On August 15, 2021, Afghan president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani made an inglorious exit from Afghanistan. In the words of Russian Embassy spokesman in Kabul Nikita Ishchenko: “the collapse of the regime…is most eloquently characterized by the way Ghani fled Afghanistan. Four cars were full of money, they tried to stuff another part of the money into a helicopter, but not all of it fit. And some of the money was left lying on the tarmac.”
Sitting safely in the United Arab Emirates, he has busied himself with public relations damage control. “Do not believe whoever tells you that your president sold you out and fled for his own advantage and to save his own life…These accusations are baseless... and I strongly reject them…I was expelled from Afghanistan in such a way that I didn't even get the chance to take my slippers off my feet and pull on my boots.”
Many high-ranking individuals have strongly disagreed with Ghani’s attempted dignification of his dishonorable escapade. On August 18, 2021, Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi called on Interpol to arrest him for “selling out the motherland.” On the same day, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan told a news conference that Ghani “stole $169m from the state coffers” and called his flight “a betrayal of the state and the nation”.
Ghani’s opportunistic behavior stands in stark contrast to the principled stand taken by Afghanistan’s last left-wing president - Mohammad Najibullah. After assuming power in 1986, he followed a policy of national reconciliation, looking for a political resolution to the proxy war raging in his country. A unilateral ceasefire with the jihadists was proposed and posts were offered to the insurgents in a coalition government.
In an attempt to create a broad-based state, mujahedeen leaders, the former king Zahir Shah and ex-ministers from previous governments were invited to join a government of national unity “to rebuild the war-torn country”. Parliamentary elections in April 1988; a non-party candidate, Mohammad Hassan Sharq, was elected prime minister and 62 parliamentary seats were left vacant for the opposition.
Addressing the UN General Assembly in June 1988, Najibullah stated that the “flexibility of the present leadership of Afghanistan also includes its decision to give up monopoly on power, the introduction of parliament on the basis of party competition and granting of all political, social and economic rights and privileges to those who are returning.”
Significant headway was made in reaching peace accords with local warlords. In 1988, 160 guerrilla commanders had reached agreements and more than 750 were negotiating. An attitude of domestic concord was consistently maintained. On March 2, 1989, Najibullah told Far Eastern Economic Review that all arms shipments to both sides be halted. “If it is said that we get help from the Soviet Union, then let the arms supplies from both superpowers be cut to put an end to the war”.
Pro-imperialist propagandists had believed that Najibullah would fall within months, if not weeks, of the withdrawal of Soviet troops. However, his government continued to enjoy deep support in many parts of Afghanistan. When the Geneva Accords were being signed, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) - to which Najibullah belonged - claimed a membership of 250,000. Its organizational branches had a combined membership of 750,000. Afghans preferred government-controlled cities over the mujahedeen-dominated refugee camps in Pakistan, or in Iran.
On the military front, the PDPA survived without Soviet intervention. As the last of the Soviet troops were crossing the Amu Darya River, Washington and its faithful auxiliaries withdrew their embassies from Kabul. Shortly, the mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar predicted that “Kabul will fall in weeks, not months, without any major onslaught on the city”.
Najibullah defied the hopes of imperialists. Norm Dixon writes: “The contras and Washington expected wholesale defections of the Afghan armed forces to the mujahedeen. It was not to be. As with Jalalabad and Kandahar, two cities which had been being successfully defended solely by Afghan troops for several months without Soviet troops, Kabul too would hold out.”
The PDPA government’s success in promoting internal stability was suddenly undermined by the 1991 collapse of the USSR. While Soviet military supplies to the Afghan government witnessed an abrupt blockage, American arms and funds continued to flow to the jihadists. Najibullah’s resignation became the sine qua non for any meaningful discussion.
Consequently, on March 18, 1992, Najibullah announced he would resign as soon as an authority could be designated to replace him. Emboldened by these developments, General Abdul Rashid Dostum army’s broke its pact of aggression with Kabul to band together with General Ahmad Shah Massoud in early 1992. On April 15 of the same year, non-Pashtun forces that had been allied to the government mutinied and took control of Kabul airport.
On April 16, 1992, Najibullah was present at the office of Benon V. Sevan - UN secretary-general’s personal representative in Afghanistan and Pakistan - along with the representatives of Pakistan and Iran. When informed of Pakistan’s offer to grant him political asylum at the Pakistan embassy in Kabul, he clarified:
“I said I would submit my resignation in pursuit of the UN peace plan if it would help to end hostilities, and if there would be no assault on Kabul. I warned you that if I announced my intention to resign before an interim government was in place that there would be a power vacuum. This is what is happening today. I fought these developments for three years; I knew what would happen. Once a power vacuum emerges, who will be responsible for law and order and security? Not only the honor and pride of Najibullah are at stake, but also the honor and pride of the UN. I will not go to Pakistan! That is no solution. I prefer to stay at the UN compound. The answer is the UN peace plan, and the Council of Impartials, which will take over as a transitional authority as soon as possible…I offered my resignation today as president of the Republic of Afghanistan, and as leader of the ruling Watan [Homeland] Party [PDPA’s new name, adopted in 1990]. The UN now has the responsibility to make its plan work. I am prepared to sacrifice myself if anyone tries to attack the UN premises, if that will help to bring peace to my country. I am willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
Referring to Iran and Pakistan - which had been funding different mujahedeen forces - he added, “I don’t trust you, you bastards! I would rather die than be protected by you. And besides, I don’t believe you will protect me.” Thus, for years, Najibullah remained isolated in a UN compound. On September 27, 1996, Taliban soldiers - after winning a bloody civil war with various mujahedeen factions and warlords - captured, tortured, and killed him, then hanged him in Ariana Square, outside the Presidential palace. A writer notes: “Najibullah…was left hanging from a Kabul lamp post with his genitals stuffed in this mouth. By such methods, the “civilised West” and its paid agents achieved their main objectives in...[Afghanistan].”
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at email@example.com. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants to revive Simón Bolívar’s dream. By: Andres Manuel LopezRead Now
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has proposed replacing the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) with a more autonomous entity linked to the "history, reality, and identifies" of Latin America and the Caribbean. | Photo released by Government of Mexico
The following speech was given by Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on July 24, 2021, in Mexico City to pay homage to the Liberator Simón Bolívar. AMLO urged the recreation of Bolívar’s project of uniting the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, and to rely on history to better face the present and the future. This speech was published on Portside on August 14 and has been slightly edited for length and to match People’s World style.
Born in 1783, exactly 30 years after Miguel Hidalgo, Simón Bolívar decided at a very young age to fight for great, noble, and just causes. Like Hidalgo himself and José María Morelos y Pavón, the fathers of our homeland, the liberator Bolívar encompassed exceptional virtues.
Bolívar is a living example of how a good humanistic education can overcome the indifference or comfort of those who are born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Bolívar belonged to a well-to-do family of landowners, but from childhood on he was educated by Simon Rodríguez, an educator and social reformer who accompanied him in his education until he reached a high degree of intellectual maturity and awareness.
In 1805, when he was only 22 years old, on the Monte Sacro in Rome, Bolívar “swore in the presence of his teacher and namesake not to rest his body or soul until he had succeeded in liberating the Spanish-American world from Spanish tutelage.”
Like his father, Bolívar had a military calling, but at the same time he was an enlightened man and as they used to say, a man of the world, for he traveled extensively in Europe; he lived or visited Spain, France, Italy, England; he spoke French, knew mathematics, history and literature, but he was not only a man of thought but also of action.
He knew the art of war and was at the same time a political leader with a calling and commitment for transformation. He knew the importance of discourse; the power of ideas, the effectiveness of proclamations and was aware of the great usefulness of journalism and the printing press as an instrument for the struggle. He knew the effect caused by the enactment of laws for the benefit of the people and, above all, he valued the importance of not giving up, of perseverance, and of never losing faith in the victory of the cause for which he was fighting for the good of others.
In 1811, Bolívar joined the anti-colonialist army, under the command of Francisco de Miranda, precursor of the Independence Movement. Shortly thereafter, in response to hesitancy on the part of this military leader, Bolívar took command of the troops and in 1813 began the struggle for the liberation of Venezuela. Shortly beforehand, as Manuel Pérez Vila, one of his biographers, writes, the people began to call him The Liberator, “a title solemnly conferred on him, in October 1813, by the municipality and the people of Caracas, and with which he would go down in history.”
In his tireless struggle through the highways and byways of the Americas, victories and defeats are intertwined. Bolívar’s military campaign led him to take refuge in Jamaica and Haiti; from these people and their governments he received support for his campaigns on two occasions, something truly exceptional and an example of solidarity and Latin American brotherhood.
In 1819, he triumphantly entered Bogotá, and soon after the Fundamental Law of the Republic of Colombia was issued. This great state, Gran Colombia, the creation of The Liberator, included the current republics of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, and Panama.
Not everything was easy in his struggle. He lost battles, faced betrayals, and, as in any transforming or revolutionary movement, internal divisions appeared, which can be even more harmful than the struggles against the real adversaries.
In the struggle to liberate the peoples of our Americas, Bolívar had the tremendous support of General Antonio José de Sucre and in 1822, he met, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, with General José de San Martín, another illustrious titan of South American independence.
At that time the “Bolívar Republic” was established, today known as Bolivia, and the independence of Peru was consummated. On the coast of this country, at the beginning of 1824, Bolívar fell ill, and despite bad news, due to betrayals and defeats, it is said that from the armchair where he was sitting his famous exclamation “Triumph!” emerged. This anecdote was made into poetry by Carlos Pellicer, who intensely admired Bolívar. The verse reads as follows:
Señor don Joaquín Mosquera
from a certain town, he arrived.
He got off his mule
and sought out the Liberator.
Old ramrod saddle
Leaning on the wall
of a miserable house;
The sad body
of Bolívar rested on it.
Don Joaquin embraced him
with very courteous words.
The hero of the New World
After Señor Mosquera
had enumerated the sorrows,
he asked Don Simon:
“And now, what are you going to do?”
“Triumph!” The Liberator
replied with mad faith.
And it was a solid silence
of admiration and horror….
After that fateful moment, The Liberator lived through many others of equal misfortune. The final leg of his existence was marked by the constant divisions in the liberal ranks, which even led Venezuela to proclaim itself a state independent of Gran Colombia on the eve of his death. On December 17, 1830, the great liberator Simón Bolívar closed his eyes and never woke up.
Bolivarismo in history
The struggle for the integrity of the peoples of our Americas continues to be a beautiful ideal. It has not been easy to turn that beautiful goal into reality. Its main obstacles have been the conservative movement in nations of the Americas, the divisions in the ranks of the liberal movement, and the predominance of the United States in the hemisphere. Let’s not forget that almost at the same time that our countries were gaining independence from Spain and other European nations, the new metropolis of hegemonic domination was emerging in this hemisphere.
During the difficult period of the wars of independence, which generally began around 1810, the rulers of the United States followed events with discreet interest and an entirely pragmatic approach. The United States maneuvered at different times in accordance with a unilateral game plan. Extreme caution at the beginning, so as not to irritate Spain, Great Britain, the Holy Alliance, without hindering decolonization, which at times looked doubtful. However, around 1822, Washington began the rapid recognition of the independence achieved in order to close the door to interventionism from abroad, and in 1823, at last, a defined policy emerged.
In October, [former U.S. President Thomas] Jefferson, who inspired the Declaration of Independence and who was by then a sort of oracle, responded by letter to a query on the issue from President James Monroe. In a significant paragraph, Jefferson says: “Our first and fundamental maxim should be, never to entangle ourselves in the broils of Europe; our second, never to allow Europe to meddle in affairs on this side of the Atlantic.” In December, Monroe delivered the famous speech in which the doctrine that bears his name was outlined.
The slogan of “America for the Americans” ended up disintegrating the peoples of our continent and destroying what Bolívar had built. Throughout almost the entire 19th century we experienced constant occupations, invasions, annexations and it cost us the loss of half of our territory, with the great blow of 1848.
This territorial and violent expansion of the United States was consecrated when Cuba, Spain’s last bastion in the Americas, fell in 1898, with the suspicious sinking of the battleship Maine in Havana. This gave rise to the Platt Amendment and the occupation of Guantánamo. In other words, by then the United States had finished defining its vital physical space throughout the Americas.
Since that time, Washington has never ceased carrying out overt or covert operations against the independent countries south of the Río Grande. The influence of U.S. foreign policy is overwhelming in the Americas. There is only one special exception, that of Cuba, the country that for more than half a century has asserted its independence by politically confronting the United States. We may or may not agree with the Cuban Revolution and its government, but to have resisted 62 years without being subjugated, is quite a feat. My words may provoke anger in some or many, but as the song by René Pérez Joglar of Calle 13 goes, “I always say what I think.”
Therefore, I believe that, for its struggle in defense of its country’s sovereignty, the people of Cuba deserve the prize of dignity, and this island should be considered the new Numantia for its example of resistance, and I think that for that very reason it should be declared a world heritage site.
Exploring another option
But I also maintain that now is the time for a new coexistence among all the countries of the Americas, because the model imposed more than two centuries ago is exhausted, has no future, and no way out, and no longer benefits anyone. We must put aside the dilemma of either integrating with the United States or opposing it defensively.
It is time to explore another option, that of having a dialogue with U.S. leaders and convincing and persuading them that a new relationship between the countries of the Americas is possible.
I believe that at present there are excellent conditions to achieve this goal of respecting each other and going forward together without anyone being left behind.
With this in mind, our experience of economic integration with respect for our sovereignty, which we have been carrying out in the conception and implementation of the economic and trade agreement with the United States and Canada, may be helpful.
Obviously, it is no minor thing to have a nation like the United States as a neighbor. Our proximity forces us to seek agreements and it would be a serious mistake to physically confront Samson, but at the same time we have powerful reasons to assert our sovereignty and demonstrate with arguments and without idle chatter, that we are not a protectorate, a colony or their backyard. Furthermore, with the passage of time, a factor favorable to our country has gradually been accepted: China’s disproportionate growth has strengthened the opinion in the United States that we should be seen as allies and not as distant neighbors.
The integration process has been taking place since 1994, when the first trade agreement was signed, which, although incomplete because it did not address the issue of labor rights, as is the case today, allowed for the installation of auto parts plants and factories in other branches and the creation of production chains that make us mutually indispensable. It can be said that even the U.S. military industry depends on auto parts manufactured in Mexico. I say this not out of pride, but to underscore the interdependence that exists. But speaking of this question, as I said to President Joseph Biden, we prefer an economic integration with sovereignty with the United States and Canada, in order to recover what we have lost in terms of production and trade with China, rather than continuing to weaken ourselves as a region and having a scenario in the Pacific plagued by war clouds. In other words, it is in our interest for the United States to be strong economically and not only militarily. Achieving this balance and not the hegemony of any country is the most responsible and advisable way to maintain peace for the good of future generations and humanity.
To start with, we must be realistic and accept, as I stated in my speech at the White House in July of last year, that while China dominates 12.2 percent of the global export and services market, the United States controls only 9.5 percent. This disparity dates back just 30 years since in 1990, China’s share was 1.3 percent and the United States’ was 12.4 percent. Imagine if this trend of the last three decades were to continue, and there is nothing that can legally or legitimately be done to prevent it, in another 30 years, by 2051, China would dominate 64.8 percent of the world market and the United States between 4 and 10 percent; which, I insist, in addition to being an unacceptable disproportionate division on an economic level, would keep alive the temptation to wager on resolving this disparity with the use of force, which would endanger us all.
