Chile’s Neoliberal nightmare, New Constitution, and Daniel Jadue, by Tom Whitney

Working and marginalized people in Chile can now see possibilities of relief from the political grief of decades.  A new constitution is in the works. And Daniel Jadue, author of an astonishingly progressive program as mayor of Rocoleta municipality, is a presidential candidate. The election is set for November 21, 2021.

Chileans will vote on May15-16 to select 155 members of a constitutional convention. They will also choose city council members, mayors and governors. The vote comes after months of political turbulence. Repeating anti-government demonstrations on a massive scale beginning in October 2019 persuaded the rightwing government of billionaire President Sabastian Pinero, and military leaders, that for the sake of peace in the streets they had better plan for a new Constitution.

After pandemic-related delay, the process started in October 2020 with a plebiscite for approving the convention. The next step, again delayed by the pandemic, is voting in May to select the convention delegates. 

The Communist Party’s electoral coalition, carrying the name Worthy, Green, and Sovereign Chile, Worthy Chile for short, has arranged with the center-left Broad Front coalition to jointly select the leftist candidate delegates to the convention. This will be Chile’s first constitutional convention with delegates being chosen by popular vote. Fifty percent of them will be women. 

Many leftists complain that the convention’s requirement for a two-thirds majority to approve constitutional provisions is a threshold so high as to stymy progressive change. Many are displeased that most delegates are tied to political parties, which are widely distrusted in Chile. They would have preferred more delegates representing social movements.

Working class Chileans have good reason to seek a new Constitution. The current one, instituted in 1980 by a military dictatorship to serve neoliberal purposes, lived on after dictator Pinochet departed in 1990. Subsequent governments, even socialist ones, have had to bend to its rules.

That Constitution instituted “radical neoliberalism,” according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. It “privatized fundamental aspects of the lives of Chileans, …  imbued principles of profit and capital investment in such key and sensitive sectors as education, healthcare, pensions, labor regulations, and other socially vital areas of the economy.”

According to the report, “Chile is now one of the most dramatic examples of social and economic inequality on the planet; … the richest 1% of Chileans hold 26% of the nation’s wealth … Chile ranks seventh among the most unequal countries on the planet.”

One observer notes that Chile “is the first country in the world to have privatized its sources and management of water.” Another claims that 4000 very wealthy families ultimately determine most of what happens in Chile, which necessarily would include actions of the notably cruel and corrupt militarized police known as carabineros.

Daniel Jadue represents a different Chile. The Communist Party’s Central Committee on April 24 announced that the Party would shortly be advancing Jadue as the most appealing candidate for left-leaning political parties in the upcoming presidential election.  Jadue “has aroused full, cross-the-board support from a large segment of our society,” remarked Communist Party President Guillermo Teillier.

Of Palestinian heritage, Jadue prepared in sociology, architecture, and urban planning; headed the Palestinian Youth Organization of Latin America until 1993; and that year joined Chile’s Communist Party. Born in Recoleta in 1967 and mayor since 2012, Jadue told an interviewer in 2019 that, “We are a very diverse and multicultural community [and] home to large portions of the Santiago’s informal sector.” Recoleta municipality or “commune,” population 162,000, is part of greater Santiago.

The interviewer praises Jadue as “one of the most important figures on the Latin American left.” He thinks “Jadue’s administration is building a laboratory for communism of today and of the future.” That seems to be Jadue’s intention: “In Recoleta, we want to form an open-door state, wherein all that matters are its citizens … We are nothing more than humble employees of the citizenry, those who truly constitute the state. Therefore, whenever our citizens come to us with a problem, we do everything in our power to solve it.”

Jadue describes what’s been done. About the “Open School,” for example, he reports that “some young men came to us, saying they wanted to get off the streets …So, we [are] keeping schools open until 10:00 PM daily, and over the weekend as well. This gave the whole community the opportunity to make use of the spaces as they saw fit …  Our plan is to create an open university that offers anyone in the community access to free university classes in every subject area. Almost 70 percent [of the activities] are self-directed, by both the older and younger people who attend.”

He turns to health care changes: “We had very few doctors in the community and just four medical offices …That’s one medical practice per every 40,000 inhabitants…. So, [we sought] to increase the number of doctors from eleven to forty. But we then ran into problems with overcrowding …We built two medical attention hubs for noninvasive primary care at each of Recoleta’s neighborhood councils. We were able to provide 75 percent of senior citizens with medical access within three blocks of their residence.”

