Category Archives: Interview

Challenging Capitalism through Workers’ Control

Workers’ assembly at Officine Zero, a former night train repair facility, in Rome (Photo: Officine Zero)

A common feature in every crisis situation, from the upheavals of the early 20th century to the neo-liberal re-structurings of the late 20th century, is the emergence of workers’ control – workers organising to take over their workplaces in order to defend their jobs and their communities. We interviewed Dario Azzellini* to talk about this issue in depth: the emergence of new values and social relations not just in the recuperated workplaces but also in the communities, the need to re-orient production, the overcoming of the separation between political, economic and social spheres, and the role of workers’ control in the larger struggle against capitalism.

*****

Ricardo Vaz: Why is workers’ control an important issue?

Dario Azzellino: It is an important issue because if we look at what is socialism, what Karl Marx described, the living example for him is the Paris Commune. It is the people taking matters into their own hands, and the state as such disappears because power is no longer delegated.

But I would say that workers’ control is one first step on a path to socialism, in the sense that control over production and workplace should not be only on behalf of the workers but also of the communities, the self-organised people in general. And even that is still not the last step, because as Marx says, the commune is the finally discovered political form, so it is still a political form. Socialism, or communism, is about going beyond politics, achieving the self-organisation of life.

So these are all intermediary steps, and even the commune would not be the final form, but we cannot even imagine the final form, because we are trapped in the imagination of what we know and what has been done. What has to be developed is probably beyond our imagination now.

RV: Nevertheless it is important also in the immediate context…

DA: Yes, because if workers take charge of their workplaces and decide on production, the labour processes, the values, everything changes. We have seen that in worker-controlled places. Security and health questions become central, and they are far from it in capitalist workplaces. For example, many worker-controlled workplaces start working with organic, or less toxic, production, because they are exposed to it.

Workers’ Control Poster

So once workers can decide, these questions become central. The struggle is no longer only about wage raises, which is the only struggle more or less allowed in the framework of capitalist society. Instead workers’ control is automatically challenging capitalism. We have a central field of conflict, and obviously all the other fronts, like gender, race, etc., are equally important. But labour and production are not only fundamental for society but also a field we all have in common and that is absolutely fundamental for our survival and to the structuring of the whole society. In this field all other contradictions obviously have to be tackled too.

We should not forget that the predominant way in which the economy and production are organised reflects on the rest of society. For example, as long as the dominant form of production was Fordism, the rest of society (universities, schools, bureaucracy) was organised in a Fordist way. So there is some kind of leverage if we are talking about labour and workers’ control.

RV:  In both books you have edited you describe lots of historical scenarios where workers’ control comes into play. What was the purpose of bringing together all these different experiments?

DA: We try to show, with the books and the research, how workers’ control is an important and recurring question, and we have to dig and make it known, because nobody is really interested in making it known. Unions have no interest in showing that workers can organise by themselves. Parties, which are based on the principle of representation, are also bypassed if the workers organise themselves. And, of course, capitalists would have even less interest.

But it is interesting that workers’ control comes to the fore in every kind of crisis, political, economical, in anti-colonial struggles, during the revolutions of the early 20th century, after WW2 or other wars, when capitalism is not able to develop because capitalists will invest into speculation and commerce and not into production. It happened during the neoliberal re-structurings of the early 80s, etc. So it happened always, not because the workers knew of previous experiments, but because it was something anthropologically present in the workers – get together, self-organise in a democratic way and try keep up the production, benefiting themselves and the people around them.

RV: What are the common features among all these different workers’ control attempts?

DA: This is the first common aspect, that in any situation of crisis, there are always workers that take responsibility for their jobs, for their workplaces, and for the people, for society. The second thing is that they choose democratic structures that are based on equality. They do not simply elect a new boss. Hierarchies disappear. It does not really matter what position was previously held in the production chain. That does not determine what one is able to do in a crisis.

For example, there is the Junin clinic that is now under workers control in Córdoba, Argentina. I visited it and the head of the cooperative now is the former janitor and technician, because he was the person who was most able to organise the struggle.  So he was elected as the formal head of a cooperative, which is still deciding everything in assemblies on a democratic base. This shows that the skills or capacities that are seemingly important in a capitalist hierarchy are not the same ones in a democratic and workers’ assembly-based structure.

Rally in support of the Junin Clinic which was taken over by the workers in Córdoba, Argentina (Photo: Junin Clinic)

Another common feature is that the workplace switches from a hierarchically organised workplace where the central aim is to produce as much surplus value as possible, to a place where the well-being of the workers and the purpose of production, what you produce and for whom, become the central question. So the social relations in the factory change, especially if these places go through a process of struggle or occupation, against former bosses, or political struggles. There is a trust that is built during these struggles which inevitably forces a change in the social relations.

One example of this is that it becomes less rigid that people have to fulfill the same amount of work. Or if people are sick or cannot come to work because their kids are sick, it is not a problem. It is understood by the other workers because of this relation of trust that I mentioned. This naturally contrasts with workplaces with a boss. But also in many traditional cooperatives, which do not have to go through this trust-building struggle, there is also more of a tendency to demand that everyone has to fulfill the same amount of work, there are conflicts about work hours, internal conflicts, etc.

RV: So recuperated factories/companies do not just go back to reproducing the old logic…

DA: Precisely. Especially if they have had a length of struggle, they do not go back, they do not re-install the hierarchies they got rid of. It is a bit different in places that did not have a long struggle. There was a bit of contradictory phenomenon, for example, in Venezuela1, where you had a government that was (supposedly) in favour of workers’ control. Workers would occupy a workplace and after two weeks the government would step in, expropriate the workplace and put in some provisional administration to then supposedly pass it over to the workers. At first glance this sounds great, but at the same time the workers did not have the time to form a collective, to build this conscience.

So very often you end up having conflicts among the workers, or you would never get to workers’ control because the administration was reluctant to do so. I say it is contradictory because you do not wish that people have to struggle for years without an income for their workplace, but on the other hand it is what then makes these worker-controlled companies really democratic and successful.

Ford Motor Company assembly line (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

RV: You mentioned cooperatives, and this is an important point to discuss. Most of these worker-controlled or worker-recuperated companies register legally as cooperatives. But as you have said, they are not like usual cooperatives. What are the main differences?

DA: The first main difference is that traditional cooperatives usually mean that people that already have similar ideas and values come together to build the cooperative. A workplace recuperation is very different, because everyone is involved. Everyone that is working there is also potentially there when the recuperation takes place. It is something that Gramsci describes when referring to the workers’ councils. He says that they are the real class organisation, because the whole class is there, not just political tendencies.

Another very important difference is that traditional cooperatives tend very much to base the right to decide on property, on being an owner of the cooperative. And that is problematic because it is the same logic as capitalism. Recuperated workplaces have democracy on the shop floor, and their starting point is to question private property of the means of production, so capitalism is immediately questioned. At the same time, almost none of these recuperated workplaces have models based on individual shares, or unequal shares, or even outside investors, or employ wage labour, features that are common for cooperatives.

So you have all these differences. Most of the time it is still more pleasant to work in a cooperative than in a pure capitalist private company, but what I stress is that cooperatives as such are only a democratisation within the framework of capitalism. Many cooperatives are driven by entrepreneurial or ownership logic, and by doing that they lead workers into what I call a “class limbo”. Workers no longer know that they are workers. This is especially strong in the US, where cooperatives are presented as an alternative business model, and not as an alternative model for society, or communities, or part of the workers’ struggle, which is what cooperativism historically meant. But given the way they live, the way they work, they are not entrepreneurs. They are workers!

This is in high contrast with the recuperated workplaces, where workers, having gone through these struggles, see themselves of part of the workers’ movement. There are a lot of recuperated companies in Argentina, for example, that have the rule that one day of the month they go and support other workers’ struggles, and it is part of their work. In Uruguay when companies in a given sector go on strike, workers in recuperated companies of the same sector go on strike as well so as to not undermine the struggle of the other workers.

Assembly in the recuperated Cerámica Zanon company in Argentina (Photo: La Izquierda Diario)

In a nutshell, cooperatives wage a struggle for survival in a capitalist system. Recuperated workplaces wage a struggle against the bourgeois law, often manifested in state repression, against the capitalist owners and private property. So workers are reinforced in their subjectivity as struggling workers, and as workers without a boss, and that is a fundamental difference.

RV: How would you characterise the relationship between recuperated workplaces and labour unions?

DA: It varies a lot.  It depends on how the unions work. There have been examples of unions that have supported worker takeovers, and this is very good because they can reach out to a broader public. But most of the times the unions either ignore or intervene in a negative way in these struggles, unfortunately.

In any case we should not see trade unionism and workers’ control as antagonistic projects, They are simply two different things, two different fronts of the struggle. One thing is a self-organisation in the workplace that allows for struggles that would not be possible with unions. Unions have their formal recognition and are interested in sticking to rules and laws to keep up this status of a “reliable partner”, so they will not do certain things, like wildcat strikes or occupations. They are not as flexible and not as fast in their decisions as the workers’ assemblies obviously are.

Rimaflow plant in Milan. Formerly a manufacturer of air-conditioning pipes for BMW, its activities under workers’ control now range from recycling of household appliances to producing artisanal liquor (Photo: still from “Occupy, Resist, Produce”)

RV: You mentioned how new social relations are produced in the workplace, but recuperated companies also create new social relations with their communities. Can you talk about that?

DA: Yes, the relation with the community and with other social movements is fundamental. In fact, we can put it the other way around. Of the examples of recuperated workplaces (factories, restaurants, print shops, hospitals, etc.) it is usually the ones that have a strong relationship with communities and other social movements that tend to be successful. The ones that tend to be isolated and do not have these strong relationships, often with time either turn into more or less traditional workplaces or cooperatives, withdrawing from the larger struggle, or they simply fail, because they did not have the necessary support.

And there is one question that is central to that. In the capitalist system closing down a workplace is simply a legal question. It is not a social question. It is not a political question. The law of the land is a bourgeois law that is based on property. Within these boundaries the chances of achieving something are minimal. So the main challenge for all these workers is to turn a legal question into a political question, and for that you need as much support as possible. You need the support of the communities, of other movements, of unions, maybe even of institutions and political instances. And with that you can win everything.

One example is the Republic Doors and Windows, the factory now called New Era Windows in Chicago, which is producing eco-friendly windows. When it was closed down and occupied for the second time, together with Occupy Chicago in 2010-11, the occupation got the workers the possibility to be at the negotiating table about the future of the factory, which they later agreed to buy. And the workers did that by forcing the banks that had taken over the bankrupted factory to pay them 1.5 million dollars for lost wages. Usually if there is money left (e.g. from selling machinery) it goes to the creditors. But the workers managed to do a political campaign that generated so much public support that the banks saw themselves forced to pay the workers 1.5 million dollars, even if legally they were not obligated to do that.

Workers of New Era Windows (Photo: workerscontrol.net)

RV: So they managed to turn a legal question into a political one…

DA: Exactly, and once you do that you can win everything, even things that seem completely impossible or that are not in the existing legal framework. That is one of the big reasons why it is important to have bonds with other movements and communities. The second one is that you create new values. Factory work is usually not fun, not even in a recovered factory. What keeps you working in capitalism is money, but in a recovered workplace the workers find new values, and one of the values is to be useful for society, not just for capitalism.

Many of these workplaces, if we are talking about industrial workplaces, are usually situated in poor communities. There are no factories in Beverly Hills! One usual feature of these poor communities is that they lack space. They lack space for social, collective activities. In Argentina, for example, where there are more than 400 recuperated workplaces, more than 60% give permanent space to community activities, from bachilleratos populares; i.e., the possibility for adults to re-do their school, to community radio stations, libraries, even just community festivities. So they become an important focus of community life, and the spaces in a certain way become commons, because they are used for other activities which are not immediately linked to production.

RV: Can you talk about the need for recuperated factories to re-orient production? Because if these factories are closed because they are not profitable any more, workers cannot just go back to what they were producing before.

DA: Indeed, often it is simply not possible to continue the production that existed before. One example is Officine Zero 2, a former night train repair facility in Rome. Night trains are almost gone in Europe. There is only one facility left which is enough for the few night trains that still run. Most of the trains are fast-track trains now, so you cannot continue planning to produce or repair night trains. The workers that took over the factory now engage in a number of activities, such as recycling domestic appliances or furniture, and have continued the workshops they had – upholstery, carpentry, iron works and others.

Another example is Rimaflow in Milan3 which was producing air-conditioning pipes mainly for BMW cars. The owner took out the machines, but even if he had not, BMW was not going to buy air-conditioning pipes from an occupied factory! So you have to re-invent yourself. But that is good, because then the workers start thinking about useful production. Rimaflow started with a mix of activities, for example, upcycling and recycling of household electric appliances and computers.

Later they raised money for an air-conditioning system and set up a hall to recycle industrial pallets. So they collect industrial pallets from all kinds of factories, put them back together and sell them back. They also started an artisanal food and liquor production, cooperating with organic cooperatives. They produce Rimoncello, which is a lemon liquor (originally Limoncello), together with cooperatives from Southern Italy which pay fair wages to immigrant seasonal workers, and they produce Amaro Partigiano (a digestive liquor) together with the Italian Institute for Partisan Studies.

