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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.

This article will be published on November 30th.

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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 know how World War III would be like but most certainly the fourth would be fought with sticks and stones.

Added up, the means available to the two most powerful powers–United States and Russia—amount to 20,000 (twenty thousand) nuclear warheads. Mankind should know that three days before John F. Kennedy assumed the presidency of his country on January 20, 1961, a US B-52 bomber, in a routine flight, carrying two atomic bombs with a destructive capacity 260 times that of the bomb dropped in Hiroshima, had an accident and the aircraft crashed. For such cases sophisticated automatic equipment are in place to prevent the bombs from exploding. The first bomb landed without risks. In the case of the second, three of the four mechanisms failed, and the fourth, in very critical conditions could barely function. The bomb did not explode by mere chance.

There is no present or past event I remember or have heard of that has impacted world public opinion so much as the death of Nelson Mandela, and not because of his wealth, but for his human quality and the loftiness of his ideas and feelings.

Throughout history and barely one and a half century ago—before robots and machines took over our modest tasks with a minimum energy cost—none of the phenomena that today shake mankind and inexorably rule each and every person—men and women, children and elders, young and adult, farmers and factory workers, manual workers or intellectuals—existed. The prevailing trend is to move to the cities, where the creation of jobs, transportation, and basic living conditions demand huge investments to the detriment of food production and other more rational ways of life.

Three powers have landed in our planet’s Moon. The same day Nelson Mandela, covered with his country’s flag, was buried in the backyard of the humble house where he was born 95 years ago, a sophisticated module from the Peoples Republic of China descended upon a bright spot in our Moon. The coincidence of both events was purely by chance.

Millions of scientists are studying earth and outer-space matters and radiations. Through them we now know that Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, accumulated 40 times more oil than the existing amount in our planet when oil extraction began 125 years ago and which will last barely one more century at current consumption rates.

The fraternal feelings of profound brotherhood between the Cuban people and Nelson Mandela’s homeland were born out of an event that has never been mentioned and about which we have never said a word during all these long years; Mandela, because he was an apostle of peace and did not want to hurt anyone; Cuba, because we have never done anything for the sake of glory and prestige.

Since the very triumph of the Revolution in Cuba we extended our solidarity to the Portuguese colonies in Africa. Liberation movements in that continent had colonialism and imperialism on the rack after World War II and the liberation of the Peoples Republic of China—the most highly populated country in the world— following the glorious triumph of the Russian Socialist Revolution.

Social revolutions were shaking the pillars of the old world order. In 1960 the inhabitants of the planet amounted to three billion. Along with this, the power of big transnational companies –almost all Americans—was growing and the American currency, underpinned by US gold monopoly and its intact industry so far removed from the battle fields, took control of the world economy. Richard Nixon unilaterally abolished the backing of US currency in gold and his country’s companies took control over the main resources and raw materials in the planet which they bought with paper bills.

Nothing I have said till now is new.

But why do they try to hide the fact that the Apartheid regime—that brought so much suffering onto Africa and aroused so much indignation in most nations throughout the world—was the fruit of European colonial powers and was turned into a nuclear power by the United States and Israel, something Cuba, who supported Portuguese colonies in Africa fighting for their independence openly condemned?

Our people, handed over to the United States by Spain after 30 years of heroic struggle, never reconciled with the slavery regime imposed during almost 500 years.

In 1975, racist troops supported by light tanks equipped with 90-millimeter guns set off from Namibia –then occupied by South Africa— and penetrated more than one thousand kilometers into Angolan territory up to the vicinity of Luanda, where an airborne battalion of Cuban Special Troops and several Cuban crews for Soviet tanks with no crews, succeeded in delaying their advance. This happened in November 1975, 13 years before the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

I’ve already said that we have done nothing for the sake of prestige or seeking benefit of any kind. It is a fact that Mandela was an upright man, a profound revolutionary and a radical socialist who endured with great stoicism 27 years of solitary confinement. I could not but admire his honesty, modesty and enormous merit.

Cuba was strictly fulfilling its internationalist duties by defending key positions and training thousands of Angolans in the use of weapons every year. The USSR was providing the weapons. At the time, however, we disagreed with the idea of the main advisor of the suppliers of military equipment. Thousands of young and healthy Angolans were constantly joining the units of their then incipient army. Their main adviser, however, was not a Zhúkov, Rokossovski, Malinovsky or any of the many men that brought so much glory to Soviet military strategy. His obsessive idea was to send Angolan brigades carrying the best weapons to the territory where the tribal government of Savimbi – a mercenary serving the United States and South Africa—was supposedly located, which was tantamount to sending the troops fighting in Stalingrad to the border with the Falangist Spain that had sent over hundred thousand troops to fight against the USSR. That year a similar operation was going on.

The enemy was advancing behind several Angolan brigades severely hitting them near the place they had been sent to, approximately 1,500 kilometers away from Luanda. They were returning from there, pursued by South African troops en route to Cuito Cuanavale, a former NATO military base, located some 100 kilometers away from where a Cuban Tank Brigade was stationed.

At such a critical point, the President of Angola requested the support of Cuban troops. The commander of our troops in the South, General Leopoldo Cintra Frías, sent us the request as usual. Our firm reply was that we would provide such support provided that all Angolan troops and equipment would be under the Cuban command in South Angola. Everybody understood that our request was a requirement to turn the former base into the ideal battle field to hit the racist South African forces.

