Catastrophe in Afghanistan: U.S. Wrecks Another Country Thinking It’s Playing the ‘Great Game'. By: John PilgerRead Now
As a tsunami of crocodile tears engulfs Western politicians, history is suppressed. More than a generation ago, Afghanistan won its freedom, which the United States, Britain and their “allies” destroyed.
In 1978, a liberation movement led by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) overthrew the dictatorship of Mohammad Daoud, the cousin of King Zahir Shar. It was an immensely popular revolution that took the British and Americans by surprise.
Foreign journalists in Kabul, reported the New York Times, were surprised to find that “nearly every Afghan they interviewed said [they were] delighted with the coup.” The Wall Street Journal reported that “150,000 persons… marched to honor the new flag… the participants appeared genuinely enthusiastic.”
The Washington Post reported that “Afghan loyalty to the government can scarcely be questioned.” Secular, modernist and, to a considerable degree, socialist, the government declared a program of visionary reforms that included equal rights for women and minorities. Political prisoners were freed and police files publicly burned.
Under the monarchy, life expectancy was 35; one in three children died in infancy. Ninety percent of the population was illiterate. The new government introduced free medical care. A mass literacy campaign was launched.
For women, the gains had no precedent; by the late 1980s, half the university students were women, and women made up 40 percent of Afghanistan’s doctors, 70 percent of its teachers and 30 percent of its civil servants.
So radical were the changes that they remain vivid in the memories of those who benefited. Saira Noorani, a female surgeon who fled Afghanistan in 2001, recalled:
“Every girl could go to high school and university. We could go where we wanted and wear what we liked… We used to go to cafes and the cinema to see the latest Indian films on a Friday… it all started to go wrong when the mujahedin started winning… these were the people the West supported.”
For the United States, the problem with the PDPA government was that it was supported by the Soviet Union. Yet it was never the “puppet” derided in the West, neither was the coup against the monarchy “Soviet backed,” as the American and British press claimed at the time.
President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, later wrote in his memoirs: “We had no evidence of any Soviet complicity in the coup.”
In the same administration was Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s national security adviser, a Polish émigré and fanatical anti-communist and moral extremist whose enduring influence on American presidents expired only with his death in 2017.
On July 3, 1979, unknown to the American people and Congress, Carter authorized a $500 million “covert action” program to overthrow Afghanistan’s first secular, progressive government. This was code-named by the CIA Operation Cyclone.
The $500 million bought, bribed and armed a group of tribal and religious zealots known as the mujahedin. In his semi-official history, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward wrote that the CIA spent $70 million on bribes alone. He describes a meeting between a CIA agent known as “Gary” and a warlord called Amniat-Melli:
“Gary placed a bundle of cash on the table: $500,000 in one-foot stacks of $100 bills. He believed it would be more impressive than the usual $200,000, the best way to say we’re here, we’re serious, here’s money, we know you need it… Gary would soon ask CIA headquarters for and receive $10 million in cash.”
Recruited from all over the Muslim world, America’s secret army was trained in camps in Pakistan run by Pakistani intelligence, the CIA and Britain’s MI6. Others were recruited at an Islamic college in Brooklyn, New York—within sight of the doomed Twin Towers. One of the recruits was a Saudi engineer called Osama bin Laden.
The aim was to spread Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia and destabilize and eventually destroy the Soviet Union.
In August 1979, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul reported that “the United States’ larger interests… would be served by the demise of the PDPA government, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan.”
Read again the words above I have italicized. It is not often that such cynical intent is spelled out as clearly. The United States was saying that a genuinely progressive Afghan government and the rights of Afghan women could go to hell.
Six months later, the Soviets made their fatal move into Afghanistan in response to the American-created jihadist threat on their doorstep. Armed with CIA-supplied Stinger missiles and celebrated as “freedom fighters” by Margaret Thatcher, the mujahedin eventually drove the Red Army out of Afghanistan.
Calling themselves the Northern Alliance, the mujahedin were dominated by warlords who controlled the heroin trade and terrorized rural women. The Taliban were an ultra-puritanical faction, whose mullahs wore black and punished banditry, rape and murder but banished women from public life.
In the 1980s, I made contact with the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, known as RAWA, which had tried to alert the world to the suffering of Afghan women. During the Taliban time they concealed cameras beneath their burqas to film evidence of atrocities, and did the same to expose the brutality of the Western-backed mujahedin. “Marina” of RAWA told me, “We took the videotape to all the main media groups, but they didn’t want to know. …”
In 1996, the enlightened PDPA government was overrun. The president, Mohammad Najibullah, had gone to the United Nations to appeal for help. On his return, he was hanged from a streetlight.
“I confess that [countries] are pieces on a chessboard,” said Lord Curzon in 1898, “upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world.”
The viceroy of India was referring in particular to Afghanistan. A century later, Prime Minister Tony Blair used slightly different words.
“This is a moment to seize,” he said following 9/11. “The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder this world around us.”
On Afghanistan, he added this: “We will not walk away [but ensure] some way out of the poverty that is your miserable existence.”
Blair echoed his mentor, President George W. Bush, who spoke to the victims of his bombs from the Oval Office: “The oppressed people of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America. … As we strike military targets, we will also drop food, medicine and supplies to the starving and suffering…”
Almost every word was false. Their declarations of concern were cruel illusions for an imperial savagery “we” in the West rarely recognize as such.
In 2001, Afghanistan was stricken and depended on emergency relief convoys from Pakistan. As the journalist Jonathan Steele reported, the invasion indirectly caused the deaths of some 20,000 people as supplies to drought victims stopped and people fled their homes.
Eighteen months later, I found unexploded American cluster bombs in the rubble of Kabul which were often mistaken for yellow relief packages dropped from the air. They blew the limbs off foraging, hungry children.
In the village of Bibi Maru, I watched a woman called Orifa kneel at the graves of her husband, Gul Ahmed, a carpet weaver, and seven other members of her family, including six children, and two children who were killed next door.
An American F-16 aircraft had come out of a clear blue sky and dropped an Mk 82 500-pound bomb on Orifa’s mud, stone and straw house. Orifa was away at the time. When she returned, she gathered the body parts.
Months later, a group of Americans came from Kabul and gave her an envelope with 15 notes: a total of $15. “Two dollars for each of my family killed,” she said.
The invasion of Afghanistan was a fraud. In the wake of 9/11, the Taliban sought to distance themselves from Osama bin Laden. They were, in many respects, an American client with which the administration of Bill Clinton had done a series of secret deals to allow the building of a $3 billion natural gas pipeline by a U.S. oil company consortium.
In high secrecy, Taliban leaders had been invited to the United States and entertained by the CEO of the Unocal company in his Texas mansion and by the CIA at its headquarters in Virginia. One of the deal-makers was Dick Cheney, later George W. Bush’s vice president.
In 2010, I was in Washington and arranged to interview the mastermind of Afghanistan’s modern era of suffering, Zbigniew Brzezinski. I quoted to him his autobiography in which he admitted that his grand scheme for drawing the Soviets into Afghanistan had created “a few stirred-up Muslims.”
“Do you have any regrets?” I asked.
“Regrets! Regrets! What regrets?”
When we watch the current scenes of panic at Kabul’s main international airport, and listen to journalists and generals in distant TV studios bewailing the withdrawal of “our protection,” isn’t it time to heed the truth of the past so that all this suffering never happens again?
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Recently, People’s World published an article in which the author, Andrew Wright, criticizes OnlyFans, a popular pornography platform, for banning some forms of sexual content. Wright forgoes a Marxist position of the sex trade, and instead, espouses a neoliberal line on the topic, claiming “sex work is work,” in defence of preserving the industry. In Wright’s worldview, the ruling class is pitted against those dependent upon the sex trade for survival, viewing them as social pariahs rather than an asset for mass capital accumulation. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In this piece, I argue that the ruling class continues to profit off of a sex industry which needs to abolished and only uses regulation as an afterthought to cover their tracks.
The article begins by vagueley reporting on the recent developments of OnlyFans, an online platform where content creators sell private content, mostly pornography, to subscribers. In an update to the terms of service for content creators, OnlyFans officially banned some sexually explicit content on the platform in an attempt to shift the company’s brand to one similar to Patreon or other fan-based subscription services. While they are specifically banning image and video content which include masturbation, penetrative and oral sex, and prescence of bodily fluids, other forms of nudity and sexual content are still allowed. The reason for this, as cited by Wright, is “mounting pressure from banking partners.”
While it is true that financial institutions are applying pressure, they and digital pimps such as OnlyFans, view the issue of hosting sexually explicit content as more of a financial or legal liability, rather than a moral one. Wright conveniently omits the reason why financial insitutions are hesitant to continue ties with sex trade startups, corporations, and monopolies, such as OnlyFans, PornHub, and it’s parent enterprise, MindGeek. These companies openly and commonly host sexually explicit content of minors, revenge porn, filmed rape, and other forms of real world sex trafficking. Further, it is still impossible to get age or consent verifications on the more “tame” media. Getting caught profiting off of more explicit sexual exploitation creates legal and investing difficulties for the growing company. Their inability, or more frankly, unwillingness, to regulate content is a testament to their business model: perpetuating harm in exchange for short-term profit.
Fortunately, sustained pressure from organizers can sometimes force regulation. For example, in December of 2020, PornHub scrubbed all unverified content (millions of videos and 80% of PornHub’s total content) from the site only after lawsuits by dozens of victims, backed by campaigns such as #TraffickingHub, were filed. The ensuing bad publicity caused partnering companies Visa, Discover, and Mastercard to take cover and pull out.
Wright poses this contradiction as one of conservative vs. liberal moralism rather than one of capital accumulation. For example, the idea that social stigma is the main perpetrator of harm against participants of the sex trade implies that moral repositioning of society will improve their conditions. In reality, Western society, specifically directed by men, increasingly encourages women towards sexual liberalism. Yet in the process, the social objectification of women, mass rape culture, and commodification of sex worsen. No matter what moral position they claim to take, it is understandably easier to ban sexual content completely as an appeal to future investors than it is for them to do the impossible task of regulating digital content for age and consent verification.
The Sex Work Pyramid Scheme
OnlyFans accumulated over $2 billion dollars in sales in 2020 alone, raking in 20% of the income of all of their content creators---most of whom were women pushed into the sex trade during the global pandemic. Tim Stockely, son of a banker and owner of OnlyFans, stated that in May 2020, the site was onboarding 7,000-8,000 new content creators and 150,000 new users per day, expanding by 615% in one year. The company utilizes it’s top content creators to propagandize for the platform in the style of multi-level-marketing schemes, otherwise known as pyramid schemes. Those facing poverty are told that they can easily make a living by becoming a “sex worker”. For each new content creator onboarded, the referrer is awarded 5% of the new content creator’s revenue. Like in every pyramid scheme, only those at the apex are profitable. In a now over-saturated market of tens of thousands of women vying for survival, the average income of an OnlyFans content creator is only $180 per month.
“Sex work is work” is typically circulated as blind rhetoric in response to complicated contradictions and shared as a common sense truth among academic and reformist activist circles. It intentionally obscures the basis upon which the sex trade is perpetuated, primarily upon the backs of the most marginalized in society. As pointed out by revolutionary communist and sex trade survivor Esperanza Fonseca,
The question of whether sex work is work was framed to fuse the interests of the sex worker with the industry. The problem, of course, is that this fusion is entirely superficial because the prostitute’s interests are diametrically opposed to that of the pimp and the buyer. “Sex work is work” then becomes more about protecting the interests of the sex industry and less about protecting women forced and coerced into prostitution. (The problem with the phrase “sex work is work”, 2020)
She points out that the question we should instead be asking is, “what is the commodity bought and sold and what effect does this commodification have on women and LGBT people in our class?” Communists should, on principle, oppose all forms of exploitation and seek to transform society, rather than capitulating to capitalist industry. That so-called socialists seek to normalize and defend sex exploitation is a grave situation to be in. Blanket phrases such as “sex work is work” serve to obscure and flatten the exploitation inherent in the reification of bodies, sex, and relationships.
The Communist Tradition
Self-proclaimed pro-sex trade socialists like Andrew Wright refuse to acknowledge that the sex trade itself exists upon the nexus of capitalism and patriarchy, and should in no way be defended as an institution. They abandon the decades-long communist analysis against sex exploitation and financial coercion in favor of neoliberal feminist talking points, as correctly pointed out by comrades at Midwestern Marx. In recent decades, the Western left has increasingly sided with capitalists on the topic of the sex trade. Even the slightest critique of the sex industry is seen as an attack upon the workers themselves. In no way should the ruling class be viewed as sharing in our interests as workers, nor should they be considered our saviors.
Instead of aligning ourselves with corporate pimps such as OnlyFans and Pornhub, it is the duty of revolutionaries to assess the sex industry on a materialist basis. We know that the vast majority of those in the sex trade do not wish to remain there. Funding and providing exit programs and support systems for people to be able to exit the sex trade and stay exited should be prioritized. Legislative policies that decriminalize the exploited while not protecting their exploiters (pimps, johns, and capitalists) should also be a top priority. Pro-sex trade leftists rarely, if ever, acknowledge this necessity---even in a global pandemic.
Unlike under capitalism where women’s bodies are commodified, Bolshevik revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai explains:
Under communism all dependence of women upon men and all the elements of material calculation found in modern marriage will be absent. Sexual relationships will be based on a healthy instinct for reproduction prompted by the abandon of young love, or by fervent passion, or by a blaze of physical attraction or by a soft light of intellectual and emotional harmony. Such sexual relationships have nothing in common with prostitution [...]. Under communism, prostitution and the contemporary family will disappear. Healthy, joyful and free relationships between the sexes will develop. A new generation will come into being, independent and courageous and with a strong sense of the collective: a generation which places the good of the collective above all else. (Prostitution and ways of fighting it, 1921)
As socialists, we must view socialism as the pathway to the abolition of all forms of exploitation. I encourage all those who care about the lives of those in the sex trade to abandon their liberalism and adopt the communist line against the institutions of capitalism and patriarchy, and against sex exploitation of all forms.
Brigid Ó Coileáin is an NYC-based communist organizer, educator, and sex trade abolitionist. She is a founder and host of the Probably Cancelled podcast, a project that challenges mainstream liberal ideology and analyses feminism from a revolutionary Marxist perspective. In following the lineage of Alexandra Kollontai, Thomas Sankara, and Anuradha Ghandy, her work aims to unite the struggles of class and sex/gender-based oppression.
New ornate streetlights add charm and ambience to Knoxville, Tennessee, even as they help the city dramatically slash energy consumption and save millions of taxpayer dollars each year.
These high-tech lights last for years, require almost zero maintenance and provide better illumination than the old models, leading one grateful official to say they “raised the bar and changed the game” for a city seeking a brighter future.
The United Steelworkers (USW) launched a weeklong bus tour on August 16 to call for historic investments in America’s infrastructure and to underscore the importance of using union-made materials and products, like the lights Knoxville installed, for these much-needed rebuilding projects.
The multistate event, part of the union’s “We Supply America” campaign, included a stop at Holophane’s plant in Newark, Ohio. There’s where members of USW Locals 525T, 4T and 105T manufacture lighting products that not only illuminate Knoxville and other cities but also help to preserve vital supply chains across the economy.
“We pretty much light the world,” said Local 525T President Steve Bishoff, noting he and his coworkers also supply state highway departments, shipping terminals, sewer authorities, energy facilities and military installations, along with numerous industries in the U.S. and overseas. “All the glass is made right here.”
Bishoff strongly supports President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which would modernize the country and supercharge the economy with long-overdue investments in roads, water systems, communications networks and other infrastructure. He views the Senate’s bipartisan passage of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill on August 10 as an important step in achieving this progress and wants the House to quickly get to work on its own legislation.
However, he knows that these bold investments will deliver the maximum benefits for America’s economy and security only if union workers lead the way.
An infrastructure program with domestic procurement requirements “would bring more jobs here,” Bishoff said, noting upgrades to bridges, school buildings and other facilities would dramatically increase demand for Holophane’s products.
An influx of new workers would help the greater Newark community, he added, noting the USW’s contract provides good wages and benefits that enable his coworkers to lead middle-class lives and support local businesses.
