Journalist Jonathan Cook has a new blog post out on his experience with being throttled into invisibility by Silicon Valley algorithmic suppression that will ring all too familiar for any online content creators who've been sufficiently critical of official western narratives over the last few years.
"My blog posts once attracted tens of thousands of shares," Cook writes. "Then, as the algorithms tightened, it became thousands. Now, as they throttle me further, shares can often be counted in the hundreds. 'Going viral' is a distant memory."
"I won’t be banned," he adds. "I will fade incrementally, like a small star in the night sky – one among millions – gradually eclipsed as its neighbouring suns grow ever bigger and brighter. I will disappear from view so slowly you won’t even notice."
Cook says this began after the 2016 US election, which was when a major narrative push began for Silicon Valley corporations to eliminate "fake news" from their platforms and soon saw tech executives brought before the US Senate and told that they must "quell information rebellions" and come up with a mission statement expressing their commitment to "prevent the fomenting of discord" online.
Arguably the most significant political moment in the United States since 9/11 and its immediate aftermath was when Democrats and their allied institutions concluded that Donald Trump's election was a failure not of establishment politics but of establishment narrative control. From that point onwards, any online media creator who consistently disputes the narratives promoted by the same news outlets who've lied to us about every war has seen their view counts and new follows slashed.
By mid-2017 independent media outlets were already reporting across ideological lines that algorithm changes from important sources of viewership like Google had suddenly begun hiding their content from people who were searching for the subjects they reported on.
"In case anyone wants to know how Facebook suppression works - I have 330,000 followers there but they've stopped showing my posts to many people," Redacted Tonight host Lee Camp tweeted in January 2018. "I used to gain 6,000 followers a week. I now gain 500 and FB unsubscribes people without their knowledge - so my total number never increases."
I saw my own shares and view counts rapidly diminish in 2017 as well, and saw my new Facebook page follows suddenly slow to a virtual standstill. It wasn't until I started using mailing lists and giving indie media outlets blanket permission to republish all my content that I was able to grow my audience at all.
And Silicon Valley did eventually admit that it was in fact actively censoring voices who fall outside the mainstream consensus. In order to disprove the false right-wing narrative that Google only censors rightist voices, the CEO of Google's parent company Alphabet admitted in 2020 to algorithmically throttling World Socialist Website. Last year the CEO of Google-owned YouTube acknowledged that the platform uses algorithms to elevate "authoritative sources" while suppressing "borderline content" not considered authoritative, which apparently even includes just marginally establishment-critical left-of-center voices like Kyle Kulinski. Facebook spokeswoman Lauren Svensson said in 2018 that if the platform's fact-checkers (including the state-funded establishment narrative management firm Atlantic Council) rule that a Facebook user has been posting false news, moderators will "dramatically reduce the distribution of all of their Page-level or domain-level content on Facebook."
People make a big deal any time a controversial famous person gets removed from a major social media platform, and rightly so; we cannot allow such brazen acts of censorship to become normalized. The goal is to normalize internet censorship on every front, and the powerful will push for that normalization to be expanded at every opportunity. Whether you dislike the controversial figure being deplatformed on a given day is entirely irrelevant; it's not about them, it's about expanding and normalizing internet censorship protocols on monopolistic government-tied speech platforms.
But far, far more consequential than overt censorship of individuals is censorship by algorithm. No individual being silenced does as much real-world damage to free expression and free thought as the way ideas and information which aren't authorized by the powerful are being actively hidden from public view, while material which serves the interests of the powerful is the first thing they see in their search results. It ensures that public consciousness remains chained to the establishment narrative matrix.
It doesn't matter that you have free speech if nobody ever hears you speak. Even in the most overtly totalitarian regimes on earth you can say whatever you want alone in a soundproof room.
That's the biggest loophole the so-called free democracies of the western world have found in their quest to regulate online speech. By allowing these monopolistic megacorporations to become the sources everyone goes to for information (and even actively helping them along that path as in for example Google's research grants from the CIA and NSA), it's possible to tweak algorithms in such a way that dissident information exists online, but nobody ever sees it.
You've probably noticed this if you've tried to search YouTube for videos which don't align with the official narratives of western governments and media lately. That search function used to work like magic; like it was reading your mind. Now it's almost impossible to find the information you're looking for unless you're trying to find out what the US State Department wants you to think. It's the same with Google searches and Facebook, and because those giant platforms dictate what information gets seen by the general public, that wild information bias toward establishment narratives bleeds into other common areas of interaction like Twitter as well.
The idea is to let most people freely share dissident ideas and information about empire, war, capitalism, authoritarianism and propaganda, but to make it increasingly difficult for them to get their content seen and heard by people, and to make their going viral altogether impossible. To avoid the loud controversies and uncomfortable public scrutiny brought on by acts of overt censorship as much as possible while silently sweeping unauthorized speech behind the curtain. To make noncompliant voices "disappear from view so slowly you won’t even notice," as Cook put it.
The status quo is not working. Our ecosystem is dying, we appear to be rapidly approaching a high risk of direct military confrontation between nuclear-armed nations, and our world is rife with injustice, inequality, oppression and exploitation. None of this is going to change until the public begins awakening to the problems with the current status quo so we can begin organizing a mass-scale push toward healthier systems. And that's never going to happen as long as information is locked down in the way that it is.
Whoever controls the narrative controls the world. And as more and more people get their information about what's happening in the world from online sources, Silicon Valley algorithm manipulation has already become one of the most consequential forms of narrative control.
This article is produced by Caitlin Johnstone.
Two Ukrainian soldiers carry a recoilless rifle after conducting an air assault mission training in conjunction with the U.S. Army. | U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Tarr
The war danger in Ukraine is escalating, and once more it is Washington and the NATO military alliance it controls which are raising the stakes in this deadly gamble.
President Joe Biden ratcheted up tensions this weekend with the revelation that he plans to possibly dispatch as many as 50,000 troops—along with tanks, missiles, aircraft, and warships—to NATO military allies in the Baltic states and Eastern Europe.
The U.S. has also issued marching orders to other NATO members. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Biden administration’s top propaganda chief on the Ukraine matter, said Sunday that “NATO will continue to be reinforced…if Russia commits renewed acts of aggression.”
But what are the new supposed threats from Russia that merit kicking the U.S.-led war machine into high gear?
Biden insists Russia could “move in” on its neighbor at any minute but offers no information about anything new when it comes to Russian military developments. It’s been public knowledge for weeks that Russian forces have taken up positions at the country’s western borders, but the government of President Vladimir Putin continues to deny it has any intention of invading Ukraine.
Instead, it points the finger back at NATO, saying the accusations against Russia are a cover for the military alliance’s own provocations—those already underway and those still planned. Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for the Kremlin, told the media this weekend, “All this is happening not because of what we, Russia, are doing. This is happening because of what NATO and the U.S. are doing.”
One doesn’t have to be a fan of the authoritarian and oligarchic state run by Putin to see that Russia’s claims have some merit. The current crisis is underpinned by major issues that stretch back over the past 30 years—from the end of the Cold War to the present—and which are receiving little to no attention in the mainstream press.
Facts and fiction
First is the prolonged instability that has defined Russian-Ukrainian relations since the dismantling of the socialist Soviet Union in 1990-91. For hundreds of years, Russia and Ukraine have been tied together—socially, culturally, politically, and in every other imaginable way. The two Slavic countries even share an origin point in the Kievan Rus state that came into existence in the area around modern Kiev more than a millennium ago. Over centuries, their people intermarried, fought off Napoleon, the Kaiser, and Hitler together, and built an advanced modern industrial economy.
Those connections were severed by the fall of the USSR. In other regions, the destruction of the Soviet Union saw the outbreak of violent ethnic and religious conflicts when communities were suddenly split apart or forced together by nationalist regimes. The war between Armenia and Azerbaijan last year is only the most recent example.
For Ukraine, the current downward spiral in relations with Russia started in 2014 when a coup by U.S.-and European Union-backed ultra-nationalist and fascist forces overthrew the elected (but undeniably corrupt) government of supposedly pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. The U.S. and its allies claim it was Moscow’s man Yanukovych who forced the turn toward violence and confrontation when his security forces opened fire on protesters in Kiev’s Maidan square in February that year, killing 50 people.
Extensive research from University of Ottawa Professor Ivan Katchanovski is upsetting the narrative pushed by the West and its allied regime in Kiev. Looking at the testimony of over 100 wounded demonstrators, dozens of prosecution witnesses, the examinations of the Ukrainian government’s own forensic and ballistic experts, and hours of videotapes, Katchanovski has concluded that the massacre of the “absolute majority of protesters and police” at the Maidan was perpetrated by “members of the Maidan opposition, specifically it’s far-right element.”
In simpler terms: It was the fascist forces supported by the West, not the Russian-backed Yanukovych, who fired the opening shots in the violence that has since killed more than 13,000 people. The truth about the “sniper’s massacre,” according to Katchanovski, has been repeatedly “misrepresented, omitted, or even covered up by Western governments and…the mainstream media.”
If the very first line in the Western powers’ story about Ukraine is a lie, it becomes prudent to look at everything they’ve said since with a skeptical eye. That includes everything they’re saying now.
For instance, the government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson—which is on the ropes at home and could fall at any time—claimed on Saturday that Moscow was plotting to install a “pro-Russian” leader in Ukraine. Conveniently, the figure Putin allegedly plans to tap to run a puppet regime is Yevgeniy Murayev—a former MP who opposed the fascist-backed coup of 2014, has long been an ally of Ukrainian trade unions, and is now a leading voice speaking out against the war danger.
Murayev believes the Ukrainian government is selling the country’s future to the U.S., whose weapons makers he said are whipping up the war hysteria to reap whirlwind profits. “The hawks are looking forward to a feast,” he wrote. Biden’s big troop and armaments deployments seem to fit the bill. It’s little wonder then that London and Washington are trying to link Murayev to Putin and derail his anti-war party from gaining public support.
Like the “sniper’s massacre,” the claims about the planned installation of a pro-Kremlin puppet start to look suspiciously like the Western powers accusing Russia and its friends of exactly the things they themselves have done and are doing.
Who is the true aggressor?
If the West had truly been interested in creating the conditions for a lasting peace in that moment when the Cold War was ending, it would have dissolved NATO completely. The Soviet-led Warsaw Pact was liquidated, but the U.S. and its allies didn’t respond in kind.
In fact, they barely wasted a minute to prove that Bush’s promise was a lie—not only expanding into former Warsaw Pact countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania but actually gobbling up nations that were formerly part of the USSR itself, like Latvia and Lithuania.
With the excuse of being a “defensive” alliance against the Soviet Union gone, NATO was openly refashioned into a direct instrument of U.S. military priorities. NATO helped tear the country of Yugoslavia into pieces, bombarded Afghanistan after Sept. 11th, assisted in the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and assisted in pushing Libya into a civil war.
Given this history, Russia’s fear of NATO pulling Ukraine into its sphere and creeping directly up to the Russian border is far from absurd. It is little wonder that Putin demands the U.S. and NATO remove all weapons from Ukraine, that a guarantee be issued Ukraine will not join the alliance and the security of all former Soviet nuclear weapons on Ukrainian territory. Any Russian leader—left, right, or center—would ask the same.
Negotiation is the only way out
The war hawks in the military-industrial complex and their political spokespersons in Congress are of course pushing for further escalation. The threat of war alone has already been enough to bring the cash rolling in for the weapons makers.
Even if Biden is not inclined to listen to the advice of an anti-war outlet like People’s World, he should at least heed the advice of the so-called foreign policy “realists” of establishment think tanks such as the Quincy Institute. Its working group of “former American and British ambassadors and experts on Russia and Ukraine” says an actual Russian invasion of Ukraine is not in the cards, despite the screaming of the media, and that Washington has to issue a “moratorium on further NATO expansion” for at least the next few decades.
Lyle Goldstein, an analyst at the military think tank Defense Priorities, has given the administration similar counsel. U.S. intervention would have “deleterious and even catastrophic consequences,” he argues. Even indirect interference, such as providing more weapons to the Ukrainian government, Goldstein says, would “further cement the ‘New Cold War,’ prolong the war and the killing” and push Russia to look for other ways of protecting itself militarily.
Acknowledging the necessity of halting NATO expansion into Ukraine does not represent a concession to Putin; it is a concession to common sense. Nor does it compromise the self-determination of the Ukrainian people. The truth is that the West compromised on that in 2014 when it helped install a fascist-backed government in Kiev.
It’s now up to President Biden and his NATO allies to bring us all back from the precipice of war.
C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.
This article was produced by People's World.
2021 was marked, from start to finish, as a year dominated by the pandemic and its attendant dramas, including vaccination, variants, and lockdowns. When the prior year had come to a close, journalists and writers had described 2020 as the “plague year” or the “lost year.” Although 2020 was defined by the onset of the pandemic and over two million deaths attributed to COVID-19, this was nothing compared to the all-encompassing, inescapable pall that COVID cast over the year 2021.
The pandemic has dealt a particularly heavy blow to residents of the world’s greatest imperialist power, where over 880,000 US citizens have perished. The country’s failure to care for the well being of its people — particularly when juxtaposed with the success of China, where about 875,000 fewer deaths have been attributed to the novel coronavirus — laid bare the futility of capitalism and individualism when faced with crisis. The parallels with global climate catastrophe are impossible to ignore.
From January 1, 2021, until the final day of the year, powerful blows reigned down on the global imperial superstructure captained by the US, leading in tow its Western European vassal states and junior partners including Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Colombia, India and the UK.
January 6: If any one event marks the end of the unipolar world led by the US since the fall of the Soviet Union, it is the cringeworthy storming of the US Capitol, incited by Donald Trump and carried out by farcical supporters united by their belief that the US presidential election was a fraud.
“Trump did more for the liberation of humanity from Western imperialism, because of his crudeness, than any other US leader in history,” commented political analyst Laith Marouf — and that was before the embarrassment of the failed uprising exposed the fragility of the US capitalist regime.
Contrary to the mainstream media narrative, over half of those arrested for involvement in the January 6 insurrection were “business owners, CEOs from white-collar occupations, doctors, lawyers, and architects.”
