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Eve's Review

How CIA Plots Undermined African De-Colonization

White Malice, The CIA and the Covert Recolonization of Africa

Susan Williams

Public Affairs, 651 pages





Eve Ottenberg

For those who believe Africa was decolonized decades ago, it's time to wake up from dream-world. True, colonial European powers no longer impose direct rule on African nations, which are nominally "independent." But those European countries, beaten back from their African colonies in the second half of the twentieth century, had no intention of losing their investments or access to Africa's vast mineral wealth. So, with the help of groups like the CIA, Europeans and Americans covertly recolonized the continent, with bribes, murders, loans, privatizations (aka looting) and the installation of western-friendly regimes.


The latest and most noxious of these colonial iterations is the U.S. military's AFRICOM, although a French oligarch "controls 16 West African ports through bribery and influence peddling," as Margaret Kimberley recounted in Black Agenda Report, December 1. "Canadian companies control gold mining in Burkina Faso, Mali and D.R.C.…British soldiers are still stationed in Kenya." So the west never stopped strangling African nations. In this effort, the vile 1961 assassination of Patrice Lumumba was key. Needless to say, the CIA was involved up to its eyeballs.


As Congo's first freely elected leader after the Belgian rout, Lumumba made the honest mistake of trusting western democratic ideals.  Then, when he discovered they were phony, he tilted – very slightly – toward the Soviets. That sealed his fate. "President Eisenhower authorized the assassination of Lumumba," writes Susan Williams in her newly published book, White Malice, the CIA and the Covert Recolonization of Africa. The consequences were ghastly. After Lumumba's murder and dismemberment, for well over three decades, "the Congo was ruled with an iron fist by Mobutu – a dictator chosen by the U.S. government and installed by the CIA."


Now Congo again leaps into headlines – not because of its rich uranium deposits, so coveted by Washington in the 1940s and '50s, but because of cobalt and other minerals essential to a green energy transition. Mining cobalt is an ugly business. Roughly 40,000 cobalt miners are children, out of 255,000 Congolese cobalt miners. They work in nearly slave labor conditions, earning less than $2 per day. Their intensive labor is extremely hazardous and there have been charges that AFRICOM indirectly oversees these mines. Context is key here. D.R.C. is an extremely poor country. Life expectancy is 60 years. But the U.S. craves D.R.C. resources, as it has, going back to the 1940s. So pretty much anything goes.


Once again in Congo, Washington finds itself snarling imbecilically at a communist competitor – this time China. But unlike the struggle with the U.S.S.R., which had safely sequestered its economy from western capitalism, China is the U.S.'s biggest trading partner; the two economies are inextricably intertwined. Insulting and threatening someone you regularly do business with may seem cretinous to the casual observer, but somehow it's the best the American politicos can come up with lately.


So Washington fulminates in fury at being outmaneuvered by a supposed foe – when in fact China, recently an American friend until idiotic sachems in the U.S. declared it otherwise, has long invested in Africa, occasionally quite generously handed its infrastructure over to local governments, and, contrary to western financial barbarism, forgiven loans when African countries couldn't pay! The U.S. government long knew about the nature of these Chinese investments, but lately goes out of its way to distort and lie about them.


Trump's secretary of state, Mike Pompeo fibbed about a port in Sri Lanka, which those supposedly devious Chinese had, he lied, repossessed as part of their "debt trap" for Africa. (This repossession never happened.) Even comedian Trevor Noah flogged this bogus story, demanding to know what is going to be done about how those Asiatics ensnare poor nations to steal their infrastructure. And the most recent propaganda has been some nonsense about an airport in Uganda, supposedly stolen by China. (It wasn't.)


The description of the CIA's viperous attitude toward Lumumba, made by journalist Cameron Duodu and recounted in Williams' book, unfortunately, still holds for today: "His country has got resources. We want them. He might not give them to us. So let us go get him." In addition, Washington bigwigs regard the entire African continent as a stage for their Great Game competition with China, which is disastrous. Africans of all nationalities will only suffer as a result.


So a history like White Malice could not arrive at a more opportune time. It shows how Ghanian President Kwame Nkrumah – ousted by a CIA plot in 1966 – dreamed of a united states of Africa. While Washington ensured that never emerged, African countries can still coordinate and work toward shared goals. Williams' account spells out the cost of not doing so.


This book showcases three main villains – CIA director Allan Dulles, diplomat and arts patron William Burden (a one-time director of New York City's Museum of Modern Art, which boosted the abstract expressionism the CIA so vigorously funded and promoted) and the crudely murderous Leopoldville CIA station chief, Larry Devlin. But behind these three monsters loomed a vast, homicidal military empire, piloted by capitalist ideologues, who did not value human life, to put it mildly, especially if that life belonged to black, brown or communist people.


In that sense, little has changed from the 1950s and '60s to the present. Which should be cause for alarm. It probably is, to the Chinese, and to the Ethiopians, who find their prosperous country in imperial crosshairs, much as another once wealthy African nation, Libya recently did. But otherwise, most of the world sleeps through this repeat performance of the African tragedy.


It shouldn't. The CIA committed atrocious crimes in the '50s and '60s, and not just on the African continent. Williams cites the suspiciously premature deaths of left-leaning African notables, as well as that, in Paris, of the great African American novelist Richard Wright. And one of the most despicable of the CIA's many murders was that of Congo's first elected leader. "Lumumba, Malcom X believed, was the 'greatest black man who ever walked the African continent,'" Williams writes. Malcom X was not alone in this judgment. Which is why, as Williams notes, when CIA hands got together to boast of their dirty exploits, the CIA's man in Congo, Devlin, so pivotal in schemes to trap and murder Lumumba, always carefully kept his mouth shut.

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Big Oil's Big Lie About Who Caused the Climate Collapse

We're All Climate Hypocrites Now

Sami Grover

New Society Publishers, 162 pages




Eve Ottenberg

Veganism isn't the answer to climate change, nor is eschewing air travel. Both help, but don't tackle the problem systemically. Ending drilling oil and gas wells would zap emissions much more effectively, but since every little bit counts, it's a good idea to encourage people to reduce their carbon footprint. Encourage, not shame. And renouncing shaming especially goes for those who insist that having children unacceptably raises a person's carbon footprint to the level of a climate problem. It doesn't. And the word for the harangue that it does is eco-fascism.


The very problematic concept of one's carbon footprint is the subject of Sami Grover's new book, We're All Climate Hypocrites Now. Who kicked the carbon-footprint-individual-responsibility-for-climate-change bandwagon into gear? None other than the guilty parties, the oil companies. BP to be exact. Fossil fuel companies love it when ordinary people blame themselves for the climate collapse, for an obvious reason: it gets them off the hook to keep raking in profits, receiving mega-subsidies from government and polluting the atmosphere with carbon without getting fined for it – as they would in any sane world.


