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Eve's Review

A Socialist Survival Tactic -- Cuba's Worker Parliaments

How the Workers' Parliaments Saved the Cuban Revolution

Pedro Ross

Monthly Review Press, 180 pages





Eve Ottenberg

Defending itself from the extremely hostile bully to the north is old hat and a constant activity for Cuba. This was especially so, after the collapse of the USSR and European socialism roughly 35 years ago nearly crushed Cuba, which immediately lost its chief trading partners, while the U.S. blockade strangled it. Forced to turn inward, Cuba strove to improve its productivity and workforce, without damaging the twin foundations of the revolution, education and health care. That it did so, that this small, besieged nation turned a dangerous even deadly situation around, happened thanks to the efforts of committed revolutionaries like Pedro Ross, who helped found the workers' parliaments – specifically to save the revolution at this lethal juncture. It worked. Now Ross has written a book about it.


His recently published How the Workers' Parliaments Saved the Cuban Revolution details the at first frantic, but soon thereafter steady, methodical and committed continuation of efforts to prevent the Cuban economy from capsizing. Cuba had managed to do this before. When Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, 70 percent of Havana's trade was with the U.S. That vanished overnight. With the post-revolution blockade, Cuba needed new trading partners; the country found them in the USSR and the Eastern Bloc. But when socialism in those nations collapsed, Cuba's "gross domestic product fell by nearly 35 percent," Ross writes. "Cuba lost more than 70 percent of its foreign markets. The oil supply fell from 13 million tons to 5.8 million. In 1990, 3 billion rubles in products were no longer received." To make matters worse, the U.S. intensified the blockade. Because, of course.


To cope with this catastrophe, Cuba created workers' parliaments. These came in response to what Cubans call the "Special Period," i.e. the time immediately after socialism's demise, and in these parliaments "more than three million workers, men and women…engaged in intense and ultimately fruitful debates about how the country should respond to the challenges of the Special Period." With over 80,000 such parliaments, problems from the black market to absenteeism, to new taxes to distributing agricultural and livestock products, to fees for identity cards to increasing revenue from rum and cigar sales, to crime and much more were thrashed out; "for forty-five days, Cuba became a vast school of economics and politics," focusing on economic efficiency and reorganization of domestic finances. The workers' parliaments reported back to Castro, who had lots of input.


A founding principle of these confabs was that the workers are owners. "Therefore, solutions should be based on labor consensus," Ross writes. This was, after all, a government, one of whose first acts on coming to power in 1959 was to give all tenants ownership of their residences. "Landowning was eliminated and the means of production were substantially nationalized." If you ever wonder at the Exceptional Empire's implacable hatred of Cuba, just recall facts like that.


Workers participating in these parliaments labored to protect what Ross calls the two pillars of the revolution, education and health care. The eye-popping success of Castro's literacy program is world-famous. When the revolution succeeded, much of the population was illiterate; the rural illiteracy rate stood at 41.7 percent. That's a lot of people who couldn't read. But within three years, the literacy rate soared and 96 percent of Cubans were reading. Also globally renowned are Cuba's medical achievements, as this poor, sanctioned, island country has, over decades, sent tens of thousands of physicians and nurses to other needy countries across the globe. According to Don Fitz, in his book Cuban Health Care, "Since 1961, over 124,000 health professionals [from Cuba] have worked in over 154 countries. By 2009, in addition to 11 million people in their own country, Cuban doctors were providing medical care for 70 million people." Cuba "spends only four per cent per person of U.S. health costs," but has the same average life expectancy, and lower infant mortality. That this country created a system of socialized medicine that surpasses the chaotic capitalist for-profit one is an achievement for which First World elites will never forgive it.


Cuba "eliminated polio in 1962," Fitz writes – remember, the revolution only came to power in 1959! – "malaria in 1967, neonatal tetanus in 1972, diphtheria in 1979, congenital rubella syndrome in 1989, post-mumps meningitis in 1989, measles in 1993, rubella in 1995, and tuberculosis meningitis in 1997." This just goes to show what humanity can do when freed from the shackles and destitution imposed by billionaires. Fitz also noted that Cuba had only 200 AIDS patients, when New York City had 43,000. Clearly Cuba's socialized medicine proclaimed loud and clear that this is the way to go for public health, but the U.S. never wanted to listen, as became unavoidably, glaringly obvious during the covid pandemic. That's when the defects of our lousy health system were on display for all the world to see. The U.S. boasted more covid corpses than any other nation, but even this dismal fact failed to ignite proposals for altering U.S. medical care. And barring the total dissolution of corporate for-profit health care and the miracle that would be required to cause that, we who live in the heart of the empire are doomed to go broke in large numbers paying for essential medicine.


Back to the workers' parliaments; they succeeded. By 1994, the Cuban economy started to recover, due to multiple changes and innovations. "Soil cement and other traditional techniques were introduced to build homes with less cement and fuel consumption. Natural and traditional medicines were promoted…The development of urban agriculture included the creation of gardens in workplaces, hospitals, schools, neighborhoods and the cultivation of medicinal plants." Emphasizing the shift in political focus during these parliaments, Raul Castro noted: "Yesterday we said that beans were worth as much as guns; today we say that beans are worth more than guns."


Over 400,000 union leaders attended the preparations for these workers' parliaments. Once underway, Ross cites "the altruistic response of Cuban workers to the delicate and complex problem of staff reorganization and relocation." Cuban socialists did not want to fire people, and they explicitly renounced neoliberal solutions, so they got creative when it came to overstaffing and worker redundancies.


By March 1994, over three million employees had discussed workplace problems in these parliaments, so it's not surprising they found numerous solutions – 261,859 proposals were hashed out. But "Fidel told us not to think that good will was sufficient to solve all our problems," though that did not mean abandoning communist principles. For instance, regarding charging fees for ambulance services, workers dug in their heels: Such fees, they argued, conflicted "with the principles of the Revolution." Contrast that to the U.S., where one of the big-ticket medical items contributing to bankrupting patients is thousands of dollars in ambulance fees.


According to Ross, "Fidel made it clear that our main priority was to preserve workers' salaries." Again, what a contrast to Cuba's bossy northern neighbor, where the main priority is enriching oligarchs and using a class of corporate warlords to extract profits from the Global South! For such North American elites, workers' salaries are but a very faint, distant after-thought, and that thought usually is how, most effectively, to keep them as low as possible. But in Cuba they were the first thought – and still are. The workers' parliaments resoundingly demonstrated that. They were just one of the many novel ways the revolution demonstrated that its fundamental humanism could overcome even the direst circumstances, without resorting to capitalism's callous and inhuman fixes.


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Egalitarian Paradise Lost

Pirate Enlightenment, Or the Real Libertalia

David Graeber

Farrar Strauss and Giroux, 175 pages





Eve Ottenberg

The search across the globe and in history for egalitarian societies turns up some strange finds. One anthropologist, the well-known, radical, recently deceased, best-selling author and a founder of the Occupy movement at Zuccotti Park, David Graeber, discovered such a world in Madagascar, in the settlements of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century pirates, recording his observations in a posthumous book, Pirate Enlightenment, Or the Real Libertalia. This portrait of a vanished almost-utopia is no idealization; Graeber lays it out in detail, but the conclusion is unavoidable: citizens of these pirate port towns had far more freedom than your average twenty-first century American prole moiling long hours for monopoly corporations. They also appear to have enjoyed a lot more happiness, you know, that thing we Americans are supposedly free to pursue.


They had more democracy as well: decisions were debated and the majority ruled, unlike this country, where citizens express their preference through the franchise, but somehow when their representatives arrive in the capital the only people they listen to are their donors, and only the richest ones, at that. The pirates off the coast of Africa had no such problems. Had any such tyrannical oligarch of the sort who rule the world from Washington appeared in Madagascar, the pirates would have cut his throat. When they made a choice democratically, it was carried out.


What this book shows is how anemic our so-called freedom and supposed democracy actually are. It does so by barely mentioning our present tribulations but instead conjuring a world that existed centuries ago without those travails, and though it does so with the tools of anthropology and history, it also deploys the descriptive powers of the novelist. The characters in this account, however, actually existed, and they had an expansive sovereignty and independence of action that we wage slaves can only envy.