January 19: On his very last day in office, disgraced President Trump labels China’s treatment of Xinjiang’s Uighur community as a “genocide.” The laughable claim is promptly echoed by mainstream/imperialist media. A month later, Canada’s parliament voted to second the motion, cementing its status as fawning minion to the US war machine. These claims were particularly ironic as Canada, like the US, is a nation founded on actual genocide.
January 28: The GameStop scandal went viral and many learned firsthand that capitalism was a giant Ponzi scheme designed to plunder their savings.
March 7: A death blow was dealt to Brazil’s Bolsonaro regime, one of the US’ largest and most compliant vassals, as former President Lula was acquitted of all charges related to the Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash) lawfare scheme which had imprisoned him for 580 days. The failure of the maneuver exposed the similar proceedings against his successor, Dilma Rousseff, as a fraud, and later in the year the White House admitted the nefarious role it played in using paralegal means — also known as lawfare — to overthrow Brazil’s progressive governments and replace them with the neo-fascist Bolsonaro, whose popularity continued to bottom out through the course of the year.
March 13: The 99% rejoiced as fugitive former Bolivian dictatress Jeanine Áñez was discovered hiding under a bed and arrested by the democratically elected government of Luis Arce, committed to restoring order in Bolivia and serving justice to Áñez’s US-backed coup regime.
April 28: The gigantic paro nacional [national strike] broke out across US client state Colombia. A neoliberal austerity package passed by the Duque regime set off the mobilizations. The package would have seen Colombia bowing to IMF pressure with a swath of proposed “reforms” that increased taxes on the most vulnerable, accelerated privatization of healthcare, increased student tuition fees, and allowed for a 10-year wage freeze. The national strike was met with brutal force, dozens were killed and thousands arrested.
The immensity of the revolt led to working-class victories including “the withdrawal of the tax package, the sinking of the privatizing health project, the extension of the zero tuition to students of stratum 3, the unanimous international condemnation against the insane wave of police-paramilitary repression of the regime, the forced resignation of the ministers of finance and foreign affairs — representatives of the imperialist bourgeoisie — and a parliamentary trial of the minister of war,” as detailed by the World Federation of Trade Unions.
May 14: Amid the genocidal war on Palestine waged by the apartheid state, Hamas missiles pierced the so-called Iron Dome defense system. The vaunted missile defense system, funded by billions of dollars from the US and the apartheid state, proved to be an overpriced lemon, like so many other US weapons of war, as Gaza rose to the defense of Palestinians in the West Bank, on the other side of their divided nation. The militant solidarity shown by Gaza, and its ensuing sacrifice when civilian dwellings were subsequently levelled by the apartheid state, will be remembered as a turning point in the long journey towards a free Palestine.
May 26: President Bashar al-Assad was re-elected by the Syrian people, receiving 78% of the vote. “Supporters of the president took to the streets in the hundreds of thousands as the results were publicized, celebrating what they saw as a repudiation of violence and a step forward for the beleaguered nation,” wrote Mnar Adley for MintPress News. Celebrations in Damascus put the lie to claims by the empire ruled from DC regarding Assad’s supposed lack of popular support.
Election rally in Homs, Syria, May 23, 2021. Photo: Tim Anderson
May 29: A chilling reminder that Canada was founded on the genocide of the Indigenous inhabitants of the land was unearthed in Kamloops, BC. A mass grave of 215 children, whose deaths were undocumented, was found at an Indigenous children’s concentration camp — euphemistically called “residential school” — after years of denial that such sites existed.
“We hear from residential school survivors who tell you of these things happening, of mass graves existing, and everybody always denies that those stories are true,” said Arlen Dumas, grand chief of Manitoba’s Assembly of Chiefs. “Well, here’s one example… there will be more.”
Sure enough, mass graves continued to be unearthed throughout 2021. The last Canadian “residential school” closed in 1996, and between 6,000 to 50,000 children are estimated to have been murdered in the concentration camps for Indigenous children.
June 6: Pedro Castillo, presidential candidate of Peru’s Marxist Peru Libre party, rose from virtual obscurity to defeat the right-wing candidate Keiko Fujimori, daughter of disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori, convicted in 2008 of crimes against humanity. Castillo named staunch left-wing revolutionary Héctor Béjar as his foreign minister, who re-established diplomatic relations with Venezuela (made official on October 16), bringing an end to the Canada-led “regime”-change operation The Lima Group. Béjar referred to The Lima Group as “the most disastrous thing” Peru had ever done in the field of foreign relations.
June 24: The Bicentennial Congress of the Peoples of the World convened in Caracas, Venezuela, to celebrate the 200-year anniversary of the Battle of Carabobo, the decisive victory by Venezuelan troops, led by Simón Bolívar, over Spanish imperialism. Delegates from 123 countries attended the Congress, lauded as an “anti-imperialist and internationalist space for dialogue with social movements.”
June 24: Yet another powerful symbol of the crumbling foundations of the empire ruled from DC, a building collapse in Miami, Florida, left 98 people dead. Only four survived the sudden disintegration of the 12-story beachfront condominium, one of the deadliest residential building collapses in modern history. Rescue operations went on for two weeks. With each passing day, monotonous news items covered the rescue operations, effectively delaying the announcement of the death toll until few were paying attention anymore.
June 28: Russia and China announced the renewal of their 20-year long mutual cooperation pact. “The two sides agreed to continue maintaining close high-level exchanges, strengthening vaccine cooperation, expanding bilateral trade, and expanding cooperation in low-carbon energy, digital economy, agriculture and other fields and promote the alignment of the Belt and Road Initiative with the Eurasian Economic Union,” reported Xinhua. The midsummer event was another milestone in the death march of the unipolar world.
July 1: The Communist Party of China celebrated 100 years since its founding. During that span, the CPC has lifted 850,000 people out of extreme poverty, according to the DC-based World Bank.
July 6: Honduras’ highest court found Roberto David Castillo guilty of the 2016 murder of celebrated land defender and activist Berta Cáceres. Castillo was a graduate of the West Point US Military Academy in New York state. COPINH, the organization founded by Cáceres, hailed the verdict as a “people’s victory for justice for Berta; a step towards breaking the pact of impunity.” In addition, COPINH hoped that the conviction would open the door to “bringing the masterminds behind the crime to justice,” members of Honduras’ family of billionaires, the Atalas.
July 6: The dictator Jovenel Moïse, who dissolved parliament and ruled Ayiti (Haiti) by decree beyond the term of his mandate, was assassinated by a team of Colombian paramilitaries contracted by a Florida-based firm. Ayiti had been racked by waves of mass protests and general strikes almost continually since 2018, when Venezuela was forced to suspend the Petrocaribe program due to US economic sanctions on Venezuela’s national petroleum company PDVSA. Petrocaribe had provided cheap fuel to Ayiti in exchange for deferred payment. These deferred funds, earmarked for social programs, were instead pocketed by Moïse’s administration. Demonstrators demanded his resignation and a proper election in which Fanmi Lavalas could fully participate. The Moïse regime was propped up by the de facto ruling cartel, the Core Group including the US, Brazil, and Canada.
August 13: The Mexico Talks, a dialogue between Venezuela’s government and the opposition, began in Mexico City. To its great ire, the US was excluded from the process. Both parties signed a memorandum demanding an end to the economic blockade imposed on Venezuela by the empire ruled from DC.
August 15: With the US hastening its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban took the capital Kabul and overthrew the US puppet government. Videos filmed at Kabul airport the next day went viral, capturing the hysteria of the fleeing US forces and their supporters. At least five people died in the panic, while about 200,000 Afghans were directly killed by the failed invasion and 20-year long occupation, led by the empire ruled from DC.
September 16: Working in tandem, the resistance forces of Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah break the imperial siege on Lebanon, delivering much-needed Iranian fuel. The courageous operation exposed the permeable nature of illegal US and EU “sanctions,” which had triggered shortages, fuel scarcity, inflation, and a deadly economic crisis in Lebanon.
September 16: Thumbing his nose at the empire, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador invited his Cuban counterpart, Miguel Díaz-Canel, as guest of honor for Mexico’s independence day celebrations. AMLO used the opportunity to reiterate his calls for an end to the 61-year-long US economic blockade of Cuba.
November 7: Daniel Ortega, leader of the Sandinista revolution that defeated the US-backed Somoza dictatorship and overcame the subsequent counter-revolutionary assault of the US-funded and trained Contra paramilitaries, was re-elected as president of Nicaragua. The result came as no surprise because Ortega has presided over a broadening of social programs and a strong Nicaraguan economy since his return to power in 2007. “The Nicaraguan people believe in their government and their electoral system,” wrote electoral monitor Dan Kovalik. “And one of the things they believe in is the government’s right, and indeed duty, to protect the country and its sovereignty from outside intervention, and in particular the incessant intervention by the US, which has been interfering in Nicaragua — often through local quislings — in quite destructive ways for over a century.”
In 2021 the rabid mainstream media assault on Nicaragua’s democracy accused Ortega of jailing his opponents, after a court order prevented Cristiana Chamorro from running due to illegal foreign campaign contributions. Chamorro’s NGO received over $6 million from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) since 2015, more than half of which went to influencing the 2021 elections.
November 15: Heavily publicized in Western media, this day was supposed to see a great popular uprising in Cuba, a supposed resurgence of the protests that had shaken the nation in early July, when Cuba suffered its worst COVID-19 problems.
“The nationwide ‘Marches for Change’ was scheduled for November 15,” wrote Ted Snider. “The Biden administration endorsed the demonstrations. So did Congress: on November 3, the House of Representatives voted 382–40 — and you thought they couldn’t agree on anything — for a resolution declaring ‘strong solidarity’ with ‘courageous Cuban men, women, and youth taking to the streets in cities and towns across the country.’ What the media and the government doesn’t want to tell you is that, once again, it didn’t happen.” The non-event was dubbed #15Nada.
November 21: Venezuela’s violent opposition returned to the political fray for the country’s regional and municipal “mega”-elections. These were carried out in relative peace, without any credible allegations of fraud, by Venezuela’s internationally acclaimed electoral system. The results were a sweeping victory for the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). The PSUV captured 19 of 23 state governorships (including the capital district), and 213 of 325 mayoralties.
November 29: Perhaps the most inspiring and surprising of the year’s significant electoral victories, in Honduras Xiomara Castro unseated US-backed narco-dictator President Juan Orlando Hernández. Castro is representative of the rising anti-imperialist political forces in Latin America. Her husband, Manuel Zelaya, was overthrown by the Honduran military — with Hillary Clinton’s blessing — in 2009, after he promised to convoke a Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution, raise the minimum wage, and join the ALBA-TCP regional alliance founded by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez in 2004.
December 9: Nicaragua resumed diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, recognizing the One China principle and the sovereignty of China in Taiwan. Nicaragua thus ceased to consider Taiwan as a country and severed all contact and official relationship with Taipei. This expands the scope of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Latin America and at the same time diminishes US imperial authority in the region.
2021 was marked by a series of embarrassments and defeats for the empire ruled from DC, the decisive end of US hegemony, and the birth of a new multipolar world, which promises to continue asserting itself in the face of informational and military assault throughout 2022 and beyond.
Steve Lalla is a writer, essayist, analyst, journalist.
This item was originally published on January 23, 2021 by Orinoco Tribune
The Detroit protest rebellion of 1967 had the impact of crystallizing or aggravating a capital boycott that had then been developing for 15 or 20 years, a divestment by the bourgeoisie - big capital - something like that economic blockade or embargo on Cuba. This agreement for a capital boycott was not done by law, instead it was private agreements which were most responsible for the disassembly of Detroit as a labor giant. The relationship of business to Detroit as a result is something like the relationship of world capitalism to Haiti since the revolution there a couple of centuries ago.
With the corporate flight from Detroit, a capital boycott was inflicted on a former concentration point of capital investment, by suburbanization of factories, plant closings, runaway shops to the South, and globalization of production.
There was the bullet and then the ballot. The rebellion, a mass protest or demonstration, guerilla theatre against white supremacist unemployment, poverty and police brutality. Then the 1973 election of Coleman Young as a Black mayor extraordinaire. For these exercises of Black power and really for now being 85 percent majority Black population, Detroit is still under economic blockade punishment by the powers that be.
"The news magazines called Detroit a model city. They marveled at its
strong chin and gushed over the heroic benevolence of Mayor Cavanagh,
who had become the gallant knight of the War on Poverty by spearing
forty-two million federal dollars for the city's poor people. Cavanagh
was widely portrayed as a sort of Great White Sympathizer, and the
fact is, he worked hard at maintaining a symbiotic rapport with Black
leaders. In that spirit, he had established an amicable relationship
that let observers to think of Detroit as being immunized against the
outbreak of inner-city rioting that had torn apart Watts in 1965,
bloodied Chicago and Philadelphia, and in 1967 was sweeping the
country at a rate that would produce 164 incidents, among them major
revolts in Cleveland and Newark." (Young, 170)
The federal government's Kerner Commission report essentially agreed that the "riot" protests in the dozens of majority Negro ghettoes around the country had legitimate gripes. Detroit's 1967 mass spontaneous protests were the culmination of a socioeconomic historical shift which was marked by segregating of residence based on race through white flight to the suburbs especially beginning in the 1950s, escaping the move toward integration represented in open housing law. It was also part of a relative scattering of some main points of industrial production from a concentration in the city of Detroit ( and neighboring Dearborn) to the surrounding suburbs. It was a breaking up of the World War II era Arsenal of Democracy.
In a way, there seems to have been a shifting of the location of basic production from the Midwest to the South, from the U.S. to other countries, in what gets termed post-industrialism, post-Fordism, restructuring. The concentrated proletarian powerhouse was busted up and racially resegregated, on the typical American model: Black vs. white.
The bourgeoisie cannot really undo what they have done. They are hoisted on their own petard. Detroit is a pariah society in the national media still, as the latest Time article shows. White masses are shy to move back into Detroit; although in 2014, there has been some white popular migration into Detroit.
The bourgeoisie will not invest in the people of an African town like this, with so few white people to benefit. They are trying to move more white people in so that they can feel better about investing. They, the bourgeoisie, had to economically blockade us like Cuba, or Haiti have been for decades and scores of decades. Like the great heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Jack Johnson, Detroit is unforgivably Black and Proud.
