All posts by Vijay Prashad

Women Hold Up More Than Half the Sky

Illustration: Junaina Muhammed (India) / Young Socialist Artists

Junaina Muhammed (India) / Young Socialist Artists, A woman working in the korai fields, where women often work from a young age to earn a living.

Reminder: Indian peasants and agricultural workers remain in the midst of a country-wide agitation sparked by the proposal of three farm bills that were then signed into law by the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party government in September 2020. In June 2021, our dossier summarised the situation plainly:

It is clear that the problem in Indian agriculture is not too much institutional support, but inadequate and uneven deployment of institutions as well as the unwillingness of these institutions to address the inherent inequalities of village society. There is no evidence that agribusiness firms will develop infrastructure, enhance agricultural markets, or provide technical support to farmers. All this is clear to the farmers.

The farmers’ protests, which began in October 2020, are a sign of the clarity with which farmers have reacted to the agrarian crisis and to the three laws that will only deepen the crisis. No attempt by the government – including trying to incite farmers along religious lines – has succeeded in breaking the farmers’ unity. There is a new generation that has learned to resist, and they are prepared to take their fight across India.

In January 2021, the Supreme Court of India heard a series of petitions about the farmers’ protests. Chief Justice S. A. Bobde reacted to them with the following startling observation: ‘We don’t understand either why old people and women are kept in the protests’. The word ‘kept’ rankles. Did the Chief Justice believe that women are not farmers and that women farmers do not come to the protests of their own volition? That is the implication behind his remark.

A quick look at a recent labour force survey shows that 73.2% of women workers who live in rural areas work in agriculture; they are peasants, agricultural workers, and artisans. Meanwhile, only 55% of male workers who live in rural areas are engaged in agriculture. It is telling that only 12.8% of women farmers own land, which is an illustration of the gender inequality in India and is what likely provoked the Chief Justice’s sexist remark.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation pointed out a decade ago that ‘Closing the gender gap in agricultural inputs alone could lift 100-150 million people out of hunger’. Given the immense problem of hunger in our time – as highlighted in last week’s newsletter – women in agriculture must be, as the FAO notes, ‘heard as equal partners’.

Illustration: Karuna Pious P (India) / Young Socialist Artists

Karuna Pious P (India) / Young Socialist Artists, Brick work, locally known as pakka me kaam.

From Tricontinental Research Services (Delhi) comes a superb new dossier on the status of women in India, Indian Women on an Arduous Road to Equality (no. 45, October 2021). The text opens with an image of five women working at a brick kiln. When I saw that drawing, I was transported to a calculation made by Brinda Karat, a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), about the labour of women construction workers. Bina, a young woman working in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand, carries between 1,500 and 2,000 bricks to masons in a multi-story building. Bina carries at least 3,000kgs of bricks every day, each weighing 2.5kgs, yet she earns a pittance of under ₹150 ($2) per day and suffers from severe body aches. ‘The pain has become an intrinsic part of my life. I don’t remember a single day without it’, Bina told Karat.

Illustration: Daniela Ruggeri (Argentina) / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

Daniela Ruggeri (Argentina) / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, Childcare workers protest the Modi government’s unfair treatment of women and workers.

Reminder: Women in India have been an integral part of the farmers’ movement, the workers’ movement, and the movement to widen democracy. Does this need to be said? It seems that something so evident requires constant repetition.

During this pandemic, women public health workers and women childcare workers have played a central role in holding together society, all while being disparaged and having their work trivialised. On 24 September 2021, ten million scheme workers – those who work for government schemes such as public health (Accredited Social Health Activist or ASHA workers) and crèches (anganwadi workers) – went on strike to demand formal employment and better protection for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Tax the super-rich’, they said, repeal the farm bills, stop the privatisation of the public sector, and defend women workers.

Over the past few years, ASHA workers have complained about routine harassment, including sexual harassment. In 2013, the Indian government enacted the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act to protect both formal and informal workers. No rules have been framed for ASHA and other scheme workers, nor are these workers able to lift up their experiences of harassment to the front pages of corporate media.

Our dossier carefully dissects the prevalence of patriarchal harassment and violence, making sure to identify the different ways that such toxic behaviours strike at women of different classes. Working-class women in unions and in left organisations have built a kind of mass sensibility; as a result, their struggles now incorporate demands against patriarchy that had otherwise been distant from their lives. For instance, it is now clear amongst many working-class women that they must win maternity leave, equal wages for equal work, guaranteed crèches, and redressal and prevention mechanisms against sexual harassment in workplaces. Such demands cascade back into the family and community, where other struggles – such as against patriarchal violence in the home – expand the horizon of democratic movements in India.

Illustration: Vikas Thakur (India) / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

Vikas Thakur (India) / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, A cycling training camp in Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu.

The dossier closes with wise words about the importance of the farmers’ movement for the women’s movement:

Though the Indian women’s movement has seen many ups and downs over the decades, it has remained resilient, adapted to changing socioeconomic conditions, and even expanded. The current situation might present an opportunity to strengthen mass movements and to steer the focus towards the rights and livelihoods of women and workers. The ongoing Indian farmers’ movement, which started before the pandemic and continues to stay strong, offers the opportunity to steer the national discourse towards such an agenda. The tremendous participation of rural women, who travelled from different states to take turns sitting at the borders of the national capital for days, is a historic phenomenon. Their presence in the farmers’ movement provides hope for the women’s movement in a post-pandemic future.

Reminder: Nothing in the slogans coming from the farmers’ encampments is unique. Most of these are long-standing claims. The demands made by women farmers at the protest sites and amplified by the farmers’ unions echo the Draft National Policy for Women in Agriculture put forward by the National Commission for Women in April 2008. This policy included the following key demands, each one applicable today:

  1. Ensure that women have access to and control over resources, including land rights, water, and pasture/forest/biodiversity resources.
  2. Guarantee equal wages for equal work.
  3. Pay minimum support prices to primary producers and ensure that sufficient food grains are available at affordable prices.
  4. Encourage women to enter agriculture-related industries (including fisheries and artisanal work).
  5. Provide training programmes for women including agricultural practices and technologies that are sensitive to the knowledge that women possess as well as the practices they carry out.
  6. Provide adequate and equal availability of services such as irrigation, credit, and insurance.
  7. Encourage primary producers to produce and market seeds, forest and dairy products, and livestock.
  8. Prevent women’s livelihoods from being displaced without providing viable alternatives.

The left women’s movement has put these demands back on the table. The right-wing government will not hear them.

Illustration: Ingrid Neves (Brazil) / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research

Ingrid Neves (Brazil) / Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, A seaweed harvester facing the rough seas.

Once more, our dossier comes to you designed with great care and love. This time, our team has worked closely with the Young Socialist Artists (India). Together, we found powerful photographs from the history of the Indian women’s movement and from the farmers’ protests and used these as references for the illustrations in the dossier. We look forward to inviting you to an online exhibition of this art, our small gesture towards expanding a possible pathway to a socialist future.

The post Women Hold Up More Than Half the Sky first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A World Without Hunger

Ang Kiukok (Philippines), Harvest, 2004.

On 1 October, the International Peoples’ Assembly (IPA), a network of over 200 social and political movements, had its public launch. The IPA owes its origin to a meeting held in Brazil in 2015 where movement leaders gathered to talk about the perilous situation facing the world. At this meeting – called the Dilemmas of Humanity – the idea was born to create the IPA and three partner processes: a media network (Peoples Dispatch), a network of political schools (the International Collective of Political Education), and a research institute (Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research). Over the course of the next few months, I will be writing more about the history of the IPA and its general orientation. For now, we welcome its launch.

Each year on 16 October, the United Nations commemorates World Food Day. This year, the IPA, Peoples Dispatch, the International Collective of Political Education, and Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research will conduct a political campaign to end hunger. Leading up to this day, Peoples Dispatch has already produced a series of stories in collaboration with six media platforms that uncover hunger in the world today and people’s resistance to it; meanwhile, the International Collective of Political Education is running a series of seminars called Environmental Crisis and Capitalism that explores elements of unsustainable food production.

There is nothing more obscene than the existence of hunger, the terrible indignity of working hard but being without the means for sustenance. To that end, we have drafted Red Alert no. 12, ‘A World Without Hunger’, to sharpen our thinking about hunger and food and to sharpen our campaigns to end hunger.

In a world of plenty, why does hunger persist?

Hunger is intolerable.

World hunger, which had declined from 2005 to 2014, has begun to rise since then; world hunger is now at 2010 levels. The major exception to this trend has been China, which eradicated extreme poverty in 2020. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)’s 2021 report, The State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World, notes that ‘nearly one in three people in the world (2.37 billion) did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of almost 320 million people in just one year’. The UN’s World Food Programme projects that the number of those who are hungry could nearly double before the COVID-19 pandemic is contained ‘unless swift action is taken’.

Scientists inform us that there is no shortage of food for the population: in fact, the overall supply of calories per capita has increased across the world. People are hungry not because there are too many of us, but because peasant subsistence producers all over the world are being forced off their land by agribusiness and pushed into city slums, where access to food is dependent on monetary income. As a result, billions of people do not have the means to buy food.

All historical research shows that famines are not primarily caused by a lack of food supply, but by the lack of the means to access food. As the FAO wrote in 2014, ‘current food production and distribution systems are failing to feed the world. While agriculture produces enough food for 12 to 14 billion, some 850 million – or one in eight of the world population – live with chronic hunger’. This failure can be measured, in part, by the fact that one third of all food produced is either lost during processing and transportation or it is wasted. It is not overpopulation that causes hunger as is often argued, but rather inequality and a profit-driven, agribusiness-dominated food system in which the basic material need for food for hundreds of millions of people – at minimum – is sacrificed to quench the hunger for profit of the few.

Quamrul Hassan (Bangladesh), Three Women, 1955.

What is food sovereignty?

In 1996, two necessary phrases, food security and food sovereignty, entered common currency.

