Image: Havana in 2017, Pedro Szekely (CC BY-SA 2.0).
The recent protest demonstrations in Cuba, which started on July 11, have set off a frenzied anti-communist response in the United States, from politicians of both the Republican and Democratic parties and from both right-wing and supposedly “centrist” and even “liberal” sectors of the press and media.
One Florida Republican congressman called for the Cuban national leadership to be “executed.” President Biden called Cuba a “failed state.” Even before the protests, Senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) renewed the offensive of the U.S. right against Cuba’s much-lauded international health solidarity missions, which have been praised in the many countries where they have helped to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, repeating the canard that the missions constitute “human trafficking.”
The fact that there have been much larger pro-revolutions demonstrations in Cuba in response to the anti-government protests has been ignored or distorted, with enemies of the socialist government even mislabeling images of the pro-revolution demonstrations as being anti-government.
The major bourgeois media in the United States have covered the recent situation the way they always have: to downplay or ignore completely the role of the 60-year blockade of Cuba by the United States in creating economic difficulties for the Cuban people, and to attribute any disturbances to “failed socialist policies” by an “authoritarian” and “repressive regime.” Not only that, but supposedly professional journalists and editorial commentators give credence to versions of events peddled by discredited right-wing hacks and ideologues.
Media outlets forget the much larger protests against right-wing governments.
When there are protests in Cuba, major U.S. press and media outlets forget the much larger protests against right-wing governments in many, many other countries, including Haiti, Colombia, Chile, Honduras, and Brazil, all of whose governments are subordinate to U.S. imperialist interests. In Colombia, for instance, the right-wing government of President Ivan Duque, closely allied with the United States, has unleashed a wave of violent repression against all opponents, repression which has cost the lives of many labor, indigenous, youth, and other leaders.
There are other manifestations of the corporate media’s propensity to ignore wider context when they are out to do a hatchet job on Cuba or other left-wing-led nations. For example, there has been an uptick in the number of cases of Covid-19 in Cuba (as in the United States and everywhere) in recent days, and this is trumpeted by the right-wing enemies of the Cuban Revolution as proving that the pandemic has been “mismanaged” by the Cuban government. In fact, Cuba has done far better than any of the other poorer countries dominated by imperialism in mobilizing its national resources to fight the pandemic, while its access to vital medications and medical equipment (including syringes needed to provide the population with anti-Covid vaccinations) has been severely harmed by the U.S. economic blockade.
The reasons for economic difficulties in Cuba are also distorted. This writer was in Cuba twice: in 1995 and 2017. At the time of my first visit, Cuba had been hard hit by the ending of favorable trade arrangements with the Soviet Union and the European socialist countries. Health care and educational institutions were still operating successfully, but there were serious scarcities and electrical blackouts caused by lack of fuel supplies. The United States government took advantage of Cuba’s difficulties by intensifying its attempts at economic strangulation of the island nation by passing the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996. These acts, along with sundry executive orders, had the purpose of strangling the Cuban economy by making it risky for foreign companies to do business with Cuba, especially if such business was to be done on a credit basis, and by making it extremely hard for Cuba to get hard currency to use in foreign trade.
In 2017, improvements in living standards were clearly visible.
Cuba overcame these problems by negotiating new international trade networks while also launching new productive enterprises, notably in the biomedical field. Then in December 2014, the Obama administration began a program of rapprochement with socialist Cuba. Agreements between Obama and then Cuban President Raul Castro helped to develop Cuba’s tourism industry by making it much easier for U.S. citizens to travel to the island. But much of the legal architecture of the blockade remained.
So when I visited Havana in 2017, significant improvements in living standards were clearly visible. Public transportation was visibly improved by the presence of spanking new Chinese-built buses, cultural activities were thriving, and people were well fed, well dressed, and healthy looking, and Havana was clean and orderly. I even saw people walking “designer dogs”!
That was in the spring of the first year of the Trump administration. But things went downhill very soon after that, as Trump reversed most of Obama’s rapprochement policies and added new sanctions, among others, restricting the ability of Cuban-origin residents of the United States to send cash remittances to their relatives in Cuba. Using the still unexplained “Havana Embassy Mystery” as an excuse, the Trump administration imposed new anti-Cuba measures and returned Cuba to the list of countries not cooperating with the United States in the so-called war against terror. These things had their impact, and then on top of them came the Covid-19 pandemic, which stopped tourism to Cuba for more than a year. Tourism had become a major generator of vitally needed foreign exchange funds for Cuba, so this was a serious setback.
The pandemic, in the context of heightened U.S. attacks on Cuba, has had an extremely negative effect on the Cuban economy. And this is the moment that hardline anti-communists in the United States, which include influential Cuban-American politicians like Senators Rubio and Menendez, have been waiting for since the Cuban Revolution triumphed in 1959.
A policy to “to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of the government.”
In 1960, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Lester Mallory outlined the imperialist approach to reversing the Cuban Revolution that is still in force today. Noting the popularity of the revolutionary government, he proposed that this popularity should be undermined by employing “every possible means” which should “be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba.” Methods should be employed to “make the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of the government.” And indeed, this is the policy that the United States has maintained against the Cuban people for nearly 61 years. This is why current U.S. claims to be “defending the Cuban people” are particularly repulsive.
But this time, simply ignoring international and historical context has not been enough. Making use of the internet and social media, enemies of the Cuban people have flooded the U.S. public with completely fictitious or doctored material. For example, there are multiple instances in which images of pro-government, pro-revolution counter demonstrations in Cuba have been mislabeled as anti-government protests. False information has been put out concerning the size and effects of the protest demonstrations.
For a long time, the U.S. government has been funding organized efforts to support dissident activism in Cuba. Recently, there has been a reliance on social media to achieve this aim. Much of the funding comes from U.S. government agencies such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Institute for International Development (USAID), working through a network of right-wing nonprofit and religious organizations in the United States.
The Bacardi Family Foundation received $181,699 for its anti-Cuba activities.
For example, in 2020 alone, USAID channeled 2.5 million dollars (as far as we know) for subversion in Cuba through dozens of such organizations. Many have connections to right-wing Cuban exile groups such as the Bacardi Family Foundation, which received $181,699. This foundation was established by the family that formerly controlled Cuba’s rum production, pre-revolution. The Cuban Revolution nationalized Bacardi, offering the former owners managerial positions in the socialized enterprise. But like many rich Cubans, the Bacardis decamped to the United States, and since then have been involved in anti-Cuba activities such as a long-running trademark dispute over the right to use the famous “Havana Club” brand name. Another entity, which received $333,122 in 2020, is Canyon Communications, which announces that it is funding young Cuban artists and intellectuals to help them express themselves. A really splendid one is Grupo de Apoyo de la Democracia, Inc., a recipient of $167,107 and like many of these entities based in the right-wing Cuban exile community in Florida; it was accused in 2006 of spending U.S. taxpayer money for illegitimate purposes. The International Republican Institute, connected to the U.S. political party, got $470,267. “Evangelical Christian Humanitarian Outreach to Cuba” got $148,089; its goal is to foment the organizing of independent Evangelical Christian churches in Cuba, a country with plenty of religious congregations of its own.
Much of the U.S. money directed at destabilizing Cuba has been directed at funding dissident artists, musicians, and bloggers, giving them the ability to project their message quickly to larger audiences on the island. Some of these artists, like the rapper Yotuel, have strong international networks, including in the Cuban exile circles in Miami.
There has been a recent sharp uptick in Covid-19 cases in Cuba. This has also been decontextualized. In fact, overall Cuba has done much better than other Latin American nations in dealing with the contagion, and better than the United States. This recent sharp uptick has not been just a Cuban phenomenon—it is worldwide and is happening in the United States too. For the United States to make it difficult for Cuba to import vital supplies to fight the pandemic, including syringes and medications, is a strange way to “help” the Cuban people.
With health services free, sick Cubans are not bankrupted and left homeless by medical bills, as happens in the U.S.
The whole issue of Cuban health care, a strong point of Cuba’s socialist system, is constantly distorted. The fact that Cuban doctors don’t drive around in Bentleys has nothing to do with the quality of that country’s health care system. Omitted from bourgeois media accounts of Cuban health care is the fact that medical education in Cuba is completely free, so young doctors are not burdened with impossible student loan repayments as they are in the United States. Instead, they are asked to put time into community service, either in Cuba or, on a volunteer basis, in one of Cuba’s overseas health solidarity missions. And health services are also free, so sick Cubans are not bankrupted and left homeless by medical bills, as happens in the United States.
Some so-called pundits express shock that some countries who host the Cuban missions pay Cuba for the service. The truth is that Cuba does not charge anything to provide these services to poor countries, only to countries wealthier than itself. And why not? Why indeed should Cuba subsidize the health care system of a wealthy developed country like Italy? Cuba’s per capita gross domestic product (calculated by the Purchasing Power Parity method) is estimated at $12,300 per year, while Italy’s is $42,492. So Cuba should subsidize Italy?
In 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden hinted that if elected, he would return to the Obama administration’s policy of gradual normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba. However, current statements by Biden, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and other administration figures seem to indicate otherwise.
However, the direction of the Biden administration Cuba policy should not be seen as immutable. Biden is getting pressure from the anti-Cuba lobby based in South Florida and New Jersey, an old story. This pressure is deliberately exerted in such a way as to threaten the Democratic Party’s hold on the White House and its majorities in Congress and state legislatures.
Friends of the Cuban people must find more effective ways of exerting our own counter pressure. Here are some:
*Act as a truth squad. Especially those of us who have been to Cuba and follow events there closely should avail ourselves of every opportunity to speak out when wrong information about Cuba is peddled in the press, radio, and television, and especially on social media. Write letters to the editor, call into radio and TV programs, and put out correct information on all online and social media platforms.
*Support positive legislation on Cuba by contacting your federal senators and representatives, asking them to sign on to the following bills, and then to work to get them passed: S 249, United States-Cuba Trade Act; S 1694, Freedom to Export to Cuba Act; and HR 3625, United States Cuba Relations Normalization Act. Legislative action on Cuba can be found on the website of the organization ACERE.
*Get your city council, state legislature, or other public or private body to pass a resolution denouncing the U.S. blockade of Cuba and demanding normalization of relations with the island nation. More than a score of city councils and state legislatures, including the city council of the country’s third largest city, Chicago, have already done so.
*Support the many organizations working to help the Cuban people overcome the imperialist blockade, such as IFCO/Pastors for Peace and many others.
*Join the international campaign to award the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize to the outstanding Cuban international health care solidarity campaign of Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade.
*Support specific campaigns to help Cuba fight the Covid-19 pandemic, like the recent one to send syringes to Cuba.
Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.
This article was produced by CPUSA.
The Cuban Revolution has faced immense hardship since the mid-twentieth century, with the imperialist forces of the United States and its allies constantly attacking and trying to undermine the efforts of building socialism in Cuba. This hardship has only been magnified as the crisis of Covid-19 still looms over our heads, with the difficulties of maintaining public health against a pandemic only exacerbating the shortages and similar issues created by the imperialist crusade against revolutionary Cuba. In true fashion to the capitalist establishment, solidifying his statement that “nothing will fundamentally change,” US President Joe Biden has acted in opportunistic fashion, co-opting and warping the narrative surrounding recent protests on the island as a means of trying to expand western hegemony through an illegitimate color revolution.
The Biden Administration, in contrast to claims made during Biden’s 2020 election campaign that he would reverse some of Trump’s anti-Cuba policies, has placed another selection of sanctions on the socialist country. All the while, at least based on a post on Twitter, Biden claimed to stand with the Cuban people while enacting policy that actively harms them. This contradiction highlights one of the biggest mistakes of those who support such sanctions, amplifying claims of Cuba being a dystopian nightmare as a result of socialism, while completely ignoring the proper context as to why exactly Cuba has faced such difficulty since the beginning of the revolution into the modern day. In revisiting the book Cuba for Beginners by Mexican cartoonist and intellectual Rius, this work proves to have maintained relevancy in regards to Cuba’s development and struggle against colonialist and imperialist aggressors.
As is the standard of the For Beginners series, Cuba for Beginners is presented in an easily digestible format, with simple yet effective language that displays a clear and concise timeline of the history of Cuba. Presented essentially in the style of a comic book or graphic novel, the illustrations and other visuals present in this book serve to keep a reader engaged in the reading, with these visuals being utilized primarily to further explain a concept or event. This simple presentation style ultimately works in the favor of the communist cause, allowing for those unfamiliar with Cuba’s history or caught up in the reactionary propaganda of the imperialist powers that tell constant lies about Socialist Cuba and socialism itself.
Rius spends the early portions of the book explaining how the hands of Spanish colonialism ravaged the island for a great deal of time, that is until the United States began to take a strategic interest in helping liberate Cuba from the Spanish (that interest consisting mainly of sugar, tobacco, and the like). The import of African slaves by the conquistadors, colonialist and imperialist powers fighting over control of Cuba (particularly Spain, Britain, and the US), and the systematic slaughtering of indigenous Cubans being only about a third of pre-socialist Cuban history examined in this book before covering the rise of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, the 26th of July Movement, and other aspects of the militant struggle against western imperialism and colonialism. The contributions of Cuban hero José Martí are also briefly discussed in this work.
Discussing the struggle against the various US puppet governments installed in Cuba, particularly the exploits of one Fulgencio Batista, and the aftermath of overthrowing the Batista regime allows for a wider perspective in understanding the conditions that Cuba continues to work through to this day. For instance, Rius touches upon the fact that for much of Cuba’s existence, the means of production had remained in the hands of colonial powers and/or assets of such powers. With the expelling of the Yankees and their lackeys, the liberating of Cuba in all forms from the grip of imperialist control, there were blows dealt to the structure of Cuban industry and the economy.
Between page 80 and page 92 of the second edition of Cuba for Beginners, Rius introduces three of the major factors leading to the initial struggle of the Cuban economy; the agrarian reforms, the urban reforms, and the amount of those in connection to western powers that fled the island. A fourth major factor in consideration is the combination of the Cuban Missile Crisis with John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev, and the Kennedy administration’s enacting of the total blockade of Cuba. The ultimate effect of these four factors is then touched upon from page 128 to 132, particularly in regards to industry and production within Cuba. To quote the text;
“The American technicians left… and in the process took along the few Cuban technicians… The factories were without money, formulas and management… the United States quit sending raw materials and prohibited other countries from supplying them to Cuba. And this happened to all the factories the Yankees had there.”
At least in the early stages of the Cuban Revolution, the majority of industry that was at one point controlled by western powers had wound up, for a limited time, completely abandoned, with production effectively halted. Of course a great deal of the Cuban people stepped up to re-engage in factory production, displaying the power of a collective, united people dedicated to the developing of socialism and strengthening Cuba.
The second edition of this book, however, was published all the way back in 1971. One of the issues of this book that does need to be addressed and put into proper context is the fact that at least in some aspects, Cuba for Beginners is noticeably dated. This is particularly highlighted in Rius’s explanation regarding the industrial situation in the early stages of Cuban socialism. Many of Cuba’s most important trading partners came from the Soviet Bloc and adjacent countries. From the Soviet Union to the German Democratic Republic, Cuba relied on importing the fruits of heavy industry from Eastern Europe. Rius claimed that due to such connections, Cuba had no need to undergo a mass industrialization campaign, which in the context of when this book was published indeed makes sense due to Cuba’s utilizing of its rich natural and mineral resources along with the development of light industry. Historically, however, the reliance on heavy industry from the Soviet sphere proved to have disastrous results. This is by no means the fault of the Cuban government, at least not in a major way. The illegal dissolution of one of the biggest trading partners for any government would result in hardship, especially when Cuba in particular has simultaneously been bombarded with sanctions in addition to other attacks on the island’s economy.
Despite some of the more dated aspects of Cuba for Beginners, the book overall gives the reader a greater context to the issues that have been facing modern Cuba by explaining both the difficulties and positive advancements of the political, economic, and cultural structures of building socialism in Cuba on the ashes of western colonialism, not to mention the task of constructing socialism surrounded by the yoke of imperialism. Keeping the historical contexts of Cuban development in mind, along with the time at which this book was published, Cuba for Beginners by Rius allows for those unacquainted with the history of Cuba to (hopefully) garner a stronger understanding of both the historical and modern conditions of socialist Cuba. Strengthening the general understanding of Cuba’s history and advancement outside of the bourgeois sphere is vital in combating the imperialist narratives designed to demonize, destabilize, and manufacture consent for a continued offensive against Cuba.
