Category Archives: India

The Logic of Hegemony

On September 8, 2021, at least five media houses and six offices of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI (M)) were vandalized in three of Tripura’s eight districts by the ruling Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). These instances of violence come after a growth in the intensity of the Left’s political activity.   While the center-right Congress Party is in a freefall and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) is busy in the reconstruction of its state unit, CPI (M) has been consistently engaged in building a strong social base. Through sustained protest campaigns against neoliberal policies, it has been highlighting the basic grievances of Tripura’s population.

The attacks against CPI (M) – in a crucial conjuncture of political struggle – reveal the inherent contradictions of liberal democracy. In §48 of Notebook 1, the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci proposed an important distinction between two modalities of modern-day governance. On the one hand, “the ‘normal’ exercise of hegemony on the now classic terrain of the parliamentary regime is characterized by a combination of force and consent which balance each other so that force does not overwhelm consent but rather appears to be backed by the consent of the majority, expressed by the so-called organs of public opinion”.

On the other hand, there are situations in which “the hegemonic apparatus cracks and the exercise of hegemony becomes ever more difficult. The phenomenon is presented and discussed in various terms and from different points of view. The most common are ‘crisis of the principle of authority’, ‘dissolution of the parliamentary regime’. Naturally, only the central manifestations of the phenomenon on the parliamentary or governmental level are described, and they are explained by the failure of the parliamentary ‘principle,’ of the democratic ‘principle,’ etc., but not the authority ‘principle’…Practically, this crisis manifests itself in…the ever greater instability of the governments”.

The interpenetrative interaction between force and consent corresponds to the texture of the distinction between political society and civil society respectively. In §38 of Notebook 4, Gramsci wrote that “[this] distinction is purely methodological and not organic” because it does not find actual confirmation “in concrete historical life”. As an example of this intertwined relationship, he speaks of “what is called ‘public opinion’” in § 83 of Notebook 7, noting that it “is tightly connected to political hegemony, in other words, it is the point of contact between ‘civil society’ and ‘political society’, between consent and force”.

Since hegemony is the specific linkage between civil society and political society, the moment of consent and the moment of force, civil society – far from being a sphere of freedom beyond the state, as is endlessly maintained by bourgeois commonsense – is an integral element of the hegemonic relations that structure the contemporary state. To establish and preserve the oppressed masses’ subalternity – their lack of historical personhood and political autonomy – the bourgeois state restricts mass activity in civil society to particular levels of passivity.

In §90 of Notebook 3, Gramsci argued: “The historical unification of the ruling classes is in the state and their history is essentially the history of states and of groups of states. This unity has to be concrete, and thus the result of relations between the state and civil society. For the subaltern classes unification does not occur: their history is intertwined with that of ‘civil society’, it is a disaggregated fraction of it”. In other words, the active production and reproduction of subalternity for some social groups is the structural foundation for any bourgeois ruling order, be it a liberal administration or a fascist dictatorship.

A system of political elites and passive citizenry is generated by the exigencies of legitimacy, which require that the dominant and leading class incorporate increasingly broader strata of its society in the national-popular framework – with the process of inclusion occurring in forms that definitively neutralize any threat of a graduated de-subalternization of the lower classes and their consequent transition to hegemonic politics. Thus, while subaltern social groups are present on the terrain of civil society, they occupy insignificant roles and positions, which led Gramsci to remark in §5 of Notebook 25 that “the subaltern classes, by definition, are not unified and cannot unify themselves until they become the ‘state’”.

Left parties are the social organisms that are responsible for the unification and historical subjectification of the subalterns – the process in which subaltern social groups stop being mere objects of contemplation for the discourses of the dominant classes and enact their self-representation through the formation of their own strata of organic intellectuals. This hegemonic project is the synthesis of political society and civil society, dedicated toward ending the unilateral determination of the latter by the former. When both the levels of society are unified in a political strategy, tactics are dialecticly dictated by the structural struggle for state control and the cultural-educational struggle for de-objectification.

The two aspects of the Left’s political strategy are a direct result of the objective mechanisms which determine consciousness – the material interests and articulated identities produced by social structures, arising through the practice and lived experience of subaltern agents. These agents are involved in relations, both with each other and with social structures and practices. The presence of structural determinations – primarily in the form of the restrictions imposed by civil society and political society – means that the Left’s political practices deploy a limited set of instruments upon certain kinds of raw material in a historically specific context against institutional resistance.

Hence, the Left’s hegemonic project is an articulated attempt to transform the existing structures and relations, to combine ethical-ideological goals of civil society with the strategic necessities of political society. Achieving dominance in political society crucially involves the objective elaboration of the independent position of the proletariat. In § 44 of Notebook 1, Gramsci said:

A class is dominant in two ways, namely it is ‘leading’ and ‘dominant’. It leads the allied classes, it dominates the opposing classes. Therefore, a class can (and must) ‘lead’ even before assuming power; when it is in power it becomes dominant, but it also continues to ‘lead’.

There can and there must be a ‘political hegemony’ even before assuming government power, and in order to exercise political leadership or hegemony one must not count solely on the power and material force that is given by government.

In other words, political dominance can only be grasped concretely in terms of the unity between state power (a relation of power, the domination of one social class over another), and the state apparatus (the institutional machinery in which the relation of state power is crystallized). The logic of the aggregation and disaggregation of class alliances – with the potential to determine the predominance of one form or the other in the course of the revolutionary transformation – should be directed by this ultimate objective; i.e., political leadership of the revolutionary movement of the people as a whole.

Considering the dialectic between force and consent, political society and civil society, it becomes clear that the CPI (M) in Tripura is engaged in a popular-democratic struggle aimed at the construction of the broad-based hegemony of progressive forces. The orientations of this dynamic are defined by a commitment to proletarian self-emancipation – the operation in which the antithesis of subalternity is forged and sustained not through a purely pedagogical and abstract assertion of working class independence but through political struggle embedded in determinate organizational forms. These movements are undergirded by the politically concrete formulations of relations of classes as constitutive components of a new historical bloc, as opposed to their perception as mere structural connections between sociological objects. How these developments will play out depends on the future amalgamation of forces in complex, uneven and contradictory conjunctures.

The post The Logic of Hegemony first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Smashing The Heads of Farmers: A Global Struggle Against Tyranny

According to Reuters, more than 500,000 farmers attended a rally in the city of Muzaffarnagar in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on 5 September. Hundreds of thousands more turned out for other rallies in the state.

Rakesh Tikait, a prominent farmers’ leader, said this would breathe fresh life into the Indian farmers’ protest movement.

He added:

We will intensify our protest by going to every single city and town of Uttar Pradesh to convey the message that Modi’s government is anti-farmer.

Tikait is a leader of the protest movement and a spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Indian Farmers’ Union).

Since November 2020, tens of thousands of farmers have been encamped on the outskirts of Delhi in protest against three new farm laws that will effectively hand over the agrifood sector to corporates and place India at the mercy of international commodity and financial markets for its food security.

Aside from the rallies in Uttar Pradesh, thousands more farmers recently gathered in Karnal in the state of Haryana to continue to pressurise the Modi-led government to repeal the laws. This particular protest was also in response to police violence during another demonstration, also in Karnal (200 km north of Delhi), during late August when farmers had been blocking a highway. The police Lathi-charged them and at least 10 people were injured and one person died from a heart attack a day later.

A video that appeared on social media showed Ayush Sinha, a top government official, encouraging officers to “smash the heads of farmers” if they broke through the barricades placed on the highway.

Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar criticised the choice of words but said that “strictness had to be maintained to ensure law and order”.

