Cliff Carlton was the 10th of 11 children and one of three still living at home when his father, a coal miner, died unexpectedly at 67.
Only his dad’s Social Security benefits, along with vegetables from the family’s small farm in southwestern Virginia, kept the household afloat during the lean years that followed.
That battle for survival made Carlton a lifelong champion of Social Security and a tireless opponent of the Republicans in Congress who keep trying to kill this lifeline for the middle class.
“It’s not a gift. It’s money that we’re due,” explained Carlton, vice president of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) Chapter 8-UR2 and president of the Virginia Alliance for Retired Americans.
“We put money into it. We deserve it back,” continued Carlton, 70, a retired tire manufacturing worker and longtime member of the United Steelworkers (USW) who’s attended rallies and lobbied Congress on behalf of Social Security for 30 years.
Republicans long hoped to privatize Social Security, preferring to gamble Americans’ futures on the stock market rather than force the wealthy to pay their fair share of the taxes needed to sustain the program. Fortunately, congressional Democrats, union members, and other Americans torpedoed these schemes.
But now there’s a new threat. To secure enough votes to become speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy toadied to extremist Republicans whose demands for radical budget cuts once again put Social Security and Medicare at risk.
Pro-corporate Republicans openly plot to cut Social Security benefits and raise the retirement age, moves that would force millions of Americans to work longer and delay their retirements. Some Republicans even want to gut the current funding formula, slashing payments to Americans with other income, regardless of how much they pay into the program.
The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare warns that this kind of con, called means-testing, would end Social Security as Americans know it and take benefits even from those with “very modest incomes.”
“If you lose something, you don’t ever get it back,” observed Carlton, who fears that Republican toying with Social Security will break seniors already living on the margins amid skyrocketing medical costs and mounting bills stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to providing a buffer against unexpected health crises, Social Security is the only resource many retirees have when they outlive the nest eggs they accumulated during their working years.
“My grandmother is 102 years old. She retired at the age of 65 the year I was born, so I’ve never known her except in a retired state. She still lives on her own,” said Mike Budd, 37, a Marine Corps veteran and member of USW Local 12775, who credits Social Security with enabling his grandma, a former bank teller, to maintain her independence and high quality of life for decades.
“In fact, that’s the reason I’m very passionate about keeping this program around,” said Budd, who works as a substation electrician at Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO).
Democratic President Joe Biden and the Democratic-controlled Senate will continue to protect Social Security—and Medicare—from the Republicans who narrowly regained control of the House in November 2022. Still, the Republicans vow to stage a showdown over America’s debt and allow the nation to careen toward default in a reckless gambit to commandeer the spending cuts they want.
Ironically, many of the same Republicans bent on eviscerating Social Security have huge personal fortunes on top of congressional pensions and enjoy a level of financial security out of reach of most Americans.
“It’s certainly easy to tell people to make do with less when they have more,” noted Budd, chair of Local 12775’s Veterans of Steel Committee, who was deployed to Iraq three times from 2004 to 2009 as an aircraft mechanic with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 14 (MALS-14).
“There were no millionaires deployed with me,” noted Budd, only “a lot of working-class people” who loved their country and believed in the American dream that Republicans now threaten.
Some Republicans attempt to soft-pedal their shenanigans by saying they won’t cut benefits for current recipients, only future retirees who would have “time to adjust” to the changes, likely by working longer.
That angers Budd, who’s been paying Social Security taxes since he was a 16-year-old with a summer job at an equipment rental company and expects the long-promised return on his ongoing investment.
He’s already laying the financial groundwork for his golden years, and those plans hinge on a robust Social Security program that will not only let him retire at a decent age but will also support him as well as it has his grandma should he also live to 102.
Instead of cutting essential programs, TJ Stephens said, he’d like to see Republicans agree to fairly tax uber-rich Americans who use dodgy loopholes to pay little or nothing now. And he’d like to see more wealthy tax cheats and deadbeats run to the ground.
Stephens, a member of USW Local 9231 and an electrician at the Cleveland-Cliffs complex in New Carlisle, Indiana, regards Social Security as America’s contract with working people—one as inviolable as the one he signed when he joined the Air Force at 19 and went off to serve as a satellite communications technician at Langley Air Force Base.
“Inhumane is the best word I can think of,” Stephens, 37, said of Republican plans to move the goalposts on those already paying into Social Security and force younger Americans to “work ourselves into the grave.”
Ultimately, Carlson predicted, public anger will stop the Republicans in their tracks. He’s planning to ratchet up his activism and get more retirees to join him.
“It makes a difference,” he said of Social Security. “It’s not something we’re going to give up without an extraordinary fight.”
Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).
This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.
Former CIA analyst Fulton Armstrong told The Guardian that, in Cuba, “a lot of the so-called independent journalists are indirectly funded by the US”. They spread anti-government disinformation with the support of the NED.
A former top CIA spy has admitted that the United States funds anti-government propagandists in Cuba who portray themselves as “independent journalists”.
Major British newspaper The Guardian spoke with CIA veteran Fulton Armstrong, whom it described as “the US intelligence community’s most senior analyst for Latin America from 2000 to 2004”.
Armstrong stated that, in Cuba, “a lot of the so-called independent journalists are indirectly funded by the US”.
The ex CIA analyst pointed out that, today, the Joe Biden administration bankrolls anti-government opposition forces in Cuba with at least $20 million in annual support for supposed “democracy promotion” activities.
The Guardian acknowledged that the CIA has a history of spreading disinformation inside Cuba, as part of a US information war aimed at destabilizing the revolutionary government. The newspaper wrote:
Financing media has long been part of Washington’s diplomatic toolkit.
Still today, Washington funds another prominent Spanish-language, anti-Cuba disinformation outlet called Radio y Televisión Martí, which is part of the government’s propaganda arm the US Agency for Global Media (formerly known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors).
Armstrong, the former CIA agent, explained to The Guardian the US destabilization strategy in financing opposition media outlets in foreign countries like Cuba:
US programs are designed with a win-win strategy. We win if the opposition media gain a foothold, and we win if they provoke government repression.
In addition to spying for the CIA, Armstrong worked for the State Department’s US Interests Section in Cuba (a diplomatic office located inside Switzerland’s embassy in Havana).
Armstrong served as the US “National Intelligence Officer for Latin America”, the intelligence community’s top analyst focused on the region. He also oversaw Latin America for the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The Guardian – which is itself closely linked to and collaborates with the UK’s intelligence services – portrayed the Cuban government as repressive for cracking down on foreign-funded disinformation agents.
The British newspaper gloated over the large revenue streams that anti-government media outlets in Cuba have, writing, “Tiny state salaries have also been unable to compete with the private sector”.
While The Guardian praised two right-wing Cuban opposition media outlets, called El Toque and El Estornudo, it admitted that both are bankrolled by the US government.
El Toque disclosed to The Guardian that “it has received US federal funds ‘indirectly’ as part of a mix of money from corporations and foundations”.
El Estornudo is financed by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a notorious instrument of US regime-change operations that has meddled in the internal politics of countries all around the world.
A co-founder of the NED, Allen Weinstein, told the Washington Post in 1991, “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA“.
The NED reported that it gave El Estornudo $180,000 in 2021 – a huge sum of money in any Latin American country, but especially in Cuba, which has trouble getting access to dollars due to Washington’s illegal, six-decade blockade against it.
In a 1977 report titled “Worldwide Propaganda Network Built by the C.I.A.“, the New York Times admitted that the CIA had established a media outlet in the early 1960s called Free Cuba Radio, whose “propaganda broadcasts against the Government of Prime Minister Fidel Castro were carried over radio stations” in various cities inside the US and in the Caribbean.
The prominent newspaper explained:
One motive for establishing the Free Cuba radio network, a former C.I.A. official said he recalled, was to have periods of air time available in advance in case Radio Swan, meant to be the main communications link for the Bay of Pigs invasion, was destroyed by saboteurs.
US funds opposition media propaganda in Venezuela and Nicaragua
The United States has used the same tactics to try to destabilize the leftist governments in Venezuela and Nicaragua.
The NED has spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding right-wing opposition media outlets and so-called “civil society organizations” in Venezuela.
Many of these groups have been complicit in violence and participated in coup attempts against democratically elected Presidents Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro.
In Nicaragua in the 1980s, the CIA supported far-right death squads known as the Contras (short for “Counterrevolutionaries”), who burned down schools and hospitals and waged a campaign of terror to try to overthrow the socialist Sandinista government.
A key part of the US hybrid war on Nicaragua in the 1980s, and still today, included the dissemination of disinformation through NED-funded newspapers like La Prensa, which is owned by the Central American nation’s most powerful right-wing oligarch family, the Chamorro dynasty.
After the Sandinista Front returned to power in 2007, through democratic elections, the US again began pouring millions of dollars into opposition media outlets in Nicaragua.
During a bloody coup attempt in 2018, US-funded Nicaraguan opposition media outlets spread extreme propaganda and fake news, openly inciting violence and encouraging people to murder President Daniel Ortega and hang his body in public.
Ben Norton is an investigative journalist and analyst. He is the founder and editor of Geopolitical Economy Report, and is based in Latin America. (Publicaciones en español aquí.)
This article was republished from Geopolitical Economy.
On January 18, 2023, the government of Burkina Faso made a decision to ask the French military forces to depart from the country within a month. This decision was made by the government of Captain Ibrahim Traoré, who staged the second coup of 2022 in Burkina Faso in September to remove Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had seized power in a coup d’état in January. Traoré, now the interim president of Burkina Faso, said that Damiba, who is in exile in Togo, had not fulfilled the objectives of the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, the name of their military group. Traoré’s government accused Damiba of not being able to stem the insurgency in the country’s north and of colluding with the French (alleging that Damiba had taken refuge in the French military base at Kamboinsin to launch a strike against the coup within a coup).
France entered the Sahel region in 2013 to prevent the southern movement of jihadist elements strengthened by the war in Libya, prosecuted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In the past few years, anti-French sentiment has deepened in North Africa and the Sahel. It was this sentiment that provoked the coups in Mali (August 2020 and May 2021), Guinea (September 2021), and then in Burkina Faso (January 2022 and September 2022). In February 2022, Mali’s government ejected the French military, accusing French forces of committing atrocities against civilians and colluding with jihadi insurgents. Burkina Faso has now joined Mali.
The ejection of France does not mean that there will be no NATO countries in the region. Both the United States and Britain have a large footprint from Morocco to Niger, with the United States trying to draw African countries into its contest against China and Russia. Regular trips by U.S. military leaders--such as U.S. Marine Corps General Michael Langley (commander of U.S. Africa Command) to Gabon in mid-January – and by U.S. civilian leaders--like Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to Senegal, South Africa, and Zambia—are part of a full-court press to ensure that African states forge closer ties with the United States and its allies over China. The designation of Russia’s Wagner Group—which is said to be operating in the Sahel—as a “transnational criminal organization ” by the United States and the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, held in mid-December, are both attempts to draw African states into a new cold war.
