Category Archives: Interview

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.

*****

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.

*****

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.

*****

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!

Brexit, Corbyn and Trade Unions

RMT demonstration at King’s Cross Station in London (RMT Photo)

A broken-down consensus and a resurgence of socialist ideas – this is how Steve Hedley describes the current political landscape in the United Kingdom. Hedley is the Senior Assistant General Secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the RMT. In this interview he guides us through the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the turmoil in the ruling Conservative government and the leftward steer of the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. The RMT is also one of the most militant trade unions in the UK, and Hedley tells us about the attacks against trade unions and the recent struggles of the RMT, particularly in the rail sector.

*****

Ricardo Vaz: How would you describe the current political situation in the UK?

Steve Hedley: We’re in a period of transition. For the best part of 30 years we had a Labour Party that was following neoliberal policies and at the minute we’ve got a leadership of the Labour Party, in Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, that is reverting to left-wing social-democratic policies. And there is a lot of resistance within the Labour Party, because most MPs (Members of Parliament) are wedded to neoliberalism, although they think of themselves as left neoliberals. Corbyn and the Labour Party did much better than expected in the last election, so in order to maintain power the Conservative government has been relying on the votes of 10 Democratic Unionists, which are a far-right party in the North of Ireland.

I think everyone expects Corbyn to be the next prime minister. The country is in turmoil, no one really knows what’s happening with Brexit, there seems to be no clear strategy coming from the government. The last estimate was that it’s going to cost 50 billion pounds to exit the European Union, and the indications are that the government will be trying to maintain a place within the European single market. And that was not what people voted for when they voted for Brexit.

The ruling party at the minute, the Conservatives, are in absolute turmoil. Because they’ve got about 30 MPs who won’t accept anything rather than a hard Brexit, they’ve got a large moderate section who are business-friendly and want a very soft Brexit, and those positions are irreconcilable. So these are very tumultuous times in British politics. I think we’ve now had a breakdown of the consensus between the two main political parties, and we await to see the results.

RV: On the subject of Brexit, the RMT, during the referendum campaign, argued for exiting the EU. Why was that?

SH:  Very simply, because the European Union was, and is, a rich man’s club. It was set up as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. NATO was the military arm and the European Union was the economic arm. It’s a trading bloc that is competing against other trading blocs. If you look at the history of the European Union, it has free movement of capital, free movement of labour, and a neoliberal economy written into the treaties. Therefore to be part of the European Union is to accept all of those things.

Steve Hedley addressing an RMT picket (Photo from Steve Hedley’s Facebook)

In a socialist society we would have no problem with the free movement of labour. But we’re not in a socialist society. People have been shipped around Europe to work on less wages and worse conditions than national workers. That’s not the kind of immigration we want. We want people to come freely and work on the same conditions as people who live here. But, of course, that doesn’t suit the neoliberal project.

Closer to home we have the Fourth Railway Package, which has now been delayed until the coming year. What that does is it compulsorily privatises, or at least imposes private competition, in all the rail networks in Europe. We’ve had a disastrous rail privatisation in Britain, and they simply want to legislate and export the worst possible system out to the rest of Europe. So for those reasons, we were against membership in the European Union.

RV: Let’s hold off on the rail privatisation and go back to Corbyn for a second. What does it mean to have someone like Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader?

SH: First of all, I should say that our union is not affiliated to the Labour Party. We’re not affiliated because we’ve been through a process where we actually got thrown out for supporting socialist candidates in Scotland. We’re now considering re-affiliation, and the only reason why we are considering re-affiliation is because we have hope that Corbyn can lead the party in the right direction. There are still many people within our union who are very suspicious, because they see Corbyn and the leadership as a minority within the Parliamentary Labour Party.

RV: When there were all these attacks from the media and from within the Labour Party against Corbyn two summers ago, there was a slogan “Defend Corbyn! Fight for socialism!”. Can you explain what this slogan entails?