But that is not quite true. “Strictness” – outright brutality – must be imposed to placate the scavengers abroad who are circling overhead with India’s agrifood sector firmly in their sights. As much as the authorities try to distance themselves from such language – ‘smashing heads’ is precisely what India’s rulers and the billionaire owners of foreign agrifood corporations require.

The government has to demonstrate to global agricapital that it is being tough on farmers in order to maintain ‘market confidence’ and attract foreign direct investment in the sector (aka the takeover of the sector).

The farmers’ protest in India represents a struggle for the heart and soul of the country: a conflict between the local and the global. Large-scale international agribusiness, retailers, traders and e-commerce companies are trying to displace small- and medium-size indigenous producers and enterprises and restructure the entire agrifood sector in their own image.

By capitulating to the needs of foreign agrifood conglomerates – which is what the three agriculture laws represent – India will be compelled to eradicate its buffer food stocks. It would then bid for them with borrowed funds on the open market or with its foreign reserves.

This approach is symptomatic of what has been happening since the 1990s, when India was compelled to embrace neoliberal economics. The country has become increasingly dependent on inflows of foreign capital. Policies are being governed by the drive to attract and retain foreign investment and maintain ‘market confidence’ by ceding to the demands of international capital which rides roughshod over democratic principles and the needs of hundreds of millions of ordinary people.

The authorities know they must be seen to be acting tough on farmers, thereby demonstrating a steely resolve to foreign agribusiness and investors in general.

The Indian government’s willingness to cede control of its agrifood sector would appear to represent a victory for US foreign policy.

Economist Prof Michael Hudson stated in 2014:

American foreign policy has almost always been based on agricultural exports… It’s by agriculture and control of the food supply that American diplomacy has been able to control most of the Third World. The World Bank’s geopolitical lending strategy has been to turn countries into food deficit areas by convincing them to grow cash crops – plantation export crops – not to feed themselves with their own food crops.

On the back of India’s foreign exchange crisis in the 1990s, the IMF and World Bank wanted India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture. In return for up to more than $120 billion in loans at the time, India was directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies, run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops to earn foreign exchange.

The drive is to drastically dilute the role of the public sector in agriculture, reducing it to a facilitator of private capital and leading to the entrenchment of industrial farming and the replacement of small-scale farms.

Smashing protesters’ heads

A December 2020 photograph published by the Press Trust of India defines the Indian government’s approach to protesting farmers. It shows a security official in paramilitary garb raising a lathi. An elder from the Sikh farming community was about to feel its full force.

But “smashing the heads of farmers” is symbolic of how near-totalitarian ‘liberal democracies’ the world over now regard many within their own populations.

The right to protest and gather in public as well as the right of free speech has been suspended in Australia, which currently resembles a giant penal colony as officials pursue a nonsensical ‘zero-COVID’ policy. Across Europe and in the US and Israel, unnecessary and discriminatory ‘COVID passports’ are being rolled out to restrict freedom of movement and access to services. And those who protest against any of this are often confronted by a massive, intimidating police presence (or actual police violence) and media smear campaigns.

Again, governments must demonstrate resolve to their billionaire masters in Big Finance, the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, the World Economic Forum and the entire gamut of forces in the military-financial industrial complex behind the ‘Great Reset’, ‘4th Industrial Revolution, ‘New Normal’ or whichever other benign-sounding term its political and media lackeys use to disguise the restructuring of capitalism and the brutal impacts on ordinary people.

This too, like the restructuring of Indian agriculture – which will affect India’s entire 1.3-billion-plus population – is also part of a US foreign policy agenda that serves the interests of the Anglo-US elite.

COVID has ensured that trillions of dollars have been handed over to elite interests, while lockdowns and restrictions have been imposed on ordinary people and small businesses. The winners have been the likes of Amazon, Big Pharma and the tech giants. The losers have been small enterprises and the bulk of the population, deprived of their right to work and the entire panoply of civil rights their ancestors struggled and often died for. If a masterplan is required to deliver a knockout blow to small enterprises for the benefit of global players, then this is it.

Professor Michel Cossudovsky of the Centre for Research on Globalization says:

The Global Money financial institutions are the ‘creditors’ of the real economy which is in crisis. The closure of the global economy has triggered a process of global indebtedness. Unprecedented in World history, a multi-trillion bonanza of dollar denominated debts is hitting simultaneously the national economies of 193 countries.

In August 2020, a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) stated:

The COVID-19 crisis has severely disrupted economies and labour markets in all world regions, with estimated losses of working hours equivalent to nearly 400 million full-time jobs in the second quarter of 2020, most of which are in emerging and developing countries.

Among the most vulnerable are the 1.6 billion informal economy workers, representing half of the global workforce, who are working in sectors experiencing major job losses or have seen their incomes seriously affected by lockdowns. Most of the workers affected (1.25 billion) are in retail, accommodation and food services and manufacturing. And most of these are self-employed and in low-income jobs in the informal sector.

India was especially affected in this respect when the government imposed a lockdown. The policy ended up pushing 230 million into poverty and wrecked the lives and livelihoods of many. A May 2021 report prepared by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University (APU) has highlighted how employment and income had not recovered to pre-pandemic levels even by late 2020.

The report, ‘State of Working India 2021 – One year of Covid-19’ highlights how almost half of formal salaried workers moved into the informal sector and that 230 million people fell below the national minimum wage poverty line.

Even before COVID, India was experiencing its longest economic slowdown since 1991 with weak employment generation, uneven development and a largely informal economy. A recent article by the Research Unit for Political Economy highlights the structural weaknesses of the economy and the often desperate plight of ordinary people.

To survive Modi’s lockdown, the poorest 25% of households borrowed 3.8 times their median income, as against 1.4 times for the top 25%. The study noted the implications for debt traps.

Six months later, it was also noted that food intake was still at lockdown levels for 20% of vulnerable households.

Meanwhile, the rich were well taken care of. According to Left Voice:

The Modi government has handled the pandemic by prioritising the profits of big business and protecting the fortunes of billionaires over protecting the lives and livelihoods of workers.

Michel Chossudovsky says that governments are now under the control of global creditors and that the post-Covid era will see massive austerity measures, including the cancellation of workers’ benefits and social safety nets. An unpayable multi-trillion dollar public debt is unfolding: the creditors of the state are Big Money, which calls the shots in a process that will lead to the privatisation of the state.

Between April and July 2020, the total wealth held by billionaires around the world has grown from $8 trillion to more than $10 trillion. Chossudovsky says a new generation of billionaire innovators looks set to play a critical role in repairing the damage by using the growing repertoire of emerging technologies. He adds that tomorrow’s innovators will digitise, refresh and revolutionise the economy: but, as he notes, let us be under no illusions these corrupt billionaires are impoverishers.

With this in mind, a recent piece on the US Right To Know website exposes the Gates-led agenda for the future of food based on the programming of biology to produce synthetic and genetically engineered substances. The thinking reflects the programming of computers in the information economy. Of course, Gates and his ilk have patented, or are patenting, the processes and products involved.

For example, Ginkgo Bioworks, a Gates-backed start-up that makes ‘custom organisms’, recently went public in a $17.5 billion deal. It uses ‘cell programming’ technology to genetically engineer flavours and scents into commercial strains of engineered yeast and bacteria to create ‘natural’ ingredients, including vitamins, amino acids, enzymes and flavours for ultra-processed foods.

Ginkgo plans to create up to 20,000 engineered ‘cell programs’ (it now has five) for food products and many other uses. It plans to charge customers to use its ‘biological platform’. Its customers are not consumers or farmers but the world’s largest chemical, food and pharmaceutical companies.

Gates pushes fake food by way of his greenwash agenda. If he really is interested in avoiding ‘climate catastrophe’, helping farmers or producing enough food, instead of cementing the power and the control of corporations over our food, he should be facilitating community-based and lead agroecological approaches.