The idea of food security, developed out of anti-colonial and socialist struggles and formally established at the FAO’s World Food Conference (1974), is closely linked to the idea of national food self-sufficiency. In 1996, as part of the Rome Declaration, the concept of food security was broadened to bring into focus the importance of economic access to food, and governments committed themselves to guaranteeing food to all people through income and food distribution policies.

In the early 1990s, the idea of food sovereignty was shaped by La Via Campesina, an international network that today includes 200 million peasants from 81 countries, to insist not only that governments deliver food, but also that people be empowered to produce basic foodstuffs. Food sovereignty was defined around the creation of an agricultural and food system that would secure ‘the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems’.

Over a decade later, La Via Campesina, the World March of Women, and various environmental groups held the International Forum for Food Sovereignty in Nyéléni (Mali) in 2007. At the forum, they elaborated six core components of food sovereignty:

  1. To centre the needs of people rather than the needs of capital.
  2. To value food producers, namely by creating policies that value peasants and enrich their livelihoods.
  3. To strengthen food system by ensuring that local, regional, and national networks collaborate with and value those who produce food and those who consume food. This would strengthen the involvement of food producers and consumers in creating and reproducing food systems and ensure that poor quality and unhealthy foods do not overwhelm the attempt to create just food markets.
  4. To localise the control of food production; in other words, to give those who produce food the right to define how to organise the land and resources.
  5. To build knowledge and skills, which insists on taking local knowledge about food production seriously and further developing it scientifically.
  6. To work in harmony with nature by minimising harm to ecosystems through agricultural practices that are not destructive to the natural world.

Asger Jorn (Denmark), Landscape in Finkidong, 1945.

The idea of the ‘local’ requires a sharp assessment of the hierarchies of class, ethnicity, and gender; there is no ‘local community’ or ‘local economy’ that is not torn apart by the exploitation and violence of these hierarchies. Equally, local knowledge must be seen alongside the advances of modern science, whose breakthroughs in the field of agriculture should not be discounted. What unites the platform of food sovereignty is the sharp line it creates to distinguish itself from the capitalist form of food production.

Liberalised trade and speculation in the production and distribution of food create serious distortions. Trade liberalisation not only poses the threat of cheaper imports, which depresses crop prices, but also brings with it more volatile prices through the entry of international prices into domestic markets. Such liberalisation also threatens to change cropping patterns in developing countries to suit the demands of richer states, thus undermining food sovereignty. In 2010, the UN’s former special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Olivier De Schutter, cautioned about the way that hedge funds, pensions funds, and investment banks had come to overpower agriculture with speculation through commodity derivatives. These financial methods, he wrote, were ‘generally unconcerned with agricultural market fundamentals’. Financial speculation in agriculture is one illustration of the disregard that money has for a balanced food production system that could benefit both producers and consumers. It encourages money power to distort the food production system.

Fernando Llort (El Salvador), Alegría eterna (‘Eternal Happiness’), 1976.

The concept of food sovereignty is an argument against this kind of distortion, which is rooted in land grabs by agribusiness corporations. Since the beginning of this century, agribusiness corporations such as Unilever and Monsanto have promoted the great global enclosure of our times, sparking the biggest mass movement of populations in history and, in so doing, destroying the relation between people and land.

Two United Nations resolutions – one to declare the right to water (2010) and the other to affirm peasants’ rights (2018) – will help us shape a new agricultural system that centres the rights of the producers (including access to land) and respect for nature and that treats water as a commons and not as a commodity.

Mohammed Wasia Charinda (Tanzania), Village River, 2007.

How do we create a just food production and distribution system?

Peasant and farmer organisations have developed sufficient knowledge of the failures of the capitalist form of food production. Their punctual demands assert a different form, one that insists on greater democratic participation in the construction and reproduction of food systems, a participation which includes the intervention of governments rather than aid agencies or the private sector. From their many demands, we have distilled the following points:

  1. Give economic power to the people by:
    1. Implementing agrarian reform for peasants and farmers so that they have access to land and resources to farm the land.
    2. Developing appropriate forms of production that encourage – among other things – some form of collective action to take advantage of economies of scale.
    3. Instituting local self-government in rural areas, where peasants wield the political power necessary to shape policies that benefit their lives and that shield the ecosystem.
    4. Strengthening systems of social welfare so that peasants are protected in adverse times (bad weather, poor harvests, etc.).
    5. Building public distribution systems, with particular focus on eliminating hunger.
    6. Ensuring that healthy food is made available to public schools and crèches.
  1. Develop and implement measures to ensure that agriculture is remunerative by:
    1. Preventing the dumping of cheapened foodstuffs from agricultural systems in the Global North that benefit from massive subsidies.
    2. Expanding access of rural producers to affordable bank credit and providing relief from informal lenders.
    3. Creating a policy to ensure floor prices for farm produce.
    4. Developing publicly funded, sustainable irrigation systems, transportation systems, storage facilities, and related infrastructure.
    5. Enhancing the cooperative sector’s food production and encouraging popular participation in food production and distribution systems.
    6. Building the scientific and technical capacity for sustainable and ecological agriculture.
    7. Removing patents on seeds and promoting legal frameworks to protect native seeds from being commodified by agribusinesses.
    8. Providing modern farm inputs at affordable prices.
  1. Design a democratic international trade system by:
    1. Democratising the World Trade Organisation, which would include:
      1. Greater national participation of the Global South countries in shaping the rules for deliberation, greater openness of the process of negotiations (including the publication of reports and negotiation of texts), and greater participation of peasant organisations in the process of rulemaking.
      2. Greater transparency in trade dispute mechanisms. This includes the timely announcement of any disputes and of the form of arbitration as well as the public announcements of judicial settlements.
    2. Decreasing reliance upon powerful Global North platforms for designing policy and settling claims; this includes the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. These bodies are controlled by the Global North, and they operate almost entirely in the interest of the multinational corporations domiciled in the Global North.

    Rabee Baghshani (Iran), Concert, 2016.

    These proposals are echoed in the IPA’s political platform; please make sure to follow their various social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where more information about the activities around the campaign to end hunger will be announced.

    The post A World Without Hunger first appeared on Dissident Voice.

If the United Nations Charter Was Put To a Vote Today, Would It Pass?

Rafael Tufiño Figueroa (Puerto Rico), La plena, 1952-54.

Each year in September, the heads of governments come to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City to inaugurate a new session of the General Assembly. The area surrounding the headquarters becomes colourful, delegates from each of the 193 member states milling about the UN building and then going out to lunch in the array of restaurants in its vicinity that scraped through the pandemic. Depending on the conflicts that abound, certain speeches are taken seriously; conflicts in this or that part of the world demand attention to the statements made by their leaders, but otherwise there is a queue of speeches that are made and then forgotten.

On 25 September, the prime minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley, took the stage in an almost empty UN General Assembly chamber. ‘How many more leaders must come to this podium and not be heard before they stop coming?’, she asked emphatically. ‘How many times must we address an empty hall of officials and an institution that was intended to be made for leaders to discuss with leaders the advancement necessary to prevent another great war or any of the other great challenges of our humanity?’. Prime Minister Mottley set aside her prepared remarks, since, she said, they would be ‘a repetition of what you have heard from others’. Instead, she offered a biting statement: ‘We have the means to give every child on this planet a tablet. And we have the means to give every adult a vaccine. And we have the means to invest in protecting the most vulnerable on our planet from a change in climate. But we choose not to. It is not because we do not have enough. It is because we do not have the will to distribute that which we have… If we can find the will to send people to the moon and solve male baldness … we can solve simple problems like letting our people eat at affordable prices’.

Albin Egger-Lienz (Austria), Nordfrankreich (‘Northern France’), 1917.

The United Nations was formed in October 1945 when 50 countries met in San Francisco to ratify the UN Charter. ‘This is 2021’, Prime Minister Mottley said, when there are ‘many countries that did not exist in 1945 who must face their people and answer the needs of their people’. Many of these countries were once colonies, the well-being of their people set aside by their colonial leaders at the UN. Now, 76 years later, the people of these countries – including Barbados – ‘want to know what is the relevance of an international community that only comes and does not listen to each other, that only talks and will not talk with each other’, Prime Minister Mottley said.

While the world leaders followed each other to the podium, Sacha Llorenti, secretary-general of ALBA-TCP – an organisation of nine member states in Latin America and the Caribbean set up to further regional cooperation and development – asked a fundamental question during a No Cold War webinar on multipolarity: ‘If the UN Charter was put to a vote today, would it pass?’

The Charter is ratified by every member state of the United Nations, and yet, clause after clause, it remains disrespected by some of its most powerful members, with the United States of America in the lead. If I were to catalogue the incidents of disregard shown by the United States government to the United Nations institutions and to the UN Charter, that text would be endless. This list would need to include the US refusal to:

  • Sign the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • Ratify the 1989 Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, the 1998 Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants.
  • Join the 2002 Treaty of Rome (which set up the International Criminal Court).
  • Participate in the 2016 Global Compact on Migration.

This inventory would also need to include the usage of unilateral, illegal, coercive sanctions against two dozen member states of the United Nations as well as the illegal prosecution of wars of aggression against several countries (including Iraq).

Would the United States government exercise its veto in the UN Security Council if the UN Charter came up for a vote? Based on the historical actions of the US government, the answer is simple: certainly.

Käthe Kollwitz (Germany), Die Gefangenen (‘The Prisoners’), 1908.

During the UN session, 18 countries – led by Venezuela – held a foreign ministers’ meeting of the Group of Friends in Defence of the UN Charter. One in four people who live in the world reside in these 18 countries, which include Algeria, China, Cuba, Palestine, and Russia. The Group, led by Venezuela’s new Foreign Affairs Minister Felix Plasencia, called for ‘reinvigorated multilateralism’. This merely means to uphold the UN Charter: to say no to illegal wars and unilateral sanctions and to say yes to collaboration to control the COVID-19 pandemic, yes to collaboration on the climate catastrophe, yes to collaboration against hunger, illiteracy, and despair.

