this wretched new generation, which was born before the Old and the so-called New Regime, then I am ready to pay it with all courage, and I will go to my fate with a calm, smiling heart with a relaxed conscience’.

Omar, Alaa, Fatima, Ahmed, and other political prisoners around the world will not go to their fate. We will stand up beside them. We are here. As long as we are alive, we will stand.

The post We Are Human, but in the Dark We Wish for Light first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Programme for a Future Society That We Will Build in the Present

Chittaprosad, Indian Workers Read, n.d.

In October 2021, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released a report that received barely any attention: the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index 2021, notably subtitled Unmasking disparities by ethnicity, caste, and gender. ‘Multidimensional poverty’ is a much more precise measurement of poverty than the international poverty line of $1.90 per day. It looks at ten indicators divided along three axes: health (nutrition, child mortality), education (years of schooling, school attendance), and standard of living (cooking fuel, sanitation, drinking water, electricity, housing, assets). The team studied multidimensional poverty across 109 countries, looking at the living conditions of 5.9 billion people. They found that 1.3 billion – one in five people – live in multidimensional poverty. The details of their lives are stark:

  1. Roughly 644 million or half of these people are children under the age of 18.
  2. Almost 85 per cent of them reside in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
  3. One billion of them are exposed to solid cooking fuels (which creates respiratory ailments), inadequate sanitation, and substandard housing.
  4. 568 million people lack access to proper drinking water within a 30-minute round trip walk.
  5. 788 million multidimensionally poor people have at least one undernourished person in their home.
  6. Nearly 66 per cent of them live in households where no one has completed at least six years of schooling.
  7. 678 million people have no access to electricity.
  8. 550 million people lack seven of eight assets identified in the study (a radio, television, telephone, computer, animal cart, bicycle, motorcycle, or refrigerator). They also do not own a car.

The absolute numbers in the UNDP report are consistently lower than figures calculated by other researchers. Take their number of those with no access to electricity (678 million), for example. World Bank data shows that in 2019, 90 per cent of the world’s population had access to electricity, which means that 1.2 billion people had none. An important study from 2020 demonstrates that 3.5 billion people lack ‘reasonably reliable access’ to electricity. This is far more than the absolute numbers in the UNDP report, but, regardless of the specific figures, the trend lines are nonetheless horrific. We live on a planet with greatly increasing disparities.

For the first time, the UNDP has focused attention on the more granular aspects of these disparities, shining a light on ethnic, race, and caste hierarchies. Nothing is as wretched as social hierarchies, inheritances of the past that continue to sharply assault human dignity. Looking at the data from 41 countries, the UNDP found that multidimensional poverty disproportionately impacts those who face social discrimination. In India, for instance, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (‘scheduled’ because the government regards them as officially designated groups) face the brunt of terrible poverty and discrimination, which in turn exacerbates their impoverishment. Five out of six people who struggle with multidimensional poverty are from Scheduled Castes and Tribes. A study from 2010 showed that each year, at least 63 million people in India fall below the poverty line because of out-of-pocket health care costs (that’s two people per second). During the COVID-19 pandemic, these numbers increased, though exact figures have not been easy to collect. Regardless, the five out of six people who are in multidimensional poverty – many of them from Scheduled Castes and Tribes – do not have any access to health care and are therefore not even included in that data. They exist largely outside formal health care systems, which has been catastrophic for these communities during the pandemic.

Last year, the secretary general of ALBA-TCP (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Peoples’ Trade Treaty), Sacha Llorenti, asked Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and the Instituto Simón Bolivar in Caracas, Venezuela to start an international discussion responding to the broad crises of our times. We brought together twenty-six research institutes from around the world whose work has now culminated in a report called A Plan to Save the Planet. This plan is reproduced with a longer introduction in dossier no. 48 (January 2022).

We looked carefully at two kinds of texts: first, a range of plans produced by conservative and liberal think tanks around the world, from the World Economic Forum to the Council for Inclusive Capitalism; second, a set of demands from trade unions, left-wing political parties, and social movements. We drew from the latter to better understand the limitations of the former. For instance, we found that the liberal and conservative texts ignored the fact that during the pandemic, central banks – mostly in the Global North – raised $16 trillion to sustain a faltering capitalist system. Though money is available that could have gone towards the social good, it largely went to shore up the financial sector and industry instead. If money can be made available for those purposes, it can certainly be used to fully fund a robust public health system in every country and a fair transition from non-renewable fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, for example.

The plan covers twelve areas, from ‘democracy and the world order’ to ‘the digital world’. To give you a sense of the kinds of claims made in the plan, here are the recommendations in the section on education:

  1. De-commodify education, which includes strengthening public education and preventing the privatisation of education.
  2. Promote the role of teachers in the management of educational institutions.
  3. Ensure that underprivileged sectors of society are trained to become teachers.
  4. Bridge the electricity and digital divides.
  5. Build publicly financed and publicly controlled high-speed broadband internet systems.
  6. Ensure that all school children have access to all the elements of the educational process, including extra-curricular activities.
  7. Develop channels through which students participate in decision-making processes in all forms of higher education.
  8. Make education a lifelong experience, allowing people at every stage of life to enjoy the practice of learning in various kinds of institutions. This will foster the value that education is not only about building a career, but about building a society that supports the continuing growth and development of the mind and of the community.
  9. Subsidise higher education and vocational courses for workers of all ages in areas related to their occupation.
  10. Make education, including higher education, available to all in their spoken languages; ensure that governments take responsibility for providing educational materials in the spoken languages in their country through translations and other means.
  11. Establish management educational institutes that cater to the needs of cooperatives in industrial, agricultural, and service sectors.

Tina Modotti, El Machete, 1926.

A Plan to Save the Planet is rooted in the principles of the United Nations Charter (1945), the document with the highest level of consensus in the world (193 member states of the UN have signed this binding treaty). We hope that you will read the plan and the dossier carefully. They have been produced for discussion and debate and are to be argued with and elaborated on. If you have any suggestions or ideas or would like to let us know how you were able to use the plan, please write to us at gro.latnenitnocirtehtnull@nalp.

Study has been a key instrument for the growth of working-class struggle, as shown by the impact of working-class newspapers, journals, and literature on the expansion of popular imaginations. In 1928, Tina Modotti photographed Mexican revolutionary farmers reading El Machete, the newspaper of their communist party. Modotti, one of the most luminous revolutionary photographers, reflected the sincere commitment of Mexican revolutionaries, of the Weimar Left, and of fighters in the Spanish Civil War. The farmers reading El Machete and the peasant organiser in India reading the Turkish communist poet Nâzim Hikmet in a hut during the great Bengal famine of 1943 depicted in the woodcut by Chittaprosad suggest places where we hope the plan will be discussed. We hope this plan will be used not merely as a critique of the present, but as a programme for a future society that we will build in the present.

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The Highest Attainable Standard of Health Is a Fundamental Right of Every Human Being

Ryuki Yamamoto (Japan), Chaos - Spin, 2019.

Ryuki Yamamoto (Japan), Chaos – Spin, 2019.

As we enter the new year almost two years after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a pandemic on 11 March 2020, the official death toll from COVID-19 sits just below 5.5 million people. WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says that there is a ‘tsunami of cases’ due to the new variants. The country with the highest death toll is the United States, where the official number of those who succumbed to the disease is now over 847,000; Brazil and India follow with nearly 620,000 and 482,000 deaths respectively. These three countries have been ravaged by the disease. The political leadership of each of these countries failed to take sufficient measures to break the chain of infection and instead offered anti-scientific advice to the public, who suffered from both a lack of clear information and relatively depleted health care systems.

In February and March 2020, when the news of the virus had already been communicated by China’s Centre for Disease Control to their counterparts in the United States, US President Donald Trump admitted to The Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, ‘I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic’. Despite the warnings, Trump and his health secretary Alex Azar completely failed to prepare for the arrival of COVID-19 on US soil by cruise ship and aircraft.

It is not as if Joe Biden, who succeeded Trump, has been monumentally better at managing the pandemic. When the US Food and Drug Administration paused the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in April 2021, it fed into growing anti-vaccine sentiment in the country; confusion between Biden’s White House and the Centre for Disease Control over the use of masks furthered the chaos in the country. The deep political animosity between Trump supporters and liberals and the general lack of concern for hand-to-mouth earners with no social safety net accelerated the cultural divides in the United States.

Carlos Amorales (Mexico), The Cursed Village (still), 2017.

Carlos Amorales (Mexico), The Cursed Village (still), 2017.

