Cuba’s COVID-19 Vaccines Serve the People, Not Profits, by Tom Whitney

Cuba’s socialist approach to developing vaccines against COVID-19 differs strikingly from that of capitalist nations of the world. Cuba’s production of four vaccines is grounded in science and dedicated to saving the lives of all Cubans, and to international solidarity.

The New York Times’s running report on the world’s vaccine programs shows 67 vaccines having advanced to human trials; 20 of them are in the final phase of trials or have completed them. The United States, China, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, South Korea, and India have each produced many vaccines; most vaccine-manufacturing countries are offering one or two vaccines.

Cuba is the only vaccine manufacturer in Latin America; there are none in Africa. The only state-owned entities producing the leading vaccines are those of Cuba and Russia.

Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute has produced two COVID-19 vaccines. Trials for one of them, called Sovereign I, focus on protecting people previously infected with COVID-19. The antibody levels of some of them turned out to be low, and the vaccine might provide a boost.

The other vaccine, Sovereign II, is about to enter final human trials. For verifying protection, these trials require tens of thousands of subjects, one half receiving the vaccine and the other half, a placebo vaccine. Cuba’s population is relatively small, 11 million people, too small to yield enough infected people in the short time required to test the vaccine’s protective effect. That’s why Sovereign II will be tested in Iran.

100 million doses of Sovereign II are being prepared, enough to immunize all 11 million Cubans, beginning in March or April. The 70 million remaining doses will go to Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan, India, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. Sovereign II “will be the vaccine of ALBA,” explained Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, referring to the solidarity alliance established in 2004 by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro.   

Cuba’s strategy in commercializing the vaccine represents a combination of what’s good for humankind and the impact on world health. We are not a multinational where a financial objective comes first,” says Vicente Vérez Bencomo, director of Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute. Income generated by vaccine sales abroad will pay for health care, education, and pensions in Cuba just as happens with exports of medical services and medicines.

Cuba’s Center for Genetic and Biotechnological Engineering is developing two other COVID-19 vaccines; One, named “Mambisa” (signifying a female combatant in wars of liberation from Spain), is administered via the nasal route, just as is Cuba’s hepatitis B vaccine.  The other vaccine, named “Abdala” (a character in a Jose Marti poem) is administered intramuscularly. The two vaccines are involved in early trials.

Cuba was ready

Cuban education emphasizes science and technology. In the 1990s, Cuba accounted for 11% of doctorate-level Latin American scientists. Cuban scientists work in the 50 or so biomedical research and production facilities which together make up Cuba’s state-owned BioCubaFarma Corporation, and which produces vaccines, drugs, medical tests, and medical equipment. It makes 60% of medicines used in Cuba, and 8 of 12 vaccines.

Cuba previously produced a pioneering vaccine that prevents life-threatening infection caused by type B meningococcus. Cuba developed a genetically-engineered hepatitis B vaccine and a vaccine offering palliative treatment for lung cancer. A Cuba-developed vaccine offers protection against infection, particularly childhood meningitis, caused by the Hemophilus Influenza type B bacterium.

In fashioning vaccines, Cuban scientists relied on familiar technology.

To provide an immunological extra, the antigen of Cuba’s Sovereign II vaccine is mixed with tetanus toxoid, as was done with Cuba’s Hemophilus influenza vaccine. As with other vaccines, scientists used a segment of the virus’s protein – here the COVID-19 virus – to form an antigen to stimulate protective antibodies. By contrast, the U. S. Pfizer and Moderna vaccines contain the whole viral protein, not a segment. That protein contains “genetic instructions” which enter human cells, causing them “to make spike proteins, which then get released into the body” where they trigger antibodies.

Observers suggest that this innovative U.S. technology may be less safe than the one used in Cuban vaccines.  Not requiring extremely cold storage, as do the U.S. vaccines, the Cuban vaccines are suited for areas without adequate refrigeration capabilities.

Cuba’s bio-medical production sector has also created drugs for treatingCovid-19 infection. Interferon, an antiviral agent developed in Cuba, produced in China, and used throughout the world, prevents many Covid – infected patients from becoming critically ill. The Cuban anti-inflammatory drug Jusvinza, used for treating auto-immune diseases, and Cuba’s monoclonal antibody Itolizumab, which moderates exaggerated immune responses, are both effective in reducing Covid-19 deaths.

The other way

The U. S. approach to producing and distributing COVID-19 vaccines is based on private enterprise, although the U. S. government did deliver billions of dollars to pharmaceutical companies to produce vaccines free of charge to recipients. The companies have contracted with purchasers abroad.

According to forbes.com in November, 2020,  ‘If Moderna’s [vaccine] can get FDA approval and can make enough doses, its top line could be nearly $35 billion higher … than … in the last 12 months.” Another report suggests that, “The companies (Pfizer and Moderna) stand to earn billions of dollars in profits from their COVID vaccines this year [and] there will be more profits in later years.” The companies “claim the rights to vast amounts of intellectual property.” 