A traditional economist might call this “patchwork”. But I would disagree. This does make sense. We have to transform our society in every sense, so these successful examples of industrial conversion make sense, because naturally we are not occupying the workplaces to simply go on with the same capitalist production we had before. We do not want to take over everything and then keep producing military helicopters!

RV: Along these lines: in capitalist societies, in liberal democracies, there is a separation between economic, social and political spheres. How do worker recuperated companies, by themselves and through their relations with communities, challenge this separation?

DA: Yes, I think that is a central aspect of what we can call “council democracy” as a model for communes, worker-controlled workplaces, etc. Capitalism, and bourgeois society, is always based on the division of spheres. The first step is the division between the political and social spheres, which is never justified. It is there to be accepted a priori. Because there is no reason why some people should be governing and others should be governed.

The second separation is that the economic sphere is supposed to be separate, autonomous, often likened to living organism that society has to keep feeding. We get to this point where it sounds mythological, like the market is this kind of dragon that needs to be fed all the time otherwise it will get angry and destroy everyone! Which is also totally absurd, because the economy should be serving society, it should be serving the people, not the other way around.

The recuperated workplaces are obviously an overcoming of that. First of all because usually there is no representation, there are only spokespeople. The decisions are taken by the people concerned with the issues and not delegated, which is the foundation of the separate political sphere. Secondly, the economic decisions are also taken directly by those involved in the production process, and subject to their political decisions and social needs. So this separation of spheres is tendentially overcome.

Officine Zero in Rome. A former night train repair facility, it is now under workers’ control, and its activities range from recycling appliances and furniture to holding workshops (Photo: still from “Occupy, Resist, Produce”)

There is a second division of spheres which is characteristic to capitalism and bourgeois society that is also tendentially overcome, namely, the division between intellectual and manual work. The person that is unloading the pallets from the truck has as much to say in the assemblies as the engineer that is adjusting the computer-led production process, for example. It is also quite common to have much more job rotation, people learning new tasks and developing new ideas; therefore there is much less of the traditional division of labour and particularly between intellectual and manual work.

Also when we talk about overcoming the division between political, social and economic spheres, we should always stress that this is a “tendency towards…”. Because as long as we are in a capitalist system it would be an illusion to think that we can be totally move beyond that.

RV: You cannot just create an island…

DA: You cannot create a happy island in the capitalist system. You can work towards overcoming the system, which means you have to expand. One of the things they always stressed in Rimaflow was that they needed to build a new economy because the economy of the bosses is not working anymore, and we can be successful if examples such as Rimaflow occur 100, 1000 times. A happy little island will not survive. The system will crush it.

Many cooperatives had a lot of idealism concerning this issue, and their ideals faded away with the age of the members and immersion in capitalism, or the cooperatives got big and got bought up. That is why I am always speaking of a tendency towards building a new economy, overcoming the separation of spheres, etc.

RV: With globalisation and the evolution of capitalism, there is a fragmentation or an atomisation of the production chain. Does this present new challenges for workers’ control, or make this question more urgent?

DA: Yes, it presents new challenges but also new opportunities. For example, the necessity of building local and regional economies is growing. Because of the ongoing globalisation, capital is concentrating more and more in ever fewer metropolitan spaces. So the necessity to build local and regional economic systems, and to keep wealth where it is produced, is becoming more urgent. This represents a chance for workers’ control and more localised production and distribution.

The fragmentation of the production chain is itself a very contradictory issue. For example, in the US, there is a tendency of insourcing again. Car manufacturers in the US are insourcing again a lot of production steps that they had outsourced before. This proves that the outsourcing was never about saving money or being more efficient, it was simply about the destruction of the workers’ power. So now that they have destroyed the unions in the car sector, that used to be some of the few strong unions in the US, they are insourcing again all these production steps.

Artistic rendering of the Fiat Factory in Longotto, Turin (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

But the fragmentation, which is not only a fragmentation of the production chain but also inside the workplace itself, makes it a much more subjective act to be collective and to struggle than it was before. You had companies like Fiat, which had 70 or 80 thousand workers which were automatically organised because 95% of them had the same contract and the same work conditions. You look now at the same Fiat factory, It has 12 thousand workers that have probably 40 different kinds of contracts, from part-time contracts, to sub-contracted labourers, to insourced work, or seasonal labour, and at the same time you have another 70,000 workers in the greater region of Turin which are working in different outsourced, independent companies, or even as independent workers.

So in Fordism the factory was the entity doing the workers’ movement a “favour” by homogenising the workers, in some sense creating the class and class conflict (the class constitutes itself as conflict, it does not exist as such or derive from a certain position in the production process). Now work is fragmenting and differentiating people. That makes it much more difficult to create a collective vision and struggle, to avoid turning against each other. Because capitalism will then point to a group and tell them they cannot earn more because of the privileges of the other group over there…

RV: It becomes a race to the bottom…

DA: Exactly, it becomes a race to the bottom, in the form of part-time contracts, or temporary work, and with all these divisions among workers. It is creating a very problematic situation, also from the point of view of production, and that is why I think it is very important to take over as many workplaces as possible, and to use these workplaces, as well cooperatives that place themselves into a political/labour/class struggle logic, to build production chains.

For example, in Argentina, a study of about 80 recuperated factories showed that over 16% of the commercial activity, sales or buying resources and parts, was done with other recuperated workplaces, and almost 2% was with the solidarity economy or other kinds of cooperatives.4 This means that almost 20% of what they are doing is in a cycle that, while not being complete out of capitalism, does not strictly follow the rules of capitalism. You are supporting different labour relations and social relations by having these economic relationships. Therefore I think it is important that we have as many worker-controlled workplaces as possible and that we also start thinking about creating production chains.

After a successful crowdfunding campaign, Rimaflow launched “Amaro Partigiano” in 2017 (Photo: Rimaflow)

RV: To finish, do you want to tell us about the website workerscontrol.net that you helped found?

DA: What we are trying to do is to create a virtual archive with workers’ control experiences from all kinds of epochs and different languages. We have functioning Spanish, Italian, French, English, German, Portuguese and Greek. The idea was to build a network of researchers and activists from recuperated workplaces, to make available as many experiences as possible. Because up to now there was nothing like that. You only had websites or sources dedicated to specific authors or to specific recuperated workplaces.

We founded it also as a decentralised network. There is no central group reviewing what can be on the website or not, so all the nodes are autonomous and free to publish whatever they think is useful in the framework of workers’ control. It is an interesting network of collaboration between people with different political orientations, people that consider themselves council communists, or more anarcho-syndicalists, others Luxemburgian or Gramscian, others Trotskyist, others might be more workerist/operaist, others more traditional Marxists.

What we all have in common is that we support workers’ control and want to create access to as much information as possible. We are now in a process of redesigning the website, which will be relaunched in a few months with a new design and more visibility.

• First published in Investig’Action

*Dario Azzellini is a sociologist, political scientist, author and documentary filmmaker. He has worked and written extensively on the issue of workers’ control, including two recently edited books, Ours to master and to own. Workers’ Control from the Commune to the Present (with Immanuel Ness) and An Alternative Labor History: Worker Control and Workplace Democracy. He has also produced a series of documentaries on this issue called “Occupy, Resist, Produce” (with Oliver Ressler). More information about his work can be found on his website.

  1. A second interview with Dario Azzellini on the issue of communes and workers’ control in Venezuela will be published shortly.
  2. The documentary “Occupy, Resist, Produce” dedicated to Officine Zero is available here.
  3. The documentary “Occupy, Resist, Produce” dedicated to Rimaflow is available here
  4. Information from this report, pages 35-36.

Why is Workers’ Control an Important Issue?

Workers’ Assembly at Officine Zero, a former night train facility in Rome (Photo: Officine Zero)

A common feature in every crisis situation, from the upheavals of the early 20th century to the neo-liberal re-structurings of the late 20th century, is the emergence of workers’ control – workers organising to take over their workplaces in order to defend their jobs and their communities. We interviewed Dario Azzellini* to talk about this issue in depth: the emergence of new values and social relations not just in the recuperated workplaces but also in the communities, the need to re-orient production, the overcoming of the separation between political, economic and social spheres, and the role of workers’ control in the larger struggle against capitalism.

*****

Ricardo Vaz:  Why is workers’ control an important issue?

Dario Azzellini:  It is an important issue because if we look at what is socialism, what Karl Marx described, the living example for him is the Paris Commune. It is the people taking matters into their own hands, and the state as such disappears because power is no longer delegated.

But I would say that workers’ control is one first step on a path to socialism, in the sense that control over production and workplace should not be only on behalf of the workers but also of the communities, the self-organised people in general. And even that is still not the last step, because as Marx says, the commune is the finally discovered political form, so it is still a political form. Socialism, or communism, is about going beyond politics, achieving the self-organisation of life.

So these are all intermediary steps, and even the commune would not be the final form, but we cannot even imagine the final form, because we are trapped in the imagination of what we know and what has been done. What has to be developed is probably beyond our imagination now.

RV: Nevertheless it is important also in the immediate context…

DA: Yes, because if workers take charge of their workplaces and decide on production, the labour processes, the values, everything changes. We have seen that in worker-controlled places. Security and health questions become central, and they are far from it in capitalist workplaces. For example, many worker-controlled workplaces start working with organic, or less toxic, production, because they are exposed to it.

Workers’ Control Poster

So once workers can decide, these questions become central. The struggle is no longer only about wage raises, which is the only struggle more or less allowed in the framework of capitalist society. Instead workers’ control is automatically challenging capitalism. We have a central field of conflict, and obviously all the other fronts, like gender, race, etc., are equally important. But labour and production are not only fundamental for society but also a field we all have in common and that is absolutely fundamental for our survival and to the structuring of the whole society. In this field all other contradictions obviously have to be tackled too.

We should not forget that the predominant way in which the economy and production are organised reflects on the rest of society. For example, as long as the dominant form of production was Fordism, the rest of society (universities, schools, bureaucracy) was organised in a Fordist way. So there is some kind of leverage if we are talking about labour and workers’ control.

RV: In both books you have edited you describe lots of historical scenarios where workers’ control comes into play. What was the purpose of bringing together all these different experiments?

DA:  We try to show, with the books and the research, how workers’ control is an important and recurring question, and we have to dig and make it known, because nobody is really interested in making it known. Unions have no interest in showing that workers can organise by themselves. Parties, which are based on the principle of representation, are also bypassed if the workers organise themselves. And, of course, capitalists would have even less interest.

But it is interesting that workers’ control comes to the fore in every kind of crisis, political, economical, in anti-colonial struggles, during the revolutions of the early 20th century, after WW2 or other wars, when capitalism is not able to develop because capitalists will invest into speculation and commerce and not into production, It happened during the neoliberal re-structurings of the early 80s, etc. So it happened always, not because the workers knew of previous experiments, but because it was something anthropologically present in the workers – get together, self-organise in a democratic way and try keep up the production, benefiting themselves and the people around them.

RV: What are the common features among all these different workers’ control attempts?

DA: This is the first common aspect, that in any situation of crisis, there are always workers that take responsibility for their jobs, for their workplaces, and for the people, for society. The second thing is that they choose democratic structures that are based on equality. They do not simply elect a new boss. Hierarchies disappear. It does not really matter what position was previously held in the production chain. That does not determine what one is able to do in a crisis.

For example, there is the Junin clinic that is now under workers’ control in Córdoba, Argentina. I visited it and the head of the cooperative now is the former janitor and technician, because he was the person who was most able to organise the struggle. So he was elected as the formal head of a cooperative, which is still deciding everything in assemblies on a democratic base. This shows that the skills or capacities that are seemingly important in a capitalist hierarchy are not the same ones in a democratic and workers’ assembly based structure.

Rally in support of the Junin Clinic which was taken over by the workers in Córdoba, Argentina (Photo: Junin Clinic)

Another common feature is that the workplace switches from a hierarchically organised workplace where the central aim is to produce as much surplus value as possible, to a place where the well-being of the workers and the purpose of production, what you produce and for whom, become the central question. So the social relations in the factory change, especially if these places go through a process of struggle or occupation, against former bosses, or political struggles. There is a trust that is built during these struggles which inevitably forces a change in the social relations.

One example of this is that it becomes less rigid that people have to fulfill the same amount of work. Or if people are sick or cannot come to work because their kids are sick, it is not a problem. It is understood by the other workers because of this relation of trust that I mentioned. This naturally contrasts with workplaces with a boss. But also in many traditional cooperatives, which do not have to go through this trust-building struggle, there is also more of a tendency to demand that everyone has to fulfill the same amount of work, there are conflicts about work hours, internal conflicts, etc.

