Category Archives: Poverty

Land in South Africa Shall Be Shared Among Those Who Work It

Sbongile Tabhethe works in the food garden at eKhenana land occupation in Cato Manor, Durban, 9 June 2020. Credit: New Frame / Mlungisi Mbele

In March 2022, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres warned of a ‘hurricane of hunger’ due to the war in Ukraine. Forty-five developing countries, most of them on the African continent, he said, ‘import at least a third of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia, with 18 of those import[ing] at least 50 percent’. Russia and Ukraine export 33% of global barley stocks, 29% of wheat, 17% of corn, and nearly 80% of the world’s supply of sunflower oil. Farmers outside of Russia and Ukraine, trying to make up for the lack of exports, are now struggling with higher fuel prices also caused by the war. Fuel prices impact both the cost of chemical fertilisers and farmers’ ability to grow their own crops. Maximo Torero Cullen, chief economist at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, said that ‘one of every five calories people eat have crossed at least one international border, up more than 50 percent from 40 years ago’. This turbulence in the global food trade will certainly create a problem for nutrition and food intake, particularly amongst the poorest people on the planet.

Poorer countries do not have many tools to stem the tide of hunger, largely due to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules that privilege subsidy regimes for richer countries but punish poorer ones if they use state action on behalf of their own farmers and the hungry. A recent report by no less than the WTO, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development provided evidence of these subsidy advantages from which wealthier countries benefit. At the 12th WTO ministerial conference in mid-June, the G-33 countries will seek to expand the use of the ‘peace clause’ (established in 2013) to allow poorer countries to protect their farmers’ livelihoods through the state procurement of food and enhanced public food distribution systems.

Two young girls return to their homes after drawing water from a stream that the farm dwelling community shares with wild animals, 29 July 2020.
Credit: New Frame / Magnificent Mndebele

Those who grow our food are hungry, yet, stunningly, there is little conversation about the poverty and hunger of farmers, peasants, and agricultural workers themselves. More than 3.4 billion people – nearly half the world’s population – live in rural areas; amongst them are 80% of the world’s poor. For most of the rural poor, agriculture is the principal source of income, providing billions of jobs. Rural poverty is reproduced not because people do not work hard, but because of the dispossession of rural workers from land ownership and the withdrawal of state support from small farmers and peasants.

Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research (South Africa) has been paying very close attention to the plight of farmworkers in the region as part of our overall project to monitor the ‘hurricane of hunger’. Our most recent dossier, This Land Is the Land of Our Ancestors, is a fine-grained study of farmworkers from their own perspective. Researcher Yvonne Phyllis travelled from KwaZulu-Natal to the Western and Northern Cape provinces interviewing farmworkers and their organisations to learn about the failures of land reform in South Africa and its impact on their lives. This is one of the few dossiers that begins in the first person, reflecting the intimate nature of politics surrounding the land issue in South Africa. ‘What does the land mean to you?’, I asked Yvonne while we were together in Johannesburg recently. She answered:

I grew up on a farm in Bedford, in the Eastern Cape province. My upbringing gifted me some of the best lessons of my life. One lesson was from the community of farmworkers and farm dwellers; they taught me the value of being in community with other people. They also taught me what it means to nurture and cultivate land and how to make my own meaning of what land is to me. Those lessons have informed my personal beliefs about the nature of land. All people deserve to live from the land. Land is not only important because we can produce from it; it forms part of people’s histories, humanity, and cultural heritage.

Six generations of the Phyllis family have lived in this house and worked on this farm. Credit: New Frame / Andy Mkosi

The process of colonialism by Dutch (Boer) and British settlers dispossessed African farmers and converted them into either landless workers, unpaid labour tenants, or the rural unemployed. This process was hardened by the Native Land Act (no. 27 of 1913), whose legacy continues to be felt today. Seventeen-year-old composer Reuben Caluza (1895–1969) responded to the law with his ‘Umteto we Land Act’ (‘The Land Act’), which became one of the first anthems of the liberation movement in the country:

The right which our compatriots fought for
Our cry for the nation
is to have our country
We cry for the homeless
sons of our fathers
Who do not have a place
in this place of our ancestors

The Freedom Charter (1955) of the African National Congress (ANC) and its allies promised those who struggled against apartheid, which formally ended in 1994, that ‘The land shall be shared among those who work it’. This promise was alluded to again in the 1996 South African Constitution, chapter 2, section 25.5, but it excludes explicit mention of farmworkers.

This is the site of the ancestral graveyard of the Phyllis family on which Yvonne’s father Jacob and their family worked, 6 June 2021. Credit: New Frame / Andy Mkosi

In fact, right from the 1993 Interim Constitution, the new post-apartheid system defended the rights of farm owners through a ‘property clause’ in chapter 2, section 28. Differences within the ANC led to the abandonment of the more progressive Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) in favour of the neoliberal Growth, Employment, and Redistribution (GEAR) strategy – a self-imposed structural adjustment programme. What this meant was that there were simply insufficient political will and state funds allocated for the land restitution, land tenure reform, and land redistribution programmes. As our dossier notes, to this day the promises of the Freedom Charter ‘have yet to be fulfilled’.

Rather than expropriate land from the primarily white land-owning class to compensate for historical injustices, the state provides for compensation to landowners and operates on the principle of ‘willing buyer, willing seller’. Bureaucratic red tape and a lack of funds have sabotaged any genuine land reform project. In his 2014 Ruth First Lecture, Irvin Jim, general secretary of the largest trade union in the country, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), noted that the centenary of the 1913 Land Act was not commemorated by the government but only by the militant strike by farmworkers in 2012 and 2013. ‘The strike is still fresh in our memories’, Jim said. ‘It continues to highlight the colonial historical fact that the land, and the produce that comes from it, are not being equitably shared among those who work the land’. Due to the neoliberal orientation of the land question, some of the programmes set up for restitution and redistribution have ended up benefitting large landholders over subsistence farmers and lifelong farmworkers.

Former labourers Freeda Mkhabela, Lucia Foster, and Gugu Ngubane (from left to right) are among the activists struggling against landlessness as well as poor pay and working conditions and for better treatment of farmworkers, 26 May 2021. Credit: New Frame / Mlungisi Mbele

A genuine agrarian reform project in South Africa would not only meet the cries for justice from the land but would also provide a pathway to deal with the hunger crisis in the countryside. Our dossier ends with a six-point list of demands developed from our conversations with farmworkers and their organisations:

  1. The government of South Africa must consult farmworkers and farm dwellers to incorporate their contributions into the development of a land reform programme which addresses their land needs.
  2. Labour tenants’ claims to land ownership should be given priority in order to avoid land reform that solely enriches Black elites.
  3. The Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development should facilitate the process of white farm owners apportioning some of their farmland to lifetime employees and descendants of families who have worked on farms for several generations.
  4. The government must purchase farms for farmworkers and assist them with capital for start-up costs, farming equipment, and agricultural skills.
  5. Land reform in South Africa must take into account the social factors that contribute to food insecurity and acknowledge the opportunities to rectify it through land redistribution.
  6. The process of land reform must address the marginalisation of women workers in the agricultural industry and the lack of land ownership by women farmers to ensure gender parity in both spheres.

Loo ngumhlaba wookhokho bethu! This is the land of our ancestors! That’s the slogan that gives our dossier its title. It is about time that those who work the land get to own the land.