Charles Brown is a political activist in Detroit, Michigan. He has degrees in anthropology and is a member of the bar. He teaches anthropology at Community College. His favorite slogan is "What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
Special thanks to N.C. Cai for editing and alignment.
In November 2020, the Moroccan government sent its military to the Guerguerat area, a buffer zone between the territory claimed by the Kingdom of Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The Guerguerat border post is at the very southern edge of Western Sahara along the road that goes to Mauritania. The presence of Moroccan troops “in the Buffer Strip in the Guerguerat area” violated the 1991 ceasefire agreed upon by the Moroccan monarchy and the Polisario Front of the Sahrawi. That ceasefire deal was crafted with the assumption that the United Nations would hold a referendum in Western Sahara to decide on its fate; no such referendum has been held, and the region has existed in stasis for three decades now.
In mid-January 2022, the United Nations sent its Personal Envoy for Western Sahara Staffan de Mistura to Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania to begin a new dialogue “toward a constructive resumption of the political process on Western Sahara.” De Mistura was previously deputed to solve the crises of U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria; none of his missions have ended well and have mostly been lost causes. The UN has appointed five personal envoys for Western Sahara so far—including Mistura--beginning with former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker III, who served from 1997 to 2004. De Mistura, meanwhile, succeeded former German President Horst Köhler, who resigned in 2019. Köhler’s main achievement was to bring the four main parties—Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria, and Mauritania—to a first roundtable discussion in Geneva in December 2018: this roundtable process resulted in a few gains, where all participants agreed on “cooperation and regional integration,” but no further progress seems to have been made to resolve the issues in the region since then. When the UN initially put forward De Mistura’s nomination to this post, Morocco had initially resisted his appointment, but under pressure from the West, Morocco finally accepted his appointment in October 2021, with Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita welcoming him to Rabat on January 14. De Mistura also met the Polisario Front representative to the UN in New York on November 6, 2021, before meeting other representatives in Tindouf, Algeria, at Sahrawi refugee camps in January. There is very little expectation that these meetings will result in any productive solution in the region.
In August 2020, the United States government engineered a major diplomatic feat called the Abraham Accords. The U.S. secured a deal with Morocco and the United Arab Emirates to agree to a rapprochement with Israel in return for the U.S. making arms sales to these countries as well as for the United States legitimizing Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara. The arms deals were of considerable amounts—$23 billion worth of weapons to the UAE and $1 billion worth of drones and munitions to Morocco. For Morocco, the main prize was that the United States—breaking decades of precedent—decided to back its claim to the vast territory of Western Sahara. The United States is now the only Western country to recognize Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over Western Sahara.
When President Joe Biden took office in January 2021, it was expected that he might review parts of the Abraham Accords. However, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made it clear during his meeting with Bourita in November 2021 that the U.S. government would continue to maintain the position taken by the previous Trump administration that Morocco has sovereignty over Western Sahara. The U.S., meanwhile, has continued with its arms sales to Morocco but has suspended weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates.
By the end of November 2021, the government of Morocco announced that it had earned $6.45 billion from the export of phosphate from the kingdom and from the occupied territory of Western Sahara. If you add up the phosphate reserves in this entire region, it amounts to 72 percent of the entire phosphate reserves in the world (the second-highest percentage of these reserves is in China, which has around 6 percent). Phosphate, along with nitrogen, makes synthetic fertilizer, a key element in modern food production. While nitrogen is recoverable from the air, phosphates, found in the soil, are a finite reserve. This gives Morocco a tight grip over world food production. There is no doubt that the occupation of Western Sahara is not merely about national pride, but it is largely about the presence of a vast number of resources—especially phosphates—that can be found in the territory.
In 1975, a UN delegation that visited Western Sahara noted that “eventually the territory will be among the largest exporters of phosphate in the world.” While Western Sahara’s phosphate reserves are less than those of Morocco, the Moroccan state-owned firm OCP SA has been mining the phosphate in Western Sahara and manufacturing phosphate fertilizer for great profit. The most spectacular mine in Western Sahara is in Bou Craa, from which 10 percent of OCP SA’s profits come; Bou Craa, which is known as “the world’s longest conveyor belt system,” carries the phosphate rock more than 60 miles to the port at El Aaiún. In 2002, the UN’s Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs at that time, Hans Corell, noted in a letter to the president of the UN Security Council that “if further exploration and exploitation activities were to proceed in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara, they would be in violation of the principles of international law applicable to mineral resource activities in Non-Self-Governing Territories.” An international campaign to prevent the extraction of the “conflict phosphate from Western Sahara by Morocco has led many firms around the world to stop buying phosphate from OCP SA. Nutrien, the largest fertilizer manufacturer in the United States that used Moroccan phosphates, decided to stop imports from Morocco in 2018. That same year, the South African court challenged the right of ships carrying phosphate from the region to dock in their ports, ruling that “the Moroccan shippers of the product had no legal right to it.”
Only three known companies continue to buy conflict phosphate mined in Western Sahara: two from New Zealand (Ballance Agri-Nutrients Limited and Ravensdown) and one from India (Paradeep Phosphates Limited).
After the 1991 ceasefire, the UN set up a Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). This is the only UN peacekeeping force that does not have a mandate to report on human rights. The UN made this concession to appease the Kingdom of Morocco. The Moroccan government has tried to intervene several times when the UN team in Western Sahara attempted to make the slightest noise about the human rights violations in the region. In March 2016, the kingdom expelled MINURSO staff because the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referred to the Moroccan presence in Western Sahara as an “occupation.”
Pressure from the United States is going to ensure that the only realistic outcome of negotiations is for continued Moroccan control of Western Sahara. All parties involved in the conflict are readying for battle. Far from peace, the Abraham Accords are going to accelerate a return to war in this part of Africa.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including "The Darker Nations" and "The Poorer Nations." His latest book is "Washington Bullets," with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.
1938 would be the year that would forever change Choi Hong Hi’s life. That was the year Choi gambled away all the money his mother had saved for his schooling. In a fit of panic, Choi smashed an ink bottle over the winner’s head before running off to Japan. The man Choi had nearly killed was a local wrestler who swore that if Choi ever came back to the village, he would tear the five-foot-tall boy “limb from limb.” Four years later, Choi did come back to the village, but not before gathering a small crowd to watch him smash several roof tiles with such speed that the wrestler thought Choi was having a stroke. Choi would later call this martial art Taekwondo, and after rising to become a general in the South Korean army, named himself the founder.
What started as a martial art in a tiny peninsula has 70 million practitioners in 203 nations today. It made the careers of famed action stars like Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme. A year after student-led protests forced the military dictatorship to accept democratic elections, Taekwondo was introduced to the Olympics, the second martial art to do so after Judo. What is less known is that the founder of Taekwondo’s largest federation was an agent for the South Korean secret police or that Choi Hong Hi’s son was once arrested for training North Korean commandos.
Decades before Kpop or Squid Game were in the global lexicon, Taekwondo had clawed its way to become South Korea’s main cultural export. Raised by every major historical event that rocked the nation in the past century, including but not limited to: Japanese imperialism, the Korean War, military dictatorships, and even the emergence of anticommunist cults, it had come to be seen by many to symbolize South Korea’s resurrection from a nameless colony into the global powerhouse that Koreans still take deep pride in to this day.
Taekwondo’s Foundation Myth
According to the World Taekwondo headquarters, also known as the Kukkiwon, Taekwondo is rooted in a 1500 year old martial art practiced by the Hwarang, warriors handpicked from the Silla dynasty’s nobility. The problem with that statement is that it's a total lie. The Hwarang were not only not an elite group of soldiers, they were actually young male aristocrats who danced and dressed in women’s clothing. Yi Jong Gu, who wrote many of the textbooks that fabricated this myth, confessed just as much in an interview;
We didn’t have anything else to offer. In the early days of trying to introduce taekwondo abroad, if we said it was an ancient, traditional Korean martial art, we gained some bragging rights, plus this played well abroad. However, even if there are similarities, this just isn’t the truth.
Alex Gillis’s extraordinary 1998 book “A Killing Art” digs deep into how Taekwando’s history was rewritten to fit the nationalist zeitgeist which characterized South Korea’s violent modernization. Gillis reveals that Taekwondo’s origins did not emerge in medieval Korea, but among the thousands of Koreans who migrated or were kidnapped to Japan. The lives of most Korean migrants in the Japanese Empire were characterized by grinding poverty and routine terror by roving fascist gangs. One of the most gruesome examples of anti-immigrant terror was when 2,000 Koreans were massacred in the aftermath of the Great Kanto earthquake. Naturally, the most hot blooded of these migrants learned Karate as a means of self defense. When the Japanese empire fell, they moved back to their homeland and set up karate gyms, which became a hotbed for street gangs and soldiers. These karate gyms, or kwans, would become the seeds for what would later be known as taekwondo.
Choi Hong Hee, then a two star general, shows Rhee which two knuckles Nam used to smash thirteen roof tiles.
Many of Taekwondo’s pioneers would be conscripted in their country’s civil war, where they would make their name. One of those men was Nam Tae Hi. In 1952, Nam enraged his commanding officer, who sent Nam’s unit on a suicide mission into no man’s land where they were soon caught up in a three day offensive by the People’s Liberation Army. To his horror, Nam realized that he’d run out of bullets before the Chinese ran out of bodies. The morning after the battle, Nam discovered that he was sleeping on the bodies of several dozen Chinese soldiers he had beaten to death with his bare hands.
The battle would traumatize Nam for the rest of his life, but when Choi heard Nam’s story he recruited him to train other South Korean soldiers in what could still largely be considered Karate. Nam was so integral to ensuring Taekwondo’s emergence from obscurity, that it was he who broke the twelve roof tiles in front of South Korea’s first president and strongman, Rhee Syngman. Rhee was so pleased with the display that he gave Choi approval to build a martial arts gym inside a military base in Gangwon. Choi called this gym the Oh Do Kwan, “the Gym of My Way.” Funny enough, it was Rhee who gave Choi the idea for the name Taekwondo. When Choi told Rhee that Nam had used Karate to smash those tiles, the president bizarrely insisted that what Nam practiced wasn’t Karate, but instead was Taekkyon, a Korean street game. Before the war, Rhee was a noted independence activist and could not accept that what he saw was Japanese, so Choi rolled with it. Taekkyeon as one of Taekwondo’s origins was another lie that was propagated for decades. Taekwondo had taken over the military, but it would take another strongman for Taekwondo to be elevated to a national pastime.
Park Chung Hee's Korea
Like Choi, Park Chung Hee came from humble beginnings. The son of disgraced aristocrats turned farmers, his mother tried to have Park aborted several times because she did not believe they could feed another mouth. These fears were not unfounded as malnourishment would stunt Park’s height at five foot four. Nevertheless, Park worked his way out of poverty and secured a comfortable job at a middle school, but he quickly grew bored with the banal life of a teacher. So in 1939, Park wrote an oath to the emperor in his own blood and mailed the letter to the Manchukuo Military Academy. 22 years later, Park stormed the presidential palace with a submachine gun, becoming South Korea’s first military dictator.
To legitimize his rule, Park based his regime on Minjok, a particular form of ethno-nationalism. The core tenets of Minjok are the purity of the Korean identity (sunsuseong) and the obligation to regularly uplift Korea's cultural superiority (uwolseong). However, Park detested Korea’s past, especially the Joseon dynasty, whom he blamed for his family’s poverty and the nation’s capitulation to foreign powers. He once proclaimed that “we should set ablaze all our history that was more like a storehouse of evil.” He didn’t quite set Korea’s history ablaze, but he did rewrite it. While ethnonationalism precedes the Park regime, it was during this era that it enveloped South Korea with such brashness. It was a time “when Hangul was the world’s most beautiful writing system, when the mountains and rivers of Korea possessed the best vistas on the globe, and when Koreans were the smartest people on the planet.” Park Chung Hee’s transformation of South Korean society was premised on the “restoration” of what he called Korea’s pure culture; one defined by patriotism and military strength which had been erased during the period of colonial rule.
Taekwondo’s ferocity as a killing art and fabricated history was the perfect tool to symbolize Park’s new Korea. Park elevated Taekwondo to a national sport, made it a mainstay in the country’s mass games, and eventually introduced it in every classroom, all in the service of “reinforcing the positive image of a strong martial leader.” In 1972, the Kukkiwon was established, the same year that a rigged plebiscite passed the Yushin constitution, which enacted a series of reforms that transformed the entire country into a giant bootcamp. Guitars and long hair were banned and police officers would carry around rulers to measure women’s skirts, all things popularly associated with South Korea’s dissident student population.
For all it’s flair of restoring national purity, South Korean nationalism came from the same Japanese origin as Taekwondo. Park’s reforms were directly inspired by the Meiji restoration, when Japanese noblemen passed a series of westernizing reforms under the guise of “restoring the emperor.” Even the name Yushin, which means renewal, has the same Chinese characters as Meiji, and just like the architects of the Meiji restoration, Taekwondo’s leaders were not satisfied with taking over the country, they desired to expand beyond their provincial borders, even if it would take another war.
The Vietnam War puts Taekwondo on the Map
Only one year after the Korean War “ended,” Western powers divided another Asian country into a Communist North and an Anti-Communist South. Park Chung Hee rapidly deployed 320,000 soldiers to Vietnam in order to access the billions of dollars in US aid that he would use to fund the meteoric economic growth that many call “the Miracle on the Han River.”
The South Koreans had earned a reputation in Vietnam for ruthless efficiency. In 1966, a reporter from Time magazine wrote;
To Westerners, the process sometimes seems as brutal as it is effective. Suspects [the Viet Cong] are encouraged to talk by a rifle fired just past the ear from behind while they are sitting on the edge of an open grave, or by a swift, cheekbone-shattering flick of a Korean’s bare hand.
While we look now at such a statement with horror, the South Korean military took pride in their role as America’s “Hessians,” seeing Vietnam as a means to compensate for playing an auxiliary role in their own country’s civil war. Many veterans would eventually use the counterinsurgency tactics they tempered in Vietnam to suppress pro-democracy protests in their homeland.