The wildness of state policy in the United States was replicated by its close allies Brazil and India. In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro mocked the severity of the virus, refused to endorse the simple WHO guidelines (mask mandates, contact tracing, and later vaccination), and pursued a genocidal policy to refuse funds for clean water delivery in parts of the country – notably in the Amazon – which are essential to preventing the spread of the disease. The term ‘genocide’ is not used loosely. It was put on the table twice by Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes, once in May 2020 and then again in July 2020; in the former case, Justice Mendes accused Bolsonaro of implementing ‘a genocidal policy in the management of health care’.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi neglected the WHO’s advice, rushed into an ill-crafted lockdown, and then failed to properly assist the medical establishment – especially public health (ASHA) workers – with the provision of basic medical supplies (including oxygen). Instead, they encouraged the banging of pots in public and prayed that this would confuse the virus, creating an unscientific attitude toward the severity of the disease. All the while, Modi’s government continued having mass gatherings during the election campaigns and allowed religious mega-festivals to take place, all of which became super-spreader events.

Studies of leaders such as Bolsonaro and Modi show that they not only failed to manage the crisis in a scientific manner, but that they have been ‘stoking cultural divides and have used the crisis as an opportunity to expand their powers and/or to take an intolerant approach to government opponents’.

Tarsila do Amaral (Brazil), Carnival in Madureira, 1924.

Tarsila do Amaral (Brazil), Carnival in Madureira, 1924.

Countries such as the United States and India – and to a lesser extent Brazil – were hit hard because their public health infrastructure had been weakened and their private health systems were simply not capable of managing a crisis of this proportion. During the recent spread of the Omicron variant in the United States, the Centre for Disease Control tried to encourage vaccinations by saying that while the vaccine was free, ‘hospital stays can be expensive’. Bonnie Castillo, the head of National Nurses United responded, ‘Imagine a dystopia in which the public health strategy is to threaten the people with the health care system itself. Oh wait, we don’t have to imagine…’.

In 2009, then WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan said, ‘user fees for health care were put forward as a way to recover costs and discourage the excessive use of health services and the over-consumption of care. This did not happen. Instead, user fees punished the poor’. User fees, or co-pays, and payment for private health care where public health care does not exist continue to be ways to ‘punish’ the poor. India – currently the country with the third highest COVID-19 death toll – has the highest out-of-pocket medical expenses in the world.

The sharp words from the head of the nurses’ union in the United States are echoed by doctors and nurses around the world. Last year, Jhuliana Rodrigues, a nurse at the São Vicente Hospital in Jundiaí, Brazil told me that they ‘work with fear’, recounting that the conditions are appalling, the equipment minimal, and the hours long. Health professionals ‘do their jobs with love, dedication, care of human beings’, she told me. Despite all the early talk about ‘essential workers’, health workers have seen little change in their working conditions, which is why we have seen a wave of strikes across the world – such as the recent militant strike by doctors in Delhi, India.

Valery Shchekoldin (USSR), Workplace Gymnastics, 1981.

Valery Shchekoldin (USSR), Workplace Gymnastics, 1981.

The mishandling of the COVID catastrophe in countries like the United States, Brazil, and India is a major human rights violation of treaties to which all of these countries are signatories. Each of these countries is a member of the WHO, whose Constitution, written in 1946, envisages ‘the highest attainable standard of health [as] one of the fundamental rights of every human being’. Two years later, the International Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Article 25, asserted that ‘everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control’. The language is dated – ‘himself’, ‘his family’, ‘his’ – but the point is clear. Even if the declaration is a non-binding treaty, it sets an important standard that is routinely violated by the major world powers.

In 1978, at Alma-Ata (USSR), each of these countries pledged to enhance public health infrastructure, which they not only failed to do, but which they systematically undermined by extensively privatising health care. The evisceration of public health care systems is one reason why these capitalist states could not handle the public health crisis – a stark contrast to the states of Cuba, Kerala, and Venezuela, which were vastly more successful at breaking the chain of infection with a fraction of the resources.

Finally, in 2000, at the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, member states of the United Nations endorsed a document that affirmed that ‘health is a fundamental human right indispensable for the exercise of other human rights. Every human being is entitled to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health conducive to living a life in dignity’.

A toxic culture has emerged in many of the largest countries in the world, where there is routine disregard for the well-being of ordinary people, a disregard that violates international treaties. Words like ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ need to be rethought from the root; they are cheapened by their narrow use.

Our colleagues at New Frame started the new year with a strong editorial calling for resistance to these malign governments and for the need for a new project to restore hope. On the second point, they write: ‘There is nothing utopian about this. There are plenty of examples – all with their limits and contradictions, to be sure – of rapid social progress under progressive governments. But this always requires popular organisation and mobilisation to build a political instrument for change, to renew and discipline it from below, and to defend it from domestic elites and imperialism, most particularly the revanchism of American foreign policy, covert and overt.’

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We Dance into the New Year Banging Our Hammers and Swinging Our Sickles

P.S. Jalaja (India), We Surely Can Change the World, 2021.

P.S. Jalaja (India), We Surely Can Change the World, 2021.

Bittersweet is the passage of this year. There have been some immense victories and some catastrophic defeats, the most terrible being the failure of the Global North countries to adopt a democratic attitude towards confronting the COVID-19 pandemic and creating equitable access to key resources, from life-saving medical equipment to vaccines. Tragically, by the end of this pandemic, we will have learnt the Greek alphabet from the variants named after its letters (Delta, Omicron), which continue to emerge.

Cuba leads the world with the highest vaccination rates, using its indigenous vaccines to protect its population as well as those of countries from Venezuela to Vietnam, following a long history of medical solidarity. The countries with the lowest vaccination rates – currently led by Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, South Sudan, Chad, and Yemen – are amongst the poorest in the world, reliant on foreign aid since their resources are essentially stolen, such as by being acquired at outrageously low prices by multinational companies. With 0.04% of Burundi’s 12 million people vaccinated as of 15 December 2021, at its current rate of vaccination the country would only achieve 70% coverage by January 2111.

In May 2021, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organisation, said that ‘the world is in vaccine apartheid’. Little has changed since then. In late November, the African Union’s vaccine delivery co-chair Dr Ayoade Alakija said of the emergence of Omicron in southern Africa, ‘What is going on right now is inevitable. It’s a result of the world’s failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent, and speedy manner. It is as a result of hoarding [vaccines] by high-income countries of the world, and quite frankly it is unacceptable’. In mid-December, Ghebreyesus appointed Alakija as the WHO Special Envoy for the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator. Her task is not easy, and her goal will only be met if, as she put it, ‘a life in Mumbai matters as much as in Brussels, if a life in São Paulo matters as much as a life in Geneva, and if a life in Harare matters as much as in Washington DC’.

Addis Gezehagn (Ethiopia), Floating City XVIII, 2020.

Addis Gezehagn (Ethiopia), Floating City XVIII, 2020.

Vaccine apartheid is a part of a broader problem of medical apartheid, one of the four apartheids of our time, the others being food apartheid, money apartheid, and education apartheid. A new report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation says that the population of undernourished people in Africa has increased by 89.1 million since 2014, reaching 281.6 million in 2020. It is worthwhile to consider Dr Alakija’s question about humanity, about the worth assigned to different human beings: can a life in Harare be valued as much as a life in Washington DC? Can we, as a people, overcome these apartheids and solve the elementary problems that are faced by the people of our planet and end the barbarous ways in which the current economic and political system tortures humankind and nature?

A question like that sounds naïve to those who have forgotten what it means to believe in something – if not in the idea of humanity itself, then at least in the binding United Nations Charter (1945) and the partly binding UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The Declaration calls upon us as a people to commit to upholding each other’s ‘inherent dignity’, a standard that has collapsed in the years since heads of governments signed onto the final text.

Nougat, The Sniper of Kaya, 2021, courtesy of BreakThrough News.

Nougat, The Sniper of Kaya, 2021, courtesy of BreakThrough News.

Despite these apartheids, several advances for humankind are worth highlighting:

  1. The Chinese people eradicated extreme poverty, with nearly 100 million people lifting themselves out of absolute misery over the past eight years. Our first study in the series ‘Studies in Socialist Construction’, entitled Serve the People: The Eradication of Extreme Poverty in China, details how this remarkable feat was achieved.
  2. Indian farmers bravely fought for the repeal of three laws which threatened to uberise their working conditions, and – after a year of struggle – they prevailed. This is the most significant labour victory in many years. Our June dossier, The Farmers’ Revolt in India, catalogued the struggle over land in India and the farmers’ militancy over the past decade.
  3. Left governments came to power in Bolivia, Chile, and Honduras, overturning a history of coups and regime changes in these countries that run from 1973 (Chile) to 2009 (Honduras) to 2019 (Bolivia). A year ago, our January dossier, Twilight, considered the erosion of US control over global affairs and the emergence of a multipolar world. The failure of the United States to attain its objectives in these countries and to overthrow the Cuban Revolution and the Venezuelan revolutionary process through hybrid wars is a sign of great possibility for people in the American hemisphere. Trends show that in 2022, Lula da Silva will defeat whoever is the right’s candidate in Brazil, ending the atrocity of Jair Bolsonaro’s governance. Our May dossier, The Challenges Facing Brazil’s Left, is a good place to read up on the political dilemmas in Latin America’s largest country.
  4. A rising tide of anger on the African continent against the increasing military presence of the United States and France found expression in the town of Kaya in the western part of Burkina Faso. When a French military convoy drove near the town in November, a crowd of demonstrators stopped it. At that point, the French launched a surveillance drone to monitor the crowd. Aliou Sawadogo (age 13) shot down the drone with his slingshot, ‘a Burkinabé David against the French Goliath’, wrote Jeune Afrique. Our July dossier, Defending Our Sovereignty: US Military Bases in Africa and the Future of African Unity, was co-published with the Socialist Movement of Ghana’s Research Group and tracks the growth of the Western military presence on the continent.
  5. We have seen strikes by care workers of all kinds across the world, from health workers to domestic workers. These workers have been hit hard by the cruelty of neoliberalism and by what we have called CoronaShock. But these workers have refused to cower, refused to surrender their dignity. Our March dossier, Uncovering the Crisis: Care Work in the Time of Coronavirus, provides a map of the pressures weighing on these workers and opens a window into their struggles.
Harrison Forman (US), Afghanistan, men surrounding storyteller in K abul market, 1953.

