There Are So Many Lessons to Learn from Kerala: The Eleventh Newsletter (2021), Tricontinental

Dear friends,

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

Indian farmers and agricultural workers have crossed the hundred-day mark of their protest against the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They will not withdraw until the government repeals laws that deliver the advantages of agriculture to large corporate houses. This, the farmers and agricultural workers say, is an existential struggle. Surrender is equivalent to death: even before these laws were passed, more than 315,000 Indian farmers had committed suicide since 1995 because of the debt burden placed on them.

Over the next one and a half months, assembly elections will take place in four Indian states (Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal) and in one union territory (Puducherry). There are 225 million people who live in these four states, which would, if measured by itself, make this area the fifth largest country in the world after Indonesia. Prime Minister Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not a serious contender in any of these states.

Gopika Babu (India), Community, 2021.

Gopika Babu (India), Community, 2021.

In Kerala (population 35 million), the Left Democratic Front has been in the government for the past five years, during which it has confronted a number of serious crises: the aftereffects of Cyclone Ockhi in 2017, the Nipah virus outbreak of 2018, the floods of 2018 and 2019, and then the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, Kerala’s health minister, K.K. Shailaja, has earned the nickname the ‘Coronavirus Slayer’ because of the state’s rapid and comprehensive approach to breaking the chain of infection. All polls indicate that the Left will return to the government, breaking an anti-incumbency trend in the state since 1980.

Vijay Prashad speaks to Kerala’s Finance Minister Thomas Isaac about the upcoming legislative elections in Kerala, courtesy of Peoples Dispatch.

To better understand the great gains made by the Left Democratic Front government over the past five years, I spoke to Kerala’s Finance Minister T. M. Thomas Isaac, a Central Committee member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Isaac begins by telling me that the switch back and forth between the Left Front and the Right Front, as he called it, has ‘cost Kerala a lot of social advancement’. If the Left wins again, he says, it will ‘be in power continuously for ten years. That is a sufficiently long period to leave a very substantial imprint upon Kerala’s development process’.

The general orientation of the Left’s approach toward Kerala’s development, Isaac said, has been ‘a kind of hop, step, and jump’:

The hop, the first stage, is redistributive politics. Kerala has been very noted for that. Our trade union movement has succeeded in having significant redistribution of income. Kerala has the highest wage rates in the country. Our peasant movement has been able to redistribute landed assets through a very successful land reform programme. Powerful social movements which pre-date even the Left movement in Kerala, [and] whose tradition the Left has carried forward, have pressurised successive governments which have been in power in Kerala to provide education, healthcare, [and for the] basic needs of everyone. Therefore, in Kerala, an ordinary person enjoys a quality of life which is much superior to the rest of India.

But there is a problem with this process. Because we have to spend so much on the social sector, there won’t be sufficient money [or] resources for building infrastructure. So [after] a programme of social development spread over more than half a century, there’s a serious infrastructure deficit in Kerala.

Our present government has been very remarkable in meeting the crises, ensuring that there is no social breakdown, ensuring that nobody in Kerala would go hungry, and [that] everybody will get treatment during COVID times and so on. But we did something more remarkable.Junaina Muhammed (India), Green Kerala, 2021.

Junaina Muhammed (India), Green Kerala, 2021.

What the government did was to build the state’s infrastructure and begin to pivot to another economic foundation. The amount needed to upgrade the infrastructure is staggering, about Rs. 60,000 crores (or $11 billion). How does a Left government raise the funds to finance this kind of infrastructural development? Kerala, as a state within India, cannot borrow beyond a certain limit, so the Left government set up instruments such as the Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board (KIIFB). Through the Board, the government was able to spend Rs. 10,000 crores (US$1.85 billion) and ‘has produced a remarkable change in the infrastructure’. After the hop (redistribution) and infrastructural development (step), comes the jump:

The jump is the programme that we have placed before the people. Now that infrastructure is there, [such as] transmission lines, assured electricity, industrial parks for investors to come and invest, we will have K-FON [Kerala-Fibre Optic Network], a super-highway of internet owned by the state, which is available to any service provider. [It ensures] equal treatment to everybody; nobody will have an [undue] advantage. And we are going to provide internet to everybody. It is the right of every individual. All the poor are going to get broadband connectivity for free.

