NYC Mayor Eric Adams evicts hundreds from homeless encampments. By: Peoples DispatchRead Now
Despite crackdown, Adams presented no clear alternative to the streets and transit system for unhoused people afraid to use unsafe shelter system
Homeless people in New York City report feeling safer on the streets than in shelters, yet Eric Adams plans to evict the unhoused from street encampments. (Photo via: ScifoRobert)
New York City Mayor Eric Adams is pressing ahead with his plan to evict NYC’s homeless from one of the only places they can afford to live: the streets. This past weekend, Adams promised to dismantle 150 homeless encampments throughout the City. On Monday, March 28, homeless individuals living under the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE) saw their belongings stolen and destroyed by NYC sanitation workers on Adams’ orders. On March 30, Adams and city officials revealed that so far 244 encampments have been identified and 239 have been “cleaned”, or evicted.
“We cannot tolerate these makeshift, unsafe houses on the side of highways, in trees, in front of schools, in parks. This is just not acceptable, and it’s something I’m just not going to allow to happen,” Adams told press on Tuesday, March 28. After the BQE eviction, 41-year-old Heriberto Medina Jr., who had been living under the highway for two years, told the New York Post that he “was left with his bike, a pair of backpacks and white Fila sneakers.”
Adams has expressed a desire to move the City’s over 90,000 homeless people into shelters. “I’m seeing clean housing for people, where they’re able to get meals, they’re able to take showers.” Adams claims that “the safest place for people who are homeless right now … is a shelter.”
And yet, of the over 200 people who Adams has kicked off the streets, only 5 accepted services from City workers. New York City’s homeless population has a documented aversion to shelters. Out of 177 homeless people surveyed in a report by the nonprofit organization Coalition for the Homeless, only 11% said they would find refuge in shelters when temperatures fall. A majority, 62%, said they relied on the public transit system for shelter in the cold. As the report states, “Seventy-seven percent of respondents stated that they have tried the municipal shelter system and instead choose to stay on the streets…The main reasons for not returning to the shelter system were safety (38 percent) and difficulties with the rules and procedures (25 percent).” This aversion is not without good reason, numerous reports including one released by the New York State Senate detail unsafe and unsanitary conditions in New York’s shelters.
If homeless people are not allowed to sleep on the streets, and cannot safely stay in shelters, where can the newly displaced turn to? While decrying sleeping on the streets as “inhumane” and promising “healthy living conditions with wraparound services”, Adams has not specified what these conditions would be. Homeless advocates worry that the city’s unhoused population will simply be forced into an endless migration around the city’s streets. As Craig Hughes, a social worker at the Urban Justice Center, told the New York Times, the mayor’s plan “has always been an effort to hide homelessness rather than to get people housed.”
Adams recently led a similar effort to clear homeless people out of New York City’s transit system, a place which, as the Coalition for the Homeless found, is one of the few places unhoused people can rely on in the cold. City government policy in general has veered to the right since Adams took office, with a rise in street vendor fines, and a vow to bring back controversial anti-gun plainclothes police units. These police units have been twice disbanded after outrage at the disproportionate amount of police killings perpetrated by such officers.
“Regardless of what the naysayers may say, this is exactly what we needed,” Adams said of his reinstatement of the controversial units. Adams also admonished those who exercise their constitutional rights to film the actions of the anti-gun units, saying, “Stop being on top of my police officers while they are carrying out their jobs. That is not acceptable and won’t be tolerated.
This article was produced by Peoples Dispatch.
IMF admits US dollar hegemony declining, due to rise of Chinese yuan, sanctions on Russia. By: Benjamin NortonRead Now
The US-dominated International Monetary Fund warns of an “erosion of dollar dominance,” noting use of Chinese yuan in global central bank reserves is increasing, while Western sanctions on Russia could strengthen other currencies.
The US-dominated International Monetary Fund (IMF) has acknowledged that the hegemony of the dollar is in noticeable decline.
At the same time, the Chinese currency, the yuan or renminbi, is slowly growing in influence, along with other currencies, according to the IMF.
In 2000, roughly 70% of global foreign exchange reserves were held in US dollars. As of 2021, that figure had fallen to just under 60%.
Meanwhile, the IMF noted that there is a rise in “nontraditional currencies” from smaller countries being held in international reserves.
The United States has veto power over IMF decisions, and the institution is notorious for acting as an instrument of US political influence.
Economist Michael Hudson has explained that “the IMF was created as an arm of US foreign policy,” and that Washington has historically weaponized the fund “to use debt leverage to force other countries to impose austerity on their populations, and to essentially say we will control what government you have, because if your government does something that the United States officials don’t like, we’re just going to raid your currency, force of austerity on you, and you’ll be voted out of power.”
The IMF has helped maintain the US dollar as the de facto global reserve currency since the fund was created in the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement.
Hudson showed in his book “Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire” that Washington has used the power of this global reserve currency status to essentially make other countries pay for its wars.
But the dollar’s power is eroding, and even the IMF has begun to publicly acknowledge this fact.
IMF acknowledges ‘stealth erosion of dollar dominance’ and rise of Chinese yuan
The International Monetary Fund published a working paper on March 24 titled “The Stealth Erosion of Dollar Dominance: Active Diversifiers and the Rise of Nontraditional Reserve Currencies.”
The report documents “a decline in the dollar share of international reserves since the turn of the century,” with central banks around the world increasingly diversifying their holdings.
The study notes that this “decline in the dollar’s share has not been accompanied by an increase in the shares of the pound sterling, yen and euro, other long-standing reserve currencies and units that, along with the dollar, have historically comprised the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights.”
Instead, “the shift out of dollars has been in two directions: a quarter into the Chinese renminbi, and three quarters into the currencies of smaller countries that have played a more limited role as reserve currencies.”
The researchers describe this “evolution of the international reserve system in the last 20 years” as a “gradual movement away from the dollar.”
The IMF working paper explained that “the decline in the dollar’s share has been matched by a rise in the share of what we refer to as nontraditional reserve currencies, defined as currencies other than the US dollar, euro, Japanese yen and British pound sterling.”
In addition to the Chinese yuan, some of these “nontraditional currencies” that are becoming more prominent include the Canadian dollar, Australian dollar, Korean won, Singapore dollar, and Swedish krona.
In 2000, more than 98% of international foreign exchange reserves were held in the “big four” hegemonic currencies: the US dollar, euro, Japanese yen, and British pound. Less than 2% of reserves were held in what the IMF calls “nontraditional currencies.”
But as of 2021, the share of nontraditional currencies had shot up to 10% – and there is every indication that this figure will only keep growing.
The IMF report noted that this “shift is broad based,” identifying 46 central banks that have been diversifying their holdings with nontraditional currencies.
The euro is unlikely to challenge US dollar hegemony. The article pointed out that the “euro has gained little ground as a reserve currency since its creation in 1999,” remaining relatively static at around 20% of global reserves.
Yet “while the renminbi has gained some ground, it remains leagues behind the dollar as a form of international reserves,” the researchers added, on a cautious note.
The working paper was authored by Barry Eichengreen, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, along with IMF economists Chima Simpson-Bell and Serkan Arslanalp.
Their study concludes that, while the dominance of the US dollar is far from over, and certainly will not end overnight, its power is waning.
Western sanctions on Russia weakening US dollar hegemony
A top official at the International Monetary Fund made remarks reflecting this historic shift, in a report by the Financial Times, titled “Russia sanctions threaten to chip away at dominance of US dollar, says IMF.”
The mainstream British newspaper interviewed the IMF’s first deputy managing director, Gita Gopinath, and wrote that the crushing Western sanctions imposed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, “including restrictions on its central bank, could encourage the emergence of small currency blocs based on trade between separate groups of countries.”
The senior IMF official conceded that “fragmentation at a smaller level is certainly quite possible,” although she added that the US “dollar would remain the major global currency even in that landscape.”
The IMF executive acknowledged that the world “might see some slow-moving trends towards other currencies playing a bigger role [in reserve assets]” held by countries’ central banks.
“We are already seeing that with some countries renegotiating the currency in which they get paid for trade,” Gopinath added.
Western sanctions on Russia – one of the world’s largest exporters of oil, gas, wheat, and fertilizers – have forced Moscow’s trading partners to seek alternative payment mechanisms.
Despite the sanctions, the European Union still gets 40% of its natural gas from Russia. And the Kremlin has demanded that Europe pay for this gas in Russian rubles.
China and Russia have also moved toward boosting their bilateral trade in each other’s currencies.
Western sanctions pushed Russian financial institutions, including both state-owned and private banks, to encourage clients to open accounts in Chinese yuan.
Bangladesh has said it is considering using yuan to evade sanctions and continue trading with Russia.
Even India, which has a right-wing, pro-US government, has created an alternative payment mechanism using rupees and rubles, to get around Washington’s sanctions.
The IMF has been careful, however, not to overstate the drop in US dollar holdings in international reserves.
Gopinath, the IMF official, predicted that “the dollar’s dominance will stay for a while.”
While US dollar hegemony is not going to suddenly disappear, it is facing more and more challengers.
Benjamin Norton is a journalist, writer, and filmmaker. He is the founder and editor of Multipolarista, and is based in Latin America. // Benjamín Norton es un periodista, escritor, y cineasta. Es fundador y editor de Multipolarista, y vive en Latinoamérica.
This article was produced by Multipolarist.
Trouble in the Tulips: Organized Farmworkers Win Basic Demands in a Quick Strike. By: David BaconRead Now
Most of the tulip pickers also work seasonally at the state’s largest berry grower, where they won a union contract in a four-year fight through repeated strikes. So they're experienced at direct action, and organized themselves quickly. Photo: Edgar Franks
MT. VERNON, WASHINGTON, March 28—Tulips and daffodils symbolize the arrival of spring, but the fields are bitterly cold when workers’ labors begin. Snow still covers the ground when workers go into the tulip rows to plant bulbs in northwest Washington state, near the Canadian border.
Once harvesting starts, so do other problems. When a worker cuts a daffodil, for instance, she or he has to avoid the liquid that oozes from the stem—a source of painful skin rashes.
Yes, the fields of flowers are so beautiful they can take your breath away, but the conditions under which they’re cultivated and harvested can be just as bad as they are for any other crop. “Tulips have always been a hard job, but it’s a job during a time of the year when work is hard to find,” says farmworker Tomas Ramon. “This year we just stopped enduring the problems. We decided things had to change.”
On Monday, March 21, their dissatisfaction reached a head. Three crews of pickers at Washington Bulb accused the company of shorting the bonuses paid on top of their hourly wage, Washington’s minimum of $14.69. Workers get that extra pay if they exceed a target quota set by the company for picking flowers.
The parent company of RoozenGaarde Flowers and Bulbs is Washington Bulb, the nation’s largest tulip grower.
“We’ve had these problems for a long time,” explains Ramon, who has cut tulips for Washington Bulb for seven years. “And the company has always invented reasons not to talk with us.”
Workers stopped work that Monday and waited from eight in the morning to see how the owners would respond. The general supervisor was sick, they were told. Someone from the company would talk with them, but only as individuals. “We didn’t want that,” Ramon says. “We’re members of the union, and the union represents us.”
UNION WHEREVER THEY GO
Over two-thirds of the 150 pickers for Washington Bulb work at the state’s largest berry grower, Sakuma Farms, later in the season—where they bargain as members of Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), an independent union. Starting in 2013, farmworkers there struck and boycotted, and finally won a contract after four years. They formed Familias Unidas. At Washington Bulb there is no union contract, yet. But to Ramon and his workmates, they are members of FUJ wherever they go.
When the company wouldn’t talk on that Monday, 70 workers voted to strike the following day. Another 20 joined them the next morning, when they again demanded to talk with the company. This time one of the owners told them he wouldn’t talk if the president of Familias Unidas, Ramon Torres, was present.
“So we said, ‘If you won’t talk with our representative, we won’t talk without him,’” Tomas Ramon remembers. “‘We have a union and you have to make an agreement with him.’ So the owner got angry and left.”
That Wednesday the flowers were just waving in the breeze, waiting for someone to pick them. The day after, the company lawyer was on the phone to union attorney Kathy Barnard. With a commitment to begin negotiations, workers agreed to go back into the rows after the weekend, and talks got started.
“By the first day of the strike the workers had already met, elected a committee, and put their demands in writing,” said FUJ’s political director Edgar Franks. “After the four years of fighting for the contract at Sakuma Farms, they knew how to organize themselves quickly. They had community supporters on their picket lines after the first day. They had their list of demands, and finally forced the company to accept it.”
RUBBER BAND TIME
When the workers committee and Torres met with Washington Bulb president Leo Roosens on Friday, they went point by point over their 16 demands. Roosens made an oral commitment to resolve all except the demand over wage increases.
“The most important one for us was that they pay us for the time we spend putting rubber bands on the ring,” Ramon says. Workers have to snap a rubber band around each bunch of flowers they cut, from hundreds of bands held on a ring. Each worker harvests thousands of bunches a day, so putting the bands on the ring takes a lot of time.
“There’s never enough time, and supervisors don’t want people to stop during work time. So on breaks and at lunch we’re still filling the ring. They even give us a bag of bands to take home and do it there.”
The company doesn’t pay this extra time, so demand #7 says, “All work using rubber bands to bunch flowers will be performed during working time, excluding lunch and rest breaks. This work will not be performed off the clock.” “Workers knew they had a right to this, because the union won a suit forcing Washington growers to pay for break time, even for workers working on piece rates or bonuses,” Franks says.
PARKING, OINTMENT, AND BATHROOMS
Workers often have to walk half a mile from where they park their cars to the rows where they’ll work, which the company also won’t pay for. So point 3 says, “Workers will be paid the hourly rate from the time they leave their vehicles in the company’s parking lots until they return to their vehicles...at the end of their daily shifts.”
Gloves are $30 a pair, according to Ramon, and working without them means getting rashes from liquid from cutting daffodils. “The company has cream you can put on to help with that, but it’s in the office and they often won’t give it to you. Even if they do, they just give you a tiny bit, not enough.” So another demand is for company-provided protective gear, and ointment available in the fields.
Of the eight people on the union committee, two are women. There’s often just one bathroom for a crew of 50-60 people, and they included a demand for four bathrooms per crew, two for women and two for men, cleaned every day. They also insisted on a demand for better treatment, prohibiting favoritism from supervisors, who “will be trained to treat workers with respect ... and not pressure workers to pick flowers at unreasonable speeds.”
The last demand is that the company recognize Familias Unidas por la Justicia as bargaining representative for Washington Bulb workers. If agreement is reached on that point, it will make the company the second in the state with an FUJ contract.
The annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is set to start on April 1, and runs for a month. The lightning job action less than two weeks before presented the Roosens, the most prominent family in the tulip industry, with the prospect of picket lines in front of fields, as tourists arrive to take photographs and buy flowers.
Almost all Washington Bulb workers have at least three years doing this work, and some as many as 15. They knew the importance of timing and the company’s vulnerability. The fact that they were already organized made it easier to reach a quick decision on a job action.