The post Land in South Africa Shall Be Shared Among Those Who Work It first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Imperialism Cannot Solve Our Problems

In learning more about the Poor People’s Campaign Moral March on Washington set for June 18th, I came across this statement by Bishop William Barber, the campaign’s national co-chair:

Republicans say poverty is just a personal failure. And Democrats too often talk about the working class and those trying to make it into the middle class but refuse to talk expressly about poverty. Our debates are locked in struggles around and about trickle-down concepts of neoliberalism, and middle-class considerations.

He concluded that the country’s refusal to address poverty is “the basic moral contradiction” of our time.

I have to admit that I initially bristled at the idea of a “moral contradiction” because, as a non-religious person, that language sometimes raises red flags for me. But I began to think about how Marxists talk about the concept of contradiction.

What is a contradiction? All social phenomena contain contradictions. Contradictions aren’t simply accidents but essential features of what those objects are. For example, the U.S. is a society that describes itself as free and touts its wealth but is plagued by the poison of white supremacy and male supremacy. The constitutional system grants due process, but cops kill and beat thousands of people each year. It has 142 million people living in dire poverty or one paycheck, one health crisis, or one disaster away from financial desperation. More than 52 million workers earn less than $15 per hour and often can’t meet their basic needs.

U.S. leaders and capitalists brag about advanced technology, such as medical technology and knowledge. Still, they couldn’t prevent the loss of 1 million lives from COVID or 100,000 opioid overdose deaths, or 46,000 deaths from guns. We wring our hands while little change takes place. We wonder why we never see these things coming and constantly react only after so many people have been harmed.

Political leaders boast about an advanced educational system but cannot provide it free or at a reasonable cost to the mass of working-class people. Decades-long debt peonage is the best choice we have. As illiteracy grows and workers score poorly on tests that measure competence with mathematics and language, politicians cut school and university budgets.

These are essential contradictions that define the U.S. as a social formation. They aren’t just bad choices made by an otherwise just society.

This reality shapes how I read Barber’s comments. “Moral contradiction” causes one of the major political parties to demand the state control women’s bodies by banning safe abortions claiming the human rights of unborn fetuses. But then, the next day, it votes as a bloc against immediate steps to remedy a baby formula shortage. A baby formula shortage! They will demand pregnant women register themselves to track births and punish abortions but refuse to consider gun registration. The Republicans and fascists built a morally bankrupt political platform. But the moral contradictions of the capitalist market economy, which they cherish even above life itself, are central pillars of the whole system. Abortion, gun violence, and baby formula are just the most recent plain examples.

Contradictions

Why do we care about contradictions like this? Social systems change and develop based on how social and class forces address these contradictions and turn a system into a new substance. Many capitalists and their sympathizers see contradictions as mere inconsistencies or glitches. Reformers want to fix these glitches and bring our “values” back into alignment with our actions. Or, they want to mend these problems by creating philanthropic or socially innovative programs that help out the poor but leave the system intact.

Billionaires and fascists have different ideas about resolving contradictions. Think of Elon Musk’s recent embrace of the Republican Party and its fascist platform. He is mad that the government continues to investigate his suspicious financial activities, and he is afraid unions will weaken his absolute power in his companies. He wants state power that he can personally bend to his will to help him get over his emotional problems. He wants more power to resolve contradictions through coercion and legal force.

Imperialism uses war to resolve contradictions. Consider the U.S. government’s drive to perpetuate or expand the war in Ukraine. It manufactures images of Russian human rights abuses—some of which are undoubtedly true. But the U.S. record of torture, mass killings, destroying civilians, racist mass incarceration, assassinations, political interventions, and hybrid wars on a global scale, in just the past two decades, embarrass even people like Henry Kissinger, among the vilest of abusers. George W. Bush’s recent verbal slip wasn’t just a gaffe.

Though immoral, these aren’t simply moral inconsistencies. They are contradictions that comprise the structure of U.S. capitalism and its political system. Its capitalist class, on the whole, believes that it must maintain these structural forms of power if the U.S. is to keep its hegemonic position in the imperialist world system. In simple terms, these contradictions make the U.S. what it is as a country. This structure drives us from war crisis to economic crisis to health crisis and back all the way around again. So far, our only means of psychological survival has been self-induced amnesia. Forgetting, like self-medication, eases the pain of this moral contradiction, which I believe most of us feel very deeply.

Barber’s terminology about moral contradiction is essential. And amnesia is no longer a practical solution. However, working-class power transformed into social power could be the basis for an answer.

Imperialist world system

In the present world system, five fundamental contradictions are interconnected and reveal moral bankruptcy, logical inconsistencies, and anti-human tendencies that make capitalism what it is:

  • a world imperialist system that denies to most humans their national aspirations
  • worldwide poverty that denies human dignity on a scale of billions
  • deepening rates of exploitation that spark frequent crises of overproduction
  • global socialization of labor vs. the anarchy of national systems that rely on the capitalist market economy
  • excess capitalist production without rational planning for the survival of humanity and the planet.

What is a world system? World system is not a conspiratorial term, nor does it refer to “globalism” or the “deep state” or any mystifying right-wing concepts about evil hordes of racial others dominating the U.S. or Europeans. Those racist and anti-Semitic theories drive right-wing capitalist agendas and fascist violence.

The world system names the dominant form of global integration of countries into the capitalist-imperialist system in a particular period. For example, the European slave-trade-based capitalist development, led by Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Dutch in the 17th century, and Great Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, formed a world system based on markets in human beings as a financial basis for market and industrial capitalist development. It created a settler-colonial-slavery complex, which also drove Indigenous genocide in the Americas. It made modern capitalism possible. (Gerald Horne’s The Dawning of the Apocalypse, The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism, The Counterrevolution of 1776, Negro Comrades of the Crown, and Confronting Black Jacobins can be read sequentially as a study of this world system. Joseph Inikori’s Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England is also an informative study of one aspect of that system.)

These kinds of global interactions gave capitalism a racial characteristic it still relies on to maintain its capacity to accumulate surplus value and recirculate it as new capital.

By the end of the 19th century, this slavery-settler system transitioned to an imperialist-colonial system. It kept critical features of the former, as settler features persisted in Southern Africa until 1994. And Canada, the U.S., and Australia continue to deny land and sovereignty to the Indigenous people who hold rightful claims. European powers, sometimes with agreement among themselves but always in fierce long-term competition, strove to conquer and dominate the entire earth.

That system collapsed during the Great Depression and subsequent global war. Fascism—the most extreme form of capitalism and imperialism—pitted Europeans against one another in unprecedented ways. Within two decades, the colonialism system followed suit.

After this unprecedented collapse of the world system, the U.S. managed to rise to the top of the heap. The debts incurred by the imperialist powers and the U.S.’s skillful management of the shift to dollarized neo-colonial control of former European colonies enabled this transition. (W. Alphaeus Hunton’s Decision in Africa and Walter Rodney’s How Europe Under Developed Africa are essential for this history of U.S./European colonialism and neo-colonialism in African countries.)

Essentially, the U.S. recreated and managed a world system that expropriated vast tons of raw resources from the colonized world to fuel its own and Europe’s redevelopment after World War II. The collapse of the colonial regimes through national liberation struggles aided by the socialist countries prompted a transition to the domination of finance capital in the neoliberal regime of structural adjustments, privatization, forced labor, and hybrid war.