These countries never get to define what the ‘international community’ thinks because that phrase is used only in reference to the United States and its Western allies, who decide what must be done and how it must be done for the rest of the world. Only then, in the solemnest of voices, do we speak of the ‘international community’; not when the Group of Friends – which represents 25% of the world’s people – nor when the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation – which represents 40% of the world’s people – speak, nor even when the Non-Aligned Movement with its 120 members speaks.

Mahmoud Sabri (Iraq), The Hero, 1963.

At the UN, US President Joe Biden said, ‘We are not seeking a new cold war’. This is welcome news. But it is also discordant. Prime Minister Mottley asked for clarity and honesty. Biden’s comment seemed neither clear nor honest, since around the time of the UN meeting, the US entered a new arms agreement that masqueraded as a military pact with Australia and the United Kingdom (AUKUS) and held a meeting of the Quad (Australia, India, and Japan). Both have military implications that intend to pressure China.

Beyond this, US government documents refer over and over again to the desire for the US military to be expanded to ‘fight and prevail in a future conflict with China’; this includes a reconfiguration of military activities on the African continent directed at pushing back Chinese commercial and political interests. Biden’s additional budget request for the US military says that this is needed ‘to counter the pacing threat from China’.

This threat is not from China, but to China. If the US continues to expand its military, deepen its alliances in the Pacific region, and ramp up its rhetoric, then it is nothing other than a New Cold War – another dangerous action that makes a mockery of the UN Charter.

At the No Cold War webinar on multipolarity, ‘Towards a Multipolar World: An International Peace Forum’, Fred M’membe of the Socialist Party of Zambia said that, while he grew up in a world where the bipolar Cold War seemed to pose an existential threat, ‘the unipolar world is more dangerous than the bipolar world’. The system we live in now, dominated by the Western powers, ‘undermines global solidarity at a time when human solidarity is needed’, he said.

Roberto Matta (Chile), El primer gol del pueblo chileno (‘The First Goal of the Chilean People’), 1971.

You cannot eat the UN Charter. But if you learn to read, and if you read the Charter, you can use it to fight for your right to human decency. If we 7.9 billion people came together and decided to form a human chain to advance our human rights – each of us standing three feet apart – we would form a wall that would run for 6.5 million kilometres. That wall would run around the equator 261 times. We would build this wall to defend our right to become human, to defend our humanity, and to defend nature.

The post If the United Nations Charter Was Put To a Vote Today, Would It Pass? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Where Flowers Find No Peace Enough to Grow

Milwa Mnyaluza ‘George’ Pemba (South Africa), New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, 1977.

On 13 July 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a landmark resolution on the prevalence of racism and for the creation of an independent mechanism made up of three experts to investigate the root cause of deeply embedded racism and intolerance. The Group of African States pushed for this resolution, which had emerged out of global anger over the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police on 25 May 2020. The discussions in the UNHRC considered the problems of police brutality and went back to the formation of our modern system in the crucible of slavery and colonialism. A number of Western countries – such as the United States and the United Kingdom – hesitated over both the assessment of the past and the question of reparations; these governments were able to remove the requirement to investigate systematic racism in US law enforcement.

Recognition of the enormity of the cost of enslavement and colonialism is a basic demand of the majority of the world’s population. Calculations of these costs range from $777 trillion for the trans-Atlantic slave trade to $45 trillion for British colonialism in India; these are partial, but still formidable, calculations. The total cost of the 191,900 tonnes of gold ever mined at the current cost of $46.5 million per ton is merely $9 trillion – far less than the total bill for enslavement and colonialism. No wonder that few governments are willing to entertain the question of reparations for the survivors of enslavement and colonialism. Yet, too often concealed from any meaningful discussion on reparations is the fact that colonial regimes were paid massive sums to compensate the loss of their source of income. The French owners of enslaved people in Haiti collected an estimated $28 billion from the revolutionary Haitian government, a sum that was not paid off till 1947, to compensate them for the property – namely human beings – that was reclaimed during the Revolution. Similarly, Britain paid off the English owners of human beings enormous sums of money following the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act; according to the Treasury, the completion of these payments by British taxpayers was made in 2015.

Cyprian Mpho Shilakoe (South Africa), Let’s Wait Until They Come, 1970.

The denial of humanity to more than half the world’s population remains part of the broad framework of our world system. Even now, in 2021, the life of an Afghan civilian is made to be so much less than the life of a US soldier. When 20,000 or more people died because a US-owned factory exploded in Bhopal (India) in 1984, H. Michael Utidjian, the medical director for American Cyanamid, expressed grief but asked that it be put into context. What is the context? ‘Indians’, he said, do not have the ‘North American philosophy of the importance of human life’. To Utidjian and so many others, their lives are disposable, as disposable as the lives of the 1.6 million Africans who die annually of preventable lower respiratory tract illnesses and diarrhoea.

Almost all of the deaths by diarrhea are caused by poor hygiene and sanitation as well as unsafe water, problems that can be fixed by producing better infrastructure. Six populous countries – Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Zambia – spend more to service their debt than on health and education combined. This is yet more hideous evidence of the disregard for people who fought to end colonialism but who remain seen by the powerful – despite their surface liberalism – as lesser and weaker.

The site where the Njwaxa Leatherwork Factory was once located in Njwaxa village near Middledrift in the Eastern Cape (Steve Biko Foundation).

One of the reasons why the Johannesburg (South Africa) office of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research has spent considerable energy excavating the histories of struggle is to put on the record the Black-led struggle for freedom in southern Africa. They have gone back in time to the tell us about the history of the Industrial & Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) from 1919 to 1931, the ancestor of the modern trade union movement in South Africa (dossier no. 20, September 2019). They have told us about the development of contemporary South African politics (dossier no. 31, August 2020) and about the contemporary shack dwellers movement – Abahlali baseMjondolo – and its grip on the imagination of the country’s poor (dossier no. 11, December 2018). These have been accompanied by dossiers on the impact of powerful social theorists of African insurgencies and pedagogies of the poor offered through the work of Frantz Fanon (dossier no. 26, March 2020) and Paulo Freire (dossier no. 34, November 2020), whose centenary we celebrate this year. Each of these texts are working to build an archive of Black struggle against regimes of disparagement.

Dossier no. 44 (September 2021) is called Black Community Programmes: The Practical Manifestations of Black Consciousness Philosophy. These Black Community Programmes (BCP) ran from 1972 to 1977, each one founded and led by Black South Africans, each one developed to advance the cause of the Black community, and each one shut down by the apartheid regime. The BCP included projects of community welfare, Black art, Black theology, and decolonised education. A key area of the BCP was to develop the consciously neglected health of Black South Africans. Projects such as the Zanempilo Community Health Centre (Eastern Cape) and Solempilo (Durban, KZN) carried the objectives reflected in their names: zanempilo meaning ‘the one bringing health’ and solempilo meaning ‘eye of health’. Both were shut down by the apartheid regime when it banned all Black Consciousness groups in October 1977.

Steve Biko (fourth from the right, wearing a cap) at the University of Natal Medical School Non-European Section in Durban, 5 April 1969 (Lindiwe Edith Gumede Baloyi).

The BCP emerged out of the context of intense popular resistance to the racist apartheid regime in South Africa, resistance that was not demoralised by the banning of the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress, but which thundered into the formation of the South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) in 1968. SASO was led by Steve Biko (1946-1977), who shaped the philosophy of Black Consciousness and who was murdered in the brutal cells of the racist government. Biko’s ideas of Black Consciousness were capacious. He had a deep sense that Black dignity had to be affirmed and that Black leadership had to be developed in order for a true future equality to be established. Black South Africans did not want freedom to be gifted to them; they had to seize it, nurture it, and build it further.

Charlotte Maxeke Street (formerly Beatrice Street) in Durban, 2021 (Nomfundo Xolo).

Biko defined Black Consciousness precisely as an ideology that:

seeks to give positivity in the outlook of the black people to their problems. It works on the knowledge that ‘white hatred’ is negative, though understandable, and leads to precipitate and shot-gun methods which may be disastrous for black and white [people] alike. It seeks to channel the pent-up forces of the angry black masses to meaningful and directional opposition basing its entire struggle on realities of the situation. It wants to ensure a singularity of purpose in the minds of the black people and to make possible total involvement of the masses in a struggle essentially theirs.

This is neither Afro-pessimism nor futile despair for people of African descent, nor is it a declaration of Black separatism. Rather, this is the most profound synthesis of a politics of human dignity and a politics of socialism.

In 2006, journalist Niren Tolsi spoke to the poet Mafika Pascal Gwala (1946-2014) and asked him about the meaning of Black Consciousness in his life. ‘We didn’t take Black Consciousness as a kind of Bible’, Gwala said to Tolsi. ‘It was just a trend, which was a necessary one because it meant bringing in what the white opposition [to apartheid] couldn’t bring into the struggle. So much was brought into the struggle through Black Consciousness’. The Black Consciousness movement – alongside South African Communism (as documented in Tom Lodge’s monumental new book Red Road to Freedom, 2021) and the trade union movement that emerged from the Durban strikes in 1973 – certainly brought the masses into the anti-apartheid struggle in a way that the white opposition could not; but it also brought in the sensibility of worth, of being worthy of human life, of making the struggle for freedom something precise and worthwhile for the dignity of existence rather than an abstraction.

That search for dignity defines the poetry of Gwala, whose Soweto poems sizzle with the desire for freedom:

Our history will be written
at the factory gates
at the unemployment offices
in the scorched queues of
dying mouths

Our history shall be our joys
our sorrows
our anguish
scrawled in dirty Third Class toilets

Our history will be the distorted figures
and bitter slogans
decorating our ghetto walls
where flowers find no peace enough to grow.

The post Where Flowers Find No Peace Enough to Grow first appeared on Dissident Voice.

