International Trans Day of Visibility, 2022 / by Stonewall

Trans Day of Visibility takes place every 31 March. It’s a time to celebrate trans and non-binary people, and to raise awareness of the discrimination faced by the community worldwide.

It also provides an opportunity for trans and non-binary people to feel seen through positive and realistic representation – and for allies to learn more about how they can stand in solidarity.

This year, we’re spotlighting trans stories from the UK and beyond. Read our kick-off blog from our Storytelling Lead, Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin, hear from a range of trans voices over on our TikTok channel, or watch a short film by documentary film-maker Lily Vetch about the Hijra experience.

Today, we all have a role to play. Along with sharing trans peoples’ stories far and wide, make sure to support campaigns and mutual aid networks, so that in future trans people can be more than simply visible – they can thrive.

Follow us across social channels to listen to, and learn, from the stories we are spotlighting today: https://www.stonewall.org.uk/

Stonewall, March 31, 2022, https://www.stonewall.org.uk/our-work/campaigns/trans-day-visibility-2022

Eleanor Marx: The Last Word / by Dean Wareham

Eleanor Marx at the age of 18, in 1873.

Last year the New Yorker published Paul McCartney’s essay on how he came to write “Eleanor Rigby.” It turns out the main character was based on an old woman he knew in his childhood and her name was not Eleanor at all; it may have been Daisy Hawkins but that didn’t work in the scheme with Father MacKenzie (verse two), so he created “Eleanor” from Eleanor Bron, who worked on the Beatles’ Help movie, and “Rigby” after a shop sign he saw in Bristol.

During the first pandemic year, I wrote my own song about an Eleanor: Eleanor “Tussy” Marx, who died on this day, March 31, 1898. I found myself reading Mary Gabriel’s Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolutionwhich tells the epic story of Karl, his wife Jenny von Westphalen, and their daughters, Laura, Jenny (Jennychen), and Eleanor. There were others too — Karl and Jenny in fact had seven children but only three survived into adulthood. All three daughters — and their spouses — played a role in the socialist movement, but it was Tussy who was closest to Marx and Engels and the most active politically.

From Rachel Holmes’ biography, I learned that Eleanor Marx had done the first English translation of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and figured it was high time I read that too. The novel was scandalous for its depiction of adultery and the newspaper that serialized it was tried for obscenity in 1857. It created a stir in England too, where it was secretly blacklisted even into the 1950s, with government files showing that police constables were under orders to purchase and destroy copies they found.

The first half of Madame Bovary is slow going — maybe Flaubert wanted to illustrate how tedious bourgeois life was in the provinces — but the novel shifts into another gear when Emma embarks on her affairs with Rodolphe and Léon, and it’s hard put it down. Here is the necessary spoiler: the fictional Emma Bovary, destitute and heartbroken, kills herself by taking a dose of arsenic.

Eleanor Marx was born on January 16, 1855, and Julian Barnes suggests that Emma Bovary also was “born” around 1855, as the serialized novel first appeared in the Revue de Paris in 1856.

The baby Tussy was vaccinated against smallpox, in compliance with the English Parliament’s Vaccination act of 1853, which mandated compulsory vaccination for infants. The Marxes, who had already lost two sons and a daughter to illness in their infancy, were happy to follow the mandate, and it may have saved her life — her mother contracted smallpox in 1860 and never fully recovered.

Formal education was not an option for girls in 1860s England, but Eleanor attended the South Hampstead College for Ladies and her teachers at home were top-notch: Marx, Engels (when he visited), and Engels’ partner Lizzy Burns, who could neither read nor write but interested Eleanor in the cause of Irish independence. From an early age she accompanied her father to the reading room at the British Museum and at the age of nine wrote letters to Abraham Lincoln, letters which her father pretended to mail but instead shared with Engels. By fourteen she was assisting both Marx and Engels in their research. She learned German and French and later studied Norwegian for the sole purpose of translating Ibsen.

Rachel Holmes argues that the feminist movement properly dates to the 1870s, not the 1970s, and considers Eleanor Marx the foremother of socialist feminism. The right to vote in England was predicated on property ownership; working class men could not vote, and women could not vote no matter what their social status. Eleanor supported the call for women’s suffrage, but always framed the question of women’s rights, as “the sex question and its economic base,” that is, she dealt with it from the perspective of working class. “Women are the creatures of an organized tyranny of men,” she wrote, “as workers are the creatures of an organized tyranny of idlers.”

Eleanor was her father’s first biographer, writing an important article for Progress magazine on his life and on the theory of surplus value. She organized the first women’s trade union sections and was a leader of the Gasworkers and General Labourers union (today’s GMB, who present an honor in her name each year).

Both Eleanor and Emma, writes Julian Barnes, led lives of sexual irregularity in the eyes of right-thinking people. For Emma Bovary, that irregularity was a series of adulterous affairs. For Eleanor Marx, it meant living for fifteen years in an open relationship, a free union, with Edward Aveling, whom she met in 1884, in the reading room of the British Museum. Aveling was a member of the Secular Society, a Darwinist, zoologist, actor-playwright, literary critic, socialist, and by all accounts a cad and a compulsive borrower and bouncer of checks.

“He has the eyes and face of a lizard,” wrote her friend George Bernard Shaw, and many of her friends refused dinner invitations if they thought Aveling might be there. So maybe the “free’ in their free union was mostly for Edward, who spent her money and carried on affairs while she worked tirelessly for the socialist and labor movements and took teaching and translating work to pay their bills.

In 1886 she completed her translation of Madame Bovary, as well as Lissagaray’s History of the Paris Commune, and staged the first reading of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in England, while also co-writing (with Aveling) The Woman Question: From a Socialist Point of View, on the oppression of women and how it affects both men and women. Holmes describes it as a synthesis of Marx, Engels, Wollstonecraft, and Mary Shelley.

That year the Marx-Avelings toured the United States, at the invitation of the Socialist Labor Party. She abhorred anarchists and their tactics, but still made speeches in defense of those Chicago anarchists who were framed and sentenced to death after the Haymarket Square Incident that May. She and Aveling wrote a treatise on the socialist movement in the States. She was in Trafalgar Square on Bloody Sunday, November 13, 1887, marching at the front of the rally when the police started beating people.

In 1895 Eleanor bought a small house at 7 Jews Walk in the London suburb of Sydenham, where she lived with Edward, and continued to edit the essays of Marx and Engels for publication. Aveling spent a lot of time in London and carried on a secret life, borrowing money compulsively. He was in considerable debt to G.B. Shaw, who nonetheless continued to loan him money only because Shaw was developing a play, The Doctor’s Dilemma, with a degenerate lead character based on Aveling, and said he wanted to observe his behavior.

On the 8th of June 1897, Aveling secretly married a young actress, Eva Frye, using a fake name on the marriage certificate. He left Eleanor without any explanation, but by the end of the year, he became seriously ill (kidney disease and a recurring abscess) and moved back into the Sydenham house without saying where he had been.

Aveling had been married before and always told people that his first wife — Isabel Campbell Frank — would not give him a divorce, and hence he could not marry Eleanor. In fact, Isabel died in 1892; Aveling had taken her inheritance and bought property that he kept hidden.

At the start of 1898, things were closing in, she was under financial pressure with Aveling’s considerable medical bills, and friends urged her to leave him. But she remained forgiving, to a fault.

“Dear Freddy,” she wrote to the family friend Frederick Demuth, “I see more and more that wrongdoing is just a moral disease, and the morally healthy . . are not fit to judge the condition of the morally diseased, just as the physically healthy person can hardly realize the condition of the physically diseased.” Most historians believe Demuth was in fact her half-brother, Karl Marx’s illegitimate son with Helene Demuth.

In the last week of March, an anonymous letter finally alerted her to Aveling’s marriage to Eva Frye. On the morning of March 31st, they quarreled loudly, and Edward took a train to London. Eleanor sent her maid Gertrude Gentry to the pharmacist with a note, signed “E.A.” and Aveling’s business card attached, asking for chloroform and “prussic acid (cyanide) for dog.” Upon receiving the package, she took her life in the same manner as Emma Bovary.

Gertrude found Eleanor dead in her bed, in her white muslin summer dress, her face and hands turning blue. A doctor was called — Dr Henry Shackleton, whose son Ernest later explored the Antarctic. The coroner’s report concluded, “suicide by swallowing prussic acid at the time labouring under mental derangement.” Her death was registered in Sydenham: “Eleanor Marx, age 40, a single woman.” In fact, she was forty-three.

She left a short note for Aveling:

Dear, it will soon be all over now. My last word to you is the same I’ve said during these long, sad years — love.

I decided to take that heartbreaking line and write a song around it. The line fit best in the four-chord bridge, but sill I had to lop off that last word — love — to make it fit the melody. I’m okay with that, I kinda like that I sing about the word without naming it. Maybe I should have used Paul’s trick, where the bridge — “Ah, look at all the lonely people” — starts the song.

I feel a bit morbid focusing on her death when her life is so inspiring, but telling that life story would have meant writing an opera and that really is best left to McCartney.

p.s. Jennifer Julia Eleanor Marx was cremated at the Woking Crematorium, and her ashes had their own history — brought first to the SDF offices, later in possession of the British Socialist Party and then the British Communist Party, then moved to the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell Green, where they were displayed on a bookshelf in the Lenin room. In1956, when Karl & Jenny’s tomb was built in Highgate Cemetery, her remains were buried alongside them.

p.p.s. Edward Aveling lasted only four months longer, succumbing to kidney disease on August 2, 1998.