This pirate culture enchanted Graeber, and given his accomplishments, that's not surprising. Graeber's cultural and political contributions were enormous, something highlighted by his untimely 2020 death in Venice at the age of 59. His insightful writings on debt and his Occupy activism influenced people over the globe. With Occupy he helped start a worldwide leftist movement against inequality. And this new, posthumous book reveals some of the origins of his uncommon thinking, which, in turn, shows the rigor of the anthropologist doing field work and the historian steeped in Enlightenment documents.


Graeber regards the past Madagascar society he examines as a home for Enlightenment political experiments, so that his aim is to "consider the history of pirates in Madagascar…in this light." He notes that "the pirate settlers had since 1697 become increasingly hostile to the slave trade" – no surprise, considering the pirates' mode of governance, as opposed to their legends. "On pirate ships, it was convenient to develop the reputation of all-powerful and bloodthirsty captains to overawe outsiders, even if, internally, most decisions were made by majority vote."


The anthropologist admits to being entranced by this society. "One might call pirate legends, then, the most important form of poetic expression produced by that emerging North Atlantic proletariat whose exploitation laid the ground for the industrial revolution." Graeber also notes enthusiastically that pirates' "democratic practices were almost completely unprecedented." Combine that with an ambitious, assertive and indeed aggressive local female population, and something quite unheard of was bound to develop. Though Graeber doesn't use the term feminism, that's clearly part of what he's talking about, because that's always involved when women seize their destiny and grab control of their lives for their own purposes. Such women did not appall the pirates. Quite the contrary.


These women wanted to trade freely, to intermarry with foreigners and to use their children to create a new aristocracy, and the arrival of the democratically inclined pirates enabled them to do so. "The first result of the appearance of the pirates," Graeber writes, "was to allow a large number of ambitious women, most apparently of prominent lineages…to essentially take control of their wealth and connections, and, with the pirates, effectively create the port cities that were to dominate the subsequent history of the coast." (This involved crushing the power of the previous intermediaries, the Zafy Ibrahim.) The children of such intermarriage between pirates and local woman were critical to this effort, "and the key to success would be to ensure that they largely marry one another (or other foreigners)." This is what happened.


So, ambitious local women, egalitarian pirates and some knowledge of European Enlightenment trends generated a rare culture and society. But how did all three intertwine? First and foremost, for Graeber, through conversation. Pirates "on board ship…conducted their affairs through conversation, deliberation and debate." Madagascar and Enlightenment society also featured this approach. So Graeber then posits Madagascar as a home for Enlightenment political experiments. Madagascar settlements "seem to have been self-conscious attempts to reproduce that model [pirate democracy at sea] on land, with wild stories of pirate kingdoms to overawe potential foreign friends or enemies, matched by the careful development of egalitarian deliberative processes within. But the very process of the pirates' settling down, allying themselves with ambitious Malagasy women, starting families, drew them into an entirely different conversational world."


Pirates aren't the only ones who conducted political experiments. Graber did too, with Occupy, when he and others jolted a conversation about economic inequality into the global mainstream. That conversation inspired the fight in the U.S. for a $15 per hour minimum wage, among other things. According to Michael Levitin, in the Atlantic in September 2021, though the movement vanished, "its legacy is everywhere." The Zuccotti protestors announced: "We are the 99 percent," and most Americans agreed, according to polls which showed wide support for Occupy, despite Obama's contempt and his administration's crass encouragement of official assaults on it. Americans, by and large, agreed with this turn in the national conversation, which an enthusiastic anthropologist helped spark, an anthropologist whose doctoral advisor was the renowned Marshall Sahlins and who did his field work investigating the roots of egalitarianism, feminism and democracy in Madagascar.

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Wars and More Wars: The Sorry U.S. History in the Middle East

On Shedding an Obsolete Past

Andrew Bacevich

Haymarket, 358 pages





Eve Ottenberg

The American republic morphed well over a century ago into an empire of many endless wars. With U.S. troops still in Syria, Iraq, Somalia and numerous African countries, with over 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and a war budget of roughly one trillion dollars a year, it's no surprise that one of our main exports is weapons and that arms merchants call the shots in Washington. Presidents come and go, but the wars don't: they drag on. And when a president does manage to extract the country from one of these military quagmires, as Biden did in Afghanistan, he gets nothing but grief.


This only serves to encourage barbarity – like freezing Afghanistan's $7 billion in the bank, while Afghans starve due to the U.S. having bombed their country back almost to the stone age. Afghans need their funds. They have an absolute moral right to them, as most of the world recognizes, because famine kills them in greater numbers without those monies. Indeed, after the U.S. military departure, reparations would have seemed to be in order. But no. Washington just stole their money and walked away.


Critiquing this ongoing, multi-war U.S. fiasco over many years is professor Andrew Bacevich. His new book of essays, On Shedding an Obsolete Past, collected from over the past half decade, hammers it home over and over: the U.S. must change course, because the current one is not only unsustainable, it is wrong. Bacevich has a bone to pick with elite centrists like New York Times columnist David Brooks, former president Bill Clinton, prominent Dem John Kerry and the deceased senator John McCain, all of whom "see a world that needs saving and believe that it's America's calling to do just that…In fact, this conception of America's purpose expresses not the intent of providence, which is inherently ambiguous, but their own arrogance and conceit. Out of that conceit comes much mischief. And in the wake of mischief come charlatans like Donald Trump." With this misbegotten notion having dominated American political life for decades, it is no wonder, as Bacevich writes that "the evils afflicting our nation, lie beyond the power of any mere president to remedy."


So if the president can't, who can? An informed, adult population firmly convinced of the wickedness of racism, war and rampant materialism – Dr. Martin Luther King's trio of American evils, to which Bacevich several times refers. Such people must control the levers of political power, preferably through an unbought congress and media. Unfortunately, they do not. Not even close.


As a result, many Americans still cherish – are indeed utterly blinded by – twentieth century political illusions. The claim that the U.S. "is a force for good in the world…irreplaceable, indispensable and essential," is, Bacevich writes, "a falsehood of Trumpian dimensions…What this country does need to recognize is that the twentieth century is gone for good… It's past time to give the narratives of the twentieth century a decent burial." What, you ask, will replace them? Try recognizing the reality and coming devastation of climate change, and doing something about it. Then there's the problem of gargantuan economic inequality. And there's plenty more. I'm sure we can figure out what these dilemmas are if we put our collective mind to it. But don't hold your breath for the current Washington administration. "Sadly, Joe Biden and his associates appear demonstrably incapable of exchanging the history that they know for the history on which our future may well depend."


To say Bacevich deplores U.S. military adventures is an understatement. He thinks they should never have happened – from Panama to Iraq to "Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Afghanistan, Sudan, the Philippines to Afghanistan (again), Iraq (for the third time) or Syria, authorization by the United Nations Security Council or Congress ranked as somewhere between incidental and unnecessary." So they were illegal. Worse – they were imperial. Worse still, they were evil.


Biden did end the Afghan war, but the experience no doubt soured him on other needed military withdrawals, namely from Iraq and Syria. Even if it hadn't, he would face an epic uproar from congress, the media and other elites, if he attempted such departures – and that's before he even approaches the thorny issue of how to leave Syria without stabbing our allies, the Kurds, in the back, as Trump did. Thorny but not impossible. The main threat to the Kurds emanates from jihadists and Turkey – NOT from the Syrian government. But try suggesting a rapprochement between the Kurds and Damascus and see where that gets you in Washington. Persona non grata in short order would be my guess. So no, Biden won't likely bend the rules to save our allies, and since he correctly took Trump to task for his abandonment of those same allies, he's pretty much left with one option: doing nothing.


How long will U.S. soldiers remain in Iraq and Syria? Let's just say that at the current rate of political change, if your grandchildren enlist, they could wind up there. The only real hope is that another president will do there what Biden did in Afghanistan, though maybe without the sanctions. That would be a distinct improvement. Meanwhile Bacevich urges his readers to drop the myth that we are part of an indispensable, exceptional empire. He calls for questioning or even ditching the three propositions that, he says, form the post-cold war "elite consensus": 1) globalization of corporate capitalism; 2) jettisoning norms derived from Judeo-Christian religious traditions and 3) muscular global leadership exercised by the U.S.


