Anti-Carceral Feminism

Lydia Pelot-Hobbs

All Our Trials:
Prisons, Policing and the Feminist Fight Against Violence
By Emily L. Thuma
University of Illinois Press, 2019, 246 pages, $24.95 paperback.

The “Free Joan Little” campaign became a coalitional space for Black liberation, feminist and prisoner rights.

THE DEMAND THAT no one be caged is an old one. Decades before the U.S. prison population hit two million and the concept of “mass incarceration” entered the public lexicon, anti-racist feminist organizers called for the end of criminalization and confinement.

In the new book All Our Trials: Prisons, Policing and the Feminist Fight Against Violence, Emily Thuma traces the “history of activism by, for, and about incarcerated domestic violence survivors, criminalized rape resisters, and dissident women prisoners in the 1970s and early 1980s” (2)

Focusing on how grassroots organizations contested gendered and racial carceral violence, All Our Trials offers a vital history for contemporary prison abolitionists seeking to make the world anew. The author is assistant professor of politics, philos­ophy, and public affairs at the University of Washington – Tacoma.

At the heart of the book is Thuma’s examination of how everyday activism sought to win material victories against the widening net of criminalization and reframe discussion and debates on gender-based violence.

Anti-carceral feminism, as Thuma elucidates, reveals that punitive power is anchored in patriarchal approaches to safety and violence — hence the necessity of rerouting responses to state and interpersonal violence from the carceral state to the transformative potential of community-based responses rooted in care.

In tracing a multitude of abolitionist feminist projects across the United States — from campaigns to close carceral psychiatric units, to Black feminist anti-rape work, to mass defense campaigns for criminalized sexual assault survivors, to radical feminist anti-prison newsletters — Thuma highlights the breadth of this activist current. Their organizing surpassed any single strategy or tactic, reminding us that there is no silver bullet for undoing mass criminalization and the carceral state.

Thuma’s book is also notable for her thick description of not just what these various groups and coalitions organized but how they organized — from the structures of their meetings to their handling of internal political disagreements.

One of many strengths of All Our Trials is Thuma’s keen attention to how through political struggle, grassroots organizers sharpened their analysis of and produced new knowledge about the operations and logics of the carceral state.

Significantly, much of this work was led by radical women of color and anti-racist white women — many of whom identified as lesbians — who took what we would now describe as an intersectional approach to questions of gender violence.

Socialist and anti-capitalist politics also played a key role as anti-carceral feminists located the expansion of punitive state power as entwined with the contradictions of racial capitalism. In centering the experiences of criminalized and incarcerated women, this feminist formation revealed how the disciplining of racialized gender and sexuality was crucial in the production of carceral power — pushing the burgeoning prison abolitionist movement to integrate feminist politics.

At the same time, anti-prison and anti-policing feminists challenged the liberal tendencies of the mainstream feminist movement, which failed to interrogate not only how patriarchy was intertwined with other systems of oppression but also how interpersonal gender violence was situated within structures of state violence.

The abolitionist feminist organizing that Thuma details fundamentally counters the logics and practices of “carceral feminism” — the strand of feminist politics contending that the best strategy for remedying sexual violence and other forms of interpersonal gender violence is through increasing punitive state power.

In recent years, contemporary activists with organizations such as INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence have rightfully tied the rise of carceral feminism to the state’s co-optation of the early domestic violence movement through attaching funding streams to collaboration with law enforcement.

Yet Thuma reminds us that this co-optation was never totalizing. Although the collectives, organizations and coalitions she documents were never the mainstream of the feminist movement, they still provided an anti-racist, left edge to debates on dismantling patriarchal power and offered more expansive visions of liberation.

Organizing Mass Defense

Thuma begins the book by tracing a series of mass defense campaigns focused on women of color and indigenous women’s right to resist sexualized violence. The significance of the campaigns of Joan Little, Inez Garcia, Yvonne Wanrow and Dessie Woods went beyond their specific cases as they illuminated how “the struggle against the abuses of the carceral state and the struggle to eradicate sexual and domestic violence [were] indivisibly linked.” (10)

Through protests, teach-ins, and movement lawyering outside and inside prison walls, these campaigns won concrete victories, set legal precedents and reframed debates on feminist self-defense and racial criminalization.

While mass defense campaigns have a long history on the U.S. left from the Scottsboro case to Angela Davis, the 1974-1975 case of Joan Little galvanized a multi-pronged defense movement that would reverberate across the decade.

During her imprisonment at a North Carolina jail, a white guard Clarence Alligood physically forced Little to perform oral sex until she managed to stab him with the icepick he wielded against her.

The state responded to her self-defense by charging her with first degree murder with the possibility of the death penalty.

Soon the Joan Little Defense Fund organized for Little’s acquittal, Refusing to exceptionalize her story, instead they emphasized how her case was located at the nexus of the right of women to self-defense against sexual violence, the inhumanity and violence of prison conditions, and the discriminatory deployment of the death penalty against Black people and poor folks.

Thuma demonstrates that the Free Joan Little campaign became a coalitional space for Black liberation, feminist, and prisoner movements. This cross-section of organizers rooted the campaign in the long lineage of Southern activism against white supremacist gendered violence, while also expanding the left’s understanding of who constituted a “political prisoner.”

Furthermore the Defense Fund pushed against the mainstream feminist movement’s “everywoman” narrative which contended that Little, like other sexual assault survivors, represented the struggle of all women. Rather anti-racist feminists, most notably Angela Davis, argued the need to recognize how Little’s structural position as a Black incarcerated woman in the U.S. South made her particularly vulnerable to white supremacist sexual violence.

The campaign’s success in making Little the first woman acquitted of armed self-defense against a rapist proved the power of participatory defense campaigns.

The success of the Free Joan Little campaign paved the way for the defense campaigns of Inez Garcia, Yvonne Wanrow and Dessie Woods. Although different contexts shaped each of these cases and campaigns, organizers learned from and built upon each other’s struggles.

Thus Black and white feminists formed the D.C. Coalition for Joan Little and Inez Garcia (acquitted in 1977), explicitly linking the two cases through everyday activism and political rhetoric. Additionally, the National Committee to Defend Dessie Woods — formed by activists affiliated with the African People’s Socialist Party — argued that the state’s targeting of Woods was an example of the repression of Black women under racial capitalism and the internal colonization of Black people in the United States.

Their analysis resonated with the long, ultimately successful campaign to free Yvonne Wanrow — a member of the Sinixt/Arrow Lakes Nation — who stressed how her criminalization was tied to settler-colonialism.

The Prison/Psychiatric State

Moreover, feminist organizers took on the inherent violence of what they termed the “prison/psychiatric state” through the Coalition to Stop Institutionalized Violence (CSIV). Decarceration, feminist, and mental patient liberation activists formed CSIV in 1975 to block the opening of a locked psychiatric facility for “violent women” in Massachusetts.

The state’s proposal was shaped by the medicalization of carceral regimes, particularly the rise of “behavior modification” units in response to prison protests. While this was framed by state officials as necessary for the treatment of mentally unstable and violent women, CSIV declared that whom the state deemed violent was fundamentally a political question.

Building from insights gleaned from previous inside/outside organizing against a similar unit, CSIV “argued that the center would be used discretionarily against imprisoned women who protested their conditions of confinement and that women of color and lesbian women would be particularly vulnerable.” (55)

Their organizing drew on queer activism that challenged the power of psychiatry to define “deviant” and “normative” gender expression and sexuality, and the pathologization of resistance to state violence. CSIV called attention to the carceral links among jails, prisons and psychiatric institutions and demanded community alternatives.

Through mass protests, petitions and political education, CSIV put the proposed unit for violent women up for public debate. Activists took advantage of the fact that the approval of the unit fell under the jurisdiction of the more left-leaning Department of Public Health, which they targeted at public meetings with testimonials — leading to the state removing the unit from the state budget.

CSIV’s victory not only stemmed carceral state expansion. As Thuma illuminates, by the coalition “reconfigure[ing] violent women as victims of institutional violence and foreground[ing] imprisoned women as subjects of feminist discourse, CSIV challenged the liberal legal imaginary in which criminals and victims were discreet populations and called for alternatives to criminal justice.” (80)

Thuma further recounts how radical women’s prison newsletters made abolitionist world-making possible across bars. She details how two publications of the 1970s — No More Cages and Through the Looking Glass

Authoritarianism & Lockdown Time in Occupied Kashmir and India

Mona Bhan & Purnima Bose

As Against The Current went to press in mid June, India has climbed from 7th to 4th place since then in the world rankings for the number of Covid cases. As of June 12, it has averaged 10,000 new daily cases for eight straight days, resulting in over 310,760 diagnosed infections.

The rapid rates of infection illustrate how the big lockdown was less a public health measure than an exercise in Modi’s authoritarian power. Implemented with minimal planning, particularly to prevent infection among India’s most precarious workforce, migrant workers, the government also neglected to improve or expand India’s health infrastructure during the lockdown. Rather than Ram Rajya, governance by ghoulish decrees better describes India under Modi.

India’s lockdown has expanded the scale of police and military operations against Kashmiri civilians.