The decision process relied on the collective traditions of the two indigenous groups from Oaxaca and southern Mexico who make up the workforce, Triquis and Mixtecos. Ramon, a Triqui, explains that “each community talked within itself. Each community has its own process, but we have the same kind of problems and the same experience. We all wanted to make things better, so we reached agreement.” In that process community members meet, discuss, and arrive at a decision on behalf of everyone.
At Sakuma Farms, women were not elected to the union’s leadership, and within the communities, women took a back seat. At Washington Bulb, however, two women were elected to the union committee, and made specific demands. “That’s a big step forward for us,” Ramon says. It also gives women in the fields suffering sexual harassment the ability to bring complaints to women in the union leadership, instead of men.
THE BOSSES’ BIGGEST FEAR
“Direct action is what makes things move,” Franks says. “People put up with a lot because they’re scared that they could be unemployed. But when workers go on strike, they lose that fear, they push back, and that’s what makes things move. Direct action is the most valuable tool we have, and the bosses’ biggest fear. When workers take that leap of faith they can see the world in a whole new say, and recognize their own true value.”
Today in western Washington, a growing number of farmworkers have had that experience, and FUJ is following them into new places and farms as a result. It’s not a new idea—in the 1940s, Larry Itliong followed Filipino cannery workers from Alaska, where their pitched battles formed Local 37 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, back to their work in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley. There, they became the heart of union organizing until the great grape strike of 1965. They eventually joined with Latino workers to form what is now the United Farm Workers.
“We’re trying to make sure not to force the issue with workers here,” Franks said. “The union is ready to support them once they’re ready to take the step. The issues have been present for 20 years, but now, because of Sakuma, there’s an ecosystem they can rely on. They can see workers winning and feel better about taking action than they would have years ago. They have a growing leadership, and don’t have to put up with this anymore.”
NOTE: At press time negotiations with the company had reached agreement on the workers’ list of demands. While the union is not the official bargaining agent, the company agreed to treat the union committee as the representative of the workers. Workers were set to vote on the agreement on March 29.
David Bacon is a California journalist covering farm labor and immigration. His latest book is In the Fields of the North (University of California, 2017).
This article was produced by Labor notes.
For the majority of my life, I felt stuck and confused when it came to the topics of government and society. I imagine you feel or have felt something similar. Maybe you choose to not think about it as much as possible. Whatever the case; things can clearly be better than they are now right now. But neither of the parties that handily dominate the political sphere in the United States seem to want to do too much about it. Or maybe they do want to help but they’re blocked at every turn by The Other Guys. Or maybe they’re incredibly inept. Or maybe they’re evil! Those are the rationalizations I most often encountered, but none of them really seemed to satisfactorily explain the current state of things.
I don’t know everything, and I won’t pretend that I do. A lot of our political discourse comes from a perspective from someone who purports to have the answer to every question. Using their prowess and brilliance, they bestow The Truth to the peons. That's why I chose to enter this discourse: I want to model that it's ok to not know everything, but it's important to be intentional and thoughtful. And you don’t have to know everything to have a valid critique, either. But more on that later.
A bit of a backstory
I knew for a long time I was to the left of Democrats, but also I got tricked into thinking Obama was a liberal despite the obvious evidence at the time. I didn't really think much about socialism or communism, and happily regurgitated the lies we were all taught. I was so sure that if someone was smart enough, they could find the right solution to make the current system work well enough for everyone. I believed that history was made by brilliant individuals, and that thanks to progress, people were smarter and cleverer than ever before.
This is a lie we are taught, too. Collective action is literally always necessary for even these "brilliant individuals" to achieve much of anything. Even scientific discoveries from a lone scientist crouched over a desk in a lab are built upon prior work. I mean, think about it: did you make the device you’re reading this on? The clothes you’re wearing? It’s a romantic notion to think that one person can change the world but with any scrutiny, those fanciful stories reveal that we are all interconnected. It’s true that individuals can become symbols that inspire others into collective action; but again it is the collective action that gets it done.
They’re different, but the same
During the early pandemic, I finally understood that the Democratic Party is truly, ideologically aligned with the Republican Party. The difference is tone and pace.
By that, I mean that Republicans will cheer on a televised murder of a person from a vulnerable population. In contrast, Democrats will give speeches about the horrors of police brutality, while directly and intentionally increasing the odds that a person from a vulnerable population will have an interaction with that same murderer the Republicans are cheering for. Democrats don't have that same zeal. They prefer the consequences of their choices to be distant, vague, and abstract. Like how "no more kids in cages" became "don’t call them cages." Of course, they won’t be in cages if they’re simply turned away. It’s a lot harder to see the cruelty we’re showing to people trying to escape the very destabilizations we directly or partially caused when they’re not allowed close enough to be seen.
Case in point: bodily autonomy is yet again under threat
The Supreme Court is presently debating overturning Roe v Wade, and Democrats (who hold a majority in the legislative branch AND control the executive branch) are doing absolutely nothing about it and have done nothing about it for 40+ years. It’s not like the Right was quiet about their intentions all this time.
"But separation of branches of government! Checks and balances! The executive and legislative shouldn't interfere with the judiciary! The filibuster (that Democrats can get rid of any time they want, even without Joe Manchin's approval)! Bullshit, all of it.
We are allowed to demand the people in power act on our behalf and for our benefit. Plus, their reasons for inaction aren't even real rules or boundaries, because when people break those rules there are no meaningful consequences. No rule-breaker is deprived of their ill-gotten gains, even when it's very stupid and obvious. Citing rules is nothing more than an excuse for inaction from the people specifically empowered to act. Get creative, solve the problem.
What is my path forward?
I started reading and listening to other people that have different experiences from me, and I learned a lot. I learned how our economic system effectively controls our society, and that our economic system has a fundamental flaw at its core that will make all of those progressive ideals of mine impossible to attain because achieving them inevitably means reducing profits in a system predicated on maximizing profits. And I started to really appreciate how little progress we've made. Sure, in some areas, things are better now than before. Lots of things now are worse than before, too. Progress, maybe. But for whom and at what cost?
Turning the corner
I was trapped in what Mark Fisher calls "capitalist realism." All around me, from all sides and at all times, the only thing I was exposed to was capitalism. Capitalism was the only choice. It was all I knew.
There’s a snippet from a Kwame Ture speech that got seared in my mind, which I'll paraphrase here: if communism and socialism are so dangerous and deadly, why do Americans only know lies about it? If I lived in a place full of snakes, it would be important for me to learn about snakes: what the deadly ones look like, what they eat, where they hide, how they hunt, and so on. The snake is a threat, so I must understand it. We are told that communism is a threat, but it's painfully obvious that Americans do not understand it in the least. It sounds more like the "threat" of communism is working class people learning about it and demanding the powerful capitalists that run our society to step aside. If it's as bad an idea as capitalists claim it is, why not just genuinely educate us about it? If the truth is so horrible, tell it to us!
Why is everything so confusing and weird?
Living in capitalist realism is confusing, because nothing makes sense. When you think about it, the stories we're told about how the world works, who runs it, what forces move it, and so on; they don't really add up. Everything is messy and incoherent.
Why are public schools underfunded? The societal benefit is obvious, and an informed electorate is the best possible situation for democracy. We know that increased funding to education pays back economic dividends to the community! Why don't police react to murders the same way they react to petty vandalism? The loss of a life is far more concerning than some broken windows. Why don't grocery stores simply donate the food that's about to go bad? They can't sell it in time, and it could easily help feed a lot of hungry people. Why, indeed! All of these blatantly obvious, well-researched, and easily funded changes could be enacted and enjoy broad public support regardless of political affiliation. Why don’t politicians score an easy win?
When I changed my perspective and allowed myself to question The Thing You Should Never Question, I realized and learned things are still deeply complex; there's a way to make sense of it by understanding the basic motivations and motivators for action.
The nature of humans
Uh oh, this is tortured territory. I'm not going to hit you with some kind of armchair-pseudo-psycho-evolutionary-anthropological nonsense and declare that human nature can be assessed in terms of social values (good, bad, greedy, etc). I've got what I believe to be a Very Reasonable Take about human nature that's well researched. Are you ready?
People are generally capable of setting goals (broadly understood) and working towards them. The rate and degree of our successes vary wildly, but it doesn't change that motivation is the antecedent to action. People want and need to do things like eat, sleep, play, fuck, create, pray, and all sorts of stuff that is fun and feels good. And we'll put in effort to attain those things.
So, yes, my observation about humanity is that people have motivations to do things and then we work towards that thing. Why is such a bland observation important?
In our society, all of the things that people want or need either cost money or are facilitated by money. Yeah, even prayer. You don’t need anything to pray but you do need to be alive–and that’s certainly not free. It also impacts abstract things like "I want to have a vibrant, loving family." A stable and safe living environment costs money and is a major component in a vibrant, loving family. Every hobby, every food, every book… money! And if not money for the book, it’s bus fare to get to the library to check out the book for free.
Most people in our society must dedicate a large portion of their lives to attain money to do the things they want to do during the fleeting moments of our brief and precious existence. Some are unable to attain money because we refuse to provide them even basic accommodations; and they are forced into a life of misery for no good reason. Others got lucky to be born into generational wealth. Maybe most of us are somewhere in between those two. However you get it, more money means more access to these fun, good things that people need and like.
If every person wants money, what happens when you put lots of people together that all want money?
It's also a basic observation to say that accumulation of money, in a system like ours, is generally desirable for every person. It's not like people go into their boss's office and say "cut my wages!" People do unpleasant work to get money for the things they want and need. And when we see people pursuing their goals through the accumulation of money across all levels of society, we start to see the picture come into focus.
When a company spends more money, the people that reap the profits of that company get less money. That's why the people that run companies like to keep costs and spending low and to sell high: willingly decreasing their income would feel like intentionally taking actions that are harmful to the attainment and/or security of their goals. There's plenty to explore about the values held by the rich, but we can see that it kind of doesn't matter what their values are to observe that their motivations are clear and ultimately mundane.
This attitude naturally leads to underpaying workers, polluting waterways, low quality products, and so on. Companies motivated by profit will always try to get away with absolutely everything they think they can to maximize profit. It's their sole purpose. And sometimes it's cheaper to change people's minds through PR and regulatory capture than to comply with necessary pollution reduction.
There's no secret society or fantastical stories involved. It's just people doing obvious things so they can attain more of the most useful and important resource in our society. It's not because people are "innately greedy" or whatever, it's because human beings are reasonably capable problem solvers, and people in our society need money to get the things they want and need.
Calling people embedded in a capitalist society “greedy” is like admonishing a fish for taking a long bath. Just what, exactly, should they be doing instead? Most people can and do make choices that are counter to making money, but it also means that any moment not focused on making money is time lost that could be used to make money. And what’s worse is we’ve created a system that rewards people that are pathologically obsessed with accumulating wealth. And then we let them write the rules.
This is our boring dystopia. No intrigue, no thrillers. It's just everyday people pursuing mundane goals, trying to have a good time.
What do we do instead?
That's the most important question, isn't it? We know that the way things are will unalive a lot (or maybe all!) of the human species in relative short order. And this is the part that I am presently stuck on. I think it was Patrick Stewart that famously asked, "what is to be done?" We need to figure out how to start with our present conditions and culture and end with a different economic system, one that directly rewards mutual benefit instead of profit and greed. When we organize our society to reward mutual benefit, we become more empowered and incentivized to help each other.
Here's what we do know: just as the economist Adam Smith passionately argued, labor is the true fundamental resource, not commodities or money. Without labor nothing gets made, sold, or bought. Ore is just a rock in the ground. Culturally, we seem to have forgotten that. Wait, no, we've been fed inane amounts of propaganda to tell us otherwise. We aren’t stupid, we’re lost.
We know that under capitalism, labor is compulsory. Actually, that’s technically not true: you are free to choose between selling your labor or going hungry and unhoused.
We know that laboring for other people means we give away a large portion of the value we create with our labor in the form of profit. The people at the top of the organization get paid by keeping some or most of the value you’ve generated from your labor. Of course, even administrators and CEOs do some actual work… sometimes. And they deserve to be compensated for their labor, just like anyone else. But there’s a huge gulf between “being compensated for the labor you do” and CEO pay under capitalism.
We know this means the people that benefit the most from the system are reaping the profits of other people's labor. Like Jeff himself said, his Amazon employees paid for him approach the edge of the atmosphere as he low-key builds the baseline tech prowess to seek defense contracts.
We know that successful revolutions in opposition of capitalism meaningfully improve the lives of people. Cubans defeated a dictator, slavers, and profiteers. As a tiny island nation, it is able to provide for the well-being of its citizens despite massive sanctions and blockades imposed by the US and Europe for... uh... some reason or another. The USSR and PRC fundamentally transformed their mostly feudal-agrarian societies to industrialized ones that provided for the wellbeing of their citizenry far, far better than anything that came before it.
We see that non-capitalist societies can survive and even thrive in providing for the well-being of their people, even in the face of active antagonization of the most powerful military ever known to the planet and blockades.
We know that the US is the primary antagonizer of these non-capitalist societies, too. We have a distinct advantage over every other revolution: we won't have to fight off US-backed coups or blockades.
Can we use their playbook?
The thing is that we can't hope to copy the ideas of Chavez, Mao, Castro, Lenin, or any other revolutionary movements because we are not in the same context that they made the decisions they made. Nor would we want to, since they're all humans with their own flaws and shortcomings. There's plenty to criticize. But we can learn a lot from them!
Our culture and material conditions are fundamentally different in some incredible ways from the revolutions that came before us, but the general forces at play are very similar. The vast majority of the population lives in relative squalor in comparison to the people at the top. The people at the top are hoarding so much more than they could even use while there are plenty of people that go without basic necessities, let alone access to a decent life. To make matters worse; unlike any of the historical revolutions, we have sufficient technology and infrastructure to produce far more than we need.
The same goes for capitalism, by the way: we can't hope to model Denmark's capitalism or whatever because we are not Denmark. We have different cultural values and practices.
Where are we now?
We need to figure out how to dismantle capitalism here and now, and we need to figure out what a non-capitalist America could look like. I know it's generally presumed that a revolution must be armed, but an armed revolution is hard for me to imagine succeeding in a context where the military can and does murder American citizens using drones. And we've seen that the police are more than happy to treat US citizens as an enemy.
Even the gun nuts are utterly useless because tanks and armored infantry. It's all a big joke to gun makers and tacti-cool gear manufacturers as gun weirdos playact their airport fiction fantasies of fighting off some tyrannical government with a handgun.
And... that's about it. That's where I'm at. Revolution must happen because we can't expect capitalism to suddenly dissolve, but I have no idea what revolution would look like. I'm still learning, and there's a lot to learn.
You don't need to have all the answers to have a valid position
Sometimes we function as if you aren't allowed to say "hey, this sucks" unless you're ready to follow it up with a perfect solution. However, this is a very silly notion. The ability to comprehend and identify issues and providing thoughtful analyses of them are separate skills from finding solutions.