About “the people’s pharmacy project,” Jadue recalls that, “Our residents told us scarcity and high prices were making medication the second biggest obstacle to proper care in Recoleta …Specialized medications were too expensive [and] Recoleta had only two pharmacies …Chilean law prohibits the state from engaging in any kind of commerce … [so we formed] a consumer’s cooperative, with the goal of driving down the cost of medication … Now, Communes of every stripe [throughout Chile] have people’s pharmacies.” 

Asked about the “optician program,” he states that, “we are selling 250 pairs [of glasses] a week now. And, “one last health-related service we offer is our people’s dentistry program. We have dentists who take mobile kits out into the community”

At “the people’s bookstore … all kinds of books are sold … all at an extremely low price. The municipality was able to cover all operational costs, paying for the location, salaries, and all the bills. We can then pass these savings on to the public, selling books at the same price we got them for from the publisher or distributor.”

The commune “invested in the promotion of reading. Our biggest resources are the ten public libraries in Recoleta, which make us the municipality with the most public libraries nationwide.” The municipality invests “about USD $500,000 a year in the public library system.”

To further accessible housing, Recoleta inaugurated its “Social Justice 1” condominium in June 2020. The structure, which cost $1.2 million USD to build, contains 38 rent-subsidized, three-bedroom apartments. “Today in the condominium, 95% of the beneficiaries of the project are women and, of them, 31 % were victims of family violence.” 

Reflecting on changes in Recoleta, Jadue maintains that, “A socialism that doesn’t govern any better than the Right has no future, nor any right to guide society’s destiny. If socialism wants an opportunity, it will have to be much more democratic, much more effective, and much more efficient.”

He points out that, “the Communist Party has been undergoing a resurgence. The accomplishments of local Communist governments have given citizens a renewed hope in the party.”  Overall, “The goal of our Communist administration is to fundamentally transform the state. As it currently exists, it functions purely as a vehicle for class domination. Its structures are completely impervious to the expectations and needs of its citizenry.

Presently Jadue is running second in presidential polling to the current favorite Pamela Jiles, a flamboyant journalist and legislator for the Humanist Party. She recently gained 21.7% approval in one tally and 18% in another, with Jadue scoring 10.3% and 11 %, respectively.

National Strike in Colombia is Massive, Meets Violent Repression, by Tom Whitney

Colombia is afire with a National Strike mounted by working people young people, and the excluded. They are protesting neoliberal reforms that diminish lives and hopes. Tax-reform proposals from President Iván Duque’s rightwing government triggered large demonstrations that began on April 28 and are continuing. Brutal repression has inflamed the rebellion. The government quickly withdrew the tax proposals. The finance minister was dismissed. 

A National Strike Committee coordinates the actions of “26 social sectors at the national level” plus regional, departmental, and municipal strike committees. The demonstrations, unprecedented in size and scope, follow the student uprising of 2011, the agrarian strike of 2013, marches in September 2020 against police abuses, and a large strike in November 2020 against pension and education reforms.

One stimulus for the uprising is the rise in poverty in Colombia from 37.5% of the population in 2019 to almost 50% in 2020; 15% live in extreme poverty. Another is widespread disapproval of the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Young people are enraged. Their futures are blunted, claims commentator Germán Muñoz González. Often regarded as “expendable,” they are being killed, he asserts. Polling shows that 75% of Colombians support the National Strike.

Colombian Cecelia Zamudio paints a grim picture. Protesters “are constantly being attacked by the forces of state repression who shoot with high caliber rifles … use weapons of war … utilize paramilitaries for covert actions.” So far “more than 60 people have been killed … 600 people taken away and disappeared … thousands injured, thousands imprisoned.”

The proposed tax reforms represented the tip of the neoliberal iceberg.  Healthcare privatization after 1993 led to healthcare inequalities because of reduced investment in personnel, training, and facilities. Over the course of three decades, most education at all levels has been privatized. For the “poorest sectors of the population, public education for children and adolescents has deteriorated.”

Flexible labor arrangements developing over three decades has centered on outsourcing. Self-employment, mostly work in the informal sector, now exceeds 60%; the unemployment rate is 18%. In the same neoliberal spirit, the government farmed out management of pension and disability funds to banks. Consequently, the equivalent of $83 billion of workers’ and employers’ money held by bankers is profitably invested and pension benefits are reduced.