PANDEMICS GENERATE THEIR own vocabularies, and the “novel coronavirus” is no exception. In the United States the vocabulary of COVID-19 of “sheltering-in-place” and “lockdowns” resonates with Cold War era anxieties about nuclear war and more recent fears about gun violence.

In India the context involves growing Hindu majoritarianism materialized in a national-security state intent on demonizing Muslims and stripping them of citizenship. It is also a state determined to crush Kashmiri aspirations to sovereignty.

On March 24, 2020 Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a lockdown of 21 days for India’s 1.3 billion population as a critical public health intervention to strengthen India’s “war” against COVID-19. Giving four hours notice before the order would go into effect, Modi’s abrupt decision to “ban” Indians from leaving their homes, and to “put every state, every district, every lane, every village” “under lockdown,” bore striking parallels with his earlier crisis management measures, which have garnered considerable criticism across international print and media outlets.(1)

Among them are Modi’s perilous policy of demonetization (e.g. pulling more than 50% of the country’s currency out of circulation) and the attendant decimation of the Indian economy at the greatest cost to the poor and marginal, along with the abrogation of Kashmir’s quasi-autonomous status, which has intensified Indian military repression of Kashmiri Muslims and legally sanctioned India’s Hindu settler colonial project in the region. What might seem like Modi’s thoughtless or sudden string of decisions over the past seven years since his ascent to India’s prime ministership have moved India closer to the reality of an authoritarian Hindu Rashtra [Hindu Nation] — one crisis at a time.

We perceive authoritarianism through its spatial effects ––– the shrinking of space for free speech, activism, and public dissent; the retreat of unionizing and labor protests; and the expansion of carceral spaces through prisons, detention centers, and policing and surveillance infrastructure.

But so too is time marked under authoritarianism. Our essay explores how the Indian state manipulates three simultaneous and competing notions of time to popularize and naturalize Hindu majoritarianism: authoritarian time (compressed historical time), Hindu nationalist time (elongated mythic sacred time), and Kashmiri time (militarized lockdown time).

“Efficient” Compression of Time

As suggested by the brief period between when Modi first announced a COVID-19 lockdown and its implementation a mere four hours later, authoritarian time is compressed time. Authoritarian time does not allow for a lag between decree and implementation. It eschews the time needed for democratic deliberation, which is perceived as an impediment to efficient governance, or worse still, as a threat to the social and political order.

Under the guise of crises, authoritarian governments can compress time, manipulating it in ways to render decisions that are long in the making seem like spur-of-the-moment measures taken to protect the public interest.

In India, Hindu zealots have attempted to rid India’s body politic of Muslims through pogroms, massacres, detentions and public lynchings. They have been encouraged by several political parties which have manufactured socio-political and economic crises over the years.

In the last seven years in particular, each crisis has demanded an exceptional response that upends democratic time, which is by virtue of its process and character, slow and deliberate. In its place, we have the compressed time of a crisis legitimizing quick and sudden decisions. The compression of time becomes an expression of dictatorial agency and sovereign power.

When Modi placed India in a complete lockdown, he brought the entire country to a halt, snatching away people’s fundamental rights to secure food, a livelihood, medicine and healthcare. He criminalized those who were unable to comply with his orders.

Deprived of daily wages in the metropolitan cities they helped build, migrant workers were forced to walk hundreds of miles to reach their homes in the many villages and towns across India. Devastating images of hungry and broken migrants revealed the disproportionate burden of Modi’s dictatorial will on the country’s most vulnerable populations.

Since the big Indian lockdown –– ostensibly meant to protect human life –– hunger, thirst, sickness, and road and train accidents have brutally killed hundreds of migrant workers.

Manipulating Mythic Time

Insofar as the compression of historical time occurs against the elongation of mythic sacred time, a fundamental contradiction informs Modi’s exercise of power.

Modi belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose socio-political vision is inspired by its parent organization, the Hindu militant group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Since its inception almost a century ago, the RSS has demonized Muslims and Christians in India as bloodthirsty invaders and rapists.

Like fascist movements in general, the RSS’s temporal orientation is toward a mythic distant past. Their members look with nostalgia to an era represented in the Hindu epic the Ramayana, which dates to 1400 BCE. That epic ends with the restoration of Ram’s throne and a kingdom kept in line through bodily surveillance. Female chastity, as represented in the fate of Sita, Ram’s wife, is exalted even though it comes at the expense of her life.

For members of the RSS, governance modeled on Ram’s rule (“Ram Rajya,” in popular parlance) is highly desirable. Such a government is based ostensibly on the Hindu virtues of honesty and morality led by a revered king in the mold of the God Ram.

Indeed, Prime Minister Modi explicitly invoked the Ramayana in his appeal to Indians to think of the COVID-19 lockdown as a “Lakshman Rekha.” He warned them that a “single step outside” their homes could “bring a dangerous pandemic like Corona inside.”(2) His choice of vocabulary referenced the famous scene in the epic in which Sita defies her brother-in-law’s orders to stay indoors, and consequently is abducted by the demon Ravana for her intransigence.

With one phrase, Modi simultaneously injected a sectarian note in the discourse of public health and managed to reinforce patriarchal norms that restrict women to their homes. Predictably, following the Prime Minister’s lockdown order, DD National, India’s state-owned television station, began broadcasting reruns of the serial adaptation of the Ramayana, contributing to the effort of making Hinduism even more ubiquitous.(3)

The television serial’s first run in 1987-1988, according to media scholar Arvind Rajagopal, “violated a decades-old taboo on religious partisanship, and Hindu nationalists made the most of the opportunity. What resulted was perhaps the largest campaign in post-Independence times, irrevocably changing the complexion of Indian politics. The telecast of a religious epic to popular acclaim created the sense of a nation coming together, seeming to confirm the idea of a Hindu awakening.”(4)

In 1992, when a Hindu mob destroyed the Babri Masjid, a 13th century mosque rumored to have been built on Ram’s birthplace, many of the religious fanatics were dressed like characters from the televised Ramayana.(5) Today Modi and his Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah are sometimes respectively described in the idiom of the epic as Ram and his brother Lakshman.(6)

In Modi’s and the BJP’s vision of Ram Rajya, Muslims are the perpetual outsiders who must come to terms with their newfound status as India’s non-citizens. In 2019, the BJP government passed two parliamentary acts, the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which could render two million of India’s 200 million Muslims stateless.(7)

Apart from its constitutional provisions, Ram Rajya is also instituted through strict cultural sanctions, which include among other things proscriptions against beef eating. Muslims are now routinely lynched publicly by self-appointed gau rakshaks, protectors of Hinduism’s sacred cows.

Cow protection is a constitutive aspect of patriarchal authority and a defining feature of a robust Hindu state. Both of these, Hindu ideologues believe, are critical to India’s transformation into a Ram Rajya.(8)

Modi’s lockdown order in March 2020 appears engineered to break the massive sit-in protests against CAA, which started in early December 2019. Then hundreds of Muslim women from the Shaheen Bagh locality of North Delhi defiantly took over the streets, emphatically opposing the prime minister’s persistent attempts to portray them as victims of Muslim patriarchy.

Even the brutality of an anti-Muslim pogrom that killed at least 53 people and injured hundreds of others in Delhi, in February 2020 during President Donald Trump’s visit, failed to end the longest protest in India’s history.

But in March 2020, after Modi announced a ban on public gatherings, hundreds of police in riot gear forced protestors to empty the streets, destroying their tents and defacing their posters and billboards.

In addition, the police detained and jailed many protestors. The lockdown served as a lakshman rekha –– meant to contain the unruly bodies of Muslim women who had dared to challenge a tyrant.

At the same time, the lines of surveillance were drawn even closer to home for many Indians when the government made it mandatory to download a COVID-19 contact-tracing mobile application, called Aarogya Setu. That name evokes the Hindu philosophical tradition of yoga.

“Aarogya Setu” in Sanskrit means a bridge to health (or freedom from disease). For many critics, the app is a “sophisticated surveillance system,” which can be retooled for targeted discrimination by monitoring, regulating, and containing the movement of some groups more than others, and forcibly quarantining unwanted social elements.(9)

The Sanskrit-Hindu naming of a health-surveillance app advances the BJPs overall mission to portray India as an entrepreneurial mix of Hindu modernity and ancient Vedic wisdom. In the middle of the lockdown, during one of his television and radio addresses, Mann ki Baat, Modi reminded India’s youth of the perils of forgetting India’s “strengths and glorious traditions.” Modi urged them to return to Ayurvedic practices, popular among some Hindus, to strengthen their immunity against the virus.

Scapegoating Muslims

The Hinduization of the vocabulary of COVID-19 is also evident in the scapegoating of Muslims as vectors of infection for the virus and the creation of terms such as “corona jihad,” “bio jihad,” and “thook jihad (spit jihad).”(10)

Anthropologist Arjun Appadurai explains that “One of the key features of anti-Muslim sentiment in India for quite a long time has been the idea that Muslims themselves are a kind of infection in the body politic. So there’s a kind of affinity between this long-standing image and the new anxieties surrounding coronavirus.”(11)

An Islamic convention held in mid March 2020, which had previously been authorized by the Indian government, provided a convenient origin story among police and senior BJP officials for the spread of the pandemic.