Jymee C is an aspiring Marxist historian and teacher with a BA in history from Utica College, hoping to begin working towards his Master's degree in the near future. He's been studying Marxism-Leninism for the past five years and uses his knowledge and understanding of theory to strengthen and expand his historical analyses. His primary interests regarding Marxism-Leninism and history include the Soviet Union, China, the DPRK, and the various struggles throughout US history among other subjects. He is currently conducting research for a book on the Korean War and US-DPRK relations. In addition, he is a 3rd Degree black belt in karate and runs the YouTube channel "Jymee" where he releases videos regarding history, theory, self-defense, and the occasional jump into comedy https://www.youtube.com/c/Jymee
A Marxist Discussion
“Karl, are you ready to begin going over the Yi jing?”
“That I am Fred. Why don’t you start.”
“Delighted. I can tell you from Chan’s intro [Sourcebook in Chinese Philosophy] that he says this book has had more influence in Chinese philosophy than any other classic. He also points out that it had its origin in divination. That is to say, something like tea leaf reading. Only instead of reading dregs in a cup of tea, the ancient Chinese tried to tell the future by tossing tortoise shells into the fire and then, after the fire had cracked them, pulling them out and ‘interpreting’ the meaning supposedly contained in the pattern of cracks. By the time we find it, as a classic, it has considerably evolved from these primitive beginnings. Did you find out anything about it Karl, or should I go on?”
“Just finish up Chan’s intro.”
“Well, the book is based on Eight Trigrams. Each Trigram is made up of a combination whole lines (-----) or broken lines (--- ---). These lines are symbols for such things as ‘Heaven’ or qian which would be three whole lines one on top of the other or ‘Earth’ or kun which would be three broken lines on top of each other. These Trigrams are put together two Trigrams at a time to make a total of sixty-four Hexagrams. Chan says, ‘When the Eight Trigrams, each containing three lines, multiply themselves to become sixty-four hexagrams, they are taken to represent all possible forms of change, situations, possibilities, and institutions. Thus a complex civilization is conceived of as a process of systematic and progressive development which can be traced to its simplest beginning.’”
“Fred, now I will point out that whatever the original use of this book, divination or whatever, by the time of the Han Dynasty all sorts of commentaries and ‘appended remarks’, etc., had been added which were of a philosophical nature. The book then became used as a philosophical text NOT as a tool for fortune telling. The philosophical comments were attributed to Confucius but were actually put into the book long after his time by his so-called followers. Let me read you some comments from Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy by Oliver Leamen. He says the Yi jing ‘can also easily be extended to provide a philosophy of history, which comes out as a kind of political humanism and organic naturalism. It is interesting how a book that deals with the occult structure of the world can have such important use in Chinese metaphysics and ethics.’ He adds, ‘...the Book of Changes has even been detected in the thought of Mao Zedong, especially in his reflections that change is the only constant phenomenon in the universe.’ All this change is brought by the interaction of the two basic energy forces of the universe--the negative Yin and the positive Yang. These two forces are how the Dao manifests itself. Leamen says, ‘the notion of dao is very different from that current among the Daoist philosophers. The version in the Book is of the multiple causes of change in the universe, and are the principles behind the various kinds of productions and creation in the universe. What makes one thing distinct from something else is its dao, which accords with a particular name.’ Please notice that this last implies the importance of the rectification of names which we have discussed before. Finally, he says, "Change is the basic feature of the universe, and the idea that the Yi jing values is that of balance and lack of excess [i.e., The Mean!].”
“Now let’s turn to the text itself and see what we can make of it.”
OK, Fred. Let's go!”
“Chan’s selections are in four parts. This is from the ‘Commentaries’: Hexagram No. 1, Qian (Heaven). ‘Great is qian, the originator! All things obtain their beginning from it. It unites and commands all things under heaven. The clouds move and the rain is distributed, and the various things are evolved in their respective forms. Thus the beginning and the end are profoundly understood, and the six positions of the hexagram [...the hexagram consists of two trigrams, it therefore consists of six lines in their six positions-Chan n.5] are achieved in the proper time.’ Hexagram No. 2, Kun (Earth) . ‘Being straight means correctness, and being square means righteousness.’ Chan’s comment is “The two complementary ethical formulae, seriousness to straighten the internal life and righteousness to square the external life, eventually became the keystone in the method of moral cultivation for many Neo-Confucianists, especially Cheng I (Cheng I-chuan, 1033-1107 A.D.).’ We will get to him later.”
“Well, I can see how the trigrams or hexagrams are being used as jumping off points for general philosophical points without any suggestion of their original use in divination. It’s a cultural accident that the Yi jing is used to stimulate speculation rather than just having a treatise written on these subjects. We must be careful to reflect on the philosophical substance we find in the work and not be distracted by the historical circumstances of the form.”
“I can see that. Here are some views from ‘The “Appended Remarks,” PT. 1.’ ‘Ch.1. Heaven is high, the earth is low, and thus qian (Heaven) and kun (Earth) are fixed. As high and low are thus made clear, the honorable and the humble have their places accordingly. As activity and tranquillity have their constancy, the strong and the weak are thus differentiated. Ways come together according to their kind, and things are divided according to their classes. Hence good fortune and evil fortune emerge. In the heavens, forms (heavenly bodies) appear and on earth shapes (creatures) occur. In them change and transformation can be seen. Therefore the strong and the weak interact and the Eight Trigrams activate each other.’”
“Naturalism at work. Heaven’s laws determine the course of events here below. But this is just a way of saying that universal laws or interactions (yin and yang) are responsible for the development of the world. Heaven = yang and Earth = yin.”
“Chapter 4. ‘The system of Change is tantamount to Heaven and Earth, and therefore can always handle and adjust the way of Heaven and Earth. Looking up, we observe the pattern of the heavens; looking down, we examine the order of the earth. Thus we know the causes of what is hidden and what is manifest.’”
“This looks like the basis of the doctrine of the ‘investigation of things’ which we will see plays a big role in Neo-Confucianism.”
“The chapter continues, ‘The refined material force (qi) [integrates] to become things. [As it disintegrates,] the wandering away of its spirit (force) becomes change. From this we know that the characteristics and conditions of spiritual beings are similar to those of Heaven and Earth and therefore there is no disagreement between them. The knowledge [of spirit] embraces all things and its way helps all under heaven, and therefore there is no mistake. It operates freely and does not go off course. It rejoices in Nature (T’ian, Heaven) and understands destiny. Therefore there is no worry. As [things] are contented in their stations and earnest in practicing kindness, there can be love.... it penetrates to a knowledge of the course of day and night. Therefore spirit has no spatial restrictions and Change has no physical form.’”
“This is beginning to sound mystical. We know from the Analects that Confucius doesn’t philosophize about ‘spirits’ so this is faux Confucianism at work here Fred.”
“Chan says, ‘Exactly what is meant by “spirit” is not clear, but it is surely not the spirit of a deceased person that influences human affairs.... [H]ere it [means] the unfathomable force behind all transformations. Later in Neo-Confucianism it is to be understood purely as the spontaneous activity of yin and yang.’”
“That makes more sense. We should think ‘force’ instead of ‘spirit’.”
“The next quote, from chapter five, backs up what Chan says. ‘Change means production and reproduction. Qian means the completion of forms, and kun means to model after them. Divination means to go to the utmost of the natural course of events in order to know the future. Affairs mean to adapt and accommodate accordingly. And that which is unfathomable in the operation of yin and yang is called spirit.’”
“Please NOTE that by saying divination goes to the utmost in the NATURAL course of events that there is no supernatural claim being made. This is just what is done in science. We try to predict future events, the weather for example, by prognosticating based on previously studied Natural events. Xunzi could go along with this.”
“And Chan makes a small comment to alert us as to what is coming later. ‘The concept of production is new and will form an important part of Neo-Confucianism.’ But now we come to a passage in Chapter 11 which does seem to have an air of ‘fortune telling.’ Listen to this Karl, ‘Therefore kun means closing and qian means opening. The succession of closing and opening constitutes transformation.... Therefore in the system of Change there is the Great Ultimate. It generates the Two Modes (yin and yang). The Two Modes generate the Four Forms (major and minor yin and yang). The Four Forms generate the Eight Trigrams. The Eight Trigrams determine good and evil fortunes. And good and evil fortunes produce the great business [of life]....’”
“Granted that reading about the determination of fortune by the trigrams certainly implies using the Yi jing like a tea cup, still we must remember this is really Han Dynasty superstition masquerading as Confucianism. Nothing in the Analects would lead you to believe Confucius would have written anything like that. Let me just quote one short passage from Fung’s A History of Chinese Philosophy, Vol I. ‘The underlying idea in [this] quotation is that all things in the universe follow a definite order according to which they move everlastingly.’ So no ‘fortune telling’ motive need be postulated.”
“OK, on to Chapter 12. Here we have, ‘what exists before physical form [and is therefore without it] is called the Way. What exists after physical form [and is therefore with it] is called a concrete thing.’”
“This reminds me of Hegel’s Science of Logic. Hegel says, ‘This realm [Logic] is truth as it is without veil and in its own absolute nature. It can therefore be said that this content is the exposition of God [the Way] as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature [physical forms] and a finite mind.’ So this book shows the Chinese to have had a metaphysical bent they are not often given credit for!”
“And this brings us to ‘Selections from the “Appended Remarks,” PT. 2.’ I am only going to read some passages from Chapter 5 in this section. ‘It is said in the Change, “Full of anxious thought you come and go. [Only] friends will follow you and think of you.” The Master [Confucius?] said, “What is there in the world to think about or to deliberate about? In the world there are many different roads but the destination is the same. There are a hundred deliberations but the result is one. What is there in the world to think about or to deliberate about?” And Chan makes the following comment about this passage. ‘The idea of a hundred roads to the same destination is a direct expression of the spirit of synthesis which is extremely strong in Chinese philosophy. It is the Confucian version of Zhuangzi’s doctrine of following two courses at the same time.”’
‘Yes, I remember that from our discussion on Zhuang.”
“Let me read this last bit from Chapter 5. ‘The sun and the moon push each other in their course and thus light appears... The winter and summer push each other and thus the year is completed... Contraction and expansion act on each other and thus advantages are produced.’”
“Yes. The point being that we must understand transformation and change. Where do we go from here Fred?”
“This last little section in Chan. ‘Selections from “Remarks On Certain Trigrams.”’
“Well, let’s hear it!”
“The first chapter in this section is full of nonsense about a ‘hidden spiritual intelligence’ that helps the sages in the efforts at divination, all of which we may put down to the credulity of the age. Into this mish-mash are woven the ideas of principle (li), nature and destiny. These concepts, although in this time period tainted with superstition and the ignorant notions associated with the trigrams as predictors of the future, will become the main focus of the later philosophers of the Song Dynasty who create what we call Neo-Confucianism.”
“Maybe Fred, considering the great number of people who believe in astrology, numerology, Bible prophecy, etc., in our own time, we should not be too harsh in condemning the superstitions of the Han Dynasty.”
“Except that in our time it is hoy polloi who believe such nonsense not our educated class.”
“I stand corrected!”
“Anyway, here is Chan’s comment on all this: ‘The three subjects of principle, nature, and destiny cover practically the whole philosophy of the Neo-Confucian movement. In fact, the movement is called the Philosophy of Nature and Principle. In essence, the teaching is no different from Mencius’ teaching of fully developing one’s mind, knowing Heaven, and fulfilling one’s destiny. But Mencius did not provide the metaphysical basis for Neo-Confucianism as did the Book of Changes. It is also to be noted that unlike the Daoists who require vacuity (xu) of mind for one to become identified with Nature, here Confucianists advocate the fulfillment of one’s own nature to achieve the same objective.’”
“Its too bad they didn’t turn to Xunzi instead of Mencius. The history of Confucianism might have been more progressive. On the other the hand, this is just an after the fact speculation. Historical circumstances no doubt dictated the turn to Mencius.”
“I will end with this--the complete Chapter 2 of Section 4: ‘In ancient times, the sages instituted the system of Change in order to follow the principle of the nature and destiny. Therefore yin and yang were established as the way of Heaven, the weak and the strong as the way of Earth, and humanity and righteousness as the way of man. [Each hexagram] embraced those three powers (Heaven, Earth, and man) and doubled them. Therefore in the system of Change a hexagram is completed in six lines. They are distinguished as yin and yang and the weak and the strong are employed in succession. Thus in the system of Change there are six positions and the pattern is complete.’”
“I see we are well past ‘Ancient Times’ by now. We have left the great classical and formative period of Chinese philosophy and will be dealing with those thinkers who developed philosophy up to the founding of the Neo-Confucian synthesis in the Song Dynasty.”
“That’s right Karl. But I think this period may be interesting in its own light. We will have to plunge in and see!”
“With whom do we start?”
“With a philosopher called Dong Zhongshu, and a movement Chan calls ‘Yin Yang Confucianism.’”
"O.K., Dong Zhongshu next."
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association.
To read the Confucius Dialogue click here.
To read the Mencius Dialogue click here.
To read the Xunzi Dialogue click here.
To read the Mozi Dialogue click here.
To read the Laozi Dialogue click here.
To read the Zhuangzi Dialogue click here.
To read the Gongsun Dialogue click here.
To read the Great Learning Dialogue click here.
To read the Doctrine of The Mean Dialogue click here.
An alarming statement was released recently by independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, “”hundreds of Venezuelan cancer patients could die because they have been caught up in excessively strict applications of U.S. sanctions aimed at Venezuela…” Many countries are afraid to conduct business with Venezuela. “Third countries, groups of countries, banks and private companies have been overly cautious in dealings with Venezuela because they fear unintentionally violating U.S. sanctions,” the rapporteurs state. “As a consequence, money cannot be transferred out of Venezuela, and some patients have been stranded, destitute, in countries where they went for treatment.”
This report comes amid widespread protest in Cuba, a key Venezuelan ally, spurring widespread debate regarding the role of unilateral U.S. sanctions targeting Latin America and beyond. A remnant of the cold war, the United States embargo against Cuba has continued for the past six decades. Progressives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have spoken out against the embargo, calling it “absurdly cruel and, like too many other U.S. policies targeting Latin Americans, the cruelty is the point. I outright reject the Biden administration’s defense of the embargo.” These “other U.S. policies” designed to be cruel for the sake of geopolitical interests and hegemony manifest themselves in the conditions of Venezuelan cancer patients.
Biden’s repose to the Cuban protest was a continuation of the U.S. foreign policy of previous administrations. He continued to add sanctions on Cuban officials such as the Alvaro Lopez Miera, the head of the Cuban armed forces. While these additional sanctions targeting individuals are unlikely to be impactful, it symbolized the administrations commitment to the ongoing use of economic sanctions. The same has occurred with regards to Venezuela. A U.S. State Department spokesman in July refuted Venezuelan President Maudro’s appeals to ease the sanctions against Venezuela, stating that major policy shifts and dialogue with the illegitimate, U.S. backed Juan Guaidó would be required to reduce sanction measures.
Contextualizing Contradictions in Cuba
Most U.S. analysts fail to grasp the complexities of protest, revolution, projecting their own ideologies to grassroots movements abroad. Protests are full of contradictions and are seldom monolithic in form. Reminiscent of the ’89 Democracy Movement in China, the U.S. government and media are quick to reduce a movement to simple dichotomies. Generally between “freedom” (generally defined as Western neoliberalism of free-markets) and “authoritarianism” (the party). However, what’s missed is the role markets have played in the creation of the discontent of the people. In China, the ’89 movement was shaped by hasty market reforms that produced greater inequality as well as an increasing divide between the rural populations and the urban populations. So while the protestors did demand increased social and political freedoms, these events occurred with respect to a legitimacy crisis of the Chinese Communist Party, as the government towards a liberalized market, leaving behind workers and farmers.