The Koreans used this notoriety to evangelize Taekwondo to the Americans and South Vietnamese, even sending instructors to the ARVN special forces training center. But, Taekwondo really exploded in 1967 when 250 Korean marines repelled nearly a thousand NVA and VC soldiers in Tra Binh. The “mythmaking marines,” as they were called, earned the respect of their American counterparts, due to their preference for using their hands over a bayonet. Curiously, one of the first Americans to earn a black belt was Robert Walson, who first discovered Taekwondo when he was a CIA agent in Vietnam.
From the Bases to the Suburbs
While public opinion was turning against the war in Vietnam, Choi was building a global empire through what he knew best, showmanship. His legendary Ace team were huge hits at military bases in West Germany, Singapore, and even Egypt. Aside from the usual ensemble of flying kicks and smashing bricks, brawling with spectators became a regular occurrence and the real money maker. Wherever the Ace team went, a new Taekwondo gym opened up, many suspiciously overnight.
Though we can’t talk about Taekwondo’s reach abroad without Jhoon Rhee, “the father of American Taekwondo.” Rhee was close friends with a lot of future martial arts stars, including Chuck Norris, who had learned Taekwondo while he was an airman stationed in Osan. In 1965, Rhee convinced NBC to film his second national championship, but the suits at the network were so shocked by the violence that they only aired snippets.
One thing that Taekwondo had going for it was it’s brutally powerful kicks. In South Korea, the White Claw, plain clothed police officers who sported motorcycle helmets, found these kicks useful in cracking the skulls of students, but in America they became popular in the national Karate circuit. As one American Karate champion explained, “The Japanese had poor kicks compared to the Koreans. We kicked to hurt.”
All of this was possible thanks to the generosity of the KCIA, the South Korean secret police. The KCIA had created a global mafia that extorted millionaires, ran businesses, tortured dissidents, and was shrouded in so much secrecy that even the US government didn’t fully know what they were up to. Thanks to its international associations, status as a legal business, and steady crop of fighters, Taekwondo had become one of the KCIA’s biggest fronts. Many of Taekwondo’s founding fathers had connections to the KCIA. Nam Tae Hi was on the KCIA bankroll from 1965 to ‘72. Kim Un Yong, the founder of the World Taekwondo Federation, was a senior spy. Jhoon Rhee had deep connections to both the KCIA and the Unification church, a cult founded by Sun Myung Moon, a staunch anticommunist whose followers (popularly referred to as “moonies”) believe is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. During Rhee’s 2nd Karate tournament, the same one aired on NBC, you could see the Korean Ambassador and Rev. Sun Myung Moon sitting in the front row.
The KCIA’s secret dealings would be exposed in 1967 when West German authorities had discovered that Yu Isang, a prominent composer, had boarded a plane to South Korea without a passport or plane ticket. The KCIA had kidnapped Yun and over a hundred other Koreans, where they were tortured and forced to issue false confessions of spying for the North. The East Berlin Case, as it was later dubbed, sparked international outrage, but what was less known was that many of the agents involved in the kidnappings were Taekwondo instructors. One of Choi’s students, Kim Kwang Il, was later discovered to be one of the KCIA agents involved in the kidnappings. Another Taekwondo instructor involved in the East Berlin Case, Lee Gye Hoon, eventually rose to the position of deputy director of the KCIA.
As much controversy as these incidents created, Taekwondo, like the South Korean economy, seemed to grow with no end in sight. In 1981, the new military dictator, Chun Do Hwan, sent KCIA agents Kim Un Yong and “Pistol Park” Kyong Chu on a secret mission to secure South Korea the seat to host the 1988 Olympics. Operation Thunderbird, as it was called, involved several Taekwondo instructors and an absurd amount of bribery but it worked. That September, the IOC selected Seoul as the host for the 1988 Summer Olympics, beating out the frontrunner, Nagoya, Japan. To add icing on the cake, Taekwondo would be for the first time introduced to the Olympics as a demonstration sport. 35 nations would compete in what was an obscure martial art only 30 years ago. As one article in the Korean Journal put it, Taekwondo had achieved what “Korea’s most skilled diplomats have been unable to accomplish, that is, bring the citizens of advanced western countries to an attitude of respect before the Korean flag.”
Taekwondo’s Decline and Communist Restoration
However, acceptance into the exclusive club of the Olympics would prove to be Taekwondo’s peak. The 1987 revolution led to the demotion of the military clique and in turn the rise of the chaebols, the country’s oligarchs. Taekwondo quickly proved to be ill fit for the new era. South Korea needed a new mascot, one that better suited the nation’s transition from a scrappy mercenary to a commercial powerhouse. That mascot would be found almost a decade later when H.O.T popped into the scene, kickstarting the Kpop phenomenon. Macho men breaking boards were replaced with “flower boy” idols, whose androdynous appearances ironically resembled the mythical “Hwarang warriors” more than Taekwondo’s most grizzled veterans.
Even as this was taking place, Taekwondo’s foundations were already being eroded by its very own leaders. The Olympics had no place for the blood and broken bones that characterized early championships. In order to enter the Olympics, Taekwondo had to be civilized. The World Taekwondo Federation introduced safety pads, a refined (but still easily riggable) point system, and most notoriously no more punches to the head, turning Taekwondo into the white whitewashed sport that many detractors now derogatorily call “foot fencing.”
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to say that Korea has not preserved the original spirit of Taekwondo, it just wasn’t the one in the South. In 1979, Choi Hong Hi shocked the world when he defected to North Korea. Just like in the South, Choi built up Taekwondo’s prestige by integrating the martial art into the Korean People’s Army, which every North Korean male is required to serve in for eight years. As previously mentioned, Choi’s own son would later be arrested in West Germany for training North Korean commandos who had infiltrated the country.
While it may seem surprising that a former South Korean general would defect to the communist North, many years prior, Choi had nearly died in a Japanese jail for attempting to defect to Kim Il Sung’s partisans in Manchuria. That experience gave Choi a deep seated hatred for the collaborators who rose up to lead the South Korean government, including Park Chung Hee, himself. Choi’s relationship with the junta had soured so badly, that even before he defected, the government had banned Choi’s federation from the country.
Today in North Korea you can still see army commandos practicing “the original form of Taekwondo.” You might even see them practice the final form Choi Hong Hee ever designed, Juche.
The history of Taekwondo brings up a greater question on what masculinity means to the left. Gillis’s book is regularly filled with stories of high ranking officers dancing drunk and KCIA agents punching politicians. Choi Hong Hi had even once joked that to do politics in Taekwondo, one had to be good at drinking, gambling, fighting, and have at least one mistress. It should not come as a surprise then that Taekwondo’s founders named their martial art inside of a geisha house.
Martial arts always had a strong allure among alienated young men by offering a means to reclaim their lost agency and self-respect. Taekwondo, and the peninsula’s broader militarization, promised to overcome what many nationalists at the time called “the rape of Korea.” But what happens when that promise was achieved by reproducing the same relationship of colonial terror and humiliation. This desire to overcome Korean’s perceived inferiority complex caused Choi to develop a lifelong obsession to prove that his martial art was superior to its Japanese brother. During a show in Egypt, a soldier had privately shown Choi that he could smash a small oblong stone in half with a karate chop. Choi found the display so threatening that he ordered someone find a stone ten times as large and had one of his Ace team members smash the rock to pieces.
However, it is vital that we remember that Taekwondo didn’t start in the backrooms of the KCIA or war crimes committed in Vietnam, but among immigrant communities in the center of the Great East Co-Prosperity Sphere. This legacy still survives to this day in the very organization that embodies all things reactionary in the martial art, the World Taekwondo Federation. The WTF takes a lot of pride in sending instructors to migrant enclaves and countries in the periphery, which has caused the martial art to develop a reputation as a leveler for poorer nations in the Olympics. In 2008, celebrations erupted all across Afghanistan when Rohullah Nikpai clinched his country's first Olympic medal after he defeated two time champion Juan Antonio Ramos. Rohullah had first applied for the Afghan national team at a refugee camp in Iran.
Taekwondo is a story about a failed decolonization project. It is part of a greater history when the South Korean state tried to create a new Korean identity, one they felt the people could take pride in, but required leaving in place the oppressive forces that had stolen their agency in the first place. But more than anything else, Taekwondo is a story of survival.
Jay is a Korean-American, who has lived in South Korea, Vietnam, and the Midwest and East Coast of the United States. While studying in Iowa, he became a student organizer for a statewide organization fighting for Free College for All and co-founded the local Students for Bernie chapter, which is now a chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America. Jay is also one of the hosts of Red Star Over Asia, a podcast which interviews organizers, academics, and journalists on politics in the Asian continent from a socialist perspective.
This is an interview conducted with our comrades at The International Magazine on the occasion of their 1 year anniversary. Our friendship commenced in July of 2021 when The International Magazine reached out to Midwestern Marx founders Carlos L. Garrido and Edward Liger Smith to write on the emerging wave of socialism in Latin America. Out of this joint effort from Carlos and Edward resulted the article "A Marxist Analysis of the New Socialist Tide in Latin America," and a friendship between the two projects. This friendship was furthered with The International Magazine's publication of an interview with Midwestern Marx, where we discussed the purpose of our project, and the so-called 'withdrawal' of the US empire from Afghanistan.
We would like to wish our comrades at The International Magazine a happy anniversary and thank them for the revolutionary work they have been doing. We hope for further collaborations between our projects in our joint struggle against imperialism and for the advancement of socialism.
One of The International Magazine slogans is “Yes, We Are Biased”. Why do you think this is important to say?
The dominant media loves to tout itself as ‘objective’ and ‘unbiased,’ however, as us communists know, they are beholden to the owners of capital. None of them are sources for authentic news. This is where we step in. The International Magazine is biased towards the working masses and the betterment of the world. We don’t merely report News, we strive to find out the truth- we provide analysis, commentary, a deeper understanding of things. We are openly anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and anti-fascist and we proudly boast our credentials in our website given below:
We indeed are biased and openly claim so. With us, there is no subtle form of indoctrination that comes with the consumption of other forms of media. You get exactly what you pay for.
What does your magazine do and how?
There is no dearth of left led media outlets, and magazines. But is that enough? Often democratic socialist, these outlets are parochial and do not give news from the world over. Our magazine is a tad bit different from the usual order of things. As the name suggests, the magazine advocates for communism worldwide. Staying true to its name, it is run by noted communists from all over the globe. There is no other magazine quite like it. Articles by people such as Gennedy Zyuganov (General Secretary, Communist Party of Russian Federation) , Arun Chaudhary (first official videographer of the White House) and noted academics like Asatar Bair have been published. The International Magazine is published by Progressive Thinkers, run by Subhasree Adhikary, Shuvam Banerjee, and Mr Debojit Banerjee, and does NOT rely on any sort of corporate funding.
We primarily rely on our readers who come from all walks of life. The magazine today has been growing steadily, which has been possible only due to our coterie of extremely loyal readers dedicated to furthering the ideology of communism. Each and every article published is carefully curated by our editorial team which consists of 35 dedicated communists, which includes Roman Kokonenko from Russia who is a Central Committee member of the Communist Party of Russian Federation (CPRF), Robin Talbot from Britain who is the Chairman of Young Communist League (YCL) Britain, Darrell Rankin from Canada – a Marxist intellectual, Sonja Beier from Austria – International Officer of KJO, Mariana Ruiz from Venezuela – a Central leader of Partido Comunista de Venezuela (PCV), Dloze Matooane who is a leader from South Africa and many more.
Apart from this, we also keep our readers abreast with popular movements by engaging with them via Twitter. There are 2 sections, one of them consists of a blog, which is updated daily, and another is a paid subscription to our magazine which we publish monthly. The blog is free for whoever chooses to get authentic news from all over the world, especially Africa, which is often ignored by the mainstream media. The paid monthly magazine consists of a series of articles concerning popular movements, movie reviews, book reviews and various socio-economic issues. It also provides with an in-depth commentary on pop culture.
How did The International Magazine come about?
The magazine is the fruit of the joint efforts of Debojit Banerjee, Shuvam Banerjee, Sourav Chakraborty and Gourab Ghosh. The four of them have been working at the grassroots for years, all involved with AISF (All India Students’ Federation) and CPI. Other than being largely responsible for the magazine, these men have day jobs as well. Mr. Chakraborty happens to be a practicing lawyer and the Joint Secretary of AISF West Bengal State Council. Shuvam Banerjee is the National president of AISF and a National Council member of Communist Party of India (CPI). Debojit Banerjee is a master’s degree student and a state executive member of AISF. Mr. Gourab Ghosh is also a master’s student and State Council member for the same organization.
What sets The International Magazine apart?
A magazine of this kind is very hard to maintain and requires will, determination and an unwavering commitment to the ideology. There is no dearth of publications and news agencies in this day and age. But that in itself is the part of the problem. The founders of the magazine rightfully identified a vacuum left by the fall of the Soviet Union. ‘The fight between capitalism and communism is not merely electoral. It is ideological as well,’ says Mr. Debojit Banerjee. 'While our magazine turns one, we are in no mood to celebrate. Our goal is to get rid of the current system of oppression and we shall work tirelessly towards it,’ he adds. Thus, an alternative media needs to be established. In the good old days of the Soviet Union, left wing publications thrived worldwide. The USSR sowed its seeds everywhere, provided them with the latest technology for winning the class struggle. Its dissolution is felt today. Our magazine strives to be THE alternative. Our competitors are not just the shameless media which tows the line of capitalists, but also so-called center left outlets who have betrayed the revolution. We are red to the core and shall continue being so.
Ukrainian soldiers use a launcher with U.S. Javelin missiles during military exercises in Donetsk region, Ukraine, Jan. 12, 2022. The Western corporate media is ringing alarm bells about a 'Russian invasion' of Ukraine, but it is aggressive U.S. and NATO expansionism that has led to the current crisis. | Ukrainian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
The world is fearful of possible war once again. This time the hotspot is Ukraine, with the accompanying crisis there and the fact that two of the adversaries, the U.S. and Russia, are the two largest nuclear powers on Earth.
Obviously not good! But there is a way out of the crisis and a way to preserve the peace. We can only arrive at a solution, however, if we understand how the situation got to this point and who it is that’s responsible for getting us here.