Almost half of the Burkinabé population lives below the poverty line, and “more than 630,000 people are on the brink of starvation,” in the country, according to the UN. The country is, however, not poor with its gold export reaching $7.19 billion in 2020. These gains do not go to the Burkinabé people but go to the large mining companies. Ejection of the French military will not be the answer to these deep-seated problems faced by Burkina Faso.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.
The blockade of Cuba limits its ability to share its scientific and technological advances with the rest of the world.
Scientists in Cuba believe that the breakthroughs they have made in the health care and technology sectors should be used to save and improve lives beyond the country’s borders. This is why the island nation has developed important scientific and medical partnerships with organizations and governments across the globe, including with those in Mexico, Palestine, Angola, Colombia, Iran, and Brazil. However, such collaborations are difficult due to the blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States, which has now been in place for the last six decades.
In a conference, “Building Our Future,” held in Havana in November 2022, which brought together youth from Cuba and the United States, scientists at the Cuban Center of Molecular Immunology (CIM) stated during a presentation that the blockade hurts the people of the United States, too. By lifting the sanctions against Cuba, the scientists argued, the people of the United States could have access to life-saving treatments being developed in Cuba, especially against diseases such as diabetes, which ravage working-class communities each year.
A Cure for Diabetes
Cuban scientists have developed both a lung cancer vaccine and a groundbreaking diabetes treatment. The new diabetes treatment, Heberprot-P, developed by the Cuban Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB), can reduce leg amputations of people with diabetic foot ulcers by more than four times. The medication contains a recombinant human epidermal growth factor that, when injected into a foot ulcer, accelerates its healing process, thereby, reducing diabetes-related amputations. And yet, despite the fact that the medication has been registered in Cuba since 2006, and has been registered in several other countries since, people in the United States are unable to get access to Heberprot-P.
Diabetes was the eighth leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, killing more than 100,000 patients in that year. “Foot ulcers are among the most common complications of patients who have diabetes,” which can escalate into lower limb amputations, according to a report in the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Each year, around 73,000 “non-traumatic lower extremity amputations” are performed on people who have diabetes in the U.S. These amputations occur at a disproportionate rate depending on the race of a patient, being far more prevalent among Black and Brown people suffering from diabetes. Many point to racial economic disparities and systemic medical racism as the reason for this.
“If you go into low-income African American neighborhoods, it is a war zone… You see people wheeling themselves around in wheelchairs,” Dr. Dean Schillinger, a medical professor at the University of California-San Francisco, told KHN. According to the KHN article, “Amputations are considered a ‘mega-disparity’ and dwarf nearly every other health disparity by race and ethnicity.”
The life expectancy of a patient with post-diabetic lower limb amputation is significantly reduced, according to various reports. “[P]atients with diabetes-related amputations have a high risk of mortality, with a five-year survival rate of 40–48 percent regardless of the etiology of the amputation.” Heberprot-P could help tens of thousands of patients avoid such amputations, however, due to the blockade, U.S. patients cannot access this treatment. People in the U.S. have a vested interest in dismantling the U.S. blockade of Cuba.
“So after five years [post-amputation], that’s the most you can live, and we are preventing that from happening,” said Rydell Alvarez Arzola, a researcher at CIM, in a presentation given to the U.S. and Cuban youth during the conference in Havana. “And that also is something that could bring both of our peoples [in Cuba and the U.S.] together to fight… to eliminate [the blockade].”
Cuban Health Care Under Blockade
Perhaps one of Cuba’s proudest achievements is a world-renowned health care system that has thrived despite economic devastation and a 60-year-long blockade.
After the fall of Cuba’s primary trading partner, the Soviet Union, in 1991, the island saw a GDP decrease of 35 percent over three years, blackouts, and a nosedive in caloric intake. Yet, despite these overwhelming challenges, Cuba never wavered in its commitment to providing universal health care. Universal health care, or access to free and quality health care for all, is a long-standing demand of people’s movements in the United States that has never been implemented largely due to the for-profit model of the health care industry and enormous corporate interests in the sector.
As other nations were enacting neoliberal austerity measures, which drastically cut social services in the 1980s and 1990s, Cuba’s public health care spending increased by 13 percent from 1990 to 1994. Cuba successfully raised its doctor-to-patient ratio to one doctor for every 202 Cubans in the mid-1990s, a far better statistic than the United States’ ratio of one doctor for every 300 people, according to a 2004 census.
As the blockade begins its seventh decade, Cuba is not only upholding universal health care but also continues to be at the forefront of scientific developments globally.
This was evident during the COVID-19 crisis. Cuba, faced with the inability to purchase vaccines developed by U.S. pharmaceutical companies due to the U.S. blockade, developed five vaccines. The nation not only achieved its goal of creating one of the most effective COVID-19 vaccines but also launched the first mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign for children from two to 18 years old in September 2021.
To Share Knowledge Without Restrictions
Despite its achievements, Cuban health care still faces serious, life-threatening limitations due to the economic blockade. CIM, for example, has struggled to find international companies willing to carry out vital services for them. Claudia Plasencia, a CIM researcher, explained during the conference that CIM had signed a contract with a German gene synthesis company which later backed out because it had signed a new contract with a U.S. company. “They could not keep processing our samples, they could not keep doing business with Cuba,” Plasencia said.
Arzola explained how it is virtually impossible to purchase top-of-the-line equipment due to trade restrictions. “A flow cytometer is a machine that costs a quarter-million dollars… even if my lab has the money, I cannot buy the best machine in the world, which is from the U.S., everyone knows that,” he said. Even if CIM were to buy such a machine from a third party, it cannot utilize the repair services from the United States. “I cannot buy these machines even if I have the money, because I would not be able to fix them. You cannot spend a quarter-million dollars every six months [buying a new machine]… even though you know that this [machine] is the best for your patients.”
I spoke to Marianniz Diaz, a young woman scientist at CIM. When asked what we in the U.S. could do to help CIM’s scientists, her answer was straightforward: “The principal thing you can do is eliminate the blockade.”
“I would like us to have an interaction without restrictions, so we [Cuba and the U.S.] can share our science, our products, [and] our knowledge,” she said.
Natalia Marques is a writer at Peoples Dispatch, an organizer, and a graphic designer based in New York City.
New evidence and understandings about the structure of successful early societies across Asia, Africa, and the Western Hemisphere are sweeping away the popular assumption that early societies tended toward autocracy and despotism.
Archaeology has a more valuable story to tell: Collective action and localized economic production are a recipe for sustainability and broader well-being. The Mesoamerican city of Monte Albán, which was a major regional urban center for 1,300 years, is a shining example. It is a powerful case study that early investments in public infrastructure and goods foster longer-term sustainability.
There is a rich vein of insight here for some of the most pressing challenges faced by humanity: billions of people living in poverty, and collapsing social structures in the developing world. And in the wealthy industrialized world, many are increasingly disillusioned by the flaws in our political and economic models.
But if we’re going to use the models from the ancient past, can we be confident about how early societies really operated?
Researchers have begun to identify archaeological evidence that works as indicators for political and social behaviors and institutions:
There is a lot we can determine from a society’s tendency toward the first or second option in each of these questions about whether it was more autocratic or associated with collective/good governance.
In a study of 26 early urban centers in Mesoamerica, Monte Albán was one of 12 that was characterized as a collectively organized city based on a series of indicators. Prior to the city’s abandonment, Monte Albán was not highly unequal: there were few, if any, lavish tombs, no great caches of household riches or other evidence of extreme wealth differences, and no large, ornate palace that was unequivocally the ruler’s residence.
From early in the site’s history, the city’s core was centered on a large plaza that could have accommodated a signiﬁcant proportion of the site’s population. Flattening the hill’s rocky top and then deﬁning and creating this large open space entailed planning, coordination, and cooperation. Until very late in the city’s history, material representations of rulers were relatively rare, and there is an overall lack of ruler aggrandizement. During the city’s ﬁrst four centuries (500–100 BCE), there were few depictions of seemingly important individuals or leaders. Rule was largely faceless.
How did it happen?
In this light, let’s travel to the early sedentary villages (c. 1500–500 BCE) in the Valley of Oaxaca—the largest expanse of ﬂat land in Mexico’s Southern Highlands. They were situated on or near well-watered land.
Around 500 BCE, however, a new hilltop center, Monte Albán, was established at the nexus of the valley’s three arms, where agriculture was far riskier due to unreliable rainfall and a dearth of permanent water sources. During the era of its establishment, not only was Monte Albán larger than any earlier community in the region, but many other settlers moved into the rural area around Monte Albán.
This marked shift in settlement patterns and the underlying processes associated with the foundation of Monte Albán have long been debated. How can we account for the immigration of people, some likely from beyond the region itself, to an area where they faced greater risks of crop failure?
One perspective, reliant on uniform models of premodern states as despotic, viewed the process from a basically top-down lens; leaders coerced their subjects to move near the capital to provide sustenance for the new center.
Yet more recent research has found that governance at Monte Albán was generally more collective than autocratic, and in its growth period, productive activities were collective, centered in domestic units and not managed from above.
By the time Monte Albán was established in the Valley of Oaxaca, more than a thousand years had passed since foragers transitioned from mobile lifeways to sedentary communities. Maize, beans, and squash, which had been domesticated prior to village formation, were key elements of an agricultural economy, with maize providing the bulk of calories. Early villagers also exploited a mosaic of other natural resources including clay for making ceramic vessels and ﬁgurines, stone for making tools and ornaments, and plant materials for processing into a range of woven products.
The shift to sedentary life was a long social process through which formerly dispersed populations not only adjusted but committed to living in larger communities and interacting with more people on a daily basis.
The Valley of Oaxaca has a climate that is semiarid, rainfall is unpredictable and spatially patchy across the region, and not all sectors of the valley ﬂoor receive the minimum annual precipitation necessary for reliable rainfall farming of maize, the region’s staple and culturally most important crop.
The prime factor that determines the productivity of maize is the availability of water, and a diversity of water management practices have been used since prehispanic times. These manipulations, which increase agricultural yields, include wells and pot irrigation, check dams, and small-scale canals, all of which were easily managed or implemented at the household level.
The Valley of Oaxaca was a core politico-economic region. Prior to Monte Albán’s founding, most of the populace resided in one of three clusters of settlements that were separated from the others by largely unoccupied areas, including the center of the valley where Monte Albán was later situated. In each arm, a cluster of smaller communities surrounded one larger settlement that had special functions and served as the “head towns” of small competing polities.