With corporations in charge, distribution of COVID-19 vaccines is skewed. As of Jan. 27, “some 66.83 million doses have been sent out, of which 93 percent were supplied to only 15 countries.” In Latin America, only Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Chile have secured purchase contracts adequate for immunizing entire populations. The companies’ contracts with African nations allow for immunization of only 30 percent of Africans in 2021. Meaningful immunization has yet to begin there. 

The wealth divide determines distribution. Epidemiologists at Duke University report that, “While high-income countries represent only 16% of the world’s population, they currently hold 60% of the vaccines for COVID-19 that have been purchased so far.” Cuban journalist Randy Alonso reports that only “27 percent of the total population of low and middle income countries can be vaccinated this year.” 

The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,” declared Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization, on January 18. He warned that, “some countries and companies continue to prioritize bilateral deals, going around COVAX, driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue.”

The WHO initiated the global vaccine collaboration COVAX to assure access by poor nations to COVID-19 vaccines. The 190 nations that are enrolled agreed to obtain vaccines through COVAX. Rich nations would supply COVAX with funds to enable 90 poor nations to receive no-charge vaccines. COVAX anticipates distributing two billion doses, enough to immunize only 25 % of the populations of poor nations during 2021.

Problems include: wealthy nations order vaccines independent of COVAX; they buy more vaccine than they need; manufacturers set prices; and prices are secret, variable, and very high.

Most other countries producing COVID-19 vaccines are at variance with Cuba through their profiteering and because they are complicit with the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba. Pursuing routine overseas commercial affairs, they all too easily adjust to U.S. regulations by means of which that cruel policy is enforced. More to the point, the U.S. blockade hinders Cuba’s vaccine efforts, and they are silent.

“We don’t have in Cuba all the raw materials and supplies we’ll need for the unprecedented scale of production that vaccinating our whole population requires,” Dagmar García-Rivera, Director of Research at Cuba’s Finlay Vaccine Institute, explained.  “They have to be purchased and for this, we need financing. This is made infinitely more difficult by the US embargo … Procuring the necessary reagents for research and the raw materials for production is a challenge we face daily.”

In confronting the pandemic, Cuba exhibits attention to detail suggestive of a level of caring and concern not readily matched elsewhere. For example, Cuba’s government-friendly cubadebate.cu website provides a daily, detailed update of the infection’s impact. Its report on Jan. 27 presents data relating to cities, provinces, the nation, and the world – and the nation’s intensive care units. Readers learn that of 43 patients in intensive care that day, 16 were in critical condition, stable or unstable, and 27 were in “grave” condition.

All 43 cases are reviewed, beginning with: “Cuban citizen, 75 years old, from Alquízar, in Artemisa, already suffering from arterial hypertension and ischemic cardiopathy who is afebrile, on mechanical ventilation, is hemodynamically stable… with acceptable blood gases (oxygen and CO2), is improving radiologically with inflammatory lesions in the right [lung] base – reported as critical but stable.” The cases of four Cubans who died that day are also presented.

Fighting a pandemic in Cuba, it’s understood, is no casual matter. Nor is the health of Cuba’s people. 

To Normalize US-Cuban Relations, Restore Working Embassies, by Tom Whitney

The new Biden administration may soon ease regulations enforcing the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba.  However, if Oregon Senator Ron Wyden’s new bill, the U.S.-Cuba Trade Act of 2021, becomes law, the blockade itself will disappear.

Meanwhile, the two countries’ embassies in Havana and Washington are dysfunctional. No normal relations will obtain until they are fully operative. A report recently issued by the Washington-based National Security Archive (NSA) explores circumstances through which the embassies are disabled.

The NSA is a truth-telling organization that monitors U.S. conduct of international affairs by reviewing declassified U.S. government documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

In September 2017, the State Department reported that some U.S. diplomats stationed at U. S. embassy in Havana had for months, one by one, sought relief from incapacitating symptoms such as dizziness, hearing deficits, visual loss, mental confusion, painfully loud noises, insomnia, headaches, and balance problems. A few Canadian diplomats in Havana were similarly affected.

A“covert sonic device” was mentioned.  President Trump claimed that, “Cuba did some bad things.”  Citing health risks, the State Department recalled 60 percent of Embassy employees and, for the sake of reciprocity, expelled 15 Cuban diplomats from Washington. The Department warned U.S. travelers of health dangers in Cuba.

The Embassy quickly stopped processing entry visas for Cubans seeking to visit the United States.  These are only available now in U.S. embassies in third countries, and few Cubans can travel there to obtain them. Lack of embassy staffing in both countries hinders inquiries about travel, commercial affairs, and regulations. Cuba’s Washington Embassy can no longer provide consular serves to Cubans living in the United States.

The affected diplomats were evaluated at U. S. medical centers under State Department auspices. Specialists, unable to identify a cause for the symptoms, ruled out viral infection, toxins, hysteria, and chemical exposure.