SH: I think that Corbyn, for the first time in some 30 years, has broken the neoliberal consensus between the two parties, he’s pushing left-wing social-democratic ideas. He’s not talking about socialism in the sense that we would understand it, that we take the commanding heights of the economy and seize the means of production. But he is talking of what we could call 1970s social-democracy, which was a far better system than the neoliberal system we’re living in at the moment. So we would support Corbyn so far as he’s going to push those policies, and as a union we encourage our members to take part in their local Labour Party branches, to support Corbyn and McDonnell.

Jeremy Corbyn speaks in a NCAFC picket against education cuts and fees (Photo: NCAFC)

RV: The fact that Corbyn is viewed as such a radical, isn’t it also a testament to how far to the right the consensus has moved?

SH: Indeed. If you look back at the consensus after the war, the Conservatives were in favour of national ownership of railway and utilities. Not for any particular ideological reason, just because it made business sense that all those revenues would go into the budget. Then starting off in the late 70s we had neoliberalism, adopted in this country from the Chicago school of economics, we had basically a robbery of the national purse by rich individuals, and politicians who were supporting those rich individuals. That’s what we had, a period of people enriching themselves from the system, that’s neoliberalism in a nutshell.

That wasn’t the consensus until about the late 70s, early 80s. The turnaround came because of the defeat of a major struggle in this country, the miners’ strike, and in an international context where the Soviet Union was no longer the force it had been, so there was no ideological opposition either.

RV: And why is this consensus breaking down now?

SH: That consensus is now breaking down because people are not seeing their lives get better, their children’s lives are not getting better. We’ve now got job insecurity, millions of people are in precarious jobs, nearly a million people are using food banks. The majority of these are actually employed people, it’s just poorly paid employment.

There’s also a housing crisis. Walking past King’s Cross station you can see people lying on the streets. This is the fifth richest country in the world, I believe, and we can’t even house people. There are thousands of people on the streets. Young people have to stay in the house now until they are 30, 35 years of age before they can move out, because there’s no affordable housing. The position of the average person in this country has got worse and worse over the past 10, 15 years. That’s why there’s now a resurgence in socialist and social-democratic ideas.

RV: But while there is this resurgence of socialist ideas, the media, even those supposedly on the left like The Guardian, keep lobbying for a Macron-type centrist or giving a platform to Tony Blair. What do you think of that?

SH: Well, The Guardian is not a left-wing paper, it’s a liberal paper. They’re slightly to the left of the mainstream capitalist class and they act as a good shield for them and their policies. Even when Labour was a little bit left-wing in the 1980s the Guardian attacked them and supported the right-wing breakaway, which was the Social Democratic Party. But the mainstream media have not got the power that they once had in this country. They’ve still got a huge sway, there’s no two ways about that, but I think the internet and other electronic/alternative media have made it so that the mainstream media can no longer dictate to people like they used to. When people’s reality conflicts so deeply with what they’re being told in the media it jars people into having their own thoughts.

RV: Let’s go more in detail into the issue of trade unions. This neoliberal dogma has also seen a relentless attack against trade unionism. Can you talk about these attacks, and of legislation such as the Trade Union Act of 2016?

SH: The attacks have been coming since 1979, with the election of the Thatcher government, and they’ve increased in severity, particularly since the crisis of capitalism and the meltdown of the banks and financial institutions. This has meant a long period of austerity, where people’s living standards have fallen. I think it’s one of the longest recorded periods where people’s living standards have got continually worse.

This has led to a situation where even moderate trade unions have been forced to defend their members. The government, to stop that fightback and that resistance to their policies, has brought in new anti-trade union laws. In our own industry we now have two stipulations to meet after this latest legislation. The first stipulation is that for a ballot to be valid, 50% of the people that are entitled to vote have to vote.

For example, imagine a workplace with 100 people, if 49 people vote for action, and no one votes against it, then that ballot is not valid. If 49 people vote “Yes” and one person votes “No” then it is valid. That’s the kind of nonsense that we deal with. The second stipulation is that even when do get a 50% vote, then 40% of people have to vote “Yes”. Thus in this scenario you could have a situation where 39 people vote “Yes”, 30 vote “No”, which is nearly two-thirds participation, but still that would be ruled as an invalid ballot. That’s the reasoning behind it, they want to stop people struggling and fighting back against their economic policies.