This millennial pattern was broken when Monte Albán was built on a steep hilltop in the center of the valley. The settlement’s establishment and rapid growth in size and monumentality set off a dynamic episode of innovation and change that included demographic, dietary, and other economic shifts. Populations grew rapidly not only at the new center, which became the largest and most monumental city in the valley’s early history, but also in the surrounding countryside. The center and rural communities were integrated through an emergent market network that provisioned the city.
This dramatic episode of change required the coordination of labor to build the new city. The rocky hilltop was ﬂattened into a large main plaza with monumental buildings constructed along its edges. The scale and orientation of this central plaza represent a key transition from prior community plans in the region. Residences for the city’s burgeoning population were constructed on the steep slopes of the hill by creating ﬂattened spaces, or terraces, shored up by stone and earthen retaining walls, each of which sustained a domestic unit.
The allocation of the hill’s apex for civic-ceremonial space and the lower slopes for commoner residences was a blueprint for a broad social accord. Built environments are not neutral, but political, and Monte Albán’s footprint with a large, relatively open central space and little display of hierarchical leaders points to a collective arrangement.
The city’s concentrated residential precincts comprised strings of artiﬁcially ﬂattened terraces that shared long retaining walls. Construction of the terraces required allotments of domestic labor to clear trees, ﬂatten steep inclinations, erect stone walls to retain ﬂat spaces where houses would be built, and construct drainage channels to divert rainwater from living spaces. The construction, sharing, and maintenance of front retaining walls involved high degrees of interhousehold cooperation between neighbors.
Additionally, commoners adopted construction techniques and basic ceramic wares that previously were the domain of high-status families. In the early city, most houses included contiguous rooms with plaster ﬂoors, often constructed around a patio; they were built with adobe bricks on stone foundations instead of the mud and thatch typical of earlier commoner houses. The pottery wares that previously were largely used by higher-status families or as ceremonial vessels became more broadly distributed in the centuries after Monte Albán was established. This level of cooperation and coordination is evidence of a social charter or norms, in which a wider array of residents had access to what previously had been higher-status materials and goods.
No large-scale production has been uncovered, and there is no indication of central-governmental food storage at Monte Albán, as one might expect with top-down economic control or redistribution.
Economic production at Monte Albán was situated in domestic contexts. Instead of being coerced to move to Monte Albán, people were attracted to the city. Monte Albán was settled by a sizable group, possibly as large as 1,000 people, and rapidly grew to about 5,000 people within a few hundred years. Populations also increased in the rural areas around Monte Albán, and the annual rate of population growth in the valley exceeded what could have been maintained by natural increase alone. Populations expanded again in and around Monte Albán after c. 300 BCE. The threefold growth was too large to be accounted for by local, “natural growth,” so that people must have been drawn to Monte Albán and the valley from more distant, extra-regional locations.
Evidence indicates that the agricultural catchment for feeding Monte Albán likely extended 20 kilometers from the city. The market and exchange networks that moved food to the city created a high degree of interconnection among small settlements and Monte Albán. This interdependence required cooperation, infrastructure, and institutions that together provided the means of moving food and distributing seasonal surpluses.
Prior to Monte Albán, early “head towns” were generally positioned adjacent to good farmland. But the new city was located in an area of the valley where agriculture was riskier and largely dependent on unpredictable rainfall. Why would people move to a place where they faced a high risk of crop failure, where they could have been taxed more highly, and where, if governance were coercive, they had little voice? Such a scenario seems improbable, and it is far more likely that people moved to Monte Albán to take advantage of economic opportunities, a parallel to most migrants in the world today.
Linda M. Nicholas is an adjunct curator of anthropology at the Negaunee Integrative Research Center at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois.
This article was produced by Human Bridges, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
A Criminal Attack on Democracy: Why Brazil’s Fascists Should Not Get Amnesty By: Gabriel Rocha GasparRead Now
From all the excited cries echoing from the red tide that took over Brasília during Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s (known as Lula) inauguration as the Brazilian President on January 1, 2023, the most significant—and challenging, especially from the institutional stance of the new government—was the call for “no amnesty!” The crowds chanting those words were referring to the crimes perpetrated by the military dictatorship in Brazil from 1964 to 1985 that still remain unpunished. Lula paused his speech, to let the voices be heard, and followed up with a strong but restrained message about accountability.
Lula’s restraint shows his respect for the civic limitation of the executive, standing in sharp contrast to former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s notion of statesmanship. After all, one of the characteristics that allow us to properly qualify “Bolsonarismo” as fascism is the deliberate amalgamation between the institutional exercise of power and counter-institutional militancy. As a president, Bolsonaro went beyond mixing those roles; he occupied the state in constant opposition against the state itself. He constantly attributed his ineptitude as a leader to the restrictions imposed by the democratic institutions of the republic.
While Bolsonaro projected an image of being a strongman in front of cameras, which eventually helped him climb the ladder of power, he maintained a low profile in Congress and his three-decade-long congressional tenure is a testament to his political and administrative irrelevance. His weak exercise of power revealed his inadequacy as a leader when he finally took over as president. Bolsonaro catapulted to notoriety when he cast his vote for impeaching former President Dilma Rousseff in 2016.
Before casting his vote, Bolsonaro took that opportunity to pay homage to Colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, “convicted of torture” during the military dictatorship, whom he jestingly referred to as “the dread of Dilma Rousseff!”; Ustra was responsible for systematically torturing the former head of state when she, then a young Marxist guerrilla, was jailed by the dictatorship. From that day until Bolsonaro’s last public appearance--after which he fled the country to make his way to Orlando, Florida before Lula’s inauguration--the only opportunity he ever had to stage his electoral persona was by instigating his supporters through incendiary speeches. That combination led to an impotent government, run by someone who encouraged his supporters to cheer for him using the ridiculously macho nickname “Imbrochável,” which translates to “unfloppable.”
By endorsing the need for accountability while respecting the solemnity of the presidency and allowing people to call for “no amnesty,” Lula restores some normality to the dichotomy that exists between the representative/represented within the framework of a liberal bourgeois democracy. A small gesture, but one that will help establish the necessary institutional trust for fascism to be scrutinized. Now, the ball is in the court of the organized left; the urgency and radicality of the accountability depend on its ability to theoretically and politically consubstantiate the slogan “no amnesty.”
No amnesty for whom? And for what? What kind of justice should be served to the enemies of the working class? To the former health minister who, claiming to be an expert in logistics, turned Manaus, the capital city of Amazonas into a “herd immunity test laboratory” to deal with a collapsing health care system during the peak of the COVID outbreak in Brazil; To the former environment minister who sanctioned the brutal colonization of Indigenous lands by changing environmental legislation; To a government who supported expanding civilian access to army-level weaponry; To the national gun manufacturer who endorsed such political aberration and promoted weapons sale; To the health insurance company that conducted unconsented drug tests on elderly citizens, while espousing to the motto, “death is a form of discharge”; To Bolsonaro himself, who among so many crimes, decided to repeatedly deny science and advertise hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as cures to COVID-19; To the chancellor who used the Itamaraty (Brazil’s equivalent of the U.S. State Department) to intentionally marginalize Brazil in the international community; To the media owners who endorsed or tolerated all that misanthropy, whitewashing fascist rhetoric, and offered a megaphone for amplifying racism, sexism, LGBT phobia, and, underlying them all, the brutal classicism.
The list goes on. There are so many crimes, so many delinquent individuals and corporations, and so many victims—starting with the deaths of innocent people because of COVID and the trauma suffered by their families and spreading to all vulnerable populations: Indigenous people, the Black population, Maroons, and LGBTQIA+—that a dedicated agency to investigate and prosecute them all is necessary. Perhaps the substance we must inject into the cry for “no amnesty” is the establishment of a special court. As suggested by professor Lincoln Secco, that should be the Manaus Tribunal, named after the city that was used as a testing ground for Bolsonaro’s anti-vax propaganda, where patients were left to die at the height of the COVID pandemic. And hopefully, the Manaus Tribunal, observing all the rites, all the civility, and all the legal requirements will be capable of bringing about the historic outcome the Constitutional Assembly of 1988 fell short of delivering: close the doors of Brazilian institutions to fascism, forever.
Gabriel Rocha Gaspar is a Marxist Brazilian activist and journalist, with a master’s degree in literature from the Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 University. For five years, he was a reporter at the French public radio RFI, while also working as a foreign affairs correspondent for several Brazilian media outlets. Currently, he is a columnist at Mídia Ninja.
Throughout 2022, monopoly capitalism, with the US at its core, continued to erode from within and buckle under pressure exerted by sovereign states and peoples’ movements alike. Relentless blows reigned down on the empire. These were some of the most memorable:
January 30: Prior to the Winter Olympics in Beijing, the leaders of China and Russia meet, the first visit between Xi Jinping and any world leader in over two years. A Russia–China joint statement heralded the dawning of a “new era,” warned against “the negative impact of the United States' Indo-Pacific strategy on peace and stability in the region,” and confirmed support for each others’ security policies. In comparison with the previous year, trade between the two countries increased by 32% in 2022. The February 7 report of the meeting by conservative rag The New Yorker had a nice ring to it: Putin and Jinping “unveiled a sweeping long-term agreement that also challenges the United States as a global power, NATO as a cornerstone of international security, and liberal democracy as a model for the world.”
February 19: Two Benin bronze sculptures are returned to a traditional palace in the former Kingdom of Benin, now Edo State, Nigeria. Several thousand bronze, brass, wood and ivory sculptures, cultural patrimony of the Benin dating back to the 13th century, were looted by the British and scattered across the imperial core in the colonial era. An estimated 90% of Africa’s cultural heritage is currently housed in Europe. Other artifacts are kept in Europe, Japan, Canada, or New Zealand. Throughout the year, a trickle of Benin bronzes returned to Nigeria. In addition to enslaving about three million Africans, the British extracted untold billions from today’s Nigeria through the Royal Nigeria Company (RNC), a corporation with an army that was granted a monopoly to exploit the area. In 1900, the RNC sold Nigeria to the British for £865,000, or about 37 million USD today.
February 21, 2022: Russia declares its recognition of the sovereignty of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics (DPR and LPR, respectively). In his address, President Putin recognizes the US role in overthrowing Ukraine’s elected government in 2014: “Radical nationalists took advantage of the justified public discontent and saddled the Maidan protest, escalating it to a coup d'état in 2014. They also had direct assistance from foreign states. According to reports, the US Embassy provided $1 million a day to support the so-called protest camp on Independence Square in Kiev. In addition, large amounts were impudently transferred directly to the opposition leaders’ bank accounts, tens of millions of dollars. But the people who actually suffered, the families of those who died in the clashes provoked in the streets and squares of Kiev and other cities, how much did they get in the end? Better not ask.”