That new regime successfully produced wealth and power for U.S. capitalists that one commentator characterized as the “end of history.” Meanwhile, vast billions of the human population suffered from extreme poverty, hunger, lack of health resources, rapid environmental change, disease, war, and conflict.

The end of “the end of history” came after a series of financialization crises from the late 1990s to the 2007 housing collapse, which ruined the bliss of everlasting capitalist success. The failure to conquer Iraq and Afghanistan, which sucked trillions out of the U.S. economy, further signaled U.S. decline.

Unlike the 1930s, when the U.S. political system responded to manage the contradictions through “Keynesian” economic theory and New Deal social democracy, the present system blunders along with handouts to the banks, tax cuts for billionaires, and more austerity. Today, we are at the end of 60 years of declining rates of growth that pale in comparison to China’s 8%-9% rates of growth each year for the past 40 years.

The U.S. political class frequently admits that it can’t afford the record hundreds of billions pumped into military spending and a universal health system each year. It can’t afford to buy new missile systems and quality schools and universities. It can’t provide a meaningful safety net and ensure record profits and wealth accumulation for millionaires and billionaires with low tax rates.

Even as globalization generates the socialization of labor on a world scale, the anarchy of capitalist market economies within national frames produced new internal contradictions in those ruling-class agendas. (I am indebted to Cheng Enfu’s China’s Economic Dialectic for the phrasing of this contradiction.)

This contradiction between the needs of the empire and the interests of national economic and political systems is evident in the conflict over Ukraine. Consider how deeply and violently the U.S. ruling class split over the Russia-Europe contest. Trump was willing to dump Europe for an alignment with Russia, while much of the U.S. capitalist maintains corporate ties to Western Europe. We have yet to understand how much this conflict has altered and shaped U.S. domestic politics. (And the impending internal conflict over links to China has only been kicked down the road.)

Over here

The U.S. capitalist class aspires to maintain its dominance of the imperialist world system. But this means they have to carefully manage an increasingly expensive military, intelligence apparatus, local police, and border patrol system. The institutions operate strictly for the purpose of global and domestic repression of dissent. These are the only spending priorities for which a nearly unanimous Washington consensus exists.

At the same time, however, capitalists discovered that their goal of endless higher profits had been little more than accounting schemes and fantasy for some decades. Corporate policies drove record profits with higher prices, lower wages, and benefit cuts, all aided by a significantly weakened labor movement since the 1980s. Further, accounting tricks like stock buy-backs and debt schemes made bubbles and fantasy wealth a mainstay of Wall Street chicanery.

The capitalist class’s drive to manage the top spot in the imperialist system propels deepening exploitation worldwide, and in the U.S. Initially, globalization of production made the prices of imported goods seem like a boon. But then, the loss of manufacturing jobs meant a weakened labor movement, lower pay, and more frequent cycles of simply not being able to buy things. In some communities, whole neighborhoods became ghost towns. City services vanished overnight. Workers found they needed more than one job to survive. Consumption levels dropped, producing new levels of poverty combined with new demands for higher exploitation rates.

Racist mass incarceration became a mechanism for resolving some aspects of that crisis simply by cultivating and exploiting racism to punish Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and immigrant people with imprisonments, criminalization, and mass deportations. Euro-American racial solidarity seemed to be an appropriate alternative to multi-racial working-class solidarity.

Today, the performance of racial reforms (that aren’t reforms) and openly fascistic racist doctrine (great replacement dogmas, ravings about critical race theory, book burnings, and xenophobia) stand in for actual resolutions to deepening exploitation. Philanthropy and the non-profit industrial complex take the place of systemic solutions to poverty.

The anti-war movements (2002-2008), Occupy Wall Street (2011), #BlackLivesMatter (2014-2020), and worker uprising (2020-2022) have lain bare the crisis of the political system. They have uplifted specific analyses of different aspects of these five main contradictions.

Imperialist double jeopardy

Withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan signaled the severe jeopardy of U.S. dominance of the imperialist world system. In contrast to the past, it appears unable to assert its agenda for Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the South Pacific, or even Latin America, which it had long proclaimed its “backyard.” De-dollarization combined with new military blocs appear to be steps toward sovereignty for some countries.

Will this produce a new, competing imperialist system? Will this unique situation solidify into two new geopolitical and economic blocs? Are we simply witnessing a deadly realignment of imperialist forces? Yes, to each is possible—unless we bring forward internationalist, working-class revolutionary solutions.

The U.S. intervention in Eastern Europe, specifically in Ukraine, from 2014 to the present, has centered on promoting a proxy military conflict with Russia. State Department officials recently admitted to this. However, like its invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the results have been mixed for U.S. imperialism. It feels compelled to continue with this dangerous and deadly strategy, unfortunately.

While the most violent part of that conflict is still in its early stages, many ruling class commentators may already be crying “uncle.” The New York Times recently opined that a negotiated settlement that concedes territory inhabited by Russian-language speakers to Russia might be necessary. Further, to provide promised energy resources to European allies, the U.S. was compelled to walk back its de-humanizing sanctions regime against Cuba and Venezuela.

On the gain side, the U.S.-Europe faction has drawn more “neutral” Sweden and Finland into its orbit and extracted billions in new contracts for U.S.-based weapons makers from Germany, the U.K., and other countries. But even these gains are fraught with localized contradictions as NATO isn’t an ideologically unified bloc, and its actors hold competing and contradictory interests.

On the loss side, Russia controls vast amounts of natural gas and petroleum desperately needed in Eastern Europe. Their military power has proven to be far more robust than expected. Their restraint in this war (relative to U.S. “shock and awe” and Abu Ghraib/Guantanamo Bay-level atrocities) has proven disappointing to Western human rights watchers who regularly side with U.S. government interests.

The petroleum element of this war produces an internal domestic problem for the U.S. government. Rationed resources have driven up prices, even as oil companies look to deepen their already sizeable profits on gas-guzzling U.S. consumers. High prices are another form of deepening exploitation of workers and provoke political instability. The fascists are already exploiting this instability.

Meanwhile, the Western media and political establishments have soft-pedaled fascist movements that the U.S. has funded and used to spark international conflicts along the Ukraine-Russia border since 2014. Like a page out of the Cold War playbook, the U.S. government has supported extremists painted as “freedom fighters.” Those choices have never ended well for U.S. imperialism, even if it allows them to accomplish short-term goals. Think of the various U.S.-funded drug cartels in Central America (like Noriega’s in Panama), the mujahideen in Central Asia, the “contras” in Nicaragua, and the militarists in Chile, Indonesia, and South Korea.

End of humanity?

While the imperialist world system leaders plotted a Ukraine-Russia war, cried crocodile tears about “blonde, blue-eyed” refugees, and pumped billions of dollars into Ukraine to keep the war going. A United Nations call for immediate, urgent global attention to human-caused climate change went almost unheeded.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated in April 2022 that if the world continues on its present course, humans can expect new levels of suffering due to “unprecedented heatwaves, terrifying storms, widespread water shortages, and the extinction of a million species of plants and animals.” He referred to a report by the International Panel on Climate Change that showed swift and deep action is needed within the next couple of years to turn back the worst effects of the changing climate.

Few within the U.S. political class seem concerned, let alone capable of leveraging the sorts of emissions reductions needed to protect human life. Indeed, maintaining world system dominance appears to be their only operating concern.