Have you ever been around a group of friends, and one person says "ugh, I feel like Jeremy takes advantage of me when I offer him help." And then others gremark "oh, I totally feel that way too!" Sharing a thoughtful observation can spark realization and understanding, and even lead to identifying a challenge faced by the group. Knowing, as they say, is half the battle.
Speak up. Start talking about this stuff. And for as much as you speak, listen at least twice as much. Our lives quite literally depend on it.
Josh Davis is a recovering academic in Indiana. They are presently finishing their PhD in Media Science, and work as an educator for people with learning differences. Josh also runs their blog, internetginger.com, which covers topics ranging from Marxism to music research, with a healthy side of Daoism.
The term “Radlib,” or Radical Liberal, is thrown around on the internet within leftist/Marxist circles quite often. The word is usually an accusatory term. Roughly speaking, the term is used to accuse someone of being essentially a liberal with the trappings of radicalism. Among Marxists the term is used to accuse someone professing to be a Marxist, but largely retains the mentality of liberalism. The meaning of the term is highly elastic and context-sensitive, sometimes even to a fault. In this essay, I’ll attempt to explore the phenomenon of radical liberalism from a Marxist perspective. I think the most useful starting point is to explain the distinction between Utopian Socialism and Scientific Socialism.
The distinction between Utopian Socialism and Scientific Socialism was made in Friedrich Engels’ book “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.” Engels discusses some of the early pioneers of socialism such as Robert Owens. For instance, Owens was a wealthy philanthropist who decided to start a workers’ cooperative community with humane working hours and decent wages, and so on in order to prove it’s possible to build socialism based on principles. Engels describes Owens as a Utopian Socialist because Owens believes he can build a socialist society from scratch based on persuading people to accept his conception of a just and ideal society based primarily on “Reason.”
Engels describes the mentality of Utopianism as follows:
“The great men, who in France prepared men’s minds for the coming revolution, were themselves extreme revolutionists. They recognized no external authority of any kind whatever. Religion, natural science, society, political institutions – everything was subjected to the most unsparing criticism: everything must justify its existence before the judgment-seat of reason or give up existence. Reason became the sole measure of everything. It was the time when, as Hegel says, the world stood upon its head; first in the sense that the human head, and the principles arrived at by its thought, claimed to be the basis of all human action and association; but by and by, also, in the wider sense that the reality which was in contradiction to these principles had, in fact, to be turned upside down. Every form of society and government then existing, every old traditional notion, was flung into the lumber-room as irrational; the world had hitherto allowed itself to be led solely by prejudices; everything in the past deserved only pity and contempt. Now, for the first time, appeared the light of day, the kingdom of reason; henceforth superstition, injustice, privilege, oppression, were to be superseded by eternal truth, eternal Right, equality based on Nature and the inalienable rights of man.
Engels was more or less explaining an outlook of many thinkers of the Enlightenment involved in a highly rationalist project which aims to construct a just society based on principles discovered through reason as opposed to traditions, authority, and divine revelation. Utopian socialists such as Robert Owens inherit the Enlightenment mentality of building a society based on principles discovered through pure reason. He attempts to build a society of worker’s cooperatives with decent wages, decent working conditions, and trade unions based on his supposed rational intuition of conceiving a just society. In contrast to Utopian Socialists like Robert Owens, Engels presents Marx and his version of socialism as “Scientific Socialism.” Engels describes “Scientific Socialism” based on the scientific method of dialectical materialism (and by extension historical materialism) to understand the “motion” of society.
Dialectical Materialism is the theoretical framework that understands that material reality is under constant flux. This constant flux is primarily due to the fact that every macroscopic phenomenon contains opposite tendencies or “contradictions” that are in constant tension with one another. For instance, under certain conditions, an ice cube has a tendency to maintain its structural integrity, but it also has an opposite tendency to lose structural integrity. As an ice cube’s surrounding condition changes, in particular the temperature of an ice cube’s environment, an ice cube’s tendency to lose structural integrity via melting becomes the dominant tendency over its other tendency to retain structural integrity. When one tendency becomes dominant over the opposing tendency, this leads to a qualitative change.
The application of dialectical materialism to societies (as opposed to inanimate objects like ice cubes) is to conceive society as being in constant flux primarily due to the internal “contradictions” or opposing tendencies within each society. This application of dialectical materialism to society is called historical materialism which sees that each society changes when its mode of production (e.g. a combination of social relations and productive forces) changes due to the struggle between the exploiters and the exploited. When the exploiters are dominant, a society’s mode of production is being maintained. But when an exploited class gains an upper hand under certain extreme conditions, a society’s mode of production radically shifts toward a new mode of production. This is a gist of historical materialism or the application of dialectical materialism to societies.
Engels believes this methodology is scientific as opposed to utopian because it carefully and systematically tracks the development of society to predict what kind of society it would develop into. A utopianist simply attempts to build a just society based on principles discovered through reason as opposed to tradition, authority, and divine revolution. But this approach implies that it is possible to build a just society in the vacuum. A scientific socialist like Engels believes that one can’t build a socialist society without proper conditions. A society must be at a certain stage of development before it can radically transform into a socialist society. What is this stage of development in which there are proper conditions for a society to develop into socialism? This is dependent on the overall situation. In the context of Western Europe, Marx and Engels believe that a society must reach capitalism before it can become socialist. But Marx also believes that in regions outside of Western Europe, the proper conditions for a society to develop into socialism could vary from ones in western Europe. Marx wrote a letter to a Russian revolutionary Vera Zasulich in which he explains that Russia has satisfied its own proper conditions to develop into socialism. In particular, Marx argues that Russia has communitarian peasant communities where some form of social ownership over agrarian productive forces exists. This form of social ownership is a material basis for socialism in Russia. This is an example of the scientific socialist mindset of historical materialism, the application of dialectical materialism to societies.
Marxism is “scientific socialism” insofar as it carefully and systematically tracks the development of a society based on its own particular history of class struggle. Its opposite is Utopian Socialism which doesn’t carefully and systematically track the development of society in order to build socialism, but rather attempts to artificially conform society to an abstract and idealized conception of a socialist society based on pure reason or intuition. In other words, a Marxist tries to be attentive to a society’s own particular trajectory based on its own particular history of class struggle whereas a Utopian socialist tries to artificially impose an idealized conception from socialism based on pure reason or intuition. A Marxist believes one can’t just build socialism, but rather one must be attentive to the condition of society in order to know when it is appropriate to build a socialist society. When conditions are such that an exploited class is becoming class conscious and a capitalist society is no longer functioning well, a Marxist would say that this would be an appropriate opportunity to build up to a socialist revolution.
Radical liberalism is a variation of Utopian Socialism. Liberalism emerges from the utopian mindset of the Enlightenment. A liberal theory which argues in favor of private property rights, individual liberties, and a republic based on principles derived from reason is an approach many Enlightenment thinkers take. A radical liberal is similar to the Enlightenment thinkers insofar as a radical liberal develops an ideal conception of a just socialist society and attempts to impose it on an actually existing society. What makes a radical liberal different from many Enlightenment thinkers is that a radical liberal recognizes the limits of modern-day liberalism inherited from Enlightenment thinkers. The formal bourgeois rights of right to private property and individual liberties aren’t enough to address current problems in society, but rather liberalism is used by the ruling class to historically maintain the oppressive status quo. A radical liberal rejects modern-day liberalism in favor of something that goes further than modern-day liberalism. A radical liberal favors some ideal conception of social justice that goes beyond the framework of abstract individual rights in order to recognize the rights of oppressed social groups. This conception of social justice also includes an ideal conception of a socialist society in which oppressed groups no longer face oppression.
While a radical liberal is quite different from a contemporary liberal insofar as a radical liberal rejects liberalism as bourgeois and reactionary, a radical liberal still inherits the overall utopian outlook of the Enlightenment tradition from which liberalism emerged. A radical liberal has an idealized conception of social justice and by extension an idealized conception of a socialist society based on the principles of justice, such as a principle of reparation, developed or discovered from moral intuition.
Many radical liberals who profess to be Marxists abandoned class struggle as a vehicle for a progressive change in society in favor of some idealized conception of social justice that mandates what sort of just society one ought to build. Rather than accepting that socialism is something that arises from an organic revolution carried out by the proletariat’s class struggle against the bourgeoisie, radical liberals tend to believe socialism is something that could be built by a handful of intellectuals, professionals, and activists who can impose their idealized conception of justice unto society. Radical liberals tend to believe that because they have good ideas, including an ideal conception of social justice, they’re qualified to build socialism without participating in class struggle.
One example that’s symptomatic of this outlook is that many radical liberals spend a majority of their time in cultural critiques or cultural discourse. They critique and “police” behaviors, symbols, cultural artifacts (e.g. statues), gesticulation, etiquettes, cultural norms, ideology, and so on that are indicative or symptomatic of an oppressive capitalist society. Radical liberals believe that this cultural approach (vaguely akin to a cultural revolution, but applied to a capitalist society rather than a socialist one) will raise public consciousness against the system. This is just one among many examples of radical liberals imposing their idealized conception of social justice upon society with the hopes that it will lead to a better society (possibly even a socialist one) without involving the proletariat as the revolutionary agent. This approach is what some Marxists like Gus Hall (who wrote an essay Crisis of Petty Bourgeois Radicalism) would deride as Petty-Bourgeois Radicalism.
Petty-bourgeois radicalism is the tendency among radicals to attempt to bring about change without organizing and mobilizing the broader proletarian communities. It involves an outlook in which the revolutionary agent is no longer unequivocally proletariat, but rather the revolutionary agent is much more amorphous, heterogeneous, malleable, and ambiguous. The outlook is more or less idealist insofar as it believes that artificially imposing good ideas or artificially conforming society to an ideal society is the primary method for change. This is contrary to the Marxist outlook which sees that the method for progressive change is to use class struggle by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie as the social vehicle for social change.
A radical liberal, then, is a petty-bourgeois radical with an idealist outlook on social progress in which the proletariat carrying out class struggle is no longer the primary social force for change, but rather it’s some idealized conception of social justice being artificially imposed on society. Just as Robert Owens tried to change society to a socialist society with his idealized conception of justice carried out through his bourgeois philanthropic methods, a radical liberal tries to change society by imposing their idealized conception of justice through their methods of petty-bourgeois radicalism.
Paul So is a graduate student who studies philosophy in a PhD program at University of California Santa Barbara. While Paul’s research interests mostly lie within the tradition of Analytic Philosophy (e.g. Philosophy of Mind and Meta-Ethics), he recently developed a strong passion in Marxism as his newfound research interest. He is particularly interested in dialectical materialism, historical materialism, and imperialism.
Why the U.S. Postal Service Offers a Great Model for Other Government Services. By: Sonali KolhatkarRead Now
Progressives, take note: a newly passed bipartisan reform bill strengthens the U.S. Postal Service—a federal agency that serves as a hopeful model for government-run services in other arenas.
In case you missed it—because it got so little news attention—there’s a bit of good news regarding the United States Postal Service (USPS). In what was a very rare moment of bipartisan unity on a domestic issue, the U.S. Senate on March 8 passed the Postal Service Reform Act with a robust vote of 79 to 19. The House of Representatives passed the same bill in February with similarly high levels of support from both parties in a 342-92 vote. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law.
While such broad support would ordinarily be cause for skepticism about how progressive a bill could be if Republicans in particular backed it, it turns out that an improbable alignment of factors helped the cause of reforming the USPS. In fact, progressives would do well to seize this chance to build on the model of success and efficiency, which a trusted and well-loved government agency is offering Americans.
Monique Morrissey, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) who has closely studied the USPS for years, shared with me in a recent interview that she too was initially suspicious of the reform bill. Usually broad support “signals something that’s weak or ineffectual, or even bad,” she said. “Not in this case.”
The centerpiece of the reform act is that it undoes an onerous requirement that a 2006 law placed on the USPS to pre-fund employee benefits for 75 years into the future. For years, critics pointed out that the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was financially crippling the agency.
No other government or private entity is required to fund benefits for such an extraordinarily long period. It’s no wonder that the agency so many Americans rely on was constantly facing cuts, threats of price hikes, and reduced services. Morrissey described the 2006 law as “basically crushing the Postal Service for the past 15 years,” and imposing on it an “unearned reputation for being always in the red, or bankrupt, or inefficient.”
This served right-wing purposes well. Embodying President Ronald Reagan’s infamous inaugural speech claiming that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” conservatives for decades sought to stymie agencies like the USPS that provide crucial low-cost services to Americans.
But, according to Morrissey, “the Postal Service is hyper-efficient,” and it “delivers to more addresses with fewer… employees” than its private competitors. Unlike businesses like UPS or FedEx, which simply cut services to areas that are too expensive to serve, the USPS is mandated to ensure delivery services to all parts of the nation. This is a critical aspect of government-run agencies: to ensure everyone’s needs are met without regard to costs, revenues, or profits, and it’s one of many reasons why the USPS is superior to private delivery companies. “Rural areas depend on the Postal Service more than urban areas,” said Morrissey.
Even more impressive, the USPS is a self-funded agency, receiving no direct government funding, and sustaining itself from its own revenues. And, since there is no requirement to siphon off profits in order to ensure dividends to shareholders, the USPS can do more for less.
During the pandemic, the USPS’s value to the public became more apparent than ever. Nearly overnight, Americans sharply increased their reliance on delivered groceries, medications, and other consumer goods, and postal workers heroically stepped in to meet their needs.
Most recently, the Biden administration used the USPS as a very efficient and successful distribution system for free at-home COVID tests to all Americans who wanted them, via a USPS-run website, COVIDtests.gov. The Postal Service delivered more than 270 million tests to Americans in the span of just a few weeks.
A RAND survey of how the agency performed during the COVID-19 pandemic showed that the public gave it high marks. Large majorities of respondents trusted the service more than its private counterparts, and the RAND researchers specifically cited its “universal obligation to provide service to every delivery point in the United States, regardless of whether it is profitable.”
Ahead of the 2020 presidential election, Republicans heavily politicized the Postal Service over its role in helping Americans to cast ballots. A staggeringly large percentage of Americans who voted in the election—nearly half--mailed in ballots using the Postal Service. The ease and efficiency of voting by mail were seen as a problem by a party that has increasingly relied on restricting voting as a pathway to power.
Now, apparently seeing the light, both Republicans and Democrats came together to pass the Postal Service Reform Act, doing away with the pre-funding of benefits that had for years provided fodder for anti-USPS criticism. One possible reason why the GOP may not have fought against the bill is that the vote did not take place close enough to an election to prompt complaints of voting by mail. And, it may also be that the party realizes that its voters, who skew disproportionately older, rely heavily on voting by mail.