He also has other important reasons for insisting that union workers drive the infrastructure upgrades.
Upgraded roads and other improvements will only be as strong and dependable as the materials that go into them. Union members have the skills and dedication to build infrastructure that will be safe to use and stand the test of time.
Officials in Knoxville, for example, chose lighting products made by Bishoff and his colleagues because of the reliability, brightness and safety they bring to streets, highways and other city-owned spaces.
Similarly, the Tennessee Valley Authority chose Holophane’s union-made products to ensure the efficient operation of a gas plant crucial for power needs. And the ports of Los Angeles and Seattle installed Holophane’s lighting systems to maximize safety and productivity at two of the nation’s biggest shipping terminals.
One port official in Seattle noted that the new lights turned darkness into daylight. That’s the kind of compliment Bishoff and his colleagues often hear.
“It’s kind of a long process,” Bishoff, who’s worked at the plant for 44 years, said of the mixing, curing and craftsmanship that go into their top-quality production. “It takes teamwork to do it.”
Shortages of face masks, hand sanitizer and other critical goods during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the withered state of American manufacturing and exposed gaping holes in the nation’s supply chains.
Carrying out infrastructure improvements with union-made components will help to sustain companies like Holophane, where Bishoff and his coworkers manufacture the kinds of items the nation relies on every day. But Biden’s plan will also stimulate additional manufacturing capacity throughout the economy and help to fill out supply chains, ensuring the nation never again has to rely on imported goods needed for everyday life or emergencies.
It’s essential that America maintain the capacity to produce lenses, bulbs and light fixtures for highways, tunnels, airports and shipping terminals. It’s just as critical that the U.S. be able to supply the raw materials, manufacture parts and assemble finished products for numerous other infrastructure and industrial uses.
The USW launched its “We Supply America” campaign to shine a light on the highly skilled union workers who are eager to deliver new infrastructure, a more powerful economy and stronger national security.
In addition to Newark, the bus tour includes stops at Cleveland-Cliffs steel mills in Indiana and West Virginia, a Goodyear tire factory in Virginia and Corning’s optical-fiber plant in North Carolina.
USW members like those at Cleveland-Cliffs produce the steel that America relies on not only for bridges, school buildings and drinking-water systems but also for shopping centers, athletic complexes and a vast array of consumer goods. Union workers at Goodyear and similar companies make the tires that keep passenger vehicles and tractor-trailers rolling, while also powering the cranes, graders and other heavy equipment essential for construction work.
And USW members at Corning turn glass into optical fiber that’s the brains of cutting-edge broadband systems that help to connect Americans to business and educational opportunities.
“It’s nice to be part of this,” Bishoff said of a union workforce that powers so much of the nation’s economy.
Now, America has an unprecedented opportunity to harness that skill and passion to build not only better infrastructure but also a stronger, more prosperous country.
“It would be good for everyone,” Bishoff said.
This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.
On August 15, 2021, Afghan president Mohammad Ashraf Ghani made an inglorious exit from Afghanistan. In the words of Russian Embassy spokesman in Kabul Nikita Ishchenko: “the collapse of the regime…is most eloquently characterized by the way Ghani fled Afghanistan. Four cars were full of money, they tried to stuff another part of the money into a helicopter, but not all of it fit. And some of the money was left lying on the tarmac.”
Sitting safely in the United Arab Emirates, he has busied himself with public relations damage control. “Do not believe whoever tells you that your president sold you out and fled for his own advantage and to save his own life…These accusations are baseless... and I strongly reject them…I was expelled from Afghanistan in such a way that I didn't even get the chance to take my slippers off my feet and pull on my boots.”
Many high-ranking individuals have strongly disagreed with Ghani’s attempted dignification of his dishonorable escapade. On August 18, 2021, Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi called on Interpol to arrest him for “selling out the motherland.” On the same day, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Tajikistan told a news conference that Ghani “stole $169m from the state coffers” and called his flight “a betrayal of the state and the nation”.
Ghani’s opportunistic behavior stands in stark contrast to the principled stand taken by Afghanistan’s last left-wing president - Mohammad Najibullah. After assuming power in 1986, he followed a policy of national reconciliation, looking for a political resolution to the proxy war raging in his country. A unilateral ceasefire with the jihadists was proposed and posts were offered to the insurgents in a coalition government.
In an attempt to create a broad-based state, mujahedeen leaders, the former king Zahir Shah and ex-ministers from previous governments were invited to join a government of national unity “to rebuild the war-torn country”. Parliamentary elections in April 1988; a non-party candidate, Mohammad Hassan Sharq, was elected prime minister and 62 parliamentary seats were left vacant for the opposition.
Addressing the UN General Assembly in June 1988, Najibullah stated that the “flexibility of the present leadership of Afghanistan also includes its decision to give up monopoly on power, the introduction of parliament on the basis of party competition and granting of all political, social and economic rights and privileges to those who are returning.”
Significant headway was made in reaching peace accords with local warlords. In 1988, 160 guerrilla commanders had reached agreements and more than 750 were negotiating. An attitude of domestic concord was consistently maintained. On March 2, 1989, Najibullah told Far Eastern Economic Review that all arms shipments to both sides be halted. “If it is said that we get help from the Soviet Union, then let the arms supplies from both superpowers be cut to put an end to the war”.
Pro-imperialist propagandists had believed that Najibullah would fall within months, if not weeks, of the withdrawal of Soviet troops. However, his government continued to enjoy deep support in many parts of Afghanistan. When the Geneva Accords were being signed, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) - to which Najibullah belonged - claimed a membership of 250,000. Its organizational branches had a combined membership of 750,000. Afghans preferred government-controlled cities over the mujahedeen-dominated refugee camps in Pakistan, or in Iran.
On the military front, the PDPA survived without Soviet intervention. As the last of the Soviet troops were crossing the Amu Darya River, Washington and its faithful auxiliaries withdrew their embassies from Kabul. Shortly, the mujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar predicted that “Kabul will fall in weeks, not months, without any major onslaught on the city”.
Najibullah defied the hopes of imperialists. Norm Dixon writes: “The contras and Washington expected wholesale defections of the Afghan armed forces to the mujahedeen. It was not to be. As with Jalalabad and Kandahar, two cities which had been being successfully defended solely by Afghan troops for several months without Soviet troops, Kabul too would hold out.”
The PDPA government’s success in promoting internal stability was suddenly undermined by the 1991 collapse of the USSR. While Soviet military supplies to the Afghan government witnessed an abrupt blockage, American arms and funds continued to flow to the jihadists. Najibullah’s resignation became the sine qua non for any meaningful discussion.
Consequently, on March 18, 1992, Najibullah announced he would resign as soon as an authority could be designated to replace him. Emboldened by these developments, General Abdul Rashid Dostum army’s broke its pact of aggression with Kabul to band together with General Ahmad Shah Massoud in early 1992. On April 15 of the same year, non-Pashtun forces that had been allied to the government mutinied and took control of Kabul airport.
On April 16, 1992, Najibullah was present at the office of Benon V. Sevan - UN secretary-general’s personal representative in Afghanistan and Pakistan - along with the representatives of Pakistan and Iran. When informed of Pakistan’s offer to grant him political asylum at the Pakistan embassy in Kabul, he clarified:
“I said I would submit my resignation in pursuit of the UN peace plan if it would help to end hostilities, and if there would be no assault on Kabul. I warned you that if I announced my intention to resign before an interim government was in place that there would be a power vacuum. This is what is happening today. I fought these developments for three years; I knew what would happen. Once a power vacuum emerges, who will be responsible for law and order and security? Not only the honor and pride of Najibullah are at stake, but also the honor and pride of the UN. I will not go to Pakistan! That is no solution. I prefer to stay at the UN compound. The answer is the UN peace plan, and the Council of Impartials, which will take over as a transitional authority as soon as possible…I offered my resignation today as president of the Republic of Afghanistan, and as leader of the ruling Watan [Homeland] Party [PDPA’s new name, adopted in 1990]. The UN now has the responsibility to make its plan work. I am prepared to sacrifice myself if anyone tries to attack the UN premises, if that will help to bring peace to my country. I am willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
Referring to Iran and Pakistan - which had been funding different mujahedeen forces - he added, “I don’t trust you, you bastards! I would rather die than be protected by you. And besides, I don’t believe you will protect me.” Thus, for years, Najibullah remained isolated in a UN compound. On September 27, 1996, Taliban soldiers - after winning a bloody civil war with various mujahedeen factions and warlords - captured, tortured, and killed him, then hanged him in Ariana Square, outside the Presidential palace. A writer notes: “Najibullah…was left hanging from a Kabul lamp post with his genitals stuffed in this mouth. By such methods, the “civilised West” and its paid agents achieved their main objectives in...[Afghanistan].”
Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His articles have been published in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and several countries of Latin America.
Biden’s Botched Withdrawal From Afghanistan Is Consistent With Two Decades of America’s Missteps There. By: Sonali KolhatkarRead Now
The criticisms against Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan are coming from all corners. But most are missing the point.
President Joe Biden is under a tremendous amount of pressure from his own Democratic Party and the liberal media establishment for daring to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan and allowing the country to fall back into the hands of the fundamentalist Taliban regime. Biden, in a statement on August 14, said, “One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country.” Just two days later, after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled and the Taliban stormed into the capital, Kabul, President Biden in a speech from the White House defiantly maintained that “there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” but was forced to admit that the Taliban resumed control of Afghanistan “more quickly than we had anticipated.”
Republicans predictably jumped on this demonstrable foreign policy failure, neglecting to mention that it was Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump who laid the groundwork for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and worked with the Taliban to do so. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expostulated, “This debacle was not only foreseeable, it was foreseen,” as if Trump would have done any better as a second-term president. Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an interview on Fox News with Chris Wallace chimed in, saying, “It looks like the Biden administration has just failed in its execution of its own plan,” even though of course the Democratic president was essentially carrying out Trump’s plan. The Republican National Committee has now deleted a page on its website that had celebrated Trump’s dealings with the Taliban, perhaps hoping no one would notice.
The corporate media was equally unforgiving of Biden. The Washington Post’s editorial board issued a scathing opinion blaming Biden for any future deaths, saying that the U.S. “assumed at least partial responsibility for all Afghans. Leaving them now means walking away from that responsibility.” The Post also worried about America’s global prestige, saying, “at risk is the United States’ reputation as a partner, as would-be allies around the world watch and calculate the value of an American commitment.”
In a similar vein, the New York Times’ Bret Stephens demanded to know, “What on earth was Joe Biden thinking—if, that is, he was thinking?” Like the Post, Stephens was deeply concerned about the nation’s reputation, asking, “What kind of ally is the United States?”
Such criticisms miss several glaring points. First, if a foreign military occupation made no progress toward democracy and human rights in 20 years, it is unlikely to do so in 20 more. Second, they are more concerned about the U.S.’s reputation as a global superpower (which is what the term “ally” really implies) than human lives. And third, although a majority of Americans once supported the Afghanistan War and occupation, today most Americans want the occupation to end.
Moreover, most critics of Biden’s botched exit from Afghanistan appear to have missed the fact that the entirety of the occupation has been flawed and led to the debacle of the Taliban’s resurgence. Biden’s missteps were apropos of the entire occupation. Every step of the way, the United States made the wrong choice, regardless of which president, Republican or Democrat, was in power, from George W. Bush’s decision to work with corrupt and violent warlords, to Barack Obama’s choice to validate the Taliban by being the first to engage in peace talks with the ostensible enemy forces.
Biden’s fellow Democrats also joined in the criticism against him but got much closer to the questions that really need to be asked about the disastrous turn of events in Afghanistan. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said, “I am disappointed that the Biden administration clearly did not accurately assess the implications of a rapid U.S. withdrawal.” More importantly, he made the astute observation that “We are now witnessing the horrifying results of many years of policy and intelligence failures.”
Even though the U.S.-backed Afghan government has been ineffectual and corrupt directly as a result of choices that successive administrations made over the years, the Biden administration could have chosen to coordinate more closely with the institution if only to ensure that billions of dollars of U.S.-bought weapons would not fall into Taliban hands. Instead, according to Associated Press, “the ultimate beneficiary of the American investment [in Afghanistan’s military] turned out to be the Taliban,” who “grabbed not only political power but also U.S.-supplied firepower—guns, ammunition, helicopters and more.”
To summarize, the U.S. went to war against Afghanistan in October 2001 in order to punish the Taliban and Al Qaeda for the September 11 terrorist attacks, spent nearly two decades fighting a “war on terror,” and ended up leaving its ostensible enemy empowered both politically and militarily. American taxpayers, who naively backed the invasion and occupation, spent trillions of dollars in a brutal decades-long exercise in futility that resulted in lost lives, a traumatized Afghan population and a renewal of the forces that terrorized them.
The Taliban couldn’t have asked for a better war.
It may be hard to believe that things could have been even worse under Trump. But if the former Republican president were in power now, it is likely we would be witnessing a similar situation but with even more violence. Former Secretary of State Pompeo in his Fox interview advised the Biden administration to “crush these Taliban who are surrounding Kabul,” adding, “We should do it with American airpower, we should put pressure on them, we should inflict cost and pain on them.” Past wars have demonstrated with striking reliability that such infliction of pain is never precise and always results in so-called “collateral damage,” a euphemism for civilian casualties. Trump had a proven penchant for using massive firepower with no regard for civilians, and with Pompeo offering him advice, we would likely have seen the same situation as we are seeing today but with the added horror of bombs falling on people attempting to flee the Taliban.
The Taliban’s takeover of Kabul is being likened by many to the fall of Saigon. Before the Afghanistan War, there was the Vietnam War. And there were many other wars during and before Vietnam and Afghanistan that garnered less attention. If there is a lesson that Americans as a nation ought to take away from these devastating militaristic exercises that consistently do more harm than good, it is to ensure we never again rally behind a desire to bomb, raid, occupy and militarily strike another nation. This means standing up to the liberal and conservative establishments that find a detached comfort in the cold calculus of warfare with no concern for life, safety, or democracy.
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.
Despite significant advances made by governments around the world in humanizing drug control systems since the turn of the century, human rights abuses still seem to be taking place in the course of enforcing drug prohibitions in recent years and, in some cases, have only gotten worse.
The United States continues to imprison hundreds of thousands of people for drug offenses and imposes state surveillance (probation and parole) on millions more. The Mexican military rides roughshod over the rule of law, disappearing, torturing, and killing people with impunity as it wages war on (or sometimes works with) the infamous drug cartels. Russia and Southeast Asian countries, meanwhile, hold drug users in “treatment centers” that are little more than prison camps.
A July virtual event, which ran parallel to the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, shined a harsh light on brutal human rights abuses by the Philippines and Indonesia in the name of the war on drugs and also highlighted one method of combating impunity for drug war crimes: by imposing sanctions.
The event, “SDG 16: The Global War on Drugs vs. Rule of Law and Human Rights,” was organized by DRCNet Foundation (a sister organization of the Drug Reform Coordination Network/StoptheDrugWar.org), a U.S.-based nonprofit in consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. The “SDG 16” refers to Sustainable Development Goal 16—Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions—of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Event organizer and DRCNet Foundation executive director David Borden opened the meeting with a discussion about the broad drug policy issues and challenges being witnessed on the global stage.
“Drug policy affects and is affected by many of these broad sustainable development goals,” he said. “One of the very important issues is the shortfall in global AIDS funding, especially in the area of harm reduction programs. Another goal—Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions—is implicated in the Philippines, where President [Rodrigo] Duterte was elected in 2016 and initiated a mass killing campaign admitted by him—although sometimes denied by his defenders—in which the police acknowledged killing over 6,000 people in [anti-drug] operations [since 2016], almost all of whom resisted arrests, according to police reports. NGOs put the true number [of those who were] killed at over 30,000, with many executed by shadowy vigilantes.”
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has proposed a formal investigation of human rights abuses in the Philippines drug war, but the court seems hampered by a chronic shortfall in funding, Borden pointed out.