CIA operatives in Havana were among the first to complain of symptoms.  A few U. S. diplomats in China and Tashkent also fell ill. Now for almost three years, no diplomats anywhere have been afflicted.

No visitors to Cuba have suffered in similar ways, nor have diplomatic personnel from countries other than the United States and Canada.

At stake is the future of U.S.  – Cuba relations. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy claimed in 2017 that, “Whoever is doing this obviously is trying to disrupt the normalization process between the United States and Cuba. Someone or some government is trying to reverse that process.”

The NSA update, noted above, centered on a heavily-redacted report from the Accountability Review Board (ARB), which had been “mandated by Congress in 1986 to assist the State Department in addressing security challenges at U.S. Embassies abroad.”

Although Congress required ARB investigations to take place within 60 days of an incident, “the Trump administration delayed convening the ARB until early 2018.” The ARB submitted its classified report to the Secretary of State 18 months after the first diplomat reported strange symptoms.

The report noted, as regards afflicted diplomats, that, “we do not know how. We do not know what happened, when it happened, who did it, or why.” It confirmed that the CIA closed down its Havana station in September, 2017, just as the illnesses were first being reported.

The ARB report criticized “excessive secrecy that contributed to a delayed response.” It diagnosed “Systemic Disorganization” manifested by “serious deficiencies in the Department’s response in areas of accountability, interagency coordination, and communication, at all levels.” The result was “confusion [and] delayed effective, coordinated action.”

The report judged “the lack of a designated official at the Under-Secretary level to manage the response to be the single most significant deficiency.” It accused the State Department of not following procedural standards.

The ARB faulted the Department for not providing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with medical data for one year after it had requested a CDC investigation. The fact of a CDC investigation was unknown until a reference to it cropped up in a document reporting on another evaluation.  

That one, by the National Academy of Sciences, was sent to the State Department in August 2020. It too was unknown to the public, until it was leaked to the New York Times in December, 2020. According to the Times report,  the investigators concluded that, “The most probable cause [of the symptoms] was radiofrequency energy, a type of radiation that includes microwaves.” However, “they could not rule out other possible causes.”

The picture thus is of extreme disarray and secrecy. Nothing emerging from the studies or from U.S. government actions suggests lack of determination to resolve the embassy crisis. Easy tolerance of confusion and mystery is consistent with U.S. inclination to perpetuate initial allegations by officials against Cuba. Lack of closure apparently suited U.S. purposes.  

While the embassy stand-off persists, planning for normal relations by the new Biden administration is hobbled. Planners could, or should, take into consideration the NSA’s revelations suggesting that the impasse stems from cynical opportunism. They could, or should, pay respect to Cuba’s record of protecting foreign diplomats and of honoring international norms on conducting diplomacy.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries will continue. One looks in vain for extraordinary circumstances that would justify anything but normal arrangements. These necessitate a fully- functioning embassy and an ambassador. There’s been no U. S. ambassador to Cuba since diplomatic relations were re-established in July 2015.  

Besides, the U.S. image of concern for the safety of foreign diplomats needs burnishing. No word of sorrow or reassurance emanated from the U.S. government following a serious rifle attack against Cuba’s Embassy in Washington on April 30, 2020.    

UN Report Condemns US Economic Sanctions against Venezuela, by Tom Whitney

Belarusian lawyer and academician Alena Douhan, who in 2020 became the United Nations “Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures,” visited Venezuela on February 1-12. She was there “to assess the impact of unilateral [U. S.] sanctions on the enjoyment of human rights.”  At her press conference on the last day, she read aloud a preliminary report. The full report will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2021.

Douhan, in her report, “reminds all parties of their obligation under the UN Charter to observe principles and norms of international law [and] that humanitarian concerns shall always prevail over political ones.”

She “underlines the inadmissibility of applying sanctions extraterritorially and urges the U.S. Government to end the national emergency regarding Venezuela.” The United States must “revise and lift sectoral sanctions against Venezuela’s public sector, review and lift secondary sanctions against third-state parties.” All states need to “review and lift targeted sanctions in accordance with principles of international law.”

The Rapporteur calls upon “the Governments of the United Kingdom, Portugal and the United States and corresponding banks to unfreeze assets of the Venezuela Central Bank.”  

Douhan explains that U.S economic sanctions against Venezuela’s government began in 2005 and intensified after President Obama declared a “state of national emergency” in 2015. Held up as justification then were allegations of “violent repression of protests, persecution of political opponents, corruption, and curtailing of press freedom.”

She recalls that the U.S. government in 2019 imposed “a total economic embargo” that immobilized Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA and the Venezuelan Central Bank. The U.S. government transferred ownership of Venezuelan assets and properties in the United States to a façade government headed by opposition politician Juan Guaidó, whom the United States named as president.  Britain, Portugal, Canada, and the United States went on to freeze billions of dollars owned by Venezuela and deposited in their banks.