The dominant outlets of the U.S. corporate press—whether conservative or liberal in their outlook; on television, online, or in print—are ringing alarm bells, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin has amassed troops and is plotting an invasion of his neighbor. Why?
Who’s invading whom?
It is helpful to understand that all countries, the U.S. included, have core strategic interests that, if violated, can force them into taking military action and going to war.
To understand the Russian view of NATO’s possible expansion and placement of weapons or troops in Ukraine—which multiple U.S. administrations, including the current one, have threatened—a simple thought experiment is useful. Since the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine, the U.S. has declared the entirety of the Western Hemisphere as a core strategic interest. It would never tolerate Russian or Chinese weapons being placed in countries directly on its border, such as Canada or Mexico. But a situation just like that is what Russia’s leaders fear.
Russia cannot tolerate NATO weaponry (like the U.S.-managed nuclear weapons NATO has in Germany) to be stationed right along its borders in Ukraine. Missiles that can reach Moscow in five minutes or less are a definite no-no.
Then and now, 40% or more of the population in Ukraine was and is Russian. The productive industrial part of Ukraine in the east is almost entirely Russian by language and ethnicity. Millions of families in the country are headed by parents of different ethnicities, one of whom is Ukrainian and the other Russian. Even Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine today, was a well-known Russian-speaking comedian before he ran for that office. He started speaking Ukrainian, however, after he was elected. The short story is that there should be no ethnic basis for hostility between Ukraine and Russia.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the aim of the U.S. and NATO, along with the militarist wing of the European Union, has been to separate Ukraine from Russia, making it a bulwark on Russia’s border. Russia, of course, has declared that this simply will not happen.
The aim of grabbing Ukraine is connected to overall NATO and EU expansion eastward which began first with grabbing the Czech Republic and Poland. Both of these countries were formerly part of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact military alliance, which was formed to defend against NATO during the Cold War.
In the case of Ukraine, as is most often the case with such NATO militarism, the operation is disguised as one intended to “spread democracy.” So in the case of Ukraine, the idea spread far and wide in the Western corporate media and from the governments involved over the last few years has been that Ukraine was not being separated from Russia by a fascist coup backed by the West but rather by an “Orange Revolution” in which democracy was the aim.
We know, of course, that once the so-called “Orange Revolution” happened, political parties—including left and progressive parties like the Communist Party—were banned, use of the Russian language inside Ukraine was banned, hundreds of trade unionists were killed, and the poisoned food grown in the radiation-contaminated Chernobyl region was back on sale for consumption by Ukrainians.
The “democratic” government turned control over the police and the military to historically well-known fascist organizations. They remain in the control of those fascist organizations today. “Promoting democracy” is the excuse the U.S. always uses when it wants to topple a regime it does not support. Examples are numerous—Grenada, Chile, Cuba, Iraq, Syria—and the list could go on.
NATO’s eastward march
In 1999, NATO—in violation of U.S. assurances made years earlier at the end of the Cold War—took the first step of its own “invasion” by expanding into Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia, totally devastated economically following the destruction of the Soviet Union, was too weak at the time to mount any serious opposition.
When the West saw that this worked and that they could get away with it, in 2004 they moved into the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia—former Soviet Republics. Keep in mind that U.S. troops and weapons are now in all these countries, under the guise of those NATO deployments. German troops are there too, entering those countries for the first time since the USSR drove out Nazi forces from all those places as it shut down networks of concentration camps that they operated.
The “democracy” that has resulted in these countries is dubious indeed. Poland is practically a fascist dictatorship today. In Latvia, it is illegal to teach anything about the death factories that Hitler’s forces ran when they occupied the country. There, too, the Communist and left other political parties are banned. It should be noted that all these right-wing measures are supposedly forbidden by the EU constitution but ignored by the leadership of the EU countries.
Ukraine’s descent toward fascism
Back to Ukraine and fast forward to November 2013. The elected president of Ukraine at the time, Victor Yanukovych, was negotiating with the EU to move Ukraine closer to the EU but not by directly joining. He wanted to broker an economic deal that would benefit Ukraine, the EU, Russia, and even the IMF, if possible. Via Ukraine, the EU could access Russian energy resources and Russia would gain new customers. As the intermediary, Ukraine could win financially by playing the pipeline middle man and getting cheaper gas for itself. Yanukovych’s rationale: Why not have a cooperative peaceful deal beneficial to all parties?
The all-or-nothing people in the West who wanted to control Ukraine, however, said no. The EU wanted Ukraine to keep paying inflated prices and to stick to a burdensome debt repayment schedule. Putin then offered Ukraine a deal much better than what the EU was offering—Russian gas for up to a third less and help paying off debt. Yanukovych, who did not want to impose the austerity on his people that the EU was demanding, accepted Putin’s offer.
In response, the nationalist right wing in Ukraine, led by openly fascist organizations, began to whip up protests. Yanukovych overreacted with police violence against demonstrators, and many were killed. Things spiraled out of control, and he fled to Russia as a fascist coup openly backed by the U.S. seized control in Kiev under the guise of “restoring law and order.” Again, EU and NATO expansionist desires were resulting in bloodshed.
The Russians then closed checkpoints in Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea that had been administered by Ukraine since the 1950s despite the fact that 90% of the population was Russian. This arrangement had been agreed to in the Soviet days because of Crimea’s physical proximity to Ukraine. Vast amounts of Ukrainian territory separate Crimea from the rest of Russia. Under the extension of that treaty when the USSR was dismantled, Russian troops remained in Crimea in order to protect the nuclear-capable base that was there.
The much-hyped Russian “invasion” of Crimea in 2014 then was actually an effort to close off the area and protect it and the nuclear base from the fascists running Kiev. The Russian troops were already there with the agreement of Ukraine.
A vote was held shortly after and the people of Crimea chose to return to the Russian administration. Making up the overwhelming majority of the population, how could they vote otherwise as they watched fascist Ukrainian troops killing Russians in eastern Ukraine and a Ukrainian government forbidding the use of their own language?
As volatile as the situation was at the time, the Russians did not follow this with an invasion of Ukraine. What they did essentially was tell the West to back off. Putin did not want a wider war. What Russia’s leaders were refusing to accept was NATO being planted on their border with dangerous weapons pointing at them.
Russia does not want war
Continued efforts after those events by NATO and the EU to push eastward and take in Ukraine have been nothing less than both dangerous and criminal. Those policies have endangered the whole world.
Even Friday, it was announced by Blinken that, after an initial meeting with the Russians, talks will continue. It is clear the Russians do not want to invade Ukraine. They do have troops along the border with Ukraine, but those troops are on Russian territory and are positioned as leverage to protect their borders and stop NATO expansionism.
Back to the issue of vital strategic interests. Keeping dangerous weapons in service of the West away from its borders is in the vital strategic interests of Russia. What happens in Ukraine is of critical importance to the survival of Russia. From Napoleon to the Kaiser to Hitler, Russia has been invaded too many times from Europe, and it is understandably determined to maintain a militarily non-aligned buffer zone on its border.
By contrast, Ukraine is emphatically not in the strategic interests of the United States. The U.S., in fact, would benefit from peace in that region and certainly not benefit in any way if there were a war involving the two big nuclear powers. Nor would Ukraine benefit from such a war. Nor would Russia or the rest of the world.
This situation, which took so many years to develop, can only be solved in one way. It is a simple solution: NATO and the U.S. must promise that Ukraine will never become a part of NATO. That is the indispensable first step.
It’s what was agreed to as part of the efforts to end the Cold War.
It’s what Putin and Yanukovych wanted when they tried to broker an EU-Ukraine-Russia-IMF deal all those years ago. How stupid and dangerous it was for the U.S. to say no.
End all NATO expansion eastward!
C.J. Atkins contributed to this article.
John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.
This article was republished from Peoples World.
China launches Global South economic alliance to challenge US 'unilateralism' and 'cold-war mentality'. By: Benjamin NortonRead Now
China is creating international political and economic alliances to challenge US unipolar hegemony. The Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative promotes "win-win cooperation" as a model.
China is leading an international effort to develop alliances to counter US hegemony.
In March 2021, 17 nations — many led by anti-imperialist and progressive governments, including Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Bolivia among others — formed a diplomatic alliance called the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, which seeks to defend sovereignty and multilateralism against the unilateral domination of the United States and Western Europe.
This January 20, China’s mission to the UN launched a new, economic version of this diplomatic alliance, called the Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative.
This new Group of Friends seeks to promote China’s “Global Development Initiative” (GDI), and complements China’s massive international infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative.
Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the creation of the GDI at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2021. He said the campaign aims at promoting “people-centered,” environmentally friendly development, with the primary goals of reducing poverty, helping formerly colonized countries in the Global South, and eventually achieving carbon neutrality.
To this end, Beijing has sought to merge the GDI with the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The new Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative launched this January 20 consists of countries who have joined China in its GDI.
In the founding meeting, Beijing’s ambassador cautioned against “unilateralism” and the “resurgent Cold-War mentality and the clamoring for ‘decoupling’” — a clear reference to the aggressive campaigns waged by Washington and Brussels.
The Chinese ambassador explained that the GDI “is a platform for mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation.”
While the United States and European Union have tried to recruit countries in a global Cold War Two alliance against China and Russia, Beijing made it clear that the GDI “is open and inclusive, and will not create any kind of small circles.”
Representatives of the following nations participated in this founding meeting of the Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative, alongside China:
Unlike the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, the Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative is not clearly anti-imperialist. It includes, for example, the reactionary Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE, which collaborate with Western imperialism. And some other members are certainly not progressive friends of national-liberation struggles.
But this new economic alliance shows the foundations for the structure of the new multipolar world being built, which is no longer dominated by US unipolar hegemony.
In this increasingly multipolar world, we can expect to see more contradictory moves by countries like the Gulf monarchies, which are trying to balance the rise of China against the United States to their mutual benefit.
This process is full of contradictions, but it part of a general weakening of US imperialism, and creates more political, economic, and diplomatic space for progressive and revolutionary forces in countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and beyond to not only survive but to thrive and advance.
At the founding meeting, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, explained Beijing’s thinking behind the new Group of Friends:
As we speak, the world today is faced with many grave challenges. We are witnessing profound changes and a pandemic both unseen in a century. The wealth gap, recovery gap, development gap and immunity gap keep widening. Global development is under severe impact. The pandemic has left many countries, especially developing countries, high and dry. People of all countries are eager to get back onto the right track of sustainable development.
The creation of the Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative is just one of a series of very interesting diplomatic moves happening behind the scenes. These developments don’t get coverage in mainstream corporate media because they’re not very sexy, but they are important.
The launch got zero coverage in the mainstream English-language corporate media. Chinese state-backed media outlets did cover the event though.
The Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations, the diplomatic complement to the Group of Friends of the Global Development Initiative, was formed in March 2021 by the following 16 UN member states and Palestine (a UN observer state):
Both the diplomatic and the economic alliance are still very young, but expect to hear more about these Groups of Friends in the future. These are the seeds that have been planted for a new multipolar international order.
Benjamin Norton is an independent journalist // periodista independiente.
This article was republished from Benjamin Norton.
“Christian Defense Coalition": Pushing Anti-China Lies, Opposing the Olympics in the name of Jesus. By: Caleb T. MaupinRead Now
If one goes to Tiananmen Square in China’s capital city, in the southern part of the square near the tomb of Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic, you will find The Monument to People’s Heroes. On the base of the tablet you will find the names of 8 historic rebellions against injustice that deeply impacted Chinese society, along with an inscription written by Mao Zedong and Zhou En-Lai that says:
Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who laid down their lives in the people's war of liberation and the people's revolution in the past three years!
Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who laid down their lives in the people's war of liberation and the people's revolution in the past thirty years!
Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who from 1840 laid down their lives in the many struggles against domestic and foreign enemies and for national independence and the freedom and well-being of the people!
What few Americans know is that among the heroes upon whom this monument extolls eternal glory are a group of Christians who stood up for the rights of peasants against the horrific brutality of feudalism.
In 1851 members of the God Worshipping Society, a Christian organization led by Hong Xiuquan felt they had no choice but to defend themselves. A famine had broken out and the peasants of Guangxi were starving. The God Worshipping Society had built itself by feeding the hungry, caring for those in need, and promoting the message of compassion and kindness found in the New Testament of the Bible. After government troops had been sent to Guangxi to surround Hong Xiuquan’s home, the Christians felt they had no choice but to fight back. A rebellion broke out, and on January 11th, Hong Xiuquan proclaimed that the Qing Dynasty needed to be toppled and replaced by a government that would serve the needs of the people. Amid starvation, government repression and all the horrors of underdevelopment imposed on China by foreign domination, Hong Xiuquan declared the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom as a new revolutionary government to fight for the common people of China against the corrupt gentry and aristocracy. This insurrection lasted 14 years and shook all of China.
To those who are familiar with the history of China, it shouldn’t be a big surprise that Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party have erected a monument in honor of a group of Christians. Many of the Americans who visited Mao Zedong’s Eighth Route Army during the 1930s such as Agnes Smedley, Edgar Snow and Anna Louise Strong observed that it seemed very close to early Christianity. The Communists left their old lives and possessions behind, held all things in common, and lived lives of total devotion to serving the people and building a new China.
The mystical religious fervor the Chinese Communist Party unleashed among people terrified the US intelligence apparatus in the 1950s and 60s. The term “Brainwashing” entered public discourse, films like “The Manchurian Candidate” and the covert CIA project MKULTRA all flowed from the utter shock and disbelief the US government had at the amazing loyalty and fanaticism that the Chinese Communist Party was able to summon among the population.
Even today in China more people attend church each Sunday morning than in the United States. Relations between the Vatican and Beijing have significantly improved in the last few years. The Three Self Patriotic Movement and the China Church Council have existed for decades as religious organizations working hand in hand with the Communist Party. The Chinese government has repudiated and apologized for the persecution of Christians that went on during the Cultural Revolution and huge strides have been made to correct these mistakes, and Christianity is very well alive in China.
However, to Americans the idea that the Chinese Communists have a monument to a group of Christians who laid down their lives to fight for justice is very shocking. Because of people like Patrick J. Mahoney and his Christian Defense Coalition, as well as other anti-China extremists speaking in the name of Jesus, the entire reality has been obscured. Now as the Winter Olympics in Beijing are approaching, these forces have reached a shrill volume in their hatred and deceptions.