“Former prosecutors have warned pointedly on multiple occasions of a mismatch between the court’s mission and its budget,” he said. “Recent activity at the conclusion of three different preliminary investigations shows that while the prosecutor in the Philippines moved forward, in both Nigeria and Ukraine, the office concluded there should be formal investigations, but did not [submit] investigation requests, leaving it [up to the] new prosecutors [to do so]. The hope is [that the ICC] will move as expeditiously as possible on the Philippines investigation, but resources will affect that, as will the [Philippine] government’s current stance.”
The government’s current stance is perhaps best illustrated by President Duterte’s remarks at his final State of the Nation address on July 26. In his speech, Duterte dared the ICC to “record his threats against those who ‘destroy’ the country with illegal drugs,” the Rappler reported. “I never denied—and the ICC can record it—those who destroy my country, I will kill you,” said Duterte. “And those who destroy the young people of my country, I will kill you, because I love my country.” He added that pursuing anti-drug strategies through the criminal justice system “would take you months and years,” and again told police to kill drug users and dealers.
At the virtual event, Philippines human rights attorney Justine Balane, secretary-general of Akbayan Youth, the youth wing of the progressive, democratic socialist Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party, provided a blunt and chilling update on the Duterte government’s bloody five-year-long drug war.
“The killings remain widespread, systematic, and ongoing,” he said. “We’ve documented 186 deaths, equal to two a day for the first quarter of the year. Of those, 137 were connected to the Philippine National Police, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, or the armed forces, and 49 were committed by unidentified assailants.”
The “unidentified assailants”—vigilante death squads of shadowy provenance—are responsible for the majority of killings since 2016.
“Of the 137 killed, 96 were small-time pushers, highlighting the fact that the drug war is also class warfare targeting small-time pushers or people just caught in the wrong place or wrong time,” Balane said.
He also provided an update on the Duterte administration’s response to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s June 14 decision concluding her preliminary examination of human rights abuses in the Philippine drug war with a request to the ICC to open a formal investigation into “the situation in the Philippines.”
In a bid to fend off the ICC, in 2020, the Philippine Justice Department announced it had created a panel to study the killings carried out by agents of the state—police or military—but Balane was critical of these efforts.
“[In the second half of 2020], the Justice Department said it had finished the initial investigations, but no complaints or charges were filed,” he said. “They said it was difficult to find witnesses [who were willing to testify about the killings], but [the victims’] families said they were not approached [by the review panel].”
The Justice Department is also undercutting the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, an independent constitutional office whose primary mission is to investigate human rights abuses, Balane pointed out.
“The Justice Department said the commission would be involved [in the investigation process by the panel], but the commission says [that the] Justice [Department] has yet to clarify its rules and their requests have been left unanswered,” Balane said. “The commission is the constitutional body tasked to investigate abuses by the armed forces, and they are being excluded by the Justice Department review panel.”
The Justice Department review is also barely scraping the surface of the carnage, Balane said, noting that while in May the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced they would be granting the review panel access to 61 investigations—which accounts for less than 1 percent of the killings that the government acknowledged were part of the official operations since 2016—the PNP has now decreased that number to 53.
“The domestic review by [the] Justice [Department] appears influenced by Duterte himself,” said Balane. “This erodes the credibility of the drug war review by the Justice Department, which is the government’s defense for their calls against international human rights mechanisms.”
The bottom line, according to Balane, is that “the killings continue, they are still systematic, and they are still widespread.”
In Indonesia—where, like Duterte in the Philippines, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) also declared a war on drugs in 2016—it is not only extrajudicial killings that are the issue but also the increasing willingness of the government to resort to the death penalty for drug offenses.
“Extrajudicial killings [as a result of] the drug war are happening in Indonesia,” said Iftitah Sari, a researcher with the Indonesian Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, who cited 99 extrajudicial killings that took place in 2017 and 68 that happened in 2018, with a big jump to 287 from June 2019 through June 2020. She also mentioned another 390 violent drug law enforcement “incidents” that took place from July 2020 through May 2021, of which an estimated 40 percent are killings.
“The problem of extrajudicial killings [in Indonesia] is broader than [just] the war on drugs; we [also] have the problem of police brutality,” Sari said. “Police have a very broad authority and a lack of accountability. There is no effective oversight mechanism, and there are no developments on this issue because we have no mechanisms to hold [the] police accountable.”
Indonesia is also using its courts to kill people. Since 2015, Sari reported, 18 people—15 of them foreigners—have been executed for drug offenses.
“In addition to extrajudicial killings, there is a tendency to use harsher punishment, capital punishment, with the number of death penalties rising since 2016,” she said.
Statistics Sari presented bore that out. Death penalty cases jumped from 22 in 2016 to 99 in 2019 and 149 in 2020, according to the figures she provided during the virtual event.
Not only are the courts increasingly handing down death sentences for drug offenses, but defendants are also often faced with human rights abuses within the legal system, Sari said.
“Violations of the right to a fair trial are very common in drug-related death penalty cases,” she said. “There are violations of the right to be free from torture, not [to] be arbitrarily arrested and detained, and of the right to counsel. There are also rights violations during trials, including the lack of the right to cross-examination, the right to non-self-incrimination, trial without undue delay, and denial of an interpreter.”
With authoritarian governments such as those in Indonesia and the Philippines providing cover for such human rights abuses in the name of the war on drugs, impunity is a key problem. During the virtual event’s panel discussion, Scott Johnston, of the U.S.-based nonprofit Human Rights First, discussed one possible way of making human rights abusers pay a price: imposing sanctions, especially under the Global Magnitsky Act.
That U.S. law, originally enacted in 2012 to target Russian officials deemed responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky in a Russian prison, was expanded in 2016 to punish human rights violators around the globe by freezing their assets and denying them visas to enter the United States.
“In an era [when]… rising human rights abuses and also rising impunity for committing those abuses [are]… a hallmark of what’s happening around the world, we see countries adopting these types of targeted human rights mechanisms [imposing sanctions] at a rate that would have been shocking even five or six years ago,” said Johnston. “Targeted sanctions [like the Global Magnitsky Act] are those aimed against specific individual actors and entities, as opposed to countrywide embargos,” he explained.
The Global Magnitsky program is one such mechanism specifically targeted at human rights abuses and corruption, and the United States has imposed it against some 319 perpetrators of human rights abuses or corruption, Johnston said. (The most recent sanctions imposed under the act include Cuban officials involved in repressing recent protests in Cuba, corrupt Bulgarian officials, and corrupt Guatemalan officials.)
“We’ve seen a continued emphasis on using these tools in the transition to the Biden administration, with 73 cases [of sanctions having been reported] since Biden took office,” he noted.
And it is increasingly not just the United States.
“The U.S. was the first country to use this mechanism, but it is spreading,” Johnston said. “Canada, Norway, the United Kingdom, [and] the European Union all have these mechanisms, and Australia, Japan, and New Zealand are all considering them. This is a significant pivot toward increasing multilateral use of these mechanisms.”
While getting governments to impose targeted sanctions is not a sure thing, the voices of global civil society can make a difference, Johnston said.
“These are wholly discretionary and [it]… can be difficult to [ensure that they are]… imposed in practice,” he said. “To give the U.S. government credit, we have seen them really listen to NGOs, and about 35 percent of all sanctions have a basis in complaints [nonprofits]… facilitated from civil society groups around the world.”
And while such sanctions can be politicized, the United States has imposed them on allied countries, such as members of the Saudi government involved in the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi and in cases of honor killings in Pakistan, Johnston noted.
“But we still have never seen them used in the context of the Philippines and Indonesia.”
Maybe it is time.
Phillip Smith is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a drug policy journalist for more than two decades. He is the longtime writer and editor of the Drug War Chronicle, the online publication of the nonprofit Stop the Drug War, and was the editor of AlterNet’s coverage of drug policy from 2015 to 2018. He was awarded the Drug Policy Alliance’s Edwin M. Brecher Award for Excellence in Media in 2013.
This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
The pandemic-induced disruption of the global economy of neoliberal capitalism has strengthened the appeal of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). The fundamental idea of this policy prescription is that state spending, a national budget deficit, can be used to combat recession. Raising overall demand in a given country will facilitate a recovery insofar as there is the disposable productive capacity (unemployed workers, stocks of raw materials, machines working below capacity). These unused resources are mobilized by the additional purchasing power created by the budget deficit.
While governments generally fund their deficit spending by selling interest-bearing bonds and owing their debts to bondholders, MMT suggest that the central bank buy up these bonds with money that it has the power to create. In this way, the central bank becomes the one to whom the government owes money. Since no central bank has any need to insist on a government ever paying off a debt created with money it simply printed, the government debt to the central bank is of no real significance. Central bank money creation does not actually involve “printing money”; it involves an expansion of the figures in the electronically-recorded central bank balance sheet, and a corresponding growth in the bank account balances of the government.
A number of criticisms can be made of MMT. First, it is inapplicable to the poorer countries. MMT does not convincingly address the constraints upon fiscal deficit imposed by the financial markets, current account imbalances and exchange rates, thus making it mostly inapplicable in the context of a financially globalized, open economy. As Neville Spencer writes: “Printing money in countries with less favored currencies risks those currencies being dumped in preference to what are seen as more reliable currencies. This can potentially put the local currency into a hyperinflationary spiral. There are also governments that don’t have their own currency, such as members of the Eurozone. For them, MMT simply isn’t an option.”
Monetarily non-sovereign countries have open capital markets which are subject to the inflows and outflows of globally mobile “hot money” - financial capital that travels freely and quickly around the world looking to earn the best rate of return or to exploit interest rate differentials. Surges in hot money are associated with increased liabilities on the balance sheets of local borrowers, instability in exchange rates, and difficulties managing liquidity conditions. Such inflows can often lead to overvalued exchange rates, current account deficits, and rapid capital outflows, leaving local financial institutions and businesses with increasing debts that are hard to service and repay.
Within the confines of capitalism, a strong assertion of monetary independence by poorer countries would alarm the financial oligarchy, leading to an economic crisis. Capitalists would either move their money out of the country or carry out a strike of capital; the currency would become worthless, leading to rampant inflation - heavily impacting the real wages of workers. To bring an end to this turmoil, the government would be forced to hike up interest rates in order to attract investors, leading to a strong restriction on investments of capital in the productive economy. Now, most of the money the state would collect through the bonds would be used to repay the interest rather than to fund social welfare programs or public infrastructure. While proving to be catastrophic for the working class, this profit scheme would enrich bankers.
Even in the limited context of the US, which enjoys a great amount of latitude to pursue fiscally expansionary policies, thanks to the special status enjoyed by the dollar (“as good as gold”), there are institutional constraints on monetization of fiscal deficits imposed through the autonomy granted to the Federal Reserve vis-à-vis the Treasury. Second, while a sovereign state can generate simple fiat money in the domestic economy, this power is structurally circumscribed by the realities of production and exchange. While the state can create money, it cannot guarantee that this money has any value. Without a productive economy behind it, money is meaningless. Money, as the universal equivalent of the values of the commodities, is the counter-value of quantities of socially necessary labour.
This means that real value is created in production, as a result of the application of labour-power. As Fred Paterson - a popular Australian communist - succinctly put it:
“Some people think that all you have to do to solve the economic and money problem is to print money and keep on printing it, and everything will be satisfactory. I, for one, as a member of the Communist Party, suggest that is absurd…Everyone knows that no matter how much money you issue by the printing press you could not produce an extra gun or an extra tank, or an extra plane, or produce an extra bushel of wheat or maize, unless you have available resources of manpower and materials…On the basis of production we get the amount of goods and services at our disposal. Once we have the goods and services there is the question of the creation and issue of money: therefore, that is a secondary matter.”
The money that a state creates, therefore, will only be of any worth in so far as it reflects the value that is in circulation in the economy, in the form of the production and exchange of commodities. Where this is not the case, destabilizing inflation will set in. In other words, money-financed deficit spending is at best a temporary free lunch. Once the economy reaches full employment, taxes become necessary to restrain aggregate demand and prevent inflation. Even MMT proponents acknowledge this. In the words of Stephanie Kelton: “Can we just print our way to prosperity? Absolutely not! MMT is not a free lunch. There are very real limits, and failing to identify - and respect - those limits could bring great harm. MMT is about distinguishing the real limits from the self-imposed constraints that we have the power to change.”
Insofar government programs ultimately have to be paid for via taxes, an appropriate form of class politics needs to be developed for taxation. Tax outcomes are ultimately shaped by class conflict and depend on power relations, which in turn are determined by the economic mechanics of capitalism. Instead of paying adequate attention to these issues, prominent representatives of MMT spend their time convincing the rich that they don’t need to pay taxes. In 2019, Kelton wrote: “My wealthy friend doesn’t want to pay for your child care. He doesn’t want to help pay off your student loans. And he sure as heck doesn’t want to shell out the big bucks for a multi-trillion-dollar Green New Deal…consider what happens if we simply invest in programs to benefit the non-rich…without treating the super-rich as our piggy bank.”
Kelton’s pro-rich proclivity raises the following question: who must give up portions of their incomes so that we can meet collective needs? If income is expropriated from the working masses of taxpayers, the efficacy of deficit-financed government spending would decline as the propensity to consume is much higher for those with lower incomes. To avoid the negative effects of a pattern of distribution skewed toward top earners, the government can tax companies. Capitalists will primarily react to it by postponing investment. Furthermore, disposable wages can drop even if the government taxes firms, since firms can offload taxes onto prices, thus negatively affecting real wages. Hence, it is the state’s dependence on the private sector which erodes its economic power. As Costas Lapavistas and Nicolas Aguilla argue:
“[T]he state does not produce output and value (nationalised industries aside) and merely claims those of others. It is true…that the state can boost aggregate demand through its own expenditures and thus support, and even expand, the overall production of output and value. Yet, the creation of output and value also follows its own internal logic summed up by the profits of private producers, which depend on far more than aggregate demand…capitalism is about accumulation through the extraction of surplus-value in production. The state can protect and support accumulation by boosting aggregate demand but cannot direct accumulation without radical supply reforms”.
If the government increases the workers’ wages to counteract price increases, a cost-push inflationary spiral would be initiated, with money wages and prices chasing one another; this would inevitably happen because any increase in the “relative wage” - defined by Rosa Luxemburg as “the share that the worker’s wage makes up out of the total product of his labor” - cuts into the capitalist’s share of profits. If deficit-driven inflation is to be decelerated through the taxation of the bourgeoisie, then pricing of products cannot be left to capitalist enterprises (for that would cause a wage-price spiral). There must then be state intervention in the form of an incomes and prices policy. The state in such an economy must then not only carry out demand management; it must also engage in distribution management.
As is evident, the maintenance of monetary financing and an economy at near-full employment requires increasing intervention by the state which undermines the social legitimacy of the capitalist system and which therefore is impossible to sustain within the barriers of the capitalist system. When the unutilized capacity has been eliminated, governments wanting to sustain a people-centered economy have no other choice than to resolve such problems through radical measures, such as prices and incomes policies, nationalizations, workers’ management of factories etc. As Michal Kalecki said, if capitalism cannot maintain full employment, “it will show itself as an outmoded system which must be scrapped”.
It is important to note that the employment policies envisioned by MMT - employer of last resort (ELR) - are not up to the mark. According to the ELR scheme, the government should “buy up” any excess stock of workers by offering employment to “surplus” labour during downturns, so that the government effectively acts as an employer of last resort. Government-employed “stocks” of workers are then released to the private sector on demand, whenever the economy picks up. The buffer stock employment wage must be less that the private sector employment wage in order to avoid incentivizing buffer stock employment and thus effectively converting the public sector into an employer of first resort.
Through the decoupling of the hiring process from productivity and skill, ELR creates a population that is distinct from both public and private sector workers. Whereas public and private sector workers face a competitive job market and need to match their skills to a relevant job, ELR workers get hired on-the-spot to do work that is by its nature temporary and low-skill. The poor nature of these jobs means that the ELR population is ready and waiting to be hired by capitalists. In this way, a “reserve army of the employed” is created, which is made up of workers who, occupying a position in the working class separate from those who are employed in the private and public sector, constitute a threat to the traditionally employed.