The Special Rapporteur criticizes countries imposing sanctions at the behest of the United States, most of them belonging to the European Union and to the Lima Group of nations. These are members of the Organization of American States recruited by the U.S. government as an anti-Venezuelan bloc of nations.

Douhan clarifies that hyperinflation has aggravated Venezuela’s economic decline and that the fall of oil prices in 2014 accelerated it. Oil sales, she emphasizes, has long accounted for almost all the government’s income and has, consequently, paid for schools, health care, and social programs. Ultimately, she writes, revenues would “shrink by 99%.”

Now “Venezuela faces a lack of necessary machinery, spare parts, electricity, water, fuel, gas, food and medicine.” Remittances arriving from abroad have drastically fallen, due in part to impediments to bank transfers. Now, she notes, only 20% of normal electricity is available, almost 5 million Venezuelans have emigrated, and “2.5 million people” face severe food insecurity because of reduced food imports.

“Medical staff positions in public hospitals are 50–70% vacant,” she reports, adding that, mainly because of sanctions, “90 per cent of the population” lives in conditions of extreme poverty.  

Douhan’s report documents violations of international law. Both the freezing of assets and the U.S. goal of removing Venezuela’s government “violate the sovereign rights” of the nation. The U.S. “state of national emergency” and the reign of sanctions are incompatible with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, she asserts.  U.S. extension of extraterrestrial jurisdiction to third countries “is not justified under international law.” Her reference is to countries whose citizens and companies deal with Venezuela

The United States abuses “the right to the highest attainable state of health.” She points to Venezuela’s “lack of doctors and nurses and of sufficient medicines, medical equipment, spare parts, relevant software updates, vaccines, tests, reagents and contraceptives” – all formerly supplied by the government. She decries violations of the right to water and the right to education.

The Special Rapporteur’s report differs in very significant ways from a United Nations survey and set of recommendations released in September, 2020. The UN Human Rights Council’s “Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela” produced 409 pages and 65 recommendations. That document’s authors never traveled to Venezuela. Setting the tone, the first recommendation calls for “prompt, effective, thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigations into the human rights violations and crimes described in the present report.”

Like the Special Rapporteur, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report in February, one that joins in acknowledging a “deteriorating humanitarian situation” in Venezuela.  The sole recommendation of the 50-page report was timidly to suggest that, “Treasury should ensure that [its] Office of Foreign Assets Control systematically tracks information on inquiries” about the suffering. 

Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research praised the  GAO report for providing “more evidence that these unilateral, illegal US sanctions are a form of collective punishment against the Venezuelan population and should be ended immediately.” Weisbrot and co-author Jeffrey Sachs in 2019 documented that sanctions had killed tens of thousands of Venezuelans.

Some opposition politicians in Venezuela now oppose U.S. sanctions. They include Timoteo Zambrano, President of the National Assembly’s Foreign Policy Commission, and Henri Falcón, former conservative presidential candidate.

In the United States, a group of 27 senators and representatives on February 11 urged President Biden to “”consider the humanitarian impacts of sanctions.” They did not name specific countries. According to nbcnews.com, President Biden doesn’t plan to negotiate with Venezuela’s government or give up on recognizing Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s president.

With COVID controlled and economy growing, Vietnam’s Communists plan for future, by Amiad Horowitz

From People’s World

HANOI—With only 35 recorded deaths, Vietnam has managed the coronavirus pandemic better than almost any other country on earth. And, unlike other nations, where mass unemployment and recession are the norm, Vietnam’s economy is actually growing. That’s the context in which the 13th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) is set to open here on Jan. 26.

The meeting is the highest governing body of the CPV and meets every five years to review the party’s activities and map out a plan for its future work. The congress will also elect members to positions of party leadership, including the general secretary of the CPV, who plays a leading role in the Vietnamese government.

The 13th National Congress is getting a lot more international attention than most previous party congresses, with an online press conference for journalists on Jan. 21 bringing participants from around the globe. The reason is that over the last five years, Vietnam has skyrocketed onto the international scene, becoming a major player both economically and diplomatically.

The country’s economy is among the fastest—if not the fastest—growing in the world. From 2016 to 2019, Vietnam saw average annual growth of around 7%. Even in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was one of only ten national economies to see any growth, expanding 2.91% for the year.

Vietnam is also increasingly recognized on the world stage for its efforts to foster international cooperation and peace. In 2019, Hanoi hosted the U.S.-DPRK Summit, one of the year’s most significant diplomatic events.

Vietnam has emerged as a leader in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), a political and economic association of ten countries in the region. During Vietnam’s 2020 chairmanship of ASEAN, the group saw record levels of cooperation and activity. Vietnam is credited with ushering in the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RECP), the world’s largest trade agreement.

A sign in the center of Hanoi’s historic old quarter reads: “Congratulations to the 13th National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam.” | Amiad Horowitz / People’s World

Perhaps out of all Vietnam’s achievements over the last five years, however, the one that stands out the most is the successful way in which the government, under the leadership of the CPV, contained the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, it has recorded just over 1,500 total cases and 35 deaths.