Some 8000 members of the Tablighi Jamaat, including several hundred people from abroad, gathered in Delhi for their annual conference. When it emerged that the virus had taken root among attendees, the ruling BJP moved swiftly to quarantine members and their contacts in 15 states. A cash reward was even offered for people to report information on suspected conference goers.(12)

Although the ruling party had also authorized other large religious gatherings, BJP political rallies, and conferences in this period, it singled out the Tablighi Jamaat as a source of infection. Notwithstanding the pathetically low rates of testing for the virus, Tablighi Jamaat conference goers were administered the test and results announced in the government’s daily briefings, giving the impression that Muslims were the source for the majority of infections.

As economist Saugato Datta points out, “This is basically sampling bias: Since people from this one cluster have been tested at very high rates, and overall testing is low, it is hardly surprising that a large proportion of overall positives is attributed to this cluster.”(13)

Sampling bias thus provided false evidence for BJP and government officials to make irresponsible and incendiary pronouncements, claiming the existence of an “Islamic conspiracy” determined to enact “corona terrorism.”(14) Senior BJP officials accused members of the Tablighi Jamaat of committing a “Talibani crime,” which consisted of launching its membership as “human bombs” in “the guise of coronavirus patients.”(15) Some party members even called for Tablighi Jamaat leaders to be shot and hanged as punishment.(16)

In a now familiar routine, social media enthusiastically began spreading hatred; vile hashtags such as “#biojihad,” “#coronajihad,” and “#TablighiJamaatVirus” began to proliferate on twitter. This was augmented by the circulation of the usual bogus doctored footage of Muslims purporting to spit and sneeze on others in order to spread the virus.(17)

The Islamophobic social media barrage was accompanied by physical attacks on Muslims rumored to have attended the Tablighi Jamaat Convention, by social and consumer boycotts of Muslim merchants, and by violence directed against Muslims attempting to deliver food aid.

Kashmir: Militarized Lockdown Time

Since Prime Minister Modi ordered a lockdown of the entire country, the English-language press has laudably published a significant number of articles critiquing this move as an expression of his authoritarianism. These articles have emphasized his exploitation of the pandemic to further marginalize and rid the country of Muslims.

In their critiques, Indian commentators link Modi’s lockdown to the BJP’s actions in Kashmir last summer. For them, the BJP’s strategic experiments have perhaps revealed the illiberalism of India’s democracy. Many of these Indians subscribe to what we might call “liberal national time” and track the emergence of Hindu nationalism and the BJP to the 1980s.

However, the history of Hindu authoritarianism in Kashmir is much older. It dates back to 1846 when the British sold Kashmir to Hindu Dogra kings for 7.5 million dollars. In 1947 the Hindu King Hari Singh provisionally acceded the Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir to India. Since then India has tried all means possible to deny Kashmiris their right to self-determination, granted to them through several United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Kashmiris realized long ago that India’s democratic experiment was from its inception a colossal failure. But the darkest phase of India’s rule in Kashmir was inaugurated on August 5, 2019, when India revoked Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status.

The Indian COVID-19 lockdown was preceded by the longest ever known military lockdown and communications blackout in Kashmir. During this period people had no access to telephones or internet. They struggled to buy basic medical supplies and stay connected with their family and friends.

Hundreds of mainstream politicians were imprisoned and thousands of Kashmiris, often young boys, were tortured and illegally detained in prisons across India.

While India restored cellular phones and 2G internet connectivity on January 25, 2020, six months after the beginning of the clampdown, Kashmiris continue to be denied high-speed internet. This makes it difficult for medical professionals in Kashmir to tackle the pandemic.

For Kashmiris, in other words, India’s big lockdown is neither spectacular nor out of the ordinary; nor is it sudden nor immediate. This lockdown too, like the others preceding it, is experienced as a continuum that merges and fuses with previous moments of curfews and shutdowns.

Just as the virus can be superimposed on other preexisting conditions, making some people more vulnerable than others, so too is the COVID-19 lockdown superimposed on the Indian military’s lockdown. As a result Kashmiris are even more at risk of injury and harm. These superimposed lockdowns lose their distinctive characteristics, in part because the regulations and conditions of a military occupation never cease to operate. Their violence too continues unabated.

Kashmiri journalists have tirelessly documented how India’s big lockdown has expanded the scale of police and military operations against Kashmiri civilians. Umar, Rauf, and Haroon report that the police’s powers have intensifed because of the pandemic, with many Kashmiris now being arrested for flouting stay-at-home orders.

The police use a militarized surveillance mechanism to track “Covid Suspects,”(18) while the military has escalated its cordon and search operations in which Indian soldiers drag people out of their homes in routine night raids, destroy their fields, and burn down their houses, rendering many Kashmiri families homeless.(19)

Pandemic lockdowns typically construct homes as safe spaces (a debatable proposition), yet under military occupation the home can become a frightening place.

Violence enters the home through the bullets that penetrate its walls, the soldiers who break down its doors, and the bombs that flatten its rooms, maiming and killing those inside. The proclamation of lockdowns and curfews in the name of maintaining law and order becomes one more way for states to enact terror on those who oppose their presence.

How then do we understand a lockdown order issued by the Indian government in the name of public health in a context like Kashmir where the state’s agenda revolves around terrorizing the population rather than protecting it? For Kashmiris, there are no safe spaces under the Indian occupation.

Whether in the streets or in the home, they are targets of state violence manifest in both deliberate acts and apparently accidental ones (such as stray bullets that injure and kill). Such is the character of daily life in a militarized zone with the highest density of troops in the world.

Time in Stasis

Against the backdrop of authoritarian time (compressed historical time) and Hindu nationalist time (elongated mythic sacred time), Kashmiris continue to live in “lockdown time.” Confined to their homes, they experience time as a perpetual present. One day blurs into the next with little to distinguish yesterday from today and from tomorrow.

Lockdown time is time in stasis. Even before the current lockdown, visual representations of time in Kashmir depicted the future as blocked. As cultural critic Deepti Misri points out, Kashmiris experience time as a “listless passage” with “temporal stasis” shaping their daily lives under conditions of military oppression.(20)

In the current lockdown as the occupying regime has scaled up its violent infrastructure, static time makes it even harder to imagine alternative futures. Yet grounds for optimism remain, existing in the very real possibility of an autocratic, occupying state brought down by a virus and its own hubris. The hope for dignity and democracy in Kashmir and India might very well depend on it.

Notes

  1. Jeffrey Gettleman and Kai Shultz, “Modi Orders 3-Week Total Lockdown for All 1.3 Billion Indians,” The New York Times, March 24, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/24/world/asia/india-coronavirus-lockdown.html.
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  2. Makarand R. Paranjape, “Three-week Lockdown is PM Modi’s Surgical Strike against Coronavirus,” The Print, March 25, 2020. https://theprint.in/opinion/being-indian/three-week-lockdown-is-pm-modis-surgical-strike-against-coronavirus/387911/.
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  3. Amrita Nayak Dutta, “Reruns of 1980s-90s Classics Ramayan, Shaktimaan, Byomkesh make DD Most-Watched channel,” The Print, April 9, 2020. https://theprint.in/india/ramayan-shaktimaan-byomkesh-bakshi-make-dd-national-most-watched-channel-across-genres/398610/.
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  4. Rahul Verma, “The TV Show that Transformed Hinduism,” BBC Culture, October 22, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20191022-the-tv-show-that-transformed-hinduism?referer=https%3A%2F%2Fduckduckgo.com%2F.
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  5. Verma.
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  6. Verma.
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  7. Daniel Victor, “Why People are Protesting in India,” The New York Times, December 17, 2019 (updated February 26, 2020). https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/17/world/asia/india-protests-citizenship-muslims.html.
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  8. Peter Van der Veer, Religious Nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in India (Berkeley: University of California Press,1994): 90.
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  9. Arshad R. Zargar, “Privacy, Security Concerns as India Forces Virus-Tracing App on Millions,” CBS News, May 16, 2020. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-india-contact-tracing-app-privacy-data-security-concerns-aarogya-setu-forced-on-millions/.
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  10. Taran Deol, “Lakshman Rekha between Covidiot and Coronapocalypse. Pandemic Brings a New Language in Town.” The Print. April 13, 2020. https://theprint.in/opinion/pov/lakshman-rekha-between-covidiot-and-coronapocalypse-pandemic-brings-a-new-language-in-town/400401/.
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  11. Billy Perrigo, “It was Already Dangerous to be Muslim in India. Then Came the Coronavirus,” Time, April 3, 2020. https://time.com/5815264/coronavirus-india-islamophobia-coronajihad/.
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  12. Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Shaikh Azizor Rahman, “Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories Targeting Muslims Spread in India,” The Guardian, April 13, 2020. https://theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/13/corona­virus-conspiracy-theories-targeting-muslims-spread-in-india?page=with:img-2.
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  13. Apoorvanand, “How the Coronavirus Outbreak in India was Blamed on Muslims,” Al-Jazeera, April 18, 2020. https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/coronavirus-outbreak-india-blamed-muslims-200418143252362.html?utm_source=website&utm_medium=article_page&utm_campaign=read_more_links.
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  14. Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Shaikh Azizor Rahman.
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  15. Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Shaikh Azizor Rahman.
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  16. Hannah Ellis-Petersen and Shaikh Azizor Rahman.
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  17. Billy Perrigo.
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  18. Umar, Rauf, Haroon, “In Kashmir, the Coronavirus Means Increased Police Powers,” Jacobin, April 17, 2020. https://jacobinmag.com/2020/04/kashmir-coronavirus-covid-india-lockdown-jammu.
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  19. Umar, Rauf, Haroon. Masrat Zahra, “Kashmiri Gun Battle Leaves Dozens of Families Homeless,” StoriesAsia, May 23, 2020. https://www.storiesasia.org/author/masratzahra/.
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  20. Deepti Misri, “Dark Ages and Bright Futures: Youth, Disability and Time in Kashmir,” Forthcoming in Public Culture, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2020.
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Covid-19: A Spring To Fall School Year?

