Tim Russo’s article “Socialism worldwide needs American patriotism” contains certain contradictions. He writes that the repudiation of American patriotism is built on the “complete erasure of American socialism’s leaders, thinkers, writers, artists, organizers, agitators, even freers of slaves”. Without the remembrance of this history of radicalism, he remarks, “you have no movement, no mass line, no cultural hegemonic change, no revolution, nothing.” While Russo shows admirable acquaintance with the historico-cultural specificities of USA’s socialist tradition, he fails to theorize these details from the politico-strategic logic of hegemony.
In my previous write-up which Russo critiques, I noted, “While traditions of patriotic socialism are present in imperialist countries, they don’t constitute a proper historical memory to function as the full-fledged scaffold for a mass movement.” Let me elaborate this statement. A nation is not a mere idea, it is a material force; it is a historical, cultural and political process which is consciously lived and shared by a group of people who identify with a particular community of interests. In metropolitan countries, nationalism was originally used by the proto-bourgeoisie of the early modern age as an ideological tool against monarchic-aristocratic rule.
The growth of market production and the proliferation of exchange values (as opposed to pre-capitalist use-values) came in direct contradiction with the political domination of purely landed property and the existence of the Absolutist state. As a result, the nascent bourgeoisie adopted the banner of nationalism to press forward for the creation of spatial units wherein political power could be centralized and dispersed according to the demands and exigencies of the emerging capitalist system. In other words, the internal mechanisms of the market economy came to structure and constitute the bases of national identity in the core countries of the world system.
Metropolitan national ideologies coalesced around reactionary values in four phases: a) imperial chauvinism arose in the mercantilist period in those states wherein internal colonialism facilitated the state formation essential to independent capital accumulation; b) racial chauvinism arose in the classical capitalist period, which witnessed the functional preponderance of overseas and settler colonialisms in the extension of metropolitan industry; c) social chauvinism arose in the imperialist era, when the convergence of monopoly capitalism and colonialism enabled the distribution of super-profits amongst leading sections of the Global North working class; and d) First Worldism arose in post-WWII period, in which the oppression of the Third World allowed for the maintenance of divergent living standards between the metropolitan and peripheral working classes.
USA - as the imperial heartland - oversaw the tight interlocking of nationalist-patriotic discourses with conservative forces. This fundamentally impacted counter-hegemonic politics. By the 1940s, the label of “communist” in mainstream language came to embody the entirety of anti-Americanism, becoming one of the most powerful weapons to impose a dimension of otherness upon citizens. The red scare against radical labor organizers became a more political version of anti-immigrant rhetoric, associating the idea of foreignness with the revolutionary traditions of socialist groups. These anti-communist narratives continue to heavily circumscribe the field of nationalism in USA.
Taking into account American patriotism’s historical status as a social force determining political relations, it becomes evident that there are certain limits to the construction of counter-narratives that stress the working class’s role in a nation’s history. The nation is not a homogeneous and cohesive formation which provides an even and consensual cultural field provides for hegemonic struggle. In “There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack”, Paul Gilroy explains:
“Nationhood is not an empty receptacle which can be simply and spontaneously filled with alternative concepts according to the dictates of political pragmatism. The ideological theme of national belonging may be malleable to some extent but its links with the discourses of classes and ‘races’ and the organizational realities of these groups are not arbitrary. They are confined by historical and political factors which limit the extent to which nationalism becomes socialist at the moment that its litany is repeated by socialists. The intention may be radical but the effects are unpredictable, particularly where culture is also conceived within discrete, separable, national units coterminous with the boundaries of the nation state.”
Thus, a proper analysis of nationalism needs to highlight the question of the institutional locations from which the ideology originates; the actual class practices, concrete social sites and systems of hierarchical-conflictual relations in which it is instantiated, of the agents who produce it; the material circuits through which it travels the totality of any historical bloc and the class fractions who substantiate it with the structures of power; hence the objective determinations of nationalism itself by the co-ordinates of its production, not considering the individual’s personal stance towards this matrix.
Consequently, it does not matter how leftist patriots conceive of American nationalism; what matters is the fact that the presence of national pride within the boundaries of the American empire is strongly tied to the hegemonic logic of racist imperialism. In a metropolitan country like the US, the arena of the nation is dominated by the bourgeoisie which - from the start - gives patriotism an imperialist, exclusionary and supra-class character. In the Global South countries, in contrast, the foundations of anti-colonial nationalism - internationalist solidarity with movements for national liberation and the incorporation of both workers and peasants - continue to ensure the persistence of elements of progressivism in the ideological battle for nationalism.
Insofar that nationalism mirrors the motion of the contradictions between imperialism and oppressed nations on a world scale - in the dominant imperialist nations, the reactionary character of nationalism determines the overall shape of the movement; in the subordinate nations the revolutionary character is principal, propelling the anti-imperialist struggle - the American Left needs to move beyond the national discourse. Since the ruling class has established nationalism as a jingoistic instrument, left-wing patriotism can have deleterious effects, degenerating into demands for a more lucrative social contract between monopoly capital and the labour aristocracy. Thus, what we need is a genuine politics of anti-imperialism which remains committed to the abolition of the US in its present-day form as an illegitimate state built on imperialism, racism and native genocide.
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.
Midwestern Marx's Editorial Board does not necessarily endorse the views of all articles shared on the Midwestern Marx website. Our goal is to provide a healthy space for multilateral discourse on advancing the class struggle. - Editorial Board
The Texas Abortion Ban Ensures Only the Privileged Get Access to Reproductive Care. By: Sonali KolhatkarRead Now
For too long, politicians relied on the Supreme Court to uphold the right to an abortion. Now that the Texas law has been allowed to take effect, its prime targets are low-income people of color.
Texas, with the help of conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, has made abortion all but illegal for most pregnant people living within state borders. Republican state legislators passed a draconian and diabolically innovative bill that Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law in May ensuring that all abortions after six weeks of gestation can be subject to lawsuits brought by any individual anywhere against anyone involved in the procedure. That includes the patient, their medical provider, or even their Lyft driver. Those seeking abortions will likely need to leave Texas, effectively making the procedure out of reach of the poorest residents of the state.
Blair Wallace, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, told NBCNews.com, “We know the brunt of this will fall on our Black and brown communities and our poor communities the most.” Only those with the financial resources and ability to take time off work can travel to neighboring states to terminate a pregnancy. Already abortion providers in Louisiana are fielding calls from desperate Texans seeking abortions, leading to longer wait times.
Imani Gandy, senior legal analyst for RewireNewsGroup.com, explained to me in an interview that the Texas law is “really, really pernicious,” because it is “using taxpayer dollars to provide a bounty for bounty hunters to go attacking or harassing abortion providers.”
In fact, the hundreds of Republican-led state-level legislative attacks against abortion have cost taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees of both pro-choice and anti-abortion forces. According to the Washington Post, “states have paid at least $9.8 million in abortion providers’ [attorney] fees,” in the last four years alone. This is money that could be put to better use—such as providing health care to low-income residents that includes abortion and other reproductive medical care.
For a party that has been railing in favor of “individual liberties” when it comes to lifesaving masks and vaccinations during a pandemic, asserting that a series of electrical impulses between newly formed cells are more important than a person’s bodily autonomy is the height of hypocrisy and reeks of performative politics.
Indeed, Republicans may be victims of their own success, having relied on the Supreme Court for years to preserve the seminal Roe v. Wade precedent against most egregious anti-abortion laws in order to score political points with evangelical voters. According to one legal analyst for Slate.com, Mark Joseph Stern, “it seems undeniable that Republicans did not anticipate this abrupt triumph over Roe, instead assuming that the Texas law would be blocked by the courts.”
Gandy called the Texas law “patently unconstitutional,” and pointed out that “no federal appeals court has upheld” it, which is why pro-choice activists and legal scholars had expected the nation’s highest court to intervene. Except that the Supreme Court is currently, as Gandy described, “hyperpartisan and captured by conservatives.”
Of the five justices who chose to let the ban remain, three were appointed by former President Donald Trump as a gift to evangelical voters. Robert P. Jones, author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, wrote a year ago that “white evangelicals’ political behavior is animated by racial resentment,” and that this demographic “will be the most powerful force in hindering this work for racial justice and reconciliation.” Given that low-income people of color are likely to be the most impacted by the Texas ban, this prediction appears prescient.
It isn’t solely Trump’s fault that the right to an abortion is on its way out. Maine’s supposedly moderate and pro-choice Republican Senator Susan Collins in 2018 cast a deciding vote for Trump’s anti-abortion nominee for the Supreme Court. In voting to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was one of five justices choosing to let the Texas abortion ban stand, Collins now bears partial responsibility for beginning the end of abortion rights in the United States.
Even Democrats bear some blame. A party that has upheld the right to an abortion as the centerpiece of its feminist agenda has done remarkably little to ensure the law is preserved from the Supreme Court’s increasingly activist conservative justices. In the nearly 50 years since the Roe v. Wade decision, Democrats have enjoyed political power in the House, Senate, and White House simultaneously four times—under Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and now Joe Biden—and could have passed legislation protecting the constitutional right to an abortion so that it didn’t hinge on the Supreme Court’s political makeup.
In the short term, corporations like Uber and Lyft have offered to pay the legal fees of any of their drivers who might get sued for transporting a pregnant person to get an abortion. Some celebrities are announcing their own boycotts of the state of Texas, and the city of Portland, Oregon, is also considering a boycott.
But none of these commercial responses are a substitute for decisive government action ensuring that all Americans, especially low-income communities of color, have an equal right to access abortion care. In the wake of the Texas abortion ban taking effect, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives would soon take up a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, which, if passed, would ensure that the right to an abortion was cemented in law.
While Gandy denounced Democratic inaction, saying, “we’ve had Democrats in office that have not bothered to codify Roe,” she added that the lawmakers’ inaction “really underscores how powerful the anti-abortion lobby is.” A majority of Americans support the right to an abortion, and yet the demands of the anti-abortion minority have held the nation hostage to its whims.
Although Biden’s Justice Department has filed a lawsuit and is seeking an injunction to stop the law from being enacted in Texas, critics point out that it is a long shot. Now, six other states, including Florida and Mississippi, are hoping to follow in Texas’ footsteps and pass similar abortion bans. The train has left the station, so to speak.
In addition to legislation like the Women’s Health Protection Act, activists want Biden to use his executive powers right now to protect abortion access. Kristin Ford of NARAL Pro-Choice America said, “The White House should make clear their commitment to this critical legislation to ensure no other state has the opportunity to follow in Texas’ footsteps.”
According to Gandy, “the bottom line is, there will always be abortion.” In light of the Texas ban, the questions center on “how people are going to access it, and who the lack of access is going to affect most—which is poor people, and people of color.”
Nations like Poland and Nigeria offer a glimpse of the mental and physical toll in store for Americans if the Texas ban were to take hold nationwide. Polish women are suffering from a mental health epidemic as a result of their nation’s abortion ban. In Nigeria, dangerous back-alley abortion procedures are endangering lives.
Other nations offer a different path. Shortly after the Texas ban took effect, Mexico’s Supreme Court decriminalized abortion, setting the stage for a nationwide legalization of the procedure. And, in France, where abortions are legal for pregnancies up to 12 weeks of gestation, the government says it will begin offering free contraception for everyone under the age of 25.
Here in the United States, California is bucking the terrifying state-by-state anti-abortion trend by considering a bill that will make the medical procedure cheaper, and even free of charge. Already it is one of only six states that require health insurance plans to cover abortion care. California State Senator Lena Gonzalez said, “We’re taking a stance, not just to make abortions available but to make them free and equitable.” Indeed, if such a trend were pursued nationally, the right to control one’s body would not be relegated to the privileged among us.
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.
Top, Earthworm (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Every form of scientific socialism has adapted to the unique circumstances and material conditions of the country it has been in. In the USSR there was the soviet system, in China there is Mao Zedong thought and socialism with Chinese characteristics, in the Vietnam there is Đổi Mới (innovate or renovate), the name given to economic reforms, and so on. Likewise, in the current-day United States there will be a form of socialism that will be adapted to its material conditions.
The Communist Party USA (CPUSA) envisions this unique approach to socialism in the US as what it calls Bill of Rights Socialism. There have been excellent works on this, such as this piece by Roberta Wood and Dee Miles and this piece by Brad Crowder, and here I would like to start an investigation and development of the idea as well. My goal isn’t to explore the subject too deeply on a philosophical or theoretical level, but to propose what a socialist-oriented economic Bill of Rights might look like — not necessarily Bill of Rights Socialism in its entirety — and express it on a level that could be used as an accessible, appealing mass political platform.
Crafting an Economic Bill of Rights
One of the core ideological foundations of U.S. culture and political consciousness is that of freedom, particularly those such as free speech, freedom of assembly, and others enshrined in the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights and the ideas within it play a major role in American political discourse generally, and in the minds of many Americans they are the very foundations that allow for political discourse.
What I propose here is an “economic” Bill of Rights. In doing so, I draw from three sources in particular: Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights, W. E. B. Du Bois’ application for membership in the Communist Party, and the CPUSA’s current Party Program.
President Roosevelt giving State of the Union Speech where he outlines a “Second Bill of Rights,” Jan. 11, 1944 (public domain)
The popular idea of an economic Bill of Rights traces back to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Second Bill of Rights,” if not further. In his State of the Union Address in 1944, he recommended a second Bill of Rights, saying the following:
This republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights — among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact, however, that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry, people who are out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all — regardless of station, or race or creed.
Among these are:
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.
It’s unfortunate that we’ve yet to make good on any of these ideas, and many even seem beyond the scope of contemporary American political discourse. Nonetheless, drawing from this source not only grounds us in existing American politics and history but also provides a good list of demands that are still applicable today. While FDR wasn’t a socialist, the rights listed in his Second Bill of Rights would arguably go a long way in freeing many Americans up from various hardships and allow for increased political activity and potentially involvement in the socialist movement.
Mural of W. E. B. Du Bois, Erik Anestad (CC BY 2.0)
From there, we then look to Du Bois’ application for membership in the Communist Party, written in 1961. In it, he discusses what the Communist Party would call for to make the United States truly democratic. He says:
The path of the American Communist Party is clear: It will provide the United States with a real third party and thus restore democracy to this land. It will call for:
These aims are not crimes. They are practiced increasingly over the world. No nation can call itself free which does not allow its citizens to work for these ends.
While Du Bois’ list is more explicitly socialist, we see similarities with FDR’s Second Bill of Rights as well as in some of the popular demands of today. Du Bois’ list goes beyond reforms that a capitalist government might make (whether or not they actually uphold them) and actually demands the nationalization of natural resources and capital as well as the call for the end of exploitation of labor. Some of the demands, however, are more political than economic, and the goal at the moment is to craft a Bill of Rights specifically targeting economic issues.
Finally, we come to CPUSA’s current Party Program. In it we find the following:
The anti-monopoly people’s coalition will put forward a program of public policies and government practices as the coalition grows and strengthens. A developed anti-monopoly program will build on the many struggles and issues already begun and won in the fight against the extreme right. As part of that coalition, the Communist Party will propose radical democratic demands aimed at curbing the political, economic, and ideological power of the monopolies. Unless they are already won at an earlier stage, our demands will include
Later on in the Party Program, we see an explicit outlining of what a Socialist Bill of Rights might look like:
Our vision is of a humane socialist USA, which can be achieved in part by enshrining more freedom and democracy in a Socialist Bill of Rights:
Here, between the political and economic demands, we see common themes once again. Spread out over the course of almost 80 years, we see certain economic demands arise over and over. Though each time these demands have been iterated slightly differently, they’ve all been simple and easy to understand. Going back to the 1940s with FDR’s Second Bill of Rights up through to Du Bois’ list of demands and then to the current CPUSA Party Program, we can see the need for a succinct yet comprehensive economic Bill of Rights, something that might be the foundation for making Bill of Rights Socialism a widespread, powerful movement in American politics.
CPUSA banner; People before Profits banner, Backbone Campaign (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
What an economic Bill of Rights might look like
Between these three sources we have quite a number of potential rights and policy proposals that could constitute an economic or socialist Bill of Rights, but part of the appeal of the existing Bill of Rights is that it captures American political values in just 10 amendments. The number 10 is a round, satisfying number and has also been used to outline other key principles, such as the Ten Commandments and the Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program. A short, succinct list can act as a rallying cry and can be remembered and repeated by its proponents.
While there are so many things that need to be addressed, we want to create something that even those less interested in politics can hear and agree with without having to remember an extensive platform. Drawing from the three aforementioned sources and adapting them to modern times to some degree, I recommend the following 10 amendments (or some variation of them):
Each of these would be followed by a clause similar to those found in a number of other amendments giving Congress the authority to enforce the amendments through legislation, such as, “The Congress shall have the power and duty to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” The wording of each would have to be honed by specialists, and it’s likely that certain changes and compromises might be made, but my hope is that this can be a starting point.
If we were to whittle the economic Bill of Rights down to slogans, we might see something like:
This economic Bill of Rights not only provides all Americans with key economic rights but has the potential to unite wider popular forces, oppressed groups, and potential allies within the country under a common cause. The economic Bill of Rights isn’t socialism, nor will it inherently bring about socialism just through its passage, but the goal of this new Bill of Rights is to create a general platform that will benefit the masses and further enable a more thorough socialist revolution. In the struggle for such a Bill of Rights, we would have to create extensive alliances, work within our communities to create bodies of political engagement, and lay the groundwork for a more democratic system capable of defeating capitalism independent from existing political institutions.