Supposedly "winning" the cold war warped the minds of American's political class. "But here's the thing: in reality the fall of the Berlin Wall didn't change everything," Bacevich writes. "Among the things it left fully intact was a stubborn resistance to learning in Washington. That poses a greater threat to the well-being of American people than communism or terrorism ever did." Few have said it better than that.


Communism and terrorism are small potatoes compared to what our rapacious economic system, hyper-militarism and donor-bought government inflicts on Americans and on multitudes of the world's people. From the vantage point of the 2020s, communism and terrorism look more like handy bogeymen, used for the vile purpose of manipulating American public opinion. Communism was thus deployed much longer, because even after the Soviet Union's demise, mass psychosis regarding it continues to percolate through the American nation's bloodstream, most recently causing fevers over China. The anti-communist spirochete appear incurable. Terrorism, on the other hand, only swung into sharp focus after 9-11, but soon achieved status as a national hallucination, revealing its utility as a casus belli in places that had nothing to do with the assault on the World Trade Towers.


So much for our noble wars. The world would be a better place, and so would the U.S., had they never happened.

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Zapatistas Versus the "Neoliberal War Against Humanity"

Zapatista Stories for Dreaming An-Other World

Subcomandante Marcos

PM, 113 pages





Eve Ottenberg

The Zapatista revolution has survived in Chiapas, southern Mexico, since 1994, and that is a miracle. Zapatistas endured the assaults of government paramilitaries, the betrayals of Mexican presidents and crushing poverty. "They don't care that we have nothing," the Zapatistas said of Mexico's elite at the start of their first uprising, "absolutely nothing, not even a roof over our heads, no land, no work, no healthcare, no food, no education, not the right to freely and democratically elect our political representatives nor independence from foreigners."


This specter of destitution loomed over the Zapatistas, and indeed millions of indigenous people because of NAFTA. After a 12-day war against the Mexican state in 1994, Zapatistas agreed to a ceasefire, maintaining control of their lands in Chiapas. Thus the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) is always ready for combat. Its soldiers may spend their days planting corn and beans, but at a moment's notice they drop their hoes and grab their rifles. That's because government paramilitaries could reappear at any time, and with them, the threat of reinstituting the near slavery of the abominable finca plantations. These fincas were the Zapatistas' original target in 1994. The revolutionaries overran the fincas, expelled the owners and empowered the indigenous peons, thus ending the systematic rape of indigenous women and girls and the hanging of indigenous men who refused to hand over their daughters. The practice of whipping these serfs for the slightest infraction also stopped. In every way, life improved for these peons, who had previously been treated like dirt.


Women constitute a third of the Zapatista army, according to the introduction to a new book, Zapatista Stories for Dreaming An-Other World, by Subcomandante Marcos, their leader, if they could be said to have one. And women became pivotal to the Zapatista effort to create a new social-political-economic arrangement on their lands. "The proclamation of the Women's Revolutionary Law before the 1994 uprising was an insistence that women's rights cannot wait until after the revolution; they are part of the revolution." The Women's Revolutionary Law included, for example, the right to drive; thus it enables women better to participate against what the Zapatistas accurately call "the neoliberal war against humanity."


Resistance to capitalism, not only the neoliberal variety, is a way of life for Zapatistas and best understood through their Autonomy Project. They designated their new autonomous regions "caracoles" – referring to conch shells used to summon assemblies. "These five caracoles would coordinate the already existing Zapatista municipalities in rebellion. The latter, created in 1994, were based on their massive land seizures during the uprising." No free enterprise zones here! The caracoles feature socialist governance. "The Zapatistas understand governance as a particular form of work in service to the community, rather than as an exercise of power through administration or rule," according to Dylan Eldridge Fitzwater in his book on the Zapatistas, Autonomy Is in Our Hearts, which was published about four years ago.


The 1994 revolt came specifically in response to the NAFTA cancellation of protecting native communal land from sale and privatization. Those protections were previously enshrined in the Mexican constitution, dating from Emiliano Zapata's 1910-19 revolution. When they were stripped out, the EZLN went into action. This unique army had developed from the Forces of National Liberation (FLN), who were Marxist communist guerrillas. They had migrated into the Lacandon jungle in 1983 to organize a peasant wing. Instead, as Fitzwater wrote, "over the years, this organization [the FLN] was transformed by the Tsotsil, Tzeltal, Chol, Toyolabal, Mam and Zoque indigenous communities that joined its ranks." FLN aspirations evolved over ten years of clandestine organizing from "seizure of state power and redistribution of national resources to…local autonomous self-determination."


Subcomandante Marcos' new collection of stories reveals how unique and necessary the Zapatista outlook is. The first tale, "Antonio Dreams," describes the war between peasant dreams and rulers' dreams. "Durito's Story" presents a beetle who wears glasses and smokes a pipe, who studies "neoliberalism and its strategy to dominate Latin America." "The Story of the Others" tells us that "the first agreement reached by the very first gods was to recognize difference and accept the existence of the other." In another short fiction, the narrator explains that "the mole went blind because, instead of looking outward, he began to look into his heart." It concludes: "That's why the mole is not afraid of the lion. Neither is the man who knows how to look into his heart." Some of these stories read like parables. Other's resemble Aesop's Fables. All reveal a trenchant imagination applicable to revolutionary topics. One of the commentaries at the book's end provides a more abstract interpretation: "Foundational elements of Zapatista poetics and history [are] the prophecy, the communal assembly and rebellion – the imagination of the future, the internal democratic process, the refusal to give up."


Some of Subcomandante Marcos's stories obliquely address the colonial catastrophe in Latin America, others do so directly. About European conquerors, one narrative tells us: "Their justice functioned only to give to them and take from us. Gold was their god. Superiority their belief. Deceit their word. Cruelty their way." Some stories refer to the government's offensive against the Zapatistas, while others muse about the doings of the gods who made the world. Some present aspects of creation myths. For instance, one concludes: "That's how men and women learned that you can look at others, know that they exist, they are there, they are other, and, in that way, not bump into them, hurt, step over or trip them."


For most westerners, these stories do truly dream another world; one of great struggle. One that is better.

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Climate Activism on the Brink of Nuclear War

Future on Fire

David Camfield

PM, 96 pages





Eve Ottenberg

One lesson the disastrous NATO-Russia war in Ukraine has taught us is that an attempt to decrease the climate catastrophe by kicking the oil, gas and coal habit must be carefully planned. A perfect recipe for turning popular opinion anti-green is to slam the brakes on fossil fuels with no substitute ready, as has happened to Europe due to its imbecilic sanctions on Russian energy. Those sanctions backfired, causing fuel prices to spike. Russia got rich, Europe is going broke and any popular support for ditching oil and gas evaporated. Good work Biden and birdbrain Eurocrats. The west shot itself in the head and set back, possibly a decade, the cause of transitioning off fossil fuels.


But that transition must come; and sooner than a decade. The climate catastrophe is here, already scarifyingly evident in fires, killer heatwaves, massive droughts, floods, storms – and that's just the beginning. Temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit in British Columbia, as occurred in the summer of 2021, are not normal. Floods in Pakistan that submerge a third of the country are not normal. One hundred degrees in the Russian Arctic town of Verkhoyansk on June 20, 2020, is not normal. Mega-droughts across the western U.S., Europe, Africa and southern China are not normal. Polar ice melting for good is not normal. And those are only a few of the symptoms that we experience right now, hints of a dark, ferociously difficult human future. Earth has a fever, and the richest countries caused it by burning too much oil, coal and gas. That fever will not die down. It will only go up, unless humanity takes swift, though orderly, thought-out, rational countermeasures.


But you can't reach zero or even net zero carbon emissions by blowing up gas pipelines. That just makes people frantic, as they face astronomical fuel prices and freezing winters with no heat. Then they do things like reviving the use of coal, chopping down forests to burn another dirty source of energy, wood, and deciding nuclear power might save them (it won't), as has happened in energy-starved Europe. To make matters worse, the Nordstream explosion caper released 300,000 metric tons of methane into the atmosphere, the equivalent of the annual emissions of one million cars and the largest ever discharge of methane. This is a climate crime, because methane is a greenhouse gas 80 times more potent than carbon.