Parallels can be drawn with the events in Cuba. President Biden stated, “The Cuban people are demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime.” This statement implies a universality to the Cuban protests, ignoring the counter-protestors that have come out to support the Cuban government as well as ignoring the conditions causing the protests.
The discontent in Cuba can be seen from a variety of positions. Here I will address a handful to add nuance against the binary framing of the U.S. media apparatus. First, there is the effect of the U.S. embargo on Cuba and the long-term impact that the embargo has had on Cuban economic prospects and growth. Second, there have been limits and failures of the Cuban government to create a sustainable economic model in lieu of the embargo. And third, the impact of COVID-19 on the Cuba has damaged the economy particularly as a result of the aforementioned issues.
To address the first point, the embargo on Cuba and the exclusion of Cuba from international markets has placed a limit on the economy of Cuba, with the Cuban government estimating that the embargo has cost Cuba $753.69 billion. This, in a country with an estimated GDP of approximately $100 billion. Due to the restrictions of trading partners, Cuba aligned itself with the Soviet Bloc, trading with the Soviets as well as receiving aid. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba saw a severe economic crisis causing mass protests.
To pivot their economy in a post-Soviet world, Cuba began increasingly supporting itself through the tourism industry. Since then, Cuba has seen millions of tourists, and with that an increasing liberalization of the tourism sector and welcoming greater foreign investment. In recent years, the Cuban government has allowed significant increases in real estate and tourism investments to attract foreign capital, while decreasing its investments into healthcare. Simultaneously, those investments have not translated to improved conditions with respect to healthcare. Healthcare spending per capita has been stagnant since 2015, and as a percentage of GDP healthcare spending has decreased. It is this context in which the COVID-19 wrecked the tourism industry internationally, reducing available revenue for Cuba while the Cuban people have simultaneously not seen improved conditions as a result of investment in the tourism industries. Therefore it is these contradictions that cause a rupture between the people and the party, and this can manifest itself in various shades of politicization - of those sympathizing with the party as it contends with embargo and worldwide capitalist realism, those protesting market liberalization and demanding a reaffirmation of socialist values and social welfare, and those to whom market freedom and political freedoms are often viewed synonymously.
Sanctions in Venezuela
The U.S. policies towards Cuba have been repeated more recently in Venezuela since the beginning of the Bolivarian movement in 1999, including multiple coup attempts, economic sanctions, and most recently widespread claims of election fraud. Right-wing critics point towards Venezuela’s social spending as the issue, limiting discussion and context. For instance, Venezuelan Dutch Disease, in other words economic dependency on a singular sector causing declines in other sectors, traces as far back as 1929. While Chavez did nationalize the oil industry in order to provide social services for the people, he also pushed to reinforce OPEC to create more stability for oil producers. However, many events of the 2000s such as the wars in the middle east and the Great Recession caused extreme volatility in the price of oil, weakening both Venezuelan’s economy and the strength of OPEC.
As Venezuela faced long-rooted issues of Dutch Disease as the oil market declined, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on the Chavez regime, further tightening restrictions over the past 15 years through the COVID-19 pandemic. When calculated, the human costs of sanctions are incredibly high. A Center for Economic Policy and Research report estimated 40,000 excess deaths in Venezuela as a result of US sanctions in 2017 alone.
In 2014, protests began due to these economic and political issues. The U.S. government has used these protests as leverage to manufacture the consent of the U.S. people in supporting harmful policies that hurt the Venezuelan population. However, in the recent Venezuela parliamentary elections, Maduro’s party, the PSUV, decisively won, reaffirming the support of the people towards the Bolivarian revolution, and acknowledging the culpability of foreign policy in the struggles of the Venezuelan people.
The Role of the U.S.
Ultimately, the only position for those in the U.S. is to demand that the U.S. government stop exerting itself abroad in the form of economic sanctions. Economic sanctions can constrain and warp a country, causing dependencies, contradictions, and human rights crises. As people of Cuba and Venezuela protest their respective governments, they create an outlet from which their governments can properly and respond to their demands. These demands have diverse and deeply complex roots. Thus, all of those in support of egalitarianism and international rights must not fall for false binaries and limitations imposed by capitalist realism. In particular, the U.S. left must challenge traditional U.S. foreign policy as the U.S. State Department attempts to make foreign intervention more palatable by using finance as opposed to guns and the media to provide justifications. Furthermore, the role of markets as a supra-national body must be recognized by the left in order to envision a better horizon in which sovereignty cannot be challenged by borderless international capital.
1. “Venezuela: Save lives of cancer patients endangered by U.S. sanctions”, OHCHR, July 21 2021, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=27328&LangID=E
2. John Haitiwanger, “AOC calls out Biden for defending 'absurdly cruel' embargo on Cuba while expressing support for Cuban protestors”, Buisiness Insider, July 16 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/aoc-calls-out-biden-for-backing-absurdly-cruel-embargo-cuba-2021-7
3. Nick Wadhams, “U.S. Rejects Maduro’s Call for Biden to Lift Venezuela Sanctions”, Bloomberg, July 20 2021. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-20/u-s-rejects-maduro-s-call-for-biden-to-lift-venezuela-sanctions
4. Wang Hui, The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity (Verso, 2009), 19-45.
5. On resolution 70/5 of the United Nations General Assembly, entitled "Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” June 2016.
6. ”Inversiones Indicadores Seleccionados. Enero-Diciembre 2020.” Oficina Nacional de Estadística e Información.
7. According to World Bank data from the World Health Organization Global Health Expenditure database, https://data.worldbank.org/
8. For an overview on the history of the Chavez government see Changing Venezuela by Taking Power (Verso, 2007) by Gregory Wilpert.
9. Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs, “Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela”, Center for Economic and Policy Research, April 2019.
Francis Hayes is an activist focusing on international relations, development, and technology. Francis has a Master's degree in Computer Science with a focus on social data mining.
A U.S. soldier loads ammunition cans for a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the back of a Marine CH53 at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. | Jason Straziuso / AP
It is almost impossible to find out any news of what is happening in Africa. It’s as though the continent is completely off the media’s radar, yet what is happening there will have consequences for the whole world. The reason why this region is subjected to so much political meddling needs to be understood.
The Horn of Africa consists of eight countries: Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Somalia. These countries are victims of international interventions and interference that is causing extreme destabilization in the region, from Djibouti and Eritrea to Somalia and Ethiopia. Western imperialists continue to support dictators and block any attempt at independence, while the Western-backed Gulf States are transforming the region into a battlefield against not only Iran, but each other.
At the end of the Cold War, principal power groups in the U.S.—driven by hegemonic ambitions and impulses—set out to shape and consolidate a unipolar world that would operate under their “guidance.” Their scheme involved segregating the world into spheres of influence that would be controlled through handpicked surrogates or “anchor” states. The primary causes of the global and regional crises that prevail today can be put down to this misguided policy perspective and the distress we see in the Horn of Africa is testimony to this state of affairs.
This region is of geopolitical importance—hence the U.S. interference. The Republic of Djibouti is located on the African shore of the Red Sea, at the southern entrance of the important waterway which passes through the Suez Canal in Egypt. This tiny state is nestled between Ethiopia with more than 110 million people, Somalia with more than 15 million, and Eritrea with more than six million.
Although one of the world’s smallest countries, Djibouti currently hosts more U.S. military personnel than any other African nation. Roughly 4,000 U.S. military personnel on the continent are temporarily deployed to Djibouti and have been there for years. Camp Lemonnier there is the only permanent U.S. base in Africa, and serves as a key outpost for surveillance and combat operations against al Qaeda and other extremist groups in the region. It is interesting to note here that the U.S. has made no objections to Sudan providing troops in support of the murderous Saudi intercession in Yemen.
Though Djibouti is a point of particular concentration, the U.S. has a military presence in virtually every African nation. According to June 2021 figures from the Pentagon, most nations have at least a handful of active-duty personnel temporarily deployed to them. The U.S. strategy in Africa is mainly to equip African forces and help allies like France abroad to build those nations’ security capacities and stabilize the region.
The strategy doesn’t appear to be working.
The country with the second most U.S. military personnel deployed to it is Niger, with roughly 800, followed by Somalia, Djibouti’s neighbor, with roughly 400 U.S. military personnel, and Cameroon hosts 100 U.S. military personnel.
Some of the keey ramifications of the U.S.’s misguided policy are:
infringement on the sovereignty of peoples and nations;
flagrant breach of international law;
interference in internal affairs of other countries;
a resort to intimidation and the logic of force;
inducing paralysis of regional and international forums to render them susceptible to domination;
invoking crises, conflicts, and polarization in order to manage the resulting chaotic situation;
increasing attitudinal and cultural norms of demonization, condemnation, sanctions, punishment,etc.
Add to these global policies other deleterious regional and domestic policies such as ethnic polarity, corruption, fundamentalist extremism, and terrorism. We see the immense damage in the Horn of Africa both collectively as a region and in each country.
The U.S. government’s political posturing toward Africa has a history of turning into fatal consequences for African peoples. A decade ago, several of the same individuals who now hold positions in the Biden administration were accomplices in the U.S.-led NATO decimation of Libya.
This was “rationalized” under the guise of protecting “pro-democracy” activists from the supposed threat of massacre by Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi, but it was actually because Libya posed a threat to its geostrategic interests. The United States and its NATO allies killed and maimed thousands of Libyans, with U.S. leaders (like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) taking special satisfaction in the sadistic video recording of Gaddafi’s murder.
The United States and its EU-NATO allies have no genuine concern for the African lives in Ethiopia, the Horn of Africa, or anywhere else. Their only concerns are solely reflective of their geopolitical interests. In Ethiopia and Eritrea, these are:
to control or have undue influence over the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a chokepoint critical to securing global energy;
to challenge the robust presence of China; and
to impose U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in the only country left in Africa that has evaded its control—Eritrea.
Africa is underdeveloped and destabilized because of centuries of European colonialism and decades of U.S. and Western European neo-colonialism, not for internal and domestic factors alone, as the propaganda tries to make us believe.
As it did against Libya, U.S. imperialism is spreading disinformation and misinformation to exploit and distort the complexity, historical context, and political realities in the Horn of Africa to create the pretext for more direct intervention. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on May 23, 2021, stated in a press statement:
“Should those responsible for undermining a resolution of the crisis in Tigray (Ethiopia) fail to reverse course, they should anticipate further actions from the United States and the international community. We call on other governments to join us in taking these actions.”
Professor Amina Mama, director of the Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies program at the University of California, Davis, in a recent interview, said that “militarization, violent conflict, civil wars, military rule—and all the invidious and pervasive political, social, cultural, and economic effects of military institutions, discourses, and practices—are significant obstacles to Africa’s progress towards democratization, development, and gender justice.”
There needs to be a just peace with genuine security demands and a strategy to demilitarize the region. Cultures need to be developed that transform the destructive legacies of militarism currently permeating African societies at so many levels. This is impossible while U.S. bases criss-cross the continent.
The Guardian (Australia)
This article was produced by People's World.
WASHINGTON —By virtually identical almost party-line votes, the Senate confirmed Democratic President Joe Biden’s two remaining National Labor Relations Board nominees, pro-worker labor lawyers David Prouty and Gwynne Wilcox.
When they take their seats in late August, Prouty and Wilcox will replace two right-wing Donald Trump-named GOP board members, giving Democrats the 3-2 board majority. That cheers pro-worker forces, who have seen even the current majority-GOP board roll back some of the nastier moves enacted during Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump’s regime.
Wilcox, who will be the first-ever Black woman NLRB member, won 52-47, garnering all 48 Democrats, both independents and Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. The rest of the Republicans—one was absent—voted no.
Wilcox, from New York, “has been a staunch advocate for the rights and dignity of working people” as a pro-worker attorney and partner in the Levy, Ratner law firm, whose offices are in the same building as the headquarters of the Office and Professional Employees.
“Gwynne has also worked effectively with employer representatives to achieve fair and just results. She will be a valuable addition to the NLRB,” the firm added.
“I am privileged and honored to represent working people, who are not often valued for their important contributions to their workplaces and the greater society, and to work towards advancing and protecting their rights,” Wilcox said in a statement on the firm’s website.
Prouty won 53-46, with Alaska’s GOP other senator, Mark Sullivan, joining those who voted for Wilcox. Prouty’s the longtime top lawyer for Service Employees Local 32BJ and also a successful advocate for the Fight For $15 And A Union campaign.
Seating Prouty on the NLRB is “a home run for strengthening labor rights and worker-centered standards in our country, and restoring the NLRB’s core function to protect the interests of workers,” 32BJ President Kyle Bragg said when Biden nominated Prouty.
“While we’ll miss his steady counsel, which has been invaluable in his time at 32BJ and especially through one of our union’s–and our country’s–most difficult periods, we’re thrilled at the possibility he’ll put his ardent commitment to workers in the service of millions of families in our nation.”
After the Senate vote, SEIU tweeted: “Today’s confirmation of Dave Prouty to the National Labor Relations Board is a welcome step towards reversing Trump appointees’ attacks on working people. Congratulations!”
Prouty will have one other distinction when he takes his NLRB seat. He replaces William Emanuel, Trump’s most right-wing and most-controversial NLRB pick. Emanuel hailed from a Los Angeles law firm with a union-busting reputation, and cost the Trumpites one NLRB win when the agency’s Inspector General invalidated his vote for a right-wing-pushed NLRB federal rule on conflict-of-interest grounds—leaving the rule to fail on a 2-2 tie.
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.
This article was produced by People's World.
Spyware like Pegasus is dangerous not only because it gives hackers complete control over an infected phone, but also because it introduces the skills and knowledge of nation-states into the civilian sphere.
Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology, is haunting the Narendra Modi-led Indian government once again. Seventeen media organizations including the Wire, the Washington Post and the Guardian have spent months examining a possible list of 50,000 phone numbers belonging to individuals from around 50 countries. This list was provided by the French journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. These investigations by the media organizations helped zero in on possible targets of these cyberattacks. The mobile phones of 67 of the people who were on the target list were then forensically examined. The results revealed that 37 of the analyzed phones showed signs of being hacked by the Israeli firm NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware or signs of attempted penetration. Of the remaining 30, the results were inconclusive as either the owners had changed their phones or the phones were Androids, which do not log the kind of information that helps in detecting such penetration.
The possible targets not only include journalists and activists, but also government officials. This includes 14 heads of states and governments: three presidents (France’s Emmanuel Macron, Iraq’s Barham Salih and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa), three sitting and seven former prime ministers, and a king (Morocco’s Mohammed VI). The three sitting prime ministers are Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Egypt’s Mostafa Madbouly and Morocco’s Saad-Eddine El Othmani. Among the seven former prime ministers are Lebanon’s Saad Hariri, France’s Édouard Philippe, Algeria’s Noureddine Bedoui and Belgium’s Charles Michel, according to the Washington Post.
Once the malware is installed on a target’s phone, the spyware not only provides full access to the device’s data but also controls the phone’s microphone and camera. Instead of a device for use by the owner, the phone becomes a device that can be used to spy on them, recording not only telephonic conversations but also in-person conversations, including images of the participants. The collected information and data are then transmitted back to those deploying Pegasus.
Successive information and technology ministers in India—Ravi Shankar Prasad and Ashwini Vaishnaw—have stated that “the government has not indulged in any ‘unauthorized interception’” in the country, according to the Wire. Both the ministers have chosen to duck the questions: Did the government buy NSO’s hacking software and authorize the targeting of Indian citizens? And can the use of Pegasus spyware to infect smartphones and alter its basic functions be considered as legal authorization under the Indian Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009 for “interception, monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource”?
I am going to leave the legal issues for those who are better equipped to handle them. Instead, I am going to examine the new dangers that weaponizing malware by nation-states pose to the world. Pegasus is not the only example of such software; Snowden surveillance revelations showed us what the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States and the Five Eyes governments do and shed light on their all-encompassing surveillance regime. These intelligence agencies and governments have hacked the digital infrastructure of other countries and snooped on their “secure” communications and even spied on their allies. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel was not spared from NSA surveillance.