The proposed tax-reform program was supposed to have supplied the government with the equivalent of $6.3 billion that would have enabled payment on debt that between 2016 and 2021 jumped from $79 billion to $157 billion, a figure representing 58% of Colombia’s GDP. Payment to foreign creditors consumes 38% of the government’s budgeted expenses.

The tax plan called for assessing a value added tax (VAT) on rent payments by those earning the equivalent of $470 per month or more. Some previously-exempt renters would have now been paying the tax. The plan also required that middle income private and public sector workers pay a 19% VAT on fees for energy use, water, and sewerage. People with big inheritances would have seen higher taxes. Well-to-do Colombians opposed the tax proposals along lower income people.

The National Strike Committee met May 15 with the government’s minister of labor and the high commissioner for peace. The Committee announced that no further negotiations would take place without guarantees assuring “no more violence and freedom to protest.” President Duque quickly responded: “In Colombia full guarantees exist for the exercise of protests.”  He declared that the blocking highways represented criminal action “affecting the economy.”

The National Committee indicated that future negotiations must involve the departmental and municipal strike committees. As with earlier national strikes, people’s assemblies are underway – in Ibagué, for example.

The Colombian state looks to be on the verge of ungovernability. Taken together, longtime negative features of Colombia’s national existence now pose formidable obstacles. They are: divisions between rich and poor, urban and rural; state power in the hands of oligarchs; continuing destitution and precarious lives for the many; their exclusion from meaningful political participation; ruling-class resort to extreme violence; and governmental complicity with U.S. hegemonic ambitions.  Integration of the national economy into the worldwide neoliberal system, with its own set of stern requirements, is relatively new.

The government has failed a three-part stress test. Colombians have suffered more from the Covid-19 pandemic than all but a few peoples of the world. The government’s implementation of the peace agreement between the FARC insurgents and the government was disastrous. There is the debt crisis.

Piedad Córdoba, once a left-leaning Liberal Party senator and always a target of reactionaries, portrays the strike as “only the most prominent symptom of a social order that’s now unsustainable. She calls for the “development of social struggle” and laments that, “in contrast to other countries of Our America, Colombia has not had a revolution of any type.”

She regards the high levels of poverty and debt as “big changes obliging us to look for [new] solutions.” Córdoba rejects neoliberalism and anticipates “a movement of new and developing leaders, and of generational change on the part of young people condemned to no future.”

Observer Fernando Rubio agrees: “The main protagonists of the present Strike are young people impacted by the breakdown of the neoliberal model.” These include “professionally trained people facing bankruptcy, the chronically unemployed, and those living precariously without a future.” 

Hope is alive for some Colombian young people. That’s apparent in the faces of the 200 or so orchestra members performing in Medellin’s Park of Desires on May 5. Under the baton of Susana Boreal, 26 years old, and before 6000 singing onlookers, they played and sang “El pueblo unido jamás será vencido” (The people united will never be defeated), and other numbers.

The symbolism is clear. That song materialized in Chile prior to the overthrow of President Salvador Allende’s socialist government. It’s since been heard worldwide. The title, morphed into a slogan, became a staple of political demonstrations throughout the Western Hemisphere. Readers may go here or here to hear and see the performance.

The youth uprising in Colombia parallels the massive outpourings of young Chilean protesters from October 2019 on, the Occupy phenomenon in the United States in 2011, and the Indignados in Spain. Maybe, one surmises, a new way of doing politics is afoot.

Colombian youth in rebellion, acting spontaneously and mostly unaffiliated with political parties, are maybe attending to moral and community values as they defend their material interests. They are workers – or would-be workers – but presumably don’t carry the sectarianism and memories of failure burdening their left-leaning predecessors.

The 1970 Killings at Jackson State College, from People’s World

The Jackson State killings occurred on Friday, May 15, 1970, at Jackson State College, a historically Black college (now Jackson State University) in Jackson, Mississippi, the state capital and its largest city.

Two students at Jackson State peer from a window that was shot out by police on campus in May 1970. Jack Thornell/AP

On May 14, 1970, a group of student protesters against the Vietnam War, specifically the U.S. invasion of Cambodia, were confronted by city and state police. Shortly after midnight, the police opened fire, killing two students and injuring twelve. The event happened only 11 days after National Guardsmen killed four students in similar protests at Kent State University in Ohio, which had first captured national attention. College campuses across the country were in turmoil over the fresh expansion of the hated war.