Another reason why the GOP did not fight against the bill is that the current Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee whom Morrissey admitted she is not a fan of, “seems to really want to keep the job, and so he has not always been on the wrong side of things.” DeJoy, who had come under fire for removing hundreds of bulk mail sorting machines in 2020 in what many feared was a deliberate ploy to hobble the agency, actually lobbied hard for the Postal Service Reform Act, ensuring Republican support.
Still, it’s not as if the postmaster general has suddenly decided to dedicate himself to the public interest. Morrissey cited a problematic $11.3 billion contract that DeJoy recently signed to upgrade the Postal Service’s fleet of vehicles. Disturbingly, 90 percent of the new vehicles, as per the contract, would be gas-guzzling cars and trucks rather than electric ones. USPS vehicles “should be the first, not the last, vehicles to be electric,” said Morrissey. The timing of such a contract, considering recent sharp increases in gas prices, couldn’t be worse, and Democratic lawmakers are now threatening to launch an investigation.
Still, the potential to expand on the USPS’s successful model is great, and more lawmakers are taking note. Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence of Michigan, a veteran of the USPS herself, has floated an idea to make post offices the sites of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. There is a dire need to build such charging infrastructure on a national level in order to transition to renewable, fuel-efficient cars. With post offices spread evenly all across the country, expanding them into hubs for EV charging would go hand in hand with transitioning all Postal Service vehicles to electric. The USPS could charge its vehicles overnight, while customers could charge their cars during the day.
Notwithstanding the negative actions of those seeking to sabotage the Postal Service, the example that this successful agency offers us on other fronts is also critically important. If a government-run provider can deliver a critical service to the public with a high level of trust and efficiency, and at a low cost, we can and should see it as a valid model for other desperately needed government services—such as health care, banking, guaranteed basic income, and more.
Naysayers will point out that mail delivery is hardly comparable to such complex needs as health care or banking. But the privately run businesses that dominate those industries have proven they are incapable of providing services adequate to meeting the needs of the American people. Compared with other nations, most of which have publicly funded health care systems, the United States performs terribly on providing care. And, areas with poorer access to health care resulted in disproportionately more COVID-19 related deaths, as per one study.
There are similar problems in the banking industry. Private banks are notorious for taking advantage of the poor, in particular using debt as leverage to squeeze more money from vulnerable Americans. Now, a movement to build a public banking system is gaining steam in states like California. Even more exciting, the Postal Service is starting to offer limited banking services in some areas.
Reagan was wrong. Government is not the problem. Government can be the solution.
Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Hunger Stalks Central Asia as the Ukraine War Unfolds. By: Vijay PrashadRead Now
On March 16, 2022, Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev delivered his State of the Nation address in Nur-Sultan. Most of Tokayev’s speech was about the political reforms in Kazakhstan he had either accomplished or planned to advance, after he had promised them as redress to January’s political unrest and protests against the Kazakh government. He also addressed the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war on Kazakhstan during his speech and pointed to the spikes in food prices and currency volatility as some of the worrying economic consequences being faced by the country as a fallout of this conflict.
The address by Tokayev was made four days before the holiday of Nauryz, which fell on March 20 and is a new year festival celebrated by people in the belt that runs from the Kurdish lands to the Kyrgyz lands. Households across Kazakhstan were preparing for this celebration, although inflation of food prices—which predated the Russian intervention in Ukraine and the resulting Western sanctions imposed on the Kremlin—had already dampened the mood of the festivities in the country; by mid-March, the National Bank of Kazakhstan had reported that prices of food products such as baked goods, cereals, vegetables and dairy—the important components of a Nauryz meal—had increased by 10 percent.
“Kazakhstan is facing unprecedented financial and economic difficulties in our modern history due to the escalation of the geopolitical situation,” President Tokayev said. The “harsh sanctions” imposed on Russia by the West are already impacting the global economy, he said, adding, “Uncertainty and turbulence in the world markets are growing, and production and trade chains are collapsing.” Rising food prices and financial turbulence—a result of both the Western sanctions on Russia and of the integration of national economies—have set the alarm bells ringing and seem to have heightened the urgency to resolve these issues in Central Asian countries like Kazakhstan.
Famine and Hunger
Tokayev spent part of his State of the Nation speech speaking about the inflation of energy and food prices. He spoke about the need for the government to oversee the production of agricultural equipment, fertilizers, fuel and the stocks of seeds. Tokayev’s remarks are not novel. Other heads of governments in Central Asia have similarly expressed the need for their governments to enter the food production arena, since both the COVID-19 lockdown and the current Russian war in Ukraine have demonstrated the enormous vulnerabilities in the global food chain, exacerbated by the privatization of food production.
Food prices in the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU)—comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Russia—continue to rise, as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, outpacing world food prices. While these countries are “strongly dependent on imports from Russia,” they are now facing a temporary ban on exports of wheat and sugar from Russia owing to the conflict.
On March 11, 2022, the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) released a report on the “Food security implications of the Ukraine conflict.” The conflict, says the WFP, “comes at a time of unprecedented humanitarian needs, as a ring of fire circles the earth with climate shocks, conflict, COVID-19 and rising costs driving millions closer to starvation.” Russia and Ukraine produce and “supply 30 percent of wheat and 20 percent of maize to global markets,” according to the WFP report, and these two countries also account for three-quarters of the world’s sunflower supply and one-third of the world’s barley supply. Meanwhile, the Black Sea ports have largely been dormant since Russia has blocked any exports from these ports due to the ongoing war. This has led to “[a]n estimate of 13.5 million tons of wheat and 16 million tons of maize” being “frozen in these two countries” since these grains cannot be transported out of the region. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Food Price Index reached “a new all-time high in February.”
The International Fund for Agricultural Development President Gilbert F. Houngbo warned that the continuation of the Russia-Ukraine war “will be catastrophic for the entire world, particularly for people already struggling to feed their families,” according to a UN report. “This area of the Black Sea plays a major role in the global food system, exporting at least 12 percent of the food calories traded in the world,” Houngbo said.
One of the great problems of globalization has been that the vulnerabilities in one part of the world almost immediately impact other parts of the world. In 2010, droughts in China, Russia and Ukraine raised the price of food grains, which then “heightened” the Arab Spring. Ideas of “food security,” a phrase used by Tokayev during his State of the Nation speech, have been around since the first World Food Conference in 1974; at that meeting in Rome, the member states of the United Nations reflected on the famine situation in Bangladesh and called for measures to ensure international stability of food prices and to make governments responsible for the abolition of hunger in their respective countries. The current situation of food inflation and of food instability in the global commodity chain has refocused attention on the need for ensuring enhanced domestic and regional production rather than placing reliance on distant producers and unstable international markets.
Domestic Food Production
In October 2021, the Central Asian Bureau for Analytical Reporting (CABAR) held an expert meeting on the problem of food production in the region. Nurlan Atakanov of the Food Security and Nutrition Program of the Kyrgyz Republic said that local farmers were unable to grow sufficiently high-quality wheat “due to limited cultivation areas and climatic conditions.” His country imports a third of its wheat from neighboring Kazakhstan. Daulet Assylbekov, an expert from Kazakhstan who is a senior analyst with the BLM Group, meanwhile, said that wheat harvests in Kazakhstan decreased by 30 percent due to the pandemic restrictions. This has had an impact on food prices within Central Asia.
Tajikistan’s wheat yield is currently 27-30 hundred kilograms per hectare, far short of the yield in Russia’s Rostov region of 67-70 hundred kilograms per hectare, according to CABAR. Economist Khojimahmad Umarov said during the CABAR meeting that if Tajikistan had access to mineral and organic fertilizers and if it improved its agricultural knowledge, yields could rise to 90 hundred kilograms per hectare. But agriculture has been neglected, and countries like Tajikistan have been encouraged by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to import food and export cotton and aluminum.
Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Agriculture has now urged its farmers to increase production of wheat from 6.6 million tons of grain in 2021 to 7.6 million tons this year as well as to enhance the domestic production of sugar to meet the country’s internal demand despite the temporary ban on exports by Russia; Uzbekistan has traditionally relied on Russian wheat and Brazilian sugar.
Meanwhile, like Uzbekistan, the government of the Kyrgyz Republic imports sugar, vegetable oil and wheat each year from other countries, and the current Russia-Ukraine war could result in a bleak situation in terms of ensuring food security and curbing inflation of food prices in the Kyrgyz Republic. At the start of the war in Ukraine, the poorest households in the Kyrgyz Republic—the second-poorest country in Central Asia after Tajikistan--spent 65 percent of their income on food; the current inflation will be catastrophic for them. The Kyrgyz Republic’s Cabinet of Ministers, led by Akylbek Japarov, held an emergency meeting with food processing companies in Bishkek to discuss how to increase food production and prevent increased levels of starvation in the country.
At the Antalya Diplomacy Forum, leaders of the Central Asian countries called not only for a cessation of hostilities in Ukraine, but also for regional integration of their countries with South Asia. Uzbekistan’s Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov said that his country is eager to play the role of a bridge to unite these areas. The general verdict among countries in Central Asia is that greater self-sufficiency is important—particularly in food production—but also that regionalism needs to be emphasized. One of the problems with regional integration in Central Asia is that there are very poor options for the transport of goods from one country to the other—Kazakh wheat travels by train to the Kyrgyz Republic, and then is transferred onto trucks to traverse tough mountain roads. Regionalism is not simply a concept. It had to be realized through the creation of food processing plants, better transport systems and easier cross-border trade rules.
The COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine have alerted the governments of Central Asia to pay much more attention to the question of food security. What the IMF says about liberalization of food chains makes little sense these days. Worries of starvation and bread riots resulting from the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the ongoing pandemic are a good wake-up call for countries to focus on finding more sustainable local and regional solutions and to solve problems that have been part of the economic, social, and political fabric of Central Asia for decades.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief 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 book is "Washington Bullets," with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Contexto Chino: What Do Chinese Citizens Say About Ukraine? By: Kawsachun NewsRead Now
Contexto Chino is our bi-weekly column where we interview Maria Fe Celi, Peruvian political analyst in Shanghai, to discuss Chinese culture and current affairs from a Latin American perspective. For this edition, we discuss how the Russia-Ukraine conflict has been talked about by both citizens and the government in China.
The conflict in Ukraine has been raging for three weeks now, how have the Chinese government and people been responding to these developments?
Chinese people and the Chinese government are two different things on this issue. Among Chinese people there’s been huge energetic support for Russia, there was even a movement among people to buy all the Russian products from online shops in China and everything sold out very quickly.
People have been bringing up the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy during the war in Yugoslavia (3 dead, 20 injured). The United States said it was a mistake, but Chinese people never forgave NATO for that. There is also a belief that if Russia is sanctioned today then it could happen to China tomorrow, so people believe they should support Russia now.
However, the government has been sticking to its long-held foreign policy and maintained its neutrality, but that doesn’t mean that it’s been ignoring the issue. China always supports upholding the territorial integrity of countries. As they built good relations with Russia, they never recognized Crimea as Russian, China still recognizes it as part of Ukraine. The Chinese government has also been vocal about recognizing the legitimacy of Russia’s security concerns. China has always opposed the escalation of armed conflict and that’s why they voted neutral at the UN on the question of the Ukraine conflict. They oppose the use of military intervention and also the use of sanctions. This has been China’s position with regard to every conflict that has come before this too.
China, while maintaining its neutrality, has emphasized that the principal motivation for the crisis is NATO expansionism and its inability to recognize the legitimacy of Russia’s demands. This is a much more nuanced position than that taken in the West where they just say ‘Putin is crazy’ and ‘he wants to invade the whole of Europe’.
China has also been denouncing the biolabs in Ukraine where it seems that the US has been developing biological weapons. Since the start of the pandemic, China has suspected that the origin of the virus could be in the US military lab in Fort Detrick. They’ve always insisted that Fort Detrick should be investigated just as Wuhan was. The US has recognized that these labs in Ukraine exist, but say that they’re not for biological weapons.
Xi Jinping has been speaking to France and Germany and has tried to get them to take a bigger role in achieving a peaceful solution because after all, Europe is the most affected by this conflict. China is emerging as the ideal candidate to broker a solution to this conflict, but we don’t know what will happen.
Russia is mass adopting China’s UnionPay after Visa and Mastercard pulled out. What is UnionPay and can it be sanctioned?
UnionPay is a payment system used for credit and debit cards, basically the Chinese version of Visa. However, in China, most people pay for everything electronically on WeChat and Alipay, so maybe Russia can now be the best growth market for them. UnionPay was already present in Russia and its cards are accepted by most ATMs there and around the world, so the transition is not difficult, and it means the Russian banking system won’t just collapse. The sanctions have also left the Russian market open for Chinese consumer goods now that Western companies have pulled out. For the Chinese companies that don’t have business in the US, this is a huge opportunity for them to move in and scoop up the Russian market. This will also help accelerate the de-dollarization of the global economy, and for this transition period, China is well-placed to help fill the gaps while Russia develops its own self-sufficiency, which Lavrov says is their aim.
Has the Ukraine conflict changed Chinese discussions about Taiwan?
At the beginning of the conflict, a lot of Taiwan separatists were mobilizing to express support for Ukraine and this generated a lot of mockery on social media even within Taiwan. Remember that only a minority of Taiwanese people want independence, the majority support the status quo as long as they continue to benefit it from it. Most Taiwanese people know that separating from China would be an economic catastrophe for them. People there are still culturally Chinese, and it’s a very pragmatic society, so they have no desire to separate. Taiwan’s elites don’t want that either. The attempts to make comparisons between Ukraine and Taiwan haven’t been successful for anything other than generating a few joking memes, people aren’t comparing the two issues.
This was produced by Kawsachun News.
The Danger of Washington’s Shallow “Human Rights” Rhetoric. By: Caleb T. MaupinRead Now
The term “human rights” is central in the rhetoric and overall worldview promoted in the United States and Western Europe. The idea is that certain individual liberties are endowed to each person, and societies that do not respect such liberties are immoral. The idea goes on that it is the moral imperative duty of everyone to spread expand access to these liberties to as many people as possible across the planet and to pile moral condemnation on the forces that would deny such liberties to people.
Every society is expected to have the same level of free speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom of press as is experienced currently in the United States.
The rights of the individual are deemed to be sacred, and expansion of those rights and the rolling back of restrictions and obligations on individuals by the collective, is deemed to be the tide of historical progress. If a society does not have such freedoms, it is immoral, a “bad country.” If a society does have such freedoms, it is moral, a “good country.”
Hypocrisy in “Spreading Freedom”
This worldview is extremely shallow and ahistorical. It lacks any level of understanding of how human society has developed and what factors have contributed to its various forms throughout history.
But even following their own logic, the United States is guilty of extreme hypocrisy. The US arms and coddles the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a society where people can receive the death penalty for “insulting the king” or “sorcery.” On March 12th, the Saudi autocracy ruled by an absolute monarchy, set a record of 81 beheadings in a single day.