RV: So recuperated factories/companies do not just go back to reproducing the old logic…

DA: Precisely. Especially if they have had a length of struggle, they do not go back, they do not re-install the hierarchies they got rid of. It is a bit different in places that did not have a long struggle. There was a bit of contradictory phenomenon, for example, in Venezuela1 where you had a government that was (supposedly) in favour of workers’ control. Workers would occupy a workplace and after two weeks the government would step in, expropriate the workplace and put in some provisional administration to then supposedly pass it over to the workers. At first glance this sounds great, but at the same time the workers did not have the time to form a collective, to build this conscience.

So very often you end up having conflicts among the workers, or you would never get to workers’ control because the administration was reluctant to do so. I say it is contradictory because you do not wish that people have to struggle for years without an income for their workplace, but on the other hand it is what then makes these worker-controlled companies really democratic and successful.

 

Ford Motor Company assembly line (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

RV: You mentioned cooperatives, and this is an important point to discuss. Most of these worker-controlled or worker recuperated companies register legally as cooperatives. But as you have said, they are not like usual cooperatives. What are the main differences?

DA: The first main difference is that traditional cooperatives usually mean that people that already have similar ideas and values come together to build the cooperative. A workplace recuperation is very different, because everyone is involved. Everyone that is working there is also potentially there when the recuperation takes place. It is something that Gramsci describes when referring to the workers’ councils. He says that they are the real class organisation, because the whole class is there, not just political tendencies.

Another very important difference is that traditional cooperatives tend very much to base the right to decide on property, on being an owner of the cooperative. And that is problematic because it is the same logic as capitalism. Recuperated workplaces have democracy on the shop floor, and their starting point is to question private property of the means of production, so capitalism is immediately questioned. At the same time, almost none of these recuperated workplaces have models based on individual shares, or unequal shares, or even outside investors, or employ wage labour, features that are common for cooperatives.

So you have all these differences. Most of the time it is still more pleasant to work in a cooperative than in a pure capitalist private company, but what I stress is that cooperatives as such are only a democratisation within the framework of capitalism. Many cooperatives are driven by entrepreneurial or ownership logic, and by doing that they lead workers into what I call a “class limbo”. Workers no longer know that they are workers. This is especially strong in the US, where cooperatives are presented as an alternative business model, and not as an alternative model for society, or communities, or part of the workers’ struggle, which is what cooperativism historically meant. But given the way they live, the way they work, they are not entrepreneurs, they are workers!

This is in high contrast with the recuperated workplaces, where workers, having gone through these struggles, see themselves of part of the workers’ movement. There are a lot of recuperated companies in Argentina, for example, that have the rule that one day of the month they go and support other workers’ struggles, and it is part of their work. In Uruguay when companies in a given sector go on strike, workers in recuperated companies of the same sector go on strike as well so as to not undermine the struggle of the other workers.

Assembly in the recuperated Cerámica Zanon company in Argentina (Photo: La Izquierda Diario)

In a nutshell, cooperatives wage a struggle for survival in a capitalist system. Recuperated workplaces wage a struggle against the bourgeois law, often manifested in state repression, against the capitalist owners and private property. So workers are reinforced in their subjectivity as struggling workers, and as workers without a boss, and that is a fundamental difference.

RV: How would you characterise the relationship between recuperated workplaces and labour unions?

DA: It varies a lot.  It depends on how the unions work. There have been examples of unions that have supported worker takeovers, and this is very good because they can reach out to a broader public. But most of the times the unions either ignore or intervene in a negative way in these struggles, unfortunately.

In any case we should not see trade unionism and workers’ control as antagonistic projects. They are simply two different things, two different fronts of the struggle. One thing is a self-organisation in the workplace that allows for struggles that would not be possible with unions. Unions have their formal recognition and are interested in sticking to rules and laws to keep up this status of a “reliable partner”, so they will not do certain things, like wildcat strikes or occupations. They are not as flexible and not as fast in their decisions as the workers’ assemblies obviously are.

Rimaflow plant in Milan. Formerly a manufacturer of air-conditioning pipes for BMW, its activities under workers’ control now range from recycling of household appliances to producing artisanal liquor (Photo: still from “Occupy, Resist, Produce”)

RV: You mentioned how new social relations are produced in the workplace, but recuperated companies also create new social relations with their communities. Can you talk about that?

DA: Yes, the relation with the community and with other social movements is fundamental. In fact, we can put it the other way around. Of the examples of recuperated workplaces (factories, restaurants, print shops, hospitals, etc.) it is usually the ones that have a strong relationship with communities and other social movements that tend to be successful. The ones that tend to be isolated and do not have these strong relationships, often with time either turn into more or less traditional workplaces or cooperatives, withdrawing from the larger struggle, or they simply fail, because they did not have the necessary support.

And there is one question that is central to that. In the capitalist system closing down a workplace is simply a legal question. It is not a social question, it is not a political question. The law of the land is a bourgeois law that is based on property. Within these boundaries the chances of achieving something are minimal. So the main challenge for all these workers is to turn a legal question into a political question, and for that you need as much support as possible. You need the support of the communities, of other movements, of unions, maybe even of institutions and political instances. And with that you can win everything.

One example is the Republic Doors and Windows, the factory now called New Era Windows in Chicago, which is producing eco-friendly windows. When it was closed down and occupied for the second time, together with Occupy Chicago in 2010-11, the occupation got the workers the possibility to be at the negotiating table about the future of the factory, which they later agreed to buy. And the workers did that by forcing the banks that had taken over the bankrupted factory to pay them 1.5 million dollars for lost wages. Usually if there is money left (e.g. from selling machinery) it goes to the creditors. But the workers managed to do a political campaign that generated so much public support that the banks saw themselves forced to pay the workers 1.5 million dollars, even if legally they were not obligated to do that.

>Workers of New Era Windows (Photo: workerscontrol.net)

RV: So they managed to turn a legal question into a political one…

DA: Exactly, and once you do that you can win everything, even things that seem completely impossible or that are not in the existing legal framework. That is one of the big reasons why it is important to have bonds with other movements and communities. The second one is that you create new values. Factory work is usually not fun, not even in a recovered factory. What keeps you working in capitalism is money, but in a recovered workplace the workers find new values, and one of the values is to be useful for society, not just for capitalism.

Many of these workplaces, if we are talking about industrial workplaces, are usually situated in poor communities. There are no factories in Beverly Hills! One usual feature of these poor communities is that they lack space. They lack space for social, collective activities. In Argentina, for example, where there are more than 400 recuperated workplaces, more than 60% give permanent space to community activities, from bachilleratos populares; i.e., the possibility for adults to re-do their school, to community radio stations, libraries, even just community festivities. So they become an important focus of community life, and the spaces in a certain way become commons, because they are used for other activities which are not immediately linked to production.

RV: Can you talk about the need for recuperated factories to re-orient production? Because if these factories are closed because they are not profitable any more, workers cannot just go back to what they were producing before.

DA: Indeed, often it is simply not possible to continue the production that existed before. One example is Officine Zero2 a former night train repair facility in Rome. Night trains are almost gone in Europe, there is only one facility left which is enough for the few night trains that still run. Most of the trains are fast-track trains now, so you cannot continue planning to produce or repair night trains. The workers that took over the factory now engage in a number of activities, such as recycling domestic appliances or furniture, and have continued the workshops they had – upholstery, carpentry, iron works and others.

The second separation is that the economic sphere is supposed to be separate, autonomous, often likened to living organism that society has to keep feeding. We get to this point where it sounds mythological, like the market is this kind of dragon that needs to be fed all the time otherwise it will get angry and destroy everyone! Which is also totally absurd, because the economy should be serving society, it should be serving the people, not the other way around.

The recuperated workplaces are obviously an overcoming of that. First of all because usually there is no representation, there are only spokespeople. The decisions are taken by the people concerned with the issues and not delegated, which is the foundation of the separate political sphere. Secondly, the economic decisions are also taken directly by those involved in the production process, and subject to their political decisions and social needs. So this separation of spheres is tendentially overcome.

Officine Zero in Rome. A former night train repair facility, it is now under workers’ control, and its activities range from recycling appliances and furniture to holding workshops (Photo: still from “Occupy, Resist, Produce”)

There is a second division of spheres which is characteristic to capitalism and bourgeois society, that is also tendentially overcome, namely, the division between intellectual and manual work. The person that is unloading the pallets from the truck has as much to say in the assemblies as the engineer that is adjusting the computer-led production process, for example. It is also quite common to have much more job rotation, people learning new tasks and developing new ideas. Therefore there is much less of the traditional division of labour and particularly between intellectual and manual work.

Also when we talk about overcoming the division between political, social and economic spheres, we should always stress that this is a “tendency towards…”. Because as long as we are in a capitalist system it would be an illusion to think that we can be totally move beyond that.

RV: You cannot just create an island…

DA: You cannot create a happy island in the capitalist system. You can work towards overcoming the system, which means you have to expand. One of the things they always stressed in Rimaflow was that they needed to build a new economy because the economy of the bosses is not working anymore, and we can be successful if examples such as Rimaflow occur 100, 1000 times. A happy little island will not survive, the system will crush it.

Many cooperatives had a lot of idealism concerning this issue, and their ideals faded away with the age of the members and immersion in capitalism, or the cooperatives got big and got bought up. That is why I am always speaking of a tendency towards building a new economy, overcoming the separation of spheres, etc.

RV: With globalisation and the evolution of capitalism, there is a fragmentation or an atomisation of the production chain. Does this present new challenges for workers’ control, or make this question more urgent?

DA: Yes, it presents new challenges but also new opportunities. For example, the necessity of building local and regional economies is growing. Because of the ongoing globalisation, capital is concentrating more and more in ever fewer metropolitan spaces. So the necessity to build local and regional economic systems, and to keep wealth where it is produced, is becoming more urgent. This represents a chance for workers’ control and more localised production and distribution.

The fragmentation of the production chain is itself a very contradictory issue. For example, in the US, there is a tendency of insourcing again. Car manufacturers in the US are insourcing again a lot of production steps that they had outsourced before. This proves that the outsourcing was never about saving money or being more efficient. It was simply about the destruction of the workers’ power. So now that they have destroyed the unions in the car sector, that used to be some of the few strong unions in the US, they are insourcing again all these production steps.

Artistic rendering of the Fiat factory in Lingotto, Turin (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

But the fragmentation, which is not only a fragmentation of the production chain but also inside the workplace itself, makes it a much more subjective act to be collective and to struggle than it was before. You had companies like Fiat, which had 70 or 80 thousand workers which were automatically organised because 95% of them had the same contract and the same work conditions. You look now at the same Fiat factory, it has 12 thousand workers that have probably 40 different kinds of contracts, from part-time contracts, to sub-contracted labourers, to insourced work, or seasonal labour, and at the same time you have another 70.000 workers in the greater region of Turin which are working in different outsourced, independent companies, or even as independent workers.

So in Fordism the factory was the entity doing the workers’ movement a “favour” by homogenising the workers, in some sense creating the class and class conflict (the class constitutes itself as conflict, it does not exist as such or derive from a certain position in the production process). Now work is fragmenting and differentiating people. That makes it much more difficult to create a collective vision and struggle, to avoid turning against each other. Because capitalism will then point to a group and tell them they cannot earn more because of the privileges of the other group over there…

RV: It becomes a race to the bottom…

DA: Exactly, it becomes a race to the bottom, in the form of part-time contracts, or temporary work, and with all these divisions among workers. It is creating a very problematic situation, also from the point of view of production, and that is why I think it is very important to take over as many workplaces as possible, and to use these workplaces, as well cooperatives that place themselves into a political/labour/class struggle logic, to build production chains.

For example, in Argentina, a study of about 80 recuperated factories showed that over 16% of the commercial activity, sales or buying resources and parts, was done with other recuperated workplaces, and almost 2% was with the solidarity economy or other kinds of cooperatives.3 This means that almost 20% of what they are doing is in a cycle that, while not being complete out of capitalism, does not strictly follow the rules of capitalism. You are supporting different labour relations and social relations by having these economic relationships. Therefore I think it is important that we have as many worker-controlled workplaces as possible and that we also start thinking about creating production chains.

After a successful crowdfunding campaign, Rimaflow launched “Amaro Partigiano” in 2017 (Photo: Rimaflow)

RV: To finish, do you want to tell us about the website workerscontrol.net that you helped found?

DA: What we are trying to do is to create a virtual archive with workers’ control experiences from all kinds of epochs and different languages. We have functioning Spanish, Italian, French, English, German, Portuguese and Greek. The idea was to build a network of researchers and activists from recuperated workplaces, to make available as many experiences as possible. Because up to now there was nothing like that. You only had websites or sources dedicated to specific authors or to specific recuperated workplaces.

We founded it also as a decentralised network. There is no central group reviewing what can be on the website or not, so all the nodes are autonomous and free to publish whatever they think is useful in the framework of workers’ control. It is an interesting network of collaboration between people with different political orientations, people that consider themselves council communists, or more anarcho-syndicalists, others Luxemburgian or Gramscian, others Trotskyist, others might be more workerist/operaist, others more traditional Marxists.

What we all have in common is that we support workers’ control and want to create access to as much information as possible. We are now in a process of redesigning the website, which will be relaunched in a few months with a new design and more visibility.