What do we do with these contradictions? They show us that imperialism cannot cure itself. Imperialism cannot deliver human rights and dignity to the people it regularly exploits and oppresses. Capitalism cannot end racism or stop mass killers motivated by racist theories. It cannot suspend its need for racist super-exploitation or its exploitation and destruction of natural resources, like the air we breathe, water, and soil in which we plant crops.

We have no time to celebrate the failure of capitalism to solve the problems it has created.

The working class, especially its socialist and communist parties, can fight for more prominent organizations, clearer analysis, and class leadership. The socialization of labor on a global scale creates unprecedented levels of working-class power. It is the one lever with which we can move the immovable force of ruling class power and resolve the major contradictions of the present to change this world into something new. When working-class power becomes the supreme power in the world system, we have the means to win peace, avoid climate disasters, reduce exploitation, uplift the national aspirations of the world’s peoples, and bring our values into line with our actions.

The post Imperialism Cannot Solve Our Problems first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The entire culture needs to be recycled

Recently, as I neared my local C-Town supermarket, I saw a middle-aged man standing near a recycling redemption machine. In front of him were several massive clear garbage bags teeming full of the cans and bottles he had collected.

The man looked bloated, exhausted, defeated — his skin grayish as he went through the motions of securing a few bucks. He reached into one of the bags and pulled out an empty, crumpled liter-sized bottle of Coca-Cola.

My eyes happened to meet the man’s eyes just as he lifted the dirty bottle to his mouth. Without any hesitation, he wrapped his lips around the opening and blew air inside. The plastic bottle inflated to a somewhat normal size. (Apparently, the bottles need to be close to their original shape for the machine to accept them.)

I tried to hide it but he saw my grimace. With so much of the world scrubbing any exposed inch of their epidermis in a futile attempt to feel safe, this poor soul had reached an entirely different state of mind. “Taste the feeling” indeed.

There are multiple supermarkets within a 15-minute-walk radius of my apartment. The prices and selections vary. How friendly the employees are can also fluctuate. The cleanliness level is usually consistently okay. What all these establishments have in common, however, is a recycling station.

Just outside the entrance are a couple of machines at which locals can load the bottles and cans they’ve gathered. Once the metal and plastic are in the machine, the loader gets a receipt to bring to a cashier inside in exchange for “deposit” money.

Here’s how the New York Department of Environmental Conservation explains the concept:

New York’s Returnable Container Act requires at least a 5-cent deposit on carbonated soft drinks, beer and other malt beverages, mineral water, soda water, water, and wine cooler containers. A deposit is required on glass, metal, and plastic containers that hold less than one gallon or 3.78 liters.

Unfortunately, due to poverty and the ongoing popularity of unhealthy items like soda, this is a common activity. Even during the widespread fear frenzy in NYC during the pandemic, the lines at the redemption machines remained long. Concerns about the virus were easily outweighed by a desperate need for whatever income was available.

The dull-eyed man blowing into a used, germ-ridden Coke bottle was obviously not concerned about where that bottle might have been. Who touched it? What touched it? How many mouths had been on it? “Germophobia” is a luxury, I suppose.

Over the past decade or so, bottles and cans have become a form of currency in my neighborhood. I walk to a local gym each day before 6 A.M. At that time, it’s often just me and can collectors alone on the streets (excluding a few stragglers still staggering home from clubs). You can hear the collectors long before you see them. They use supermarket shopping carts to transport their “currency” and the rattling sound is both loud and unmistakable.

Some locals see them as a nuisance. Others diligently leave their cans and bottles where the collectors can easily find and access them. Just the other day, I saw a woman run after a collector with a large bag of plastic bottles. It was such a sweet interaction, it brought me to tears — of joy and sorrow.

Social media is filled with examples of such “positive news.” Don’t get me wrong, I get weepy at some of these stories, too. But it doesn’t change the fact that we mostly aim our energy at cheering individual acts of charity but rarely (if ever) point out structural and institutional indifference.

Projects like mine, for example, should not be necessary for a nation as wealthy as the U.S. But, in the Home of the Brave™, they are required and woefully insufficient. Our government is a failure for everyone below the top few percent.

Speaking of failures: “Traditional recycling is the greatest example of modern-day greenwashing,” declares Ross Polk, an investigative journalist specializing in environmental issues. “Recycling is championed as the strategy to enable a cleaner, healthier world by those businesses that have profited the most from the extractive, take-make-waste economy. In reality, it is merely a cover to continue business as usual. Corporations espouse the efficacy of recycling via hollow ‘responsibility commitments’ to avoid examination of the broader negative consequences that their products and business models have wrought. Recycling is good for one thing, though — it helps us dodge the responsibility of our rampant and unsustainable consumption.”

Polk concludes: “After nearly 50 years of existence, recycling has proven to be an utter failure at staving off environmental and social catastrophe. It neither helps cool a warming planet nor averts ecosystem destruction and biodiversity loss.”

He could’ve added that recycling is also not a moral or effective way of helping poor people achieve any sense of financial security. The business of recycling is a facade. Any belief that redeeming cans and bottles will help individuals “get by” is equally as deceitful and self-serving as the recycling scam itself.

We’ve spent much of the past two years fearing each other, dreading the act of breathing itself. We went months without seeing smiles, depriving loved ones of hugs, starving children of valuable and necessary non-verbal social input, and viciously turning on anyone who does not march in strict lockstep with the algorithm-induced views.

Some might say the dull-eyed man at the redemption machine has sunk to a different level. In many ways and for many reasons, he certainly has. I might suggest that he’s also transcended some of what passes for normal.

Trust me, this is not some misguided fantasy that the poverty-stricken have it “better.” I’m not Mother Teresa who once despicably stated: “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.” My supposition is merely a musing about letting go of the illusion of control and “order.”

If only we could recycle the entire damn culture and start over.

The post The entire culture needs to be recycled first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Long COVID”: Economic Devastation and Quarter of a Billion Pushed Into Extreme Poverty  

There is a terrifying prospect that in excess of a quarter of a billion more people will fall into extreme levels of poverty in 2022 alone. Without immediate radical action, we could be witnessing the most profound collapse of humanity into extreme poverty and suffering in memory.

That is according to Oxfam International Executive Director Gabriela Bucher.

She adds this scenario is made more sickening given that trillions of dollars have been captured by a tiny group of powerful men who have no interest in interrupting this trajectory.

In its January 2021 report ‘The Inequality Virus’, Oxfam stated that the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by $3.9tn between 18 March and 31 December 2020. Their total wealth then stood at $11.95tn, a 50 per cent increase in just 9.5 months.

In 2021, an Oxfam review of IMF COVID-19 loans showed that 33 African countries were encouraged to pursue austerity policies. This despite the IMF’s own research showing austerity worsens poverty and inequality.

Barely days into the shutdown of the global economy in April 2020, the Wall Street Journal ran the headline ‘IMF, World Bank Face Deluge of Aid Requests From Developing World‘. Scores of countries were asking for bailouts and loans from financial institutions with $1.2 trillion to lend.

Prior to that, in late March, World Bank Group President David Malpass said that poorer countries would be ‘helped’ to get back on their feet after the various COVID-related lockdowns. However, any assistance would be on condition that further neoliberal reforms became embedded.

Malpass said:

For those countries that have excessive regulations, subsidies, licensing regimes, trade protection or litigiousness as obstacles, we will work with them to foster markets, choice and faster growth prospects during the recovery.

Two years on and it is clear what ‘reforms’ really mean. In a press release issued on 19 April 2022, Oxfam International insists the IMF must abandon demands for austerity as a cost-of-living crisis continues to drive up hunger and poverty worldwide.