The Last Word

I fell in love with a communist cad

A free union, he drove me mad

Isn’t it wonderful, isn’t it nice

Labor and capital, value and price

Labor and capital, value and price

I will tell you one last word

I will tell you one last word

I told you lies but I never deceived you

You only heard what you wanted to hear

Send for the chemist, send for the maid

My time has come, I’m not afraid

I will tell you one last word

I will tell you one last word

My last word to you is the same that I’ve said

During all of these long sad years

My last word to you is the same I’ve said

During all these long sad years

These are the ashes of Eleanor Marx

Jennifer Julia Eleanor Marx

Who took her life, on the last day of March

Jennifer Julia Eleanor Marx

Dean Wareham founded the bands Galaxie 500 and Luna. His most recent album, I Have Nothing to Say to the Mayor of L.A., was released in 2021.

Counterpunch, March 31, 2022, https://www.counterpunch.org/

Alexandra Kollontai at 150: International Communist leader and fighter for women’s liberation / by Jenny Farrell

Alexandra Kollontai. | Public Domain

Born 150 years ago, Alexandra Kollontai was an outstanding figure in the Russian communist movement. As People’s Commissar for Social Affairs in Soviet Russia, Kollontai was the first woman in history to serve in a government cabinet.

Alexandra Kollontai, born 150 years ago on March 31, 1872, was an outstanding figure in the Russian communist movement. In exile, she was internationally active as a speaker and author. In Germany, she became friendly with Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and Clara Zetkin. As People’s Commissar for Social Affairs, Kollontai was the first woman in history to serve in a government cabinet. From 1922, she was the USSR’s first ambassador to Norway and Sweden.

Kollontai came from a wealthy St. Petersburg family. Her father was descended from Ukrainian landowners and later became a general in the Imperial Russian Army. Her mother was the daughter of a Finnish timber merchant and a Russian noblewoman. As a child, Alexandra (Shura) spent many summers on the family estate in Finland. She was fluent in Russian, Finnish, English, German, and French, language skills that not only benefited the revolutionary movement but later also the Soviet diplomatic service. Within the Russian communist movement, she fought for women’s rights and was also instrumental in the social legislation of the early Soviet republic.

Kollontai’s active political work began when she gave workers evening classes in St. Petersburg in 1894. Through this, she became part of the Political Red Cross, an organization supporting political prisoners, which worked partly underground. August Bebel’s Woman and Socialism left a deep impression in 1895 and influenced her future thinking and work.

In 1896, Kollontai experienced her first direct encounter with capitalist industry in a large St. Petersburg textile factory. Shortly afterwards, she participated in leafleting and fundraising campaigns in support of a mass strike in the textile industry. The 1896 strikes consolidated her certainty of the need for proletarian revolution. In 1899, she joined the illegally operating Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP).

In 1905, she began to turn actively to the women’s question. Her work The Social Basis of the Woman Question was the first major exposition by a Russian Marxist on the subject. In it, she not only advocated the overthrow of the capitalist system, but she also explained the need to restructure the family itself in order to achieve true emancipation.

Between 1905 and 1908, Kollontai organized women workers in Russia to fight for their own interests against capitalists, against bourgeois feminism, and against conservatism and patriarchy in the socialist organizations. She thus laid the foundation for a mass movement.

Like many Russian socialists, Kollontai remained neutral during the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in 1903. In 1904, she joined the Bolshevik faction and gave courses on Marxism for them. In 1905, she joined Trotsky, leaving the Bolsheviks in 1906 over the question of boycotting the elections to the undemocratically-elected Duma, where she believed it was nevertheless possible to stand up for left-wing demands and expose the government’s machinations.

Between 1900 and 1920, Kollontai was considered the RSDLP’s leading expert on the “Finnish question.” She wrote two books, numerous articles, and was an adviser to RSDLP members in the Tsarist Duma as well as a liaison with Finnish revolutionaries. In 1908, when she advocated Finland’s right to armed insurrection against the Tsarist Empire, she was forced into exile.

From the end of 1908 until 1917, Kollontai lived in exile. In the period before the First World War, she traveled to the U.S., Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, and Switzerland. Her autobiographical sketch Autobiography of a Sexually Emancipated Communist Woman reads:

I lived in Europe and America until the overthrow of Czarism in 1917. As soon as I arrived in Germany, after my flight, I joined the German Social Democratic Party in which I had many personal friends, among whom I especially numbered Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Kautsky. Clara Zetkin also had a great influence on my activity in defining the principles of the women-workers movement in Russia. Already in 1907, I had taken part, as a delegate from Russia, in the first International Conference of Socialist Women that was held in Stuttgart. This gathering was presided over by Clara Zetkin and it made an enormous contribution to the development of the women-workers movement along Marxist lines.”

Long before the war, Kollontai began to agitate tirelessly against the threat of war. At a speech in Stockholm on May 1, 1912, she declared:

“The capitalists always say: ‘We must arm ourselves because we are threatened by war!’ And they point to their sacred symbols: militarism on land, militarism on the high seas, and militarism in the air. They summon the specter of war in order to put it between themselves and the red specter. They call for war in order to free themselves from the specter of social revolution.

“But the International answers them with one united call: ‘Down with war!’ The workers know that behind the threat of war there stands the capitalist state that wants to burden the people with new taxes, there stands the war industry that wants to increase its profits.”

Kollontai depicted on a 1972 stamp issued in the Soviet Union.

She also became involved in the anti-war movement in Germany and Austria. She was in the Reichstag when the war credits were voted for in August 1914:

“Only Karl Liebknecht, his wife Sofie Liebknecht, and a few other German Party comrades, like myself, espoused the same standpoint and, like myself, considered it a socialist’s duty to struggle against the war. Strange to say, I was present in the Reichstag on August 4, the day the war budget was being voted on. The collapse of the German Socialist Party struck me as a calamity without parallel. I felt utterly alone and found comfort only in the company of the Liebknechts. With the help of some German Party friends I was able to leave Germany with my son in August of 1914 and emigrate to the Scandinavian peninsula.”

In Sweden, she was imprisoned for anti-war propaganda. After her release, in February 1915, she went to Norway where, together with Alexander Schlapnikov, she served as a link between Switzerland, where Lenin and the Central Committee were staying, and Russia. In June 1915, she broke with the Mensheviks and officially rejoined the Bolsheviks. In September 1915, she was centrally involved in the organization of the Zimmerwald Peace Conference. Her paper Who Needs the War? (1915) was translated into several languages and circulated in countless editions and millions of copies. She made two lecture tours of the USA, attended a memorial service for Joe Hill in Seattle, and spoke from the same platform as Eugene Debs in Chicago.

With the outbreak of the February Revolution in 1917, Kollontai returned to Russia and advocated a clear policy of non-support for the provisional government. She was elected a member of the Central Committee of the Petrograd Soviet. Kollontai continued to agitate for revolution in Russia and began her involvement with the Bolshevik women’s newspaper Rabotnitsa (РаботницаWoman Worker), urging the Bolsheviks and the trade unions to pay more attention to the organization of women workers. In May 1917, she took part in the strike of women laundry workers demanding the communalization of all laundries. The industrial action lasted six weeks, but the Kerensky regime failed to meet the workers’ demands.

After the revolution, Kollontai was elected Commissar for Social Affairs in the new Soviet government. Kollontai’s description in the Autobiography gives a vivid impression of her work in the complete transformation of the first revolutionary period:

“My main work as People’s Commissar consisted in the following: by decree to improve the situation of the war-disabled, to abolish religious instruction in the schools for young girls which were under the Ministry (…), and to transfer priests to the civil service, to introduce the right of self-administration for pupils in the schools for girls, to reorganize the former orphanages into government Children’s Homes (…), to set up the first hostels for the needy and street-urchins, to convene a committee, composed only of doctors, which was to be commissioned to elaborate the free public health system for the whole country.

“In my opinion, the most important accomplishment of the People’s Commissariat, however, was the legal foundation of a Central Office for Maternity and Infant Welfare. The draft of the bill relating to this Central Office was signed by me in January of 1918. A second decree followed in which I changed all maternity hospitals into free Homes for Maternity and Infant Care, in order thereby to set the groundwork for a comprehensive government system of prenatal care. (…) 

“A special fury gripped the religious followers of the old regime when, on my own authority (the cabinet later criticized me for this action), I transformed the famous Alexander Nevsky monastery into a home for war invalids. The monks resisted and a shooting fray ensued. The press again raised a loud hue and cry against me. The Church organized street demonstrations against my action and also pronounced ‘anathema’ against me…”

In 1918, Kollontai opposed the ratification of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and resigned from the government so as not to jeopardize the unity of the Commissariat by her opposition on such a crucial question. The treaty meant the loss of large European territories, including Finland and Ukraine, for Soviet Russia. With this position, she opposed Lenin, for whom peace was a priority.

Kollontai, center, at the Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku, 1920. | Soviet Archives

She remained active as an agitator and organizer, however, and played a key role in organizing the First All-Russian Congress of Women Workers and Peasants, serving in leading posts and founding the Women’s Committee (Zhendotel/Женотдел) of the Communist Party in 1919 together with Inessa Armand and Nadezhda Krupskaya. This body directed its work towards improving the living conditions of women throughout the Soviet Union, combating illiteracy, and educating women about the new marriage, education, and labor laws. In Soviet Central Asia, the Zhenotdel sought to improve the lives of Muslim women through literacy, education, and ‘unveiling’ campaigns.