Imperial gangsters who blow up pipelines won't bring the green revolution. Wind and solar, many times more than we have already, just might. But that means investment and a legal framework that prohibits idiocies like Biden's tariffs on Chinese solar tech, now apparently and thankfully waived. In short, the great power rivalry garbage sabotages climate solutions. It makes the climate catastrophe worse, just like everything else, from inflation to shortages of essential commodities to nuclear war.


But that's what we're saddled with for now, so the question for climate activists is how to switch to renewables in times of looming nuclear war. That requires recognition that the threat of nuclear extinction is currently the more dire of the two killer crises, because more immediate and more lethal in numbers of corpses. Nuclear winter would starve 5.3 billion people to death. We have no comparable numbers for those killed by the climate catastrophe. In the long run, however, disasters wrought by climate change could be worse, since they would be harder to reverse. A radioactive city can recover over time and can rebuild. A planet overheated by its profligate capitalist denizens does not cool in the frame of a lifetime, or even several. That repair would require millennia. But still attention for the moment is focused on the possible atomic extinction of humanity, as it should be. So far, climate activists have given the very few anti-nuclear war voices the space to make their case. Help advocating for arms control treaties would be a good idea too.


Meanwhile climate activists are tarred as "woke" and blamed for high energy costs by radical right-wingers, as neoliberal imperialists in Washington scramble, not to fund more wind farms, but, predictably, to locate more oil. So no, things do not look good for environmental advocates caught between neoliberal imperial war maniacs on the one hand and far-right, slander-spouting nutcases on the other. All this while pressure mounts on the west to compete with energy-rich Eurasia over fossil fuels. Hopefully it won't compete. Hopefully it will double down and shift to renewables. But the western gangsters who blew up the Nordstream pipelines only made this more difficult, not less.


A problem on the left is that some climate activists, like everybody else, settled into complacency about nuclear war during the long decades since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Generations passed and with them the dark omens of atomic annihilation, as no more nuclear bombs exploded. Thus the fact that the framework of treaties governing these abominable weapons rotted away did not receive as much political attention as protesting ecocide. It should have. Now, as we teeter on the brink of nuclear Armageddon – if not in Ukraine, then possibly quite soon over Taiwan – it's obvious that people in the U.S. should have been doing everything possible to get some controls through congress and the white house.


Trump tossed three nuclear arms control deals – the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, the Open Skies treaty and the Iran nuclear pact – into the trash, and Bush threw out the Anti-Ballistic Missile agreement. So those misguided souls who think the Dems are the only ones champing at the bit for World War III should think again. These four abandoned treaties were huge losses for humanity. We need them now more than ever, just like we need politicians with the foresight and backbone to secure them for us. That means talking with Russia and China, not demonizing them. It means deescalating great-power competition, not ramping up the "winnable nuclear war," fight-it-out nonsense that characterizes Washington's current political mindset. It means burying the lie that our military can detonate so-called "low-yield" nuclear warheads on the battlefield and the hogwash that their effects will somehow magically remain only on the battlefield.


Planning for a just climate transition is vital, but so is a mass environmental movement to inspire that thoughtful arrangement. The decisive role of a huge, unstoppable movement is what David Camfield argues in his new book, Future on Fire, and he makes the case convincingly. Mass movements are needed, because "governments in capitalist societies are always vulnerable to pressure from corporations." He observes that "an 'investment strike' could cause a societal crisis. States are also subject to pressure from credit rating agencies." After citing many other governmental weaknesses in capitalist countries, Camfield concludes that the strategy of electing a green left government will fail. But movements, he says, won't. I would add that the two together might just be unbeatable.


Camfield observes that it was the "de-subordination" of the slaves – a mass movement – not Lincoln alone, that led to emancipation. Similarly, the 1930s radical left-wing mass movements caused the New Deal; fear of their power impelled FDR to back innovations like social security, rather than face a revolt from the left. Later, in 1943, "a British conservative MP said, 'if you do not give the people reform, they are going to give you revolution.'" We need mass social movements to frighten our rulers into doing what people want. Camfield also quotes environmental activist Naomi Klein on climate change: "Only mass social movements can save us now." I would add that as we work for a mass movement to sweep away fossil fuels, we would do well to put a replacement framework in place, something like a campaign for solar panels on every home and every other building, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. In this country, that's something Washington could achieve, if it could take a break from the great power war-mongering for a moment and try to do something that's actually useful.


This book makes the case for those mass movements, the rudiments of which are already in place. Hopefully, they will swell into an ocean of protest and scare our rulers out of their wits. That's the only way such so-called leaders – who quite complacently have led us to the brink of nuclear annihilation – can be forced to do anything right. Fear of millions of people with a cause. Otherwise a grim, desolate future awaits.

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The Global Fight Against Fascism

Brigadistas! And American Anti-Fascist in the Spanish Civil War

Miguel Ferguson

Monthly Review Press, 112 pages





Eve Ottenberg

The Spanish civil war of 1936 becomes more relevant every day. That's because it was a war against fascism in its pure form. In case you wonder what form that is, amid the poisonous, weedy varieties sprouting up globally these days, it's fascism, exercised through corporate control of government, against and thus persecution of leftists, non-Christians and trade unionists. If that sounds familiar, don't be surprised to hear it spelled out: this is the explicit program of much of the U.S. Republican party. The Dems enabled it, make no mistake, and they are just as complicit in the corporate merger with government. But they at least have the good grace not to embrace the rest of it.


In Spain, when the fascists revolted, they did not make a mess of it the way our hapless January 6 rioters did. But don't count on what happened once happening again. If ever a Bernie Sanders or any true social democrat should find him- or herself ascending to the white house, the oligarchs' shock troops, those AR-15-toting, rightwing militias will attempt to head such a president off before arrival and block his or her passage, and will do so in the name of some cultural grievance, like that social democrat's feminism or support of gay marriage, along with ignorant howls about that candidate's Marxist-Leninist communism. Although the American elite was horrified by what Trump did January 6, don't expect that horror to hold if the electors congress must certify support a candidate with openly socialistic leanings. A president who aims to institute government-paid-for medicine, housing, and higher education? You can be sure our corporate aristocracy will tolerate no such thing.


Sadly, social democrats are not great fighters. While the American right-wing does not want to admit it, (nor do centrist Dems or even, in fact, much of the left) the most effective fighters against fascism are communists and always have been. That's because the communist analysis of fascism, as handed down by Leon Trotsky and Clara Zetkin is the most honest, lucid and unequivocating one around and it leads inexorably to the conclusion that only mass action, maybe even – as happened when confronting Nazism – antifascist violence, is the way to stop this horror.


In this regard, it pays to study the Spanish civil war. Right on time comes the publication of Brigadistas!,a graphic novelization of the war by Miguel Ferguson. Now graphic novels and histories have a long, admirable left-wing pedigree, and this new account descends directly from them. "Comic books first seized public attention in the late 1930s moment of global dread," writes Paul Buhle in the afterword, noting the popularity of war comics during World War II, especially Boy Commandos. "Multicultural, nonracist by implication, Boy Commandos was written by one of the coming giants of superhero comic books, Joe Simon, himself the son of a union organizer." Simon didn't hesitate to depict partisans taking revenge against fascists, in comics that modern day right-wingers would no doubt denounce as "antifa."


But then, after Boy Commandos, came furious red-baiting censorship. Buhle writes that its effects stifled this art form and lasted until the Vietnam war protests. That's when graphic comic artist Spain Rodriguez appeared. He was "sui generis among the peaceniks of the Bay Area circles of artists." His comic art portrayed "tough left-wingers fighting a cruel and destructive social system." Rodriguez's "graphic story of Che [Guevara] is the precursor to Brigadistas!"


This new book recounts the struggles of young communists from Brooklyn who travel to Spain to fight fascists. Several real-life left-wing heroes make an appearance, for instance African American labor organizer and anti-fascist Oliver Law, along with radical left-wing novelist Ernest Hemingway and journalist Martha Gellhorn. The book fictionalizes the heroism of anti-fascist Abram Osherhoff and his comrades, starting with the young communists tearing down and attempting to destroy the swastika flag on the German ship Bremen, docked in New York harbor.