All of this has provided a background for us to take the next big jump. That is, we now want to change the economic base of our economy. Our economic base is commercial crops, which are in serious crisis because of opening up [to ‘free trade’], or labour-intensive traditional industries, or very polluting chemical industries and so on. Therefore, we realise now, industries which are of our core competence would be knowledge industries, service industries, skill-based industries, and so on. Now how do you make this paradigm shift from your traditional economic base to the new [one]?Kadambari Vaiga (India), High-tech School, 2020.

Kadambari Vaiga (India), High-tech School, 2020.

What will the new economic opportunities be for Kerala? First, because of the shift to the digital platform economy, Kerala will now develop its IT industry with the immense advantages of the state’s high literacy rates as well as 100% state-funded internet connectivity that will soon be available to the entire population. This, Isaac said, ‘is going to have a tremendous impact upon women’s employment’. Second, Kerala’s Left government will restructure higher education to promote innovation and deepen Kerala’s history of cooperative production (the example here is the Uralungal Labour Contract Cooperative Society, which recently rebuilt an old bridge in five months, seven months ahead of schedule).

Kerala aims to go beyond the paradigms of the Gujarat Model (high rates of growth for capitalist firms, but little social security and welfare for the people), the Uttar Pradesh Model (neither high growth nor social welfare), and the model that would provide high welfare but little industrial growth. The new Kerala project would go for high but managed growth and high welfare. ‘We want to create in Kerala [the basis for] individual dignity of life, security, and welfare’, Isaac says, which requires both industry and welfare. ‘We are not a socialist country’, he reminds me; ‘we are part of Indian capitalism. But in this part, within the limitations, we shall design a society which will inspire all progressive-thinking people in India. Yes, it is possible to build something different. That’s the idea of Kerala’.

A key element in the Kerala Model is the powerful social movements that grip the state. Amongst them is a mass front of the hundred-year-old communist movement and the All-India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), which formed forty years ago in 1981 and which has a membership in excess of ten million women. One of the founders of AIDWA was Kanak Mukherjee (1921-2005). Kanakdi, as she was called, joined the freedom movement at the age of ten and never stopped fighting to emancipate our world from the chains of colonialism and capitalism. In 1938, at the age of seventeen, Kanakdi joined the Communist Party of India, using her immense talents to organise students and industrial workers. In 1942, as part of the anti-fascist struggle, Kanakdi helped found the Mahila Atma Raksha Samiti (‘Women’s Self Defence Committee’), which played a key role in helping those devastated by the Bengal Famine of 1943 – a famine created by imperialist policy that resulted in as many as three million deaths. These experiences deepened Kanakdi’s commitment to the communist struggle, to which she devoted the rest of her life.

To honour this pioneer communist, Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research dedicated our second feminisms study (Women of Struggle, Women in Struggle) to her life and work. Professor Elisabeth Armstrong, who was a key contributor to this study, recently published a book on AIDWA, which is now out as a paperback from LeftWord Books.

Today, organisations such as AIDWA continue to lift the confidence and power of working-class and peasant women, whose role has been considerable in Kerala and in the farmer’s revolt, as well as in struggles across the world. They speak out not only about their suffering but also about their aspirations, their great dreams of a socialist society – dreams that need to be built alongside other instruments such as the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala.



Recurring Political Crisis in Haiti Connects with US Racism, by Tom Whitney

Haiti faces serious political crisis. The country has experienced great political difficulties ever since gaining independent nationhood in 1804. Impaired governance stems in large measure from U.S. meddling over many years.  We examine the current crisis and the basis for U.S. zeal to curtail Haiti’s future.

Mass demonstrations have continued intermittently since mid-2018, when two million Haitians were in the streets. At various times, protesters have called for: (1) relief from high prices for oil and gas, the result of IMF austerity decrees; (2) relief from shortages of basic supplies; (3) punishment of government officials who embezzled billions in funds from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe program of low-cost oil for Caribbean peoples (President Jovenel Moïse stole $700,000); (4) Moïse’s resignation. 

Demonstrators targeted Moïse aggressively after he closed down Haiti’s parliament in January 2020. He’s ruled since by decree.  A general strike took place prior to February 7, 2021, which, according to lawyers and judges, marked the end of Moïse’s presidential term. He remains.