Furthermore, if the passage of such an economic Bill of Rights were successful, the government would be legally bound to enforce it lest they openly delegitimize themselves. To fulfil their duty in upholding the newly amended Constitution, the government would have to move left, opening up new avenues for class struggle and the fight for political and economic democracy. There very likely would be a reactionary push by the ruling class to revoke these new rights and maintain their heavy-handed dominance over American society, but the people would be unlikely to accept such an attempt without fighting back.
Of course, just an economic Bill of Rights would still leave much to be desired, given the various other issues and forms of oppression seen in American society. We would likewise need a social or civil rights Bill of Rights to address these issues. As seen in both Du Bois’ application and the CPUSA Party Program, there are certain democratic and social guarantees beyond the economic that are needed to make the country truly free.
Bill of Rights Socialism and a socialist-oriented economic Bill of Rights wouldn’t just be static “things” — they would be ever-evolving processes. Only in a socialist society can any rights in an economic Bill of Rights be completely fulfilled, and the same goes for many of the values espoused in our current Bill of Rights. Socialism is the only path to the freedom that the United States claims to strive for, and it’s what we must fight for if we truly want to be free.
Original article was first posted on June 9, 2021, in M. P. Britt’s blog
This article was produced by CPUSA.
Image: Mark Dixon (CC BY 2.0).
Organizing students and the youth overall is a “waste of time.” At least that’s what I’ve been hearing recently in some of the leftist organizing circles I belong to. When I push back on this narrative, those who initially took this position modify their stance: “Well, let’s focus on organizing young workers. They can be radicalized and tend to be more reliable than students.”
Now, I was a college student at one time. I worked three jobs, two at Asian restaurants and one in a retail store, to pay rent and tuition. I hardly had time to study, but, somehow, I managed to get good enough grades to get through college and even get accepted at graduate school. But never once had I not considered myself a worker. Had someone asked me at the time, “are you a worker or a student?,” my logical and obvious answer would have been, “both.” Come to think of it, my more precise answer would have been, “I work full time and study full time.”
According to a survey from December 2020 (in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic), almost 70% of college students also worked. So there is no need to differentiate students from workers, since they are often one and the same. And students who do not work while in college eventually go on to join our workforce after graduating, often doing so in a field of work which has nothing to do with what their college degree focused on: 41% of college graduates, in fact, end up working in a field different from the one they studied.
So writing off students as “not able to be organized” is to dismiss a significant portion of our working class.
Now, to the next claim that “students are not reliable.” The same could be said for workers without a college degree. People are people. In the Communist Party and Young Communist League, it’s often like pulling teeth to get certain members to attend meetings, whether they are 20 or 60 years old. It’s true that a 20-year-old may have more commitments due to family, school, work, etc. But that’s not to say that a 60-year-old comrade does not have those same commitments to their children, grandchildren, work, and so on.
Youth take the lead
As many as 60% of millennials (ages 24–39) agree with some form of socialism as an alternative to capitalism. While this generation has begun to “age out” of the youth category, their sentiment is one we should build on, not ignore. And let’s remember that it was the student movement which led the Civil Rights marches, bus boycotts, and lunch-counter sit-ins. Let’s not forget how the youth led the Black Lives Matter and Abolish ICE movements during the height of the far-right Trump administration in the middle of a global pandemic. Indeed, it was the youth that V. I. Lenin called on to organize independent communist youth leagues and “learn communism” to prepare the future generations for revolutionary tasks needed to further the struggle for democracy and worker power. (To this end, the Party recently organized a successful Marxist school for young people.)
I think of how the Communist youth led the way for the Party in this last period, from organizing mutual aid drives for the unemployed and impoverished during the pandemic to rising up in defense of the 2020 vote after Trump claimed the election results were a fraud. These young comrades organized rallies in defense of Cuba and were invited to lead BLM marches. Many of these youth cadre are students, while others are unemployed workers or employed workers with or without college degrees. In other words, these young comrades are the product of a radicalization process which brought them to the Communist Party and Young Communist League. Whether they came to the movement on campus, through a book club, or from signing up online, young Communists are finding a role to play in the collective revolutionary process. While all radicalization processes are different, we must not give up on young comrades who for one reason or another do not show up for meetings or events. Keep trying! They have a role to play, and it could be in the form of managing social media, creating artwork or flyers, etc.
Confusion among radicalized youth
In the radicalization process of youth in the 2020s, many young people are being brought to the left through self-education and conversations with other young leftists online, particularly during the pandemic quarantine and self-isolation. While this radicalization process is welcomed by the CPUSA and YCL, we understand that it can be confusing.
For example, a popular narrative going around online is that “white workers cannot be revolutionary because they depend on the exploitation of workers of color in the global South.” To my surprise, it is mostly white “Third Worldist” Maoists who push this narrative after their reading of J. Sakai’s Mythology of the White Proletariat. This position is not only anti-Marxist, given that Marx, Engels, and Lenin were themselves white Europeans and attempted to unite the workers of all lands despite skin color and creed. It also provides a convenient excuse for inaction when it comes to working for political change. In other words, if one is a Black or brown student and is convinced by this book, perhaps they would be reluctant to take up the struggle with an organization such as the Communist Party that seeks to unite all workers; Sakai’s defeatism would might lead them to conclude that since they are in the minority and whites are (presently) in the majority in the U.S., there is no hope for socialism. While Marxists agree that colonization and imperialism must be defeated, we never single out one racial category as “non-revolutionary” or “anti-revolutionary.”
This characterization of whites as anti-revolutionary and not proletariats is part of middle-class radicalism; it has nothing to do with a revolutionary, working-class, Marxist-Leninist analysis. Still not convinced? Imagine telling Lenin that Russians could not be organized during the October Revolution because they were Slavic, and the Slavs historically colonized the Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and Georgians south of the Caucus Mountains as part of the Russian Empire. Or, conversely, that only Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and Georgians could lead the revolution. Imagine where this mentality would have gotten the Bolsheviks — not very far, I’m sure. Any “revolutionary” position which prevents the unity of the working class is not revolutionary after all.
Another reactionary position that young online “leftists” tend to take is to support immediate (or not so immediate) violent insurrection instead of engaging in the various democratic struggles it takes to unite, radicalize, and organize the U.S. working-class. I have seen young self-identified Maoists, Trotskyists, anarchists, and even self-proclaimed “Marxist-Leninists” take this position as well. What these groups and individuals have in common is isolation from the masses and, therefore, isolation from reality. Among young radicals who find revolutionary-sounding rhetoric appealing, there is a lack of understanding of our country’s democratic traditions, culture, society, history, and material conditions. After a while, Rosa Luxembourg’s “Reform or Revolution” begins to be understood as “Revolution or Nothing.” This attitude can also provide a ready-made excuses for inaction: “I don’t need to join a working-class organization since our working class isn’t revolutionary yet” or “We can’t do anything until our working-class is armed.”
But the reality is that the working class is not calling for a civil war, nor should we pretend to push it upon them. We meet workers and students where they are, not where we want them to be.
So instead of sitting around waiting for a violent peasant revolt to break out (as the Maoists wish to happen) in a country with no peasants, let’s encourage these young folks online to pick up the class struggle collectively with their local student organizations, labor unions, CPUSA club, or YCL branch. After all, a “COMMunist” who refuses to work with the COMMunity is not a communist, right?
Why we engage in democratic struggles
Democratic struggles take on many forms, from the fight for unions to the fights against the fascist danger, for a livable planet, and for civil rights. These struggles are essential to the overall class struggle for socialism. The struggles for civil rights for women, LGBTQ people, African Americans, and many other oppressed groups, for example, are essential because these groups face special oppression within the wider scope of capitalist exploitation. A billionaire woman CEO can still be discriminated against or sexually harassed just as a working-class woman often faces the same sorts of oppression. That is why the issue of women’s equality goes beyond class. The same goes for racism: there are Black NBA and NFL athletes who face racist oppression on a daily basis, the same as a working-class Black person. As the example of Cuba shows, racism does not disappear after the revolution when working people are in power. The struggle against racism goes beyond class and therefore is a democratic struggle.
LGBTQ equality is another arena for democratic struggle. Despite socialist countries guaranteeing freedom for all workers, we would be dishonest to ourselves and our movement if we pretended that socialist countries and our own Party have always held a positive track record when it comes to including LGBTQ comrades and the struggle for their rights as workers as well. Again, this is an issue which transcends class. LGBTQ people do not stop suffering discrimination once the capitalist class is overthrown. Therefore, the fight around these issues starts now under capitalism.
We engage in these democratic struggles whether it be on the picket line, at the ballot box, at a protest, or at a sit-in. The great triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s were won through mass struggle, whether it was the fight for voting rights or the movement to free Angela Davis. Young people who are tricked into isolating themselves from the democratic struggles are being fed anti-revolutionary rhetoric and, at times, even right-wing reactionary rhetoric posing as left-wing radical rhetoric, as is the case with the recent discussion around the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol being “working-class” and “revolutionary.” Further, the second you ignore the struggles for equality for Black and brown people, women, and LGBTQ people is when you begin to give up on entire sections of the working class. Don’t fall for it.
What do young people care about?
One of the biggest issues facing the youth and student movements in 2021 is climate change. Young people tend to care about the environment more so than their parents and grandparents because we may not be around to reach old age if something significant does not happen to save the planet in the next 5 to 10 years. It is for this reason that the youth have taken up the struggle for the Green New Deal and have led massive youth climate strikes in Washington, DC, New York City, and Seattle. Progressive U.S. congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s own daughter, Isra Hirsi, has been ruthlessly attacked by the right-wing media for her role in organizing climate strike marches and claiming to be a communist online. This is an example of why “identity politics” (democratic struggles) cannot be dismissed. The right-wing attacks on Hirsi represent the overall assault on Black people, Muslims, youth, communism, and the environment. If there is no planet left to fight the class struggle on, then why waste time only studying all this theory? Put it into practice!
Another significant area of struggle that the youth is engaged in this year is around the fight for student debt forgiveness. U.S. President Joe Biden hinted at this issue on the campaign trail at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students and college graduates struggle to make ends meet when it comes to paying rent, paying insurance, and buying food on top of paying off student and credit card debt from school expenses. According to an April 2021 People’s World report, “If Biden canceled $50,000 per person, 84% of borrowers would have their debt wholly eliminated. While the media and critics of cancellation focus on relief for higher earners, 40% of those with debt never received a diploma and often work minimum-wage jobs.” This was just months before August 2021 when Biden cancelled $9.5 billion in student debt with a stroke of a pen. While this is without a doubt a victory for some, it’s still too small to make a difference for the majority of students and former students in debt. This move was made by Biden nearly a month after U.S. House leader Nancy Pelosi lied to the public, stating that Biden did not have the authority to eliminate student debt. Therefore, the struggle must continue until all student debt is forgiven, not just some of it. If we can afford a 20-year pointless war in Afghanistan, we can afford to get our young working class on its feet.
Young workers and students cannot be written off; we must bring them in and engage with them in our organizing circles. The youth question is central to the overall struggle to defend and expand democracy, thus laying the foundations for a socialist society. Without our revolutionary youth, there is no future socialist USA.
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.
On July 9, 2021, the government of Rwanda said that it had deployed 1,000 troops to Mozambique to battle al-Shabaab fighters, who had seized the northern province of Cabo Delgado. A month later, on August 8, Rwandan troops captured the port city of Mocímboa da Praia, where just off the coast sits a massive natural gas concession held by the French energy company TotalEnergies SE and the U.S. energy company ExxonMobil. These new developments in the region led to the African Development Bank’s President M. Akinwumi Adesina announcing on August 27 that TotalEnergies SE will restart the Cabo Delgado liquefied natural gas project by the end of 2022.
Militants from al-Shabaab (or ISIS-Mozambique, as the U.S. State Department prefers to call it) did not fight to the last man; they disappeared across the border into Tanzania or into their villages in the hinterland. The energy companies will, meanwhile, soon start to recoup their investments and profit handsomely, thanks in large part to the Rwandan military intervention.
Why did Rwanda intervene in Mozambique in July 2021 to defend, essentially, two major energy companies? The answer lies in a very peculiar set of events that took place in the months before the troops left Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.
Billions Stuck Underwater
Al-Shabaab fighters first made their appearance in Cabo Delgado in October 2017. For three years, the group played a cat-and-mouse game with Mozambique’s army before taking control of Mocímboa da Praia in August 2020. At no point did it seem possible for Mozambique’s army to thwart al-Shabaab and allow TotalEnergies SE and ExxonMobil to restart operations in the Rovuma Basin, off the coast of northern Mozambique, where a massive natural gas field was discovered in February 2010.
The Mozambican Ministry of Interior had hired a range of mercenaries such as Dyck Advisory Group (South Africa), Frontier Services Group (Hong Kong), and the Wagner Group (Russia). In late August 2020, TotalEnergies SE and the government of Mozambique signed an agreement to create a joint security force to defend the company’s investments against al-Shabaab. None of these armed groups succeeded. The investments were stuck underwater.
At this point, Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi indicated, as I was told by a source in Maputo, that TotalEnergies SE might ask the French government to send a detachment to assist in securing the area. This discussion went on into 2021. On January 18, 2021, French Defense Minister Florence Parly and her counterpart in Portugal, João Gomes Cravinho, talked on the phone, during which—it is suggested in Maputo—they discussed the possibility of a Western intervention in Cabo Delgado. On that day, TotalEnergies SE CEO Patrick Pouyanné met with President Nyusi and his ministers of defense (Jaime Bessa Neto) and interior (Amade Miquidade) to discuss the joint “action plan to strengthen security of the area.” Nothing came of it. The French government was not interested in a direct intervention.
A senior official in Maputo told me that it is strongly believed in Mozambique that French President Emmanuel Macron suggested the Rwandan force, rather than French forces, be deployed to secure Cabo Delgado. Indeed, Rwanda’s armies—highly trained, well-armed by the Western countries, and given impunity to act outside the bounds of international law—have proved their mettle in the interventions carried out in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
What Kagame Got for the Intervention
Paul Kagame has ruled Rwanda since 1994, first as vice president and minister of defense and then since 2000 as the president. Under Kagame, democratic norms have been flouted within Rwanda, while Rwandan troops have operated ruthlessly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A 2010 UN Mapping Project report on serious human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo showed that the Rwandan troops killed “hundreds of thousands if not millions” of Congolese civilians and Rwandan refugees between 1993 and 2003. Kagame rejected the UN report, suggesting that this “double genocide” theory denied the Rwandan genocide of 1994. He has wanted the French to accept responsibility for the genocide of 1994 and has hoped that the international community will ignore the massacres in the eastern Congo.
On March 26, 2021, historian Vincent Duclert submitted a 992-page report on France’s role in the Rwandan genocide. The report makes it clear that France should accept—as Médecins Sans Frontières put it—“overwhelming responsibility” for the genocide. But the report does not say that the French state was complicit in the violence. Duclert traveled to Kigali on April 9 to deliver the report in person to Kagame, who said that the report’s publication “marks an important step toward a common understanding of what took place.”
On April 19, the Rwandan government released a report that it had commissioned from the U.S. law firm Levy Firestone Muse. This report’s title says it all: “A Foreseeable Genocide: The Role of the French Government in Connection with the Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda.” The French did not deny the strong words in this document, which argues that France armed the génocidaires and then hastened to protect them from international scrutiny. Macron, who has been loath to accept France’s brutality in the Algerian liberation war, did not dispute Kagame’s version of history. This was a price he was willing to pay.
What France Wants
On April 28, 2021, Mozambique’s President Nyusi visited Kagame in Rwanda. Nyusi told Mozambique’s news broadcasters that he had come to learn about Rwanda’s interventions in the Central African Republic and to ascertain Rwanda’s willingness to assist Mozambique in Cabo Delgado.
On May 18, Macron hosted a summit in Paris, “seeking to boost financing in Africa amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” which was attended by several heads of government, including Kagame and Nyusi, the president of the African Union (Moussa Faki Mahamat), the president of the African Development Bank (Akinwumi Adesina), the president of the West African Development Bank (Serge Ekué), and the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (Kristalina Georgieva). Exit from “financial asphyxiation” was at the top of the agenda, although in private meetings there were discussions about Rwandan intervention in Mozambique.
A week later, Macron left for a visit to Rwanda and South Africa, spending two days (May 26 and 27) in Kigali. He repeated the broad findings of the Duclert report, brought along 100,000 COVID-19 vaccines to Rwanda (where only around 4 percent of the population had received the first dose by the time of his visit), and spent time in private talking to Kagame. On May 28, alongside South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, Macron talked about Mozambique, saying that France was prepared to “take part in operations on the maritime side,” but would otherwise defer to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and to other regional powers. He did not mention Rwanda specifically.
Rwanda entered Mozambique in July, followed by SADC forces, which included South African troops. France got what it wanted: Its energy giant can now recoup its investment.
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.
What Next After 20 Years of War in Afghanistan? Anatol Lieven on the U.S. Legacy and the Taliban’s Rise. By: James W. CardenRead Now
On Monday, August 30, at 3:29 p.m. Eastern Time, a C-17 transport plane took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, signaling the end of America’s longest war. It was a war that took the lives of at least 48,000 Afghan civilians, 2,461 U.S. service members, 66,000 Afghan national military police, and 1,144 NATO allied service members. The Cost of War Project at Brown University estimates that the post-9/11 wars launched by the United States have resulted in nearly 1 million killed and more than 38 million people displaced, with the U.S. government having spent $6.4 trillion and rising.