A Spanish republican convinces Abram to join the anti-fascist fight with the words: "Senor Abe, the people who butchered the Jews during the Inquisition, they are the same kind of people who did this [Guernica]. This is who we fight." The Popular Front helped arrange the leftists' passage to Barcelona. But despite the many who joined these international brigades, determined to "make Spain the tomb of fascism," the odds were against them. "No guns, no food, no water," one American complains in this new book. "This is a helluva way to run a war."


Fascists are always better armed. Just look at our own, homegrown militias, with the most up-to-date semi-automatic weaponry, while antifa faces them with what? Baseball bats? What Abram writes to his girlfriend holds true of the antifa left today: "Hardly anyone here has military experience. Most of us are union members and working stiffs, but there are artists and writers and all sorts from all over the globe." Unfortunately, most of the soldiers during the Spanish civil war were to be found on the fascist side. And the only place large numbers of anti-fascist soldiers might have come from, namely, the USSR, didn't provide them. To its credit, however, the Soviet Union supported the Spanish antifascists in many other ways, when the rest of the west left them to twist in the wind.


The type of graphic history and art exemplified by this tradition of comics went against what Buhle calls "the politically indifferent 'free enterprise art' mood of the cold war 1950s." In painting, that was shortly after the start of abstract expressionism, so eagerly promoted and funded by the CIA. After all, it's hard to depict social reality when your style is abstract, and social reality was what the CIA sought to quash. Social realism was mocked in the west, despite that fact that most of the greatest novelists who ever lived practiced it. No, the CIA message was: "We in the west have fun with abstract art, while communists portray the gloomy, boring suffering of ordinary people." So did Balzac, Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Zola, countless other literary titans and painters like Goya and David, but so what? The CIA had a psychological war to win. It succeeded with painting and sculpture, and the trend influenced modernist and post-modernist literature and music. But some artists nevertheless remained committed to reality and its humongous historical artistic heritage.


The cost of this ideological campaign against the true subject of literature and art, to wit, depiction of social reality, was enormous. Though Balzac, for instance, personally espoused royalist politics, his more than one hundred novels present a different vision, one that radicalizes into serious leftism any reader not deficient in either the brain or the heart; but that particular radical insight into the world's true workings cannot occur if Balzac is not read, and in the U.S., outside of university romance language departments, he is not read.


Which is catastrophic, because Balzac was prescient to the point of infallible soothsaying. Take, for instance, his colossal masterpiece, his novel Lost Illusions, about journalism, poetry and other literary arts. It stands as valid today as it did in the nineteenth century, as an indictment of the commodification of literature. It lays bare once and for all, how that commodification occurred and at what human cost to the writers it affected. This novel analyzes, far more profoundly and trenchantly than Gissing's New Grub Street, a process that altered literary ecology forever – indeed what novelist or journalist today can even conceive of living in a world where the rules of the literary marketplace do not hold? To find such a pristine environment you would have to travel back to medieval times and who wants to, or can arrange their writing thus? Balzac would not have been surprised at how the CIA attempted to pervert and hijack literature; his only shock would have been at how long it took for this to happen, namely not until the mid-twentieth century.


As the stupendous Marxist literary critic Georg Lukacs would have told you in a heartbeat, any literary subject other than the true machinery of social reality is puny and puerile, thus the trivialization of so much contemporary art and literature, with notable exceptions like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's oeuvre. Because lamentably, after the mid-twentieth century, western art was hobbled and so, deliberately, was its ability to aid social and political movements. But one corner of the artistic world, graphic comics, proved surprisingly resilient. This genre survived political censorship, bounced back in the 1960s and started, once again, doing what all great art does: revealing deep truths about human reality.

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Maybe Civilization Was a Mistake, After All

Work, Work, Work

Michael Yates

Monthly Review Press, 216 pages




Eve Ottenberg

Civilization was possibly a mistake. It led to capitalism five hundred years ago, and that was unquestionably, absolutely a mistake. Capitalism now consumes the planet. It expands like a metastasizing cancer over the face of the earth, heating the atmosphere to unbearable levels and at the current rate may well destroy our world within another hundred years. We would do well to replace it with something that won't render the globe uninhabitable. But what? Well, of the 200,000 years that humans have dwelled on this planet, 95 percent of that time we were hunter gatherers. We had better health, greater longevity than our agricultural descendants who ruled for millennia before the current, unfortunate arrangement, less patriarchy, lived without direct authority over us, and, critically, we didn't ravage the earth.


Michael Yates' new book, Work, Work, Work references this human hunter-gatherer ancestry, though he would clearly like to replace capitalism with socialism, rather than return to the wisdom of our nomadic forebearers. But we may not have much choice. From my perch in the peanut gallery, I'd like to note that socialism is about as likely as scavenging for roots and bark. Global brainwashing against socialism and communism may only have succeeded in the west, but that's the place responsible for belching millions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere (though China has lately caught up fast) and thus heating it so badly that polar ice caps melt. Ask an ideologue like House speaker Nancy "We're All Capitalists Now" Pelosi and you'll find her enthusiasm for socialized medicine about on a par with her eagerness to forage in the woods for her dinner.


And then there's senator Marco "Bomb the Chinese Aircraft Carriers" Rubio. He's ready and rip-roaring to go for World War III, which, according to latest estimates would promptly starve over five billion people to death via nuclear winter, and leave the rest of us…hunting in the forest for fiddlehead ferns to eat, while consulting our wild food guidebooks about which mushrooms are not poisonous. Maybe we could just delete the nuclear war step and skip straight to a hunter-gatherer culture. There would be a lot less yellow-peril, racist razzmatazz, thus disappointing GOP demagogues, though certainly many more survivors.


But clearly Rubio's on board with zipping back in time to our hunter gatherer past, it's just how he plans to get us there that's objectionable; indeed, I'm sure he'd prefer nuts, tubers and rhizomes to the socialized state picking up the tab for housing, medicine and education. But actually, in any event, he doesn't have to worry. He probably won't be foraging for immature cattail spikes in wetlands. High-ranking congressmembers likely can claim cushy berths in the government's nuclear apocalypse bunker and feast on evaporated milk and canned corn for a few years, something the rest of us proles will only be able to dream of as we pick the few berries that can grow with sunlight limited by nuclear winter and gather dandelions for salads. So no wonder Rubio wants war with China. Unlike eight billion other people, he had no skin in the game (whose bright idea was it so send him to congress in the first place?)


Probably the same imbeciles who voted for the current grand pooh-bah of nincompoops, senator Marsha "Bring on Nuclear Armageddon" Blackburn, who recently informed us that Taiwan "declared their independence." If that had happened, so would a Chinese invasion of the island and the inevitable futile, idiotic and radioactive U.S. military response. "Taiwan has its own president, military and constitution. It's obvious it is an independent country," according to Blackburn, who also thumped her chest and announced that "Xi Jinping doesn't scare me."


But this bluster has nothing on the imbecility of Blackburn's grasp of the past, worthy of any ignoramus elected to the U.S. congress: "China has a 5,000-year history of cheating and stealing. Some things will never change…" said Blackburn who represents a country that recently stole $7 billion from Afghanistan, over $300 billion from Russia and loots Syrian oil even as you read these words. Meanwhile China alarms U.S. financial bigwigs by setting a virtuous example that doubtless nauseates them, namely forgiving loans to 17 African nations. Who's the thief again? Don't ask fact-free Blackburn. Her moronic pronunciamentos garnished her recent adventure in Taiwan, one of several by U.S. members of congress in the wake of Nancy Pelosi's deliberately provocative jaunt there earlier this summer. Apparently, the view among elected U.S. nitwits is that Joe "Russian Roulette" Biden is too lethargic when it comes to his various oaths to support Taiwan militarily, so they outdo each other, more vigorously flirting with atomic apocalypse. Voters who sent these stupids to Washington generally deserve what they get, but even those who backed Blackburn don't deserve the three years of no sunlight that the nuclear winter she promotes will cause.


By contrast, you've got to admire socialists like Yates. They stick to the truth and denounce war wherever it comes. His new book takes apart and then demolishes any myth any idiot might harbor about the dignity of work under capitalism. It also recognizes how capitalism poisons the planet. "Radical change is not utopian; it is necessary," he writes. "No liberal or social democratic program has any chance of avoiding our annihilation." That's annihilation from climate change, folks, which, if you haven't heard, is killing us. Currently it drowns people in floods or kills them with heat prostration or those once-in-a-millennium, now routine, freak weather events. But remember, the climate catastrophe is just gearing up. And Yates doesn't even broach the potential global nuclear fiasco of a U.S. proxy war with Russia or an out-and-out one, like Republican lunatics want, with China. The radical socialism Yates says we need presupposes going completely green and ditching all weapons of mass destruction.