Moïse’s 2015 election victory was fraudulent. A transitional president served for one year. Moïse took office in early 2017 after winning a second election weeks earlier. Only 18 percent of Haitian adults voted.

Moïse recently appointed his own electoral council and his own committee for amending the constitution. He cemented ties with President Trump by supporting U.S. regime-change plans for Venezuela. His new National Intelligence Agency looks to one observer like “a new Gestapo-like force of armed spies.” Moïse has disregarded the suffering of Haitians, the most poverty-stricken population in the Americas.

Opposition elements recently named Supreme Court Justice Joseph Mécène as a transitional president replacing Moïse. Moïse responded by arresting 23 officials of whom three were Supreme Court justices. He replaced them.  

Haiti’s opposition is divided between center-right political parties, headed loosely by lawyer André Michel, and protesters in the streets. Many of these belong to social movements and labor unions making up the new Patriotic Forum.

Violence is rampant. Some “150 criminal bands” have carried out murders and massacres. According to Argentinian Lautaro Rivara, active in Haiti, “Most of these groups have been organized and financed by senators, ministers, and presidents – when they are not directed fomented by the imperialist powers.”  Some gangs have united under government auspices as the “G9 and family”.

These various problems reflect political norms from Haiti’s past. On display then and now have been: ineffectual, corrupt, undemocratic governance; governmental inattention to people’s basic needs; persistent, if unsuccessful, popular opposition; and politics mediated through violence. Submission to foreign masters has been less obvious recently than is usually the case. None of these failings operate against U.S. expectations for Haiti.

Setting the stage

The many foreign NGOs active in Haiti function autonomously, rarely collaborating with Haiti’s government. The “Core Group” of nations involving the United States, France, Canada, and others make strategic decisions for Haiti on their own.

The U.S government does likewise. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton inserted singer Michel Martelly into Haiti’s 2010 presidential elections. He won, and named banana tycoon Jovenal Moïse as his successor.

Haiti has long had to cope with burdensome foreign-debt obligations. Between 1825 and 1947, Haiti sent payments to France as compensation for Haiti’s slaves having liberated themselves. Said one observer recently, “the constant of financial needs forces all Haitian governments to take on even more debt with North American and European Banks.”

Bill Quigley, a close observer, notes that, “The US and the US dominated world financial institutions forced Haiti to open its markets [allowing] millions of tons of US subsidized rice and sugar into Haiti – undercutting their farmers and ruining Haitian agriculture.” 

Holding Haiti in Check

The United States has long had its way with Haiti. It withheld recognition of Haiti’s national independence until 1862, and embargoed trade with Haiti until 1863. A U.S. naval squadron arriving at Môle Saint-Nicolas in 1889 sought to occupy the port permanently to block access to Haiti by ships of other nations. The effort failed, partly due to the intercession of U.S. ambassador Frederic Douglass, the famous abolitionist.    

U. S. military units occupying Haiti between 1915 and 1934 encountered armed resistance. Some 15,000 Haitians were killed. U.S. officials wrote a new Haitian Constitution, collected taxes, controlled customs, administered sections of Haiti’s government, and forced payments on loans held by U.S. banks.

The plundering, murderous Duvalier dictatorship, father and son, ruled Haiti from 1957 until 1986. The U.S. government cited anti-communism as justification.  

CIA personnel collaborated with Haitian military officers to plan the coup that in 1991 removed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. That he returned to power in 1994 by means of a U.S. invasion typifies Haiti’s subservience to decisions made in Washington.

Paramilitaries trained and funded by the United States removed President Aristide in 2004. Canada and France helped out. A U.S. plane conveyed Aristide to the Central African Republic. The three nations arranged for United Nations troops to occupy Haiti. They would remain until 2019.

Particular reasons

“There was hell in Hayti (sic) in the red waning of the eighteenth century … while black men in sudden frenzy fought like devils for their freedom and won it … the shudder of Hayti was running through all the Americas.”  (W. E. B. DuBois, John Brown, 1907)

Reports of the “tempest created by the black revolutionaries … spread rapidly and uncontrollably.” A maritime proletariat brought news to places like Charleston, South Carolina; “Afro-North Americans … derived inspiration from the example of Haitian freedom,” recalls historian Julius Scott. (Common Wind, 2018)

The U.S. slavocracy had much to protect. “Between 1775 and 1825 … a slave-labor large farming system [developed]. There was a close and indissoluble connection with the world’s cotton market.”  (DuBois, Suppression of the African Slave Trade,1896) The labor of enslaved people generated wealth and enabled debt repayment. Slave ownership represented 20 percent of private U. S. wealth.  