RV: In effect they are imposing barriers on democracy inside unions…

SH: Absolutely. If they imposed the same barriers, the same stipulations upon themselves, there would be very few MPs left. There certainly wouldn’t be any local councillors left! But obviously they want to attack the institutions of the working class, they want to attack the trade unions, because they’re frightened that they will disrupt their economic policies.

“The Hand That Will Rule the World” by Ralph Chaplin in the IWW magazine Solidarity (1917)

RV: And is there any pledge from Corbyn and his team on how they would act regarding this legislation?

SH: Yes, Corbyn has said that he’s going to scrap the anti-trade union laws, all of them. That’s a really good aspiration; however, I’m not sure if the rest of the Parliamentary Labour Party would agree with him. They’re probably very happy to see them in place…

RV: They are responsible for some of them!

SH: Indeed, yes! One of the analogies we’ve been giving and I think is useful is the following: we can stand on the sidelines and shout “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!“, or we can get on the pitch and start playing, because if we become re-affiliated to the Labour Party we can support the Corbyn movement within the party, the constituencies, and the councils, get people there that are worthy of the name Labour politicians.

RV: In other words, move the struggle forward not just in parliament but also outside…

SH: Exactly. It’s always going to be a dual strategy, even if we had a Corbyn government. There’s no way that our union is going to lie down and accept that our members are going to have to sacrifice for anybody else. We will always be pushing that the bosses, not the workers, be the ones to make the sacrifices. We will push the Corbyn vehicle as far as we can and, if we reach a point where it’s no longer a suitable vehicle for us, then we’ll get out of it and get another one, or take over the vehicle!

RV: Let’s go back to the issue of privatisation. If you look up today any mainstream media outlet, any “responsible” policy maker will tell you that the services and utilities are better run and more efficient in the hands of the private sector. From your experience with the British rail, what’s your take on this issue?

SH: Well, in 2010 the Labour government commissioned a report called the “McNulty Report”.1 This study said that the privatised system was claiming more than three times the subsidies that nationalised system had. We have the highest fares in Europe, we have immense customer dissatisfaction with the system right now. After it was first privatised we even had a period with a series of rail accidents that killed many people. I think that privatisation has been an absolute disaster.

We have the French, Dutch, German national rail companies all making money from the British system, they’re shareholders making profits from the British rail operation. For example, you had the German department for transport issuing a statement where they clearly admitted that they were subsidising fares in Germany from the profits that they were raising in Britain! But we’re told that the British government can’t have a national railway in this country, they must be the only government in Europe that can’t make money from the British system! It’s an incredible position.

Greater Anglia picket line at Ipswich on Jan 10 for strike over safety and keeping the guard on the train (Photo: RMT)

RV: There have been some RMT strikes in the recent past. There was a strike on the Virgin Trains, there was a strike on new year’s eve, and there’s the issue of driver-only operated trains. Can you give us an overview of the current struggles in this sector?

SH: To increase the profits, the private companies, with the help of the government, are trying to get rid of guards from the trains and station staff. This has major impacts. There’s a safety impact, because if there’s a problem on a train or an emergency, the guards are in charge of safety on the train. They evacuate the train in an emergency, get people to safety, turn off all the electric components, make sure that there are no trains running anywhere near that train, etc., and that’s the first aspect of it.

The second aspect of it is accessibility, particularly for disabled people. Unless there’s a guard, they find it very difficult to get on and off the train. We have a situation now in Southern Rail where disabled people have to book their tickets 48h in advance if they want to be escorted on and off the train, we find this to be a clear discrimination. So for those reasons we’re opposing it. Obviously there are jobs involved, we want to keep jobs. Stations are being de-staffed, not major stations but smaller ones, with staff there only during peak times, so we’ve had situations with disabled people left stranded at stations. Those are the main two reasons why we’re opposing driver-only operated trains.