And who spearheads this radical socialism? Not only the world's three to four billion workers, but also the two billion global peasant farmers, the many unemployed, who knows how many homemakers, everyone who scrapes by through participating in the informal economy, all 1.46 billion of them, and indigenous hunter gatherers, in short, the vast, humongous majority of humanity. And since capitalism so promiscuously scarred the earth and its people – billions, remember, dispossessed by this economic and political arrangement – any new anti-capitalist order would end private ownership of the means of production, including land.


Yates lists other arrangements that ideally would cease: "Production for profit. The obsession with endless economic growth. The exploitation of wage labor. The expropriation of peasant land, urban and rural common spaces, the labor and bodies of women, Black bodies, and all forms of patriarchy and racism. The private plunder of the natural world. Imperialism." And more. Perusing this laundry list of things that gotta go, it's impossible not to conclude that billionaire oligarchs won't give all that up without a fight. Workers in the plutocrat-infested pampas of the United States, already beleaguered, have a gargantuan battle ahead of them.


"It takes boldness and courage to attack capital." Yates writes. "But attack we must. This system is a human disaster, and it proves itself every day to be incapable of satisfying our most basic needs." Instead, it poisons the earth and renders billions of people destitute, those who somehow scramble to survive on a few dollars or less per day. "The implication of everything said in this book is that the working class must change the world. There is no choice." Because certainly capital ain't about to do it.


The rich benefit from the current ecological and economic catastrophe. They don't care if oil spills pollute indigenous lands in some faraway corner of the globe or if a million child laborers languish in mines, factories and farm fields around the world. And remember, even for adults, work "is a soul-destroying lethal experience." That's because "most workers do hard and dangerous labor, wearing out their bodies every minute they toil, fearing the day that they will be discarded." That includes those one million kids. But plutocrats don't give a hoot. They've got theirs. And the same, Yates says, holds true of the comfortable middle class in places like the United States.


Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, things just go from bad to worse. Take, for instance, Ukraine, destroyed in every way by its association with the west. Well, they've just banned labor unions. Another great western neoliberal idea. On August 23 came the news that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky ratified Law 5371. As a result, trade unions no longer protect workers, who have lost the right to bargain collectively. So in addition to serving as cannon fodder for the west's insane proxy war with Russia, ordinary Ukrainians are now the hapless victims of the class war, of neo-liberalism unchained and gone wild.


As anyone can see, the world's billionaire oligarchs remain busy waging that class war wherever they can. And they would undoubtedly prefer to destroy the world than sacrifice one iota of their privilege. Something they are completely capable of doing. If not nuclear war with Russia or China, our elites will undermine any radical change to prevent the climate catastrophe that is happening now, much faster than even the most pessimistic scientists predicted.


Aside from capitalism's climate catastrophe, there are other very good reasons to end this sadistic arrangement. Businesses use employees like machines, Yates observes. "It is profoundly anti-human. It is not just that employers exploit labor. Rather, they consume workers, and, in the process, deaden them. And when no more can be taken by capital, shells of human beings are simply disposed of and fresh new ones put to work."


So capitalism burns through the natural world, burns through workers, and, let's not forget, inflates a deadly, multi-billion dollar weapons industry. "The market will, absent powerful countervailing forces, not only reproduce inequalities, but deepen them, as we have seen so clearly in the United States over the past fifty years," Yates writes. "The greater the inequality of income within a state, the higher the mortality rate." This is so because "it's not the ceo and the managers who suffer depression, hypertension and heart attacks from being too long on the job. Instead, it's the assembly-line worker, the secretary, and the kitchen laborer." And this, Yates adds, is only in the richest country. The injuries of class "get truly demonic as we move outside the rich nations and into the poor ones." And the billionaires in those poor countries live like kings.


In the United States, only a few radical unions remain, having somehow weathered red-baiting vilification and anti-communist hysteria back in the mid-twentieth century. One of those radical unions, the United Electrical Workers led the struggle for workers' rights during covid. At the pandemic's start, Yates quotes UE leaders, "our union…UE has called on all workers, both our members and nonunion workers, to stand up and fight." This was back when the virus was new and our rulers not yet blasé about compelling employees to expose themselves to a lethal disease. Now such exposure is expected. Workers are thus asked, more openly than usual, to die for capitalism and the moneybags its smooth operation enriches.


The thorniest problem is how to wrest control from the capitalist aristocracy. Yates lists three important elements in any worker movement: direct action, labor organization and political effort. "Direct action is often characterized, even on the left, as wanton rioting, without rhyme or reason. This is never the case." In this context, Yates cites Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. He also several times mentions the impressive community services performed in the 1960s and 1970s by the Black Panther Party. These three movements also share a sharp-eyed assessment of the enemy, whose iniquity is perhaps best recorded in another book by a committed leftist, Eduardo Galeano's Open Veins of Latin America.


Never underestimate the wickedness of the rich. They'd rather bequeath us mushroom clouds than give up one yacht. Me, I think it's time we started learning to identify our wild, edible plants. Sauteed thistle roots for dinner, anyone?

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Elites Use Identity Politics To Wage Class War

Elite Capture

Olufemi Taiwo

Haymarket Books, 157 pages




Eve Ottenberg

Identity politics got a bad name in recent years. This happened because the Democratic party abandoned its base of ordinary working people for Wall Street, and as it did so, made a big fuss about its progressive cred by appointing token women, Blacks, gay and trans people to various high perches. But not surprisingly, working people of all colors and genders concluded the Dems didn't care about them anymore and either abandoned voting, or masochistically defected to the GOP, which meanwhile started having a field day treating Dem tokenism as proof of the Great Replacement in action.


So everyone got riled up about identity politics, while the one identity never mentioned, and possibly the most important, though assiduously elided in the public sphere, is class identity. Both political parties ignored working people's economic concerns, to the delight of their mega-corporate donors. The public's desire for single-payer health care, increased minimum wage, affordable higher education, decent infrastructure, an end to foreign military adventures and other such social benefits couldn't be ditched fast enough by Dems and a GOP both utterly beholden to Big Money.


The role of identity politics in any sane attempt to fight back against the power of obscene wealth is discussed in Elite Capture, a new book by Olufemi Taiwo. It asks at the outset, what is identity politics? It is, according to Dominic Gustavo at the World Socialist Web Site and quoted by Taiwo, "an essential tool utilized by the bourgeoisie to maintain its class domination over the working class by keeping workers divided along racial and gender lines." Hard to argue with that. But then alternatively, Taiwo asks, is identity politics "as embodied in critical race theory, a dangerous ideology and threat to the established order that the powers that be aim to stamp out?"


Possibly it is both. But personally, I fail to perceive how this ideology menaces an established order that its identity-activists have unctuously and sedulously wooed. Worse, identity politics weakens worker solidarity, because it never mentions class. And class very much divides the population. There's even a class war, being waged by a vast clan of financial titans against the rest of us hoi poloi. Class consciousness usually leads to class war, but identity politics is a different animal, a chameleon happy on either side of the class divide, and quite noticeably eager to seduce the rulers of swankier realms. It pays to keep a watchful eye on this slippery ideology.


At the same time, however, one might leave the door open and say that identity politics could conceivably threaten the status quo. Conceivably. And it has certainly helped win critical rights, from the female vote to affirmative action to gay marriage and more. But in recent years, overall, in practice it rarely menaces the established order and, as far as anyone can tell, has been pretty much co-opted by our rulers. So overall, the World Socialist Web Site seems to hit closer to the truth. Identity politics splintered the working class, and it's hard to see how to undo the damage.


What does elite capture of identity politics mean in practice? Well, Taiwo writes, "when elites run the show, the interests of the group get whittled down to what they have in common with those at the top, at best." So feminists supporting Hillary Clinton might fret about glass ceilings, while female home health aides just worry about making the rent. When these two cohorts join in politics, the concerns of women high up on the career ladder dominate. "At worst," Taiwo continues, "elites fight for their own narrow interests using the banner of group solidarity." Again, to use the HRC example, at worst women might find their feminism pressed into support of, say, U.S. imperialism, toppling foreign governments that are too left-wing (Manuel Zelaya's Honduran presidency) and advocating the murder of leaders disliked by their feminist icons in Washington – think Libya's Gaddafi.