February 24: Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine begins. On the left, a rift opens between those who view Russia as a semi-peripheral country bravely standing up to US imperialist hegemony and those who insist that Russia is a non-socialist aggressor state and must, therefore, be condemned. Whether you agree with it or not, the Russian incursion constituted an affront to US global supremacy.
The bottomless pools of sympathy and generosity, military and humanitarian, offered to the people and leaders of Ukraine by mainstream media across the imperial core made it very clear that the country was, in fact, a US puppet state. The outpouring of charity starkly contrasted with the indifference expressed towards the murder of millions of Iraqis, Afghanis, Libyans, Yugoslavians, Syrians, or Palestinians by US and NATO troops and their allies. The now ubiquitous Ukrainian flag began showing up on social media profiles, in dollar stores, and in promotional campaigns by banks, fast food restaurants, and gas stations across the West.
Photo: Colton’s Restaurant, Facebook
February 27: The UN Resolution “calling on Russia to halt its invasion and withdraw its forces from Ukraine” receives a tepid international response, particularly from African leaders. In total, 24 out of Africa’s 54 countries refused to condemn Russia’s military operation.
“The war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from amongst its own leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region,” said South Africa’s President Ramaphosa.
“While Western powers impose sanctions on Russia, many countries in the Global South blame the US and NATO for the Ukraine war,” wrote Ben Norton for Multipolarista. “China, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Mexico, Vietnam, and more remain neutral. These represent the majority of the world’s population.”
March 5: Mixed reactions follow the announcement that a delegation of high-ranking US officials visited Venezuela to meet with President Nicolás Maduro. The US, of course, does not formally recognize Maduro’s presidency but instead backs a little-known former parliamentary deputy, Juan Guaidó, who declared himself leader of the oil-rich country one day in a Caracas plaza, having never received so much as one vote for the position. While many leftists would like to see the US starved of valuable oil by Venezuela’s socialist government, reality dictates otherwise: Venezuelans will greatly benefit from increased revenue from the oil industry, which saw its sales drop by 99% following its targeting by US economic warfare.
“Undoubtedly, Washington’s move represents a tacit recognition of the Nicolás Maduro administration,” wrote Caracas-based Orinoco Tribune, “a clear step towards the White House’s final admission of the failure of its Guaidó strategy, and a recognition of the geopolitical position of strength that Venezuela currently holds.”
March 23: Mainstream news outlets report that Russia will now insist that unfriendly countries pay for its oil and gas exports in Russian rubles. These sales are normally processed using US dollars, also known as petro dollars, which props up the value of the US dollar. A month later, these same hegemonic media outlets were reporting that “the Russian ruble keeps rising, hitting a seven-year high” (New York Times, June 21), and that “Russian ruble is the best-performing currency of 2022 despite sanctions” (The New Yorker, June 23).
May 10: During the press conference that he holds each morning, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) declares that he will not attend the so-called Summit of the Americas, hosted in Los Angeles, California, in June, following indications that the US would not invite representatives from Cuba, Nicaragua, or Venezuela. “If there is exclusion, if everyone is not invited… I will not go,” AMLO said, one of numerous inspiring comments that he made throughout the year.
Following AMLO’s statement, other countries, including Bolivia, Honduras, Guatemala, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, either did not attend or refused to send high-level delegates. In one of his rare moments of bravery, Argentina’s President Alberto Fernández, who did attend the summit, spoke out on behalf of the uprising: “the fact of being the host country of the Summit does not grant the capacity to impose a ‘right of admission’ on the member countries of the continent.”
May 31: The United Nations accepts a new member country, in a sense, as “Türkiye” becomes the official name for the nation formerly known as Turkey. Western media continue to defy the wishes of Türkiye’s government and still refer to the country as “Turkey”—as they do for “Burma,” which changed its name to Myanmar over 30 years ago.
June 19: Former Marxist guerrilla Gustavo Petro wins the presidential election in Colombia. Petro is widely described as Colombia’s first left-wing president while his running mate, Francia Márquez, is the country’s first Afro-Colombian vice president. Among his first orders of business were reversing Colombia’s policy towards Venezuela and reopening the 2,200-kilometer border between the countries. Under the previous president, US pawn Iván Duque, Colombia began recognizing Juan Guaidó as leader of Venezuela. Venezuela’s President Maduro and Petro met in person on November 1, consolidating a new era of friendly relations between the two countries, formerly joined in Gran Colombia, under the presidency of Simón Bolívar, in the early 19th century.
Photo: New York Times
June 20, 2022: The last remaining tooth of Patrice Lumumba, independence leader and first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is returned to his daughters in Kinshasa. In 1961, Belgian special forces, the CIA, and the secret services of the UK and Canada conspired to abduct Lumumba and murder him. Then, they dissolved his remains in battery acid—a futile attempt to diminish the impact of his heroic legacy in the afterlife. A Belgian police officer later bragged about stealing a single tooth of Lumumba’s from the grisly scene.
“For my part, I would like to apologize here, in the presence of his family, for the way in which the Belgian government influenced the decision to end the life of the country's first prime minister,” said Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo. “A man was murdered for his political convictions, his words, his ideals.”
June 23: General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping, chairs the 14th BRICS Summit. The BRICS countries, which comprise about 40% of the world’s population, announce they will focus on the creation of a new reserve currency backed by natural resources, particularly gold. It is widely reported that at least a dozen countries, including oil-producing giants such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria, and very populous nations such as Egypt or NATO member Türkiye, wish to join the international economic partnership.
June 27: In 1904, German General Lothar von Trotha issued an order to shoot all Herero people on sight. The Herero and the Nama were the two most populous cultures in Namibia when it fell under German rule in the early 20th century. Over 80% of Herero and 50% of Nama were murdered in the ensuing holocaust. On June 27, Berlin promised to return at least 24 artifacts stolen from Namibia. Empty apologies and the repatriation of a tiny fraction of the wealth stolen from former colonial possessions does not suddenly constitute the just distribution of wealth on a global scale, but it opens the door to a larger discussion about reparations for the vast labor and natural resources plundered from oppressed nations over the last few centuries.
July 7: The buffoon serving as UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, resigns to a chorus of laughter. Whether we consider its definite end as 1956 or 1997, the decisive collapse of the British Empire—which once controlled at least a quarter of the world’s total land area—constitutes a tangible demonstration of imperial collapse that provides hope to us all.
August 15: Following mass protests against colonialism that erupted in January, and after Mali’s government issued an edict that French military occupation of the country must cease, the last French troops depart Mali. France promptly blamed the government’s statements on Russian interference. There may have been a grain of truth to the accusation: demonstrators were frequently filmed waving Russian flags and displaying pro-Russia and pro-China slogans. The landlocked West African country had been more or less occupied by French troops since the late 19th century and shackled into the economic bonds of the Franc Zone since 1984. Doubtlessly, potential alliances with any non-European powers are viewed by the people of Mali as a welcome alternative to decades of looting at the hands of the West. “Mali’s break with France is a symptom of cracks in the Transatlantic Alliance,” Vijay Prashad wrote for MROnline in December.
Photo: Anadolu Agency
September 8: Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, social media explodes with virulent attacks on the colonialist, imperialist policies carried out under her 70-year rule. Particularly popular were photos of her wearing the largest cut diamond in the world, valued at about $400 million and stolen from South Africa in 1905. The queen’s funeral was attended by about a million people—a far cry, for example, from the estimated six million who attended the funeral of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who liberated Egypt from British rule and led Egypt for 14 years. An estimated 45 people died during the raucous outpouring of grief following Nasser’s death in 1970.
September 28: Climate chaos impacts the imperial core as Hurricane Ian, Florida’s deadliest storm in over 80 years, strikes the US state, killing 146.
September 30: Following referendums in the DPR and LPR, the two breakaway states join the Russian Federation. President Putin’s address on the occasion was an assault on the imperialist core: “The West is ready to cross every line to preserve the neo-colonial system which allows it to live off the world, to plunder it thanks to the domination of the dollar and technology, to collect an actual tribute from humanity, to extract its primary source of unearned prosperity: the rent paid to the hegemon. The preservation of this annuity is their main, real, and absolutely self-serving motivation.”
October 5: In defiance of the wishes of the US and its vassal states, the international Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC) announces that it will cut oil production by two million barrels a day. As Indian economist Prabhat Patnaik commented, “the fact that they [OPEC] have been able to stand up to the pressure being exerted by the US to keep output unchanged is a sign of the changing times, of the challenge to US hegemony that is emerging even among countries that were its staunchest allies.”
October 22: The so-called klimakleber (climate gluers), who made news all year by defacing priceless works of European art and gluing themselves to roadways and monuments across the continent, smear mashed potatoes all over Claude Monet’s Les Meules, on display at the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany.
“We are in a climate catastrophe and all you are afraid of is tomato soup or mashed potatoes on a painting,” said an activist from Germany’s Leztze Generation (Last Generation). “You know what I am afraid of? I am afraid because science tells us that we won’t be able to feed our families in 2050… Does it take mashed potatoes on a painting to make you listen? This painting is not going to be worth anything if we have to fight over food. When will you finally start to listen? When will you finally start to listen and stop business as usual?”
Photo: Last Generation
October 30: After spending 580 days in jail on charges that were ultimately thrown out, Brazil’s working-class leader Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva wins the country’s presidential elections, paving the way for his return to the presidency. The left-leaning Lula served as president of Latin America’s most populous country and largest economy from 2003-2011, and was then locked up and prevented from running again by the US-trained judge Sergio Moro and US-backed neo-fascist politician Jair Bolsonaro. In fact, after Bolsonaro’s presidential election victory in 2018, these two made an unprecedented personal visit to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Lula’s return to power will mean reinvigorated relations with Venezuela and a higher standard of living for the impoverished people of Brazil. Among his campaign proposals was the creation of a common currency for Latin America.
November 3: The annual ritual repudiating the economic warfare waged on the Cuban people by the US takes place at the United Nations. In a vote that functions as a barometer measuring extreme servility to the imperial core, 185 countries voted to condemn the campaign of US economic war—euphemistically referred to as sanctions—waged against Cuba for 60 years. Only the USA and the apartheid state voted against the resolution, while Ukraine and Brazil (a parting gift from departing Bolsonaro) abstained.
December 9: Communist Party of China General Secretary Xi Jinping tells Gulf countries that China will begin paying for oil and gas in yuan (or renminbi), a decision that will further weaken the US dollar and US global economic dominance.
December 21: Historic winter storm Elliott, the deadliest winter storm to hit the country in over 100 years, pummels the US east coast, leaving at least 102 dead, including 34 in Buffalo, New York.
December 28: "I'm worried about capitalism," admits US billionaire Bernie Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, in a year-end interview with Financial Times.