"BP's championing of carbon footprints should be viewed not simply as a naïve and imperfect effort at corporate responsibility," writes Grover, "but rather as a direct and calculated attempt to shape discussion of the problem in BP's favor." Oil companies, Grover notes "are actually all too happy to talk about the climate crisis. They just want you to know that it's mostly your fault." And they've succeeded remarkably with this subterfuge. Lots of people dither about eating a cup of yogurt when they could be joining Extinction Rebellion. Some benighted souls have even been hoodwinked into foreswearing children.


It's no news that oil companies curate their image. But in recent years, they've taken it to new extremes. As Brian Kahn noted November 17 in earther, they even recently had the chutzpah to publicly bemoan "cancel culture on hydrocarbons." As Kahn comments, that takes some nerve, "as if this is somehow a real problem and not the fact that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction tied to said hydrocarbons." But their obsessive focus on image has paid off.


Fossil fuel corporations deceived as many people as they could for as long as they could. Their own scientists told them decades ago that their product was cooking the earth. Did that lead them to change course? No, it did not. It led them to suppressing the science, lying about it and seeding that monstrosity called climate denial. So now half the rulers of the U.S., one of the most powerful, violent, extensive and carbon polluting empires in human history, parrot idiotic talking points about burning oil, gas and coal supposedly NOT warming the earth. And until recently, the U.S. was the world's worst polluter of greenhouse gases. Now it's got the distinction of being the second worst. But with congressional suzerains denying the damage, how can anyone compel the U.S. to pay its fair share for mitigation?


The only solution is a mass movement. Grover's book argues for this, as do lots of other folks, and given what a bust the recent world climate summit was, I would add, take a leaf out of the Trump playbook and clog the courts with lawsuits. Sue these criminal oil, gas and coal plutocrats until something sticks, they get the message and cease their global pyromania.


But oh yes – someone did that: Attorney Steven Donziger won over $9 billion in an Ecuadoran court from Chevron for its pollution of the pristine Amazon wilderness of Lago Agrio and the cancers Chevron thus inflicted on indigenous children. And guess what? Chevron said it wouldn't pay, went judge shopping, found a compliant jurist, Lewis Kaplan, in New York, took its case there and schemed to get Donziger thrown in jail, where he now resides.


So never forget that fossil fuel mega-corporations play as dirty as their product. After all, way back in the 1960s, Shell reportedly got Ogoni protesters arrested, tortured and executed in Nigeria. The Ogoni were upset about Shell coating their tribal lands in oil, transforming a once fertile region into a toxic cemetery. Shell struck back, making an example of activist and novelist Ken Saro-Wiwa, hanged by the Nigerian military junta. So this is nothing new. It's a real, blood-drenched fight.


You wouldn't know that, however, from privileged westerners who argue about straws. Yes, the cardboard kind are better, because the world is drowning in plastic, but get real. The most powerful man on the planet, Joe Biden, has dozens of fossil fuel projects on his desk with emissions roughly the equivalent of 400 coal-fired plants annually. The U.S. also subsidizes fossil fuel corporations, already swimming in money, to the tune of $20 billion per year. These facts should loom front and center in everyone's mind – not policing whether or not an acquaintance has a baby or ate their whole wheat bread with butter on it.


But speaking of butter, meat and dairy conglomerates are in fact a huge problem. Grover records one expert source: "The world's top 20 meat and dairy producers alone emitted 932 megatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions." He quotes more: "If these companies were a country, they would be the world's seventh largest greenhouse gas emitter."


In addition, there's the gruesome matter of animal cruelty. The world is not only awash in the blood of animals, but it also resounds with their screams of agony, as they are tortured for human pleasure. Just because you don't hear what's going on in the slaughterhouse doesn't mean it ain't happening.


So definitely become a vegetarian, and a vegan if you can. But do more; find other ways to extinguish fossil fuel arson. If enough people try that, we might actually keep these poisons in the ground and give those children fascists don't want you to have a livable planet.


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Migrants: The Case for Amnesty

The Border Crossed Us: The Case for Opening the U.S.-Mexico Border

Justin Akers Chacon

Haymarket Books, 293 pages




Eve Ottenberg

For those horrified by U.S. belligerence toward independent nations, particularly economically independent ones, like China with its hybrid socialism/state capitalism, it doesn't help to know that exactly this has happened before. It happened south of the border. Mexico, too, had state capitalism, with lots of nationalized industries and something of a social safety net and, in the 1970s and '80s, the U.S. government, hand in glove with American corporations, destroyed it. Of course state capitalism ain't perfect, but it's a whole lot better than the oligarchic financial capitalism that manipulates the state like a puppet and that Washington's so intent on forcing down the throats of, well, everyone.


The role of NAFTA in this story was highlighted last week in CounterPunch by Ron Jacobs, reviewing Justin Akers Chacon's new book, The Border Crossed Us: The Case for Opening the U.S.-Mexico Border. So here, let's look at the destruction of Mexico's state capitalism, the ensuing impoverishment of millions of its people and the case for an amnesty for immigrants in the U.S., referencing Chacon's book. Amnesty first.


 The 1986 amnesty for migrants in the U.S. taught capitalists a lesson they never forgot: newly minted Mexican and Central American citizens joined unions in droves. The owning classes lost their leverage over workers, namely keeping them immobilized and super-exploited by criminalizing them, as the formerly undocumented left for better jobs with higher pay. This ate into profits. After all, having an enormous pool of labor terrorized into accepting miserable compensation, dangerous and squalid working conditions, endless unpaid overtime, wage theft, abuse, humiliation and sexual assault, all due to the looming threat of arrest and deportation – such a sweet deal for capitalists was worth billions of dollars. After they lost it in 1986, they decided, never again.


"The future of organized labor is dependent on expanding rights for migrants, while the future of capitalism is dependent on curtailing them," writes Chacon. Labor, he argues, learned this lesson the hard way. "By 1986 [the AFL-CIO] maintained enthusiastic support for employer sanctions and border enforcement…Its disastrous support for migrant labor criminalization and border closure positioned it directly against the fastest growing segment and most inherently prounion sector of the working class."


Ironically, the new, increasingly neofascist law enforcement squadrons arrayed against migrants deliberately fail at keeping workers out of the U.S.; after all, corporations want those employees. What the militarized anti-migrant police do succeed at is trapping these workers into accepting super-exploitation. And lots of companies angle for that. "The largest, richest and most powerful sectors of capitalism are now invested…in the illegalization of labor…Auto production, agriculture, meat packing, construction, hospitality and other forms of service and manufacturing…have restructured…to access and exploit undocumented labor." These industries prefer that their employees be undocumented. Even citizen workers in the South, though hardly assertive, could still conceivably cast a vote for a union, a risk corporations see no need to take.


There exists a huge army of surplus, undocumented labor. That's because five decades of neoliberal plunder by U.S. corporations and local oligarchs, backed up by the lurking menace of U.S.-trained death squads and paramilitaries and, more recently, accelerated by free trade agreements like NAFTA, pauperized millions of Mexicans and Central Americans. They can stay home and starve or head to the border. International financial capitalism crushed these people and their countries.