But he will not because there is no scope for patents, external proprietary inputs, commodification and dependency on global corporations which Gates sees as the answer to all of humanity’s problems in his quest to bypass democratic processes and roll out his agenda.

India should take heed because this is the future of ‘food’. If the farmers fail to get the farm bills repealed, India will again become dependent on food imports or on foreign food manufacturers and lab-made ‘food’. Fake food will displace traditional diets and cultivation methods will be driven by drones, genetically engineered seeds and farms without farmers, devastating the livelihoods (and health) of hundreds of millions.

This is a vision of the future courtesy of Klaus Schwab’s (of the elitist World Economic Forum) dystopic transhumanism and the Rockefellers’ 2010 lockstep scenario: genetically engineered food and genetically engineered people controlled by a technocratic elite whose plans are implemented through tighter top-down government control and more authoritarian leadership.

Since March 2020, we have seen the structural adjustment of the global capitalist system and labour’s relationship to it and an attempted adjustment of people’s thinking via endless government and media propaganda.

Whether it involves India’s farmers or the frequent rallies and marches against restrictions and COVID passports across the world, there is a common enemy. And there is also a common goal: liberty.

The post Smashing The Heads of Farmers: A Global Struggle Against Tyranny first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Amazon: “Economic Terrorism” and the Destruction of Competition and Livelihoods

Global corporations are colonising India’s retail space through e-commerce and destroying small-scale physical retail and millions of livelihoods.

Walmart entered into India in 2016 with a US$3.3 billion take-over of the online retail start-up Jet.com. This was followed in 2018 with a US$16 billion take-over of India’s largest online retail platform, Flipkart. Today, Walmart and Amazon control almost two thirds of India’s digital retail sector.

Amazon and Walmart have a record of using predatory pricing, deep discounts and other unfair business practices to attract customers to their online platforms. A couple of years ago, those two companies generated sales of over US$3 billion in just six days during Diwali. India’s small retailers reacted by calling for a boycott of online shopping.

If you want to know the eventual fate of India’s local markets and small retailers, look no further than what US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in 2019. He stated that Amazon had “destroyed the retail industry across the United States.”

Amazon’s corporate practices

In the US, an investigation by the House Judiciary Committee concluded that Amazon exerts monopoly power over many small- and medium-size businesses. It called for breaking up the company and regulating its online marketplace to ensure that sellers are treated fairly.

Amazon has spied on sellers and appropriated data about their sales, costs and suppliers. It has then used this information to create its own competing versions of their products, often giving its versions superior placement in the search results on its platform.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) published a revealing document on Amazon in June 2021 that discussed these issues. It also notes that Amazon has been caught using its venture capital fund to invest in start-ups only to steal their ideas and create rival products and services. Moreover, Amazon’s dominance allows it to function as a gatekeeper: retailers and brands must sell on its site to reach much of the online market and changes to Amazon’s search algorithms or selling terms can cause their sales to evaporate overnight.

Amazon also makes it hard for sellers to reduce their dependence on its platform by making their brand identity almost invisible to shoppers and preventing them from building relationships with their customers. The company strictly limits contact between sellers and customers.

According to the ILSR, Amazon compels sellers to buy its warehousing and shipping services, even though many would get a better deal from other providers, and it blocks independent businesses from offering lower prices on other sites. The company also routinely suspends sellers’ accounts and seizes inventories and cash balances.

The Joint Action Committee against Foreign Retail and E-commerce (JACAFRE) was formed to resist the entry of foreign corporations like Walmart and Amazon into India’s e-commerce market. Its members represent more than 100 national groups, including major trade, workers’ and farmers’ organisations.

JACAFRE issued a statement in 2018 on Walmart’s acquisition of Flipkart, arguing that it undermines India’s economic and digital sovereignty and the livelihoods of millions in India. The committee said the deal would lead to Walmart and Amazon dominating India’s e-retail sector. It would also allow them to own India’s key consumer and other economic data, making them the country’s digital overlords, joining the ranks of Google and Facebook.

In January 2021, JACAFRE published an open letter saying that the three new farm laws, passed by parliament in September 2020, centre on enabling and facilitating the unregulated corporatisation of agriculture value chains. This will effectively make farmers and small traders of agricultural produce become subservient to the interests of a few agrifood and e-commerce giants or will eradicate them completely.

Although there was strong resistance to Walmart entering India with its physical stores, online and offline worlds are now merged: e-commerce companies not only control data about consumption but also control data on production and logistics. Through this control, e-commerce platforms can shape much of the physical economy.

What we are witnessing is the deliberate eradication of markets in favour of monopolistic platforms.

Bezos not welcome

Amazon’s move into India encapsulates the unfair fight for space between local and global markets. There is a relative handful of multi-billionaires who own the corporations and platforms. And there are the interests of hundreds of millions of vendors and various small-scale enterprises who are regarded by these rich individuals as mere collateral damage to be displaced in their quest for ever greater profit.

Thanks to the helping hand of various COVID-related lockdowns which devastated small businesses, the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by $3.9tn (trillion) between 18 March and 31 December 2020. In September 2020, Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s executive chairman, could have paid all 876,000 Amazon employees a $105,000 bonus and still be as wealthy as he was before COVID. Jeff Bezos – his fortune constructed on unprincipled methods that have been well documented in recent years – increased his net wealth by $78.2bn during this period.

Bezos’s plan is clear: the plunder of India and the eradication of millions of small traders and retailers and neighbourhood mom and pop shops.

This is a man with few scruples. After returning from a brief flight to space in July, in a rocket built by his private space company, Bezos said during a news conference:

I also want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this.

In response, US congresswoman Nydia Velazquez wrote on Twitter:

While Jeff Bezos is all over the news for paying to go to space, let’s not forget the reality he has created here on Earth.

She added the hashtag #WealthTaxNow in reference to Amazon’s tax dodging, revealed in numerous reports, not least the May 2021 study ‘The Amazon Method: How to take advantage of the international state system to avoid paying tax’ by Richard Phillips, Senior Research Fellow, Jenaline Pyle, PhD Candidate, and Ronen Palan, Professor of International Political Economy, all based at the University of London.

Little wonder that when Bezos visited India in January 2020, he was hardly welcomed with open arms.

Bezos praised India on Twitter by posting:

“Dynamism. Energy. Democracy. #IndianCentury.”

The ruling party’s top man in the BJP foreign affairs department hit back with:

Please tell this to your employees in Washington DC. Otherwise, your charm offensive is likely to be waste of time and money.

A fitting response, albeit perplexing given the current administration’s proposed sanctioning of the foreign takeover of the economy, not least by the unscrupulous interests that will benefit from the recent farm legislation.

Bezos landed in India on the back of the country’s antitrust regulator initiating a formal investigation of Amazon and with small store owners demonstrating in the streets. The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) announced that members of its affiliate bodies across the country would stage sit-ins and public rallies in 300 cities in protest.

In a letter to PM Modi, prior to the visit of Bezos, the secretary of the CAIT, General Praveen Khandelwal, claimed that Amazon, like Walmart-owned Flipkart, was an “economic terrorist” due to its predatory pricing that “compelled the closure of thousands of small traders.”

In 2020, Delhi Vyapar Mahasangh (DVM) filed a complaint against Amazon and Flipkart alleging that they favoured certain sellers over others on their platforms by offering them discounted fees and preferential listing. The DVM lobbies to promote the interests of small traders. It also raised concerns about Amazon and Flipkart entering into tie-ups with mobile phone manufacturers to sell phones exclusively on their platforms.

It was argued by DVM that this was anti-competitive behaviour as smaller traders could not purchase and sell these devices. Concerns were also raised over the flash sales and deep discounts offered by e-commerce companies, which could not be matched by small traders.