December 31: Three of the four opposition parties in Venezuela’s G4 platform vote to remove their erstwhile leader, US puppet Juan Guaidó, from his made-up position as “interim president” of the country. The vote dealt a final blow to the scheme initiated in 2019 by the US and its vassal states. However, assets worth billions continue to be held by the leaderless parallel government, leaving the complete disintegration and defeat of the Guaidó strategy as something we can look forward to in the new year.
This article was republished from Steve Lalla.
Survivors and family members of victims of the massacre in Ayacucho on December 15 denounce that the army treated protesters like war targets, reminiscent of violence faced during the internal armed conflict.
On December 15, 2022, while helicopters flew overhead, members of Peru’s national army shot down civilians with live bullets in the outskirts of the city of Ayacucho. This action was in response to a national strike and mobilization to protest the coup d’état that deposed President Pedro Castillo on December 7.
On December 15, hundreds of university students, shopkeepers, street vendors, agricultural workers, and activists gathered at the center of Ayacucho to express their discontent over the removal of Castillo and continued their mobilization toward the airport. Similar action was witnessed in several other cities across the southern Andean region of the country.
As protesters approached the airport, members of the armed forces opened fire and shot tear gas canisters directly at them. The firing by the army from the helicopters proved to be the most lethal. As the hundreds of unarmed people ran for their lives, the shooting continued.
Ten people were killed as a result of this violence inflicted by the army, and dozens more were injured, according to official numbers provided by the ombudsman’s office. At least six people are still fighting for their lives in hospitals in Peru’s capital Lima and in Ayacucho. Autopsies of 10 of those who died in Ayacucho show that six of the victims died from gunshot wounds to the chest. The youngest was just 15 years old.
On December 27, Reuters reported how one of these fatal victims in Ayacucho, 51-year-old Edgar Prado, was shot and killed while attempting to help someone else who had been shot down during the protests.
The exceedingly violent response of the security forces to the anti-coup protests across Peru was widely condemned. A delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) visited the country from December 20 to 22 to receive testimonies from local human rights organizations and victims about the violent repression suffered by protesters and also spoke to families of the 28 fatal victims. The delegation traveled to Ayacucho on December 22.
More than a dozen other family members, Ayacucho inhabitants, organizers, and a couple of independent journalists, including myself, waited on the sidewalk of one of the city’s narrow and colorful streets as the meeting was underway. As people came and went, much of the events and tragedies of December 15 were recounted.
“They won’t show you this on the news here,” Carmen (name changed) told me as she showed me a video on her phone of a young boy with blood all over his shirt being dragged to safety by fellow protesters. “That’s her nephew,” she said, pointing to a woman sitting on the ground.
Pedro Huamani, a 70-year-old man who is a member of the Front in Defense of the People of Ayacucho (FREDEPA), was accompanying the victims waiting outside the IACHR meeting. “We have suffered a terrible loss,” he told me, “I was present that day in a peaceful march toward the airport.”
“When they began to shoot tear gas grenades and bullets at us, I started to choke, I almost died there,” Huamani said. “I escaped and went down to the cemetery, but it was the same, we were trying to enter and they started to shoot at us from behind. Helicopters were flying overhead and from there they shot tear gas grenades at us, trying to kill us.”
Carmen brought over some of her friends and one of them, who was wearing a gray sweatsuit, told me, “We all live near the airport, and saw everything happen. You should’ve seen how they shot them down like animals. We tried to help some of the injured, but it was hard.”
The massacre in Ayacucho, as well as the violent repression across the country, has only intensified people’s demand that Dina Boluarte step down. Boluarte was sworn in on December 7 immediately following the coup against Castillo. In interviews and public addresses, she has justified the use of force by police against protesters calling their actions as acts of “terrorism” and “vandalism.”
Huamani, while shaking and holding back tears, said: “She is a murderous president and in Huamanga, we do not want her, nor do we recognize her as president because this woman ordered the police and the army to shoot at us Peruvians. And these bullets, these weapons, are really bought by us, not by the army, nor the soldiers, but by the people. And for them to kill us is really horrible.”
The anger felt by Ayacucho residents is also linked to the historical undermining of Peruvian democracy and the economic exclusion suffered by the regions outside of Lima. Huamani explained: “They took out our president [Castillo] so this is not a democracy. We are not a democracy, we are in [state of] war, but not just in Ayacucho and Huamanga, but also in Arequipa, Apurímac, Cusco. In these regions, we are suffering from poverty, we can no longer survive, we are dying of hunger… and these right wingers want to make us their slaves, but we won’t permit this because we are responding and resisting.”
Old Wounds Ripped Open
December 15 was not the first time civilians in Ayacucho were massacred by the Peruvian armed forces. Many who were present on December 15 said that the warlike treatment received by the peaceful protesters was reminiscent of the days of the two-decades-long internal armed conflict that Peruvians suffered through more than 20 years ago.
“They still treat us as if we were all terrorists,” a family member of one of the victims of the protests pointed out.
As part of the state’s campaign against the guerrilla insurgency, it tortured, detained, disappeared, and murdered tens of thousands of innocent peasants and Indigenous people, accusing them of supporting or being part of the insurgency.
The population of Ayacucho was one of the hardest hit. According to reports by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was set up to look into the human rights violations, of the estimated 69,280 fatal victims of the internal armed conflict in Peru from 1980-2000, 26,000 were killed or disappeared by state actors or insurgent groups in Ayacucho. Thousands of people that fled their towns for the city of Ayacucho during the conflict continue to search for their loved ones and demand justice.
One of them is Paula Aguilar Yucra, who I met outside the IACHR meeting. Like more than 60 percent of people in Ayacucho, Indigenous Quechua is her first language. The 63-year-old is a member of the Ayacucho-based National Association of Relatives of Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared of Peru (ANFASEP). She fled her rural community in Usmay for Ayacucho in 1984 after her mother was killed and her brother was taken by soldiers and never seen again.
Nearly 40 years later, she mourns again. Her grandson, 20-year-old José Luis Aguilar Yucra, father of a two-year-old boy, was killed on December 15 by a bullet to the head as he attempted to make his way home from work.
In a vigil held on the afternoon of December 22, Paula stood tall with the other members of ANFASEP and held a sign reading: “Fighting today does not mean dying tomorrow.”
Zoe Alexandra is a journalist and co-editor of Peoples Dispatch.
Society’s top tiers are rife with nepotism. It’s past time to expose just how much unearned wealth and power has been accrued by elites.
There is a common feeling that many of us have experienced in professional or academic environments, especially when we struggle against gender or racial bias. It’s called “imposter syndrome”—the feeling that one doesn’t deserve one’s position and that others will discover this lack of competence at any moment. I felt this way as a female graduate student in a science field in the 1990s. I felt it as a young journalist of color in a white-dominated industry.
The rich and the elite among us appear to feel the opposite—that they are deserving of unearned privilege. A recent series of stories in New York Magazine headlined “The Year of the Nepo Baby” has struck a chord among those who are being outed for having benefited from insider status. Nepo babies are the children of the rich and famous, the ones who are borne of naked nepotism and whose ubiquity exposes the myth of American meritocracy. Nepo babies can be found everywhere there is power.
The New York Magazine stories have predictably generated defensive responses from nepo babies. Jamie Lee Curtis, actor and daughter of famed Hollywood stars Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, wrote a lengthy post on Instagram defending her status. Although she admitted that she benefitted from her parents’ fame—“I have navigated 44 years with the advantages my associated and reflected fame brought me, I don’t pretend there aren’t any”—she also clapped back at critics, saying she was tired of assumptions that a nepo baby like her “would somehow have no talent whatsoever.” Curtis went further in claiming that the current focus on people like her was “designed to try to diminish and denigrate and hurt.”
Curtis is clearly a talented actor, of that there is no doubt. But, in defending her privilege from critique, she reveals just how deserving she considers herself. It is the converse of imposter syndrome—the insider syndrome.
The act of calling out nepotism doesn’t necessarily imply that nepo babies are not talented. (Nepo babies are sometimes talented—and sometimes not.) It means pointing out that some talented people are able to benefit from family connections and fame that other equally talented people are not able to.
The critique is intended to call out elitism, not “diminish,” “denigrate” or “hurt,” as Curtis accuses journalists of doing. Journalism that exposes power and its corruptive influence among elites punches up, not down. Curtis is hardly a disadvantaged person whose well-being will suffer from such coverage. Rather, stories pointing out her parental advantages could potentially help to even the playing field so that it is unacceptable in the future to consider family connections in film and TV auditions.
Recall the college admissions scandal of 2019 when it was revealed—again through good journalism—that wealthy parents like TV star Lori Loughlin used all the power and money at their disposal to bend the rules of elite school admissions for their children. Many of those children may well have deserved to get into the schools they attended. But, in the face of stiff competition, untold numbers of equally deserving youth who did not have powerful and wealthy parents willing to break rules were not admitted. Now, many of those same nepo babies’ parents who were tried and convicted are using their money and connections to win shortened prison sentences.
But Hollywood celebrities, however much they enjoy prestige and privilege, are an easy target. Nepotism is rife in all the halls of power—in the world of art, sports, and even journalism, and especially in corporate and political circles.
Billionaires (especially those in tech) may propagate the myth of the merit-based American dream, but some of the most dramatic success stories began with a parent using their wealth or connections to give their child the upper hand. Take Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, who became one of the world’s wealthiest people in his 30s. Gates’s early success was largely due to the well-documented connections that his parents flexed on his behalf to get his fledgling company off the ground. Other tech nepo babies include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose father loaned him $100,000 to start his company, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose parents were early investors in his online retail business to the tune of nearly $250,000.
Nepotism is part of the fabric of capitalism. For centuries, unfair advantages were available to those who have historically faced fewer hurdles, through the sheer luck of being born into a family with wealth, connections, or respect within their field. Indeed, in order to beat back the imposter syndrome, many advise channeling the unearned confidence of a mediocre straight white man.
Our economy is rigged to encourage nepotism by ensuring that the already wealthy pass their wealth—and by extension the power that their money buys—to their children. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) pointed out how the tax code is written in order to benefit the moneyed classes. According to a CBPP report, “High-income, and especially high-wealth, filers enjoy a number of generous tax benefits that can dramatically lower their tax bills.”
Nepo babies who defend their status reinforce the notion that wealth, fame, and privilege equal brilliance, talent, and genius. The reality is that the privileged among us simply have the means to cheat. The rest of us are sold the lie that working hard will bring rewards—rather than unearned wealth.
This, in turn, encourages cheating among those who cannot rely on nepotism to gain power. One well-known example of the “fake-it-till-you-make-it” approach is Anna Sorokin, a woman whose fabricated lies about wealth and power landed her in prison and made her the focus of a Netflix show. Sorokin faked being a nepo baby—a German heiress—in order to live a lavish lifestyle. Sorokin learned that to gain the edge that moneyed elites have, one must internalize the insider syndrome.