For a learned perspective on what has been unfolding in Afghanistan, I turned to interview Dr. Anatol Lieven. Lieven is a senior research fellow on Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. He was formerly a professor at Georgetown University in Qatar and in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. From 1985 to 1998, Lieven worked as a British journalist in South Asia, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and covered the wars in Afghanistan, Chechnya and the southern Caucasus.
James W. Carden: Let’s begin with the people who launched the suicide attack on the airport on August 26. Who are the Islamic State in the Khorasan Province, or ISKP?
Anatol Lieven: They are a pretty motley bunch. The first thing to note is that they’re not Arabs. ISKP was not founded by and their leadership is not made up of Arabs who’ve moved to Afghanistan from the Middle East. So they’re not, in that sense, an offshoot of ISIS. Instead, they’re one of these local movements which has taken the name of ISIS.
They’re made up of three main elements. The first are Pakistani, mainly Pashtun militants belonging to the Pakistani Taliban who were driven over the border back into Afghanistan by the Pakistan Army when it launched its offensive to crush the rebellion in Pakistan in recent years. The second major element are international fighters in Afghanistan, often from the former Soviet Union: Chechens, Dagestanis, Uzbeks, together with some Arab fighters who fled from Iraq and Syria. The third element are defectors from the Afghan Taliban who defected for one reason or another, sometimes because they were angered by Taliban negotiations with the West or by Taliban promises not to support international jihad.
But the main thing you should know about ISKP is that they are committed to continuing international jihad. They’ve always made that absolutely clear, and indeed they have to, because their membership is made up of people who for obvious reasons are committed to continuing the terror campaigns in the former Soviet Union and in Pakistan.
ISKP is also ferociously sectarian and anti-Shia and in recent years launched a string of dreadful attacks on Shia hospitals, schools and markets in Afghanistan and in Pakistan as well. They’re closely linked to sectarian terrorist groups in Pakistan, which have been widely alleged in turn to be supported by Saudi Arabia. So, they are a variety of hard men, if you like, who really want to use Afghanistan as a base for international jihad. There has been a very fierce rivalry between ISKP and the Afghan Taliban for power and major battles between them. And in fact when I was last in Afghanistan, I was told that there had been de facto cooperation between the Taliban, the Afghan government forces and the U.S. Air Force against ISIS.
So that’s where ISIS is coming from in Afghanistan.
JWC: In 2011, you wrote a very well-received book on the region called Pakistan: A Hard Country, so I guess I’d like to understand more about the role that Pakistan has played in the American defeat, and their relationship with ISKP and their continuing role in supporting international terrorism.
AL: Well, the Pakistani role is extremely, extremely complicated. People keep asking me: Why did Pakistan play a double game over Afghanistan? And my reply is they didn’t play a double game. They played a single game, which was a Pakistani game. They pursued what they took to be Pakistan’s national interests, which unfortunately conflicted with our own or what we thought were our own in Afghanistan. What Pakistan has done pretty consistently all these years has been to give shelter to the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban is made up of Afghans, chiefly of Pashtuns closely related to the Pashtuns of Pakistan, who make up about a fifth of the population and live in the border areas.
And they have been consistently sheltered by Pakistan. And the reason for that is twofold really. The first is that Pakistan wanted a force in Afghanistan that would be responsive to Pakistan’s interests and wishes, and above all would never side with India against Pakistan as previous Afghan regimes had done. This was also based on the analysis, which I have to say has turned out to be accurate, that we would fail in Afghanistan—that the West would not stay the course and that we would leave sooner or later.
So that’s the first reason. The second reason, and this has been totally obscured by most of the Western media. What people there [in Pakistan] kept saying to me is, “look, in the 1980s, an outside Western imperial force, the Soviet Union, occupied Afghanistan. And everybody from our own government to America, Saudi Arabia, everywhere, told us that it’s our duty to support the Afghan resistance against this, in the name of Islam. So we supported them. Now we have another outside, white imperial force occupying Afghanistan. And you tell us that it’s our duty to fight against the Afghan resistance and to support the puppet government in Kabul? Well, frankly, to hell with that, we will do what we always did. We will support our Afghan brothers in fighting against an alien, imperial occupation of their country.”
So what has to be understood is that the Pakistan government, including some within its own ranks and in parts of the army, were presiding over a population—at least in northern Pakistan—which was tremendously supportive of the Afghan Taliban. And when [Pervez] Musharraf, the then-military dictator, in 2003-2004 made a very limited attempt under American pressure to crack down, not on the Afghan Taliban as such, but on international fighters, such as the Arabs, Chechens and others affiliated with the Taliban in the Pakistani border areas, this set off a rebellion which lasted for 15 years.
And it still goes on in the form of ISIS in Afghanistan, and has cost more than 60,000 Pakistani civilian lives, 5,000 military dead, thousands of police, five generals, and so on. Benazir Bhutto, a two-time prime minister of Pakistan, was assassinated in 2007, as a result of that. And this illustrates the degree of support for the Afghan Taliban that you also have in sections of society. But then it gets even more complicated because eventually, and after considerable hesitation, the Pakistan Army cracked down very hard indeed on the Pakistan rebels who call themselves the Pakistan Taliban while continuing to shelter the Afghan Taliban.
And one of the reasons why you now have this bitter division between ISIS in Afghanistan and the Afghan Taliban is that the Afghan Taliban sided with Pakistan against the Pakistani Taliban. And while they didn’t exactly fight them, they did a great deal to keep certain areas of Pakistan quiet and prevent them from joining the Islamist revolt.
So Pakistan is basically very happy that the Taliban have won in Afghanistan, but expects them to go on fighting hard against ISIS because ISIS are mortal enemies of the present Pakistani state. And all I can say is if that sounds complicated, it is complicated.
I think part of the problem with American and indeed British policy in that part of the world is that if you’re not prepared to study and deal with extreme complexity and with continual changes of allegiance—if you’re not prepared to cope with that—well, then you should not be operating in Afghanistan because it’s a complicated place.
JWC: Is there a difference between the Taliban of 2001 and the Taliban of 2021?
AL: I think with regard to their international behavior, we can believe their guarantees, for two reasons. The first is that they’re not fools. And they’ve said this to me themselves—not the top leadership, obviously, but low-level Taliban have told me, “we’re not idiots; we know what happened to us as a result of 9/11. We were running Afghanistan, we conquered most of the country, we’d set up our state and then 9/11 kind of ruined it all for us. We’re not going to do that again, don’t worry.”
But the second and more important point is that they’ve made this promise, not just to America and the West; they’ve also made it to Russia, to China, to Pakistan, to Iran. And all of these countries have a deep stake in opposing international terrorism.
International Sunni Islamic terrorism threatens all of those countries in different ways. The Taliban cannot afford to alienate their entire neighborhood. If they do that, their regime really will not last and they will be totally isolated and not just economically. Remember, they have no access to the sea. But also, you will then have a return to the 1990s in which Russia and Iran will support opposition movements within Pakistan, and within Afghanistan, against them. So I think you can trust them on that.
You can also trust them on cracking down on the heroin trade, which they’ve also promised to do, because they’ve done that before: In 2000 and 2001, they did it with the hope of getting international recognition.
So on those issues, you can trust them. Domestically, however, it’s a much more open question, because there you have really hardline ideologues who are determined to reintroduce the kind of Islamic Emirate that existed before September 11.
JWC: Let’s turn to the American government’s role in the defeat. In a recent piece for the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, you wrote that American generals like H.R. McMaster, who served as President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser: “systematically misinformed multiple administrations, Congress, and the American people about the real state of the Afghan forces that they had created… The most important question Americans need to ask in the wake of the fall of Kabul is… what it is about the U.S. system that allowed these lies to pass with too little challenge.”
I’d like your own thoughts on that. How do you think they got away with lying, as you say, systematically for two decades?
AL: Well, this isn’t just a matter of my opinion. Indeed, this is thoroughly documented in the reports of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction and as revealed in the Afghanistan Papers, in the Washington Post. So all of this is now a matter of record. I think it’s really two things. First, I suppose we might have some sympathy with the military in that militaries don’t like to lose and they don’t necessarily want to go to war in the first place. And I suppose to be charitable to them, one might say that they were lying to themselves as well as to the rest of us, which is possible.
I think it is also critical to understand military promotion structures as well. This was a campaign carried out in a profoundly, almost dilettantish way by people whose whole instinct was to get back to Washington, to crawl up another rung of the military promotion ladder, and to do that you have to be working on huge weapons programs directed at China or Russia, which are totally irrelevant for Iraq or Afghanistan, but are very relevant indeed to the American military-industrial complex and Congress.
Afghanistan was treated with a profound lack of real interest and professionalism.
One must in no way excuse the American and British publics, the media and Congress, because as one of my colleagues pointed out, if you look at the main American news channels, in the whole of 2020, between them, they mentioned Afghanistan an average of five times on their lead news programs that year. So if the public and the media and Congress are not going to look seriously into what’s going on, then the generals will get away with telling people what they think will cover their own backs.
James W. Carden is a writing fellow at Globetrotter and a former adviser to the U.S. State Department. Previously, he was a contributing writer on foreign affairs at the Nation, and his work has also appeared in the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft, the American Conservative, Asia Times, and more.
This article was produced by Globetrotter in partnership with the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord; the interview with Anatol Lieven has been edited for clarity and length.
As a Cleveland Browns fan, love hate relationships come second nature. Pain of indescribable severity is rarely, but certainly, broken by great joy, and the joyous moments while few, redeem it all. Just as in every family, most of us have a few relatives we have to love (a father, mother, sibling), yet truly despise, where the few happy moments make the far more numerous painful ones disappear, a compromise necessary just to carry onward with life. Love is that way; very demanding of forgiveness, in pursuit of redemption. Love of country is no less demanding, no less reliant on forgiveness. No one’s country is perfect.
Makes me wonder if Jackson Hinkle is a Browns fan, or had a similarly detestable relative, or maybe he’s just American, where love of country can only truly exist in the face of great anger and shame. This week, Hinkle made the rather vanilla declaration “I’m a Marxist Leninist. I’m an anti-imperialist. I’m an American patriot”, before being arrested engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience on the steps of the US Capitol Building to advocate rent forgiveness in the midst of an ongoing pandemic. Down came the condemnations from the prancing posing permanently pointless “left”, who can abide neither American patriotism nor nonviolence.
During Occupy Wall Street (another nonviolent patriotic movement utterly ignored by today’s left), Hinkle’s sort of open patriotism was de rigeur - Occupy was festooned with red white and blue (as was the First International in 1864), even anarchists carried American flags with their own symbols put onto it. Talk of hatred and violence within Occupy was where the FBI set up shop to destroy Occupy, surrounding such dead ender self-loathers with six figure budgets, dozens of agents, NSA wiretaps by the terabyte, and endless patience to wait until violent hate helpfully morphed into violent act, only made possible with FBI money. This trap, where redemption and love are mocked and derided in favor of impotent rage pointing in no discernable direction, is what is known as a “honey pot”, collecting flies who stick to it then end up in federal prison, instead of threatening capital in the imperial core.
Aside from tricking the left into playing the FBI’s game, capital has long been well aware that neutering the American left is always best done by the left itself assuming the posture most guaranteed to isolate it from the American working class - violence and a self-loathing hatred of your own country. Who wants to be around self-loathing haters? Who are violent? No grandmother pushing a baby in a stroller is ever going to support anything like that, ever. Without that grandma, you have no movement, no mass line, no cultural hegemonic change, no revolution, nothing. You only have a petulance the FBI thanks you for providing. Mao would know this, Lenin, Che, Fidel, all of them. More importantly, so would the long line of radical American leftists of whom today’s ultra leftoids know precisely nothing.
Not a single “leftist” condemning Hinkle’s patriotism knows who August Willich was, or Mathilde Anneke, or Franz Sigel, or Carl Schurz, or Włodzimierz Krzyżanowski, or Peter H. Clark, or Paul Robeson. They might (barely) know who Lucille Ball was in order to hate her because she was on American TV, but certainly not that Lucy was a member of the Communist Party. One of American imperialism’s greatest triumphs worldwide has been this complete erasure of American socialism’s leaders, thinkers, writers, artists, organizers, agitators, even freers of slaves. So thorough is this erasure, today’s American “leftist” is nothing more than an aesthetic, not even American at all, a putter on of fancy dress manufactured abroad, only celebrating, meme-ing, glorifying, studying, elevating and following people who aren’t American. This fills capitalists with delight.
Our contributor Yanis Iqbal in his piece condemning Hinkle’s patriotism concludes that “the American identity is completely hollow.” Well, if your understanding of American identity is the same as Joe McCarthy’s or Donald Trump’s, sure. That’s a very hollow America. The gaping hole in global socialism is where patriotic American socialists have been erased. Cancelled, if you will, by “leftists,” who purposefully ignore all that does not fit a caricature planted in their minds by capital. Not coincidentally, this void in global socialism, or “hollow”, is right where capital wants it; in the imperial core. If there is no patriotic American left, there will be no global revolution against capital in its imperial core. We patriotic American socialists have a special responsibility to fill that gaping hole, with love of our country positioned against capital’s exploitation of it. (Yes, Yanis, the American working class has been exploited, too. If you’d like to see what “hollow” actually looks like, I’ll walk you around Cleveland to show you what capital hollowed out my entire life.)
The good news is we have a towering mountain of radical leftism in American history none of us knew was even there until we dug through the history that American capital made certain we were never taught. Here at Midwestern Marx, we endeavor to fill that hole. Patriotically. Go Browns.
Tim Russo is author of Ghosts of Plum Run, an ongoing historical fiction series about the charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg. Tim's career as an attorney and international relations professional took him to two years living in the former soviet republics, work in Eastern Europe, the West Bank & Gaza, and with the British Labour Party. Tim has had a role in nearly every election cycle in Ohio since 1988, including Bernie Sanders in 2016 and 2020. Tim ran for local office in Cleveland twice, earned his 1993 JD from Case Western Reserve University, and a 2017 masters in international relations from Cleveland State University where he earned his undergraduate degree in political science in 1989. Currently interested in the intersection between Gramscian cultural hegemony and Gandhian nonviolence, Tim is a lifelong Clevelander.
On September 6, 2021, Jackson Hinkle, a former candidate for San Clemente City Council, said, “I’m a Marxist-Leninist. I’m an anti-imperialist. I’m an American patriot.” A statement like this is based on a number of politico-theoretical errors. Patriotism - and nationalism - is a reflection of a specific material reality; it always appears as a derivative ideology which draws its meaning from the power bloc that appropriates it and deploys it towards its own objectives. In metropolitan formations of advanced capitalism, the concrete content of nationalist ideology was foundationally defined by the Westphalian peace treaties of 1648.
European nationalism emerged as a non-secular majoritarian concept, invoking Christian tropes and cultivating hatred toward domestic minorities. Externally, it was characterized by colonial conquests. Westphalian arrangements were preceded by Spanish conquistadores’ pillage of the New World’s enormous gold resources. Within months of the Westphalian treaties, Oliver Cromwell’s army confiscated most of Ireland’s territories. Acute inter-imperialist rivalry between major European nation-States resulted in bloody wars, which regularly destroyed distant lands.
Internal oppression of specific cultural groups and external subjugation of Third World people continues to shape and sustain the imperial idioms of metropolitan nationalism. These influences are expressed in the three types of labor aristocracies which exist in the majority of Global North countries. First, the settler-colonial labour aristocracy is established through the denial of self-determination to those populations residing on indigenous land seized by the settler population. Secondly, the native labour aristocracy is established through systematic discrimination against immigrants, who act as visible targets of colonial and racist discourses. Third, the metropolitan labor aristocracy is established through value transfer from the dependent countries, which helps in co-opting sections of the working class.
Taking into account First World nationalism’s regressive foundations - imperialism and racism - it is doubtful whether socialist politics can gain anything useful from the utilization of patriotic themes. Left nationalism can easily slide into national chauvinism because multiple layers of workers in rich countries have no objective interest in anti-imperialist socialism; the adoption of a massive policy of genuine redistribution of wealth between the affluent nations and the poorer nations may not seem as monetarily attractive as the prospect of parasitically living off the vast surplus value produced by the super-exploited proletariat of the Global South. Insofar that there is no material basis for robust internationalism in the imperial core, the subjectively practiced forms of leftist patriotism can degenerate into mere demands for the redistribution of imperialist wealth.
While traditions of patriotic socialism are present in imperialist countries, they don’t constitute a proper historical memory to function as the full-fledged scaffold for a mass movement. Third World nationalism, in contrast, assumes a primarily popular character because its originary conditions were marked by a liberatory fight against the state of subjugation imposed by bourgeois nationalism. Unlike Euro-Atlantic patriotic cultures, nationalism in the colonized countries was unifying, inclusive and secular as it identified a common enemy in colonialism and promised to end the poverty, hunger and misery unleashed by it. Since the imperialist opponent was extremely powerful, a strong emphasis was laid on the crucial need to forge ties with other national liberation movements. Thus, international solidarity emerged organically from the difficult realities of struggle.