According to Oxfam’s analysis, 13 out of the 15 IMF loan programmes negotiated during the second year of COVID require new austerity measures such as taxes on food and fuel or spending cuts that could put vital public services at risk. The IMF is also encouraging six additional countries to adopt similar measures.

Kenya and the IMF agreed a $2.3 billion loan programme in 2021, which includes a three-year public sector pay freeze and increased taxes on cooking gas and food. More than three million Kenyans are facing acute hunger as the driest conditions in decades spread a devastating drought across the country. Oxfam says nearly half of all households in Kenya are having to borrow food or buy it on credit.

At the same time nine countries, including Cameroon, Senegal and Surinam are required to introduce or increase the collection of VAT, a tax that disproportionately impacts people living in poverty.

In Sudan, nearly half of the population live in poverty. However, it has been told to scrap fuel subsidies which will hit the poorest hardest. A country already reeling from international aid cuts, economic turmoil and rising prices for everyday basics such as food and medicine. More than 14 million people need humanitarian assistance (almost one in every three people) and 9.8 million are food insecure in Sudan.

In addition, 10 countries are likely to freeze or cut public sector wages and jobs, which could mean lower quality of education and fewer nurses and doctors in countries already short of healthcare staff. Consider that Namibia had fewer than six doctors per 10,000 people in early 2020.

Prior to Covid, the situation was bad enough. The IMF had consistently pushed a policy agenda based on cuts to public services, increases in taxes paid by the poorest and moves to undermine labour rights and protections. As a result, 52 per cent of Africans lack access to healthcare and 83 per cent have no safety nets to fall back on if they lose their job or become sick.

Nabil Abdo, Oxfam International’s senior policy advisor, says:

The IMF must suspend austerity conditions on existing loans and increase access to emergency financing. It should encourage countries to increase taxes on the wealthiest and corporations to replenish depleted coffers and shrink widening inequality.”

It is interesting to note what could be achieved. For instance, Argentina has collected about $2.4 billion from its one-off pandemic wealth tax. Oxfam estimates that a ‘Pandemic Profits Tax’ on 32 super-profitable global companies could have generated $104 billion in revenue in 2020 alone.

Many governments are nearing debt default and being forced to slash public spending to pay creditors and import food and fuel. The world’s poorest countries are due to pay $43 billion in debt repayments in 2022, which could otherwise cover the costs of their food imports. Oil and gas giants are reporting record-breaking profits, with similar trends expected to play out in the food and beverage sector.

Oxfam and Development Finance International (DFI) have also revealed that 43 out of 55 African Union member states face public expenditure cuts totalling $183 billion over the next five years.

Oxfam says that, despite COVID costs piling up and billionaire wealth rising more since COVID than in the previous 14 years combined, governments — with few exceptions — have failed to increase taxes on the richest.

Gabriela Bucher rejects any notion that governments do not have the money or means to lift all people out of poverty and hunger and ensure their health and welfare. She says the G20, World Bank and IMF must immediately cancel debts and increase aid to poorer countries and act to protect ordinary people from an avoidable catastrophe.

Nabil Abdo says:

The pandemic is not over for most of the world. Rising energy bills and food prices are hurting poor countries most. They need help boosting access to basic services and social protection, not harsh conditions that kick people when they are down.

The ‘pandemic’ is not over for most of the world – for sure. People too often conflate the effects of COVID-related policies with the impact of COVID itself. It is these policies that have caused the ongoing devastation to lives and livelihoods.

What it has amounted to is a multi-trillion-dollar bailout for a capitalist economy that was in meltdown prior to COVID. This came in the form of trillions of dollars pumped into financial markets by the US Fed (in the months prior to March 2020) and ‘COVID relief’.

As the world’s richest people lined their pockets even more in the past two years, COVID IMF loans are now piling more misery on some of the world’s poorest people. For them, ‘long COVID’ is biting austerity – their ‘new normal’.

All this resulting from policies supposedly brought in to protect public health – a claim that rings hollower by the day.

The post “Long COVID”: Economic Devastation and Quarter of a Billion Pushed Into Extreme Poverty   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Keep Africa Poor and Dependent Project  

Exploited and abused for generations by white colonial powers and manipulative economic structures, there is a growing feeling of solidarity within parts of the African continent, as exemplified by the #NoMore movement. Covid vaccine inequality and environmental injustice, together with recent events in Ethiopia, have galvanized people.

Ideas of African unity and rage against former imperial forces are nothing new; the chain of suppression and exploitation of African nations is long, running from slavery and colonialism (including colonial extraction) to wealth and climate inequality, racial capitalism and now Covid vaccine apartheid.

Despite the fact that many would say Africa was united long before Europe – family to tribe, tribe to nation, nation to continent, with 54 countries spread over a vast area –  establishing a defined Union of Africa seems unlikely, if not impossible. Standing in solidarity, rejecting western intervention, challenging the exploitative status quo and reductive notions of development based on a defunct western model is not; indeed, if African nations are to prosper and create vibrant economies allowing its burgeoning young population to fulfill their enormous potential, they must.

Poverty amidst abundance of resources

Blessed with rich environments and vast natural resources, Sub-Saharan Africa should certainly not be poor. But for huge numbers of people across the continent grinding poverty and hardship are the norm.

According to the World Bank report Accelerating Poverty Reduction in Africa, while those living in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 a day) has fallen in the last twenty years, the number of “poor people [living on $5 a day or less]…has increased from 278 million in 1990 to over 413 million” Over 80% of those living in stifling poverty are found in rural areas where education and  health care are scarce.

Natural resources dominate many African economies and, along with agriculture, are central to the livelihoods of the poor rural majority. African natural resources that are owned by multi-national mining companies, dug out of the ground by grossly underpaid local workers, are exported for production in goods that are sold in the rich developed nations. This has been the role of Sub-Saharan Africa for generations, and is fundamental to the prosperity of advanced countries: they need the raw materials and they need them to be dirt cheap.

The handful of conglomerates that dominate, collude in enabling monopoly buying structures. Contracts agreed at national levels are administered by middle-men, often corrupt, in the pockets of the corporation; the local workforce has little choice but to accept whatever ‘terms of employment’ are offered; poverty entraps and silences rebellion.

It is a crippling model of suppression and exploitation; a form of wage slavery that holds not just the workers in its suffocating grip, but the nation and continent. It is one of the main reasons African nations that are overly dependent on raw materials, whether cotton or oil, coffee, diamonds or Cobalt, are poor. Poverty is political, the result of short-term political and economic decisions taken in The West by duplicitous corporate-controlled governments.

The other reasons that ensure Africa remains poor and dependent are historical and economic: Colonization, which persists as economic and cultural imperialism, together with a certain mind-set of superiority/inferiority. A mind-set that maintains consciously or unconsciously that some people (black, brown) are worth less than others and, as Covid vaccine inequities demonstrate, can be sacrificed. The economic structures, global institutions and economic ideologies championed by abusive self-centered governments and promoted in the business schools around the world are all designed to ensure Africa remains poor: Imperialism never ended, it just changed form.

When colonial powers withdrew from the global south they needed new ways of maintaining the enslavement of Africa and Africans. Three interrelated weapons where used to create dependency: Aid, debt and the toxic Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), the overarching umbrella of control.