A group of around a hundred African-American students had gathered on Lynch Street, a major thoroughfare that divided the campus and linked West Jackson to downtown which was a well known site for racial intimidation and harassment by white motorists. A rumor spread that Fayette, Miss. Mayor Charles Evers (brother of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers) and his wife had been shot and killed. By around 9:30 p.m. the students had started fires, thrown rocks at motorists, and overturned vehicles, including a large truck. Firefighters at the scene quickly requested police support.

The police responded in force. At least 75 Jackson police units from the city and the Mississippi Highway Patrol attempted to control the crowd while the firemen extinguished the fires. After the firefighters had left, shortly before midnight, the police moved to disperse the crowd then gathered in front of Alexander Hall, a five-story women’s dormitory.

Advancing to within 50-100 feet of the crowd, at roughly 12:05 a.m. on May 15, officers opened fire on the dormitory. Authorities claimed they saw a sniper on one of the building’s upper floors but an FBI search for evidence of sniper fire was negative. At least 140 shots – some estimate more than 460 – were fired by a reported 40 state highway patrolmen using shotguns from 30 to 50 feet. Every window on the side of the building facing Lynch Street was shattered.

Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, a junior pre-law major and father of an 18 month-old son, and James Earl Green, 17, a senior at nearby Jim Hill High School who was walking home from work at a local grocery store when he stopped to watch the action, were killed; 12 others were wounded. But ambulances were not called until after the officers picked up their shell casings, a U.S. Senate probe conducted by Sens. Walter Mondale and Birch Bayh later revealed.

There were no arrests in connection with the deaths at Jackson State, although the President’s Commission on Campus Unrest concluded “that the 28-second fusillade from police officers was an unreasonable, unjustified overreaction…A broad barrage of gunfire in response to reported and unconfirmed sniper fire is never warranted.”

The university has memorialized the shootings by naming the area the Gibbs-Green Plaza. A large stone monument in front of Alexander Hall near the plaza honors the two victims.

According to an NPR essay on the 40th anniversary of the killings, “The event continues to leave a mark on the university. Even today, passers-by can see the bullet holes in the women’s dorm…  All Jackson State students learn about the shooting in a mandatory orientation class, and professors evoke the event as a teaching tool. C. Liegh McInnis, who teaches creative writing and world literature at Jackson State, says the story of the shooting is integrated into the curriculum of several liberal arts departments.”

Adapted from The Biographical Dictionary of Black Americans by Rachel Krantz and Elizabeth A.Ryan; National Public Radio (May 3, 2010); and Wikipedia.

‘Shooting Fish in a Barrel’, by Juan Cole

From ZNet

Steve Hendrix, Shira Rubin and Michael E. Miller at WaPo report that Israeli air strikes on the densely populated urban areas of the Gaza Strip had by Thursday evening killed 109 Palestinians, among them 28 children, and had wounded 621 persons.

The Israeli Air Force deliberately destroyed some of Gaza’s taller buildings, alleging that the ruling Hamas party had offices in them. They gave advance warning so that families could leave their homes. But the huge bombs falling on a civilian city inevitably did damage also to nearby buildings and have left families homeless. Flying glass and debris injured noncombatants.

Claire Parker and Adam Taylor at WaPo report that Hamas and other militant groups in the Palestinian Gaza strip have fired a thousand rockets into Israel since Monday. Almost all landed uselessly in the desert or were intercepted by Israeli Iron Dome interceptors. Despite being unguided, some landed on buildings or parked cars, apparently more or less by accident, and they killed seven Israelis, including a teenage boy and a young girl. These are war crimes on the part of Hamas and the other groups in Gaza, since indiscriminate fire into civilian areas is strictly forbidden in international law.

It has to be underlined, however, that the thousand rockets did not damage a thousand buildings. More like a handful. Most Gaza rockets only travel 3 to 6 miles, and at that range they just stir up desert sand. Hamas has deployed a few longer range rockets, and hit Tel Aviv.
But the rockets are still primitive and there weren’t many longer distance ones.