Instead of superimposing patriotic tinsels on the socialist agenda, leftists in the Global North should try to develop a revolutionary praxis which makes their fellow citizens aware of their role in perpetuating the system of imperialist capitalism. As the direct and indirect beneficiaries of imperialist capital accumulation on a global scale, First World people should be the last ones to erase the devastating ravages of neo-colonial robbery. They can and must recognize that their primary responsibility, by virtue of their situatedness in imperial territories, lies in challenging the role of their governments in undermining the development of the Global South. Americans, as people who live in the imperialist heartland, carry an even greater responsibility for initiating a politics of anti-imperialism. However, such a political programme can be realized only when it is understood that the American identity is completely hollow, structurally built on native genocide, racist oppression and imperialist destruction.
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.
Midwestern Marx's Editorial Board does not necessarily endorse the views of all articles shared on the Midwestern Marx website. Our goal is to provide a healthy space for multilateral discourse on advancing the class struggle. - Editorial Board
Congress President Maria del Carmen Alva, Lima, Peru, 2021. | Photo: Twitter/ @Politica_LR
She is leading a smear campaign against President Castillo in which extremist and fascist groups are taking part.
Free Peru lawmaker Kelly Portalatino on Sunday filed a motion of censure against Congress President Maria del Carmen Alva, accusing her of creating political instability by promoting a coup against President Pedro Castillo.
"I filed a motion of censure against Alva because of her repudiable, anti-democratic statements asserting that 'The streets ask for a presidential vacancy.' This aims to delegitimize the Executive Branch and justify a coup,” said Portalatino.
The leftist lawmaker warned that the Congress president is leading a smear campaign in which extremist and fascist groups are taking part.
“In these moments of crisis, a cordial, intelligent, and democratic coordination is needed between the Executive Branch and the Congress to achieve laws and public policies that can help the millions of Peruvians who are living in poverty and extreme poverty. The current Congress president, however, does not guarantee that,” Portalatino said.
Although Alva denied she is calling for a coup, the Free Peru lawmaker Guillermo Bermejo stressed that her statements have precisely that sense if one considers the actions that the Peruvian far-right has been deploying to obstruct the work of the Castillo administration.
"Without the slightest embarrassment, she says that the streets are asking for a presidential vacancy. No ma'am, the streets ask you to let us rule and make changes. The streets ask the coup plotters disappear," Bermejo tweeted.
He also urged the political opposition not to demand that the ruling party solve "in one month the disaster that 30 years of neoliberalism left" in Peru.
This article was produced by teleSur.
Nicaragua Launches Plan to Fight Poverty and Promote Human Development. By: Teri Mattson & John PerryRead Now
Featured image: A local market in Malecón, Managua. Matyas Rehak/Shutterstock.
Ivan Acosta is Nicaragua’s minister of housing and public credit, with responsibility for key aspects of government planning. In July, he presented the country’s new “National Plan for the Fight against Poverty and for Human Development.” This builds on the achievements of Nicaragua’s Sandinista government since it returned to power in 2007 and sets out how they will continue if Daniel Ortega’s government is returned at November’s elections. Ivan Acosta is currently subject to personal US sanctions, along with many other Nicaraguan government officials and their family members.
Codepinks’s Teri Mattson spoke to the minister in a Zoom call and asked him to explain the plan and its background.
The Sandinista government regained power in 2007. What conditions did it find when it returned to office?
We need to remember what state the country was in at that time, something largely ignored in public debate. The truth is that when President Ortega returned to the presidency on January 10, 2007, he took charge of a country of blackouts, with electricity cut off daily. Nicaragua had turned its back on its rural communities and on its Caribbean coast, on its indigenous people and its people of African descent. There was no public acknowledgement of the autonomous peoples in government policies. Campesinos (peasant farmers) and other producers had been left behind due to the privatization of the National Bank. No funding was being provided, no credit. There were no rural roads. In many places there was no energy and no drinking water; social indicators such as infant mortality and maternal mortality rate were terrible.
Those 16 or 17 years of neoliberalism in Nicaragua after 1990 brought privatization of public services. In terms of education, the country was reduced to having only four grades in primary school. The healthcare system was also privatized. It was a country with no social programs, a lack of public investment and only 50% of the country with electricity, and even then with frequent blackouts because capacity to generate electricity was so limited. Out of the 2,000 kilometers of roads only 30 percent were in reasonable condition. There was a great deficit in telecommunications.
The country’s poverty figures became the worst in Latin America. Just from 2002 to 2005, general poverty rose from 45 to 48.3 percent and extreme poverty reached 17 percent. This small country was heading in the wrong direction. Poverty was worsening and the neoliberal government was proud because they said that this would bring foreign investment. But there were not enough jobs and public investment barely reached $270 million annually. There were no government resources, not even to provide primary school children with a glass of milk. So, the neoliberal model was a disaster and we put an end to that on January 10, 2007. Fortunately, we didn’t face a pandemic in 2005 or 2006 because it would have been very difficult to deal with such a situation given how public services had been destroyed.
How did things begin to change after 2007?
It’s important to talk about what the government of Nicaragua, under the leadership of President Comandante Ortega, has done to change the country’s situation. So, in the first place, all social and public services have been de-privatized, to ensure free education and health care. Then, public and economic policies need to center on the poorest. The main priority has been the fight against poverty and extreme poverty. Successful public policies are not only those which make the economy grow or the foreign reserves grow or which ensure macroeconomic stability, but also those which ensure that most people’s situation improves on a daily basis.
Comandante Ortega’s government has more than doubled the kilometers of new road that have been built, vital for access to rural areas. But we also ensured that 85 percent of roads are in good shape and we are now the country with the best roads in Central America, even though we have the smallest economy.
From 2007, we began to build the most modern health care system in Central America by investing in technology, hospital infrastructure and physicians and healthcare staff. We also made rapid progress in providing water and sanitation. We went from 60 to 91 percent in urban sectors in terms of drinking water services. And we went from 30 to 57 percent, in terms of sanitation. Those are issues which are relevant for people’s lives, not only for the political and business minorities, but for the large majority.
I think that the most important change in direction by Comandante Ortega was making public education free at the primary, secondary and university levels. As from January 10, 2007, we ensured that 100,000 students went back to school by providing free education.
We also invested in rural communities: we created 275,000 bonos productivos for women members of families in rural areas (the process by which they were helped to raise chicken, cattle and pigs). We developed the zero usury program and granted more than 1,300,000 credits to women to help reduce the gender equality gap. The government also had extraordinary success in reducing the maternal mortality rate: it fell by 67 percent. We went from 95 women who died per 100,000 births to 35.
Those were huge challenges; by tackling them, the country became more equal. There was greater economic participation. We managed to increase livestock production by 75 percent and agricultural production by 85 percent. The size of the economy went from $6.5 billion to $13.7 billion in the span of ten years. But what’s most important is how this growth was employed. We reduced general poverty from 48.3 to 24.9 percent and extreme poverty from 17.6 to 6.9 percent. These are extraordinary figures. This was achieved with social and political stability, consensus and dialogue, in a decade characterized by social, political and economic progress that benefitted everyone.
With so much social and economic success during those first ten years, how do you interpret the violent anti-government actions which hit the country in April 2018?
We concluded that 2018 was an expression of hate by some minorities given the progress the country was experiencing. The failed coup d’etat had an impact that was equivalent to 52 hurricanes like Hurricane Iota that hit us in November 2020. The damage was so great that the failed coup attempt caused Nicaragua more severe damage than the global pandemic has done. Take a look at the figures: $24 billion damage against $4 billion. So, it’s been six times more damaging and it especially hit the country’s poorest people.
So, that was the context for how we developed The National Plan Against Poverty & To Promote Human Development.
What are the goals of the new plan?
The aims are summarized this chart. We have 12 objectives which basically express our hopes to fill the remaining gaps in our social and economic program. We’ve made progress, but we still need to reinforce our efforts to fight against poverty and to eradicate extreme poverty. No society should have extreme poverty (people living on less than $1.25 per day).
What are the most important issues?
Well, definitely macroeconomic stability, something that we have to continue working on. We are a country that has managed to develop solid and sustainable public finances, improving our balance sheet, reinforcing our reserves, having sustainable public debt, and laying the groundwork to attract more private investment to create the jobs that the country needs.
We also aim to improve the basic conditions for development by providing people with electricity, by building roads and bridges, by accelerating the provision of water and sanitation to the population, by ensuring strategic investment for the ports in the Caribbean, by attracting investment for a new railroad (and we hope that it can be electrical), with investment in tourism in the Pacific coast. We are fostering the agricultural livestock industry to create jobs, and at the same time we continue working on healthcare and education and to strengthen our gender equality strategy.
How is the Nicaraguan government tackling the gender gap?
We are proud that this year the country is among the world’s top five countries in gender equality – according to the World Economic Forum. Only four Nordic countries did better but we need to invest even more in bridging the gender equality gap and strengthen women’s role because the country needs it. Women are 52 percent of the population and if they do not have equal participation then it will be more difficult to develop the country. Also, we need to tackle the rural-urban gap and the gap between the minorities and the majority. We need to bridge all these gaps and create equality so that the country can develop faster and to do it in a balanced way.
Is climate change affecting the rural-urban gap and migration to urban centers?
Another strategic aim is tackling climate change. We believe that we need to better manage our water resources, and we need to reforest as this is vital for the country’s future. But we have to do this intelligently because the change agents are the more than 300,000 rural producers. We’ve noticed that positive effects in tackling climate change derive from successes in fighting rural poverty and in transforming the agricultural and livestock sector. If the rural sector becomes wealthier than that will be harmonious with nature because they can produce more in better ways, and that translates into better water, better forests, more diversification so that the rural economy can work better. That is essential.
How are you addressing the needs of indigenous and afro-descendent minority communities on the Caribbean Coast?
I am from the Caribbean Coast myself. We have a strategy to make the Caribbean Coast a special development area given that it has always aspired to be the connection point between North America, South America and Europe. But we are one of the few countries which have a Caribbean Coast with no ports. So, we are planning the construction of a port near Bluefields that will allow for the development of a region almost twice the size of El Salvador. We have recognized 23 indigenous territories and the Caribbean region is receiving investment it has never seen before: electricity, road connections, airports, hospitals to serve remote municipalities, rural energy (mainly solar) and water and sanitation to all municipalities. I think this is a great act of historic justice by the country towards the ethnic minorities who had been excluded for a long time until the 1979 Sandinista Revolution.
How do private investment and foreign investment advance Sandinismo?
The country has taken a leap forward in the design, management and implementation of projects from bilateral and multilateral development financing, to the point where Nicaragua is the most recognized country by multilateral banks in terms of its accountability and use of funds. We’ve had enormous results. You can see them in reports by the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, and the European Investment Bank. We have an incredible record. If a country manages well, designs well, uses money well, and is accountable, then the number of projects grows rapidly. One example is that it has only taken eight years to bring electricity to the remaining half of the country, and it was the hardest job because we’re talking about remote rural areas. We’ve made similar progress in terms of roads, investment in production, and drinking water.
This creates a virtuous cycle because if a country performs well and creates a positive impact this is very important for foreign direct investment. If a business person comes from Australia or New Zealand, he or she doesn’t know the country so they look at the most important economic indicators and the level of competitiveness of the country: whether the roads are in good condition or not, whether taxes are competitive or not, and if the country and the government are investing enough resources to make the country more competitive and attractive. So probably the business person takes a look at the IMF for central bank indicators, takes a look at the macroeconomic stability, fiscal discipline and the sustainability of economic and financial policies. He or she will also, surely, look at the legal safety and investment safety of any project they are contemplating.
In this way we’ve achieved important investments in mining and renewable energy as well as general investments in the agricultural sector. We also have one of the most successful systems of free trade zones in Latin America. It has doubled the number of jobs in the last few years, so we think that public investment together with macroeconomic stability and good economic indicators help investors to trust Nicaragua. But there is another variable in Central America: the Northern Triangle and on into Mexico is probably the most violent region of the world which is not at war. So, in Nicaragua you find a place that’s good for investment, with low crime rates and the safest country in Central America.
Is this why the Nicaragua economy remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The decision to keep the economy working back in April 2020 was the result of several different factors. In the first place, Nicaragua is a country which has a large, dispersed rural community, where the risk of infection is low, in many places with no dense urban areas. The second factor is a social and economic one. There is a large popular or informal economy in which people live on a daily basis from what they can earn in the markets, farms or in the transport sector; therefore, closing the economy would paralyze their livelihoods. The third element had to do with the fact that if 99.9% of countries decided to close then we didn’t have to because we wouldn’t receive people from abroad, and the fourth element had to do with the fact that we had strengthened the healthcare system.
You can take all the necessary measures: social-distancing, hand washing, wearing masks, but if your healthcare care system is not strong (something seen in many developing countries) it can collapse. Since 2007 we had invested enormously in new hospitals and extra staff working in health care. People had access to healthcare at their doorstep. Great changes were made. A voluntary health network was formed which made five million household visits to the country’s 1.3 million homes when the pandemic began. We made sure we had the ICUs, the ventilators, but also made sure that the country, apart from not getting the virus, could get the resources needed to continue working.
We were ready and we probably have the best family and community healthcare model in Central America. There are Caribbean countries with great healthcare systems, but we have the best one in terms of its response because our healthcare system centers on the epidemiological issues that many countries have ignored. There may be good hospitals which are great at treating strokes or cancer, but they have left their epidemiological policies aside as if it were something from the previous century.
Apparently we were right because a few months later all the other countries started opening their economies bit by bit. So, we managed to reduce the loss of GDP forecast by the IMF of between 11% and 14% to only two percent.
We’ve had extraordinary results. We’re probably the Latin American country with the lowest number of virus cases and with the lowest fatality rate. We are quickly reactivating our economy. We are now recovering by five percent more than what was forecast for 2021. I think that the producers linked to agricultural exports should be given credit because we continued to export coffee, sugarcane, meat, seafood and beans to Central America. If the economy doesn’t work we won’t have resources to continue reinforcing the healthcare system.
Nicaragua is 80% food sovereign. How has this contributed to the National Plan?
Our production policies reinforce exports, food security and making progress towards food sovereignty. In Latin America, even though many countries have an agricultural industry, Nicaragua is one of the countries in which most of what’s on the table is produced nationally. Nicaragua is similar to Mexico in the sense that people eat rice, beans, meat and chicken in large quantities. Plantains as well. All of that is produced here: 80% of consumption is produced nationally. But what’s important is to increase productivity so that we can fulfill the needs of the local market and also reach the markets in neighboring countries as is the case of our beans, our milk, and our cheese because that is what creates wealth for the rural producers and for the country.
We are the biggest meat producer in Central America and I think that in the future Nicaragua will be one of the benchmarks due to the quality and the safety of our meat. The southern United States, specifically Florida, is a great consumer of Nicaraguan meat. If we increase productivity, if we provide good technical assistance, that will ensure food sovereignty but also allow us to reach more markets in Central America, Mexico, the United States and Canada. That’s why we talked about a Caribbean port because we don’t sell much to Europe. We’re also on the Pacific and we don’t sell much to Asia. We also don’t export much to South America. Therefore, we want to achieve greater productivity in the agricultural sector, ensuring food security and sovereignty.
You can watch the entire conversation with Minister Ivan Acosta here:
WTF is Going on in Latin America: Nicaragua Alleviates Poverty HYPERLINK “https://youtu.be/yabonl-motM”& HYPERLINK “https://youtu.be/yabonl-motM” Promotes Human Development
Introduced to Mesoamerican Anthropology and Archaeology in the sixth grade, Teri's lifelong passion for Latin America has inspired 35 years of travel throughout the region. The last few years include organizing and/or participating on political and social justice delegations to: Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti (April '16)*, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela (June ‘13, July '15, Dec. '15, May '16, Oct. '16, Mar. ‘18, May ‘18, Mar. ‘19)*
This article was published by Orinoco Tribune.
With the money she earns cleaning houses in the morning and an office at night, Virgen Elena Pupo, a 47-year-old Cuban migrant, has managed to raise her family in Washington, D.C., but has not been able to help her parents in Holguín, Cuba. She is separated from her parents by more than 1,246 miles. In Cuba’s eastern region, Holguín has been hit hard by an increase in COVID-19 cases, but Pupo cannot visit or send money to her parents due to the restrictions on flights and remittances from the United States as a result of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies that President Joe Biden has continued.
On October 27, 2020, a week before the U.S. presidential elections took place on November 3, Trump issued his final sanction against the island. Trump included Cuban financial company Fincimex, Western Union’s main partner in the country, in the Cuban Restricted List. The pretext was that it belongs to the Cuban business corporation, Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A.
This measure cut off the channels for sending remittances to Cuba, and Pupo’s elderly parents have not been able to receive any help amid the pandemic as a result of this move.
Fincimex issued a statement on August 27, 2021, announcing delays in the delivery of remittances that arrive in Cuba from third countries due to the difficulty of finding financial institutions willing to authorize operations. The inclusion of this company in the list of restricted entities by the U.S. Treasury Department “continues to generate fears in the international banking sector about accepting operations directed to… [Fincimex] and tendencies to limit the scope of these transactions,” said the Fincimex statement.
The U.S. policy relating to remittances goes against all logic. Remittances have come to the rescue of families affected by the coronavirus all over the world. According to the World Bank, money sent by migrants to their families in “low- and middle-income countries surpassed the sum of FDI [foreign direct investment] ($259 billion) and overseas development assistance ($179 billion) in 2020.” For example, remittances grew historically in Mexico in the first six months of 2021, as La Jornada recently reported. They reached $23.6 million, which is 22 percent more than the remittances received during the same period in 2020.