In the 1980s SAP’s were introduced; the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) gave highly conditional loan packages to African nations in order to aid their ‘development’; in fact, the loans/SAPs, which destroyed African economies and agriculture, were simply forms of debt entrapment. Once a country is indebted it becomes easy to control. SAPs hollowed out national economies and incorporated Africa into the global political economic system, dominated by the US. It’s economic warfare: the rich countries set up these unaccountable institutions and systems to control the poor nations.

The IMF, WB, World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), were given enormous political influence/control of African governments and economies. Funding for public services (e.g. education and health care) was slashed to repay loans; countries were forced to ‘liberalize’ their economies, and privatize, selling off key areas like utilities to western or western-backed companies.

In his book Confessions Of An Economic Hitman, John Perkins designates this process of economic terrorism as ‘Predatory Capitalism’: he describes how  in an earlier period, during the 1950’s the IMF, CIA and US State Department set up a faceless bank to lend money to African countries that were producing raw materials; any national President that refused the loan was at risk of being handed over to the ‘Jackals’, as Perkins describes the CIA thugs that accompanied him.

At independence, many African countries were self-sufficient in food production and were, in fact, net exporters of food; SAPs and the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, changed all that. Countries were forced to withdraw State subsidies to agriculture (while farmers in Europe and the US receive huge subsidies); farmers suffered, food prices increased, food insecurity was created, dependency on aid and Western benefactors ensured and with it control by the US and her puppets, of Africa, its direction and ‘development’, or, as these paranoid selfish states would have it, its non-development.

‘Development as Westernisation’

Within the narrow socio-economic paradigm that dominates global affairs, ‘development’ and perpetual economic ‘growth’ are regarded as all important. Dominated by quarterly national GDP figures, it is a reductive model designed by donor’ nations to serve not the people of Africa or Asia, but western corporations and the unjust, defunct Ideology of Greed, so beloved.

The very idea of development has become synonymous with ‘Westernization’, including the way of life, the values, behavior and attitudes of the rich, ‘successful’ nations of The West: a hollow, deeply materialistic way of life rooted in division, selfishness and conformity that has poisoned and vandalized the natural environment, created unhealthy, unequal societies of anxious suppressed human beings.

In order to develop, economists maintain Africa must industrialise and manufacture – no country has ever ‘developed’ without manufacturing. All this is true, and some African nations, like Ethiopia, which has a vibrant leather industry, are beginning to do just this. But this is only true within the suffocating boundaries of the existing model of extreme capitalism based on unsustainable consumerism.

There must be another way; perhaps as we sit at this transitional time, not just for Africa, but for the world as a whole, the opportunity presents itself to re-design the socio-economic structures, reimagine civilization, and in so doing save the planet. And perhaps Africa, unburdened, energised and dynamic can play a leading role; working with the West, but rejecting the model of conformity and exploitation, the conditionality of support.

The existing development paradigm sits within the overarching political-economic system, a system of global monopolies, centralized control, massive inequality, grinding poverty, financial insecurity and stress. Not only should this model of development be rejected by Africa, and it would be were it not for the Noose of Debt, and the fact that it is presented as the one and only show in town, but the poisonous spring from which it flows – Market Fundamentalism as some call it – must also be radically dismantled.

It may appear impossible to challenge, but there are alternatives to the current unjust political-economic system. And as the environmental and social impact of the Neo-Liberal experiment becomes more apparent, as well as the economic pain of the majority, more and more people around the world, especially within Africa, where the environmental emergency has inspired powerful movements of activism, recognize the urgent need to reject this way of organizing life and are demanding change.

Western powers (dried-up imperial forces) do not want Africa and Africans to flourish and become strong, this is clear to all. Africa’s destiny must rest in the hands of Africans, in particular young Africans (the median age in Africa is around 20, Europe is a greying 43, US a complacent 39), who are increasingly standing up, organizing, particularly in regard to the environment, and calling for change.

But what should that change look like? Not a shadow of Western nations, but a creative evolving movement of development in which the people have a voice; social and environmental responsibility are championed and lasting human happiness sit at its core. Unity is essential, African unity is essential; together, not necessarily under some defined structure, but coordinated cooperation and support through the medium of the African Union and civil society.

The first and most basic step towards establishing a less brutal, more just system would be the equitable distribution of the resources of the world – the water, land and food; the machinery needed to build infrastructure; the skills, knowledge and expertise.

The world is one: We are brothers and sisters of one humanity. And if we are collectively, within Africa and the world, to establish An Alternative Way, this basic fact needs to form the foundation and provide the touchstone of new systems and modes of living. Only then will we begin to build a global society in which the values of unity, compassion, tolerance and sharing, which are found in tribal societies all over Africa, may flourish.f

The post The Keep Africa Poor and Dependent Project   first appeared on Dissident Voice.

“Thank You for Hearing Our Afghan Pain”

During visits to Kabul, Afghanistan, over the past decade, I particularly relished lingering over breakfasts on chilly winter mornings with my young hosts who were on their winter break from school. Seated on the floor, wearing coats and hats and draped with blankets, we’d sip piping hot green tea as we shared fresh, warm wheels of bread purchased from the nearest baker.

But this winter, for desperate millions of Afghans, the bread isn’t there. The decades-long U.S. assault on Afghanistan’s people has now taken the vengeful form of freezing their shattered, starving country’s assets.

When I was in Afghanistan, our rented spaces, like most homes in the working class area where we lived, lacked central heating, refrigerators, flush toilets, and clean tap water. My Afghan friends lived quite simply, yet they energetically tried to share resources with people who were even less well-off.

They helped impoverished mothers earn a living wage by manufacturing heavy, life-saving blankets and then distributed the blankets in refugee camps where people had no money to buy fuel. They also organized a school for child laborers, working out ways to give the children’s families food rations in compensation for time spent studying rather than working as street vendors in Kabul.

Some of my young friends had conversations with me and with others in our group who had, between 1996 and 2003, traveled to Iraq where we witnessed the consequences of U.S.-led economic sanctions that directly contributed to the deaths of an estimated half million Iraqi children under the age of five. I remember the young Afghans I told this to shaking their heads, confused. They wondered why any country would want to punish infants and children who couldn’t possibly control a government.

After visiting Afghanistan late last year, Dominik Stillhart, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said he felt livid over the collective punishment being imposed on Afghans through the freezing of the country’s assets. Referring to $9.5 billion dollars of Afghan assets presently frozen by the United States, he recently emphasized that economic sanctions “meant to punish those in power in Kabul are instead freezing millions of people across Afghanistan out of the basics they need to survive.” The myopic effort to punish the Taliban by freezing Afghan assets has left the country on the brink of starvation.

These $9.5 billion of frozen assets belong to the Afghan people, including those going without income and farmers who can no longer feed their livestock or cultivate their land. This money belongs to people who are freezing and going hungry, and who are being deprived of education and health care while the Afghan economy collapses under the weight of U.S. sanctions.

Recently, I received an email from a young friend in Kabul:

“Living conditions are very difficult for people who do not have bread to eat and fuel to heat their homes,” the young friend wrote. “A child died from cold in a house near me, and several families came to my house today to help them with money. One of them cried and told me that they had not eaten for forty-eight hours and that their two children were unconscious from the cold and hunger. She had no money to treat and feed them. I wanted to share my heartache with you.”

Forty-eight members of Congress have written to U.S. President Joe Biden calling for the unfreezing of Afghanistan’s assets. “By denying international reserves to Afghanistan’s private sector—including more than $7 billion belonging to Afghanistan and deposited at the [U.S.] Federal Reserve—the U.S. government is impacting the general population.”