• First published at Investig’Action

 

 

 

 

  1. A second interview with Dario Azzellini on the issue of communes and workers’ control in Venezuela will be published shortly
  2. The documentary “Occupy, Resist, Produce” dedicated to Rimaflow is available here. The one dedicated to Officine Zero is available here.
  3. Information from this report, pages 35-36.

A Conversation with Andre Vltchek

Andre Vltchek

This week I spoke with philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist Andre Vltchek. Vltchek has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Three of his latest books are his tribute to The Great October Socialist Revolution, a revolutionary novel Aurora and a bestselling work of political non-fiction: Exposing Lies Of The Empire. His other books can be viewed here. Also be sure to watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky On Western Terrorism. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter.

I spoke with him about his work and his thoughts on the current imperialist attack on independent media.

*****

Danny Haiphong: Could you give readers a background of who you are and what influenced you to take the path of independent journalism and analysis?

Andre Vltchek: First of all, lately I do not define myself as a journalist. These days, journalism is synonymous with ‘the oldest profession.’ I document the world, I inform people, and I propagate my political ideas. I don’t believe in “objective reporting” – it simply does not exist, and those who claim to be objective, like the BBC or The New York Times, are actually the most professional propagandists for the Western Empire. I may be a propagandist, too, but for the left, for internationalism. And I never hide who I am and where I am standing, politically.

Who am I? To simplify it: a Cuban-style unapologetic ‘Commie’ and internationalist. Russian-born, quarter Chinese, novelist, filmmaker, philosopher and revolutionary.

DH: In the years I’ve followed your media work, you have covered such topics as neo-colonialism, the role of the Soviet Union in the rise of internationalist politics, and the little known imperialist wars on Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to name a few. Could you tell me more about what led you to seek the truth on these matters?

AV: I witnessed terrible suffering of people in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It often appeared that the Empire truly saw billions of human beings as ‘non-people,’ as some lowly beings who deserve to have no rights, who could be freely exploited, enslaved, even killed. This arrangement of the world made me sick, from my young age. It made me so sick, that I decided to get involved, to take action, to join the struggle against Western imperialism and neo-colonialism.

I never saw Western civilization or Western culture as something glorious or positive. It managed to literally slaughter hundreds of millions of human beings on all continents, for centuries.

I tried to understand the concept of imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism, in order to help to stop this deadly process. I went to Namibia to study the first Holocaust committed by Germans. I went to Congo (DRC), in order to understand extremity of European brutality, 100 years ago, and now.

At some point, I finally understood that the only way to reach permanent peace on Earth, based on justice, would be to force Western powers from the position of power, of controlling the world.

DH: In your bio, I’ve noticed that you have written for Russian and Chinese outlets such as RT, New Eastern Outlook, and The People’s Daily. What is the difference, in your opinion, in the quality of journalism that emanates from these countries as opposed to the US and West?

AV: Media outlets that you mentioned belong to the countries which are fighting against Western imperialism and its global dominance. These countries are my allies; therefore, I write for their media, I make films for them, and appear on their television networks. It is not only Russian and Chinese media, but also several outlets in Latin America and the Middle East.

What is different about them? They serve their nations, their people, not some corporate freaks. I like when people work for well-being of their countries: I like healthy patriotism, especially when it is combined with the internationalist principles.

DH: How has the media landscape in the US and West changed since you became a journalist and how have such changes affected broader efforts to understand the developments and changes occurring worldwide?

AV: Media landscape in the West is evolving in one direction only: it is being increasingly, now almost exclusively, controlled by the corporate interests. Corporate interests, in turn, are controlling the state, in both Europe and North America. There is no democracy in the West: governments are being selected, not elected. Most of the media is upholding, glorifying this process. It is definitely not challenging it, philosophically and ideologically. In the past, long decades ago, there was at least some philosophical debate about the direction in which our civilization and our planet was evolving. Now it all stopped. Mass media became synonymous with imperialist propaganda. It is all very well-orchestrated; choreographed. And people in the West are so thoroughly brainwashed that they stopped asking questions regarding the most essential issues.

DH: Since late 2016, the US and Western corporate press and political establishment has been obsessed with the notion that Russia has infiltrated US and Western democracy, influencing elections through the promotion of “fake news.” This accusation has produced grave consequences for alternative media outlets and journalists, as publications such as RT and Black Agenda Report have been labeled dupes of the Russians and subsequently censored by internet search engines such as Google and social media like Facebook. Has social media censorship affected your work at all and what would you say is the significance of this campaign against independent journalism?

AV: In the future, and may this future come soon, those who are performing this outrageous censorship, will be judged by history and labeled as collaborators with the Western imperialist regime, which in turn is synonymous with fascism.

In the meantime, we are now fighting information, or call it a media war. The Western media is directly and indirectly promoting Western imperialism, while some independent media outlets, including Black Agenda Report, and, of course, many non-Western television stations and publications are doing their best to expose the lies and crimes of Western regime and its journo collaborators.

Of course, internet search engines as well as social media are huge business organizations. We cannot expect them to be on our side.

But people, millions of them, even in the West, are now “migrating” to the alternative media sources, like RT, TeleSUR, PressTV, CGTV, but also those that are produced in the West, like TGP, Investig’Action, Black Agenda Report or Dissident Voice.

“The Western media is directly and indirectly promoting Western imperialism.”

And about Russia? Look, it is actually all very simple. And let us say it as it is, brutally: Many Russians look like whites, but they are not really whites, they have their own culture, which is more Asian than European. For centuries, Russia was attacked from the West, by Scandinavians, French, Germans, the US after the Revolution, by the UK, Czechs, Poles, and many others. Russia lost tens of millions of people, but it never ended up on its knees. It became an internationalist power, siding with the oppressed, sponsoring countless anti-colonialist struggles in all corners of the world. One could say, it most likely saved the world from Western fascism, on more than one occasion. The West never forgave Russians for this: white-looking ‘traitors’ who instead of joining the plunder, has been fighting for the oppressed! That is all there is to it; to that anti-Russian hysteria in the West.

DH: You recently wrote a piece criticizing the Western left for abandoning the principle of internationalism. Could you elaborate on your argument and relate it to the question of which way forward the alternative and independent media should go in the current political climate in the US and West?

AV: Yes, I wrote a very critical, some would say damning essay, basically claiming that the Western left is finished and has no right to give advice to any revolutionary country or government in Africa, Asia or Latin America. And if they give advice and are taken seriously, progressive countries end up being defeated, like Argentina and Brazil were defeated, recently. I don’t even trust the Western left when it criticizes politicians like Zuma or Duterte.

The majority of people in the West are not able to commit themselves. They are too selfish, too egotistic. And they are full of nihilism: sweating and shitting nihilism.

They reject all ideologies and they do not want to govern. They despise those who are holding power. However, without ideology and without aiming at governing, no true revolution can take place. I don’t think Western left is serious: there is no revolutionary force there, no willingness to sacrifice anything for the struggle. It is all weak, spineless and boring: like shouting at the high definition television set, or insulting opponents in the pub.

The Western left wants more and more privileges for North American and especially European citizens. Who pays for these privileges? Devastated, raped nations in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, as well as those ‘south of the border.’ But French, Italian, Spanish or US intellectuals from the so-called left do not want to talk about this. They are not and don’t claim to be, internationalists.

“The Western left is all weak, spineless and boring.”

I will say more, and this will hurt: they are, many of them are, racist. Not racist in traditional sense, no. They talk racial equality, they are politically correct. It is a different type of racism: they do not mind if millions of Congolese people are sacrificed, so the French workers could have shorter working day or better medical benefits. They are also convinced that countries like China with much greater culture than the West, could and should be judged and defined (“Is China really a Communist country?” For instance) from London, New York or Paris. It is so pathetically arrogant! It is grotesque.

The Western left hates those revolutionaries in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East who still dare, who are fighting, who are not afraid to govern.

Independent political media? In the West? It should learn how to be revolutionary, again. Otherwise it will never inspire anyone, anymore. People are bored and tired of theories and clichés. In the West, people are often tired and depressed about themselves, and they’d welcome some mighty kicks into their own asses. In the exploited countries, people do not want to be appeased; they want to fight, to rebel, to have media on their side, carrying their voices.

DH: What are some projects and organizations, if any, that you are working on right now and where can we find your work?

AV: I cooperate with many internationalist media outlets all over the world, be they in Russia, China, Latin America, the Middle East or Africa.

Best way to follow my work is by going to my website. All my latest stuff is there.

As always, I’m running myself to the ground, working day and night, but it is as always great fun! In one month or so, my new book on revoltionary philosophy will be published with the title On Western Nihilism and Revolutionary Optimism. I’m making two documentary films about the absolute environmental devastation of Borneo Island, particularly its Indonesian part (called Kalimantan). And I’m collecting footage in Afghanistan for a low budget feature film. I’m also writing a book about that wonderful but scarred country, and about how the West totally perverted modern Afghan history. I’m involved in a theatre project in Hamburg, and I’m writing two new books.

There is no time to lose. This is a great intellectual war against the West and its deadly imperialism. And for the first time in modern history, we are winning this war. And ‘they’ know it. That is why they are running amok, attacking, censoring. Soon, no one will be taking them seriously. This is our great chance. That is why we have to work day and night, every day and every night, until the final victory!

•First published in Black Agenda Report

Korean Olympic Diplomacy Moves Forward Despite U.S. Intransigence

By many accounts, the Koreans – North and South – have prevailed over the disruptive desires of the United States, coming together in a series of very public actions, clearly meant to turn down the political heat generated by President Donald Trump and the U.S. pressure for military action. This pressure can be seen as a continuation of President Barack Obama’s “Asia Pivot,” a policy that called for full U.S. dominance in the region, including by containing China and the new emerging regional powers through a set of expansive, coordinated, and aggressive military alliances with Japan and other Pacific Rim countries.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong as they watch a concert by Pyongyang’s Samjiyon Orchestra at a national theater in Seoul on February 11, 2018. (AFP/Getty Images)

The high-profile actions taken by the North and the South – both acting independently of Washington – left U.S. Vice President Mike Pence pouting and twiddling his thumbs on the sidelines during some very effective international diplomacy. In this regard, there does indeed seem to be a new and genuine desire on the part of the president of South Korea to forge a more peaceful and cooperative relationship with the North, even though U.S. officials and commentators seem to be dead set against it, portraying the warming relations between North and South as an attempt by the North to subvert the long and close relationship with the South.

In congressional hearings this week, the moves toward North-South de-escalation were dismissed by a leading Republican, Sen. James Risch of Idaho, as a “smile campaign.”

“The South Korean people seem to have been charmed to some degree, some of them seem to have been captivated by it,” Risch fretted.

Meanwhile, on the media front, CBS reported that its rival network NBC “was forced to fire one of its Olympic analysts after he inexplicably said Koreans are grateful for Japan’s role in their economic development – while ignoring the one-time imperial power’s brutalization of the peninsula.”

I spoke to writer and regional expert, K.J. Noh, about the Olympics and the big-power politics swirling around the Olympic Games in Seoul. Noh is a special correspondent for Flashpoints show on Pacifica Radio.

Dennis Bernstein: Welcome back, K.J. Noh. We want to get to some of the bigger political issues but let’s start with a media story. We’ve heard that NBC fired one of its analysts because it turned out he didn’t have a clue about Korean history and ended up insulting Koreans while trying to somehow curry favor with Japan.

K.J. Noh: This commentator, Joshua Cooper Ramo, is the Co-CEO of Kissinger Associates and a supposed expert on the geopolitics and culture of Asia.  The history is that Korea was brutally colonized and subjugated by Japan for three and a half decades.  As the Japanese athletes were coming in, Ramo said “Now representing Japan, a country which occupied Korea from 1910 to 1945.  But every Korean will tell you,” he went on to say, “that as a technical, cultural and economic example, Japan has been so important to the transformation of Korea.”

This didn’t go over well with Koreans.  As one Korean put it, “After decades of human rights violations, exploiting our resources and attempting to destroy our heritage, Japan is not in a position to expect our gratitude.”  This is just one example of the extraordinary ignorance surrounding Korea, by so-called “experts.”

DB: What do you think was the significance in terms of diplomacy between the North and the South?  You have the United States swearing up and down that this is a ploy by the North to get in the way of our tight relationship with the South Koreans.

KJN: As you know, the Winter Olympics are usually not as well attended as the summer games and not as much a source of interest for the general global audience.  But these Olympics, held in the South Korean county of PyeongChang, have reached out to the North Koreans.  And the North Koreans have responded.

In fact, they responded very rapidly, sending over 500 of their citizens, including a cheerleading squad, an orchestra, a Taekwondo demo team, the head of the North Korean assembly, 22 athletes, and most surprisingly, Kim Yo Jong.  Kim Yo Jong is a  high-ranking Politburo member, and Kim Jong Un’s younger sister.  Just the fact of the North Koreans defying expectations and showing up was a propaganda coup.