RV: In the face of these attacks against unions and privatisation of services, is there also some responsibility from some union leaders in accepting these changes too easily? For example, the role of ASLEF in the driver-only operated trains…

SH: The ASLEF leadership have been absolutely appalling, a glaring example of collaboration with management. The TUC, ASLEF and the management of Southern Rail met up2, in a meeting of which we were excluded, and tried to stitch up a deal. They tried to do a deal which affected our members, the guards, because they don’t have negotiating rights for the guards. And they twice put that to a referendum to their members, and it was twice rejected. So it was a humiliating process for the leadership of the TUC and ASLEF. It was third time lucky for them, the third time came with a huge “bribe”, a multi-year pay deal which gave their drivers a 28.5% raise, and unfortunately on that occasion the drivers accepted it. But both the TUC and the ASLEF leaderships played an absolutely treacherous role in this whole process.

RV: But this is a common strategy, right? Of trying to divide the union movement? This also happened during the miners’ strike.

SH: It’s a common strategy, but it also has to do with what kind of union you are. We’re an industrial union, we organise everybody from the person who makes the sandwiches, to the person who cleans the train, to the person who cleans the stations, the guard, the driver, the signaller, the technician, everyone. Unions like ASLEF are craft unions, they believe they are labour aristocrats, they’re only interested in getting money, and terms and conditions for their own members, even if it means selling out their workmates.

RMT campaign to keep the guard on the train

RV: This will be a very obvious question, but I assume you’re in favour of (re-)nationalising rail?

SH: Absolutely. We want re-nationalised rail, but we don’t just want to go back to the old system of British Rail. We want democratic control and accountability. We want workers to be a genuine part of the decision-making process, together with elected individuals from the community and transport groups and obviously members of Network Rail, or a similar public body, which would be accountable to the public and not just to a government bureaucrat. We don’t want to go back to the top-down system of British Rail that took strategic decisions without consulting with the communities and the people that it was supposed to serve. We want a democratic system, one that’s decided upon after full negotiation and consultation with the trade unions and the passengers.

RV: And this was in the Labour manifesto?

SH: The nationalisation of rail is in the manifesto, but not in this form. Not yet!

RV: One final question, concerning strikes. Whenever you read about strikes, they are constantly demonised in the media. You hear that strikers are “creating unnecessary disruption”, or that they “don’t care about commuters”. How do you react when you see these portrayals? What do you tell people?

SH: Well, first of all, no one wants to go on strike. 99.9% of people would rather go to work and earn a day’s money because they don’t get paid when they go on strike. Strikes are always a last resort, when the negotiations are finished, when we’re not making any progress negotiating. Or when management are pretending to negotiate with us on one hand, and implementing the policies that we are opposed to at the same time. So it’s like trying to negotiate with a crocodile while your head is in the crocodile’s mouth! You’ve got to first struggle and get your head free, and then you can negotiate. Because otherwise you’re going to be eaten!

That’s what we’ve got to get through to the public. Of course, the press are run by the capitalist class or the government, they are opposed to everything we do. They hate us particularly as a union because we’re a militant, class-conscious union, and everything we do is going to be pilloried and demonised. But that’s part of the territory, we expect that.

• First published in Investig’Action

  1. This report, called “Realising the Potential of GB Rail”, was commissioned by the Labour government of Gordon Brown in February 2010. The Conservative Party won the election in May 2010 and endorsed the study, which would be published in May 2011. See here for a summary report and here for the full study.
  2. The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) is a trade union representing train drivers. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) is a federation of trade unions in England and Wales. Southern Railway is one of the multiple private rail companies operating in the UK.

Electoral Politics in America, Noam Chomsky, and the Core Commitments of the Enlightenment

Noam Chomsky

John Halle is the Director of Studies in Music Theory and Practice at Bard College. He joined the faculty of Bard after serving for seven years in the music department at Yale University. As an active composer and theorist, his scholarship focuses on connections between the mental representation of language and music. Halle is also known for his political writings and collaboration with Noam Chomsky. Along with Chomsky, he co-authored, An Eight Point Brief for LEV (Lesser Evil Voting), a widely read essay, in the summer of 2016. [See also “An Eight Point Brief for Voting to Avoid Corporate Evil.”]