Fearful slaveowners had Haiti on their minds, more so when slaves were unruly. Slaves conspired, sometimes were discovered, and rebelled. That Denmark Vesey, leader of a failed slave rebellion in Charleston in 1822, had been enslaved in Haiti was hardly reassuring.

The enslavement of Black people in the United States eventually ended; racism did not.  Haiti manifested a new orientation that would by no means mollify U. S. animosities against its people.

Historian C.L.R. James explains that, “Haiti had to find a national rallying point [and] discovered ‘negritude’ [involving] “substitution of Africa for France.” Until then, “Mulattos who were masters had their eyes fixed on Paris.” At work was the influence of pan-Africanists Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, and Martinican poet Aimé Césaire, regarding whom, says James, “it is Africa and African emancipation that he has in mind.” (Black Jacobins, 1989)

As a kind of African extension in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti solidified its place within the orbit of U.S racism. That showed in 1898 when U.S. troops intervened in Cuba’s war for independence from Spain. Later Cuba would become a U.S. protectorate of sorts. U.S. justification for both endeavors, according to statements, was to prevent “another Haiti,” a “second Haiti.”     

Indeed, Cuba’s rebel army was full of Black soldiers. African-descended General Antonio Maceo led rebel troops. Maceo at the time was a favorite in the U.S. Black community.

Much later, U.S. imperialists were alert to real or imagined socialist stirrings in Guatemala (1954), Dominican Republic (1965), Indonesia, (1965-66), Chile (1973), Cuba perennially, and Haiti. There, anti-communism competed with racism as motivation.

Maybe with the advent of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, whispers were heard in U.S. government circles of “another Cuba” in the making. After all, Haitians are poor, they suffer, they die young, and they are heirs of a revolution.

Aristide was new. His 1991 election victory with a 67% plurality was Haiti’s “first successful democratic election ever,” according to the  conservative National Republican Institute.  Aristide gained reelection in 2000 with 91% of the vote.  

An observer notes that, “In the period of governance by Fanmi Lavalas, the party founded by President Aristide, more schools were built than the total constructed between 1804 and 1994. Twenty percent of the country’s budget was mandated for education.  Women’s groups and popular organizations helped coordinate a literacy campaign …The minimum wage was doubled. …  Health clinics were established in the poorest communities.  The government also launched an aggressive campaign to collect unpaid taxes owed by the wealthy elite.”  

Haiti waits. Maybe Haitian President Moïse will be removed and maybe Haiti’s parliament will reopen. Maybe the new Biden administration will go along with a new array of officeholders.  His representatives may pull strings selectively, or give a nudge to favorites. What the U.S. government does in the short term, however, won’t matter much to masses of Haitian people who are victims. What would matter for them is certainty of their independence, of being able to take charge of their own existence. Movement in that direction depends on change in the United States, forced by popular mobilization there, toward a politics that embraces the notion of human equality.   

ICE, Migrant Children, and Maine, by Raina Overskride

The Biden administration is opening up a facility near Carrizo Springs, Texas where the U.S. Immigrations, Customs, and Enforcement Agency (ICE) will be holding unaccompanied migrant children. The facility, formerly a camp for oil field workers, was used briefly by the Trump administration in 2019 for the same purpose. The news is depressing and disappointing.

The U.S. government is still abusing migrant children. Offering relief and hope to peoples of Latin America is not on the agenda. Rather, the U.S. government has a hand in creating troubles there no less than at border crossings into the United States.

Why is it that children are locked up?  Maybe, deep down, it’s because those in charge all too easily tolerate human suffering. That’s perhaps why over half a million Americans have died from Covid-19, many unnecessarily; why black and brown people die from the infection at disproportionately high rates; why Syria is bombed; and why the Biden administration, offering a relief package, cut back on supplemental income payments, originally set at $2000. 

We ask you, the reader, to imagine for one moment: you are barely surviving, your life is in danger, family members’ lives are endangered. The corrupt, often authoritarian government of your country foments violence.  Consequently, you put everything on the line. You seek a better life inside the “belly of the beast.”