“As COVID-19 still devastates families around the world, remittances continue to provide a critical lifeline for the poor and vulnerable,” said Michal Rutkowski, global director of the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice at the World Bank. The regular remittances that poor Latin American migrants send to their families have become vital to many of the region’s economies. Generally, it’s the working poor who send small sums of money, sometimes up to eight times a year, usually sending more money than they earn during the year. For years, remittances have been one of Mexico’s main sources of foreign exchange, and remittances form close to or more than 20 percent of the gross domestic product of Honduras, El Salvador and other countries in Central America. They protect millions of people. But why do migrants do it? Why do they make sacrifices and send money back to their home countries? Surveys say that the explanation for this grand gesture of solidarity, with enormous macroeconomic impact, lies above all in supporting the institution of family. Migrants send money out of moral inspiration and loyalty to their parents, siblings, children, and nieces and nephews.
In a 2006 study on remittances and their imprint on the Cuban family, researcher Edel Fresneda Camacho recognized that this type of aid is not intended for productive investment. “It constitutes an important source of income for the recipient families, [for] their consumption and saving capacity, and implies an improvement in living conditions,” which in the case of Cuba includes the possibility of investing in a small private business.
Camacho and other researchers have given an account of the manipulative forays of the U.S. government on this front. In the 1990s, during the crisis known in Cuba as the “Special Period,” the United States reinforced the economic siege. The former U.S. President Bill Clinton prohibited remittances from August 1994 to 1998 except under strictly humanitarian conditions: illness or in cases of people with official immigration permission. Bush imposed even more cruel restrictions, allowing only visits to the island once every three years if the person visiting had very close relatives in Cuba—aunts, uncles, and cousins were not considered “family.”
Even then, remittances managed to continue reaching the island. That is, until now. Without Western Union offices, without the possibility of shipments by DHL, with banks being intimidated and flights being suspended to all provinces, except for those very limited to Havana, Pupo can only hope that her elderly parents can survive the pandemic without any help from her. And she prays every day for common sense to prevail among those making policies in the White House, which is located just two blocks away from the office she cleans at night with the stubborn will to keep her loved ones afloat.
Rosa Miriam Elizalde is a Cuban journalist and founder of the site Cubadebate. She is vice president of both the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) and the Latin American Federation of Journalists (FELAP). She has written and co-written several books including Jineteros en la Habana and Our Chavez. She has received the Juan Gualberto Gómez National Prize for Journalism on multiple occasions for her outstanding work. She is currently a weekly columnist for La Jornada of Mexico City.
The U.S. currently holds a strong hand in its chip war with China. But experts believe it will lose in the future as China has a bigger market and a larger capacity for creating new knowledge.
With the U.S. imposing technology sanctions on China, the world’s electronics industry is facing turbulent times. After the sanctions, Huawei has slipped from its number one slot as a mobile phone supplier—which the company held during the second quarter of 2020—to number seven currently. Commenting on this slide, Huawei’s rotating chairman Guo Ping has said that the company’s battle is for survival right now. According to Reuters, Guo in a note circulated internally maintained that Huawei “will not give up and plans to eventually return to the industry’s ‘throne.’” On that count, Huawei is not only surviving but doing quite well. It is still the world leader in the telecom equipment market with a hefty 31 percent revenue share, which is twice that of its nearest competitors Nokia and Ericsson, and profits of nearly $50 billion in the first six months of 2021. But will Huawei be able to retain its market position without China catching up with the latest developments in chip manufacturing and design technologies?
It is not just the Chinese companies alone that are facing tough times. With growing chip wars between the U.S. and China, the global supply chain for electronic chips has been affected, leading to chip shortages across several sectors. Semiconductor chips are used in almost every product, from household equipment—microwave ovens and toasters—to the automotive and defense industries. The auto industry’s biggest bottleneck today is the chip shortage, which has badly hit their production. If the chip wars continue, the crisis of the chip shortage may affect other industries as well.
This crisis, meanwhile, has raised several questions: Is the crisis of the semiconductor industry the precursor to the fragmentation of the global supply chains? Will it lead to warring blocks, with the U.S. at one pole and China at the other? With this fragility of the supply chain, are we seeing the end of globalization as a paradigm?
The electronics industry is one of the most capital-intensive and research-and-development-intensive industries. No other industry has this characteristic. Power or steel plants are capital-intensive; pharmaceuticals are R&D-intensive. But no other industry is both. ASML, a little-known Dutch company that produces the lithographic machines for chip manufacturing, is worth more than Volkswagen, the world’s largest car manufacturer. This is due to the high R&D costs of ASML’s lithographic machines: it is the only company that can deliver the machines that the most advanced chips require. In order for a new fabrication facility to make the new generation of chips today, it will cost $20 billion, which is more than the cost of an aircraft carrier or a nuclear plant. Only two fabricators, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) and Samsung, have the capability to produce the most advanced chips that the industry uses.
The U.S. and China compete in areas such as artificial intelligence, computers, mobile networks and phones. The basic building block for all these technologies is semiconductor chips. The more circuity we can pack into a chip, the more computing power it has. The bulk of the market consists of older fabricators using 180 nm to 28 nm level technologies, with only 2 percent of the chips below the 10 nm level. The only fabricators that can make such chips are TSMC and Samsung, the world’s largest chip fabricators. Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) of China, the third-largest chip fabricator globally, has only recently moved from the 28 nm level to the 14 nm level. With Chinese government support, SMIC is investing in production lines that can go below 14 nm. Intel, once the world leader in chip manufacturing, is still stuck at the 14 nm level. However, it also has plans for developing the next generation of chips.
The U.S. has chosen the electronics/semiconductor industry as a battleground for its geostrategic competition with China. It believes that it has a significant technology lead and commands a major market share in this industry. China is a late entrant here. Though it has a comparable market share to that of the U.S., it still depends on certain core technologies. The U.S. and its allies—the European Union, Japan and South Korea—control these core technologies. That is why the U.S. has chosen Huawei and SMIC, two major Chinese players in the technology and the semiconductor industry respectively, as its target for sanctions. The U.S. has put more than 250 Chinese companies on the entities list, which require a special license to import equipment or components. However, it is not a blanket ban.
The U.S. is following up on its sanctions against Huawei and SMIC with a plan to bar China from what it calls “foundational technologies” under its 2018 Export Control Reform Act. The argument that the U.S. is building is a simple one: they are ahead of China in certain critical technologies required for advanced chip manufacturing; all they have to do to maintain this lead is to deny China access to these technologies; this will ensure the U.S. lead for the future and its dominance over the electronics industry.
John Verwey, an investment analyst who writes about semiconductor technology on his website Semi-Literate, discusses what can be considered a foundational technology in the electronics industry. At first sight, chip-making could appear as a foundational technology and the target of U.S. sanctions. This is what the U.S. did when it barred Huawei from buying the latest 7 nm scale chips from TSMC.
SMIC then tried to set up its fabrication line for 7 nm chips and needed to import extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography machines from ASML, each costing around $120 million to $150 million. These lithographic machines are the critical part of the production lines of chip fabrication. Though the EUV machines are from the Netherlands, they use software developed in ASML’s U.S. subsidiary and therefore they fall under the U.S. sanctions regime.
The U.S. sanctions mean that ASML cannot sell the EUV lithography machines to China, though it can sell other lithographic machines for lower-end chip production, keeping China out of the high-end under-10-nm technology, and, therefore, a generation or two behind the market leaders.
This brings us to the question of how to define foundational technology. Though chips are the key driver of electronics, they are not as foundational as the machines that produce them. A country at the cutting edge of technology needs to master the technology of chip production and the machines that run such production lines. That is why ASML’s lithography machines are the bottleneck for China.
What then drives the advances in key technologies of the machines and chip production? As Marxists know, knowledge drives the productive forces—in this case, the advances in chip design. This knowledge is captured in the software design tools and the lithography machines. They are both highly knowledge-intensive and require people with very specialized skills.
The U.S. and its universities are still the major source of knowledge development, the key to the advances in this sector. But here is the long-term problem facing the nation: The research programs of the U.S. universities are mostly staffed by international students, with the bulk of them from China, India and other developing countries. Many of them stay back in the U.S. and provide the human power required for the advances in knowledge that the U.S. has today.
If Chinese students and researchers are not welcome in the U.S., this source of knowledge development will weaken. Unfortunately, countries like India do not have high-quality education institutions and research laboratories to be a substitute for the stream of Chinese students who enter U.S. universities. China has invested heavily in its universities and research institutions and produces more PhDs in science and technology today than the U.S. It is also building a pipeline of innovations from the universities/research institutions to the technology industry.
China is the biggest market for the U.S. semiconductor industry’s chip designs and design software. The U.S. companies also design high-end chips, which are then manufactured in Taiwan and China. In the short run, the U.S. sanctions will damage China’s advanced chip production and the production of electronic devices based on such chips. But it will also mean that the U.S. companies will lose a significant part of the revenues that they now receive from the Chinese market from the sale of their design tools. It will also lead to a loss of revenue for advanced chips that the U.S. companies like Qualcomm and Nvidia design and then manufacture in Taiwan’s TSMC.
For the high-tech U.S. companies, the loss of this income means less money for their R&D and the slow erosion of the country’s position as the global knowledge hub. Suppose the U.S. companies lose the Chinese market and, therefore, a significant part of their revenues. In that case, it will seriously affect their ability to compete in the future. In the short run, they may gain, as they are doing with Huawei losing its number one spot in smartphones. But still, the loss of revenues will mean less ability to produce the knowledge that gives the U.S. its edge in technology. Less money in research means an eventual loss of leadership because, unlike other countries, the U.S. increasingly does not produce the chips or the machines, but the knowledge that goes into both of them.
This is what the U.S. semiconductor industry has argued in its submission to the U.S. Department of Commerce. If the U.S. companies delink from the Chinese market, it will mean a significant loss of revenue for them. In the long run, it will lead to a loss of U.S. leadership in electronics. Already, the U.S. sanctions have led the Chinese companies to remove the U.S.-designed components from their product lines. Sanctions are double-edged: they hit Huawei and other Chinese companies and their U.S. suppliers.
How long will China take to erase the lead in semiconductor technologies that the U.S. and its allies have? Analysys Mason, a leading consulting company, says in its May 2021 report that China will be able to attain self-sufficiency in semiconductors in three to four years. The Boston Consulting Group and Semiconductor Industry Association have modeled the impact of breaking up the global supply chain of China and the U.S. delinking their supply chain and markets. The model predicts that with such a policy, the U.S. would still lose its leadership to China. According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, the only way that the U.S. can preserve its lead is to export to China, except in the strategic military sector. The U.S. can then use its profits from these exports for developing a new generation of technologies. Of course, the loss for not exporting in the strategic sector must be compensated with hefty subsidies from the U.S. government.
Meanwhile, India missed the semiconductor manufacturing bus when it decided not to rebuild Semiconductor Complex Limited its premiere chip-making facility in the city of Mohali, after it was destroyed in a mysterious fire in 1989. Its policymakers decided that India should leverage its strength in software and systems and not worry about manufacturing chips. Vinnie Mehta, formerly the executive director of the Manufacturers’ Association for Information Technology (MAIT), had said to Mint, “A nation without silicon (technology) is like a person without [a] heart.” That heart is still missing in India’s technology ecosystem.
If the U.S. wants to retain its position of being a world leader in the electronics industry, it has to match China by investing in the generation of knowledge for future technologies. Why, then, is the U.S. taking the sanctions route? Sanctions are simpler to implement; building a society that values knowledge is more difficult. This is the pathology of late capitalism.
Prabir Purkayastha is the founding editor of Newsclick.in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) was formed in July 1921. From that time up to the present day, it has led the Chinese Revolution – a revolution to eliminate feudalism, to regain China’s national sovereignty, to end foreign domination of China, to build socialism, to create a better life for the Chinese people, and to contribute to a peaceful and prosperous future for humanity.
Some of these goals have already been achieved; others are ongoing. Thus the Chinese Revolution is a continuing process, and its basic political orientation remains the same.
Feudalism was dismantled in CPC-controlled territories from the early 1930s onwards, and throughout the country in the period immediately following the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949. Similarly, warlord rule was ended and a unified China essentially established in 1949; Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and Macao in 1999. Only Taiwan continues to be governed separately and to serve foreign interests. And yet in a world system still principally defined by US hegemony, the imperialist threat remains – and is intensifying with the development of a US-led hybrid war against China. Therefore the project of protecting China’s sovereignty and resisting imperialism continues. Similarly, the path to socialism is constantly evolving.
In the course of trying to build socialism in a vast semi-colonial, semi-feudal country, mistakes have certainly been made. The collected works of Marx and Lenin bubble over with profound ideas, but they contain no templates or formulae. Chinese Marxists have had to continuously engage in “concrete analysis of concrete conditions”,1 applying and developing socialist theory, creatively adapting it to an ever-changing material reality. In their foreword to Agnes Smedley’s biography of Zhu De, The Great Road, Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy wrote that the Chinese communists, “in the midst of their struggle for survival … have proceeded to evolve a more flexible and sophisticated theory which enriched Marxism by reflecting and absorbing the stubborn realities of the Chinese scene.”2
As Liu Shaoqi, a prominent CPC leader until his denunciation during the Cultural Revolution, explained: “because of the distinctive peculiarities in China’s social and historical development and her backwardness in science, it is a unique and difficult task to apply Marxism systematically to China and to transform it from its European form into a Chinese form… Many of these problems have never been solved or raised by the world’s Marxists, for here in China the main section of the masses are not workers but peasants, and the fight is directed against foreign imperialist oppression and medieval survivals, and not against domestic capitalism.”3
This article argues that, while the Chinese Revolution has taken numerous twists and turns, and while the CPC leadership has adopted different strategies at different times, there is a common thread running through modern Chinese history: of the CPC dedicating itself to navigating a path to socialism, development and independence, improving the lot of the Chinese people, and contributing to a peaceful and prosperous future for humanity.
The CPC was formed in response to a clear need for revolutionary leadership. The 1911 bourgeois revolution that had finally overthrown the Qing dynasty and established the Republic of China had come to a dead end, owing to the manoeuvring of the imperialist powers and their comprador agents. Most of the country was run by warlords. The feudal economy remained in place and the bulk of the population remained permanently on the brink of starvation, indebted to landlords. The various imperialist powers maintained their footholds, with Britain, the US, Japan and Germany competing for control of China’s land and resources.
Young people in particular were searching for a path forward. “Youth organisations and study circles sprang up in great profusion”, writes Israel Epstein,4 including the New People’s Study Society in Hunan, led by a certain Mao Zedong. A turning point came on 4 May 1919, when the students of Beijing marched on the government buildings in protest at the Treaty of Versailles, which legalised the Japanese seizure of Shandong province and rejected China’s demands for the abolition of foreign spheres of influence and the withdrawal of foreign troops. The demonstrations caught the imagination of students, workers and radical intellectuals throughout the country. “The May 4 Movement was a climactic point of the Chinese revolution. It took place after, and was one of the results of, the October Revolution in Russia.”5 Han Suyin described the May 4 Movement as “a leap of consciousness, a radicalisation, which would determine the course of history.”6
The CPC, formed two years later, was the first organisation to put forward the slogan ‘Down with imperialism’, recognising that China’s weakness and backwardness were inherently bound up with foreign domination. Some relatively forward-thinking elements of the emerging capitalist class had hoped that the US or Japan might help China to establish itself as a modern capitalist power, but the communists recognised that this reflected a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of imperialism. The major capitalist powers were compelled by the nature of their economic system to compete for control of China – a country offering an abundance of land, people, natural resources, and geostrategic advantage. Japan, the US, Britain, Germany and others wouldn’t hesitate to support feudal warlords where it suited their interests; nor would they hesitate to suppress the Chinese people’s desire for independence and progress. The CPC’s anti-imperialist position quickly won it the support of a significant section of the population.
Soon after its formation, at its Third Congress in 1923, the CPC pushed for a united front with the Guomindang (GMD)7, a revolutionary nationalist party set up by Sun Yat-sen in 1912 (the veteran politician and doctor Sun was elected as provisional president of the Republic of China following the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty). The idea of the united front was to construct an anti-imperialist alliance incorporating workers, peasants, intellectuals and the patriotic elements of the capitalist class, with a view to decisively ending feudalism, uniting the country under a single central government, and driving out the imperialist powers. Denied recognition or support by the West, the GMD was in the process of orienting towards the recently-formed Soviet Union, which had already demonstrated itself to be a supporter of Chinese sovereignty (the Bolsheviks had indicated their support for Sun Yat-sen as early as 19128 and, once in power, renounced all privileges in China granted to the tsarist regime). Recognising that the CPC would be more effective in mobilising the masses of the working class and peasantry, the GMD agreed to the CPC’s proposal, and the CPC leadership took joint membership of both organisations.
This first united front started to fracture after the death in 1925 of Sun Yat-sen. The GMD’s right wing gained the ascendancy under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek (who would later go on to become the highly authoritarian leader of Taiwan from 1949 until his death in 1975). Chiang “believed that communism was inhuman and that, unless defeated, it would mean oppression for the Chinese people and the destruction of their traditional culture.”9 Fearing that the communists were gaining too much popular support, Chiang orchestrated a coup against them, in collaboration with the various foreign powers that had recognised in Chiang a potential partner in the pursuit of an ‘acceptable’ political conjuncture in China.