The National Security Law of South Korea is an extreme violation of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of the press etc. The law makes it a serious crime to say anything vaguely defined as against the country’s foreign policy interests or sympathetic to the government in the northern half of the peninsula. Under this law Park Jung-geun received a suspended jail sentence simply for retweeting a North Korean official in 2012.
In 2009, the United States backed the military in toppling the elected President of Honduras. Following the Honduran coup, the US armed and financially backed the free market regime in Central America as it disappeared journalists, LGBT activists, and other dissidents, often in situations where the police, the military and drug cartels worked hand in hand to remove those critical of the status quo.
The list of human rights violating governments that the United States is friendly and financially involved with is not small. The deceptiveness of claiming US foreign policy and who Washington chooses as friends and enemies as being based on “human rights” is quite obvious.
Human rights violations or alleged and unproven claims of human rights violations by rivals of Washington’s geopolitical power are widely promoted in the media. The crimes of Washington’s allies are downplayed and ignored.
US wars and interventions are often justified by US leaders in the name of human rights, often when they involve the United States arming and assisting human rights violating entities. The USA justified its efforts to topple the Syrian government alleging that it violated human rights, all while the USA armed Wahabbi religious fanatics who beheaded, tortured, and otherwise terrorized people on the basis of their religion and ethnicity, and sought to overthrow the secular Syrian Arab Republic and create an autocratic religious government. The USA currently condemns Russia for alleged human rights violations while arming the fanatics of the Azov Battalion in Ukraine who are conducting torture, summary executions, and shelling of civilian areas.
A Shallow Ahistorical View
However, beyond the hypocrisy of US leaders’ rhetoric is an even deeper misunderstanding. No one on the planet spoke “life, liberty and property” or “the rights of man” until the 1400s in Europe. Is this because human beings were simply evil until this point? They were not enlightened about the “natural rights” all humans are endowed with by birth?
Of course not. The emergence of civil liberties and freedoms in society was based on a particular stage of development. It was with the dawn of the capitalist mode of production and the defeat of feudalism by the emerging mercantile class that the economic basis of such liberties could be made possible. Running a feudal society on the basis of subsistence farming while allowing anyone to think, say and act as they wished would be impossible. The authoritarianism of feudal society was not based on a lack of morality, but economic necessity. More freedom emerged when a higher level of development and stability in society was reached.
Even the most advanced western countries recognize that in a state of war, civil liberties are suspended. If the United States were invaded or facing a state of domestic insurrection or civil war, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and other liberties would be restricted as the conditions would necessitate locking down.
Furthermore, the freedoms of US society have not always been what they are today. Women did not receive the right to vote until 1920. Freedom of Speech was greatly expanded by the rulings of the US Supreme Court during the 1960s when it was led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, and more recently have been somewhat subtly rolled back by anti-terrorism legislation. Native Americans were prevented from exercising their freedom of religion in a number of US states up until the 1970s.
As the conditions facing US society have changed, the nature of the rights and liberties granted to citizens have also changed. This in itself reveals that the notion that these rights are inherently sacred or God given does not match reality. Freedom in any society is rooted in the nature of the existing conditions. The “social contract” through which the existing authorities derive their power is constantly evolving and adapting. Different conditions necessitate different levels of restriction on human behavior and different levels of social control.
A Dumbed Down View of the World
For US leaders to claim, as they often do, that all societies should have the exact same kinds of freedom that the USA currently enjoys, is patently absurd to anyone familiar with the diverse conditions facing different countries across the planet. To expect countries with different levels of development, different levels of instability, different threats to have the same freedoms as the United States is ridiculous.
It is certainly disturbing that this kind of elementary school level of thinking “good countries versus bad countries” “free world versus the slave world” is pervasive in Washington DC. However, the naiveté of such thinking can explain many of the short-sided decisions the US government has made in recent years.
The philosopher Leo Strauss, who was highly influential on many among the American political elite, considered an ideological father of Neoconservatism, argued that such simplistic understandings were necessary for average Americans. His book “Persecution and the Art of Writing” presents intellectuals and philosophers as always facing pressure and threats from the inferior masses, and having to publish their work in a coded manner. Strauss argued that in order to keep average Americans from assembling some kind of totalitarian movement to threaten the freedom of intellectuals, it was necessary for the intellectual class to water down politics for them. A simplistic black and white view of the world was needed for the broad masses, while the nuances of the more complex geopolitical reality could be left to the politicized elite.
However, decades after the death of Leo Strauss, it appears this practice of dumbing down discourse has resulted in a level of self-delusion among the American establishment. The simplistic “good countries versus bad countries” rhetoric, originally established as a way of dumbing down global politics for average Americans, appears to be believed by many of the people making foreign policy decisions. The work of influential foreign policy thinkers like Anne Marie-Slaughter who worked in the Hillary Clinton State Department of the Obama administration during the 2011 Arab Spring protests, is littered with these kinds of simplistic ahistorical assumptions.
With a dumbed down view of the world, seeing civil liberties as existing in a vacuum and the geopolitical stage as a mere battle to “defend freedom” from “autocrats and tyrants” the USA is deteriorating internally. The ability of US leaders to accurately assess the impact of their decisions is fading. The ultimate results could be quite negative for the west and its much-celebrated ideology of “freedom.”
Caleb Maupin is a widely acclaimed speaker, writer, journalist, and political analyst. He has traveled extensively in the Middle East and in Latin America. He was involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement from its early planning stages, and has been involved many struggles for social justice. He is an outspoken advocate of international friendship and cooperation, as well as 21st Century Socialism. He doesn’t shy away from the word “Communism” when explaining his political views, and advocates that the USA move toward some form of “socialism with American characteristics” rooted in the democratic and egalitarian traditions often found in American history. He argues that the present crisis can only be abetted with an “American Rebirth” in which the radicalism and community-centered values of the country are re-established and strengthened.
Human Consciousness and the socialist transformation of the Political Economy: An essay. By: Tathagat SinghRead Now
Debates around the scope of human consciousness in the project of the socialist revolution continue to exert their influence in the discourse of modern political economy and philosophy. This essay is an attempt to shed light on the debate arguing against reductionist labelling of Marxist proletarian revolution as ‘technologically-deterministic’. The essay makes the analysis taking into account the writings of Marx and Engels. In section III we consider some modern revisions that have taken place in the materialist conception of Marxism from intellectuals like Sartre, Badiou, and Zizek.
"Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past." 
-The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx
The statement that "It is not the consciousness of people that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness' as written by Marx in the Preface of 'A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, advocates prima facie a materialist conception of history. It could be interpreted in the following manner "History is not the development of ideas but the development of Productive Forces" (Gurley).
The views that Marx and Engels characterized as materialistic and dialectical evolved in reaction against and simultaneously under the influence of Hegel's Idealism. In their youth, both Marx and Engels were greatly influenced by Hegel and Hegel remained a philosophical enemy and ally of whom they never lost sight (Wedberg).
Before understanding Marx's Materialism (which itself was developed as a support and a critique of Ludwig Feuerbach's  Materialist philosophy), it becomes imperative to discuss Idealism. Hegel believed that it is 'The Idea' and 'The Universal Spirit' change the course of history, hiding behind the backs of actors of change. That it is 'The Idea' that is predominantly present in all social relations and emerging from the Idea is how society is organized and disciplined. The basic premise of Idealism can be talked of in terms like 'first there comes the Idea, and then comes the matter.' According to Hegel, it is the consciousness of humans that determines their mode of existence (Pfeifer).
In response and as a reaction to this, German Materialist philosophers like Ludwig Feuerbach developed the philosophy of Materialism. Marx writes the following in 'The German Ideology in 1845:
"By producing their means of subsistence, men are indirectly producing their actual material life. The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process" 
Marx calls the material activities of men the language of real life, talking about it as the ultimate determining factor of consciousness. The real, objective matter independent of the existence of the subjects' minds determines the ideas of the human individual and the human collective. In other words, 'first comes matter and then come ideas'. Marx and Engels go a step further than Feuerbach to extend this materialist analysis into determining social relations and class structure. The existing forces of production, on which we would come to later, play the most integral, material part (at least in the last analysis) in developing the human consciousness of a particular epoch characterized by the presence of a certain specific force of production.
Furthermore, as Eduard Bernstein puts it, the aim is "to trace back all phenomena to the necessary movements of matter" (Pfeifer). The fact that Bernstein identifies these movements of matter as necessary highlights another key aspect of historical Materialism: the inevitability of social transformations resulting from transformations in the material forces of production. There is a pattern of regularity in the history of social development. Primary stimulus is the primary dialectical process between man and his material environment. Human activity is also part of the real objective world. It changes the objective world and adapts it to man's needs. The material world is thus an objective reality transformed in the social process of production. (Lange).
While developing his theory, in some sense, tilted towards the economic aspect of determination, Marx's theory remains firmly rooted in the philosophical premise of the epistemological realism of Materialism in contrast with the epistemological subjectivism of Idealism. The epistemological realism of materialist philosophy gives substantial leverage for Marx to assert that matter exists independently of the mind (Wedberg). Moreover, Materialism maintains that empirical reality is an all-encompassing reality. In a certain sense, the mind is relegated to a secondary agent in a causal relationship of social transformation, but even then, it does not become a passive object. This fact is also one of the primary differences between pre-Marx Materialism and Marxian Materialism.
Pre-Marx materialists like John Locke regarded the human sensation as passive, while under Marxian Materialism, both the subject and the object are in a constant state of mutual adaptation. Marxist Materialism's matter is not the wholly de-humanized matter of the atomists. The driving force for Marx is not just Matter but man's relationship to that matter (Russell). According to Marx, the human essence is no abstraction inherent in every individual. In its reality, it is the ensemble of the social relations. 
The materialist doctrine was not just limited to Philosophical analysis but also extended to natural sciences under Stalin's regime. For example, Trofim Lysenko rejected the Mendelian genetic theory of heredity and postulated that heredity was determined by the natural material environment, thus rejecting biological determinism and replacing it with materialistic determinism (Pfeifer). Some critics have pointed out that Lysenko's leap was instead revised Idealism.
Even Ideology, as Louis Althusser argues as a system of representations, is born out of the particular arrangement of material, social practices that exist at a given period in history . Thus we can claim that each ideology is sustained through a material set of practices. Feuerbach had written that as ideologies become more complex like religion, for example, then the causal determination becomes weaker, but the connection still exists. A particular set of material practices lead to the origination of an economic or religious ideology. If these material activities were to be changed beyond a certain threshold level, they might cause the collapse of the said ideological system. The transformation of these material practices becomes a necessary and sufficient condition (if we are to believe the direct causal relationship between the material base determining the Superstructure) to bring about an ideological and social change. Engels could be seen describing a similar argument in the following passage:
"From this point of view, the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men's brains, not in men's better insights into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange. They are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch….." 
Thus, in economics, we will seek the implications of this analysis now.
Marx can be seen making a relationship in the following passage.
"My inquiry led me to the conclusion that neither legal relations nor political forms could be comprehended whether by themselves or on the basis of a so-called general development of the human mind, but that on the contrary, they originate in the material conditions of life".
The legal relations and the political forms that Marx is talking about in this passage have been grouped in a specific fashion and called 'the superstructure', including social consciousness. This Superstructure is generally causally determined by the economic/material base of the forces of production and the relations of production in Orthodox Marxian Analyses. We will expand on these terms individually now.
The Economic base in a Marxian theory consists of broadly two components, the material forces of production and the relations of production.
The transformation of production's material forces is generally the ultimate first assertion in any social transformation. These forces of production include- The existing technology of production, the human talent, knowledge and the skill set required for production and the pre-existing material environment.
The other component of the economic base is called the 'Relations of Production. The Relations of Production consists of the social relations that get established within a particular society due to a particular set of material forces of production. The relations of production also constitute the class structure in the society, answering questions like who produces the surplus or the production, who owns it and who controls it. In a strict, orthodox reading of the Marxian theory, the causal/determinative relationship is considered a linear cause-effect relationship emerging out of the material forces of production, affecting the relations of production immediately and the social consciousness and the legal-political Superstructure that constitutes the Superstructure subsequently. Thus orthodox readings of Marxism can, in this fashion, explain the shaping of Ideology (in a universal sense) and ideologies through development in the material forces of production.
As far as the statement in question as posited by Marx goes, this social existence which is a direct derivative of the material environment and the material forces of production and exchange as the objective reality of 'man' has no value without the productive activities, shapes the consciousness which can be thought of as a personal entity at the apparently micro level and at the same time as a part of the social consciousness component of the Superstructure. For example, someone's concept of freedom in general and the person being free in particular is shaped by the existing material forces of production (Pfeifer).
"At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto, thus begins the era of Social Revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure".
After reading this text, it becomes essential to understand that even the possibility of a social revolution, according to Marx, emerges primarily not arbitrarily from the minds of actors willing to cause this social revolution but initially from the changes in the material forces of production. However, again, one must not forget that, unlike Locke's Materialism, Marx's Materialism strongly proposes that the human mind is not a passive receptor of the stimulus but also an active reactor to the stimulus in a continuously engaging dialectical process. As Engels wrote in his letter to the German economist Borgias:
"Political, juridical, philosophical, religious, literary, artistic, etc., development is based on economic development. But all these react upon one another and also upon the economic base. It is not that the economic position is the cause and alone active, while everything else only has a passive effect. There is, rather, interaction on the basis of the economic necessity, which ultimately always asserts itself" .
Moreover, in the same letter, he writes how the concept of 'ultimate assertion' manifested through necessity is different from what critics pointed out as the "only assertion" of material forces of production:
"Men make their history themselves, but not as yet with a collective will or according to a collective plan or even in a definitely defined, given society. Their efforts clash, and for that very reason, all such societies are governed by necessity, which is supplemented by and appears under the forms of accident. The necessity which here asserts itself amidst all accident is again ultimately economic necessity."
As these material changes in the structure of production and exchange shape and transform the society from one system to another, they simultaneously give birth to contradictions which inevitably lead to the fall of the entire system itself. As explained by Marx and Engels, this existence of contradictions is an essential aspect of Dialectical thought (influenced by Hegel), which they use in the materialist framework to argue for the self-contained seeds of destruction under Capitalism.
As Engel writes in 1880:
"The greater the mastery obtained by the new mode of production over all important fields of production and in all manufacturing countries, the more it reduced individual production to an insignificant residuum, the more clearly was brought out the incompatibility of socialized production with capitalistic appropriation."
It is interesting to note that even the origins of the contradiction, according to this passage, arise from the mastery of the material modes of production. Thus, even the contradiction present in the Capitalist System in its entirety is produced by the control and ownership of the material modes of production and not because of the presence of some ideological notion in the collective mind of the society. In this way, Engels does his bit to make Marxism a materialist science.
Marx and Engels were devoted to using this materialist framework to develop an approach to understand and theorize the development of history. Furthermore, more simply, it can be said that they theorized the development of history as a movement of matter and not as a movement of ideas or the Universal Spirit (as advocated by Hegel).