Or say a young progressive congresswoman like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez goes to Washington, having campaigned on Medicare For All and a Green New Deal. But well, there's House speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the new congresswoman soon learns that it's "my way or the highway" with centrist Dems. And so, before too long, she's voting for billions of dollars for military aid to Ukraine, which also happens to enrich puissant defense contractors. And then maybe she yammers about freedom in Taiwan, as the military industrial complex expects her to do, while subsidized health care and the climate catastrophe slip ever further into the shadows. So what's left? She stays passionate when it comes to bathrooms and the latest me-too tumult, but really, look at the priorities here. They seem to be that she can continue to flaunt her leftwing bona fides while ignoring other issues that just so happen to be life and death matters. And not just ignoring. In the case of Washington's potentially globally lethal proxy war in Ukraine, she chooses the side of mass death over screaming for peace negotiations, which was, after all, the sort of thing she was elected for.


Thus goes subordination to the elites. But Taiwo's new book, at times elliptical, highlights other oddities of identity politics. It makes clear that leftists spend far too much energy virtue signaling and not enough out there, organizing. This distracts from constructive politics. As Taiwo observes, when Flint, Michigan residents noticed that their water smelled and was yellowish brown, "in that moment what they needed was not for their oppression to be 'celebrated,' 'centered' or narrated in the newest academic parlance…What Flint residents really needed, above all, was to get the lead out of their water." Celebrating and centering amount to deference politics. While they may have their time and place, clearly that's not when there's a crisis. Constructive politics, Taiwo argues, deals with the problem: it gets the lead out of the water.


It's ridiculous that this even needs to be spelled out. But so many leftists waste so much time with well-intentioned virtue signaling that it's no wonder so little gets done. And that's a problem. Because there are mammoth issues out in the world that people need to address, like, to repeat that which cannot be repeated enough, the class war, and why several billion ordinary people are losing that class war.


After all, ours is a world in which "1.6 billion people live in inadequate housing (slum conditions) and 100 million are unhoused, a full third of the human population does not have reliable drinking water." Taiwo also cites an example from Africa, where "82 million Nigerians…live on less than a dollar a day." These people's carbon footprints are negligible. Yet they're the ones climate change, caused by rich countries, will kill first – with famine due to drought, or drowning in floods, or expiring from heat stroke. The only way to change this is to organize, not to quarrel over pronouns.


So yes, continue with identity politics and virtue signal if you feel so compelled. But try to keep the outcomes of politics in mind. Of course currently raging right-wing persecution of trans people is horrible and should be opposed, and of course trans rights are human rights, but the right to an abortion is a woman's right, as is a female prisoner's right not to be raped by her trans-woman cellmate, and if we spend all our time fidgeting and hedging over such matters, whose truth is obvious, and fighting about them, we're doing the enemy's work for him. Because as I've heard labor leaders holler at union meetings – "The enemy is strong!" Carping at feminists for using the word "woman" just makes the enemy stronger. And so does pretending that the first Black president was anything other than a tool of the billionaire oligarchy. The elites have "a big [slightly diverse] club," as comedian George Carlin said, "and you ain't in it!" And you ain't in it for one main, rock-solid reason: you belong to the wrong class.

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Abolish the CIA

Scorpion's Dance, The President, the Spymaster, and Watergate

Jefferson Morley

St. Martin's Press, 326 pages




Eve Ottenberg

Just about every lousy U.S. foreign policy escapade from the 1950s to the late '70s traces back to the CIA. From the catastrophic1953 coup of Iranian president Mohammad Mossadegh, the 1954 regime change of Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz for daring to step on United Fruit's toes, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the many, some of them quite ridiculous, attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro, South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem's demise, a possible right-wing Cuban link to the JFK assassination, the murder of Chilean general Rene Schneider and the overthrow of Chilean president Salvador Allende, the Watergate break-in and much, much more – the CIA's fingerprints were all over these crimes. It got so bad that two high-level, echt-centrist government officials called for scrapping the CIA: senator Patrick Moynihan in 1995 and president Harry Truman in 1963. They were right.


A new book proves it. Jefferson Morley's Scorpion's Dance, the President, the Spymaster and Watergate, details decades of CIA funny-business, and there was loads of it. Indeed, if you ever wonder how the world got to be such a mess and who's responsible, read this book. And there's no reason to believe the nonsense has stopped or that somehow, despite the Taliban, the CIA is just quietly minding its own business and watering its poppy fields in Afghanistan.


No. The CIA trained terrorists throughout the greater Middle East and Nazis in Ukraine. They're still at it, though their adventures on Russia's border make for by far the most deadly possible disaster in a history riddled with them, for the simple reason that the Russia caper could go nuclear at any time. From the way they've behaved, it's almost as if that's what the CIA wants. If Biden can control the agency and avert nuclear winter and radioactive global mass death, I'll be very impressed.


Morley's book focuses on the relationship between president Richard Nixon and CIA director Richard Helms. Their somewhat uncomfortable, edgy teamwork led to debacles domestic and foreign. With Nixon's approval, Helms illegally spied on the antiwar movement. Meanwhile the CIA-assisted murder of general Schneider – because he supported a civilian transfer of power and would not undo Allende's legitimate presidency, something which profoundly affronted the testy pride of Nixon and his advisor Henry Kissinger – encouraged fascist killers to go after Allende himself. It signaled that the U.S. not only would not stop their excesses, but also supported them.


 And Chile did not even threaten any vital American interest. It was of international insignificance to Washington. But Morley observes: "Chile mattered as Cold War theater." And the U.S. stole the show. The anti-Allende coup provided a stellar performance of how Nixon and Helms deployed the CIA to the ruin of freedom, fairness, democracy and decency. It ushered in decades of overt fascism under Pinochet. But U.S. elites considered this worth it. Managing the public perception that Washington was winning the cold war remained paramount, and the gaudier the exhibition, the better.


This was and remains typical. Washington believes it must be seen as winning and its enemies as utterly depraved. "There is no disputing that the idea of staging a spectacular crime," Morley writes, "and blaming it on Cuba as a way of overthrowing Castro was in circulation at the highest levels of the Pentagon and CIA in mid-1963." Sound familiar? Substitute Russia for Cuba and Putin for Castro and you'll see little has changed in 50 years. The CIA owns a very skimpy playbook, peppered almost exclusively with failed strategies, but this failure never seems to stop the agency from repeating the same idiocy, hoping for a different result – Einstein's definition of insanity. And by that rule, Helms was one of the craziest of all. "Helms, like Nixon, favored action. Communism, they believed, had to be resisted everywhere." Even with the manifest fiasco of Vietnam, Helms and Nixon still doubled-down on the strategy. Now, communism in the twenty-first century may be in retreat, but the fanatical, paranoid sense of a threat to America saturates Washington's upper echelons. That combined with other governmental maladies is toxic.


"One of the chief legacies of Nixon and Helms was cynicism," Morley writes, and later of the American people: "In the absence of a credible explanation of Kennedy's death, mistrust of government exploded and conspiratorial thinking was legitimized." And who's to say it wasn't legitimate? The CIA, the mafia, the anti-Castro Cubans all hated Kennedy, and their skullduggery all intertwined. Indeed, Robert Kennedy assumed some such lethal combo killed his brother, but Morley notes, he could not act on it until he became president. He very conveniently didn't. And the JFK assassination was swept under the rug. As Morley writes of French president Charles De Gaulle: "Not long after Dallas, he predicted that American officialdom would shy from investigating the enigmatic crime of Dallas. 'They don't want to know,' De Gaulle said. 'They don't want to find out. They won't allow themselves to find out.'"