The Zhenotdel also introduced abortion legalization for the first time in history, in November 1920. In one of several writings on the status of women, Kollontai wrote in 1919 in Sexual Relations and the Class Struggle about her vision of a truly free society in which equality is not solely legislated, but is only achieved:

“when their psyche has a sufficient store of ‘feelings of consideration,’ when their ability to love is greater, when the idea of freedom in personal relationships becomes fact and when the principle of ‘comradeship’ triumphs over the traditional idea of inequality and submission. The sexual problems cannot be solved without this radical re-education of our psyche.”

Alexandra Kollontai speaks at the International Congress of Communist Women in Moscow in 1921. The photo appeared in the 1922 book ‘Histoire des Soviets (History of the Soviets)’, published in France. | British Library

In 1921, she came into conflict with the Communist Party and Lenin directly when she publicly declared her support for the Workers’ Opposition, a grouping against party centralism. The grouping was dissolved and Kollontai remained in critical opposition within the party.

In 1922, at her own request, she entered the Soviet diplomatic service first in Norway, then in Mexico, then again in Norway and Sweden. She comments:

“Naturally this appointment created a great sensation since, after all, it was the first time in history that a woman was officially active as an ‘ambassador.’ (…) Nevertheless, I set myself the task of effecting the de jure recognition of Soviet Russia and of re-establishing normal trade relations between the two countries which had been broken by the war and the revolution. (…) On February 15, 1924, Norway in fact recognized the USSR de jure.”

Alexandra Kollontai also acted as a negotiator of the 1940 Finnish-Soviet peace treaty and served the USSR with great sensitivity. Until her retirement in 1945 on health grounds, Kollontai lived abroad as a diplomat. Thereafter, and until her death on March 9, 1952, she served the Soviet Foreign Ministry as an advisor.

Dr. Jenny Farrell was born in Berlin. She has lived in Ireland since 1985, working as a lecturer in Galway Mayo Institute of Technology. Her main fields of interest are Irish and English poetry and the work of William Shakespeare. She writes for Culture Matters and for Socialist Voice, the newspaper of the Communist party of Ireland.

People’s World, March 31, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/alexandra-kollontai-at-150-international-communist-leader-and-fighter-for-womens-liberation/

‘Their Inflation Strategy Is Working’: Corporate Profits Soared to Record High in 2021 / by Jake Johnson

Outgoing Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson was pictured at an annual shareholder meeting in Seattle on March 20, 2019. (Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images)

Federal data released Wednesday shows that U.S. corporate profits jumped 25% to record highs in 2021 even as the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the nation’s economy, disrupting supply chains, hammering low-wage workers, and helping to push inflation to levels not seen in decades.

According to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), domestic corporate profits adjusted for inventory valuation and capital consumption reached $2.8 trillion last year, up from $2.2 trillion in 2020—the largest increase since 1976.

Employee compensation also increased in 2021, just not at the pace of corporate profits. Citing the new BEA data, Bloomberg reported that “employee compensation rose 11%, but the so-called labor share of national income—essentially, the portion that’s paid out as wages and salaries—fell back to pre-pandemic levels.”

“That tends to undermine the argument that soaring labor costs are what’s driving the current surge in inflation, a case the Federal Reserve is starting to make as it accelerates interest-rate increases,” Bloomberg noted.

Lindsay Owens, executive director at the Groundwork Collaborative, argued in a statement that the new profit figures show that corporate America is successfully weathering inflationary pressures across the economy by pushing higher costs onto consumers—a tactic some CEOs have openly touted during recent calls with investors.

“CEOs can’t stop bragging on corporate earnings calls about jacking up prices on consumers to keep their profits soaring—and today’s annual profit data shows just how well their inflation strategy is working,” Owens said. “These megacorporations are cashing in and getting richer—and consumers are paying the price.”

The American Economic Liberties Project expressed a similar view on Twitter:

A number of major U.S. corporations, from Amazon to Starbucks to the Dollar Tree, have announced in recent months that they’re moving to hike prices on consumers, often blaming the broader “inflationary environment.” Outgoing Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson—who saw his compensation soar by 39% to $20.4 million in 2021—said during his company’s fourth-quarter earnings call that impending price increases are aimed at mitigating “cost pressures including inflation.”

But recent survey data indicates that Americans aren’t buying the companies’ justifications for higher costs. A Data for Progress poll released last month found that a majority of U.S. voters believe that “large corporations are taking advantage of the pandemic to raise prices unfairly on consumers and increase profits,” a position also taken by progressive members of Congress.

Next week, Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is planning to hold a hearing titled, “Corporate Profits Are Soaring as Prices Rise: Are Corporate Greed and Profiteering Fueling Inflation?”

During a separate hearing Wednesday on President Joe Biden’s latest budget proposal, Sanders said that “to a significant degree, pathetically, large corporations are using the war in Ukraine and the pandemic as an excuse to raise prices significantly to make record-breaking profits.”

“This is taking place at the gas pump, at the grocery store, and virtually every other sector of the economy,” said the Vermont senator. “This is why we need a windfall profits tax, and why this committee will be holding a hearing on Tuesday of next week on the unprecedented level of corporate greed that is taking place in America today.”

Common Dreams, March 21, 2022, https://www.commondreams.org/

Coups, Insurgency, and Imperialism in Africa / by Amy Niang

Across the Sahel, young people are restless. So are soldiers. The region is in the grip of an unprecedented wave of coups d’état that have followed each other within a short period of time: within a year or so, five coups d’état have successively rocked Mali, Chad, Guinea, and Burkina Faso in widespread unrest that risks destabilizing the entire region again.

Since the mid-1990s, coups had become exceptional events that occurred mainly during moments of perceived chaos, with the aim to disrupt the normal constitutional dispensation in order to restore order. Increasingly however, they occur as a form of political intervention designed to correct regular politics that has fallen into a permanent state of crisis and repression.

This moment is a historical shift but also a harbinger of an uncharted future. Not only are the recent coups not contested, but they are also seen as an opening into a new politics of liberation. They could signal a return to a long period of tumult, equally they could also be an opening for a different kind of politics.

The ongoing instability lays bare the accumulated effects of decades of aggressive neoliberal reforms that have eroded the social fabric, the growing significance of a politicized, young generation of Africans that do not share the same political culture as their elders, and the massive failure of the war against terror in the Sahel that has produced neither security nor stability. It also points to some of the ways in which fierce geopolitical battles are likely to wreak havoc in the African continent as Western hegemonic influences declines in the region.

In this long-read for roape.net, I want to argue that the present dilemma has to be seen as an inflection point in both the democratization and decolonization process in West Africa and Africa more generally.

A democratic impasse

One cannot fully make sense of the recent coups d’état in Africa without a full understanding of concomitant popular uprisings that have been occurring on a regular albeit sporadic manner in different parts of the continent. The common impulse, from Mali to Sudan, from Guinea to Burkina Faso is a desire for change, meaningful change.

The much celebrated constitutional order has been discredited in a context where constitutions are routinely violated, regulating mechanisms are often neutralized, and incumbent presidents consistently violate term-limits. For instance, Cote d’Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara and Guinea’s Alpha Condé both violated constitutionally locked term-limits to run for presidential elections. As the Nigerian writer Jibrin Ibrahim demonstrates, under the current nominal democracy, elected Presidents have also perpetrated coups of an electoral or constitutional nature. In Tunisia, the government of President Kaïs Saïed has taken a de facto authoritarian turn in July 2021. Through rule by decree, Saïed has tempered the constitutional and judicial structure and therefore neutralized any meaningful checks and balance.

In the 1990s, the demand for democratic opening was externally driven by development aid partners and Bretton Woods and other multilateral agencies. The democratic norm was being push through as African states were also being pressured to cut public expenditure in education, health and other social services. Yet the ongoing demand for democracy is internal in kind, it is a popular demand for a different kind of politics and a different kind of democratic participation and not a ‘performance’ on the basis of the Mo Ibrahim index or similar instruments.

Yet, overwhelming media attention of the military government’s standoff with the ‘international community’ muddies an understanding of very urgent crises that will not be resolved by another round of elections. As long as fundamental problems of economic sovereignty, of the state’s capacity to raise financial resources internally, to provide security and social services to its population are unresolved, rushing to elections will merely enable a change of guards to run the same derelict institutions. The democratic struggle is first and foremost a struggle for a political model that is responsive to people’s demands for basic public goods.

Popular uprisings are also an indictment of the failure of formal civil societies organizations that have either become too institutionalized if they are not entirely coopted by governments. Their ability to fully perform their responsibility as safeguards of people’s rights against state excesses has been hampered by an attachment to the orthodoxy of electoral liberalism. A major shortcoming has been its inability to harness into a cogent political project strident current popular demands for an alternative political order. The greatest insecurity that plagues Sahelian communities is linked to food security, and to limited human development.

It is clear to many careful observers of West African politics that something fundamentally different has been simmering over the past few years. The disconnect between governments and people has become more pronounced in the prolonged context of insecurity since 2012. The coronavirus pandemic has furthermore eroded public trust in governments’ ability to deliver public goods or foster greater democratic opening.

There is a question that lingers in everybody’s mind: has the specter of coups and countercoups returned to African politics? More specifically, is West Africa about to fall back into a vicious pattern of coups and countercoups without any seeming logic or order? The fear of a domino effect is real, and one cannot rule out the possibility of another elected government falling under another coup.

Linking coups and popular protests

The five most recent coups in Africa have been directly or indirectly prompted by popular protests of insurgent magnitude. This is significant.