It could be simplistically assumed that it is up to each nation to take on its responsibility, but in the case of such a delicate matter so close to our hearts, with respect for the rights of others and the independence of each country, we think that the best thing to do would be to strengthen ourselves economically and commercially in North America and throughout the hemisphere. Besides, I do not see any other way out; we cannot close our economies or wager on the application of tariffs on exporting countries of the world, and much less should we declare a trade war on anyone. I think the best thing to do is to be efficient, creative, strengthen our regional market, and compete with any country or region in the world.
Of course, this involves jointly planning our development; nothing on the order of live and let live. We must jointly define very precise goals; for example, to stop rejecting migrants, mostly young people, when in order to grow we need a labor force that, in reality, is not sufficiently available in the United States or Canada. Why not study the demand for labor and open the migratory flow in an orderly manner? And within the framework of this new joint development plan, we should consider policies on investment, labor, environmental protection, and other issues of mutual interest to our nations.
It is obvious that this must involve cooperation for the development and welfare of all the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean. The policy of the last two centuries, characterized by invasions to put in place or remove governments at the whim of the superpower, is no longer acceptable: Let’s bid farewell to impositions, interference, sanctions, exclusions, and blockades.
Let’s instead apply the principles of non-intervention, self-determination of peoples, and peaceful settlement of disputes. Let’s initiate a relationship in our hemisphere based on the premise of George Washington, according to which “nations should not take advantage of the misfortune of other peoples.”
I am aware that this is a complex issue that requires a new political and economic outlook. The proposal is no more and no less than to build something similar to the European Union, but in accordance with our history, our reality, and our identities. In this spirit, the replacement of the OAS [Organization of American States] by a truly autonomous organization, not a lackey of anyone, but a mediator at the request and acceptance of the parties in conflict, in matters of human rights and democracy, should not be ruled out. It is a great task for good diplomats and political leaders such as those who, fortunately, exist in all the countries of our hemisphere.
What is proposed here may seem utopian. However, it should be considered that without the horizon of ideals we will get nowhere and, consequently, it is worth trying. Let’s keep Bolívar’s dream alive.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador is the President of Mexico.
Image: Afghan soldier, Scott Cohen (Wikipedia, public domain).
The decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan was correct. They had no business there in the first place. The manner of leaving is a tragedy. U.S. imperialist foreign and military policy is in deep crisis, and the lessons must be drawn — the most important of which is that war was never a viable option or solution.
Comparisons have been made to Vietnam. This by far will be worse: in both the human toll and its political consequences. Remember there was no internet when Saigon fell to Vietnam’s heroic fighters who liberated and then rebuilt a war-devastated country. But the Taliban is no NLF. What will play out in the next days, weeks, and months will likely have a far more devastating impact in almost every way possible.
With the fall of Kabul and the video of people desperately trying to leave the country, there is much hand-wringing and recriminations in the capitalist press over how Afghanistan was “lost.” Losing a war is equated with “losing” a country. This mindset is the problem — Afghanistan is not “ours” to lose. But the U.S. is an imperialist nation, and this thinking, repeated by politicians and the media, accurately reflects the problem.
One answer to the question of why Kabul fell so quickly is that the soldiers and police, funded and trained by the U.S., at a cost estimated at $2 trillion, simply did not support the government. The kind of government imposed by the U.S., not its own people, was completely contrary to traditional centers of power. The U.S. demand that Afghanis defend a corrupt government imposed by the U.S. occupying army is arrogant.
A U.S.-created “mess”
U.S. imperialism is responsible for the “mess” that pundits call Afghanistan. The Bush government started the war on October 7, 2001, ostensibly to end the terrorism emanating from that country, defeat Al-Qaeda, and get rid of Osama bin Laden. But Bin Laden left Afghanistan for Pakistan in December 2001, and instead of pursuing him there, Bush and Company expanded the war to impose their will on an entire people and supposedly engage in “nation building,” that is, profit making.
The “mess” goes back to 1979–89, when the U.S. funded the Mujahidin, the ultra-conservative forces fighting the Soviet-backed government. The CIA-engineered program, “Operation Cyclone,” began under the Carter administration and was ramped up under Reagan, ultimately costing taxpayers about $3 billion. The political outlook of the Mujahidin was irrelevant; all they wanted was to oust the Soviets during the Cold War. During the civil war, many of these forces formed the Taliban, which became the predominant power in 1996. The U.S. trained, armed, and financed the very forces it then fought for 20 years.
The cost of war
After 20 years of an “illegitimate, illegal, immoral, inhuman” war, what did we get? Reportedly, over 38,000 Afghan civilians lost their lives, but the government didn’t track the numbers of deaths, and 100,000 lives lost is more likely. Over 2,400 U.S. troops were killed, and four times as many troops have committed suicide as were killed in wars since 9/11.
The war was expensive in terms of financial cost, too. The U.S. spent more money on Afghanistan than it did on the Marshall Plan, the massive effort to rebuild Western Europe after World War II. Our government spent about $90 billion to train Afghan soldiers and police, $10 billion to fight the narcotics trade while seeing opium production rise, and $24 billion on economic development — all to no avail.
Who benefitted from this massive outpouring of tax dollars? Private corporations, of course. Contractors took over services once provided by the military: food preparation, laundry, transportation, air traffic control, and even security. Contractors range from well-known corporations like FedEx, Boeing, and Raytheon to companies you never heard of: Fluor Corporation, the recipient of $3.1 billion during 2016–21, Columbia Helicopters, Inc., and Amentum (air traffic control). Contractors so far have reaped $104 billion since 2002. With this much money floating around, there’s bound to be corruption and over-charging, as in the case of Fluor.
General Smedley Butler, who in the early 1900s helped make Central America safe for United Fruit Company and later regretted it, commented that “war is a racket,” one “in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.” War is indeed a money maker.
What of the women?
Phyllis Bennis, Middle East expert and Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, pointed out in a CodePink webinar that women are hardly better off for having their land occupied by the U.S. Some women in cities took advantage of U.S. involvement, obtaining an education and jobs, and they will undoubtedly suffer under Taliban rule. Already, the Taliban is removing women from public-sector positions. But 75% of the population live in rural areas, and few rural women benefited from reforms. Bennis pointed out that, when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan before 2001, infant mortality was the highest of any nation. After 20 years of U.S. intervention, Afghanistan remains at the top of the list.
Bennis notes in a Nation article that the first woman member of the Afghanistan parliament, Malalai Joya, reminded us before the withdrawal that “women and civil society in Afghanistan have three enemies — the Taliban, the warlords disguised as a government, and the US military occupation. If you can get rid of one of them, she said, we’d only have two.”
For now, the number of enemies may have been reduced to one, the Taliban, but the threat of U.S. interference, in the form of continuing bombing raids and drone strikes or economic sanctions, is ever-present.
What we should do now
Once again, we agree with Rep. Barbara Lee: “There is no military solution” in Afghanistan or to terrorism. Instead, we must hold our government accountable and demand the end of the bombing raids and drone attacks that were ramped up a few weeks ago.
We also demand that the Biden Administration do the following:
End all mercenary and military contractor activity;
Work with regional powers and the UN to resolve the crisis.
Support the creation of a humanitarian corridor to ensure that Afghan and international humanitarian workers can leave safely.
Allow refugees and asylum seekers to resettle in the U.S.
Officially acknowledge U.S. responsibility for the harm the war has done to the Afghan people and pay reparations that will serve the Afghan people instead of the Taliban.
Further, we must insist that Congress retain its Constitutional responsibility to wage war and not leave it to a president to make this life-and-death decision. Demand deep cuts in the military budget, close the military bases located in over 135 countries, end the nuclear program, and use that money for human needs at home and humanitarian causes abroad. Create a cabinet-level Department of Peace that has status equal to the DoD.
War is rarely about “right vs. wrong”; it’s about imperial power and money. We’re already against the next war. By working for a just, equal society at home, we can prevent the next war.
It’s time we reckon with the militaristic nature of U.S. policy and capitalism. Let’s end the mindset that Afghanistan, or any other country, is “ours” to win or lose.
The Communist Party USA is a working class organization founded in 1919 in Chicago, IL. The Communist Party stands for the interests of the American working class and the American people. It stands for our interests in both the present and the future. Solidarity with workers of other countries is also part of our work. We work in coalition with the labor movement, the peace movement, the student movement, organizations fighting for equality and social justice, the environmental movement, immigrants rights groups and the health care for all campaign. But to win a better life for working families, we believe that we must go further. We believe that the American people can replace capitalism with a system that puts people before profit — socialism. We are rooted in our country's revolutionary history and its struggles for democracy. We call for "Bill of Rights" socialism, guaranteeing full individual freedoms.
This article was produced by CPUSA.
On August 15, the Taliban arrived in Kabul. The Taliban’s leadership entered the presidential palace, which Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had vacated when he fled into exile abroad hours before. The country’s borders shut down and Kabul’s main international airport lay silent, except for the cries of those Afghans who had worked for the U.S. and NATO; they knew that their lives would now be at serious risk. The Taliban’s leadership, meanwhile, tried to reassure the public of a “peaceful transition” by saying in several statements that they would not seek retribution, but would go after corruption and lawlessness.
The Taliban’s Entry in Kabul Is a Defeat for the United States
In recent years, the United States has failed to accomplish any of the objectives of its wars. The U.S. entered Afghanistan with horrendous bombing and a lawless campaign of extraordinary rendition in October 2001 with the objective of ejecting the Taliban from the country; now, 20 years later, the Taliban is back. In 2003, two years after the U.S. unleashed a war in Afghanistan, it opened an illegal war against Iraq, which ultimately resulted in an unconditional withdrawal of the United States in 2011 after the refusal by the Iraqi parliament to allow U.S. troops extralegal protections. As the U.S. withdrew from Iraq, it opened a terrible war against Libya in 2011, which resulted in the creation of chaos in the region.
Not one of these wars—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya—resulted in the creation of a pro-U.S. government. Each of these wars created needless suffering for the civilian populations. Millions of people had their lives disrupted, while hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives in these senseless wars. What faith in humanity can now be expected from a young person in Jalalabad or in Sirte? Will they now turn inward, fearing that any possibility of change has been seized from them by the barbaric wars inflicted upon them and other residents of their countries?
There is no question that the United States continues to have the world’s largest military and that by using its base structure and its aerial and naval power, the U.S. can strike any country at any time. But what is the point of bombing a country if that violence attains no political ends? The U.S. used its advanced drones to assassinate the Taliban leaders, but for each leader that it killed, another half a dozen have emerged. Besides, the men in charge of the Taliban now—including the co-founder of the Taliban and head of its political commission, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar—were there from the start; it would never have been possible to decapitate the entire Taliban leadership. More than $2 trillion has been spent by the United States on a war that it knew could not be won.
Corruption Was the Trojan Horse
In early statements, Mullah Baradar said that his government will focus its attention on the endemic corruption in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, stories spread across Kabul about ministers of Ashraf Ghani’s government attempting to leave the country in cars filled with dollar bills, which was supposed to be the money that was provided by the U.S. to Afghanistan for aid and infrastructure. The drain of wealth from the aid given to the country has been significant. In a 2016 report by the U.S. government’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) relating to the “Lessons Learned from the U.S. Experience with Corruption in Afghanistan,” the investigators write, “Corruption significantly undermined the U.S. mission in Afghanistan by damaging the legitimacy of the Afghan government, strengthening popular support for the insurgency, and channeling material resources to insurgent groups.” SIGAR created a “gallery of greed,” which listed U.S. contractors who siphoned aid money and pocketed it through fraud. More than $2 trillion has been spent on the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, but it went neither to provide relief nor to build the country’s infrastructure. The money fattened the rich in the United States, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Corruption at the very top of the government depleted morale below. The U.S. pinned its hopes on the training of 300,000 soldiers of the Afghan National Army (ANA), spending $88 billion on this pursuit. In 2019, a purge of “ghost soldiers” in the rolls—soldiers who did not exist—led to the loss of 42,000 troops; it is likely that the number might have been higher. Morale in the ANA has plunged over the past few years, with defections from the army to other forces escalating. Defense of the provincial capitals was also weak, with Kabul falling to the Taliban almost without a fight.
To this end, the recently appointed defense minister to the Ghani government, General Bismillah Mohammadi, commented on Twitter about the governments that have been in power in Afghanistan since late 2001, “They tied our hands behind our backs and sold the homeland. Damn the rich man [Ghani] and his people.” This captures the popular mood in Afghanistan right now.
Afghanistan and Its Neighbors
Hours after taking power, a spokesperson for the Taliban’s political office, Dr. M. Naeem, said that all embassies will be protected, while another spokesperson for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, said that all former government officials did not need to fear for their lives. These are reassuring messages for now.
It has also been reassuring that the Taliban has said that it is not averse to a government of national unity, although there should be no doubt that such a government would be a rubber stamp for the Taliban’s own political agenda. So far, the Taliban has not articulated a plan for Afghanistan, which is something that the country has needed for at least a generation.
On July 28, Taliban leader Mullah Baradar met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin, China. The outlines of the discussion have not been fully revealed, but what is known is that the Chinese extracted a promise from the Taliban not to allow attacks on China from Afghanistan and not to allow attacks on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructure in Central Asia. In return, China would continue its BRI investments in the region, including in Pakistan, which is a key Taliban supporter.
Whether or not the Taliban will be able to control extremist groups is not clear, but what is abundantly clear—in the absence of any credible Afghan opposition to the Taliban—is that the regional powers will have to exert their influence on Kabul to ameliorate the harsh program of the Taliban and its history of support for extremist groups. For instance, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (set up in 2001) revived in 2017 its Afghanistan Contact Group, which held a meeting in Dushanbe in July 2021, and called for a national unity government.
At that meeting, India’s External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar laid out a three-point plan, which achieved near consensus among the fractious neighbors:
“1. An independent, neutral, unified, peaceful, democratic and prosperous nation.
“2. Ceasing violence and terrorist attacks against civilians and state representatives, settle conflict through political dialogue, and respect interests of all ethnic groups, and
“3. Ensure that neighbors are not threatened by terrorism, separatism and extremism.”
That’s the most that can be expected at this moment. The plan promises peace, which is a great advance from what the people of Afghanistan have experienced over the past decades. But what kind of peace? This “peace” does not include the rights of women and children to a world of possibilities. During 20 years of the U.S. occupation, that “peace” was not in evidence either. This peace has no real political power behind it, but there are social movements beneath the surface that might emerge to put such a definition of “peace” on the table. Hope lies there.
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.
I sat in Court 4 in the Royal Courts of Justice in London on August 11 with Stella Moris, Julian Assange’s partner. I have known Stella for as long as I have known Julian. She, too, is a voice of freedom, coming from a family that fought the fascism of Apartheid. On August 12, her name was uttered in court by a barrister and a judge, forgettable people were it not for the power of their endowed privilege.
The barrister, Clair Dobbin, is in the pay of the regime in Washington, first Trump’s then Biden’s. She is America’s hired gun, or “silk,” as she would prefer. Her target is Julian Assange, who has committed no crime and has performed an historic public service by exposing the criminal actions and secrets on which governments, especially those claiming to be democracies, base their authority.