The allegation was that the North Koreans were going to use the Olympics as a propaganda offensive. Actually, that battle was lost before it even started, because so much of the Western media has gone overboard to portray the North Koreans as brainwashed zombies or belligerent monsters.  So when these representatives of North Korea show up and they are not cowed zombies or desperate monsters, but rather vivacious, congenial, and self-possessed women, that shattered a lot of received stereotypes.

DB: It does seem that there is a strong spiritual push by the new leadership in the south to bring the two countries together.  There have been some pretty warm words, haven’t there?

KJN: Absolutely. To give some more background, although technically North Korea and the US are still at war, North Korea and South Korea signed a Treaty of Reconciliation, Cooperation, and Non-aggression in 1992.  The letter of that agreement has not always been observed and, especially during conservative administrations, the hostilities have escalated.  But the current president of South Korea, Moon Jae In, was the chief of staff of Roh Moo Hyun, who headed a progressive administration and worked very actively toward reconciliation with the North in a program known as the “Sunshine Policy.”

To a certain extent, this small break in the clouds is an attempt to return to that policy of reconciliation.  What is notable is the congeniality with which the hand was extended toward North Korea.  For example, when the North Korean and South Korean athletes entered the stadium as one team, under a single flag, a standing ovation erupted as 35,000 people rose to their feet in a celebration of this very powerful coming together.

DB: Just watching on my TV, I was totally moved.

KJN: The other thing that was notable was that Vice President Pence was the only person who did not stand up. Here’s a man who criticized African American football players for “taking the knee” and has said that sports should not be politicized.  The Korean Times described Pence’s gesture as “mean-spirited and stupid arrogance, making America look bad in the eyes of the world.”  Professor Alexis Dudden at the University of Connecticut, called it “a new low in American bullying.”

DB: These Olympics come in the context of some pretty crazy policy on the part of the United States government.  The permanent war government wants this kind of policy because it helps the weapons industry.  Can these meetings at the Olympics mean anything in this context?

KJN: It’s hard to say right now.  There seems to have been a bit of an about-face on the part of Pence, some have said because the enormous criticism he has received.  He has now said that he is willing to meet and talk with the North Koreans without preconditions. At the same time, he has said that he intends to maintain maximal pressure and that there are even more extreme sanctions in the pipeline.  Meanwhile, South Korean President Moon met with the sister of Kim Jong Un on four separate occasions over three days, including a performance by the North Korean Orchestra. During a state luncheon, Kim Yo Jong extended an invitation to President Moon from Kim Jong Un to visit North Korea for a summit meeting “at the earliest date possible.”

In the visitor’s book, she wrote:  “I hope Pyongyang and Seoul get closer in people’s hearts and move forward for the future of a mutually prosperous unification.”

• First published in Consortium News.com

Silvia Glas: “In Ecuador there is no justice for Jorge Glas”

Jorge Glas

With a positive balance after 10 years as president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa helped Alianza País emerge victorious in the second round of the presidential elections in early 2017. But a complete turnaround was soon on the cards: newly elected president Lenín Moreno started to attack the legacy of the Citizens Revolution that had gotten him elected. An important part of Alianza País, faithful to the social policies of “Buen Vivir” (“Good Living”), disapproved of this. Then, vice-president Jorge Glas, who could be counted among these critical voices, was removed from his post and again put in the media spotlight, accused of corruption amidst the Odebrecht affair. A mere coincidence or fate? After four months of pre-trial detention, in January 2018 Jorge Glas was sentenced to six years in prison. Silvia Glas, economist and sister of Jorge Glas, granted an exclusive interview to Investig’Action, in which she exposes the “lack of evidence” for the verdict and calls for breaking the media blockade surrounding this case.

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Alex Anfrons: On May 24, 2017, a new government took office in Ecuador with Lenín Moreno as president and Jorge Glas as vice-president. When does this winning partnership sour?

Silvia Glas: We can point to two important moments: on August 2nd, 2017, in a public letter, Jorge Glas denounces alleged irregularities in the governance of Lenín Moreno. Moreno then relieved Glas of all his legally mandated duties on August 4th, as a consequence of this “disrespectful letter”.

From this point onward the plot thickens. At the end of September, after Jorge Glas held a press briefing in which he denounced the harassment against him and pleaded his innocence, the following day, a Friday afternoon, there was an announcement that his legal status was being reviewed. In other words, he could go to jail immediately the following Monday.

These things always occur in circumstances where the ability to react and defend oneself are impossible. Then there was the arrest on October 2 based on new and “damning” evidence. In the trial it was revealed that this consisted of criminal assistance from the United States and Brazil, in which the name and post of Jorge Glas are never mentioned. Not only that, the source of both documents is the company itself which is guilty but was acquitted in Ecuador. Since then, there has been a growing number of human rights abuses against the former vice-president.

AA: A vice-president forbidden to exercise his mandate… How do you explain it?

SG: With his illegal removal, the will of the Ecuadorian people, which had elected a vice-president at the polls, has been betrayed. The proven irregularities during the breaches of due process and in the very short process of finding a new vice-president show a clear intention of getting rid of someone who had been elected by the people. We hope that international instances will scrutinise these irregularities soon.

Just to mention some of these irregularities: 1. The decision to impose pre-trial detention was arbitrary, it met none of the requirements stipulated by international agreements on people’s rights. 2. An alleged absence of the letter in which the vice-president gave notice of using his legally allowed holidays to have the necessary time for his defence, and using this he was declared as being absent. 3. The remarkable rush to get to trial in less than 3 months with some 470 documents of 200 pages each. 4. The questions surrounding his post and his replacement in the Vice-Presidency, who has been put in charge of key issues in a referendum that could change the governance of the country.

All these are issues that the Ecuadorians would like to see subjected to international oversight. There is an innocent man who has no assurances surrounding his safety and that of his family because of a process in which absolutely nothing was proven.

It is important to recall that it was Jorge Glas himself who took the initiative before the National Assembly to be relieved of the immunity that his post would allow, in order to face the accusations and the harassment that he was being subjected to, trusting the judicial system of a country which he had served for so many years.

AA: Is there a political motivation behind the case of Jorge Glas?

SG: You will have heard the term “Lawfare”, which unfortunately has become a trend in Latin America. It corresponds to using and abusing the law to achieve a political goal of removing influential people who might be opposed to certain projects. In other words, the politicisation of justice. It does not take an expert to see that in this case the script fits perfectly.

The persecution dates back to when Jorge Glas was considered as a presidential candidate and later when he ran alongside Lenín Moreno. The media promoted on several occasions a number of allegations later proven to be baseless; media fanfare especially surrounding important electoral dates, activities that, through campaigns with a massive reach and frequency, were meant to smear a man who was key in the transformation and reconstruction of several sectors in the country during the last decade. Not only that, it also challenged the interests of traditional economic and political groups in Ecuador.

The goal is clear, to make the “target” vulnerable in the public opinion for future accusations, even if they have no evidence. In this context the judicial abuses and aberrations become irrelevant in the perception of the people. In spite of said campaigns, the contribution of Jorge Glas as part of the electoral ticket was very important for the electoral triumph.

AA: What was the result of the recent trial against your brother?

SG: On December 13, with all the media present to make as much of a show out of it as possible, an oral ruling was produced sentencing him to six years in prison. However, this sentence is longer than the five years stipulated as the maximum under the current legal code. The judge made use of a penal code which is no longer in use. This, according to legal experts, is a blatant violation of “due process”.

My brother found himself defenceless once more, like in many other occasions since his illegal arrest in October. Without a written ruling, there was no possible appeal for 40 days. Finally, the ruling was published in writing on January 23, more than 40 days since the end of the trial. On January 26 then an appeal was filed.

AA: What does this ruling reveal in your opinion?

SG: That the outcome was predetermined. The statement from José Santos de Odebrecht was transcribed to corroborate the previous allegation against Jorge Glas. In other words, the sentence was already there before the trial. Is the statement from a self-confessed criminal who is providing, in exchange for his freedom, a key piece to ruin the life of an innocent person, without any proof, any sort of evidence? The former Odebrecht attorney, Tacla Durán, denounced from Madrid that there were deals with Latin American governments in order for the Odebrecht people who had confessed to crimes to produce denunciations “à la carte” to serve certain political goals, all in exchange for rewards in terms of their own sentences.

Up to now there has been no reaction from judicial systems. In the meantime, a political prisoner in Ecuador is being persecuted with new charges, his life and that his family are in danger. The ruling document, which is public and available to the media, shows a countless number of inconsistencies that anyone can spot, even without being a legal expert. For example, the ruling mentions a crime which is not the one that is being tried as the justification for a longer sentence than what the law stipulates.

AA: On what offences is the ruling based on?

SG: In the written ruling Jorge Glas is considered guilty of interfering in the concession of contracts, while in the trial the witnesses and defendants made it very clear that he was never part of any commission in charge of any contest or bidding. He never took part in the adjudication of contracts, and moreover other people at different levels are the ones who had those responsibilities…

In truth the only source and support to declare him guilty is the self-confessed criminal Odebrecht, who ended up being rewarded. The criminal assistances are based on archives coming from this company, in the case of the criminal assistance from the United States, and in the criminal assistance from Brazil it is based on José Santos’ denunciations. All of it is based on the allegations of the guilty company. In no case was any evidence presented.

Take one of the supposed key pieces of evidence, a flash-drive that would demonstrate the involvement of the vice-president’s uncle. First of all, the device had no information related to Odebrecht, and in the end a court-appointed expert testified in the trial that, with no connection to the original source, this USB drive does not constitute any evidence. The expert was immediately sanctioned by the court for publicly voicing these positions. Any argument that favours the defence is treated as illegal…

AA: What is the key point of Jorge Glas’ defence?

SG: The absolute absence of evidence. An irregular trial is looking, at all costs, to mask the fact that an innocent man is to be made guilty. I will try to be more graphic: during the trial the prosecution presented around seventy supposed witness, the majority of them being technical experts, in charge of translating, transcribing, requisitioning and confirming the existence of places. In other words, the majority are not even experts. None mentioned Jorge Glas or referred his name as appearing somewhere.

The other defendants, including three who confessed, denied having had contact with Jorge Glas or any participation from his part in their activities. If the main guilty party, José Santos, sees his charges dismissed and the other accused parties do not know the vice-president and even state that they are being used to implicate him, then what kind of criminal association are we talking about?

Each piece of supposed evidence was picked apart during the trial. However, there is a media dimension which makes it irrelevant in the justice system. There is a blockade surrounding information in Jorge Glas’ case in the main media outlets in Ecuador. That is why it is urgent to make this known internationally.

• First published in Investig’Action

Iran: New Unjust Accusations by Washington

Transcript of Skype Interview with PressTV

Background by Michelle Nichols:

UNITED NATIONS, January 26 (Reuters): The United States will seek to boost its case for United Nations action against Iran when Security Council envoys visit Washington on Monday to view pieces of weapons that U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley says Tehran gave to Yemen’s Houthi group.

Haley and her 14 council colleagues will also lunch with President Donald Trump, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said Friday.

The Trump administration has for months been lobbying for Iran to be held accountable at the United Nations, while at the same time threatening to quit a 2015 deal among world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program if “disastrous flaws” are not fixed.

The U.N. ambassadors will visit a military hangar at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling near Washington, where Haley, the U.S envoy to the United Nations, last month presented remnants of what the Pentagon said was an Iranian-made ballistic missile fired from Yemen on Nov. 4 at Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, as well as other weapons.

A proxy war is playing out in Yemen between Iran and U.S. ally Saudi Arabia.

Iran has denied supplying the Houthis with such weaponry and described the arms displayed in Washington as “fabricated.” However, experts reported to the Security Council this month that Iran had violated U.N. sanctions on Yemen because “it failed to take the necessary measures to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer” of short-range ballistic missiles and other equipment to the Iran-allied Houthi group.

The independent experts said they had “identified missile remnants, related military equipment and military unmanned aerial vehicles that are of Iranian origin and were introduced into Yemen after the imposition of the targeted arms embargo.”

Haley said last month she was exploring several U.N. options for pressuring Iran to “adjust their behavior”. But she is likely to struggle to convince some Security Council members, like veto powers Russia and China, that U.N. action is needed.

Most sanctions on Iran were lifted at the start of 2016 under the nuclear deal, which is enshrined in a U.N. Security Council resolution. The resolution still subjects Tehran to a U.N. arms embargo and other restrictions that are technically not part of the nuclear deal.

Haley has said the Security Council could strengthen the provisions in that resolution or adopt a new resolution banning Iran from all activities related to ballistic missiles. To pass, a resolution needs nine votes in favor, and no vetoes by the United States, Britain, France, China or Russia.

Under the current resolution, Iran is “called upon” to refrain from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons for up to eight years. Some states argue that the language of the resolution does not make it obligatory.

A separate U.N. resolution on Yemen bans the supply of weapons to Houthi leaders and “those acting on their behalf or at their direction.”

The United States could propose people or entities to be blacklisted by the council’s Yemen sanctions committee, a closed-door move that would need consensus approval by the 15-members. Diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, say Haley has not signaled which accountability option she might pursue or when.

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PressTV: What is your reaction to this new accusation by Washington?