Between April-August 2020, massive crowds gathered in Bamako and in major Malian cities to denounce endemic misrule, a series of corruption scandals involving specifically the purchase of military equipment amid insecurity across the country. The government of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita had also been marred by the accusation of massive fraud in the legislative elections of March 2020. Mali’s security situation had deteriorated drastically since 2015. The country fell into a state of chronic instability with burgeoning violence coming not only from jihadist forces, but also from government-backed militias and self-defense groups. Following months-long popular mobilization led by the M5 RFP coalition–the 5 June Mouvement and the Rally of Patriotic Forces–crowds literally escorted the military to the presidential palace. These are the circumstances that saw the takeover of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP) military council.

In Burkina Faso, days of uninterrupted public protest preceded the putsch last year. On 14 November, 2021, the country experienced the most brutal attack on security forces. Fifty-three gendarmes were killed in Inata. The public later learned with dismay that the exhausted gendarmes had been without food and supplies for days and could not withstand the ambush. Inata eventually sealed the fate of the president Roch Kaboré. This wasn’t the first recent coup in Burkina Faso. In 2014, months-long street protests culminated into the resignation of 27 year-reigning Blaise Compaoré. Compaoré fled to Cote d’Ivoire where the Ouattara government offered a safe haven against demands for his extradition to Burkina Faso to face justice in the trial on the murder of Thomas Sankara. The military transition that ensued enabled the organization of relatively free elections for the first time in post-independence Burkina Faso.

Although every coup is different and responds to specific circumstances, the same causes can be said to have produced similar effects in both Burkina and Mali. Further, there are embedded historical inequities within armies themselves that mirror existing and widespread social inequities. Coups today may no longer be anchored in revolutionary nationalist or Pan-Africanist politics but some of them, like in Burkina Faso, articulate certain popular demands for social justice and democratic renewal. In the speeches of Paul-Henri Damiba–the interim president and coup leader– Sankara stands as an avatar of an aborted military-driven radical experiment. Army cadets are also politicized in a way that engraves the role of the military in ongoing struggles to reimagine social contracts across Africa. The fact that officers are fighting an internal battle that is also about repositioning a professional military hints at an enduring backdrop to recurrent coups.

It is important to note that public ‘demand’ for the disciplining authority of the military has often been a trojan horse that allows the military to ‘rise up to their responsibility’ as a now familiar, almost scripted ritual announcement that every new coup makes it a point to deliver.

In both Burkina Faso and Mali, transition military governments have initiated country-wide consultations (‘assises nationales’) to collect a wide-range of views from political formations and civil society on constitutional reform. To what extent the military’s move to act democratic-like is likely to lead to substantive change is a different question altogether. If the strategy is quite unprecedented for a military government, the reason for the shift is to be found in the growing importance of struggle on the ground–from popular forces from below.

In toppling civilian governments and ‘installing’ the military, protestors often aim to trigger a speedy change outside of the ballot box. Needless to say, this also heralds an uncertain future that gives no guarantee of success. Military coups are rarely transformative. Further, the military itself is a institution in its own terms that has its own logic of power accumulation. Obviously, if the military was the solution, neither Burkina Faso nor Mali would have gone through multiple coups. Mali has experienced five coups since independence while Burkina holds a record of seven coups with a total of 47-years ruled under various military governments. At any rate, the gains of popular movements hang on a fragile thread that is constantly threated by the encroaching logic of external internal intervention especially in countries whose natural resources are highly coveted.

In 2019, Algerian and Sudanese decades-long regimes fell through popular pressure. Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Omar al-Bashir were deposed by public pressure. In contrast to Mali and Burkina Faso, Sudan has a robust, deep-rooted tradition of political activism led by well-organized leftist movements, especially student movements. Not only have the Sudanese “resistance committees” been able to force concessions from the military, they proactively forged ahead with a political charter for transition presented on 27 February, 2022. The Charter for the Establishment of the People’s Authority seeks to reverse decades-long military-led governance and restricted civic participation.

Two dilemmas are apparent in the trends mentioned above. On the one hand, it is nearly impossible to assess the extent to which popular protests express representative, legitimate, and uncoerced grievances. On another, to read military coups from a liberal institutional framework which demarcates the ‘civilian’ and the ‘military’ as distinct spheres of action has time and again proven reductive. Such thinking does not allow us to consider solutions outside of injunctions to restore the normal ‘constitutional order’. Neither does it take into account the specificity of the formation of African military systems within a colonial context and their development in postcolonial states.

Contested regional leadership

The default reaction of the West African bloc ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) to the recent coups has been to distribute sanctions on account of ‘norms’ uncritically enforced in a bureaucratic and uncreative approach. The coup policy of both the African Union’s Lomé Declaration of 1999 and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ADC) is systematic sanctions against unconstitutional changes of government even when these are the outcome of compelling popular protests. However, the continental body has neither been consistent nor impartial in its approach. In Chad for instance, the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) determined that the country was under threat of destabilization from Libya and did not therefore enforce sanctions against the Transitional Military Council. Although the dislocation of Libya has had tremendous consequences in the subsequent destabilization of the Sahel, more specifically Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, the AU security assessment is all the more surprising as Chad has been relatively unaffected by the Libyan civil war. However, Chad remains France and the West’s staunchest ally in the Sahel in the fight against terrorism. For many observers, the AU buried its legitimacy in Chad by endorsing both a military coup and a dynastic takeover.

The AU is not the only discredited regional institution. ECOWAS has long been seen as a club of the malleable who speak with one tutored voice. Never before has ECOWAS been so disconnected from its populations. Having turned the other way over a series of constitutional coups which paved the way for military coups for instance in Guinea, ECOWAS has emerged as a discredited entity.

According to the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM), the West African bloc violated its own statutory rules in imposing sanctions that fall outside of its normative instruments, most specifically the 2001 ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance. Besides, the region’s economies are already badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic and sanctions imposed on Mali have consequences for other ECOWAS members. For instance, Mali accounts for 20% of Senegal’s trade volume; most export goods destined to Mali transit through the port in Dakar.

Waning Western tutelage

One could almost speak of an anachronism between on the one hand the perception of post-colonial stagnation in which the Sahelian region is believed to be steeped and the way in which ‘partnership’ continues to be discussed as the framework of engagement that structures the Sahel’s relations with the former colonial power France. France specifically appears like a stubborn guest that stays on when the party is over.

At the request of the government of Mali fearful that Jihadists were advancing towards Bamako, France launched Operation Serval which led a swift ‘victory’ in early 2013. The succeeding Operation Barkhane–a 5000 strong force that constitutes the backbone of French counter-terrorist intervention in the Sahel, over the years fell into a predictable pattern. In other words, it became locked into its own narrow logic, merely responding to French understanding of its strategic security interests in the Sahel. Despite France announcing a drawdown of Barkhane, as a result of intense pressure in Mali itself, it categorically opposed Mali’s seeking support from other governments to help it restore stability across the country.

The government of Assimi Goïta – who has been serving as interim president since May last year–has always shown suspicion regarding French ambivalence towards Tuareg’s desire of autonomy. After all, the French army command enforced a de-facto partition of Mali by preventing the national army from access to the Tuareg rebellion stronghold in Kidal and used its hegemony as leverage against the Bamako government. There is another reason for the French to seek to institute a buffer zone in Northern Mali. Kidal is about 300 km from Arlit where French giant ORAN (former AREVA) exploits uranium yellowcake. There are also important uranium reserves to the south of Arlit in addition to strategic minerals, arable land and water. The maintenance of military forces in Northern Mali therefore becomes the condition for continuing to supply its nuclear plants.

Furthermore, the Taoudeni Basin–from Mauritania to Algeria and north Mali–is a much-coveted oil basin as the world moves towards a period of depletion of oil resources. Mali itself has large limestone, salt and gold deposits in addition to oil, iron ore and bauxite minerals that are largely unexploited. Given all this, France puts tremendous pressure on WAEMU (West African Economic and Monetary Union) leaders to apply sanctions on Mali. Further, taking advantage of the rotating presidency of the EU, the French President has been lobbying other EU members for support. On 19 January this year, at his inaugural speech as rotating President, Emmanuel Macron declared in no uncertain terms: “It is in Africa that global upheaval is partially being played out, and a part of the future of this [European] continent and its youth […] and our future”.

France is neither ready nor willing to deal with its former African colonies on equal footing. For a long time, it has relied upon clientelist relations to ensure sustained access to African minerals for an unfair price. The maintenance of compliant regimes was always the condition for unimpeded access and control.

The ongoing geopolitical struggle with Russia in fact comes down to this: the argument about delayed elections and democratic governance in reality masks strategic and security interests that France is keen to protect at any cost. Declining western hegemony in the region goes hand to hand with intensified competition for access and control over Africa’s mineral and natural resources. Whereas the security crisis is real across Mali and the Sahel, the crisis that emerged out of disagreement over the presence of French troops and so-called Russian mercenaries has been engineered. Despite much noise about famed Wagner Group, there is little factual information about its presence or operations in Mali. Even so, there is nothing unusual about states using mercenary units for ‘special operations’. One recalls that France itself developed the Foreign Legion–a traditional pathway for citizenship for individual adventurers hired to serve unorthodox French operations around the world, in Africa in particular.

The ongoing stand-off between the West and Russia over the occupation of Ukraine throws into stark relief the importance of Russia’s growing presence in Africa. Russia supplies weapons and military equipment to 30 African countries. Russia is said to be the largest supplier of weapons to Africa of the past few years.