In this interview, John Halle explains the need to engage in electoral politics while maintaining a high level of skepticism for the paternalistic elites found in both dominant political parties. Further, Halle makes observations of how those on the left can more adequately reevaluate their relationship with activism, protest and revolution. Halle explains how this all can fit into creating a viable and workable policy agenda that can be moved forward until legitimate alternatives are presented. Many of these ideas culminate from his writings with Chomsky.

Daniel Falcone: Should people be more engaged in electoral politics now with the Trump Administration in office? Many have been reluctant to do so in the past. Here, I’m basically expressing the need to strategically vote against Republicans. What are your thoughts?

John Halle: Yes, the Trump Administration should have created an atmosphere and necessity for people to engage in electoral politics even if they may have been reluctant to do so in the past. Consider the catastrophe we are dealing with now: 1) a resurgent, nativist, proto-fascist far right, 2) the EPA and departments of Interior and Energy under control of climate change denialists, 3) the chipping away of an already harshly austere safety net, 4) a budget which will still further tilt the balance of taxation in favor of the super-rich while imposing increased burdens on the poor, 5) the elimination of the CFPB increasing the likelihood of a financial crisis, 6) the crazed foreign policy saber rattling, possibly resulting in a nuclear confrontation. All of this was predictable and predicted. Unfortunately, many of those who were in a position to head it off chose not to listen.

Of course, part of the reason why the lesser evil vote was required was due to particularly unsatisfactory choices during this election cycle. But obtaining candidates worth voting for and not merely against requires going beyond protest to designing and implementing a specific strategy. Elements of the left for many took for granted John Holloway’s formulation to “change the world without taking power.” Insofar as the Clinton and Trump forced choice was a consequence of this kind of “above it all passivity,” which the academic left is particularly susceptible to, my hope would be that this atmosphere has changed. I’m not convinced however, certain promising tendencies aside, that it has.

DF: Can you give me your take on the recent “controversy” whereby Noam Chomsky criticized antifa and then faced some pretty irrational critiques in the aftermath? What was exactly taking place here?

JH: Chomsky’s criticism of antifa is no more than a reassertion of core commitments which go back decades, in his case, to traditional enlightenment views on basic civil and human rights, non-violence, and free speech. I agree with the characterization of the responses to him as “irrational” though even when superficially rational, they often demonstrate a profound unfamiliarity with the position they claim to be criticizing, or explicitly repudiating through their form of “activism.”

Why is this, the case? It is a complex question. I’d point to a couple of factors in attempting to answer it: 1) support of civil liberties and pragmatic commitment to non-violence, while more influential then was not necessarily dominant during the sixties. In particular, as Chomsky has noted, the Weather Underground and their many sympathizers adopted assumptions and rhetoric close, if not identical to, that of antifa. Chomsky argued against them back then and was denounced as a “liberal” and “sellout” for doing so. Given that many of Weather’s leaders, e.g. Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, remain in circulation, and are lionized as wise elders on programs like Democracy Now!, it stands to reason that their rejection of civil rights and non-violence have credibility among the left. They played a major role in destroying the anti-war movement and it’s apparent to most movement veterans. But this understanding has apparently not made it across the generational divide.

A second factor applies to antifa activists who, as referenced in the first question, either acted on or argued for the “Bernie or Bust” and “Never Hillary” position. As this was based on what can only be called delusions, e.g. that Trump was the “Peace Candidate,” compared to the “warmonger” Clinton, and that he would “take on Wall Street;” or that, at worst, he would “be only a little different.” It’s understandable that they want to obscure their own complicity through high dudgeon rhetoric and theatrical displays of cartoon violence (e.g. “Nazi punching”).

Of course, as Chomsky has argued, this reaction is likely to foment rather than inhibit the growth of the far right. But it is not clear to me or to Chomsky that the consequences of their actions, is their primary concern. For them it seems rather that activism functions primarily as a form of personal self-expression for which the likely consequences are secondary, as it was for the Weather Underground. Some, most notably Mark Rudd, are now willing to admit this.

DF: It seems in many instances that since the two dominant parties have been close to identical in several ways for so long that activists are still holding onto this concept even when it appears that the current GOP doesn’t represent a political party. Can you comment on this?