This is psychological warfare. The organization is letting Israelis know that it can strike relatively distant targets. The barrage was provoked by the Israeli attack on worshipers in the al-Aqsa Mosque. Hamas styles itself and Islamic party and could not let this defilement of Muslim sacred space go unanswered.

The rockets killed Israeli noncombatants, which is terrorism.

But there is also a principle of proportionality in the law of war. and Israeli fighter jets have killed many times the number of Palestinians as Hamas rockets had Israeli civilians. That is state terrorism.

Since the situation in Gaza is not well understood in the outside world, it is worth reviewing it.

Nearly two million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, roughly the population of Houston inside city limits. It is one of the more densely populated places on earth.

Some 50% of the population consists of children. One in 10 children there are stunted, in part because of food insecurity imposed by the Israeli blockade.

Over 70 percent of the families in Gaza are refugees, having been ethnically cleansed from southern Israel.

Gaza is not an independent state. Its people are stateless and at the mercy of the Israeli military.

Here are the facts and figures given by the UN Relief and Works Agency:

1.46 million registered refugees out of 1.9 million total population (approximately 73 per cent)

8 refugee camps

22 health centres

16 relief and social services offices

11 food distribution centres for almost one million beneficiaries Figures as of 31 December 2019

Ashkelon, for instance, was the Palestinian town of Majdal, a town of some 9,000 in 1945, mostly Muslim but with some Christians. They were farmers or weavers and Majdal fabrics were famous. Some 8,000 were forced to flee advancing Zionist forces in 1948. Some slipped back in after the Israeli conquest, but in 1950 Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion ordered their expulsion. Some 2,300 were expelled to Gaza, joining townspeople who had already fled there two years before.

Other Palestinians in Gaza come from Beersheva, Ashdod, and other southern towns. Israelis now live in their homes and farm their land, while the Palestinians huddle in refugee camps. About a third of the Gaza population, 600,000, still live in eight refugee camps. Israel ruled Gaza directly 1967-2005 (doing nothing to improve their lives), and since 2005 has kept it as an open air concentration camp.

The Israeli Air Force destroyed the Gaza airport and port. Israel is considered in international law the Occupying power in Gaza, but often takes steps inconsistent with its responsibilities in this regard. At one point in the zeros the Israeli military made a plan to only allow enough food into Gaza to keep the population from becoming malnourished, but nothing more. No chocolate for the children. It was one of the creepiest moments in the history of colonialism.

The unemployment rate in Gaza is 50%, the highest in the world. Half the population depends on food aid. The aquifer is polluted and increasingly salty from rising seas owing to climate change, so truly clean water is available to only about 5 percent of the population. Israel has several water purification plants. The Palestinians of Gaza do not.

There is no equivalence between Israel and Gaza. Israel has the best-equipped military in the Middle East and has several hundred nuclear bombs, Its gross domestic product (nominal) per capita is on the order of $42,000 per year.

The nominal GDP per capita in Palestine is $3000, and those who live in Gaza earn less yet.


Bonus video:

Al Jazeera: “Can diplomacy prevent another war in Gaza? | Inside Story”

Why Xinjiang is central to US cold war on China, by Vijay Prashad and Jie Xiong

From Asia Times

April 17. 2021

On March 22, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken authorized sanctions against Wang Junzheng, the secretary of the Communist Party of China’s Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB).

These sanctions, Blinken said, were because Wang and Chen are accused of being party to “genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.” The US Treasury Department followed suit with its own sanctions.

Wang and Mingguo responded by condemning these sanctions, which were not only imposed by the US but also by Canada, the UK and the European Union. Wang called the sanctions “a gross slander,” while Chen said he was “very proud of being sanctioned by these countries.”

In October 2011, then-US secretary of state Hillary Clinton announced a “pivot to Asia,” with China at the center of the new alignment. Clinton said many times – including in Hawaii in November 2011 – that the administration of former president Barack Obama wanted to develop “a positive and cooperative relationship with China,” the US military buildup along Asia’s coastline told a different story.

The 2010 US Quadrennial Defense Review noted “China’s growing presence and influence in regional and global economic and security affairs” and called it “one of the most consequential aspects of the evolving strategic landscape.” In 2016, US Navy Admiral Harry Harris, head of the Pacific Command, said the United States was ready to “confront China,” a statement given strength by the US military buildup around China.