I Awakened Here When the Earth Was New

Alisa Singer (USA), Changing, 2021. Source: IPCC.

In late March 2021, 120 traditional owners from 40 different First People’s groups spent five days at the National First People’s Gathering on Climate Change in Cairns (Australia). Speaking on the impact of the climate crisis on First People, Gavin Singleton from the Yirrganydji traditional owners explained that ‘From changing weather patterns to shifts in natural ecosystems, climate change is a clear and present threat to our people and our culture’.

Bianca McNeair of the Malgana traditional owners from Gatharagudu (Australia) said that those who attended the gathering ‘are talking about how the birds’ movements across the country have changed, so that’s changing songlines that they’ve been singing for thousands and thousands of years, and how that’s impacting them as a community and culture. … We are very resilient people’, McNeair said, ‘so it’s a challenge we were ready to take on. But now we’re facing a situation that’s not predictable, it’s not part of our natural environmental pattern’.

Arone Meeks (Australia), The Gesture, 2020.

The Yirrganydji traditional owners live on Australia’s coastline, which faces the Great Barrier Coral Reef. That majestic reef faces extinction from climate change: a period of consecutive years of coral bleaching from 2014 to 2017 threatened to kill off the precious coral, during which fluctuating temperatures caused coral to expel symbiotic algae that are crucial to the nutritional health of the coral. Scientists assembled by the United Nations found that 70% of the earth’s coral reefs are threatened, with 20% already destroyed ‘with no hope for recovery’. Of the reefs that are threatened, a quarter are under ‘imminent risk of collapse’ and another quarter are at risk ‘due to long-term threats’. In November 2020, a UN report titled Projections on Future Coral Bleaching suggested that unless carbon emissions are controlled, the reefs will die and the species they support will die out too. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority notes that ‘climate change is the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef and coral reefs worldwide’. That is why the Yirrganydji traditional owners created the Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers to care for the reef against all odds.

‘Most of our traditions, our customs, our language are from the sea’, says Singleton, ‘so losing the reef would impact our identity. We were here prior to the formation of the reef, and we still hold stories that have been passed down through generations – of how the sea rose and flooded the area, the “great flood”’. The Yirrganydji Rangers, Singleton points out, ‘have their hearts and souls’ in the reef. But they are struggling against all odds.

Pejac (Spain), Stain, 2011.

Not long after the National First People’s Gathering disbanded, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its sixth report. Based on the consensus of 234 scientists from over 60 countries, the report notes that ‘multiple lines of evidence indicate the recent large-scale climatic changes are unprecedented in a multi-millennial context, and that they represent a millennial-scale commitment for the slow-responding elements of the climate system, resulting in worldwide loss of ice, increase in ocean heat content, sea level rise, and deep ocean acidification’. If warming continues to reach 3 °C (by 2060) and 5.7 °C (by 2100), human extinction is certain. The report comes after a string of extreme weather events: floods in China and Germany, fires across the Mediterranean, and extreme temperatures across the world. A study in the July issue of Nature Climate Change found that ‘record-shattering extremes’ would be ‘nearly impossible in the absence of warming’.

Importantly, the 6th IPCC report shows that ‘historical cumulative CO2 emissions determine to a large degree warming to date’, which means that the Global North countries have already taken the planet to the threshold of annihilation before countries of the Global South have been able to attain basic needs such as universal electrification. For instance, 54 countries on the African continent account for merely 2-3% of global carbon emissions; half of Africa’s 1.2 billion people have no access to electricity, while many extreme climate events (droughts and cyclones in southern Africa, floods in the Horn of Africa, desertification in the Sahel) are now taking place across the continent. Released on World Environment Day (5 June) and produced with the International Week of Anti-Imperialist Struggle, our Red Alert no. 11 further explains the scientific and political dynamics of the climate crisis, the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’, and what can be done to turn the tides.

Frédéric Bruly Bouabré (Ivory Coast), Le serment du Jeu de Paume, 2010.

Governments will gather in October for the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) in Kunming (China) to discuss progress on the Convention on Biological Diversity (ratified in 1993) and in November for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow (UK) to discuss climate change. Attention is on COP26, where the powerful Global North will once more push for ‘net zero’ carbon dioxide emissions and thereby reject deep cuts to their own emissions while insisting that the Global South forgo social development.

Meanwhile, there will be less attention paid to COP15, where the agenda will include cutting pesticide use by two-thirds, halving food waste, and eliminating the discharge of plastic waste. In 2019, an Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services report showed that pollution and resource extraction had threatened one million animal and plant species with extinction.

The link between the assault on biological diversity and climate change is clear: the opening of wetlands alone has released historic stores of carbon to the atmosphere. Deep emission cuts and better stewardship of resources are necessary.

Amin Roshan (Iran), Wandering, 2019.

Strikingly, just as the IPCC released its report, US President Joe Biden’s administration asked the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to boost output of oil production. This makes a mockery of the Biden pledge to cut 50% of US greenhouse emissions by 2030.

A recent paper in Nature shows that the passage of the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer banned the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), whose gradual elimination from aerosol sprays, refrigerants, and Styrofoam packaging prevented ozone depletion. The Montreal Protocol is significant because – despite industry lobbying – it was universally ratified. That treaty provides hope that sufficient pressure from key countries, pushed by social and political movements, could result in stringent regulations against pollution and carbon abuse as well as meaningful cultural change.

Simone Thomson (Australia), Awakening, 2019.

Places associated with global negotiations to save the planet include cities such as Kyoto (1997), Copenhagen (2009), and Paris (2015). First amongst these should be Cochabamba (Bolivia), where the government of Evo Morales Ayma held the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in April 2010. Over 30,000 people from more than 100 countries came to this landmark conference, which adopted the Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth. Several points were discussed, including the demand for:

  1. The states of the Global North to cut emissions by at least 50%;
  2. Developing countries to be given substantial assistance to adapt to the effects of climate change and to transition away from fossil fuels;
  3. Indigenous rights to be protected;
  4. International borders to be opened to climate refugees;
  5. An international court to be set up to prosecute climate crimes;
  6. People’s rights to water to be recognised, and that people have the right not to be exposed to excessive pollution.

‘We are confronted with two paths’, former President Morales said: the path of ‘pachamama (Mother Earth) or the path of the multinationals. If we don’t take the former, the masters of death will win. If we don’t fight, we will be guilty of destroying the planet’. Gavin Singleton and Bianca McNeair would certainly agree.

So would the Yorta Yorta poet and educator Hyllus Noel Maris (1933-1986), whose ‘Spiritual Song of the Aborigine’ (1978) awakens hope and lays the soundtrack for those who march to save the planet:

I am a child of the Dreamtime People
Part of this land, like the gnarled gumtree
I am the river, softly singing
Chanting our songs on my way to the sea
My spirit is the dust-devils
Mirages, that dance on the plain
I’m the snow, the wind, and the falling rain
I’m part of the rocks and the red desert earth
Red as the blood that flows in my veins
I am eagle, crow and snake that glides
Through the rainforest that clings to the mountainside
I awakened here when the earth was new
.

Warmly,

Vijay

The post I Awakened Here When the Earth Was New first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Show the Children the Green Fields and Let the Sunshine into Their Minds

Exactly two years ago, I walked with my colleagues from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research through the Camp Marielle Vive (‘Marielle Lives’) outside of Valinhos in the state of São Paulo, Brazil with a great sense of déjà vu. The camp resembles so many other communities of the desperately poor on our planet. The United Nations calculates that one in eight people on our planet – one billion human beings – live in such precariousness. The homes are made of a jumble of materials: blue tarpaulin sheets and bits of wood, corrugated iron sheets and old bricks. A thousand families live in Camp Marielle Vive, named after the Brazilian socialist Marielle Franco, who was assassinated in March 2018.

Camp Marielle Vive is not an ordinary ‘slum’, a word with so many negative connotations. The mood in many slums is desolate, criminal gangs and religious organisations providing them with fragile social glue. But Camp Marielle Vive exudes a different aura. Flags of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) are everywhere. The residents give off a quiet and friendly dignity, many of them wearing t-shirts or caps from their organisation. They have an air of preparation: prepared to defend their camp from eviction by the local authorities and prepared to build a genuine community for themselves.

Community kitchen at Camp Marielle Vive, 2019

At the centre of the camp is a community kitchen where some of the residents eat their three meals. The food is simple but nutritious. Nearby is a small clinic that is visited by a doctor once a week. Outside the homes are flower beds and vegetable gardens. The municipal authorities of the adjoining town stopped allowing the school bus to pick up children from the camp and transport them to the town’s school. As parents struggled to get their children to school every day, Camp Marielle Vive built an on-site classroom for after-school activities, which has continued during the pandemic.

Tassi Barreto of the MST told me in early August 2021 that the camp has had no deaths to COVID-19 because they have ‘taken firm action to avoid the spread of infection’. The local municipality denied the camp water, which is – as Barreto says – ‘a human rights crime’. The residents continued developing their collective work, strengthening the community kitchen and the community health centre, and advancing agroecological production in the vegetable garden, which is built in the shape of a mandala. The garden has been so productive that the camp has been able to sell baskets of produce in the nearby cities of Valinhos and Campinas.

The classroom sits in a prominent part of Camp Marielle Vive. But, Barreto told me, ‘the children and young people of school age had great difficulty because there were no face-to-face classes [at the municipal school] and there were virtual activities in which they could not participate’. The camp’s leadership had to innovate: worksheets had to be printed and distributed to the students each fortnight and – since the public school teachers could not review them – the camp turned to educators from the UNICAMP, a nearby public university, to supervise their work. Education for the children has been a serious challenge.

From Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research comes a dossier, CoronaShock and Education in Brazil: One and a Half Years Later (August 2021), that goes into depth about the crisis of public education as a result of the pandemic. Our dossier cites a UNICEF study that shows that, by the end of 2020 in Brazil, roughly 1.5 million children and adolescents had abandoned their studies and 3.7 million were formally enrolled but were unable to access remote classes.