Jack Gerson

Students at Claude Debussy college in Angers, western France, on May 18, 2020 after France eased lockdown measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo: DAMIEN MEYER/AFP via Getty Images)

A push is underway to reopen schools in the fall. On Wednesday morning, Donald Trump demanded that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) water down its guidelines for safe reopening of schools. “I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough and expensive guidelines for opening schools” Trump tweeted. Trump would prefer the guidelines to be lax and cheap.

Mike Pence joined in, declaring “We’re working to reopen America and America’s schools. It’s time for us to get our kids back to school”, adding ominously that next week CDC will issue new school reopening guidelines. if they don’t.

Trump threatens to deport foreign students whose colleges don’t reopen and to withhold federal funds from school districts that don’t reopen. Having pushed states to reopen too soon — causing a renewed surge in infections — Trump wants to do the same with schools.

His policies would put children, teachers, families, and communities at great risk.

However, others with better credentials and better intentions than Trump are also calling for schools to reopen. The American Academy of Pediatrics in particular is urging reopening schools even if distancing has to be reduced to 3 feet. They argue that children need physical contact with others, and are being hurt by extended isolation. We need to take this seriously. Keeping schools closed does affect kids, especially the youngest and the most disadvantaged. Schools can’t be closed indefinitely.

But schools can’t be reopened safely while the pandemic is out of control: doing so would likely result in so many infections among teachers and other school workers that schools would soon have to be shut down anyway. Plus, even if most students don’t come down with severe COVID-19 symptoms, many would be asymptomatic carriers who spread the disease to their families — a recently published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (“The implications of silent transmission for the control of COVID-19 outbreaks”) estimates that transmission from asymptomatic individuals is responsible for half of the cases of COVID-19. Reopening schools now, as the first surge of COVID-19 continues to rise and may be amplified in late fall by a second surge and by a new flu outbreak, is a risk that must be avoided.

Step one in making it safe to reopen schools is to get the pandemic under control. This means returning to measures that worked well this spring: maintain six foot distance; wash hands frequently; wear masks when six foot distance can’t be maintained; limit time spent in public indoor places; etc. The goal should be to reduce the number of cases until there are few enough that adequate testing, contact tracing and quarantine become feasible.

But even if we somehow got the outbreak under control tomorrow, it would not yet be safe to reopen schools in the fall. There’s simply no way that the vast majority of schools and school districts can meet the current — and essential — CDC guidelines for adequate protective measures.

Consider perhaps the most important: maintaining six foot distancing. This will require small class size — on average, probably cutting class size in half, which in turn requires more teachers, more instructional aides, and more facilities. New teachers and instructional aides will need to be trained; new facilities will need to be acquired and converted into classrooms with hand washing stations. This simply can’t happen over the next couple of months. It will take time — a minimum of six months — and it will require adequate funding.

To open schools safely, the start of the school year should be deferred by more than six months: change the school year to run from spring through fall (say, April 1 through November 15). That would avoid the late fall and winter virus season; it would allow for outdoor classes; it would provide time for better therapeutics and, maybe, a vaccine; and it would provide time to recruit train more instructional aides and teacher interns, to acquire more facilities, and to assemble an adequate amount of PPE. This ought to be the priority of education activists, and it meshes with the emerging movement: fund schools by defunding the repressive state apparatus — demilitarizing the cops, dismantling the school to prison pipeline and ending mass incarceration, closing foreign bases, and bailing out schools not airlines and other corporations.

Deferring reopening until spring will also give us time to learn a lot more about how the disease affects young people 18 and under. We know that the mortality rate is very low among those less than 18 (in California, the mortality rate from the virus in the 0-17 age group is 0%.) What’s not readily available is a morbidity breakdown for the same age group: how many are hospitalized, and of those how many require ICU care; and how many suffer chronic long-term effects after recovery (an Italian study found that 30% of those who recovered have chronic respiratory problems).

Six months from now there should be a greater understanding of how to treat the disease and how to coexist with it (we certainly know much more about it already than was known four months ago). Hopefully, by then, we will have successfully campaigned to get the funding that we need, have recruited and trained more teachers, acquired more facilities and adequate PPE. Then we may be ready to safely reopen schools.

If society means what it says about the importance of young people’s lives as well as their education, then there really is no question about what to do, is there?

Do the right thing!

Defund the repressive state apparatus! Demilitarize the police!

Shut down the school to prison pipeline / End mass incarceration!

Close foreign bases!

Money for schools, jobs, and housing, not cops, prisons, and wars!

Jack Gerson is a retired Oakland CA school teacher and union activist. This article appeared on the Facts for Working People website on July 9, 2020 here.

July 4 speech signals new stage in Trump’s race war

Malik Miah

Photos of the victims of police violence line the waterfront in Seattle. Photo: Lisa Ahlberg/lisaahlberg.com

“America in crisis” is a reality.

The US is experiencing twin pandemics: a health and economic crisis due to COVID-19; and a race crisis due to state violence against Black and Brown lives. There is no national governmental leadership to fight both.

The “American Spring” of protests is changing that. The 50-state upsurge, declaring Black lives matter as much as white lives, has led millions of whites to look themselves in the mirror and begin to reject the revisionist history taught in schools and institutions.

The movement has also provoked Trump and his white nationalist supporters to go on the offensive. Many shout “White Power”, and Trump embraces them as “patriots”.

At the same time, many Democratic Party mayors have retreated from taking on the criminal cops, even as they continue to beat and kill innocent people of colour. Most police reforms proposed by liberals are modest and can easily be ignored or reversed.

As the Trump regime downplays medical science and states that COVID-19 will eventually fade away, the facts say otherwise. The US population is 4.25% of the world but 25% of those infected by COVID-19 and 25% of deaths, impacting disproportionately on African American lives.

Trump’s race war

At a July 3 speech in front of four dead presidents carved on sacred indigenous people land in South Dakota, Trump went all in on his race war agenda.

He attacked the BLM movement as advocates of “far left fascism”. Trump defended Confederate monuments as “American Heritage” and defended his Executive Order making it a felony to vandalise such symbols.

Trump called BLM a “symbol of hate”. Former New York City Mayor and Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani said BLM is “a Marxist organisation”.

Indigenous people protested outside the July 3 “Mount Rushmore” race war event. Secret Service and police pushed demonstrators back and arrested some, as pro-Trump white extremists shouted at Native peoples to “go back home”. Only anti-Indian, anti-Black bigots could attend what was called a public White House event.

Trump has positioned himself as the political heir of segregationist (and former governor of Alabama) George Wallace, said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University in Houston. Brinkley told the Los Angeles Times that Wallace and former Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina both failed in their attempts to win the presidency on openly white supremacist platforms.

“History will look at the Trump years as being a reactionary right-wing movement that saw America was becoming 60% nonwhite and panicked,” Brinkley said.

“When the economy crashed and George Floyd was murdered, Trump had cement feet. He went back to a tired old playbook, and he lost the centre in America. If you were a conservative, centre-right voter, you’re now looking to get rid of him.”

Only 35% of voters have confidence in Trump’s ability to “effectively handle race relations” and only 15% are “very confident”, according to a Pew Research survey released on June 30.

A majority of those polled ‒ 55% ‒ also said Trump had “changed the tone of political debate in the US for the worse”. Just 25% said he had changed it for the better and 19% saw not much change, either way.

Yet, it is not clear Trump will lose in November. Racism and defence of white grievance is his strategy to win and he doubled-down on white grievance in his July 4 speech at the White House.

Trump is threatening to veto the US$740-billion Defence Authorisation Act, should it include a measure to rename military installations that honour Confederate figures.

Trump’s defence of police “unions” (which are, in fact, cop cartels) and threats to deploy the National Guard against peaceful protesters are pressuring Democratic mayors and governors to weaken the mass movement.

Trump believes his white “silent majority” will win the election, stop the Democrats and the Black-led movement.

Many establishment liberals, while giving lip service in support of BLM demands, are retreating on the issue of defunding the police and moves to bring about fundamental changes.