Interesting nuances arose when contemporaries of Marx and Engels challenged them with questions which were apparently not seen to be economic, such as the question of races and the development of history, which supposedly moved in tandem with the exploitation of one race at the hands of another race by seemingly purely ideological and human consciousness-determined frameworks which were seen to be free of the economic domain. However, even this critique is handled by Engels in his letter to Borgius where he writes- "We regard economic conditions as the factor which ultimately determines historical development. But race is itself an economic factor". Using the materialist tool of analysis it becomes relatively clearer to see how Engels wanted to explain race itself as an economic factor.
It can be understood that a certain specific way of material practices originated and was sustained by the dominant class to continue the rampant racial exploitation. Under Capitalism, the aims for racial slavery became purely profit-driven, which is again an example of the material existence of monetary profit shaping the consciousness of the oppressor to impose this same fictitious consciousness on the exploited races further forcefully. If those particular sets of material practices were dismantled or replaced with another set of practices, then it becomes plausible to challenge the existence and legitimization of racism and slavery.
A similar analysis can be extended to the case of social castes within Hinduism in the Indian context, where the Savarna Class has deployed a particular set of material practices to create, sustain, and perpetuate a certain kind of false consciousness a fictitious hierarchy among the population. This is so because it seems plausible that seeing the same kind of oppression without those very objectively actual material actions of exploitation in the sphere of production and exchange would have been difficult.
It can be said that the dialectic nature of Marxist Materialism allows a certain kind of an encompassing characteristic of the Class structure born out of the pre-existing material modes of production and materially determined social existence, which encompasses caste, race, gender and religion, while not eclipsing them by allowing room for intersectionality but also at the same time being the primary assertive determinant, at least in the last analysis.
Even Marxism uses the same analysis to explain its rise. According to Marxist theory, two opposing ideologies can exist at the same time precisely because of the presence of dialectics in a society, one is the thesis, and the other is the antithesis and their union resulting in a synthesis. Thus the presence of the Bourgeois material class simultaneously allowed for the presence of a Proletarian social class which led to the development of a Marxist consciousness as a form of an expression of the philosophy of the proletarian struggle. The ultimate derivation comes from the Relations of Production, which is a class relation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariats based on the ownership of the material forces of production.
"The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated."
- Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach
One of the biggest fallacies that the readers and critics of Marxist Materialism have committed is to label it in a very reductionist fashion as a strongly 'suffocating' deterministic theory. According to these critics, Marxian Materialism leaves minimal scope for the human consciousness to be an active participant in the process of social revolution. These 'accusations' seem to wither away in the dialectical nature of the argument, as well as the discussion of the 'human essence' and 'alienation' in the early writings of Marx.
As people change the world, they develop their own capabilities and their desires to change the world still further. Such development is not imposed on us from the outside, nor do we simply adapt in passive ways to these changes. We initiate those changes and make ourselves worthy of the new conditions (Gurley). Therefore, it is incorrect and highly reductionist to label the Marxian theory as 'technologically deterministic' because human beings are integral to development.
A similar argument is made in Engel's response to J.Bloch
"According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this, neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the Superstructure — political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas — also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form. We make our history ourselves, but, in the first place, under very definite assumptions and conditions. Among these, the economic ones are ultimately decisive. However, the political ones, etc., and indeed even the traditions which haunt human minds also play a part, although not the decisive one."
Ethical/Political connotations can be spotted in Marx's writings when he tries to bring Marxism closer to humanism. One of the critical methods of doing this is to do away with the abstraction of the 'idea' and the 'super-world' and bring 'man' to the centre of the material universe to be responsible for ethics and politics directly.
However, many later Marxist philosophers tried to do away with the rigid determinism of Marxist Materialism and tackled it with a different kind of Materialism while also rejecting humanism. Some of these philosophers included Louis Althusser, Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek. Their new brand of Materialism sees itself in direct conflict with the standard dichotomous Idealism/Materialism debate. This new Materialism focuses less on the deterministic nature of matter and more on the foundationally indeterminate nature of matter (Pfeifer). In this new Materialism, what becomes primary is not material determination, which is an outcome, but rather material contingency and chance. The new Materialism thus involves in a certain way a more significant role of the human consciousness in the process of social transformation by positing that the existing material structure is not something monolithic but is made upon how the human consciousness responds to the primary cause of material contingency. Thus is, this material structure becomes unstable, reversible and constantly subjected to change since the human consciousness changes its reaction to changing material contingencies.
Althusser makes this point clearer even in his analyses on Materialist Theatre. He writes:
"The disappearance of the hero (whether positive or negative), the object of identification, has been seen as the very precondition of the alienation-effect -no more hero, no more identification – the suppression of the hero being also linked to Brecht's 'materialist' conception – it is the masses who make history, not 'heroes' .
In order to allow room for a more significant role of the human consciousness in social changes and transformation, some Marxist philosophers turned towards existentialism to give birth to a new strand of thought called Existential Marxism, most notable among them being Jean-Paul Sartre.
Jean-Paul Sartre wanted his existentialism to be a counterargument to Stalinist Materialism. Sartre deftly used Marx's writings on alienation and combined it with his writings in 'Being and Nothingness' to come about to a viewpoint of Existential Marxism. He wanted to substitute the determinism that was prevalent in the Stalinist Soviet-Marxism with the human impulse of freedom, constant change and radical social transformation through the agency of human choice. His primary purpose was to put the concept of freedom as pivotal to any social revolution. Sartre's reading of Marx led him to conclude that even Marx believed that Human Actions were fundamentally self-determining even when they took place in circumstances beyond the control of 'man'. Thus Sartre accused that the creeping in of determinism into Marxist Materialism was a Stalinist distortion. However, many critics of Sartre have pointed out that his tendency towards revisionism coloured the decrying of pre-Khrushchev Soviet Political Economy as deterministic.
Also, Sartre promptly refuted the one-way causal deterministic relationship of the economic base and the Superstructure. He argued that while there was undoubtedly a connecting relation and a dialectical conflict between the material forces of production, relations of production and the Superstructure, the one-way linearity seemed to him a far stretch of orthodox determinism. He believed that history is made by human beings even if the future is constrained because freedom for Sartre had no meaning outside of concrete oppressive situations. He made clear through his writings that even in limiting and oppressive structures, humans totalize and transcend. Another hallmark of existential thought posits that people should take responsibility for their actions and consequences. This particular stream of thought is thus adapted into Marxism by allowing the possibility of a continual struggle against the oppressive structures that limit humans and alienate them. Existentialist Marxism also emphasizes the importance of collectively self-determined will in increasing the alienation and insignificance of the individual. This shows how labelling Marxism as deterministic is reductionist and defeats the whole purpose of Marxism as a hope for social revolution.
Thus, it becomes safer to say that human consciousness does indeed play a part in social transformations even in Marxian readings as Sartre argued- "We are situated but never wholly determined".
Source:https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ (Accessed on 2 September 2021)
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Tathagat Singh is a master’s research scholar in the Faculty of Economics of South Asian University, Delhi, India.
How Artist Cooperatives Found New Ways to Help Creative People Thrive Despite COVID-19. By: Aric SleeperRead Now
In the age of online retail and freelance work platforms like Etsy and Upwork respectively, the ability for professional creatives to skip the job hunt and become independent contractors can be very appealing, but studies show that the challenges and anxieties faced by freelancers increase when they take on the responsibility of managing every aspect of running a business, from accounting to marketing and beyond. The global pandemic has only exacerbated the worries of independent creatives, who may not be able to afford to take time off when they want to, whether they are sick or healthy.
Artist cooperatives, like the online art shop Justseeds, offer an alternative model of business for artists burned out from going it alone. However, the benefits of organizing with other disparate creatives may not always be immediate or apparent, according to Justseeds cofounder Josh MacPhee.
“We live in this sort of gig/app-driven economy in which we are perpetually sold the benefits of acting as atomized individuals, while the costs of [such a system] are always invisibilized,” says MacPhee. “When young artists who are trying to pay rent and put food in their mouths see a super slick, well-organized and user-friendly interface like Etsy, and it appears on the surface that [these artists] get [to keep] 70 to 80 percent of the sales, they don’t see the benefit of joining a cooperative that is clunkier and takes more investment.”
An artist cooperative is a business, gallery space or studio that is owned and democratically controlled by its members. Justseeds is just that, and boasts 41 members both foreign and domestic, who sell their radical art prints on the company’s e-commerce website in a similar fashion to Etsy. However, in Justseeds’ cooperative model, every artist has a say in how the business operates.
“When we started [Justseeds], it was great because I only had to be 1/16th of an entrepreneur. Now I’m just 1/41st of an entrepreneur. That means I’ll have more time to make art and do the things I want to do with my life,” says MacPhee. “That’s the real appeal, because as an artist, you don’t really want to be an entrepreneur; you don’t want to be an individual biopolitical, economic machine.”
MacPhee grew up steeped in the DIY punk scene in the 1990s and got his start as an artist printing posters, T-shirts and zines focused on social justice ideas and movements. Justseeds was initially formed in 1998 as a way to distribute the posters and screen-printed T-shirts MacPhee had accumulated over time.
“I made a flyer and sent it in the mail to everyone I knew. This was before I had an email address or website. The flyer was a picture of the art I had made, and people would check off what they wanted, and put cash in the envelope and send it to me,” says MacPhee. “[The reach of Justseeds] grew over time, and artists who were doing similar work asked me if I would sell their art too.”
MacPhee didn’t like the idea of being a middleman, skimming profits off the top of the sales made by his fellow artists, and didn’t care to tackle Justseeds’ administrative work on his own, so he sent a proposal to his colleagues to start an artist cooperative. When 15 others showed interest, they officially transformed Justseeds into an artist cooperative in 2007.
“The dominant way that people bought and sold art was in a gallery, so we were essentially creating a virtual community gallery without gallerists,” says MacPhee. “In that way, it wasn’t a new model. In the 1970s, there was an explosion of artist-run galleries. This [transformation of Justseeds] was just taking [that model] into the 21st century [by making it online].”
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Justseeds, like other online merchants, saw an explosion in sales that didn’t mix well with the safety precautions associated with the virus, as they could only have a few people physically inside their Pittsburgh-based distribution center at one time.
“This sort of perverse thing happened with COVID, where people started spending the money they would [have otherwise been] spending in the world, online. We saw a huge spike in sales, but we had a logistics logjam, and it took months to get art out sometimes [and deliver it to buyers],” says MacPhee. “In some ways, however, the pandemic has been useful for us because we were already struggling with the stressors of online communication, and now we are more conscious of that.”
After almost 25 years, MacPhee wakes up every day amazed that Justseeds has grown to employ artists from 30 locales in three different countries, all tackling different political and social issues, local and global.
“That has everything to do with our decentralized solidarity economic model as opposed to a more traditional centralized business structure,” says MacPhee. “Politically, we function as a loose collective while the cooperative creates this larger social identity, so I can do the work I’m doing in my locale, and other artists, whether they’re in the Bay Area or Mexico City or Toronto, can do the work [they want] on their local struggles.”
Looking to the future, MacPhee hopes more young artists organize and experiment with new cooperative business models that make Justseeds’ business structure look like a dinosaur.
“We just need to keep experimenting,” says MacPhee. “Justseeds is 25 years old now, and it’s not easy for us to try new things because there are so many patterns that we already exist in. We try to be fleet-footed and dynamic, but I want to see dozens of groups in dozens of places experimenting with what it means to create culture in a cooperative context.”
An Artist Cooperative to Fight Inequities in the Immersive Storytelling Space
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, former lobbyist and human services fundraiser Lauren Ruffin is paving the way for what an artist cooperative looks like in these interesting times. While serving as co-CEO of the arts service organization Fractured Atlas, Ruffin was inspired to co-found the digital artist cooperative CRUX as a way to combat the inequities she saw in the immersive storytelling space, which includes virtual and augmented reality, also known as extended reality (XR).
“Folks weren’t really talking about the immersive storytelling space before the pandemic, and now we’re talking about web3 and metaverses,” says Ruffin. “The core of everything I’m trying to do is to ensure that there is economic justice for Black people as we begin to build these new environments. Because we’re kind of just letting white guys do it.”
While attending the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, Ruffin was moved by the immersive art piece NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism, but was disturbed when she discovered that the female-led Hyphen Labs, which created the cross-platform project, didn’t receive as much funding as other immersive storytelling projects led by white males.
This phenomenon is not new. According to data from Crunchbase, a platform that provides information about private companies, “Black entrepreneurs received just 1.2 percent of the record $137 billion invested in U.S. startups in the first half of 2021,” which is actually an increase from 2020.
“I kept asking people, who’s going to fix this? And finally, I realized that it was me. I had to fix this myself,” says Ruffin. “That’s how CRUX started. A lot of people talk about their passion for something, but I was just fucking angry. It really pissed me off, and I think rage can be a fuel toward something beautiful.”
With Ruffin’s innate tenacity and background in fundraising, she created an artist cooperative that supports BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) digital creatives in the XR space. CRUX finances and helps these digital creatives produce immersive storytelling art pieces like the virtual reality series POV (Points of View), created by writer and director Alton Glass, which debuted at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
CRUX began as a public benefit corporation, but Ruffin decided to reform CRUX as a cooperative after pondering the speculative fate of the cable channel BET.
“I just kept thinking about how Bob Johnson [co-founder of BET] was the first Black billionaire, but never really helped out the Black community,” says Ruffin. “If BET had been a cooperative, we would have had thousands of Black millionaires seeding the creative ecosystem.”
One of the funders of CRUX connected Ruffin with attorney Jason Weiner, who helped Ruffin navigate the legalese associated with cooperatives.
“We don’t talk enough about how hard it is to find legal counsel to start cooperatives,” says Ruffin. “Finding good counsel at a reasonable rate is really what made the co-op happen. I would’ve stayed as a public benefit corporation otherwise.”
Over the last two years of the pandemic, CRUX paid BIPOC digital creatives nearly $2 million. Moving forward, Ruffin is studying the strengths and weaknesses of the FICO credit score to devise a new merit-based lending model, paying more Black digital creatives to create groundbreaking projects like POV, and educating people about worker cooperatives.
“I love the cooperative model and cooperative principles, and I don’t know that I would do a co-op in the same way again. There are many ways to get to the cooperative principles that are easier to maintain. You can think about democratic governance or multi-member LLCs,” says Ruffin. “I do think that for communities of color, the solidarity economy and cooperatives are really important to us in terms of broadening our understanding of what’s possible.”
Aric Sleeper is an independent journalist whose work, which covers topics including labor, drug reform, food and more, has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications local to California’s Central Coast. In addition to his role as a community reporter, he has served as a government analyst and bookseller.
This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
How Big Tech Sees Big Profits in Social-Emotional Learning at School. By: Anna L. NobleRead Now
Digital products that monitor students’ online behavior raise concerns about how companies use that data for profit.
In June 2021, as students and teachers were finishing up a difficult school year, Priscilla Chan, wife of Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, made a live virtual appearance on the “Today” show, announcing that the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), along with its “partner” Gradient Learning, was launching Along, a new digital tool to help students and teachers create meaningful connections in the aftermath of the pandemic.