To focus on Mexico: Its state capitalism, which developed after the 1910 revolution, entailed official unions in the government, many nationalized industries and a fairly resilient social safety net. Mexican capitalists did well, the urban proletariat got by, and state-run ejidos  distributed lands to peasants, with the benefit, from the government's perspective, of containing agrarian radicals. In the ejido system, the state retained land ownership but allowed collective farming and production for national markets. Unluckily for all of these arrangements, U.S. capital looked at Mexico and licked its chops.


Then Washington went about smashing the Mexican system, using the IMF, the World Bank and its chief tool, the free trade agreement. This culminated in "the dismantling of the nationalist capitalist project that emerged victorious from the Mexican Revolution. The birth of state-managed capitalism in Mexico was the result of a radical and impulsively nationalist uprising," after which "an ascendant middle-class coterie was able to divide, defeat and co-opt mass popular movements."


By 1990, U.S. neoliberalism utterly demolished this state capitalism. The idea was "capital has a right to cross borders to exploit Mexican labor, but Mexican workers do not have the right to migrate." It is "free trade without free people." Not surprisingly these changes engendered a new, modernized colonialism. Chacon argues that the breadth, totality and speed of Mexican state capitalism's collapse matched that of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc, which crashed around the same time.


In short, the '80s and early '90s were a lousy time for workers, planet-wide. And now North American financial capitalism wants to do the same to China: "open it up," or, more accurately, loot it (think, also, Russia under Yeltsin in the '90s; U.S. financial marauders made out like bandits there). After all, the Mexican caper was so dazzlingly lucrative, U.S. plutocrats attempted to mimic it all over the world.


Fast forward to 2021, and 30 years of "free trade" have emaciated the Mexican peasantry and dispossessed the urban proletariat. They flee to Texas and other points in the American Southwest, where, without rights, criminalized, hunted by ICE, they form a reservoir of easy, cheap, precarious labor for numerous predatory American corporations. This has gone on in attenuated form for over a century, but accelerated vastly in the decades since NAFTA starved Mexican farmers off their land by underselling them, flooding their country with cheap corn and other food products.


Fascistic, racist, rightwing hysteria over Mexican immigration serves a purpose, unbeknownst to the blockhead nativists. It is useful for the owning classes, useful as a means of oppressing and controlling an army of destitute workers, which they have no intention of ever preventing from coming here and toiling. Business lures and wants undocumented labor; the less documented, the better, because without any rights, these workers are easy victims, while the threat of deportation scares them into avoiding unions.


Thus the need of a general amnesty for the 11 million undocumented Latino workers living in the U.S. First, because this is the right thing to do. Second, because the rest of the American working class will suffer until that happens. American wages will remain depressed, until people who can be exploited with pitifully low pay become no longer "illegal," but recognized for what they are – workers who belong in unions and who will only get that right once they cease inhabiting the shadows of a criminalized, exploited underclass. They need to become citizens. And though the capitalists will scream even louder than the nativists, this nation and American working people acutely need an amnesty.

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Marx and Feminism

The Patriarchy of the Wage

Silvia Federici

PM, 138 pages





Eve Ottenberg

Genius that he was, Marx still was only human. His theories have lots of shortcomings that reflect his era. For instance, despite his disquisition on soil depletion due to capitalist agriculture, he did not emphasize enough the myriad ways capital poisons the earth. He believed that socialism would benefit from the "progress" of capitalism, a view overturned by the eco-disasters of the twentieth-century Soviet Union. He did not denounce colonialism sufficiently. He did not exhibit a profound, implication-grasping consciousness of racism, although of course he opposed and denounced it. He failed to appreciate the commons embraced by indigenous people around the world and how it could hem in capital's global encroachments. And he was cool to feminism, not only taking domestic work for granted, but devoting little writing to the actual care and reproduction of the working class and the people, women, largely responsible for that reproduction.


What does Marx have to say to feminists? More to the point, what do feminists have to say to Marx? Well, quite a lot, as any reader of Sylvia Federici's new book, The Patriarchy of the Wage, can tell you. Granted, a main reason Marx ignored domestic work was that in his time he saw women in factories toiling such long hours that they, in fact, did no domestic work. That changed later in the nineteenth century, as the ruling class became alarmed about the proles' ability to reproduce themselves, something emaciated people, worked to death before age 30, with no time for childcare, no less breast-feeding, whose offspring starved on their pathetic diet of commercial elixirs, could not do. With the shift from light textile to heavy, iron and coal, industry, the bourgeoisie instituted the patriarchy of the wage, namely, booting women out of factories, shortening hours but intensifying the work and paying men enough to support a family. Thus the upper class reproduced its nuclear family model in the working class. In so doing, it lengthened some working-class lifespans and decreased infant mortality. So some might say that, oppressive as all this was, it became, objectively, an improvement. But not Federici.


In this new scheme, the thrifty housewife tended home, children and her husband's sexual needs. This labor, done by half of humanity, escaped Marx's notice – again, partly because, for a while, he had observed women workers not doing it. But domestic work and care-giving occupy billions of people. It is unwaged work, as was the plantation toil of slaves and much of the moil of campesinos in Latin America. As Federici argues, the white male working class, whose cause Marx championed, forms but a sliver of a much larger agglomeration of laborers who produce the goods and people our world depends on. And many of those laborers work for no pay.


"Our rejection of leftist ideology is one and the same as our rejection of capitalist development as a road to liberation," Federici wrote in a 1970s article, included here, and thus disposing of old-school socialist and communist fetishization of capitalist technocracy. One need only survey the catastrophic ecology of the Soviet Union to realize that insofar as it mimicked capitalism, communism contributed to the destruction of a habitable planet. True, China recently combined capitalist structures with communism to lift 850 million people out of poverty in a short period of time, a world record, with which no one can compete. Also, the USSR arguably would not have crushed Nazism, had it not industrialized at a breakneck pace in the 1920s and '30s. So using aspects of capitalism for communist ends has its obvious pluses. But the minuses are also huge.



Take the nuclear family. "Far from being a precapitalist structure, the family, as we know it in the West, is a creation of capital for capital," Federici writes. And what does this family, based on women's work, do for capital? It "produces the most precious product on the capitalist market: labor power." So ignoring unwaged women's work, as the old left did and as the new left did also, before it yielded to a feminist hullaballoo, created a huge blind-spot in left analyses. It also seamlessly continued and extended the pernicious neglect of the feminine contribution to the world of work. "It's no accident that we get the lowest paid jobs, and that whenever women enter a male sector, wages go down. Employers know that we are used to working for nothing."


That work includes what Federici calls sex work, about which she has much to say that appears counterintuitive. In her convincing opinion, psychoanalysis "was born as the science of sexual control." Federici has sharp words for Freud and other male theoreticians of female sexuality. Her generalizations are sharpest of all. "For the women of today," she writes, "no less than for our mothers and grandmothers, sexual liberation can only mean liberation from 'sex,' rather than the intensification of sexual work." Take that, Sigmund Freud! If that doesn't throw cold water on male theories of female sexuality, I don't know what will.