The administrations of Donald Trump and Joe Biden have largely followed the “pivot to Asia” policy, with a special emphasis on China. The United States has been struggling to keep up with China’s rapid scientific and technological advancements and has few intellectual or industrial tools in place to compete.

This is the reason it has tried to stall China’s advances using diplomatic and political power, and through information warfare; these elements comprise what is called a “hybrid war.”

A complex that includes what is believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained on the outskirts of Hotan, in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region. Photo: AFP / Greg Baker

Information warfare

Prior to a March 2019 event co-hosted by the US Mission to International Organizations in Geneva, most people the US were largely unaware of the existence of the Xinjiang region in China, let alone of the 13 million Uighur people (one of China’s 55 recognized ethnic minorities).

Given that the Uighurs are the demographic majority in this westernmost province of China, the official name of the administrative unit is the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

The March 2019 event featured Adrian Zenz, a German researcher and a senior fellow in China studies at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, an organization founded in 1993 by the US government to promote anti-communist views. In April 2020, this foundation – against all evidenceaccused China of being responsible for the global deaths resulting from the spread of Covid-19.

Zenz is also associated with the conservative defense-policy think-tank the Jamestown Foundationfounded by William Geimer, who was close to the US administration of the late Ronald Reagan.

Zenz and Ethan Gutmann, another researcher at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, continued to repeat their conclusions regarding “genocide” in Xinjiang to the US Congress and in a range of mainstream publications.

Hosted by the British Broadcasting Corporation and Democracy Now, Zenz provided what appeared to be documentation of atrocities meted out by the “Chinese authorities” against the Uighur population.

Zenz and Gutmann would be joined by organizations funded by Western governments but which – as non-governmental organizations – pose as independent research and advocacy groups (such as the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect and the Uighur Human Rights Project; the former is funded by Western governments and the latter by the US government’s National Endowment for Democracy).

In June last year, then-US secretary of state Mike Pompeo attacked the Chinese government, basing his statements on Xinjiang on the “German researcher Adrian Zenz’s shocking revelations.”

Zenz provides a set of scientifically dubious and politically charged papers, which are then used as fact by the US government in its information war against China. Anyone raising questions about Zenz’ claims is, meanwhile, marginalized as a conspiracy theorist.

Diplomatic and economic warfare

The US government’s information warfare against China has produced the “fact” that there is genocide in Xinjiang. Once this has been established, it helps develop diplomatic and economic warfare.

On March 22 this year, the same day as the US sanctions, the Council of the European Union unilaterally imposed asset freezes and travel bans on four Chinese government officials, including Wang Junzheng and Chen Mingguo as well as Wang Mingshan and Zhu Hailun.

The United Kingdom and Canada also joined in this venture that day. It appeared to be a coordinated attempt to portray China as a country violating human rights. This assault came soon after China had achieved a major human-rights goal, lifting 850 million people from absolute poverty. The US government and its media outlets tried to challenge this remarkable achievement.

Trump had pushed a trade war with China as soon as he came into office in January 2017; his policy framework remains in place under Biden.

To draw together the trade war and the Xinjiang information war, in mid-December 2020, Zenz and the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy (formerly the Center for Global Policy) released an intelligence brief on “coercive labor in Xinjiang.”

The claims in this briefing – building on a 2019 Wall Street Journal article on supply chains and Xinjiang – created a media firestorm in the West, amplified by Reuters and then picked up by many widely read outlets. It led to the US government ban on Xinjiang cotton.

third of the world’s textiles and clothing come from China, with the country accounting for US$120 billion worth of exports of these products per year and $300 billion in exports of all merchandise annually.

Police patrol as Muslims leave the Id Kah Mosque after morning prayer on Eid al-Fitr in the old town of Kashgar in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Photo: AFP / Johannes Eisele

According to China’s National Bureau of Statistics87% of China’s total cotton output comes from Xinjiang. Most of the high-quality Xinjiang cotton – and the textiles produced from it within China – go to Western apparel companies, such as H&M and Zara.

In 2009, many of these companies created the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), which has – until last year – been upbeat about developments in Xinjiang (including co-ops of small farmers in Xinjiang). As recently as March 26 this year, the BCI made a clear statement: “Since 2012, the Xinjiang project site has performed second-party credibility audits and third-party verifications over the years, and has never found a single case related to incidents of forced labor.”