For those who may have forgotten, WikiLeaks, of which Assange is founder and publisher, exposed the secrets and lies that led to the invasion of Iraq, Syria and Yemen, the murderous role of the Pentagon in dozens of countries, the blueprint for the 20-year catastrophe in Afghanistan, the attempts by Washington to overthrow elected governments, such as Venezuela’s, the collusion between nominal political opponents (Bush and Obama) to stifle a torture investigation and the CIA’s Vault 7 campaign that turned your mobile phone, even your TV set, into a spy in your midst.
WikiLeaks released almost a million documents from Russia which allowed Russian citizens to stand up for their rights. It revealed the Australian government had colluded with the U.S. against its own citizen, Assange. It named those Australian politicians who have “informed” for the U.S. It made the connection between the Clinton Foundation and the rise of jihadism in American-armed states in the Gulf.
There is more: WikiLeaks disclosed the U.S. campaign to suppress wages in sweatshop countries like Haiti, India’s campaign of torture in Kashmir, the British government’s secret agreement to shield “U.S. interests” in its official Iraq inquiry and the British Foreign Office’s plan to create a fake “marine protection zone” in the Indian Ocean to cheat the Chagos islanders out of their right of return.
In other words, WikiLeaks has given us real news about those who govern us and take us to war, not the preordained, repetitive spin that fills newspapers and television screens. This is real journalism; and for the crime of real journalism, Assange has spent most of the past decade in one form of incarceration or another, including Belmarsh prison, a horrific place.
Diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, he is a gentle, intellectual visionary driven by his belief that a democracy is not a democracy unless it is transparent, and accountable.
On August 11, the United States sought the approval of Britain’s High Court to extend the terms of its appeal against a decision by a district judge, Vanessa Baraitser, in January to bar Assange’s extradition. Baraitser accepted the deeply disturbing evidence of a number of experts that Assange would be at great risk if he were incarcerated in the U.S.’s infamous prison system.
Professor Michael Kopelman, a world authority on neuropsychiatry, had said Assange would find a way to take his own life—the direct result of what Professor Nils Melzer, the United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, described as the craven “mobbing” of Assange by governments—and their media echoes.
Those of us who were in the Old Bailey last September to hear Kopelman’s evidence were shocked and moved. I sat with Julian’s father, John Shipton, whose head was in his hands. The court was also told about the discovery of a razor blade in Julian’s Belmarsh cell and that he had made desperate calls to the Samaritans and written notes and much else that filled us with more than sadness.
Watching the lead barrister acting for Washington, James Lewis—a man from a military background who deploys a cringingly theatrical “aha!” formula with defense witnesses—reduce these facts to “malingering” and smearing witnesses, especially Kopelman, we were heartened by Kopelman’s revealing response that Lewis’s abuse was “a bit rich” as Lewis himself had sought to hire Kopelman’s expertise in another case.
Lewis’s sidekick is Clair Dobbin, and August 11 was her day. Completing the smearing of Professor Kopelman was down to her. An American with some authority sat behind her in court.
Dobbin said Kopelman had “misled” Judge Baraitser in September because he had not disclosed that Julian Assange and Stella Moris were partners, and their two young children, Gabriel and Max, were conceived during the period Assange had taken refuge in the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
The implication was that this somehow lessened Kopelman’s medical diagnosis: that Julian, locked up in solitary in Belmarsh prison and facing extradition to the U.S. on bogus “espionage” charges, had suffered severe psychotic depression and had planned, if he had not already attempted, to take his own life.
For her part, Judge Baraitser saw no contradiction. The full nature of the relationship between Stella and Julian had been explained to her in March 2020, and Professor Kopelman had made full reference to it in his report in August 2020. So the judge and the court knew all about it before the main extradition hearing last September. In her judgment in January, Baraitser said this:
“[Professor Kopelman] assessed Mr. Assange during the period May to December 2019 and was best placed to consider at first-hand his symptoms. He has taken great care to provide an informed account of Mr. Assange’s background and psychiatric history. He has given close attention to the prison medical notes and provided a detailed summary annexed to his December report. He is an experienced clinician and he was well aware of the possibility of exaggeration and malingering. I had no reason to doubt his clinical opinion.”
She added that she had “not been misled” by the exclusion in Kopelman’s first report of the Stella-Julian relationship and that she understood that Kopelman was protecting the privacy of Stella and her two young children.
In fact, as I know well, the family’s safety was under constant threat to the point when an embassy security guard confessed he had been told to steal one of the baby’s nappies so that a CIA-contracted company could analyze its DNA. There has been a stream of unpublicized threats against Stella and her children.
For the U.S. and its legal hirelings in London, damaging the credibility of a renowned expert by suggesting he withheld this information was a way, they no doubt reckoned, to rescue their crumbling case against Assange. In June, the Icelandic newspaper Stundin reported that a key prosecution witness against Assange has admitted fabricating his evidence. The one “hacking” charge the Americans hoped to bring against Assange if they could get their hands on him depended on this source and witness, Sigurdur Thordarson, an FBI informant.
Thordarson had worked as a volunteer for WikiLeaks in Iceland between 2010 and 2011. In 2011, as several criminal charges were brought against him, he contacted the FBI and offered to become an informant in return for immunity from all prosecution. It emerged that he was a convicted fraudster who embezzled $55,000 from WikiLeaks, and served two years in prison. In 2015, he was sentenced to three years for sex offenses against teenage boys. The Washington Post described Thordarson’s credibility as the “core” of the case against Assange.
On August 11, Lord Chief Justice Holroyde made no mention of this witness. His concern was that it was “arguable” that Judge Baraitser had attached too much weight to the evidence of Professor Kopelman, a man revered in his field. He said it was “very unusual” for an appeal court to have to reconsider evidence from an expert accepted by a lower court, but he agreed with Ms. Dobbin it was “misleading” even though he accepted Kopelman’s “understandable human response” to protect the privacy of Stella and the children.
If you can unravel the arcane logic of this, you have a better grasp than I who have sat through this case from the beginning. It is clear Kopelman misled nobody. Judge Baraitser—whose hostility to Assange personally was a presence in her court—said that she was not misled; it was not an issue; it did not matter. So why had Lord Chief Justice Holroyde spun the language with its weasel legalese and sent Julian back to his cell and its nightmares? There, he now waits for the High Court’s final decision in October—for Julian Assange, a life or death decision.
And why did Holroyde send Stella from the court trembling with anguish? Why is this case “unusual”? Why did he throw the gang of prosecutor-thugs at the Department of Justice in Washington -—who got their big chance under Trump, having been rejected by Obama—a life raft as their rotting, corrupt case against a principled journalist sunk as surely as Titanic?
This does not necessarily mean that in October the full bench of the High Court will order Julian to be extradited. In the upper reaches of the masonry that is the British judiciary there are, I understand, still those who believe in real law and real justice from which the term “British justice” takes its sanctified reputation in the land of the Magna Carta. It now rests on their ermined shoulders whether that history lives on or dies.
I sat with Stella in the court’s colonnade while she drafted words to say to the crowd of media and well-wishers outside in the sunshine. Clip-clopping along came Clair Dobbin, spruced, ponytail swinging, bearing her carton of files: a figure of certainty: she who said Julian Assange was “not so ill” that he would consider suicide. How does she know?
Has Ms. Dobbin worked her way through the medieval maze at Belmarsh to sit with Julian in his yellow arm band, as Professors Koppelman and Melzer have done, and Stella has done, and I have done? Never mind. The Americans have now “promised” not to put him in a hellhole, just as they “promised” not to torture Chelsea Manning, just as they promised. …
And has she read the WikiLeaks’ leak of a Pentagon document dated March 15, 2009? This foretold the current war on journalism. U.S. intelligence, it said, intended to destroy WikiLeaks’ and Julian Assange’s “center of gravity” with threats and “criminal prosecution.” Read all 32 pages and you are left in no doubt that silencing and criminalizing independent journalism was the aim, smear the method.
I tried to catch Ms. Dobbin’s gaze, but she was on her way: job done.
Outside, Stella struggled to contain her emotion. This is one brave woman, as indeed her man is an exemplar of courage. “What has not been discussed today,” said Stella, “is why I feared for my safety and the safety of our children and for Julian’s life. The constant threats and intimidation we endured for years, which has been terrorizing us and has been terrorizing Julian for 10 years. We have a right to live, we have a right to exist and we have a right for this nightmare to come to an end once and for all.”
“Solidarity forever, for the union makes us strong!” sang the young comrades attending the 2021 Little Red Schoolhouse in New York City at a rally in support of striking Alabama mine workers last Wednesday. The school was hosted by the CPUSA NY District and Chelsea Education Fund.
Forty-seven young Communists representing CPUSA districts and Young Communist League clubs in Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Washington, DC, California, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Michigan, Massachusetts, New York, and Arizona attended the 10-day school. Morning and afternoon classes ranged in topic from historical and dialectical materialism and the U.S. labor movement today to the struggle for women’s equality and the fight against racism. Guest lecturers included Marxist scholar Vijay Prashad and World Federation of Democratic Youth president Aritz Rodriguez.
Former CPUSA chairman John Bachtell taught a class on Marxist environmentalism in which he emphasized how the fight against global warming is the broadest struggle we can engage in due to the fact that it affects everyone. After all, there is no class struggle if there is no planet to fight it on!
CPUSA co-chairpersons Joe Sims and Rossana Cambron led the discussions around petty bourgeois radicalism and the political moment of today, respectively. Students were able to distinguish the special role of the Communist Party in the struggle for socialism and democracy in comparison to other groups in the wider movement. They also learned how to differentiate Marxism-Leninism from sectarian trends on the left.
Chauncey Robinson, a staff member of the People’s World, talked about the importance of the working-class press and its role on social media. CJ Atkins, another staffer with the People’s World, spoke to the students about the victories and shortcomings of the CPUSA’s role in the fight for LGBTQ equality, a conversation which students greatly appreciated because of its “honesty, self-criticism, and transparency,” as one student from Virginia put it.
But the students didn’t just sit in a classroom all day learning about theory: they put that theory into practice. From mutual aid drives at public housing complexes to tabling in Union Square, the young Communists learned how to engage working people on all sides of the political spectrum and even gained a few recruits in the process. The students also had the opportunity to march alongside Medicare for All advocates and striking United Mine Workers from Alabama. “They were so happy to see us,” said an attendee from Illinois. “They even came over and took a picture with us and sang the old union songs with us.”
“And let’s not even get started with the food!” stated another comrade from North Carolina, referring to the various cuisines provided by the CPUSA NY District to let the students try the flavors that immigrants from around the world brought to NYC. “Greek, Arab, Caribbean, Chinese, Italian, Thai, and Indian all in one week? This is the beauty of internationalism and the USA. Immigrant workers make this country great.”
The school provided students with the tools to go back to their clubs and districts to build up the Communist Party, Young Communist League, local unions, and other aspects of the democratic movement around the country in which the “communist plus” is needed.
To help sustain future schools for young Marxists, please contribute to the Chelsea Education Fund here.
Maicol David Lynch is a member of the National Committee of the Communist Party USA and an activist and organizer in Working America and Indivisible. He writes from New York City and is most passionate about the struggles against imperialism in Latin America and the fight against xenophobia in immigrant communities in the USA.
This article was produced by CPUSA.
A strike by the Laundry Workers Industrial Union. Featured on the cover of Jenny Carson's 'A Matter of Moral Justice', and in Julia Reichert's 1976 film, 'Union Maids'.
The right to organize was key to unionizing laundry workers for the first time way back in 1937. That right was guaranteed by the Wagner Act, passed just two years earlier in 1935. In 2021, the right to organize is again a key issue for workers and for the AFL-CIO, the country’s top labor union body. They are demanding that Congress pass the PRO Act—the Protect the Right to Organize Act. While only 11% of the U.S. labor force belong to unions, surveys have shown that 65% would join a union if they had the chance. There are lessons in Moral Justice for the next big organizing drive that the AFL-CIO is sure to launch as soon as the PRO Act passes.
This reviewer has a personal reason to welcome Carson’s book. In 1937, I was on the team of CIO organizers working with laundry workers. Then I worked in laundries until 1941. Before Moral Justice was published, little had been written about laundry workers. Carson does a good job of exposing the extreme exploitation of laundry workers by their employers, with low wages, hard physical labor, bad working conditions, racism, and gender inequality all defining the industry. Black women and other women of color have made up the majority of laundry workers for the past 100 years. So it is fitting that Moral Justice centers on the fight for equality for women and for Black workers on the job and for full representation as leaders of the union.
In covering laundry workers’ struggles through the stories of two Black women leaders, Carson has chosen inspiring subjects. Dolly Robinson grew up in North Carolina, moved to New York City at 13, and became a laundry worker and union activist at 15. Despite the hard days of work in the laundry, Robinson continued to take classes at night. At 24, she was appointed to the Laundry Workers Joint Board’s (LWJB) Education Department, becoming director at age 26.
Charlotte Adelmond grew up in Trinidad, then part of the British West Indies. In 1924, she joined her sister in Harlem and found work in a laundry. The Garveyite movement was then strong in Harlem, and Adelmond joined, stirred by the militant Black Nationalist message. Soon, she settled in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and again found work in a laundry. She was a fearless defender of workers’ rights and a strong voice for equal rights for women as well as a fighter against racism. After the newly organized CIO laundry workers were taken over by the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, Adelmond was elected business agent of Local 327. She was re-elected again and again, a tribute to her effective leadership.
Adelmond and Robinson were at the heart of what Carson describes as “the extraordinary activism of a group of workers who, in the face of incredible odds, tried to build a democratic union committed to racial justice, economic dignity, and gender equality.”
Carson begins the story with a look at the 1912 strike of inside laundry workers. From the early days of the power laundry industry, the owners had established racist and gender-based bars to the higher-paid jobs. The drivers who picked up the dirty wash and delivered the laundered clean linens and clothes were the highest paid. Only white men were hired as drivers. In the early 20th century, the AFL organized each trade separately. In 1912, the inside laundry workers who did the washing, ironing, and packing were organized in AFL locals that were separate from the laundry drivers and engineers. Black women were in the majority among inside workers.
The strike of the inside laundry workers in 1912 is called an “uprising” by Carson. She explains that it was part of the same upsurge demanding “Bread and Roses” that formed the needle trades unions. The laundry strikers won the support of the Women’s Trade Union League, a middle- and upper-class organization that was well-financed. At a later date, the WTUL also supported the fight by Adelmond and Robinson for Black leadership and women’s equality. However, the 1912 laundry strike was lost, largely because the drivers continued to work.
The need to unite all trades within a plant in the same union was a lesson learned by those who formed the CIO in 1935. That strategy was called “industrial unionism.”
“Communist Laundry Organizing” is the title of chapter 5 in Carson’s book. Starting in the Bronx, a staff of 30 CIO organizers signed up tens of thousands of laundry workers in the Laundry Workers Industrial Union-CIO. As one of those organizers, I remember the number as 20,000 and that half of the organizers were Communists.
As supporters of industrial unionism, Communist Party members had earlier taken the lead to organize a Laundry Workers Industrial Union. In a way, that gave them a head start when the CIO started its organizing drive among laundry workers in 1937. But on the company side, the owners did not want to negotiate contracts with a fighting laundry workers union.