The United Nations estimates that 90% of students across the world – 1.57 billion children – were unable to attend in-person schooling during the length of the pandemic, many of them told to go online. However, a recent UNESCO study shows that half of the world’s population does not have an internet connection. That’s 3.6 billion people with no internet access. According to the study, ‘At least 463 million or nearly one-third of students globally cannot access remote learning, mainly due to a lack of online learning policies or lack of equipment needed to connect from home’. Half the global population has no internet, and many of those who are able to access the internet cannot afford the technologies and tools required to participate in distance learning. The digital divide is even more sharp along gender lines: in the less developed countries, only 15% of women used the internet in 2019, compared to 86% of women in the so-called developed world.

The turn to digital education has emboldened mega-corporations to enclose the commons of public education, making it harder and harder for the masses of children to have access to any education at all. Big business sees the opportunity clearly. As Microsoft explained, ‘The fallout from COVID-19, continuing advances in digital technology, and intensifying pent-up demand for student-centred learning have combined to present an unprecedented opportunity to transform education across whole systems’. As Bia Carvalho of Brazil’s youth movement (Levante Popular da Juventude) told us for our dossier, ‘For these businessmen, distance education is more profitable because it allows them to cut a part of their expenses and it gives them access to a much larger number of students. From the point of view of [looking at] education as a commodity, where they sell classes, distance education makes a lot more sense’. Public funds have already been used to underwrite the massive expansion of private digital education systems.

Our dossier closes by highlighting three key issues: the need to increase investment in public educational infrastructure (while ensuring no stealth privatisation of education); the need to value, train, and support the professional development of teachers; and the need to struggle for a new educational project. The latter is of great importance. It asks questions about the purpose of education, which sets the stage upon which young people learn to ask questions about their society, about their values, about the discrepancy between their values and their social institutions, and about what one can do about that discrepancy. There is a direct line from the student protests that convulsed Chile in 2011, in South Africa in 2015, and India in 2015-16 to the sentiment in our dossier. This new educational project needs to be elaborated. It is a necessity.

After-school classroom in Camp Marielle Franco, 2021 (photograph by the Communication Sector, MST–Sao Paulo)

When we walked through the Camp Marielle Vive in 2019, two young women, Ketley Júlia and Fernanda Fernandes, joined us. They told us about their schooling, including the English classes they were taking at the camp’s classroom. In the past two years, Ketley joined other women in the camp as a key leader in her community. She coordinates the mandala garden, helps at the storeroom, and organises the donations of clothes and blankets, all of this despite fighting off challenges to her own health.

‘In the midst of the barbarism’, Barreto told me, ‘hope always has a way of appearing’. Ketley is now pregnant, ‘a joy that encourages us in our struggle’, Barreto said. Fernanda now lives in Camp Irmã Alberta near São Paulo, where she continues in the MST as she raises two children. Fernanda’s children and Ketley’s child provide hope, but they also need hope to be fashioned through a world with a humane and hopeful educational project.

In 1942, the English poet, socialist, and pacifist Stephen Spender wrote ‘An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum’. The children in the slum school, Spender wrote, have a future ‘painted with a fog’, their maps ‘slums as big as doom’. We must break the windows of that slum, Spender wrote,

And show the children to green fields, and make their world
Run azure on gold sands, and let their tongues
Run naked into books the white and green leaves open
History is theirs whose language is the sun.

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China Eradicates Absolute Poverty While Billionaires Go for a Joyride to Space

Women who migrated to the Wangjia community participate in local activities at the community centre in Tongren City, Guizhou Province, April 2021.

Confounding news comes from the flagship World Economic Outlook report of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The report highlights many of the pressing issues facing our planet: disruptions in the global supply chain, rising shipping costs, shortages of intermediate goods, rising commodity prices, and inflationary pressures in many economies. Global growth rates are expected to touch 6% in 2021 and 4.9% in 2022, driven by higher global government debt. According to the report, this debt ‘reached an unprecedented level of close to 100% of the global GDP in 2020 and is projected to remain around that level in 2021 and 2022’. Developing countries’ external debt will remain high, with little expectation of relief.

Each year, IMF Chief Economist Gita Gopinath highlights the main themes of the report in her blog. This year, her blog has a clear headline: ‘Drawing Further Apart: Widening Gaps in the Global Recovery’. The rift runs along North-South lines, with the poorer nations unable to find an easy path out of the pandemic-induced global slowdown. A range of reasons cause this rift, such as the penalty of relying upon labour-intensive production, the overall poverty of the populations, and the long-standing problems of debt. But Gopinath focuses on one aspect: vaccine apartheid. ‘Close to 40 percent of the population in advanced economies has been fully vaccinated, compared with 11 percent in emerging market economies, and a tiny fraction in low-income developing countries’, she writes. The lack of vaccines, she argues, is the principal cause of the ‘widening gaps in the global recovery’.

Peasant workers till the land in an organic bamboo fungus company, which was established to help lift Longmenao, a village that is officially registered as poor, out of poverty in Wanshan District, Guizhou Province, April 2021. Credit: Xiang Wang

Peasant workers till the land in an organic bamboo fungus company, which was established to help lift Longmenao, a village that is officially registered as poor, out of poverty in Wanshan District, Guizhou Province, April 2021.

These widening gaps have an immediate social impact. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation’s 2021 report, The State of Food Insecurity and Nutrition in the World, notes that ‘nearly one in three people in the world (2.37 billion) did not have access to adequate food in 2020 – an increase of almost 320 million people in just one year’. Hunger is intolerable. Food riots are now in evidence, most dramatically in South Africa. ‘They are just killing us with hunger here’, said one Durban resident who was motivated to join the unrest. These protests, as well as the new data released by the IMF and UN, have put hunger back on the global agenda.

In late July, the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council held a high-level political forum on sustainable development. The forum’s ministerial declaration recognised that ‘the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare and exacerbated our world’s vulnerabilities and inequalities within and among countries, accentuated systemic weaknesses, challenges, and risks and threatens to halt or damage progress made in realising the Sustainable Development Goals’. Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by the UN member states in 2015. These goals include poverty alleviation, an end to hunger, good health, and gender equality. Before the pandemic, it was already clear that the world would not meet these goals by 2030 as projected, certainly not even the most basic goal of eradicating hunger.

During this bleak period, in late February 2021, China’s president Xi Jinping announced that – counter to this general global downturn – China had eradicated extreme poverty. What does this announcement mean? As our team at Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research reported last month, it means that 850 million people had climbed out of absolute poverty (the culmination of a seven-decade-long process that began with the Chinese Revolution of 1949), that their per capita income had increased to US$10,000 (a ten-fold increase in the last twenty years), and that life expectancy had increased to 77.3 years on average (compared to 35 years in 1949). Having met the poverty reduction SDGs ten years in advance, China contributed to more than 70% of the world’s total poverty reduction. In March 2021, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres celebrated this achievement as a ‘reason for hope and inspiration to the entire community of nations’.

First Secretary Liu Yuanxue speaks with a local villager during routine home visits in the village of Danyang, Wanshan District, Guizhou Province, April 2021.

Our July studyServe the People: The Eradication of Extreme Poverty in China, inaugurated a new series called Studies on Socialist Construction, through which we aim to study experiments in the construction of socialist practices from Cuba to Kerala, Bolivia to China. Serve the People is based on ground-level studies of poverty eradication schemes in different parts of China and on interviews with experts who participated in this long-term project. For instance, Wang Sangui, dean of the National Poverty Alleviation Research Institute of Renmin University, told us how the concept of multidimensional poverty is central to the Chinese approach. The concept became a policy through the Communist Party of China’s programme of ‘three guarantees’ (safe housing, healthcare, and education) and ‘two assurances’ (being fed and being clothed). But even here, the essence of this policy is in the details. As Wang put it in terms of drinking water:

How do you classify drinking water as safe? First, the basic requirement is that there must be no shortages in the water supply. Second, the source of water must not be too far, no more than twenty minutes round-trip for water retrieval. Last, the water quality must be safe, without any harmful substances. We require test reports that confirm the water quality is safe. Only then can we say that the standard is met.

Once a policy is crafted, the real work of implementation begins. The Communist Party (CPC) sent out 800,000 cadre to help local authorities survey households to understand the depth of poverty in the countryside. Then, the CPC delegated 3 million cadre out of the Party’s 95.1 million members to be part of 255,000 teams that spent years living in poor villages working towards the eradication of poverty and the social conditions it created. One team was assigned to a village, one cadre to each family.

The studies of poverty and the experience of the cadre resulted in five core methods for eradicating poverty: developing industry; relocating people; incentivising ecological compensation; guaranteeing free, quality, and compulsory education; and providing social assistance. The most powerful lever of these five methods was industrial development, which created capital-intensive agricultural production (including crop processing and animal breeding); restored farmlands; and grew forests as part of the ecological compensation schemes, reviving areas that had become prey to resource over-exploitation. In addition, an emphasis was placed on educating minority populations and women. As a result, by 2020, China ranked first in the world in the enrolment of women in tertiary education, according to the World Economic Forum.

Less than 10% of the people who lifted themselves out of poverty did so because of relocation, which was often the most dramatic instance of the programme. One relocated resident, Mou’se, told us about Atule’er, a village on the edge of a mountain, where he lived before relocating. ‘It took me half a day to climb down the cliff to buy a packet of salt’, he recalled. He would go down the cliff on a rattan ‘sky ladder’, which dangled perilously from the edge of the cliff. His relocation – along with the eighty-three other families who lived there – has allowed him to access better facilities and live a less precarious life.

The eradication of extreme poverty is significant, but it does not solve all problems. Social inequality in China remains a serious problem. These are not China’s problems alone but pressing problems facing humanity in our time. As we move to capital-intensive agriculture that requires fewer farmers, what kinds of habitations will we produce that are neither in rural nor urban areas? What kinds of employment can be generated for people who are no longer needed in the fields? Can we begin to think about a shorter work week, allowing more time to be civic and social?