The CAIT estimates that in 2019 upwards of 50,000 mobile phone retailers were forced out of business by large e-commerce firms.

Amazon’s internal documents, as revealed by Reuters, indicated that Amazon had an indirect ownership stake in a handful of sellers who made up most of the sales on its Indian platform. This is an issue because in India Amazon and Flipkart are legally allowed to function only as neutral platforms that facilitate transactions between third-party sellers and buyers for a fee.

Under investigation

The upshot is that India’s Supreme Court recently ruled that Amazon must face investigation by the Competition Commission of India (CCI) for alleged anti-competitive business practices. The CCI said it would probe the deep discounts, preferential listings and exclusionary tactics that Amazon and Flipkart are alleged to have used to destroy competition.

However, there are powerful forces that have been sitting on their hands as these companies have been running amok.

In August 2021, the CAIT attacked the NITI Aayog (the influential policy commission think tank of the Government of India) for interfering in e-commerce rules proposed by the Consumer Affairs Ministry.

The CAIT said that the think tank clearly seems to be under the pressure and influence of the foreign e-commerce giants.

The president of CAIT, BC Bhartia, stated that it is deeply shocking to see such a callous and indifferent attitude of the NITI Aayog whch have remained a silent spectator for so many years when:

… the foreign e-commerce giants have circumvented every rule of the FDI policy and blatantly violated and destroyed the retail and e-commerce landscape of the country but have suddenly decided to open their mouth at a time when the proposed e-commerce rules will potentially end the malpractices of the e-commerce companies.

Of course, money talks and buys influence. In addition to tens of billions of US dollars invested in India by Walmart and Amazon, Facebook invested US$5.5 billion last year in Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Platforms (e-commerce retail). Google has also invested US$4.5 billion.

Since the early 1990s, when India opened up to neoliberal economics, the country has become increasingly dependent on inflows of foreign capital. Policies are being governed by the drive to attract and retain foreign investment and maintain ‘market confidence’ by ceding to the demands of international capital which ride roughshod over democratic principles and the needs of hundreds of millions of ordinary people. ‘Foreign direct investment’ has thus become the holy grail of the Modi-led administration and the NITI Aayog.

The CAIT has urged the Consumer Affairs Ministry to implement the draft consumer protection e-commerce rules at the earliest as they are in the best interest of the consumers as well as the traders of the country.

Meanwhile, the CCI will probably complete its investigation within two months.

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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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Urgent Plea by Doctors to India’s PM: Halt Roll-Out of COVID-19 Vaccines Now

Indian Doctors for Truth (IDT) have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressing the importance of an urgent need to stop the overzealous universal vaccination drive against COVID-19.

Twenty doctors have signed the letter and highlight numerous scientific data about immunity achieved by the Indian population among both adults and children in light of the latest sero-survey done by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi along with the World Health Organization.

Based on the evidence, IDT urges the PM to immediately stop the drive for vaccination of the entire population and limit it to voluntary vaccination of only those above 60 years and/or people with severe degree of comorbidity.

The letter itself runs to five pages but the signatories enclosed 21 pages of references and evidence in support of their claims. What is presented below is a summary of some of the key points made in the five-page letter. The full letter and list of signatories can be read on the Awaken India Movement website.

The doctors argue that the first principle of medicine is to do no harm and to benefit patients. They point out that the vaccination drive is doing more harm than any good for the people of India and present the PM with scientific facts about SARS-CoV-2 related immunity and vaccination.

Those who have recovered from COVID-19 develop robust and long-lasting immunity against SARS-CoV-2, even after mild or asymptomatic infections. The chances of reinfection among these people, including from the emerging variants of the same virus, are extremely rare or non-existent. The WHO in its interim guidance released on 2 July 2021 has also recognised the fact of acquired immunity in all those who have had previous infection with SARS-CoV-2.

There is no evidence to show that those who have recovered from the infection will get any additional benefit from vaccination.

The epidemiology of COVID-19 in India is very different from other countries and varies much within the country itself: there are differences between urban and rural communities and between socioeconomic strata. There is therefore a need for policies that address prevention of COVID-19, including the policy on vaccination, which account for the situation in India.

According to available reports, the percentage of the population infected in the US, UK and similar countries is at 1-23%. In India, recent sero-surveys at Delhi and Mumbai have reported a positivity of 50-70%, indicating that a significant proportion of Indians have already been infected and will therefore not need the vaccine.

A number of reports have been published stressing that India has already achieved herd immunity. Mathematical models have explained what percentage of a population is required to be infected and varies for different populations: the disease-induced herd immunity level can be as low as 43%.

The case fatality rate (CFR) is usually reported by the government: the number of deaths per 100 confirmed cases as detected by antigen or rt-PCR test. But as renowned epidemiologist Dr John Ioannidis shows, the proper way of counting death rate in diseases with a CFR less than five is infection mortality rate.

Therefore, considering the fact of high level of infections in India, near herd immunity and very low levels of infection fatality rates, vaccinating the entire population will not serve any purpose. Moreover, given the negligible risk to children from COVID-19, trial of the vaccines for them or even consideration of approval is highly unethical.

Four recent studies indicate that almost 99.9% of the population have immune system memory from previous coronavirus infections and that, whether the actual coronavirus infection or the vaccine, the immune system gets activated and vaccines, in fact, can be more harmful in an already immune population.

Rapid and efficient memory-type immune responses occur reliably in virtually all unvaccinated individuals who are exposed to SARS-CoV-2. The effectiveness of further boosting the immune response through vaccination is therefore highly doubtful. Vaccination may instead aggravate disease through antibody-dependent enhancement.

The Indian government’s own operative guidelines have mentioned that “COVID-19 vaccines have limited safety data”. Moreover, adverse effects of the vaccine are found the world over. For example, as per the EUDRA report dated June 19, more than 1.3 million people in EU countries have had vaccine adverse effects and 13,867 people have died following vaccination. Furthermore, as in many countries, in India also, the death rate from COVID-19 seems to have increased with the increase in the vaccination drive.

The number of deaths per thousand population did not increase much, if at all, in most countries in 2020. Even in India, deaths per thousand increased 0.5% in 2019 but 0.49% in 2020. However, they seem to have increased after the vaccine drive.

Considering all the above, IDT strongly urge that the overzealous universal vaccination drive, with widespread incidences of coercion and vaccination being made mandatory for jobs and student exams, must be stopped immediately.

The doctors also call on the government to offer people above the age of 60 and those with severe comorbidities vaccination on a voluntary basis with full disclosure of warnings about side effects and the lack of safety data – as mentioned in the government’s operative guidelines for COVID-19.

They call for a stop on all trials on children for the vaccine and urge the government to institute detailed studies to analyse the observation that there has been a surge in cases and deaths due to COVID-19 in India since March-April 2021, coinciding with the roll out of the vaccination drive.

A glaring omission from the IDT letter is any focus on vaccinating pregnant women. This, too, should be addressed.

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Solidarity with Resistance to Extraction

People the world over are opposing fossil fuel extraction in an incalculable number of ways.  It is now clear that burning fossil fuels threatens millions of Life forms and could be laying the foundation for the extermination of Humanity.  But what about “alternative” energy?  As progressives stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those rejecting fossil fuels and nuclear power, should we despise, ignore, or commend those who challenge the menace to their homes and their communities from solar, wind and hydro-power (dams)?  The Green Party of St. Louis/Gateway Green Alliance gave its answer with unanimous approval of a version of the statement below in May, 2021.

*****

Global Conflicts Over Fossil Fuels, Nuclear and Alternative Energy

The monumental increase in the use of energy is provoking conflicts across the Earth.  We express our solidarity with those struggling against extraction, including these examples.