Harrison Forman (US), Afghanistan, men surrounding storyteller in Kabul market, 1953.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. These are merely some of the benchmarks of progress. Not every advance is clear-cut. After twenty years, the United States was forced to finally withdraw from Afghanistan as it lost the war to the Taliban. None of the United States’ aims for its war seem to have been attained, and yet it continues to threaten this country of close to 39 million people with starvation. The United States has prevented Afghanistan from accessing its $9.5 billion in external reserves that sit in US banks, and it has prevented Afghanistan’s government from taking its place in the UN system. As a consequence of the collapse of foreign aid, which accounted for 43% of Afghanistan’s GDP last year, the UN Development Programme calculates that the country’s GDP will fall by 20% this year and then by 30% in subsequent years. Meanwhile, the UN report estimates that by 2022, the country’s per capita income may decline to nearly half of 2012 levels. It is estimated that 97% of the population of Afghanistan will fall below the poverty line, with mass starvation a real possibility this winter. A life in the Wakhan Corridor is not valued as much as a life in London. The ‘inherent dignity’ of the human being – as the UN Declaration puts it – is not upheld.

This is not merely an Afghanistan matter. The newly released World Inequality Report 2022 shows that the poorest half of the world’s people owned merely 2% of the total private property (business and financial assets, net of debt, real estate), while the richest 10% owned 76% of the total private property. Gender inequality shapes these numbers, since women received barely 35% of labour income compared to men who received 65% (a slight improvement over 1990 figures, when women’s share was 31%). This inequality is another way of measuring the differential dignity afforded to people along class lines and along the hierarchies of gender and nationality.

In 1959, the Iranian communist poet Siavash Kasra’i wrote one of his elegies, Arash-e Kamangir (‘Arash the Archer’). Using the popular mythology of the ancient battle fought by the heroic archer Arash to liberate his country, Kasra’i depicts the anti-imperialist struggles of his time. But the poem is not only about struggles, for we also wonder about possibilities:

I told you life is beautiful.
Told and untold, there is a lot here.
The clear sky;
The golden sun;
The flower gardens;
The boundless plains;

The flowers peeping up through the snow;
The tender swing of fish dancing in crystal of water;
The scent of rain-swept dust on the mountainside;
The sleep of wheat fields in the spring of moonlight;
To come, to go, to run;
To love;
To lament for humankind;
And to revel arm-in-arm with the crowd’s joys.

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We Have to Stand on Our Ground, the Best Ground from Which to Reach the Stars

Likbez (USSR), Tatar Literacy Club, 1935.

Likbez (USSR), Tatar Literacy Club, 1935.

Almost every single child on the planet (over 80% of them) had their education disrupted by the pandemic, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO) agency. Though this finding is startling, it was certainly necessary to close schools as the infectious COVID-19 virus tore through society. What has been the impact of that decision on education? In 2017 – before the pandemic – at least 840 million people had no access to electricity, which meant that, for many children, online education was impossible. A third of the global population (2.6 billion people) has no access to the internet, which – even if they had electricity – makes online education impossible. If we go deeper, we find that the rates of those who do not have access to the gadgets necessary for online learning – such as computers and smartphones – are even more dire, with two billion people lacking both. To have physical schools closed, therefore, has resulted in hundreds of millions of children around the world missing school for nearly two years.

Macro-data like this is illustrative but misleading. The bulk of those without electricity and internet live in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. For example, before the pandemic, one in five children in sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia, and Southern Asia had never entered a primary school classroom. One in three girls didn’t have access to education in Northern Africa and Western Asia, compared to one in twenty-five boys. Projections show that one in four children in Southern Asia (population est. 2 billion) and one in five children in Africa (population est. 1.2 billion) and in Western Asia (population est. 300 million) will likely not go to school at all. Studies of the reading levels of children under the age of ten deepen our sense of these inequities: in low and middle-income countries, 53% of children cannot read and understand a simple story by the end of primary school, while in poor countries this number rises to 80% (it is only 9% in high-income countries).

The geographical distribution of low and high-income countries reveals the same old divides. This was the main focus of dossier no. 43 (CoronaShock and Education in Brazil: One and a Half Years Later, August 2021), summarised in our seven theses on the present and future of education in Brazil. These regional and gender inequalities predated the pandemic but have been exacerbated because of the lockdowns.

Aya Takano (Japan), Convenience Store, 2016.

Aya Takano (Japan), Convenience Store, 2016.

Signs of improvement are not yet visible. Earlier this year, the World Bank and UNESCO noted that, since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, two-thirds of developing countries have cut their education budgets. This is catastrophic for large parts of the world where students rely upon public and not private education. Before the pandemic, these gaps were already enormous: in high-income countries, governments spent $8,501 per school-age child, while in poorer countries the amount was only $48 per school-age child. The negative economic effects of the pandemic on developing countries mean that the gaps will widen, with little hope of recovery. As a result, there will be fewer resources to bridge the electricity, digital, and gadget divides, with almost no funds to build lending libraries for smartphones, for example, and much fewer resources to train teachers on how to handle the return of students to the classroom after a two-year hiatus. Since vaccination rates have remained poor in low-income countries, closures will continue indefinitely or risk spreading infections in schools.

Mehdi Farhadian (Iran), Cannons and Ballerinas, 2018.

Mehdi Farhadian (Iran), Cannons and Ballerinas, 2018.

Recently, the Indian government released its Annual Status of Education Report 2021, which showed that large numbers of children had no school last year and less than a quarter were able to access online education. As the economic situation for middle-class families worsened during the pandemic, enrolment declined in private schools and increased in public schools. This shift in the wake of dwindling government spending on public education will lead to intensified pressure on students and public school staff, especially teachers.

A study by the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) found that these inequities continue into higher education, with the sharp discovery of a 50% gender gap amongst those who use the internet through their mobile phones in India (21% of women versus 42% of men). In Tribal special focus districts, a mere 3.47% of schools have access to information communication technologies (ICT), according to government data. To make matters worse, the closure of university hostels has hit young women especially hard since living outside the family home served as a refuge from the suffocation of patriarchy in myriad forms, including early marriage and the pressures of reproductive labour.

Meanwhile, a bright light shines in Kerala, a state in southern India governed by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) where education rates are 90%. The LDF government has increased education funding in the state and has allowed local self-governments to decide how to spend that money. Before the pandemic, Kerala’s LDF government built high-tech classrooms; once the pandemic set in, it created the necessary infrastructure to allow for online learning. During the pandemic, over 4.5 million students attended school not through smartphones and computers, but through First Bell, a telecast from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the government-owned Versatile ICT Enabled Resource for Students (VICTERS) television channel. It is much easier for families to access a television than to access more expensive digital technology. The Kerala example shows the power of centring education around a community’s existing capabilities.

Education is not only about devices and classrooms. It is about how teaching happens and what is taught (a point worth noting during the centenary of the birth of the great educator Paulo Freire, whose legacy we discuss in our dossier no. 34, Paulo Freire and Popular Struggle in South Africa). So many of the successes in Kerala are a consequence of a socialist culture that believes in each child and believes in the importance of elevating rather than denigrating the cultures of the working class and the peasantry.

Cuban Literacy Campaign, 1961.

Cuban Literacy Campaign, 1961.

News comes from Brazil that the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) has enabled more than 100,000 people to become literate in the last thirty-seven years. The MST uses Freirean techniques and the Cuban Yo Sí Puedo (‘Yes I Can’) model of education developed by the Latin American and Caribbean Pedagogical Institute(IPLAC). This model emerged after Fidel Castro’s pledge in September 1960 to raise literacy rates to 100%. In eight months, the country realised near total literacy through the Cuban Literacy Campaign. A quarter of a million people, half of them under eighteen, volunteered to go to rural areas and spend nights and weekends improving the skills of the peasantry with chalk and blackboards. They used what Cubans already had in the way of knowledge and enhanced it by teaching them how to read and write, rather than treating them as illiterates needing to be told what to do. Leonela Relys Diaz, one of the original youth volunteers of the literacy campaign, developed the Yo Sí Puedo curriculum in 2000. Now, the programme uses pre-recorded, culturally specific videos alongside highly motivated and trained local facilitators to lift the confidence and skills of people. This programme has also been used in Venezuela since 2003, where it helped teach 1.48 million adults to read and write, thereby eradicating illiteracy in two years.