To return to Marx. Federici argues that he failed to see what she calls "the strategic importance" of reproductive work. This does not invalidate the truth of his analysis, insights and arguments, as far as they went. Federici simply argues they did not go far enough. And he made mistakes. "Today the miscalculation that Marx and generations of Marxist socialists have made with regard to the liberating effects of industrialization are all too obvious." Their "Promethean view of technological development" leads to catastrophic climate change.


But that is not to ignore what's valuable: "The Marx who most matters to us is the theorist of class struggle." He may have missed that "domestic work, especially the care of children, constitutes most of the work on this planet," but had he lived today, I find it hard to believe that Marx would have failed to connect feminism and historical materialism, or that he would have done anything besides champion the revolutionary insights of anti-colonialists like Franz Fanon. Though a man of his time, Marx, to use a term he would not have liked, transcended it far more than most. His theories and prescience still inform any left critique of society and economy that's worth its salt, today, as they probably will tomorrow.

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The Campaign To Destroy Venezuelan Socialism

Extraordinary Threat

Joe Emersberger and Justin Podur

Monthly Review Press, 327 pages




Eve Ottenberg

For those skeptical of U.S. corporate media coverage of Venezuela, the question often pops up – why? What is the purpose of such venomous commentary? The obvious and indeed paramount answer is the overthrow of a socialist government and its replacement with something that resembles the Colombian hall of horrors: "A multigenerational civil war, the exclusion of the majority, the murder of social leaders and the reconfiguration of the economy for the benefit of the United States and the local elite" -- that Colombian recipe is what the U.S. would impose on Venezuela, as Joe Emersberger and Justin Podur write in their powerful new book, Extraordinary Threat, The U.S. Empire, the Media, and Twenty Years of Coup Attempts in Venezuela.


Unlucky Colombia has served as a laboratory for U.S. counterinsurgency for decades. It also functions as NATO's toehold in Latin America. That toe, however, has a fungus that infected the country's entire power structure with murderous violence. But that's not how North American sachems view things. U.S. politicos and military bigwigs drool over Columbia with love and would like nothing better than to refashion Venezuela in its image. Nevertheless, Colombia remains a byword, an evil omen of the death and destruction that the empire rakes across the Global South.


In the early 2000s, the U.S. supported Colombian fascist president Alvaro Uribe's bloodletting, which included the "false positives" scandal. In that, "the army killed 10,000 or more completely innocent noncombatants to boost the death toll they could report of guerillas." And that death toll was already substantial. "Thousands of Colombians were disappeared during each year of Uribe's rule: 15,732 in 2002, 12,577 in 2003 and 9,759 in 2004." Indeed from 2000 to 2010, the Columbian civil war never let up, as Uribe, "who held office from 2002 to 2010 kept ramping the conflict up, promising victory against the guerillas." Notably, Uribe's demobilized paramilitaries confessed to 32,909 crimes, most of them murders.


So Colombia is the model for state murder and extra-judicial killing that the U.S. plans to inflict on Venezuela with its multitudes of socialists, communists, leftists and Chavistas – all of whom would face certain extermination, massacres by future U.S.-backed paramilitaries. And the method is Plan Colombia, a policy of death squads and drug enforcement originally promoted by none other than Senator Joe Biden.


"For over a century," the authors write, "the United States has used terror tactics – including everything from direct military invasion to economic strangulations – to assert its self-appointed right to rule over all countries in the Americas. It has smashed small countries…that could only have posed the 'threat of a good example.'" This is exactly the threat Venezuela has presented since Hugo Chavez came to power in the late 1990s. That perilous "good example" continues under Nicolas Maduro, despite the country's recent economic decline. Indeed, that so-called threat of good example scares the U.S. oligarchy for as long as Venezuela remains socialist.


Chavez inherited an impoverished country with a thin, glittering layer of affluence at the top. To the horror of Washington and Venezuelan plutocrats, he promptly began redistributing wealth to the poor. Under Chavez, "Venezuela's poverty rate fell by half." This is all the more impressive when you consider that when he took office in 1999, GDP per capita "was at one of its lowest points in decades. Then it was driven even lower by the first two attempts to oust Chavez."


Extraordinary Threat documents the relentless Western media campaign against Chavez, as it threw mud on this potentially dangerous "good example." The idea was to smear Chavez and to brainwash readers and viewers into believing that Venezuelan socialism caused poverty. Under Chavez, just the opposite occurred. But in the imperial core, the lie worked. North Americans are among the world's most misinformed when it comes to Venezuela.


"No one in the western media is ever held accountable for telling outright lies about [Venezuela]," the book notes, adding that the most outlandish prevarication came from Obama in March 2015, when he imposed sanctions. He declared a "national emergency," because Venezuela embodied "an extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States." This was utter garbage. Geographically far smaller than the U.S., with a fraction of the population, a miniscule portion of the wealth, and the aggregate of its soldiers and weaponry tiny by comparison to those of the U.S., Venezuela is no match for the biggest military empire in human history, and Venezuelan leaders would be insane ever to directly challenge that astoundingly violent imperial force. And they are not insane.


One wild fabrication about Venezuela is that Maduro is so authoritarian, he's practically a dictator. And yet what's never mentioned is that he tolerates a violent opposition, bent on insurrection and financially boosted by a hostile foreign power. The U.S. would never endure for an instant what Venezuela's left-wing government has put up with for years. So who's the authoritarian?


Indeed, in the sure-can-dish-it-out-but-can't-take-it department, the U.S. excels. "Six times in this century (so far) the United States has decided that a democratically elected head of state in the Western Hemisphere had to go: Venezuela's Hugo Chavez in 2002, Haiti's Jean Bertrand Aristide in 2004, Honduras's Manuel Zelaya in 2009, Bolivia's Evo Morales in 2019, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro in 2019." So the U.S. is a regime change recidivist maniac. But God help any country that ever tries to respond in kind, because the North American empire would bomb it to smithereens.


Another pervasive fib about Venezuela is that its socialist government has, since Chavez's day, pulled a puppet-media's strings, squelching the opposition's press freedom. This is false. Opposition newspapers and TV stations abound – and they quite openly and enthusiastically support the opposition's savagery, as this new book amply documents. The book recounts the six attempts to overthrow the government by the U.S.-backed opposition, with war whoops and hollers from local press and TV hostile to the governing socialists.


One U.S. accusation is true: Venezuelan poverty has increased under Maduro since 2014. But that's for four reasons, with the U.S. responsible for two – years of support for an insurrectionist opposition, and after 2017, crippling U.S. economic sanctions. The other two reasons are Maduro's policy errors and the dramatic crash of the price of oil. So Maduro is only partly to blame for the economic pinch. A rather small part.


One example of how criminal U.S. sanctions have crushed Venezuela and murdered civilians: In 2013, the country "was importing about $2 billion per year in medicine." By 2018 under Trump's sanctions, that fell to $140 million. That's a lot of sick people not getting treatment. In fact, it's thousands slaughtered by the U.S. from 2017-2018, during which period there was a 31 percent increase in general mortality.