Republican Congressman George Santos, who was recently exposed as a fraud for lying about his work experience, wealth, and even ethnicity, is another prime example. His political party has made a habit of encouraging (real or fake) nepo babies like Donald Trump, who openly admitted to tax avoidance in a debate and whose company was convicted of criminal tax fraud.
The GOP has for years led the charge to protect the interests of the wealthy while insisting on means testing and drug testing for the rest of us to receive benefits.
In truth, the emperor has no clothes. The meritocracy of American capitalism is a myth built on smoke and mirrors, on lies and false confidence. The current long-overdue conversation around nepo babies may help to further class consciousness among Americans who may see a bit more clearly now just how scantily clad the emperor really is.
Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
The Macron-led government is making a new bid to push controversial pension reforms, calling to increase the retirement age from 62 to 64
French trade union leaders addressing media outside the Paris Labor Exchange (Image via Workers’ Force)
On January 10, all the major trade unions in France gave a joint call for protests against the proposals for pension reforms announced by the Emmanuel Macron-led government. The unions, including the General Confederation of Labor (CGT), the French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CFDT), Workers’ Force (FO), the French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC), the French Confederation of Management—General Confederation of Executives (CFE-CGC), the National Union of Autonomous Trade Unions (UNSA), Fédération syndicale unitaire (FSU), and Solidaires, have called for a general strike and nationwide protest mobilization on January 19. The left-wing coalition Nouvelle Union Populaire Écologique et Sociale (NUPES) composed of the La France Insoumise (LFI), French Communist Party (PCF), and others also oppose the reforms and have extended support to the protests. Youth groups, including the Young Communist Movement of France (MJCF), have also called for protests against the reforms.
On January 10, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne unveiled government plans towards pension reforms, which would increase the retirement age in the country from 62 to 64. In addition, it was proposed that workers will need to have worked for at least 43 years to get a full pension, starting from 2027. Earlier, the reforms announced by the first government under Emmanuel Macron, which contained similar proposals such as an increase in retirement age, replacing 42 pension systems with one scheme, introduction of a grade point system for ascertaining pension amounts, among other proposals, were vehemently opposed by trade unions and had not been implemented due to the COVID-19 crisis.
On Wednesday, the New Ecological and Social Peoples’ Union (NUPES) slammed the reforms proposed by the government as an attack on the pension system and an attempt to impose a project that 85% of the people reject. NUPES has reiterated their demand for the right to retire at age of 60. NUPES leader Jean-Luc Melenchon has declared that “the reform is a serious social regression.”
On January 10, in their joint statement, the major trade unions wrote that, “this reform will hit all workers, especially those who have a lower life expectancy, and those and those whose professions are not recognized. It will aggravate the precariousness of those who are no longer employed before retirement, and strengthen gender inequality.”
French Communist Party (PCF) leader, Fabien Roussel MP, said that “the government is announcing that our pension funds are bankrupt. It is a lie! We need pension reform to increase pensions! Let’s finance it through employment, wage increases and taxing the €80 billion [USD$86.10 billion] dividends distributed to CAC 40 shareholders in 2022.”
Youth groups also called for a national march protesting the reforms in Paris on January 21. The youth groups called for a retirement at age 60, an increase of the SMIC and wages as well as pension, rent freezes and price freezes for basic necessities, massive investments in ecological bifurcation and public services, including transport, health and education, taxation of superprofits, and a guarantee of autonomy for young people.
As the Young Communist Movement of France (MJCF) has written, “Emmanuel Macron’s project is clear: the young unemployed, the old at work until exhaustion. The president presents himself as a modern man, but his project takes us straight back to the nineteenth century!”
This article was republished from Peoples Dispatch.
A demonstrator holds a sign with a message that reads in Spanish: “Trump unblock Venezuela” in Caracas, August 7, 2019. Photo: AP.
During the past decade, Venezuela lived through the largest economic contraction documented in the history of the Western Hemisphere. The implosion took place at the same time as the U.S. government barred oil purchases, froze government bank accounts, prohibited the country from issuing new debt, and seized tankers bound for Venezuela. One would think it should be self-evident that any account of Venezuela’s economic contraction would place economic sanctions in a central role.
However, sanctions play a surprisingly limited role in most mainstream accounts of the Venezuelan crisis. A recent Council on Foreign Relations background piece on Venezuela mentioned sanctions only in passing and instead attributed the country’s economic collapse to “decades of poor governance” and the “perils of becoming a petrostate.” Likewise, Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols deflected questions about the impact of Venezuela sanctions asserting that “the responsibility for the humanitarian situation in Venezuela falls squarely on the shoulders of the late Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro.”
Part of this is to be expected. When Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was pressed in the 1990s about the humanitarian effect of UN sanctions in Iraq, she responded by showing photos of palaces built by Saddam Hussein. When Florida Senator Marco Rubio was presented with arguments about the effects of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, he replied that the only blockade on Cuba was the one imposed by the Cuban regime. Sanctions are used in the midst of political conflicts, so it is normal that debates around their use get rapidly politicized. Many opponents of Maduro see sanctions as the only instrument through which they can pressure the regime and fear that discussions of their negative consequences play into Maduro’s hands.
Yet if what we want is to understand how the international community can help Venezuelans, we also need to know the real effects of sanctions. Understanding how and when to use sanctions requires a balanced and objective debate about their impacts that is focused on the evidence and not clouded by political biases.
What the Data Says
For the past one hundred years, Venezuela’s economy has been highly dependent on oil, which accounts for more than 90 percent of exports and more than half of fiscal revenue. When oil revenues rise— regardless of whether it happens as a result of increased production or prices—the economy expands. When they tank, so does GDP.
It is thus not surprising that Venezuela’s economic collapse coincides almost perfectly with a massive decline in oil revenues. After rising for more than a decade, oil revenues fell by 93 percent between 2012 and 2020. During this same period, per capita income declined by 72 percent. The trigger of the contraction was that Venezuela was left without foreign currency to pay for the imports that fuel its economy. Similar import and growth collapses occurred in Iraq, Libya, Iran, and other oil exporters when they faced sanctions limiting their capacity to sell oil internationally.
Between 2012 and 2016, most of the decline in oil revenues was caused by falling oil prices. The price of a basket of Venezuelan oil peaked at USD $103 in 2012, and then plummeted to $36 by 2016. Up until that moment, Venezuela’s recession looked like several of its other prior historical crises, driven by a decline in its foreign currency earnings caused by changes in world oil market conditions. Obviously, Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro bear a great deal of responsibility for this recession, as their overspending and mismanagement left the country unprepared to deal with the negative terms of trade shock.
However, the story from 2017 on, is different. During the following two years, oil prices rose. Normally, those years should have seen economic recovery as the country had access to increased oil revenues. In fact, when the recovery in oil markets began, many analysts projected positive growth for Venezuela. That growth did not materialize because oil production declined—a decline that evidence shows sanctions played an important role in.
It is instructive to look at the data more closely. While some may tell you that the decline of the Venezuelan oil industry began long before sanctions, the data tells a different story. Venezuela’s oil output was stable in the 2008-15 period. It then declined moderately in 2016, when oil prices collapsed. Many other oil exporters saw similar declines at the time. Yet when oil prices began recovering in 2017, output stabilized in other oil producers—but not in Venezuela. That was the year that the first sanctions hit.
Venezuela’s Oil Production, 2008-2020
There are three clear inflection points in the oil production series: when the United States first imposed financial sanctions, when it imposed oil sanctions, when it placed sanctions on foreign partners that helped sell Venezuelan oil. All of them are associated with strong declines in Venezuelan oil production. Patterns such as this, where separate instances of policy interventions are associated with clear observable effects, are quite rare in time-series data. When they occur, they are the statistical equivalent of a smoking gun.
There are other ways to analyze Venezuela’s oil production data that also show that sanctions had significant negative effects on the Venezuelan oil industry. In a paper published last year in the Latin American Economic Review on joint oil ventures in the Orinoco Basin, I found that it was the firms that had access to international financing prior to sanctions that suffered the most. This confirms that cutting the oil industry off from international finance hurt its capacity and helped drive the contraction in oil production.
An argument often repeated by those who discount the effect of sanctions is that Venezuela’s crisis preceded the imposition of sanctions. They argue that if the economy was in recession well before 2017, surely the sanctions cannot be the cause of the crisis. Logically, this is a very sloppy argument. It starts from the premise that an economic crisis has just one cause, so since the crisis began before sanctions, they cannot be the cause. However, social and economic phenomena have many causes. There is no reason why sanctions, mismanagement, corruption, and declining oil prices cannot all have contributed to the crisis. What the evidence tells us is that Venezuela’s economic collapse is really the combination of two crises—prior to 2016, it was driven by falling oil prices, but after 2017, sanctions impeded the economy from recovering by reaping the benefits of higher oil prices.
Sanctions were only one of the measures deployed by the United States as part of its strategy to oust Maduro. Another key action was the decision to recognize the interim government led by Juan Guaidó and transfer to it control over Venezuela’s offshore assets. Doing so blocked Venezuela from accessing its U.S. refineries, obtaining financing from multilateral organizations, or even using most of its international reserves.
These measures had significant effects that go well beyond their impact on the Venezuelan government. For instance, Venezuela saw a 65 percent decline in the number of correspondent banks that were willing to process international transactions and a 99 percent decline in the value of those transactions between 2011 and 2019. This meant that Venezuela’s private sector was less able to engage in international trade or payments. Despite claims that they targeted the Maduro regime, the sanctions had indiscriminate effects on the country.
The End of a Strategy
On December 30, Venezuela’s National Assembly decided to put an end to Guaidó’s interim presidency. The decision marks the final chapter of a strategy that sought to generate political change in Venezuela by relying on the support of the international community.
Its failure is unsurprising. The U.S. went into Venezuela with the same hubris with which it typically enters other foreign policy minefields. Despite overwhelming evidence that electoral boycotts do little more than hand off power to authoritarian regimes, it encouraged the Venezuelan opposition to sit out elections. Predictably, opposition politicians became more adept at lobbying Washington than in doing the hard work of mobilizing voters to oppose Maduro. Multiple corruption scandals also fed into a growing disenchantment with the opposition.
Much like the rest of the region, Venezuela is incredibly polarized. The pursuit of maximum-pressure sanctions strategies deepened this polarization, convincing many Venezuelans that the U.S.-backed opposition was just as insensitive as Maduro to the plight of ordinary people. By refusing to engage with moderate centrist forces and throwing their support behind hardliners more interested in wresting power from Maduro than addressing Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, the United States helped convince many Venezuelans that a change in government would not bring true democracy.
A new strategy is sorely needed if we want to help Venezuelans’ fight for democracy and human rights. This strategy should prioritize domestic mobilization, building of strong alliances with civil society, and confronting Maduro at the ballot box. The approach should be genuinely homegrown and reflect the true plurality of Venezuelan voices that oppose Maduro. Damaging the Venezuelan economy should not be part of it.