During the pandemic, socialist projects – such as those of LDF government in Kerala, the Cuban educational programmes, and the MST literacy campaign – are flourishing, while other governments cut their educational funding. ‘It’s always time to learn’, says the MST literacy programme, but this adage is not in use everywhere.

Michael Armitage (Kenya), The Fourth Estate, 2017.

Michael Armitage (Kenya), The Fourth Estate, 2017.

During the pandemic, the University of Nairobi in Kenya decided to shut down its Department of Literature. This department pioneered post-colonial studies when its faculty transformed the colonial English Department, allowing scholars and learners to look deeply into Kenyan arts and culture by absorbing the potential of the African imagination. One of the architects of the new department was the writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, who took art to the working-class neighbourhood of Kibera and brought the aesthetic of Kibera to the university. For that, wa Thiong’o was fired and imprisoned in 1978. As word came of the department’s closure, he wrote the poem ‘IMF: International Mitumba Foundation’. Two words of annotation: Mitumba is the Swahili word for ‘second-hand’, used here to poke fun at the International Monetary Fund; the word MaTumbo means ‘stomach’.

IMF: International Mitumba Foundation

First, they gave us their tongues.
We said, it is okay, we can make them ours.
Then they said we must destroy ours first.
And we said it is okay because with theirs we become first.
First to buy their aircrafts and war machines.
First to buy their cars and clothes.
First Buyers of the best they make from our Best.
But when we said we could best them
By making the best from our best
Our own from our own
They said no, you must buy from us
Even though you made the best out of your best.
Now they make us buy the best they have already used
And when we said we could fight back and make our own
They reminded us they know all the secrets of our weapons.
Yes, they make us buy the best they have already used
Second hand, they call it.
In Swahili they are called Mitumba.
Mitumba weapons.
Mitumba cars.
Mitumba clothes.
And now IMF dictates mitumba universities
To produce mitumba intellectuals.
They demand we shut down all departments
That say
We have to stand on our ground,
The best ground from which to reach the stars.

But mitumba politicians kneel before IMF,
International Mitumba Foundation,
And cry out
Yes sirs
We the neo-colonial mimics milk the best bakshish.
Mitumba culture creates MaTumbo kubwa
For a few with Mitumba Minds.

The post We Have to Stand on Our Ground, the Best Ground from Which to Reach the Stars first appeared on Dissident Voice.

This Victory Gives Confidence for Future Struggles

A farmer at the protest encampment at Delhi’s Singhu Border carries the flag of the All India Kisan Sabha, 21 November 2021. Subin Dennis / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

A farmer at the protest encampment at Delhi’s Singhu Border carries the flag of the All India Kisan Sabha, 21 November 2021. Subin Dennis / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

On 19 November 2021, a week before the first anniversary of the farmers’ revolt, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi surrendered. He accepted that the three laws on agricultural markets that had been pushed through the parliament in 2020 would be repealed. The farmers of India had won. The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), one of the organisers of the protest movement, celebrated the triumph and declared that ‘this victory gives more confidence for future struggles’.

Many pressing struggles remain, including the fight for a law to guarantee a minimum support price that is one and a half times the cost of production for all crops of all farmers. The failure to address this, the AIKS notes, ‘aggravated the agrarian crisis and led to the suicide of over [400,000] farmers in the last 25 years’. A quarter of these deaths have taken place under Modi’s leadership over the past seven years.

A tractor contingent on GT Karnal Road breaks through barricades and enters Delhi, beginning a confrontation between protestors and the police in Delhi, 26 January 2021.

A tractor contingent on GT Karnal Road breaks through barricades and enters Delhi, beginning a confrontation between protestors and the police, 26 January 2021. Vikas Thakur / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

At Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, we have produced four substantial dossiers that reflect on the agrarian crisis in India: an explanation of the farmers’ revolt (The Farmers’ Revolt in India, June 2021); an analysis of the central role of women in both agricultural work and struggles (Indian Women on an Arduous Road to Equality, October 2021); a portrait of the impact of neoliberalism on rural communities (The Neoliberal Attack on Rural India: Two Reports by P. Sainath, October 2019); and a study of the attempt to uberise agricultural workers and farmers (Big Tech and the Current Challenges Facing the Class Struggle, November 2021). Our senior fellow, P. Sainath, has been a key voice in amplifying the agrarian crisis and farmers’ struggles. The section below is an extract from his most recent editorial at the People’s Archive of Rural India:

What the media can never openly admit is that the largest peaceful democratic protest the world has seen in years – certainly the greatest organised at the height of the pandemic – has won a mighty victory.

A victory that carries forward a legacy. Farmers of all kinds, men and women – including from Adivasi [tribal] and Dalit [oppressed caste] communities – played a crucial role in [India’s] struggle for freedom. And in the 75th year of [Indian] Independence, the farmers at Delhi’s gates reiterated the spirit of that great struggle.

Prime Minister Modi has announced he is backing off and repealing the farm laws in the upcoming winter session of Parliament starting on the 29th of [November]. He says he is doing so after failing to persuade ‘a section of farmers despite best efforts’. Just a section, mind you, that he could not convince to accept that the three discredited farm laws were really good for them. Not a word on, or for, the over 600 farmers who have died in the course of this historic struggle. His failure, he makes it clear, is only in his skills of persuasion, in not getting that ‘section of farmers’ to see the light. … What was the manner and method of persuasion? By denying them entry to the capital city to explain their grievances? By blocking them with trenches and barbed wire? By hitting them with water cannons? … By having crony media vilify the farmers every day? By running them over with vehicles – allegedly owned by a union minister or his son? That’s this government’s idea of persuasion? If those were its ‘best efforts’ we’d hate to see its worst ones.

The Prime Minister made at least seven visits overseas this year alone (like the latest one for COP26). But never once found the time to just drive down a few kilometres from his residence to visit tens of thousands of farmers at Delhi’s gates, whose agony touched so many people everywhere in the country. Would that not have been a genuine effort at persuasion?

… This is not at all the end of the agrarian crisis. It is the beginning of a new phase of the battle on the larger issues of that crisis. Farmer protests have been on for a long time now. And particularly strongly since 2018, when the Adivasi farmers of Maharashtra electrified the nation with their astonishing 182-km march on foot from Nashik to Mumbai. Then too, it began with their being dismissed as ‘urban Maoists’, as not real farmers, and the rest of the blah. Their march routed their vilifiers.

… The hundreds of thousands of people in that state who have participated in that struggle know whose victory it is. The hearts of the people of Punjab are with those in the protest camps who have endured one of Delhi’s worst winters in decades, a scorching summer, rains thereafter, and miserable treatment from Mr. Modi and his captive media.

And perhaps the most important thing the protestors have achieved is this: to inspire resistance in other spheres as well, to a government that simply throws its detractors into prison or otherwise hounds and harasses them. That freely arrests citizens, including journalists, under the [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act], and cracks down on independent media for ‘economic offences’. This day isn’t just a win for the farmers. It’s a win for the battle for civil liberties and human rights. A win for Indian democracy.

A farmer participates in the protests in his truck at the Singhu border in Delhi, 5 December 2020. Vikas Thakur / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

A farmer participates in the protests in his truck at the Singhu border in Delhi, 5 December 2020. Vikas Thakur / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

It is a win not only for Indian democracy but for peasants around the world.

During the past five decades, these peasants have experienced a combination of impoverishment, dispossession, and demoralisation on a global level. Two processes have accelerated their crisis: first, a trade and development model pushed by the advanced capitalist states through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation (WTO); second, the climate catastrophe. The IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme and the WTO’s liberalised trade regime have eroded price supports and food subsidies in the Global South and have prevented governments from intervening to assist farmers and to build robust national food markets. Countries of the Global North, meanwhile, have continued to subsidise farming and dump their cheapened food in the markets of the Global South. This policy structure – alongside devastating climate events – has been fatal for agriculturalists in the Global South.

A farmer from Punjab protests during a tractor march on Republic Day on GT Karnal Bypass Road in Delhi, 26 January 2021. Vikas Thakur / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

During the credit crisis of 2007–08, the World Bank intervened to promote the entry of the private sector (largely big agriculture) into the ‘value chains’ from farms to stores. ‘The private sector drives the organisation of value chains that bring the market to smallholders and commercial farms’, wrote the World Bank in a key report from 2008. In June of that year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s High-Level Conference on World Food Security opened the door for the World Bank to shape agricultural policy to benefit big agriculture. The next year, the World Bank’s World Development Report argued for integrating agriculture in the ‘poor countries with world markets’, which meant delivering the peasants into an uberised relationship with big agriculture. Interestingly, the World Bank’s own International Agricultural Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology disagreed in 2008, arguing that industrial agriculture degraded nature and impoverished peasants.

