Targeting China, the U.S. brings its New Cold War to Africa / by Vijay Prashad

President Joe Biden and other leaders at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, Dec. 15, 2022. | Andrew Harnik / AP

The United States government held the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in mid-December, prompted in large part by its fears about Chinese and Russian influence on the African continent. Rather than routine diplomacy, Washington’s approach in the summit was guided by its broader New Cold War agenda, in which a growing focus has been to disrupt relations that African nations hold with China and Russia.

This hawkish stance is driven by U.S. military planners, who view Africa as “NATO’s southern flank” and consider China and Russia to be “near-peer threats.” At the summit, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin charged China and Russia with “destabilizing” Africa.

Austin provided little evidence to support his accusations, apart from pointing to China’s substantial investments, trade, and infrastructure projects with many countries on the continent and maligning the presence in a handful of countries of several hundred mercenaries from the Russian private security firm, the Wagner Group.

The African heads of government left Washington with a promise from U.S. President Joe Biden to make a continent-wide tour, a pledge that the United States will spend $55 billion in investments, and a high-minded but empty statement on U.S.-Africa partnership.

Unfortunately, given the U.S. track record on the continent, until these words are backed up with constructive actions, they can only be considered empty gestures and geopolitical jockeying.

Debt bondage vs. debt lifeline

There was not one word in the summit’s final statement on the most pressing issue for the continent’s governments: the long-term debt crisis.

An SGR cargo train leaves from the port containers depot on a Chinese-backed railway costing nearly $3.3 billion, opened by Kenya’s president as one of the country’s largest infrastructure projects since independence, in Mombasa, Kenya. | Khalil Senosi / AP

The 2022 U.N. Conference on Trade and Development Report found that “60% of least developed and other low-income countries were at high risk of or already suffering in debt distress,” with 16 African countries at high risk and another seven countries—Chad, Republic of the Congo, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Somalia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe—already in debt distress.

On top of this, 33 African countries are in dire need of external assistance for food, which exacerbates the already existing risk of social collapse.

Most of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit was spent pontificating on the abstract idea of democracy, with Biden farcically taking aside heads of state like President Muhammadu Buhari (Nigeria) and President Félix Tshisekedi (Democratic Republic of Congo) to lecture them on the need for “free, fair, and transparent” elections in their countries while pledging to provide $165 million to “support elections and good governance” in Africa in 2023.

Most of the debt held by the African states is owed to wealthy bondholders in the Western states and was brokered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These private creditors—who hold the debt of countries such as Ghana and Zambia—have refused to provide any debt relief to African states despite the great distress they are experiencing.

Often left out of conversations about this issue is the fact that this long-term debt distress has been largely caused by the plunder of the continent’s wealth.

On the other hand, unlike the wealthy bondholders of the West, the largest government creditor to African states, China, decided in August 2022 to cancel 23 interest-free loans to 17 countries and offer $10 billion of its IMF reserves for use by the African states.

A fair and rational approach to the debt crisis on the African continent would suggest that much more of the debt owed to Western bondholders should be forgiven and that the IMF should allocate Special Drawing Rights to provide liquidity to countries suffering from the endemic debt crisis. None of this was on the agenda of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

Instead, Washington combined bonhomie towards the African heads of government with a sinister attitude towards China and Russia. Is this friendliness from the U.S. a sincere olive branch? Or a Trojan Horse with which it seeks to smuggle its New Cold War agenda onto the continent?

Trashing China

The most recent U.S. government white paper on Africa, published in August 2022, suggests that it is the latter. The document, purportedly focused on Africa, featured ten mentions of China and Russia combined, but no mention of the term “sovereignty.” The paper stated:

“In line with the 2022 National Defense Strategy, the Department of Defense will engage with African partners to expose and highlight the risks of negative PRC [People’s Republic of China] and Russian activities in Africa. We will leverage civil-defense institutions and expand defense cooperation with strategic partners that share our values and our will to foster global peace and stability.”

The document reflects the fact that the U.S. has conceded that it cannot compete with what China offers as a commercial partner and will resort to military power and diplomatic pressure to muscle the Chinese off the continent.

The massive expansion of the U.S. military presence in Africa since the 2007 founding of the United States Africa Command—most recently with a new base in Ghana and maneuvers in Zambia—illustrates this approach.

The United States government has built a discourse to tarnish China’s reputation in Africa, which it characterizes as “new colonialism,” as former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a 2011 interview. Does this reflect reality?

In 2017, the global corporate consulting firm McKinsey & Company published a major report on China’s role in Africa, noting after a full assessment, “On balance, we believe that China’s growing involvement is strongly positive for Africa’s economies, governments, and workers.”

Evidence to support this conclusion includes the fact that since 2010, “a third of Africa’s power grid and infrastructure has been financed and constructed by Chinese state-owned companies.” In these Chinese-run projects, McKinsey found that “89% of employees were African, adding up to nearly 300,000 jobs for African workers.”

Certainly, there are many stresses and strains involved in these Chinese investments, including evidence of poor management and badly designed contracts, but these are neither unique to Chinese companies nor endemic to their approach.

U.S. accusations that China is practicing “debt trap diplomacy” have also been widely debunked. The following observation, made in a 2007 report, remains insightful: “China is doing more to promote African development than any high-flying governance rhetoric.” This assessment is particularly noteworthy given that it came from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an intergovernmental bloc dominated by the G7 countries.

Who killed the African electric car?

Helicopters carrying U.S and Moroccan special forces take part in the African Lion military exercise, in Tafraout base, near Agadir, Morocco, June 14, 2021. | Mosa’ab Elshamy / AP

What will be the outcome of the United States’ recent $55 billion pledge to African states? Will the funds, which are largely earmarked for private firms, support African development or merely subsidize U.S. multinational corporations that dominate food production and distribution systems as well as health systems in Africa?