Standing Rock, North Dakota.  We stand in solidarity with the on-going Native American protests at Standing Rock in North Dakota protesting environmentally irresponsible and culturally damaging pipelines that transport crude oil extracted from tar sand, destroying their ancestral lands. So-called “clean” and “renewable” energies depend on the climate killer oil for their production.

Ogoni People vs. Shell.  We stand in solidarity with the Movement for Survival of Ogoni People against Shell. The Niger-Delta was devastated and traditional culture weakened by soil, surface and groundwater contamination that makes farming and fishing impossible.  Local communities still seek to receive denied compensation, clean-up, a share of the profits and a say in decision-making.

Coal extraction in India.  We stand in solidarity with the Centre for Policy Research in India as it opposes efforts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to open 41 new coal mines because burning coal is a major factor in climate change, leads to asthma, premature births, and spreads toxins (including mercury) by air, water and land.

Fracking in Pennsylvania.  We stand in solidarity with the Green Party of Pennsylvania which has opposed fracking since 2008 when it realized that use of volatile chemicals could harm local communities and waterways and contribute to climate instability. Local residents have become ill and major waterways and delicate ecosystems have been damaged.

Nuclear power and Olympic Games.  We stand in solidarity with the No Nukes Action Committee of the Bay Area who are demonstrating against the Olympic Games slated for Tokyo in order to raise awareness of the ongoing disaster of Fukushima nuclear power since nuclear power is deadly and intimately connected with the potential for nuclear war.

Uranium Mining in Africa.  We stand in solidarity with “Solidarity Action for the 21 Villages” in Faléa, Mali against the French multinational COGEMA/Orano. After years of struggle, this NGO defeated a uranium mine through community mobilizing.  Aware of the detrimental effects on health, environment, agricultural land, water sources and cultural heritage, they are still fighting to undo already done infrastructural damage.

Solar arrays in Washington State.  We stand in solidarity with rural Klickitat County, WA residents who are being invaded by industrial solar facilities which would exceed 12,000 acres and undermine wildlife/habitat, ecosystems, ground/water, and food production because solar panels and lithium ion batteries contain carcinogens with no method of disposal or re-cycling and could contribute to wildfires from electrical shortages.

Wind turbines in Broome County NY.  We stand in solidarity with the Broome Tioga Green Party’s fight against industrial wind turbine projects that would increase drilling and mining, dynamite 26 pristine mountain tops, and destroy 120,000 trees while requiring precious minerals and lithium for batteries and being dependent on fossil fuels for their manufacture, maintenance and operation.

Hydro-power in Honduras.  We stand in solidarity with the indigenous Lenca people opposing the Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque River in Honduras whose leader Berta Cáceres was murdered for uniting different movements to expose how dams destroy farmland, leave forests bare, disturb ancestral burial sites, and deprive communities of water for crops and livestock.

Lithium mining in Thacker Pass.  We stand in solidarity with activists aiming to stop Lithium Americas’ Thacker Pass open-pit mine (Nevada).  Essential for electronic devices including electric cars, the mine would destroy rare old-growth big sagebrush, harm wildlife including many endangered species and lower the water table. Its operation would require massive fossil fuel use and toxic waste ponds.

Cobalt Extraction in DR Congo.  We stand in solidarity with the child laborers slaving and dying in Democratic Republic of Congo cobalt mines.  Cobalt is an essential ingredient for some of the world’s fastest-growing industries—electric cars and electronic devices. It co-occurs with copper mining, used in construction, machinery, transportation and war technology worldwide.

Child Labour in Democratic Republic of Congo

Most of all, we stand in solidarity with thousands upon thousands of communities across the Earth opposing every form of extraction or transmission for energy which seeks to cover up human health and environmental dangers.

*****

The version adopted by the Gateway Green Alliance differs only by referring to its organizational name in the text.  If you would like to join those spreading the word regarding the need to challenge all forms of energy extraction because we can provide better lives for every society on Earth by reducing the global production of energy, please contact the author at the email below.

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Microsoft vs Indian Farmers: Agri-Stacking the System

In April, the Indian government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Microsoft, allowing its local partner CropData to leverage a master database of farmers. The MoU seems to be part of the AgriStack policy initiative, which involves the roll out of ‘disruptive’ technologies and digital databases in the agricultural sector.

Based on press reports and government statements, Microsoft would help farmers with post- harvest management solutions by building a collaborative platform and capturing agriculture datasets such as crop yields, weather data, market demand and prices. In turn, this would create a farmer interface for ‘smart’ agriculture, including post-harvest management and distribution.

CropData will be granted access to a government database of 50 million farmers and their land records. As the database is developed, it will include farmers’ personal details, profile of land held (cadastral maps, farm size, land titles, local climatic and geographical conditions), production details (crops grown, production history, input history, quality of output, machinery in possession) and financial details (input costs, average return, credit history).

The stated aim is to use digital technology to improve financing, inputs, cultivation and supply and distribution.

It seems that the blueprint for AgriStack is in an advanced stage despite the lack of consultation with or involvement of farmers themselves. Technology could certainly improve the sector but handing control over to powerful private concerns will merely facilitate what they require in terms of market capture and farmer dependency.

Such ‘data-driven agriculture’ is integral to the recent farm legislation which includes a proposal to create a digital profile of cultivators, their farm holdings, climatic conditions in an area, what is grown and average output.

Of course, many concerns have been raised about this, ranging from farmer displacement, the further exploitation of farmers through microfinance and the misuse of farmer’s data and increased algorithmic decision-making without accountability.

The displacement of farmers is not lost on the Research Unit for Political Economy (RUPE) which, in a three-part series of articles, explains how neoliberal capitalism has removed peasant farmers from their land to facilitate an active land market for corporate interests. The Indian government is trying to establish a system of ‘conclusive titling’ of all land in the country, so that ownership can be identified and land can then be bought or taken away.

Taking Mexico as an example, RUPE says:

Unlike Mexico, India never underwent significant land reform. Nevertheless, its current programme of ‘conclusive titling’ of land bears clear resemblances to Mexico’s post-1992 drive to hand over property rights… The Indian rulers are closely following the script followed by Mexico, written in Washington.

The plan is that, as farmers lose access to land or can be identified as legal owners, predatory institutional investors and large agribusinesses will buy up and amalgamate holdings, facilitating the further roll out of high-input, corporate-dependent industrial agriculture – which has already helped fuel wide-scale financial distress among farmers and a deep-rooted agrarian and environmental crisis.

By harvesting (pirating) information – under the benign-sounding policy of data-driven agriculture – private corporations will be better placed to exploit farmers’ situations for their own ends: they will know more about their incomes and businesses than individual farmers themselves.

Open letter

Some 55 civil society groups and organisations have written to the government expressing these and various other concerns, not least the perceived policy vacuum with respect to the data privacy of farmers and the exclusion of farmers themselves in current policy initiatives.

In an open letter, they state:

At a time when ‘data has become the new oil’ and the industry is looking at it as the next source of profits, there is a need to ensure the interest of farmers. It will not be surprising that corporations will approach this as one more profit-making possibility, as a market for so-called ‘solutions’ which lead to sale of unsustainable agri-inputs combined with greater loans and indebtedness of farmers for this through fintech, as well as the increased threat of dispossession by private corporations.

They add that any proposal which seeks to tackle the issues that plague Indian agriculture must address the fundamental causes of these issues. The current model relies on ‘tech-solutionism’ which emphasises using technology to solve structural issues.

There is also the issue of reduced transparency on the part of the government through algorithm-based decision-making.