In September 2021, the UN held a Food Systems Summit in New York, which was designed not by farmers’ unions but by the World Economic Forum (WEF), a private body that represents big business rather than the big hearts of the agriculturalists. Acknowledging the crisis imposed by capitalism, the WEF now says that it has learned from civil action and would like to promote ‘stakeholder capitalism’. This new kind of capitalism, which looks like the old capitalism, is about promoting corporations as ‘trustees of society’; it entrusts corporations with our well-being rather than the workers who produce the value in our society.

The farmers’ revolt in India fought against Modi’s three laws, which will now be repealed. But it continues to struggle against the transfer of policy making from democratic, multilateral, and national projects to corporations in the name of ‘public-private partnerships’ and ‘trustees of society’. The repeal of Modi’s laws is one victory. It has lifted the confidence of the people. But there are other battles ahead.

A farmer who joined in the initial protest reads work by the revolutionary Punjabi poet, Pash, in his trolly at the Singhu border in Delhi, 10 December 2021. Vikas Thakur / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

A farmer who joined in the initial protest reads work by the revolutionary Punjabi poet, Pash, in his trolly at the Singhu border in Delhi, 10 December 2021. Vikas Thakur / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

At the protest sites, farmers set up entire villages, including community kitchens and libraries. Reading and musical performance were regular activities. Revolutionary Punjabi poetry from figures such as Pash (1950–1988) and Sant Ram Udasi (1939–1986) lifted their spirits. Navsharan Singh and Vikas Rawal offered us these stanzas from Sant Ram Udasi to close out this newsletter:

You must shine your light
in the courtyards of workers
who wither when there is a drought,
and drown when there is a flood,
ones who face devastation in every disaster,
and who find liberation only in death.

You must show what goes on
in the courtyards of the workers
for whom the bread is scarce,
who live in darkness,
who are robbed of
their self-respect,
and who lose, with their crops,
all their desires.

Why do you burn to shine your light only on yourself?
Why do you stay away from the workers?
These deprivations and oppression will not last forever.
O sun, you must shine your light on
the courtyards of the workers.

The post This Victory Gives Confidence for Future Struggles first appeared on Dissident Voice.

In the Name of Saving the Climate, They Will Uberise the Farmlands

Mining Cryptocurrency, 2021

Mining Cryptocurrency, 2021.

As the last private plane takes off from the Glasgow airport and the dust settles, the detritus of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26, remains. The final communiqués are slowly being digested, their limited scope inevitable. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, closed the proceedings by painting two dire images: ‘Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe. It is time to go into emergency mode – or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero’. The loudest cheer in the main hall did not erupt when this final verdict was announced, but when it was proclaimed that the next COP would be held in Cairo, Egypt in 2022. It seems enough to know that another COP will take place.

An army of corporate executives and lobbyists crowded the official COP26 platforms; in the evening, their cocktail parties entertained government officials. While the cameras focused on official speeches, the real business was being done in these evening parties and in private rooms. The very people who are most responsible for the climate catastrophe shaped many of the proposals that were brought to the table at COP26. Meanwhile, climate activists had to resort to making as loud a noise as possible far from the Scottish Exchange Campus (SEC Centre), where the summit was hosted. It is telling that the SEC Centre was built on the same land as the Queen’s Dock, once a lucrative passageway for goods extracted from the colonies to flow into Britain. Now, old colonial habits revive themselves as developed countries – in cahoots with a few developing states that are captured by their corporate overlords – refuse to accept firm carbon limits and contribute the billions of dollars necessary for the climate fund.

Cloud Ccomputing, 2021.

Cloud Computing, 2021.

The organisers of COP26 designated themes for many of the days during the conference, such as energy, finance, and transport. There was no day set aside for a discussion of agriculture; instead, it was bundled into ‘Nature Day’ on 6 November, during which the main topic was deforestation. No focused discussion took place about the carbon dioxide, methane, or nitrous oxide emitted from agricultural processes and the global food system, despite the fact that the global food system produces between 21% and 37% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Not long before COP26, three United Nations agencies released a key report, which offered the following assessment: ‘At a time when many countries’ public finances are constrained, particularly in the developing world, global agricultural support to producers currently accounts for almost USD 540 billion a year. Over two-thirds of this support is considered price-distorting and largely harmful to the environment’. Yet at COP26, there was a notable silence around the distorted food system that pollutes the Earth and our bodies; there was no serious conversation about any transformation of the food system to produce healthy food and sustain life on the planet.

Instead, the United States and the United Arab Emirates, backed by most of the developed states, proposed an Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM4C) programme to champion agribusiness and the role of big technology corporations in agriculture. Big Tech companies, such as Amazon and Microsoft, and agricultural technology (Ag Tech) firms – such as Bayer, Cargill, and John Deere – are pushing a new digital agricultural model through which they seek to deepen their control over global food systems in the name of mitigating the effects of climate change. Stunningly, this new, ‘game-changing’ solution for climate change does not mention farmers anywhere in its key documents; after all, it seems to envisage a future that does not require them. The entry of Ag Tech and Big Tech into the agricultural industry has meant a takeover of the entire process, from the management of inputs to the marketing of produce. This consolidates power along the food chain in the hands of some of the world’s largest food commodity trading firms. These firms, often called the ABCDs – Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus – already control more than 70% of the agricultural market.

Ag Tech and Big Tech firms are championing a kind of uberisation of farmlands in an effort to dominate all aspects of food production. This ensures that it is the powerless smallholders and agricultural workers who take on all the risks. The German pharmaceutical company Bayer’s partnership with the US non-profit Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD) intends to use e-extension training to control what and how farmers grow their produce, as agribusinesses reap the benefits without taking on risk. This is another instance of neoliberalism at work, displacing the risk onto workers whose labour produces vast profits for the Ag Tech and Big Tech firms. These big firms are not interested in owning land or other resources; they merely want to control the production process so that they can continue to make fabulous profits.

Genetic Patent, 2021

Genetic Patent, 2021.

The ongoing protests by Indian farmers, which began just over a year ago in October 2020, are rooted in farmers’ justified fear of the digitalisation of agriculture by the large global agribusinesses. Farmers fear that removing government regulation of the marketplaces will instead draw them into marketplaces controlled by digital platforms that are created by companies like Meta (Facebook), Google, and Reliance. Not only will these companies use their control over the platforms to define production and distribution, but their mastery over data will allow them to dominate the entire food cycle from production forms to consumption habits.

Earlier this year, the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil held a seminar on digital technology and class struggle to better understand the tentacles of the Ag Tech and Big Tech firms and how to overcome their powerful presence in the world of agriculture. Out of this seminar emerged our most recent dossier no. 46, Big Tech and the Current Challenges Facing the Class Struggle, which seeks to ‘understand technological transformations and their social consequences with an eye towards class struggle’ rather than to ‘provide an exhaustive discussion or conclusion on these themes’. The dossier summarises a rich discussion about several topics, including the relationship between technology and capitalism, the role of the state and technology, the intimate partnership between finance and tech firms, and the role of Ag Tech and Big Tech in our fields and factories.

 The section on agriculture (‘Big Tech against Nature’) introduces us to the world of agribusiness and farming, where the large Ag Tech and Big Tech firms seek to absorb and control the knowledge of the countryside, shape agriculture to suit the interests of the big firms’ profit margins, and reduce agriculturalists to the status of precarious gig workers. The dossier closes with a consideration of five major conditions that are behind the expansion of the digital economy, each of them suited to the growth of Ag Tech in rural areas:

  • A free market (for data). User data is freely siphoned off by these firms, which then convert it into proprietary information to deepen corporate control over agricultural systems.
  • Economic financialisation. Data capitalist companies depend on the flux of speculative capital to grow and consolidate. These companies bear witness to capital flight, shifting capital away from productive sectors and towards those that are merely speculative. This puts increasing pressure on productive sectors to increase exploitation and precarisation.
  • The transformation of rights into commodities. The fact that public intervention is being superseded by private companies’ meddling in arenas of economic and social life subordinates our rights as citizens to our potential as commodities.
  • The reduction of public spaces. Society begins to be seen less as a collective whole and more as the segmented desires of individuals, with gig work seen as liberation rather than as a form of subordination to the power of large corporations.
  • The concentration of resources, productive chains, and infrastructure. Centralisation of resources and power amongst a handful of corporations gives them enormous leverage over the state and society. The great power concentrated in these corporations overrides any democratic and popular debate on political, economic, environmental, and ethical questions.
The Fragmentation of Work
, 2021

The Fragmentation of Work, 2021.