Despite the BCI’s recent confident statement and its optimism, things are rapidly changing for Xinjiang cotton farmers as the BCI appears to get on board with the United States’ intensifying hybrid war on China. The BCI closed down its page on its work in China,  accused China of “forced labor” and other human-rights violations, and set up a Task Force on Forced Labor and Decent Work.

Officials of Xinjiang’s government contested these claims, saying that much of the field labor for cotton in Xinjiang has already been replaced by machines (many of them imported from the US firm John Deere).

A recent book edited by Hua Wang and Hafeezullah Memon, Cotton Science and Processing Technology, confirms this point, as do a range of media reports from before 2019. But facts like these don’t seem to stand a chance in the overwhelming information war. Xinjiang – two and a half times the size of France – is now at the epicenter of a cold war not of its own making.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, which provided it to Asia Times.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter.

Jie Xiong is a Chinese technologist, translator and editor. He has participated in the digitization process of multiple leading enterprises in China. He is a founder of Shanghai Maku Cultural Communications Ltd, a company that introduces China to Global South readers.

Preliminary Report on National Strike (and Calamity) in Colombia

From our editorial team

(May 5) According to the website of the Colombian Communist Party, “there is a massacre in progress in Colombia: 21 murders, 208 seriously wounded, 503 arbitrarily detained, dozens of disappeared, ten women raped by Esmad police, attacked human rights defenders and journalists.” A nation strike has been ongoing nationwide in Colombia since April 28.

Analyst Angel Guerra Cabrera provides background information in a report written May 2: 

Presently in Colombia a national strike is underway in rejection of President Iván Duque’s tax reform and a health reform bill that seeks to deepen the failed model of privatization established in the health system.

The tax reform would impose a 19 percent VAT on eggs, meat, fish, coffee and salt, and proposes to tax salaries over 2.4 million pesos per month and pensions over 7 million pesos, to freeze for five years the salaries of public employees and even a scandalous tax on burials. The protesters had to overcome two factors. First, the third peak of the pandemic. The Ministry of Health reported that day an accumulated death toll of 72,725, one of the highest in the world per million inhabitants, higher than that of India and the United States.

A second factor was the judicial prohibition of the protest, which was not heeded by either the organizers or the local authorities. Despite being rejected by the government and the mainstream media, the marches were massive taking place in at least 600 of the country’s 1,100 municipalities.

In a previous survey, 73 percent of the population expressed their support for the strike and 35 percent said they would be willing to take that position to the streets. Seven million people took part in the strike and marches, with mobilization in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Manizales and Pereira standing out. Clashes with riot police were severe in Cali and Bogotá. Mirar al Sur reported that there were eight deaths due to police repression.

The crisis in Colombia is very deep, has been going on for a long time, but has deepened with the pandemic. Poverty has recently increased 6.8 percent and now affects 42.5 percent of Colombian which means that 21.2 million of them cannot meet their basic needs. Extreme poverty now impacts 7.4 million people. To make matters worse, the government is trying to take the country back to war and more and more people are opposing it. The assassinations of social activists and former FARC combatants who have joined the peace process continue unabated.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘A People’s Guide to Capitalism: An Introduction to Marxist Economics,’ by Chris McKinnon

By Hadas Thier
Haymarket Books, 2018
Hardcover, 293 pages

Hadas Thier has written an exceptional book on Marxist economics. Her People’s Guide to Capitalism is a well-timed contribution for all those seeking critical insights into the machinations of a failing system and the obscurantism of its apologists. She exposes the mystery of capitalist inequality with deceptively simple and straightforward prose. The accessibility of her writing belies the sophistication of her insights and pedagogical talent, a proficiency not always evident in the erudite writings of professional economists. Avoiding the jargon of much contemporary writing on economics, this guide renders Marx’s concepts accessible to a wide audience. It is this ability that makes this the right book at the right time.

Karl Marx’s Capital is a notoriously difficult read, especially Volume I: “A critical analysis of capitalist production.”  Its elusive comprehensibility flows from the nontraditional approach Marx took. His method of scientific inquiry sets out a plan to probe the inner workings and contradictions of the capitalist system. Unlike his contemporaries, in the hard sciences, Marx had to establish a social likeness to the laboratory and its instruments. He accomplished this with the power of abstraction. By isolating and simplifying the key elements of the system, he was able to present them in their clearest form.