It would be a mistake to see in the thousands of young Africans occupying the streets of Bamako, Kayes and Ouahigouya or blocking French military convoys anarchic crowds that are neither rooted in a solid political culture nor hold a clear vision of what they are yearning for. It would equally be a mistake to see in the popular protests against French military presence in the Sahel as some kind of reactionary resentment of the subaltern or a revanchist postcolonial fury. Underlying the protesters’ outburst is a widespread pursuit of a sovereignty most imagine to have been lacking in their countries since the time of independence. Young people’s demand for ‘meaningful sovereignty’ is explicitly framed against a postcolonial condition that maintains their countries under neocolonial control. Theirs is a struggle for a second independence.

A foundering war

The Sahel was poised to become the new cauldron of the war on terrorism following the France and NATO-led armed intervention in Libya in 2011 and the latter’s subsequent disintegration. The securitarian logic pursued by Sahelian states and intervention forces had two predictable consequences. Firstly, as armed groups and militias proliferated in response to perceived arbitrary injustice in relation to both the state and jihadist groups, the state could label any peripheral or dissenting group ‘terrorist’ and thus give itself license to kill legitimately. Secondly, the fabric of state-society relations has deteriorated in the process as the fight against terrorism came to trump all other economic and social objectives.

Counterterrorist policies have in the main reinforced the repressive capacities of Sahelian states. As many a report have shown, more civilians have died in the hands of Sahelian states and Operation Barkhane than they have under terrorist violence. Yet, the overwhelming majority of so-called militants in the various insurgent groups operating in the Sahel are Malians and Burkinabè nationals from villages and communities known to their neighbors. They need to be engaged through dialogue and concertation.

Dwindling resources under the accelerating effects of climate change have led to deteriorating standards of living and compounded conflicts amongst communities over access to scarce resources. The Sahel faces frequent droughts and food shortages. Embattled and impoverished populations are leaving villages and those that can afford it have fled further afield into neighboring countries if they are not risking their lives in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe. Further, at a time when Sahelian states have also become the enforcers of EU border policies, some youth are treated like trespassers and criminals in their own states.

In their unqualified commitment to the fight against ‘terrorism’, it would seem that Sahelian countries have delivered more insecurity than they have delivered jobs and economic security for their populations. Ordinary people are having a hard time understanding why after almost 10 years of intervention, a 13000 soldiers strong UN mission, a 5000 strong Barkhane force, including French-led European Takuba Task Force, and G5Sahel, the security situation has deteriorated rather than it has improved. The G5Sahel is a 2017 French initiative to coordinate the fight against Jihadist among five Sahelian countries–Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. It has been a dismal failure. A UN report explains the joint operation’s slow progress and the absence of tangible security gains as the result of a narrow military outlook, divergent priorities amongst concerned countries and a fraught relation with civilians.

If Afghanistan is anything to go by, military intervention campaigns are rarely transformative enterprises.

Interventions have become ritualized forms of action in which external actors use the cover of ‘peace’ ‘security’ and ‘order’ to justify intervention by itself. It produces discursive tropes that validate militarization as a new-age normative crusade of human rights, democratization and liberation of economic activity. Since the 1990s, states have been reduced to enforcers of Bretton Woods injunctions to liberalize if they are not busy enforcing ‘partner countries’ security policies.

People may not understand the intricacy of decision-making processes that have led to the present fiasco, but they perceive the relative inefficiency of the billions of dollars that have been spent on the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the Barkhane Operation–which cost around 1 billion euros per year–and other international forces while Sahelian armies remain underfunded, underequipped, lacking the technological resources to collect reliable intelligence. One recalls that the March 2012 coup and that of August 2020 were both prompted by widespread public dissatisfaction with the blatant inefficacy of the Malian army fighting the Tuareg rebels and Jihadists. The Malian army was then ill-equipped–and they still are–to fight the jihadists. The public perceives that something is fundamentally wrong. What is peacekeeping in a country that is in active conflict? Failing to impose peace, what is MINUSMA exactly doing in Mali?

A historical shift?

We may just be at the cusp of a revolution of a new kind, one that first and foremost opposes different generations whose experience of, and outlook over the postcolonial present barely overlap. The generational shift affects both the political and the military elites.

There is in fact more to the recent coups in Mali and Burkina Faso than meet the eye. It would be absurd to pose the problem in terms of a choice to be made between military regimes vs. liberal democracy. The coups themselves are not the ultimate objective. The military is called upon to break a deadlock, to upend the status quo as neutral arbiters. Some of the protestors in Burkina Faso made that much clear in stating their determination to occupy the streets again should the military government fail to deliver on promises. However, coups potentially provide an opening for a necessary debate on a serious social project, something that has not been a preoccupation of previous governments since the time of the revolutionary Thomas Sankara.

Amy Niang is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Africa Institute in Sharjah. She is the author of ‘The Postcolonial African State in Transition: Stateness and Modes of Sovereignty’. Courtesy: ROAPE (Review of African Political Economy).

Janata Weekly, March 27, 2022, https://janataweekly.org/coups-insurgency-and-imperialism-in-africa/

Biden budget: Hike the military, defuse protests by taxing the rich / by Mark Gruenberg

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, center, along with other lawmakers, talks with reporters. Jayapal is joined by from left, Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-New York. Susan Walsh | AP

WASHINGTON—Tax the rich to reduce the nation’s yearly budget deficit but give the military more than ever.

Taxing the rich and making corporations pay more, not padding the military, is the big takeaway Democratic President Joe Biden wants voters—and some centrist lawmakers—to get from his proposed $5.8 trillion spending plan for the fiscal year starting October 1.

But there’s a big problem in Biden’s budget, as far as progressives are concerned: The record amount of money for the military and its dependent war corporate contractors: $813 billion, counting some extra defense spending hidden elsewhere than in the Pentagon’s own budget line.

“Right now, billionaires pay an average rate of 8% on their total income. Eight—that’s the average they pay,” the president declared when he unveiled the budget blueprint on March 28.

“If you make a billion bucks, great. Just pay your fair share. Pay a little bit. A firefighter and a teacher pay more than double the tax rate that a billionaire pays. That’s not right. That’s not fair.”

But on spending, Biden’s numbers contradict his words. As he drums up support for the war in Ukraine and paying for the weapons he is pumping in there, he increases defense spending by $31 billion and reduces non-defense spending—for education, labor, health, fighting the coronavirus, and other “discretionary” programs—by $13 billion, to $915 billion. The president attributed that decline to winding down and ending anti-pandemic aid. He said nothing about whether the budget could allow revival, in whole or in part, of his Build Back Better agenda killed by Democratic Party conservatives led by West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.

And he justified the Pentagon dollar hike by claiming the military needs more money so it can help Ukraine. And even if the Ukraine war is not enough of an excuse to fatten the military budget, he raised the alleged threat the nation faces down the line from China to justify the increase. “We’re once again facing increased competition from other nation states—China and Russia,” he declared.

That analysis irks critics of war spending and gladdens the hearts of the military contractors who dine and drink at the Pentagon’s table.

“At a time when we are already spending more on the military than the next 11 countries combined, no we do not need a massive increase in the defense budget,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., said in advance of his panel’s March 30 hearing on Biden’s budget blueprint.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. AP

“Appropriators and advocates” must always defend spending “to expand access to health care” while cutting its costs to workers and families, to build affordable housing, to fight climate change, and to combat the coronavirus pandemic, said Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., former chair Mark Pocan, D-Wash., and longtime anti-war Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., in a joint press conference.

“But such concerns evaporate when it comes to the Pentagon’s endlessly growing, unaudited budget. We will continue to vigorously advocate against this military spending proposal, as we have in years past,” the three promised.

Biden preferred to concentrate on hammering the rich.

“My budget contains a ‘billionaire minimum tax’” of 20%, he said. The top “one-hundredth of 1% of the Americans will pay this tax. The billionaire minimum tax is fair, and it raises $360 billion that can be used to lower costs for families and cut the deficit.”

And Biden would raise the top tax rate on the highest end of income of all the superrich to 39.6%–its level before the GOP-Trump tax cut four years ago for corporations and the rich. The corporate tax rate would rise from the current 21% to a proposed 28%. It was 35% before the Trump-GOP cut.

Biden also would eliminate the “carried interest” deduction, a bonanza which lets hedge fund Wall Streeters pay on their gains at lower tax rates. Killing that tax break alone would raise $406 billion in fiscal 2023, the budget tables show. Biden also would increase estate taxes on the rich—rolling back part of the Trump-GOP giveaway—by $48 billion.

What Biden did not say was hedge fund vultures who claim “carried interest” use the windfall to grab loans to buy and destroy companies, notably newspapers, and lives, all in the name of corporate greed.

Instead, “My budget also ensures corporations pay their fair share. In 2020, there were 50 Fortune 500 companies that made $40 billion in profit combined but didn’t pay a single, solitary cent in federal taxes. My budget raises the corporate tax rate to 28%, far lower than the rate it was between World War II and 2017 when it was lowered,” he said.

Overall, all of Biden’s tax hikes on corporations and the rich, if enacted, and that’s in doubt, would raise $2.5 trillion. But that sum stretches over a decade.

So, for example, the billionaire minimum tax doesn’t kick in—if Congress approves it—until fiscal 2024, which starts Oct. 1, 2023. And it raises only 10% of its $3.6 trillion decade-long total in that fiscal year.

One revenue raiser not in Biden’s budget: The increased money that would come into the Treasury from higher fines and the wider reach of those fines—to corporate honchos and covering more offenses—for company labor law-breaking. The new basic fine for a first-time law-breaker would be $50,000, rather than net back pay to illegally hurt workers. Corporate repeat offenders would pay $100,000 per abuse.

Those higher fines and related provisions, taken from the Protect The Right To Organize Act, labor’s #1 legislative priority, were in Biden’s Build Back Better budget “reconciliation” bill for this fiscal year. They’re not in his budget blueprint.