The U.N. human rights official Michelle Bachelet noted problems in Venezuela before sanctions, as if thus to excuse the U.S. But "that's precisely what makes sanctions so depraved," Emersberger and Podur write. "Imagine a defense attorney saying 'Your honor, I will show that the victim was already in intensive care when my client began to assault him." That aptly describes U.S. actions – assaulting the wounded. And not just in Venezuela, but throughout Central and Latin America and the Caribbean. The wreckage of imperial policy is everywhere, from the killing fields of an unlivable Honduras to the nightmare of Colombia. Is it any wonder small left-leaning countries struggle against malignant U.S. regime-change efforts, to avoid this fate?

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Pathologizing Dissent

Dissenting POWs

Tom Wilber and Jerry Lembcke

Monthly Review Press, 181 pages




Eve Ottenberg

The pernicious mainstream narrative that dissent is a mental health problem crops up in the strangest places. Soviet commissars deployed it against protesters, whom they packed off to mental hospitals, mostly in the 1970s. This abuse then received lavish attention in the western media, which portrayed it, amid great hysteria, as more evidence of brutal communist totalitarianism. But in the U.S. something similar, though perhaps more subtle, was going on. Here, the notion that dissent derives from traumatic stress or neuroses achieved common currency toward the end of the Vietnam War.


That was when dissenting POWs were repatriated – to a country averse to hearing their criticisms of the war. Instead, U.S. media, politicos and military bigwigs pathologized these protesters, implying that they were weak and had been tortured into supporting the North Vietnamese. Or they had been brainwashed – something communists supposedly excelled at. The word "trauma" was bandied about, and the proper place for these protester's views was deemed the psychiatrist's office.


A new book, Dissenting POWs, by Tom Wilber and Jerry Lembcke assails this nonsense that protest is pathological, by detailing how such rubbish littered public discourse since the late 1970s. The book announces its aim: to restore "to proper prominence the record of antiwar voices within the POW population." A big part of that is removing the mental illness smear, which has enabled interested parties to smother critiques of war, critiques that are based on politics and morality, not an emotional debility. The chief interested party is the military, but there's also the rest of the imperial government and its stenographers in the media.


"The psychologizing of dissent," the authors write "became, in turn, the backstory to the medicalizing of GI, veteran and POW rejection of war." Or as they write elsewhere: "Why punish behavior that can be discredited, stigmatized as a mental health problem?" Indeed, that stigma worked so well, that the military could back off punishing POWs for antiwar actions – actions it took VERY seriously, so seriously that, citing author Craig Howes, this book reports a Senior Ranking Officer (SRO) in a North Vietnam prison in April 1972 having "issued a 'conditional license to kill' fellow POWs if their loyalty to the United States was suspect."


Military brass was ready, even gung-ho about punishing dissenting POWs. But one antiwar POW, Abel Larry Kavanaugh, committed suicide in 1973, which "put the public brakes on the effort…to prosecute the radicals." Another dissenting POW said of this suicide: "What he did was an attempt, I think, to take the pressure from us and put it on the military. He gave his life for us." But the Kavanaugh suicide had other unintended consequences. It "shifted the paradigm from 'bad' to 'mad,' from villain to victim."


The idea of weak-willed soldiers succumbing to communist brainwashing dated from the Korean War and to the classic film on the subject, The Manchurian Candidate, based on the 1959 book of the same title. The notion that these U.S. POWs were somehow mentally defective "was an idea hatched in the years after the war in Korea to explain why some American POWs made statements denouncing the war and even considered staying…with their captors."


This book describes how Hollywood filmmakers ignored stories about POWs coming to consciousness of the evils of the war. So did the press. And even the New Left looked askance at protesting POWs. "The antiwar POWs were not the darlings of the antiwar movement that the whistleblowers of the Winter Soldier Hearings had become." Most POWs were pilots. That meant they "had rained hell on the Vietnamese." So their morality was suspect. And there were other problems. "The New Left of which SDS was the central component…had itself been born out of dissatisfaction with communists who dominated its Old Left predecessor, the Communist Party of the United States, the very communists publicly reviled for the practice of mind control within their organization." So when American leftists met with POWs and their captors, they were "suspicious of both."


The authors show how medicalizing dissent cleared a space for the poisonous weeds of reaction to thrive. The story shifted from one of the U.S. waging a criminal, imperial war against a small country, whose affairs were not U.S. business, to one of American betrayal of its veterans and their military mission. By the end of the 1970s, "Vietnam veterans were commonly portrayed in film and news reports as casualties of the war, their mission sold out on the home front and their homecoming marked by ingratitude and condemnation. Representations of POWs followed a similar path…It was trauma, not politics and conscience, that moved in-service resisters."


Thus the crux of POW dissent, that the war was evil, criminal and gratuitous, could be conveniently swept under the rug and ignored. Acts of violence by soldier-resistors against superior officers were not reported. Nor was the open rebellion against SROs in the North Vietnamese prisons, rebellion which was prevalent by the early 1970s. POWs themselves were to be pitied for the trauma that supposedly caused their outspokenness. The mental health storyline subsumed anything that hinted of true antiwar sentiment.


But try as they might, military honchos could not stamp out dissent. Indeed, the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War had a legacy in the 21st century: Iraq Veterans Against the War. Founded a few years after the Iraq war began, IVAW explicitly modeled its activism on that of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. IVAW eventually became About Face: Veterans Against the War, an advocacy group, calling for the immediate withdrawal of all occupying forces in Iraq. About Face also argues for reparations for the Iraqi people, thus implicitly demanding the public admission of guilt and remorse that such reparations signify, from the U.S. government, something most American military and political elites no doubt have decided will only happen over their dead bodies.


These antiwar veterans confront the legacy of the medicalization of dissent, dating from the Vietnam War era. As one anti-Iraq-war organizer put it: "Everywhere we go, all people want to talk about is PTSD." It's a great distraction. But the very fact that IVAW came into being contributes to defeating the toxic lies about pathology. The mere existence of such antiwar veterans' groups announces to all that knowing right from wrong is not a medical condition.

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Native Genocide, Native Liberation

Red Nation Rising, From Bordertown Violence to Native Liberation

Nick Estes, Melanie K. Yazzie, Jennifer Nez Denetdale, David Correia

PM Press, 150 pages




Eve Ottenberg

The scope of violence against Native people in the United States is truly staggering. In fact, it would be safe to say the historical genocide never ended. It is ongoing. It is the violence of stolen lands, of stolen children, of dispossession, of police, of payday lenders, liquor stores and pawnshops, of fracking and mining in Native territory. And yet, despite this furious and barbaric onslaught, Native people persist – unbowed.


But the murder, torture and mutilation have been gruesome. Take one statistic, cited in the recently published Red Nation Rising by four writers and activists: the Indian Health Service "sterilized between 25 and 50 percent of all Native women between the years 1970 and 1976." Can you imagine if this had been white women? Howls of outrage would resound from CNN and NBC. Tucker Carlson would scream that the white genocide had arrived. But it's Native women, so there's nary a peep.


