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Cotton: The Fabric of Death

Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (New York: Knopf, 2014), 640 pages, $35, hardback.

For four years following the 2008 mortgage crisis, I worked as a cotton merchant for one of the “big four” trading firms—ADM, Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus. These shadowy giants, two of them privately held, maintain oligopoly control of agricultural commodity markets. From desks in Memphis, my colleagues and I purchased mountains of cotton in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, warehoused it, speculated on it, and sold it back to mills on those same continents.… We sat at the pinnacle of a web of political and economic forces that funneled cotton into facilities we owned and cash into our accounts, but nowhere in the office was there a visible sign of the violence that made it all possible.… Too often liberal histories focus on a single period, territory, or class perspective, and end up obscuring the truth, severing the threads that tie a moment to its historical roots. Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton is different. Although a liberal historian, Beckert refuses to limit his scope in the traditional way. Instead, he follows the movement of cotton across time, space, and class, bringing forward the threads that bind the objects of an otherwise distorted past.… | more…

Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism in Africa

When international media were broadcasting live video footage of Tunisians gathering in hundreds of thousands in front of the central office in Tunis of the long-terrifying ministry of home security, chanting in one voice “the people want to bring down the regime,” something had already changed: ordinary people realized they could make huge changes. Weeks later, the Egyptian uprising removed the Mubarak regime that had been entrenched in power for over thirty years…. The neoliberal forms of imperial rule that had destroyed the hopes of the liberation movements were under attack. In order to counter the possibilities for a massive breakthrough at the popular level, the Western forces mounted an invasion of Libya using the mantra of humanitarianism to disrupt, militarily, political and economic life in Africa. Later in collusion with the counter-revolutionary forces in the Egyptian military, Western imperialism sought to roll back the gains of people in the streets of Tunis and Cairo.… | more…

South Africa: Exploding with Rage, Imploding with Self-Doubt—but Exuding Socialist Potential

The fast-reviving South African left is urgently coming to grips with the most acute national crises of structure and agency the country has experienced since the historic freeing of Nelson Mandela in February 1990 and the shift of the entire body politic in favor of the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).… The subsequent rise in unemployment, inequality, poverty, and environmental degradation soon reached some of the worst levels in the contemporary world. The consequent social unrest is now so high that President Jacob Zuma…promised increased “public order policing” personnel and the purchase of a new generation of technologically advanced weapons, including sonar canons…. In this conflagration, what survived of the left is now growing by leaps and bounds. Within a decade, it may become a force capable of an electoral challenge to the ANC for state power. But much will depend upon how it regroups amidst shards of splintered radical projects, with myriad questions hotly debated in the movement.… | more…

Monthly Review, December 2014 (Volume 66, Number 7)

December 2014 (Volume 66, Number 7)

Notes from the Editors

In 1832, when the global cholera pandemic was approaching Manchester—as a young Frederick Engels was later to recount in The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845)—“a universal terror seized the bourgeoisie of the city. People remembered the unwholesome dwellings of the poor, and trembled before the certainty that each of these slums would become a centre for the plague, whence it would spread desolation in all directions through the houses of the propertied class.” As a result, Engels noted, various official inquiries were commissioned into the condition of the poor. But little was done in the end to combat the social factors that facilitated the spread of the disease.… One can see an analogous situation today in the growing concern that has materialized in the United States and other wealthy nations over the Ebola epidemic in Africa.… | more…

Duty calls

Our country did not hesitate one minute in responding to the request made by international bodies for support to the struggle against the brutal [ebola] epidemic which has erupted in West Africa.… This is what our country has always done, without exception. The government had already given pertinent instructions to immediately mobilize and reinforce medical personnel offering their services in this region on the African continent. A rapid response was likewise given to the United Nations request, as has always been done when requests for cooperation have been made.… | more…