There are four months until the presidential election. In politics, that is a lifetime.

Three examples of cities led by liberal Democratic mayors shows this. It was only six weeks ago on May 25 that George Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis cops.

1. Occupy New York City Hall

In late June, activists in New York City pushed the City Council to cut the largest police budget in the country by US$1 billion, and to redirect the funds to other socially needed programs. Mayor Bill de Blasio pretended support, but then deployed the cops to shut down the week-long protest and occupation.

“Shortly before 3am on Wednesday [June 1],” reported The Nation, “several hundred protesters gathered in the plaza directly east of City Hall Park in downtown Manhattan.

“A few were new faces, but many had been there on and off for a week, when activists set up an encampment and declared that they were occupying the space as part of the nationwide movement against racism and policing.

“The protesters had a lot going against them. Less than 24 hours earlier, the New York Police Department had staged a violent raid at the outskirts of the encampment, injuring several people.

“Just hours before, those in the [protest] encampment watched as local legislators, while negotiating and voting on the city budget for the next fiscal year, brushed off their calls to defund the police.”

De Blasio was elected in 2014 as a police force critic. Since then, he has solidly supported the cops in their anti-Black and violent actions. He preaches there are only a few “bad apples”.

The Occupy City Hall campaign was aimed at defunding the police and making other fundamental changes as the city discussed its new budget. The new budget, however, turned out to be a sleight of hand.

For example, about $400 million of the $1 billion the city is said to be cutting from the Police Department’s $6 billion budget will be achieved by moving school safety officers under the Department of Education. But according to the city’s Independent Budget Office, the Education Department already sends the Police Department $300 million a year to operate the school safety program.

Activists are continuing their fight for real cuts in the police budget and transfer of funds to other programs.

2. Minneapolis mayor retreats

In Minneapolis, where George Floyd died after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes, the City Council — with a veto-proof majority — immediately pledged to defund the police department there.

Amid a massive crowd of protesters, Mayor Jacob Frey was pressed on whether he would commit to defund the police. When he said he would not support the full abolition of the police, he was booed with chants of “Go home, Jacob!” and “Shame!”.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Frey expressed support for major structural reform, but reaffirmed his opposition to disbanding the police.

“We need to entirely shift the culture that has for years failed Black and Brown people. We need a full structural revamp,” he told NPR. “But, abolishing the police department? No, I think that’s a bad idea.”

Leaders of the Minneapolis BLM movement are determined to keep pressing the City Council to move forward. As in most cities, the activist Black leadership has pursed this demand for years. Frey and the establishment liberals hope the mass upsurge will die down, but are willing to challenge it anyway.

3. Seattle’s mayor sides with cops

According to local media, heavily armed cops swept into Seattle’s police-free “autonomous zone” on July 1 and arrested dozens of people, after Mayor Jenny Durkan issued an overnight emergency order declaring the weeks-long gathering an “unlawful assembly”.

The move to disband the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) and reclaim an abandoned police precinct nearby followed a series of violent crimes that included the fatal shootings of two teenagers. None involved peaceful demonstrators.

Durkan’sorder to clear the occupied protest area remains in effect. Customers and residents must check in with police as they enter and exit the cordoned-off areas.  Many are waved through without delay. Others have reported run-ins with police and, especially at night, intimidation by heavily-armed police in ready mode for continued protests.

Durkan has also called for an investigation into socialist city councilmember Kshama Sawant, for allegedly violating her office. Sawant has been active in the protest movement.

Vanguard leadership by Blacks

The history of the US is one of thievery and national oppression.  Whites rarely know the truth about the history.

The Black leadership of the current upsurge and the BLM organisations know the truth. Their vanguard political role has inspired other oppressed peoples to stand up.

The white backlash, led by Trump, is seeking to use more violence to suppress the movement and encourage liberals to protect the police institutions. In the past, that “law and order” message has worked.

History shows that Democratic elected officials and establishment liberals, including Africa Americans, have supported the police, the “law and order” agenda and mass incarceration. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has already declared he will increase police budgets if he is elected president.

What next?

This is why the left wing of the protest movement is not shifting their focus away from peaceful street action to campaign for Joe Biden. The gains won so far are due to mass struggle and must continue no matter who is president and which party rules Congress.

The American crises cannot be solved by liberalism and electoralism.

Trump’s race-war strategy can only win if the movement leaves the streets. As the examples in New York City, Minneapolis and Seattle show, protests will continue so long as killer cops are not prosecuted and put in prisons.

A Third Radical Reconstruction (Revolution) is needed now.

This was originally published in Green Left on July 7, 2020

COVID, A Glimpse of Our Future: On Mutual Aid and the Self-Organization of Working People

Kristian Williams Founding member of Rose City Copwatch, Interviewed by Bill Resnick

Bill Resnick: This COVID crisis may well be giving us a glimpse of our future when supply chains collapse under assault from a more serious pandemic coupled with more frequent and damaging climate disasters. Survival will require a tremendous cooperative effort, coordinated to produce and maintain life necessities and make sure everybody had them, this resembling mutual aid on a vast scale. Of course, without cooperative efforts, other outcomes, quite horrific, can also be imagined. So Kristian, tell us about the genesis of mutual aid and its challenge to capitalist understandings of human nature.

Kristian Williams: Well, the term “mutual aid” was coined by the anarchist Peter Kropotkin at the end of the 19th century in a series of articles in the journal The Nineteenth Century, then collected and revised into a book that appeared in 1902.

Kropotkin was one of the most important figures in the history of anarchism. A Russian prince who did a stint in the military, he got himself assigned to Siberia so that he could study the geography of the region. He later became involved with anarchist movement. His efforts to spread anarchist ideas among the workers and peasants led him to prison and then a life of exile.

Toward the end of the 19th century, he entered into a debate against what was at the time called Social Darwinism, a theory, proclaimed as scientific by its proponents, that those who reach the highest positions in society do so because they have evolved to become superior beings able to outcompete those in the lower ranks. Of course, this “survival of the fittest” theory fed very nicely into the class hierarchy, imperialism, and white supremacy. And the basic assumption is that human society is a ruthless bloodstained competition between self-interested individuals trying to get ahead at one another’s expense, and that the drive to do it is biologically programmed into us.

Kropotkin looked at examples from the animal kingdom, and also what at the time were called primitive societies, what we now call indigenous societies. He also examined the history of free cities and the guild structure of the middle ages. In addition, in Kropotkin’s own time there were examples — like burial societies, food coops, early labor unions. From these cases, he determined that the whole prevailing view of human nature was profoundly wrong and the whole view of nature was profoundly wrong. Animal species tend to hunt in groups, share food, warn each other of danger, and the group dynamics that result from that sort of cooperative impulse mean that species that cooperate tend to do better than any individual in it would on its own. There is an evolutionary advantage to cooperation. Thus the title of Kropotkin’s book is Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution.

Bill Whitfield of the Black Panther chapter in Kansas City serves free breakfast to children before they go to school, April 16, 1969.
Photograph by William P. Straeter, AP

From his observations of the natural world, he hypothesized a possibility for a human society based more on cooperation and simply looking out for each other, a solidaristic model, rather than the ruthless capitalist competition that people like Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spencer arguedwas just part of the natural order of things. At root, this is a debate about human nature, and about what sort of society is possible.

Since 1902, the evidence has very much been on the side of Kropotkin and not on the side of Huxley or Spencer. The advances in evolutionary science have tended to emphasize the cooperative aspects within species and sometimes even between species. This has shown up and been validated by social science, by psychology experiments, and by computer models that work on game theory. These have tended toward confirming the mutual aid hypothesis. Even economics, which you would think would be the ideological enemy, has come around to recognizing the importance of cooperative relationships as well as competitive relationships.

Resnick: Yes, economics is coming around. For most of the last 50 years, until fairly recently, they were under the spell of neoliberalism, and seemed to convince themselves that really, “There is no alternative” to ruthless capitalism. But now some are recognizing that our current arrangements are destroying societies through growing inequality and destruction of the ecosystems upon which life depends.

Williams: There is a very real sense in which mutual aid is what makes society possible. It’s also what makes communities resilient in times of crisis or after disasters. But, the hierarchical society with its concentrations of power and its inequalities of wealth is very corrosive of the principle and tends to break down the solidaristic bonds which would otherwise exist. It rewards sociopathic competition and therefore gets us in the habit of not viewing people as our neighbors and possible collaborators, but instead viewing them as competitors and enemies. And so the very structure of the society that we have tends to create the kind of behavior that it then uses to legitimize itself. It sees the world as this dog-eat-dog place, and then it creates the conditions that make it that way. At the same time, it puts us on a course where to some degree, community survival depends on a resistance to that overall capitalist ideology.

Resnick: Many on the left have critiques of mutual aid — that it’s like putting a band aid on a gaping wound. As much as the people involved have good intentions, we can’t let private good works and charity substitute for public programs, like health care and raising the minimum wage.