A local food vendor and user of the Yishizhifu short video platform showcases her cooking in the village of Danyang, Wanshan District, Guizhou Province, April 2021.

Eradicating poverty is not a Chinese project. It is humanity’s goal. That is why movements and governments committed to this goal look carefully at the achievement of the Chinese people. Many of the projects in motion, however, take a dramatically different approach, seeking to address poverty by transferring income (as several South African research institutes advocate). But cash transfer schemes are not enough. Multidimensional poverty requires more than this. For example, Brazil’s Bolsa Familia programme, implemented by former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, made an enormous dent in hunger in that country, but it was not designed to eradicate poverty.

Meanwhile, in the Indian state of Kerala, absolute poverty fell from 59.79% of the population in 1973-74 to 7.05% in 2011-2012 under the governance of the Left Democratic Front. The mechanisms that led to this dramatic decline were agrarian reform, establishing public health and education, creating a public distribution system for food, decentralising political authority to local self-governments, providing social security and welfare, and promoting public action (such as through the Kudumbashree cooperative projects). Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said recently that his government is committed to eradicating extreme poverty in the state. The next study in our series on socialist construction will concentrate on Kerala’s cooperative movement, focusing on its role in the eradication of poverty, hunger, and patriarchy.

From the countryside to Tongren City, Guizhou Province, April 2021.

In March, the UN Environment Programme released its Food Waste Index Report, which showed that an estimated 931 million tonnes of food went into waste bins across the world. The weight of this food roughly equals that of 23 million fully loaded 40-tonne trucks. If we let these trucks stand bumper-to-bumper at the earth’s circumference, they would make a ring long enough to circle the earth seven times, or to go deep into space, where billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson decided to go. The $5.5 billion Bezos spent on a four-minute trip into space could have fed 37.5 million people or fully funded the COVAX programme that would vaccinate two billion people.

The ambitions of Bezos and Branson are not life. Life is the abolition of the harshness of necessity.

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The Great Contest of Our Time Is between Humanity and Imperialism

Uttam Ghosh (India), Let Cuba Live, 2021.

Uttam Ghosh (India), Let Cuba Live, 2021.

On 23 July 2021, a full-page appeal appeared in the New York Times calling on United States President Joe Biden to withdraw the vindictive US blockade against Cuba. As that appeal went to press, I spoke to Chinese journalist Lu Yuanzhi of Global Times (GT). The remainder of this newsletter carries the contents of that interview, which ranges from the US policy against Cuba to the New Cold War against China.

Ryan Honeyball (South Africa), Unite Against Imperialism, 2021.

Ryan Honeyball (South Africa), Unite Against Imperialism, 2021.

Global Times: The novel coronavirus epidemic and the long-term US blockade have severely hit Cubans’ wellbeing. By exploiting Cuba’s current hardships, the US is exacerbating problems. As the sole superpower, the US has long pursued a hostile policy toward this small socialist country to its south. Why can’t the US tolerate a small socialist country in its periphery?

Vijay Prashad: Cuba, since 1959, has offered an alternative vision for humanity, one that puts the well-being of people before the requirements of profit. That Cuba – a poor country – was able to vanquish hunger and illiteracy rather quickly, while the US – a rich country – continues to be plagued by such elementary problems illustrates the humanity at the core of the socialist project. This is unforgivable for the elites in the US. Hence, they continue to tighten the wretched blockade against Cuba. In fact, they use all kinds of means – including social media warfare, a part of the hybrid war strategy – to undermine the confidence of the Cuban people. This was attempted on 11 July, but it failed. Tens of thousands of Cubans took to the street to defend their Revolution.

GT: Although the UN has overwhelmingly condemned the US blockade against Cuba for many years in a row, Washington has continued its inhumane policy. What does this mean for the US’ international image? US President Joe Biden said, ‘The US stands firmly with the people of Cuba’, but his administration has no intention to lift the blockade. Who are the audiences of such hypocritical diplomatic rhetoric?

VP: The US does not ‘stand firmly with the people of Cuba’. In fact, the US stands on the neck of the Cuban people. This is clear to the 184 member states of the UN that voted on 23 June to send a message to the US to end the blockade. The fact is that President Joe Biden has refused to even roll back the 243 coercive measures implemented by Donald Trump. The world recognises the cruelty of the blockade on Cuba and of the illegal sanctions policy that the US exercises against at least 30 countries around the world. But, because of the power of the US, there are only a few countries that are willing to do more than vote in the UN General Assembly on behalf of Cuba.

Cuba needs material support, which is lacking from the international community; this material support would include supplies for the Cuban pharmaceutical industry, for example, and it would include food. If the US does not roll back the blockade, will key countries of the world come together to break it?

Lizzie Suarez (US), Hands Off Cuba!, 2021.

Lizzie Suarez (US), Hands Off Cuba!, 2021.

GT: The US’ handling of the COVID-19 epidemic is obviously a failure, with the highest death toll across the world. In the face of the pandemic, the US capitalist system’s value of economics over human life has been fully exposed. The pandemic has put a dent in the US’ institutional advantages and discursive power. Has the capitalist system become dysfunctional in the face of major crises?

VP: The capitalist system is very good at generating vast amounts of commodities and very high qualities of certain kinds of commodities. It is good at producing high-value medical care, for instance, but not so good at producing quality public health care. This has to do with the profit motive. Since there is great social inequality, most of the public does not have cash in their pockets for quality health care, so health care simply is not affordable or possible for the vast majority. It is this attitude towards health and education that shows us the inhumane side of capitalism. During the pandemic, 64 countries spent more to service their external debt than on health care. Such are the ways of the capitalist system: to ensure that wealthy bond holders in the developed world make their money while the poor struggle to survive.

GT: China’s response to the pandemic has clearly demonstrated the strengths of its people-oriented philosophy and its political system. What is your take on the increasing influence of China’s political system after the pandemic? How can the outside world better understand the unique advantages of China’s political system under the leadership of Communist Party of China (CPC)? How can China better counter the West’s slander of the CPC?

VP: China’s approach to the pandemic has been along the grain of the World Health Organisation’s recommendation: use science, compassion, and collaboration to tackle the pandemic. The Chinese people volunteered to help each other, doctors who are Communist Party members volunteered to go to the frontlines, and the Chinese state opened its coffers to ensure that the disease was vanquished and that the people did not suffer from a prolonged economic downturn. There is much to be learned from this approach; our studies on CoronaShock delve into this.

This stands in stark contrast to the anti-science, inhumane, and narrowly nationalistic attitude of many of the Western countries and several others in the developing world; their approach led to chaos. It is because of the failure in places such as the US that Trump, for instance, began to blame China in a racist way for the emergence of the virus. We know scientifically that viruses appear for a variety of reasons, and none of them have to do with race. Chinese intellectuals and others need to offer clear accounts of Chinese developments, including the abolition of extreme poverty and the rather quick defeat of COVID-19. Such accounts will help people in other parts of the world understand the relationship between public action and state action in China. This is widely misunderstood, largely because of the information war pursued by the US and its allies. On 23 July, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research published a key text called Serve the People: The Eradication of Extreme Poverty in China based on field studies of the abolition of extreme poverty.

Justina Chong (People’s Republic of China), El cosechero (‘The Harvester’), 2021.

Justina Chong (People’s Republic of China), El cosechero (‘The Harvester’), 2021.

GT: The West’s narrative of the CPC in recent years has always avoided mentioning the CPC’s positive effects on China’s social progress and global economic development. Why can’t the West objectively evaluate the CPC?

VP: The West cannot be objective because the West fears the rise of Chinese science and technology. For the past 50 years, Western firms have monopolised the areas of high-tech, using intellectual property laws to lengthen their copyright advantages. Developments in China are an existential threat to the dominance of these Western firms in areas such as telecommunications, robotics, high-speed rail, and new energy technology. It is the fear of losing supremacy in these key tech sectors that drives the ‘new cold war’ against China and prevents a sober assessment of Chinese developments.

Rather than develop a sensible attitude, the West has gone in four directions. First, it has prosecuted a trade and economic war against China to maintain US economic and technological supremacy. Second, it has pressured developing countries and US allies to break with Chinese firms and isolate China. Third, it has attempted to smear China’s reputation by misleadingly using the framework of ‘human rights’ and by supporting anti-government and separatist forces within China. Lastly, it has pursued military provocation, particularly through the Quad alliance (Australia, India, Japan, and the US). These mechanisms blind the Western public to the realities of China.

GT: During China’s reform and opening up period, the country has been open to learning from Western societies. This has greatly boosted China’s development. Do you think there can be such an ideological emancipation in the West to take China’s political system seriously? 

VP: One hopes that clarity will come to the Western public, who are – as yet – guided by a political class that is doing the work for sectors of the economy that are threatened by Chinese scientific and technological developments. In the short run, no such positive evaluation is possible. It is more likely for such an evaluation to come in the countries of Africa, Latin America, and southern Asia, where people will understand the immense power of the abolition of extreme poverty and the immense power of the creation of an indigenous high-tech industry. Under Lula, Brazil abolished hunger through the Fome Zero programme, while the Left Democratic Front-led Indian state Kerala has recently embarked on a poverty eradication programme. These areas of the world can better appreciate the strides taken by the Chinese people than those who live in the West.

Yoemnis Batista Del Toro (Cuba), Untitled, 2021.

Yoemnis Batista Del Toro (Cuba), Untitled, 2021.

GT: Since Biden took office, his administration has spared no effort to rope in like-minded democracies to contain China, attempting to replicate the rivalry between the two blocs led by the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Do you think the democratic card is an effective way for the US to rally an anti-China camp?