Here’s a telling example of the emptiness and absurdity of the U.S.’ attempts to reassert its influence on the African continent. In May 2022, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia signed a deal to independently develop electric batteries. Together, the two countries are home to 80% of the minerals and metals needed for the battery value chain.

The project was backed by the U.N.’s Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), whose representative Jean Luc Mastaki said, “Adding value to the battery minerals, through an inclusive and sustainable industrialization, will definitely allow the two countries to pave the way to a robust, resilient, and inclusive growth pattern which creates jobs for millions of our population.” With an eye on increasing indigenous technical and scientific capacity, the agreement would have drawn from “a partnership between Congolese and Zambian schools of mines and polytechnics.”

Fast forward to the summit: After this agreement had already been reached, the DRC’s Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula and Zambia’s Foreign Minister Stanley Kakubo joined U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in signing a memorandum of understanding that would allegedly “support” the DRC and Zambia in creating an electric battery value chain. Lutundula called it “an important moment in the partnership between the U.S. and Africa.”

The Socialist Party of Zambia responded with a strong statement: “The governments of Zambia and Congo have surrendered the copper and cobalt supply chain and production to American control. And with this capitulation, the hope of a Pan-African-owned and controlled electric car project is buried for generations to come.”

It is with child labor, strangely called “artisanal mining,” that multinational corporations extract the raw materials to control electric battery production rather than allow these countries to process their own resources and make their own batteries.

José Tshisungu wa Tshisungu of the Congo takes U.S. to the heart of the sorrows of children in the DRC in his poem, Inaudible:

Listen to the lament of the orphan
Stamped with the seal of sincerity
He is a child from around here
The street is his home
The market his neighborhood
The monotone of his plaintive voice
Runs from zone to zone

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is the chief editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including “The Darker Nations” and “The Poorer Nations.” His latest book is “Washington Bullets,” with an introduction by Evo Morales Ayma.

People’s World, January 5, 2023,

Existing climate mitigation scenarios perpetuate colonial inequalities / by Jason Hickel and Aljoša Slameršak

As Myanmar experiences more extreme weather events, a roadmap that lays the context, analysis, and options on how to tackle climate change is highly essential. (Photo: IRRI)

Originally published: The Lancet on July 20, 2022


The challenge of climate mitigation is made more difficult by high rates of energy use in wealthy countries, mostly in the Global North, which far exceed what is required to meet human needs. In contrast, more than 3 billion people in poorer countries live in energy poverty. A just transition requires energy convergence—reducing energy use in wealthy countries to achieve rapid emissions reductions, and ensuring sufficient energy for development in the rest of the world. However, existing climate mitigation scenarios reviewed by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change do not explore such a transition. On average, existing scenarios maintain the Global North’s energy privilege at a per capita level 2·3 times higher than in the Global South. Even the more equitable scenarios perpetuate large energy inequalities for the rest of the century. To reconcile the Global North’s high energy use with the Paris Agreement targets, most scenarios rely heavily on bioenergy-based negative emissions technologies. This approach is risky, but it is also unjust. These scenarios tend to appropriate land in the Global South to maintain, and further increase, the Global North’s energy privilege. There is an urgent need to develop scenarios that represent convergence to levels of energy that are sufficient for human wellbeing and compatible with rapid decarbonisation.

Read the Full Article Here

Dr. Jason Hickel is an anthropologist, author, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He has taught at the London School of Economics, the University of Virginia, and Goldsmiths, University of London, where he convenes the MA in Anthropology and Cultural Politics. He serves on the Labour Party task force on international development, works as Policy Director for /The Rules collective, sits on the Executive Board of Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) and recently joined the International Editorial Advisory Board of Third World Quarterly.

Aljoša Slameršak contributed to data collection, methodology, data analysis, writing, editing, and drawing up the figure.

MR Online, July 22, 2022,

The Long Shadow of Racial Fascism / by Alberto Toscano

October 28, 2020

In the wake of the 2016 election, public intellectuals latched onto the new administration’s organic and ideological links with the alt- and far right. But a mass civic insurgency against racial terror—and the federal government’s authoritarian response—has pushed hitherto cloistered academic debates about fascism into the mainstream, with Peter E. GordonSamuel Moyn, and Sarah Churchwell taking to the pages of the New York Review of Books to hash out whether it is historically apt or politically useful to call Trump a fascist. The F-word has also been making unusual forays into CNN, the New York Times, and mainstream discourse. The increasing prospect that any transfer of power will be fraught—Trump has hinted he will not accept the results if he loses—has further intensified the stakes, with even the dependable neoliberal cheerleader Thomas Friedman conjuring up specters of civil war.

Is it historically apt or politically useful to call Trump a fascist? The long history of Black radical thinking about fascism and anti-fascist resistance provides direction in this debate.

Notwithstanding the changing terrain, talk of fascism has generally stuck to the same groove, namely asking whether present phenomena are analogous to those familiar from interwar European dictatorships. Sceptics of comparison underscore the way in which the analogy of fascism can either treat the present moment as exceptional, papering over the history of distinctly American forms of authoritarianism, or, alternatively, be so broad as to fail to define what is unique about our current predicament. Analogy’s advocates point to the need to detect family resemblances with past despotisms before it’s too late, often making their case by advancing some ideal-typical checklist, whether in terms of the elements of or the steps toward fascism. But what if our talk of fascism were not dominated by the question of analogy?

Attending to the long history of Black radical thinking about fascism and anti-fascist resistance—to what Cedric Robinson called a “Black construction of fascism” alternative to the “historical manufacture of fascism as a negation of Western Geist”—could serve to dislodge the debate about fascism from the deadlock of analogy, providing the resources to confront our volatile interregnum.