As David Sligar states, “compared to the regular unemployed, participants in a job guarantee are more likely to be the sort of compliant job-ready eager beavers that are attractive to employers. Thus they pose a greater threat to those in employment than the unemployed when wage bargaining is underway.” In addition, the job guarantee pay rate is fixed - participants have no right to collectively bargain in the manner of conventional employees - so its effect on labour markets is same as an unemployment benefit. Summarizing these contradictions, Hugh Sturgess writes of an “impossible quadrilateral” which “expects the JG [job guarantee] to eliminate involuntary unemployment through jobs that are accessible to all regardless of skill, but are of social value, yet not currently done by the private or public sectors, and can be started and stopped at any time”.
To conclude, MMT remains hesitant to take the decision-making on investment and jobs out of the hands of the capitalist sector. As long as the bulk of investment and employment remains under the control of capitalism, government expenditure can’t be raised permanently since deficit-financed spending ultimately meets its limits in the contradictions at work in the sphere of private production. In the long run, the concentrated dominance of big business and private monopolies needs to be broken down if the effects of monetary financing are to be sustainably continued even after the exhaustion of unused resources. In short, MMT provides an anti-neoliberal opening but does not reach the socialist conclusion that a radical reconstitution of the system is not only desirable but necessary. As Sam Gindin says:
“At bottom, how societies determine the allocation of their labour and resources - who is in charge, what the priorities are, who gets what - rests on considerations of social power and corresponding values/priorities. Transforming how this is done is conditional on developing and organizing popular support for challenging the private power of banks and corporations over our lives and with this, accepting the risks this entails. Controlling the money presses is certainly an element in this, but hardly the core challenge.”
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.
Anti-Government Protests in Cuba Provoked by U.S. Embargo Has Right-Wingers Salivating at the Prospect of Regime Change. By: Carlos L. GarridoRead Now
The Washington Post featured this photo as an example of anti-government protests but it is clearly a pro-government rally in which the demonstrators are waving the Cuban flag in solidarity with the Cuban revolution. The man behind the flag in the baseball cap is Gerardo Hernandez, a well-known leader of the Committees in Defense of the Revolution and one of the Cuban 5, who spent 16 years in prison in the U.S., framed up for his work helping to stop terrorist attacks on Cuba. [Source: washingtonpost.com]
U.S. Media have played up the recent anti-government protests in Cuba as a harbinger of regime change and a reason for U.S. intervention
But they deceitfully hide the fact that anti-government protestors (funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the National Endowment for Democracy and CIA) number only a few hundred, whereas pro-government supporters—in defense of the revolution and opposed to U.S. intervention—have been flooding the streets, not by the hundreds, but by the hundreds of thousands
The July 11th protests in Cuba had the Cuban opposition salivating with the hope of once again being the benefactors of an American takeover of the island of 11 million.
As we have seen in the last couple of weeks, this has not been the case. On the contrary, the 17th of July saw more than 100,000 Cubans take the streets of el Malecón in defense of the revolution and against U.S. intervention.
There were also demonstrations in other provinces across the island, altogether dwarfing the U.S.-backed opposition hecklers of the previous week.
Nonetheless, the opposition protests, although insignificant in size and duration (in comparison to the pro-revolution assemblages), have provided fertile ground for Western media to perform their traditional role in setting the stage for the imperial war drums.
The war drums have been played, as Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and the Cuban exile community have urged the Biden administration, to implement a “humanitarian intervention,” one that does not take airstrikes off the table.
City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez joins Cuban exiles at a rally in front of the Versailles Restaurant in the Little Havana section of Miami on Sunday, July 11, 2021. [Source: peoplesworld.org]
Although a Biden administration pivot toward military intervention does not seem likely, Biden has sustained and expanded on the Trump aggression on Cuba. On July 22nd Biden implemented a series of new sanctions on Cuba and assured that “this is just the beginning.”
Whether this means military intervention is on the table is unknown, but what it confirms is that, without strong pressure from the American Left, his campaign promise to return to the Obama-era relationship with Cuba seems unlikely.
Although the July 11th protests, as Madea Benjamin and Leonardo Flores note, “pale in comparison, both in terms of turnout and in state repression, to mass mobilizations that have rocked Colombia, Haiti, Chile, Ecuador and other Latin American countries over the past few years—or even Portland, Oregon, or Ferguson, Missouri,” they are nonetheless the largest oppositional protests since the 1994 Maleconazo uprising during which Cuba was undergoing what it called el Período especial (the Special Period).
Scenes from 1994 Maleconazo uprising. [Source: translatingcuba.com]
Situating this event in its proper long- and short-term historical contexts is necessary to provide a holistic understanding of it. It is not sufficient merely to point to the Trump administration’s tightening of the blockade, even if we agree that such actions are what immediately generated recent events. Instead, we must understand the blockade itself historically. Only then can we know how and why it is effective.
Conditioned to Be Sweet
Although for centuries Havana was an important port for the Spanish empire, it was not until the 18th century that Cuba became the sugar hub of the world. Starting in 1763, the Cuban export economy was centered around sugar, a process it would sustain for the centuries to come. Forty years before the 1959 revolution “sugar accounted for 82% of Cuba’s export earnings.”
Cuban sugar mill in the 19th century. [Source: latinamericanstudies.org]
This historically determined sugar dependency shows how the ancestral fingers of colonialism created the precondition for the Cuban economy being at the whim of global sugar price fluctuations. Beyond this, the centuries-long monocropping of Cuba’s economy, coupled with the destructive industrial means through which this monocropping took place, has left Cuba, according to the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP), with “over three-quarters of its 6.6 million hectares of arable land affected by soil erosion.”
As the UNEP states, “The result is that Cuba imports 80 per cent of its food necessities at a cost of nearly two billion dollars a year—a heavy burden for any developing country, especially one that continues to suffer an ongoing economic embargo from a major world power.” In our globalized world every country is dependent on international trade for acquiring the basic necessities for its people.
Just think what would happen to the U.S., a country territorially about 90 times bigger than Cuba (with far greater soil biodiversity), if it were blocked from trading with the rest of the world and put into a commensurable position with the position it has put Cuba in. What would the material conditions in our country be like?
How would this trade limitation affect us in moments of crisis, when basic necessities are scant, and allocation is based on our market logic? If, under our current condition as the global hegemon, we have 42 million people experiencing food insecurity, the famines that would result if we were in Cuba’s shoes are unimaginable. Yet, no such famine has ever occurred in Cuba. Even in the toughest of times, rationing measures have allowed the population to get what it needs to survive.
The Cuban revolution did not come about in a void. Instead, it came about in a country shackled by centuries of plunder, having to face the results of forces that were already in the world before they were thrown into it. In this world, Cuba has international trade as an absolute imperative for its existence. The blockage of this capacity by the world’s largest empire represents a constant existential threat for the island.
Fidel Castro on horseback. [Source: isreview.org]
Early U.S. Imperialism and Pre-Revolutionary Cuba
In 1898 Cuba ended its century-long anti-colonial struggle against Spain and began its soon-to-be half-century anti-imperialist struggle against the U.S. which, with a sprinkle of yellow journalism, intervened in Cuba’s war against Spain.
For Cuba, this was not just a transition from one master to another. Instead, this transition marked a qualitative leap into a new stage of capitalism, one which Lenin, a couple of decades later, would describe as Imperialism.
From 1898 until the 1959 revolution, Cuba would be militarily occupied three times by the U.S. (1898-1902, 1906-1909, 1917-1922), including a continuous occupation since 1903 of the U.S.’s favorite torture spot, Guantanamo Bay.
Guantanamo Bay at time of U.S. conquest. [Source: time.com]
Nonetheless, even before the Cuban War of Independence, the U.S. was already engaging in practices that were making Cuba economically dependent on the U.S. For instance, in 1865, 65% of Cuba’s sugar exports were going to the United States. Cuba’s sugar dependency became inextricably linked to its ability to trade with the U.S.
After 1898 the U.S.-Cuba relationship transcended dependency and entered into complete political-economic supremacy by the U.S. over Cuba. U.S. companies had nearly total control over the central industries in Cuba. For instance, by 1920, 95% of the sugar industry’s harvest was controlled by U.S. investors.
A similar condition existed in other industries, “by the late ’50s, U.S. financial interests included 90 percent of Cuban mines, 80 percent of its public utilities, [and] 50 percent of its railways.” For a small percentage of Cubans, those who compose the first generation of exiles, this condition was a paradise: “In 1946, less than 1% of all Cuban farmers controlled 36% of the farmland, and 8% of the farmers controlled 70% of farmland.”
For the great majority of the population this was a wretched existence, where 93% of rural households lacked electricity, 85% lacked running water, 54% lacked an indoor or outdoor toilet, 96% lacked a refrigerator, and fewer than half of children were enrolled in school.
U.S. control of Cuba allowed the island to become a gangster’s paradise. Havana was the city of sin that would make modern-day Las Vegas look like it was owned by Puritans. A viewing of the classic film The Godfather II should remind one of pre-revolutionary Cuba and the Mafia-loving corruption of U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, who had killed about 20,000 Cubans by the time the revolution came to Havana.
It is in this context that the revolution arrived. As Cuban revolutionary folk singer Carlos Puebla said:
Here they thought they could
Carlos Puebla [Source: vintagemusic.fm]
The Revolution, the Blockade, and the Historical Toolbox of Imperialism
Shortly after the triumph of the revolution in 1959, the new revolutionary government would implement an agrarian reform which would distribute land amongst the campesinado and establish limitations for landholdings.
As a cherry on top, these reforms would offer compensation to the previous owners that was “fixed on the basis of its value on the municipal tax rolls prior to October 10, 1958.”
Cuban peasants who benefited from agrarian reform after the revolution. [Source: watershedsentinel.ca]
Similar expropriation conditions would be offered to U.S. and other foreign companies in Cuba under the 851, 890, and 891 laws. These en masse expropriations eventually led to the nationalization of all of Cuba’s central resources and industries, establishing conditions where for the first time Cuba would belong to Cubans.
Although a partial embargo (on arms) had already been imposed on Cuba in 1958, in the first couple of years after the revolution the U.S. sustained and expanded it. Each activity the revolutionary government would take to implement distributive measures was met with increased pressure from the expanding embargo. Such increased pressures would often be met with further expropriations.
For instance, the Eisenhower administration prohibited the transport of oil to Cuba, forcing the island to turn to the USSR for imports. Then, as a reaction to “Washington’s orders, multinational oil companies refused to refine the Soviet oil, leaving Cuba no choice but to nationalize the companies.” This back-and-forth culminated in the Kennedy administration’s full implementation of the blockade in 1962.
The Cuban revolution, from its inception, represented a grave threat to U.S. economic and political interest in the region. Such a rejection of U.S. hegemony existing right under the nose of the U.S. was unacceptable in Washington.
Thus, from the outset, the reasons for the blockade have been clear. As Lester Mallory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, wrote in 1960:
“Every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba. If such a policy [blockade] is adopted, it should be the result of a positive decision which would call forth a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”
Lester Mallory [Source: oncubanews.com]
In the same memorandum Mallory stated that “the majority of Cubans support Castro (the lowest estimate I have seen is 50 percent),” and there is “no effective political opposition.” Therefore, “the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.”
By removing Cuba’s historical and geographically natural trading partner and removing access to the planet’s largest economy to all countries which dared to trade with Cuba, the policy intended to “bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government” was in full swing.
Nonetheless, one would be wrong to consider the blockade the only method of force the U.S. has used against Cuba.
Instead, the last 60 years have shown that nothing is off the table, the toolbox of American imperialism is open to anything, from military attacks, attempted assassinations, biological warfare, and terrorism.
Some of these beyond-economic attacks on Cuba include: a) the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, squashed within three days; b) the 600+ CIA led unsuccessful attempts on Fidel’s life (some whose creativity is quite laughable); c) ten or so biowarfare attacks, most famously, as CAM reported, the 1971 CIA-orchestrated African Swine Fever virus spread; and d) the backing and funding of groups and individuals who partook in terrorist bombings, the cases of Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles are perhaps the best known, specifically the latter’s involvement in the 1976 bombing of Cubana Airline’s flight 455 which killed 73 people—both are celebrated figures of the Miami exile community.
Luis Posada Carriles [Source: wikipedia.org] Orlando Bosch [Source: nytimes.com]
As the 1962 Operation Northwoods shows, the U.S. government was considering orchestrating a “Communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington,” which “would be helpful in projecting the idea of an irresponsible government.”
Declassified document detailing plans to invade Cuba. [Source: upload.wikimedia.org]
Effectively, the consideration was to terrorize U.S. cities to delegitimize Cuba and justify a full fledged U.S. military intervention. This surface-level assessment of the beyond-economic forces used to topple the Cuban government shows that, for the U.S., the means through which regime change is sought are irrelevant.
Castro holds up newspaper documenting CIA plots to kill him. [Source: theguardian.com]
The policy of the U.S. toward Cuba, from the emergence of the revolution until now (with a slight variation during the Obama administration) has been the following: Cuban socialism must be overthrown by any means necessary.
Thus, over the last 60 years Cuba has not only been at the whim of the global market because of inherited colonial-era economic dependencies but, stemming from the breadth of the U.S. empire’s blockade and the variety of regime-change tactics used, it has also been dependent on the existence of a global counter-hegemonic force to American Imperialism. Until the mid-1980s the Soviet Union and the Socialist Bloc provided a global alternative that was necessary to ameliorate the effects of the blockade. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba was left to fend for itself outside of U.S.-dominated neoliberal capitalism.
Nonetheless, even under the difficulties of the Special Period, Cuba was able to remain a global beacon of hope and, through the devastating economic hardships, it was able to sustain a revolutionary and innovative spirit that kept it alive until solidarity arrived via the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998 and the subsequent “pink-tide” that swept across Latin America, creating the counter-hegemonic force that Cuba needed to re-stabilize itself.
Fidel and Hugo Chávez: resisting empire. [Source: pri.org]
It is a truly impressive feat that, even under such conditions as the ones Cuba suffered in the 1990s, it was still able to develop innovative and sustainable agricultural reforms which served as the precondition for its current state as the “most sustainable developed country in the world.”
Organic agriculture in Cuba. [Source: greenleft.org.au]
Obama, Trump, and the Pandemic
It would take 55 years from the triumph of the revolution for minimal positive change in the aforementioned U.S.-Cuba relationship to come about. In 2014, though sustaining the economic embargo, the Obama administration would begin normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, a process that was mediated with the help of Pope Francis.
This process, known as the Cuban Thaw, saw the easing of travel and export sanctions; the opening of a Cuban government bank account in the U.S., allowing it to free itself of the burden of having to handle financial affairs in cash; the removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of “state sponsors of terrorism”; mutual openings of embassies; Obama’s visit to Cuba, which was the first time a U.S. president had done so since Calvin Coolidge in 1928; and much more.
The Obamas deplane at Havana’s José Martí International Airport on historic visit. [Source: theguardian.com]
Although this normalization process was mutually beneficial, it was the partial easing of the 60-year-old blockade weight off Cuba’s back that was the most significant. Within a year of the initial moves toward normalization, Cuba would have one of the highest GDP growth percentages in all of Latin America.
With the election of Donald Trump and the backing he received from the Cuban exile community, the minimal advances of the Obama era were rolled back. Trump’s cancellation of the Obama policies toward Cuba included restricting travel to Cuba, banning the sending of remittances, reinstating Cuba to the list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” and implementing 243 new sanctions on the island.
Trump’s draconian policies won him praise among right-wing Cuban exiles in Miami. [Source: theconversation.com]
The effects of such measures cost Cuba $9.1 billion between April and December of 2020, a number which rises to about $1,300 billion when accounting for the six decades-long blockade and the dollar’s depreciation against the value of gold in the global market.
It is also important to note that the tightening of the blockade on Cuba comes at a time when its largest trading partner, Venezuela, is also facing dire conditions thanks to a similar blockade and various regime-change efforts.
Protesters in Miami demand end to U.S. embargo of Cuba. [Source: cubanmoneyproject.com]
Although an analysis of U.S. imperialism in Venezuela is beyond our scope, it is important to note that a central reason why the tightening of the blockade has been so effective in crippling Cuba also has to do with the pre-established and continued imperial policy against Cuba’s central allies.
While Trump’s maximum pressure strategy toward Cuba was effective in causing economic distress on the island, the emergence of the pandemic would intensify these hardships. The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for every country in the world.