Williams: Well, I think that’s right as far as it goes. Again, taking the concept back to Kropotkin, the idea was never that in times of scarcity, people pooled their resources and, for example, share food, and somehow that’s enough. In addition to being the scientist who developed this observation about the need for cooperation and its importance in evolution, Kropotkin was an active revolutionary anarchist. The idea was not simply that these sort of voluntaristic relationships within the capitalist state system were going to be somehow good enough. It was that the entire social arrangement needs to be reinvented along more solidaristic lines, rather than perpetuating a system in which a very few people hoard and control most of the resources of society.

So, yes: To the degree that mutual aid substitutes for structural change, I think it’s being misapplied. The principles of mutual aid need to operate alongside of and to facilitate social struggle of other kinds. In your previous interview your guest mentioned some of the mutual aid networks that are developing in the course of this pandemic. Hopefully those relationships that people are forming now and those networks that people are creating now will outlast the pandemic and will provide both the motive and also the structure for other kinds of organizing.

The networks that get set up in the crisis so that people check on their neighbors and make sure and that there are healthy people to bring supplies to the sick people or the elderly, those could also become the networks that will resist evictions, that will organize rent strikes, that will engage in community self-defense of other kinds.

This interview is a transcribed and edited version of a radio interview of Kristian Williams by Bill Resnick on the on the Old Mole Variety Hour on KBOO, 90.7fm Portland, OR.

Bill Resnick co-founded the Old Mole Variety Hour. He’s practiced law, taught, and organized. He’s published in Socialist Review, Against the Current, and the Columbia Law Review, among others. He also wrote for, edited, and chaired the editorial collective of the Portland Alliance, for 30 years the voice of radical Portland.

Kristian Williams is the author of Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, Whither Anarchism?, and Resist Everything Except Temptation: The Anarchist Philosophy of Oscar Wilde. He was a founding member of Rose City Copwatch, remains active in his union, and serves on the board of the Institute for Anarchist Studies.

Spanish state: Anticapitalistas leaves Podemos

Since the 1980s many traditional socialist, communist and nationalist parties have made their peace with neoliberal capitalism and moved to the right. In many countries the political vacuum they left has been filled by new, broad left parties promising to defend democracy and resist austerity. In some countries these have become governing parties.

Europe has seen more of these broad left parties than other parts of the world, because of its relatively high level of economic development and its social-democratic history. But politically analogous parties exist in many countries, including the Workers Party (PT) of Brazil, the African National Congress (ANC), and the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

In many countries, for example, Brazil, Italy and Greece, a broad left party has formed or joined a government that ends up implementing the neoliberal austerity the party pledged to resist. The capitulation of the Syriza government of Greece in 2015 was a recent, spectacular example. See An Alternative for SYRIZA and Syriza: the denouement.

Following Syriza’s political collapse, Podemos of the Spanish state, led by Pablo Iglesias, became the most prominent broad left party in Europe. The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and Podemos formed a coalition government after the November 2019 general election, with the neoliberal PSOE as the senior partner. Iglesias became Second Deputy Prime Minister.

Anticapitalistas, the Fourth International section in the Spanish state and a co-founder of Podemos, regarded the coalition government as an abandonment of the Podemos project and left the party. The statements below explain their reasons for leaving.

Podemos was born out of the 15-M movement, the equivalent of Occupy in the Spanish state

Anticapitalistas statement on leaving Podemos

On 28 March, an internal voting process ended in which Anticapitalistas decided to leave Podemos. Seventy-nine per cent of the membership participated; of these 89 per cent voted in favour, 3 per cent against and 7.5 per cent abstained. We decided to wait until today to make this decision public; our priority has been paying attention to the COVID-19 pandemic that is hitting the country hard and fundamentally affects the most vulnerable sectors of the popular classes.

We consider that the collective experience of Podemos, of which we were co-founders, has been full of interest and will always be part of our history, as well as the history of Podemos. The reasons that led us to participate in the founding of this organization are well-known. It was necessary to form a broad and radically democratic political force, strongly linked to the struggles and social movements, capable of challenging the economic, cultural, and political power of the elites, and reversing the effects of an aggressive and uncontrolled neoliberalism. With a vocation, of course, to think and build an overall political alternative to ecocidical and patriarchal capitalism.

We believe that these goals are still valid, but that, at this point, Podemos has ceased to be the space from which Anticapitalistas can contribute to this. We have often stated our positions and contrasted them in a comradely spirit with the other currents of the left. Unfortunately, Podemos is not today the organization that we aspired to build at first: the organizational model and the internal regime based on centralizing power and decisions in a small group of people linked to public offices and the general secretary leaves little space for collective pluralist work. Obviously, this model has not proved at all effective for advancing in the social field: the militant organization and the force from below that Podemos used to enjoy has been diluted, disorganized and evaporated with this model, without this having translated, as they claimed in order to justify it, into an improvement in the electoral results.

Podemos was born as a political movement contesting the economic and political norms of the system. It is obvious that the strategy has changed. For Podemos, the “possible” has been progressively reduced over the years: in our view, the task remains to make what is necessary possible. The culmination of this drift is the strategy of co-governing with the PSOE. Once again, a left-wing project is subordinated in the short term to the logic of the lesser evil, agreeing to give up its policies in exchange for little or no decisive influence on the council of ministers. Despite the government’s propaganda, the coalition’s policies do not break with the orthodox economic framework, do not wager on a redistribution of wealth, on radically strengthening the public sphere and on disobeying the neoliberal institutions. Of course, we will support all the gains made within this framework and we will fight together against the extreme right. But in a context of deep systemic crisis, we believe that an effort to advance in democracy and social justice necessarily goes through building social strength, ambitious policies and preparing a confrontation against the elites.

The coming months and years will be the scene of great battles between the classes. The current crisis is not a temporary one: it is a systemic, economic, ecological and care crisis. It will involve major political, cultural and social realignments. Nothing that we believe today is certain will remain the same. Our commitment to building an anti-capitalist movement open to all kinds of struggles and experiences allows us to look to the future in an open way and there is no doubt that we will find ourselves in many common struggles with the people of Podemos.

As soon as the social and health situation allows us to do so, we will hold a political conference of Anticapitalistas, to discuss in depth our proposals for the new phase.

14 May 2020

This statement appeared on the Anticapitalistas website on May 14, 2020, here and on the International Viewpoint website here.

Pedro Sánchez and Pablo Iglesias hug at their November 12, 2019 announcement of their agreement to form a coalition government. The formation of the coalition government prompted Anticapitalistas to leave Podemos.

Anticapitalistas statement in advance of the Podemos Citizen Assembly

1) The decisions made by Podemos during the last months point in a direction that we do not share. The entry of five Unidas Podemos ministers to a progressive-neoliberal government dominated by the center-left Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), in which that party controls the main levers of power. In our view, far from weakening the current political regime of the Spanish state, participating in this government means integrating Podemos into it and attempting to manage it as the only possible horizon. Anticapitalistas proposal to vote in parliament in favor of establishing a PSOE-led government and move immediately into opposition in order to continue the fight to build a project aimed at developing a constituent majority (a social majority that can challenge the status quo) has been ruled out by the currently existing Podemos leadership. Furthermore, we do not share the policy of forming a political pact, nor that of achieving a social consensus, both of which renounce confronting the great economic powers. In that sense, we find a huge difference between the objectives of the Podemos that we contributed to initiating six years ago and the current organization’s drift, a policy which originally determined to challenge the political class and economic elites but has now allied with the former without laying a hand on the privileges of the latter.

2) At the same time, we understand that a large percentage of left-wing people are relieved by the formation of government. The fear of the extreme right and fatigue after years of mobilization make this position understandable and we understand and respect this thinking. However, we believe that the objectives of this government are less than ambitious, even if we accept that they are limited within the margins of the system. Therefore, our immediate task is to attempt to promote a new cycle of struggle that prevents the movements from abandoning the street: on March 8, we will organize for feminist advances, we will demand the repeal of labor reforms, the regulation of rents, closing the Foreigner Detention Centers (CIEs), prohibit layoffs in companies that receive state subsidies, stop evictions, and break with article 135 of the Constitution that mandates a balanced budget. Without organized popular pressure, there will be no progress. If there are no gains that deserve to be defended, ones that distribute wealth and power in favor ordinary people, a dangerous breeding ground can be generated in which the extreme right can promote its macho, racist, and authoritarian demagogy all at the service of rich.

3) Given this framework, without analyzing the slow bleed that Podemos has suffered as an organization in recent years, and without a sufficient process of prior political deliberation, the Citizen Assembly appears merely as a ratification of the Podemos leadership and of the strategy adopted of subordinating itself to the PSOE.

4) Therefore, Anticapitalistas has decided not to participate in the next State Assembly of Podemos and to, instead, focus our discussions on deciding our definite relationship with Podemos, a project that we contributed to founding and to which we have dedicated so much effort. Our internal debate process will culminate on March 28 with a conference in which we will announce our final decision. We wish, without a hesitation, the best of luck to people who decide to participate in the Podemos assembly. We are certain that we will continue to cooperate and work together with them in many areas.

This statement appeared on the Anticapitalistas website on February 16, 2020 here, on the No Borders News website on February 20, 2020 here, and on the International Viewpoint website on February 21, 2020 here.