At this point, the all-white leadership of the ACWA clothing workers union used its clout with the national CIO to “take over” the newly-organized laundry workers union and its 20,000 members. Soon, the democratic culture of the Laundry Workers Industrial Union—a culture that empowered the membership—was replaced by top-down decision-making by ACWA officials. Naturally, the workers fought back to defend union democracy, but they were not united.
Another hindrance was the fact that the whole country was in the grip of anti-communist hysteria by 1939. Anti-communist attacks did not end until the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor forced the U.S. to ally with the Soviet Union in World War II. In the poisonous atmosphere of those pre-Pearl Harbor days, the officers and business agents of local 328 were put on trial—me included.
The charge against us said nothing about our work in the union. The only “charge” was that we were Communists. Some of us were and some were not; that was a false issue. We had been elected because we fought for the rights of laundry workers. All of us were found “guilty” by the two judges, top national officers of ACWA. We were then expelled from the union and our local was placed in receivership.
Meanwhile, another fight for laundry union democracy was going on elsewhere in the union, led by Charlotte Adelmond, business agent of local 327. The ACWA-appointed manager began appointing local officers instead of allowing the laundry locals to continue to elect them. Often, elected Black officers were replaced by white appointees. In 1941, Adelmond publicly accused the manager of racism and was punished with three months suspension as business agent. She won her job back, thanks to her members’ support and influential friends.
Both Adelmond and Robinson continued the fight for Black representation and women’s rights until 1950. Then, both were forced out of the union, ending Adelmond’s many years of fighting for laundry workers. Fortunately, Dollie Robinson had continued her studies, winning a law degree. In 1956, she became the New York State Commissioner of Labor. Both women helped lay groundwork for the renewed civil rights upsurges in the 1960s and to date.
Carson clearly exposes the contradiction between the public statements and the practice of the social democratic leadership of ACWA, now renamed Workers United. After 1937, they controlled the Laundry Workers Joint Board, their affiliate. In public, these union leaders, all white, spoke up against racism and in defense of women’s rights. But in practice, they actively prevented qualified Black leaders from rising to the top of the laundry workers union whose membership was majority Black and female. Without representative top leadership, without empowering the union membership, the union did not have the strength needed to stop the extreme exploitation of laundry workers at the hands of the laundry owners’ association.
In Carson’s chapter 5, she featured the work of Jessie Taft Smith in developing the fight against racism and kindly includes my work as well. Taft Smith had been my mentor in the CIO’s Laundry Workers Industrial Union. Carson quotes her throughout the book because of Taft-Smith’s knowledge of the laundry industry and union. Also, Taft Smith lived to 100 and was available for interviews.
Moral Justice mentions but does not explain, the Communist campaign against remnants of racism inside the Communist Party itself. This campaign educated white as well as Black members. Mark Naison, in his Communists in Harlem During the Depression, neatly sums it up: “The drama of the Yokinen trial [August Yokinen, a CP member accused of making racially disparaging remarks – B.L.] had impressed upon white Communists, in no uncertain terms, that it was their duty as Communists ‘to march at the head of the struggle for Negro rights’.”
The Communist Party’s prioritizing of the fight for Black equality played a key role in developing the civil rights movement of the 1930s and 40s. That movement centered around the fight to save the lives of Angelo Herndon and the Scottsboro Nine. Carson’s book shows that laundry workers were deeply involved in all of these struggles that paved the way for the Black Lives Matter Movement of today.
I believe that the attempts to build a fighting, democratic union of laundry workers would have had a better outcome in 1941 if there had been unity between the Communist-led forces and the Adelmond-Robinson forces. But that would have taken willingness on the part of both groups. This need for left unity, also left-center unity, remains an important challenge for labor to this day.
A Matter of Moral Justice: Black Women Laundry Workers and the Fight for Justice
By Jenny Carson
University of Illinois Press
Hardcover, paper, and e-book editions
Beatrice Lumpkin is a long time labor activist with laundry workers, steelworkers, and teachers. As a math professor at Malcolm X College in Chicago, she fought to restore the contributions of people of color to the educational curriculum. She has served as a multicultural consultant to textbook publishers and to public schools in Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Portland, Ore. She is the author of “Always Bring a Crowd, the story of Frank Lumpkin Steelworker” and “Joy in the Struggle, My Life and Love.” Beatrice Lumpkin is an active member of the Teachers Union and SOAR.
Public demonstration in Washington, D.C. from the Audubon For All Union website.
NEW YORK and WASHINGTON (PAI)—Can you imagine a national pro-wildlife, pro-environment non-profit organization firing 100 of its staffers on Earth Day?
The National Audubon Society did so to its field staff this past April. The combination of two rounds of firings—including that one–management turmoil and a “toxic work culture” at the nationwide organization for bird-watchers has led staffers to organize into the Audubon For All Union and try to become members of the Communications Workers.
The result: A formal union certification election filing with the National Labor Relations Board on July 1, covering 124 remaining workers at Audubon’s national offices in New York City and D.C., but not its directors, supervisors, guards, HR employees, or employees of Audubon’s state and regional affiliates and nature centers. Ballots will be opened August 27.
“Much of our organizing was prompted by the two rounds of layoffs,” starting with the one on Earth Day, worker Maddox Wolfe, a fundraising campaign manager and one of the drive’s organizers, told Press Associates Union News Service in a telephone interview. “The Earth Day layoffs affected workers at our nature centers who interface with the public.”
Those workers around the U.S. aren’t in the bargaining unit, but their vulnerability alerted the headquarters workers to their own peril, too. “We saw this (layoff) as ‘a truth moment’ in which workers really needed support,” Wolfe said.
The chaos at the society didn’t stop Audubon’s new CEO from hiring notorious union-buster law firm Littler Mendelson to stop CWA’s organizing drive even before the workers delivered their certified majority of signed National Labor Relations Board election authorization cards, and sought card-check recognition. The CEO flatly refused. She also pledged society neutrality during the drive, then reversed course.
The Audubon workers also discovered another key fact workers at other non-profits, especially progressive ones, realize: You may be working on a mission—in their case bird and wildlife habitat conservation—but you’re still a worker.
Besides, Wolfe said, “Being organized and having a union will help better our mission.”
“This has been an extraordinary year and a half for everyone” as the coronavirus pandemic shut Audubon’s two headquarters, forcing everyone to work remotely—and forcing the layoffs, she reflected. “It really demonstrates the strength and resilience of Audubon workers to organize” even as the modern-day plague spread coast to coast.
Union organizing has also fostered a “sense of collegiality” across Audubon, stretching from the headquarters to the field, she noted. “We were siloed in the past” with headquarters workers having little contact with field workers, Wolfe explained. “I have met and now know colleagues from across the country.
“We’re creating a stronger mission and a stronger organization,” she added.
And Audubon For All notes that collegiality extended to society members. Once the workers went public with the unionization drive, more than 10,000 members petitioned headquarters in favor of the union. Pro-worker comments from Audubon Society members are posted on the union’s Instagram page.
In its statement about the organizing drive, Audubon For All also cited management’s decision to ignore workers’ voices, its lack of transparency, top-down decision-making, unfair treatment of women, and a health care cost hike imposed on workers in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. An independent audit uncovered an Audubon “culture of retaliation, fear and antagonism” towards workers of color and female workers.
“I’ve seen several of my coworkers let go with zero warning and watched my health premiums go up—all during a pandemic,” grant accounting department manager Safiya Cathey told CWA in their release.
“I want to be focused on combating climate change and saving birds’ habitats, not whether I’ll be able to afford a doctor’s visit. In order to fight for the birds, we need to fight for ourselves, which is why this union is so important.”
Since the drive began, the workers also had a chance to reflect on changed conditions: They re-entered the D.C. office earlier in August, to deliver the pro-worker petitions. It was their first time there since the pandemic began, Wolfe said. The delivery occurred after workers held a nearby and cheerful public demonstration. They’re excited and optimistic about the balloting.
“We were different people than when we had left” more than 14 months before, she added. “We got up to the offices and it was dead silent. Even management had left.” The workers left the petitions from Audubon’s members on a top officer’s desk.
The Audubon workers aren’t the only ones in a conservation-minded non-profit group who are unionizing. Office and Professional Employees Local 2 recently announced the NLRB is close to setting a voting date for Defenders of Wildlife staffers. “We’re incredibly excited to be moving forward,” worker Kelly Russo said.
And, unlike Audubon, the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity agreed to card-check recognition for its workers, who will be joining CWA Local 9415.
“Joining the labor movement makes the Center for Biological Diversity an even stronger advocate for threatened communities, wildlife, and wild places. At this pivotal moment for our planet, we’re standing with workers against big polluters and other powerful interests,” the Workers for Biological Diversity Organizing Committee told CWA. “We’re stronger when we band together. And we want to thank our partners at the Communications Workers of America for helping us elevate and amplify our work.”
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.
Show the Children the Green Fields and Let the Sunshine into Their Minds: The Thirty-Second Newsletter (2021). By: Vijay PrashadRead Now
Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.
Exactly two years ago, I walked with my colleagues from Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research through the Camp Marielle Vive (‘Marielle Lives’) outside of Valinhos in the state of São Paulo, Brazil with a great sense of déjà vu. The camp resembles so many other communities of the desperately poor on our planet. The United Nations calculates that one in eight people on our planet – one billion human beings – live in such precariousness. The homes are made of a jumble of materials: blue tarpaulin sheets and bits of wood, corrugated iron sheets and old bricks. A thousand families live in Camp Marielle Vive, named after the Brazilian socialist Marielle Franco, who was assassinated in March 2018.
Camp Marielle Vive is not an ordinary ‘slum’, a word with so many negative connotations. The mood in many slums is desolate, criminal gangs and religious organisations providing them with fragile social glue. But Camp Marielle Vive exudes a different aura. Flags of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) are everywhere. The residents give off a quiet and friendly dignity, many of them wearing t-shirts or caps from their organisation. They have an air of preparation: prepared to defend their camp from eviction by the local authorities and prepared to build a genuine community for themselves.
Community kitchen at Camp Marielle Vive, 2019
At the centre of the camp is a community kitchen where some of the residents eat their three meals. The food is simple but nutritious. Nearby is a small clinic that is visited by a doctor once a week. Outside the homes are flower beds and vegetable gardens. The municipal authorities of the adjoining town stopped allowing the school bus to pick up children from the camp and transport them to the town’s school. As parents struggled to get their children to school every day, Camp Marielle Vive built an on-site classroom for after-school activities, which has continued during the pandemic.
Tassi Barreto of the MST told me in early August 2021 that the camp has had no deaths to COVID-19 because they have ‘taken firm action to avoid the spread of infection’. The local municipality denied the camp water, which is – as Barreto says – ‘a human rights crime’. The residents continued developing their collective work, strengthening the community kitchen and the community health centre, and advancing agroecological production in the vegetable garden, which is built in the shape of a mandala. The garden has been so productive that the camp has been able to sell baskets of produce in the nearby cities of Valinhos and Campinas.
The classroom sits in a prominent part of Camp Marielle Vive. But, Barreto told me, ‘the children and young people of school age had great difficulty because there were no face-to-face classes [at the municipal school] and there were virtual activities in which they could not participate’. The camp’s leadership had to innovate: worksheets had to be printed and distributed to the students each fortnight and – since the public school teachers could not review them – the camp turned to educators from the UNICAMP, a nearby public university, to supervise their work. Education for the children has been a serious challenge.
From Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research comes a dossier, CoronaShock and Education in Brazil: One and a Half Years Later (August 2021), that goes into depth about the crisis of public education as a result of the pandemic. Our dossier cites a UNICEF study that shows that, by the end of 2020 in Brazil, roughly 1.5 million children and adolescents had abandoned their studies and 3.7 million were formally enrolled but were unable to access remote classes.
The United Nations estimates that 90% of students across the world – 1.57 billion children – were unable to attend in-person schooling during the length of the pandemic, many of them told to go online. However, a recent UNESCO study shows that half of the world’s population does not have an internet connection. That’s 3.6 billion people with no internet access. According to the study, ‘At least 463 million or nearly one-third of students globally cannot access remote learning, mainly due to a lack of online learning policies or lack of equipment needed to connect from home’. Half the global population has no internet, and many of those who are able to access the internet cannot afford the technologies and tools required to participate in distance learning. The digital divide is even more sharp along gender lines: in the less developed countries, only 15% of women used the internet in 2019, compared to 86% of women in the so-called developed world.
The turn to digital education has emboldened mega-corporations to enclose the commons of public education, making it harder and harder for the masses of children to have access to any education at all. Big business sees the opportunity clearly. As Microsoft explained, ‘The fallout from COVID-19, continuing advances in digital technology, and intensifying pent-up demand for student-centred learning have combined to present an unprecedented opportunity to transform education across whole systems’. As Bia Carvalho of Brazil’s youth movement (Levante Popular da Juventude) told us for our dossier, ‘For these businessmen, distance education is more profitable because it allows them to cut a part of their expenses and it gives them access to a much larger number of students. From the point of view of [looking at] education as a commodity, where they sell classes, distance education makes a lot more sense’. Public funds have already been used to underwrite the massive expansion of private digital education systems.
Our dossier closes by highlighting three key issues: the need to increase investment in public educational infrastructure (while ensuring no stealth privatisation of education); the need to value, train, and support the professional development of teachers; and the need to struggle for a new educational project. The latter is of great importance. It asks questions about the purpose of education, which sets the stage upon which young people learn to ask questions about their society, about their values, about the discrepancy between their values and their social institutions, and about what one can do about that discrepancy. There is a direct line from the student protests that convulsed Chile in 2011, in South Africa in 2015, and India in 2015-16 to the sentiment in our dossier. This new educational project needs to be elaborated. It is a necessity.
After-school classroom in Camp Marielle Franco, 2021 (photograph by the Communication Sector, MST–Sao Paulo)
When we walked through the Camp Marielle Vive in 2019, two young women, Ketley Júlia and Fernanda Fernandes, joined us. They told us about their schooling, including the English classes they were taking at the camp’s classroom. In the past two years, Ketley joined other women in the camp as a key leader in her community. She coordinates the mandala garden, helps at the storeroom, and organises the donations of clothes and blankets, all of this despite fighting off challenges to her own health.
‘In the midst of the barbarism’, Barreto told me, ‘hope always has a way of appearing’. Ketley is now pregnant, ‘a joy that encourages us in our struggle’, Barreto said. Fernanda now lives in Camp Irmã Alberta near São Paulo, where she continues in the MST as she raises two children. Fernanda’s children and Ketley’s child provide hope, but they also need hope to be fashioned through a world with a humane and hopeful educational project.
In 1942, the English poet, socialist, and pacifist Stephen Spender wrote ‘An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum’. The children in the slum school, Spender wrote, have a future ‘painted with a fog’, their maps ‘slums as big as doom’. We must break the windows of that slum, Spender wrote,
And show the children to green fields, and make their world
Run azure on gold sands, and let their tongues
Run naked into books the white and green leaves open
History is theirs whose language is the sun.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including "The Darker Nations" and "The Poorer Nations." His latest book is "Washington Bullets," with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.
this article was produced by Tri continental.