This article was republished from Orinoco Tribune.
Relatives of 18 people killed by police repression wait with empty coffins outside the morgue of the Carlos Monge Medrano hospital in Juliaca, southern Peru, on January 10, 2023. Photo: Juan Carlos Cisneros/AFP.
In Peru, the death toll has risen to at least 46 following the December 7 US-backed coup overthrowing democratically elected socialist President Pedro Castillo.
On January 9 alone, at least 18 were killed by the coup regime’s security forces in Juliaca. Peru is now mobilized in a national general strike, with demonstrators demanding the return of the president they elected, Pedro Castillo, imprisoned without trial since the coup. Video footage has emerged of military troops firing live ammunition at demonstrators, brutally beating unarmed protesters, and using helicopters to control crowds.
The electoral choice of poor and Indigenous Peruvians, former teacher Pedro Castillo is Peru’s first Indigenous president and the most left-wing president in the country’s history. He promised to rewrite Peru’s Constitution and ensure that the country’s resources were not pillaged by foreign corporations, as they have been for centuries. He was never allowed to govern. The right-wing forces in Peru, in league with transnational and US corporations, tried to impeach him three times, claiming he was morally or mentally unfit for the position.
Attempting to portray him as a dictator-in-the-making, mainstream media claim that Castillo carried out a “self-coup.” President Castillo acted constitutionally at all times, moving to dissolve Congress only after Congress made it impossible for Castillo to enact any of his campaign promises and forced dozens of his cabinet ministers out of office. This motion is clearly provided for in Article 134 of Peru’s Constitution, which stipulates that the president can dissolve Congress if it refuses to support two cabinets appointed by the president. Castillo’s administration was forced to appoint at least four complete cabinets in the first six months alone, and over 80 ministers in less than 18 months in office.
The US has supported Castillo’s overthrow since day one. The US speedily expressed support for Castillo’s replacement, the coup leader Boluarte, recognizing her “presidency” minutes after she was appointed by the coup regime. Washington, DC-based Organization of American States, which presents itself as an arbiter of democracy across the Americas, promptly issued a statement steeped in hypocrisy, claiming that it supported peace, democracy, and the unelected “president” of the coup regime.
Mainstream media outlets exploded immediately with the news that Peru now had its first woman president. Of course, that would have been great news, had she been elected, but Boluarte has never received any votes for president; nevertheless, she initially stated that she would occupy the presidency until 2026.
The blood of Peruvians is on the hands of the US. In 2021, under disgraced president Donald Trump, the US appointed CIA agent Lisa Kenna as ambassador to Peru. Kenna was “senior aide” to Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who previously headed the CIA. Kenna met with Peru’s minister of defense the day before the coup—perhaps to suggest that he arrest the president, which is what Peru’s security forces did the following day, December 7, 2022. The US has armed and trained Peru’s military for decades and continues to occupy the nation via its naval base in the capital, Lima, and numerous US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) radar sites.
The coup and the massacres have sparked a mass uprising in Peru. A general strike is occurring; barricades have been set up in at least 45 municipalities. Let us hope that—as we saw in Bolivia in 2020—democracy can be restored and an administration that stands up for the rights of the poor and Indigenous is able to take power. Whether in the short or long term, the people’s struggle against exploitation will determine the course of history.
Special for Orinoco Tribune by Steve Lalla
Steve Lalla is a journalist, researcher and analyst. His areas of interest include geopolitics, history, and current affairs. He has contributed to Counterpunch, Resumen LatinoAmericano English, ANTICONQUISTA, Orinoco Tribune, and others.
This article was republished from Orinoco Tribune.
It was a packed room for the Trinity College Dublin Philosophical Society debate on whether private property should be abolished. I was the first speaker and spoke in an impassioned way for the motion. There was much expression of assent in the room. Next was Martha O’Hagan, a professor of finance at TCD and former investment banker, who gave a clear speech in favor of a centrist position, admitting a need for some public ownership and state regulation, but arguing that innovation and freedom required private property. The three student debaters for the motion engaged in a bit of the expected witty student banter, but also enunciated strong and sincere arguments for the motion. The two student debaters against it were a bit all over the place in their positions. One had built his whole speech around defense of personal property, although all of us on the other side made it clear that we did not want to abolish personal property. The final speaker, Yota Deli, an economist from UCD, was very animated but asserted such things as capitalism and socialism were ideologies and therefore irrelevant and had nothing to with private property, which only muddied the waters. The motion was put to the floor and won decisively. Also polls on Instagram and twitter came down well in favor of the motion. I put this mood among students down to their feeling of being locked out of the standard of living to which they aspire. Earlier in the day, there was a student walkout in Irish 3rd level institutions because of the crisis in student accommodation and the more general cost of living crisis. Quite a few students came up to me afterwards to say they were convinced and converted. I took this as coming not only from my arguments but from their experiences of their times. Believing I was going into the lion’s den, I came out of it feeling more buoyant about the current generation of students than I have in a long time.
Here is my speech:
When the Philosophical Society (the Phil) writes to speakers inviting them to speak here, it lists the names of presidents, prime ministers, famous writers, and other luminaries who have addressed the Phil over the centuries, inviting us, I suppose, to bask in their reflected glory. Although I felt no inclination to do so in the case of Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton—or even Oscar Wilde or Karl Popper—I do feel proud to follow in the footsteps of Frederick Engels. When I first spoke at the Phil many years ago, the question was whether socialism and feminism were compatible. The text I cited most strongly was Engels’s brilliant work The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. So, after many years away from the Phil, I am thinking of Engels again as I address the question of private property, as well as of the state and its relation to private property.
I support the motion that private property should be abolished.
Let me first define the private property I think should be abolished. I want to distinguish it from personal property, communal property, and public property.
I do not want to take your clothes, your toothbrushes, your laptops, or, if you should ever acquire them, your homes or your cars. I do not even want small businesses to be wrested from their owners. (By the way, I once lived where all was owned in common when I was a nun. All our clothes, books, pens, whatever, were “For the use of Sister X”).
Not only would I not want to abolish personal property, but I would like to see the personal property of those who work to increase rather than decrease. I would also like to see cooperatives flourish.
However, I would like to see large-scale productive property, currently held as private property, transformed into public property. What has been built by social labor, sometimes over decades or centuries, should be socially owned, primarily to be administered by the state.
I start from this premise: All that exists and is of value comes from nature or labor, or mostly from a combination of both. Everyone who exists has the same number of hours in a day. Why should some people who spend some hours organizing production be able to accrue more in a few seconds than someone engaging in hard manual labor can earn in a year? Even worse, why should others who never in their whole lives do any work whatsoever but inherit shares (or crowns) be able to take enormous unearned wealth extracted from the labor of others?
How did so much built by so many come to be expropriated by so few? It has not, on the whole, despite rags to riches myths, come from genius invention and/or entrepreneurial skill. It has come largely by force, whether by marauding armies or through oligarchic manipulation of the state passing and enforcing laws favorable to such expropriation.
Take Amazon—not the river or rain forest, but the company. Think of nature growing the trees, the farmers cultivating them, the foresters harvesting them, the authors writing books (I am one of them), the workers involved in printing, binding, and distributing them in what are no longer called warehouses but fulfillment centers. And Jeff Bezos, what does he do? Yes, he does something. Entrepreneurial activity is a form of labor. But why should he be able to take so much more of the fruits of this whole process than so many others?
Based on 2018 figures, it took Bezos only nine seconds to accrue what it took the median worker at Amazon to earn in a year. That was based on salary of $1.6 million. On top of that, there was what he accrued from shares, making his share $3,182 every second, according to one estimate. That has since multiplied, especially during the pandemic. How could one person deserve to accrue $162.7 billion from that whole complex collective process?
In this process of massive parasitism, more and more is extracted from those who do the real work, sometimes working long hours in difficult conditions—the farmers, foresters, drivers, factory workers, editors, writers, while CEOs, such as Bezos, accrue millions while they sleep. Moreover, there are some who own stocks and shares who have never even contributed anything at all, not even initial entrepreneurial effort, to the process. This is totally parasitic.
Capitalism as a system is based on private ownership of the means of social production. It is inherently not only unjust but inefficient.
There is currently a crisis of investment. Less and less of the profits accrued in social production are either being reinvested in production or socially distributed. Through low wages, tax evasion or avoidance (even where governments act in the interest of capital and offer favorable tax regimes), owners of capital extract wealth that they either consume lavishly or let accumulate unproductively. There are ludicrous amounts of money being spent in luxury consumption: private jets, multiple mansions, and yachts, while those who do real work struggle to afford food and heat in the current cost-of-living crisis. NFTs are the ultimate expenditure of who have more money than they even know how to spend.
An old song of the labor movement sets out the stark facts:
It is we who plowed the praises, built the cities where they trade,
During the Occupy movement eleven years ago, people came out in every major city on every continent and cried out “We are the 99%,” wanting to take back the world that the 1% had stolen from them, from us. There was an encampment just outside the gates on TCD on Dame St. Some staff and students engaged with it in different ways, but most just walked on by. I organized Occupy University, where we gave lectures on the street about how wealth was created and distributed and how power was exercised as well as about how to build a movement to challenge it. I believe these were often better lectures than the ones taking place inside these gates.
There is still massive disaffection from the global system based on private ownership of the means of social production. There are many parties, projects, and organizations contesting it, but no mass movement strong enough currently to galvanize all that alienation and anger to break the power of that system and embark on a transition to an alternative system. That is what we need—that kind of movement to set us on a path to that kind of system.
That would be socialism, a system based on social ownership of the means of social production. Socialism as an alternative system deals with the process of social production through social ownership and control, thus allowing for more just distribution and more efficient reinvestment, not only in the enterprise itself, but in the whole social infrastructure on which it depends.
It is also the only way to harness the resources of society in such a way as to save our planet from the path of self-destruction on which we are hurtling along a trajectory that is inherent in the logic of capitalism.
I have seen approximations of such a system during my sojourns in Eastern Europe and Cuba. I have seen societies where the expropriators had been expropriated, where the means of social production were socially owned. They were also societies with many glaring faults, where there was a need for greater democratic expression and participation to advance to a higher form of socialism.
Instead, because of the pressure of the global system on anything outside its bounds, they went in the opposite direction, with public property re-expropriated into private property in a massive orgy of accumulation by dispossession. Despite some positive features of the transition in Eastern Europe, such as freedom to travel, it has been overall a tragic disaster, leading to many excess deaths, including by suicide, massive impoverishment, desperation, and depression. The tragic consequences are still playing out in many ways on many levels, including the current war in Ukraine.
I conclude by saying that we need to find a way to expropriate the expropriators, to transform private property into public property and move from capitalism to socialism. This will be very complex and difficult to achieve, but it is necessary if we are ever to achieve a sustainable and just social order.