The Democratic-run House passed BBB on party lines. The evenly split Senate didn’t even debate it. The revenue raisers from BBB carried into Biden’s budget were the corporate and individual income tax hikes and elimination of $45 billion in tax breaks for fossil fuel firms. Those companies benefit in other ways not contained in the budget: Gaining European market share as sanctions hit against Ukraine.

Biden’s budget, like any other presidential spending blueprint, is a political document, intended to set out priorities. “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value,” the president said. So here are some other Biden values:

More money for schools, especially those whose teachers have classes full of low-income kids.

Funds for that program, called Title I, would double, which cheered Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, one of the earliest union commenters on the budget plan.

“It includes $1 billion to help schools hire additional counselors, school psychologists, and other health professionals to address the mental health crisis,” she added—a crisis the coronavirus pandemic illuminated. And Biden adds $400 million “for the Education Department’s Full-Service Community Schools Program, which aims to bring healthcare and other social service programs onto school campuses.” Adding such wraparound services in schools is a longtime AFT aim.

“It’s clear Biden is making important investments in helping our public schools meet the needs of every child and provide more opportunities for students to recover and thrive after two years of disruption,” Weingarten said.

More money for pro-worker enforcement programs. Biden again seeks $319.4 million for the National Labor Relations Board. That’s $45 million more than this year—and the figure the House OKd before the Senate eliminated that hike, leaving NLRB at $274 million,

And the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would get a record $704 million, which would let it hire 330 more staffers, rising to 2,346. The budget envisions a 7.6% increase in OSHA inspections, from 31,400 to 33,790. That doesn’t count state OSHA inspections.

The NLRB’s staff union welcomed that agency’s hike with “Yes, but…” tweets. The first one noted the NLRB budget stalled at $274 million yearly in 2014. “While this proposal is encouraging, the agency needs these resources now,” the staff union said.

“If the NLRB’s 2014 budget had merely been increased to match inflation, our budget would stand at $328 million this year…We need these resources in FY2022”—the current fiscal year—”to adequately carry out our agency’s mission of enforcing federal labor law.” Its current year total: $274 million, again.

The comparison between military money and domestic spending led to political fireworks when Biden Budget Director Shalanda Young testified on March 29 before the Senate Budget Committee. Chairman Bernie Sanders is labor’s longest-tenured supporter in Congress. He also hates growing the military, especially when the Pentagon outspends the next 11 nations’ military budgets, combined.

“At a time when corporations are making obscene profits by charging outrageously high prices for gas, food, and rent, we need a budget that takes on the unprecedented corporate greed that is taking place in America today by enacting a windfall profits tax and preventing corporations from ripping off working families,” Sanders added.

“At a time when over 700 billionaires in America became nearly $2 trillion richer during the pandemic while tens of millions continue to struggle, we need a budget that demands that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes and substantially improves the lives of working families with children, the elderly, the sick and the poor.”

Flak also came from the right. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who will take over the panel if the GOP wins control in November, slammed Biden’s budget, too…for not spending enough on war. “The Biden budget fails once again to fund our national defense at adequate levels,” was one Graham complaint.

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

People’s World, March 30, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/biden-budget-hike-the-military-defuse-protests-by-taxing-the-rich/

WFP warns of unprecedented levels of hunger and food insecurity in Haiti / by People’s Dispatch

The World Food Programme (WFP) warns that nearly half of Haiti’s population is at the risk of hunger and needs immediate food assistance. Photo: Georges Harry Rouzier/UNICEF

According to the latest Integrated Food Phase Classification (IPC) report, between March and June 2022, 4.5 million Haitians will be facing severe hunger.

In a country with one of the highest levels of food insecurity in the world, data indicates that the situation in Haiti will only worsen. The World Food Program (WFP) of the United Nations has warned that nearly half of the country’s population is at risk of hunger and in need of immediate food assistance.

The WFP, citing the latest Integrated Food Phase Classification (IPC) report, the global standard for measuring food insecurity, reported that between March and June 2022, 4.5 million Haitians (45% of the population) would be suffering from severe hunger. The WFP further reported that of this number, 3.18 million Haitians (32% of the population) would be in a situation classified as in the crisis phase, and 1.32 million Haitians (13%) would be in the emergency phase.

The WFP representative in Haiti, Pierre Honnorat, stated that the current situation is “the worst registered since 2018.” In 2018, half of Haiti’s population was undernourished and the country’s Global Hunger Index score rose to 35 from 28 in 2009, reaching the “alarming” threshold.

Honnorat also highlighted that the Caribbean country’s dependence on food imports places Haitians in an unfavorable position, due to the devaluation of Haitian currency against the US dollar. As Honnorat described, “70% of the goods in Haiti’s stores are imported, including basic products such as rice, 80% of which is imported.”

The WFP’s report also detailed how “one of the key drivers of food insecurity in Haiti is the poor performance of the agriculture sector and the country’s dependence on food imports, which makes the country vulnerable to inflation and price volatility in international markets.” The WFP expressed concern about the effect of the Russia–Ukraine crisis on food security, which continues to negatively impact the purchasing power in highly import-dependent countries like Haiti.

Honnorat also said that the WFP fears the war in Ukraine would raise the price of food and therefore increase hunger in Haiti. He described how Haiti primarily imports wheat from Russia and Canada, adding how wheat flour is used to bake the bread which consumed by Haitians every day. “If the wheat flour [price] is going up, you will see a problem. And as I said, the price has already multiplied by five in two years. So, we can only expect that it will multiply again.”

Honnorat added that the situation of hunger would push people to resort to extreme measures, “fueling insecurity, migration and sexual exploitation.”

The WFP’s report added that persistent political instability, deepening economic crisis, soaring inflation, and recurrent natural disasters also limit access to affordable food for vulnerable populations. Over the past two decades, Haiti has been rocked by severe storms, floods, landslides, droughts, including the devastating earthquake in 2010 and the category 4 Hurricane Matthew in 2016. On the 2021 Climate Risk Index list, Haiti is on number three among the countries most affected by extreme weather events from 2000 to 2019.

Last August’s earthquake caused massive economic, human and infrastructural losses in southwestern Haiti, affecting nearly 1 million people. Northern Haiti is also reeling from the aftermath of heavy flooding in late January, which resulted in the displacement of nearly 2,500 families, forcing them to seek refuge in temporary shelters.

People’s Dispatch, March 29, 2022, https://peoplesdispatch.org/2022/03/29/wfp-warns-of-unprecedented-levels-of-hunger-and-food-insecurity-in-haiti/

Divided World: The UN Condemnation of Russia is endorsed by Countries run by the richest, oldest, Whitest people on Earth but only 41% of the World’s population / by Roger Stoll

Featured image: United Nations General Assembly voting board for the March 2 resolution against Russia. Photo: United Nations

On March 2 of this year the UN General Assembly met in an Emergency Session to pass a non-binding resolution condemning Russia’s February 24 intervention in Ukraine.1 141 countries voted for the resolution, 5 voted against, 35 abstained, and 12 did not vote. (Reported: GuardianAl JazeeraiNews)

In the absence of any reliable opinion poll of the world’s 7.9 billion people, this vote may indicate that the majority of humanity sympathizes with Russia in Ukraine. The statistics presented below show that only 41% of the world’s people live in countries that joined the U.S. in voting for the UN resolution.

This lopsided vote is even more striking if you consider the demographics. Populations represented by governments that did not vote for the resolution are much more likely to include the world’s poorest nations, nations with younger populations, “nations of color,” nations of the Global South, and nations in the periphery of the world economic system.

To put it another way, although the war is nominally a conflict between two developed and ethnically white nations, Russia and Ukraine, this UN vote suggests the war may be viewed by much of the world as a fight over the global political and economic system that institutionalizes the imperial hierarchy, the distribution of nations between rich and poor, and global white supremacy.

The UN vote by population

Of the world’s 7,934,000,000 people, 59% live in countries that did not support the resolution and only 41% live in countries that did.2 But that last figure drops to 34% outside of the immediate belligerents and their allies: Ukraine, U.S., and NATO countries, and on the other side, Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, and Tajikistan (all the countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization).

41% or 34% amounts to a resounding, humiliating defeat for the U.S. on this non-binding UN resolution. Instead it is reported in the west as a U.S. victory and an “overwhelming” worldwide condemnation of Russia.

The UN vote and GDP per capita

All the countries in the top third of the GDP per capita (nominal) rankings, including Japan and all the countries of Western Europe and North America, voted for the resolution, Venezuela being the only country in the top third that did not.

Of the countries that did not vote for the resolution, most are ranked the poorest in the world, and almost none came above the approximate midpoint rank of 98. The exceptions were: Venezuela (58), Russia (68), Equatorial Guinea (73), Kazakhstan (75), China (76) Cuba (82), Turkmenistan (92), South Africa (95), Belarus (97).3

The UN vote and the core/periphery divide

Another way to show the wealth divide in the UN vote is by distinguishing core and peripheral countries. In world-systems theory the surplus value of labor flows disproportionately to the core countries: “The countries of the world can be divided into two major world regions: the ‘core’ and the ‘periphery.’ The core includes major world powers and the countries that contain much of the wealth of the planet. The periphery has those countries that are not reaping the benefits of global wealth and globalization.” (Colin Stief, ThoughtCo.com, 1/21/20)

The countries usually considered in the core are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States.

The difference here is stark. Every single core country voted for the resolution and every country that did not is either in the periphery or in some cases, like Russia or China, in the semi-periphery.