Anti-Government Protests in Cuba Provoked by U.S. Embargo Has Right-Wingers Salivating at the Prospect of Regime Change. By: Carlos L. GarridoRead Now
The Washington Post featured this photo as an example of anti-government protests but it is clearly a pro-government rally in which the demonstrators are waving the Cuban flag in solidarity with the Cuban revolution. The man behind the flag in the baseball cap is Gerardo Hernandez, a well-known leader of the Committees in Defense of the Revolution and one of the Cuban 5, who spent 16 years in prison in the U.S., framed up for his work helping to stop terrorist attacks on Cuba. [Source: washingtonpost.com]
U.S. Media have played up the recent anti-government protests in Cuba as a harbinger of regime change and a reason for U.S. intervention
But they deceitfully hide the fact that anti-government protestors (funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Endowment for Democracy and CIA) number only a few hundred, whereas pro-government supporters—in defense of the revolution and opposed to U.S. intervention—have been flooding the streets, not by the hundreds, but by the hundreds of thousands
The July 11th protests in Cuba had the Cuban opposition salivating with the hope of once again being the benefactors of an American takeover of the island of 11 million.
As we have seen in the last couple of weeks, this has not been the case. On the contrary, the 17th of July saw more than 100,000 Cubans take the streets of el Malecón in defense of the revolution and against U.S. intervention.
There were also demonstrations in other provinces across the island, altogether dwarfing the U.S.-backed opposition hecklers of the previous week.
Nonetheless, the opposition protests, although insignificant in size and duration (in comparison to the pro-revolution assemblages), have provided fertile ground for Western media to perform their traditional role in setting the stage for the imperial war drums.
The war drums have been played, as Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and the Cuban exile community have urged the Biden administration, to implement a “humanitarian intervention,” one that does not take airstrikes off the table.
City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez joins Cuban exiles at a rally in front of the Versailles Restaurant in the Little Havana section of Miami on Sunday, July 11, 2021. [Source: peoplesworld.org]
Although a Biden administration pivot toward military intervention does not seem likely, Biden has sustained and expanded on the Trump aggression on Cuba. On July 22nd Biden implemented a series of new sanctions on Cuba and assured that “this is just the beginning.”
Whether this means military intervention is on the table is unknown, but what it confirms is that, without strong pressure from the American Left, his campaign promise to return to the Obama-era relationship with Cuba seems unlikely.
Although the July 11th protests, as Madea Benjamin and Leonardo Flores note, “pale in comparison, both in terms of turnout and in state repression, to mass mobilizations that have rocked Colombia, Haiti, Chile, Ecuador and other Latin American countries over the past few years—or even Portland, Oregon, or Ferguson, Missouri,” they are nonetheless the largest oppositional protests since the 1994 Maleconazo uprising during which Cuba was undergoing what it called el Período especial (the Special Period).
Scenes from 1994 Maleconazo uprising. [Source: translatingcuba.com]
Situating this event in its proper long- and short-term historical contexts is necessary to provide a holistic understanding of it. It is not sufficient merely to point to the Trump administration’s tightening of the blockade, even if we agree that such actions are what immediately generated recent events. Instead, we must understand the blockade itself historically. Only then can we know how and why it is effective.
Conditioned to Be Sweet
Although for centuries Havana was an important port for the Spanish empire, it was not until the 18th century that Cuba became the sugar hub of the world. Starting in 1763, the Cuban export economy was centered around sugar, a process it would sustain for the centuries to come. Forty years before the 1959 revolution “sugar accounted for 82% of Cuba’s export earnings.”
Cuban sugar mill in the 19th century. [Source: latinamericanstudies.org]
This historically determined sugar dependency shows how the ancestral fingers of colonialism created the precondition for the Cuban economy being at the whim of global sugar price fluctuations. Beyond this, the centuries-long monocropping of Cuba’s economy, coupled with the destructive industrial means through which this monocropping took place, has left Cuba, according to the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP), with “over three-quarters of its 6.6 million hectares of arable land affected by soil erosion.”
As the UNEP states, “The result is that Cuba imports 80 per cent of its food necessities at a cost of nearly two billion dollars a year—a heavy burden for any developing country, especially one that continues to suffer an ongoing economic embargo from a major world power.” In our globalized world every country is dependent on international trade for acquiring the basic necessities for its people.
Just think what would happen to the U.S., a country territorially about 90 times bigger than Cuba (with far greater soil biodiversity), if it were blocked from trading with the rest of the world and put into a commensurable position with the position it has put Cuba in. What would the material conditions in our country be like?
How would this trade limitation affect us in moments of crisis, when basic necessities are scant, and allocation is based on our market logic? If, under our current condition as the global hegemon, we have 42 million people experiencing food insecurity, the famines that would result if we were in Cuba’s shoes are unimaginable. Yet, no such famine has ever occurred in Cuba. Even in the toughest of times, rationing measures have allowed the population to get what it needs to survive.
The Cuban revolution did not come about in a void. Instead, it came about in a country shackled by centuries of plunder, having to face the results of forces that were already in the world before they were thrown into it. In this world, Cuba has international trade as an absolute imperative for its existence. The blockage of this capacity by the world’s largest empire represents a constant existential threat for the island.
Fidel Castro on horseback. [Source: isreview.org]
Early U.S. Imperialism and Pre-Revolutionary Cuba
In 1898 Cuba ended its century-long anti-colonial struggle against Spain and began its soon-to-be half-century anti-imperialist struggle against the U.S. which, with a sprinkle of yellow journalism, intervened in Cuba’s war against Spain.
For Cuba, this was not just a transition from one master to another. Instead, this transition marked a qualitative leap into a new stage of capitalism, one which Lenin, a couple of decades later, would describe as Imperialism.
From 1898 until the 1959 revolution, Cuba would be militarily occupied three times by the U.S. (1898-1902, 1906-1909, 1917-1922), including a continuous occupation since 1903 of the U.S.’s favorite torture spot, Guantanamo Bay.
Guantanamo Bay at time of U.S. conquest. [Source: time.com]
Nonetheless, even before the Cuban War of Independence, the U.S. was already engaging in practices that were making Cuba economically dependent on the U.S. For instance, in 1865, 65% of Cuba’s sugar exports were going to the United States. Cuba’s sugar dependency became inextricably linked to its ability to trade with the U.S.
After 1898 the U.S.-Cuba relationship transcended dependency and entered into complete political-economic supremacy by the U.S. over Cuba. U.S. companies had nearly total control over the central industries in Cuba. For instance, by 1920, 95% of the sugar industry’s harvest was controlled by U.S. investors.
A similar condition existed in other industries, “by the late ’50s, U.S. financial interests included 90 percent of Cuban mines, 80 percent of its public utilities, [and] 50 percent of its railways.” For a small percentage of Cubans, those who compose the first generation of exiles, this condition was a paradise: “In 1946, less than 1% of all Cuban farmers controlled 36% of the farmland, and 8% of the farmers controlled 70% of farmland.”
For the great majority of the population this was a wretched existence, where 93% of rural households lacked electricity, 85% lacked running water, 54% lacked an indoor or outdoor toilet, 96% lacked a refrigerator, and fewer than half of children were enrolled in school.
U.S. control of Cuba allowed the island to become a gangster’s paradise. Havana was the city of sin that would make modern-day Las Vegas look like it was owned by Puritans. A viewing of the classic film The Godfather II should remind one of pre-revolutionary Cuba and the Mafia-loving corruption of U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, who had killed about 20,000 Cubans by the time the revolution came to Havana.
It is in this context that the revolution arrived. As Cuban revolutionary folk singer Carlos Puebla said:
Here they thought they could
Carlos Puebla [Source: vintagemusic.fm]
The Revolution, the Blockade, and the Historical Toolbox of Imperialism
Shortly after the triumph of the revolution in 1959, the new revolutionary government would implement an agrarian reform which would distribute land amongst the campesinado and establish limitations for landholdings.
As a cherry on top, these reforms would offer compensation to the previous owners that was “fixed on the basis of its value on the municipal tax rolls prior to October 10, 1958.”
Cuban peasants who benefited from agrarian reform after the revolution. [Source: watershedsentinel.ca]
Similar expropriation conditions would be offered to U.S. and other foreign companies in Cuba under the 851, 890, and 891 laws. These en masse expropriations eventually led to the nationalization of all of Cuba’s central resources and industries, establishing conditions where for the first time Cuba would belong to Cubans.
Although a partial embargo (on arms) had already been imposed on Cuba in 1958, in the first couple of years after the revolution the U.S. sustained and expanded it. Each activity the revolutionary government would take to implement distributive measures was met with increased pressure from the expanding embargo. Such increased pressures would often be met with further expropriations.
For instance, the Eisenhower administration prohibited the transport of oil to Cuba, forcing the island to turn to the USSR for imports. Then, as a reaction to “Washington’s orders, multinational oil companies refused to refine the Soviet oil, leaving Cuba no choice but to nationalize the companies.” This back-and-forth culminated in the Kennedy administration’s full implementation of the blockade in 1962.
The Cuban revolution, from its inception, represented a grave threat to U.S. economic and political interest in the region. Such a rejection of U.S. hegemony existing right under the nose of the U.S. was unacceptable in Washington.
Thus, from the outset, the reasons for the blockade have been clear. As Lester Mallory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, wrote in 1960:
“Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba. If such a policy [blockade] is adopted, it should be the result of a positive decision which would call forth a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
Lester Mallory [Source: oncubanews.com]
In the same memorandum Mallory stated that “the majority of Cubans support Castro (the lowest estimate I have seen is 50 percent),” and there is “no effective political opposition.” Therefore, “the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.”
By removing Cuba’s historical and geographically natural trading partner and removing access to the planet’s largest economy to all countries which dared to trade with Cuba, the policy intended to “bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government” was in full swing.
Nonetheless, one would be wrong to consider the blockade the only method of force the U.S. has used against Cuba.
Instead, the last 60 years have shown that nothing is off the table, the toolbox of American imperialism is open to anything, from military attacks, attempted assassinations, biological warfare, and terrorism.
Some of these beyond-economic attacks on Cuba include: a) the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, squashed within three days; b) the 600+ CIA led unsuccessful attempts on Fidel’s life (some whose creativity is quite laughable); c) ten or so biowarfare attacks, most famously, as CAM reported, the 1971 CIA-orchestrated African Swine Fever virus spread; and d) the backing and funding of groups and individuals who partook in terrorist bombings, the cases of Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles are perhaps the best known, specifically the latter’s involvement in the 1976 bombing of Cubana Airline’s flight 455 which killed 73 people—both are celebrated figures of the Miami exile community.
Luis Posada Carriles [Source: wikipedia.org] Orlando Bosch [Source: nytimes.com]
As the 1962 Operation Northwoods shows, the U.S. government was considering orchestrating a “Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington,” which “would be helpful in projecting the idea of an irresponsible government.”
Declassified document detailing plans to invade Cuba. [Source: upload.wikimedia.org]
Effectively, the consideration was to terrorize U.S. cities to delegitimize Cuba and justify a full fledged U.S. military intervention. This surface-level assessment of the beyond-economic forces used to topple the Cuban government shows that, for the U.S., the means through which regime change is sought are irrelevant.
Castro holds up newspaper documenting CIA plots to kill him. [Source: theguardian.com]
The policy of the U.S. toward Cuba, from the emergence of the revolution until now (with a slight variation during the Obama administration) has been the following: Cuban socialism must be overthrown by any means necessary.
Thus, over the last 60 years Cuba has not only been at the whim of the global market because of inherited colonial-era economic dependencies but, stemming from the breadth of the U.S. empire’s blockade and the variety of regime-change tactics used, it has also been dependent on the existence of a global counter-hegemonic force to American Imperialism. Until the mid-1980s the Soviet Union and the Socialist Bloc provided a global alternative that was necessary to ameliorate the effects of the blockade. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba was left to fend for itself outside of U.S.-dominated neoliberal capitalism.
Nonetheless, even under the difficulties of the Special Period, Cuba was able to remain a global beacon of hope and, through the devastating economic hardships, it was able to sustain a revolutionary and innovative spirit that kept it alive until solidarity arrived via the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998 and the subsequent “pink-tide” that swept across Latin America, creating the counter-hegemonic force that Cuba needed to re-stabilize itself.
Fidel and Hugo Chávez: resisting empire. [Source: pri.org]
It is a truly impressive feat that, even under such conditions as the ones Cuba suffered in the 1990s, it was still able to develop innovative and sustainable agricultural reforms which served as the precondition for its current state as the “most sustainable developed country in the world.”
Organic agriculture in Cuba. [Source: greenleft.org.au]
Obama, Trump, and the Pandemic
It would take 55 years from the triumph of the revolution for minimal positive change in the aforementioned U.S.-Cuba relationship to come about. In 2014, though sustaining the economic embargo, the Obama administration would begin normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, a process that was mediated with the help of Pope Francis.
This process, known as the Cuban Thaw, saw the easing of travel and export sanctions; the opening of a Cuban government bank account in the U.S., allowing it to free itself of the burden of having to handle financial affairs in cash; the removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism”; mutual openings of embassies; Obama’s visit to Cuba, which was the first time a U.S. president had done so since Calvin Coolidge in 1928; and much more.
The Obamas deplane at Havana’s José Martí International Airport on historic visit. [Source: theguardian.com]
Although this normalization process was mutually beneficial, it was the partial easing of the 60-year-old blockade weight off Cuba’s back that was the most significant. Within a year of the initial moves toward normalization, Cuba would have one of the highest GDP growth percentages in all of Latin America.
With the election of Donald Trump and the backing he received from the Cuban exile community, the minimal advances of the Obama era were rolled back. Trump’s cancellation of the Obama policies toward Cuba included restricting travel to Cuba, banning the sending of remittances, reinstating Cuba to the list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” and implementing 243 new sanctions on the island.
Trump’s draconian policies won him praise among right-wing Cuban exiles in Miami. [Source: theconversation.com]
The effects of such measures cost Cuba $9.1 billion between April and December of 2020, a number which rises to about $1,300 billion when accounting for the six decades-long blockade and the dollar’s depreciation against the value of gold in the global market.
It is also important to note that the tightening of the blockade on Cuba comes at a time when its largest trading partner, Venezuela, is also facing dire conditions thanks to a similar blockade and various regime-change efforts.
Protesters in Miami demand end to U.S. embargo of Cuba. [Source: cubanmoneyproject.com]
Although an analysis of U.S. imperialism in Venezuela is beyond our scope, it is important to note that a central reason why the tightening of the blockade has been so effective in crippling Cuba also has to do with the pre-established and continued imperial policy against Cuba’s central allies.
While Trump’s maximum pressure strategy toward Cuba was effective in causing economic distress on the island, the emergence of the pandemic would intensify these hardships. The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for every country in the world.
In the U.S. millions have lost their jobs, employer-based health insurance, and more than 600,000 have lost their lives. Cuba has had to endure the blockade, the pandemic (resulting in the closing of the border and the commensurate losses to the tourism industry), and the U.S.’s exploitation of the pandemic to increase pressure for regime change.
The combination of the pandemic and the blockade has created a situation where, over the last year and a half, the Cuban government has struggled to procure the basic medical necessities to treat the virus.
For instance, in April 2020, with the pandemic in full swing, the U.S. blocked Cuba’s ability to buy ventilators. In the same month the U.S. would block a shipment of coronavirus aid to Cuba coming from the Jack Ma Foundation. Similar events have occurred throughout the pandemic.