According to CZI and Gradient Learning, the science of Along shows that students who form deep connections with teachers are more likely to be successful in school and less likely to show “disruptive behaviors,” resulting in fewer suspensions and lower school dropout rates. To help form those deep connections, the Along platform offers prompts such as “What is something that you really value and why?” or “When you feel stressed out, what helps?” Then, students may, on their “own time, in a space where they feel safe,” record a video of themselves responding to these questions and upload the video to the Along program.
CZI, the LLC foundation set up by Zuckerberg and Chan to give away 99 percent of his Facebook stock, is one of many technology companies that have created software products that claim to address the social and emotional needs of children. And school districts appear to be rapidly adopting these products to help integrate the social and emotional skills of students into the school curriculum, a practice commonly called social-emotional learning (SEL).
Panorama Education—whose financial backers also include CZI as well as other Silicon Valley venture capitalists such as the Emerson Collective, founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs—markets a survey application for collecting data on students’ social-emotional state that is used by 23,000 schools serving a quarter of the nation’s students, according to TechCrunch.
Gaggle, which uses students’ Google and Microsoft accounts to scan for keywords and collect social-emotional-related data, has contracts with at least 1,500 school districts, Education Week reports.
Before the pandemic temporarily shuttered school buildings, the demand for tracking what students do while they’re online, and how that activity might inform schools about how to address students’ social and emotional needs, was mostly driven by desires to prevent bullying and school shootings, according to a December 2019 report by Vice.
Tech companies that make and market popular software products such as GoGuardian, Securly, and Bark claim to alert schools of any troubling social-emotional behaviors students might exhibit when they’re online so that educators can intervene, Vice reports, but “[t]here is, however, no independent research that backs up these claims.”
COVID-19 and its associated school closures led to even more concerns about students’ “anxiety, depression and other serious mental health conditions,” reports EdSource. The article points to a survey conducted from April 25 to May 1, 2020, by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California, which found that 68 percent of students said they were in need of mental health support post-pandemic.
A major focus of CZI’s investment in education is its partnership with Summit Public Schools to “co-build the Summit Learning Platform to be shared with schools across the U.S.” As Valerie Strauss reported in the Washington Post following the release of a critical research brief by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, in 2019, Summit Public Schools spun off TLP Education to manage the Summit Learning program, which includes the Summit Learning Platform, according to Summit Learning’s user agreement. TLP Education has since become Gradient Learning, which has at this point placed both the Summit Learning program and Along in 400 schools that serve 80,000 students.
Since 2015, CZI has invested more than $280 million in developing the Summit Learning program. This total includes $134 million in reported contributions revenue to Summit Public Schools 501(c)(3) from 2015 to 2018 and another $140 million in reported awards to Summit Public Schools, Gradient Learning, and TLP Education (as well as organizations that helped in their SEL tools’ development) posted since 2018; a further $8 million has been given to “partner” organizations listed on the Along website—which include GripTape, Character Lab, Black Teacher Collaborative, and others—and their evaluations by universities.
An enticement that education technology companies are using to get schools to adopt Along and other student monitoring products is to offer these products for free, at least for a trial period, or for longer terms depending on the level of service. But “free” doesn’t mean without cost.
As CZI funds and collaborates with its nonprofit partners to expand the scope of student monitoring software in schools, Facebook (aka Meta) is actively working to recruit and retain young users on its Facebook and Instagram applications.
That CZI’s success at getting schools to adopt Along might come at the cost of exploiting children was revealed when Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, a former employee of the company, who made tens of thousands of pages of Facebook’s internal documents public, disclosed that Facebook is highly invested in creating commercial products for younger users, including an Instagram Kids application intended for children who are under 13 years. While Facebook executives discussed the known harms of their products on “tweens,” they nevertheless forged ahead, ignoring suggestions from researchers on ways to reduce the harm. As Haugen explained, “they have put their astronomical profits before people.”
The information gathered from SEL applications such as Along will likely be used to build out the data infrastructure that generates knowledge used to make behavioral predictions. This information is valuable to corporations seeking a competitive edge in developing technology products for young users.
Schools provide a useful testing ground to experiment with ways to hold the attention of children, develop nudges, and elicit desirable behavioral responses. What these tech companies learn from students using their SEL platforms can be shared with their own product developers and other companies developing commercial products for children, including social media applications.
Yet Facebook’s own internal research confirms social media is negatively associated with teen mental health, and this association is strongest for those who are already vulnerable—such as teens with preexisting mental health conditions, those who are from socially marginalized groups, and those who have disabilities.
Although Facebook claimed it was putting the Instagram Kids app “on hold” in September 2021, a November 2021 study suggests the company continues to harvest data on children.
There are legislative restrictions governing the collection and use of student data.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of student data collected by educational institutions, and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) requires commercial businesses to obtain parental consent to gather data from “children under 13 years of age.” Unfortunately, if a commercial contract with a school or district designates that business a “school official,” the child data can be extracted by the business, leaving the responsibility to obtain consent with the school district.
While these agreements contain information relating to “privacy,” the obfuscatory language and lack of alternative options mean the “parental consent” obtained is neither informed nor voluntary.
Although these privacy policies contain data privacy provisions, there’s a caveat: Those provisions don’t apply to “de-identified” data, i.e., personal data with “unique identifiers” (e.g., names and ID numbers) that have been removed. De-identified data information is valuable to tech corporations because it is used for research, product development, and improvement of services; however, this de-identified data is relatively easy to re-identify. “Privacy protection” just means it might be a little bit more difficult to find an individual.
What privacy protection doesn’t mean is that the privacy of children is protected from the “personalized” content delivered to them by machine algorithms. It doesn’t mean the video of a child talking about “the time I felt afraid” isn’t out there floating in the ether, feeding the machines to adjust their future.
The connections between the Along platform and corporate technology giant Facebook are a good example of how these companies can operate in schools while maintaining their right to use personal information of children for their own business purposes.
Given concerns that arose in a congressional hearing in December 2021 about Meta’s Instagram Kids application, as reported by NPR, there is reason to believe these companies will continue to skirt key questions about how they play fast and loose with children’s data and substitute a “trust us” doctrine for meaningful protections.
As schools ramp up these SEL digital tools, parents and students are increasingly concerned about how school-related data can be exploited. According to a recent survey by the Center for Democracy and Technology, 69 percent of parents are concerned about their children’s privacy and security protection, and large majorities of students want more knowledge and control of how their data is used.
Schools are commonly understood to be places where children can make mistakes and express their emotions without their actions and expressions being used for profit, and school leaders are customarily charged with the responsibility to protect children from any kind of exploitation. Digital SEL products, including Along, may be changing those expectations.
Anna L. Noble is a doctoral student in the School of Education at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
This article was produced by Our Schools.
It is important for us to focus on the enemy and denounce them, but it is also very necessary to work on strengthening the socialist culture, the critical analysis and political debate between us.
How to think and do Cuba today? The liberal thought trends which are globally hegemonic, have a discourse about our country that is characterized by one key aspect: they analyze the Cuban reality through a rhetoric full of abstractions, while proposing solutions that mimic the model of liberal democracies of the so-called “first world”.
The Cubans who did the most to obtain unity among the different political powers of the nation, also were two essential pillars in the making of an of authentic and counter-hegemonic platform of thought, according to the moment in which they lived: José Martí and Fidel Castro.
They did not forge unity in a vacuum, they did so without abandoning the development of a specific political program, with a deep sense of independence, anti-imperialist, and social justice; in the case of Fidel, a program also deeply rooted in Marxism.
Both revolutionary leaders gave a fundamental weight to the plane of ideas and through millions of pages filled with the best of Cuban and global thought left their mark on history. Something distinguishes them: a vision of Cuba taking into account all the variables of its context. This means, above all, the analysis of the sociopolitical situation in Cuba at the height of the time in which they lived.
Through their essential contradictions, their sharp edges, their difficult points, they never shied away from addressing the knots in which the course of the nation faltered at on its path towards sovereignty and social justice.
Considering the given sociohistorical determinations, also, the geopolitical coordinates of Cuba, located 90 miles from the United States and in South Latin America. Any analysis of our reality, even of its internal contradictions, that does not take into consideration the mentioned facts, is a limited analysis.
“I’m the son of America and I owe it to her” Marti would say, and in that way connect to the reality of the Latin-American peoples, those who are “From Bravo to Patagonia” . Sometimes among Cubans there is a vision of capitalism that is unjustifiably closer to what the Nordic social democracies are, than to what capitalism has been and is in our region. What are the problems of our peoples and what are also their forms of resistance and struggle?
The exercise of Marxism can be a valuable resource to continue developing critical revolutionary thought, without which it will be difficult to put the problems we face into perspective, if we wish to deepen socialism and, for that matter, carve out a horizon of greater democracy and equality.
Today, other demands require our attention in form of thought and practice. There is the call of popular, anti-capitalist and anti-colonial feminisms, with a collective imaginary and tradition of struggle from below and to the left, to which we could contribute much of our experience, and from which we could also learn. We should not stay on the sidelines of the epistemic revolution that feminisms have promoted through their rebellion against capitalism and the heteropatriarchy.
Cuba’s proposition in this context is, then, a provocation to the dialogue, critical revolutionary thought, politicization, and collectivization of the analysis of our reality.
It is important that we focus and denounce the enemy, but it is also very necessary to work on strengthening the socialist culture, the critical analysis and political debate between us.
Karima Oliva Bello
This article was translated to english from Granma.
Ukrainian leftist criticizes Western war drive with Russia: US is using Ukraine as ‘cannon fodder'. By: Yuliy DubovykRead Now
A left-wing peace activist raised in Ukraine explains how the US government created the crisis, backing two coups in a decade, fueling a devastating civil war, and exploiting his nation as a proxy against Russia.
I am a Ukrainian-American. I grew up and spent over half of my life in Ukraine, although now I live in the United States. I wanted to explain my thoughts on the ongoing crisis with Russia, because mainstream corporate media outlets don’t ever share perspectives like mine.
It is definitely a stressful time, for obvious reasons. Fortunately, my family and friends in the country are alive and are doing well enough under the circumstances. Unfortunately, in the past decade this isn’t the first time I have had to check in on my loved ones there, and for basically the same reasons. This is what I wanted to talk about.
You see, the US government has meddled in Ukraine for decades. And the Ukrainian people have suffered because of this.
The overwhelming support that Western governments and media outlets have poured out for Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24 is not actually motivated by concern for the Ukrainian people. They are using us to advance their political and economic interests.
We know this because Washington overthrew our government twice in a decade, imposed neoliberal economic policies that made our country the poorest in Europe, and has fueled a devastating civil war that in the past eight years took the lives of 14,000 Ukrainians and wounded and displaced many more.
The following facts don’t get mentioned by the media, as they contradict the foreign-policy goals of the US government. So unless you are actively engaged in the anti-war movement, the info below is probably new to you. That is why I wanted to write this article.
US government backed two coups in Ukraine in one decade, and fueled a civil war that killed 14,000 Ukrainians
The first US-backed soft coup in Ukraine occurred in 2004, when Western-backed presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko lost the election.
The winner of the November 2004 vote, Viktor Yanukovych, was portrayed as being pro-Russian, so Western governments refused to recognize his victory and declared electoral fraud.
Western-backed forces in Ukraine then mobilized and carried out a textbook color revolution, called the “Orange Revolution.” They forced another run-off vote that December, in which their candidate Yushchenko was declared president.
In a shockingly honest 2004 report titled “US campaign behind the turmoil in Kiev,” Britain’s establishment newspaper The Guardian admitted that the “Orange Revolution” was “an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing,” bankrolled with at least $14 million.
“Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign” attempted to topple governments “in four countries in four years,” The Guardian boasted, targeting Serbia, Georgia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
Much like in the United States, Ukrainian presidents are appointed and govern in the interest of wealthy oligarchs, so no Ukrainian president ends his tenure with a particularly high rating. The US-backed Yushchenko, however, set a new record for the lowest popular support in history.
In the next presidential election, in 2010, Yushchenko got just 5% of the vote, which should give you an insight into how popular he actually was.
During his first term Yushchenko implemented a program of austerity, reduced social spending, bailed out large banks, deregulated agriculture, advocated for NATO membership, and repressed the rights of language minorities like Russian speakers.
The second US-backed coup d’etat in Ukraine was launched in late 2013 and consolidated power in 2014, just a decade after the first one.
Viktor Yanukovych, who was frequently called pro-Russian by Western media but in reality was just neutral, won the 2010 presidential election fair and square.
But in 2013, Yanukovych refused to sign a European Union Association Agreement that would have been a step toward integrating Ukraine with the EU. In order to be part of this program, Brussels had demanded that Kiev impose neoliberal structural adjustment, selling off government assets and giving the Washington-led International Monetary Fund (IMF) even more control over Ukrainian state spending.
Yanukovych rejected this for a more favorable offer from Russia. So, once again, Western-backed organizations brought out their supporters into the Maidan Square in Kiev to overthrow the government.
As was the case during the “Orange Revolution” in 2004, the United States sent politicians to meet with the leaders of the demonstrations, and later coup leaders, in late 2013 and early 2014. US Senators John McCain, Chris Murphy, and others spoke in front of large crowds in Maidan.
At some point the control of the stage and leadership of the protests was overtaken by far-right forces. Leaders of such organizations as Svoboda (a neo-Nazi party) and Right Sector (a coalition of fascist organizations) spoke to the protesters, sometimes standing side-by-side with their American backers like McCain.
Later their organizations acted as the spear of attack against the Ukrainian police in the violent February 2014 coup d’etat, and they were the first to storm government buildings.
With the success of the US-backed forces and fascists, President Yanukovich fled the country to Russia.
US government officials met with coup leaders and appointed a right-wing neoliberal, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, to lead the new regime, because they recognized they couldn’t appoint the fascists and maintain legitimacy.
A leaked recording of a phone call between Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and the US ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, showed that Washington chose who the leaders of the new coup regime would be.
Nuland referred to Yatsenyuk affectionately as “Yats,” saying, “Yats is the guy.”
The first actions of the post-2014 coup government were to ban left-wing parties in the country and reduce language-minority rights even further. Then Ukrainian fascists attacked anti-coup demonstrations in the streets all over the country.
As the anti-coup protests were being violently broken up by the far-right, two areas in the east of the country, Donetsk and Luhansk, rose up and declared independence from Ukraine.
The people of Crimea also voted to leave Ukraine and join Russia. Crimea has a Russian military base, and under their protection they were able to vote safely.
The people in Donetsk and Luhansk were less lucky. The coup government dispatched the military to suppress their insurrections.
At first many Ukrainian soldiers refused to shoot at their own countrymen, in this civil war that their US-backed government started.
Seeing the hesitation of the Ukrainian military, far-right groups (and the oligarchs that were backing them) formed so-called “territorial defense battalions,” with names like Azov, Aidar, Dnipro, Tornado, etc.