Peter Koenig: First – Iran has not, and I repeat has not, infringed on any of the Nuclear Deal’s conditions, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed by the 5+1 on July 14, 2015 in Vienna, Austria.

Ever since Trump became President – even before – he said that Obama’s deal was a bad deal and that he wanted to repeal it.

We have to understand that President Trump is totally in the hands of Israel, manipulated by Netanyahu, much more so than previous Presidents.

Washington will try to find any reason to either increase the completely illegal sanctions on Iran or cancel the deal altogether. There is no doubt in my mind about it. They will not shy back from inventing and fabricating “evidence” that the missile remnants Haley wants to show to UN Security Council members are from Iran.

Also, Washington is again attempting to convince the UNSC members that Iran is not trustworthy and that the nuclear deal should be abolished. That would for once be difficult, especially to convince the Europeans, notably France and Germany, since they have already signed trade and technology exchange agreements worth billions with Iran.

PTV: Ms. Haley claims she has independent experts who will attest that the weapon remnants are from Iran supplied missiles. How, do you believe Ms. Haley will prove that point?

PK: There are no independent experts when it comes to the US and Washington.  Any “expert” is either coerced or bought.

Washington’s credibility is zero. Remember what happened at the UN Security Council on February 3, when Colin Powell lied, yes, outright lied, with fabricated evidence to the Council, saying that Iraq had WMDs? This gave the impetus to invade Iraq – the rest is history. We know what happened and still happens – millions of innocent people killed and maimed and the war is far from over. Would the world be so naïve as to believe another lie, this time by the queen of deceit, Nikki Haley?

Besides – and this must be said too – does anybody ever mention in the western mainstream media how Saudi Arabia as a proxy for the US and the UK with weapons and planes from the UK and the US is destroying Yemen, killing and maiming tens of thousands of people, letting an entire country starve to death, closing all the borders and harbors – no food, no medicine can get into the country. This is a crime with genocide dimensions.

UNICEF and UN observers are saying that this is the most horrendous humanitarian crime committed in recent history – and this by the United States and the UK via Saudi Arabia.

So – what does Ms. Haley really have to say, when it comes to accusing anyone of infringement of UN Resolutions? She has nothing to say – she has zero, but zero argument – as most of the time, when she speaks at the UN, and I’m confident that Russia and China are not going to fall into this trap.

Honduras: the Coup has the “Seal” of the United States

For over two months, the Opposition Alliance has claimed that their candidate, Salvador Nasralla, was the winner of the presidential elections of November 26. Gilberto Ríos Grillo is a national leader from the LIBRE party, one of the parties that makes up the Alliance, whose secretary-general is Manuel Zelaya, the former Honduran president who was deposed in a coup in July 2009. After the announcement of further mobilisations from the Honduran society to protest against the government, Ríos Grillo tells us about the recent developments in this social and political crisis that has already generated 34 casualties. He also stresses the international dimension to this crisis that Honduras is currently facing.

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Alex Anfruns: In late December we saw these controversial statements from the US State Department, legitimising the fraud that had taken place in your country. How do you evaluate the situation from an international perspective?

Gilberto Ríos Grillo: In general, the international situation we are witnessing is of struggle. Even though Honduras is a small country, it is quite important to the United States. So in this fight for hegemony Honduras is not allowed to join the struggle.

After the almost total loss of legitimacy by the Honduran institutions, especially after the 2009 coup, the 2013 fraud and the most recent fraud which is even more blatant than the previous one, the “seal” of approval for the elections came from the US Embassy itself through Mrs. Fulton, the chargé d’affaires.

The picture is very clear at the moment when she recognises the electoral triumph of Juan Orlando Hernández, because the president of the Supreme Electoral Court, David Matamoros Batson, appears on television with his hands in his pockets, standing behind the US official, as if assuming that she is the one who needs to certify or rubber-stamp the electoral process. The American meddling right in the face of the international community and the need for them to directly intervene in Honduras is plainly evident.

AA: What is this struggle that you were mentioning?

GRG: In the past ten years there was clear progress for the left in Central America, with the victory of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the FMLN in El Salvador, even the left in Costa Rica. Also with the out of control situation seen in Guatemala, because even though the American will was to remove the president, there was a considerable popular mobilisation.

In Honduras, if a leftist coalition became the main political force, this would mean a further loss of control for the United States in the region. What took place in Honduras should be seen in this context, and also in the context of the aggression against Venezuela and Cuba. These are countries with a clear positioning of national liberation which is articulated at a Latin American level. This explains why the US cannot afford to lose even the smallest of territories. Hence the current situation in Honduras.

March by the Opposition Alliance, 13 January 2018, Tegucigalpa

AA: What was the position of the observers from the European Union and the Organisation of American States (OAS), who were present during the election?

GRG: In the beginning, after the elections, they had to recognise that Salvador Nasralla, the Alliance candidate, was the winner by a margin of more than five points, since given the amount of votes tallied this tendency was practically irreversible. They had to issue these statements because of the international presence.

Then, two days later, when the vote counting system crashed and the tendency was reversed, both the OAS and the EU had to produce reports saying that the situation was not clear. Even OAS secretary Luis Almagro had to say that the elections ought to be held again because the results were not transparent. That was the last we heard from the OAS.

Recall that the OAS has to supervise or play a legitimising role in more than 18 electoral processes in Latin America in 2018. So it could not afford to start the year by losing credibility, although it had already lost a lot of it… But the fraud was so blatant that it could not go along with it.

Both the EU and the OAS have purely formal positions, and they have no way of helping change come about in Honduras.

AA: When Salvador Nasralla’s victory was not recognised there were attempts to divide the Opposition Alliance. After a visit to the OAS headquarters in Washington, Nasralla even went along with it…

GRG: This reveals Salvador’s naivete when it comes to politics; in fact, even he recognises that. It is similar to what happened seven years ago to president Zelaya when he went to the Brazilian embassy two months after the coup. There he was visited by Thomas Shannon, a representative from the US State Department, and was also communicating with Hillary Clinton. Both told Zelaya that he would be returned to power, and he believed it.

In the case of Nasralla, he went to the United States after the fraud, to visit the State Department and congressmen and show them the evidence proving that we won the elections… And, of course, they told him they would do everything possible to recognise his victory and not support Hernández…

But the United States always play a duplicitous game: they say one thing and then do something else. This always takes into account their interests and naturally the people that best serve their interests in other countries. In this case, Hernández is the best representative for the interests of the multinational corporations and the neoliberal/privatising rationale that the US has in Honduras. I think Nasralla’s naivete stems from his own lack of knowledge about the nature of imperialism.

AA: During the holidays we saw the Alliance appeal to the Honduran society to resist in the streets. COPINH, for example, is well known abroad. What role have social movements played in the Opposition Alliance’s mobilisations?

GRG: After the coup, all the social movements, leftist movements, and a sector of president Zelaya’s party, formed the National Front of Popular Resistance. This then made way for the creation of the Liberty and Refoundation party (LIBRE), which stood in the 2013 elections and won them. After the coup there was also another party, formed by Salvador Nasralla, which was a centre-right party. These groups, alongside other smaller parties, such as the social-democratic party Innovation and Unity (PINU), decided to join forces and create the Opposition Alliance.

In the Opposition Alliance you can find all the national classes represented. In other words, even the national bourgeoisie, retail sectors, workers, social movements… nothing falls outside of the Alliance.
In what concerns COPINH, they were very important at a certain stage as a social movement but then moved more towards an NGO rationale. They also support the struggle against the dictatorship and have thrown their weight, but they are not important in terms of mobilisation. Especially after the assassination of Berta Cáceres, COPINH does not have the same militancy as before, and the same applies to other groups close to them.

The social sectors that have always been important here have been teachers, public sector workers, students, who had a very important surge in the past two years. All of these are in the Alliance and coordinate with the Alliance, under the leadership of Manuel Zelaya Rosales.

Former president Manuel Zelaya leading a protest in the midst of tear gas thrown by the police. 13 January, Tegucigalpa

AA: A general strike was held on January 20. How do you foresee the upcoming mobilisations?

GRG: I stood as a candidate for these elections and I find that the support is bigger now than it was during the electoral process. And we should take into account that we won the election! There are more sectors of the population who wish to see Juan Orlando Hernández out of power.

The civic strike called for the period 20-27 of January is meant to be a full week of highway occupations, blocking streets, consumer boycotts, etc. We believe that it will have a much bigger impact than any previous demonstrations.

We can see that the people are mobilised and even demanding more radical action, although we wish to continue with a peaceful insurrection and civil disobedience, without ever calling for nor supporting violent action.

• First published in The Journal of Our Americas/Investig’Action

“Soledad Brother” John Clutchette Granted Parole: Will CA Governor Jerry Brown Reverse the Decision?

John Clutchette

On January 12, 2018, the California Board of Parole Hearings granted parole to an elderly inmate named John Clutchette. However, supporters of parole for Clutchette are concerned that California Governor Jerry Brown will reverse the Board’s decision, and Clutchette will not be released.

Supporters have a reason to be concerned. After all, this is exactly what happened in 2016 when Clutchette was similarly granted parole by the Board but Governor Brown chose to reverse the Board’s ruling.

Legal scholar Angela A. Allen-Bell, a professor at Southern University Law Center and students in her “Law and Minorities” class began researching Clutchette’s legal battle over a year ago. Following extensive research they have concluded that “the law has been used to perpetuate an injustice in Mr. Clutchette’s case.”

Why did Governor Brown deny parole to 74-year-old John Clutchette?  In our interview with Professor Bell, she refers to Brown’s written explanation for his 2016 parole reversal, where Brown cites the fact that in the early 1970s, Clutchette was one of a trio of inmates at California’s Soledad Prison, who became high profile co-defendants known as the “Soledad Brothers.”

The Soledad Brothers, with John Clutchette on the left, reprinted for a 1970 poster

Since Clutchette was ultimately acquitted of all charges in the Soledad Brothers case, Professor Bell argues that it is problematic for Governor Brown to use this as his reason for reversing the parole board. In our interview, Bell further contextualizes Brown’s reference to the Soledad Brothers, and identifies other troubling aspects of the case.

Professor Bell concludes with a call to action, urging readers to contact California Governor Jerry Brown and express their support for the California Board of Parole Hearings January 12, 2018 decision granting parole to John Clutchette.

Angola 3 News: Can you tell us about the work you and your students have done researching the case of “Soledad Brother” John Clutchette?

Angela A. Allen-Bell: In my “Law & Minorities” class, the law students explore the use of law both to perpetuate and eradicate racial injustice in the United States by exploring past and current legal, racial and social justice challenges involving minorities, indigenous peoples and others in vulnerable situations. Once such a challenge is identified, the students conduct investigative research. Restorative justice principles are then employed.

A year ago, when we began our work on the case of Soledad Brother John Cluchette, we knew only that he was in custody and that he had some historical connection to the late George Jackson. The four law students who worked on this case sifted through volumes of dated Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) documents, numerous era-related court cases, news stories, books and interviews. They also conducted their own interviews.

These collective efforts led us to conclude that the law has been used to perpetuate an injustice in Mr. Clutchette’s case. In conjunction with this conclusion and, as a restorative justice measure, we filed a complaint to the United Nations through its Special Procedures Division.

A3N: Last week, on January 12, 2018, the California Board of Parole Hearings granted parole to Mr. Clutchette, but before he is actually released on parole, this ruling will now have to be affirmed by CA Governor Jerry Brown. In the past, Governor Brown has rejected parole for Mr. Clutchette. On what grounds did he make this decision?

AB:  On November 4, 2016, California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. reversed the 2016 California Board of Parole Hearings decision that had granted parole to John Clutchette. Governor Brown reasoned:

He has told the Board many times that he was not and had never been a member of the Black Guerilla Family….Mr. Clutchette has been identified as a high-ranking and revered member of the gang since the 1970s  and as recently as 2008.  Although he was acquitted of the murder of a correctional officer in 1970, he later admitted to fellow inmates that he had knocked the officer unconscious before George Jackson killed him.  The pair, along with Fleeta Drumgo, became known as the “Soledad Brothers,” and made national news when Mr. Jackson’s brother made a failed attempt to take the judge, a deputy district attorney, and jurors hostage….While Mr. Clutchette acknowledged that he knew all of the individuals involved at the time and shared the same ‘political ideology,’ he steadfastly denies that he was ever in the [BGF] gang or that he was ever involved in ‘any violence or anything since I’ve been in prison.’ These statements are contradicted by ample evidence in the record . . . While I appreciate that Mr. Clutchette has completed the stepdown program and has now been deemed an inactive gang member, I remain troubled by his version of events. His statements, and the evidence to the contrary, demonstrate that Mr. Clutchette has not acknowledged or come to terms with his key role in these historical events or the magnitude of his actions.

I have considered the evidence in the record that is relevant to whether Mr. Clutchette is currently dangerous. When considered as a whole, I find the evidence shows that he currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison.

To appreciate our conclusions about this being an injustice and a human rights violation, Governor Brown’s decision must be viewed within the larger context of this case.