The stealing of Native children has long been known to those who look into it. But it was in the news recently. That's when the New York Times reported on June 24 that 751 bodies, mainly children, had been found in a mass grave at a former school for indigenous children in Saskatchawan, Canada. This was only weeks after the remains of 215 children were found at another of these former church-run schools, also in unmarked graves. On June 30, another 182 bodies were found near one of these schools in British Columbia. One wonders how many more will turn up. Certainly, the settler-colonial practice of stealing children was much more malevolent than what those who did it said at the time, namely, that they were helping these children "assimilate" to white society. Assimilate into the cemetery is more like it.


There were also such schools in the United States. This week, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland "said the country would search federal boarding schools," the Times reported, "for possible burial sites of Native American children." What these missionary assimilationists were doing in Canada, they were probably doing here too, namely, raping and killing indigenous children. Though it's unclear how the children died, "some former students of the schools have described the bodies of infants born to girls impregnated by priests and monks being incinerated."


Red Nation Rising touches on these notorious boarding schools, as one of many forms of barbaric cruelty inflicted on Native Americans. Why?  To steal their land, in which Native people have such profound roots. This book also makes clear that Native culture is not capitalist. Indeed the basis of capitalism, private property, is alien to and has been used to dispossess Natives.


 "There is now a monstrous disruption in the force of all relatives who live above and below the surface of the Earth. Today, in our era of life, this monster is known as capitalism, the most threatening and successful force of death and poverty," this book's forward announces. Capitalism wars against life, and one of that war's frontlines is the bordertown. "Bordertowns, as with all imperial borders, are spatial expressions of an intent to murder," this book says. "That is why, from Saskatoon to Santa Fe, bordertowns are always bloody killing fields."


Red Nation Rising argues against defining the ongoing crime against the Indian as one of race. Racism is a problem, no doubt. But the real issue between imperial vigilantes and Natives is land. "The erasure and elimination of the Native…is simply to gain access to land," the authors write. This is why the American 1776 war of independence was catastrophic for Natives, and for Blacks. The book argues that the revolutionary war "was actually a counterrevolutionary war to enslave Blacks and exterminate Indians." All I can say is don't tell this to the know-nothing GOP governors in such a tizzy over critical race theory that they've banned it from public schools. They'll have a fit. In fact, this book is precisely the sort of clear-eyed analysis of power relations within the imperial core that right-wingers aim to eliminate.


The authors mention the arrival of fracking in Native lands and with it, man camps, citing former Congresswoman Deb Haaland voicing concerns about oil and gas workers soliciting Navajo women and girls for sex. Some considered this worry outrageous at the time. But such abuses, along with pollution and destruction of sacred sites, always come with man camps and flourish in bordertowns. "Wall Street is an advanced man camp," the authors write. "The White House is a man camp in miniature. The Bakken oil field is an emergent man camp. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is an annual man camp. The Ivy League is a federation of man camps."


The authors also critique those who decry police brutality. "Police are Indian killers," they write. Police are per se violent. Lamenting police brutality assumes that there is some acceptable level of violence. Red Nation Rising argues that there is not, that Native people, Blacks and many, many others would be better off without police. "To call for an end of police brutality, therefore, is not to call for an end to police violence; rather it is to call for more 'justified' police violence."


The "bad apples" excuse for police violence, this book argues, is simply a lie. Violence inheres in policing. Why else would cops sport enough military gear for an occupying army? And this occupation is most evident in how police attack and kill Native Americans. "All settler colonial policing begins with the idea that Native peoples have no claim to Native land and, equally important, stand in the way of settler claims to Native land."


So the colonial project means extirpating the Indian; sterilizing women, stealing children and sending them to boarding schools where half of them perish (or maybe more, to judge from the aforementioned ghoulish discoveries of mass graves at such schools in Canada), "policing" men, especially those living on the street, with violence. That's today. It comes after several centuries of outright slaughter and official trickery and machinations to abet that genocide. "The fact that the U.S. government broke every treaty it entered into with Native nations tells you all you need to know about settler law."


And yet Natives survive and persist. This baffles the colonist, even those who claim concern for Native welfare. Indeed, "the 'solutions' the liberal capitalist state offers to white supremacy are the smallpox-infected blankets of ongoing settler colonialism." This book calls for Native defiance, not just one Standing Rock, but many. It also calls for solidarity with others in similar struggles. It's is not a history or anthropology. It is a call to action.


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Lies About January 6

American Fascism

Gary Engler

RED Publishing, 252 pages




Eve Ottenberg

History is being rewritten. The scribes this time around are Republicans; their subject is the January 6 insurrection. Unfortunately for the GOP, this won't fly. In order to successfully rewrite recent history, the apparatchiks in charge need totalitarian control of their country. We learned this from Stalin. The GOP has nowhere near total control of the U.S., and as far as the media is concerned, all it's got is the laughable Fox News. And controlling all media is crucial to any attempt to rewrite recent events.


So, like the January 6 capitol riot itself, this latest attempt to pretend it didn't happen is botched from the get-go. Trump wanted a coup, but with the little reason left him apparently perceived that declaring martial law wouldn't fly. Similarly, GOP history revisionists promote the narrative that the January 6 storming of the capitol was nothing unusual, when every American with a brain knows, and clearly remembers, it was an attempted putsch that would have terminated a democracy already on life-support.


The logical solution here was a bipartisan commission on the January 6 uprising. But due to no doubt Trump-inspired GOP obstruction, such a move was DOA. Now Biden is reportedly considering a presidential commission. But there exist other avenues to truth. According to congressional scholar Norm Ornstein, interviewed in the Washington Post, Biden and the Dems should have the justice department empanel a group to recommend for or against prosecutorial action. Even better, as far as I can see, would be a special prosecutor; though don't expect anything nearly that aggressive from any Biden appointee. The advantage here of either a committee or a prosecutor is justice department subpoena power.


The subpoenas of a mere congressional committee are much more easily disregarded, as we learned during Trump-time. And we want people like House minority leader Kevin McCarthy to testify, under oath and threat of perjury, about his January 6 phone conversation with Trump. You know, the one in which Trump reportedly said of the rioters, "well Kevin, I guess they're a lot more upset about the election than you are." Trump, needless to say, did not volunteer to call off the mob.


It would also be nice to have representative Lauren Boebert and a few others of her QAnon-sympathizing ilk testify under oath and threat of perjury about their text messages to or from the rioters, as they stormed the capitol. Early reports said Boebert was in communication with them. Is this true? If so, with whom? And what exactly were the contents of those messages? Did they reveal the locations of targeted congresspeople? I'm sure her colleagues, and indeed much of the nation, would like to know.


Alternatively, according to Ornstein, Pelosi could cobble together a select committee. Ornstein prefers the justice department approach, but why not both? A select committee would not have to have an even number of members from both parties. It could have a slim majority of Dems, Ornstein says. The problem is that McCarthy "is going to do whatever he can, first, to block a committee, and second, to stack it with members designed to turn it into a farce."