South Africa’s Resource Curses and Growing Social Resistance

The African National Congress (ANC), led during the 1990s by the late Nelson Mandela, is projected to be reelected in South Africa’s May 7, 2014 national election by a wide margin, probably with between 50 and 60 percent of the vote. But underneath the ruling party’s apparent popularity, the society is seething with fury, partly at the mismanagement of vast mineral wealth. The political and economic rulers’ increasingly venal policies and practices are so bad that not only did ANC elites play a direct role in massacring striking mineworkers in August 2012, but corporate South Africa was soon rated by PriceWaterhouseCoopers as “world leader in money-laundering, bribery and corruption, procurement fraud, asset misappropriation and cybercrime,” with internal management responsible for more than three quarters of what was termed “mind-boggling” levels of theft.… | more…

Prashad at Large

Vijay Prashad, The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South (New York: Verso, 2012), 280 pages, $26.95, paperback.

Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali sets the tone in his introduction to The Poorer Nations, arguing that the moment has arrived for scholars from the underdeveloped world of plundered resources and impoverished people to make the necessary statements themselves, rather than leaving that work to the first world left. Boutros-Ghali makes one other important point: that Prashad is hard at work rediscovering the hopes of earlier decades, the moment of anti-colonialist hopes, of common feeling among various nationalities and nations freeing themselves and looking forward to a kind of communitarian developmental process that was, often enough, called “socialism.”… | more…

Mandela is dead: Why hide the truth about Apartheid?

Maybe the empire thought that we would not honor our word when, during days of uncertainty in the past century, we affirmed that even if the USSR were to disappear Cuba would continue struggling.

World War II broke out on September 1, 1939 when Nazi-fascist troops invaded Poland and struck like a lightning over the heroic people of the USSR, who contributed 27 million lives to preserve mankind from that brutal massacre that ended the lives of 50 million persons.

War, on the other hand, is the only venture that the human race throughout history has failed to avoid, leading Einstein to say that he did not

Twenty-First-Century Land Grabs

Accumulation by Agricultural Dispossession

Land grabs—whether initiated by multinational corporations and private investment firms emanating from the capitalist core, sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East, or state entities such as China and India—are now in the news constantly. For example, in July 2013 the Colombian ambassador to the United States resigned over his participation in a legally questionable effort to help the U.S. corporation Cargill use shell companies to amass 130,000 acres of land. This land was supposed to be used for agricultural production, but there is also land being grabbed for other purposes—such as mining or to construct roads, buildings, and dams. In human terms, land grabs mean real people and families are dispossessed. When people lose access to their land, they also lose their means to obtain food, their communities, and their cultures.… | more…

The Military Defeat of the South Africans in Angola

In Angola in the spring of 1988 the armed forces of apartheid South Africa and the US-backed mercenaries of Jonas Savimbi were defeated by the combined force of the Cuban military, the Angolan army, and the military units of the liberation movements of South Africa and Namibia. This led directly to the independence of Namibia and then to the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa itself. Cuba’s heroic role is the outstanding example of principled anti-imperialist internationalism in the last decades of the twentieth century.… We celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of these events by reprinting the account by Horace Campbell that appeared in Monthly Review in April 1989, with some pride at having published so sharp an analysis of current events—events largely ignored by the mass media then and since. We then present a military-focused historical analysis by Monthly Review Press author Ronnie Kasrils, who had the extraordinary fate to have headed ANC military intelligence in the battle alongside the Cubans, and then to have served for five years as Deputy Minister of Defense in the post-apartheid South African government—in regular contact with officers who had commanded the opposing forces. —The Editors

Cuito Cuanavale, Angola

25th Anniversary of a Historic African Battle

Prohibited from meeting openly by South Africa’s apartheid government, the Seventh Congress of the South African Communist Party was held in Cuba in April 1989. When Jorge Risquet, one of Fidel Castro’s shrewdest and most trusted colleagues, addressed the gathered members, he was greeted with the resounding salutation “Viva Cuito Cuanavale!” For the South African delegates, many who had come from military duty in Angola itself where the African National Congress (ANC) had military training facilities courtesy of the government, there was no doubt whatsoever that an epic victory had been recently won at the remote town of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola. The loser was the apartheid military machine in that embattled country in March 1988, constituting a historic turning point in the struggle for the total liberation of the region from racist rule and aggression.… | more…

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