The late 1970s Frank Church congressional committee investigation of CIA and FBI abuses marked the zenith of government efforts to drag these shadowy criminal enterprises into the light. It's been steeply downhill and a plunge into darkness ever since. After 9/11 came the insane war on terror, when things got much worse. With carte blanche from the George "Mission Accomplished" Bush administration, the CIA tortured innocent people at black sites all over the world. These pointless and gruesome atrocities were never prosecuted. In fact, Barak "I'm Good at Killing People," Obama deliberately swept them under the rug and matters only deteriorated during his reign. But they plummeted to rock bottom under Joe "Russian Regime Change" Biden: Thanks to CIA and U.S. special forces in Ukraine, humanity gets to peer over the abyss at nuclear annihilation.


According to the New York Times June 25, "some CIA personnel have continued to operate in [Ukraine] secretly, mostly in the capital, Kyiv, directing much of the vast amounts of intelligence the United States is sharing with Ukrainian forces." Because the Russians, of course, know this, it is a recipe for nuclear Armageddon. If the CIA pulls that off, that will be its worst atrocity yet, far, incomparably worse than its possible involvement in Kennedy's assassination.


Biden proclaims he wants to avoid World War III, but his actions tell a different story. This is something for which he will pay at the polls in 2022 and 2024, but that is cold comfort. We could all be dead by then on account of his nuclear brinksmanship. "As usual it appears that the administration wants to have it both ways: assure the American people that it is being 'restrained' and that we are not 'at war' with the Russians, but doing everything but planting a U.S. soldier and flag inside Ukraine," wrote Kelley Vlahos in the June 27 Responsible Statecraft. The Quincy Institute's "George Beebe…wonders if Washington even knows how far it is going here." It probably doesn't and thus plays an iniquitously cavalier game with the fate of humanity. Who's rolling the dice in that game? The CIA of course, just the sort of amoral gang dedicated to its own perpetuation regardless of cost that you don't want anywhere near the borders of a nuclear-armed nation.


This is the agency Helms bequeathed us: Violent, criminal, secretive, lawless, it is an agglomeration of murderers and torturers who rampage across the globe with impunity. Former CIA director Mike Pompeo boasted of the agency that "We lied, we cheated, we stole." Those, unfortunately, are merely the agency's misdemeanors. It's the felonies that should worry you. The CIA not only collaborates with Nazis, it trains them. And it does so right under the nose of a country deeply, tectonically offended by Nazism and, it happens, armed with more nuclear warheads than the U.S. So currently, the CIA flirts with the ultimate genocide, the extinction of the human species. It is an instrument of evil incarnate. Dissolve it.

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How the Genocide Rolls

An Enemy Such as This

David Correia

Haymarket Books, 222 pages




Eve Ottenberg

When Navajo activist Larry Casuse kidnapped Emmet Garcia, mayor of Gallup, New Mexico in March 1973, he certainly knew he could die. And he soon did. After police shot Casuse, they posed grinning over his body, displaying their guns, like big game hunters. This would not have surprised Casuse, well versed, as he was, in white barbarity toward Natives and indifference to their suffering. In fact, he resorted to kidnapping the mayor, because he had exhausted all other remedies to solve a fatal problem for his fellow Navajos: Besides being mayor, Garcia co-owned a bar, the Navajo Inn, frequented by indigenous people. Drunk, they died in droves of exposure in winter on the long stagger back to the reservation. Or they meandered out onto the road and got smashed up and killed by cars. The bar caused many Native deaths, regularly. But Mayor Garcia wouldn't close it, despite Larry Casuse's nonstop efforts to get him to.


In a week when senator Mazie Hirono just urged President Biden to pardon Leonard Peltier, a Native activist wrongfully imprisoned for roughly 50 years, Casuse's story and beliefs are especially relevant. He was quite clear-eyed about what white colonialism meant for Natives. White men "brought disease, raped our women, killed our brothers the animals, murdered our elders, levelled out the vast forests, polluted our rivers, filled our air with chemicals, called us savage, pagans, Indians," Casuse testified to the New Mexico senate at a time when, David Correia clarifies in his new book, An Enemy Such as This, Casuse still clung to nonviolence to bring change. But none of it worked. Patient cooperation had no effect at all. What was the Navajo college student to do?


Corrreia's new book zooms in on Casuse and his ancestors, using this one family as a lens through which to view treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. and Mexican governments over hundreds of years. As everyone knows, that treatment was abysmal.  The two countries sank to the lowest point in that abyss with blood contracts – bounties on indigenous scalps. This started in the southwest in the 1830s. "The military strategy prior to the use of scalp bounties was based on a ration-based pacification strategy," but "Mexico discovered that it was cheaper to pay Americans to kill Apaches than to maintain Mexican armies to pacify them."


Scalping Native Americans became big business, drawing murderers from all over the U.S. "Chihuahua established an official state-regulated price on Apache scalps: one hundred pesos for an adult male, fifty pesos for an adult female, and twenty-five pesos for the capture of a child twelve years old or younger." That's how the genocide rolled.


The book detours into this gruesome account of chopping off the tops of people's heads because that was the colonial response to indigenous attacks on the Santa Rita copper mine. And that mine looms like an inescapable curse in the Casuse family story. Indeed, Correia delineates the mine's history, because Larry Casuse's father, Louis, worked there and belonged to the very radical miners' union.


Father and son's lives were iconic; they illustrated in two different ways indigenous response to the dominion and cruelty of colonial empire. Correia devotes as much space to Louis as to Larry: Louis whose mother died when he was young and who was sent with his older brother to Standing Rock near Chaco Canyon to live with his grandmother. His father remarried and reunited all his children into one capacious family. Louis grew up poor and fought in World War II in Germany. By some miracle, he survived this grisly, bloody struggle in forests where almost all his fellow soldiers perished, and he endured his wretched time as a POW. He married an Austrian child war bride, took her back to the southwest and worked as a miner. They had six children, and life was hard. Much later, after divorce, he worked at another mine, slept in his station-wagon and turned his wages over to his ex, so she could support their kids in Gallup. Larry was the oldest, born in 1953.


The 1950s in the southwest brutalized Native Americans. The violent Indian hatred there, Correia writes, is difficult to overstate. In the '50s, "Navajos died from tuberculosis at a rate nearly ten times that of white people; dysentery by thirteen times; invasive gastroenteritis by twenty-five times. Measles took the lives of Navajos at a rate nearly thirty times greater than white people. Where white people expected to live to nearly seventy, Navajos were lucky to live to twenty. Few unions took up their cause."


Larry Casuse made it his business to document the goal of settler colonialism, which, Correia writes, is genocide. Casuse did this by photographing the patrons of the Navajo Inn, as they stumbled into ditches or onto the road and passed out. Indigenous activists like Larry called the border town of Gallup the "Exploitation Capital of the World." He did everything he could to shutter the Navajo Inn, and in the end, he was killed for it. Like his heroes at Wounded Knee, Larry Casuse fought back. That led promptly to his violent extinction.


Despite Larry's grim fate, this book not only eulogizes him, but also it implicitly calls for resistance; though even if legal, resistance, when not outright neglected, leads often to ferocious abuse. Still, there's no time like the present. Especially now with a white house more favorably inclined to Native concerns than the next one will probably be. Because in two years, the formerly conservative now openly fascist GOP may well have seized power, and you can be sure, if it does, the rights of the indigenous won't even be on the back burner, or in the kitchen or in the house.


 If Trump or an imitator regains the white house, planned destruction of nature will zip along at 90 miles an hour. This especially impacts Native Americans, whose relationship to the natural world is so much less alienated than that of whites.  Indeed, one environmental group profiled in Truthout May 30 is Native Movement, whose spokeswoman told the interviewer that in Alaska a just transition to a renewables-based society "must be rooted in Indigenous perspectives, because it is Alaska's Native nations who have lived in harmony with these lands for over 30,000 years, and whose deep connections, encyclopedic knowledge and spiritual interconnectivity will heal the wounds of the past 100 years of colonization and extractive capitalism."


The GOP most of us are familiar with is not concerned with a just transition, renewables, Native nations' encyclopedic erudition regarding nature or the Indigenous bond to the land reaching back tens of thousands of years. Republicans are concerned with business and profits. So are Dems, but they at least pay lip service to other values, even if thoroughly hypocritically. The right doesn't even bother with hypocrisy. As Republicans made clear with their removal of protections for the Bears' Ears monument in Utah just a few years ago and on countless other occasions, the GOP holds the most repulsive goals of the unfettered capitalism that is destroying the planet and the lives of indigenous people everywhere quite dear to its heart.  


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