Helena Sheehan is Professor Emerita at Dublin City University in Ireland where she taught STS as well as history of ideas more generally. Her books include Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History, The Syriza Wave, Navigating the Zeitgeist and Until We Fall (in progress). She has also published many articles on philosophy, science, politics, and culture. She has lectured in various countries in America, Europe and Africa. She has been an activist on the left since the 1960s.
This article was republished from Monthly Review Online.
Photo: Twitter headquarters in San Francisco. Credit — Matthew Keys
Internal Twitter documents released to select journalists have once again shown the deep connection that exists between the U.S. government’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies and U.S.-based social media companies. The “Twitter Files” are a set of internal communications including emails between company executives as well as with politicians, the FBI, Pentagon and other agencies.
The close cooperation of social media companies and other online platforms with the state has been well-documented. Twitter, Facebook, Google, Apple and many more partner with the NSA’s PRISM program, giving the agency nearly unlimited access to online communications and account information. They comply with over-broad geofence warrants designed to get around the protections from unreasonable search and seizure outlined in the Fourth Amendment and upheld in the Supreme Court’s 2018 Carpenter v. United States ruling. Moderation teams make sure that news outlets from targeted countries like Russia, Iran and Venezuela, as well as individual accounts exposing the crimes of the U.S. state and its allies at home and abroad, are labeled “disinformation” and limited or shut down entirely.
Twitter, along with others, also allows companies like Dataminr and ZeroFox to access a “firehose” of Tweets, a feed of every post coming through the service. Dataminr has been used by law enforcement to track protests, including the uprising in the summer of 2020 against racism in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. These companies rely on access to social media feeds to collect and analyze information, which they then sell as trend data to corporate and government customers. After collaboration between Dataminr and police was exposed in 2020, the company stopped offering contracts to government agencies, prompting the federal government to move to the similar ZeroFox service instead at the end of the year. In further corporate-government collaboration, Dataminr counted among its investors both Twitter and In-Q-Tel, the investment arm of the CIA.
Part Six of the Twitter Files, posted by journalist Matt Taibbi, details how the FBI and Twitter maintained a close relationship – as he calls it, the company worked as a “subsidiary” of the FBI. In one email from November 2022, an FBI agent opens with a friendly “Hello Twitter contacts” and suggests accounts “which may potentially constitute violations of Twitter’s Terms of Service for any action or inaction deemed appropriate within Twitter policy.” A Twitter employee responds, “I’ve reviewed this already… and suspended three of the accounts.”
Another email from the same time lists 25 Twitter accounts, of which 7 were permanently suspended, one was temporarily suspended, and 8 “had Tweets bounced,” or flagged for removal. The FBI explicitly requests that Twitter preserve information about the account owners and content to assist with possible legal proceedings, and that Twitter “voluntarily provide” “location information associated with the accounts.”
Part Eight of the Twitter Files, published in The Intercept by Lee Fang, exposes the partnership between Twitter and the Pentagon. In just one example, an official at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) requested verification or whitelisting of a number of Arabic-language accounts “we use to amplify certain messages.” The cagey language obscures the purposes of those accounts: to explicitly push U.S. propaganda around the Saudi war in Yemen, “promoting U.S.-supported militias in Syria and anti-Iran messages in Iraq.” Other accounts tweeted in Russian. The accounts were supposed to be explicitly labeled as being associated with the U.S. government, but in many cases were not.
The level of hypocrisy here cannot be overstated. While the U.S. government and social media companies have railed against countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Iran and Russia for allegedly running fake accounts to promote misinformation, it is doing that exact thing with legal cover and with the willing partnership of the social media companies themselves. Even the definition of “misinformation” is guided by the goals and needs of imperialism.
Elon Musk is no hero of free speech
In some ways, the information itself revealed in the Twitter Files has been overshadowed by the man who released it – Elon Musk. Since his purchase of Twitter, Elon Musk has been heralded by the right as a fighter for free speech and reinstated a number of far-right personalities. By releasing these internal Twitter emails, Musk is pursuing his own political agenda and a bogus right-wing narrative about “censorship”.
That Musk is an odious right winger does not mean that the public cannot learn valuable information from the communications he releases as part of his battle with other ruling class factions. Likewise, Musk’s actions do not make him a friend to the movements against war and mass surveillance.
The application of “free speech” rights on Twitter is not even across the board. There was not a general amnesty for suspended accounts. Instead, the reinstatements are coming relatively slowly, indicating deliberate decision-making by Twitter’s new executives. In addition, a number of antifascist organizations and individuals have been targeted and suspended, as have those critical of Musk and his companies. While Twitter has always had problems with bigotry and was not a haven for oppressed people before the Musk purchase, rabid antisemitism, transphobia, misogyny and racism have been more prominent on the platform.
Musk and his supporters have framed the Twitter Files as opening a new period for the company. But it will be impossible for the billionaire and the multi-billion dollar company to avoid close collaboration with the U.S. government. In particular, another of Musk’s companies, SpaceX, holds billions of dollars of contracts with NASA, the Department of Defense, and USAID. It has recently launched its Starlink satellites to provide internet access in Ukraine as well as in Iran at moments where doing so was politically advantageous for Washington.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms have become the primary way that billions across the world get their information. They should not be controlled by private companies beholden to capital and acting at the behest of the US government to push propaganda. Instead, they should be operated as public utilities, democratically controlled by the workers who make them run and the people who use them with. This will allow transparent and open governance and rules processes to finally be implemented. Opening these platforms in a way that working-class people who run and use them have control over them can guarantee that they serve the needs of the people.
This article was republished from Liberation News.
Update: We have since released a podcast episode discussing our decision and the DSA as a whole.
Class Unity is proud to announce that it is now independent from the Democratic Socialists of America.
We acknowledge the immense amount of work done by volunteer organizers of the DSA all across the United States. Many of us continue to contribute to projects within the DSA that we consider worthwhile. However, recent developments confirm that the DSA leadership has been thoroughly captured by middle-class careerists, opportunists, and Democratic Party-adjacent political operatives. As a result, the DSA as a national political organization, along with its largest and most influential local chapters, has become an appendage of the Democratic Party and an obstacle to the formation of a true workers’ party.
On November 30th, three DSA U.S. representatives – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, and Jamaal Bowman – voted to impose on the American railroad workers a labor contract they had democratically rejected and to prohibit them from going on strike. A number of DSA chapters, caucuses, and individuals have called for the expulsion of these members, but despite the DSA National Political Committee’s recent statement, it is unlikely that these representatives will face any form of discipline.
More recently, the NPC froze the activity of the DSA’s nascent National Tech Committee, whose purpose was to develop a DSA membership portal and build alternatives to Democratic Party electoral infrastructure such as VAN. The NPC has offered no plausible excuse for wrecking a project so important to the basic functioning of the DSA and the development of an independent workers’ party.
The DSA’s capture by a bureaucracy of Democratic Party apologists is a predictable consequence of the organization’s dominant political currents, which were never clearly distinguishable from Democratic Party left-progressivism in the first place. Having failed to capitalize on the political crisis of the ruling-class parties from 2015 onwards, the DSA has been content to attach itself like a parasite to every bourgeois moral panic, left-progressive social fad, and amateur college campus-style protest movement orchestrated by the left wing of capital in the absence of an organized working class. The DSA’s tendency to succumb to whatever is placed right in front of it eroded the potential of a long-term socialist perspective for building independent organs of class struggle. This irreconcilability of left-liberal activism with socialism created an ambivalence towards Marxism and class politics, which has since turned into outright hostility. What might have been forgiven as a tactical mistake in an earlier era has since congealed into the DSA’s de facto strategic orientation: a veritable Popular Front allied with the institutions of the Democratic Party and its satellites.
Just as the DSA ceded political ground outwardly, so it did internally, as evidenced by its continued unwillingness to discipline or even recognize conflicts of interest within its own organization. The DSA’s increasing reliance on HR-style management of internal political conflict, of which its ludicrous woke posturing is only a symptom, expresses the late-stage degeneration of its internal democratic structures and of its political life more broadly. Chapters have consistently failed to meet quorum since 2020, and are now resorting to administrative tricks to rubber-stamp their agendas outside of general meetings.
Under these conditions, professional-class careerists have moved in quickly to ascend the ranks of the DSA and set the agenda on all levels, while sanitizing the organization of anything deemed remotely threatening. The DSA’s professional-managerial bureaucracy is now taking brazen measures to destroy the remaining integrity of the organization, while assuming the role of loyal opposition in their reshaping of the global capitalist state apparatus that is currently underway.
Class Unity, along with many others, has tried in good faith to reform the DSA into a functional, democratic vehicle for working-class politics. We have failed on all counts. The DSA is utterly dysfunctional, it is thoroughly undemocratic, and it actively obstructs the development of working-class politics. At the national level, it cannot be governed and it cannot be reformed. It will continue to fail to advance socialist politics, its elected leaders will continue to make a mockery of it, and its rank-and-file members will continue to leave. At best, it will fade into political irrelevance; at worst, it will become an unabashed voter turnout and campaign finance machine for the Democratic Party.
In the coming weeks, we will release additional content reflecting on our experiences in the DSA, what promise it held for us, and our final analysis of its failure.
Members of the DSA who share our principles are still welcome to join Class Unity where they will find a network of Marxist organizers with whom to coordinate and caucus. But the Class Unity caucus of the DSA is now a working group of a larger organization whose mission goes beyond the DSA.
Class Unity will shift its focus on work outside of the DSA, to continue its mission of building a coalition unaffiliated with capitalist parties, capable of contesting for socialism and gaining support of working class people. Our aim is to be a productive member of the future coalition that will lay the foundation for an American workers’ party. We aim to achieve this in the following ways:
First, by building a network of active organizers across various labor unions, political organizations, and communities. As principled Marxists leave the DSA, we provide a space for them to support and learn from one another. When new political opportunities inevitably arise, we intend to be better coordinated to take advantage of them together.
Second, by fostering political development in an unrestrictive environment where anyone who seeks material change can seriously and freely discuss ideas. We offer a well-rounded political education program grounded in rigorous study of political economy. Our courses and reading groups are open to the public.
Third, by building our own political campaigns grounded in universalist socialist class politics.
It is important now more than ever that genuine socialists stop providing cover for their class enemies. The DSA as a whole is an enemy of the working class. We call on local DSA chapters to disaffiliate from the DSA and refound themselves as independent socialist organizations. We call on all rank-and-file members to cancel their dues, resign from DSA, and denounce the organization. Finally, we call on all Marxist socialists to join us in building a truly independent American workers’ party.
If you find yourself agreeing with some or all of the opinions expressed in this statement, please consider joining Class Unity.
This article was republished from Class Unity.