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Eve's Review

Radical Left-Wing Science Fiction

Dangerous Visions and New Worlds, Radical Science Fiction 1950-1985

Edited by Andrew Nette and Ian McIntyre

PM press, 216 pages





Eve Ottenberg

Despite its boys' club origins, science fiction long exhibited a leftist streak. Even in the early 1950s, the heyday of white masculine conquest of space and battle with multi-legged monsters and nefarious aliens, there lurked at the margins of the genre alternate views on human forays into the future. And of course, with predecessors like H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, other possibilities blazed up, as one would expect for a genre alternately dubbed "speculative." It would be surprising indeed if so-called speculative fiction did not, sooner or later, trample taboos.


Well it did, briefly, with a vengeance. The real fiesta of sci-fi taboo smashing was the 1960s and '70s, as documented in the newly published Dangerous Visions and New Worlds, Radical Science Fiction 1950-1985, edited by Andrew Nette and Ian McIntyre. This survey includes essays on sci fi and the Vietnam war, post-nuclear-apocalypse dystopias, second wave feminism, the antiauthoritarianism of Philip K. Dick, Black power, eco-death, marijuana, LSD and methamphetamine, Dr. Who, radical sci fi in the Soviet Union, gender as reflected in the life and work of Alice Sheldon, aka James Tiptree Jr., animal liberation, the Women's Press, Octavia Butler and much more.


The essay on the stupendous oeuvre of Philip K. Dick discusses his well-known reliance on amphetamines, which stoked his truly prolific output. The article does not mention his conviction, shortly before his death, that he was in telepathic communication with extra-terrestrials, but it does elaborate many of his mental oddities, for instance his paranoid certainty that the CIA was after him. If not the CIA, a conspiracy equally minatory. "Dick exhorted the FBI to investigate the break-in" to a safe in his house, "which he linked to what he called 'a covert organization including politics, illegal weapons, etc., who put great pressure on me to place coded information in future novels.'"


Dick called this shady organization Solarcon-6. The essay also notes that "even though Dick was an avid drug user [who at one point converted his home into a commune, living with hippies and junkies], had once been married to a communist, and had a life-long one-way beef with Richard Nixon, in many ways he was profoundly conservative." The wild man of sci fi also achieved fantastic success posthumously, with many of his novels converted into knockout movies, like Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report and others.


The 1950s naturally displayed great concern with nuclear annihilation. What could be more timely in 2022 than that early cold war fixation on atomic apocalypse? In recent months, nuclear brinksmanship roared back into our lives, even if the likes of white house spokeswoman Jen Psaki dismiss Moscow's "empty threats." One would think Russia's assertion, repeatedly and over decades, that Ukraine's absorption into NATO would cause war and the fact that it recently did just that might make the Biden dimwits take the Kremlin's threats as something other than "empty." But so far, no luck. Still they might want to lift a page out of 1950s sci fi. That's when people damn well had the sense to take the menace of nuclear war seriously. That realistic, healthy fear permeated political life, literary work and, very thoroughly, sci-fi – especially the stories of Roger Zelazny.


This excellent writer, neglected now, dealt definitively with nuclear Armageddon. Descendants of his classic Damnation Alley include the films Escape from New York and Road Warrior. He also co-authored another post-nuclear war dystopian fiction with Philip K. Dick, entitled Deus Irae. In this novel, hydrogen bomb warfare destroys human faith in God, birthing a new religion based on a God of Wrath. With echoes of another dystopian post-nuclear holocaust icon, A Canticle for Leibowitz, this book portrays the scarred, incinerated landscape, full of death and mutants, that human hubris inflicted on earth. Zelazny was a sci-fi legend for a reason; his collaboration with Dick produced a great, under-appreciated example of the genre.


"The specter of nuclear war," writes Andrew Nette, "cast a huge shadow over postwar science fiction." These books in the 1950s portrayed characters who must cope with "radioactive fallout, find food and help fend off looters…trigger happy soldiers and cannibalism…bandits and starvation…sickness from radiation and biological attack…gangs of savage homeless children." The criminal nuclear cremation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had occurred in the very recent past, far too recent for anyone to be lulled into forgetting them. That generation had seen the extermination of atom bombs, unlike today's millennials, accustomed to the American empire haughtily imposing no-fly zones and bombing countries back to the stone age with no repercussions, certainly not nuclear ones. Such, to many Americans, are barely imaginable. They think the U.S. can do to Russia what it did to Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The only problem is that unlike those poorly defended nations, Moscow commands thousands of nuclear missiles, more even than Washington. Perhaps even now some uncommonly thoughtful sci-fi writer imagines a carelessly, ignorantly shattered, post-Ukraine-war world.