Nonetheless Cuba, as the country with the most doctors per capita, has sent volunteer doctors all over the world to help countries deal with the pandemic. For these efforts the U.S. and its media puppets have produced unsubstantiated allegations of the doctors’ missions as “forced labor” and has urged its allies to refuse Cuban medical aid.
Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who expelled Cuban doctors, quickly begged for their return, as their departure left Brazil’s medical system in egregious condition.
Cuban doctors arrive in Italy to help fight COVID-19. [Source: theconversation.com]
However, the world has not been fooled by these preposterous allegations. For its courageous internationalism which has saved countless lives around the world, the Henry Reeve Brigade, named after an American who fought and died in the first Cuban revolutionary war with the army of liberation, has created a movement for it to receive the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
On the 23rd of June, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a resolution concerning the U.S.’s embargo on Cuba. As CAM reported, the result was clear: 184 countries voted in favor of lifting the embargo, 2 (U.S. and Israel) voted against.
This decision marks the 29th consecutive year that the General Assembly has called for an end to the U.S.’s economic, commercial and financial embargo on Cuba. For 29 years the U.S. has been ignoring the near unanimous will of the world and has continued, as Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla stated, a blockade that, “like the virus… asphyxiates and kills.”
This systematic rejection of international will is at the core of the material conditions that led to the events of July 11th.
The policies of the blockade and its intermingling with the conditions of the pandemic have led Cuba to a state where, months before the protests, shortages in various areas arose. As Cuban President Díaz-Canel stated in his speech on the day of the protests:
“This whole situation [blockade + pandemic] caused a situation of shortages in the country, especially of food, medicines, raw materials and supplies to be able to develop our economic and productive processes that at the same time contribute to exports. Two important elements are cut off: the ability to export and the ability to invest resources. And from the productive processes, to then develop goods and services for our population.”
These shortages, manifested through the annoyance of long lines, power outages, and rationing, ensure a quantitative and cumulative process of dissatisfaction.
The U.S. Capitalist media seizes on this dissatisfaction to further indict Cuba’s socialist economy, ignoring the impact of the U.S. blockade and long war on Cuba.
Further ignored is the fact that Cuba, despite a syringe deficit and vaccination slowdown, has produced 5 vaccine candidates, two (Abdala and Soberana) of which have already been shown to be safe and effective.
Man gets vaccine on outskirts of Havana in May. [Source: peoplesworld.com]
Overlooking the Underlying Source of Malaise
Like in Plato’s allegory of the cave, the July 11th anti-government protesters are capable of seeing only the immediacy of the shadows. In a world limited to only seeing the government’s role in rationing, discourse on the blockade sounds as irrational as the escaped slave explaining to the others what it’s like outside the cave.
Nonetheless, the misguided upheavals were not simply the spontaneous expression of a genuine opposition grounded and influenced solely by the Cuban situation. In these upheavals there exists an externally added variable which organized, funded, and facilitated these rabble-rousings as yeast does to water and flour when baked.
This external variable is the decades-long U.S. funding of the Cuban opposition and its anti-government propaganda media outlets under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which allowed television broadcasting from the U.S. into Cuba and also tightened the embargo and permitted Cubans who had become U.S. citizens to sue in U.S. courts anyone who had purchased property once belonging to them in Cuba but was confiscated by the regime after the revolution.
Tracey Eaton, founder of the Cuba Money Project, has found that, between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)—the CIA’s two new fronts—and the U.S. State Department, more than $1 billion has been given to Cuban opposition groups and media, both within Cuba and in the Cuban exile community.
Los Aldeanos received NED funds. [Source: concerty.com]
Recently, the San Isidro Movement—whose joint work with Gente de Zona in the song “Patria y Vida” has become the token expression of the recent protests—has been shown to be heavily funded by the NED and USAID. As Max Blumenthal writes,
“Leading members of the San Isidro Movement have raked in funding from regime-change outfits like the National Endowment for Democracy and U.S. Agency for International Development while meeting with State Department officials, U.S. embassy staff in Havana, right-wing European parliamentarians and Latin American coup leaders from Venezuela’s Guaidó to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro.”
In the era of woke intersectional imperialism, this afro-Cuban “movement” has been the perfect token for the regime-change goons.
Altogether, the uprisings on July 11th have not only had their source in the difficulties created by the combination of the blockade and the pandemic, but also in a heavily funded opposition which was intentionally created by the U.S. to channel the natural distress of the politically unconscious into the streets to protest the government.
It is important to note that the orchestration of the protests by U.S.-funded agents takes place a few weeks after yet another near unanimous vote against the blockade in the United Nations. The protests and the media treatment of it (examined below) help redeem the blockade-justifying narrative of the “Cuban police state” pushed by the U.S. at a time when international opinion is unanimously against the blockade.
People Fail to Come Out
Nonetheless, what is impressive here is how, with the combination of the blockade, pandemic, and U.S.-funded opposition and propaganda campaigns, so few Cubans were at the protests.
Considering the breadth of public and covert tactics used by U.S. imperialism, it has been a laughable defeat to see that all its efforts and spending was only able to materialize into a few thousand hecklers in the streets for less than a day.
These protesters quickly disappeared, given that shortly after Díaz-Canel told revolutionaries to hit the streets. Tens of thousands of them did so—chanting “these are Fidel’s streets,” “I am Fidel, I am Díaz-Canel,” “Homeland or Death,” while waving Fidel portraits and the black and red 26th of July Movement flags—dwarfing the anti-government groups.
Protesters carry Che Guevara banners in support of the Cuban revolution in July. [Source: reuters.com]
The MVP (most valuable player) of the July 11th protest must be awarded to the media. Both mainstream and social media coverage of the protests tossed any shred of journalistic integrity aside and showed themselves for what they really are—lapdogs of the American empire whose sole function is to manufacture consent for wars and plunder abroad.
By ignoring the blockade, the U.S.’s exploitation of the pandemic, and the U.S.’s role in funding and organizing the opposition, the media were able to spin the myth that a majority of Cubans were protesting a repressive, one-party dictatorship.
For anyone familiar with the structure of Cuba’s participatory democracy, these “dictatorship” allegations are laughable, especially as they take place on the heels of the 2019 enactment of the citizen-drafted and massively supported socialist constitution.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel casts his vote during the referendum to approve the constitutional reform in Havana, Cuba, February 24, 2019. [Source: telesurenglish.net]
A critique of the audacity and hypocrisy liberal democracies in accusing Cuba of being undemocratic and repressive—governed in reality as dictatorships of capital—is beyond the scope of this essay.
Nonetheless, it is important to ask what standing a government with the largest incarceration rate in the world—with just 4.4% of the world’s population yet approximately 25% of the world’s prisoners—to talk about repression in Cuba?
Similarly, what standing does the government, whose elections are 91% determined by who can raise the most corporate money, have to talk about the problem of democracy in Cuba?
For the media’s coverage of the July 11th protests, nothing was off the table: From fake photos to twitter bots, everything was fair game. For instance, mainstream media outlets like the Guardian, Fox News, Boston Globe, Financial Times, Yahoo! News and NBC’s Today have used images from large pro-government demonstrations in previous years and claimed them to be from the July 11th protests. CNN also used a picture of a rally in Miami and titled it “Cubans Take to Streets in Rare Anti-Government Protest Over Lack of Freedoms, Worsening Economy.”
After public humiliation most of these outlets have removed these “errors,” but their intended effect remained. One must ask: Was this an issue of ignorance or willful action? It seems hard to miss the massive 26th of July Movement flags in the pro-government demonstrations. It also seems unlikely that one would miss the southwest Miami street signs and the red Make America Great Again hats in CNN’s images.
In the case of Fox News any claim of ignorance is preposterous: In its July 13th segment with Ted Cruz, in which he discussed the “bravery” depicted in the images of the protesters, the image that appeared on screen in that moment was of a pro-government rally where the words on the sign—“the streets belong to the revolutionaries”—were intentionally blurred and quickly replaced by a clip of a Miami rally in front of the famous Cuban-cuisine Versailles restaurant in the Little Havana section of the city.
The U.S.-funded Cuban opposition has also been effective in creating false narratives about the protests’ size, police repression, and claims about the destabilizing effect the protests have had on the government.
For instance, photos of mass protests and demonstrations in Washington, D.C. (2007), Egypt (2011) and Argentina (2021) have been used and described as Cuban anti-government protests.
This photo was actually taken during the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. [Source: verifythis.com]
To spark sentimentalism, the opposition has also used photos of an 11-year-old boy who was shot in the face in Caracas, Venezuela, and claimed that the Cuban police shot and killed him.
To intensify the narrative of “police repression,” the opposition has created Facebook groups dedicated to those allegedly lost after being kidnapped or killed by the Cuban police.
These claims have been shown to be false. Such was the case of Juan Carlos Charon, who was alleged to have been killed but who appeared in a phone call with Cubadebate to be quite alive and angry at his image’s tokenization by the Cuban opposition.
One of the most repulsive tactics used has been bribes. As exposed private messages have shown, the Cuban opposition has attempted to bribe Cubans with phone recharging points if they beat themselves up and then make a video claiming the police did it.
Furthermore, there have also been fabricated claims intended to produce the narrative that the government was losing power. For instance, claims were made that, in Camaguey, the “people” had seized power and kidnapped the first secretary of the province’s Communist Party.
This information was quickly disproven by images of thousands of pro-government demonstrators and with an interview conducted with the (supposedly kidnapped) first secretary of the party, who not only affirmed by his presence that he had not been kidnapped but also attested to the conditions in Camaguey as normal.
The opposition has also used a 2015 picture of Raul Castro exiting an airplane for the Third Summit of Latin American and Caribbean States in Costa Rica and declared he had fled to Venezuela because of the protests.
Photo of Raul Castro that was used to make the false claim that he had fled the country. [Source: twitter.com]
This misinformation campaign was made viral with the “Bay of Tweets” bot campaign. Days before the protests broke out in Cuba, the hashtag #SOSCUBA began to show up on Twitter. On the day of the protests the hashtag started trending thanks to thousands of newly created Twitter accounts that were retweeting it at speeds impossible for mere mortals.
Although a clear violation of Twitter’s “coordinated inauthentic behavior” rules, Twitter allowed the bot scheme to unfold, propelling an en masse campaign to distribute the sort of fabricated information discussed above. Concerning this bot campaign, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said he had “irrefutable proof that the majority of those that took part in this (internet) campaign were in the United States and used automated systems to make content go viral, without being penalized by Twitter.”
This would not be the first time the U.S. has used a social media bot campaign to push regime change, as Ben Norton noted last year when the same tactic was used to prop up the right-wing opposition in Bolivia, Venezuela, and Mexico. For instance, during the 2019 coup in Bolivia, there were 68,000 fake Twitter accounts made to support the coup.
For the U.S., as we have seen, the “by any means necessary” philosophy remains intact in its regime-change efforts in Cuba. The plot laid out more than 60 years ago by Lester Mallory continues today: Starve the population and agitate around their dissatisfaction.
Although new equipment has been added, the David and Goliath battle—a gigantic empire dripping in blood and dirt vs. a small, autonomous, socialist, and internationalist island 90 miles away—remains.
On July 23rd, an open letter entitled “Let Cuba Live,” signed by 400 prominent activists, scientists, intellectuals, and artists urging Biden to remove the criminal blockade on Cuba, appeared in The New York Times.
As folks living within the empire, now is not the time to criticize Cuba or measure its deficiencies against our ideals. Now is the time to stand in solidarity with the Cuban people and their revolution.
This requires doing everything in our power to push the Biden administration to end the blockade. The words of the late Howard Zinn ring as true as ever today—“you can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
Carlos L. Garrido is a philosophy graduate student and professor at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. His specialization is in Marxist philosophy and the history of American socialist thought (esp. early 19th century). He is an editorial board member and co-founder of Midwestern Marx and the Journal of American Socialist Studies.
This article was produced by Covertaction Magazine.
Are Bezos and Musk Launching Us Into a New Space Age, or Just a U.S. Space Grab? By: Prabir Purkayastha & GlobetrotterRead Now
We are entering a new space age in which billionaires can leave this world, which they are destroying, hoping to find another world to conquer and destroy.
The space race was once between two countries—the Soviet Union and the United States. It is now (at least on the surface) between three billionaires—Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. Two of them—Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, and Bezos, founder of Blue Origin—recently rode their respective companies’ suborbital flights (meaning that they cannot be considered proper spaceflights, as they did not reach a stable orbit around the Earth). Branson’s space ambitions seem to be limited to developing a market for the exotica of space tourism. Elon Musk and his company SpaceX have been playing for the long haul, with a series of rockets and launches already to the company’s credit, including to the International Space Station. Bezos and Blue Origin also fall into the latter camp.
Behind this apparent show of rich kids playing with their expensive space toys, there are bigger forces at play—namely, that big capital is entering spaceflight, hitherto the exclusive domain of nation-states. While it appears that three men with deep pockets are funding their respective space ventures, the reality is that it is the U.S. taxpayers who are funding these space efforts. In this new space age, the U.S. is also proposing to ride roughshod over the space agreements that space is a “global commons.” The U.S. would like to convert space into its “final frontier,” under the premise that space belongs to any country that can mine its riches.
Many people take for granted that the U.S. was the winner of the space race against the Soviet Union, since they beat the Soviets to the moon. But what is overlooked in this narrative is that the space competition is not simply about who sent the first man to the moon, but also about who built the better rockets.
Strangely enough, it was the fall of the Soviet Union that brought forth information that Soviet technology produced rocket engines that had consistently outperformed the American ones. Today, the Russian-produced rocket engines—RD-180 and RD-181—still power U.S. rockets. The Atlas rocket line, which is the mainstay of U.S. heavy-lift launch vehicles, uses RD-180 engines. Atlas is owned by United Launch Alliance (ULA), which is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. When Orbital Sciences (now a part of Northrop Grumman) was looking for launch vehicles for its Antares program, they used Soviet-era 40-year-old, mothballed NK-33 rocket engines. After one of them blew up due to cracks in the aging engines, Antares switched their rocket engines—to yet another engine designed and produced by Russians, the RD-181.
In 1992, just as Russian rocket engines were becoming the mainstay of the U.S. space program, the U.S. imposed sanctions on the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and Russia’s Glavkosmos. Glavkosmos was Russia’s space marketing arm for selling cryogenic rocket engines and technology. These sanctions were only withdrawn after ISRO developed its own cryogenic engine technology. Russia’s contribution to India’s rocket program was the seven cryogenic engines that it sold to ISRO, a part of the N1 upper stage of the Soviet Union’s moon mission.
Why did the Soviet-era rockets perform better than the U.S. rockets? It is because the Soviets had mastered what is called the closed-cycle rocket engines well before the Americans. For any rocket capable of spaceflight, it needs both fuel—e.g., kerosene, hydrogen, or methane—and a burning medium, such as oxygen. Meanwhile, in an open-cycle engine—Saturn V of the Apollo program was an open-cycle design—a part of the fuel does not reach the main combustion chamber. It is used to power a turbo-compressor pumping fuel and oxygen and exits directly into the atmosphere. This results in a loss of efficiency for the engine, which then has to be compensated by carrying more fuel.