In the U.S. millions have lost their jobs, employer-based health insurance, and more than 600,000 have lost their lives. Cuba has had to endure the blockade, the pandemic (resulting in the closing of the border and the commensurate losses to the tourism industry), and the U.S.’s exploitation of the pandemic to increase pressure for regime change.
The combination of the pandemic and the blockade has created a situation where, over the last year and a half, the Cuban government has struggled to procure the basic medical necessities to treat the virus.
For instance, in April 2020, with the pandemic in full swing, the U.S. blocked Cuba’s ability to buy ventilators. In the same month the U.S. would block a shipment of coronavirus aid to Cuba coming from the Jack Ma Foundation. Similar events have occurred throughout the pandemic.
Nonetheless Cuba, as the country with the most doctors per capita, has sent volunteer doctors all over the world to help countries deal with the pandemic. For these efforts the U.S. and its media puppets have produced unsubstantiated allegations of the doctors’ missions as “forced labor” and has urged its allies to refuse Cuban medical aid.
Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who expelled Cuban doctors, quickly begged for their return, as their departure left Brazil’s medical system in egregious condition.
Cuban doctors arrive in Italy to help fight COVID-19. [Source: theconversation.com]
However, the world has not been fooled by these preposterous allegations. For its courageous internationalism which has saved countless lives around the world, the Henry Reeve Brigade, named after an American who fought and died in the first Cuban revolutionary war with the army of liberation, has created a movement for it to receive the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize.
On the 23rd of June, the United Nations General Assembly voted on a resolution concerning the U.S.’s embargo on Cuba. As CAM reported, the result was clear: 184 countries voted in favor of lifting the embargo, 2 (U.S. and Israel) voted against.
This decision marks the 29th consecutive year that the General Assembly has called for an end to the U.S.’s economic, commercial and financial embargo on Cuba. For 29 years the U.S. has been ignoring the near unanimous will of the world and has continued, as Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla stated, a blockade that, “like the virus… asphyxiates and kills.”
This systematic rejection of international will is at the core of the material conditions that led to the events of July 11th.
The policies of the blockade and its intermingling with the conditions of the pandemic have led Cuba to a state where, months before the protests, shortages in various areas arose. As Cuban President Díaz-Canel stated in his speech on the day of the protests:
“This whole situation [blockade + pandemic] caused a situation of shortages in the country, especially of food, medicines, raw materials and supplies to be able to develop our economic and productive processes that at the same time contribute to exports. Two important elements are cut off: the ability to export and the ability to invest resources. And from the productive processes, to then develop goods and services for our population.”
These shortages, manifested through the annoyance of long lines, power outages, and rationing, ensure a quantitative and cumulative process of dissatisfaction.
The U.S. Capitalist media seizes on this dissatisfaction to further indict Cuba’s socialist economy, ignoring the impact of the U.S. blockade and long war on Cuba.
Further ignored is the fact that Cuba, despite a syringe deficit and vaccination slowdown, has produced 5 vaccine candidates, two (Abdala and Soberana) of which have already been shown to be safe and effective.
Man gets vaccine on outskirts of Havana in May. [Source: peoplesworld.com]
Overlooking the Underlying Source of Malaise
Like in Plato’s allegory of the cave, the July 11th anti-government protesters are capable of seeing only the immediacy of the shadows. In a world limited to only seeing the government’s role in rationing, discourse on the blockade sounds as irrational as the escaped slave explaining to the others what it’s like outside the cave.
Nonetheless, the misguided upheavals were not simply the spontaneous expression of a genuine opposition grounded and influenced solely by the Cuban situation. In these upheavals there exists an externally added variable which organized, funded, and facilitated these rabble-rousings as yeast does to water and flour when baked.
This external variable is the decades-long U.S. funding of the Cuban opposition and its anti-government propaganda media outlets under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which allowed television broadcasting from the U.S. into Cuba and also tightened the embargo and permitted Cubans who had become U.S. citizens to sue in U.S. courts anyone who had purchased property once belonging to them in Cuba but was confiscated by the regime after the revolution.
Tracey Eaton, founder of the Cuba Money Project, has found that, between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)—the CIA’s two new fronts—and the U.S. State Department, more than $1 billion has been given to Cuban opposition groups and media, both within Cuba and in the Cuban exile community.
Los Aldeanos received NED funds. [Source: concerty.com]
Recently, the San Isidro Movement—whose joint work with Gente de Zona in the song “Patria y Vida” has become the token expression of the recent protests—has been shown to be heavily funded by the NED and USAID. As Max Blumenthal writes,
“Leading members of the San Isidro Movement have raked in funding from regime-change outfits like the National Endowment for Democracy and U.S. Agency for International Development while meeting with State Department officials, U.S. embassy staff in Havana, right-wing European parliamentarians and Latin American coup leaders from Venezuela’s Guaidó to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro.”
In the era of woke intersectional imperialism, this afro-Cuban “movement” has been the perfect token for the regime-change goons.
Altogether, the uprisings on July 11th have not only had their source in the difficulties created by the combination of the blockade and the pandemic, but also in a heavily funded opposition which was intentionally created by the U.S. to channel the natural distress of the politically unconscious into the streets to protest the government.
It is important to note that the orchestration of the protests by U.S.-funded agents takes place a few weeks after yet another near unanimous vote against the blockade in the United Nations. The protests and the media treatment of it (examined below) help redeem the blockade-justifying narrative of the “Cuban police state” pushed by the U.S. at a time when international opinion is unanimously against the blockade.
People Fail to Come Out
Nonetheless, what is impressive here is how, with the combination of the blockade, pandemic, and U.S.-funded opposition and propaganda campaigns, so few Cubans were at the protests.
Considering the breadth of public and covert tactics used by U.S. imperialism, it has been a laughable defeat to see that all its efforts and spending was only able to materialize into a few thousand hecklers in the streets for less than a day.
These protesters quickly disappeared, given that shortly after Díaz-Canel told revolutionaries to hit the streets. Tens of thousands of them did so—chanting “these are Fidel’s streets,” “I am Fidel, I am Díaz-Canel,” “Homeland or Death,” while waving Fidel portraits and the black and red 26th of July Movement flags—dwarfing the anti-government groups.
Protesters carry Che Guevara banners in support of the Cuban revolution in July. [Source: reuters.com]
The MVP (most valuable player) of the July 11th protest must be awarded to the media. Both mainstream and social media coverage of the protests tossed any shred of journalistic integrity aside and showed themselves for what they really are—lapdogs of the American empire whose sole function is to manufacture consent for wars and plunder abroad.
By ignoring the blockade, the U.S.’s exploitation of the pandemic, and the U.S.’s role in funding and organizing the opposition, the media were able to spin the myth that a majority of Cubans were protesting a repressive, one-party dictatorship.
For anyone familiar with the structure of Cuba’s participatory democracy, these “dictatorship” allegations are laughable, especially as they take place on the heels of the 2019 enactment of the citizen-drafted and massively supported socialist constitution.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel casts his vote during the referendum to approve the constitutional reform in Havana, Cuba, February 24, 2019. [Source: telesurenglish.net]
A critique of the audacity and hypocrisy liberal democracies in accusing Cuba of being undemocratic and repressive—governed in reality as dictatorships of capital—is beyond the scope of this essay.
Nonetheless, it is important to ask what standing a government with the largest incarceration rate in the world—with just 4.4% of the world’s population yet approximately 25% of the world’s prisoners—to talk about repression in Cuba?
Similarly, what standing does the government, whose elections are 91% determined by who can raise the most corporate money, have to talk about the problem of democracy in Cuba?
For the media’s coverage of the July 11th protests, nothing was off the table: From fake photos to twitter bots, everything was fair game. For instance, mainstream media outlets like the Guardian, Fox News, Boston Globe, Financial Times, Yahoo! News and NBC’s Today have used images from large pro-government demonstrations in previous years and claimed them to be from the July 11th protests. CNN also used a picture of a rally in Miami and titled it “Cubans Take to Streets in Rare Anti-Government Protest Over Lack of Freedoms, Worsening Economy.”
After public humiliation most of these outlets have removed these “errors,” but their intended effect remained. One must ask: Was this an issue of ignorance or willful action? It seems hard to miss the massive 26th of July Movement flags in the pro-government demonstrations. It also seems unlikely that one would miss the southwest Miami street signs and the red Make America Great Again hats in CNN’s images.
In the case of Fox News any claim of ignorance is preposterous: In its July 13th segment with Ted Cruz, in which he discussed the “bravery” depicted in the images of the protesters, the image that appeared on screen in that moment was of a pro-government rally where the words on the sign—“the streets belong to the revolutionaries”—were intentionally blurred and quickly replaced by a clip of a Miami rally in front of the famous Cuban-cuisine Versailles restaurant in the Little Havana section of the city.
The U.S.-funded Cuban opposition has also been effective in creating false narratives about the protests’ size, police repression, and claims about the destabilizing effect the protests have had on the government.
For instance, photos of mass protests and demonstrations in Washington, D.C. (2007), Egypt (2011) and Argentina (2021) have been used and described as Cuban anti-government protests.
This photo was actually taken during the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. [Source: verifythis.com]
To spark sentimentalism, the opposition has also used photos of an 11-year-old boy who was shot in the face in Caracas, Venezuela, and claimed that the Cuban police shot and killed him.
To intensify the narrative of “police repression,” the opposition has created Facebook groups dedicated to those allegedly lost after being kidnapped or killed by the Cuban police.
These claims have been shown to be false. Such was the case of Juan Carlos Charon, who was alleged to have been killed but who appeared in a phone call with Cubadebate to be quite alive and angry at his image’s tokenization by the Cuban opposition.
One of the most repulsive tactics used has been bribes. As exposed private messages have shown, the Cuban opposition has attempted to bribe Cubans with phone recharging points if they beat themselves up and then make a video claiming the police did it.
Furthermore, there have also been fabricated claims intended to produce the narrative that the government was losing power. For instance, claims were made that, in Camaguey, the “people” had seized power and kidnapped the first secretary of the province’s Communist Party.
This information was quickly disproven by images of thousands of pro-government demonstrators and with an interview conducted with the (supposedly kidnapped) first secretary of the party, who not only affirmed by his presence that he had not been kidnapped but also attested to the conditions in Camaguey as normal.
The opposition has also used a 2015 picture of Raul Castro exiting an airplane for the Third Summit of Latin American and Caribbean States in Costa Rica and declared he had fled to Venezuela because of the protests.
Photo of Raul Castro that was used to make the false claim that he had fled the country. [Source: twitter.com]
This misinformation campaign was made viral with the “Bay of Tweets” bot campaign. Days before the protests broke out in Cuba, the hashtag #SOSCUBA began to show up on Twitter. On the day of the protests the hashtag started trending thanks to thousands of newly created Twitter accounts that were retweeting it at speeds impossible for mere mortals.
Although a clear violation of Twitter’s “coordinated inauthentic behavior” rules, Twitter allowed the bot scheme to unfold, propelling an en masse campaign to distribute the sort of fabricated information discussed above. Concerning this bot campaign, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said he had “irrefutable proof that the majority of those that took part in this (internet) campaign were in the United States and used automated systems to make content go viral, without being penalized by Twitter.”
This would not be the first time the U.S. has used a social media bot campaign to push regime change, as Ben Norton noted last year when the same tactic was used to prop up the right-wing opposition in Bolivia, Venezuela, and Mexico. For instance, during the 2019 coup in Bolivia, there were 68,000 fake Twitter accounts made to support the coup.
For the U.S., as we have seen, the “by any means necessary” philosophy remains intact in its regime-change efforts in Cuba. The plot laid out more than 60 years ago by Lester Mallory continues today: Starve the population and agitate around their dissatisfaction.
Although new equipment has been added, the David and Goliath battle—a gigantic empire dripping in blood and dirt vs. a small, autonomous, socialist, and internationalist island 90 miles away—remains.
On July 23rd, an open letter entitled “Let Cuba Live,” signed by 400 prominent activists, scientists, intellectuals, and artists urging Biden to remove the criminal blockade on Cuba, appeared in The New York Times.
As folks living within the empire, now is not the time to criticize Cuba or measure its deficiencies against our ideals. Now is the time to stand in solidarity with the Cuban people and their revolution.
This requires doing everything in our power to push the Biden administration to end the blockade. The words of the late Howard Zinn ring as true as ever today—“you can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
Carlos L. Garrido is a philosophy graduate student and professor at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. His specialization is in Marxist philosophy and the history of American socialist thought (esp. early 19th century). He is an editorial board member and co-founder of Midwestern Marx and the Journal of American Socialist Studies.
This article was produced by Covertaction Magazine.
Díaz-Canel: Those with the Strength, the Energy and the Capacity are the Youth. By: Yaima Puig MenesesRead Now
An encouraging gathering marked by sincerity and commitment took place yesterday at the University of Havana, where the President of the Republic conversed for almost four hours with 100 young Cubans from different sectors of society
Photo: Estudios Revolución
The diversity, commitment and wealth of the ideas of Cuba’s youth were once again made clear at the historic University of Havana yesterday, August 5, during an honest, casual dialogue. The sun was just rising as 100 young Cubans gathered in the emblematic Cadenas Square waiting for a special guest: they had an appointment with the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee and President of the Republic, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez.
The group waiting included university students; teachers; farmers; health workers, service workers... and also self-employed, with representation not only of young people from the capital, but from all of Cuba.
This is how they were introduced by the first secretary of the National Committee of the Young Communist League, Aylín Álvarez García, beginning of the meeting, when she expressed her certainty that "we are who must contribute, transform, support, participate..."
The meeting provided an encouraging display of sincerity and commitment, as the President of the Republic conversed for almost four hours with those present, taking notes on the comments and proposals made by a variety of participants.
Concluding the dialogue, the President commented, "For me it is clear that there are a number of challenges in society, in life today, challenges to what we want to do... Those who have the strength, the energy and the capacity (to overcome the challenges) are young people - without denying anyone’s contribution, because here everyone must participate and we must give all generations their space - but the future lies in our youth.
"I am convinced of this... I believe in our youth," and there is always a task for the young, there is a task calling them, engaging them, because we know that if it is in your hands, it will be stronger, it will be more developed and it also engages you and provides you a space to participate, he said.
This article was produced by Granma.
The social landscape of the contemporary Third World is defined by the existence of the following classes: a super-exploited urban proletariat; a large peasantry; a landlord group; a white-collar petty bourgeoisie occupying administrative positions; and comprador capitalists closely aligned with multinational interests. China has attempted to delink from this system of dependency, pursuing a path of sovereign development, partially free from the criteria of economic rationality that emerges from the global domination of capitalism. This complex process has demanded the creation of a national economy based on the development of sectors aimed toward mass consumption and capital goods, which further means consolidating society’s productive forces – knowledge, technology, and machinery – for which education is important.
China’s steadfast construction of an independent project has come under criticism from bourgeois ideologists and sections of the Left. In both cases, “state capitalism” is used as a powerful tool in categorizing and hierarchizing the spaces of world politics, generating a simple narrative of competition between two easily identifiable protagonists – Western democratic free-market capitalism and its deviant “other”, Eastern authoritarian state capitalism. To dispel these misconceptions, we need to examine the specific character of this state capitalism to locate it within the multi-sided trajectory of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Mao Zedong once said: “Communists are Marxist internationalists, but Marxism must be realized through national forms. There is no such thing as abstract Marxism, there is only concrete Marxism. The so-called concrete Marxism is Marxism that has taken national form”. The nationalization of Marxism fundamentally involved the use of Vladimir Lenin’s ideas. Lenin recognized the impossibility of an immediate transformation from a backward, peripheral situation to full-blown socialism. Thus, he envisaged a series of phases, from petty-bourgeois capitalism and “War Communism”, through state capitalism, to socialism, during which elements of capitalism would remain.State capitalism was a transitional road to socialism, not an end in itself.
Lenin gave the examples of Germany after Bismarck’s reforms and Russia after the October Revolution to explain the historical specificity of state capitalism. In Germany, state capitalism was subordinated to “Junker-bourgeois imperialism”; in Russia, state capitalism was shaped by socialist imperatives. In April 1921, Lenin wrote: “Socialism is inconceivable without large-scale capitalist engineering based on the latest discoveries of modern science. It is inconceivable without planned state organisation which keeps tens of millions of people to the strictest observance of a unified standard in production and distribution…At the same time socialism is inconceivable unless the proletariat is the ruler of the state.”