Who is Patrick J. Mahoney?
Patrick J. Mahoney is a pretty obscure figure in the United States. He’s got just over 20K twitter followers, and his “Christian Defense Coalition” doesn’t even have a functioning updated website. However, Patrick J. Mahoney has been the lead pastor of something called “Church on the Hill” which is in direct contact with elected officials.
“Church on the Hill” describes itself as “a non-denominational Christian ministry and faith-based prayer outreach committed to meeting both the professional and spiritual needs of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area congressional members (and their staff). As a para-church Corporation, we assist the local church with building spiritual leaders.”
As a religious organization receiving 501c3 tax status, “Church on the Hill” is supposed to stay out of politics and function within its mission statement. However, Patrick J. Mahoney is anything but apolitical. If one looks at his social media he seems to have two obsessions, outlawing abortion by overturning the Supreme Court Roe V. Wade decision, and undermining the People’s Republic of China.
Mahoney’s participation in anti-abortion demonstrations is something he is very proud of. All across social media he is seen lobbying elected officials, participating in demonstrations and working to undermine something that the US public overwhelmingly supports by a large majority, protecting a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions.
It would certainly be within Mahoney’s right as religious leader to state his own moral or spiritual objection to abortion, but he goes far beyond that. As a defacto-lobbyist, he is using his position as “Church on the Hill” to engage in activism.
Mahoney was arrested during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and faced serious charges for his efforts to sew unrest in China. He has been banned from returning to the country. However, he is mobilizing his allies to do everything they can to hurt China at a time when it is hosting an international sporting event intended to bring the world together.
His followers have been putting pressure on NBC, demanding they not broadcast a very important international sporting event, simply because the host is a government he disapproves of.
Where was Patrick J. Mahoney in 2016 when the Olympics were held in Brazil? He was not seen protesting for the rights of the indigenous people of Brazil who have faced brutal persecution. During the Rio games he was not protesting the fact that the US government had just meddled in Brazil’s politics to remove President Dilma Roussef and replace her with a highly unpopular figure named Michel Temer who was an advocate of Neoliberal economics. He did not protest Brazil’s problematic environmental record.
When the Olympic Games of 2020 were set to take place in Japan, though postponed due to the pandemic, Mahoney did not protest against the horrific treatment that the peoples of Okinawa have suffered. He did not protest the fact that Japanese leaders have often been caught attempting to whitewash the history of their brutal crimes committed during the Second World War.
Mahoney is not really concerned about human rights or social justice, he is simply an anti-China activist. Like Robert Lighthizer and Peter Navarro, he serves a partisan agenda and his activism is tied to individuals with an economic interest in stopping China’s rise.
Mahoney repeats widely debunked allegations about Uyghurs, Tibet, and anything else he can drum up. Mahoney is not moved by one particular cause, but simply hatred for one particular country. Chinese officials have admitted that there are indeed human rights concerns and they would like to improve the situation in the country. However, Mahoney is not interested in dialogue with China about how to move ahead on this issue. Instead he seeks to isolate the United States from China and polarize the world economy.
Spreading Distrust & Escalating International Tensions
Patrick Mahoney should read the Bible he so frequently quotes. In 1 John 3:16-18 the Bible states: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
No country in the world has lifted more people out of poverty than China. Over 800 million people have been raised out of poverty in China, and countless millions more have had their lives improved by the infrastructure and development projects of the Belt and Road Initiative. If Mahoney is truly a follower of Jesus, he should be studying the methods China has used to help the downtrodden and hungry people of the world and apply them to the United States.
In Matthew 26:52, Christ said to his followers ““Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” If Mahoney were truly in line with the Christian teaching he would be urging US officials to stop sending weapons to the pacific and escalating tensions with China. He would be pushing for understanding between the Chinese and American peoples.
Opposing international tensions, bringing different peoples and nations together, and learning to love one’s enemies is central to the Christian belief system: “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” (Romans 12:17-21)
As Patrick Mahoney lobbies elected officials to be more hostile to China with his “Church on the Hill” and mobilizes to undermine an international event intended to bring the world together, his actions should be roundly condemned. His work is not benefitting the United States or the people of the world. Spreading division and escalating international tensions helps no one, especially in difficult times like these.
Caleb Maupin is a widely acclaimed speaker, writer, journalist, and political analyst. He has traveled extensively in the Middle East and in Latin America. He was involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement from its early planning stages, and has been involved many struggles for social justice. He is an outspoken advocate of international friendship and cooperation, as well as 21st Century Socialism. He doesn’t shy away from the word “Communism” when explaining his political views, and advocates that the USA move toward some form of “socialism with American characteristics” rooted in the democratic and egalitarian traditions often found in American history. He argues that the present crisis can only be abetted with an “American Rebirth” in which the radicalism and community-centered values of the country are re-established and strengthened.
On January 11, 2022, the United Nations (UN) Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths appealed to the international community to help raise $4.4 billion for Afghanistan in humanitarian aid, calling this effort, “the largest ever appeal for a single country for humanitarian assistance.” This amount is required “in the hope of shoring up collapsing basic services there,” said the UN. If this appeal is not met, Griffiths said, then “next year  we’ll be asking for $10 billion.”
The figure of $10 billion is significant. A few days after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan in mid-August 2021, the U.S. government announced the seizure of $9.5 billion in Afghan assets that were being held in the U.S. banking system. Under pressure from the United States government, the International Monetary Fund also denied Afghanistan access to $455 million of its share of special drawing rights, the international reserve asset that the IMF provides to its member countries to supplement their original reserves. These two figures—which constitute Afghanistan’s monetary reserves—amount to around $10 billion, the exact number Griffiths said that the country would need if the United Nations does not immediately get an emergency disbursement for providing humanitarian relief to Afghanistan.
A recent analysis by development economist Dr. William Byrd for the United States Institute of Peace, titled, “How to Mitigate Afghanistan’s Economic and Humanitarian Crises,” noted that the economic and humanitarian crises being faced by the country are a direct result of the cutoff of $8 billion in annual aid to Afghanistan and the freezing of $9.5 billion of the country’s “foreign exchange reserves” by the United States. The analysis further noted that the sanctions relief—given by the U.S. Treasury Department and the United Nations Security Council on December 22, 2021—to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan should also be extended to “private business and commercial transactions.” Byrd also mentioned the need to find ways to pay salaries of health workers, teachers and other essential service providers to prevent an economic collapse in Afghanistan and suggested using “a combination of Afghan revenues and aid funding” for this purpose.
Meanwhile, the idea of paying salaries directly to the teachers came up in an early December 2021 meeting between the UN’s special envoy for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons and Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai. None of these proposals, however, seem to have been taken seriously in Washington, D.C.
A Humanitarian Crisis
In July 2020, before the pandemic hit the country hard, and long before the Taliban returned to power in Kabul, the Ministry of Economy in Afghanistan had said that 90 percent of the people in the country lived below the international poverty line of $2 a day. Meanwhile, since the beginning of its war in Afghanistan in 2001, the United States government has spent $2.313 trillion on its war efforts, according to figures provided by Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University; but despite spending 20 years in the country’s war, the United States government spent only $145 billion on the reconstruction of the country’s institutions, according to its own estimates. In August, before the Taliban defeated the U.S. military forces, the United States government’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) published an important report that assessed the money spent by the U.S. on the country’s development. The authors of the report wrote that despite some modest gains, “progress has been elusive and the prospects for sustaining this progress are dubious.” The report pointed to the lack of development of a coherent strategy by the U.S. government, excessive reliance on foreign aid, and pervasive corruption inside the U.S. contracting process as some of the reasons that eventually led to a “troubled reconstruction effort” in Afghanistan. This resulted in an enormous waste of resources for the Afghans, who desperately needed these resources to rebuild their country, which had been destroyed by years of war.
On December 1, 2021, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released a vital report on the devastating situation in Afghanistan. In the last decade of the U.S. occupation, the annual per capita income in Afghanistan fell from $650 in 2012 to around $500 in 2020 and is expected to drop to $350 in 2022 if the population increases at the same pace as it has in the recent past. The country’s gross domestic product will contract by 20 percent in 2022, followed by a 30 percent drop in the following years. The following sentences from the UNDP report are worth quoting in full to understand the extent of humanitarian crisis being faced by the people in the country: “According to recent estimates, only 5 percent of the population has enough to eat, while the number of those facing acute hunger is now estimated to have… reached a record 23 million. Almost 14 million children are likely to face crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity this winter, with 3.5 million children under the age of five expected to suffer from acute malnutrition, and 1 million children risk dying from hunger and low temperatures.”
This unraveling humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is the reason for the January 11 appeal to the international community by the UN. On December 18, 2021, the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held an emergency meeting—called for by Saudi Arabia—on Afghanistan in Islamabad, Pakistan. Outside the meeting room—which merely produced a statement—the various foreign ministers met with Afghanistan’s interim Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi. While in Islamabad, Muttaqi met with the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Thomas West. A senior official with the U.S. delegation told Kamran Yousaf of the Express Tribune (Pakistan), “We have worked quietly to enable cash… [to come into] the country in larger and larger denominations.” A foreign minister at the OIC meeting told me that the OIC states are already working quietly to send humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
Four days later, on December 22, the United States introduced a resolution (2615) in the UN Security Council that urged a “humanitarian exception” to the harsh sanctions against Afghanistan. During the meeting, which took place for approximately 40 minutes, nobody raised the matter that the U.S., which proposed the resolution, had decided to freeze the $10 billion that belonged to Afghanistan. Nonetheless, the passage of this resolution was widely celebrated since everyone understands the gravity of Afghanistan’s crisis. Meanwhile, Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the UN, raised problems relating to the far-reaching effects of such sanctions and urged the council to “guide the Taliban to consolidate interim structures, enabling them to maintain security and stability, and to promote reconstruction and recovery.”
A senior member of the Afghan central bank (Da Afghanistan Bank) told me that much-needed resources are expected to enter the country as part of humanitarian aid being provided by Afghanistan’s neighbors, particularly from China, Iran and Pakistan (aid from India will come through Iran). Aid has also come in from other neighboring countries, such as Uzbekistan, which sent 3,700 tons of food, fuel and winter clothes, and Turkmenistan, which sent fuel and food. In early January 2022, Muttaqi traveled to Tehran, Iran, to meet with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and Iran’s Special Representative for Afghanistan Hassan Kazemi Qomi. While Iran has not recognized the Taliban government as the official government of Afghanistan, it has been in close contact with the government “to help the deprived people of Afghanistan to reduce their suffering.” Muttaqi has, meanwhile, emphasized that his government wants to engage the major powers over the future of Afghanistan.
On January 10, the day before the UN made its most recent appeal for coming to the aid of Afghanistan, a group of charity groups and NGOs—organized by the Zakat Foundation of America—held an Afghan Peace and Humanitarian Task Force meeting in Washington. The greatest concern is the humanitarian crisis being faced by the people of Afghanistan, notably the imminent question of starvation in the country, with the roads already closed off due to the harsh winter witnessed in the region.
In November 2021, Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai urged the United States to reopen its embassy in Kabul; a few weeks later, he said that the U.S. is responsible for the crisis in Afghanistan, and it “should play an active role” in repairing the damage it has done to the country. This sums up the present mood in Afghanistan: open to relations with the U.S., but only after it allows the Afghan people access to the nation’s own money in order to save Afghan lives.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including "The Darker Nations" and "The Poorer Nations." His latest book is "Washington Bullets," with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.
In a recent article, The New Yorker investigated what it takes for companies to ensure an output of some level of social “good” and not just profits. Beginning with the question “can companies force themselves to do good?,” the answer came from a company called Purpose Foundation: an organization that is attempting to forever change the ownership structure of corporations. The Foundation helps company owners set up what are called perpetual-purpose trusts, which become the “legal” owners of the company itself. What’s more is that these trusts are suffused with social “purposes” whether “sharing profits with workers, protecting the environment, or hiring the formerly incarcerated.” These perpetual-purpose trusts are said to last “indefinitely” and cannot be removed by new owners, thus ensuring a company’s fidelity to certain causes.
The reason for creating such trusts is to alter ownership structures entirely, which, according to the Purpose Foundation's co-founder Camille Canon, is “where power is actually held.” According to the article, it's in the “dry, technocratic detail of trust law” where this power can be wielded for good over…what has really only ever been deemed as “less good.”
These perpetual-purpose trusts are not without their complexity though. As the article outlines, some decisions are easier to respond to than others:
“Some details could be specified precisely; the highest-paid employee, for instance, could never earn more than ten times as much as the lowest-paid employee. But other matters required flexibility and nuance. If the trust mandated that a specific percentage of each year’s profits had to be donated to nonprofits, that might limit the company’s ability to respond to unforeseen events, such as a pandemic or sudden economic downturn.”
But the important work is all in finding the right, “socially conscious” investors, as was the case for Matt Kreutz, founder of Oakland-based Firebrand Artisan Breads - a company where Kreutz hires ex-convicts and even offers temporary housing to employees. Consultants from Purpose were able to get him involved with “progressive investors” that were looking to support his business along with the “socially conscious” aspects of his company, as opposed to those who saw this as excess that affected profits.
Citing the 2010 Supreme Court Decision (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) that granted corporations the same legal protections that people had, Nick Romero makes the observation that if corporations are in fact people, “they’re psychopaths.” And this is where Purpose Foundation’s work lies: in trying to rewrite the “psychology of companies” as it were - “changing the deep structures that shape [corporations’] behavior.” The “imperative to make money” does not need to fall in line with the frenzied, capitalistic behavior of profits for profit’s sake - this “imperative…can be transformed into a requirement to do good.”
A “more humane version of capitalism” is on the horizon - so the story goes.
Are we saved? Is this the beginning of the end of the old, “evil” capitalism? Are we so bold to wonder “is this a step toward socialism?”
Not to forestall hope, but if we are to dream socialist dreams here, the thing that’s obviously missing is any sort of politicization of these perpetual-purpose trusts. People’s World reached out to Purpose to inquire about political alignment or if there were any political projects or action committees at the Foundation. The response was a very plucky “we are doing this work one business at a time” with no political alignments or “legislation writing projects.” This appears to be a purely economic “solution” to the problem of company psychopathology.