Later, sci-fi leftists consciously, deliberately transformed the genre. Take Ursula K. LeGuin and her feminist anti-capitalism. "From a social point of view, most science fiction has been incredibly regressive and unimaginative," LeGuin said. "All those Galactic Empires, taken straight from the British Empire of 1880!...The Rotary Club on Alpha Centauri; that's the size of it." LeGuin belonged to a cohort of feminists, who, the rather conservative Isaac Asimov claimed, invaded science fiction. But then, Asimov had created the most extensive galactic empire in the genre, which was millions of planets bigger than the British one, with his Foundation series.


Of course, this new, comprehensive tome also deals with the sci-fi reactionaries, like Robert Heinlein. By 1968, this "ex-leftist who had become a cold-warrior for the right" was definitely out of step with the times, which produced sci-fi's New Wave. This movement got underway "with the anarchist Michael Moorcock, who took over the English science fiction magazine New Worlds." Meanwhile feminist sci-fi cycloned onto the scene. Its writers "served as a counterweight to the more or less explicit misogyny of the sexual revolution."


Avant-garde prose, radical politics, demotic themes – one cadre of sci-fi writers definitely turned left in the '60s and '70s. But many of these radicals quite intelligently retained an ethos from an earlier time, one especially relevant today, one that started back in the '50s, in the ionized shadow of the bomb.

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Climate Collapse or Nuclear Winter, Take Your Pick

Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle

Lloyd Alter

New Society Publishers, 163 pages





Eve Ottenberg

One of the many lousy effects of the Russia/Ukraine war has been on the climate. Because Biden made the idiotic choice of sanctions over negotiation, the price of oil skyrocketed. This could have been avoided. But Washington scoffed at Moscow's oft repeated, over decades, and finally written, security concerns. And here we are. A horrible war and climbing inflation.


The price of gas soared due to Biden's sanctions. That's because Russia is one of the world's biggest energy exporters. Sanction Russia and you have to find new sources of oil and gas or pay through the nose. And most rational politicos do not want to tell their people they have to choose between buying an iPhone and filling their car's tank with gasoline.


So the hunt for more fossil fuels is on, with American right-wingers screaming that we need to drill and frack more and bashing anyone who objects on environmental grounds. How does this bashing go? If you support renewables over more fossil fuels, you are a left-wing, Marxist Democrat inflationary fool. That's what our homegrown reactionaries say. They claim renewables jacked up prices at the pump. This is hogwash, because it's sanctions on Russia that did that. But that won't stop the nonsense from being repeated ad nauseam. And though there's usually a lag time of a few weeks before such imbecilic hyperbole taints the mainstream media, now with inflation being very real and very dramatic, expect to see the "ditch renewables at once" rash break out any day, on the face of the body politic.


Don't rely on Biden to cure the infection or rush to the rescue of wind and solar. The president who tried to palm off the pathetic lie that astronomical prices at the pump were Putin's fault, pivoted to desperately courting Venezuela for its oil: "Oh, just forget about our sanctions that killed over 40,000 of your citizens, ignore the failed assassination attempt on your president, never mind about your funds that our attack dog, the UK, snatched from you in an act of brazen larceny and skip the ferocious propaganda war we've waged against your country – this is the U.S. empire calling and we need your oil!"


Not surprisingly, right-wing morons in congress who've been thoroughly propagandized into a stupor of brainlessness objected to Washington courting Caracas. But Biden needs oil! And there has to be lots of it, so it can be cheap. Next up, Iran! Another official enemy is expected to save the hapless Democrats' bacon. So Washington has negotiated like mad to reinstate the nuclear pact, which would enable it to drop sanctions, without losing face – always THE critical consideration – and buy cheap Iranian oil. Well, I guess something good will come of cuckoo-bird U.S. economic policy: one les nuclear-armed state.