The key difference between nation-states and cybercriminals developing malware is that the nation-states possess far greater resources when it comes to developing such malware. Take the example of a group called the Shadow Brokers, who dumped a gigabyte of weaponized software exploits of the NSA on the net in 2017. Speaking about this, Matthew Hickey, a well-known security expert, told Ars Technica in 2017, “It is very significant as it effectively puts cyberweapons in the hands of anyone who downloads it.” Ransomware hit big time soon after, with WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware creating havoc by using the exploits in NSA’s toolkit.
Why am I recounting NSA’s malware tools while discussing Pegasus? Because Pegasus belongs to NSO, an Israeli company with very close ties to Unit 8200, the Israeli equivalent of the NSA. NSO, like many other Israeli commercial cyber-intelligence companies, is founded and run by ex-intelligence officers from Unit 8200. It is this element—introducing skills and knowledge of nation-states—into the civilian sphere that makes such spyware so dangerous.
NSO also appears to have played a role in improving Israel’s relations with two Gulf petro-monarchies, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. Israel, therefore, sees the sale of spyware to these countries as an extension of its foreign policy. Pegasus has been used extensively by the UAE and Saudi Arabia to target various domestic dissidents and even foreign critics. The most well-known example, of course, is Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident and the Washington Post’s columnist, who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
NSO’s market capitalization is reported to be in the range of $2 billion, making it perhaps one of the most expensive civilian cyber-intelligence companies. And its tools are frightening, as there does not seem to be any protection against them. Most of these tools are classified as cyberweapons and require the Israeli government’s approval for export, again showing the link between the Israeli state and NSO.
The other reason why Pegasus spyware is so dangerous is that it does not need any action on the part of the owner of a phone for the device to be hacked by the spyware. Most infections of devices take place when people click on a link sent to them through email/SMS, or when they go to a site and click on something there. Pegasus exploited a security problem with WhatsApp and was able to hack into a phone through just a missed call. Just a ring was enough for the Pegasus spyware to be installed on the phone. This has now been extended to using other vulnerabilities that exist within iMessage, WhatsApp, FaceTime, WeChat, Telegram, and various other apps that receive data from unknown sources. That means Pegasus can compromise a phone without the user having to click on a single link. These are called zero-click exploits in the cyber community.
Once installed, Pegasus can read the user’s messages, emails, and call logs; it can capture screenshots, log pressed keys, and collect browser history and contacts. It exfiltrates—meaning sends files—back to its server. Basically, it can spy on every aspect of a target’s life. Encrypting emails or using encryption services such as Signal won’t deter Pegasus, which can read what an infected phone’s user reads or capture what they type.
Many people use iPhones in the belief that they are safer. The sad truth is that the iPhone is as vulnerable to Pegasus attacks as Android phones, though in different ways. It is easier to find out if an iPhone is infected, as it logs what the phone is doing. As the Android systems do not maintain such logs, Pegasus can hide its traces better.
In an interview with the Guardian published on July 19, “after the first revelations from the Pegasus Project,” Snowden described for-profit malware developers as “an industry that should not exist… If you don’t do anything to stop the sale of this technology, it’s not just going to be 50,000 targets. It’s going to be 50 million targets, and it’s going to happen much more quickly than any of us expect.” He called for an immediate global ban on the international spyware trade.
Snowden’s answer of banning the sale of such spyware is not enough. We need instead to look at deweaponizing all of cyberspace, including spyware. The spate of recent cyberattacks—estimated to be tens of thousands a day—is a risk to the cyberinfrastructure of all countries on which all their institutions depend. After the leak of NSA and CIA cyberweapons, and now with NSO’s indiscriminate use of Pegasus, we should be asking whether nation-states can really be trusted to develop such weapons.
In 2017, Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft and no peacenik or leftist, wrote, “Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage.” It is this concern that certain leading companies within the industry—Microsoft, Deutsche Telekom and others—had raised in 2017, calling for a new digital Geneva Convention banning cyberweapons. Russia and China have also made similar demands in the past. It was rejected by the United States, who believed that it had a military advantage in cyberspace, which is something it should not squander.
Pegasus is one more reminder of the danger of nation-states developing cyberweapons. Though here, it is not a leak but deliberate use of a dangerous technology for private profit that poses a risk to journalists, activists, opposition parties and finally to democracy. It is a matter of time before the smartphones that we carry become attack vectors for attacks on the very cyberinfrastructure on which we all depend.
Prabir Purkayastha is the founding editor of Newsclick.in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.
With a growing realization that Democrats are refusing to use their slim hold on political power to push for a single-payer system of health care, thousands are taking to the streets to demand change.
Activists in more than 50 cities across the United States marched and rallied on July 24 to demand a Medicare for All or single-payer health care system. With Congress and the White House more focused on passing an infrastructure bill, conducting an investigation into the January 6 Capitol riot, and reforming our immigration system, the issue of health care has once more been relegated to the back burner. There is nary a peep from most lawmakers on the fact that, even as the pandemic rages on, nearly 30 million Americans remain uninsured (as per the latest available data), and millions more are underinsured.
To be fair, President Joe Biden has done what he promised to do during his campaign, which is to preserve and strengthen the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and effectively expand private health insurance coverage via subsidies. The ACA is not designed to cover all people with the best and most affordable health care. Biden’s major legislative achievement thus far, the American Rescue Plan, included more government subsidies for private health insurance plans to cover unemployed Americans while leaving millions more out of the equation. Neither the ACA nor the American Rescue Plan’s health care provisions ensure that all Americans have good-quality free health care.
The only assurance is that private insurance company profits remain healthy. Earlier this summer, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a campaign to encourage Americans to sign up for private insurance through HealthCare.gov (perhaps a more appropriate address for the website would be HealthInsurance.gov). The Biden administration celebrated the fact that 2 million more Americans were able to purchase low-cost or no-cost private health insurance plans or sign up under expanded Medicaid programs. The insurance industry front group Partnership for America’s Health Care Future echoed that number as an achievement to celebrate. But neither made mention of the tens of millions who remain uninsured and underinsured. There is even less acknowledgment of the fact that tax dollars are subsidizing corporate profits for what is often mediocre health care coverage.
This is not surprising given that the federal government treats the health care needs of ordinary Americans as an optional luxury item that can be supplied by the market. For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) refers to those needing health care (i.e., all human beings) as “consumers” whom the government agency advises ought to “maximize the savings on their Marketplace coverage” when shopping for ACA plans. In a press release lauding the American Rescue Plan, CMS uses the word “consumers” nearly a dozen times. Rethinking health care as an essential need like education or emergency services will require a major cultural shift among public servants.
Proponents of Medicare for All are constantly told it would be far too expensive to extend a government program intended for those 65 and older to everyone else. But a fact that has received little attention is that nearly half of all Americans are already getting health care through some form of government programs or subsidy. An analysis published on Quartz found that 161 million Americans are now receiving health care through Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Health Administration, or CHIP, the Child Health Insurance Program.
Those who do not qualify for these programs are forced to acquire private health insurance through employment and pay varying amounts out of pocket for hefty premiums, deductibles and copayments, poor prescription drug coverage, lifetime limits on coverage, etc. Such a patchwork system does little more than ensure large profits for private health insurance companies. Worse, it ties millions of people to jobs they may dislike, or forces them to settle for poor coverage that may not even be adequate for the care they need.
For those who are left out of the system entirely, there is no government answer other than to ‘sink or swim.’ A recent Wall Street Journal analysis found that hospitals engage in serious price gouging of the uninsured, charging them far higher prices than they would charge an insurance company for a patient who was covered.
Dr. Paul Song, a board-certified radiation oncologist and president of the California Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, was a featured speaker at the Los Angeles rally and march for Medicare for All on July 24. He explained to me after the event that “people are frustrated” about the fact that “we’ve had so many people succumb to COVID in the United States, and it has really illustrated how broken our health care system is.” The march organizers and attendees wanted to send a message that “we’re not going away; we demand better,” he said.
One of the few reports on the Medicare for All marches published by a major corporate-media outlet was this one by David Weigel of the Washington Post who wrote that six months into the Biden administration, “the movement to replace American health care with a cheaper single-payer system has vanished from daily political debate.” He’s right. After Biden emerged as a centrist alternative to Senator Bernie Sanders—one of the most stalwart proponents of single-payer—during last year’s presidential primaries, the next best hope for organizers lay in the appointment of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the HHS. Becerra’s support of single-payer health care offered the promise of federal waivers for states looking to expand government-run health care. So far, even that has not transpired.
Weigel noted that Sanders’ 2016 campaign for president “inarguably pushed single-payer health care into the Democratic Party mainstream,” and as a result, “most of the senators who would run for president in 2020 endorsed it.” Arguments over whether a single-payer system was better than the current patchwork of private-public health care “dominated months of primary debates,” he wrote. Polls showed this was an issue deeply important to Democratic voters, and yet once Democrats assumed power in the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives, the only focus on health care was to entrench and safeguard the ACA while ignoring the health care crisis affecting millions of uninsured and underinsured.
The contradictions are starker in California, where Democrats have a far more comfortable margin of power than their federal counterparts in D.C. “You hear crickets right now,” said Song, referring to California Democrats who were vocal about supporting single-payer health care under Republican governors whose veto they could count on, but who are reliably silent when they have the votes to pass a bill. California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom sailed into power on a platform of supporting Medicare for All and said during his campaign in 2017, “There’s no reason to wait around on universal health care and single-payer in California… you have my firm and absolute commitment as your next governor that I will lead the effort to get it done.” Today, California Democrats enjoy a supermajority in the state Assembly and Senate and have an ostensible supporter of a single-payer health care bill as governor. But a bill to advance a single-payer system in the Assembly emerged this year only to be shelved a few months later until next year. Newsom appointed a commission to study the issue, but so far, nothing concrete has emerged.
Five years after he first made his campaign promises, Newsom is facing a Republican-led recall effort with a shockingly tepid 50 percent of likely voters supporting him versus 47 percent who are willing to vote him out. One can only wonder how much more support Newsom would be enjoying in the heavily Democratic California had he shown more leadership on his health care promises. Song, who says he supports the governor remaining in office, says, “we should push him to live up to his campaign promises, not only to fight off this recall but to really move California forward.”
The moral of the story is that Democratic Party lawmakers at the state and federal level have often pledged loyalty to issues like Medicare for All when running for office or when governing as a minority party and promptly switched allegiance to the private insurance industry once in office or when their party holds enough of a majority to do something about it. No wonder voters are pissed off and marching in the streets.
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.
The Open Letter Left
Noam Chomsky, Gilbert Achcar, Paul Le Blanc, Suzi Weissman, Tithi Bhattacharya, Charlie Post, Robert Brenner, Gayatri Spivak, Alex Callinicos, Ashley Smith, Eric Toussaint, Marc Cooper, Etienne Balibar. These are a handful of the over 500 signatories on an open letter directed to the blockaded Cuban government on July 12th demanding “respect for the democratic rights of all Cuban people” and the release of “dissident Marxist” Frank García Hernández and his comrades from jail after the protests of July 11th.
These signatories are high-profile academic socialists in the US and Europe, featured prominently in the publication catalogue of Verso and Haymarket Books, or on the editorial boards of online journals like New Politics, Tempest, Spectre, Socialist Worker, and other ex-ISO-now-DSA, SEP, or UK SWP related outlets. Their work also frequently appears in more mainstream left outlets, such as Jacobin and the Nation. Their opinions on the left reach a wide audience and, in some cases, carry significant weight. Their petition circulation effort drew major support on social media in the days after the initial protests in Cuba, helping to stitch together a left-reinforcement to the edifice of the mainstream press, which described the event as an uprising by “political dissidents” against an “oppressive bureaucratic regime” in the pursuit of democracy and freedom of expression.
The definition of “freedom” pursued and the political orientation of the protesters in question differed between the tales spun by the New York Times and those of the Socialist Worker, but the story was the same: Repressive government arbitrarily detains political dissidents.
And while these signatories differ among themselves over their characterization of the Cuban government and its revolutionary tradition—ranging from the view that Cuba is “state capitalist” that harbors no revolutionary potential to the view that the once-revolutionary state has become an intransigent bureaucracy that is still preferable to the neoliberal model—all seem to find common ground with co-signer Gilbert Achcar’s warning about “the anti-imperialism of fools.” Achcar condemns those who oppose US imperialism no matter its target, because he believes this misses the “nuanced” view that US imperialism might be instrumentalized by popular movements in the pursuit of their own liberation.
Gilbert Achcar has been criticised for his paid work training the UK Military’s “Defense Cultural Specialist Unit” in a series of seminars that he organized for his employer the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Achcar was also flown to Australia as a guest speaker at Socialist Alternative’s Marxism 2014 conference in Melbourne.
Our “knee-jerk” rejection of the notion that any positive could ever come from the machinations of empire, in Achcar’s formulation, puts us in the camp of “defending murderous regimes.” Ostensibly, sharing co-signature real estate with the likes of Achcar would suggest that the other petitioners agree with him that anti-imperialism is not always a principled position and the events in Cuba are an example of a situation in which they do not want to end up on the side of “fools.” So without further investigation, they and 500 others signed an open letter condemning the Cuban government for its “repression and arbitrary detentions” of “critical communists.“
AN ALTERNATE VIEW FROM THE GROUND
On July 17th, a different narrative emerged from the mouths of Frank García Hernández’s Cuban colleagues themselves. The Comunistas collective Editorial Board, of which Frank is a founder, published an account of events that was much more balanced and far less negative in its appraisal of the Cuban government and its response to the protests than the narrative that was promoted by the petition’s signatories. Rather than a repressive response to an organic anti-state uprising, they portray the events of July 11th as unprecedented protests with a variety of origins and compositions, some legitimate and others manufactured.
In their account, the protests were composed of three flanks: a small group of US-funded counter-revolutionaries with massive reach and influence, a small group of anti-state intellectuals with legitimate grievances that were co-opted by the reactionaries, and a much larger group of “non-political” demonstrators demanding an end to austerity and shortages—a crisis which the Comunistas Editorial Board attributes, with some reservations, almost entirely to the exacerbating US blockade and global pandemic. In short, the most explicitly anti-government slogans and orientations were crafted and carried by the US-funded counter-revolutionaries, whereas the majority of the demonstrators lacked a cohesive political consciousness and simply wanted a reprieve from their very real material hardships. As the editorial board asserts, “The protests did not represent a majority. Most of the Cuban population continues to support the government.”
A demonstration in Havana with thousands of people in a show of support for the Cuban revolution | Morning Star
Notably, this closely mirrors the public address of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who stated, “The protests involve many revolutionary citizens who want an explanation for the current situation in the country, but are also contaminated by groups of opportunists who take advantage of the current crisis to undermine order and generate chaos.” And while Díaz-Canel expressed full faith in the Cuban people to engage in productive dialogue to resolve the present crises, his calls for revolutionaries to take to the streets to defend the nation against opportunistic attacks and US-financed subversion campaigns was met with scorn from the self-described “anti-campist” or “third campist” Western left.
For these Western left critics of the Cuban state, Díaz-Canel’s calls for popular defense of national sovereignty represented a cynical demand by the Cuban state for its supporters to engage in vigilante violence against dissidents like García Hernández. The fact that García Hernández’s comrades—who engage in frequent criticism of the Cuban government themselves—did not subscribe to this narrative of events nevertheless did not discourage the petitioners from propagating the perspective that Frank’s arrest was the smoking gun evidence of Cuba’s authoritarian round up of “critical communists.”
ARBITRARY DETENTION OR SAFEGUARDING THE REVOLUTION?
No such round-up took place. The arrests that did occur followed outbreaks of violence and vandalism after mostly peaceful and unharassed protests in a number of cities, which the Comunistas collective describes as: “Violent groups carried out acts of vandalism, attacking communist militants and government supporters with sticks and stones.” The Cuban police and defenders of the revolution engaged in kind. In other words, according to this collective of Cuban critics of the state, the violence that resulted in scattered arrests were largely carried out by counter-revolutionary forces against government supporters and other communist partisans. This is a far cry from the narratives emerging out of the US corporate media and academic left circles, which characterized the violence as a one-sided repressive crackdown by an intransigent bureaucratic “regime” and its paid supporters against dissidents striving for freedom and plenty.