• • •

Long before Nazi violence came to be conceived of as beyond analogy, Black radical thinkers sought to expand the historical and political imagination of an anti-fascist left. They detailed how what could seem, from a European or white vantage point, to be a radically new form of ideology and violence was, in fact, continuous with the history of colonial dispossession and racial slavery.

Black radical thinkers have long sought to expand the historical and political imagination of an anti-fascist left, revealing fascism as a continuation of colonial dispossession and racial slavery. 

Pan-Africanist George Padmore, breaking with the Communist International over its failure to see the likenesses between “democratic” imperialism and fascism, would write in How Britain Rules Africa (1936) of settler-colonial racism as “the breeding-ground for the type of fascist mentality which is being let loose in Europe today.” He would go on to see in South Africa “the world’s classic Fascist state,” grounded on the “unity of race as against class.” Padmore’s “Colonial Fascism” thus anticipated Aimé Césaire’s memorable description of fascism as the boomerang effect of European imperialist violence.

African American anti-fascists shared the anti-colonial analysis that the Atlantic world’s history of racial violence belied the novelty of intra-European fascism. Speaking in Paris at the Second International Writers Congress in 1937, Langston Hughes declared: “We Negroes in America do not have to be told what fascism is in action. We know. Its theories of Nordic supremacy and economic suppression have long been realities to us.” It was an insight that certainly would not have surprised any reader of W. E. B. Du Bois’s monumental reckoning with the history of U.S. racial capitalism, Black Reconstruction in America (1935). As Amiri Baraka would suggest much later, building on Du Bois’s passing mentions of fascism, the overthrow of Reconstruction enacted a “racial fascism” that long predated Hitlerism in its use of racial terror, conscription of poor whites, and manipulation of (to quote the famous definition of fascism by Georgi Dimitrov) “the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist sector of finance capital.”

In this view, a U.S. racial fascism could go unremarked because it operated on the other side of the color line, just as colonial fascism took place far from the imperial metropole. As Bill V. Mullen and Christopher Vials have suggested in their vital The US Antifascism Reader (2020):

For people of color at various historical moments, the experience of racialization within a liberal democracy could have the valence of fascism. That is to say, while a fascist state and a white supremacist democracy have very different mechanisms of power, the experience of racialized rightlessness within a liberal democracy can make the distinction between it and fascism murky at the level of lived experience. For those racially cast aside outside of liberal democracy’s system of rights, the word ‘fascism’ does not always conjure up a distant and alien social order.

Or, as French writer Jean Genet observed on May 1, 1970, at a rally in New Haven for the liberation of Black Panther Party chairman Bobby Seale: “Another thing worries me: fascism. We often hear the Black Panther Party speak of fascism, and whites have difficulty accepting the word. That’s because whites have to make a great effort of imagination to understand that blacks live under an oppressive fascist regime.”

It was largely thanks to the Panthers that the term “fascism” returned to the forefront of radical discourse and activism in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The United Front Against Fascism conference held in Oakland in 1969 brought together a wide swathe of the Old and New Lefts, as well as Asian American, Chicano, Puerto Rican (Young Lords), and white Appalachian (Young Patriots Organization) activists who had developed their own perspectives on U.S. fascism—for instance, by foregrounding the experience of Japanese internment during World War II. In a striking indication of the peculiarities and continuities of U.S. anti-fascist traditions, among the chief planks of the conference was the notionally reformist demand for community or decentralized policing—to remove racist white officers from Black neighborhoods and exert local checks on law enforcement.

Political prisoners close to the Panthers theorized specifically about what we could call “late faLate capitalism, Late fascismscism” (by analogy with “late capitalism”) in the United States. At the same time that debates about “new fascisms” were polarizing radical debate across Europe, the writing and correspondence of Angela Y. Davis and George Jackson generated a theory of fascism from the lived experience of the violent nexus between the carceral state and racial capitalism. Davis, the Black Marxist and feminist scholar, needs little introduction, her 1970 imprisonment on trumped-up conspiracy charges having rocketed her to the status of household name in the United States and an icon of solidarity worldwide. Fewer remember that the conspiracy charge against Davis arose from an armed courtroom attack by her seventeen-year-old bodyguard, Jonathan Jackson, with the goal of forcing the release of the Soledad Brothers, three African American prisoners facing the death penalty for the killing of a white prison guard. Among them was Jonathan’s older brother, the incarcerated Black revolutionary George Jackson, with whom Davis corresponded extensively. Jackson was killed by a prison sniper during an escape attempt on August, 21, 1971, a few days before the Soledad Brothers were to be tried.

In one of his prison letters on fascism, posthumously collected in Blood in My Eye (1972), Jackson offered the following reflection:

When I am being interviewed by a member of the old guard and point to the concrete and steel, the tiny electronic listening device concealed in the vent, the phalanx of goons peeping in at us, his barely functional plastic tape-recorder that cost him a week’s labor, and point out that these are all manifestations of fascism, he will invariably attempt to refute me by defining fascism simply as an economic geo-political affair where only one party is allowed to exist aboveground and no opposition political activity is allowed.

Jackson encourages us to consider what happens to our conceptions of fascism if we take our bearings not from analogies with the European interwar scene, but instead from the materiality of the prison-industrial complex, from the “concrete and steel,” from the devices and personnel of surveillance and repression.

In their writing and correspondence, marked by interpretive differences alongside profound comradeship, Davis and Jackson identify the U.S. state as the site for a recombinant or even consummate form of fascism. Much of their writing is threaded through Marxist debates on the nature of monopoly capitalism, imperialism and capitalist crises, as well as, in Jackson’s case, an effort to revisit the classical historiography on fascism. On these grounds, Jackson and Davis stress the disanalogies between present forms of domination and European exemplars, but both assert the privileged vantage point provided by the view from within a prison-judicial system that could accurately be described as a racial state of terror.