The abstract concepts where Marx begins his inquiry are commodities, values and money. These concepts form the bases of the first three chapters of Volume I and have left more than a few readers bewildered and too frustrated to forge ahead. This was a problem, Marx conceded, for which he could imagine no workable solution.

“The method of analysis which I have employed,” he wrote, “and which had not previously been applied to economic subjects, makes the reading of the first chapters rather arduous, and it is to be feared that the French public, always impatient to come to a conclusion, eager to know the connection between general principles and the immediate questions that have aroused their passions, may be disheartened because they will be unable to move on at once. That is a disadvantage I am powerless to overcome, unless it be by forewarning and forearming those readers who zealously seek the truth. There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits.”

Thier is a socialist and activist, not an economist. She offers a way into and through Marx’s great work with a clear and readable narrative. Contra Marx, Thier begins with the history of capitalism before moving on to theory. She describes how capitalism emerged from feudalism. On the creation of the two great social classes, the capitalists and proletariat, she writes, “The division of society into haves and have nots did not gently come to pass, and certainly not through the frugalness and intelligence of a small elite. It was the outcome of a violent upheaval, which forced large swaths of the population from their lands and traditional means of self-sufficiency.” “Capital comes [into the world], Marx quipped, dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”

Thier extends the thought, “the violence, coercion, legislation and upheavals necessary for the birth of this new system evince just how unnatural and vicious the road to capitalism was.” Brief discussions of the securing of the capitalist state and the “primitive accumulation” of wealth via colonial expropriation, the slave trade, and the plantation economy follow. The next two chapters address the labor theory of value and money. The core of the book covers the myth of free markets and the superiority of Marx’s value theory. Thier stresses that only labor creates value for society as distinct from ‘utility’ and ‘scarcity’ theories of value that are put forth by bourgeois economists.

Thier demystifies the function of money in modern economies, commodity exchange, and describes the function of digital or cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Marx’s distinction between price and value is revealed here, and Thier shows why capitalists must continuously accumulate capital by exploiting labor power, thereby accelerating the concentration and centralization of wealth, thereby expanding the rift that separates the few from the many. As Marx wrote, “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.”

Left: title page from the 1867 edition of Capital.
Right: Karl Marx

Thier, in harmony with Marx, views capitalism as a crisis-prone system. And like Marx, Thier does not believe that the working class will automatically defeat capitalism. While it might be true that “the bourgeoisie … produces … its own gravediggers,” Thier explains that Marx did not see that outcome as inevitable. The development of revolutionary, working-class, self-awareness is an essential part of that possibility. The active commitment to class struggle can change workers’ consciousness and enable workers to realize the full potential of their collective agency. “Understanding capitalist crisis,” she writes, “is central to the theory of revolutionary Marxism. The volatility and destruction brought upon by endemic, periodic crises make capitalism a fundamentally precarious system, and at the same time opens the way toward class struggle and the potential for revolution.” Thier asserts that the failure of mainstream economics to concede this point is rooted in a flawed analysis that “starts and ends at the surface of the economy—price fluctuations, monetary policy, and financial markets. But Marxists argue that crises originate at the system’s core and are not imposed on the system from outside.”

Thier’s discussion of crisis theory may skirt orthodoxy. It is overproduction, not underconsumption, she says, that is the is catalyst of economic decline. And her take on the “falling rate of profit” is nuanced and rejects any absolute outcome. Marx’s ‘law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall’, she says, speaks to the propensity, not the certainty, of declining profits. Quoting Marx, “The tendential fall in the rate of profit is linked with a tendential rise in the rate of surplus value, i.e. in the level of exploitation of labor.” This dual tendency, Thier writes, “increases the rate of exploitation and decreases the rate of profit…but in a way that the former does not keep up with the latter.” The final chapter considers the origins of the ‘Great Recession’ of 2008, linked to the so-called “subprime mortgage crisis.” Thier concludes that it was not mainly a financial crisis, as is often stated, but writes that “there is no hard line between financial and non-financial” interests in the real economy.

A People’s Guide to Capitalism is an invaluable guide to Marx’s Capital and deepens our understanding of the capitalist system. It is a guide for twenty-first-century revolutionaries, packed with contemporary and easily recognizable examples. It is highly recommended to activists and students at all levels of experience. Read this book, discuss it, and apply the deeper understanding gained in the struggles ahead.