But from my perch in the peanut gallery, it seems that if we had Pelosi's select committee in the House and a justice department empaneled committee of inquiry, or a special prosecutor, the chances of getting convincing results double. A select committee with public hearings would plant Dems in front of the cameras as firmly as Republicans were during the Benghazi hysteria. A special prosecutor with discretion to go public could provide a riveting show trial, though for that don't count on attorney general Merrick Garland, whose underlings defend Trump education secretary Betsy DeVos. Of course, the GOP will fight any of this tooth and nail, just as it's already floating the idiot claim that January 6 was mere tourism. The goal here for Dems should be to Stop the Whitewash. Preferably before fanatics like pardoned felon, general Michael Flynn attempt a coup.


Who can forget TV images of louts crashing into the capitol? No one with a functioning memory. But the GOP seems pretty sure it can lie its way into a reality rewrite for its amnesiac base. Why not? After all, this is the party of QAnon, the party whose anointed propaganda arms – Fox News and Newsmax – reported the boldfaced lie that antifa and Black Lives Matter instigated the attempted January 6 coup. Nope. It was Trump himself who did that, along with his henchman Giuliani, shrieking about "trial by combat." Not a single antifa or BLM soul was in sight that afternoon, though there certainly was a bare-chested weirdo sporting fur and horns and plenty of other flakes destroying and stealing federal property and mugging for selfies, all of whom self-identified as Trump supporters. "I'm here because this is where my president wants me to be," said one rioter.


All this mayhem flooded back to me vividly recently, as I read the words, fictionally put into the mouth of a rightwing former CIA operative: "Undermining governments and elections can take time. Perhaps the point is not to Stop the Steal this election, but to prepare for the next one." This reactionary is one of many who populate American Fascism, Gary Engler's new mystery about a right-wing attempt to minimize the damage caused by the January 6 failed overthrow. The hero, journalist Waylon Choy, writes about the far right, leading him to conclude: "So Stop the Steal could be all about demonstrating to the military, the police, the rich and the powerful how easy it would be to claim the election of someone they didn't like, say a Bernie Sanders or another candidate who might challenge capitalism, was invalid. And enough people would believe them that they'd get away with it."


American Fascism posits the Trump presidency as a turning point. The book does not delve into the lugubrious possibility that the Biden years are Weimar redux, because it doesn't need to. It's obvious. Instead, this mystery zooms in on a right-wing conspiracy to get a reactionary, or even an outright fascist, elected in 2024. In this, the book matches reality.


Because in fact, there is a right-wing plot afoot – it's called voter suppression, a looming shadow over 30 states corruptly gerrymandered to have unbudgeable GOP legislative majorities. And this scheme, already hatched, is being carried out by several of those legislatures, along with Republican governors and U.S. congressmen, to steal the next election for Trump or his anointed successor. More likely his successor. A side benefit is the handy excuse to overturn any unlikely progressive Democratic win at any future date. The bogus Stop the Steal is, serendipitously, a bomb waiting to explode, should any leftist ever come within striking distance of the presidency.


I doubt this is Trump's aim as he bellows the grotesque fib that he, not Joe Biden, won the last election. I suspect, rather, that what is on display here is a massively damaged masculine ego. That's not to say the shadow government isn't drawing its own conclusions, and that those conclusions may spell doom for any future, genuine left electoral victory. But as this novel observes – Trump only cares about what's good for Trump. Also, he may very well have hypnotized himself into believing his tornado of lies.


After all, with Trump it's hard to say which is stranger, truth or fiction.


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Incarcerating Innocents -- Migrants in the U.S.

Blood Red Lines

Brendan O'Connor

Haymarket Books, 323 pages




Eve Ottenberg

Parallels between U.S. abuse of Hispanic migrants and that of Jews in the very early Nazi years are deeply creepy. They were even creepier when Trump was president. That's because he was happy to demonize this Central American and Mexican minority, to deploy the full power of the state against it and to unleash police – ICE and BP – against this population with a ferocity that even the very obtuse could see resembled the Gestapo's. For the millions of people who live in this country but have no civil rights – the undocumented, or "illegals" as right-wing demagogues tellingly refer to them – the Trump years were a nightmare. Had he won reelection, who can doubt that things would have got much worse?


So while it's fine to breathe a sigh of relief, the profoundly sick social structures that cage immigrants in second-class status and in detention camps remain in place. As long as they do, another racist fanatic who roars to power will find the machinery to persecute this group right at his fingertips. And the chances of another reactionary firebrand attaining the presidency are not slim: fascism flourishes after capitalism's crises, with Trump's ascent rooted in the 2008 financial crash. If Biden doesn't significantly expand the social welfare state, who knows what we'll get as a result of the 2020 collapse? It could be another Trump but worse – a competent fascist who can make the trains run on time, not a buffoon.


Meanwhile, how to stop government from stigmatizing the Latinx minority? Because while Biden renounces the most egregious cruelties, like family separation at the border, tons of people remain locked up for what's barely a misdemeanor, the equivalent of driving without a license, namely entering the country without papers. Biden has not shuttered detention centers, and he will likely keep the cap on the number of refugees to be admitted. While ICE and BP might not currently drive tanks through the streets of sanctuary cities, they still receive far more money than the FBI or the DEA. Their sole purpose is to surveil, detain and arrest a minority population that has no rights, and as long as millions of people have no rights, any claim that the U.S. is a free democracy is laughable. This same status quo prevailed in Germany at the start of Nazi rule, when the first laws were passed persecuting Jews.


How did we reach this abysmal state? The answer, simply, is nativism. But of course, how that became a potent mainstream poison is a complicated story, one told by Brendan O'Connor in his new book, Blood Red Lines. O'Connor clarifies the looming catastrophe, quoting Hannah Arendt on how the "denial of the right to have rights" was the precondition "for the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi Reich. 'A condition of complete rightlessness was created before the right to live was challenged.'"


It is not such a huge step from yanking an infant from its mother's arms forever, or sterilizing a young woman, to killing people. And remember, Trump shrieked that we needed the military at the border. Already, right-wing militias patrolling the southern frontier, armed with semi-automatic weapons, are not around for the aid and comfort of desperate migrants. Kindness has also been criminalized. Those who leave water bottles along desert routes, or who give weary migrants a lift to a way-station, or who provide medical care – they have found themselves in court, facing stiff prison sentences. How U.S. law tangled up like this is a wretched tale, and the anti-migrant snarl has ugly roots. But this country now shamelessly boasts a fearsome legal apparatus that dehumanizes a helpless population. Anyone who watched videos of unaccompanied three-year-olds under questioning in court during the Trump years could not help but conclude the U.S. was complicit in profound evil.