But wouldn't it just have been simpler for Washington to swallow its pride, promise publicly what it says privately, namely that Ukraine will never join NATO, restate the obvious, that Crimea is, as it was for centuries, Russian, and that the Russian Ukrainians of the Donbass have a right to life, which can only be insured by a measure of independence? If U.S. rulers had done that, it would have been no skin off their noses, the Dems wouldn't be looking at a November electoral wipeout due to oil-based inflation and those of us concerned about a rapidly warming planet – where capitalism's jones for fossil fuels has made the Arctic 50 degrees hotter than it should be in March and the Antarctic 70 degrees hotter – could advocate for a switch to renewables without rightist stupids foaming at the mouth about price inflation and green energy, while centrists chant "Putin's prices!" and not even braindead Amuricans, who want a no-fly zone over Ukraine, believe them.


Because the climate is getting worse. And it's doing so terrifyingly fast. In a generation, we, homo sapiens, could face ruin of our own making. Mindful of this, some people still keep sounding the alarm. One is Lloyd Alter, whose new book, Living the 1.5 Degree Lifestyle, came out before Washington turned up its nose at Moscow's request, thus setting us all on a possible path toward something just as bad, or worse, than climate collapse, namely nuclear war.


Alter's book reminds readers that just because we got distracted doesn't mean the earth stopped overheating. We still burn fossil fuels prodigiously, and that could kill lots of us in the not-too-distant future. Our oligarchs who benefit from our oil and gas addiction bank on the mirage that climate collapse won't affect them in their posh New Zealand bunkers. They're mistaken, but who cares about them? This problem is global and there's no escape. A solution must be found. Alter believes that means downsizing our individual carbon footprints.


In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I profoundly disagree with this book's thesis that ordinary people are to blame for global warming. I blame Exxon, BP and all the other thieving fossil fuel polluters. That said, it's undeniable that Alter makes one of the most convincing cases around for the critical importance of reducing consumption. It's hard not to support that, especially if you never liked conspicuous consumption anyway, or even just the consumer culture. Most of it is so unnecessary, especially for those of us proles who focus our purchases exclusively on what Marx termed use-value.


Alter provides a how-to for those who want to stop contributing to the climate collapse. Those of us who already shop for little besides fruits and vegetables, and drive and fly as rarely as possible, will still find valuable advice in his book. But most of all, it serves as a reminder that the problem has not vanished just because we became riveted in terror at the millions of American halfwits clamoring for boots on the ground in Kiev, which would abruptly terminate human civilization once and for all. Or as we listened in shock to Biden's demented call for regime change in Russia, the most heavily nuclear-armed nation on the planet. Biden's lunacy moved us closer to the atomic Armageddon his witless policies already summoned quite visibly onto the near horizon. With that reality front and center, it's hard to re-focus and remember that the earth is burning and our haughty corporations are the cause.


As the Dems stampede to whatever country can turn on the oil spigot they turned off for the worst of all possible reasons, it's good to remember that our future depends on NOT burning oil and gas. Rightwing Republicans and slightly less rightwing Dems have forgotten that – if they ever believed it, which is doubtful. But a grim future on a hot planet looms. That is, of course, if the geniuses in Washington don't bring on nuclear winter first, with their high-handed arrogance that they could drive a nation armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons into a corner and then, somehow, expect to survive it.




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Curing the Pandemic of Gendered Violence

Abolition. Feminism. Now.

Angela Davis, Gina Dent, Erica Meiners, Beth Richie

Haymarket Books, 245 pages





Eve Ottenberg

It's a truism that domestic violence victims suffer twice: at the hands of a partner and from a criminal justice system that's supposed to protect them but usually doesn't. Indeed, such victims who dare defend themselves often land in the clink, as if they're the criminals. That's why radical feminists who long labored against domestic abuse, advise women NOT to dial 911. Because the cure is worse than the disease.


And the disease is pretty awful, as documented in Abolition. Feminism. Now. by Angela Davis, Gina Dent, Erica Meiners and Beth Richie.  This new book lays out the systemic oppression and abuse of minority women and children not only by the police and courts, but by the foster care system and a so-called child protection bureaucracy that criminalizes, inter alia, mothers sleeping in the same bed as their infants! Can you imagine any government agency prosecuting a white middle-class mother for nursing her newborn in bed – or using such a routine, beneficial practice as an excuse to steal the infant from its family? Such a bureaucracy is in fact an icy sarcophagus for maternal love. So it's no surprise that for the authors of this new book, everything – police, courts, prison, child "protection" bureaucracy – has got to go. And they make their case convincingly.