But a look back on previous performance is only part of the congress’ responsibilities. The party has a lot of important work ahead of itself, including deciding on a new Five-Year Economic Plan, which will aim at continue the success of the last five years. The congress will also make decisions about how to escalate the fight against COVID-19 and roll out the vaccine throughout a country of nearly 100 million people.

Also among the important tasks of congress delegates is the election of the CPV Central Committee and general secretary. Current General Secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng has received much praise for his leadership and anti-corruption campaign. At 76 years old, Trọng is above the legally required retirement age of 65 and has already served the maximum of two terms, but its possible the congress could give special permission for him to be re-elected.

The 13th National Congress of the CPV is the culmination of over a year of preparation. At the beginning of 2020, local party branches held their own congresses and selected their representatives to the next level above them. Now that all communes, wards, districts, cities, and provinces have held their congresses, the delegates for the national congress are in place and ready to meet.

The congress is scheduled to last a week, finishing its work on Feb. 2.

Sometimes Marx’s Capital Is a Pillow, Sometimes It Obliges Us to Deepen Our Struggles: The Seventh Newsletter (2021), from Vijay Prashad

Dear friends,

Greetings from the desk of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

In 1911, a young Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) arrived in France, which had colonised his homeland of Vietnam. Though he had been raised with a patriotic spirit committed to anti-colonialism, Ho Chi Minh’s temperament did not allow him to retreat into a backward-looking romanticism. He understood that the people of Vietnam needed to draw from their own history and traditions as well as from the democratic currents set loose by the revolutionary movements around the world. In France, he became involved in the socialist movement, which taught him about working-class struggles in Europe, although the French socialists could not bring themselves to break with the colonial policies of their country. This frustrated Ho Chi Minh. When the socialist Jean Longuet told him to read Karl Marx’s Capital, Ho Chi Minh found it hard going and later said that he mainly used it as a pillow.

Dossier image no. 2

The October Revolution of 1917 that inaugurated the Soviet Republic lifted Ho Chi Minh’s spirit. Not only did the working class and the peasantry take over the state and try to refashion it, but the leadership of the new state offered a strong defence of anti-colonial movements. With great pleasure, Ho Chi Minh read V. I. Lenin’s ‘Theses on the National and Colonial Question’, which Lenin had written for the 1920 Communist International meeting. This young Vietnamese radical, whose country had been held in bondage from 1887, found in this text and others the theoretical and practical basis to build his own movement. Ho Chi Minh went to Moscow, then to China, and eventually returned home to Vietnam to lead his country out of colonial oppression and out of a war imposed on Vietnam by France and the United States (a war that ended with Vietnam’s victory six years after Ho Chi Minh’s death).

In 1929, Ho Chi Minh said that ‘the class struggle does not manifest itself the way it does in the West’. He did not mean that the gap between the West and the East was cultural; he meant that the struggles in places such as the former Russian Empire and Indo-China had to take into consideration a number of factors unique to these parts of the world: the structure of colonial domination, the deliberately underdeveloped productive forces, the abundance of peasants and landless agricultural workers, and the inherited and reproduced wretched hierarchies of the feudal past (such as caste and patriarchy). Creativity was necessary, which is what made the Marxists in the colonised zones build their theory of struggle out of a concrete engagement with their own complex realities. The texts written by people such as Ho Chi Minh appeared as if they were merely commentaries on the current situation, when in fact these Marxists were building their theories of struggle out of specific contexts that were not immediately apparent to Marx and his main successors within Europe (such as Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein).

Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research dossier no. 37, Dawn: Marxism and National Liberation, explores this creative interpretation of Marxism across the Global South, from Peru’s José Carlos Mariátegui to Lebanon’s Mahdi Amel. The dossier is an invitation to a dialogue, a conversation about the entangled tradition of Marxism and national liberation, a tradition that emerges out of the October Revolution of 1917 and that deepens its roots in the anti-colonial conflicts of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

When the categories of Marxism drifted outside the boundaries of the North Atlantic region, they had to be ‘slightly stretched’, as Frantz Fanon wrote in Wretched of the Earth (1963), and the narrative of historical materialism had to be enhanced. These categories surely had a universal application but could not be applied in the same way everywhere; each of the movements that took up Marxism – such as the movement to liberate Vietnam led by Ho Chi Minh – had to first translate it into their own context. The central problem of Marxism in the colonies was that the productive forces in these parts of the world had been systematically eroded by imperialism and the older social hierarchies had not been washed away by the currents of democracy. How does one make a revolution in a place without social wealth?