In the same month, he elaborated:
“Of course, a free market means a growth of capitalism; there’s no getting away from the fact. And anyone who tries to do so will be deluding himself. Capitalism will emerge wherever there is small enterprise and free exchange. But are we to be afraid of it, if we have control of the factories, transport and foreign trade? Let me repeat what I said then: I believe it to be incontrovertible that we need have no fear of this capitalism…The Soviet government concludes an agreement with a capitalist. Under it, the latter is provided with certain things: raw materials, mines, oilfields, minerals…The socialist state gives the capitalist its means of production such as factories, mines and materials. The capitalist operates as a contractor leasing socialist means of production, making a profit on his capital and delivering a part of his output to the socialist state. Why is it that we badly need such an arrangement? Because it gives us, all at once, a greater volume of goods which we need but cannot produce ourselves. That is how we get state capitalism. Should it scare us? No, it should not, because it is up to us to determine the extent of the concessions.”
Hence, the nature of state capitalism is fundamentally influenced by the presence of a proletarian state. In an economic formation like this, there exists – in the words of Samary Catherine – “a fundamental distinction between the existence of ‘market categories’ (prices, wages, etc.) and the domination of the law of value, the first not being the ‘proof’ of the second.” The exercise of the domination of the proletariat in all areas – economic, political, and ideological – deeply affects the status of market relationships, money, and prices. Systematic supervision of market relations reduces commodity exchange to the mere fact of sale and purchase, creating a society in which goods are exchanged for money but do not have an independent life of their own; and in which persons do not exist for one another merely as representatives of commodities.
The contradictions of capitalism are impacted in a particular way under a proletarian state heading a regime of state capitalism. Louis Althusser once noted: “the ‘contradiction’ is inseparable from the total structure of the social body in which it is found, inseparable from its formal conditions of existence, and even from the instances it governs; it is radically affected by them, determining, but also determined in one and the same movement, and determined by the various levels and instances of the social formation it animates; it might be called over-determined in its principle.” The overdetermination of state capitalism means that the various components of this social formation don’t merely exist as indices of an underlying essence (surplus extraction); they are actively re-structured by the political characteristics of the socialist state.
In China, the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat – involving the crucial role of a strong planning system – has allowed the country to keep hold of a sizeable chunk of overall surplus value and to create partnerships with multinationals that enable it to acquire modern technology. This development of superior techno-industrial capabilities is conducive to the structural changes necessary to insulate the economic system from intense international, low-cost competition, and hence to resist the downward movement of wages. Between 1988 and 2008, China’s average per capita income grew by 229%, 10 times the global average of 24%. In 1994, a Chinese factory worker made $500 a year, only a quarter of the wage of her counterpart in Thailand. In 2020, the average annual income in China exceeded $10,000 – three times the figure for Thailand. All these dynamics are turning China more and more to its domestic market. As is evident, state capitalism in China is part of a wider project of autocentric expansion whose end goal is socialism.
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.
This article was produced by eurasiareview.
Image: Havana in 2017, Pedro Szekely (CC BY-SA 2.0).
The recent protest demonstrations in Cuba, which started on July 11, have set off a frenzied anti-communist response in the United States, from politicians of both the Republican and Democratic parties and from both right-wing and supposedly “centrist” and even “liberal” sectors of the press and media.
One Florida Republican congressman called for the Cuban national leadership to be “executed.” President Biden called Cuba a “failed state.” Even before the protests, Senators Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) renewed the offensive of the U.S. right against Cuba’s much-lauded international health solidarity missions, which have been praised in the many countries where they have helped to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, repeating the canard that the missions constitute “human trafficking.”
The fact that there have been much larger pro-revolutions demonstrations in Cuba in response to the anti-government protests has been ignored or distorted, with enemies of the socialist government even mislabeling images of the pro-revolution demonstrations as being anti-government.
The major bourgeois media in the United States have covered the recent situation the way they always have: to downplay or ignore completely the role of the 60-year blockade of Cuba by the United States in creating economic difficulties for the Cuban people, and to attribute any disturbances to “failed socialist policies” by an “authoritarian” and “repressive regime.” Not only that, but supposedly professional journalists and editorial commentators give credence to versions of events peddled by discredited right-wing hacks and ideologues.
Media outlets forget the much larger protests against right-wing governments.
When there are protests in Cuba, major U.S. press and media outlets forget the much larger protests against right-wing governments in many, many other countries, including Haiti, Colombia, Chile, Honduras, and Brazil, all of whose governments are subordinate to U.S. imperialist interests. In Colombia, for instance, the right-wing government of President Ivan Duque, closely allied with the United States, has unleashed a wave of violent repression against all opponents, repression which has cost the lives of many labor, indigenous, youth, and other leaders.
There are other manifestations of the corporate media’s propensity to ignore wider context when they are out to do a hatchet job on Cuba or other left-wing-led nations. For example, there has been an uptick in the number of cases of Covid-19 in Cuba (as in the United States and everywhere) in recent days, and this is trumpeted by the right-wing enemies of the Cuban Revolution as proving that the pandemic has been “mismanaged” by the Cuban government. In fact, Cuba has done far better than any of the other poorer countries dominated by imperialism in mobilizing its national resources to fight the pandemic, while its access to vital medications and medical equipment (including syringes needed to provide the population with anti-Covid vaccinations) has been severely harmed by the U.S. economic blockade.
The reasons for economic difficulties in Cuba are also distorted. This writer was in Cuba twice: in 1995 and 2017. At the time of my first visit, Cuba had been hard hit by the ending of favorable trade arrangements with the Soviet Union and the European socialist countries. Health care and educational institutions were still operating successfully, but there were serious scarcities and electrical blackouts caused by lack of fuel supplies. The United States government took advantage of Cuba’s difficulties by intensifying its attempts at economic strangulation of the island nation by passing the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996. These acts, along with sundry executive orders, had the purpose of strangling the Cuban economy by making it risky for foreign companies to do business with Cuba, especially if such business was to be done on a credit basis, and by making it extremely hard for Cuba to get hard currency to use in foreign trade.
In 2017, improvements in living standards were clearly visible.
Cuba overcame these problems by negotiating new international trade networks while also launching new productive enterprises, notably in the biomedical field. Then in December 2014, the Obama administration began a program of rapprochement with socialist Cuba. Agreements between Obama and then Cuban President Raul Castro helped to develop Cuba’s tourism industry by making it much easier for U.S. citizens to travel to the island. But much of the legal architecture of the blockade remained.
So when I visited Havana in 2017, significant improvements in living standards were clearly visible. Public transportation was visibly improved by the presence of spanking new Chinese-built buses, cultural activities were thriving, and people were well fed, well dressed, and healthy looking, and Havana was clean and orderly. I even saw people walking “designer dogs”!
That was in the spring of the first year of the Trump administration. But things went downhill very soon after that, as Trump reversed most of Obama’s rapprochement policies and added new sanctions, among others, restricting the ability of Cuban-origin residents of the United States to send cash remittances to their relatives in Cuba. Using the still unexplained “Havana Embassy Mystery” as an excuse, the Trump administration imposed new anti-Cuba measures and returned Cuba to the list of countries not cooperating with the United States in the so-called war against terror. These things had their impact, and then on top of them came the Covid-19 pandemic, which stopped tourism to Cuba for more than a year. Tourism had become a major generator of vitally needed foreign exchange funds for Cuba, so this was a serious setback.
The pandemic, in the context of heightened U.S. attacks on Cuba, has had an extremely negative effect on the Cuban economy. And this is the moment that hardline anti-communists in the United States, which include influential Cuban-American politicians like Senators Rubio and Menendez, have been waiting for since the Cuban Revolution triumphed in 1959.
A policy to “to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of the government.”
In 1960, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Lester Mallory outlined the imperialist approach to reversing the Cuban Revolution that is still in force today. Noting the popularity of the revolutionary government, he proposed that this popularity should be undermined by employing “every possible means” which should “be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba.” Methods should be employed to “make the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of the government.” And indeed, this is the policy that the United States has maintained against the Cuban people for nearly 61 years. This is why current U.S. claims to be “defending the Cuban people” are particularly repulsive.
But this time, simply ignoring international and historical context has not been enough. Making use of the internet and social media, enemies of the Cuban people have flooded the U.S. public with completely fictitious or doctored material. For example, there are multiple instances in which images of pro-government, pro-revolution counter demonstrations in Cuba have been mislabeled as anti-government protests. False information has been put out concerning the size and effects of the protest demonstrations.
For a long time, the U.S. government has been funding organized efforts to support dissident activism in Cuba. Recently, there has been a reliance on social media to achieve this aim. Much of the funding comes from U.S. government agencies such as the National Endowment for Democracy and the U.S. Institute for International Development (USAID), working through a network of right-wing nonprofit and religious organizations in the United States.
The Bacardi Family Foundation received $181,699 for its anti-Cuba activities.
For example, in 2020 alone, USAID channeled 2.5 million dollars (as far as we know) for subversion in Cuba through dozens of such organizations. Many have connections to right-wing Cuban exile groups such as the Bacardi Family Foundation, which received $181,699. This foundation was established by the family that formerly controlled Cuba’s rum production, pre-revolution. The Cuban Revolution nationalized Bacardi, offering the former owners managerial positions in the socialized enterprise. But like many rich Cubans, the Bacardis decamped to the United States, and since then have been involved in anti-Cuba activities such as a long-running trademark dispute over the right to use the famous “Havana Club” brand name. Another entity, which received $333,122 in 2020, is Canyon Communications, which announces that it is funding young Cuban artists and intellectuals to help them express themselves. A really splendid one is Grupo de Apoyo de la Democracia, Inc., a recipient of $167,107 and like many of these entities based in the right-wing Cuban exile community in Florida; it was accused in 2006 of spending U.S. taxpayer money for illegitimate purposes. The International Republican Institute, connected to the U.S. political party, got $470,267. “Evangelical Christian Humanitarian Outreach to Cuba” got $148,089; its goal is to foment the organizing of independent Evangelical Christian churches in Cuba, a country with plenty of religious congregations of its own.
Much of the U.S. money directed at destabilizing Cuba has been directed at funding dissident artists, musicians, and bloggers, giving them the ability to project their message quickly to larger audiences on the island. Some of these artists, like the rapper Yotuel, have strong international networks, including in the Cuban exile circles in Miami.
There has been a recent sharp uptick in Covid-19 cases in Cuba. This has also been decontextualized. In fact, overall Cuba has done much better than other Latin American nations in dealing with the contagion, and better than the United States. This recent sharp uptick has not been just a Cuban phenomenon—it is worldwide and is happening in the United States too. For the United States to make it difficult for Cuba to import vital supplies to fight the pandemic, including syringes and medications, is a strange way to “help” the Cuban people.
With health services free, sick Cubans are not bankrupted and left homeless by medical bills, as happens in the U.S.
The whole issue of Cuban health care, a strong point of Cuba’s socialist system, is constantly distorted. The fact that Cuban doctors don’t drive around in Bentleys has nothing to do with the quality of that country’s health care system. Omitted from bourgeois media accounts of Cuban health care is the fact that medical education in Cuba is completely free, so young doctors are not burdened with impossible student loan repayments as they are in the United States. Instead, they are asked to put time into community service, either in Cuba or, on a volunteer basis, in one of Cuba’s overseas health solidarity missions. And health services are also free, so sick Cubans are not bankrupted and left homeless by medical bills, as happens in the United States.
Some so-called pundits express shock that some countries who host the Cuban missions pay Cuba for the service. The truth is that Cuba does not charge anything to provide these services to poor countries, only to countries wealthier than itself. And why not? Why indeed should Cuba subsidize the health care system of a wealthy developed country like Italy? Cuba’s per capita gross domestic product (calculated by the Purchasing Power Parity method) is estimated at $12,300 per year, while Italy’s is $42,492. So Cuba should subsidize Italy?
In 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden hinted that if elected, he would return to the Obama administration’s policy of gradual normalization of U.S. relations with Cuba. However, current statements by Biden, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and other administration figures seem to indicate otherwise.
However, the direction of the Biden administration Cuba policy should not be seen as immutable. Biden is getting pressure from the anti-Cuba lobby based in South Florida and New Jersey, an old story. This pressure is deliberately exerted in such a way as to threaten the Democratic Party’s hold on the White House and its majorities in Congress and state legislatures.
Friends of the Cuban people must find more effective ways of exerting our own counter pressure. Here are some:
*Act as a truth squad. Especially those of us who have been to Cuba and follow events there closely should avail ourselves of every opportunity to speak out when wrong information about Cuba is peddled in the press, radio, and television, and especially on social media. Write letters to the editor, call into radio and TV programs, and put out correct information on all online and social media platforms.
*Support positive legislation on Cuba by contacting your federal senators and representatives, asking them to sign on to the following bills, and then to work to get them passed: S 249, United States-Cuba Trade Act; S 1694, Freedom to Export to Cuba Act; and HR 3625, United States Cuba Relations Normalization Act. Legislative action on Cuba can be found on the website of the organization ACERE.
*Get your city council, state legislature, or other public or private body to pass a resolution denouncing the U.S. blockade of Cuba and demanding normalization of relations with the island nation. More than a score of city councils and state legislatures, including the city council of the country’s third largest city, Chicago, have already done so.
*Support the many organizations working to help the Cuban people overcome the imperialist blockade, such as IFCO/Pastors for Peace and many others.
*Join the international campaign to award the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize to the outstanding Cuban international health care solidarity campaign of Cuba’s Henry Reeve Brigade.
*Support specific campaigns to help Cuba fight the Covid-19 pandemic, like the recent one to send syringes to Cuba.
Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.
This article was produced by CPUSA.
An alarming statement was released recently by independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, “”hundreds of Venezuelan cancer patients could die because they have been caught up in excessively strict applications of U.S. sanctions aimed at Venezuela…” Many countries are afraid to conduct business with Venezuela. “Third countries, groups of countries, banks and private companies have been overly cautious in dealings with Venezuela because they fear unintentionally violating U.S. sanctions,” the rapporteurs state. “As a consequence, money cannot be transferred out of Venezuela, and some patients have been stranded, destitute, in countries where they went for treatment.”
This report comes amid widespread protest in Cuba, a key Venezuelan ally, spurring widespread debate regarding the role of unilateral U.S. sanctions targeting Latin America and beyond. A remnant of the cold war, the United States embargo against Cuba has continued for the past six decades. Progressives such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have spoken out against the embargo, calling it “absurdly cruel and, like too many other U.S. policies targeting Latin Americans, the cruelty is the point. I outright reject the Biden administration’s defense of the embargo.” These “other U.S. policies” designed to be cruel for the sake of geopolitical interests and hegemony manifest themselves in the conditions of Venezuelan cancer patients.
Biden’s repose to the Cuban protest was a continuation of the U.S. foreign policy of previous administrations. He continued to add sanctions on Cuban officials such as the Alvaro Lopez Miera, the head of the Cuban armed forces. While these additional sanctions targeting individuals are unlikely to be impactful, it symbolized the administrations commitment to the ongoing use of economic sanctions. The same has occurred with regards to Venezuela. A U.S. State Department spokesman in July refuted Venezuelan President Maudro’s appeals to ease the sanctions against Venezuela, stating that major policy shifts and dialogue with the illegitimate, U.S. backed Juan Guaidó would be required to reduce sanction measures.
Contextualizing Contradictions in Cuba
Most U.S. analysts fail to grasp the complexities of protest, revolution, projecting their own ideologies to grassroots movements abroad. Protests are full of contradictions and are seldom monolithic in form. Reminiscent of the ’89 Democracy Movement in China, the U.S. government and media are quick to reduce a movement to simple dichotomies. Generally between “freedom” (generally defined as Western neoliberalism of free-markets) and “authoritarianism” (the party). However, what’s missed is the role markets have played in the creation of the discontent of the people. In China, the ’89 movement was shaped by hasty market reforms that produced greater inequality as well as an increasing divide between the rural populations and the urban populations. So while the protestors did demand increased social and political freedoms, these events occurred with respect to a legitimacy crisis of the Chinese Communist Party, as the government towards a liberalized market, leaving behind workers and farmers.