When, in April 1927, Shanghai was liberated from warlord control as the result of an insurrection of the local working class (led primarily by CPC forces), Chiang’s forces won control of the city by means of a massacre of its liberators, killing an estimated 5,000 people. This marked the start of a several-year campaign of mass killings by Chiang’s forces against communists and progressive workers. With CPC members formally ejected from the GMD and the united front dismantled, Chiang Kai-shek set up a new regime in Nanjing, under which “communism became a crime punishable by death.”10 The government focused its efforts not on resisting imperialism or uniting the country but on suppressing communists. Facing something close to physical annihilation, the membership of the CPC fell from 58,000 at the start of 1927 to 10,000 by the end of the year.
These disastrous events led the communists to a strategic reorientation. It was clear that a united front policy focused on the major urban centres was no longer a viable option. Meanwhile, “as every schoolboy knows, 80 per cent of China’s population are peasants,”11 and, as William Hinton writes in the preface to his classic account Fanshen, “without understanding the land question one cannot understand the Revolution in China.”12 The CPC was moving towards the development of a rural-based revolutionary movement.
Following a failed uprising in his native Hunan, Mao Zedong fled with his forces into the Jinggang mountains, in the border region of Jiangxi and Hunan provinces. This became the birthplace of the Chinese Red Army and the site of the first liberated territory. The Jiangxi Soviet expanded over the course of several years to incorporate parts of seven counties and a population of more than half a million.
Han Suyin notes that Mao Zedong “was the first in the party who abandoned the city orientation and devised a major strategy born from China’s reality.” The working class were a growing force, but constituted less than one percent of the population. “Mao saw that setting up rural bases, dedicated to the liberation of the peasantry from the oppression of landlordism, was the only way in which revolution would succeed.”13 Not only was the mass of the peasantry against feudal exploitation, but it could also understand the connection between foreign domination and domestic poverty. The period of foreign aggression from 1840 had led to wars and instability, much of the burden of which fell on the peasantry, which was expected to provide soldiers and sustenance. Any agricultural surplus from good harvest years was redirected to the state (or local warlord), leaving grain reserves empty and thus contributing to vast famines.
The CPC and Red Army grew in strength and experience during this time. Chiang Kai-shek’s obsessive focus on eliminating communism led Mao and his comrades to develop a theory of guerrilla warfare that would prove decisive in the CPC’s rise to power. However, China was rendered vulnerable to attack by Chiang’s pacification programme. Even when the Japanese occupied Manchuria in September 1931, siphoning Manchukuo off as an ‘independent’ puppet state a year later, Chiang’s clearly stated policy was: “Internal pacification first, before external resistance”.
Between 1929 and 1934, Chiang’s forces led a series of brutal encirclement campaigns in an attempt to bury the Jiangxi Soviet. After suffering a series of defeats at the hands of a highly motivated and skilled Red Army, the Guomindang mobilised warlord armies from around the country, organising a force of more than a million troops. The communists had no choice but to abandon the liberated territory and break the siege. This process became the Long March: the extraordinary year-long retreat to the North-West, covering over 9,000 kilometres and ending with the establishment of a revolutionary base area in Shaanxi. This area would serve as the centre of the CPC’s operations until shortly before the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
In the liberated territories, the communists led the creation of a new political economy in the countryside that – along with their determined struggle against Japanese militarism – would earn them the support of the broad masses of the peasantry. In his classic account Red Star Over China, Edgar Snow paints a vivid picture of life in the red base areas: “Land was redistributed and taxes were lightened. Collective enterprise was established on a wide scale… Unemployment, opium, prostitution, child slavery, and compulsory marriage were reported to be eliminated, and the living conditions of the workers and poor peasants in the peaceful areas greatly improved. Mass education made much progress in the stabilised soviets. In some counties the Reds attained a higher degree of literacy among the populace in three or four years than had been achieved anywhere else in rural China after centuries.”14
Opium production was ended and replaced by food agriculture. Antiquated feudal practices such as foot-binding, infanticide and the keeping of slave girls were prohibited. Peng Dehuai, one of the top Red Army leaders and later the Defence Minister of the PRC, commented on the decisive importance of the CPC’s progressive and popular policies in the liberated areas:
> “Only by implanting itself deeply in the hearts of the people, only by fulfilling the demands of the masses, only by consolidating a base in the peasant soviets, and only by sheltering in the shadow of the masses, can partisan warfare bring revolutionary victory… Tactics are important, but we could not exist if the majority of the people did not support us.”15
By the mid 1930s, the Japanese armed forces were consolidating and expanding their occupation of Northeast China, aided and abetted by the Western powers, who were motivated by the idea of cooperating with Japan to attack the Soviet Union. Chiang Kai-shek’s position was becoming untenable. He granted concession after concession to the Japanese, but he could no longer justify his refusal to defend China’s national sovereignty. In July 1937, Japanese forces marched out of their puppet state of Manchukuo, going on to occupy Beijing and Shanghai.
In this context, more progressive elements within the GMD took the initiative, detaining Chiang in the northwestern city of Xi’an and forcing him to agree to cooperate with the CPC against Japanese occupation. Thus was formed the Second United Front. The red base at Yan’an (Shaanxi) was recognised as a provincial government and the CPC was legalised; the Red Army was re-designated as the Eighth Route Army.
In the period of the Second United Front, the CPC won enormous prestige for its leadership of the national defence efforts and for its commitment to improving the lives of the population in the territories under its control. Yan’an became a pole of attraction for revolutionary and progressive youth throughout the country. British academic Graham Hutchings writes that “Yan’an seemed to stand for a new type of society. Visitors, foreign and Chinese, found it brimming with purpose, equality and hope. Many students and intellectuals chose to leave areas under the control of a central government they felt lacked a sense of justice, as well as the will to confront the national enemy, for life in the border regions and the communist or ‘progressive’ camp.”16
It was increasingly clear that the communists were the most cohesive, committed and competent political force in China; the only political party with the potential to restore China’s sovereignty, unity and dignity. Mao and the CPC leadership took the time to theorise the type of society they were trying to build; what the substance of their revolution was. The results of these debates and discussions are synthesised in Mao’s 1940 pamphlet On New Democracy, which describes the Chinese Revolution as necessarily having two stages: “first of New Democracy and then of socialism.”17
New Democracy was not to be a socialist society, but a “democratic republic under the joint dictatorship of all anti-imperialist and anti-feudal people led by the proletariat.” Extending a friendly hand to patriotic non-communist forces, Mao invoked the spirit of Sun Yat-sen, calling for “a republic of the genuinely revolutionary new Three People’s Principles with their Three Great Policies.” (The Three People’s Principles were – approximately – nationalism, people’s government, and social welfare; the Three Great Policies were alliance with the Soviet Union, alliance with the CPC, and support for the workers and peasants).
The key elements of this stage of the revolution were to defeat imperialism and to establish independence, as an essential step on the road to the longer-term goal of building socialism. How long would this stage last? It would “need quite a long time and cannot be accomplished overnight. We are not utopians and cannot divorce ourselves from the actual conditions confronting us.”18
Such a society would not be a dictatorship of the proletariat; that is, the working class would not exercise exclusive political control. Rather, political power would be shared by all the anti-imperialist classes: the working class, the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie (ie those elements of the capitalist class that stood against foreign domination).
In economic terms, New Democracy would include elements of both socialism and capitalism. “The state enterprises will be of a socialist character and will constitute the leading force in the whole national economy, but the republic will neither confiscate capitalist private property in general nor forbid the development of such capitalist production as does not ‘dominate the livelihood of the people’, for China’s economy is still very backward.” Land reform would be carried out, and the activities of private capital would be subjected to heavy regulation.
In conversation with Edgar Snow, Mao envisaged China taking its place within an ever-more globalised world – perhaps anticipating the ‘opening up’ of four decades later: “When China really wins her independence, then legitimate foreign trading interests will enjoy more opportunities than ever before. The power of production and consumption of 450 million people is not a matter that can remain the exclusive interest of the Chinese, but one that must engage the many nations. Our millions of people, once really emancipated, with their great latent productive possibilities freed for creative activity in every field, can help improve the economy as well as raise the cultural level of the whole world.”19
Following Japan’s defeat in 1945, the CPC and GMD attempted to negotiate a post-war government alliance. However, the agreement forged in Chongqing in October 1945 fell apart as Chiang’s forces continued their military attacks on the CPC-controlled areas. A bitter four-year civil war ensued, resulting in the communists’ victory, Chiang Kai-shek’s flight to Taiwan, and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949. The newly-installed government, led by the CPC, attempted to build the type of society described in On New Democracy. Its governance was based on the Common Programme – an interim constitution drawn up by the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (a united front body created by the CPC), with 662 delegates representing 45 different organisations. The Common Programme did not call for the immediate establishment of a socialist society, and it promised to encourage private business. As Mao had written earlier in the year, “our present policy is to regulate capitalism and not to destroy it.”20 Patriotic capitalists were invited to participate in government.
The most important immediate economic change was the comprehensive dismantling of feudalism: the abolition of the rural class system and the distribution of land to the peasantry (a process already well underway in the areas under CPC control). Land reform resulted in a large agricultural surplus which, along with Soviet support, created the conditions for a rapid state-led industrialisation. Hutchings notes that “dramatic improvements in life expectancy and literacy rates and increases in living standards accompanied the appearance of factories, roads, railways and bridges across the country.”21 Along with this came an unprecedented shift in the status of women, who had suffered every oppression and indignity under feudalism. Via a system of “barefoot doctors”, basic medical care was made available to the peasantry. “As a consequence, fertility rose, infant mortality declined, life expectancy began to climb, and the population stabilised and then grew for the first time since the Japanese invasion of 1937.”22
The New Democracy period only lasted a few years. By 1954, the government was promoting collectivisation in the countryside and shifting private production into state hands. By the time of the Great Leap Forward in 1958, there was no more talk of a slow and cautious road to socialism; the plan now was to “surpass Britain and catch up to America” within 15 years.
The reasons for moving on from New Democracy are complex and contested, and reflect a shifting global political environment. The CPC had envisaged – or at least hoped for – mutually beneficial relations with the West, as is hinted at in the quote above that “legitimate foreign trading interests will enjoy more opportunities than ever before”. However, by the time of the founding of the PRC, the Cold War was already in full swing. After the defeat of Japan in 1945, and with the outbreak of civil war between the communists and the nationalists, the US came down on the side of the latter, on the basis that Chiang understood the civil war to be “an integral part of the worldwide conflict between communism and capitalism”23 and was resolutely on the side of capitalism.
The US made its hostility to the People’s Republic manifestly clear from early on. The US involvement in the Korean War, starting in June 1950, was to no small degree connected to “the West’s determination … to ‘contain’ revolutionary China.”24 The genocidal force directed against the Korean people – including the repeated threat of nuclear warfare – was also a warning to China’s communists (although the warning was returned with interest, when hundreds of thousands of Chinese volunteers joined hands with their Korean brothers and sisters, rapidly pushing the US-led troops back to the 38th parallel and forcing an effective stalemate). Soon after the arrival of US troops in Korea, US President Truman announced that his government would act to prevent Taiwan’s incorporation into the PRC, since this would constitute “a threat to the security of the Pacific area and to United States forces performing their lawful and necessary functions in that area.”25 Truman ordered the Seventh Fleet of the US Navy into the Taiwan Strait in order to prevent China from occupying it (such, incidentally, are the imperialist origins of the notion of Taiwanese independence). Along with these acts of physical aggression, the US imposed a total embargo on China, depriving the country of various important materials required for reconstruction.
The dangerously hostile external environment made New Democracy less viable. There are parallels here with the Soviet abandonment of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1929. Much like New Democracy, the NEP had consisted of a mixed economy, with private business encouraged in order to increase production and enhance productivity. Introduced in 1921, the NEP proved highly successful, allowing the Soviet Union to recover economically from war whilst minimising internal class conflict. By the end of the decade, however, new external dangers were emerging and it became clear to the Soviet leadership that the imperialist powers were starting to mobilise for war. From 1929 the Soviet economy shifted to something like a wartime basis, with near-total centralisation, total state ownership of industry, collectivisation of agriculture, and a major focus on heavy industry and military production.
Similarly in China in the mid-1950s, the shifting regional situation contributed to an economic and political shift. Beyond that, there was undoubtedly a subjective factor of the CPC leadership wanting to accelerate the journey to socialism – to “accomplish socialist industrialisation and socialist transformation in fifteen years or a little longer”, as Mao put it in 1953.26 With the death of Stalin in March 1953 and the gradual deterioration of relations between the CPC and the new Soviet leadership under Nikita Khrushchev, the Chinese came to feel that the Soviets were abandoning the path of revolutionary struggle and that responsibility for blazing a trail in the construction of socialism had fallen to China. To move from a position of economic and scientific backwardness to becoming an advanced socialist power would require nothing less than a great leap.
Mao as monster?
To this day, the most popular method for casually denigrating the People’s Republic of China and the record of the CPC is to cite the alleged crimes of Mao Zedong who, from the early 1930s until his death in 1976, was generally recognised as the top leader of the Chinese Revolution. If the CPC was so dedicated to improving the lot of the Chinese people, why did it engage in such disastrous campaigns as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution?
The Great Leap Forward, launched in 1958, was an ambitious programme designed to achieve rapid industrialisation and collectivisation; to fast-track the construction of socialism and allow China to make a final break with centuries-old underdevelopment and poverty; in Mao’s words, to “close the gap between China and the US within five years, and to ultimately surpass the US within seven years”.27 In its economic strategy, it represented “a rejection of plodding Soviet-style urban industrialisation,”28 reflecting the early stages of the Sino-Soviet split. The Chinese were worried that the Khrushchev leadership in Moscow was narrowly focused on the avoidance of conflict with the imperialist powers, and that its support to China and the other socialist countries would be sacrificed at the altar of ‘peaceful coexistence’. Hence China would have to rely on its own resources.
For all its shortcomings, the core of the GLF was pithily described by Indian Marxist Vijay Prashad as an “attempt to bring small-scale industry to rural areas.”29 Mao considered the countryside would once again become the “true source for revolutionary social transformation” and “the main arena where the struggle to achieve socialism and communism will be determined.”30 Agricultural collectivisation was fast-tracked, and there was a broad appeal to the revolutionary spirit of the masses. Ji Chaozhu (at the time an interpreter for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and later China’s ambassador to the UK (1987-91)) notes in his memoirs: “The peasants were left with small plots of their own, for subsistence farming only. All other activity was for the communal good, to be shared equally. Cadres were to join the peasants in the fields, factories, and construction sites. Even Mao made an appearance at a dam-building project to have his picture taken with a shovel in hand.”31
The GLF was not overall a success. Liu Mingfu writes that “the Great Leap Forward did not realise the goal of surpassing the UK and US. It actually brought China’s economy to a standstill and then recession. It caused a large number of unnatural deaths and pushed China’s global share of GDP from 5.46% in 1957 to 4.01% in 1962, lower than its share of 4.59% in 1950.”32
The disruption to the basic economic structure of society combined with the sudden withdrawal of Soviet experts in 1960 and a series of terrible droughts and floods to produce poor harvests. Meanwhile, with millions of peasants drafted into the cities to work in factories, “no one was available to reap and to thresh.”33 The historian Alexander Pantsov writes that the “battle for steel had diverted the Chinese leadership’s attention from the grain problem, and the task of harvesting rice and other grain had fallen on the shoulders of women, old men, and children… A shortage of grain developed, and Mao gave the command to decrease the pace of the Great Leap.”34 Ji Chaozhu observes that “malnutrition leading to edema was common in many areas, and deaths among the rural population increased.”35
Certain of the GLF’s goals were achieved – most notably the irrigation of arable land. However, it didn’t achieve its overall objective, and the disruption it caused contributed to a deepening of poverty and malnutrition. It was called off in 1962. It remains a highly controversial topic in Chinese history. For anticommunists, the GLF provides incontrovertible proof of the monstrous, murderous nature of the CPC – and Mao Zedong in particular. Western bourgeois historians seem to have settled on a figure of 30 million for the estimated number of lives lost in famine resulting from the Great Leap. On the basis of a rigorous statistical analysis, Indian economist Utsa Patnaik concludes that China’s death rate rose from 12 per thousand in 1958 (a historically low figure resulting from land reform and the extension of basic medical services throughout the country) to a peak of 25.4 per thousand in 1960. “If we take the remarkably low death rate of 12 per thousand that China had achieved by 1958 as the benchmark, and calculate the deaths in excess of this over the period 1959 to 1961, it totals 11.5 million. This is the maximal estimate of possible ‘famine deaths.’”36
Patnaik observes that even the peak death rate in 1960 “was little different from India’s 24.8 death rate in the same year, which was considered quite normal and attracted no criticism.” This is an important point. Malnutrition was at that time a scourge throughout the developing world (sadly it remains so in some parts of the planet). China’s history is rife with terrible famines, including in 1907, 1928 and 1942. It is only in the modern era, under the leadership of precisely that ‘monstrous’ CPC, that malnutrition has become a thing of the past in China.
In other words, the failure of the GLF has been cynically manipulated by bourgeois academics to denigrate the entire history of the Chinese Revolution. The GLF was not some outrageous crime against humanity; it was a legitimate attempt to accelerate the building of a prosperous and advanced socialist society. It turned out not to be successful and was therefore dropped.