Lenin’s lessons resonated with people like Ho Chi Minh because Lenin argued that imperialism would not allow the development of the productive forces in places such as India and Egypt; these were regions whose role in the global system was to produce raw materials and buy the finished products of Europe’s factories. No liberal elite emerged in these regions of the world that was truly committed to anti-colonialism or to human emancipation. In the colonies, it was the Left that had to drive the struggle against colonialism and for the social revolution. This meant that it had to create the basis for social equality, including the advancement of the productive forces; it was the Left that had to use the scarce resources that remained after colonial pillage, amplified by the enthusiasm and commitment of the people, to socialise production through the use of machines and better organisation of labour, and to socialise wealth to advance the development of education, health, nutrition, and culture.Ernesto Padrón Blanco, Todos con Viet Nam (‘Together with Viet Nam’), 1971

Ernesto Padrón Blanco, Todos con Viet Nam (‘Together with Viet Nam’), 1971

Each of the socialist revolutions after October 1917 took place in the impoverished zones of colonialism, such as Mongolia (1921), Vietnam (1945), China (1949), Cuba (1959), Guinea Bissau and Cabo Verde (1975), and Burkina Faso (1983). These were mainly peasant societies, their capital stolen by their colonial rulers and their productive forces developed only so as to allow for the export of raw materials and the import of finished products. Each revolution was met with immense violence from their departing colonial rulers, who focused on destroying the remaining wealth of the society.

The war against Vietnam is emblematic of this violence. One campaign, Operation Hades, provides a sufficient illustration: from 1961 to 1971, the United States government sprayed 73 million litres of chemical weapons to destroy any vegetation in Vietnam. Agent Orange, the most terrible of chemical weapons in its day, was used on most of Vietnam’s agricultural belt. This warfare not only killed the millions who died in the war, but it left socialist Vietnam with a terrible legacy: tens of thousands of Vietnamese children were born with grave challenges (spina bifida, cerebral palsy) and millions of acres of good farmland were made toxic by these weapons. Both the medical and agricultural devastation have lasted for at least five generations, with every indication that they will persist for several generations more. Vietnam’s socialists had to build their country not out of a textbook model of socialism but by confronting the maladies inflicted upon their country by imperialism. Their socialist path had to run through the terrible reality that was specific to their own history and reality.

Our dossier makes the point that many Marxists in the colonial world had never read Marx. They had read about Marxism in various cheap pamphlets and had encountered Lenin in this form as well: books were too expensive, and they were often difficult to get. People like Cuba’s Carlos Baliño (1848-1926) and South Africa’s Josie Palmer (1903-1979) came from humble backgrounds with little access to the intellectual traditions out of which Marx’s critique emerged. But they knew its essence through their struggles, and through their reading and their own experiences, they built theories that were appropriate for their context.

Today, committed study continues to be a pillar for our movements and for our hopes of building a better future. For this reason, each year, on 21 February, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research participates in Red Books Day. Last year, over sixty thousand people went into public places to read the Communist Manifesto on 172nd anniversary of its publication on 21 February 1848. This year, due to the pandemic, the events will mostly take place online. We encourage you to seek out publishers and organisations in your area that might be holding a Red Books Day event and get involved; if there are no events near you, please hold your own event or take to social media to talk about your favourite red books and what they mean to your struggles. We hope that Red Books Day will become as central to our calendar as May Day.

Ho Chi Minh – whose name means ‘Well of Light’ – was almost always seen with his pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes and a book near at hand. He loved to read and he loved conversation, both of which helped develop his understanding of the world in motion. What red book rests beside you as you read this newsletter? Will you join us on Red Books Day and add our new dossier to your red book reading list?

Warmly,

Vijay

Letter to End the US Embargo against Cuba, from Tom Whitney

Dear Comrades,

I write you on behalf of an ad hoc group of Maine people identifying themselves “Maine Citizens Opposed to the US Embargo against Cuba.”  We are asking you to add your name to the letter appearing below to the two Maine senators.

Now is a crucial time. There is a chance now – dare we say it? – to end the US economic blockade against Cuba. Sixty years is enough, right? The letter below explains.

And, just as important, please send out this communication to people you know, friends, family, anyone.

We are sending this communication also to people we know elsewhere in the US asking them to fashion a similar letter to their own representatives with a lot of names added.

In an email toatwhit@roadrunner.com, please say “Yes” to adding your name, and your town, to the letter to the senators. If you have questions or comments, please be in touch. Thank you.

In solidarity,

Tom Whitney, for the Let Cuba Live Committee of Maine, phone (207) 743-2183

Dear (name of Maine senator).

The U.S. trade embargo against Cuba has been in effect for almost 60 years. We, the undersigned, believe that’s long enough. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, on February 4 introduced the U.S.-Cuba Trade Act of 2021. We presume that a similar bill will be introduced soon in the House of Representatives.

Senator Wyden’s proposed legislation appears to nullify regulations that enable the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba — in other words, would end that embargo. We realize that, as required by the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996, the power to end the embargo against Cuba rests exclusively with the U.S. Congress.