The 55 signatories request the government holds consultations with all stakeholders, especially farmers’ organisations, on the direction of its digital push as well as the basis of partnerships, and put out a policy document in this regard after giving due consideration to feedback from farmers and farmer organisations. As agriculture is a state subject, the central government should consult the state governments also.

They state that all initiatives that the government has begun with private entities to integrate and/or share multiple databases with private/personal information about individual farmers or their farms be put on hold till an inclusive policy framework is put in place and a data protection law is passed.

It is also advocated that the development of AgriStack, both as a policy framework and its execution, should take the concerns and experiences of farmers as the prime starting point.

The letter states that if the new farm laws are closely examined, it will be evident that unregulated digitalisation is an important aspect of them.

There is the strong possibility that monopolistic corporate owned e-commerce ‘platforms’ will eventually control much of India’s economy given the current policy trajectory. From retail and logistics to cultivation, data certainly will be the ‘new oil’, giving power to platforms to dictate what needs to be manufactured and in what quantities.

Those farmers who remain in the system will be tied to contracts and told how much production is expected, how much rain is anticipated, what type of soil quality there is, what type of inputs are required and when the produce needs to be ready – and how much money they will receive.

Handing over all information about the sector to Microsoft and others places power in their hands – the power to shape the sector in their own image.

The data giants and e-commerce companies will not only control data about consumption but also hold data on production, logistics, who needs what, when they need it, who should produce it, who should move it and when it should be moved.

Bayer, Corteva, Syngenta and traditional agribusiness will work with Microsoft, Google and the big-tech giants to facilitate AI-driven farmerless farms and e-commerce retail dominated by the likes of Amazon and Walmart. A cartel of data owners, proprietary input suppliers and retail concerns at the commanding heights of the economy, peddling toxic industrial food and the devastating health impacts associated with it.

And elected representatives? Their role will be highly limited to technocratic overseers of these platforms and the artificial intelligence tools that plan and determine all of the above.

As for farmers, many, if not most, will be forced to leave the sector. Tens of millions unemployed and underemployed ‘collateral damage’ stripped of their means of production.

Centuries’ old knowledge of cultivation and cultural practices passed on down the generations – gone. The links between humans and the land reduced to an AI-driven technocratic dystopia in compliance with the tenets of neoliberal capitalism.

As it currently stands, AgriStack will help facilitate this end game.

The open letter referred to can be read on the website of the Alliance For Holistic and Sustaibable Agriculture. For a summary of the recent farm legislation and the implications see this segment by Colin Todhunter on UK-based KTV.

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Anthony Fauci “has no clue and no authority to lecture on what is good for India”

In light of the current COVID-related situation in India, Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US adviser on COVID, has called for India to implement a hard lockdown and for the mass roll-out of vaccines.

However, Fauci has no clue and no authority to lecture on what is good for India.

That is the view of journalist Ratna Chakraborty. Writing on the Empire Diaries website, she argues that the US is a rich nation, prints the world’s reserve currency, has robust financial coverage for the jobless and its population is spread out.

On the other hand, India is finance-strained, has a brittle economy that lives on the brink of disaster, does not have any financial coverage for the jobless, is densely populated and its people mostly live in congested clusters.

Given the government’s incompetence and the callousness demonstrated towards poorer sections of Indian society the first time around, Chakraborty says any new lockdown would again result in disaster. She adds that nothing has been learnt, with no attempt to upgrade the healthcare set-up nationwide.

It is worth recalling what renowned academic and activist Noam Chomsky said about India’s first lockdown.

During an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! back in May 2020, Chomsky said:

… you can almost describe it as genocidal. Modi gave, I think, a four-hour warning before a total lockdown. That’s (affected) over a billion people. Some of them have nowhere to go.

He added:

People in the informal economy, which is a huge number of people, are just cast out. Go walk back to your village, which may be a thousand miles away. Die on the roadside. This is a huge catastrophe in the making…

During the first lockdown in India, rural affairs commentator P Sainath painted a dreary picture of the impacts, not least the desperate plight of migrant workers, a shortage of cash to buy food and a potential shortage of food as farmers were unable to complete their harvests.

Sainath also reported the views of Dr. Sundararaman, a former executive director of the National Health Systems Resources Centre, who argued that there was a desperate need to:

identify and act on the reverse migrations problem and the loss of livelihoods. Failing that, deaths from diseases that have long tormented mostly poor Indians could outstrip those brought about by the corona virus.

Regardless of the destructive impact of the first lockdown in India and the questionable efficacy of lockdowns in terms of what they are supposed to achieve, another one would further push hundreds of millions towards poverty and hunger. It would merely fuel and accelerate the impoverishment caused by the first lockdown.

A new report prepared by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University (APU) has highlighted how employment and income had not recovered to pre-pandemic levels even by late 2020.

The report, ‘State of Working India 2021 – One year of Covid-19’ highlights how almost half of formal salaried workers moved into the informal sector and that 230 million people fell below the national minimum wage poverty line.

Even before COVID, India was experiencing its longest economic slowdown since 1991 with weak employment generation, uneven development and a largely informal economy. A recent article by the Research Unit for Political Economy highlights the structural weaknesses of the economy and the often desperate plight of ordinary people.

The study also found that there was a loss in monthly earnings for all types of workers: 13% for casual workers, 18% for the self-employed, 17% for those with temporary salaries, 5% for the permanent salaried and 17% overall.

The poorest 25% of households borrowed 3.8 times their median income, as against 1.4 times for the top 25%. The study noted the implications for debt traps.

Six months later, it was also noted that food intake was still at lockdown levels for 20% of vulnerable households.

How bad is COVID?

Given this impact, before listening to prominent individuals with apparent conflicts of interest related to vaccine roll-outs (see the editorial in the British Medical Journal ‘Covid-19, Politicisation, Corruption, and Suppression of Science’), the current COVID-related situation in India must be contextualised. The sensationalism needs to be put to one side.

According to Yohan Tengra, a Mumbai-based political analyst and healthcare specialist, the true number of infection rates can only be known by testing symptomatic people who have tested positive with either a virus culture test or PCR test that uses 24 cycles or less.

The PCR test has been used as the gold standard for COVID cases around the world. But it has been sharply criticised for being inaccurate, inappropriate, for using cycles in excess of 40 (thereby inflating the numbers) and for producing ‘false positives’.

It seems that even the Swedish Ministry of Health now thinks that it is not fit for purpose:

The PCR technology used in tests to detect viruses cannot distinguish between viruses capable of infecting cells and viruses that have been neutralised by the immune system and therefore these tests cannot be used to determine whether someone is contagious or not. RNA from viruses can often be detected for weeks (sometimes months) after the illness but does not mean that you are still contagious.

We also need to be reminded what the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated about the PCR in December 2020. It is especially important to focus on PCR testing because these tests are the entire basis for restrictions and lockdowns (and vaccination); even when deaths were within normal annual ranges, ‘case’ levels were high and restrictions and ‘tiered lockdowns’ were still being imposed in places like the UK.

The following extract can be found on page 39 of the report from the CDC 2010-Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel:

Detection of viral RNA may not indicate the presence of infectious virus or that 2019-nCoV is the causative agent for clinical symptoms. This test cannot rule out diseases caused by other bacterial or viral pathogens.

Perfectly healthy people are being tested and small often insignificant fragments of flu, common cold or some other virus can be detected. People are then labelled as a COVID ‘case’.

But that is not all. In their recent article ‘The Nuremberg Doctors Trial and Modern Medicine’s Panic Promotion of the FDA’s Experimental and Unapproved COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines’, Dr Gary G Kohls and Professor Michel Chossudovsky state that – with regard to the so-called ‘emergency use authorization’ (EUA) of COVID-19 vaccines – it is now established and confirmed by the WHO (January 20, 2021) that the entire data base pertaining to tabulation of confirmed positive cases (RT-PCR test) (since early February 2020 in 193 member states of the UN) is invalid.