In the aftermath of the GLF, Mao’s more radical wing of the CPC leadership became somewhat marginalised, and the initiative fell to those wanting to prioritise social stability and economic growth over ongoing class struggle. Principal among these were Liu Shaoqi (head of state of the PRC, widely considered to be Mao’s successor) and Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping. Liu, Deng, Chen Yun and Zhou Enlai put forward the concept of the Four Modernisations (in agriculture, industry, defence, and science and technology) which would come to constitute a cornerstone of post-Mao economic policy.
In the years that followed, Mao and a group of his close comrades began to worry that the deprioritisation of class struggle reflected an anti-revolutionary ‘revisionist’ trend that could ultimately lead to capitalist restoration. As Mao saw it, revisionist elements were able to rely on the support of the intelligentsia – particularly teachers and academics – who, themselves coming largely from non-working class backgrounds, were promoting capitalist and feudal values among young people. It was necessary to “exterminate the roots of revisionism” and “struggle against those in power in the party who were taking the capitalist road.”37
The Cultural Revolution started in 1966 as a mass movement of university and school students, incited and encouraged by Mao and others on the left of the leadership. Student groups formed in Beijing calling themselves Red Guards and taking up Mao’s call to “thoroughly criticise and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois ideas in the sphere of academic work, education, journalism, literature and art”.38 The students produced ‘big-character posters’ (dazibao) setting out their analysis against, and making their demands of, anti-revolutionary bourgeois elements in authority. Mao was enthusiastic, writing the students in support of their initiative: “I will give enthusiastic support to all who take an attitude similar to yours in the Cultural Revolution movement.”39 He produced his own dazibao calling on the revolutionary masses to “Bombard the Headquarters” – that is, to rise up against the reformers and “bourgeois elements” in the party.
These developments were synthesised by the CPC Central Committee, which in August 1966 adopted its Decision Concerning the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. “Although the bourgeoisie has been overthrown, it is still trying to use the old ideas, culture, customs and habits of the exploiting classes to corrupt the masses, capture their minds and endeavour to stage a comeback. The proletariat must do the exact opposite: it must meet head-on every challenge of the bourgeoisie in the ideological field and use the new ideas, culture, customs and habits of the proletariat to change the mental outlook of the whole of society. At present, our objective is to struggle against and overthrow those persons in authority who are taking the capitalist road, to criticise and repudiate the reactionary bourgeois academic ‘authorities’ and the ideology of the bourgeoisie and all other exploiting classes and to transform education, literature and art and all other parts of the superstructure not in correspondence with the socialist economic base, so as to facilitate the consolidation and development of the socialist system.”40
Thus the aims of the Cultural Revolution were to stimulate a mass struggle against the supposedly revisionist and capitalist restorationist elements in the party; to put a stop to the hegemony of bourgeois ideas in the realms of education and culture; and to entrench a new culture – socialist, collectivist, modern. The Cultural Revolution also marked a further escalation of the Sino-Soviet split, as the revisionist illness was considered to have a Soviet etiology (Liu Shaoqi, previously considered as Mao’s successor and now the principal target of the radicals, was labelled China’s Khrushchev). Li Mingjiang notes that, “throughout the Cultural Revolution, the Soviet Union was systematically demonised. Sino-Soviet hostilities reached an unprecedented level, as exemplified by Mao’s designation of Moscow as China’s primary enemy.”41
Han Suyin describes the chaotic atmosphere of the early days of the Cultural Revolution: “Extensive democracy. Great criticism. Wall posters everywhere. Absolute freedom to travel. Freedom to form revolutionary exchanges. These were the rights and freedoms given to the Red Guards, and no wonder it went to their heads and very soon became total licence.” In August 1966, “the simmering Cultural Revolution exploded in a maelstrom of violence… Mao had not reckoned that he would lose control of the havoc he had launched.”42
There was widespread disruption. Universities were closed. “Red Guards occupied and ransacked the Foreign Ministry, while most ambassadors were recalled to Beijing for political education. The British embassy was attacked, and the Soviet embassy was laid under siege by youthful Maoists for several months.”43
Many of those accused by the Cultural Revolution Group (CRG, a body of the CPC initially reporting to the Politburo Standing Committee but becoming the de facto centre of power) suffered horrible fates. Posters appeared with the slogan “Down with Liu Shaoqi! Down with Deng Xiaoping! Hold high the great red banner of Mao Zedong Thought.” Liu’s books were burned in Tiananmen Square – “they were declared to be poisonous weeds, yet they had been a mainstay of the theoretical construct which in Yen’an in 1945-47 had brought Mao to power.”44 He was expelled from all positions and arrested. “Liu had been repeatedly tortured and interrogated, confined to an unheated cell, and denied medical care. He died in November 1969, his remains surreptitiously cremated under a false name. His death was kept from his wife for three years, and from the public for a decade.”45
Peng Dehuai, former Defence Minister and the leader of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army’s operations in the Korean War, had been forced into retirement in 1959 after criticising the Great Leap Forward. Jiang Qing – Mao’s wife, and a leading figure in the CRG – sent Red Guards to Sichuan, where Peng was living. “A band of thugs burst into his house, seized him, and brought him to the capital, where he was thrown into prison. Peng was tortured and beaten more than a hundred times, his ribs were broken, his face maimed, and his lungs damaged. He was repeatedly dragged to criticism and struggle meetings.”46 He died in a prison hospital in 1974.
Even Premier Zhou Enlai, unfailingly loyal in spite of his quiet horror at the CRG’s extremism, didn’t escape unscathed: in November 1966, according to Han Suyin, he had a heart attack after 22 hours of being surrounded and shouted at by Red Guards.
Although Mao had only intended it to last for a few months, the Cultural Revolution only came to its conclusion shortly before Mao’s death in 1976, albeit with varying intensity – realising that the situation was getting out of control, in 1967 Mao called on the army to help establish order and re-organise production. However, the Cultural Revolution flared up again with the ascendancy of the ‘Gang of Four’ from 1972.
Historians in the capitalist countries tend to present the Cultural Revolution in the most facile and vacuous terms. To them, it was simply the quintessential example of Mao’s obsessive love of violence and power; just another episode in the long story of communist authoritarianism. But psychopathology is rarely the principal driving force of history. In reality, the Cultural Revolution was a radical mass movement; millions of young people were inspired by the idea of moving faster towards socialism, of putting an end to feudal traditions, of creating a more egalitarian society, of fighting bureaucracy, of preventing the emergence of a capitalist class, of empowering workers and peasants, of making their contribution to a global socialist revolution, of building a proud socialist culture unfettered by thousands of years of Confucian tradition. They wanted a fast track to a socialist future. They were inspired by Mao and his allies, who were in turn inspired by them.
Such a movement can get out of control easily enough, and it did. Mao can’t be considered culpable for every excess, every act of violence, every absurd statement (indeed he intervened at several points to rein it in), but he was broadly supportive of the movement and ultimately did the most to further its aims. Mao had enormous personal influence – not solely powers granted by the party or state constitutions, but an authority that came from being the chief architect of a revolutionary process that had transformed hundreds of millions of people’s lives for the better. He was as Lenin was to the Soviet people, as Fidel Castro remains to the Cuban people. Even when he made mistakes, these mistakes were liable to be embraced by millions of people. Han Suyin comments that “Mao was prone to making contradictory remarks, but each remark had the force of an edict.”47
The Cultural Revolution is now widely understood in China to have been misguided. It was “the most severe setback … suffered by the Party, the state and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic.”48 The political assumptions of the movement – that the party was becoming dominated by counter-revolutionaries and capitalist-roaders; that the capitalist-roaders in the party would have to be overthrown by the masses; that continuous revolution would be required in order to stay on the road to socialism – were explicitly rejected by the post-Mao leadership of the CPC, which pointed out that “the ‘capitalist-roaders’ overthrown … were leading cadres of Party and government organisations at all levels, who formed the core force of the socialist cause.”49 Historian Rebecca Karl posits that this post-Mao leadership in fact benefitted from the Cultural Revolution, in the sense that it became “the saviour of China from chaos.”50
Unquestionably the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution impeded the country’s development and brought awful tragedy to a significant number of people. What so many historians operating in a capitalist framework fail to understand is why, in spite of the chaos and violence of the Cultural Revolution, Mao is still revered in China. For the Chinese people, the bottom line is that his errors were “the errors of a great proletarian revolutionary.”51
It was the CPC, led by Mao and on the basis of a political strategy principally devised by him, that China was liberated from foreign rule; that the country was unified; that feudalism was dismantled; that land was distributed to the peasants; that the country was industrialised; that a path to women’s liberation was forged. British academic John Ross points out that, “in the 27 years between the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, life expectancy in China increased by 31 years – or over a year per chronological year… China’s rate of increase of life expectancy in the three decades after 1949 was the fastest ever recorded in a major country in human history.”52
The excesses and errors associated with the last years of Mao’s life have to contextualised within this overall picture of unprecedented, transformative progress for the Chinese people. The pre-revolution literacy rate in China was less than 20 percent. By the time Mao died, it was around 93 percent. China’s population had remained stagnant between 400 and 500 million for a hundred years or so up to 1949. By the time Mao died, it had reached 900 million. A thriving culture of literature, music, theatre and art grew up that was accessible to the masses of the people. Land was irrigated. Famine became a thing of the past. Universal healthcare was established. China – after a century of foreign domination – maintained its sovereignty and developed the means to defend itself from imperialist attack.
Hence the Mao as monster narrative has little resonance in China. As Deng Xiaoping himself put it, “without Mao’s outstanding leadership, the Chinese revolution would still not have triumphed even today. In that case, the people of all our nationalities would still be suffering under the reactionary rule of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism.”53 Furthermore, even the mistakes were not the product of the deranged imagination of a tyrant but, rather, creative attempts to respond to an incredibly complex and evolving set of circumstances. They were errors carried out in the cause of exploring a path to socialism – a historically novel process inevitably involving risk and experimentation.
Reform and opening up: the great betrayal?
From 1978, the post-Mao Chinese leadership embarked on a process of ‘reform and opening up’ – gradually introducing market mechanisms to the economy, allowing elements of private property, and encouraging investment from the capitalist world. This programme of socialism with Chinese characteristics posited that, while China had established a socialist society, it would remain for some time in the primary stage of socialism, during which period it was necessary to develop a socialist market economy – combining planning, the development of a mixed economy and the profit motive – with a view to maximising the development of the productive forces.
Deng Xiaoping, who had been one of the most prominent targets of the Cultural Revolution and who had risen to become de facto leader of the CPC from 1978, theorised reform and opening up in the following terms: “Marxism attaches utmost importance to developing the productive forces… [The advance towards communism] calls for highly developed productive forces and an overwhelming abundance of material wealth. Therefore, the fundamental task for the socialist stage is to develop the productive forces. The superiority of the socialist system is demonstrated, in the final analysis, by faster and greater development of those forces than under the capitalist system. As they develop, the people’s material and cultural life will constantly improve… Socialism means eliminating poverty. Pauperism is not socialism, still less communism.”54
Was this the moment the CPC gave up on its commitment to Marxism? Such is the belief of many. For supporters of capitalism, the idea that China ‘ascended’ to capitalism from 1978 onwards is a validation of their own ideology; China was socialist and poor, and then became capitalist and rich. This view is near-universal among mainstream economists. Even the well-known Keynesian Jeffrey Sachs, who is both politically progressive and friendly towards China, considers that the key turning point in Chinese history was not 1949 but 1978: “After nearly 140 years of economic and social strife, marked by foreign incursions, domestic rebellions, civil wars, and internal policy blunders of historic dimensions, China settled down after 1978 to stable, open, market-based production and trade.”55
On the other hand, for many on the left (particularly in the West), 1978 marked a turning point in the wrong direction – away from socialism, away from the cause of the working class and peasantry. The introduction of private profit, the decollectivisation of agriculture, the appearance of multinational companies and the rise of Western influence: these added up to a historic betrayal and an end to the Chinese Revolution.
The consensus view within the CPC is that socialism with Chinese characteristics is a strategy aimed at strengthening socialism, improving the lives of the Chinese people, and consolidating China’s sovereignty. Although China had taken incredible steps forward since 1949, China in 1978 remained backward in many ways. The bulk of the population lived a very precarious existence, many without access to modern energy and safe water. China’s per capita income was $210. Food production, and consequently average food consumption, was insufficient. “An estimated 30 percent of rural residents, about 250 million, lived below the poverty line, relying on small loans for production and state grants for food.”56 The low per capita income figure is deceptive in the sense that the poor in China had secure access to land and housing – by which measure they were doing much better than most of their counterparts in the developing world; nonetheless the vast majority were genuinely poor.
Meanwhile the capitalist world was making major advances in science and technology, and the gap in living standards between China and its neighbours was growing sufficiently wide as to threaten the legitimacy of the CPC government. Chinese economist Justin Yifu Lin notes that, at the time of the founding of the PRC, there was only a relatively small per capita income gap between China and its East Asian neighbours. “But by 1978 Japan had basically caught up with the United States, and South Korea and Taiwan, China, had narrowed the income gap with developed countries. China, although boasting a complete industrial system, an atomic bomb, and a man-made satellite, had a standard of living a far cry from that of the developed world.”57
In Guangdong, the southern province bordering Hong Kong, many were fleeing because, in the words of Hua Guofeng (Mao’s chosen successor as head of the CPC), “Hong Kong and Macao were wealthy and the PRC was poor.” The leadership simply decided to “change the situation and make the PRC wealthy.”58
Opening up to foreign capital, learning from foreign technology, and integrating into the global market would allow for a faster development of the productive forces. Export manufacturing would allow China to build up sufficient hard currency to acquire technology from rich countries and improve productivity. Foreign capital would be attracted by China’s virtually limitless pool of literate and diligent workers.
All this was highly unorthodox compared to the experience of the socialist world up to that point (with some partial exceptions, such as Yugoslavia and Hungary). Deng Xiaoping’s strong belief was that, unless the government delivered on a significant improvement in people’s standard of living, the entire socialist project would lose its legitimacy and therefore be in peril. Assessing that China was around 20 years behind the advanced countries in science and technology, he stated: “When a backward country is trying to build socialism, it is natural that during the long initial period its productive forces will not be up to the level of those in developed capitalist countries and that it will not be able to eliminate poverty completely. Accordingly, in building socialism we must do all we can to develop the productive forces and gradually eliminate poverty, constantly raising the people’s living standards… If we don’t do everything possible to increase production, how can we expand the economy? How can we demonstrate the superiority of socialism and communism? We have been making revolution for several decades and have been building socialism for more than three. Nevertheless, by 1978 the average monthly salary for our workers was still only 45 yuan, and most of our rural areas were still mired in poverty. Can this be called the superiority of socialism?”59
Interestingly, this sentiment contains echoes of Mao in 1949: “If we are ignorant in production, cannot grasp production work quickly … so as to improve the livelihood of workers first and then that of other ordinary people, we shall certainly not be able to maintain our political power: we shall lose our position and we shall fail.”60
Marx wrote in volume 3 of Capital that “the development of the productive forces of social labour is capital’s historic mission and justification. For that very reason, it unwittingly creates the material conditions for a higher form of production.”61 The vision of the CPC leadership was to replace “unwittingly” with “purposefully”: using capital, within strict limits and under heavy regulation, to bring China into the modern world.
Rather than selling out to capitalism, reform and opening up is better understood as a return to the policies of the New Democracy period. The CPC has always been adamant that what China is building is socialism, not capitalism – “it is for the realisation of communism that we have struggled for so many years… It was for the realisation of this ideal that countless people laid down their lives.”62 The basic guiding ideology of the CPC has not changed in its century of existence, as was summed up succinctly by Xi Jinping: “Both history and reality have shown us that only socialism can save China and only socialism with Chinese characteristics can bring development to China.”63
In borrowing certain techniques and mechanisms from capitalism, China is following a logic devised by the Bolsheviks during the New Economic Policy, using markets and investment to stimulate economic activity, whilst maintaining Communist Party rule and refusing to allow the capitalist class to dominate political power. As Lenin put it in 1921: “We must not be afraid of the growth of the petty bourgeoisie and small capital. What we must fear is protracted starvation, want and food shortage, which create the danger that the working class will be utterly exhausted and will give way to petty-bourgeois vacillation and despair. This is a much more terrible prospect.”64
Modern China has gone much further than the NEP, in the sense that private property is not limited to “the petty bourgeoisie and small capital”; there are some extremely wealthy individuals and companies controlling vast sums of capital. And yet their political status is essentially the same as it was in the early days of the PRC; their existence as a class is predicated on their acceptance of the overall socialist programme and trajectory of the country. As long as they are helping China to develop, they are tolerated. Even in 1957, with socialist construction in full swing, Mao considered that “the contradiction between the working class and the national bourgeoisie comes under the category of contradictions among the people… In the concrete conditions of China, this antagonistic contradiction between the two classes, if properly handled, can be transformed into a non-antagonistic one and be resolved by peaceful methods.”65
The reform strategy has been undeniably successful in terms of alleviating poverty and modernising the country. Economist Arthur Kroeber notes that workers’ wages have increased continuously, pointing out that, in 1994, a Chinese factory worker could expect to earn a quarter of what their counterpart in Thailand was earning; just 14 years later, the Chinese worker was earning 25 percent more than the Thai worker.66 Jude Woodward writes that per capita income in China doubled in the decade from 1980, “whereas it took Britain six decades to achieve the same after the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century and America five decades after the Civil War.”67
The combination of planning and ever-rising productivity has created a vast surplus, which has been used partly to “orchestrate a massive, sustained programme of infrastructure construction, including roads, railways, ports, airports, dams, electricity generation and distribution facilities, telecommunications, water and sewage systems, and housing, on a proportional scale far exceeding that of comparable developing countries, such as India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.”68
The fundamental difference between the Chinese system and capitalism is that, with capital in control, it would not be possible to prioritise the needs of the working class and peasantry; China would not have been able to achieve the largest-scale poverty alleviation in history. Deng understood this: “Ours is an economically backward country with a population of one billion. If we took the capitalist road, a small number of people in certain areas would quickly grow rich, and a new bourgeoisie would emerge along with a number of millionaires — all of these people amounting to less than one per cent of the population — while the overwhelming majority of the people would remain in poverty, scarcely able to feed and clothe themselves. Only the socialist system can eradicate poverty.”69
In adapting its strategy in accordance with new realities and a sober assessment of the past, the CPC was following the same principle it had always stood for: to seek truth from facts and to develop a reciprocal relationship between theory and practice. In Mao’s words, “the only yardstick of truth is the revolutionary practice of millions of people.”70 The CPC’s experience in practice was that “having a totally planned economy hampers the development of the productive forces to a certain extent.”71 Its leaders therefore conjectured that a combination of planning and markets would “liberate the productive forces and speed up economic growth.” This hypothesis has been proven correct by material reality. As John Ross puts it, “China’s extraordinary success during reform and opening up was based on adherence to Marxist theory and is the largest possible scale vindication of the Marxism in the framework of which reform and opening up was developed.”72
No Great Wall
Reform and opening up wasn’t purely a correction of earlier mistakes; it was also a response to changing objective circumstances; specifically, a more favourable international environment resulting from the restoration of China’s seat at the United Nations (1971) and the rapprochement between China and the US. Thomas Orlik, chief economist at Bloomberg Economics, correctly observes that, “when Deng Xiaoping launched the reform and opening process, friendly relations with the United States provided the crucial underpinning. The path for Chinese goods to enter global markets was open.”73 So too was the door for foreign capital, technology, and expertise to enter China – first from Hong Kong and Japan, then the West. Zhou Enlai reportedly commented at the time of then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s historic visit to Beijing in 1971 that “only America can help China to modernise.”74 Even allowing for Zhou’s legendary diplomatic eloquence, this statement nevertheless contains an important kernel of truth.