Gendered violence is not some marginal annoyance. It is widespread –but regarded slightingly in the wider culture because its victims usually are seen as marginal. It's on a par with homelessness, a problem that's always there and lacks an easy fix. The fact that domestic abuse has roots in a social chasm so deep and dark that contemplating it is dizzying consigns the problem to the political wilderness. No politico aims to restructure society. Besides, who would benefit? It's not as if domestic abuse victims or homeless people are senators after all. But revolutionaries are different. And when they say let's smash the prison industrial complex, including those parts of it that supposedly aid battered women, they mean it.


"Turning to punishment agencies and tactics of social control will not protect women and others harmed by gendered violence," the authors argue. Citing examples, they show how the state "coopts seemingly radical tools and languages, and sometimes entire organizations in the service of legitimizing state violence." Such cooptation occurred with "restorative justice" activism. This book describes how those activists were crowded out, as criminal justice mainstreamed their movement and began paying restorative justice experts for their services. "Many of these positions can now only be filled by someone with expensive certifications and credentials," the authors write.


Underlining the systemic nature of the problem, this book discusses impoverished mothers who lose custody of their children, if, for example, rats are detected in their apartments, when, the authors argue, it's the landlord who should be penalized. That's the problem with the petrified reasoning of "the system." It has things backwards. The question is, what to replace it with? For without these official structures of punishment and control, how to cope with "the pandemic of gender violence?"


On that the authors are less precise. "We hold people accountable and believe that people can change." This is fine, but lots of wife-beaters don't want to change and have no intention of doing so. What then? My guess is that these activists would work to extricate the person from such an abusive relationship. For that, community mental health organizations and domestic violence shelters come into play. Not prosecutors and police, whose relationship to minorities in general and battered minority women in particular is murderous, to say the least.


The term "safe spaces" pops up in gender abuse discussions – if communities can provide such havens to victims, that helps greatly. The emphasis is on the safety of the victims, not the punishment of the perpetrators, because of "the ideological connections between state violence, street violence and interpersonal violence, a conjunction at the heart of all the work of abolition feminism." These radicals want to banish the state altogether, not least because it enforces a hierarchy of "worthy" victims.


"The legitimate victims of gender and sexual violence," the authors write, characterizing official views, "could not be a sex worker, a queer person, a woman of color and certainly could not be an incarcerated person." That leaves white, financially secure, heterosexual women not in jail. It excludes what may very well constitute the majority of gender abuse victims. Such an approach, such a frame of mind is worse than useless, because it devalues the lived reality of so many people.


Unfortunately, dialing 911 is easy. It's what lots of desperate people do, even though they may know that cops are not mental health professionals and that when they arrive on the scene, they may very well kill the person who telephoned. But in truth, a gender abuse victim who calls the cops, probably in extremis, ignores such common sense.


So until there's an alternative, as quick and easy as an emergency phone number, victims will doubtless continue to make the error of calling the police. But an alternative, whatever it may be, is what we need. Something a person suffering harm can resort to in a flash. Something that won't, in turn, inflict new harm.

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The Left Demobilized -- the Usual Suspects Are To blame

A Left Green New Deal

Bernd Riexinger, Lia Becker, Katharina Dahme, Christina Kaindl

Monthly Review Press, 125 pages





Eve Ottenberg

Just two years ago, the sky was the limit for progressives: Medicare for All, a Green New Deal and a Sanders' candidacy for president. There was serious talk of forgiving student debt, of free community college, paid parental leave, finally lowering the costs of essential medicines and more. Now, the best progressives can muster is primarying the treacherous, corporate, bought-and-paid for Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema. What a difference a couple of years make!


This was all entirely predictable. The Democratic party has mainly functioned since the 1930s to demobilize left movements, and these latest weren't even movements. (Certainly thin soup compared to the militant communism FDR set out to dilute.) These were platforms in a candidacy. Platforms that the cautious, billionaire-sycophant likes of Barack Obama had no intention of ever seeing signed into law – so he coordinated the withdrawal of all other Dem presidential candidates at a critical juncture to boost Biden over Sanders.