In 2017, at COP23, participating countries set up the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA), a process that pledged to focus on agriculture’s contribution to climate change. KJWA held a few events at COP26, but these were not given much attention. On Nature Day, forty-five countries endorsed the Global Action Agenda for Innovation in Agriculture, whose main slogan, ‘innovation in agriculture’, aligns with the goals of the Ag Tech and Big Tech sector. This message is being channelled through CGIAR, an inter-governmental body designed to promote ‘new innovations’. Farmers are being delivered into the hands of Ag Tech and Big Tech firms, who – rather than committing to avert the climate catastrophe – prioritise accumulating the greatest profit for themselves while greenwashing their activities. This hunger for profit is neither going to end world hunger, nor will it end the climate catastrophe.

Connected Cables, 2021.

Connected Cables, 2021.

The images in this newsletter come from dossier no. 46, Big Tech and the Current Challenges Facing the Class Struggle. They build on a playful understanding of the concepts underpinning the digital world: clouds, mining, codes, and so on. How to depict these abstractions? ‘A data cloud’, writes Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research’s art department, ‘sounds like an ethereal, magical place. It is, in reality, anything but that. The images in this dossier aim to visualise the materiality of the digital world we live in. A cloud is projected onto a chipboard’. These images remind us that technology is not neutral; technology is a part of the class struggle.

The farmers in India would agree.

The post In the Name of Saving the Climate, They Will Uberise the Farmlands first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Why Are You Asking Us to Compromise on Our Lives?

Kang Minjin of the Justice Party of Korea at COP26 in Glasgow, 6 November 2021. Photograph by Hwang Jeongeun.

Kang Minjin of the Justice Party of Korea at COP26 in Glasgow, 6 November 2021. Photograph by Hwang Jeongeun.

Nothing useful seemed to emerge from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at COP26 this week. The leaders of developed countries made tired speeches about their commitment to reversing the climate catastrophe. Their words rang with the clichés of spin doctors, their sincerity zero, their actual commitments to lowering carbon emissions nil. Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a Filipino climate activist and spokesperson for Fridays for Future, said that these leaders ‘spew empty, tired promises’, leaving young people like her with a ‘sense of betrayal’. As a child, she said, she felt the danger of being caught up in flash floods in the Philippines, floods that have terrible repercussions for high-risk countries. ‘There’s a climate trauma that young people experience’, said Tan, ‘yet the UNFCCC keeps us out’.

The Pacific Climate Warriors at COP26 in Glasgow, 6 November 2021.

The Pacific Climate Warriors at COP26 in Glasgow, 6 November 2021.

The youth-led Pacific Climate Warriors marched through rainswept Glasgow on 6 November, their flags of the South Pacific Islands fluttering in the fast wind. They were one amongst many groups from small island states and from areas with large populations of indigenous peoples who face great and urgent threats to their existence. ‘We don’t want your pity’, said Reverend James Bhagwan of the Pacific Climate Warriors. ‘We want action’.

War and its environmental discontents were also on the minds of many. From 1981–2000, the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp was set up as a permanent protest against the storage of Trident nuclear missiles in the United Kingdom. Alison Lochhead, a former resident of the Peace Camp, marched in Glasgow with determination. ‘Where will you now set up your camp?’ I asked her. ‘Across the world’, she replied – a world in which the United States military is the largest institutional polluter. Activist Myshele Haywood marched with her dog and a sign that read, ‘The global military is the world’s biggest polluter’. The other side of the sign read, ‘Oil is too precious to burn. Save it to make medicine, plastics, and other things’.

Sonia Guajajara, executive coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, addresses a crowd at the #GlobalDayOfAction in Glasgow. Photograph by Agisilaos Koulouris.

Sonia Guajajara, executive coordinator of the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, addresses a crowd at the #GlobalDayOfAction in Glasgow. Photograph by Agisilaos Koulouris.

On 7 November, during the COP26 Coalition People’s Summit, I was on the jury of The People’s Tribunal on the UNFCCC and its failure to address a range of issues. We heard from a range of rapporteurs and witnesses, each speaking with great feeling about the differential climate catastrophes on nature and on human life. Every minute, $11 million is spent to subsidise fossil fuels (that’s $5.9 trillion spent in 2020 alone); this money underwrites the cascading climate catastrophe, yet few funds are raised to mitigate the negative effects of fossil fuels or to transition to renewable forms of energy. The remainder of this newsletter details the findings of the Tribunal, which was comprised of Ambassador Lumumba Di-Aping (former Chief Climate Negotiator for the G77 and China), Katerina Anastasiou (Transform Europe), Samantha Hargreaves (WoMin African Alliance), Larry Lohmann (The Corner House), and me.

Over a hundred thousand people gathered in the streets of Glasgow for the Global Day of Action. Photograph by Oliver Kornblihtt (Mídia NINJA).

Over a hundred thousand people gathered in the streets of Glasgow for the Global Day of Action. Photograph by Oliver Kornblihtt (Mídia NINJA).

The Verdict of The People’s Tribunal: People and Nature vs the UNFCCC
7 November 2021

There were six charges put before the Tribunal concerning the failures of the UNFCCC to:

• address the root causes of climate change;
• address global social and economic injustices;
• come up with appropriate climate finance for planetary and social survival, including the rights of future generations;
• create pathways to a just transition;
• regulate corporations and avoid the corporate capture of the UNFCCC process; and
• recognise, promote, and protect the Rights of Nature law.

The jury of five listened carefully to the special prosecutor, to the rapporteurs, and to the witnesses. We were unified in our conclusion that the UNFCCC, which was signed by 154 nations in 1992 and ratified by 197 countries by 1994, has utterly failed the peoples of the world and all species that rely on a healthy planet to survive by failing to stop climate change. This perilous inaction has failed to limit the increase of the average global temperature.

In its latest 2021 reports, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that the Earth has reached an average temperature increase of 1.1 degrees, while sub-Saharan Africa is close to breaching the ‘safe’ 1.5 degree mark.

The UNFCCC has forged an intimate partnership with the very corporations that have created the climate crisis. It has allowed powerful governments to threaten poor countries into submission, guaranteeing certain misery and death for hundreds of millions of people in the poorest parts of the world over the next two decades.

The UNFCCC’s inaction has permitted powerful oil, mining, agriculture, logging, aviation, fishing, and other corporations to continue their carbon intensive activities unfettered. This has contributed to a growing biodiversity crisis: recent estimates suggest that anywhere from 2,000 species (at the low end) to 100,000 species (at the high end) are being exterminated each year. The UNFCCC is implicated in mass extinction.

The UNFCCC has refused to democratise the process and to listen to those on the frontlines of the crisis. This includes the one billion children who live in the 33 countries that are at ‘extremely high risk’ due to the climate crisis – in other words, almost half of the world’s 2.2 children – as well as indigenous communities and working-class and peasant women from the countries and nations that bear the brunt of a crisis that they did not produce.

As the world confronts a rapidly escalating climate crisis – evidenced by flooding, droughts, cyclones, hurricanes, rising sea levels, furious fires, and new pandemics – the poorest, most vulnerable, and highly indebted nations are owed a great climate debt.

Powerful nations in the UNFCCC have forced a rollback on earlier commitments to global redress for the long history of unequal and uneven development between nations. Developed countries pledged $100 billion per year for the climate fund but they have failed to provide that money, thereby neglecting their own commitments. Instead, developed countries plough trillions of dollars into their own national efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change and support adaptation to a warming climate, while the poorest and most heavily indebted nations are left to fend for themselves.

We, the jury, find that the UNFCCC violated the UN Charter, which demands that UN members states ‘take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to peace’ (Chapter 1). The Charter charges states ‘to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems’.

The UNFCCC has also violated Chapter IX of the UN Charter, ignoring Article 55’s demand to create ‘conditions of stability and well-being’ as well as ‘economic progress and social progress’ and to promote ‘universal respect for, and observance of, human rights.’ Furthermore, the UNFCCC has violated Article 56, which enjoins member states to take ‘joint and separate action in cooperation’ with the UN.