Angela Y. Davis and George Jackson saw the U.S. state—the carceral state and racial capitalism—as the site of fascism. This fascism originated from liberal democracy itself. 

This both echoes and departs from the Black radical theories of fascism, such as Padmore’s or Césaire’s, which emerged from the experience of the colonized. The new, U.S. fascism that Jackson and Davis strive to delineate is not an unwanted return from the “other scene” of colonial violence, but originates from liberal democracy itself. Indeed, it was a sense of the disavowed bonds between liberal and fascist forms of the state which, for Davis, was one of the great lessons passed on by Herbert Marcuse, whose grasp of this nexus in 1930s Germany allowed him to discern the fascist tendencies in the United States of his exile.

Both Davis and Jackson also stress the necessity to grasp fascism not as a static form but as a process, inflected by its political and economic contexts and conjunctures. Checklists, analogies, or ideal-types cannot do justice to the concrete history of fascism. Jackson writes of “the defects of trying to analyze a movement outside of its process and its sequential relationships. You gain only a discolored glimpse of a dead past.” He remarks that fascism “developed from nation to nation out of differing levels of traditionalist capitalism’s dilapidation.”

Where Jackson and Davis echo their European counterparts is in the idea that “new” fascisms cannot be understood without seeing them as responses to the insurgencies of the 1960s and early 1970s. For Jackson, fascism is fundamentally a counterrevolutionary form, as evidenced by the violence with which it represses any consequential threat to the state. But fascism does not react immediately against an ascendant revolutionary force; it is a kind of delayed counterrevolution, parasitic on the weakness or defeat of the anti-capitalist left, “the result of a revolutionary thrust that was weak and miscarried—a consciousness that was compromised.” Jackson argues that U.S.-style fascism is a kind of perfected form—all the more insidiously hegemonic because of the marriage of monopoly capital with the (racialized) trappings of liberal democracy. As he declared:

Fascism has established itself in a most disguised and efficient manner in this country. It feels so secure that the leaders allow us the luxury of a faint protest. Take protest too far, however, and they will show their other face. Doors will be kicked down in the night and machine-gun fire and buckshot will become the medium of exchange.

In Davis’s concurrent theorizing, the carceral, liberationist perspective on fascism has a different inflection. For Davis, fascism in the United States takes a preventive and incipient form. The terminology is adapted from Marcuse, who remarked, in an interview from 1970, “In the last ten to twenty years we’ve experienced a preventative counterrevolution to defend us against a feared revolution, which, however, has not taken place and doesn’t stand on the agenda at the moment.” Some of the elements of Marcuse’s analysis still resonate (particularly poignant, in the wake of Breonna Taylor’s murder by police, is his mention of no-knock warrants):

The question is whether fascism is taking over in the United States. If by that we understand the gradual or rapid abolition of the remnants of the constitutional state, the organization of paramilitary troops such as the Minutemen, and granting the police extraordinary legal powers such as the notorious no-knock law which does away with the inviolability of the home; if one looks at the court decisions of recent years; if one knows that special troops—so-called counterinsurgency corps—are being trained in the United States for possible civil war; if one looks at the almost direct censorship of the press, television and radio: then, as far as I’m concerned, one can speak with complete justification of an incipient fascism. . . . American fascism will probably be the first which comes to power by democratic means and with democratic support.

Davis was drawn to Marcuse’s contention that “fascism is the preventive counter-revolution to the socialist transformation of society” because of how it resonated with racialized communities and activists. In the experience of many Black radicals, the aspect of their revolutionary politics that most threatened the state was not the endorsement of armed struggle, but rather the “survival programs,” those enclaves of autonomous social reproduction facilitated by the Panthers and more broadly practiced by Black movements. While nominally mobilized against the threat of armed insurrection, the ultimate target of counterinsurgency were these experiments with social life outside and against the racial state—especially when they edged toward what Huey P. Newton named “revolutionary intercommunalism.”

Race, gender, and class determine how fascist the country might seem to any given individual.

What can be gleaned from Davis’s account is the way that fascism and democracy can be experienced very differently by different segments of the population. In this regard, Davis is attuned to the ways in which race and gender, alongside class, can determine how fascist the country seems to any given individual. As Davis puts it, fascism is “primarily restricted to the use of the law-enforcement-judicial-penal apparatus to arrest the overt and latent revolutionary trends among nationally oppressed people, tomorrow it may attack the working class en masse and eventually even moderate democrats.” But the latter are unlikely to fully perceive this phenomenon because of the manufactured invisibility of the site of the state’s maximally fascist presentation, namely, prisons with their “totalitarian aspirations.”

The kind of fascism diagnosed by Davis is a “protracted social process,” whose “growth and development are cancerous in nature.” We thus have the correlation in Davis’s analysis between, on the one hand, the prison as a racialized enclave or laboratory and, on the other, the fascist strategy of counterrevolution, which flow through society at large but are not experienced equally by everyone everywhere. As Davis has written more recently:

The dangerous and indeed fascistic trend toward progressively greater numbers of hidden, incarcerated human populations is itself rendered invisible. All that matters is the elimination of crime—and you get rid of crime by getting rid of people who, according to the prevailing racial common sense, are the most likely people to whom criminal acts will be attributed.

• • •

The lived experience of state violence by Black political prisoners such as Davis and Jackson grounded a theory of U.S. fascism and racial capitalism that interrupted what Robinson called the “euphonious recital of fascism” in mainstream political thought. It can still serve as an antidote to the lures and limits of the analogies that increasingly circulate in mainstream debate.

As the Black Lives Matter movement has made clear, the threat is not of a “return of the 1930s” but the ongoing fact of racialized state terror. This is the ever-present danger that animates present-day anti-fascist energies in the United States—and it cannot be boiled down to the necessary but insufficient task of confronting only those who self-identify as fascists.