Nevertheless, Frank García Hernández and some others were arrested—the catalyst for the petition. Frank’s comrades at the Comunistas collective address this too. It turns out, Frank was not arrested for being a “dissident” participant in the protests. In fact, Frank is a member of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) who merely watched but did not partake in the protests, and was arrested by “confusion” as he put it. Frank and another intellectual named in the petition, LGBTQ activist Maykel González Vivero, who did participate in the protests, were picked up after a nearby act of counter-revolutionary violence resulted in injuries and vandalism late in the night. By Frank’s own admission, they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The next day they easily proved their innocence and were released without incident. According to his colleagues at Comunistas collective, “During his little more than 24 hours of detention, Frank affirms that he did not receive physical abuse, nor any type of torture.” No other person associated with the publication was arrested or targeted.
But here a key detail emerges. Frank’s release actually preceded the publication of the open letter demanding his release by his “comrades” in the US and Europe. And while Comunistas collective maintained their own criticisms of the Cuban government, their characterization of the genesis of the protests, the response of the government to the protests, and the appraisal of the revolutionary process in general, differ significantly from the ostensibly “progressive” critics of the Cuban government in the US and Europe who organized the petition to release their friend who had in fact already been released. Again, these significant discrepancies have not been addressed by any of the prominent signatories and circulators of the petition.
In fact, on July 17th, the day that the Comunistas blog collective published their retrospective of the protests and arrests, some of the US-based petition endorsers republished the original petition in Tempest Magazine without mention of any of the above critical divergences from on-the-ground reports. Further, the editorial board of Tempest broadened the appeal to a call for the release of “all detainees in Cuba.” Even the Comunistas collective demanded only the release of the detainees “as long as they have not committed actions that have threatened the lives of other people.”
In the week that followed the July 11th protests, the Open Letter Left were confronted with an excess of evidence and investigative research documenting the existence of US CIA front subversion projects, tens of millions of dollars funnelled into counter-revolutionary activities, coup-propagating social media bot farms, and other examples of hybrid warfare that served as the backdrop of the unrest. And yet, they maintained their political line that all arrests were arbitrary and illegitimate. One signatory even asserted that the duty of the left in the West is to support all such protests, “whatever people’s politics involved in these struggles– against whatever states and ruling classes, even those who falsely claim the mantle of ‘socialism.'” This is, of course, a tacit endorsement of the reactionary tail that wags the dog of these astroturfed “color revolutions,” disguised as they are as organic movements of workers and oppressed peoples.
WHITHER OPPOSITION TO EMPIRE
Taken in isolation, a charitable reading could view signing such an open letter as a political slip-up brewed in the fog of war that is a developing foreign event. But for many of the most prominent left signatories, this was the only public statement or call to action made regarding the unprecedented events in Cuba. Too few matched their outrage of the arrests with equal outrage over the ongoing illegal blockade of the island by the US, and even fewer (close to none) circulated open letters or petitions calling for anti-imperialist solidarity with Cuban sovereignty against the now well-documented imperial provocations that played an important role in the outbreak and international media coverage of the protests in Cuba. Even after statements of support for the gains of the Cuban revolution came from all corners of the world, demanding an end to the illegal blockade and hybrid warfare, the signatories spared little attention for the very real threat of escalating imperialist intervention.
When the mayor of Miami called on the US government to bomb Havana, none of the open letter endorsers change their tune. None came to the defence of Black Lives Matter after the organization’s condemnation of the US blockade brought them heavy backlash.
At most, as in the petition itself, the blockade and imperial provocations were mentioned as an almost unrelated preamble to the real point, despite their absolute centrality. No open letter was signed and circulated by this group of Western academic leftists demanding an end to the blockade after the 29th consecutive UN General Assembly majority vote to end the economic siege in June, and neither was there an effort on their part to circulate the campaign to send millions of much-needed syringes to the island to help put Cuban-made COVID vaccines into Cuban arms. When President Joe Biden announced that he would not change course on Cuba and called the nation a “failed state” without reference to the blockade, they issued no scathing open letter. They did not collectively come to the defence of a patriotic Cuban woman who was censored on Twitter after she demanded that the UN Human Rights Council stop using her image as the symbol for the anti-government protesters, when in reality she was in the streets of Cuba defending her revolution. Similarly, many signatories silence on the ongoing violent US-backed state repression of a months-long popular uprising in Colombia, or the years-long popular uprising in Haiti, grew more pronounced with the circulation of this petition. Their priorities were laid bare.
When confronted on social media, those that disagreed were accused of supporting “repression” and “ignoring voices on the ground.” No intellectually honest reference was made to the voices on the ground of the 100,000 Cubans who took to the streets of Havana in defence of their revolution. No mea culpas were issued after even Reuters was forced to admit that the media had fallen for lies and manipulations about the protests and the repression that ostensibly followed. Their perception of events, one must assume, remains the same as it was on July 12th. Their own political orthodoxy, it seems, left little room for “dissident Marxists” engaging them in criticism among comrades.
On July 22nd, US President Joe Biden announced a new round of sanctions on Cuba, which he promised were “just the beginning.” The Biden administration’s intransigence—and its cynical hypocrisy in denouncing “mass detentions and sham trials” in Cuba that presumably does not describe the US-run torture camp known as Guantanamo Bay—saw a rapidly organized response in the pages of the New York Times on July 23rd. In a full-page advert, the People’s Forum, Code Pink, the Answer Coalition, and over 400 “former heads of state, politicians, intellectuals, scientists, members of the clergy, artists, musicians and activists from across the globe,” issued an open letter to the US government demanding the end to its economic warfare against the Cuban people. Here is an example of the kind of public statement with prominent endorsers that places the responsibility for human rights abuses at the feet of US imperialism, and that expresses solidarity with the working and oppressed people of the globe who resist empire. A rare few signatories of the July 12th petition directed against the Cuban government did sign the “Let Cuba Live” letter in the NYT, including Noam Chomsky. One can only wonder what the political priorities are of those who condemn the imperialism of their own government only after first making demands and criticisms upon the targets of that imperialism.
BEWARE THE “ANTI-ANTI-IMPERIALIST LEFT”
No matter the developments of the last two weeks, the July 12th petition denouncing the Cuban government has not been renounced by any of its signatories. File this away as one more example of Western academic socialists and progressives being captured by the ideological manipulations of US State Department propaganda and their own internalized colonial chauvinism toward revolutionary projects in the Global South. Other targets of these petitions and open letters in recent years and months have been Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Notably, all are targets of ongoing and well-documented subversion operations, economic sanctions, and electoral interference by the United States, something that is rarely remarked upon by the signatories.
The outraged open letter from prominent leftist intellectuals making demands upon anti-imperialist nations and other targets of Western imperialism is one of the most insidious and effective propaganda efforts by non-state actors in the imperial core, as it serves to confuse and disorient the broader left within the belly of the beast, weakening our capacity to collectively undermine and resist the US empire, thus relegating the burden of the struggle against imperialism to the revolutionary peoples of the Global South alone. This is a dereliction of our revolutionary duties.
As progressives and revolutionaries living within the empire, we must express an unqualified and unwavering solidarity with Cuba and all targets of US imperialism, and we must organize to put an end to US aggression, political interference, and economic strangulation so that Cuba and all working and oppressed peoples of the world can breathe.
A version of this article first appeared in Fight Back News.
Red Ant publishes this with permission of the author.
This article was republished from Red Ant.
“To be a possibilitarian is to acknowledge that any of the thousand alternatives to capitalism is possible.” – Bread and Puppet Theater.
I wrote these entries when I first visited in the summer of 2019 with some updates from my trip in 2021. My wife and I planned a series of trips in 2019. In addition to the sites reviewed here, we also spent a few days in Montreal. I considered writing up something about the Quebecois nationalists like the Marxist-Leninist Front de libération du Québec who engaged in kidnappings of politicians and bombings to bring about an independent, socialist Quebec. However, as a result of language and geographical confusion, that trip was hectic, so I chose not to write anything up about that leg of the journey. Besides, I do not really feel like I have much to say on the situation. Let Anglophone and Francophone Canadians fight it out. My anthropological observations as an outsider indicated that there is definitely a class divide between Francophones and Anglophones. The people that worked in the museums and galleries tended to speak both English and French fluently, while restaurant and grocery workers tended to speak exclusively French. I have heard that some bilingual Quebecois are offended by tourists not knowing French. In my experience, if one walked into a place and tried to speak broken French, most of the time people would just start speaking to you in English.
The big trip my wife and I took that year was to what is known as the Northeast Kingdom or simply the “kingdom” of Vermont. I am not necessarily impressed with the monarchist sounding moniker offered to the region in 1949 by Republican Governor George Aiken. According to a leftist resident I talked to, it is apparently known as one of the more reactionary parts of the state. Still, there were many people we saw showing their support for Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist,” at the time running in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race. Even though Sanders is actually a proponent of what has historically been known as social democracy, or in America as liberalism or progressivism, his almost intentional misuse of the term socialism opens possibilities for a new kind of politics: one divorced from the Cold War discourse that blacklisted socialism and made it taboo.
The possibilities offered by a Vermont “socialist” running for president seemed to have a good hold on the state of Vermont. Although we did see a Gadsden flag and a Confederate flag while we were there, we also met many far left radicals open to the thousands of possible alternatives to capitalism. Many Vermonters own guns, on both the right and the left. The state is known for its lax gun laws. It is a rural, forested state and could make a good strategic base from which to build a leftist stronghold in the northeastern United States if it was not becoming increasingly unaffordable to live there.
On our way to Vermont we stopped in the Adirondack Mountains.The Adirondacks, along with the Alleghenies of Pennsylvania and the Green Mountains of Vermont, are collectively known as the Northeast Appalachians. W. E. B. Dubois wrote in his biography of John Brown:
The vastest physical fact in the life of John Brown was the Alleghany [sic] Mountains – that beautiful mass of hill and crag which guards the sombre majesty of the Maine coast, crumples the rivers on the rocky soil of New England, and rolls and leaps down through busy Pennsylvania to the misty peaks of Carolina and the red foothills of Georgia. In the Alleghanies John Brown was all but born; their forests were his boyhood wonderland; in the villages he married his wives and begot his clan. On the sides of the Alleghanies he tended his sheep and dreamed his terrible dream. It was the mystic, awful voice of the mountains that lured him to liberty, death and martyrdom within their wildest fastness, and in the bosom he sleeps his last sleep.
It was in the Adirondacks that John Brown saw the possibility of an alternative to slavery. He sacrificed all to make it happen and even though his endeavor at Harper’s Ferry failed, it opened up another possibility for the end of slavery. It had a profound influence on the American Civil War.
In 2021 we returned to these places with my daughter so that she could experience the ephemeral experience of American Socialism Travels.
John Brown’s Farm – North Elba, NY
photo by Wendy Jones
This statue was the first thing we saw when we arrived at the end of John Brown Road. The statue is moving. It is so simple. John Brown talking to a young black boy as though he wasn an equal was a powerful act of defiance in the 1840s and 50s. John Brown was not just an abolitionist. Many of the abolitionists did not believe in equality, they simply believed slavery was distasteful. John Brown was not one of these bourgeois abolitionists. Although he owned businesses, most of them failed. He was impoverished and the little money he did have he put into the cause of ending the enslavement of people of African descent on the North American continent.
When we returned to John Brown’s Farm in 2021, they had erected a temporary cemetery in remembrance of black lives unjustly taken at the hands of police and vigilantes. It stood as a somber yet militant answer to the uprisings of 2020. The names of Amaud Arbery, George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Amado Diallo, recent victims of state terrorism, sat mournfully alongside names like Rev. George Washington Lee and Elbert Williams, voting rights pioneers assassinated with police complicity. It was a sober reminder that John Brown’s approach, not the approach of the Democratic Party, the party of Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson and the Ku Klux Klan until 1964, is what is necessary to confront the racism and violence of the police.
Photos by Wendy Jones
One of the utopian endeavors John Brown took part in was the one that brought him to the Adirondacks. With the help of wealthy abolitionist Gerrit Smith he pioneered the black colony known as Timbuktu. It was Smith and Brown’s dream to help enfranchise free blacks. The law said that a black person could not vote in New York unless they owned 200 acres of land. It was Smith’s idea to buy land in the mountains to give to free blacks in hopes that they would be politically enfranchised and have means to farm and make money. Brown and his family moved to the Adirondacks to help with this utopian project.
John Brown’s second wife and three of his youngest daughters lived at the farm in New York.
Mary Ann Brown with Annie (left) and Sarah (right) about 1851.
After the incident at Harper’s Ferry, Brown requested his body be brought back to North Elba to be buried. He is buried there along with a few of his followers.
John Brown was so influential on the abolitionist cause in the North that a song called “John Brown’s Body” became an unofficial anthem of the Union. Like “Dixie,” “John Brown’s Body” was originally meant to be satirical, but people soon began to take it quite seriously.
Julia Ward Howe, poet, abolitionist, author of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”
Julia Ward Howe, a poet and an abolitionist, wrote the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” based on the tune of “John’s Brown’s Body.” A Union regiment was marching early in the morning near where Howe was staying. Early in the morning she could hear them singing “John Brown’s Body” and it inspired her to write the “Battle Hymn.” She wrote:
I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, “I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.” So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.
It is said the Confederate troops would hear the Union Army marching to the “Battle Hymn” and know that they were really singing about John Brown. As much as the moderate Republicans like Lincoln wanted to distance unionism from abolitionism, the South believed the Republican Party was a black supremacist plot. Indeed many of the volunteers in the Union Army were militant abolitionists. Many of them were even black. And they did not just sing “Battle Hymn of the Republic'' to the tune of “John Brown’s Body.” They often sang the original lyrics, proudly and audaciously celebrating the raid on the armory at Harper’s Ferry that sparked what Karl Marx and the First International Workingmen’s Association called the American Anti-Slavery War.
Henry David Thoreau and John Brown
Henry David Thoreau said in his paper A Plea for John Brown:
If it does not lead to a “surprise” party, if he does not gain a new pair of boots, or a vote of thanks, it must be a failure. “But he won’t gain anything by it.” Well, no, I don;t suppose he could get four-and-sixpence a day for being hung, take the year round; but he stands a chance to save a considerable part of his soul- and what a soul!- when you do not. No doubt you can get more in your market for a quart of milk than a quart of blood, but that is not the market heroes carry their blood to.
Thoreau and Brown were both possibilitarians because they believed in doing the impossible to make possible alternatives to the legal slavery system, seen by many as here to stay.
Clarina Howard Nichols
Clarina Howard Nichols
We also stayed in the Green Mountain area of Vermont that same year. We got a cabin in Townshend, Vermont with my in-laws. I would soon find that Townshend itself was home to some radical history.
Clarina Howard Nichols was a feminist and suffragist activist born in 1810 in Townshend. Howard begged her father to give her “an education, not a dowry.” She went to school at the Select School for gifted learners in West Townshend. In 1830 she married a lawyer named Justin Carpenter and briefly moved to Western NY to start a school for girls. In 1839 Howard petitioned the Vermont legislature for a divorce from her husband who she said “treated her with cruelty, unkindness and intolerable severity.” This experience lead her to view marriage as an oppressive, exploitative institution not dissimilar to chattel slavery. After her divorce she moved back to Townshend and wrote feminist articles for the Windam County Democrat. She married George W. Nichols, publisher of the Democrat, in 1843. By the 1850s she had gained notoriety as a feminist and wearer of the Bloomer. The Bloomer, invented by Western NY born feminist Amelia Bloomer, was a loose fitting garment known as the uniform of the feminists. It was worn as a protest against the tight garments in fashion for women at the time.
In 1852 she sent a petition signed by 250 in favor of extending the right to vote, which men enjoyed, to women. She became the first woman to address the Vermont legislature that same year. She later recalled, “I went to the capitol and presented the whole subject of woman’s legal wrongs, including the denial of her mother’s rights in the custody and control of her children, and the conduct of their education in the schools, as results of her disenfranchisement.” Unfortunately, much of the criticism of Ms. Howard Nichols was in reference to her dress, not the content of her speech.