Our lives are worth more than your profits

PRT Mexico

A deserted Plaza del Zócalo, Mexico City

The Partido Revolucionario de las Trbajadores (PRT, Revolutionary Workers Party) is the Mexican section of the Fourth International.

For the first time in almost a century, International Workers Day, a truly universal date, will be celebrated without massive demonstrations. This day, on which every year millions of workers around the world take to the streets, organize, fight, remember, and place demand on the system, comes in the midst of massive confinement measures imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

A pandemic that has accelerated catastrophic trends within capitalist society, triggering and combining a multidimensional and civilizational crisis, where, among other elements, a new global recession, the health emergency itself, climatic and environmental catastrophe, the deepening of violence against women, and attempts to implement draconian and dystopian measures – justified by the supposed “war” against the virus – all converge.

As has been demonstrated in the past few weeks, the emergence of the virus cannot be considered a “natural” or exogenous calamity, that is, external to the suicidal logic of modern capitalism. Not only because the outbreak itself can be traced to the rampant expansion of capitalist accumulation, but also because of the path by which the virus spread, that is, from capitalist commercial and productive centers to the system’s peripheries.

Capitalist greed has also aggravated the world health crisis – both in terms of complicating political situation and intensifying suffering among the great majority – as that class resists closing non-essential economic activities or prematurely ending quarantines. This same greed is responsible for the long and profound deterioration of public and free public health systems, now privatized to generate profits from our very health and bodies.

It is not true that the virus affects the population uniformly and the figures bear this out. In Italy, the capitalist’s recklessness in not shutting down economic activities has already cost the lives of thousands of workers. In cities like Chicago, the African American population that represents 30 percent of the general population has suffered 72 percent of the deaths, while too many of our migrant worker sisters will end their days in anonymous graves.

Measures to halt non-essential activities in peripheral countries – where basic labor and human rights, such as formal hiring and the right to unionize and paid leave are largely absent and outrageous levels of employment in the informal sector prevail – are imposing a lethal choice on millions of people to either safeguard their health or risk going to work under even worse economic conditions.

Let there be no doubt, in this crisis, we are the ones putting our lives on the line. Workers, women, migrants, and the world’s poor are on the frontlines, doing the jobs that sustain life. We are the outcasts in the land who reaffirm our existence, our resistance, and our internationalist will to fight every May 1st. Less than two months ago, on March 8 International Working Women’s Day, we took to the streets around the world to demand our most basic rights and we walked of our jobs on Monday, March 9 to make visible precisely those essential jobs that society cannot do without today.

In the midst of the emergency, millions of healthcare and delivery workers, along with peasants and farm workers, are doing the vital jobs to maintain social reproduction and care as well as defend the fragile foundations of civilization, which, under capitalism, oppresses and exploits them. The fact that this system makes their work precarious and endangers their lives only shows the irrationality of the capitalist and patriarchal logic.

Similarly, this crisis has highlighted what the feminist movement and the International Women’s Strike put on the table long ago, that is, the centrality of reproductive, unpaid work in the home alongside paid caring work, including health, educational, emotional, nutritional, and house cleaning. In countries plagued by patriarchal and feminicidal violence, many women and girls face a higher risk of being killed during confinement in addition to the physical and psycho-emotional burden they bear – already disproportionate in times of “capitalist normality.”

And Mexico is no exception. The crisis is revealing the severity of the danger neoliberal policies represent for the population, which are not on display for all to see across the whole country. It also exposes the criminal and childish contempt that business leaders show towards the millions of workers whom they exploit and from whom they make their millionaire profits. This is easy to see in both their scandalous and outrageous refusals to shut down non-essential activities (maquiladoras, construction, the Salinas conglomerate’s operations) and the eagerness with which they line up for new bank bailouts at the expense of both the public purse and working-class lives. There is no room for doubt, there can be no room for conciliatory mediations when the writing on the wall is so clear: it’s their profits or our lives.

For these reasons and more, the Revolutionary Workers’ Party declares on this May Day that we should no give up an inch in defense of our lives. Social distancing must not stand in the way of honoring centuries of workers’ struggles. And we must not only remember the Chicago martyrs and the labor movement that conquered basic labor rights (limits on the workday, vacations, profit sharing, minimum wage , right to strike and to unionization, etc.), but we must fight for those same rights today. We cannot allow ourselves – workers, women, indigenous people, peasants, migrants, and youth – to be made to pay more than we are already paying for a pandemic and a crisis that the capitalist and patriarchal system itself caused.

We believe that the adoption of these urgent emergency measures is required to face today’s public health, economic, and social reproduction crisis:

  1. Immediate nationalization of the entire health system for comprehensive care.
  2. Unilateral suspension of the payment of all public debt (external and internal) to guarantee supplies in hospitals, as well as the debts of households and small producers, the immediate installation of a universal basic income (not only social programs) guaranteed for all persons residing in Mexican territory.
  3. Moratorium on the payment of energy debts.
  4. Nationalization of companies that fail to cease non-essential activities.
  5. Taxes on the profits of large companies and the personal fortunes of elites.
  6. Immediate resolution of strikes, ongoing labor conflicts, and stoppages at universities against sexist violence (NOTIMEX, STUACH, UNAM, etc.).
  7. Immediate reinstatement of all those dismissed in the midst of the quarantine.
  8. Suspension of ecocidal megaprojects.
  9. The socialization of care work.
  10. All essential tasks continue to be recognized in the same way after the emergency, that they be well-paid and enjoy all labor and human rights.
  11. Prioritize the prevention, response, punishment, and eradication of all sexist violence.

Although we will be spending this May Day socially isolated or performing essential activities, and although the world’s streets will be silent, our internationalist, working-class memory and solidarity cannot be. Sooner or later the quarantines will be lifted, we will count the costs, we will mourn our dead, and we will meet again to embrace. And above all, we will all return to the streets to rattle the foundations of this society, as those who came before us did more than a century ago, to carry on the fight for our rights, our lives, and future of the world’s workers.

This article appeared on the No Borders News website on May 3, 2020 here and on the International Viewpoint website on May 5 here.

This is a Global Pandemic –
Let’s Treat it as Such

Adam Hanieh

This article was originally published on March 27th, 2020 in Verso.

In the face of the COVID-19 tsunami, our lives are changing in ways that were inconceivable just a few short weeks ago. Not since the 2008-2009 economic collapse has the world collectively shared an experience of this kind: a single, rapidly-mutating, global crisis, structuring the rhythm of our daily lives within a complex calculus of risk and competing probabilities.

In response, numerous social movements have put forward demands that take seriously the potentially disastrous consequences of the virus, while also tackling the incapacity of capitalist governments to adequately address the crisis itself. These demands include questions of worker safety, the necessity of neighbourhood level organising, income and social security, the rights of those on zero-hour contracts or in precarious employment, and the need to protect renters and those living in poverty. In this sense, the COVID-19 crisis has sharply underscored the irrational nature of health care systems structured around corporate profit – the almost universal cutbacks to public hospital staffing and infrastructure (including critical care beds and ventilators), the lack of public health provision and prohibitive cost of access to medical services in many countries, and the ways in which the property rights of pharmaceutical companies serve to restrict widespread access to potential therapeutic treatments and the development of vaccines.

However, the global dimensions of COVID-19 have figured less prominently in much of the left discussion. Mike Davis has rightly observed that “the danger to the global poor has been almost totally ignored by journalists and Western governments” and left debates have been similarly circumscribed, with attention largely focused on the severe health care crises unfolding in Europe and the US. Even inside Europe there is extreme unevenness in the capacity of states to deal with this crisis – as the juxtaposition of Germany and Greece illustrates – but a much greater disaster is about to envelop the rest of the world. In response, our perspective on this pandemic must become truly global, based on an understanding of how the public health aspects of this virus intersect with larger questions of political economy (including the likelihood of a prolonged and severe global economic downturn). This is not the time to pull up the (national) hatches and speak simply of the fight against the virus inside our own borders.

Public Health in the South

As with all so-called ‘humanitarian’ crises, it is essential to remember that the social conditions found across most of the countries of the South are the direct product of how these states are inserted into the hierarchies of the world market. Historically, this included a long encounter with Western colonialism, which has continued, into contemporary times, with the subordination of poorer countries to the interests of the world’s wealthiest states and largest transnational corporations. Since the mid-1980s, repeated bouts of structural adjustment – often accompanied by Western military action, debilitating sanctions regimes, or support for authoritarian rulers – have systematically destroyed the social and economic capacities of poorer states, leaving them ill-equipped to deal with major crises such as COVID-19.

Foregrounding these historical and global dimensions helps make clear that the enormous scale of the current crisis is not simply a question of viral epidemiology and a lack of biological resistance to a novel pathogen. The ways that most people across Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Asia will experience the coming pandemic is a direct consequence of a global economy systemically structured around the exploitation of the resources and peoples of the South. In this sense, the pandemic is very much a social and human-made disaster – not simply a calamity arising from natural or biological causes.