We understand too that public support for the U.S. embargo against Cuba has lessened. On the one hand, many citizens have long pointed to its cruelty and illegality. On the other, even supporters can appreciate that this U. S. policy has failed the test of so many years: it has not worked to bring down Cuba’s government.  Meanwhile, the Cuban people have experienced catastrophic damage at U.S. hands.

Cuba’s government, reporting to the United Nations General Assembly, indicated that between April 2019 and March 2020, U. S. economic sanctions deprived Cuba of $5.6 billion, also that Cuba’s total monetary loss over many decades has amounted to $144.4 billion, which, inflation being considered, is $1.098 trillion.

Therefore, we respectfully request that you, who represent us in the U.S. Senate, do everything in your power to end the U.S. embargo against Cuba. In that regard, we urge you to work toward passage in the Senate of Senator Wyden’s bill.

Any questions or comments relating to our request may be directed to Tom Whitney of Maine Citizens Opposed to the US Embargo against Cuba. His address is 102 Twitchell Road, South Paris, Maine, 04281; telephone (207) 743-2183.

Signed

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American fascism is a deadly threat – it must be confronted now, by Paul Mason

The US could yet fall apart under the strain of its structural racism and the dysfunctionality of its capitalism.

NewStatesman, 13 January 2021

Like grease from an old stove, the Nazis of the US are suddenly getting scoured off social media. Donald Trump’s Twitter account is gone. Parler has been scrubbed from the Amazon servers. 

We can be cynical about the motives of the tech giants: they did nothing to restrain either the Trump lie machine, or the fascist movement it inspired, until both looked beaten and discredited after 6 January. But there is a better explanation than opportunism. The tech giants, in common with the US military, knew the threat of a coup was real.

The storming of the Capitol was preceded by months of supportive messaging from Trump for militias and the far-right Proud Boys, and his consistent refusal to respect the election result; and then by weeks of threats by Trump supporters against election officials, the media, government officials and lawmakers.

As we piece together the available evidence, 18 December 2020 looks like the critical day. After the US Supreme Court threw out a Republican attempt to have the election results in four states invalidated, Trump called a meeting of some of his inner circle: Rudy Giuliani, the convicted and pardoned criminal Michael Flynn, and the lawyer Sidney Powell.

Flynn had previously publicly suggested imposing martial law in order to rerun the election, and at the meeting Trump reportedly wanted to appoint Powell “special counsel” to run a White House-based investigation into her own fantasies of voter fraud, but Trump’s advisers are said to have quashed both plans. 

So what were they left with? The next day, 19 December, Trump tweeted: “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there, will be wild.” With the Supreme Court electoral challenges out of the picture, and the chiefs of staff warning against any attempt to drag the military into the picture, Trump had one shot at remaining president: the physical disruption of the certification process of the election. Having spoken at a rally held on the Ellipse, Trump returned to the White House as rioters stormed the Capitol. He was reportedly only troubled by the “low class” appearance of some of the stormtroopers he had inspired.

Trump is not a fascist, and American fascism’s project is not the Trump administration. Trump’s administration was the product of a split in the US corporate elite, with a faction emerging that preferred to pursue the project of privatisation, deregulation and planetary destruction on a national rather than a global scale. As I wrote at the time, Trump’s faction of the GOP were “neoliberal nationalists”. They have overseen a debt-fuelled project to enrich the rich through asset-price inflation and tax cuts.

The long-term project of modern fascism, meanwhile, is a global ethnic civil war, triggered most probably by a climate catastrophe and resultant mass migration events, which halts human progress and reverses society into a pre-modern, pre-Enlightenment state, from which progress can never again emerge. 

The short-term project of the global far right, however, is to elect right-wing populists, keep them in power using threats of violent unrest, erode democracy and the rule of law, and operate in the space provided. There is, in short, a confluence of interest between an authoritarian right-wing populist, the party he has captured, and the proliferating networked fascism of the kind made manifest in the corridors of the Capitol on 6 January. 

The men carrying plastic restraints and Tasers weren’t there to make a performative gesture, even if the QAnon “shaman” in the bear skin was. We can accept that the random wanderers and selfie-takers were sucked into a fantasy whose final outcome would be resolved through magical thinking.

With the available evidence we can infer that the hardcore intended to seize one or more left-wing Congress members, to seize the ballots in which the electoral college votes were stored, to delay and disrupt the process in a way that either forced martial law to be declared in DC, or the creation of two rival legislatures(when the session was continued 147 Republican lawmakers voted against certifying Joe Biden’s win).

[See also: Emily Tamkin on why the storming of the Capitol is the logical end to Trump’s presidency]

An argument has emerged on the left, both in the UK and in the US, that the threat of a coup cannot have been real because: a) most of the action was performative, and b) the American bourgeoisie does not at this moment need fascism (because there is no threat of workers’ revolution). Both of these things can be true, and yet the danger can be real. And it was. I’ve spent the past 18 months immersed in the primary sources of fascist history and the content is incontrovertible. Fascist violence is always symbolic. 