From all indicators, John Clutchette was a politically inactive citizen in 1966 when he was convicted of burglary. For that charge, he was supposed to have been released from prison in April 1970. However, instead of seeing freedom, he became a character entangled in a web of racial politics and social struggle on a forgotten page in a discarded history book.

In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the civil rights era was underway in the United States. Free citizens and inmates alike were demanding civil and human rights. At this moment in time, J. Edgar Hoover was leading the FBI. Through COINTELPRO, a clandestine intelligence program, Mr. Hoover sought to neutralize many activists, advocacy groups, dissident voices, artists and innocent citizens. His tactics were often unconstitutional and largely illegal. For over forty-seven long years, Mr. Hoover declared war on free expression, chilled speech, intimidated and bullied dissenters, meted out private punishments, invaded privacy rights and engaged in discriminatory law enforcement practices. The Black Panther Party (BPP) and the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) were two groups that Mr. Hoover had a particular disdain for. Mr. Hoover’s practices were successfully suppressed from the American public until 1975. The full extent of COINTELPRO harms have yet to be realized all these years removed.


The late George Jackson is another prominent figure in Mr. Clutchette’s story. He was a successful organizer, an activist, the founder of the BGF, a member of the BPP and a respected prison intellectual. In 1970, he released Soledad Brother, a book that exposed prison conditions to a captive world audience. While this endeared legions of inmates and free people to him, this cemented his adversarial relationship with the prison staff and administration. His opposition extended beyond the prison gates. He was a target of Mr. Hoover’s COINTELPRO program.

In the early 1970s, John Clutchette was incarcerated at California Correctional Training Facility at Soledad. He was housed in the “Y” wing on the tier with George Jackson. At the time, there were documented racial problems inside the facility, as well as allegations of excessive force and other abuses on the part of correctional officers. In this climate, three African American inmates were murdered by a white guard, African American inmate witnesses were not allowed to testify at trial and the officer was not prosecuted. Shortly thereafter, in January 1970, John Mills, a white prison guard was murdered in what some describe as an act of retaliation. George Jackson, John Clutchette and Fleeta Drumgo were accused of Officer Mills’ murder and, subsequently, indicted in February 1970. The trio became known as the “Soledad Brothers.” Mr. Clutchette was less than three months away from parole.

Months later, in August 1970, heavily armed, seventeen-year-old Jonathan Jackson joined this cast of characters. Jonathan, George’s youngest brother, entered the Marin County Courthouse during a trial. Jonathan armed three prisoners before the group left with five hostages, which included the judge and district attorney. In an effort to stop the escape, officers killed Jonathan, the judge and two of the prisoners. A year later, in August 1971, George was killed by San Quentin prison guards, leaving his associates, however distant, to pay for his sins, both real and imagined.

From all appearances, officials deemed the Soledad Brothers guilty on the day they were arrested and viewed the surrounding legal process as a mere formality—something akin to a pit stop on the way to their final destination toward literal or figurative death in prison. Fate would write another ending for John Clutchette. In February 1972, John Clutchette was acquitted by the all-white jury that presided over his case. He further defied odds when he was granted parole on November 13, 1972.

Photo of the Soledad Brothers, Clutchette on right

Significantly, none of the “Soledad Brothers” were found guilty of the murder of Officer Mills.  Also noteworthy is the fact that John Clutchette was not charged or convicted in the 1970 Marin County Courthouse matter that was onset by Jonathan Jackson nor was he charged or convicted in the 1971 Adjustment Center incident that resulted in the death of George Jackson.

John Clutchette remained a free man from 1972 until 1980 when he was placed in custody to stand trial for the murder of Robert Bowles. Mr. Bowles’ lifeless body was found in a parked car with two gunshot wounds to the head. Mr. Clutchette, then a substance abuser and a party to illicit drug operations, testified only to participating in the cover up of the murder. Despite his testimony, he was convicted of first degree murder. An indeterminate sentence of seven years to life was imposed. Two additional years were added for use of a weapon.

Mr. Clutchette presently speaks of this crime with great remorse and sorrow. His moral convictions led him to pen a heartfelt letter to the Bowles family. In that letter, he expressed:

I…extend[] my deepest apologies and sincere regrets to the entire Bowles family for the devastating and irreparable harm that I have caused with my callous disregard for Robert’s life…I’ll forever live with the shame of my actions…It did not happen overnight…I am taking full advantage of the rehabilitative process; in my long journey of self-discovery, I have matured and learned to use my care and concern when I know that my actions have the potential to affect the lives of my fellow man/woman and community…I am on my perpetual road of atonement….

A3N: Do you know how Gov. Brown arrived at the conclusions that led him to reject the Parole Board’s decision granting Mr. Clutchette parole in 2016?

AB: His written reasons suggest he used subjective, unvetted, unreliable information and inaccuracies from John Clutchette’s prison file. This includes statements from prison snitches, memoranda from confidential sources, statements from prison staff and the like.  Many of the documents are self-serving.  Others are little more than speculation.  They are not the product of any vetting, or credible or fact-finding process; yet they have been given the veracity of such.

This is more than speculation.  In 1997, the appellate court made such a fact-finding: “We agree that Clutchette’s file contains false information. He produced uncontroverted declarations which provide that he was neither involved in nor prosecuted in connection with [the 1971] San Quentin Adjustment Center takeover attempt.”

This same court urged California officials to correct Mr. Clutchette’s records, stating that:

[T]his false information suggests that Clutchette was involved in a serious breach of institutional security and implicates him in the death of inmates and correctional officers. Because of the seriousness of this implication, the Department voluntarily should expunge the false information from Clutchette’s file. Removing the false information from Clutchette’s file might avoid litigation each time Clutchette is considered for parole in the future.

Unfortunately, California officials undertook no such action, leaving the inaccuracies in place to fulfill the court’s prophecy about the potential for harm this false information could cause.

California’s standards governing eligibility of parole board commissioners are high. The individuals who make parole decisions must have a broad background in criminal justice and experience or education in the fields of corrections, sociology, law, law enforcement, medicine, mental health, or education. Additionally, they must fulfill rigorous, annual training requirements. Such a highly distinguished Board thoroughly reviewed Mr. Clutchette’s prison record and determined some of the salacious contents not worthy of their use.

Moreover, a 2007 appellate court deemed much of the content “historically interesting but otherwise irrelevant” for purposes of parole eligibility. In his 2016 reversal of parole, the Governor imprudently relied upon these contested contents in Mr. Clutchette’s prison file. In so doing, he completely ignored the wisdom of the board that he appointed, a Board that spent considerable time examining the records in this case, and the guidance of the judicial system and rendered a decision that defies logic.

Mr. Cluchette has paid for his past crimes.  He is not a public threat. This is evidenced by the California Board of Parole Hearings granting him parole in 2003, 2015, 2016 and again on January 12, 2018. Because of pending, parole-related litigation, Mr. Clutchette postponed at least seven parole suitability hearings, resulting in even more time in custody. He has been eligible for parole since 1988.

The Governor is wrong for his: (1) reliance on the false and unreliable information in Mr. Clutchette’s prison records; and, (2) display of an animus to, through the parole process, “sentence” or punish Mr. Clutchette for the 1970s Soledad murder that he was acquitted of, the 1970 Marin County Incident with which he was never charged and the 1971 Adjustment Center Incident with which he was never charged.

Tragically, the Governor’s decision to disregard the legal dictate that his actions be guided by some evidence of current dangerousness has come at the expense of an elderly man who is afflicted with a host of health problems. Worse, without intervention, Mr. Clutchette will never be able to establish his suitability for parole because these flawed records will always serve as a bar to his freedom (or can be used as such). Such decision-making is in conflict with California law, as well as human rights tenants.

A3N: What’s the official status of John Clutchette’s case at this moment?

AB: In addition to the pending human rights complaint, Mr. Clutchette has formally brought his challenges to the court (in the form of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by his incredibly talented attorney Keith Wattley).

In December 2017, the Attorney General (AG), in defense of the governor, filed a request to keep the records the governor used under seal. In support of this request, the AG argued:

Disclosure [of the documents the Governor used to support his decision that John Clutchette is unsuitable for parole] would reveal the identity of the confidential informants from whom the confidential information was obtained and would release information that poses a threat to institutional security.

These records have been openly considered and discussed by the various parole boards over the years. In each of those instances, the respective boards deemed many of these records unreliable and consistently felt they did not amount to a showing of present dangerousness.

In concert with all of this, Mr. Clutchette appeared before the parole board again on January 12, 2018.  He was once again granted parole. However, Mr. Clutchette will not actually be released on parole without Governor Brown’s formal approval.

Photo of John Cluchette in the 1990s with his late wife

A3N: How can our readers best help his effort to finally be paroled?

AB: Brother Clutchette is approaching seventy-five years of age. He has lost too many years to this injustice. Readers have to become his voice at this critical time. They must create a theatre of agitation that makes elected officials uncomfortable abusing power and partaking in racial or social injustices. Officials need to know that political accountability will await them for doing so.

Readers must make John Clutchette’s story a topic of robust discussion. Most importantly, they must speak their immediate opposition to Governor Brown. Supporters can mail a written letter, send a fax, make a phone call, and/or send an email to his office.

Contact Information for Governor Brown, Suggested Talking Points and Sample Letter:

Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr.
c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, California 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160
Office email (click here)
Link to email submission page:  https://govapps.gov.ca.gov/gov39mail/

Governor Brown,

Elderly inmate John Clutchette was again granted parole on January 12, 2018. I urge you not to oppose his release.

In February 1972, John Clutchette was acquitted by the jury who heard and evaluated the evidence against him for the murder of Officer John Mills. In November 1972, he was granted parole. I remind you that none of the “Soledad Brothers” were found guilty of the murder of Officer Mills.

Also noteworthy is the fact that John Clutchette was not charged or convicted in the 1970 Marin County Courthouse matter that was onset by Jonathan Jackson, nor was he charged or convicted in the 1971 Adjustment Center incident that resulted in the death of George Jackson.

Despite this, your reasons for opposing his release appear to involve your desires to punish Mr. Clutchette for these things, extrajudicially. If so, this is an abuse of your powers and it is a violation of California law and of human rights principles.

Mr. Clutchette has fulfilled the 1980 sentence that was imposed in conjunction with the Robert Bowles case. The judicial system did not impose any other sentences upon him.  Please respect that.

As determined by your very capable parole board on multiple occasions, he is not a present danger and the record, when contextually considered, does not hold “some evidence” of current dangerousness. Please respect this too. I thank you for your attention to this request.

“Pakistan Is a Fractured Client State of the US Empire, Afghanistan a US Colony”

Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and US President Donald Trump

New Delhi/San Francisco – Editor’s Note: US Domestic and Foreign Policy Analyst Mark Mason speaks to The Citizen on the current Trump administration and its world view, with specific focus on West (Iran) and South (India,Pakistan) Asia. Mark Mason offers analyses of United States domestic and foreign policies for the international news media. He was trained as a biological anthropologist educated at the University of California, Berkeley, and recently engaged in the Occupy and bioregional green and peace social movements. His recent publications include Demystifying US and Israeli Power. This interview is the first of an irregular series of conversations between The Citizen and scholars in different parts of the world.

Seema Mustafa: In India we often find ourselves discussing whether Trump’s foreign policy is any different from Obama’s. What do you think? Are there any nuances we should be aware of?

Mark Mason: We know the outcome of the Obama administration. At the outset, Trump’s administration is far more dangerous than was Obama’s with respect to international relations. Trump has increased the use of deadly drones in Yemen and Somalia, but recent arms sales to Saudi Arabia were approved under the Obama administration. The potential for accidental nuclear war, and the potential for conventional military conflicts increased under Trump.

His brash bullying tactics are publicly confrontational, yet we should compare Trump with the polite but deadly Bill Clinton and George Bush whose terms in office, combined, culminated in 1.5 million Iraqi deaths. In one year, Trump has managed to weaken NATO and has turned most of the western European elites against his administration. European members of NATO are not catering to the US imperial commands as swiftly.

The recent vote in the UN on the question of the status of Jerusalem was another manifestation of the failure of brute bullying foreign policy. Europeans and others who pay tribute to the American Empire do not like having their noses ground into the dirt by Emperor Trump. They like the US government to pretend that there is no empire. They want to be told that they are all one happy, smiling, chummy love fest of friends of the US.

What transpires next year will tell us what we need to know. If Trump continues insulting everyone in sight such demeanor will weaken US political influence — a very good thing — or alternatively, his governance may convert the potential for a major war into a reality. If he continues insulting enough Europeans, we may witness further weakening of the Euro-American colonial NATO alliance, a development that would decrease global tensions.

We should be less frightened of President Trump, while more concerned about how willing US power elites are to dare pushing blatant demands for obedience to US economic interests. US elites want more payment in tribute. The lack of cohesion manifested in Trump’s foreign policy is a manifestation of divisions within the US corporate elite.

One segment of the economic elites recognizes that pushing for immediate subservience to US power weakens long-term US economic interests, whereas another sector, that includes banking and oil, seem prepared to risk world war and world ecosystem collapse in the interest of increasing short-term corporate profits. The US government that includes the President, Congress, and the courts, are under US plutocratic control.