The two authors note that this flawed methodology cannot be used to confirm the existence of an emergency situation. EUA criterion is therefore not only invalid but illegal.

Furthermore, there is currently decent scientific evidence to indicate asymptomatic transmission may not be significant.

According to Tengra, the case numbers being reported in India are mainly asymptomatic cases. The directors of the All India Institute of Medical Science and the India Council of Medical Research both say that there are many more asymptomatic cases this time than in the so-called ‘first wave’.

As these ‘cases’ comprise most of India’s case numbers, we should therefore be questioning the data as well as the PCR tests being used to detect the virus.

Tengra says the case fatality rate for COVID-19 in India was over 3% last year but has now dropped to below 1.5%. The infection fatality rate is even lower, with serosurvey results showing them to be between 0.05% to 0.1%.

As has occurred in many other countries, Tengra notes the way that death certificate guidelines are structured in India makes it easy for someone to be labelled as a COVID death just based on a positive PCR test or general symptoms. It is therefore often difficult to say who has died from the virus and who has been misdiagnosed.

We should also bear in mind that respiratory diseases like TB and respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis leading to pneumonia are major killers in India. These conditions are severely aggravated by air pollution and often require oxygen which can be in short supply during air pollution crises in places like Delhi at this time of the year.

Therefore, the current harrowing scenes we see in the media might not necessarily be due to the lethality of the virus but by the numbers who are ending up in hospital.

Vaccines

If the pandemic narrative has been constructed on the house of (statistical) cards outlined thus far, then we should be questioning the need for a mass vaccination campaign, which could actually lead to aggravating the current situation.

This is not lost on Dr Geert Vanden Bossche, a virologist who has held positions at several vaccine companies, carrying out vaccine research and development. He has also been involved with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and has worked with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI). Not an ‘anti-vaxxer’ in any sense of the term.

He offers insight into why it is quite possible that mass vaccine rollouts will actually lead to very disturbing levels of deaths directly related to COVID-19. Far from reducing the numbers and facilitating immunity, he anticipates ‘vaccine assisted immune escape’.

Vanden Bossche warns that mass infection prevention and mass vaccination with Covid-19 vaccines in the midst of the pandemic can only breed highly infectious variants. He offers a truly worrying scenario. Of course, not everyone might agree with his analysis but it is certainly a cause for concern.

There is also the entire issue regarding the necessity, efficacy and safety of the vaccines now being rolled out. The group ‘Doctors for COVID Ethics’ has recently raised serious doubts in all of these areas (its concerns have been published on the UK-based OffGuardian website).

In finishing, there are two questions we should ask.

Can we have confidence in science and evidence-based health and social policy where COVID-19 is concerned? And can we just assume – as governments and the media imply we should – that Anthony Fauci and the pharmaceutical corporations have ordinary people’s interests at heart?

In response to the first question, not much. In response to the second, certain interests have been riding and fuelling a wave of sensationalism and duplicity throughout.

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Financialized Capitalism in India

India — gripped by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic — has been endlessly witnessing desperate scrambles for hospital beds, the dire need for oxygen and mass cremation. Amid all this, the stock market is booming. In fact, Mumbai Sensex has signaled that bullish trends have been on the rise. Over the year ending April 1, 2021, while benchmark composite indices rose by 19% in the Philippines, 35% in Indonesia and 48% in Thailand, the rise was a staggering 77% in India, which experienced one of the sharpest real economy contractions in economic activity over that period. Moreover, India — unlike other Southeast Asian countries — has witnessed increased speculative investments at the expense of portfolio investments in bonds.

RBI’s Support for the Super-rich

Thriving stock market amid a general slowdown is a direct result of the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) over-friendly attitude. During the years, investors have been assured that if any kind of instability visits upon them, the authorities will immediately arrive to offer moratoriums, state-guaranteed loans and other liquidity-enhancing measures to make up for disappearing cash flows. Their expectations are entirely accurate. On May 5, 2021, RBI announced repayment relief, as well as $6.8 billion in three-year funding at its policy rate of 4% for banks. These liquidity infusion measures gave Indian equities a booster shot, lifting the benchmark indices 0.88% higher on the same day.

RBI’s supportive stance toward the stock market has proven to be extremely beneficial for the ruling class. When the stock market was entering a bear phase in 2020 — with crony capitalists like Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani suffering losses — the central bank instantaneously began its policy of regular credit injections and quantitative easing. Refilled coffers directly aided the concentration and centralization of capital, allowing businesses to begin a new round of speculation with less competition and higher profit margins.

When stock prices were falling in February-March 2020, powerful investors — rather than offloading their stocks — used the state’s money to buy up stocks from smaller owners who were busy panic-selling. Therefore, when stock prices increased after April, they got enormous capital gains. In spite of occasional ups-and-downs, the stock market scaled new heights in 2020, leading to an astronomic increase in wealth appropriation by the speculative super-rich class. The ranks of Indian dollar billionaires swelled from 102 to 140 in 12 months, their combined wealth doubling to $596 billion in 2020, when the oppressed masses of India were bearing the entire burden of the first wave of the pandemic. These 140 billionaires now eat up 22.7% of India’s GDP of $2.62 trillion.

Global Conditions

The situation of India’s financial sector is a part of the wider global conditions which have evolved since the 1990s. With low profit rates in the productive sectors of the economy, endemic overproduction and weak demand, investments decreased. Corporations turned to the financial sector and the stock exchange. The vast sums of capital that could not be profitably invested in the real economy produced a growing market for high-risk, high-reward investments. In other words, the expansion of the financial system, of the whole debt and credit apparatus, has been a way of utilizing the economic surplus which is not utilized in productive investment.  It is instead poured into speculation, and that creates a wealth effect that has a secondary stimulus to the underlying economy, because as people who benefit from asset price increases get wealthier, they spend more on consumption, and that stimulates the economy. Finance also provides some jobs, although not as much as other sectors of the economy.

While stock values represent future expected streams of earnings arising primarily from production, finance has become increasingly autonomous from production or the real economy, relying on financial bubbles and unsustainable explosions of credit/debt. This means that the speculative process depends for its very continuation on the piling up of greater and greater amounts of debt, and in order to do this, it needs to have constant cash infusions from the real economy to provide additional capital that can be leveraged. But as the underlying system remains stagnant, the bubble eventually bursts — typically after a speculative mania in which the rapid rise in quantity of debt leads to a marked decline in its quality.

At this point of time — when the liquidity has dried up — the monetary authorities intervene to keep the whole house of cards from collapsing. This serves to reduce the risk to speculators, thereby keeping the value of stocks and other financial assets rising on a long-term basis, along with the overall wealth/income ratio. In these circumstances, asset accumulation by speculative means has replaced actual accumulation or productive investment as a route to the increase of wealth, generating a condition which Costas Lapavistas calls “profits without production.” The recent actions of India’s central bank are structurally situated in this new global regime of profiteering which is geared toward irrational profit-making for the few.

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India, COVID and the Need for Scientific Integrity not Sensationalism

Western media outlets are currently paying a great deal of attention to India and the apparent impact of COVID-19. The narrative is that the coronavirus is ripping through the country – people are dying, cases are spiralling out of control and hospitals are unable to cope.

There does indeed seem to be a major problem in parts of the country. However, we need to differentiate between the effects of COVID-19 and the impacts of other factors. We must also be very weary of sensationalist media reporting which misrepresents the situation.

For instance, in late April, the New York Post ran a story about the COVID ‘surge’ in India with the headline saying, “footage shows people dead in the streets”. Next to it was an image of a woman lying dead. But the image was of a woman lying on the floor from a May 2020 story about a gas leak in Andhra Pradesh.