Stuart Hall once castigated the British left for its passionate attachment to the frame of anti-fascism, for gravitating to the seemingly transparent battle against organized fascism while ignoring new modalities of authoritarianism. There were indeed fascists (the National Front), but Thatcherism was not a fascism. Conversely, Davis and Jackson glimpsed a fascist process that didn’t need fascists. Fascists without fascism, or fascism without fascists—do we have to choose?

The threat is not a return to the 1930s, but the ongoing fact of racialized terror. To this end, anti-fascism cannot confront only those who self-identify as fascists. 

To bridge this antinomy, we need to reflect on the connection between the features of “incipient fascism”—in the U.S. case, the normalization of forms of racial terror and oppression—and the emergence of explicitly fascist movements and ideologies. We need to think about the links between the often extreme levels of classed and racialized violence that accompany actually-existing liberal democracies (think, for instance, of the anti-migrant militarization of the U.S. and E.U. borders) and the emergence of movements that espouse a host of extreme positions that invert this reality: these include the belief that the state and culture have been occupied by the “radical” left (by “Cultural Marxism,” by critical race theory), that racism is now meted out against formerly dominant ethnic majorities, and that deracinated elites have conspired with the wretched of the earth to destroy properly “national” populations that can only be rescued by a revanchist politics of security and protectionism.

Our “late” fascism is an ideology of crisis and decline. It depends, in the words of abolitionist scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore, on enlisting supporters on the basis of “the idea and enactment of winning, of explicit domination set against the local reality of decreasing family wealth, fear of unemployment, threat of homelessness, and increased likelihood of early, painful death from capitalism’s many toxicities.” Its psychological wages and racial dividends do considerable political economic work, perpetuating a brutally unequal regime of accumulation by enlisting bodies and psyches into endless culture wars.

But what is this late fascism trying to prevent? Here is where the superstructure sometimes seems to overwhelm the base, as though forces and fantasies once functional to the reproduction of a dominant class and racial order have now attained a kind of autonomy. No imminent threat to the reproduction of capitalism is on the horizon (at least no external one), so that contemporary fascist trends manifest the strange spectacle of what, in a variation on Davis and Marcuse, we could call a preventive counterreform. This politics is parasitic, among other things, on resuscitating the racialized anti-communism of a previous era, now weaponizing it against improbable targets such as Kamala Harris, while treating any mildly progressive policy as the harbinger of the imminent abolition of all things American, not least the suburbs.

But, drawing on the archive of Black radical theories of fascism, we can also start to see the present in a much longer historical arc, one marked by the periodic recurrence of racial fascism as the mode of reaction to any instance of what Du Bois once called “abolition democracy,” whether against the First Reconstruction, the Second Reconstruction, or what some have begun, hopefully, to identify as the Third.

Alberto Toscano is Reader in Critical Theory and Co-Director of the Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought at Goldsmiths, University of London. He’s the author of Fanaticism: On the Uses of an Idea and of the forthcoming Late Fascism.

Boston Review, October 28, 2020,

Cuba Prepares for Disaster / by Don Fitz

Cienfuegos, Cuba. Photograph Source: Alistair Kitchen – CC BY 2.0

The September 2021 Scientific American included a description by the editors of the deplorable state of disaster relief in the US.  They traced the root cause of problems with relief programs as their “focus on restoring private property,” which results in little attention to those “with the least capacity to deal with disasters.”  The book Disaster Preparedness and Climate Change in Cuba: Adaptation and Management (2021) came out the next month. It traced the highly successful source of the island nation’s efforts to the way it put human welfare above property.  This collection of 14 essays by Emily J. Kirk, Isabel Story, and Anna Clayfield is an extraordinary assemblage of articles, each addressing specific issues.

Writers are well aware that Cuban approaches are adapted to the unique geography and history of the island.  What readers should take away is not so much the specific actions of Cuba as its method of studying a wide array of approaches and actually putting the best into effect (as opposed to merely talking about their strengths and weaknesses).  The book traces Cuba’s preparedness from the threat of a US invasion following its revolution through its resistance to hurricanes and diseases, which all laid the foundation for current adaptions to climate change.

Only four years after the revolution, in 1963, Hurricane Flora hit the Caribbean, killing 7000-8000.  Cubans who are old enough remember homes being washed away by waters carrying rotten food, animal carcasses and human bodies.  It sparked a complete redesign of health systems, intensifying their integration from the highest decision-making bodies to local health centers.  Construction standards were strengthened, requiring houses to have reinforced concrete and metal roofs to resist strong winds.

Decades of re-designing proved successful.  In September 2017 Category 5 Hurricane Maria pounded Puerto Rico, leading to 2975 deaths.  The same month, Irma, also a Category 5 Hurricane, arrived in Cuba, causing 10 deaths.  The dedication to actually preparing the country for a hurricane (as opposed to merely talking about preparedness) became a model for coping with climate change.  Projecting potential future damage led Cubans to to realize that by 2050, rising water levels could destroy 122 coastal towns.  By 2017, Cuba had become the only country with a government-led plan (Project Life, or Tarea Vida) to combat climate change which includes a 100 year projection.

Disaster Planning

Several aspects merged to form the core of Cuban disaster planning.  They included education, the military, and social relationships.  During 1961, Cuba’s signature campaign raised literacy to 96%, one of the world’s highest rates.  This has been central to every aspect of disaster preparation – government officials and educators travel throughout the island, explaining consequences of inaction and everyone’s role in avoiding catastrophe.

Less obvious is the critical role of the military.  From the first days they took power, leaders such as Fidel and Che explained that the only way the revolution could defend itself from overwhelming US force would be to become a “nation in arms.”  Soon self-defense from hurricanes combined with self-defense from attack and Cuban armed forces became a permanent part of fighting natural disasters.  By 1980, exercises called Bastión (bulwark) fused natural disaster management with defense rehearsals.