The USA is not a democracy. The President has little power. Trump is learning the limits to Presidential power.

SM: Iran, of course, is a departure point, Obama sought peace, Trump is back to war. How serious are the threats in real terms?

MM: Obama sought business deals with Iran, not peace. Peace is not something any ambitious capitalist empire seeks. Peace is the end of war profiteering. Let us examine the geopolitics of Iran in the context of the geo-economics of Iran. What applies to Iran, applies globally as the template for US foreign policy. As long as we accept that military arms are manufactured by capitalist corporations for the purpose of selling arms to generate corporate profits that go into the private pockets of a tiny power elite, then peace will be an illusive goal. Few elites profit from peace, and thus we have no peace. War profiteering is a lucrative business model that conflicts with significant sectors of the civilian economy.

What power elites want, they get through their control of every kind of modern state. Complexities arise when giant, powerful US corporations such as Boeing manufacture goods for war and for civilian markets. The context for international conflicts is driven, not directly between the US and Iran, but internal to Boeing Aircraft and other giant corporations. Taking Boeing as an example, both the war and the civilian aircraft divisions of Boeing are in conflict with respect to US policies toward Iran. The geo-economics of Iran is grounded on the foreign policy question: should Boeing make profits by selling military aircraft such as the new MQ-25 drone to the US government for the purpose of bombing Iran, or should Boeing focus attention on selling Iran profitable Boeing 737 Max civilian aircraft? Boeing can’t do both. US oil companies want to strike civilian business deals with Iran, and Russia, also, but are confronted with the power of the military-industrial corporate sector that profits elites from international conflicts. US elites are driving an economy with one foot on the gas pedal of war while the other foot is pressing the brake pedal of war. The economy serves the narrow interests of elites in India, as well as the USA.

US foreign policy has lacked cohesion since the collapse of the Soviet Union. An empire such as the US needs to sell empire to the American public by claiming that some country is an existential threat. The US has no credible enemy — none. Iran, North Korea, Russia again, Venezuela, and China off and on, are presented to the American people as justification for a trillion-dollar military budget. The lack of cohesion in US foreign policy is a manifestation of the collapsing capitalist economy within the US, as power elites become divided due to different sectors of the US elite seek conflicting economic goals. We are witnessing an economic system in collapse, and as a result US foreign policy lacks cohesion.

How serious are the war threats from Trump? What Trump says should always be taken seriously, while also observing how fast the US imperial controls are also being damaged by “imperial over-reach.” We are witnessing the last, desperate gasp of the American Empire. Emperor Trump will either bring down the empire as we witness collapse, or he may trigger world war. The consequences of the Trump presidency may be characterized as most likely the last American presidential administration. Whatever comes of his administration it will likely be the end of the American experiment in capitalist parliamentary government. The charade, the fake democracy, is coming to an end— with a whimper or a bang.

American presidents are particular people with particular personalities and particular personal interests in state power, but observing them over the decades, in direct observation, the evidence indicates that the range of domestic and foreign policies is narrowed to a variety of capitalist schemes that harm both the domestic population and people in distant lands subjected to US imperial abuses of power. Which village gets hit by drone missile attacks ordered by the president is a fearful, existential crises for individuals, but the American system of capitalist domination and exploitation remains little changed over the past two centuries. The American presidency is both boring in its predictable quest for corporate-capitalist hegemony, while it is of the most intense concern for powerless individual victims. If you didn’t like the British Empire, you won’t like the American Empire, either. The only consolation I can offer is that the US Empire will experience the same fate as the British Empire, and be it not so distant in the future.

SM: In the Syrian quagmire, Washington seemed to have found a good friend in Erdogan, but no longer it seems. Is this a setback for its West Asian policy?

MM: Empires have no friends.. Empires have client states that pay tribute to the imperial center, and empires have enemies yet to conquer: no friends. Erdogan understands this truth. US West Asian policy is to smash up stuff and to create cultural chaos. Chaos is good for profits, and it maintains divisions among people who have much in common and thus who would otherwise unify against US imperial domination of the region. Chaos is good because chaos results in more arms sales to the region, and it is used as a bludgeon to keep the local tyrants in line. The US invasion of Libya under Obama served some European and US oil interests, but the primary purpose from the prospective of US foreign policy was to send a message to other African and Middle Eastern states as a demonstration of what happens when the local dictator doesn’t follow orders from Washington.

Erdogan intends to rebuild the Ottoman Empire under his authority. He has his own personal power ambitions. Such people, driven by personal power, are easily manipulated.

SM: India seems to be enjoying a good relationship with the US. As we did with President Bush as well. China and the market, or more than that?

MM: All appearances of good relations are just that: temporary appearances. Indeed, a primary goal of the US government in appearing to cultivate friendship with India is to create a division between India from China. South Asian regional unity must be avoided by the US. Also, Trump and Modi have much in common. They both are servants of corporate power. Prime Minister Modi has been invited to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos next month for the very reason that he has demonstrated allegiance to the US and European colonial banking system.

SM: Is Pakistan a friend, or not a friend? For Afghanistan?

MM: Pakistan is a fractured client state of the US Empire. The government follow orders, more or less. Pakistan allows the US to fly deadly drone missions inside Pakistan, although offering occasional tepid protest. Pakistan allowed the CIA to build and operate bases in Pakistan for the purpose of training the Mujahideen which were given passage into Afghanistan for the purpose of destabilizing the pro-Russian government during the late 1970’s and 1980’s. Trump has been verbally bashing Pakistan recently which will erode political relations with the Pakistani government. Let us keep in mind that the US gives Pakistan billions of dollars each year in military aid. Pakistan cannot complain too much about being a servant of US power.

As for Afghanistan, it is now a US colony. The US will not leave, not before the collapse. US mining corporations are poised to plunder the wealth of the nation. US colonial military presence will also serve to drive a political wedge between Pakistan, India, Russia, Afghanistan, and Iran. More chaos. All this is imperial folly. Much human suffering will ensue from US foreign policy, and then the empire will collapse.

One must put these important immediate deadly-serious conflicts into perspective. All this manufactured human suffering that is due to imperialist domination of the region by the American capitalist plutocracy will soon end. Empires come and go, and this one is on the way down. Global warming, global ecosystem collapse, and the globally inherent instability of parliamentary governments that were long ago captured by capitalist concentrations of wealth portend global collapse.

• Interview first published in The Citizen

Interview with Andre Vltchek for Farhikhtegan Newspaper in Iran

Mostafa Afzalzadeh: Why do you think the western countries are trying to use people against Iran and not use military force? What is the difference?

Andre Vltchek: It is because Iran is ‘not alone’. If the West were to dare use military force against Iran, directly, there would be an immediate response from many countries on Earth. I believe that Iran’s allies, like Russia, several Latin American countries, but also most likely China, would not sit idle. I am not saying that they would immediately send their armies and begin fighting the U.S. and European forces, but I am certain that Iran would receive some substantial support from them: be it moral, diplomatic and yes, perhaps, even military support.

Even countries like Turkey (which for many years has been an important member of NATO), would strongly protest and most likely even leave the alliance. Turkey would not allow an attack against Iran to originate from its territory.

Iran also has other friendly governments and movements strategically positioned in the region, including Hezbollah in Lebanon.

I have no doubt that any direct attack against Iran would trigger a much greater military conflict in the Middle East and beyond. The West knows it. It actually enjoys triggering conflicts and wars, all over the world, even keeping them ‘perpetual’, but it also knows that to go to war with Iran could be counter-productive, that it would most likely backfire.

Let us also remember that Iran is not just a crying victim – Iran is strong. Iran’s missile program, for instance, has sent a strong message to the West: “Any assault would be met with decisive response. Attack against Iran would lead to real war with losses at both sides.”

Using civilians, NGO’s, the so-called ‘Civil Society’ and some disgruntled elements, is far much ‘safer’. This way the West can trigger the conflict and then turn everything up-side-down and say: “You see? We told you. Iran is brutal, its rulers are ruthlessly oppressing their own people.” This strategy has worked in many countries, while it has backfired in places like China. Basically, this can work if some nation is extremely divided and confused. It worked in Ukraine, at least to some extent. It worked in Zimbabwe. It almost worked but in the end failed in Venezuela. It worked in Yeltsin’s Russia. But it could never work in China, in Cuba, in 2018 Russia, or in Iran. This monstrous, Machiavellian strategy, dividing and turning people against each other, also failed, and failed miserably, in Syria.

However, using this strategy often costs nothing. The West is trying it everywhere, all over the world, wherever there is a government that is working for the good of its people, not for the good of some Western multi-national companies and for imperialist geopolitical interests. I described it in detail, in my 800-page long book of political non-fiction:Exposing Lies Of The Empire.

MA:  If the US does not succeed in overthrowing Iran by the tactic of using people against the government what other tool they might have?

AV: The US has many tricks up its sleeves. Remember: US ‘foreign policy’ is not some new system that has been invented in Washington D.C. It is all based on the centuries of plunder, colonialism and brutal control of the world, a ‘specialty’ of various European powers. Brits, French, Dutch, Belgians, Spaniards, Portuguese, Germans and others in the ‘old continent’, ‘invented the wheel’. The US only uses its ugly brutal force, while relying on the ‘know-how’ developed across the Atlantic Ocean.

Now the subversion in Iran has been identified, fought against, and defeated. What will come next? What could be coming next?

I think there will now be rejuvenated, growing pressure on Iran, from the West in general and the US in particular. I’m talking about economic, political and ideological pressure, meaning propaganda. The West will be ‘grooming’ opposition movements, or at least many of the particular individuals. Selected men and women will be getting scholarships, funding, even awards for their great ‘achievements’ as opposition ‘activists’, artists and ‘thinkers’. Dissidents will be glorified, while great Iranian thinkers, writers, filmmakers who are supportive of the government, will be ignored, often even ridiculed. The same strategy was applied against many dozens of independent-minded nations of the world, including the Soviet Union before its ill-fated Perestroika. I described ‘the system’ or ‘training opposition’ in my latest, brutal, short political and revolutionary novel “Aurora“.

Western mass media outlets will be, most certainly, demonizing Iran. Stories will be invented or turned hyperbolic. The Farsi services of Western government radio stations like the BBC will get extra funding and will be working day and night to divide Iranian society.

Iran will not be struck directly, but its allies may get attacked. I’m talking particularly about Hezbollah. As a result, Lebanon could fall. The influence (even if it is just moral influence) of Iran in Yemen and Afghanistan may be confronted by the Western and pro-Western forces.

Many things may happen, but I sincerely believe that Iran is not directly in danger. Its people are strong, educated and resilient. Iran is not perfect, as nothing in this world is. But it is a good, progressive, and very solid country with an enormous and ancient culture. Iranian people know it. The entire region knows it. Now it is time to explain it to the world.

Just look around: what happened to the countries around Iran, that fell into the hands of Western ‘democracies’. Iranian citizens are not insane: they would never want to live in anything resembling today’s Afghanistan or Iraq! Let’s get real! I work in Afghanistan. It is now the poorest country in Asia, with the lowest life expectancy. In Herat, there are huge lines in front of the Iranian consulate; people have nothing and they are trying to leave, by all means, to Iran or elsewhere. Or look at Iraq! It is now only a skeleton of a country: depressing, defeated, with no clear future.

Iran is the bright star of the region, and the West hates it. Absurdly, the only way to make peace with the West would be for Iranians to wreck their own country, to become submissive, enslaved and to sacrifice their own people, putting both the economic and political interests of the West above their national interests!

MA: Do you see a relation between the recent unrest and Iran’s victories in the region?

AV: Most definitely!  Were Iran to be a failed state (but one open to Western business and geopolitical interests), like Indonesia or Uganda or other “allies” worldwide, Washington and London would be fully supporting it, and Western propaganda would glorify it: as was the case with Iranian brutal regime during Shah, or Suharto’s genocidal dictatorship in Indonesia, or Kagame’s murderous despotism in Rwanda.

Iran has its own economic, social and political model. It is totally independent. On top of it, this model is very attractive to other places in the region, and Teheran is clearly helping those places that are being battered, literally liquidated by the West and its allies: I’m talking about Syria and Yemen. Even in Afghanistan, Iran is playing an increasingly positive role.

Ask in Beirut, Damascus but also in Cairo or Amman, whether Iran is a ‘dangerous country’, whether someone there feels threatened by Teheran? People will laugh at you. Of course, it is not dangerous; nobody thinks it is. People are scared of the West, or Israel, or of Saudi Arabia; but of Iran?

Logically (and here we are talking about Western imperialist logic), the more positive role Iran plays in the region and in other parts of the world (by, for instance, working closely with several progressive and revolutionary governments in Latin America), the more it gets antagonized, destabilized, even threatened.

The West cares nothing about what is good for others, or even for the entire world. It is only interested in what can serve its own, practical, neo-colonialist agenda.

It is the world in which we are living. And this world has to dramatically change, better sooner rather than later! Iran, together with a handful of other countries, is at the vanguard of this great change that could save our Planet. That is why it should never be allowed to fall!