JH: Even when the differences appear slight, as has sometimes been the case, small differences can often have a major impact on the quality of life of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors of the population. On these grounds it’s hard to see the justification for not achieving the “least-worst outcome.” That said, since the Bush II administration, the Republican Party has become “the most dangerous organization in human history.” As such, the logic for preventing them from assuming power has been overwhelming, so it hardly seems necessary to make the lesser evil argument, though no doubt it will still be required.

It should be mentioned that the above assumes a particular view of electoral politics, namely as an act in which one engages, or not, with more or less predictable consequences. The position which Chomsky and I took was that on these grounds, it and we, should be judged on what these consequences are on others.

As referenced above, much of the left takes a contrary view, regarding elections as a form of bearing moral witness. According to this logic, advocated by Chris Hedges and David Swanson among others, the lesser of two evils is still evil. Making a choice between them thereby constitutes “complicity with evil.”

We believe this view is mistaken for reasons suggested in the piece and likely had disastrous consequences.

DF: Can you comment on the concepts of lesser than evil voting and strategic voting. I would personally like to engage in electoral politics and always keep activist type work primary. At the same time I realize it need not be a zero sum game. Do you consider the left having difficulty with the zero sum game?

JH: My experience as a local official was that electoral politics served as a positive sum game in several respects. One is that holding office carries with it the ability to communicate with constituents. Doing so establishes connections with those outside of the normal activist networks which engage only a small fraction of the population. Mobilizing many of those who would not be otherwise inclined to do so enabled more people to participate in the “activist type work” necessary to advance a left agenda.

Related to this, winning office confers credibility not just on the candidate but on the candidate’s agenda. Conversely, losing campaigns, particularly unserious “symbolic” candidacies are regarded (to some degree correctly) as a reflection of the lack of a constituency for the agenda. For this reason, I’ve long held the view the left should invest in winning campaigns and what is required. Fortunately, in the wake of the Sanders campaign and in the post Sanders mobilization I find I don’t have to make the argument anymore, or at least when I do I’m not talking to a wall.

DF: What are your thoughts on third parties? Is this a feasible option or can any party, become totally transformed from within? How important is it (if it is) to work within the system when it is so failed?

JH: Having won office twice as a third party local official, I’m favorable to them. At the same time I agree with NNU’s Michael Lighty that parties should not be fetishized. They should be seen as a tactic to achieve concrete political ends, not as an end in themselves. That the two can conflict should be apparent from the example of the European Greens who once in office became junior partners in the imposition of neoliberal austerity, their leader Joschka Fisher, signing off on the bombing of Kosovo. Odd that many leftists here profess faith that Jill Stein would be better. But on what grounds should she be believed more than any other lying politician? Confronting Greens with this invariably elicits an embarrassed, silence or a stream of obscenities.

The proper role for political parties is as a tool to advance a policy agenda. Ideally, candidates should both derive from movements and there should be mechanisms to ensure that they are responsive to them. Insofar as building a party is done at the expense of that, that’s a recipe for failure.

On “Independence”: Catalonia, Kurdistan, North Korea and Latin America

Alessandro Biancchi:  Self-determination of peoples and respect for the borders and sovereignty of a country. This is of the most complicated issue for international law. How can it be articulated for the case of Catalonia?

Andre Vltchek: Personally, I’m not very enthusiastic about smaller nations forming their own states, particularly those in the West, where they would, after gaining ‘independence’, remain in the alliances that are oppressing and plundering the entire world: like NATO or the European Union.

Clearly, the breaking of the great country of Yugoslavia into small pieces was a hostile, evil design by the West, and particularly of Germany and Austria. The dissolution of Czechoslovakia after the so-called “Velvet Revolution” was a total idiocy.

But Catalonia (or Basque Country), if it became independent, would become one of the richest parts of Europe. I don’t think it would have any great positive or negative impact on the rest of the world. As an internationalist, I don’t really care if they are separate from Spain or not, or whether they are even richer than they already are, as I care much more about what is happening in places such as Afghanistan, Venezuela or North Korea.