In a closed-cycle engine, or what is called “staged combustion,” the products of the first-stage combustion powering the turbo-compressor are fed to the main combustion chamber, avoiding any loss of fuel. The Soviet engineers had solved the problem of materials that had to withstand the extremely harsh conditions of injecting the products of oxygen-rich combustion into the main combustion chamber. The U.S. engineers thought that this was simply not possible and were shocked when, while visiting Russia in the ’90s, they were shown the mothballed engines of the ill-fated N1 project, the Soviet attempt at the moon shot. These were the engines that Orbital Sciences tried to use for their Antares program, christening them as AJ-26, before they switched to the more advanced Russian RD-181 engines.
Following the Ukraine crisis of 2014, the U.S. has imposed sanctions on many Russian companies. However, it still uses rocket engines sourced from Russia for its space program, both civilian and military. After the U.S. space shuttle program was shut down in 2011, taking U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station and bringing them back was left to Russian Soyuz rockets. It was only after SpaceX developed its space shuttle that the U.S. again had a spacecraft for carrying its astronauts to the International Space Station.
The U.S. Congress has decreed that U.S. companies will have to phase out the Russian engines from their military launches by the end of 2022. This is where Bezos and Musk come in, as both are vying for the future launches that the U.S. military and NASA are planning. Though it appears as if Musk and Bezos are developing the rockets using their own money, it is still NASA that is footing the bill. NASA pays upfront development costs and, later, price per launch.
If the rocket engines are the key to any serious space program, where does the U.S. stand in this new space age? ULA has had to switch to the U.S.-made engine as per the new NASA requirement. It has chosen the BE-4 rocket engine from Bezos’ Blue Origin, though ULA is reportedly unhappy with delays by Blue Origin and the lack of “attention and priority” the company is putting on the engine. The other rocket engines in the fray are from Musk’s SpaceX. Orbital Sciences still appears to be tied to Russian engines for its cargo services to the space station. So the U.S. rocket engines seem to be restricted to BE-4 from Blue Origin and SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket/Raptor engines. The American space race is essentially a two-horse race between the two super-rich billionaires.
How do Bezos and Musk fund their space ventures? The public believes it is with money that the ‘visionary’ billionaires have made as a result of their acumen for entrepreneurship—they represent a version of Ayn Rand’s ‘heroes’ from her novels. The brutal truth is that Bezos as a capitalist has squeezed his workers, increasing their workload so much that they are unable to even take bathroom breaks. Amazon pays its workers wages that are “close to the poverty line for a family of four” and need to be supplemented by social welfare. The company has destroyed the small retail sector, and it competes with its own suppliers with Amazon-branded products and is “crushing them with competitive pricing.”
Musk claims to be the other visionary by developing Tesla, the electric car of the future. While the existing automakers were slow to develop electric cars, Tesla has an edge of being the early mover and cashing in on the environmental regulations in various countries that demanded that automakers earn carbon credits by selling a certain percentage of their output as electric cars. For example, in the first quarter of 2021, almost all of Tesla’s profits came from carbon credits it sells to other automakers. Since Tesla makes only electric cars, it has surplus carbon credits that it sells for a profit to other automakers. The crucial component of electric cars is the batteries, which Tesla outsources to others. One of the key battery suppliers to Tesla is Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL), which is the largest lithium battery manufacturer in the world. Its owner, Zeng Yuqun, has a net worth more than that of Jack Ma of Alibaba. What Musk has is a huge social media presence, which he has leveraged in hyping up his auto, and now space, ventures.
The other disturbing aspect of the new space age ushered in by the space billionaires is the U.S. policy of grabbing space for its private companies. This violates the Outer Space Treaty. The U.S. position is that whether or not outer space is a global commons, its commercial exploitation is open to all. This is a position the U.S. had on seabed mining in international waters as well. Such a policy privileges the powerful and technologically advanced states and is another way of blocking the essence of the global commons.
Behind this hype of a new space age is the reality of a new space grab. This is what Bezos and Musk represent: a new space age in which the billionaires can leave this world they are destroying in the hope of discovering new lands to conquer and again destroy.
Prabir Purkayastha is the founding editor of Newsclick.in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.
How a Black Lives Matter Leader Started a ‘Freedom School’ Summer Program for Kids. By: Sonali Kolhatkar & Independent Media InstituteRead Now
Jasmine Richards views the education and empowerment of young Black and Brown children in her community to be just as important as fighting racist police brutality.
Middle- and upper-income parents know that summers are an opportunity to give one’s children the sort of well-rounded education that can enhance future college applications. Summer camp rosters fill up months in advance, and price tags for enrichment programs can run upwards of $500 a week. This is especially true in high-priced Southern California, where I live and where Jasmine Abdullah Richards started the Black Lives Matter Pasadena Freedom School, a free, three-days-a-week summer camp for children who live in her neighborhood.
“Freedom School is for the ’hood. It’s for low-income families,” she explained as we sat together on the Metro train heading from the Los Angeles-area suburb of Pasadena to the California African American Museum near downtown LA. We shouted to be heard by one another through our COVID-19 face masks and over the din of more than a dozen Black and Brown children aged 9 through 15 who were wearing their new Freedom School T-shirts and chatting animatedly with one another. Many had never before been on a train or left the borders of Pasadena. Interrupting our conversation, Richards warned the raucous and excited children to keep it down, yelling, “Hey, hey, hey, we gotta lower it down just a little bit.”
Richards has led the Pasadena chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM) since 2014, when I first met her alongside Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of BLM, for an in-person interview about the Ferguson uprising in Missouri. Both Cullors and Richards had just returned from Ferguson, where the latest chapter in the movement for racial justice was blazing into existence. Richards called that trip an “eye-opening experience,” and said that “Black Lives Matter changed my life.” A year later, she was confronting Pasadena police over their fatal shooting of a young Black man in her neighborhood named Kendrec McDade and protesting alongside McDade’s mother, Anya Slaughter. She has since been on a mission to ensure no more mothers lose their children to police violence, and Freedom School is one effort to that end.
Seventeen-year-old Emoni Waiters and 20-year-old Amari Stewart are both graduates of the first session of Freedom School that Richards organized in 2018. Both young women are now working as camp counselors with Richards to guide a new generation of neighborhood kids and expose them to sights and sounds they might not otherwise have access to. Waiters confessed that before she attended the school, “I would just sit at the park and hang out. I would get into bad stuff.” But then, “when Jasmine started the Freedom School, it was a way for me to get away and do nothing but positive things.” Stewart had a similar experience. “It changed me a lot,” she said. “Jasmine taught us how to speak to others so you can make a good first impression.”
Indeed, ‘Auntie Jasmine,’ as the children call her, dished out sage advice to her camp attendees during the museum field trip every chance she got. While waiting for the train to arrive, she asked the kids, “So, how many of you know about gangs?” The mask she wore muffled her voice, and one little boy who mistook what she said responded excitedly, “oh, I got all games on my phone!” “G-A-N-G-S,” Jasmine spelled out patiently, unmasking her face for a moment. An older Latino boy answered, “I don’t know anything about gangs.” “Yes, you do, Gustavo,” she countered, looking him straight in the eye. “Let me tell you about my experience in gangs,” she said and went on to share her own story.
Richards’ family moved to Pasadena when she was seven, and she grew up north of the 210 freeway, where most of the city’s low-income Black and Brown residents live and where Pasadena police officers routinely patrol. “My neighborhood was a ‘zero-tolerance zone,’ so even if we wanted to hang out in front of my apartment, we were considered a gang member,” she told me. When she was 14, Richards’ older brother, who eschewed gangs, was murdered in a drive-by shooting. The trauma of losing her brother left her reeling, and she spiraled into drug and alcohol abuse.
Getting involved in BLM changed everything, and today Richards is clean and sober and in a healthy relationship with herself and her partner. Freedom School “gives me purpose, it gives me life,” she said. “I get them at a young, impressionable age when they can either go left or right, and if I have anything to do with it, I want them to go the right way.” She sees her work with the school as central to her BLM-related activism, saying, “there is no revolution without the kids.”
The obstacles arrayed against low-income Black and Brown children are immense. Many of the kids enrolled in Freedom School have had routine and terrifying encounters with the police in their neighborhood. Seventeen-year-old Runnit, a Freedom School attendee, is one of them. He said that Freedom School teaches kids, “that we’re not supposed to be afraid when the police show up.” He’s grateful for the opportunities that the program has given him and his young cousin Jaden, who accompanied him on the museum trip. “She’s [Richards has] been doing good stuff for our kids and taking them to places where kids can really be kids. We meet up at the park. We ride the bus safely as a group—we all got shirts on to show that we’re in a group.”
Learning how to interact with the police is part of Freedom School’s curriculum. “Don’t run, even if the police talk to you,” said Richards to the kids during another one of her impromptu lectures on the train. “If you steal something, you stop with the thing you stole [indicates throwing it to the ground] and say, ‘here, I don’t even want it, take this shit back.’ Don’t ever run. Don’t run, or they will shoot you.” It was a version of “the talk” that generations of Black parents have had to give their children to best ensure their odds of survival, and an informal version of the “know your rights” trainings that Richards includes as part of the camp curriculum.
But Richards wants more than survival for her neighborhood children. “I want to get them to start lovin’ on themselves and [teach them] how to iron out their own problems because all they see is gang-banging and stuff.” On the choice of the California African American Museum, she said, “Representation matters. I want them to see stories of people like them.”
Richards sees Freedom School as following in the tradition of the Black Panther Party’s Breakfast Program. While she started the program in order to fill a void in Pasadena—city-run summer programs this year are not free of charge—the camp seems to have grown into a far more stimulating experience for the children than anything the city might be offering.
Eleven-year-old Jaden was buzzing with so much excitement about the prospect of visiting the museum that he could hardly stand still. “I came here today because my mom wanted me to know about my culture and my history, about what we did in the past,” he said. Illustrating just how much impact Freedom School has already had on him, he expostulated, “all the white people, they raised us as slaves and let us pick cotton and they whipped us, and it was bad and hurtful. That’s why we’re here today to learn about everything that we have in our history.”
Organizing programs like Freedom School costs money, and Richards, ever the innovator, has made something out of nothing, tapping into her own social network and her national reputation to raise thousands of dollars for the program. She earned that profile the hard way. In 2016 she made headlines for becoming the first African American ever to be convicted on a charge of “felony lynching” in connection with intervening in a police arrest in her neighborhood. Richards said she had been on the police’s radar for months, facing constant harassment from officers.
Today she has turned the national reputation that the police inadvertently bestowed upon her into what she calls “social capital.” Proud of what she has accomplished, she delighted in the fact that “tons of people are giving money, all my followers on Facebook, Instagram, just random people,” as she asks them to “help me help my ’hood.” Using the donations, she has purchased branded T-shirts for the camp enrollees to wear on field trips, train and museum tickets, and bathing suits for swim days. She is also paying the two Freedom School graduates, Waiters and Stewart, to be camp counselors.
Richards has bigger plans for her neighborhood kids beyond Freedom School. When Victor Gordo ran for Pasadena mayor last year, she met with him demanding that he act like a civil servant. “I told him, ‘if we vote for you, bro, I need you to do something for our community.’ So that’s what he vowed to do.” Gordo won the mayor’s race and has agreed to work with Richards on a city-level apprenticeship program for graduating teens, such as Waiters, who will be attending a welding program at Pasadena City College in the fall. Not one to rest on her laurels, Richards said, “I told him, ‘I’m not gonna stop the pressure on you. If you don’t do these things, then you gotta go too.’”
In using all the tools at her disposal, including her political sensibility, life experiences, fundraising prowess, adeptness at holding politicians accountable, and the trust that her neighbors have placed in her, Richards offers a model for progressive change that places children at the forefront.
Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
A Viable—and Perhaps the Only—Path to Lasting Peace in Afghanistan. By: Vijay Prashad & GlobetrotterRead Now
As each day goes by, the Taliban’s forces edge closer to controlling all of Afghanistan. In the first week of August, the Taliban swept through the northern provinces of the country—Jawzjan, Kunduz, and Sar-e Pul—which form an arc alongside the borders of the Central Asian states of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. The violence has been severe; the pain inflicted upon civilians by the intensity of the fighting has been terrible. Having withdrawn its ground forces, the United States sent in its B-52s to bomb targets in the city of Sheberghan (capital of the province of Jawzjan); reports suggest that at least 200 people were killed in the bombings. It shows the weakness of the government in Kabul that its Ministry of Defense’s spokesperson Fawad Aman cheered on the bombing.
It’s unlikely that the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani will outlast the Taliban’s lightning strikes. The U.S. bombing will slow the advance, but it will not be able to reverse the tide. That is why regional powers in Asia have deepened contacts with the Taliban’s leadership, whose governance of the entire country seems inevitable.
“The Taliban is not an entity by itself,” Heela Najibullah said when I spoke to her during the second week of August. “It is made up of groups of extremists and militants who use the rhetoric of jihad to achieve power.” Najibullah, author of the important book Reconciliation and Social Healing in Afghanistan (2017), is the daughter of Mohammed Najibullah, the president of Afghanistan from 1987 to 1992. Since the Doha Agreement (2020), Heela Najibullah said, “the Taliban has demonstrated in action that it is not moderate but has become even more extreme in the type of violence it is carrying out against the Afghan people and state.” The Taliban has rejected every overture of a ceasefire from Afghan peace organizations.
A close look at the Taliban leadership reveals little change since its founding in September 1994. The public face of the Taliban—Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar—founded the Taliban and was a close associate of the first emir of the movement, Mullah Omar. After the United States attacked Afghanistan in October 2001, it was Baradar who took Mullah Omar on the back of a motorcycle to their refuge in Pakistan. Baradar, trusted by Pakistani intelligence, puts no daylight between himself the current leader of the Taliban—Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada—and his two deputies—Mullah Yaqoob (son of the late Mullah Omar) and Sirajuddin Haqqani (leader of Pakistan’s Haqqani network). Akhundzada ran the Taliban’s judicial system from 1997 to 2001 and was responsible for some of the most heinous of its judgments. When COVID-19 infected most of the leadership, decision-making fell to Baradar.
At the March 2021 international peace conference in Moscow, the entire 10-person Taliban delegation—led by Baradar—was male (to be fair, there were only four women among the 200 Afghans in the process). One of the four women at the table was Dr. Habiba Sarabi, who was appointed as minister of Women’s Affairs in 2004 and then became the first female governor of an Afghan province in 2005. It is important to note that she was the governor of Bamyan, a province where the Taliban had blown up two sixth-century statues of Buddha in March 2001. In October 2020, Dr. Sarabi pointed out that Afghan women are “more mobilized,” although Afghanistan now faces “a crucial moment in our fight.” Reports have already appeared of forced marriages and public floggings of women in Taliban-controlled areas.
Women are more mobilized, says Dr. Sarabi, but they are not a powerful social movement. Afghanistan’s more liberal and left social forces “are active underground and are not an organized force,” Najibullah tells me. These forces include the educated sections, who do not want “extremist groups to drag the country into another proxy war.” That proxy war would be between the Taliban, the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, and other militant groups that are no less dangerous than the Taliban or the U.S. government.
Najibullah reaches back to the time when her father proposed the Afghan National Reconciliation Policy. A letter President Najibullah wrote to his family in 1995 could have been written today: “Afghanistan has multiple governments now, each created by different regional powers. Even Kabul is divided into little kingdoms… unless and until all the actors [regional and global powers] agree to sit at one table, leave their differences aside to reach a genuine consensus on non-interference in Afghanistan and abide to their agreement, the conflict will go on.”