As many as 4 million Cubans (in a population of 11 million) were involved in activities to practice and carry out food production, disease control, sanitation and safeguarding medical supplies.  A culture based on understanding the need to create a new society has glued these actions together.  When a policy change is introduced, government representatives go to each community, including the most remote rural ones, to make sure that everyone knows the threats that climate change poses to their lives and how they can alter behaviors to minimize them.  Developing a sense of responsibility for ecosystems includes such diverse actions as conserving energy, saving water, preventing fires and using medical products sparingly.


One aspect of the book may confuse readers.  Some authors refer to the Cuban disaster prevention system as “centralized;” others refer to it as “decentralized;” and some describe it as both “centralized” and “decentralized” on different pages of their essay.  The collection reflects a methodology of “dialectical materialism” which often employs the unity of opposite processes (“heads” and “tails” are opposite static states united in the concept of “coin”).  As multiple authors have explained, including Ross Danielson in his classic Cuban Medicine (1979), centralization and decentralization of medicine have gone hand-in-hand since the earliest days of the revolution.  This may appear as centralization of inpatient care and decentralization of outpatient care (p. 165) but more often as centralization at the highest level of norms and decentralization of ways to implement care to the local level.  The decision to create doctor-nurse offices was made by the ministry which provided guidelines for each area to implement according to local conditions.

A national plan for coping with Covid-19 was developed before the first Cuban died of the affliction and each area designed ways to to get needed medicines, vaccines and other necessities to their communities.  Proposals for preventing water salinization in coastal areas will be very different from schemas for coping with rises in temperature in inland communities.

Challenges for Producing Energy: The Good

As non-stop use of fossil fuels renders the continued existence of humanity questionable, the issue of how to obtain energy rationally looms as a core problem of the twenty-first century.  Disaster Preparedness explores an intriguing variety of energy sources.  Some of them are outstandingly good; a few are bad; and, many provoke closer examination.

Raúl Castro proposed in 1980 that it was necessary to protect the countryside from impacts of nickel mining.  What was critical in this early approach was an understanding that every type of metal extraction has negatives that must be weighed against its usefulness in order to minimize those negatives.  What did not appear in his approach was making a virtue of necessity, which would have read “Cuba needs nickel for trade; therefore, extracting Cuban nickel is good; and, thus, problems with producing nickel should be ignored or trivialized.”

In 1991, when the USSR collapsed and Cuba lost its subsidies and many of its trading partners, its economy was devastated, adult males lost an average of 20 pounds, and health problems became widespread.  This was Cuba’s “Special Period.”  Not having oil meant that Cuba had to abandon machine-intensive agriculture for agroecology and urban farming.

Laws prohibited use of agrochemicals in urban gardens.  Vegetable and herb production exploded from 4000 tons in 1994 to over 4 million tons by 2006.  By 2019, Jason Hickel’s Sustainable Development Index rated Cuba’s ecological efficiency as the best in the world.

By far the most important part of Cuba’s energy program was using less energy via conservation, an idea abandoned by Western “environmentalists” who began endorsing unlimited expansion of energy produced by “alternative” sources.  In 2005, Fidel began pushing conservation policies projected to reduce Cuba’s energy consumption by two-thirds.  Ideas such these had blossomed during the first few years of the revolution.

What one author refers to as “bioclimatic architecture” is not clear, but it could include tile vaulting, which was studied extensively by the Cuban government in the early 1960s.  It is based on arched ceilings formed by lightweight terra cotta tiles.  The technique is low-carbon because it does not require expensive machinery and uses mainly local material such as terra cotta tiles from Camagüey province.  Though used to construct buildings throughout the island, it was abandoned due to its need for skilled and specialized labor.

Challenges for Producing Energy: The Bad

Though there are negative aspects to Cuba’s energy perspectives, it is important to consider one which is anything but negative: energy efficiency (EE).  Ever since Stanley Jevons predicted in 1865 that a more efficient steam engine design would result in more (not less) coal being used, it has been widely understood that if the price of energy (such as burning coal) is cheaper, then people will use more energy.

A considerable amount of research verifies that, at the level of the entire economy, efficiency makes energy cheaper and its use goes up.  Some claim that if an individual uses a more EE option, then that person will use less energy.  But that is not necessarily so.  Someone buying a car might look for one that is more EE.  If the person replaces a non-EE sedan with an EE SUV, the fact that SUVs use more energy than sedans would mean that the person is using more energy to get around. Similarly, rich people use money saved from EE devices to buy more gadgets while poor people might not buy anything additional or buy low-energy necessities.

This is why Cuba, a poor country with a planned economy, can design policies to reduce energy use.  Whatever is saved from EE can lead to less or low-energy production, resulting in a spiraling down of energy usage.  In contrast, competition drives capitalist economies toward investing funds saved from EE toward economic expansion, resulting in perpetual growth.

Though a planned economy allows for decisions that are healthier for people and ecosystems, bad choices can be made.  One consideration in Cuba is the goal to “efficiently apply pesticides” (p. 171).  The focus should actually be on how to farm without pesticides.  Also under consideration is “solid waste energy capacities,” which is typically a euphemism for burning waste in incinerators.  Incinerators are a terrible way to produce energy since they merely reduce the volume of trash to 10% of its original size while releasing poisonous gases, heavy metals (such as mercury and lead), and cancer-causing dioxins and furans.

The worst energy alternative was favored by Fidel, who supported a nuclear power plant which would supposedly “greatly reduce the cost of producing electricity.” (p. 187)  Had the Soviets built a Chernobyl-type nuclear reactor, an explosion or two would not have contributed to disaster prevention.  Once when I was discussing the suffering following the USSR collapse with a friend who writes technical documents for the Cuban government, he suddenly blurted out, “The only good thing coming out of the Special Period was that, without the Soviets, Fidel could not build his damned nuclear plant!”