This was the home Clarina Howard grew up in with her parents in Townshend. Today it is a community center, restaurant, thrift store and post office for the town of Townshend.
John Humphrey Noyes
John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Bible Communist Community of Christian Perfectionists at Oneida, NY, was born in Putney, VT. The Perfectionists in Putney briefly formed the Putney Community before moving most of their operations to Oneida. According to the Oneida Community Mansion House: Historic Structure Report:
In 1839, John Humphrey organized a ‘Bible class” of friends and family. The group evolved to become the “Putney Community” in 1846. It was among this group of 30 trusted and loyal friends and family that Noyes formulated his plan for communal living. However, objections to the radical religious group grew in Putney within the next two years and by 1847, the Putney Perfectionists were forced to seek another location.
John Humphrey Noyes explains the origins of the Putney Perfectionists in the book The Putney Community:
Early in 1840 the Putney Perfectionists began holding meetings on Sunday in Noyes’s own house, which was now finished. By the end of 1840 meetings were also held Wednesday evenings at the East Part and Thursday evenings at the Noyes homestead. In 1841 a chapel was built, in which after August 1st daily sessions were held.
The Perfectionist chapel no longer exists in Putney.
My wife and I got lost looking for Putney, but we eventually stumbled across the birthplace of John Humphrey Noyes. Our pilgrimage had taken us through forests and onto literally impassable mountain roads. Finally we stumbled across Putney by accident, as though it was divine intervention after a two hour pilgrimage.
Today the Noyes home hosts the offices of the Earth Bridge Community Land Trust. A community land trust is a modern version of a utopian socialist community. In a community land trust members own the land collectively and might share some common areas and buildings while maintaining private dwellings and farms.
Images of Putney’s past courtesy of the Putney General Store.
The Putney General Store was established in 1796. It is said to be the oldest general store that has been consistently a general store throughout its history. It burned down twice: in 2008 and 2009.In 2009 it appeared to be arson. The Putney community got together and raised enough money to remodel the store twice.
Bread and Puppet Theater – Glover, Vermont
The first encounter I had with the Bread and Puppet Theater was seeing them at protests in the early 2000s. When I would go to anti-war or what at that time was called “anti-globalization” (today known as anti-neoliberal or anti-free trade) protests they would be there with these huge, expressive, cartoonish but remarkably human puppets. When you saw the Bread and Puppets puppets you knew you had made it to the protest.
Peter Schumann, born in Silesia in 1934, was a sculptor and dancer in Germany before moving to the United States in 1961. In 1963, he founded the Bread and Puppet Theater in New York City.
I contacted Joshua Krugman, Bread and Puppet’s media liaison. When I met him he described his role as, “just a puppeteer who answers emails.” When I initially talked to Jason I had a series of questions for him about utopianism versus scientism, the state character of Vermont and John Brown. He answered, “Unfortunately I’m too strapped for time to be able to answer in prose by email. My apologies for this, and thanks for understanding.” However, he invited my wife and I to dinner with the troupe before the performance and said we could do an interview there.
When we arrived at the Bread and Puppet phalanx, we immediately noticed a group of racially diverse young people, looking to be in their 20s, crossing the road with parts of some kind of large puppet. First we explored the Cheap Art Bus. Then we explored the museum. It was a brilliant display of retired puppets densely populating a series of hallways and a gallery upstairs. The Bread and Puppet Museum is open all the time. The light switches are clearly marked so that anyone can come in, turn on a light and look around. Visitors are, of course, encouraged to turn the lights off upon exit.
The bathrooms are traditional outhouses, utilizing sawdust.
After exploring for a short time my wife and I made our way into the dinner area behind the main house. The dinner was, of course, a communal experience. Everyone got a plate and waited in line to be served. The meal was a slightly spicy chickpea curry, which was delicious, with homemade naan and salad with a creamy dressing and a vegan option. All the food was vegetarian. The curry was one of the members’ grandmother’s recipes.
We sat on the lawn and ate as guests of the phalanx. We asked around and eventually Josh found us and we sat together on the lawn, talking and eating. I started by asking Josh about Vermont’s state character. He told me there were a lot of leftists, but mostly they were liberals. Josh remarked that the “kingdom” area is more conservative than other areas of Vermont. There are a lot of far-right “Libertarian” types and gun enthusiasts. However, he remarked that pretty much everyone is really friendly and accepting. LGBT folks are welcomed in almost all parts of Vermont.
I asked Josh what utopia means to him. His answer, he explained, was influenced by messianic Judaism and a quote by 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, “Live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law.” He believed utopia was in the doing, the praxis of life and art. I asked him if spirituality and politics can or should be combined. He said, “I think it depends on your spirituality. Certainly they were for someone like John Brown.” Changing hats from individual thinker to collective representative, Josh said, “I think for us, Bread and Puppet, our political praxis is this, what we’re doing here. Feeding people and sharing art with them is our political praxis.”
I was also lucky enough to have a chance to speak with Peter and Elka Shumann. I told Peter about my research into Fourierism and when I started talking about phalanxes he said, “Oh yes, the phalanstery.” I explained that I am from Rochester and our town has a rich history of political radicalism. I mentioned Emma Goldman had lived there for a short time. Elka was interested to hear that. Then she told me Emma was going to be in the performance tonight.
Photo by Wendy Jones
I asked Elka what made her interested in left wing politics. She said, “Oh, my grandfather probably.” Her grandfather was Scott Nearing, an American radical economist. She told me he was fired from the reactionary Wharton School of Finance for opposing child labor in the mines in Pennsylvania.
Socialist economist and simple living advocate Scott Nearing
Elka grew up in the Soviet Union. Her family moved in the New York City in 1941 to escape a Nazi invasion and occupation of parts of the USSR. She met Peter in Munich in 1958.
In the 1970s Bread and Puppet Theater had a residency at Goddard College, but Elka said they eventually told them their residency was up. She said in the 70s Goddard College was very radical and had many radical students and faculty, but later on they became more reactionary.
The famous Uncle Fatso
Ultimately I wonder how much art and lifestyle can be considered political praxis. I wonder if, in some ways, supporting Bernie Sanders, far from a revolutionary act, is more praxis than putting on plays in the woods. Ultimately political praxis means trying to take power. John Brown’s political praxis was certainly so effective that it actually caused a war. I think the Bread and Puppet phalanx might prefer to march away from war altogether. Murray Bookchin’s polemic against Hakim Bey and others entitled “Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm” says:
Essentially, however, anarchism as a whole advanced what Isaiah Berlin has called ‘negative freedom,’ that is to say, a formal ‘freedom from,’ rather than a substantive ‘freedom to.’ Indeed, anarchism often celebrated its commitment to negative freedom as evidence of its own pluralism, ideological tolerance, or creativity — or even, as more than one recent postmodernist celebrant has argued, its incoherence.
I think the Bread and Puppet phalanx attempts to bridge this chasm, but ultimately, as Abraham Lincoln said, a house divided against itself cannot stand. It either becomes one thing or the other. In this case I fear Bread and Puppet leans more toward lifestyle anarchism. Their art and lifestyle embody the politics they believe in, but, as Josh said, they are not prefigurative. They do not believe they have a model that the world should imitate. They do what they do for their own satisfaction in feeling righteous.
The theme of the show we saw was Diagonalism. I still do not know exactly what Diagonalism is, but my understanding is that it is an attempt to tip the world to one side or the other. I don’t want to tip the scales. I want to push them to one side completely. Possibilitarianism, on the other hand, the belief that any of the thousands of alternatives to capitalism are possible, that I am behind wholeheartedly.
In 2021 we went to Bread and Puppet’s “Our Domestic Resurrection Circus.” It was a rainy day and the event was outside. We brought our faithful dog, Oliver, along. Oliver hates to be wet, but he was a trooper. Luckily, we took him to the Dog Chapel at Dog Mountain in Saint Johnsbury, VT earlier in the day where he got to meet some real dogs and a few fake ones.
Artist Stephen Huneck conceived of the Dog Chapel and Dog Mountain after a near death experience in 1997. Its motto is “WELCOME ALL CREEDS, ALL BREEDS, NO DOGMAS ALLOWED!” Huneck wrote:
...the near-death experience, combined with what my wife taught me about love, and the appreciation I felt toward the most basic things we all take for granted had a profound effect on me. As an artist, I share the feelings I have with others through my art. One day, not long after I was back home with my wife and three dogs, a wild idea just popped into my mind (a frequent thing, but after several weeks had gone by, this one was still there)....
Coming down from the high of Dog Mountain, faithful Oliver dutifully endured with us through the rain as we viewed a few side shows, one in which they burned two white flags that read “US” and “Canada.” There were a few gasps. The piece decried the violence recently literally unearthed outside several Canadian Catholic boarding schools meant to inflict cultural genocide on the First Nations peoples, where mass graves of children, abducted from their homes, were left unmarked for years. I wondered how many in the audience were actually sympathetic to revolutionary leftism. I myself wore a Fidel Castro t-shirt, but I wondered if any were offended by my brandishing of the image of a so-called “dictator.” My daughter assured me that most anarchists would probably be least offended by Fidel out of all the so-called “communist dictators.” However, I recalled that when we went to Bread and Puppet in 2019, there was a middle aged woman who was apparently a Trump supporter that had come with some friends and stormed out when the political commentary started. As much as Bread and Puppet has become somewhat of a proud Vermont tradition in the Northern Kingdom, Schumann and his phalanx have never toned down their message. “Our Domestic Resurrection Circus” at times hilarious, at times awe inspiring, contained segments defending Cuba and Palestine and denouncing capitalism, commercialism and greed. Although I felt in 2019 that Bread and Puppet was practicing lifestyle anarchism, I now understand the purpose of their art. Peter Schumann wrote in the cheap art manifesto:
PEOPLE have been THINKING for too long that ART is a PRIVILEGE of the MUSEUMS and the RICH. ART is not BUSINESS! ART IS FOOD! YOU can't EAT it but it FEEDS you. ART has to be CHEAP and available to EVERYBODY... ART wakes up sleepers. ART FIGHTS AGAINST WAR and STUPIDITY! ART SINGS HALLELUJA!
Schumann and his phalanx bring cheap art and simple “golden rule” morality to the people through their performances. Even the owner of the mountain cabin we stayed in, who had right wing decals on their truck, had inside the cabin a Bread and Puppet flag that just said “Yes” with an image of a rose. The Northern Kingdom knows Bread and Puppet is a unique draw to the area. Schumann and his phalanx know that if you build it, they will come and be fed on radical, political art, hopefully thinking about the world a little bit differently on the way home.
Photo by Wendy Jones
 Lorne Weston, "THE FLQ: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A TERRORIST ORGANIZATION," Department of Political Science, McGill University, 1989: 184.
 W. E. Burghardt, Dubois, John Brown, (Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs and Co., 1909), 48.
 Source: https://www.nps.gov/articles/wives-and-children-of-john-brown.htm
 Howe, Julia Ward. Reminiscences: 1819–1899.Houghton, Mifflin: New York, 1899, 275.
 “About B & P’s 50 Year History.” Bread and Puppet Theater. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://breadandpuppet.org/about-b-ps-50-year-history.
 “Oral History Interview with Elka Schumann.” Digital Vermont: A Project of the Vermont Historical Society. Accessed July 08, 2019. http://digitalvermont.org/vt70s/AudioFile1970s-37.
 “Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism: An Unbridgeable Chasm.” The Anarchist Library. Accessed July 08, 2019. https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/murray-bookchin-social-anarchism-or-lifestyle-anarchism-an-unbridgeable-chasm.
 Stephen Huneck, “Huneck Vision Statement.” Huneck Vision Statement | Dog Mountain, VT - Stephen Huneck Accessed July 26, 2021, https://www.dogmt.com/Huneck-Vision-Statement.html.
Mitchell K. Jones is a historian and activist from Rochester, NY. He has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a master’s degree in history from the College at Brockport, State University of New York. He has written on utopian socialism in the antebellum United States. His research interests include early America, communal societies, antebellum reform movements, religious sects, working class institutions, labor history, abolitionism and the American Civil War. His master’s thesis, entitled “Hunting for Harmony: The Skaneateles Community and Communitism in Upstate New York: 1825-1853” examines the radical abolitionist John Anderson Collins and his utopian project in Upstate New York. Jones is a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
Let Cuba Live—The Movement Standing Up to Biden’s Maximum Pressure Campaign. By: Manolo De Los Santos & Vijay PrashadRead Now
On July 22, U.S. President Joe Biden and his Vice President Kamala Harris released a “fact sheet” on U.S. “measures” against Cuba. The release from the White House said that Cuba was a “top priority for the Biden-Harris administration.” On March 9, Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “A Cuba policy shift is not currently among President Biden’s top priorities.” On July 12, NBC News reporter Kelly O’Donnell asked Psaki if Biden had reassessed his priorities regarding Cuba after the protests on the island the previous day. “In terms of where it ranks in a priority order,” Psaki replied, “I’m not in a position to offer that, but I can tell you that we will be closely engaged.”
Not a priority, closely engaged, top priority: matters have moved rapidly from March 9 to July 22. What moved the Biden-Harris administration to focus so quickly on Cuba? On the morning of July 11, some people in Cuba—notably in the town of San Antonio de los Baños—took to the streets to express their dissatisfaction with the social and economic problems created by the U.S.-imposed blockade and by the global pandemic. The reaction to these events in Havana and in Washington, D.C., is instructive: Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel heard the news of the protests, got into a car, and drove the 40 miles to San Antonio de los Baños, where he met with the people; while in Washington, Biden used the protest to call for the overthrow of the Cuban government. U.S. government-funded nongovernmental organizations and Cuban American groups hastened to take advantage of the frenzy, excited by the possibility of regime change in Cuba.
On the evening of July 11, tens of thousands of Cubans rallied across Cuba to defend their revolutionary process. Since that Sunday evening, Cuba has been calm.
Eleven days after those events, the Biden administration announced its “measures” for the island. There are two kinds of pressure engineered by the United States government: tightening the blockade and lies.
The Biden administration deepened the U.S. blockade that has been in place since 1960. Elements of this deepening include the continued ban on the freedom of people in the United States to make remittance payments to relatives and friends on the island. In October 2020, the United States forced the closure of 400 Western Union offices in Cuba. By this act, the United States denied Cuba between $2 billion and $3 billion in annual remittance payments (Cuba is not among the top 10 Latin American countries that rely on such income).
In December 1950, the U.S. government created the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which manages the sanctions programs. Sanctions are a key element in the U.S. government’s “maximum pressure” campaign against its adversaries. Cuban banks and Cuban businesses as well as Cuban government officials populate the OFAC list alongside businesses and officials from about 30 other countries. In the “fact sheet,” the U.S. government mentioned the addition of “one Cuban individual,” namely Cuba’s minister of defense. He is accused of “facilitating the repression of peaceful, pro-democratic protests in Cuba.” The term “repression” is used loosely. In 2020, police officers in the United States killed 1,021 people, almost three people per day. There is no state violence at this scale anywhere in the world, let alone in Cuba.
Who Is Álvaro López Miera?
Cuba’s minister of defense is Álvaro López Miera, who took this post in April 2021. In 1957, at the age of 14, López Miera went up to the Sierra Maestra to join the rebels against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. He was motivated by his parents, who had been partisans in the Spanish Civil War, and who fled to Santiago de Cuba when the Spanish Republic was defeated by the fascists in 1939. López Miera was allowed to participate in the Second Front led by Raúl Castro, but only in the education department. He spent the next two years teaching peasants in the Sierra how to read and write.
Subsequently, López Miera worked in the Cuban military, volunteering to be part of the anti-colonial Operation Carlota in Angola in 1975 (where he returned in 1987) and to be part of the defense of Ethiopia against Somalia in the Ogaden War in 1977-78. He is now sanctioned by the U.S. government.
Diplomacy of Lies
The “fact sheet” casually repeats several accusations against Cuba that are simply not true. For one, the U.S. government accuses Cuba of the “intentional blocking of access to the Internet.” Countless reports make this accusation, but their evidence is scant (for instance, the Open Observatory of Network Interference found that as of July 23, the Cuban government had blocked 86 websites, many of them U.S. government-funded regime change sites, while the United States had blocked 2,661 sites); in fact, many U.S. internet corporations—such as Zoom—prevent Cubans from using their technology. Secondly, Biden’s administration repeats the fantasy of a 2017 “sonic attack” on the U.S. diplomatic officials in Havana.