Much like in Latin America, where US-backed death-squads kill left-wing politicians, socialists, and labor organizers, these Ukrainian fascist battalions were deployed to lead the offensive against the militias of Donetsk and Luhansk, killing Russian-speaking Ukrainians.
In May 2014, neo-Nazis and other far-right forces assaulted an anti-coup demonstration in the major city of Odessa. 48 people were burned alive in a labor union building.
This massacre added more fuel to the civil war. The Ukrainian government promised to investigate what happened, but never really did.
After the 2014 coup, Ukraine held an election without any serious opposition candidates, and Western-backed billionaire Petro Poroshenko won.
Poroshenko was seen as the most “moderate” of the right-wing coup coalition. But that didn’t mean much, considering many opposition parties were banned or assaulted by the far-right when they tried to organize.
Additionally, the areas that would have heavier support for the voices who wanted peace with Russia, such as Crimea and the Donbas, had seceded from Ukraine.
The new president had the impossible task of trying to appear sufficiently patriotic for the far-right while at the same time sufficiently “respectable” for the West to continue backing him publicly.
To appease the far-right, Poroshenko gave out awards to World War Two veterans “on both sides,” including the ones that fought in Nazi Germany-aligned militias like the fascist Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
The Ukrainian government officially honored the leaders of these organizations, Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukevych, who organized massacres of many thousands of Poles, Jews, Russians, and other minorities during World War Two, and who willingly participated in the Holocaust.
The holiday Defenders of Ukraine Day, or Day of Ukrainian Armed Forces, was changed to October 14, to match the date of founding of the Nazi-backed Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
This is why you sometimes see red-and-black badges on Ukrainian soldiers. This symbol shows support for the fascist Ukrainian forces during World War Two.
(Also I have to make a separate but important point here: Ukraine was previously part of the Soviet Union, and the majority of the Ukrainian population during World War Two supported the Red Army and actively resisted Nazi occupation of their country. The Ukrainian fascist collaborationists and parties did not have as broad support as the anti-fascist resistance did, and were mostly active during the period of Nazi occupation.)
A large portion of the civil war that broke out in Ukraine after the 2014 coup was waged under Poroshenko.
From 2014 to 2019, in five years of civil war in Donbas, the geographic region that encompasses the Luhansk and Donetsk republics, more than 13,000 people were killed, and at least 28,000 were wounded, according to official Ukrainian government statistics. This was years before Russia invaded.
The Ukrainian army and its far-right paramilitary allies were responsible for the vast majority of civilian casualties, with the United Nations reporting in January 2022 that, between 2018 and 2021, 81.4% of all civilian casualties caused by active hostilities were in Donetsk and Luhansk.
These are Russian-speaking Ukrainians being killed their own government. They are not secret Russian forces.
Researchers at the US government-sponsored RAND Corporation acknowledged in a January 2022 report in Foreign Policy magazine that, “even by Kyiv’s own estimates, the vast majority of rebel forces consist of locals—not soldiers of the regular Russian military.”
Meanwhile, millions of Ukrainians fled the country due to the conflict, especially from the eastern regions that saw most of the fighting.
The United States strongly supported Poroshenko and the Ukrainian government as it was waging this brutal war that killed thousands, injured tens of thousands, and displaced millions.
This is why I say the US government doesn’t actually care about Ukraine.
In 2019, the Ukrainian people clearly showed that they opposed this war by overwhelmingly voting against Poroshenko at the ballot box. Current Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky got 73% of the vote, compared to just 24% for Poroshenko.
Zelensky ran on a platform of peace. He even addressed the Russian-speaking eastern parts of the country in Russian.
Very quickly after entering office, however, Zelensky changed his tone. Much like the supposedly “moderate” Poroshenko, Zelensky was told that he was risking losing Western backing, and the loyalty of the far-right, which could threaten to kill him.
So Zelensky did a 180 on his peaceful rhetoric, and he continued to support the civil war.
Neo-Nazis have a significant influence in Ukraine’s state security services
Here it is important to address another important point: The Ukrainian government is not directly run by fascists, but in Ukraine fascist forces do have significant influence in the state.
After the 2014 US-backed coup, neo-Nazis were absorbed by Ukraine’s military, police, and security apparatus.
So while the parliamentary representation of fascist parties is not large (they often get just a few percentage points of the vote in elections), these extremists continue to be supported by taxpayers’ money through unelected state institutions.
Additionally, these neo-Nazis have the street muscle to terrorize political opponents. They can quickly mobilize dozens or hundreds of people on a moment’s notice to attack opponents.
Moreover, these fascists are highly motivated combatants that ensure the loyalty of the Ukrainian military. They represent a powerful faction of the Ukrainian political spectrum, and one of the forces in Ukrainian society that pushes for escalating war with the separatist regions and Russia.
I sometimes see people try to reject this fact by saying, “How can Ukraine have all these Nazis if their president is Jewish?” Here is the answer: the Nazis are not appointed by Zelensky.
These fascists have a major influence in the unelected state security apparatus. The have systematically infiltrated the military and police. And they even enjoy support and training from Western governments and NATO.
The position of fascists grew substantially stronger in Ukraine in the eight years of the civil war, from 2014 to 2022.
For those reasons Ukrainian presidents (Jewish or not) have to take the position of the far-right into consideration. (Not to mention the possibility that far-right gangs could threaten to kill the president or other politicians if they defy them.)
Furthermore, all forces that normally oppose fascism or would oppose the civil war have not existed en masse for eight years in Ukraine: following the 2014 coup, many left-wing parties and socialists got banned by the Ukrainian government, and were assaulted in the streets by the fascists.
Any Ukrainian president, especially since the coup, is highly dependent on the support of the US government as well. So Zelensky is very much a hostage of the situation.
When Washington tells Zelensky he must continue the civil war in Ukraine against his own electoral promises, support NATO membership, ignore the Minsk II agreement of 2015, or even ask for nuclear weapons, he does everything he is told.
Like any other US puppet regime, Ukraine doesn’t have any real independence. Kiev has been actively pushed to confront Russia by every US administration, against the will of the majority of Ukrainian people.
The fact that most Ukrainians wanted peace with Russia was reflected by the fact that they voted for the peace candidate Zelensky in such overwhelming numbers, 73%. And the fact that Zelensky did a total 180 on that promise shows how little political power he actually has.
Western sanctions will only hurt working-class Russians (and average people in the US too)
Now to circle back to the present moment and what to do now. I don’t support the invasion Russia is carrying out. But the only government I can influence by the virtue of living in the United States is the US government.
Luckily, that is extremely relevant, because Washington is one of the root causes of what is happening in Ukraine now.
For the past eight years, I spoke out against the coup and the civil war in Ukraine that the United States supported, promoted, and funded.
While I never thought a war with Russia was possible, I and many other Ukrainians are against Ukraine joining NATO and escalating tensions with the separatist republics and Moscow.
Any further escalation by the US right now can only lead to a larger war.
I even hear some US politicians playing around with the idea of a “no-fly zone,” which means they are calling for NATO to shoot down Russian planes. This is the quickest way to World War Three.
The support for Ukraine that fills the Western media now is not out of real solidarity with the people of Ukraine. If that were the case, the US wouldn’t have overthrown our government twice in a decade; it wouldn’t have supported the policies that made us the poorest country in Europe; it wouldn’t have fueled a brutal civil war for the past eight years.
The reason US media outlets and politicians are all backing Ukraine now is because they want to use the Ukrainian military and civilian population as cannon fodder in a proxy war with a political adversary.
Washington is willing to fight until the last Ukrainian to weaken Russia.
For that reason, I am absolutely against US sanctions in general, and this round of US sanctions against Russia in particular.
The harsh Western sanctions imposed on Russia target the civilian population.
Sanctions don’t affect ruling elites, and all US sanctions ever do is collectively punish working-class people of a country where Washington doesn’t like their government.
Devaluing the Russian currency, the ruble, is effectively a form of shrinking workers’ wages, cutting the pensions of retirees, and preventing regular people from being able to access food or medicine.
This isn’t to mention the cost that these sanctions are now also having on the people in the United States itself, with gas prices as high as $6 a gallon and even $7 in parts of California.
The skyrocketing oil prices caused by this crisis will lead to more inflation. And while the official US inflation figure is 7.5%, the real number is probably in the double digits.
All of this makes life harder for average working people, in Ukraine, Russia, the US, and around the world.
Russiagate and anti-Russian xenophobia has made the crisis even worse
Another factor in the Ukraine crisis is the rampant surge of russophobia.
Since Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election, Democrats have blamed Donald Trump’s victory on Russian hacking without any solid proof. All of the supposed evidence they presented fell apart when investigated.
Many US politicians demonized Russia as much as they could, just to push the blame for their candidate losing on someone else.
Now Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine has made it okay to be openly xenophobic. I have even seen some people call for killing all Russians, boycotting all Russian businesses, revoking student visas for Russians, etc.
Even in the more “respectable” media, you see talking heads speaking about Russian people as if they’re not human.
Under Donald Trump, many of these same people demonized China, and then acted surprised when there was a wave of hate crimes in the US against East Asians.
During the US invasion of Iraq, the press demonized Arabs and Muslims, leading to hate crimes against their communities.
My point is that demonizing nationalities is never acceptable, and people can see through the flimsy excuses of hiding one’s own xenophobia behind the declarations of “solidarity” with my country.
In conclusion, I wanted to say that, if you live in the United States, the only government you can actually influence through demonstrations and other forms of protest is our own.
I absolutely think it is a crime right now to support the US government’s drive for war, sanctions, or further escalation of tensions in Ukraine.
The US government has been stoking this conflict for decades. Washington has funded coups and fueled a civil war in Ukraine.
Now, US corporations stand to greatly benefit from what is happening.
The government doesn’t care about the people here in the US, and the only reason it says it cares about people abroad is so it can justify further military spending and advance its foreign-policy goals – which aren’t good for anyone except for a handful of rich American oligarchs.
Yuliy Dubovyk is a Ukrainian-American immigrant, community organizer, and peace activist.
This article was republished from Multipolarista.
U.S. imperialism adds fuel to the fire, but from afar. By: Madeleine Sautié RodríguezRead Now
Economic, commercial and financial sanctions, as a means to exert pressure on a country, do not solve the current crisis, but rather add fuel to the fire and aggravate the international economic situation
Photo: Artwork by Pawel Kuczynski
Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee First Secretary and President of the Republic cited three elements that are sustaining and aggravating the world’s current difficulties, during his closing remarks at the Ministry of Culture’s annual review for the year 2021, held at José Martí National Library.
The tightened United States’ economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba; the aggressiveness of the United States internationally; and the uncertainty created by covid-19 were the three issues impacting the current situation he emphasized.
With regard to the blockade, the President said that we are now experiencing a different moment, a particular feature of recent years, "Things began to get very complicated in the second half of 2019, when the Trump administration adopted more than 240 measures that cut off our sources of financing. They placed us on their list of countries that allegedly support terrorism. And all this has been maintained under Joe Biden's administration," he explained.
The blockade, he recalled, has caused shortages, financial persecution, persecution of fuel suppliers, in particular, and to this was added the even greater aggressiveness of the U.S. government against Cuba, with a broad media campaign demonizing our country, in an attempt to discredit all elements of the Cuban Revolution, seeking to construct the appearance of total failure, that everything is wrong and everything the country does to mitigate current conditions does nothing to solve the problems, he stated.
The President pointed out that this aggressiveness can be seen in the way the events of July 11 were addressed and the way a play was staged, announcing to the world that on November 15 the Cuban Revolution would collapse, and now they are attempting to distort Cuba's position with respect to the current events in Europe. This imperialist hostility is not only directed toward Cuba; it is evident at a global level, he noted.
He called for reflection on the fact that we live in a world that needs peace more than ever, at a time when more than twenty countries have not yet been able to vaccinate even 10% of their populations and do not know when they will be able to do so, reminding those present that only 61% of the population worldwide has been fully vaccinated. We know, he said, that until the planet’s population is immunized, the pandemic will continue.
It is never the time to be starting wars, the President said, adding, "They have mounted this aggressive media campaign, attempting to distort the essences. I understand very well that our people are following the current military conflict in Europe and the regrettable loss of human lives, in addition to the material damage and the general threat to peace and regional and international security, but Cuba has expressed itself clearly, firmly and repeatedly, in strict adherence to our foreign policy that is based on the principles of the Revolution, with careful and rigorous analysis of the facts from all angles," he said.
And this is a serious matter, of extreme complexity, with historical roots, including those of recent history, which cannot be ignored, just as the conditions that have led to this situation cannot be ignored, he said.
"Cuba firmly and consistently defends international law, the United Nations Charter and the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a zone of peace," he reaffirmed, assuring that, "We defend peace under all circumstances and unambiguously oppose the use of force against any state."
As a small country we understand this better than anyone, besieged for more than 60 years. Under constant threat, we have suffered state terrorism, military aggression, biological warfare and a brutal blockade, and we are absolutely clear about the value of the principles of international law that serve as protection against unilateralism, imperialism, hegemonic policies and attempts to dominate developing countries. These are principles and norms that we have defended firmly and consistently in all scenarios. On this occasion, we have denounced political manipulation and double standards, and we have spoken the truth, he said.
An offensive military encirclement has been established around Russia, he said, condemning the fact that, for decades, the U.S. government has progressively expanded its hegemony and military presence in the region, with the continued expansion of NATO in Eastern European countries, ignoring commitments made by U.S., European and Soviet leaders in the 1990s, after the unification of Germany and the disintegration of the USSR, he recalled.
This conflict could have been avoided if the Russian Federation's well-founded demands for security guarantee had been seriously and respectfully addressed, he said.
Díaz-Canel noted, "To think that Russia should remain passive in the face of NATO's offensive military encirclement is irresponsible, to say the least. They have taken that country to an extreme situation," he said, pointing out that the continued use of economic, commercial and financial sanctions as a means to exert pressure on a country, does not solve the current crisis, but rather adds fuel to the fire and aggravates the international economic situation, which has been severely affected by these two difficult years of pandemic, he added.
U.S. imperialism is adding fuel to the fire, he said, but from afar, using European countries as its backyard. Cuba has made this point regularly in different international events, he stated, and recalled the speech delivered by Army General Raúl Castro, on February 22, 2014, in which he emphatically addressed this issue.
As we have reiterated, we will continue to advocate for a serious and constructive diplomatic solution to the current crisis in Europe, advocating peaceful means that guarantee the security and sovereignty of all, as well as regional and international peace, stability and security, he stated. Cuba has been obliged to confront the pandemic under the brutal economic, commercial and financial U.S. blockade, which has been qualitatively escalated since 2019 to an even more damaging level, he noted.
We will have the opportunity to review these highly sensitive issues in greater depth and trust that the people will continue to keep an eye on these events and make the effort required to distinguish truth from manipulation, he stated.
This article was republished from Granma.