There was a positive response from Angola in less than 24 hours.

It was decided that a Cuban Tank Brigade would be immediately sent there. Several other were in the same line towards the West. The main obstacle was the mud and humidity due to the rainy season and the fact that every stretch of land had to be checked for anti-personnel mines. The military personnel to operate the tanks and guns without crews were also sent to Cuito.

To the East, the base was separated from the territory by the large and fast- flowing Cuito River over which there was a solid bridge under the frantic attack of the racist army. A radio-controlled airplane full of explosives was hit, brought down on the bridge and put out of action. The retreating Angolan tanks still moving were crossed more to the North. Those that were not in good conditions were buried with their weapons facing East; a thick strip of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines turned the line into a mortal trap on the other side of the river. When the racist troops renewed their advance and ran into that defensive wall, the artillery and tanks of the revolutionary brigades came down on them shooting from their positions in the Cuito area.

The Mig-23 fighters had a special role to play. Flying at a speed of almost 1,000 kilometers per hour and 100 (one hundred) meters altitude they were able to distinguish if the artillery personnel was black or white and began firing relentlessly against them.

When the battered and immobilized enemy began to withdraw, the revolutionary forces began to get ready for the final combats.

Numerous Angolan and Cuban brigades began moving quickly and keeping proper distance to the West towards the only wide routes from which South Africans always began their military actions against Angola. The airport, however, was approximately 300 (three hundred) kilometers from the border with Namibia, which was totally occupied by the Apartheid army.

While troops reorganized and rearmed the urgent decision to build a runway for the Mig-23 was made. Our pilots were using the aircraft equipment provided by the USSR to Angola, whose pilots had lacked the time for a proper training. Several aircraft were inoperative sometimes due to the action of our own artillerymen or anti-aircraft weapon operators. South Africans still occupied part of the main road going from the border of the Angolan plateau to Namibia. They began shooting from the bridges over the wide Cunene River –located between Southern Angola and Northern Namibia—with their 140-millimeter guns giving their projectiles a range of about 40 kilometers. The main problem was that the racist South Africans had, according to our estimates, 10 to 12 nuclear weapons. They had even tested them in the frozen areas or seas to the South. President Ronald Reagan had authorized such tests and the device for blasting the nuclear charge was among the equipment delivered by Israel. Our response was to organize the troops in combat groups of no more than 1,000 men, who would have to advance equipped with anti-aircraft tanks throughout an extensive territory at night.

According to reliable sources, South African nuclear weapons could not be transported by Mirage planes; heavy Canberra type bombers were required instead. In any case, our forces’ air defense had many different types of missiles that could hit and destroy air targets located dozens of kilometers away from our troops. In addition, a dam with 80 million cubic meters of water located in Angolan territory had been occupied and mined by Cuban and Angolan fighters. The explosion of that dam would have been tantamount to the explosion of several nuclear weapons.

Nonetheless, a hydroelectric plant using the strong current of the Cunene River, before reaching the Namibian border, was being used by a South African army detachment.

When the racist began shooting with their 140-millimeter guns in this new theater of operations, the detachment of white soldiers was strongly hit by the Mig-23 and the survivors fled the place leaving some posters criticizing their high command. That was the situation when Cuban and Angolan troops marched over the enemy lines.

I learned that Katiuska Blanco, the author of some historical accounts, together with other reporters and press photographers were there. It was a tense situation but everybody kept cool.

It was then that we got the news that the enemy was willing to negotiate. We had succeeded in stopping the imperialist and racist adventure in a continent where, in 30 years time, the population will exceed that of China and India together.

The role of the Cuban delegation on the occasion of the demise of our brother and friend Nelson Mandela will be unforgettable.

I congratulate comrade Raul for his brilliant performance and particularly for his strength of character and dignity when in a kind but firm gesture greeted the United States Head of Government and told him in English: “Mr. President, I’m Castro”.

When my health imposed limits to my physical capacity, I did not hesitate in expressing my criteria on whom, in my view, could assume the responsibility. A life is a minute in the history of the peoples and I believe that whoever holds today that responsibility must have the experience and authority required to choose among an increasing—almost infinite—number of alternatives.

Imperialism will always have several cards up its sleeve to subdue our island even if it has to depopulate it, depriving it from young men and women to whom they offer the scraps of the goods and natural resources it ransacks from the world.

Let the spokesmen of the empire now talk about how and why Apartheid came to life.

Signature of Fidel Raul Castro

December 18, 2013
8:35 p.m.

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 |

The Fall of Libya

Maximilian Forte, Slouching Towards Sirte (Montreal: Baraka Books, 2012), 341 pages, $27.95, paperback.

Perhaps no war in recent memory has so thoroughly flummoxed the Euro-Atlantic left as the recent NATO war on Libya. Presaging what would occur as U.S. proxies carried out an assault on Syria, both a pro-war left and an anti-anti-war left [gave] endless explanations and tortuous justifications for why a small invasion, perhaps just a “no-fly-zone,” would be okay—so long as it didn’t grow into a larger intervention. They cracked open the door to imperialism, with the understanding that it would be watched very carefully so as to make sure that no more of it would be allowed in than was necessary to carry out its mission. The absurdity of this posture became clear when NATO immediately expanded its mandate and bombed much of Libya to smithereens, with the help of on-the-ground militia, embraced as revolutionaries by those who should have known better—and according to Maximilian Forte, could have known better, had they only looked.… | more |