VP: The idea of a community of democracies has a farcical edge to it because this new group is being put together to use all manners of force (diplomatic, economic, military, etc.) to pressure China and Russia to reverse their advances. A truly democratic group should abide by the UN Charter, which is exactly what the kind of sanctions policies enacted by the Western countries defies. That is why 18 countries have created the Group of Friends in Defence of the UN Charter. This is an important development, since it suggests that the point is to stand by the Charter and not to speak in the name of an abstract democracy that often means that a country must be subordinate to Western interests. The world does not wish to be divided into camps.

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) will be 60 years old this September. The appetite in the developing world remains for the NAM project. Countries do not want to pick sides in a ‘new cold war’ that no-one, apart from the US, wants. The divide is not between China and the US, a division that the US is trying to impose on the world: the divide is between humanity and imperialism.

GT: Your book Washington Bullets lists the assassinations and infiltrations of the US CIA in various places. US imperialism has been resisted on a global scale. How do you see the fate of US imperialism?

VP: The US remains a very powerful country, with the largest military force that is capable of action anywhere on the planet and with forms of soft power (such as cultural and diplomatic power) that are enviable. Despite the terrible record of US interference in the developing world – which I document in Washington Bullets (2020) – the US retains a powerful hold on the world’s imagination. There remains a view – however wrong it is – that the US operates its power in a benevolent manner and that it acts in the universal, and not nationalist, interest. The cultural power of the US is considerable, which is why the US is so easily able to wield the weapons of information against any adversary.

Roughly 30 years ago, Cuba’s Fidel Castro urged countries around the world not to neglect the battle of ideas. US imperialism is not eternal. It is being confronted now by the growth of multipolarity and regionalism. These are the key developments that cannot be stopped by the US military or by cultural power. Multipolarity and regionalism are the real movement of history. They will eventually prevail.

Gabriel de Medeiros Silveira (Brazil), Break the Wall, 2021.

Gabriel de Medeiros Silveira (Brazil), Break the Wall, 2021.

The art in this newsletter comes from the Let Cuba Live exhibition by Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, launched on the anniversary of the 26 July Movement’s founding in Cuba as peace-loving people across the world rally around the demand for an end to the US blockade.

The post The Great Contest of Our Time Is between Humanity and Imperialism first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Washington Beats the Drum of Regime Change, but Cuba Responds to Its Own Revolutionary Rhythm

Préfète Duffaut (Haiti), Le Générale Canson, 1950.

In 1963, the Trinidadian writer CLR James released a second edition of his classic 1938 study of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. For the new edition, James wrote an appendix with the suggestive title ‘From Toussaint L’Ouverture to Fidel Castro’. In the opening page of the appendix, he located the twin Revolutions of Haiti (1804) and Cuba (1959) in the context of the West Indian islands: ‘The people who made them, the problems and the attempts to solve them, are peculiarly West Indian, the product of a peculiar origin and a peculiar history’. Thrice James uses the word ‘peculiar’, which emerges from the Latin peculiaris for ‘private property’ (pecu is the Latin word for ‘cattle’, the essence of ancient property).

Property is at the heart of the origin and history of the modern West Indies. By the end of the 17th century, the European conquistadors and colonialists had massacred the inhabitants of the West Indies. On St. Kitts in 1626, English and French colonialists massacred between two and four thousand Caribs – including Chief Tegremond – in the Kalinago genocide, which Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre wrote about in 1654. Having annihilated the island’s native people, the Europeans brought in African men and women who had been captured and enslaved. What unites the West Indian islands is not language and culture, but the wretchedness of slavery, rooted in an oppressive plantation economy. Both Haiti and Cuba are products of this ‘peculiarity’, the one being bold enough to break the shackles in 1804 and the other able to follow a century and a half later.

Osmond Watson (Jamaica), City Life, 1968.

Today, crisis is the hour in the Caribbean.

On 7 July, just outside of Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, gunmen broke into the home of President Jovenel Moïse, assassinated him in cold blood, and then fled. The country – already wracked by social upheaval sparked by the late president’s policies – has now plunged even deeper into crisis. Already, Moïse had forcefully extended his presidential mandate beyond his term as the country struggled with the burdens of being dependent on international agencies, trapped by a century-long economic crisis, and struck hard by the pandemic. Protests had become commonplace across Haiti as the prices of everything skyrocketed and as no effective government came to the aid of a population in despair. But Moïse was not killed because of this proximate crisis. More mysterious forces are at work: US-based Haitian religious leaders, narco-traffickers, and Colombian mercenaries. This is a saga that is best written as a fictional thriller.

Four days after Moïse’s assassination, Cuba experienced a set of protests from people expressing their frustration with shortages of goods and a recent spike of COVID-19 infections. Within hours of receiving the news that the protests had emerged, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel went to the streets of San Antonio de los Baños, south of Havana, to march with the protestors. Díaz-Canel and his government reminded the eleven million Cubans that the country has suffered greatly from the six-decade-long illegal US blockade, that it is in the grip of Trump’s 243 additional ‘coercive measures’, and that it will fight off the twin problems of COVID-19 and a debt crisis with its characteristic resolve.

Nonetheless, a malicious social media campaign attempted to use these protests as a sign that the government of Díaz-Canel and the Cuban Revolution should be overthrown. It was clarified a few days later that this campaign was run from Miami, Florida, in the United States. From Washington, DC, the drums of regime change sounded loudly. But they have not found find much of an echo in Cuba. Cuba has its own revolutionary rhythms.

Eduardo Abela (Cuba), Los Guajiros (1938).

In 1804, the Haitian Revolution – a rebellion of the plantation proletariat who struck against the agricultural factories that produced sugar and profit – sent up a flare of freedom across the colonised world. A century and a half later, the Cubans fired their own flare.

The response to each of these revolutions from the fossilised magnates of Paris and Washington was the same: suffocate the stirrings of freedom by indemnities and blockades. In 1825, the French demanded through force that the Haitians pay 150 million francs for the loss of property (namely human beings). Alone in the Caribbean, the Haitians felt that they had no choice but to pay up, which they did to France (until 1893) and then to the United States (until 1947). The total bill over the 122 years amounts to $21 billion. When Haiti’s President Jean-Bertrand Aristide tried to recover those billions from France in 2003, he was removed from office by a coup d’état.

After the United States occupied Cuba in 1898, it ran the island like a gangster’s playground. Any attempt by the Cubans to exercise their sovereignty was squashed with terrible force, including invasions by US forces in 1906-1909, 1912, 1917-1922, and 1933. The United States backed General Fulgencio Batista (1940-1944 and 1952-1959) despite all the evidence of his brutality. After all, Batista protected US interests, and US firms owned two-thirds of the country’s sugar industry and almost its entire service sector.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 stands against this wretched history – a history of slavery and imperial domination. How did the US react? By imposing an economic blockade on the country from 19 October 1960 that lasts to this day, which has targeted everything from access to medical supplies, food, and financing to barring Cuban imports and coercing third-party countries to do the same. It is a vindictive attack against a people who – like the Haitians – are trying to exercise their sovereignty. Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez reported that between April 2019 and December 2020, the government lost $9.1 billion due to the blockade ($436 million per month). ‘At current prices’, he said, ‘the accumulated damages in six decades amount to over $147.8 billion, and against the price of gold, it amounts to over $1.3 trillion’.

None of this information would be available without the presence of media outlets such as Peoples Dispatch, which celebrates its three-year anniversary this week. We send our warmest greetings to the team and hope that you will bookmark their page to visit it several times a day for world news rooted in people’s struggles.

Bernadette Persaud (Guyana), Gentlemen Under the Sky (Gulf War), 1991.

On 17 July, tens of thousands of Cubans took to the streets to defend their Revolution and demand an end to the US blockade. President Díaz-Canel said that the Cuba of ‘love, peace, unity, [and] solidarity’ had asserted itself. In solidarity with this unwavering affirmation, we have launched a call for participation in the exhibition Let Cuba Live. The submission deadline is 24 July for the online exhibition launch on 26 July – the anniversary of the revolutionary movement that brought Cuba to Revolution in 1959 – but we encourage ongoing submissions. We are inviting international artists and militants to participate in this flash exhibition as we continue to amplify the campaign #LetCubaLive to end the blockade.

A few weeks before the most recent attack on Cuba and the assassination in Haiti, the United States armed forces conducted a major military exercise in Guyana called Tradewinds 2021 and another exercise in Panama called Panamax 2021. Under the authority of the United States, a set of European militaries (France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom) – each with colonies in the region – joined Brazil and Canada to conduct Tradewinds with seven Caribbean countries (The Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago). In a show of force, the US demanded that Iran cancel the movement of its ships to Venezuela in June ahead of the US-sponsored military exercise.

The United States is eager to turn the Caribbean into its sea, subordinating the sovereignty of the islands. It was curious that Guyana’s Prime Minister Mark Phillips said that these US-led war games strengthen the ‘Caribbean regional security system’. What they do, as our recent dossier on US and French military bases in Africa shows, is to subordinate the Caribbean states to US interests. The US is using its increased military presence in Colombia and Guyana to increase pressure on Venezuela.

Elsa Gramcko (Venezuela), El ojo de la cerradura (‘The Keyhole’), 1964.

Sovereign regionalism is not alien to the Caribbean, which has made four attempts to build a platform: the West Indian Federation (1958-1962), Caribbean Free Trade Association (1965-1973), Caribbean Community (1973-1989), and CARICOM (1989 to the present). What began as an anti-imperialist union has now devolved into a trade association that attempts to better integrate the region into world trade. The politics of the Caribbean are increasingly being drawn into orbit of the US. In 2010, the US created the Caribbean Basic Security Initiative, whose agenda is shaped by Washington.

In 2011, our old friend Shridath Ramphal, Guyana’s foreign minister from 1972 to 1975, repeated the words of the great Grenadian radical T. A. Marryshow: ‘The West Indies must be West Indian’. In his article ‘Is the West Indies West Indian?’, he insisted that the conscious spelling of ‘The West Indies’ with a capitalised ‘T’ aims to signify the unity of the region. Without unity, the old imperialist pressures will prevail as they often do.