After the July 11 events, the U.S. government circulated a one-page “Joint Statement on Cuba” among members of the Organization of American States (OAS) to get them to condemn Cuba. On July 21, Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, who released the leaked draft on Twitter, strongly criticized the “interventionist maneuvers” of the United States “to intensify the blockade” against Cuba.
On July 24, after Biden’s “fact sheet” and “joint statement” made the rounds, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that the Washington-dominated OAS needed to be replaced by an organization that is not “a lackey of anyone.” These comments were made on the birthday of Simón Bolívar, known in Latin America as the Liberator. From the port of Veracruz, Mexico, two ships—Liberator and Papaloapan—left laden with food, medicines and other goods for Cuba. Russia sent 88 metric tons of supplies on two aircraft.
Let Cuba Live
On July 23, a full-page statement appeared on page 5 of the New York Times under the headline, “Let Cuba Live.” The advertisement, paid for by the Peoples Forum, was signed by more than 400 prominent people including Susan Sarandon, Emma Thompson, Noam Chomsky, Mark Ruffalo, Jane Fonda, and Danny Glover. It was an open letter to Biden asking him to end Trump’s “coercive measures” and “begin the process of ending the embargo.”
Most of the 193 member states of the United Nations made public statements to defend Cuba against the “maximum pressure” campaign. In a statement, the 120 members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) “strongly condemn[ed] the international campaign organized… with the purpose of destabilizing the Republic of Cuba.” The NAM called for an end to the U.S. blockade.
The White House has so far responded neither to the open letter nor to the NAM statement.
Manolo De Los Santos is a researcher and a political activist. For 10 years, he worked in the organization of solidarity and education programs to challenge the United States’ regime of illegal sanctions and blockades. Based out of Cuba for many years, Manolo has worked toward building international networks of people’s movements and organizations. In 2018, he became the founding director of the People’s Forum in New York City, a movement incubator for working-class communities to build unity across historic lines of division at home and abroad. He also collaborates as a researcher with Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and is a Globetrotter/Peoples Dispatch fellow.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Book Review: Daniel Bensaïd- The Dispossessed: Karl Marx’s Debates on Wood Theft and the Right of the Poor. Reviewed By: Michael PrincipeRead Now
In this rather unusual volume edited by Robert Nichols, we find his translations of Bensaïd’s 2007 title essay, as well as new translations of Marx’s five 1842 Die Rheinische Zeitung articles on wood theft, from which Bensaïd draws. Nichols also provides a substantial introduction in which he calls this collection an ‘experiment’ representing ‘a deliberately asynchronic juxtaposition.’ Nichols’ thesis is that the pieces by Bensaïd and Marx each perform an analogous function for their respective temporal and spatial contexts. In an important sense, although his introduction takes up less than a third of the volume, this text belongs more to Nichols than to Bensaïd or Marx. Specifically, he reads the two principle parts of the collection through a conceptual lens which he regards as crucial for understanding our own time, which he calls the ‘crisis of kleptocracy’ (viii). In addition to providing his own commentary on these texts, Nichols provides a helpful, though brief, overview of Bensaïd’s life and works emphasizing both the connection of theory to practice as well as Bensaïd’s evolution over time.
Nichols observes that Bensaïd’s essay arrives on the cusp of the great recession and should be understood as contributing to a cluster of analyses that attempt to conceptualize the events which proceed it, as well as corporate and state responses to it, including trillions of dollars of public funds spent to bail out private banks. Nichols notes that the transfer of public resources to private hands was theorized in a number of related ways, including the ‘primitive accumulation of capital,’ ‘enclosures of the commons,’ or David Harvey’s ‘privatization’ and/or ‘accumulation by dispossession’. As Nichols describes it, ‘each of these frameworks expresses a desire to find a theoretical vocabulary appropriate for naming the enduring (albeit uneven and punctuated) logics of capital accumulation via the coercive seizure of public goods and assets, as distinct from accumulation via the regularized exploitation of waged labor’ (x).
Considering the pairing of texts by Bensaïd and Marx, Nichols reflects on the former’s late interest in Walter Benjamin, particularly the latter’s rejection of linear history. Bensaïd emphasizes the revolutionary dimension of Benjamin’s messianic thinking. History is at every moment open to interruption, to the arrival of a revolutionary event. Nichols’ collection partakes deeply of this Benjaminian sensibility, perhaps even more than he indicates in his introductory essay. For Benjamin, by rearranging historical narratives, unseen possibilities and hidden truths can emerge. Nichols hopes that this volume does more than ‘retrieve’ the writings of Bensaïd and Marx for our time, but instead helps set the stage for contemporary interventions.
In his essay, Bensaïd returns to Marx’s wood theft articles in order to explore both contemporary and possible future dispossessions. What comes to be called wood theft emerges from a period of rural poverty where items such as berries, material necessary for the production of brushes, brooms, fishing rods, material for home repair, basket weaving and food for livestock, i.e. the objects ‘without which life itself could not be secured’, become contested. In this context, the Prussian state intervenes to resolve the conflict between rights of property and customary rights (9).
Bensaïd notes that Marx’s critique is in part aimed at the ontology of private property employed by parliament, whose only unifying concept is what serves the interest of the property owner. Hybrid or uncertain property is abolished to the detriment of the rights of the poor and their access to the common property offered by nature.
On Bensaïd’s reading, Marx’s approach is that of internal criticism, in which he uses the logic of property against the expansion of ownership rights. If an owner claims property rights over trees because they grow on his land or over timber which is transformed by labor, a consistent application of these principles would grant rights to the poor to gather fallen branches. If even this is theft, Marx writes, ‘[b]y regarding all attacks on property as instances of theft without distinction or further determination, would not all private property be theft?’ (11). Marx is here attracted to Proudhon’s What is Property? and will remain so up through the writing of The Holy Family.
Marx also criticizes parliament’s empowering private property owners to enforce and punish wood theft. These punishments included fines paid directly to the owners as well as forced labor. Bensaïd points out that for Marx, this represents public functions being taken over by the private sphere. Marx writes, ‘[t]he wood possesses the remarkable character such that as soon as it is stolen it secures for its owner state qualities it did not previously possess. […] The wood thief has robbed the forest owner of wood, but the forest owner has used the wood thief to steal the state itself’ (25).
Bensaïd interestingly connects these articles to other of Marx’s writings. The loss of traditional rights of the poor, excluding them from all property, Bensaïd states, resembles Marx’s famous formulation in ‘Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’ where he first introduces the proletariat, ‘a class with radical chains, a class of bourgeois civil society that is not a class of bourgeois civil society, an estate the dissolution of which would be the dissolution of all social estates’ (14). Though unmentioned by Bensaïd, Marx does not connect this early notion of the proletariat to commodity production and the particularities of profit making under capital, which will serve to distinguish the categories of the poor and the proletariat later on. Importantly, we see in both Marx and Bensaïd that two concepts require attention in this context: ‘dispossession’ and ‘the dispossessed’. As Nichols points out, though Bensaïd’s essay bears the latter title, his focus is on dispossession. We will return to the former concept shortly.
In mapping the history of dispossession both historically and conceptually, Bensaïd pays close attention both to Proudhon and Marx’s criticisms of him in The Poverty of Philosophy, where he derides Proudhon’s notion of fair exchange and fair wage as ahistorical, abstract and moralistic. Marx’s analysis of the commodity form found in Capital is key. As Bensaïd puts it, social relations are not between individual and individual but ‘between worker and capitalist, farmer and landowner, and so on’ (34).
Bensaïd then moves into the twenty-first century with discussions of the privatization of knowledge, the privatization of life (the interpretation of gene sequences) and the possible privatization of everything needed for life and the existence of society. He writes, ‘[i]n this period of market globalization and widespread privatization of the world, Marx’s articles on the theft of wood are of troubling relevance.’ Privatization pushes into all domains of life. Bensaïd refers to education, information, laws, money, knowledge and violence – ‘in short, public space as a whole’ (37). Throughout this discussion, Bensaïd repeatedly matches Marx’s wit and insight. Consider: ‘could one go so far as to patent mathematical equations and subject them to property rights? The socialization of intellectual work begins with the practice of language, which is obviously a common good of humanity that cannot be appropriated’ (43). Reflecting on the operative logic of our times, Bensaïd writes further: ‘If computer science is a language, and if its innovations are patentable, can neologisms of everyday language become so? Concepts? Theories? To what unprecedented neuroses could this compulsion for intellectual property lead?’ (45).
These contemporary ‘enclosures’ are, for Bensaïd, direct obstacles to human growth and wellbeing or, in other words, they are contradictions of capital. Furthermore, he states the ‘ecological crisis has put back on the agenda the idea of inappropriable common goods of humanity’ (47). Water, he notes, is an obvious example with various international bodies declaring water to be a human right.
Returning now to the question of those who are dispossessed, Bensaïd briefly brings forward what amount to questions of the revolutionary or collective political subject. He states that ‘we are witnessing new forms of resistance of the dispossessed – those “without” (without documents, homes, shelter, employment, or rights) – in the name of the defense of public services, in the name of the energy and food sovereignty of countries subject to imperialist looting, in the name of common goods (e.g., water, land, air, life) coveted by cannibalistic companies or pharmaceutical firms on the lookout for new patentable molecules’ (48). Bensaïd’s linking of the category of ‘the poor’ with Marx’s conceptualization of ‘the proletariat’ noted earlier highlights this issue. Importantly, two different categories are operative here, though Bensaïd does not distinguish them in this essay. The dispossessed or those who are ‘without’ is clearly a different category than laborers subject to exploitation through the wage relation. Nichols reads Bensaid’s essay as highlighting the political importance of the former category, claiming that Bensaid’s ‘energy and acumen drive us forward into a future in which the struggle will increasingly be led by “dispossessed”’ (xxii). This is clearly different from the struggle being led by those who are subject to exploitation at the point of production. Nichols argues for the importance of dispossession as a distinctive category of capitalist violence, not reducible to exploitation, nor simply a necessary condition of exploitation. He asks, ‘[w]hen your body is not even wanted as a tool of exploitation, what leverage do you have over the machinery of power?’ The answer is yet to be determined. The concluding sentence of Bensaïd’s essay fittingly points at both elements of capitalist violence, first to exploitation, then to dispossession: ‘Our lives are worth more than their profits: “Rise up, dispossessed of the world!”’ (57).
Bensaïd’s essay, as contextualized in this volume by Nichols, successfully pushes, especially those of a Marxist orientation, to make the idea of dispossession more central to their theoretical and practical work. With regard to Die Rheinische Zeitung articles contained in the volume, they are worth reading or rereading. Marx’s biting analogies and critical, sarcastic style as found throughout his works is in full display here. For example, he writes, ‘[w]e are only surprised that the forest owner is not allowed to heat his stove with the wood thieves’ (94). Finally, Nichols’ translation is a slightly modernized, slightly more readable version of the English translation by Clemens Palme Dutt, though much of the translation is identical.
23 July 2021
Michael Principe is Professor of Philosophy at Middle Tennessee State University and Middle Tennessee Chapter Vice-President for United Campus Workers-Communication Workers of America (Local 3865).
This article was republished from Marx & Philosophy.
Medicare For All/Twitter
WASHINGTON—As citizens keep campaigning from coast to coast for Medicare For All, Congress appears to be even cooler to the cause than it was in prior years.
In 56 cities from Washington to San Francisco, thousands of people marched for single-payer government-run health care on July 24. But 170 congressional Democrats, and, now, 17 unions are backing improvements in traditional Medicare, first.
That isn’t the only hurdle facing Medicare For All. Lawmakers have yet to even hold a hearing on the single-payer plan, which would cover everyone for everything, including doctor and hospital visits, plus dental, vision, and hearing benefits. That’s unlike the last Congress.
Then, under pressure from National Nurses United and other advocates, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., ordered hearings on Medicare For All. Then she told Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., the key committee chair on health care issues, to bury it.
If solons were to listen to citizens, they’d hear stories such as that from Joy Marie Mann, one of the speakers at the D.C. rally just 12 blocks from the Capitol.
Mann woke up 18 months ago barely able to see. But her sudden myopic degeneration is one big problem. Her other problem: Despite her specialist’s letter saying she needs unique medications to prevent herself from totally going blind, she has to fight with her insurance company to get them to pay.
Their denial of her care, despite years of coverage and thousands of dollars in premiums and out-of-pocket costs, is just one example, among millions, of why the nation needs Medicare For All and the end of the entire U.S. for-profit health care non-system, she told more than 100 people gathered for the D.C. rally and follow-up march.
Medicare For All, advocates say, would eliminate the rapacious insurance companies, their high co-pays and deductibles, huge profits, multi-million-dollar executive salaries, abrupt decisions to drop which drugs they pay for, denials of care and—studies show—44,000 needless deaths every year of subscribers whom they refuse to cover when they get sick.
Mann’s one of those who has to fight her insurer for coverage. Her medications cost $12,000 per eye for 30 days. “They tell me, ‘Sign this form. If you don’t, you have to pay $24,000.’ Or I have to live with 15% eyesight.”
The insurers even denied her the $1,500 for a special large-type machine that scrolled her remarks. That’s despite insurers claiming they cover such durable medical equipment. “I couldn’t read a book for over a year” because she couldn’t afford the device, Mann said.
“If you have to call the insurance companies every f—ing day to get coverage, that is not right!” she declared. And after Mann’s sight went south, her job—in health care for the elderly—went south, too. She’s had to start a “Go Fund Me” internet drive to pay the bills.
The Medicare For All movement appears to be losing momentum in Congress, even though the coronavirus pandemic has torn open the gaping holes in U.S. health care.
Not only has Medicare For All bill, HR1976, introduced in March, gone nowhere, but 17 unions announced July 17 they support legislation to bolster traditional Medicare itself. That measure would lower eligibility for Medicare to age 60, add dental, vision, and hearing coverage, and free Medicare to negotiate down prescription drug prices with Big Pharma. Democratic President Joe Biden, who opposes Medicare For All, offered those proposals.
At least the president of one of those unions, James Slevin of the Utility Workers, pointedly added that expanding traditional Medicare is a step towards Medicare For All.
The for-profit health care system devours one of every six dollars in U.S. gross domestic product, by far the highest share in the world, but does not give the U.S. people the highest-quality care in the world, figures show. The U.S. lags other developed nations in life expectancy and maternal mortality, with women of color three times as likely to die in childbirth as whites. And medical costs are the leading cause of personal bankruptcies.
“The American labor movement has fought for more than a century to make quality health care a basic right in the United States. On behalf of our collective membership, we urge you to take action in the American Families Plan package to improve health care for millions of Americans by improving and expanding the Medicare program.”
“Nurses across the country have had to counsel and talk with patients who cannot afford care, and often watch as patients who decide not to seek care for financial reasons have simple health issues become life-threatening later on,” added National Nurses United Executive Director Bonnie Castillo, RN. Her union has led the decade-long charge for Medicare For All.
“Whether it is lifesaving drugs, critical surgeries, or even just simple procedures, we see day in and day out how many people are being left behind by our current for-profit health care system.
“Simply put: By lowering the eligibility age and expanding Medicare coverage, Congress has the opportunity to save millions of lives and prevent millions from going into financial ruin because of health care costs.”
The other union signers were the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Government Employees (AFGE), the Teachers (AFT), the Postal Workers Union, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees/Teamsters, the Communications Workers, the Professional and Technical Engineers, the Painters, the Auto Workers, the Letter Carriers, National Nurses United, the Office and Professional Employees, the Transport Workers, United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers and the Steelworkers.
“Expanding Medicare benefits as far as possible would move us that much closer to a truly single payer health care system,” Utility Workers President Slevin contended. “Including provisions in the American Families package to improve and expand the Medicare program would be a significant step in the right direction.”
The Medicare For All advocates also face another obstacle: Big money in corporate campaign contributions, and a campaign of lies against Medicare For All run by Big Pharma and its allies. They’ve spent millions, especially on Internet platforms, to malign single-payer.
OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan organization which tracks both campaign finances and lobbying spending, reported health care companies spent $637.44 million on politics in the 2019-20 election cycle alone, the fourth-highest figure among all special interests. They spent another $621 million on lobbying lawmakers at the same time—and about $120 million more on influence-peddling in the first four months of 2021.
About half of the 2019-20 contributions went to Democrats and party campaign committees. The rest split between Republicans and “independent expenditure” issue ads.
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.
This article was republished from People's World.
“We now kill people without ever seeing them. Now you push a button thousands of miles away … Since it’s all done by remote control, there’s no remorse … and then we come home in triumph.”
—US Navy Admiral Gene LaRocque, speaking to a reporter in 1995.
Dear Judge O’Grady,
It is not a secret that I struggle to live with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Both stem from my childhood experience growing up in a rural mountain community and were compounded by exposure to combat during military service. Depression is a constant. Though stress, particularly stress caused by war, can manifest itself at different times and in different ways. The tell-tale signs of a person afflicted by PTSD and depression can often be outwardly observed and are practically universally recognizable. Hard lines about the face and jaw. Eyes, once bright and wide, now deepset and fearful. And an inexplicably sudden loss of interest in things that used to spark joy. These are the noticeable changes in my demeanor marked by those who knew me before and after military service. To say that the period of my life spent serving in the United States Air Force had an impression on me would be an understatement. It is more accurate to say that it irreversibly transformed my identity as an American. Having forever altered the thread of my life’s story, weaved into the fabric of our nation’s history. To better appreciate the significance of how this came to pass, I would like to explain my experience deployed to Afghanistan as it was in 2012 and how it is I came to violate the Espionage Act, as a result.
In my capacity as a signals intelligence analyst stationed at Bagram Airbase, I was made to track down the geographic location of handset cellphone devices believed to be in the possession of so-called enemy combatants. To accomplish this mission required access to a complex chain of globe-spanning satellites capable of maintaining an unbroken connection with remotely piloted aircraft, commonly referred to as drones. Once a steady connection is made and a targeted cell phone device is acquired, an imagery analyst in the U.S., in coordination with a drone pilot and camera operator, would take over using information I provided to surveil everything that occurred within the drone’s field of vision. This was done, most often, to document the day-to-day lives of suspected militants. Sometimes, under the right conditions, an attempt at capture would be made. Other times, a decision to strike and kill them where they stood would be weighed.
The first time that I witnessed a drone strike came within days of my arrival to Afghanistan. Early that morning, before dawn, a group of men had gathered together in the mountain ranges of Patika provence around a campfire carrying weapons and brewing tea. That they carried weapons with them would not have been considered out of the ordinary in the place I grew up, muchless within the virtually lawless tribal territories outside the control of the Afghan authorities. Except that among them was a suspected member of the Taliban, given away by the targeted cell phone device in his pocket. As for the remaining individuals, to be armed, of military age, and sitting in the presence of an alleged enemy combatant was enough evidence to place them under suspicion as well. Despite having peacefully assembled, posing no threat, the fate of the now tea drinking men had all but been fulfilled. I could only look on as I sat by and watched through a computer monitor when a sudden, terrifying flurry of hellfire missiles came crashing down, splattering purple-colored crystal guts on the side of the morning mountain.
Since that time and to this day, I continue to recall several such scenes of graphic violence carried out from the cold comfort of a computer chair. Not a day goes by that I don’t question the justification for my actions. By the rules of engagement, it may have been permissible for me to have helped to kill those men—whose language I did not speak, customs I did not understand, and crimes I could not identify—in the gruesome manner that I did. Watch them die. But how could it be considered honorable of me to continuously have laid in wait for the next opportunity to kill unsuspecting persons, who, more often than not, are posing no danger to me or any other person at the time. Nevermind honorable, how could it be that any thinking person continued to believe that it was necessary for the protection of the United States of America to be in Afghanistan and killing people, not one of whom present was responsible for the September 11th attacks on our nation. Notwithstanding, in 2012, a full year after the demise of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, I was a part of killing misguided young men who were but mere children on the day of 9/11.
Nevertheless, in spite of my better instincts, I continued to follow orders and obey my command for fear of repercussion. Yet, all the while, becoming increasingly aware that the war had very little to do with preventing terror from coming into the United States and a lot more to do with protecting the profits of weapons manufacturers and so-called defense contractors. The evidence of this fact was laid bare all around me. In the longest or most technologically advanced war in American history, contract mercenaries outnumbered uniform wearing soldiers 2 to 1 and earned as much as 10 times their salary. Meanwhile, it did not matter whether it was, as I had seen, an Afghan farmer blown in half, yet miraculously conscious and pointlessly trying to scoop his insides off the ground, or whether it was an American flag-draped coffin lowered into Arlington National Cemetery to the sound of a 21-gun salute. Bang, bang, bang. Both served to justify the easy flow of capital at the cost of blood—theirs and ours. When I think about this I am grief-stricken and ashamed of myself for the things I’ve done to support it.
The most harrowing day of my life came months into my deployment to Afghanistan when a routine surveillance mission turned into disaster. For weeks we had been tracking the movements of a ring of car bomb manufacturers living around Jalalabad. Car bombs directed at US bases had become an increasingly frequent and deadly problem that summer, so much effort was put into stopping them. It was a windy and clouded afternoon when one of the suspects had been discovered headed eastbound, driving at a high rate of speed. This alarmed my superiors who believe he might be attempting to escape across the border into Pakistan.
A drone strike was our only chance and already it began lining up to take the shot. But the less advanced predator drone found it difficult to see through clouds and compete against strong headwinds. The single payload MQ-1 failed to connect with its target, instead missing by a few meters. The vehicle, damaged, but still driveable, continued on ahead after narrowly avoiding destruction. Eventually, once the concern of another incoming missile subsided, the driver stopped, got out of the car, and checked himself as though he could not believe he was still alive. Out of the passenger side came a woman wearing an unmistakable burka. As astounding as it was to have just learned there had been a woman, possibly his wife, there with the man we intended to kill moments ago, I did not have the chance to see what happened next before the drone diverted its camera when she began frantically to pull out something from the back of the car.
A couple of days passed before I finally learned from a briefing by my commanding officer about what took place. There indeed had been the suspect’s wife with him in the car. And in the back were their two young daughters, ages 5 and 3 years old. A cadre of Afghan soldiers were sent to investigate where the car had stopped the following day. It was there they found them placed in the dumpster nearby. The eldest was found dead due to unspecified wounds caused by shrapnel that pierced her body. Her younger sister was alive but severely dehydrated. As my commanding officer relayed this information to us she seemed to express disgust, not for the fact that we had errantly fired on a man and his family, having killed one of his daughters; but for the suspected bomb maker having ordered his wife to dump the bodies of their daughters in the trash, so that the two of them could more quickly escape across the border. Now, whenever I encounter an individual who thinks that drone warfare is justified and reliably keeps America safe, I remember that time and ask myself how could I possibly continue to believe that I am a good person, deserving of my life and the right to pursue happiness.
One year later, at a farewell gathering for those of us who would soon be leaving military service, I sat alone, transfixed by the television, while others reminisced together. On television was breaking news of the president giving his first public remarks about the policy surrounding the use of drone technology in warfare. His remarks were made to reassure the public of reports scrutinizing the death of civilians in drone strikes and the targeting of American citizens. The president said that a high standard of “near certainty” needed to be met in order to ensure that no civilians were present. But from what I knew, of the instances where civilians plausibly could have been present, those killed were nearly always designated enemies killed in action unless proven otherwise. Nonetheless, I continued to heed his words as the president went on to explain how a drone could be used to eliminate someone who posed an “imminent threat” to the United States. Using the analogy of taking out a sniper, with his sights set on an unassuming crowd of people, the president likened the use of drones to prevent a would-be terrorist from carrying out his evil plot. But, as I understood it to be, the unassuming crowd had been those who lived in fear and the terror of drones in their skies and the sniper in this scenario had been me. I came to believe that the policy of drone assasiniation was being used to mislead the public that it keeps us safe, and when I finally left the military, still processing what I’d been a part of, I began to speak out, believing my participation in the drone program to have been deeply wrong.
I dedicated myself to anti-war activism, and was asked to partake in a peace conference in Washington, DC late November, 2013. People had come together from around the world to share experiences about what it is like living in the age of drones. Fazil bin Ali Jaber had journeyed from Yemen to tell us of what happened to his brother Salem bin Ali Jaber and their cousin Waleed. Waleed had been a policeman and Salem was a well-respected firebrand Imam, known for giving sermons to young men about the path towards destruction should they choose to take up violent jihad.
A US drone strike on a civilian vehicle, similar to the harrowing incident described by Fazil
One day in August 2012, local members of Al Qaeda traveling through Fazil’s village in a car spotted Salem in the shade, pulled up towards him, and beckoned him to come over and speak to them. Not one to miss an opportunity to evangelize to the youth, Salem proceeded cautiously with Waleed by his side. Fazil and other villagers began looking on from afar. Farther still was an ever present reaper drone looking too.
As Fazil recounted what happened next, I felt myself transported back in time to where I had been on that day, 2012. Unbeknownst to Fazil and those of his village at the time was that they had not been the only watching Salem approach the jihadist in the car. From Afghanistan, I and everyone on duty paused their work to witness the carnage that was about to unfold. At the press of a button from thousands of miles away, two hellfire missiles screeched out of the sky, followed by two more. Showing no signs of remorse, I, and those around me, clapped and cheered triumphantly. In front of a speechless auditorium, Fazil wept.
About a week after the peace conference I received a lucrative job offer if I were to come back to work as a government contractor. I felt uneasy about the idea. Up to that point, my only plan post military separation had been to enroll in college to complete my degree. But the money I could make was by far more than I had ever made before; in fact, it was more than any of my college-educated friends were making. So, after giving it careful consideration, I delayed going to school for a semester and took the job.
For a long time I was uncomfortable with myself over the thought of taking advantage of my military background to land a cushy desk job. During that time I was still processing what I had been through and I was starting to wonder if I was contributing again to the problem of money and war by accepting to return as a defense contractor. Worse was my growing apprehension that everyone around me was also taking part in a collective delusion and denial that was used to justify our exorbitant salaries, for comparatively easy labor. The thing I feared most at the time was the temptation not to question it.
Then it came to be that one day after work I stuck around to socialize with a pair of co-workers whose talented work I had come to greatly admire. They made me feel welcomed, and I was happy to have earned their approval. But then, to my dismay, our brand-new friendship took an unexpectedly dark turn. They elected that we should take a moment and view together some archived footage of past drone strikes. Such bonding ceremonies around a computer to watch so-called “war porn” had not been new to me. I partook in them all the time while deployed to Afghanistan. But on that day, years after the fact, my new friends gaped and sneered, just as my old one’s had, at the sight of faceless men in the final moments of their lives. I sat by watching too; said nothing and felt my heart breaking into pieces.
Your Honor, the truest truism that I’ve come to understand about the nature of war is that war is trauma. I believe that any person either called-upon or coerced to participate in war against their fellow man is promised to be exposed to some form of trauma. In that way, no soldier blessed to have returned home from war does so uninjured. The crux of PTSD is that it is a moral conundrum that afflicts invisible wounds on the psyche of a person made to burden the weight of experience after surviving a traumatic event. How PTSD manifests depends on the circumstances of the event. So how is the drone operator to process this? The victorious rifleman, unquestioningly remorseful, at least keeps his honor intact by having faced off against his enemy on the battlefield. The determined fighter pilot has the luxury of not having to witness the gruesome aftermath. But what possibly could I have done to cope with the undeniable cruelties that I perpetuated?
My conscience, once held at bay, came roaring back to life. At first, I tried to ignore it. Wishing instead that someone, better placed than I, should come along to take this cup from me. But this too was folly. Left to decide whether to act, I only could do that which I ought to do before God and my own conscience. The answer came to me, that to stop the cycle of violence, I ought to sacrifice my own life and not that of another person.
So, I contacted an investigative reporter, with whom I had had an established prior relationship, and told him that I had something the American people needed to know.
This article was republished from Counter Currents.
A woman and man cutting endive lettuce in the Imperial Valley. (David Bacon)
If the Senate passes, and President Biden signs, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, U.S. growers and labor contractors will benefit, but most farmworkers will not.
There should be no question that undocumented farmworkers need and deserve legal status in this country. They have fed us, not just during the pandemic, but for as long as we’ve had wage labor in agriculture.
But farmworkers, along with all other undocumented families, need and deserve a bill that provides legal status without imposing the notorious H-2A and E-Verify programs as the price. Growers need labor, but farmworkers need a sustainable future that promises dignified and well-paid work, not just for this generation, but for generations to come.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed the House once under Trump, and then again this spring. With no discussion of its possible negative impact, every Democrat in Congress voted for it, except for Maine’s Representative Jared Golden. Yet this bill, presented as a legalization program for undocumented farmworkers, will likely lead to the replacement of as much as half of the nation’s farmworkers by workers brought into the U.S. by growers using the H-2A guest worker program. That, in turn, will cement in place the existing deep poverty in farmworker communities, and make it much more difficult for farmworkers to change this.
Rosalinda Guillen, director of the women-led farmworker organization Community to Community in Washington State, has a long history pushing for equitable opportunities for farm workers and their families to build community.
“The nation’s farmworkers,” she says, “should be recognized as a valuable skilled workforce, able to use their knowledge to innovate sustainable practices. Most are indigenous immigrants and have the right to maintain cultural traditions and languages and to participate with their multicultural neighbors in building a better America. This bill instead treats farm workers as a disposable workforce for corporate agriculture.”
Last year growers were certified to bring in 275,000 H-2A workers. That is over 10% of the farm workforce in the U.S. and a number that has doubled in just five years and tripled in eight. In states like Georgia and Washington, this program will fill a majority of farm labor jobs in the next year or two.
This program has been studied in many reports over the last decade, from “Close to Slavery” by the Southern Poverty Law Center to “Ripe for Reform” by the Centro de Derechos de los Migrantes to “Exploitation or Dignity” by the Oakland Institute. All document a record of systematic abuse of workers in the program, and the use of the program to replace farmworkers (themselves immigrants) already living in the U.S.
In 2019 the Department of Labor only punished 25 of the 11,000 growers and labor contractors using the program despite extensive violations, and the punishments were small fines and suspension from it for three years. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act continues this abuse and will accelerate sharply the replacement of the existing workforce.
The bill freezes the minimum wage for H-2A workers, already close to minimum wage, for a year, and opens the door to abolishing the wage guarantee entirely. This will not only hurt H-2A workers themselves. It will effectively push down the wages of all farmworkers.
A long record documents the firing, deportation, and blacklisting of H-2A workers who organize or strike. Familias Unidas por la Justicia, the new union for Washington farmworkers, has helped those workers protest, but seen them forced to leave the county over and over again as a result. Growers are currently permitted to violate anti-discrimination laws by refusing to hire women or older workers. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act does not protect them.
The bill, however, does have a provision making it mandatory that growers use the notorious E-Verify system to check the immigration status of workers, and refuse to hire anyone undocumented. This provision will have an enormous impact. Half of the nation’s 2.4 million farmworkers are undocumented. While some will qualify for the bill’s tortuous legalization program, many will not. Denying jobs to hundreds of thousands of farmworkers will cause immense suffering for their families. This would be a bitter reward for feeding the country through the COVID crisis.
Those who qualify for legalization will be required to continue working in agriculture for a period of years. Losing employment will therefore mean losing their temporary legal status, making it extremely risky for them to organize unions or strike. Growers, meanwhile, will use the H-2A program to replace domestic workers who can’t legalize or who leave the workforce for other reasons, including local workers who organize and strike. There are no protections in the bill at all for farmworkers’ right to organize – either for H-2A workers or workers who are living here.
This is a very threatening scenario for farmworker families. Ramon Torres, president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, says, “In Washington State, we have fought with labor contractors and growers for years to protect farmworker rights, of both H-2A and resident workers. Our lived experience tells us what the impact of this bill will be.”
This article was republished from People's World.