We, the jury of the People’s Tribunal, find the UNFCCC guilty of the charges made by the special prosecutor and established by the witnesses. In light of our sentence, we claim the following measures of redress for the peoples of the world:

1. The discredited and unrepresentative UNFCCC must be disbanded in its current form and reconstituted from the ground up. The new people-led global Climate Forum must first and foremost be democratic and centre those carrying the fallout of the environmental and climate collapse. The polluters of our Earth cannot be part of a Climate Forum which serves people and the planet first.
2. Historically developed countries must fully finance the bill to end carbon emissions and pay the climate debt owed to the peoples of the Global South; such action is necessary to help the most impacted populations mitigate the worst of the climate fallout and adapt to a rapidly warming climate. There is a specific debt owed to working women in the Global South, who have worked harder and longer hours to support their households as they navigate the unfolding crisis. Such debts must be settled through democratic, people-centred mechanisms which circumvent corrupt states and corporations that are currently profiteering from the crisis.
3. Illicit financial flows must be cut off and immediately expropriated to fund climate adaptation and just transitions in formerly colonised nations. These illicit financial flows have resulted in the theft of $88.6 billion from Africa per year, while up to $32 trillion sits in illegal tax havens.
4. Global military spending – nearly $2 trillion in 2020 alone, amounting to trillions over past decades – must be converted to fund climate justice initiatives. Similarly, the odious and illegitimate debt of poor nations must be identified and cancelled. This would free up significant national revenues to build the infrastructure, services, and supports that will allow billions of people to navigate the climate emergency. The vast sums of money spent on the national security plans of wealthy nations, which aim to shield those nations responsible for the vast majority of pollution from those fleeing climate change-induced catastrophes, must be similarly diverted to support the peoples of the Global South.
5. A transformed and representative UN General Assembly must call a special session on reparations for ecological and climate debt, damages related to slavery and colonialism, and the reproductive debt owed to women in the Global South.
6. This People’s Tribunal must hold the UNFCCC to account for its crimes against nature and people through legal action.
7. The UN Binding Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Human Rights affirms not only the obligation of transnational corporations to respect all human rights, but also the rights of states to provide protections against human rights violations committed by transnational corporations. In addition, the treaty affirms human rights over the interests of trade and investment treaties and provides for the free, prior, informed, and continuous consent of communities confronting corporate-driven ‘development’ projects.
8. The UN General Assembly must open a special session on ‘trade liberalisation’ and ‘market technologies’, thoroughly examining their negative impacts on agriculture, biodiversity, and ecosystems, and the way that they create and reproduce the crisis.
9. The UN General Assembly must immediately hold a hearing on the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.

Ana Pessoa, Black Lives Matter/ ‘It’s time to reconnect’, 2021.

Ana Pessoa, Black Lives Matter/ ‘It’s time to reconnect’, 2021.

The Marshall Islands, a chain of coral atolls and volcanic islands, is one of fourteen countries in Oceania that is greatly threatened by rising sea levels. Recent studies show that 96% of Majuro, the capital, is at risk of frequent flooding while 37% of the city’s existing buildings face ‘permanent inundation’ in the absence of any form of adaptation.

In 2014, Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, a Marshallese poet, wrote a rousing poem for her seven-year-old daughter Matefele Peinam:

… there are thousands out on the street
marching with signs
hand in hand
chanting for change NOW

and they’re marching for you, baby
they’re marching for us

because we deserve to do more than just
we deserve
to thrive …

The post Why Are You Asking Us to Compromise on Our Lives? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Will the People with Guns Allow Our Planet to Breathe

Chris Jordan (USA), Crushed Cars #2 Tacoma, 2004.

Chris Jordan (USA), Crushed Cars #2 Tacoma, 2004.

It is perhaps fitting that United States President Joe Biden arrived in Glasgow for the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) on the climate catastrophe with eighty-five cars in tow months after declaring ‘I’m a car guy’ (for details on the climate catastrophe, see our Red Alert no. 11, ‘Only One Earth’). Only three countries in the world have more cars per person than the US, and these countries (Finland, Andorra, and Italy) have a much smaller population than the United States.

Just before Biden left for the G20 summit, his meeting with Pope Francis, and COP26, he had his administration pressure the oil-producing states (OPEC+) to ‘do the needful when it comes to supply’ – namely to increase oil production. While the US pressured OPEC+ to boost oil production, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released its key report on global emissions. UNEP pointed out that the G20 countries account for close to 80% of global greenhouse gases and that the three highest per capita major carbon emitters are Saudi Arabia, Australia, and the United States. Since the populations of Saudi Arabia (34 million) and Australia (26 million) are so much smaller than that of the United States (330 million), it is clear that the US emits much greater volumes of CO2 than these other two countries: Australia accounts for 1.2% of global carbon emissions, while Saudi Arabia accounts for 1.8%, and the United States 14.8%.

Francesco Clemente (Italy), Sixteen Amulets for the Road (XII), 2012-2013.

Francesco Clemente (Italy), Sixteen Amulets for the Road (XII), 2012-2013.

Before the Glasgow meeting, the G20 leaders convened in Rome to firm up their own approach towards the climate catastrophe. The communiqué that emerged from this meeting, ‘G20 Rome Leaders’ Declaration’, was tepid, using terms like ‘make progress’, ‘strengthen actions’, and ‘scale up’. According to the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), unless carbon emissions are reduced, it is unlikely that the key goal of having no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming compared to pre-industrial levels will be met. The IPCC notes that there is an 83% chance of reaching that target if carbon emissions are reduced to 300 gigatons from now to the time that we achieve net-zero carbon emissions (there are currently 35 gigatons of annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels). There is only a 17% chance of reaching a global temperature increase of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius if we can only reduce emissions to 900 gigatons. The IPCC suggests that the faster the world moves to net-zero emissions, the better the chance of preventing catastrophic levels of warming.

At the 2015 COP21 meeting in Paris, none of the powerful countries would even utter the phrase ‘net-zero emissions’. Now, thanks to the work of the IPCC reports and to the mass campaigns around the world on the climate emergency, the phrase is forced into the mouths of leaders who would prefer to be ‘car guys’. Though the need to move to zero carbon emissions by 2050 has been on the table for some years, the G20 statement ignored this and chose the vague formulation that net emissions must end ‘by or around mid-century’. There was also little appetite to talk about global methane emissions, which are the second most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas after CO2.

Iwan Suastika (Indonesia), The Beauty and the Fragile Ones (Planet Earth), 2020.

Iwan Suastika (Indonesia), The Beauty and the Fragile Ones (Planet Earth), 2020.

In the days before the COP26 meeting, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said, ‘It is time to put empty speeches, broken promises, and unfulfilled pledges behind us. We need laws to be passed, programmes to be implemented, and investments to be swiftly and properly funded, without further delay’. However, there has been a delay since the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. Picking up on the UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm (1972), the countries of the world pledged to do two things: reverse the degradation of the environment and recognise the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ of developed and developing countries. It was clear that developed countries – mainly the West, the old colonial powers – had used up far more than their share of the ‘carbon budget’, while developing countries had not contributed nearly as much to the climate catastrophe and struggled to fulfil their basic obligations to their populations.

The Rio formula – common and differentiated responsibilities – hung over the Kyoto Protocol (1997) and the Paris Accords (2015). Promises were made but not met. Developed countries promised what began to be called ‘climate finance’ both to mitigate the disastrous outcomes of the climate catastrophe and to shift reliance upon carbon-based energy to other forms of energy. The Green Climate Fund has remained far smaller than the annual $100 billion commitment pledged in 2009. The Rome G20 meeting did not come to any consensus on the empty bucket; meanwhile, it is important to recognise the stark contrast that, during the pandemic, a total of $16 trillion in fiscal stimulus was disbursed between March 2020 and March 2021, mainly in the developed countries. Given the improbability of a serious discussion about climate finance taking place, it is likely that COP26 will be a failure.

He Neng (China), Waterfront, 1986.

He Neng (China), Waterfront, 1986.

Tragically, the COP26 process has been swept into the matrix of dangerous geopolitical tensions, driven largely by the United States in its quest to prevent China’s scientific and technological advancement. Coal is at the centre of the debate, with the argument being made that unless China and India cut back on their coal-fired power plants, no carbon reduction will be possible. At the United Nations in September, China’s President Xi Jinping said, ‘China will strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060’; he also stated that China would ‘not build new coal-fired plants overseas’. This was a monumental statement, far ahead of any of the pledges made by the other major global powers. Rather than build on this commitment, the debate driven by the West has largely been to malign developing countries, including China, and blame them for the climate catastrophe.

Looking at the IPCC evidence, economist John Ross recently showed that, according to the United States’ own proposal to reduce current emissions by 50-52% from 2005 levels, the country’s level of per capita CO2 emissions would still make up 220% of the global average in 2030. If the US were to reach its goal, the country’s per capita carbon emissions in 2030 would be 42% higher than China’s are today. The US has suggested that it would like to see a 50% reduction of emissions by 2030; since it would take the baseline at the uneven present levels of emissions, it would be allowed to emit 8.0 tonnes of CO2, China would be entitled to 3.7 tonnes, Brazil to 1.2 tonnes, India to 1.0 tonnes, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to 0.02 tonnes. As it stands, Ross shows, China’s per capita CO2 emissions are only 46% of US emissions, while other developing countries emit far less (Indonesia, 15%; Brazil, 14%; India, 12%). For further details, please follow the Climate Equity Monitor developed by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation and the National Institute of Advanced Studies (Bengaluru, India).

Rather than focus on the necessary energy transition, developed countries have taken to crude propaganda against a handful of developing states such as China and India. The Energy Transition Commission’s Making Mission Possible: Delivering a Net-Zero Economy report estimates that the cost of a transition will be 0.5% of global GDP by 2050, an insignificant amount compared to the catastrophic alternatives such as the disappearance of several  small island nations and increasing wildly erratic weather patterns.