To try to shed some light on the situation and move beyond panic and media sensationalism, I recently spoke with Yohan Tengra, a political analyst and healthcare specialist based in Mumbai.

Tengra has carried out a good deal of research into COVID-19 and the global response to it. He is the co-author of a new report: ‘How the Unscientific Interpretation of RT-PCR & Rapid Antigen Test Results is Causing Misleading Spikes in Cases & Deaths’.

For India, he says:

We will never know statistically if the infections have really increased. To be certain, we would need data of symptomatic people who have tested positive with either a virus culture test or PCR that uses 24 cycles or less, ideally under 20.

He adds that India is experiencing mainly asymptomatic cases:

For example, in Mumbai, they declared two days back that of total cases in the city, 85 per cent were asymptomatic. In Bangalore, over 95 per cent of cases were asymptomatic!

In his report, Tengra offers scientific evidence that strongly indicates asymptomatic transmission is not significant. He asserts that as these cases comprise most of India’s case numbers, we should be questioning the data as well as the PCR tests and the cycles being used to detect the virus instead of accepting the figures at face value.

As in many countries across the globe, Tengra says people in India have been made to fear the virus endlessly. Moreover, they are generally under the impression that they need to intervene early in order to pass through the infection successfully.

He notes:

The medical system itself works to boost the number of positive cases. Even with a negative PCR test, they are using CAT scans and diagnosing people with COVID. These scans are not specific to SARS-CoV-2 at all. I personally know of people who have been asked to be hospitalised by their doctors just based on a positive test (doctors can get a cut of the total bill made when they refer a patient to a hospital). This also happened to a Bollywood celebrity, who was asked to be admitted by his doctors with no symptoms and just a positive PCR.

Faulty PCR testing and misdiagnosis, says Tengra, combined with people who want to intervene early with the mildest symptoms, have been filling up the beds, preventing access to those who really need them.

Addressing the much-publicised shortage of oxygen, Tengra implies this too is a result of inept policies, with exports of oxygen having increased in recent times, resulting in inadequate back-up supplies when faced with a surge in demand.

According to Tengra, the case fatality rate for COVID-19 in India was over three per cent last year but has now dropped to below 1.5 per cent. The infection fatality rate is even lower, with serosurvey results showing them to be between 0.05 per cent to 0.1 per cent.

The directors of the All India Institute of Medical Science and the India Council of Medical Research have both come out and said that there is not much difference between the first and second wave and that there are many more asymptomatic cases this time than in the so-called ‘first wave’.

Tengra argues that the principle is the same for all infectious agents: they infect people, most can fight it off without even developing symptoms, some develop mild symptoms, a smaller number develop serious symptoms and an even smaller number die.

Although lives can be saved with the right prevention plus treatment strategies, Tengra notes that most of the doctors in India are using ineffective and unsafe drugs. As a result, he claims that mortality rates could increase due to inappropriate treatments.

As has occurred in many other countries, Tengra notes the way that death certificate guidelines are structured in India makes it easy for someone to be labelled as a COVID death just based on a positive PCR test or general symptoms. It is therefore often difficult to say who has died from the virus and who has been misdiagnosed.

And the issue of misdiagnosis should not be brushed aside lightly. In a recent article by long-term resident of India Jo Nash, ‘India’s Current ‘COVID Crisis’ in Context’, it is noted that the focus of the media’s messaging and the source of many of the horrifying scenes of suffering – Delhi – is among the most toxic cities in the world which often leads to the city having to close down due to the widespread effects on respiratory health.

Nash also argues that respiratory diseases like TB and respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis leading to pneumonia are always among the top ten killers in India. These conditions are severely aggravated by air pollution and often require oxygen which can be in short supply during air pollution crises as happens at this time of the year.

As a result, it is reasonable to state that all is not what it might seem to be with regard to media reporting on the current situation.

It is interesting that this ‘second wave’ has correlated with the vaccine rollout (Nash provides official sources to support this claim). Tengra feels this might not be coincidental. He says that the ‘aefi’ (adverse events following immunisation) data vastly underestimates how many vaccine adverse reactions are taking place in the country.

Tengra says that, based on ground surveys and data collected by himself, there is a tremendous number of people who have fallen ill post vaccination, many of them then testing positive for COVID and becoming hospitalised.

The financial incentive for doctors to diagnose people with COVID could also mean many of the people who are ill with other conditions are being placed as COVID patients, while beds are under occupied for people for non-COVID health issues.

Two months ago, there was a lot of vaccine hesitancy in India and many people were not taking the jabs. Tengra notes that the government has had to up the ante in order to get people scared.

He argues:

We are at a crossroads right now in terms of deciding the fate of our country and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Tengra is working with lawyers and other concerned citizens to file legal cases to challenge the idea of asymptomatic transmission and the testing of healthy people. The aim is to also improve the testing in line with evidence-based protocols.

But that is not all:

We will also be challenging the current vaccine rollout, highlighting the issues with trials that have been conducted, adverse events, deaths, vaccine passports and other issues surrounding the subject.

Tengra is not alone in challenging the mainstream narrative.

A recent article in India’s National Herald newspaper by clinical epidemiologist Professor Dr Amitav Banerjee argues that the current situation in India is not due to the lethality of the virus but by the numbers who are ending up in hospital, which are exposing cracks in India’s public health infrastructure and the inequitable distribution of health services. Even at the best of times, he argues, there is a mismatch of supply and demand. Little wonder, therefore, that we now see an emergency – not squarely due to COVID.

Like Yohan Tengra, Bannerjee questions the scientific integrity of the responses to COVID and this includes the rollout of vaccines and the problems which this in itself could bring:

Going all out for mass vaccination with uncertain input on effectiveness is a big gambit. We have a vaccine against tuberculosis for decades which has zero effectiveness in preventing tuberculosis in the Indian population. Moreover, there are concerns that haphazard and incomplete vaccination of the population can trigger mutant strains.

Referring to an editorial in the British Medical Journal by K. Abbasi (‘Covid-19, Politicisation, Corruption, and Suppression of Science’), Bannerjee raises concerns about the suppression of science by politicians and governments and the conflicts of interest of academics, researchers and commercial lobbies.

He says:

In a global disaster, world leaders, their scientific advisers, including career scientists, are under tremendous pressure. They have to give the impression of being in control and may resort to authoritarian ways to camouflage their uncertainties. Such tactics deviate from the scientific approach. The present pandemic is full of such uncertainties and therefore a vicious cycle of repression has set in when the authorities and their advisers are faced with rising case numbers.

None of what has been presented here is meant to deny the existence or impact of COVID-19. People in India are dying – some from the virus, others ‘with’ the virus but most likely mainly due to their pre-existing underlying conditions, and there are others who are being misdiagnosed.

Although excess mortality figures are currently unavailable, Yohan Tengra notes the average age of those who died in the first wave was 50. This time it is 49.

Professor Bannerjee says that there is opacity and obfuscation instead of transparency. He calls for moral courage among scientists in advisory positions to the Indian government: scientific integrity is the need of the hour.

In finishing, let us place COVID and the global media reporting of the situation in India in context by returning to Jo Nash.

Even as the alleged COVID deaths reach their peak, more people die of diarrhoea every day in India and have done for years, mostly due to a lack of clean water and sanitation creating a terrain ripe for the flourishing of communicable disease.

Readers can access the report ‘How the Unscientific Interpretation of RT-PCR & Rapid Antigen Test Results is Causing Misleading Spikes in Cases & Deaths’ by Yohan Tengra and Ambar Koiri here

The post India, COVID and the Need for Scientific Integrity not Sensationalism first appeared on Dissident Voice.