For fascists, violence is both an ethical norm and a narrative device. Even if they’ve never read Nietzsche, and his adulation of the Übermensch who “might come away from a revolting succession of murder, arson, rape, torture with a sense of exhilaration and emotional equilibrium, as if it were nothing but a student prank”, they get the picture.

For fascists, violence always tells a story of invincibility and, in turn, creates the myth of a final violent act. And that’s what the Capitol invasion did. Forty five per cent of Republican voters questioned said they supported the attempt to disrupt the confirmation of the election. According to one poll, 52 per cent of Republican voters believe that the election was stolen and that Trump had “rightfully won”. Though the short-term danger, of a possible militia mobilisation against the inauguration ceremony, looks likely to have been contained by National Guard deployments, both in DC and in state capitals, the long-term threat is of larger, armed marches on state capitals. 

The civil war rhetoric is everywhere. As a BBC reporter covering the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, as early as 2010 I noticed that Civil War 2.0 was becoming a kind of Sorelian myth – a fantasy that, through constant repetition, its proponents imagined would become real. 

More than ten years on, the invasion of the legislature of the world’s most powerful country is a warning: unless there is a concerted effort to prevent it, the US will fall apart under the strain of its unresolved structural racism, the evangelical fanaticism of its culture, and the dysfunctionality of its capitalism. If you were, say, the Chinese Communist Party, and thinking – as Leon Trotsky once memorably put it about the British imperialists – “in terms of centuries and continents”, then the path to a destroyed, diminished and divided US looks very clear.

Seventy four million people voted for a man who flouted his disregard for democracy, for the rule of law, for the independence of judges and for the fourth estate’s role as truth-keeper – 11 million more than voted for him when he had only talked about grabbing women “by the pussy”. 

What to do? Mobilise a democratic, progressive coalition and protect the state’s monopoly of armed force. It’s true that there were off-duty cops and ex-service people among the rioters, and individual and structural racism exists within the US police service.

But the answer to this is a purged, retrained police force, subject to the strong legal oversight that exists in democracies that know how to deal with fascism – such as Germany, where the defence ministry shut down an armed forces unit due to allegations of far-right extremism, and where the domestic intelligence agency placed a brand of the Alternative for Germany, the third-largest parliamentary party, under surveillance for extremism. 

The US needs the coercive apparatus of the state – which ranges from city police departments to the FBI and the courts – to take on and destroy fascism. That is the lesson of the anti-fascist struggles of the 1930s: it was mass mobilisations – breaking down barriers between the left and centre – that stopped fascism where this was achieved. Where fascism won it was where conservatism allowed itself, first, to hollow out democracy and then to find its electoral base stolen by the fantasists of blood and soil.

Over the next four years there will likely be a low-level fascist insurgency against the Biden/Harris presidency. Its flashpoints will be states in which, although election officials have stood firm against the Trumpian mobs, it is unlikely Republican lawmakers and police chiefs will do so. Fascism, contrary to the rote-learned wisdom of leftists stuck in the 1930s, is acting in total autonomy from big capital, and always has done. While you are trying to trace its material roots in a section of capital, it is reshaping the world according to its bizarre fantasies.

Fascism, as the Marxist psychologist Wilhelm Reich said in the 1930s, is “fear of freedom”. It is the desire for order in servitude, triggered by the sudden disruption of all certainties. 

The upside, for those of us who champion human freedom, is the visible panic among far-right insurrectionists: they can sense how close at hand a world without racism, misogyny and irrationalism actually is. We should take hope from that. 

[See also: Donald Trump’s defeat shows how Boris Johnson’s Conservatives can be beaten]

The Progressive International denies the false and malicious information published by the Colombian magazine Semana, from the Progressive International

The Progressive International denies the false and malicious information published by the Colombian magazine regarding an alleged link between the Progressive International and the ELN guerrilla in Colombia.

The Progressive International denies the false and malicious information published by the Colombian magazine Semana and reproduced in other media in Colombia, Ecuador and Argentina, regarding an alleged link between the Progressive International and the ELN guerrilla in Colombia, as a source of funding for the campaign of presidential candidate Andres Arauz.

Among other absurd allegations, the website claims that candidate Arauz supposedly received funds from the ELN and that contact with this organisation was made in the framework of a Progressive International meeting.

The Progressive International held its virtual Global Summit in September 2020 and Andrés Arauz participated for Latin America as presidential candidate for Ecuador together with the Bolivian presidential candidate Luis Arce Catacora, the Colombian pre-candidate for president, Gustavo Petro, and the Argentinian leader Alicia Castro. The Progressive International did not have and does not have any contact with the ELN.

It is clear that this is a smear campaign plagued with falsehoods in an attempt to undermine the most popularly approved candidate.

We have made the complete video of the Progressive International Summit available to the public here. Andrés Arauz participated in it and already warned of the obstacles, lawfare and smear campaign the Ecuadorian right-wing was preparing to circumvent democracy given Andres Arauz is clearly leading the polls in Ecuador.