The UN vote and median age

All the countries ranked in the top third of median age rankings, from Monaco (51.1 years) to Iceland (36.5 years), voted for the resolution, with the following exceptions: China (37.4), Russia (39.6), Belarus (40), Cuba (41.5).

Of the twenty entries with the lowest median ages (15.4 to 18.9), only half voted for the resolution.

The UN vote and “countries of color”

Of the 7,934,000,000 people in the world, 1,136,160,000 live in what are usually recognized as “white countries” (consistently or not) with about 14% of the world’s population. Yet “white countries,” by population, represent about 30% of the total vote in favor of the resolution. This “white vote” accounts for every one of the core countries (except Singapore and Japan). Compare: 97% of the population in the countries that did not vote for the resolution live in “countries of color.” Only Russia, Belarus and Armenia (which did not vote for the resolution) have dominant populations classed as “white.”

Therefore “white countries” are overrepresented in the group that voted for the resolution (30% vs. 14%), and underrepresented in the group that did not (3% vs. 14%).

Before the intervention

What follows is a brief sketch of events leading to the February 24 Russian intervention that prompted the UN resolution. It is a history seldom mentioned in the mainstream media, though it is easily found in selected alternative and now-suppressed media. It is presented here as a possible, partial explanation of why the UN resolution had so little support measured by population.

U.S./NATO has directed aggression toward Russia for decades, advancing NATO forces ever closer to Russia’s western border, ringing Russia with military bases, placing nuclear weapons at ever closer range, and breaching and discarding treaties meant to lessen the likelihood of nuclear war. The U.S. even let it be known, through its planning documents and policy statements, that it considered Ukraine a battlefield on which Ukrainian and Russian lives might be sacrificed in order to destabilize, decapitate and eventually dismember Russia just as it did Yugoslavia. Russia has long pointed out the existential security threat it sees in Ukrainian territory, and it has made persistent, peaceful, yet fruitless efforts over decades to resolve the problem (See Monthly Review’s excellent editors’ note).

Recent history includes the 2014 U.S.-orchestrated coup in Ukraine, followed by a war of the central government against those in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk resisting the coup government and its policies. Those policies include a ban on the Russian language, the native tongue of the region and a significant part of the country (ironically, including President Zelensky).

By the end of 2021 the war had taken 14,000 lives, four-fifths of them members of the resistance or civilian Russian speakers targeted by the government. Through years of negotiations Russia tried and failed to keep the Donetsk and Lugansk regions inside a united Ukraine. After signing the Minsk agreements that would do just that, Ukraine, under tight U.S. control, refused to comply even with step one: to talk with the rebellion’s representatives.

As to why the intervention happend now, Vyacheslav Tetekin, Central Committee member of Russia’s largest opposition party, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, explains:

Starting from December, 2021 Russia had been receiving information about NATO’s plans to deploy troops and missile bases in Ukraine. Simultaneously an onslaught on the Donetsk (DPR) and Lugansk People’s Republics (LPR) was being prepared. About a week before the start of Russia’s operation the plan was uncovered of an offensive that envisaged strikes by long-range artillery, multiple rocket launchers, combat aircraft, to be followed by an invasion of Ukrainian troops and Nazi battalions. It was planned to cut off Donbas from the border with Russia, encircle and besiege Donetsk, Lugansk and other cities and then carry out a sweeping “security cleanup” with imprisonment and killing of thousands of defenders of Donbas and their supporters. The plan was developed in cooperation with NATO. The invasion was scheduled to begin in early March. Russia’s action pre-empted Kiev and NATO, which enabled it to seize strategic initiative and effectively save thousands of lives in the two republics.

All this may have informed the world’s overwhelming rejection of the U.S.-backed UN resolution condemning Russia, which western media perversely considers a U.S. victory simply because the resolution passed. Never mind that it passed in a voting system where Liechtenstein’s vote carries the same weight as China’s.

The Global South also knows from bitter experience that unlike the West, neither Russia nor its close partner China habitually engage in bombings, invasions, destabilization campaigns, color revolutions, coups and assassinations against the countries and governments of the Global South. On the contrary, both countries have assisted the development and military defense of such countries, as in Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, Iran and elsewhere.

Conclusion

Just as the imperial core of North America, Europe and Japan does not represent the world in their population numbers, demographics, wealth, or power, neither does the imperial core speak for the world on crucial issues of war, peace, justice, and international law. Indeed the Global South has already spoken to the Global North so many times, in so many ways, with patience, persistence and eloquence, to little avail. Since we in the North have not been able to hear the words, perhaps we can listen to the cry of the numbers.


Notes:

  1.  The resolution “Deplores in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine in violation of Article 2 (4) of the Charter.” (Article 2 (4) reads: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”) The resolution also “[d]eplores the 21 February 2022 decision by the Russian Federation related to the status of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and inconsistent with the principles of the Charter.” Beyond Russia, the resolution “[d]eplores the involvement of Belarus in this unlawful use of force against Ukraine, and calls upon it to abide by its international obligations.”
  2.  The population of countries voting for the UN resolution is 3,289,310,000. The population of countries voting against the resolution, abstaining, or not voting is 4,644,694,000 (Against: 202,209,000; abstaining: 4,140,546,000; not voting: 301,939,000).
  3.  Here are the countries that did not vote for the resolution, with their GDP per capita rankings (the higher the GDP the higher the rank). 5 countries voted against the resolution: Russia 68, Belarus 97, North Korea 154, Eritrea 178, Syria 147. 35 countries abstained: Algeria 119, Angola 128, Armenia 115, Bangladesh 155, Bolivia 126, Burundi 197, Central African Republic 193, China 76, Congo 143, Cuba 82, El Salvador 121, Equatorial Guinea 73, India 150, Iran 105, Iraq 103, Kazakhstan 75, Kyrgyzstan 166, Laos 140, Madagascar 190, Mali 174, Mongolia 118, Mozambique 192, Namibia 102, Nicaragua 148, Pakistan 162, Senegal 160, South Africa 95, South Sudan 168, Sri Lanka 120, Sudan 171, Tajikistan 177, Tanzania 169, Uganda 187, Vietnam 138, Zimbabwe 144. 12 countries did not vote: Azerbaijan 110, Burkina Faso 184, Cameroon 158, Eswatini 117, Ethiopia 170, Guinea 175, Guinea-Bissau 179, Morocco 130, Togo 185, Turkmenistan 92, Uzbekistan 159, Venezuela 58.

Originally published: Orinoco Tribune, March 23, 2022, https://orinocotribune.com/

Ukraine and the Global economic war: barbarism or civilisation? / by Prabir Purkayastha

Russian War on Ukraine: Two Local Perspectives (Photo: Wcuquad.com)

Does the Ukraine war and the action of the U.S., EU, and the UK spell the end of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency? Even if the peace talks between Russia and Ukraine reach a 15-point peace plan, as Financial Times has reported, the fallout for the dollar still remains. For the first time, a major nuclear power and major economy were treated as a vassal state. Its $300 billion foreign exchange reserves lying with the U.S., EU and the UK were seized.

The threat to the dollar hegemony is only one part of the fallout. The other is the complex supply chains, built upon the promise of a stable trading regime based on the WTO principles, is also threatening to unravel. The U.S. is discovering that Russia is not simply a petro-state as they thought but supplies many of the critical materials that the U.S. industry and the military need. This is apart from Russia being one of the critical suppliers of wheat and fertilisers globally.

Seizing Russia’s funds means that the faith the U.S. is the world’s banker and the dollar is the global reserve currency, is in question. Why should countries maintain any trade surplus and bank it abroad if that surplus can be seized at will? The promise of a dollar as the world’s reserve currency was that all surpluses in dollars were safe. With the seizing of the Afghan central bank’s 9.5 billion dollars recently, the U.S. had shown that it considers that dollars held by another country with the U.S. central banks as a fair game. It may be an economic asset in the books for a country. But it is effectively a political liability, as the U.S. government can seize this asset at its will. This was also shown earlier in Iraq, Libya, Venezuela. Seizing Russia’s foreign exchange reserves by a handful of western countries–ex-colonial and settler-colonial states–means that the so-called rules-based order is now based on weaponising the dollar and the west’s control over the global financial system.

Economists–Prabhat Patnaik, Michael Hudson–and financial experts such as Zoltan Potsar of Credit Suisse are now predicting a new regime in which the Chinese Yuan or a variant of it will emerge as the world’s new reserve currency.

Why these predictions? After the Second World War, the Bretton Woods agreement led to the dollar becoming the world’s reserve currency. It replaced the British pound and was pegged to gold, with $35 to an ounce of gold. In 1971, President Nixon removed the U.S. dollar from the gold standard, which meant that the dollar was now backed only by the U.S. government (or U.S. Treasury) guarantees. In the post-war years, the dollar as reserve currency had three things going for it. It was backed by the U.S., which was the world’s largest industrial producer; the U.S. was the pre-eminent military power even if challenged by the Soviet Union; and it was backed by West Asian oil, the largest traded commodity, being priced in dollars.

The denomination of West Asian oil, particularly of Saudi Arabia, was critical to the U.S. and was determined by its military power. The coup in Iran against Mosaddegh, the 1963 coup in Iraq, and many other political events there can be understood more easily, if we understand why oil was so important to the U.S.. This was the basis of the Carter doctrine, extending the Monroe doctrine equivalent to the Persian Gulf Region. Or what the cartoonists drew: “Our oil is under their sand”. The U.S. control over West Asian oil and its industrial and military power ensured that the dollar remained as the world’s reserve currency.