How are we to compare this to previous attempts at “capitalism with a human face” like co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods John Mackey’s “conscious capitalism” or even “philanthrocapitalism?”
Conscious capitalism first began to make waves in the late 2000’s as a way to get companies to focus on “higher purposes” such as employee health and benefits, providing “equitable access” to food all over the globe, and even taking greener measures. It even seems to be garnering strength as capitalism itself has reached the “highest status of anything - above lifestyle, above health, above family, above happiness - and above humanity itself,” leaving some to argue it’s time for this system to “evolve” to take on the “unsustainable” elements of capitalism - i.e. homelessness, growing wealth disparities, and the healthcare crisis.
Harvard Business Review even showed companies that practiced “conscious capitalism” performed as well as ten times better than companies that didn’t. The secret to this success? Consumers are making better, more “conscious” choices for where they buy their products and services.
Not long before that, philanthrocapitalism was already in the works - an approach to philanthropy that mimics for-profit business structures requiring investors and gauges outputs of “social returns.” Although more commonly associated with Bill Gates and his Gates Foundation as well as Mark Zuckerberg today, such efforts go back to the early days of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation.
Somewhere within the coordinates of philanthrocapitalism and conscious capitalism we have self-proclaimed “socialist” companies: the best example of this today being No Evil Foods.
So, why do we need a more “humane capitalism?” Things seem to be moving in the direction toward progressive, socially-minded companies and consumers are responding well to it.
Well, to start, we need to look at the limitations of these “good” companies.
To begin with, conscious capitalism is not immune to the laws of value - or, to put it in conscious capitalist terms, the highest of the purposes is profit, or surplus value. Whole Foods was purchased by Amazon back in 2017, and the new parent company has had quite a time during this pandemic when it has come to the conditions its warehouse workers have had to survive through. Terrestrially-bored Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has doubled his wealth during this same time period.
Whole Foods has had some recent turbulence when it has come to knowing precisely which social causes are worth being the most conscious about. Recently, workers had been banned from donning Black Lives Matter slogans on masks and shirts. During November of last year, three Trans employees filed official complaints of transphobia due to harassment - two of which were eventually let go from their respective stores. Whole Foods also removed health benefits for part-time workers and limited hazard pay during the height of the pandemic. Not to mention the paid time-off system where employees can donate PTO to other employees if they are in need of it, rather than the company itself giving out more paid time-off to employees in need or not. Employees are not required to donate, but the moral impetus is clearly put upon co-workers rather than management.
Workers rights, Black lives, and trans dignity don’t appear to top the list of “what conscious capitalists care about,” and although John Mackey is quick to point out that Whole Foods was the first to ensure proper sterilizing measures and COVID protocols, he is withholding purposeful action on several other social issues.
“I like to keep my political beliefs, beliefs about controversial issues, to myself. I don’t really want to talk about racism. I don’t want to talk about climate change. I don’t want to talk about riots or fires. I want to talk about conscious leadership,” said Mackey during an interview with Isaac Chotiner of The New Yorker. “I’m opposed to racism. That’s my position on racism. End of discussion.”
Being purpose-driven with capitalism appears to succumb to the same whims of majority owners, board members, and C-level executives as “regular” capitalism - or, Capitalism Classic.
Perhaps philanthrocapitalism is having less of a rocky start to winning over the people.
In their recent book Inflamed, Rupa Marya and Raj Patel give a brief historical breakdown of philanthrocapitalism. The Carnegie Corporation, one of the first modern philanthropic organizations to exist, had directly “alter[ed] the course of US medical education and practice,” having helped close five of the seven Black medical schools in the United States at the time; and also was involved in the promotion of “global whiteness,” as political theorist Tiffany Willoughby-Herard put it, for supporting the Afrikaner white nationalism of South Africa.
Citing both the Rockefeller Foundation and the Gates Foundation, these “philanthropists” tend to disappear Indigenous knowledge and practices (specifically when it comes to medicine) while purchasing land in which to mine for resources. Gates himself owns 242,000 acres of arable land, some of which he’s using for nuclear power, “making him the largest farmland owner and occupant of stolen territory in the United States.”
Pointing out that “[p]hilanthropists traditionally use their money to project their visions onto foreign places,” Marya and Patel conclude that “[p]hilanthrocapitalism is the latest in a long series of technologies for the social reproduction of colonial power.”
What about companies that are manufacturing products that are better for the environment and healthier for us? Well, No Evil Foods started their 2021 with union busting and ended with laying off 30 to 50 production workers without severance and canceling their benefits. To no one’s surprise, these efforts were financially motivated and were necessary so that they could, as co-founder Mike Woliansky put it, “save animals and help people be healthier or help save the planet.”
These examples of course in no way discredit an entire systematic approach to private ownership of the means of production, even if it is allegedly socially conscious. However, we are left to wonder what is a good company? On the inside, many of us have worked places where we were assured we were a family only to find that this “familial connection” was meant to elicit more time and effort from us, produce guilt for not doing enough or off-loading responsibility onto co-workers, and provide a sense of belonging so employees think how they are treated is “ok.” Asking more of employees has been the method of any and every job or boss, but the “family” functions precisely without having to ask: employees tend to police themselves in this way hoping against hope that if/when layoffs happen, if/when the next pandemic hits, if/when benefits must be cut, they will be spared. This is what conscious capitalism looks like from this side of the looking glass.
What about from “outside” a company: what does a “good” company look like from that view? It would appear that this is a much more complex question to answer. After all, does not this view of a company doing good depend fully on the company’s image itself? Where does that leave the actual practices of the business?
Any person on the street can celebrate a company like Ford Motor for building a plant dedicated to manufacturing zero-emission pickup trucks while ignoring what this could do to the area’s drinking water and what Ford has a known history of doing in other cities (where many of their employees tend to live) - Flat Rock and Livonia, Michigan both have endured recent toxic chemical spills.
In such cases, it would seem we are left to choose between a company’s image and a company’s actions. If a company’s actions are more consequential to our lives, why do we keep coming back to the image? Is this not the precise lesson of Hannah Arendt’s famous concept “the banality of evil?” Rather than simply being “clueless” or unaware of the actions and consequences of a company - who they are exploiting elsewhere, what harm they are causing to the environment, what crimes they are committing - aren’t we fully aware and purposefully ignoring it? Do we not give corporations free passes like this all the time? Chik-fil-A’s recent commercials about how they treat their workers (who we are assured “enjoy” going above and beyond) may make us feel good but has anyone truly forgotten their anti-LGBTQIA+ history? Or is it easier to disavow such histories as simply that: dead and history? Perhaps it's easier to pull into the nearest gas station without considering if one is ready to forgive Shell or BP for their atrocities.
It’s here that we must return to the “companies as psychopaths” argument and make a slight change: if companies are psychopaths, us as consumers and employees are sociopaths.
But this seems to put a lot of credit into the hands of the consumer/employee. Is ignoring a company’s wrong-doings all our fault or are these companies banking on a “sociopathic” acceptance of their image?
First, it’s important to interrogate what the “psychology” of a company means. If a company is a psychopath, then we’re left to conclude that those in the driver’s seat - the CEO, owners, board members - make up the “psychology” we are concerned about here.
Second, we need to remember that a company’s “psychology” is all too real today as social media roles proliferate across industries: these being jobs where employees are to act as the “face” and are directly responsible for embodying a company’s so-called values and “speak” its words, as it were. Indulging this psychology both reifies the idea of employee responsibility to ensure a company’s morals and further distances the responsibility of these “psychopathic” tendencies from those actually acting on them.
Vegan business magazine, the Vegconomist makes the point even clearer here: “entrepreneurs are just everyday people trying to accomplish big dreams, sometimes unrealistically big dreams. If successful, they create great products, lots of jobs, and consumer and investor value. But it isn’t always a straight line to the top. It is often one step up and two steps back, to then hopefully jump three steps up.”
The formula is a little more direct: if companies are psychopaths, it’s because of those who have big dreams of value. Another way to word this is value is both the goal and the driver or in Marx’s formula of capital: money begets product which begets (more) money.
Although capital itself has changed - most billionaires tend to have very little actual money in their bank accounts - the goal of (surplus) value through profits has remained.
How do perpetual-trusts help us out of this deadlock? Is its fate any different than capitalism in all its flavors?
The obvious reaction here is that it’s better to give anything at all to a cause or charity than to give nothing. Indeed, this is true, but what is “humane” and what is “marketable as humane” are becoming indiscernible.
Capitalism’s most distinguishing characteristic is its ability to self-revolutionize: what makes it so remarkable is its ability to subsume new forms of relations of production without hitting the limits of those relations. In short, capitalism constantly changes its own conditions of existence and this is where its true power resides. Humanitarian capitalism thus finds its contradiction-to-overcome in the very nature of a perpetual trust: the legal “indefiniteness” of such a trust would be an obstacle to this constant revolutionizing. This leaves these trusts and the companies themselves vulnerable to the threat of economic impact from extensive litigation, either as a way of forcing negotiations or sidelining a competitor.
But is this a step toward socialism? No.
This seems more like a step to ensure that socialism in fact never comes about.
We need only to look at some of Purpose Foundation’s other work to understand the difference between this flavor of capitalism and socialism: the Trust Neighborhood is an effort to ensure clean, safe, and affordable neighborhoods that are also “mixed-income.” This is an interesting euphemism for different classes “coexisting” in the same neighborhood. We’re already aware of the links between class disparities in the same communities and suicide, but this seems to ignore the class aspect as being problematic.
This is an effort not to abolish class antagonisms, but, as Slavoj Žižek recently pointed out, to ensure one’s class-identity is respected and remains intact. If we are to take humanitarian capitalism seriously, we must first acknowledge that humanitarian capitalism doesn’t take its own (class) antagonisms seriously enough.
The problem with this, above all else, is that it’s a de-politicized attempt at change. The fact that so much of where the “power is actually held” has to do with legalities - from perpetual-trusts, ownership power structures, and Trust Neighborhoods - shows the power the law and state have in economics. To put this more aptly, it is the sphere of economics that is subordinated to the political terrain. Social “good” cannot come from economics alone. Perpetual-purpose trusts or not, the direction of a company’s purpose is determined first by the whims of an owner, executive, or majority shareholder. What’s more is that the legalities of these trusts are subjected to “politics as usual” - a social status quo which we already know all too well. To sum up “humanitarian capitalism,” it seems we’re looking to change everything in order that it all remains the same.
Andrew Wright is an essayist and activist based out of Detroit. He has written and presented on topics such as suicide and mental health, class struggle, gender studies, politics, ideology, and philosophy.
Book Review: Marvin Harris- The Rise of Anthropological Theory: A History of Theories of Culture (2001). Reviewed By: Thomas RigginsRead Now
This is an indispensable book for all those on the left interested in understanding how the science of cultural (social) anthropology developed over the last three centuries and how it is used to understand (and sometimes control) non-Western societies, especially those that have not developed complex state structures.
Harris’ updated edition was published a few months before his death in October 2001.The Rise of Anthropological Theory [TRAT] was first published in 1968 and is still marked by some of the ideological concerns of that era. Harris states that his goal was “to extricate the materialist position from the hegemony of dialectical Marxian orthodoxy with its anti-positivist dogmas while simultaneously exposing the theoretical failure of biological reductionism, eclecticism, historical particularism and various forms of cultural idealism.”
What we have here is another shamefaced Marxist inspired work that, due to the political realities of American capitalism, recognizes the validity of Marx’s scientific accomplishments yet halts at drawing the social and political conclusions those accomplishments reveal with respect to the society in which Harris himself lived and worked.
Harris called the type of anthropological theory he developed “cultural materialism” in contrast to “historical” or “dialectical” materialism, two forms he thought contaminated by Hegel’s dialectic.
Maxinel L. Margolis, in the 2001 introduction to TRAT describes it thusly: “In its simplest terms, cultural materialism rejects the time worn adage that ‘ideas change the world.’ Instead, it holds that over time and in most cases, changes in a society’s material base will lead to functionally compatible changes in its social and political structures along with modifications in its secular and religious ideologies, all of which enhance the continuity and stability of the system as a whole.”
This is basically the Marxism of the ‘Preface’ to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy shorn of its revolutionary implications. Gone from this formulation is Marx’s recognition that, “At a certain stage of their development” the productive forces in the material base come into conflict with the relations of production-- those relations turning into their “fetters” which results in “an epoch of social revolution.”
The Harris version, tempered by the necessity of academic survival (he was a professor at Columbia) in the 60s, a time when the U.S. government was involved in a world wide anti-Communist crusade [which was actually a crusade against human rights and democratic representation for the world’s poor] stretching from Latin America through Europe, Africa and Asia, has replaced these Marxist revolutionary bugaboos with more acceptable bourgeois formulations: “functionally compatible changes” which “enhance the continuity of the system.”
Cultural Materialism will not explain the French Revolution. But it was not designed to. Harris’ revision of Marx is more in line with British Functionalism (different cultural elements function together to promote stability). The main difference being that Harris tries to provide for evolutionary change while the functionalists (Bronisław Malinowski, A. R. Radliffe-Brown) were opposed to ideas of evolutionary (let alone revolutionary) change.
Harris’ book is important because it discusses in great detail all the major anthropological theories of culture developed in the West from the Enlightenment to the present. He thinks Marx’s views are vital and he defends them (at least some of them) against all comers, while at the same time giving credit to the discoveries and contributions of other schools of thought.
He credits the Boas school (founded at Columbia towards the end of the Nineteenth Century) for its contributions to the scientific fight against racism and racist ideologies, while at the same time rejecting its anti-evolutionary theories of “historical particularism.”
His chapter on “Dialectical Materialism” is of particular interest. In this chapter he discusses Marx’s methods of social analysis, including the limitations imposed on it by its Nineteenth Century milieu, and concludes that, “It is Marx’s more general materialist formulation that deserves our closest scrutiny.” What he wants to scrutinize away is the influence of Hegel and, to Harris, the unscientific and outmoded principles of dialectic. [ It is that nasty dialectic that is responsible for contradiction which might not “promote stability”].