You know, or with time may realize, that that’s the source of many of the troubles afflicting your own country. They took root, many of them, courtesy of U.S. interventions and neoliberal-type restrictions.   

Your homeland is in a war zone, with bombings and killings. Drug cartels threaten violence against those close to you. Now at the U.S. border, your child is gone, held in a fenced-in tent city. You yourself, if you crossed, may be caged, and the future is bleak.

This is where ICE fits in. ICE is a daily reality for countless families across the United States. Resistance is in order. The working class has a special obligation, and in Maine too.

News item: Construction proceeds with an ICE facility in Scarborough, Maine. According to the Bangor Daily News, “ICE authorities will process, fingerprint and detain people suspected of immigration violations at the facility.” Commenting to the BDN on February 24, Zeb Green of Skowhegan, points out that, “If we allow ICE processing facilities in Maine, we are encouraging and sanctioning the abuse of our neighbors.”

We say No to separating children from families at U.S. borders or anywhere. The present policy, continuing, is a cruel holdover of the rightwing, extremist Trump administration. The first action we call for, an easy one, is to let elected officials know, beginning with the Maine senators. Tell them that crimes against humanity won’t be tolerated, that migrant children need to reunite with their families, that ICE must be fixed, that our immigrant brothers and sisters something other than “illegal aliens.”

Send an email: Senator Angus King ( and Senator Susan Collins (

Maine Medical Center Nurses Want a Union, Need Support, by Sheila Malone RN

Nurses at Maine Medical Center (MMC) in Portland, the region’s preeminent referral center, have taken steps to organize a union.  On their behalf, the Maine State Nurses Association (MSNA) in January petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to authorize a secret vote on forming a union for the hospital’s 1600 nurses. Ballots mailed to MMC nurses on March 29 will be returned to the National Labor Relations Board prior to April 27, and counted two days later.

Campaigns to unionize MMC nurses in 1976 and 2000 fell short. The MSNA is an affiliate of National Nurses United, the union arm of the very progressive California Nurses Association. MSNA currently represents nurses who staff Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor and eight other hospitals or health centers in northern and eastern Maine.  NNU serves nurses in seven other states.

In an interview, MMC nurse Jackie Fournier emphasized her colleagues’ desire for collective decision-making at the hospital that would assure optimal patient care. The nurses look forward to negotiating wage increases and time-off. They seek measures that might prevent burn-out, especially no more forced overtime.

The nurses’ drive to form a union has gained support from other unions in Maine including the Maine Service Employee Association (SEIU) and the Machinists’ Union at Bath Iron Works. In social media postings, activists in Maine are calling for support for efforts to form a union.  Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO and strong NNU supporter, suggests that positive experiences of already unionized nurses in Maine work in favor of an affirmative vote by the MMC nurses.

Executives at Maine Medical Center and its parent organization MaineHealth are fighting back. They’ve had nurses attend small-group, anti-union indoctrination sessions and have posted anti-union videos on nurses’ phones. Florida-based Reliant Labor Consultants, a top player in the “union avoidance industry,” orchestrates the hospital’s campaign.

To facilitate the appearance in Portland of that company’s operatives, hospital executives arranged for them to receive the state-supplied anti-Covid-19 vaccine out of turn and in disregard of public health priorities.

Maine Governor Janet Mills objected, insisting that, “It was an insult to the hardworking nurses trying to assert their rights and to those who are waiting patiently for their turn … That was an inexcusable act.”

Maine Medical Center’s anti-worker bias was on display in its failure to comply with an ordinance approved by Portland votes in November, 2010, one that requires employers to pay frontline workers a $15 minimum wage with time-and-a-half pay during emergencies.

The organization apparently is not suffering. According to,  five surgeons“ made between $1.2 and $1.4 million in the last tax year” and “MaineHealth CEO William Caron Jr. made $1.6 million in 2019, [while] MaineHealth President Richard Peterson [also] made $1.6 million.”

University of Southern Maine economics professor Michael Hillard pointed out recently that the union-organizing campaign occurs at a crucial time. He claims nurses and other former students are carrying debt loads that were “unheard of a generation ago.” He also senses “a growing sense of unfairness in our employment system.” Indeed, “We’re at a point where we’ve had 40 years of in-your-face capitalism, and we’re seeing a greater willingness to organize, especially among young workers.”