In 1975, the Cuban poet Nancy Morejón published a landmark poem called “Mujer Negra” (“Black Woman”). The poem opens with the terrible trade of human beings by the European colonialists, touches on the war of independence, and then settles on the remarkable Cuban Revolution of 1959:

I came down from the Sierra

to put an end to capital and usurer,
to generals and to the bourgeoisie.
Now I exist: only today do we own, do we create.
Nothing is alien to us.
The land is ours.
Ours are the sea and sky,
the magic and vision.
My fellow people, here I see you dance
around the tree we are planting for communism.
Its prodigal wood already resounds.

The land is ours. Sovereignty is ours too. Our destiny is not to live as the subordinate beings of others. That is the message of Morejón and of the Cuban people who are building their sovereign lives, and it is the message of the Haitian people who want to advance their great Revolution of 1804.

The post Washington Beats the Drum of Regime Change, but Cuba Responds to Its Own Revolutionary Rhythm first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Washington Beats the Drum of Regime Change, but Cuba Responds to Its Own Revolutionary Rhythm

Préfète Duffaut (Haiti), Le Générale Canson, 1950.

In 1963, the Trinidadian writer CLR James released a second edition of his classic 1938 study of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. For the new edition, James wrote an appendix with the suggestive title ‘From Toussaint L’Ouverture to Fidel Castro’. In the opening page of the appendix, he located the twin Revolutions of Haiti (1804) and Cuba (1959) in the context of the West Indian islands: ‘The people who made them, the problems and the attempts to solve them, are peculiarly West Indian, the product of a peculiar origin and a peculiar history’. Thrice James uses the word ‘peculiar’, which emerges from the Latin peculiaris for ‘private property’ (pecu is the Latin word for ‘cattle’, the essence of ancient property).

Property is at the heart of the origin and history of the modern West Indies. By the end of the 17th century, the European conquistadors and colonialists had massacred the inhabitants of the West Indies. On St. Kitts in 1626, English and French colonialists massacred between two and four thousand Caribs – including Chief Tegremond – in the Kalinago genocide, which Jean-Baptiste Du Tertre wrote about in 1654. Having annihilated the island’s native people, the Europeans brought in African men and women who had been captured and enslaved. What unites the West Indian islands is not language and culture, but the wretchedness of slavery, rooted in an oppressive plantation economy. Both Haiti and Cuba are products of this ‘peculiarity’, the one being bold enough to break the shackles in 1804 and the other able to follow a century and a half later.

Osmond Watson (Jamaica), City Life, 1968.

Today, crisis is the hour in the Caribbean.

On 7 July, just outside of Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, gunmen broke into the home of President Jovenel Moïse, assassinated him in cold blood, and then fled. The country – already wracked by social upheaval sparked by the late president’s policies – has now plunged even deeper into crisis. Already, Moïse had forcefully extended his presidential mandate beyond his term as the country struggled with the burdens of being dependent on international agencies, trapped by a century-long economic crisis, and struck hard by the pandemic. Protests had become commonplace across Haiti as the prices of everything skyrocketed and as no effective government came to the aid of a population in despair. But Moïse was not killed because of this proximate crisis. More mysterious forces are at work: US-based Haitian religious leaders, narco-traffickers, and Colombian mercenaries. This is a saga that is best written as a fictional thriller.

Four days after Moïse’s assassination, Cuba experienced a set of protests from people expressing their frustration with shortages of goods and a recent spike of COVID-19 infections. Within hours of receiving the news that the protests had emerged, Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel went to the streets of San Antonio de los Baños, south of Havana, to march with the protestors. Díaz-Canel and his government reminded the eleven million Cubans that the country has suffered greatly from the six-decade-long illegal US blockade, that it is in the grip of Trump’s 243 additional ‘coercive measures’, and that it will fight off the twin problems of COVID-19 and a debt crisis with its characteristic resolve.

Nonetheless, a malicious social media campaign attempted to use these protests as a sign that the government of Díaz-Canel and the Cuban Revolution should be overthrown. It was clarified a few days later that this campaign was run from Miami, Florida, in the United States. From Washington, DC, the drums of regime change sounded loudly. But they have not found find much of an echo in Cuba. Cuba has its own revolutionary rhythms.

Eduardo Abela (Cuba), Los Guajiros (1938).

In 1804, the Haitian Revolution – a rebellion of the plantation proletariat who struck against the agricultural factories that produced sugar and profit – sent up a flare of freedom across the colonised world. A century and a half later, the Cubans fired their own flare.

The response to each of these revolutions from the fossilised magnates of Paris and Washington was the same: suffocate the stirrings of freedom by indemnities and blockades. In 1825, the French demanded through force that the Haitians pay 150 million francs for the loss of property (namely human beings). Alone in the Caribbean, the Haitians felt that they had no choice but to pay up, which they did to France (until 1893) and then to the United States (until 1947). The total bill over the 122 years amounts to $21 billion. When Haiti’s President Jean-Bertrand Aristide tried to recover those billions from France in 2003, he was removed from office by a coup d’état.

After the United States occupied Cuba in 1898, it ran the island like a gangster’s playground. Any attempt by the Cubans to exercise their sovereignty was squashed with terrible force, including invasions by US forces in 1906-1909, 1912, 1917-1922, and 1933. The United States backed General Fulgencio Batista (1940-1944 and 1952-1959) despite all the evidence of his brutality. After all, Batista protected US interests, and US firms owned two-thirds of the country’s sugar industry and almost its entire service sector.

The Cuban Revolution of 1959 stands against this wretched history – a history of slavery and imperial domination. How did the US react? By imposing an economic blockade on the country from 19 October 1960 that lasts to this day, which has targeted everything from access to medical supplies, food, and financing to barring Cuban imports and coercing third-party countries to do the same. It is a vindictive attack against a people who – like the Haitians – are trying to exercise their sovereignty. Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez reported that between April 2019 and December 2020, the government lost $9.1 billion due to the blockade ($436 million per month). ‘At current prices’, he said, ‘the accumulated damages in six decades amount to over $147.8 billion, and against the price of gold, it amounts to over $1.3 trillion’.

None of this information would be available without the presence of media outlets such as Peoples Dispatch, which celebrates its three-year anniversary this week. We send our warmest greetings to the team and hope that you will bookmark their page to visit it several times a day for world news rooted in people’s struggles.

Bernadette Persaud (Guyana), Gentlemen Under the Sky (Gulf War), 1991.

On 17 July, tens of thousands of Cubans took to the streets to defend their Revolution and demand an end to the US blockade. President Díaz-Canel said that the Cuba of ‘love, peace, unity, [and] solidarity’ had asserted itself. In solidarity with this unwavering affirmation, we have launched a call for participation in the exhibition Let Cuba Live. The submission deadline is 24 July for the online exhibition launch on 26 July – the anniversary of the revolutionary movement that brought Cuba to Revolution in 1959 – but we encourage ongoing submissions. We are inviting international artists and militants to participate in this flash exhibition as we continue to amplify the campaign #LetCubaLive to end the blockade.

A few weeks before the most recent attack on Cuba and the assassination in Haiti, the United States armed forces conducted a major military exercise in Guyana called Tradewinds 2021 and another exercise in Panama called Panamax 2021. Under the authority of the United States, a set of European militaries (France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom) – each with colonies in the region – joined Brazil and Canada to conduct Tradewinds with seven Caribbean countries (The Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago). In a show of force, the US demanded that Iran cancel the movement of its ships to Venezuela in June ahead of the US-sponsored military exercise.

The United States is eager to turn the Caribbean into its sea, subordinating the sovereignty of the islands. It was curious that Guyana’s Prime Minister Mark Phillips said that these US-led war games strengthen the ‘Caribbean regional security system’. What they do, as our recent dossier on US and French military bases in Africa shows, is to subordinate the Caribbean states to US interests. The US is using its increased military presence in Colombia and Guyana to increase pressure on Venezuela.

Elsa Gramcko (Venezuela), El ojo de la cerradura (‘The Keyhole’), 1964.

Sovereign regionalism is not alien to the Caribbean, which has made four attempts to build a platform: the West Indian Federation (1958-1962), Caribbean Free Trade Association (1965-1973), Caribbean Community (1973-1989), and CARICOM (1989 to the present). What began as an anti-imperialist union has now devolved into a trade association that attempts to better integrate the region into world trade. The politics of the Caribbean are increasingly being drawn into orbit of the US. In 2010, the US created the Caribbean Basic Security Initiative, whose agenda is shaped by Washington.

In 2011, our old friend Shridath Ramphal, Guyana’s foreign minister from 1972 to 1975, repeated the words of the great Grenadian radical T. A. Marryshow: ‘The West Indies must be West Indian’. In his article ‘Is the West Indies West Indian?’, he insisted that the conscious spelling of ‘The West Indies’ with a capitalised ‘T’ aims to signify the unity of the region. Without unity, the old imperialist pressures will prevail as they often do.

In 1975, the Cuban poet Nancy Morejón published a landmark poem called “Mujer Negra” (“Black Woman”). The poem opens with the terrible trade of human beings by the European colonialists, touches on the war of independence, and then settles on the remarkable Cuban Revolution of 1959:

I came down from the Sierra

to put an end to capital and usurer,
to generals and to the bourgeoisie.
Now I exist: only today do we own, do we create.
Nothing is alien to us.
The land is ours.
Ours are the sea and sky,
the magic and vision.
My fellow people, here I see you dance
around the tree we are planting for communism.
Its prodigal wood already resounds.

The land is ours. Sovereignty is ours too. Our destiny is not to live as the subordinate beings of others. That is the message of Morejón and of the Cuban people who are building their sovereign lives, and it is the message of the Haitian people who want to advance their great Revolution of 1804.

The post Washington Beats the Drum of Regime Change, but Cuba Responds to Its Own Revolutionary Rhythm first appeared on Dissident Voice.