Challenges for Producing Energy: The Uncertain

Between the poles of positive and negative lies a vast array of alternatives mentioned in Disaster Preparedness that most are unfamiliar with.  There are probably few who know of bagasse, which is left over sugar cane stalks that have been squeezed for juice.  Burning it for fuel might arouse concern because it is not plowed into soil like what should be done for wheat stems and corn stalks.  Sugar cane is different because the entire plant is hauled away – it would waste fuel to transport it to squeezing machinery and then haul it back to the farm.

While fuel from bagasse is an overall environmental plus, the same cannot be said for oilseeds such as Jatropha curcas.  Despite the book suggesting the they might be researched more, they are a dead end for energy production.

Another energy positive being expanded in Cuba is farms being run entirely on agroecology principles.  The book claims that such farms can produce 12 times the energy they consume, which might seem like a lot.  Yet, similar findings occur in other countries, notably Sweden.  In contrast, at least one author holds out hope of obtaining energy from microalgae, almost certainly another dead end.

Potentially, a very promising source for energy is the use of biogas from biodigesters.  Biodigesters break down manure and other biomass to create biogas which is used for tractors or transportation.  Leftover solid waste material can be used as a (non-fossil fuel) fertilizer.  On the other hand, an energy source which one author lists as viable is highly dubious: “solar cells built with gallum arsenide.”  Compounds with arsenic are cancer-causing and not healthy for humans and other living species.

The word “biomass” is highly charged because it is one of Europe’s “clean, green” energy sources despite the fact that burning wood pellets is leading to deforestation in Estonia and the US.  This does not seem to be the case in Cuba, where “biomass” refers to sawdust and weedy marabú trees.  It remains important to distinguish positive biomass from highly destructive biomass.

Many other forms of alternative energy could be covered and there is a critical point applying to all of them.  Each source of energy must be analyzed separately without ever assuming that if energy does not come from fossil fuels it is therefore useful and safe.

Depending on How You Get It

The three major sources of alternative energy – hydroturbines (dams), solar, and wind – share the characteristic that how positive or negative they are depends on the way they are obtained.

The simplest form of hydro power is the paddle wheel, which probably causes zero environmental damage and produces very little energy.  At the other extreme is hydro-electric dams which cross entire rivers and are incredibly destructive towards human cultures and aquatic and terrestrial species.  In between are methods such as diverting a portion of the river to harness its power. The book mentions pico-hydroturbines which affect only a portion of a river, generating less than 5kW and are extremely useful for remote areas.  They have minimal environmental effects.  But if a large number of these turbines were placed together in a river, that would be a different matter.  The general rule for water power is that causing less environmental damage means producing less energy.

Many ways to produce energy start with the sun.  Cuba uses passive solar techniques, which do not have toxic processes associated with electricity.  A passivehaus design provides warmth largely via insulation and placement of windows.  Extremely important is body heat.  This makes a passivhaus difficult for Americans, whose homes typically have much more space per person than other countries.  But the design could work better in Cuba, where having three generations living together in a smaller space would contribute to heating quite well.

At the negative extreme of solar energy are the land-hungry electricity-generating arrays.  In between these poles is low-intensity solar power, also being studied by Cuba.

The vast majority of Cubans heat their water for bathing.  Water heaters can depend on solar panels which turn sunlight into electricity.  An even better non-electric design would be to use a box with glass doors and a black tank to collect heat, or to use “flat plate collectors” and then pipe the heated water to an indoor storage tank.  As with hydro-power, simpler designs produce fewer problems but generate less energy.

Wind power is highly similar.  Centuries ago, windmills were constructed with materials from the surrounding areaand did not rely on or produce toxins.  Today’s industrial wind turbines are toxic in every phase of their existence.  In the ambiguous category are small wind turbines and wind pumps, both of which Cuba is exploring.  What hydro, solar and wind power have in common is that non-destructive forms exist but produce less energy.  The more energy-producing a system is, the more problematic it becomes.

Scuttling the Fetish

Since hydro, solar and wind power have reputations as “renewable, clean, green” sources of energy, it is necessary to examine them closely.  Hydro, solar and wind power each require destructive extraction of materials such as lithium, cobalt, silver, aluminum, cadmium, indium, gallium, selenium, tellurium, neodymium, and dysprosium.  All three lead to mountains of toxic waste that vastly exceed the amount obtained for use.  And all require withdrawal of immense amounts of water (a rapidly vanishing substance) during the mining and construction.

Hydro-power also disrupts aquatic species (as well as several terrestrial ones), causes large releases of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from reservoirs, increases mercury poisoning, pushes people out of their homes during construction, intensifies international conflicts, and have killed up to 26,000 people from breakage.  Silicon-based solar panels involves an additional list of toxic chemicals that can poison workers during manufacture, gargantuan loss of farm and forest land for installing “arrays” (which rapidly increases over time), and still more land loss for disposal after their 25-30 year life spans.  Industrial wind turbines require loss of forest land for roads to haul 160 foot blades to mountain tops, land loss for depositing those mammoth blades after use, and energy-intensive storage capacity when there is no wind.

Hydro, solar and wind power are definitely NOT renewable, since they all are based on heavy usage  of materials that are exhausted following continuous mining.  Neither are they “carbon neutral” because all use fossil fuels for extraction of necessary building materials and end-of-life demolition.  The most important point is that the issues listed here are a tiny fraction of total problems, which would require a very thick book to enumerate.

Why use the word “fetish” for approaches to hydro, solar and wind power?  A “fetish” can be described as “a material object regarded with extravagant trust or reverence”  These sources of energy have positive characteristics, but nothing like the reverence often bestowed upon them.