The Congressmembers added, “We fear, as aid groups do, that maintaining this policy could cause more civilian deaths in the coming year than were lost in twenty years of war.”

For two decades, the United States’ support for puppet regimes in Afghanistan made that country dependent on foreign assistance as though it were on life support. 95% of the population, more than three-quarters of whom are women and children, remained below the poverty line while corruption, mismanagement, embezzlement, waste and fraud benefited numerous warlords, including U.S. military contractors.

After the United States invaded their country and embroiled them in a pointless twenty-year nightmare, what the United States owes the Afghan people is reparations, not starvation.

The eminent human rights advocate and international law professor Richard Falk recently emailed U.S. peace activists encouraging an upcoming February 14 Valentine Day’s initiative, which calls for the unfreezing of Afghan assets, lifting any residual sanctions, and opposing their maintenance. Professor Falk acknowledges that the disastrous U.S. mission in Afghanistan amounted to “twenty years of expensive, bloody, destructive futility that has left the country in a shambles with bleak future prospects.”

“After the experience of the past twenty years,” Falk writes in the email, “it seems time for the Afghans to be allowed to solve their problems without outside interference. I am sure many people of good will tried to help Afghanistan achieve more humane results than were on the agenda of the Taliban, but foreign interference particularly by the United States is not the way to achieve positive state-building goals.”

Several friends and I were able to send a small amount of money to the friend who wrote and shared with us her heartache over being unable to help needy neighbors. “Thank you for hearing our Afghan pain,” she and her spouse responded.

Now is a crucial time to listen and not to look away.

The post “Thank You for Hearing Our Afghan Pain” first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Facilitating Civic and Political Energies for the Common Good

Some readers responded to one of my earlier columns urging the national progressive civic groups, with millions of members back home, to overcome the dominance of giant corporatism with a Ten-Year Plan1 budgeted at $1 billion a year (See, “Think Big to Overcome Losing Big to Corporatism,” January 7, 2022). Readers wanted to know more about the Plan and where the money would come from to implement this grand initiative.

New billionaires are proliferating in numbers reflecting the record stock market surges. Some are enlightened and worried enough to gather with citizen group leaders to review the Plan, the strategy, timetable, and required budget. Those who count themselves in, and want to back the Plan, would pledge to contribute the total pledges of $10 billion for the ten-year effort. After the funding is secured, (possibly augmented with internet crowdfunding), the Plan commences in several coterminous stages.

The First Stage is to get through Congress, vetoproof if necessary, the long overdue necessities for half of the U.S. population, which is poor, with collateral benefits for the entire country.

A Brain Trust will expertly draft legislation addressing the elements of ending endemic poverty. These include a living wage, Medicare for All insurance (already well drafted in H.R.1976 and supported by over 118 co-sponsors), affordable housing, adequate nutrition that abolishes hunger in America, personal and environmental health care with emphasis on prevention, necessary public services for families and communities, and a system of private retirement savings to supplement Social Security.

These conditions for good livelihoods, which were mostly secured years ago by some Western countries, lead to larger market demand, have consistent left/right support in Europe and in the U.S., and they make for strong economies. (See, Reframing the Politics of Polarization by Hazel Henderson, August 4, 2021).

The driving pressure to implement the Plan would come from civic offices staffed by two full-time people in each of the 435 Congressional Districts and for US Senators in all fifty states plus territories. Groups would be established with an expanding corps of citizen volunteers committing 500 hours and $500 annually forming a grassroots juggernaut. These citizen groups would focus intensely on their members of Congress, using precise petition-backed citizen summonses to their Senators and Representatives to appear at Town Meetings, which these organizers arrange with detailed and broadly supported agendas.

The yearly cost to establish these offices and recruit significant numbers of volunteers as the ever-deepening force is about $100 million a year. This sum would include inter-district coordinators and other facilities to organize the self-funded, expanding volunteer corps.

Passage of vital and overdue bills is less difficult than assumed by a society that is presently AWOL from the playing field of legislation. Such catch-up legislation can already count on the overt support of about thirty percent of Congress, with the latent support of at least a quarter of Congress once the organized rumble from the People is heard. (That was the case with Nixon Republicans in the 1960s and early 70s.)

Once the political tea leaves become clear, lawmakers become responsive. This is what happened in corporate President Richard Nixon’s first term, sometimes leading to great majorities behind environmental, consumer, and labor bills. Nixon even sent to Congress a basic minimum-income plan, a better health insurance proposal than Clinton offered as President, and congressional voting rights legislation for the District of Columbia. Congress did not pass these three reforms coming from a Republican White House. Nonetheless, Nixon felt he had to propose these bills.

The Second Stage, parallel to the first, is to create facilities that invite and enable an accelerated banding together of willing people in their various roles. People can have rights and remedies under the law, but without organized groups they are mostly not used, defended, or improved. Whether you are customers of insurance, utility and banking companies, or tenants, or consumers of food, energy, transportation, and healthcare or using government services, or have been wrongfully injured, membership in these “communities,” as organized advocacy groups is essential. Such groups would work to fundamentally change existing dysfunctional systems, extending to protections of children, services for students, and corporate control of the vast commons (public lands, public airwaves, etc.) that we the people already own.

Daily seeking their own interests, corporations are organized to the teeth by comparison to millions of citizens. This is why corporations control the major sectors of our government, our economy, and other societal institutions day by day. The large drug companies have 500 full-time lobbyists regularly working on Congress with large industry backup forces. The people are vastly outmatched. So what do we expect without a strong citizen team on the field?

Corporate power stems not from votes (corporations don’t vote, yet) nor so much from the campaign money. It comes as a byproduct of the almost wholly unorganized populace not utilizing its powerful exclusive sovereignty (“We the People”) under our Constitution. In our country’s history, it is remarkable what a small percentage of people (often under one percent) when organized and representing broad public concerns, have achieved against all odds. (See my book, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think, 2016).

Much of the conceptual work on these legislated facilities has been developed and used to produce pilot projects vis-à-vis electric utility giants years ago by citizen organizations. (See, Banding Together: How Check Offs Will Revolutionize the Consumer Movement by Andrew Sharpless and Sarah Gallup, 1981).

To get these facilities set up and into action all around the country, with seed money for ten years, would annually cost about another $100 million. They would put the people and their expert champions at the table in more ways than one, with near immediate results. Right now, for example, according to consumer advocate, actuary, and former Federal Insurance Commissioner, Robert Hunter, about $30 billion is not being returned as state laws require, to motor vehicle owners by auto insurers that received a windfall when the pandemic reduced auto traffic and claims. Without state-by-state insurance consumer organizations, there will be few of these refunds.

Forthcoming columns will describe the uses for the remainder of the $800 million in the first of ten years.

  1. Richard Parker, Here, the People Rule: A Constitutional Populist Manifesto, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.
The post Facilitating Civic and Political Energies for the Common Good first appeared on Dissident Voice.

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

Chittaprosad, Indian Workers Read, n.d.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tina Modotti, El Machete, 1926.

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

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

The post A Programme for a Future Society That We Will Build in the Present first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Naive Documentary (-ies) Makers Barely Scratch the Surface!

W.E.B. DuBois: ‘To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.’

This documentary (see below, first one linked) is not news, and then, of course, it’s Trump in office blather, too. As if UK, Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Portugal are havens for social and people and environmental justice.