The fall of the U.S. as the world’s industrial power has gone hand in hand with the rise of China. A measure of China’s industrial rise can be seen from a simple statistic given by Lowy Institute using IMF data on global trade. In 2001, over 80 per cent of countrie s had the U.S. as their major trading partner. By 2018, that figure had dropped to a little over 30 per cent– 128 out of 190–and had China as their major trading partner. Not the United States. This dramatic change has happened in less than 20 years! The reason for this change is industrial production: China overtook the U.S. in 2010 to become the largest industrial producer in the world (https://www.statista.com). India is the fifth largest industrial producer but produces only 3.1 per cent against 28.7 per cent by China and 16.8 per cent by the U.S.. It is not surprising that trade follows industrial production.

Two recent events are important in this context. China and the Eurasian Economic Union consisting of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Armenia seem to be moving towards a new international and monetary system. India and Russia also seem to be working out a rupee-rouble exchange based on India’s need to import Russian arms, fertiliser, and oil. India had already created a similar system earlier for buying Iranian oil. This might also give a fillip to increasing India’s exports to Russia. Saudi Arabia has recently indicated that it might also designate its oil sales to China in Yuan and not dollar. After 1974, this is the first time Saudi Arabia would sell any oil in a currency other than the dollar. This means an immediate fillip to the yuan, as 25 per cent of all Saudi Arabia’s oil is sold to China.

The U.S. dominates the services, intellectual property and information technology markets. But all of them are based on a complex of supplies and, therefore, complex global supply chains. If the western economic war means taking out Russia’s supplies from the global market, many supply chains are in danger of unravelling. I have already written about the energy war and how European Union depends on gas piped from Russia to Europe. But there are many other commodities that are critical for not only those sanctioning Russia but also those who may find it difficult to trade with Russia as a consequence of the west’s sanctions.

Strangely enough, one of the key elements in the supply chain for manufacturing chips depends on Russia. This is sapphire substrates (using artificial sapphires) that go into chips, of which Russia seems to have a near-monopoly. The other threat is neon gas supplies to chip makers. The major neon gas suppliers are in southern Ukraine, one in Mariupol and the other in Odessa. They together produce about 50 per cent of global neon supply and 75 per cent of the supply to the world’s chipmakers.

I have already highlighted earlier the danger to EU’s climate change plans and its shift to gas as a bridge fuel. Using batteries as the key storage element in the renewable energy route also has a substantial Russian weakness. Nickel is critical for electric batteries, and the largest supplier of nickel in the world is Russia. With the U.S. and EU imposing sanctions, this may lead to China, already emerging as the world’s largest battery supplier, creating an even more dominant position.

The other supply chain issues are palladium, platinum, titanium, and rare earths. All of these are required by advanced industries, creating supply chain bottlenecks worldwide. They are also on the list of 50-strategic materials that the U.S. needs. If we remember how the supply chains seized up during COVID-19, the coming crisis could be a lot worse. Sanctions are easy to impose, much harder to lift. And even after the lifting of sanctions, the supply chain will not come together seamlessly as it did before. Remember, these supply chains have been incrementally configured over decades. Undoing them using the wrecking ball of sanctions is easy; redoing them is a lot harder.

The food supplies to the world will be hit even harder. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus produce a significant amount of fertilisers needed by farmers everywhere. Russia and Ukraine are among the biggest exporters of wheat. If Russian wheat is sanctioned and Ukraine’s harvest is hit due to war, the world will not find it easy to thwart a severe food shortage.

There is no question that the world is on a cusp. It will either lead to the complete destruction of the Russian economy, even if Russia achieves a quick peace in Ukraine and there is no NATO-Russia War. Or it will reconfigure a new economic order which has been in the offing: a world order with cooperative solutions instead of military and economic wars.

Prabir Purkayastha, Newsclick Editor, is an engineer and a science activist in the power, telecom and software sectors. He is one of the founding members of the Delhi Science Forum.

People’s Democracy, March 27, 2022, https://peoplesdemocracy.in/

Progressive Coalition Campaigning in Colombia Promises Real Change / by W. T. Whitney Jr.

Historic Pact confirms Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez presidential ticket in Colombia | Peoples Dispatch

In Colombia Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez on March 24 registered as presidential and vice-presidential candidates, respectively, for elections taking place on May 29. On behalf of the Historic Pact coalition, Petro stated that, “today is the first day of a campaign that promises to actually change the history of Colombia.”

He was, in effect, proposing that someday killings, disappearances and dispossessions would be gone. And no longer would elections be the exclusive province of oligarchs.  Real democracy would replace the hollow version of Colombian democracy regularly proclaimed by U.S. officials.

The Historic Pact campaign scored well in primary elections held on March 13. Of 5.6 million Colombians voting in the coalition’s primary, 4.5 million of them chose Petro as presidential candidate. Significantly, 783,160 of them opted for Francia Márquez for the same office. Later, of course, Petro selected her as his vice-presidential running mate.

Other primary results were: of the 4.0 million people voting for the rightwing Team Colombia coalition, 2.2 million (54.2%) selected Federico Gutierrez as that coalition’s presidential candidate. Colombians loyal to the centrist Center of Hope coalition, 2.2 million in all, picked Sergio Fajardo as presidential candidate with 723,084 votes (33.5%).  Results were reported also on many other presidential candidates running either as individuals or as candidates of other coalitions.

Voters also cast ballots on March 13 to fill 108 seats in the Senate and 187 in the House of Representatives. In Senate voting, the Historic Pact led with 2.7 million votes and 21 seats.  The Conservative Party followed with 2.2 million votes and 15 seats. The Liberal Party with 2.1 million votes and 15 seats was in third place. Voting for delegates to the House of Representatives gave 33 seats to Liberal Party candidates, 29 to the Historic Pact, and 27 to Conservative Party candidates.

Because most legislators joining the new Congress represent many political groupings.  For the Historic Pact legislators to do their work, they will have to form alliances.  

Petro, a former M-19 urban guerrilla and mayor of Bogota, served in Colombia’s Senate. There he established himself as an implacable foe of two-term former president Alvaro Uribe, who personifies and has led the extreme right-wing sector of Colombian politics.  In 2018, Iván Duque, an Uribe protegee and now the outgoing president, defeated Petro in second-round voting, gaining 10.3 million votes to the latter’s 8.0 million votes. Petro’s first presidential campaign was the first outing for the brand-new Historic Pact, whose formation Petro had engineered.

For progressives, the Historic Pact this year has star-power. Francia Márquez herself gathered more votes for a presidential run than did Sergio Fajardo, the candidate of the third largest electoral coalition. Márquez is a 39-year-old African-descended lawyer and environmentalist, whose activism has centered on the environment harm caused by mining activities in Cauca Department – from where she was forced to leave because of threats.

Márquez won the National Prize for the Defense of Human Rights in 2015 and the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018. The BBC named her as one the 100 most influential women in the world.

On announcing Márquez’s vice-presidential candidacy, Petro asserted that Márquez would represent “three pillars [of] the first people’s government of Colombia,” specifically “the women of Colombia, the excluded territories, and peoples excluded by the color of their skin.”

Márquez responded, dedicating her words to Colombia’s youth: “Our job will be to close gaps arising from inequity and inequality in those regions where people are excluded and silenced.” Reports suggest that in a Petro government she would serve as environmental minister and fill a newly created Ministry of Equality.

Troubles emerged after the March 13 elections. At issue were voting irregularities marking the elections for the Senate and House of Representatives. The Election Observation Mission on March 18 reported that not one of more than 28,000 polling booths produced a ballot showing a vote for a candidate supported by the Historic Pact or by other left-leaning groups.

Former President Uribe reacted: “These elections leave mistrust everywhere. To these inconsistences must be added the overwhelming vote for Petro in the narco-trafficking regions. This result cannot be accepted.” His Democratic Center Party called for a total recount, insisting that otherwise “the new Congress would be illegitimate.”

Petro on March 20 called upon “all political parties to reject [Uribe’s] invitation to a coup d’état. It’s time for everyone to defend democracy.”  In a recount, almost 400,00 additional votes were discovered. The Historic Pact gained three more Senate seats at the expense of three other parties.

Obstacles remain. According to  an observer, “Voting for the Historic Pact took shape in spite of and against massive buying of votes by the Mafias of the traditional parties and the new parties of the oligarchy …[and] against the multimillion dollar machinery of the establishment’s electoral businesses.”   

Two recent opinion polls have Gustavo Petro winning the first round of elections on May 29. One points to 37% of likely voters favoring Petro. Next in line, Federico Gutiérrez, candidate of the Team Colombia coalition, polled at 19%. Another poll gives Petro a 32% favorability rating, with Gutiérrez at 23%.

Analysts say that the Historic Pact must win a first-round victory, that a “second-round election would be very dangerous.” Coalition strategists envision a broad-front approach aimed at opening up “political space beyond the Historic Pact.”

Youth activism and popular resistance beyond the orbit of left-leaning political parties did fuel the growth of the Historic Pact – as exemplified by the vice-presidential candidacy of Francia Márquez.  As part of the political uprisings of 2021 in Colombia, these sectors recalled the upsurge of social movements in Chile that helped to install the new progressive government there headed by President Gabriel Boric

Alexander Escobar is a senator whose political party, the Democratic Pole, is part of the Historic Pact; he was a presidential candidate within that coalition. His advice for Petro now is for the Historic Pact to be cautious in assimilating social movements into the campaign.

Escobar insists that electoral success must precede efforts at fostering mobilizations outside regular politics. While admiring activists who “have big dreams, that are so strong and have so many roots,” he relies on “real organizing and decision-making spaces.”

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.