After pulling Marx and Engels’ teeth, so they can’t bite the bourgeois hand that feeds him, Harris allows them to become major forerunners of his so-called Cultural Materialism.
Harris gives good critiques of both French Structuralism (Levi-Strauss) and British Social Anthropology and concludes with two chapters (22 and 23) which thoroughly explain his own theories. These are the chapters “Cultural Materialism: General Evolution” and “Cultural Evolution: Cultural Ecology.”
In these chapters not only are Marx and Engels lauded, but so is Lewis Henry Morgan (Ancient Society, 1877) whose work was the basis of Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. Morgan, the founder of American anthropology, was an upstate New York Republican legislator from Buffalo credited by Marx and Engels with independently discovering historical materialism.
Harris also discusses Leslie White’s The Evolution of Culture (1943, 1959)--”the modern equivalent of Morgan’s Ancient Society”) [although White may seem a little too mechanical: “Other factors remaining constant, culture evolves as the amount of energy harnessed per capita per year is increased, or as the efficiency of the means of putting the energy to work is increased.”]
The important contributions of the Australian Marxist archeologist Vere Gordon Childe (The Dawn of Western Civilization, 1958; What Happened in History, 1946; Man Makes Himself, 1936 and Social Evolution, 1951) are presented as well.
All in all, Harris packs into his 806 pages a more or less complete survey of every major school and theory in the history of anthropology. His view, subject to the restrictions and ideological conditions noted earlier, is basically progressive and anyone with a modicum of Marxist theory can easily substitute a more “orthodox”, that is, more consistently Marxist, analysis to replace those areas where Harris’ “Cultural Materialism” fails in its appreciation of the Hegelian-Marxist dialectic.
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.
A classic blunder and smear against an outspoken activist.
Anyone who has ever been critical of Israeli actions toward the Palestinian people knows what to expect next—an avalanche of pit-bull attacks and smears that their criticisms of Israel are motivated by racism and anti-Semitism. The latest example is the response to actress Emma Watson’s pro-Palestinian Instagram post, which led (predictably) to Israeli officials and supporters accusing her of anti-Semitism. Among many others, former Israeli UN Representative Danny Danon—in a tone-deaf post--wrote, “10 points from Gryffindor for being an antisemite.”
The purpose of such false accusations is of course to deflect attention away from what is happening on the ground—the real (war) crimes that Israel is perpetrating against the Palestinian people—to the supposed motivations of the critics. Unable to defend its criminal actions, all that Israel’s increasingly desperate defenders have left is smear and innuendo, as the attacks on Emma Watson make clear.
But the accusations may also have some other unintended consequences—they make real anti-Semitism (the right-wing fascist variety that really does hate Jews as Jews) more respectable and legitimate—and thus even more deadly. In that sense, the Zionist defenders of Israel are among the most dangerous purveyors of contemporary anti-Semitism--the hatred of Jews as a collective.
There are two steps to how these unintended consequences are blundered into.
First, there is the claim that Israel and Jewishness are the same thing—that Israel is not the state of all its citizens but is the state of the Jewish people alone. The nation-state law, passed in 2018—which gives Jews alone the right of self-determination in Israel, recognizing Hebrew as the sole official national language, and establishing “Jewish settlement as a national value”—makes the link between the Israeli state and Jewishness formal and official. Similarly, the widely adopted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism cites one example as “the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity” and has a similar thrust—Israel equals Jews.
The second step is the increasing visibility of Israeli violence toward Palestinians. Although Israeli propaganda had succeeded for decades in deflecting mainstream attention away from Israel’s crimes, the cloak of invisibility created by its public relations efforts—its hasbara—is disintegrating before the force of reality, its own increasingly cruel and vicious actions, as well as the work of the growing number of pro-Palestinian activists around the world who are using the power of social media to bypass the normal media gatekeepers. While anyone with a passing knowledge of the situation has long known about the brutal matrix of violence and control—from the river to the sea—exerted by Israel over the Palestinian population, that understanding is now increasingly visible and mainstream. (As evidence of this, Emma Watson’s post quickly drew over 1 million likes.)
The problem for all of us, not just Israel, is when these two things are put together—the equation of Israel with Jews and the visibility of Israeli atrocities--then Jews as a whole become tarred with the crimes of the Israeli state. As the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote in 2015, “Some of the hatred toward Jews elsewhere in the world—emphatically, only some and not all of it—is fed by the policies of the state of Israel and especially by its continuing occupation and abuse, decade after decade, of the Palestinian people.”
In this process, the danger is that actually existing anti-Semitism is being made more respectable as there seems to be some rational basis for it—Israeli atrocities. At a time when the real and dangerous anti-Semitism of the fascist right is on the rise—remember the white supremacist Charlottesville thugs were chanting “Jews will not replace us”—the last thing that is needed is to give it any sheen of respectability, as, albeit unwittingly, do those who insist on the indissoluble link between the brutal violence of the Zionist project and Jewishness.
Such a link is of course nonsense. Jews of all political stripes have long been on the front lines of the fight against the racist Zionist enterprise, insisting that it has no part in their own Jewish values based on a belief in universal—not particular—human rights. It is why groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights act as human shields against the attacks on Palestinians by settlers and the Israel Defense Forces. The fight against Israeli policies and Zionist violence is driven by the concerns of social justice and solidarity, not racism toward Jews.
Emma Watson is part of an exponentially fast-growing choir of decent like-minded men and women of good faith all over the world, united in their belief that all people, irrespective of their ethnicity or their religion or their nationality, must have inalienable human rights, including the right to life and liberty and self-determination, from every river to every sea everywhere. That includes the long-suffering people of Palestine. The attempted weaponization of anti-Semitism against this movement not only weakens the term as a description of real fascist racism, but in fact serves to legitimate it. If criticizing cruel Israeli policies toward the Palestinians is anti-Semitic, then what is so wrong with anti-Semitism, so this misguided line of thinking goes. As Robert Fisk once noted, “if this continued campaign of abuse against decent people, trying to shut them up by falsely accusing them of anti-Semitism, continues, the word ‘anti-Semitism’ will begin to become respectable. And that is a great danger.”
The solution to this is clear: break the erroneous link between Israel and all Jews (between Israel and Judaism) and concentrate on the reality that the Zionist enterprise is an old-fashioned settler-colonial project—driven in large part by the geopolitical interests of its principal sponsor, the United States. Once we eliminate the obfuscation and confusion that result from the lazy (but calculated) accusation of anti-Semitism, the building of an unstoppable international movement of justice for the Palestinians can continue. Let’s get to it!
If ‘the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles’ (Marx, 2004: 137), then Revolutions constitutes a major work of history. Two decades after its original publication, Löwy, along with six other historians, presents a photographic account of all the major revolutions in modern history, from the Paris Commune in 1871 up to the Cuban Revolution of 1959, from suppressed uprisings to liberatory movements across the globe, from the imperial core of Western Europe to the peripheries of China, Russia, and Mexico. Each of these revolutions, given a short overview to preface its photo collection, has been a subject of scrutiny, each has a wealth of historiography attributed to it, but this book takes a different approach, placing the masses – frozen in time – at the centre of how we view such movements. Why this approach? Löwy asserts that photos can ‘capture what no text can communicate’, and, taking it further, states that ‘a photograph allows us to see, concretely, what constitutes the unifying spirit and singularity of a particular revolution.’ (11)
What is the significance of photography in revolutions? What can photography do that lengthy histories, academic volumes, and historiographical bookshelves cannot? According to Löwy, photographs of revolutions ‘reveal […] a magical or prophetic quality that renders them permanently contemporary, always subversive. They speak to us about the past, and about a possible future.’ (17) Houzel and Traverso take this further; they assert that viewing these historical events through images, through mere fragments of time, allows us to study the events as they are, without the burden of subsequent historiography. Indeed, they believe that it allows us to ‘strip away a thick layer of retrospective projections, first hagiography and later demonization.’ (109)
This is a fascinating point; it is certainly true that these photographs somewhat remove the decades of analysis and revisionism, adulation and defamation, and leave us with the intimacy of agents of history. The harsh colds of winter that characterise the Russian revolution, the solemn recognition of imminent change, and the realisation of those who have driven it, the acceptance of death before the executioner’s gun – facial expressions reveal to us the realities of these movements in ways that transcend nuanced analysis. They isolate movements from future projections, and what is left, for a time, is a measure of historical objectivity.
History, however, can never truly be objective. If captions are integral to the meaning of photographs (and the author agrees with Walter Benjamin that they are), if each photo is ‘profoundly subjective because it bears, in one way or the other, its author’s mark’ (13), if text is the ‘fuse guiding the critical spark to the image’ (14) – then that is how we should read Revolutions – not as an objective chronology of images providing an exhaustive, neutral account, but a selection of photographs alongside their own ‘captions’, in this case their accompanying analyses and observations. Therefore, to echo Löwy’s introduction, Revolutions provides both the objective (photographs of reality) and the subjective (analysis of these photos).
Formed in chronological order, the way these events are depicted evolves with the development of photographic technology; earlier depiction was far more forced, almost semi-staged, as the time taken to capture an image was extended, and the equipment required bulky and inconvenient. However, much of the way these photos are captured, and indeed the major themes of revolution, remain consistent throughout the last 150 years. One of the first examples of the revolution photographed comes from the barricades of France, 1848, a ‘material symbol of the act of insurrection’ (p.11), and a tactic reemployed throughout future radical movements. The use of barricades coincides with the first evidence of photographed revolution, but 1848 marks the beginning of this account for another reason too; as Löwy asserts, after that year the way ‘revolution’ is understood changed significantly. ‘Revolution’ before 1848 had largely simply suggested a transformation of the state structure, but now denoted ‘an attempt to subvert the whole bourgeois order’ (10).
From the barricades of Paris, then, to the brutal repression of the 1905 Russian Revolution, an uprising described as ‘a bolt of lightning that precedes a crash of thunder, which was not long in coming’ (69), where moderate, peaceful demands for civil liberties, land, education and assemblies were met with extreme violence and murder. And the visual representation of this brutality emphasises the scale of violence inevitable in class struggles. It is a theme that occurs throughout history and as such throughout this book; decapitated heads of Chinese rebels, executed workers, and mass graves are explicitly shown, more striking in photography than any academic statistic of death and injury can evoke. The photography of 1905 Russia indicates not only violent repression, but, according to the author, defiance: ‘they don’t appear defeated; on the contrary, their faces display great dignity. This is a sign that the 1905 Revolution, although it was aborted, left an indelible mark on the consciousness of the masses’ (79).
Revolutions does not deny the limits of photographical enquiry; how can black and white imagery capture something so colourful as the Mexican Revolution? As Rousset asks, ‘how can one visually do justice’ to intellectual shifts between the Chinese revolutions? (330) And, clearly, photography is restricted by its singular and immortalised focus. Despite this, even in the Mexican Revolution, the contradiction between city and countryside, as ‘urban and rural mexico stood face to face’ (274), is made indisputably clear by photography. The clothes, facial expressions and the unfamiliar, out of place look of rugged, rural Mexicans in the urban centre reveal this phenomenon, one that persists across the world today. Indeed, one of the book’s strongest aspects is its refusal to present the best-known actors and leaders as the centrepiece of revolution – instead, the bulk of photography is dedicated to the real drivers of social change: the masses. As Houzel and Traverso remark, ‘as in all revolutions, the masses – a human sea – are at the center of all events and invade all spaces.’ (114)
A striking image of ordinary Cubans at Playa Girón, prepared to give everything to defend their revolution, to defend their sovereignty, is instructive of the popular revolution and represents an unprecedented event: ‘for the first time in the twentieth century, an intervention planned and armed by Washington had been defeated’ (461). Ordinary, unnamed people, women and workers, children and peasants, people forgotten to history are in this volume accentuated as central figures in extraordinary events.
This account chronologises the different major revolutionary movements, but it is not simply time that connects them – the photographs of the first Russian Revolution help to explain the conditions and lessons of the successful Revolution just 12 years later. Emiliano Zapata lives on through his eponymous revolutionary descendants decades later, whose own role in history has been guided and shaped by the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920. The actors of revolution in these photographs are changing the future; they are shaping what will be photographed in later chapters, through the demolition of the old order and in the surreal manner of historical repetition. This is in part explained by Traverso, in his analysis of the failed German revolution of 1918-19: ‘Photography […] revealed that the protagonists know perfectly well that they were living through an extraordinary event, something out of the ordinary, which was breaking up linear time, confounding regular chronology, and marking the eruption of a qualitatively different temporality.’ (212)
The photographs in this book constitute memories of won and lost futures – structural ruptures, successful class struggles, as well as repressed uprisings and the killing of revolutions, each movement of which has shaped the next. But they also represent future building, inspiration, and icons who transcend time to play roles in movements long after they have died. It is difficult not to see the similarities within these revolutions, and while barricades evoke the uprisings of the past, no discussion of revolution is complete without its martyrs. Three heroes – Karl Liebknecht, Emiliano Zapata and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, complex individuals who played major parts in three very different revolutions, become unified through the manner of their downfall, and crucially by the depiction of their deaths through the lens. The photos of their corpses are strikingly similar; upright, vivid, present in their surroundings, alive in all but breath. No image inspires more than that of someone who fell in the midst of attempting the nearly impossible feat of revolution.
Revolutions is a major contribution to our understanding of the principal social movements which shape our modern world. It brings us closer to the participants of history, it provides imagery beautiful and haunting, inspiring and brutal. It binds together the unknown agents of history, the ordinary people achieving the extraordinary, and the immortalised heroes of revolutionary movements. The ‘magical or prophetic quality’ attributed by Löwy to this photography is significant here. Iconic revolutionary photography continues to inspire historical movements, and in this sense, Revolutions adds to the existing revolutionary nostalgia. Indeed, if nostalgia is the memory of lost futures (Fisher, 2013:36), much of that which is depicted in this book constitutes the memory of won futures, and the ordinary people who won them. And to again echo Löwy’s introduction, it is in this way that revolutionary photography can both depict the past, and shape a possible future.
13 January 2022
Aidan Ratchford is in the first year of a PhD in Economic and Social History at the University of Glasgow.
The article was republised from Marx & Philosophy.