Mao and Zhou had seen engagement with the US as a way to break China’s isolation. The US leadership saw engagement with China as a way to perpetuate and exacerbate the division between China and the Soviet Union. (Everyone was triangulating; for its part, the Soviet leadership was hoping to work with the US to undermine and destabilise China.75) Regardless of the complex set of intentions, one key outcome of the US-China rapprochement in the early 1970s was that a favourable external environment was created in which a policy of ‘opening up’ could feasibly be pursued.
Deng was also not the first to recognise that the productive forces were undergoing historic changes in the West and that China would have to catch up. Zhou Enlai noted that “new developments in science are bringing humanity to a new technological and industrial revolution… we must conquer these new heights in science to reach advanced world standards.”76 Indeed it was Zhou that first conceptualised the Four Modernisations that Deng made the cornerstone of his strategy. Zhou talked in January 1975 – during his last major speech – of the urgent need to take advantage of the more peaceful and stable international context and “accomplish the comprehensive modernisation of agriculture, industry, national defence and science and technology before the end of the century, so that our national economy will be advancing in the front ranks of the world.”77
The economic take-off of the post-1978 period “would not have been possible without the economic, political and social foundations that had been built up in the preceding period”, in the words of the late Egyptian Marxist Samir Amin.78 Even with the disruption caused by the Cultural Revolution, the early period of socialist construction achieved “progress on a scale which old China could not achieve in hundreds or even thousands of years.”79 This is widely understood within China. Prominent economist Hu Angang writes that, by 1978, all children received an education, adult illiteracy had fallen from 80 percent to 33 percent, and basic healthcare was available to everyone. Industry had been built up from almost nothing. Meanwhile, “China succeeded in feeding one-fifth of the world’s population with only 7 percent of the world’s arable land and 6.5 percent of its water. China’s pre-1978 social and economic development cannot be underestimated.”80 This can be usefully compared with the same time period in India, which following independence from the British Empire in 1947 was in a similarly parlous state, with a life expectancy of 32. At the end of the pre-reform period in China, ie 1978, India’s life expectancy had increased to 55, while China’s had increased to 67. As John Ross elucidates, “this sharply growing difference was not because India had a bad record – as an increase of 22 years in life expectancy over a 31-year period graphically shows. It is simply that China’s performance was sensational – life expectancy increasing by 32 years in a 29-year chronological period.”81
Xi Jinping has observed that, although the two major phases of the People’s Republic of China are different in many ways, “they are by no means separated from or opposed to each other. We should neither negate the pre-reform phase in comparison with the post-reform phase, nor the converse.”82
The two major phases are both consistent with the CPC’s guiding philosophy and raison d’être. Both have played an invaluable role in China’s continuing transformation from a divided, war-torn, backward and phenomenally poor country in which “approximately one of every three children died within the first year of birth”83 to a unified, peaceful, advanced and increasingly prosperous country which is blazing a trail towards a more developed socialism.
In each stage of its existence, the CPC has sought to creatively apply and develop Marxism according to the prevailing concrete circumstances; always seeking to safeguard China’s sovereignty, maintain peace, and build prosperity for the masses of the people. Through many twists and turns, this has been a constant of a hundred years of Chinese Revolution.
Carlos Martinez is the author of The End of the Beginning: Lessons of the Soviet Collapse, co-founder of No Cold War and co-editor of Friends of Socialist China. He also runs the blog Invent the Future.
This article was produced by Invent the Future.
If Democratic voters fail to turn out for California’s upcoming recall election, the nation’s most populous, and arguably most liberal, state could end up with a right-wing extremist at its helm.
California’s Governor Gavin Newsom is facing a recall election that, up until recently, the Democratic Party had brushed off as a frivolous inconvenience. Now, just days before the election, vote-by-mail ballots have been sent to California’s 22 million active registered voters in a statewide off-year election that offers a bewildering array of nearly four dozen alternate choices to Newsom if he were to lose. Polls show that even in a state with a clear majority of voters identifying as Democratic, Newsom is in trouble.
It shouldn’t have turned out this way. Just a few years ago, Newsom was seen as a progressive superstar, elected in 2018 to lead the world’s fifth-largest economy after serving as mayor of San Francisco. These were the same midterm elections that saw progressive newcomers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and others elected to federal congressional seats in what was seen as a game-changing year for liberal politics and a worthy consolation prize to Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Democratic nomination loss.
Newsom’s campaign slogan, “Courage for a Change,” led political pundits to dub him the “next head of the California resistance.” He campaigned on ushering in a statewide Medicare for All or single-payer system and won the endorsement of the National Nurses United (NNU) as a result. A year before his win, Newsom addressed NNU members on the issue of health care, saying, “If we can’t get it done next year, you have my firm and absolute commitment as your next governor that I will lead the effort to get it done. We will have universal health care in the state of California.”
Nearly three years since Newsom took office, there is no whiff of Medicare for All in sight aside from a tabled bill, and a commission that Newsom appointed nearly two years ago. It seemed as though the fervent backer of single payer was no longer as enthusiastic about health care as he had appeared to be. As John Marty, writing for Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), said, “Newsom’s shifting position on single payer shows why voters become cynical.” Is it any wonder then that California’s Democratic voters are not as enthused to show up to the polls on September 14 even though most voters oppose the recall? One Republican analyst said, “Newsom doesn’t have to worry about the Democratic base voting for the recall.” Instead, “He has to worry about them not voting at all.”
True, the timing of the recall does not benefit the governor. Newsom’s unpopular positions on COVID-19 restrictions and perceived hypocrisy on safety measures are among the reasons why voters might want to punish him. Frankly, he hasn’t inspired voters enough to reward him with a “No” vote on the recall.
But, California’s liberal voters also likely do not want to see him replaced by a Republican, let alone a right-wing extremist. The GOP’s front-runner in the crowded field of alternates to replace Newsom is conservative celebrity talk radio host Larry Elder. Polls show roughly 18 percent of voters would choose Elder to replace Newsom. As with the 2020 presidential election, California progressives may once again find themselves in a position of having to choose a milquetoast Democrat in order to stave off an extremist Republican takeover.
Although 18 percent of the vote is not remotely close to democratically representative, by the bizarre rules of California recalls, Elder could still assume the governor’s seat if Newsom garners less than 50 percent support. In other words, even if Newsom wins 49.9 percent support and the “Yes on Recall” wins 50.1 percent, Newsom has lost. At that point, the alternate candidate with a plurality of votes will walk off with the prize. And that could be Elder with a mere 18 percent of the votes compared to Newsom’s 49.9 percent. If that sounds unconstitutional, as per numerous legal experts, it absolutely is.
Elder is the author of The Ten Things You Can’t Say in America, a book that inspired none other than Donald Trump’s former immigration adviser Stephen Miller, the director of Trump’s family separation horror show.
Indeed, the arguments published by recall supporters in the state voter guide use standard dog-whistle anti-immigrant arguments such as claiming that Newsom, “endorsed [laws that] favor foreign nationals, in our country illegally, over that of our own citizens,” and that he, “imposed sanctuary state status.” The recall election’s lead proponent Orrin Heatlie is a retired sheriff’s sergeant who in 2019 wrote a Facebook post saying, “Microchip all illegal immigrants. It works! Just ask Animal control.”
Given the racist forces behind the recall and the front-runner Elder’s political leanings, the California recall has become a microcosm of what many feared the 2020 presidential race would turn into: a Trumpian conservative hoping to govern the state by minority rule and prevailing over an uninspiring Biden-like moderate.
A recall effort to oust the governor has only ever succeeded once in California’s history. That was in 2003 when Republican challenger Arnold Schwarzenegger beat the Democratic incumbent Gray Davis. It seems as though the GOP must resort to undemocratic means to gain political power in the staunchly liberal state—similar to the federal-level modus operandi for the conservative party.
There is no doubt that a second term for Trump would have been an utter tragedy for the United States. The January 6 coup attempt was evidence enough of that. Similarly, there is no question that sticking it to the disappointing governor of California by not showing up to the polls would be a self-destructive move for liberals and progressives alike.
Whether it is anger at Newsom’s capitulation on progressive campaign promises or sheer voter ignorance and apathy matters little. A Democratic California state senator who is advocating against the recall worried that “folks seem distracted or unaware” about an election that could yield a Trump-like leader in California.
In spite of the deep disappointment over Newsom’s failures, there are many reasons to oppose a recall. At stake are some of Newsom’s executive actions on climate change that a Republican governor would surely overturn. Some worry that a Republican governor might get the chance to appoint a replacement for California Senator Dianne Feinstein if she retires or passes away in the next two years, which in turn would flip the U.S. Senate to GOP control. Feinstein is the nation’s oldest sitting senator.
Additionally, many fear Republican leadership in California would mean a rollback of voting rights as seen in states like Texas and Florida. And of course, given Elder’s anti-immigrant tendencies, a Newsom loss could spell doom for the state’s undocumented population.
Those who want to teach Newsom a lesson—and he surely deserves to be punished for his failure to live up to his progressive pledges—have a chance at judging him in next year’s gubernatorial race. If he wins the recall, he has one more year to make good on promises like Medicare for All. Then, come 2022, there will be an election based on direct democracy, rather than the whims of right-wing extremists hoping to game a flawed system.
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.
Days after the Taliban drove into Kabul on August 15, its representatives started making inquiries about the “location of assets” of the central bank of the nation, Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), which are known to total about $9 billion. Meanwhile, the central bank in neighboring Uzbekistan, which has an almost equivalent population of approximately 34 million people compared to Afghanistan’s population of more than 39 million, has international reserves worth $35 billion. Afghanistan is a poor country, by comparison, and its resources have been devastated by war and occupation.
The DAB officials told the Taliban that the $9 billion are in the Federal Reserve in New York, which means that Afghanistan’s wealth is sitting in a bank in the United States. But before the Taliban could even try to access the money, the U.S. Treasury Department has already gone ahead and frozen the DAB assets and prevented its transfer into Taliban control.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) had recently allocated $650 billion Special Drawing Rights (SDR) for disbursement around the world. When asked if Afghanistan would be able to access its share of the SDRs, an IMF spokesperson said in an email, “As is always the case, the IMF is guided by the views of the international community. There is currently a lack of clarity within the international community regarding recognition of a government in Afghanistan, as a consequence of which the country cannot access SDRs or other IMF resources.”
Financial bridges into Afghanistan, to tide the country over during the 20 years of war and devastation, have slowly collapsed. The IMF decided to withhold transfer of $370 million before the Taliban entered Kabul, and now commercial banks and Western Union have suspended money transfers into Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s currency, the Afghani, is in a state of free fall.
When Aid Vanishes
Over the last decade, Afghanistan’s formal economy struggled to stay afloat. Since the U.S.-NATO invasion of October 2001, Afghanistan’s government has relied on financial aid flows to support its economy. Due to these funds and strong agricultural growth, Afghanistan experienced an average annual growth rate of 9.4 percent between 2003 and 2012, according to the World Bank. These figures do not include two important facts: first, that large parts of Afghanistan were not in government control (including border posts where taxes are levied), and second, that the illicit drug (opium, heroin, and methamphetamine) trade is not counted in these figures. In 2019, the total income from the opium trade in Afghanistan was between $1.2 billion and $2.1 billion, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). “The gross income from opiates exceeded the value of the country’s officially recorded licit exports in 2019,” stated a February 2021 UNODC report.
During the past decade, aid flow into Afghanistan has collapsed “from around 100 percent of GDP in 2009 to 42.9 percent of GDP in 2020.” The official economic growth rate between 2015 and 2020 fell to 2.5 percent. The prospects for an increase in aid seemed dire in 2020. At the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, held in Geneva in November, the donors decided to provide annual disbursements rather than aid in four-year packages. This meant that the Afghan government would not be able to sufficiently plan their operations. Before the Taliban took Kabul, Afghanistan had begun to recede from the memory of those countries that had invaded it in 2001-2002.
A Country of Poverty
During the past 20 years, the United States government spent $2.26 trillion toward its war and occupation of Afghanistan. European countries spent nothing close to what the United States spent (Germany spent $19.3 billion by the end of 2018, of which $14.1 billion was to pay for the deployment of the German armed forces).
The money coming from all the donors into Afghanistan’s burgeoning aid economy had some impact on the social lives of the Afghans. Conversations with officials in Kabul over the years are sprinkled with data about increased access to schools and sanitation, improvements in the health of children and greater numbers of women in Afghanistan’s civil service. But it was always difficult to believe the numbers.
In 2016, Education Minister Assadullah Hanif Balkhi said that only 6 million Afghan children attended the country’s 17,000 schools, and not 11 million as reported earlier (41 percent of Afghanistan’s schools do not have buildings). As a result of the failure to provide schools, the Afghan Ministry of Education reports that the total literacy rate in the country was 43 percent in 2020, with 55 percent being the literacy rate for men and 29.8 percent being the literacy rate for women. Donors, aid agencies, and the central government officials produced a culture of inflating expectations to encourage optimism and the transfer of more funds. But little of it was true.
Meanwhile, it is shocking to note that there was barely any construction of infrastructure to advance basic needs during these 20 years. Afghanistan’s power company—Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS)--reports that only 35 percent of the population has access to electricity and that 70 percent of the power is imported at inflated rates.
Half of Afghanistan lives in poverty, 14 million Afghans are food insecure, and 2 million Afghan children are severely hungry. The roaring sound of hunger was combined—during these past 20 years—with the roaring sound of bombers. This is what the occupation looked like from the ground.
The Taliban’s Anti-Corruption Crusade
In a 2013 New York Times article, a U.S. official said, “The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States.” Dollars flowed into the country in trunks to be doled out to politicians to buy their loyalty. Contracts to build a new Afghanistan were given freely to U.S. businessmen, many of whom charged fees that were higher than their expenditure inside Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, who fled into exile hours before the Taliban took control of Kabul, took office making a lot of noise about ending corruption. When he fled the country, press secretary of the Russian embassy in Kabul Nikita Ishchenko told RIA Novosti, his people drove four cars filled with money to the airfield. “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,” according to a Reuters report. Corruption at the top spilled down to everyday life. Afghans reported paying bribes worth $2.25 billion in 2020—37 percent higher than in 2018.
Part of the reason for the Taliban’s rapid advance across Afghanistan over the course of the past decade lies in the failure of the U.S.-NATO-backed governments of both Hamid Karzai (2001-2014) and Ashraf Ghani (2014-2021) to improve the situation for Afghans. Surveys regularly found Afghans saying that they believed corruption levels were lower in Taliban areas; similarly, Afghans reported that the Taliban would run schools more effectively. Within Afghanistan, the Taliban portrayed themselves as more efficient and less corrupt administrators.
None of this should allow anyone to assume that the Taliban have become moderate. Their agenda regarding women is identical to what it was at its founding in 1994. In 1996, the Taliban drove into Kabul with the same argument: they would end the civil war between the mujahideen, and they would end corruption and inefficiency. The West had 20 years to advance the cause of social development in Afghanistan. Its failure opened the door for the return of the Taliban.
The United States has begun to cut off Afghanistan from its own money in U.S. banks and from financial networks. It will use these means to isolate the Taliban. Perhaps this is a means to force the Taliban into a national government with former members of the Karzai-Ghani governments. Otherwise, these tactics are plainly vindictive and will only backfire against the West.
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.