Heela Najibullah says that the National Reconciliation Policy would require the political participation of a range of actors in an international and a regional conference. These actors would include those who have used Afghanistan for their own national agendas, such as India and Pakistan. At such a conference, Najibullah suggests, Afghanistan needs to be “recognized officially as a neutral state,” and this “neutral state” should be endorsed by the UN Security Council. “Once this is achieved, a broad-based government can be in charge until elections are held, reforms are discussed, and mechanisms are drawn for its implementation,” Najibullah says.
In the 1990s, President Najibullah’s policy was hampered by the deepening of proxy politics. Foreign powers acted through their armed emissaries—people such as Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Burhanuddin Rabbani, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Sibghatullah Mojaddedi—to cause mayhem in the country. They opened the door to the Taliban, which swept out of northern Pakistan across Afghanistan. Najibullah took refuge in the UN compound in Kabul, and then was killed mercilessly by the Taliban inside that compound in September 1996. Neither the U.S.-Saudi-Pakistani-backed forces (from Rabbani to Mojaddedi) nor the Taliban were interested in any kind of reconciliation policy.
Nor are they now invested in a genuine peace. The Taliban have shown that they can make significant advances and that they will use their territorial gains for political advantage; nonetheless, pragmatic members of the Taliban say that they just do not have the resources and expertise to govern a modern state. President Ashraf Ghani barely controls his own government, largely defenseless without U.S. air power. Each could bring something to the table in a reconciliation process, but its likelihood is low.
Meanwhile, foreign powers continue to treat Afghanistan as a battlefield for their regional ambitions. Blindness to history governs the attitude of several capitals, who know from previous experience that extremism cannot be contained within Afghanistan; it devastates the region. Heela Najibullah’s call to consider her father’s National Reconciliation Policy is not merely a daughter’s hope. It is perhaps the only viable path for peace in Afghanistan.
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.
Left: Protest against Canadian interference in Haiti in 2004 after coup against popular Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide. [Source: globalresearch.ca]. Right: Haiti’s new Prime Minister below flags of countries that selected him. [Source: haitilibre.com]
It is déjà vu all over again.
On July 17th, the Core Group (U.S., Canada, France, Spain, Germany, Brazil, UN and OAS) published a note saying Ariel Henry was the prime minister of Haiti.
Within 48 hours the other individual claiming the position fell into line behind Henry, who was a member of the U.S./France/Canada created “Council of the Wise” that appointed the prime minister after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in 2004.
As a result, many Haitian civil society and political actors have criticized the Core Group’s “selection of Haiti’s leader by statement.”
To understand their concerns, imagine the Jamaican, Congolese, Guatemalan and Filipino ambassadors releasing a collective statement on who should be prime minister of Canada.
The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse reflects the disintegration of Haitian politics after a decade of foreign intervention that empowered the neo-Duvalierist PHTK since an earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince and surrounding regions in January 2010.
Jovenel Moïse, with first lady Martine and Prime Minister Claude Joseph at ceremony commemorating creation of Haitian flag, weeks before his assassination. [Source: apnews.com]
Instead of dispatching Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Teams to help with relief and medical support after the quake, Ottawa sent 2,000 troops to join more than 10,000 U.S. troops deployed to Haiti.
As internal Canadian government documents show, they were deployed out of concern over a “popular uprising” amidst the political vacuum and the return of Haiti’s most popular politician, Aristide, from forced exile.
Canadian troops in Haiti. [Source: Canada.ca]
While their massive capacities offered certain logistical benefits, the foreign troops trampled on Haitian sovereignty by seizing control of the airport and port. Simultaneously, the government was sidelined from international reconstruction.
In the months after the quake the U.S. and Canada demanded the Haitian parliament pass an 18-month state of emergency law that effectively gave up government control over the reconstruction.
U.S. soldiers patrol Haiti’s capital Port-Au-Prince after the devastating 2010 earthquake. [Source: chinadaily.com]
Not viewing then-President Renée Préval as sufficiently compliant, the U.S. and Canada pushed for elections to take place only months after the horrific earthquake.
With rubble throughout Port-au-Prince and hundreds of thousands living in camps, Canada’s then-Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon demanded Préval hold elections by the end of the year.
In May 2010 Cannon said, “the international community wants to see a commitment, a solid, serious commitment to have an election by the end of this year.” (With far fewer logistical hurdles, it took two years to hold elections after the 2004 U.S./France/Canada coup.).
As a result of various obstacles tied to the earthquake and a devastating cholera outbreak introduced to the country by negligent UN troops in October 2010, hundreds of thousands were unable to vote during the first round of the November 28, 2010, election. Another factor dampening turnout was the exclusion of Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas from participating.
Michel Martelly [Source: miami.cbslocal.com]
Nevertheless, Ottawa and Washington pushed the Haitian government to accept the OAS’s recommendations. Cannon said he “strongly urges the Provisional Electoral Council to accept and implement the [OAS] report’s recommendations and to proceed with the next steps of the electoral process accordingly.”
In an interview Canada’s foreign minister warned that “time is running out,” adding that “our ambassador has raised this with the president [Préval] himself.”
As part of their full-court press, Haitian officials had their U.S. visas revoked, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Port-au-Prince and there were threats that aid would be cut off if Martelly’s vote total was not increased as per the OAS recommendation.
Michel Martelly and Hillary Clinton [Source: haitilibre.com]
The pressure worked. But only about 20% of potential voters participated in the second round of elections, which Martelly “won.”
Washington and Ottawa backed Martelly as he failed to hold constitutionally mandated elections and became ever more violent. As president, Martelly surrounded himself with former Duvalierists and death-squad leaders who’d been arrested for rape, murder, kidnapping and drug trafficking.
When brutal dictator Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier returned to Haiti after 25 years, Martelly told The New York Times no one wanted him prosecuted except for “certain institutions and governments” abroad.
Michel Martelly and “Baby Doc.” [Source: haitilibre.com]
During repeated visits Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird praised Martelly for “going in the right direction” and operating “a really functioning government.”
John Baird and Michel Martelly. [Source: haitilibre.com]
In 2013 Baird and Minister for the Americas Diane Ablonczy met Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe in Port-au-Prince saying, “we share with Haitian leaders the goal of seeing a self-sustaining economy with opportunity for all Haitians and a greater role for private-sector actors, including Canadian companies.”
Ottawa backed Martelly until protests forced him to leave office at the end of his five-year mandate.
They also helped Martelly make the little-known Jovenel Moïse his successor. The U.S. and Canada pushed to move forward with the second round of voting after mass protests broke out over election irregularities.
When the second round was finally canceled Global Affairs Canada put out a statement headlined “Ministers Dion and Bibeau concerned by postponement of Haiti’s presidential elections.” A subsequent audit of the election results found that 92% of polling place tally sheets had significant irregularities and a stunning 900,000 of the 1.5 million votes cast were from ‘accredited poll observers’ who could vote at any voting station.
In a new election a year later barely one in five eligible voters participated. According to official figures, Moïse received fewer than 600,000 votes — just 9.6% of registered voters. Voter suppression was widespread.
Knowing they had no chance of gaining power via the ballot box in the foreseeable future, the foreign-backed opposition parties cried foul. After initially describing the elections as “a great success for the Haitian population,” the OAS subsequently criticized the counting method in a handful of Senate seats (as had been done in previous elections, the electoral council determined the 50 percent plus one vote required for a first-round victory by calculating the percentages of the top four candidates).
The opposition boycotted the subsequent presidential election, which they had no chance of winning. A USAID poll of 1,002 Haitians conducted on the eve of the November 2000 presidential election showed that Aristide was far and away the most popular politician and Fanmi Lavalas was the preferred party by an incredible 13 to one.
In one of the most impressive feats of 21st-century imperial propaganda, supposed “irregularities” in the May legislative and municipal election became the justification for destabilizing and ultimately overthrowing Aristide. In other words, the 2004 coup against President Aristide began with an effort to discredit elections he neither participated in nor oversaw.
Aristide supporter with Aristide’s portrait. [Source: repeatingislands.com]
The U.S.- and Canada-sponsored destabilization campaign included an aid embargo, funding for opposition groups, diplomatic isolation and paramilitary attacks. It culminated with U.S., French and Canadian troops invading the country to physically remove the president.
Incredibly this was all planned, in broad outline, in advance in Canada.
In 2003 Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” where high-level U.S., French and OAS officials discussed ousting Haiti’s elected president, re-creating the dreaded army and putting the country under UN trusteeship.
Thirteen months after the meeting Aristide was forced out and Haiti was under UN occupation. The military was subsequently re-created.
An RCMP officer trains members of the Haitian National Police in 2004. [Source: breachmedia.ca]
The current Core Group traces its roots to the 2003 Ottawa Initiative on Haiti meeting. Some have labeled it a “fourth branch” of the Haitian government. But the Core Group’s success at rallying the PHTK behind Ariel Henry demonstrates its influence may be greater than that.
The vast majority of Haitians are right to be angry at foreign interference in their country. Look at where it has led.
Yves Engler is a Montreal-based writer whose 2009 book, The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, was short-listed for the Quebec Writers’ Federation Mavis Gallant Prize for Nonfiction. Yves can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was produced by CovertAction Magazine.
Our world is on fire, a pandemic rages on, and the rich keep getting richer. In such a context, how can the Tokyo Olympics be anything other than an ill-timed, tone-deaf spectacle?
The coronavirus pandemic is resurging around the world once more, driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19. Yet, athletic teams and players are competing in the Olympics, the world’s most prestigious games, as though it were 2016. The one-year postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics stemmed from the deadly new virus spreading across the globe, but apparently this is no longer a relevant concern even though infections are still surging. Perhaps the event’s organizers and stakeholders felt that the cost of a second postponement or outright cancellation was simply higher than the lives it will inevitably cost to go ahead as planned. Or perhaps it was mere hubris?
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said just before the games started, “overcoming the hardship of the coronavirus and to be able to hold the Games, I think there is real value in that.” But the event itself has been a hardship both in terms of public health and public funds, and we may look back on this year’s Olympics—held during a pandemic, extreme poverty, and a violently changing climate—as a perfect symbol of the increasing irrelevance of state borders, the subservience of humanity to nature, and the moral bankruptcy of our modern global economy.
In a world where international travel is commonplace, the coronavirus knows no borders. In 2020, the virus rapidly spread across the globe, and in 2021, its variants are impacting places far away from where they first mutated. It is no wonder that there is widespread opposition among the Japanese public to holding the games in the face of a deadly disease. A majority of those recently polled in Tokyo were convinced that the Olympics could not be held safely. “Gold medals are being given priority over people’s lives,” said anti-Olympics activist Misako Ichimura, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Hundreds of people connected to the games have already tested positive for COVID-19, including more than two dozen athletes. Japan’s medical association just announced a national emergency over rising cases of infection. The situation is so serious that patients are being turned away from hospitals struggling to keep up. Rather than proof that the Olympics are a symbol of victory against the virus, the games are a stark demonstration that the virus may be the one walking away with a gold medal.
In dollar amounts, the Tokyo games are the most expensive on record by far. Originally expecting the cost to be about $7.4 billion, the Japanese government’s price tag has now exceeded $20 billion. This includes the nearly $3 billion cost of a one-year delay. The single biggest line item in the Tokyo Olympics budget was the building of massive new venues where the games are being played, and which now sit largely empty and are a disgraceful display of wasted public resources.
Aside from the impacts to public health and finances, the Olympics do little to further global cooperation. White supremacy, anti-immigrant hate, and pandemic-related racism have surged all over the world in the past several years. Although enthusiasts would like to believe that the Olympics are a celebration of athletic achievement and a time to set aside rivalries and come together to revel in the heights of human achievement, the games are first and foremost a display of crass nationalism. Olympians are defined by the country they belong to, and their wins and losses are proxy wins and losses for their respective nations. The Olympics would be an entirely different institution if athletes competed as individuals, detached from the stamps on their passports. It is precisely the borders that separate performers (for they are indeed performing for a global audience) from one another that generate the tension and excitement among audiences.
Instead of unity, the games are all about showing off: the nation hosting the Olympics strives to display greatness and takes pains to hide pesky things like wealth inequality and homelessness. The individuals and teams competing with one another feel pressured to strive beyond their capabilities because the whole world is watching them succeed (or fail). The entire event is a grand exhibit of mass braggadocio, being held at a time when a global pandemic is surging, inequality is staggering, and the effects of climate change are all around us in the form of extreme heat, raging floods, and deadly wildfires.
It is standard form for host nations to sweep away homeless communities, fuel gentrification, and waste public resources to present a rosy picture for viewers and visitors at the expense of local residents. That is precisely what happened in 1984 when Los Angeles hosted the games, and that is what has happened in Tokyo ahead of this year’s games. A Los Angeles Times analysis concluded that “It’s become as reliable a part of the Olympics as cost overruns and allegations of corruption that the Games displace some of the host city’s most vulnerable residents.” It is no wonder that increasingly cities are choosing not to host the games.
Looking ahead to the 2024 Olympics in Paris and to 2028 when the games will return to Los Angeles, the residents of those cities should expect to pay a similarly steep price for the supposed prestige of hosting the international event. In LA where I live, the stakes are higher than ever. Even before the pandemic, skyrocketing housing prices dramatically increased LA’s unhoused population. The losses of the past year and a half have worsened the situation to untenable heights, and city officials earlier this year resorted to violent police sweeps of homeless encampments. Instead of investing in resources for the unhoused or regulating the housing market, the LA City Council recently passed a resolution effectively criminalizing homelessness and banning many outdoor tent living situations. It is as if the city is offering a preview of what is to come ahead of the 2028 Olympics.
In addition to fueling nationalism, sucking up public resources, and hiding social ills, the Olympics are a show of corporate PR. No matter how much fans may tout the “Olympic spirit” as central to the games, for global corporations, the Olympics are a perfect opportunity for large-scale advertising and sponsorship, and this year companies have invested billions of dollars into the Tokyo Olympics. But with the pandemic raging, even corporate sponsors are now too embarrassed to revel in the spectacle, downplaying their participation and disappointed in the low audience numbers their products are being received by.
Here in the U.S., television viewership of the Olympics is significantly down, much to the disappointment of NBC, which bought the broadcasting rights. Like the Japanese PM, the American TV platform was betting on the Olympics being a welcome distraction for a populace weary of the pandemic. “After everything the world has gone through… I do think that people are craving the shared experience,” said the NBC Olympics executive producer.
While it is possible that viewers today have many more choices of what to watch on streaming platforms than during past Olympics, it is also possible that many have simply lost their taste for a spectacle that relies on a facade of perfection when so much disaster is unfolding.
It is no wonder that some of the most prolific news coverage of the games has not focused on this year’s gold medal winners but on the American gymnast Simone Biles’ brave decision to withdraw from several Olympic events because she decided to prioritize her mental health over winning at all costs. It is as though Americans find a hardworking woman who has chosen self-care over competition to be a much more relatable figure at a time when our mental and physical resources are being exhausted.
Like Biles, perhaps we ought to focus on fixing our own problems rather than investing our scarce resources in a spectacle that costs us more than we can afford to give.
Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.