Parallels can be drawn with the events in Cuba. President Biden stated, “The Cuban people are demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime.” This statement implies a universality to the Cuban protests, ignoring the counter-protestors that have come out to support the Cuban government as well as ignoring the conditions causing the protests.
The discontent in Cuba can be seen from a variety of positions. Here I will address a handful to add nuance against the binary framing of the U.S. media apparatus. First, there is the effect of the U.S. embargo on Cuba and the long-term impact that the embargo has had on Cuban economic prospects and growth. Second, there have been limits and failures of the Cuban government to create a sustainable economic model in lieu of the embargo. And third, the impact of COVID-19 on the Cuba has damaged the economy particularly as a result of the aforementioned issues.
To address the first point, the embargo on Cuba and the exclusion of Cuba from international markets has placed a limit on the economy of Cuba, with the Cuban government estimating that the embargo has cost Cuba $753.69 billion. This, in a country with an estimated GDP of approximately $100 billion. Due to the restrictions of trading partners, Cuba aligned itself with the Soviet Bloc, trading with the Soviets as well as receiving aid. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba saw a severe economic crisis causing mass protests.
To pivot their economy in a post-Soviet world, Cuba began increasingly supporting itself through the tourism industry. Since then, Cuba has seen millions of tourists, and with that an increasing liberalization of the tourism sector and welcoming greater foreign investment. In recent years, the Cuban government has allowed significant increases in real estate and tourism investments to attract foreign capital, while decreasing its investments into healthcare. Simultaneously, those investments have not translated to improved conditions with respect to healthcare. Healthcare spending per capita has been stagnant since 2015, and as a percentage of GDP healthcare spending has decreased. It is this context in which the COVID-19 wrecked the tourism industry internationally, reducing available revenue for Cuba while the Cuban people have simultaneously not seen improved conditions as a result of investment in the tourism industries. Therefore it is these contradictions that cause a rupture between the people and the party, and this can manifest itself in various shades of politicization - of those sympathizing with the party as it contends with embargo and worldwide capitalist realism, those protesting market liberalization and demanding a reaffirmation of socialist values and social welfare, and those to whom market freedom and political freedoms are often viewed synonymously.
Sanctions in Venezuela
The U.S. policies towards Cuba have been repeated more recently in Venezuela since the beginning of the Bolivarian movement in 1999, including multiple coup attempts, economic sanctions, and most recently widespread claims of election fraud. Right-wing critics point towards Venezuela’s social spending as the issue, limiting discussion and context. For instance, Venezuelan Dutch Disease, in other words economic dependency on a singular sector causing declines in other sectors, traces as far back as 1929. While Chavez did nationalize the oil industry in order to provide social services for the people, he also pushed to reinforce OPEC to create more stability for oil producers. However, many events of the 2000s such as the wars in the middle east and the Great Recession caused extreme volatility in the price of oil, weakening both Venezuelan’s economy and the strength of OPEC.
As Venezuela faced long-rooted issues of Dutch Disease as the oil market declined, the U.S. government imposed sanctions on the Chavez regime, further tightening restrictions over the past 15 years through the COVID-19 pandemic. When calculated, the human costs of sanctions are incredibly high. A Center for Economic Policy and Research report estimated 40,000 excess deaths in Venezuela as a result of US sanctions in 2017 alone.
In 2014, protests began due to these economic and political issues. The U.S. government has used these protests as leverage to manufacture the consent of the U.S. people in supporting harmful policies that hurt the Venezuelan population. However, in the recent Venezuela parliamentary elections, Maduro’s party, the PSUV, decisively won, reaffirming the support of the people towards the Bolivarian revolution, and acknowledging the culpability of foreign policy in the struggles of the Venezuelan people.
The Role of the U.S.
Ultimately, the only position for those in the U.S. is to demand that the U.S. government stop exerting itself abroad in the form of economic sanctions. Economic sanctions can constrain and warp a country, causing dependencies, contradictions, and human rights crises. As people of Cuba and Venezuela protest their respective governments, they create an outlet from which their governments can properly and respond to their demands. These demands have diverse and deeply complex roots. Thus, all of those in support of egalitarianism and international rights must not fall for false binaries and limitations imposed by capitalist realism. In particular, the U.S. left must challenge traditional U.S. foreign policy as the U.S. State Department attempts to make foreign intervention more palatable by using finance as opposed to guns and the media to provide justifications. Furthermore, the role of markets as a supra-national body must be recognized by the left in order to envision a better horizon in which sovereignty cannot be challenged by borderless international capital.
1. “Venezuela: Save lives of cancer patients endangered by U.S. sanctions”, OHCHR, July 21 2021, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=27328&LangID=E
2. John Haitiwanger, “AOC calls out Biden for defending 'absurdly cruel' embargo on Cuba while expressing support for Cuban protestors”, Buisiness Insider, July 16 2021. https://www.businessinsider.com/aoc-calls-out-biden-for-backing-absurdly-cruel-embargo-cuba-2021-7
3. Nick Wadhams, “U.S. Rejects Maduro’s Call for Biden to Lift Venezuela Sanctions”, Bloomberg, July 20 2021. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-06-20/u-s-rejects-maduro-s-call-for-biden-to-lift-venezuela-sanctions
4. Wang Hui, The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity (Verso, 2009), 19-45.
5. On resolution 70/5 of the United Nations General Assembly, entitled "Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” June 2016.
6. ”Inversiones Indicadores Seleccionados. Enero-Diciembre 2020.” Oficina Nacional de Estadística e Información.
7. According to World Bank data from the World Health Organization Global Health Expenditure database, https://data.worldbank.org/
8. For an overview on the history of the Chavez government see Changing Venezuela by Taking Power (Verso, 2007) by Gregory Wilpert.
9. Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs, “Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela”, Center for Economic and Policy Research, April 2019.
Francis Hayes is an activist focusing on international relations, development, and technology. Francis has a Master's degree in Computer Science with a focus on social data mining.
Spyware like Pegasus is dangerous not only because it gives hackers complete control over an infected phone, but also because it introduces the skills and knowledge of nation-states into the civilian sphere.
Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology, is haunting the Narendra Modi-led Indian government once again. Seventeen media organizations including the Wire, the Washington Post and the Guardian have spent months examining a possible list of 50,000 phone numbers belonging to individuals from around 50 countries. This list was provided by the French journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International. These investigations by the media organizations helped zero in on possible targets of these cyberattacks. The mobile phones of 67 of the people who were on the target list were then forensically examined. The results revealed that 37 of the analyzed phones showed signs of being hacked by the Israeli firm NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware or signs of attempted penetration. Of the remaining 30, the results were inconclusive as either the owners had changed their phones or the phones were Androids, which do not log the kind of information that helps in detecting such penetration.
The possible targets not only include journalists and activists, but also government officials. This includes 14 heads of states and governments: three presidents (France’s Emmanuel Macron, Iraq’s Barham Salih and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa), three sitting and seven former prime ministers, and a king (Morocco’s Mohammed VI). The three sitting prime ministers are Pakistan’s Imran Khan, Egypt’s Mostafa Madbouly and Morocco’s Saad-Eddine El Othmani. Among the seven former prime ministers are Lebanon’s Saad Hariri, France’s Édouard Philippe, Algeria’s Noureddine Bedoui and Belgium’s Charles Michel, according to the Washington Post.
Once the malware is installed on a target’s phone, the spyware not only provides full access to the device’s data but also controls the phone’s microphone and camera. Instead of a device for use by the owner, the phone becomes a device that can be used to spy on them, recording not only telephonic conversations but also in-person conversations, including images of the participants. The collected information and data are then transmitted back to those deploying Pegasus.
Successive information and technology ministers in India—Ravi Shankar Prasad and Ashwini Vaishnaw—have stated that “the government has not indulged in any ‘unauthorized interception’” in the country, according to the Wire. Both the ministers have chosen to duck the questions: Did the government buy NSO’s hacking software and authorize the targeting of Indian citizens? And can the use of Pegasus spyware to infect smartphones and alter its basic functions be considered as legal authorization under the Indian Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009 for “interception, monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource”?
I am going to leave the legal issues for those who are better equipped to handle them. Instead, I am going to examine the new dangers that weaponizing malware by nation-states pose to the world. Pegasus is not the only example of such software; Snowden surveillance revelations showed us what the National Security Agency (NSA) of the United States and the Five Eyes governments do and shed light on their all-encompassing surveillance regime. These intelligence agencies and governments have hacked the digital infrastructure of other countries and snooped on their “secure” communications and even spied on their allies. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel was not spared from NSA surveillance.
The key difference between nation-states and cybercriminals developing malware is that the nation-states possess far greater resources when it comes to developing such malware. Take the example of a group called the Shadow Brokers, who dumped a gigabyte of weaponized software exploits of the NSA on the net in 2017. Speaking about this, Matthew Hickey, a well-known security expert, told Ars Technica in 2017, “It is very significant as it effectively puts cyberweapons in the hands of anyone who downloads it.” Ransomware hit big time soon after, with WannaCry and NotPetya ransomware creating havoc by using the exploits in NSA’s toolkit.
Why am I recounting NSA’s malware tools while discussing Pegasus? Because Pegasus belongs to NSO, an Israeli company with very close ties to Unit 8200, the Israeli equivalent of the NSA. NSO, like many other Israeli commercial cyber-intelligence companies, is founded and run by ex-intelligence officers from Unit 8200. It is this element—introducing skills and knowledge of nation-states—into the civilian sphere that makes such spyware so dangerous.
NSO also appears to have played a role in improving Israel’s relations with two Gulf petro-monarchies, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. Israel, therefore, sees the sale of spyware to these countries as an extension of its foreign policy. Pegasus has been used extensively by the UAE and Saudi Arabia to target various domestic dissidents and even foreign critics. The most well-known example, of course, is Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident and the Washington Post’s columnist, who was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
NSO’s market capitalization is reported to be in the range of $2 billion, making it perhaps one of the most expensive civilian cyber-intelligence companies. And its tools are frightening, as there does not seem to be any protection against them. Most of these tools are classified as cyberweapons and require the Israeli government’s approval for export, again showing the link between the Israeli state and NSO.
The other reason why Pegasus spyware is so dangerous is that it does not need any action on the part of the owner of a phone for the device to be hacked by the spyware. Most infections of devices take place when people click on a link sent to them through email/SMS, or when they go to a site and click on something there. Pegasus exploited a security problem with WhatsApp and was able to hack into a phone through just a missed call. Just a ring was enough for the Pegasus spyware to be installed on the phone. This has now been extended to using other vulnerabilities that exist within iMessage, WhatsApp, FaceTime, WeChat, Telegram, and various other apps that receive data from unknown sources. That means Pegasus can compromise a phone without the user having to click on a single link. These are called zero-click exploits in the cyber community.
Once installed, Pegasus can read the user’s messages, emails, and call logs; it can capture screenshots, log pressed keys, and collect browser history and contacts. It exfiltrates—meaning sends files—back to its server. Basically, it can spy on every aspect of a target’s life. Encrypting emails or using encryption services such as Signal won’t deter Pegasus, which can read what an infected phone’s user reads or capture what they type.
Many people use iPhones in the belief that they are safer. The sad truth is that the iPhone is as vulnerable to Pegasus attacks as Android phones, though in different ways. It is easier to find out if an iPhone is infected, as it logs what the phone is doing. As the Android systems do not maintain such logs, Pegasus can hide its traces better.
In an interview with the Guardian published on July 19, “after the first revelations from the Pegasus Project,” Snowden described for-profit malware developers as “an industry that should not exist… If you don’t do anything to stop the sale of this technology, it’s not just going to be 50,000 targets. It’s going to be 50 million targets, and it’s going to happen much more quickly than any of us expect.” He called for an immediate global ban on the international spyware trade.
Snowden’s answer of banning the sale of such spyware is not enough. We need instead to look at deweaponizing all of cyberspace, including spyware. The spate of recent cyberattacks—estimated to be tens of thousands a day—is a risk to the cyberinfrastructure of all countries on which all their institutions depend. After the leak of NSA and CIA cyberweapons, and now with NSO’s indiscriminate use of Pegasus, we should be asking whether nation-states can really be trusted to develop such weapons.
In 2017, Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft and no peacenik or leftist, wrote, “Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage.” It is this concern that certain leading companies within the industry—Microsoft, Deutsche Telekom and others—had raised in 2017, calling for a new digital Geneva Convention banning cyberweapons. Russia and China have also made similar demands in the past. It was rejected by the United States, who believed that it had a military advantage in cyberspace, which is something it should not squander.
Pegasus is one more reminder of the danger of nation-states developing cyberweapons. Though here, it is not a leak but deliberate use of a dangerous technology for private profit that poses a risk to journalists, activists, opposition parties and finally to democracy. It is a matter of time before the smartphones that we carry become attack vectors for attacks on the very cyberinfrastructure on which we all depend.
Prabir Purkayastha is the founding editor of Newsclick.in, a digital media platform. He is an activist for science and the free software movement.
With a growing realization that Democrats are refusing to use their slim hold on political power to push for a single-payer system of health care, thousands are taking to the streets to demand change.
Activists in more than 50 cities across the United States marched and rallied on July 24 to demand a Medicare for All or single-payer health care system. With Congress and the White House more focused on passing an infrastructure bill, conducting an investigation into the January 6 Capitol riot, and reforming our immigration system, the issue of health care has once more been relegated to the back burner. There is nary a peep from most lawmakers on the fact that, even as the pandemic rages on, nearly 30 million Americans remain uninsured (as per the latest available data), and millions more are underinsured.
To be fair, President Joe Biden has done what he promised to do during his campaign, which is to preserve and strengthen the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and effectively expand private health insurance coverage via subsidies. The ACA is not designed to cover all people with the best and most affordable health care. Biden’s major legislative achievement thus far, the American Rescue Plan, included more government subsidies for private health insurance plans to cover unemployed Americans while leaving millions more out of the equation. Neither the ACA nor the American Rescue Plan’s health care provisions ensure that all Americans have good-quality free health care.
The only assurance is that private insurance company profits remain healthy. Earlier this summer, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched a campaign to encourage Americans to sign up for private insurance through HealthCare.gov (perhaps a more appropriate address for the website would be HealthInsurance.gov). The Biden administration celebrated the fact that 2 million more Americans were able to purchase low-cost or no-cost private health insurance plans or sign up under expanded Medicaid programs. The insurance industry front group Partnership for America’s Health Care Future echoed that number as an achievement to celebrate. But neither made mention of the tens of millions who remain uninsured and underinsured. There is even less acknowledgment of the fact that tax dollars are subsidizing corporate profits for what is often mediocre health care coverage.
This is not surprising given that the federal government treats the health care needs of ordinary Americans as an optional luxury item that can be supplied by the market. For example, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) refers to those needing health care (i.e., all human beings) as “consumers” whom the government agency advises ought to “maximize the savings on their Marketplace coverage” when shopping for ACA plans. In a press release lauding the American Rescue Plan, CMS uses the word “consumers” nearly a dozen times. Rethinking health care as an essential need like education or emergency services will require a major cultural shift among public servants.
Proponents of Medicare for All are constantly told it would be far too expensive to extend a government program intended for those 65 and older to everyone else. But a fact that has received little attention is that nearly half of all Americans are already getting health care through some form of government programs or subsidy. An analysis published on Quartz found that 161 million Americans are now receiving health care through Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Health Administration, or CHIP, the Child Health Insurance Program.
Those who do not qualify for these programs are forced to acquire private health insurance through employment and pay varying amounts out of pocket for hefty premiums, deductibles and copayments, poor prescription drug coverage, lifetime limits on coverage, etc. Such a patchwork system does little more than ensure large profits for private health insurance companies. Worse, it ties millions of people to jobs they may dislike, or forces them to settle for poor coverage that may not even be adequate for the care they need.
For those who are left out of the system entirely, there is no government answer other than to ‘sink or swim.’ A recent Wall Street Journal analysis found that hospitals engage in serious price gouging of the uninsured, charging them far higher prices than they would charge an insurance company for a patient who was covered.