On the other hand, the way Spain has now behaved in Catalonia, after the referendum, is a total disgrace. They decided to treat the Catalan people in the same way as Indonesians have been treating Papuans for decades. If this continues, it will all reach the point of no return: reconciliation will become impossible. You cannot start sexually harassing women and then break their fingers, one by one, just because they want to have their own state. You cannot injure hundreds of innocent people, who simply don’t want to be governed from Madrid. That’s absurd and thoroughly sick! Of course, Spain used to commit holocausts all over what is now called Latin America, so it is ‘in their blood’. But I don’t think Catalans will allow this to be done to them.

What about the constitution of Spain? Look, there should be nothing sacred about constitutions. In the West, they were written to protect the interests of the ruling classes. When they get outdated, they should be moderated, or totally rewritten. If Catalans or Basques want their independence, if they really want it, if it is so important for them, then why not – they should have it. Spain is not a ‘people’s country’. It is an oppressive Western bully. I would have a totally different position if some part of Bolivia or China were to try to secede.

AB: Different situation and different reality. Another issue of fundamental international concern in this period is the referendum of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is likely to become the new fuse ready to explode in that area. Would it be the new Israel in the Middle East as someone has affirmed?

AV: Well, that is really a very serious issue. I have worked in the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq already twice, even on the ‘border’ with Mosul, and what I saw there I did not like at all!

It is clearly a ‘client’ state of the West, of Turkey and to some extent, Israel. It is shamelessly capitalist, taking land from its own people, cheating them, just in order to pump and refine huge quantities of oil. It treats Syrian refugees like animals, forcing them to make anti-Assad statements. It is turning ancient Erbil into some bizarre shopping mall with nothing public in sight. Its military top brass is mainly US/UK-trained and indoctrinated. And it provokes Baghdad, day and night.

I really strongly disliked what I saw there. If Iraqi Kurds were allowed to have their ‘independence’, the impact on the region would be huge and certainly negative. Baghdad should not allow it, even at the cost of an armed confrontation.

AB: Coming to the question of the moment: the nuclear escalation in North Korea and a possible escalation of war on the Korean peninsula. What is your opinion about Kim’s strategy and what are the real risks?

AV: There is only one real ‘risk’ and danger: that the world is quickly accepting as inevitable the fact that the Western thuggish regimes can get away with absolutely anything. I see no other serious problem that the world today is facing.

What is Kim’s strategy? To defend his people by all means, against the brutal force that has already murdered millions of men, women and children of Korea. That brutal force is the West and its allies. It is all very simple, but only if one is willing to turn off the BBC and to use his or her own brain, it becomes ‘obvious’.

AB: According to many, for Pyongyang the nuclear bomb is becoming more and more vital because it is increasingly feared that the country will end up like Iraq and Libya. Do you not believe that the sanctions of the United Nations are therefore totally ineffective and counterproductive because they fuel this escalation?

AV: Of course, but they [sanctions] are still imposed on the victim! It is because almost no one dares to laugh straight in the faces of Western demagogues and dictators. The world resembles the areas occupied by the Nazi Germany and Italy and Japan during the WWII. There, nobody would dare to vote independently, defending victims of fascism.

AB: The US Federation of Science (FAS) estimates that in 2017 North Korea has “fissile material to potentially produce 10 to 20 nuclear warheads” even if it is strongly suspected that none can be considered ready for launch. The US possesses 6,800 nuclear heads. The French and British (respectively 300 and 215 respectively) included, NATO’s nuclear forces have 7,315 nuclear warheads, of which 2,200 are ready to launch, compared to 7,000 held by the Russians, of which 1,950 are ready to launch. With Chinese (270), Pakistani (120-130), Indian (110-120) and Israeli (80), the total number of nuclear warheads is estimated to be around 15,000 by default. The West is a nuclear oligopoly that can only create an escalation with those who feel threatened, and so the threatened search to procure them. Is North Korea the only source of nuclear threat to the world, as it seems in the mainstream media?