Cuba’s approach to alternative energy is quite different.  Helen Yaffe wrote two of the major articles in Disaster Preparedness.  She also put together the 2021 documentary, Cuba’s life task: Combatting climate change, which includes the following from advisor Orlando Rey Santos:

“One problem today is that you cannot convert the world’s energy matrix, with current consumption levels, from fossil fuels to renewable energies.  There are not enough resources for the panels and wind turbines, nor the space for them.  There are insufficient resources for all this.  If you automatically made all transportation electric tomorrow, you will continue to have the same problems of congestion, parking, highways, heavy consumption of steel and cement.”

Cuba maps out many different outlines for energy in order to focus on those that are the most productive while causing the least damage.  A genuine environmental approach requires a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA, also known as cradle-to-grave accounting) which includes all mining, milling, construction and transport of materials; the energy-gathering process itself (including environmental disruption); along with after-effects such as continuing environmental damage and disposal of waste.  To these must be added social effects such as relocating people, injury and death of those resisting relocation, destruction of sacred cites and disruption of affected cultures.

A “fetish” on a specific energy source denotes tunnel-visioning on its use phase while ignoring preparatory and end-of-life phases and social disruption.  While LCAs are often propounded by corporations, they are typically nothing but window-dressing, to be pitched out of window during actual decision-making.  With an eternal growth dynamic, capitalism has a built-in tendency to downplay negatives when there is an opportunity to add new energy sources to the mix of fossil fuels.

Is It an Obscene Word?

Cuba has no such internal dynamics forcing it to expand the economy if it can provide better lives for all.  The island could be a case study of degrowth economics.  Since “degrowth” is shunned as a quasi-obscenity by many who insist that it would cause immeasurable suffering for the world’s poor, it is necessary to state what it would be.  The best definition is that Global Economic Degrowth means (a) reduction of unnecessary and destructive production by and for rich countries (and people), (b) which exceeds the (c) growth of production of necessities by and for poor countries (and people).

This might not be as economically difficult as some imagine because …

1) The rich world spends such gargantuan wealth on that which is useless and deadly, including war toys, chemical poisons, planned obsolescence, creative destruction of goods, insurance, automobile addiction, among a mass of examples; and,

2) Providing the basic necessities of life can often be relatively cheap, such as health care in Cuba being less than 10% of US expenses (with Cubans having a longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rate).

Some mischaracterize degrowth, claiming that “Cuba experienced ‘degrowth’ during its ‘Special Period’ and it was horrible.”  Wrong!  Degrowth did not immiserate Cuba – the US embargo did.  US sanctions (or embargo or blockade) of Cuba creates barriers to trade which force absurdly high prices for many goods.  One small example: If Cubans need a spare part manufactured in the US, it cannot be merely shipped from the US, but more likely, arrives via Europe.  That means its cost will reflect: [manufacture] + [cost of shipping to Europe] + [cost of shipping from Europe to Cuba].

What is amazing is that Cuba has developed so many techniques of medical care and disaster management for hurricanes and climate change, despite its double impoverishment from colonial days and neo-colonial attacks from the US.


Cuba realizes the responsibility it has to protect its extraordinary biodiversity.  Its extensive coral reefs are more resistant to bleaching than most and must be investigated to discover why.  They are accompanied by healthy marine systems which include mangroves and seagrass beds.  Its flora and fauna boast 3022 distinct plant species plus dozens of reptiles, amphibians and bird species which exist only on the island.

For Cuba to implement global environmental protection and degrowth policies it would need to receive financing both to research new techniques and to train the world’s poor in how to develop their own ways to live better.  Such financial support would include …

1) Reparations for centuries of colonial plunder;

2) Reparations for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, multiple attacks which killed Cuban citizens, hundreds of attempts on Fidel’s life, and decades of slanderous propaganda; and,

3) At least $1 trillion in reparations for losses due to the embargo since 1962.

Why reparations? It is far more than the fact that Cuba has been harmed intensely by the US.  Cuba has a track record proving that it could develop amazing technologies if it were left alone and received the money it deserves.

Like all poor countries, Cuba is forced to employ dubious methods of producing energy in order to survive.  It is unacceptable for rich countries to tell poor countries that they must not use energy techniques which have historically been employed to obtain what is necessary for living.  It is unconscionable for rich countries to fail to forewarn poor countries that repeating practices which we now know are dangerous will leave horrible legacies for their descendants.

Cuba has acknowledged past misdirections including an economy based on sugar, a belief in the need of humanity to dominate nature, support for the “Green Revolution” with its reliance on toxic chemicals, tobacco in food rations, and the repression of homosexuals.  Unless it is sidetracked by by advocates of infinite economic growth, its pattern suggests that it will recognize problems with alternative energy and seek to avoid them.

In the video Cuba’s Life Task, Orlando Rey also observes that “There must be a change in the way of life, in our aspirations.  This is a part of Che Guevara’s ideas on the ‘new man.’  Without forming that new human, it is very difficult to confront the climate issue.”

Integration of poor countries into the global market has meant that areas which were once able to feed themselves are are now unable to do so. Neo-liberalism forces them to use energy sources that are life-preservers in the short run but are death machines for their descendants.  The world must remember that Che’s “new man” will not clamor for frivolous luxuries while others starve.  For humanity to survive, a global epiphany rejecting consumer capitalism must become a material force in energy production.  Was Che only dreaming?  If so, then keep that dream alive!

Don Fitz  is on the Editorial Board of Green Social Thought where a version of this article first appeared. He was the 2016 candidate of the Missouri Green Party for Governor. He is author of Cuban Health Care: The Ongoing Revolution. He can be reached at:

Counterpunch, March 28, 2022,