Dr. Paul Song, a board-certified radiation oncologist and president of the California Chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, was a featured speaker at the Los Angeles rally and march for Medicare for All on July 24. He explained to me after the event that “people are frustrated” about the fact that “we’ve had so many people succumb to COVID in the United States, and it has really illustrated how broken our health care system is.” The march organizers and attendees wanted to send a message that “we’re not going away; we demand better,” he said.
One of the few reports on the Medicare for All marches published by a major corporate-media outlet was this one by David Weigel of the Washington Post who wrote that six months into the Biden administration, “the movement to replace American health care with a cheaper single-payer system has vanished from daily political debate.” He’s right. After Biden emerged as a centrist alternative to Senator Bernie Sanders—one of the most stalwart proponents of single-payer—during last year’s presidential primaries, the next best hope for organizers lay in the appointment of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to lead the HHS. Becerra’s support of single-payer health care offered the promise of federal waivers for states looking to expand government-run health care. So far, even that has not transpired.
Weigel noted that Sanders’ 2016 campaign for president “inarguably pushed single-payer health care into the Democratic Party mainstream,” and as a result, “most of the senators who would run for president in 2020 endorsed it.” Arguments over whether a single-payer system was better than the current patchwork of private-public health care “dominated months of primary debates,” he wrote. Polls showed this was an issue deeply important to Democratic voters, and yet once Democrats assumed power in the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives, the only focus on health care was to entrench and safeguard the ACA while ignoring the health care crisis affecting millions of uninsured and underinsured.
The contradictions are starker in California, where Democrats have a far more comfortable margin of power than their federal counterparts in D.C. “You hear crickets right now,” said Song, referring to California Democrats who were vocal about supporting single-payer health care under Republican governors whose veto they could count on, but who are reliably silent when they have the votes to pass a bill. California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom sailed into power on a platform of supporting Medicare for All and said during his campaign in 2017, “There’s no reason to wait around on universal health care and single-payer in California… you have my firm and absolute commitment as your next governor that I will lead the effort to get it done.” Today, California Democrats enjoy a supermajority in the state Assembly and Senate and have an ostensible supporter of a single-payer health care bill as governor. But a bill to advance a single-payer system in the Assembly emerged this year only to be shelved a few months later until next year. Newsom appointed a commission to study the issue, but so far, nothing concrete has emerged.
Five years after he first made his campaign promises, Newsom is facing a Republican-led recall effort with a shockingly tepid 50 percent of likely voters supporting him versus 47 percent who are willing to vote him out. One can only wonder how much more support Newsom would be enjoying in the heavily Democratic California had he shown more leadership on his health care promises. Song, who says he supports the governor remaining in office, says, “we should push him to live up to his campaign promises, not only to fight off this recall but to really move California forward.”
The moral of the story is that Democratic Party lawmakers at the state and federal level have often pledged loyalty to issues like Medicare for All when running for office or when governing as a minority party and promptly switched allegiance to the private insurance industry once in office or when their party holds enough of a majority to do something about it. No wonder voters are pissed off and marching in the streets.
Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
The Open Letter Left
Noam Chomsky, Gilbert Achcar, Paul Le Blanc, Suzi Weissman, Tithi Bhattacharya, Charlie Post, Robert Brenner, Gayatri Spivak, Alex Callinicos, Ashley Smith, Eric Toussaint, Marc Cooper, Etienne Balibar. These are a handful of the over 500 signatories on an open letter directed to the blockaded Cuban government on July 12th demanding “respect for the democratic rights of all Cuban people” and the release of “dissident Marxist” Frank García Hernández and his comrades from jail after the protests of July 11th.
These signatories are high-profile academic socialists in the US and Europe, featured prominently in the publication catalogue of Verso and Haymarket Books, or on the editorial boards of online journals like New Politics, Tempest, Spectre, Socialist Worker, and other ex-ISO-now-DSA, SEP, or UK SWP related outlets. Their work also frequently appears in more mainstream left outlets, such as Jacobin and the Nation. Their opinions on the left reach a wide audience and, in some cases, carry significant weight. Their petition circulation effort drew major support on social media in the days after the initial protests in Cuba, helping to stitch together a left-reinforcement to the edifice of the mainstream press, which described the event as an uprising by “political dissidents” against an “oppressive bureaucratic regime” in the pursuit of democracy and freedom of expression.
The definition of “freedom” pursued and the political orientation of the protesters in question differed between the tales spun by the New York Times and those of the Socialist Worker, but the story was the same: Repressive government arbitrarily detains political dissidents.
And while these signatories differ among themselves over their characterization of the Cuban government and its revolutionary tradition—ranging from the view that Cuba is “state capitalist” that harbors no revolutionary potential to the view that the once-revolutionary state has become an intransigent bureaucracy that is still preferable to the neoliberal model—all seem to find common ground with co-signer Gilbert Achcar’s warning about “the anti-imperialism of fools.” Achcar condemns those who oppose US imperialism no matter its target, because he believes this misses the “nuanced” view that US imperialism might be instrumentalized by popular movements in the pursuit of their own liberation.
Gilbert Achcar has been criticised for his paid work training the UK Military’s “Defense Cultural Specialist Unit” in a series of seminars that he organized for his employer the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Achcar was also flown to Australia as a guest speaker at Socialist Alternative’s Marxism 2014 conference in Melbourne.
Our “knee-jerk” rejection of the notion that any positive could ever come from the machinations of empire, in Achcar’s formulation, puts us in the camp of “defending murderous regimes.” Ostensibly, sharing co-signature real estate with the likes of Achcar would suggest that the other petitioners agree with him that anti-imperialism is not always a principled position and the events in Cuba are an example of a situation in which they do not want to end up on the side of “fools.” So without further investigation, they and 500 others signed an open letter condemning the Cuban government for its “repression and arbitrary detentions” of “critical communists.“
AN ALTERNATE VIEW FROM THE GROUND
On July 17th, a different narrative emerged from the mouths of Frank García Hernández’s Cuban colleagues themselves. The Comunistas collective Editorial Board, of which Frank is a founder, published an account of events that was much more balanced and far less negative in its appraisal of the Cuban government and its response to the protests than the narrative that was promoted by the petition’s signatories. Rather than a repressive response to an organic anti-state uprising, they portray the events of July 11th as unprecedented protests with a variety of origins and compositions, some legitimate and others manufactured.
In their account, the protests were composed of three flanks: a small group of US-funded counter-revolutionaries with massive reach and influence, a small group of anti-state intellectuals with legitimate grievances that were co-opted by the reactionaries, and a much larger group of “non-political” demonstrators demanding an end to austerity and shortages—a crisis which the Comunistas Editorial Board attributes, with some reservations, almost entirely to the exacerbating US blockade and global pandemic. In short, the most explicitly anti-government slogans and orientations were crafted and carried by the US-funded counter-revolutionaries, whereas the majority of the demonstrators lacked a cohesive political consciousness and simply wanted a reprieve from their very real material hardships. As the editorial board asserts, “The protests did not represent a majority. Most of the Cuban population continues to support the government.”
A demonstration in Havana with thousands of people in a show of support for the Cuban revolution | Morning Star
Notably, this closely mirrors the public address of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who stated, “The protests involve many revolutionary citizens who want an explanation for the current situation in the country, but are also contaminated by groups of opportunists who take advantage of the current crisis to undermine order and generate chaos.” And while Díaz-Canel expressed full faith in the Cuban people to engage in productive dialogue to resolve the present crises, his calls for revolutionaries to take to the streets to defend the nation against opportunistic attacks and US-financed subversion campaigns was met with scorn from the self-described “anti-campist” or “third campist” Western left.
For these Western left critics of the Cuban state, Díaz-Canel’s calls for popular defense of national sovereignty represented a cynical demand by the Cuban state for its supporters to engage in vigilante violence against dissidents like García Hernández. The fact that García Hernández’s comrades—who engage in frequent criticism of the Cuban government themselves—did not subscribe to this narrative of events nevertheless did not discourage the petitioners from propagating the perspective that Frank’s arrest was the smoking gun evidence of Cuba’s authoritarian round up of “critical communists.”
ARBITRARY DETENTION OR SAFEGUARDING THE REVOLUTION?
No such round-up took place. The arrests that did occur followed outbreaks of violence and vandalism after mostly peaceful and unharassed protests in a number of cities, which the Comunistas collective describes as: “Violent groups carried out acts of vandalism, attacking communist militants and government supporters with sticks and stones.” The Cuban police and defenders of the revolution engaged in kind. In other words, according to this collective of Cuban critics of the state, the violence that resulted in scattered arrests were largely carried out by counter-revolutionary forces against government supporters and other communist partisans. This is a far cry from the narratives emerging out of the US corporate media and academic left circles, which characterized the violence as a one-sided repressive crackdown by an intransigent bureaucratic “regime” and its paid supporters against dissidents striving for freedom and plenty.
Nevertheless, Frank García Hernández and some others were arrested—the catalyst for the petition. Frank’s comrades at the Comunistas collective address this too. It turns out, Frank was not arrested for being a “dissident” participant in the protests. In fact, Frank is a member of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) who merely watched but did not partake in the protests, and was arrested by “confusion” as he put it. Frank and another intellectual named in the petition, LGBTQ activist Maykel González Vivero, who did participate in the protests, were picked up after a nearby act of counter-revolutionary violence resulted in injuries and vandalism late in the night. By Frank’s own admission, they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The next day they easily proved their innocence and were released without incident. According to his colleagues at Comunistas collective, “During his little more than 24 hours of detention, Frank affirms that he did not receive physical abuse, nor any type of torture.” No other person associated with the publication was arrested or targeted.
But here a key detail emerges. Frank’s release actually preceded the publication of the open letter demanding his release by his “comrades” in the US and Europe. And while Comunistas collective maintained their own criticisms of the Cuban government, their characterization of the genesis of the protests, the response of the government to the protests, and the appraisal of the revolutionary process in general, differ significantly from the ostensibly “progressive” critics of the Cuban government in the US and Europe who organized the petition to release their friend who had in fact already been released. Again, these significant discrepancies have not been addressed by any of the prominent signatories and circulators of the petition.
In fact, on July 17th, the day that the Comunistas blog collective published their retrospective of the protests and arrests, some of the US-based petition endorsers republished the original petition in Tempest Magazine without mention of any of the above critical divergences from on-the-ground reports. Further, the editorial board of Tempest broadened the appeal to a call for the release of “all detainees in Cuba.” Even the Comunistas collective demanded only the release of the detainees “as long as they have not committed actions that have threatened the lives of other people.”
In the week that followed the July 11th protests, the Open Letter Left were confronted with an excess of evidence and investigative research documenting the existence of US CIA front subversion projects, tens of millions of dollars funnelled into counter-revolutionary activities, coup-propagating social media bot farms, and other examples of hybrid warfare that served as the backdrop of the unrest. And yet, they maintained their political line that all arrests were arbitrary and illegitimate. One signatory even asserted that the duty of the left in the West is to support all such protests, “whatever people’s politics involved in these struggles– against whatever states and ruling classes, even those who falsely claim the mantle of ‘socialism.'” This is, of course, a tacit endorsement of the reactionary tail that wags the dog of these astroturfed “color revolutions,” disguised as they are as organic movements of workers and oppressed peoples.
WHITHER OPPOSITION TO EMPIRE
Taken in isolation, a charitable reading could view signing such an open letter as a political slip-up brewed in the fog of war that is a developing foreign event. But for many of the most prominent left signatories, this was the only public statement or call to action made regarding the unprecedented events in Cuba. Too few matched their outrage of the arrests with equal outrage over the ongoing illegal blockade of the island by the US, and even fewer (close to none) circulated open letters or petitions calling for anti-imperialist solidarity with Cuban sovereignty against the now well-documented imperial provocations that played an important role in the outbreak and international media coverage of the protests in Cuba. Even after statements of support for the gains of the Cuban revolution came from all corners of the world, demanding an end to the illegal blockade and hybrid warfare, the signatories spared little attention for the very real threat of escalating imperialist intervention.
When the mayor of Miami called on the US government to bomb Havana, none of the open letter endorsers change their tune. None came to the defence of Black Lives Matter after the organization’s condemnation of the US blockade brought them heavy backlash.
At most, as in the petition itself, the blockade and imperial provocations were mentioned as an almost unrelated preamble to the real point, despite their absolute centrality. No open letter was signed and circulated by this group of Western academic leftists demanding an end to the blockade after the 29th consecutive UN General Assembly majority vote to end the economic siege in June, and neither was there an effort on their part to circulate the campaign to send millions of much-needed syringes to the island to help put Cuban-made COVID vaccines into Cuban arms. When President Joe Biden announced that he would not change course on Cuba and called the nation a “failed state” without reference to the blockade, they issued no scathing open letter. They did not collectively come to the defence of a patriotic Cuban woman who was censored on Twitter after she demanded that the UN Human Rights Council stop using her image as the symbol for the anti-government protesters, when in reality she was in the streets of Cuba defending her revolution. Similarly, many signatories silence on the ongoing violent US-backed state repression of a months-long popular uprising in Colombia, or the years-long popular uprising in Haiti, grew more pronounced with the circulation of this petition. Their priorities were laid bare.
When confronted on social media, those that disagreed were accused of supporting “repression” and “ignoring voices on the ground.” No intellectually honest reference was made to the voices on the ground of the 100,000 Cubans who took to the streets of Havana in defence of their revolution. No mea culpas were issued after even Reuters was forced to admit that the media had fallen for lies and manipulations about the protests and the repression that ostensibly followed. Their perception of events, one must assume, remains the same as it was on July 12th. Their own political orthodoxy, it seems, left little room for “dissident Marxists” engaging them in criticism among comrades.
On July 22nd, US President Joe Biden announced a new round of sanctions on Cuba, which he promised were “just the beginning.” The Biden administration’s intransigence—and its cynical hypocrisy in denouncing “mass detentions and sham trials” in Cuba that presumably does not describe the US-run torture camp known as Guantanamo Bay—saw a rapidly organized response in the pages of the New York Times on July 23rd. In a full-page advert, the People’s Forum, Code Pink, the Answer Coalition, and over 400 “former heads of state, politicians, intellectuals, scientists, members of the clergy, artists, musicians and activists from across the globe,” issued an open letter to the US government demanding the end to its economic warfare against the Cuban people. Here is an example of the kind of public statement with prominent endorsers that places the responsibility for human rights abuses at the feet of US imperialism, and that expresses solidarity with the working and oppressed people of the globe who resist empire. A rare few signatories of the July 12th petition directed against the Cuban government did sign the “Let Cuba Live” letter in the NYT, including Noam Chomsky. One can only wonder what the political priorities are of those who condemn the imperialism of their own government only after first making demands and criticisms upon the targets of that imperialism.
BEWARE THE “ANTI-ANTI-IMPERIALIST LEFT”
No matter the developments of the last two weeks, the July 12th petition denouncing the Cuban government has not been renounced by any of its signatories. File this away as one more example of Western academic socialists and progressives being captured by the ideological manipulations of US State Department propaganda and their own internalized colonial chauvinism toward revolutionary projects in the Global South. Other targets of these petitions and open letters in recent years and months have been Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Notably, all are targets of ongoing and well-documented subversion operations, economic sanctions, and electoral interference by the United States, something that is rarely remarked upon by the signatories.
The outraged open letter from prominent leftist intellectuals making demands upon anti-imperialist nations and other targets of Western imperialism is one of the most insidious and effective propaganda efforts by non-state actors in the imperial core, as it serves to confuse and disorient the broader left within the belly of the beast, weakening our capacity to collectively undermine and resist the US empire, thus relegating the burden of the struggle against imperialism to the revolutionary peoples of the Global South alone. This is a dereliction of our revolutionary duties.
As progressives and revolutionaries living within the empire, we must express an unqualified and unwavering solidarity with Cuba and all targets of US imperialism, and we must organize to put an end to US aggression, political interference, and economic strangulation so that Cuba and all working and oppressed peoples of the world can breathe.
A version of this article first appeared in Fight Back News.
Red Ant publishes this with permission of the author.
This article was republished from Red Ant.