AV: Of course, North Korea is no threat at all. I have already spoken about it during countless televised interviews. I visited North Korea and mingled with its people. There, nobody wants war. The North Korean people paid a terrible price for their independence. Its civilians were murdered mercilessly in tunnels by Western forces; its women were brutally raped, entire villages and towns leveled to the ground, or burned to ashes. All this is never discussed in the West, but is remembered in North Korea.

Now, absolutely shameless British propaganda is ‘preparing’ the world public for the ‘inevitability’ of the war. You know, if someone in this day and age still believes that the United States is the only culprit, he or she is perhaps living in some deep isolated trench or a cave. Indoctrination and brainwashing is mainly designed, ‘Made in Europe’, most evidently in the UK, where most of the people have already lost all their ability to think rationally. The British colonialist propaganda apparatus is terribly sinister, but strategically it is simply brilliant! It was utilized for centuries, and it even succeeded in ‘programming’ the brains of the victims in the sub-Continent, Africa and elsewhere.

Of course, your numbers are correct and all that is happening is thoroughly absurd! But day and night people are told that North Korea represents a true danger to the world. The same was said about the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan and many other countries. Most of these countries have already been destroyed.

North Korea’s sin is that it refuses to surrender, to fall on its knees, to sacrifice its people. It refuses to become a slave. For centuries, European and later US colonialism punished such defiance in the most brutal ways. Western culture is, after all, based and built on slavery. It demands absolute compliance, unconditional submission.

If North Korea is attacked, it should fight back! And it will.

AB: The United Nations adopted the important Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July. The United Nations is often used (in alternate ways and countries): this Treaty is ignored by all nuclear powers, including by members of NATO with US nuclear weapons (including Italy). NATO has banned member states from ratifying it. Can the West have a moralist attitude to those who pursue a deterrent in order not to not end up like Saddam and Gaddafi?

AV: The West is like an army of brigands that has managed to overrun some city, to rape everything that moves, burn the center, loot houses and shops and then execute all leading thinkers and defenders. A few days later they see someone stealing a bunch of bananas from a fruit stall. And they catch him, and judge him, and feel totally morally righteous. It is all so comical! But that is not how you are supposed to see it!

AB: Russia and China (with Iran, Venezuela and many other countries) are intensifying de-dollarization in their mutual exchanges. Does it envisage a gradual weakening of the dollar capable of affecting international finance and what geopolitical repercussions?

AV: Yes, definitely! And you should talk about it to my friend, Peter Koenig, a true dissident, a former economist at the World Bank, who is now actually advising many countries on de-dollarization.

US dollars should not be used anymore. Western institutions should be ignored. Totally new structures should be, and are being erected. China and Russia are, of course, in the lead. All this is extremely important and can change the world, in the near future.

AB: Venezuela, with the convening of the Constituent Assembly, turned off the coup attempts of the opposition. In Brazil Lula is favored in polls, while in Argentina the former President Cristina Fernandez is back in the Senate with strong popular support. So it was not the end of the progressive cycle, as the mainstream has for years stated?

AV: Of course, it was not the end! The desire of Latin Americans to live in just and egalitarian societies is too strong; it cannot be destroyed overnight.

There were some serious setbacks – in Argentina and Brazil. And Venezuela is suffering immensely, battered by its own shameless elites sponsored from abroad. But the country is still standing.

In Brazil, Temer is immensely unpopular. His ‘constitutional coup’ will soon backfire. PT will be back, in its old form or in a new one. And it will be much stronger than before. The same goes for Argentina. You see, despite all the media manipulation, propaganda and shameless lies, people are already realizing that they were fooled. They want some decency back, they want socialism and pride and hope! They want true independence.

In two weeks from now I’m going back to South America. My book of essays is being published by LOM, soon, and LOM is a very important left-wing publishing house in Chile. These days I go back to South America often. It is one of the frontlines, battlegrounds, where people struggle against Western imperialism and its lackeys!

These are very important, fascinating times! I have just published my latest book, about The Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917, in Russia. Its legacy is now relevant, more than ever before in history. It gave birth to internationalism, and internationalism is the only movement, which can still save the world, and which can defeat Western nihilism and its barefaced, cynical pillage of the planet!