"It became clear to me," O'Connor writes of his encounters with the alt-right, "that these people were fascists…deeply, terrifyingly sincere political actors trying to make their way toward a world where anyone who did not fit into their vision of strength, beauty or worth was eliminated. Nothing would make them happier, I realized, than to see me and my friends dead." These same people got their hands on power for four years; they want to do so again. They thirst for power. Don't mistake their being sidelined for inactivity – the radical right still mobilizes.


Our immigration machinery, O'Connor writes, "is a bureaucratic behemoth that carries the genocidal mania of the settler past into the present." Biden has done nothing to dismantle that machinery, to cripple that behemoth. Don't expect him to. His administration belongs to the Clinton, Bush and Obama family tree. And altogether those three presidents deported 27 million people. They tossed plenty in what's euphemistically called detention, too. But we might as well be honest and call it by its name: prison, or, in some instances, concentration camps.


The other salient adversity here is that undocumented migrants form a helpless and vulnerable strata of the working class. Business lures them north for their cheap labor and for their powerlessness due to being "deportable." The threat of ICE means they can't organize in unions. These immigrants also provide grist for the carceral state mill. So fascist and capitalist policies intertwine with regard to migrants, which is why O'Connor sees the only possibly successful response to be a joint one – labor and antifascists must team up. "One of the functions of fascism, when capitalism is in crisis," he writes, "is the destruction of workers' movements that might genuinely challenge the system."


Blood Red Lines traces the right-wing movements and actions of prominent reactionaries like John Taunton and Peter Thiel, which have propelled us to the current precipice. Yes, labor and antifascists should unite. But a sledgehammer needs to be taken to the legalistic, bureaucratic monster threatening the millions of people whom it has declared have no rights. Though it's unlikely, Biden could still distinguish himself from his predecessors by handicapping that monster and affirming civil rights for migrants – before they lose the right to life. Because that is where we are headed. That is the abyss that yawns before us. And those that think it can't happen here haven't been paying attention.

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A Feminist Revolt

Crossroads, I live Where I Like

Koni Benson

PM Press, 146 pages



Eve Ottenberg

With right-wing hysteria about the feminization of the military landing on our laptops recently, now is a good time to focus on issues dear to the hearts of actual feminists, namely, housing, health and education. These concerns were embraced, very strikingly, by feminists in apartheid South Africa. Toward the end of apartheid, many Black people were homeless and so constructed domiciles out of discarded wood and tin wherever they could. These shacks became communities. One such famous encampment is called Crossroads, on the edge of Cape Town. What caused Crossroads' renown was the fierce political activism of the women who lived there, in their struggles against eviction, for education for their children and for surviving the male violence from the state and from gang members who slaughtered each other. This brutality drove many of the women and their families out of the encampment.


The story of this female struggle to preserve their neighborhood is told in a newly published graphic history, Crossroads, I Live Where I Like by Koni Benson (the title echoes Steve Biko's newspaper column, "I Write What I Like"). The book "narrates the successful campaign to save this community of shack dwellers from imminent destruction," according to the forward.  "Women have been on the front lines of modern enclosure." This community, which still exists, was known in the 1970s and '80s as a place full of Transkei women. It grew from 20 shacks housing 100 people in February 1975 to between 4000 and 7000 people in 1017 shacks in April of that year. Despite eviction notices, progressive lawyers won a victory notable in a country where "apartheid bulldozers…forcibly 'removed' and relocated 3.8 million black people from their homes and neighborhoods between the 1960s and 1980s."


Apartheid's goal at that time was to keep black labor cheap and the cities white. As a result, by 1978, Crossroads was the "only remaining informal settlement for African people in the cape peninsula." When the state moved to demolish it, the women's committee defied the apartheid regime and defended Crossroads. These women literally had nowhere else to go. They had come there because "they fled the bulldozing of their homes in squatters' camps; they were tired of concealing their illegal status in bachelor hotels; they were tired of being arrested for pass violations; they were evicted from 'coloured neighborhoods;' they came directly from the eastern cape; or because they had lost children to starvation in the Bantustans and had no intention of returning."


Men did not easily accept female leadership. In fact, by the 1980s, Crossroads was renamed "the place of the fathers." It took a while, over a decade, but the reconfiguration succeeded "from one symbolized by squatter women's mobilization inspiring international anti-apartheid resistance campaigns to one of corrupt militarized control by vigilantes armed and empowered by the apartheid state." Patronage and patriarchy, this book argues "were mixed into battle against the state" from 1980 onwards. Many women were expelled from Crossroads, especially those who had been leaders, "offices of progressive organizations…were bombed, over 45,000 people were detained without trial and numerous activists died under mysterious circumstances." In 1985, state security started using death squads. Most destructive to people in Crossroads "were the counter-insurgency guerrilla warfare tactics developed in Algeria and modified in Vietnam and Colombia."


But the women of Crossroads weren't done. In the 1990s, while the famous Goldstone Commission pursued its inquiry into public violence under apartheid, the Mothers of Crossroads formed to focus attention on how force and inciting violence were being used for removals. This group prioritized peace. Part of their organizing impetus derived from so many youth being killed in the housing conflict and also from concerns about educating and feeding children. But in 1993, masked gunmen burst into one leader's house, that of Joyce Ndinse, and killed her. This murder "deflated women's mobilizing, as the price of standing out…was clearly very high."


With their focus on health, welfare and education, these women of Crossroads adopted what I would call a realistic feminism, one that accepts the facts on the ground and deals with them. Those facts include the paramount reality that most women, at some point and usually for an extended period, are caregivers. This realistic feminism exerted itself at Crossroads in every way to improve the lot of caregivers, which of necessity implied ameliorating circumstances for those who received care. These women of Crossroads embraced this fight, which included challenging wanton male violence. In this they were the opposite of, how shall we say, patriarchal feminists – perhaps best embodied by a celebrity politician like Hillary Clinton who validates her feminism by how many scalps she collects. The more that belong to bigwigs she helped murder, like Mu'ammar Gaddafi, the better. These patriarchal feminists take it for granted that to break glass ceilings women must imitate men and adopt male values, even when those values are, objectively, perverted. The women of Crossroads never made such mistakes. They knew first-hand how toxic hyper-masculinity is. They had no desire to make themselves over in men's images. But that doesn't mean they didn't want power.


This book argues that for most Black women in South Africa, the 1980s were indistinguishable from war. Things did not immediately improve with the 1994 end of apartheid. Indeed in 1997 at Crossroads, the Women's Power Group (WPG) was founded. It focused on "housing, revamped service charges, missing housing funds, filth of schools and clinics, lack of crèches, inability of the state…to provide security at Crossroads." The WPG organized a sit-in at the city council. In retaliation, some of the protester's shacks were burnt down, family members were killed and the women had to run for their lives. Ten years after apartheid's end, one of these women said: "I can't say that I'm in ten years of freedom. I'm in ten years of struggle."


Crossroads, I Live Where I Like portrays a unique feminist effort, whose leaders struggled for the basics of survival for their families and friends, for which some of them paid with their lives. The book excavates a buried era of feminist politics, otherwise nearly lost to history – as indeed so often is the fate of feminist leadership and revolt.




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