The cost of the transition has decreased because of the decline in the costs of key technologies (onshore wind farms, solar photovoltaic cells, batteries, etc.). However, it is important to recognise that these costs are kept artificially low because of the very low wages paid to miners of key minerals and metals that power these technologies (such as cobalt miners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and because of the paltry royalty payments collected by countries of the South for these raw materials. If the real costs were paid, the transition would be more expensive, and the countries of the South would have resources to pay for the shift without reliance upon the climate fund.

Victor Ehikhamenor (Nigeria), Child of the Sky VII, 2015.

Victor Ehikhamenor (Nigeria), Child of the Sky VII, 2015.

Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research will be in Glasgow along with delegates from the International Peoples’ Assembly. We will be at various events to gauge the sentiment of people’s movements. At  the conference, Nnimmo Bassey of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (Benin City, Nigeria) and I spoke about the catastrophe together. Bassey wrote a powerful poem, ‘Return to Being’, extracted here:

The battle rages
Who must gobble up the carbon budget,
Wrap Mother Earth in endless bales of smog?
Whose task is to pile the climate debt
And whose lot to be the carbon slave?
Colonise the biosphere
Obliterate the ethnosphere
Hopes mapped in colonial geographies of death
Scarified for sport, booby-trapped, and floating on blood

The dream is gone, the cock has crowed,
The betrayer seeks a branch to ape a pendulum swing
And one or two shed a tear for the press
As the hawk glides softly on the winds of the dirge seeking a hapless prey
Funeral drums burst by pulsating biceps of pain
Flutes whisper a dirge long forgotten suddenly emerging from the depths of years of erased histories
As daughters and sons of the soil pick up pieces of sacred hills, rivers, forests
Mother Earth awakes, embraces her visible and invisible children
And finally humans return to being.

The post Will the People with Guns Allow Our Planet to Breathe first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Being a Child in Yemen Is the Stuff of Nightmares

Murad Subay (Yemen), Fuck War, 2018.

In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – along with other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – began to bomb Yemen. These countries entered a conflict that had been ongoing for at least a year as a civil war escalated between the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, the Ansar Allah movement of the Zaidi Shia, and al-Qaeda. The GCC – led by the Saudi monarchy – wanted to prevent any Shia political project, whether aligned with Iran or not, from taking power along Saudi Arabia’s border. The attack on Yemen can be described, therefore, as an attack by the Sunni monarchs against the possibility of what they feared would be a Shia political project coming to power on the Arabian Peninsula.

That war has continued, with the Saudis and the Emiratis backed fully by the Western countries, who have sold them billions of dollars of weapons to use against the impoverished Yemeni people. Saudi Arabia, the richest Arab country, has now been at war for the past six and a half years without much gain against Yemen, the poorest Arab country. Meanwhile, Yemen, which has a population of 30 million, has lost over 250,000 people to this conflict, half of them to the violence of war and half of them to the violence of starvation and disease, including cholera. None of the military or political aims of the Saudis and the Emiratis have been attained during the course of the war (the UAE withdrew in 2020). The only outcome of this war has been devastation for the Yemeni people.

Saba Jallas (illustration) / Mohammed Aziz (photograph), From Today’s Bombing on Sana’a, 7/3/2021 AD, Yemen, 2021.

Since February 2021, the military forces of Ansar Allah have made a push to capture the central town of Marib, which is not only at the epicentre of Yemen’s modest oil refining project but is also one of the few parts of the country still controlled by President Hadi. Other provinces, such as those in the south, are in the hands of al-Qaeda, while breakaway factions of the army control the western coastline. The attack on Marib has opened the jaws of death even wider, creating in its wake a flood of refugees. If Marib falls to Ansar Allah, which is likely, the United Nations’ mission to maintain Hadi as the country’s president will fail. Ansar Allah will then move to reintegrate the country by making a push against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which remains in charge in the Abyan Province; AQAP is now being challenged by the newly formed Islamic State in Yemen. Punctual US strikes against AQAP come alongside reliance by the Saudi alliance on AQAP to battle Ansar Allah on the ground, including through the use of assassinations to intimidate civilians and advocates for peace.

Fouad al-Futaih (Yemen), Mother and Child, 1973.

On 19 October, UNICEF spokesperson James Elder briefed the press in Geneva after his return from Yemen. He wrote, ‘The Yemen conflict has just hit another shameful milestone: 10,000 children have been killed or maimed since fighting started in March 2015. That’s the equivalent of four children every day’. Elder’s report is shocking. Of the 15 million people (50% of Yemen’s population) who do not have access to basic facilities, 8.5 million are children. In August, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore told the UN General Assembly, ‘Being a child in Yemen is the stuff of nightmares.’ ‘In Yemen,’ Fore said, ‘one child dies every ten minutes from preventable causes, including malnutrition and vaccine-preventable diseases.’

This, friends, is the cost of war. War is an affliction, hideous in its outcomes. Rarely can one turn to history and point a finger at a war that was worth the price. Even if a list of such wars could be made, Yemen would not figure on it, nor would so many countries which have bled for other people’s failures of imagination.

Millions of people have lost their lives while tens of millions have seen their lives destroyed. The blank stare of the person who has seen constant death and misery is what remains when the bombs stop falling alongside the blank stare of the hungry person whose country struggles to deal with the other quiet yet deadly wars of economic sanctions and trade disputes. Little good comes of this belligerence for the people who are its victims. Powerful countries might move the chess pieces to favour themselves and arms dealers might open new bank accounts to preserve their money – and so it goes.

Ilham al-Arashi (Yemen), Nature is Beautiful, 1990.

The war in Yemen is not only driven by the country’s internal politics; it is also largely a result of the terrible regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This rivalry appears to be due to the sectarian differences between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, while in fact the rivalry stems from something deeper: monarchical Islamic Saudi Arabia cannot tolerate a republican Islamic government in its neighbourhood. Saudi Arabia had no problem when Iran was ruled by the Pahlavi Shahs (1925-1979). Its animosity grew only after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when it became clear that an Islamic republic could be possible on the Arabian Peninsula (this was a repeat of the Saudi and British-inspired war between 1962 and 1970 against the republic of North Yemen).

It is, therefore, a welcome development that high-ranking officials from both Iran and Saudi Arabia first met in Baghdad in April of this year and then again in September to set the table for a de-escalation of tensions. The discussions have already raised the issues of regional rivalries in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen – all countries afflicted by the problems between Saudi Arabia and Iran. If a grand bargain can be reached between Riyadh and Tehran, it could de-escalate several wars in the region.

In 1962, Abdullah al-Sallal, a working-class military officer, led a nationalist military coup that overthrew the last ruler of the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen. Many sensitive people rushed to staff the new government, including the brilliant lawyer and poet Abdullah al-Baradouni. Al-Baradouni worked at the radio broadcasting service in the capital, Sana’a, from 1962 till his death in 1999, lifting the cultural discourse of his country. His diwan (‘collection’) of poems includes Madinat Al Ghad’ (‘The City of Tomorrow’), 1968 and Al Safar Ela Ay Ayyam Al Khudr (‘Journey to the Green Days’), 1979. ‘From Exile to Exile’ is one of his classic verses:

My country is handed over from one tyrant
to the next, a worse tyrant;
from one prison to another,
from one exile to another.
It is colonised by the observed
invader and the hidden one;
handed over by one beast to two
like an emaciated camel.

In the caverns of its death
my country neither dies
nor recovers. It digs
in the muted graves looking
for its pure origins
for its springtime promise
that slept behind its eyes
for the dream that will come
for the phantom that hid.
It moves from one overwhelming
night to a darker night.

My country grieves
in its own boundaries
and in other people’s land
and even on its own soil
suffers the alienation
of exile.

Abbas al-Junaydi (Yemen), Adult Education and Workforce, c. 1970s.

Al-Baradouni’s country grieves in its own boundaries not only for the destruction, but also for its ‘springtime promise’, for its lost histories. Like Afghanistan, Sudan, and so many countries across the world, Yemen was once a centre of Left possibility, home to the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) from 1967 to 1990 in the country’s south. The PDRY emerged out of an anti-colonial struggle against the British led by trade unions (Aden Trade Union Congress and its charismatic leader Abdullah al-Asnag) and Marxist formations (the National Liberation Front), which – after internal struggles – merged into the Yemeni Socialist Party in 1978 led by President Abdul Fattah Ismail. The PDRY attempted to enact land reforms and advance agricultural production, created a national education system (which promoted women’s education), built a strong medical system (including health centres in the countryside), and pushed through the 1974 Family Law that put women’s emancipation at the front of its agenda. All of this was destroyed when the PDRY was overthrown as part of the unification of Yemen in 1990. That socialist memory remains fragile in the corners of the bomb-torn country.

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