Another reason for this repulsive electoral jujitsu was that Obama doubtless believed Biden not Sanders was the only one who could defeat Trump. But he did not take the long view. Obama didn't look past 2020. Had Sanders won, and got a few executive orders like forgiving student debt under his belt, we wouldn't be looking at a possible fascist catastrophe in 2024. These halcyon mid-election cycle days would not feel so much like a Weimar interregnum.


It may all be moot, however, if, as the war and peace expert Michael Klare says, there is a 100 percent chance of a Cuban Missile-type crisis, between the U.S. and Russia and/or China in three years. The anti-war left in the U.S. is tiny. It commands no media attention. When Trump launched his public opinion war against China in 2018 and then busied himself laying the groundwork for militarily confronting the nuclear-armed superpower, the left barely uttered a peep. Meanwhile, quite horribly, liberal Dems, depressingly embodied in media host Rachel Maddow, beat the drums for war by demonizing Russia. She's literally made her career out of such war-mongering. If nuclear Armageddon arrives, it will be too late for Maddow to say, "oh, I didn't mean that."


So, no massive, left-wing anti-nuclear war movement, as the biggest issue of this or any time threatens to engulf the planet. Similarly, the climate protest, weakened by the ridiculous – but better, I guess, than nothing – COP26 summit, which did absolutely zip, nada, zilch, sputters and stalls.  Americans are apparently content to leave these two massive monsters in the very negligent care of their worse than do-nothing government.


Because what we have in Washington is barely a government. It's more like a puppet show manipulated by a voracious military industrial complex, one that controls the biggest and one of the most violent, globe-spanning empires in human history. And it does so by sucking the blood out of the American people. The republic is on life support, losing blood to the imperial military industrial vampire at the dizzying rate of nearly a trillion dollars a year. And now that vampire prepares to sink its fangs fatally deep, with an all-out war with Russia and China. Yet this prospect so far neither energizes nor mobilizes a mass movement for peace. Blame Democrats, blame bloodthirsty Republicans, blame the second-rate mediocrities who compose the ruling class in Washington, and blame the belligerent propaganda machine, the most deafening and total of its kind in world history, the horrid thing we call our corporate media.


Biden came to power based on many promises to the left. He also said, "Nothing will fundamentally change." Most of his promises, unsurprisingly, died on the vine, leaving the left fragmented at a historical moment that screams for solidarity. Yet despite this disarray caused by the amoral Washington circus, workers strike in great numbers, people quit their jobs in the millions rather than toil for wretched pay and corporations find themselves bewildered by the Great Resignation. Trade unionism is still the hope of the future – if that future doesn't vanish under a mushroom cloud.


Meanwhile in Europe, events parallel those in the U.S. Corbyn was done in and his massive following dispersed. Podemos in Spain, La France Insoumise, Syriza in Greece, all stumbled and a hostile media amplified their missteps. Their corporate enemies, having machinated to produce such errors, then piled on.


Also sputtering along is the left party, Die Linke, in Germany. One of its biggest successes, as recounted in a new book, A Left Green New Deal, by Bernd Riexinger and three other activists, was the Berlin rent cap, passed by the city in January 2020 and overturned by a court in April 2021. The rent ceiling was wildly popular, making hundreds of thousands of households eligible for reduced payments. But real estate investors and landlords hated it and ultimately killed it. The April 23 Guardian said, "landlords may have scored a pyrrhic victory, with suggestions activists could move to expropriate empty flats." One can only hope. Despite its judicial defeat, the rent cap, and especially the organizing that brought it about, remains a model for mobilizing around issues of concern to ordinary people.


As part of its push for a Green New Deal, die Linke also agitates for closing coal and nuclear plants and shifting to renewables. Germany actually has achieved much in this regard, thus leading many to hope that the "green" part of the green new deal will be implemented – even if the "new deal" part isn't. But it's an uphill battle. All left causes are, because capitalist misrule is planetary. Only a handful of governments on the globe eschew it.


Worse, fascists aim to forge an International. Steve Bannon's seedy and bedraggled visage recently appeared in brief videos, where he whoops up the idea of a global, unified, right-wing juggernaut. The left should take a page out of that book. Jean Luc Melenchon, leader of La France Insoumise, pointed the way in mid-January by demanding that France leave NATO. This would be a twofer: chip away at the military industrial empire and hopefully, indefinitely postpone humanity's day of reckoning with its nuclear weapons. Three years to nuclear winter, as has been predicted, are too terrifyingly short.

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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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