How Poor People Survive in the USA — vapid.

The documentarian is done, really, through the auspices of Euro trash context, POV, narrative framing. Contrarily, you have to be in the mix, in the middle, from the chambers of power, schools, colleges, social work, to real journalism, and into the mess personally, with daily fear of losing the job and seeing savings go go go. That is the slippage in the death spiral of USA. 

This is a Reservation/Rez Society. Boarding School Society. Celebrity Cults. Internment Camp FEMA Village (Soon). This entire unfolding of history the past 70 years has been this big time military propaganda operation embedding into all systems. Confusion creator. Mystical hatred or subservience  while praying for that blue-eyed, blond hippie Jesus. Dirt poor, and loving Trump. College student loans over $100K,  and loving AOC and Biden.

The enemy for me, and I’d say for 80 percent of USA, is that grouping — colonized Eichmann’s, the upper classes, the dream hoarders, the intelligence/knowledge workers, the higher ups in education-medicine-incarceration-pharma-medicine-energy-banking-data collecting-surveillance-real estate-Chamber of Commerce-AI-science-ag-retail-logistics-transportation, and then, MIC, congressional military complex. Join the mercenary forces, and lucky you, get your teeth pulled and a GI Bill.

Bullshit.

Ahh, my old platform to rail against the system — LA Progressive! Terminal Velocity no More! Or here! Paul Haeder. 

I’ve asked why the stuff I send and publish elsewhere is no longer getting up on LA Progressive. No answer! Again, this documentary is broken (above), but that is documentary making, most times — focused, rarified, gatekeeping on steroids, with people on the projects not deep systems thinkers, and a willingness to leave out a lot.

Stan Brock memorial remembers founder of Remote Area Medical, Wild Kingdom  star

Missing:

  1. Tens of millions on the edge of the cliff of eviction, foreclosure, endless bad jobs, in the car or van, bunking up with family or friends, while working for middle managers who do not care, and the upper management and the billionaires and millionaires.
  2. Inflammation — Capitalism is a complete, holistic, top-down disease, creating inflammation in the veins, brain, organs, belly. But worse — cuts the thinking process, deforms the mutual aid ethos, destroys collective action, kills the ability to squat and reappropriate wealth, land, whatever.
  3. The rat race of those with a roof over their heads that continue to fuel prescriptions, Disneyland la-la-land thinking, buy-buy-buy, watching sports-stars-musicians, I got mine, you better fight to get yours
  4. This country, USA, is the rotting roots and DNA of Europe, of that narrator above. These are not real people, and they are so sculpted in news speak, in priviledge.
  5. This documentary doesn’t get to the fabric of colonization of cities, schools, the bullshit of privatization, and this wacky religious and wacky elitist country of Indian Removal, Enslavement then and now, and Nomadlands.
  6. Americans are children, and that is thanks to the Media, the Boss, foolish k-6 education, and, well, we are here now, 355 million, and this is pre-covid crazies. Now? Complete imprisonment!

Oh, hell, the list is a thousand points long: Stan Brock, Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom. This is one fellow, and great heart, but in a world of Space Suits, Billionaires and Yachts, Lies Casted in Media-Banking-Digitalization, well, one guy. “He founded Remote Area Medical in 1985 to give people in need essential health care. Since then, RAM has provided free dental, vision and basic health care to more than 740,000 people.”

 

Here, the documentary on RAM above, description: During the U.S. debate about healthcare reform, the media reporters and news crews and filmmakers failed to put a human face on what it means to not have access to healthcare. Remote Area Medical fills that gap; it is a film about people, not policy. Focusing on a single three-day clinic held in the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, Remote Area Medical affords us an insider’s perspective on the ebb and flow of the event, from the tense 3:30 a.m. ticket distribution that determines who gets seen to the routine check-ups that take dramatic turns for the worse, to the risky means to which some patients resort for pain relief. We meet a doctor who also drives an 18-wheeler, a denture maker who moonlights as a jeweler, and the organization’s founder, Stan Brock, who first imagined Remote Area Medical while living as a cowboy in the Amazon rainforest, hundreds of miles from the nearest doctor. But it is the extraordinary stories of the patients, desperate for medical attention, that create a lasting impression about the state of modern health care in America.

This can’t be ramped up, taken to the ultimate level? It’s socialism, brothers and sisters, the only way forward. Forget the hate that the right and the middle of the road have against socialism. They will ply the words of “one world government.” Or, the “government controlling us.” They will talk about Universal Basic Income. They will say it is brainwashing, and communism, and, well, that socialism means all rights are taken, managed, given to and taken away by some master groups of dictators. So we are dead in the water with capitalism by any means necessary: predatory, parasitic, casino, dog-eat-dog, shock therapy, zombie, trickle down nothingness.

That is, you know, vaccine passport, no. But, there is no Forced Healthcare for All. No, Massive Take Over the Empty Lots and Buildings for Massive Rehousing. No guerrilla farming everywhere. Nothing. Because, well, Capitalism is All about “We are all champions. We are all the New Eve and Adam. You can rest assured that the masters will NOT take care of you, but at least you have the stars and bars, god almighty, baby-land.”

This exceptionalism is what has detroyed many in the 80 percent. Many. They will work and think and do things against their own well-being. When you are a lost dog in this country, a limping stray, a hungry desperate pooch, well, you will jump to the master, run for the beasts of slapping, kicking, yelling, and hitting. Under the table, curled up, belly and organs exposed as its tail is between the legs.

Heartbroken Senior Dog Cowering At A Shelter Just Wants To Be Loved
Inflamed — Moreover, they point out how modern medicine has often missed these necessary connections—to our global detriment. What is needed is “deep medicine,” which, according to the authors, “requires new cosmologies, ones that can braid our lives with the planet and the web of life around us.”
 
Rupa Marya and Raj Patel spoke to YES! about the ravages of colonialist capitalism, the failures of modern medicine to treat them, and, most importantly, how a “deep medicine” approach can heal us all.
 
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
 
Sonali Kolhatkar: Is the title of the book, Inflamed, a metaphor for what is happening to our planet and its living systems?
 
Rupa Marya: It’s not at all a metaphor. It’s a description of what’s happening inside of our bodies and around us on the planet and our societies. The inflammatory response is the body’s ancient evolutionarily conserved pathway to restoring its optimal working condition when it’s been thrown off by danger or damage or the threat of damage. (Source, Yes Magazine)
 
No jobs, no good jobs, decayed systems, penalties, bad credit, criminal offenses, drugs, booze, and bodies torn at a very young age with multiple chronic diseases, many many diseases.
 
https://youtu.be/YrEwPp2bG48
 
This is the system that the beautiful people in the sciences, in technology, in the Reset Star Chamber, all of those hoarding money and the opportunities have set loose, and these fascists want these people — us, we the people — on UBI, held as data pools — body snatchers, mind snatchers, attention snatchers, activity snatchers, all part of mining people, putting us, them, the 80 percent, in the cloud, in algorithms, in data banks, all mashed up for social impact — do as we say, follow what we command, eat-drink-think like we say, and you will get the tokens, man, the money, the slice of a 200-square-foot-per-person habitat. No pets allowed.
The post Naive Documentary (-ies) Makers Barely Scratch the Surface! first appeared on Dissident Voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post We Dance into the New Year Banging Our Hammers and Swinging Our Sickles first appeared on Dissident Voice.