One clear example of how this disaster is human-made is the poor state of public health systems across most countries in the South, which tend to be underfunded and lacking in adequate medicines, equipment, and staff. This is particularly significant for understanding the threat presented by COVID-19 due to the rapid and very large surge in serious and critical cases that typically require hospital admission as a result of the virus (currently estimated at around 15%-20% of confirmed cases). This fact is now widely discussed in the context of Europe and the US, and lies behind the strategy of ‘flattening the curve’ in order to alleviate the pressure on hospital critical care capacity.

Yet, while we rightly point to the lack of ICU beds, ventilators, and trained medical staff across many Western states, we must recognise that the situation in most of the rest of the world is immeasurably worse. Malawi, for example, has about 25 ICU beds for a population of 17 million people. There are less than 2.8 critical care beds/100,000 people on average across South Asia, with Bangladesh possessing around 1100 such beds for a population of over 157 million (0.7 critical care beds/100,000 people). In comparison, the shocking pictures coming out of Italy are occurring in an advanced health care system with an average 12.5 ICU beds/100,000 (and the ability to bring more online). The situation is so serious that many poorer countries do not even have information on ICU availability, with one 2015 academic paper estimating that “more than 50% of [low income] countries lack any published data on ICU capacity.” Without such information it is difficult to imagine how these countries could possibly plan to meet the inevitable demand for critical care arising from COVID-19.

Of course, the question of ICU and hospital capacity is one part of a much larger set of issues including a widespread lack of basic resources (e.g. clean water, food, and electricity), adequate access to primary medical care, and the presence of other comorbidities (such as high rates of HIV and tuberculosis). Taken as a whole, all of these factors will undoubtedly mean a vastly higher prevalence of critically ill patients (and hence overall fatalities) across poorer countries as a result of COVID-19.

Labour and Housing are Public Health Issues

Debates around how best to respond to COVID-19 in Europe and the US have illustrated the mutually-reinforcing relationship between effective public health measures and conditions of labour, precarity, and poverty. Calls for people to self-isolate when sick – or the enforcement of longer periods of mandatory lockdowns – are economically impossible for the many people who cannot easily shift their work online or those in the service sector who work in zero-hour contracts or other kinds of temporary employment. Recognising the fundamental consequences of these work patterns for public health, many European governments have announced sweeping promises around compensation for those made unemployed or forced to stay at home during this crisis.

It remains to be seen how effective these schemes will be and to what degree they will actually meet the needs of the very large numbers of people who will lose their jobs as a result of the crisis. Nonetheless, we must recognise that such schemes will simply not exist for most of the world’s population. In countries where the majority of the labour force is engaged in informal work or depends upon unpredictable daily wages – much of the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Asia – there is no feasible way that people can choose to stay home or self-isolate. This must be viewed alongside the fact that there will almost certainly be very large increases in the ‘working poor’ as a direct result of the crisis. Indeed, the ILO has estimated for its worst-case scenario (24.7 million job losses globally) that the number of people in low and low-middle income countries earning less than $US 3.20/day at PPP will grow by nearly 20 million people.

Once again, these figures are important not solely because of day-to-day economic survival. Without the mitigation effects offered through quarantine and isolation, the actual progress of the disease in the rest of the world will certainly be much more devastating than the harrowing scenes witnessed to date in China, Europe, and the US.

Moreover, workers involved in informal and precarious labour often live in slums and overcrowded housing – ideal conditions for the explosive spread of the virus. As an interviewee with the Washington Post recently noted in relation to Brazil: “More than 1.4 million people — nearly a quarter of Rio’s population — live in one of the city’s favelas. Many can’t afford to miss a single day of work, let alone weeks. People will continue leaving their houses …. The storm’s about to hit.”

Similarly disastrous scenarios face the many millions of people currently displaced through war and conflict. The Middle East, for example, is the site of the largest forced displacement since the Second World War, with massive numbers of refugees and internally-displaced people as a result of the on-going wars in countries such as Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq. Most of these people live in refugee camps or overcrowded urban spaces, and often lack the rudimentary rights to health care typically associated with citizenship. The widespread prevalence of malnutrition and other diseases (such as the reappearance of cholera in Yemen) make these displaced communities particularly susceptible to the virus itself.

One microcosm of this can be seen in the Gaza Strip, where over 70% of the population are refugees living in one of the most densely packed areas in the world. The first two cases of COVID-19 were identified in Gaza on 20 March (a lack of testing equipment, however, has meant that only 92 people out of the 2-million strong population have been tested for the virus). Reeling from 13-years of Israeli siege and the systematic destruction of essential infrastructure, living conditions in the Strip are marked by extreme poverty, poor sanitation, and a chronic lack of drugs and medical equipment (there are, for example, only 62 ventilators in Gaza, and just 15 of these are currently available for use). Under blockade and closure for most of the past decade, Gaza has been shut to the world long before the current pandemic. The region could be the proverbial canary in the COVID-19 coalmine – foreshadowing the future path of the infection among refugee communities across the Middle East and elsewhere.

Intersecting Crises

The imminent public health crisis facing poorer countries as a consequence of COVID-19 will be further deepened by an associated global economic downturn that is almost certain to exceed the scale of 2008. It is too early to predict the depth of this slump, but many leading financial institutions are expecting this to be the worst recession in living memory. One of the reasons for this is the near simultaneous shutdown of manufacturing, transport, and service sectors across the US, Europe, and China – an event without historical precedent since the Second World War. With one-fifth of the world’s population currently under some form of lockdown, supply chains and global trade have collapsed and stock market prices have plunged – with most major exchanges losing between 30-40% of their value between 17 February and 17 March.

Yet, as Eric Touissant has emphasised, the economic collapse we are now fast approaching was not caused by COVID-19 – rather, the virus presented “the spark or trigger” of a deeper crisis that has been in the making for several years. Closely connected to this are the measures put in place by governments and central banks since 2008, most notably the policies of quantitative easing and repeated interest-rate cuts. These policies aimed at propping up share prices through massively increasing the supply of ultra-cheap money to financial markets. They meant a very significant growth in all forms of debt – corporate, government, and household. In the U.S, for example, the nonfinancial corporate debt of large companies reached $10 trillion dollars in mid-2019 (around 48% of GDP), a significant rise from its previous peak in 2008 (when it stood at about 44%). Typically, this debt was not used for productive investment, but rather for financial activities (such as funding dividends, share buybacks, and merger and acquisitions). We thus have the well-observed phenomena of booming stock markets on one hand, and stagnating investment and declining profit levels on the other.

Significant to the coming crisis, however, is the fact that the growth in corporate debt has been largely concentrated in below investment grade bonds (so-called junk bonds), or bonds that are rated BBB, just one grade above junk status. Indeed, according to Blackrock, the world’s largest asset manager, BBB debt made up a remarkable 50% of the global bond market in 2019, compared to only 17% in 2001. What this means is that the synchronised collapse of worldwide production, demand, and financial asset prices presents a massive problem for corporations needing to refinance their debt. As economic activity grinds to a halt in key sectors, companies whose debt is due to be rolled over now face a credit market that has essentially shuttered – no one is willing to lend in these conditions and many overleveraged companies (especially those involved in sectors such as airlines, retail, energy, tourism, automobiles, and leisure) could be earning almost no revenue over the coming period. The prospect of a wave of high profile corporate bankruptcies, defaults, and credit downgrades is therefore extremely likely. This is not just a US problem – financial analysts have recently warned of a ‘cash crunch’ and a ‘wave of bankruptcies’ across the Asia Pacific region, where corporate debt levels have doubled to $32 trillion over the last decade.

All of this poses a very grave danger to the rest of the world, where a variety of transmission routes will metastasise the downturn across poorer countries and populations. As with 2008, these include a likely plunge in exports, a sharp pull back in foreign direct investment flows and tourism revenues, and a drop in worker remittances. The latter factor is often forgotten in the discussion of the current crisis, but it is essential to remember that one of the key features of neoliberal globalisation has been the integration of large parts of the world’s population into global capitalism through remittance flows from family members working overseas. In 1999, only eleven countries worldwide had remittances greater than 10 per cent of GDP; by 2016, this figure had risen to thirty countries. In 2016, just over 30 per cent of all 179 countries for which data was available recorded remittance levels greater than 5 per cent of GDP – a proportion that has doubled since 2000. Astonishingly, around one billion people – one out of seven people globally – are directly involved in remittance flows as either senders or recipients. The closing down of borders because of COVID-19 – coupled with the halt to economic activities in key sectors where migrants tend to predominate – means we could be facing a precipitous drop in worker remittances globally. This is an outcome that would have very severe ramifications for countries in the South.

Another key mechanism by which the rapidly evolving economic crisis may hit countries in the South is the large build up of debt held by poorer countries in recent years. This includes both the least developed countries in the world as well as so-called ‘emerging markets’. In late 2019, the Institute for International Finance estimated that emerging market debt stood at $72 trillion, a figure that had doubled since 2010. Much of this debt is denominated in US dollars, which exposes its holders to fluctuations in the value of the US currency. In recent weeks the US dollar has strengthened significantly as investors sought a safe-haven in response to the crisis; as a result, other national currencies have fallen, and the burden of interest and principal repayments on $US-denominated debt has been increasing. Already in 2018, 46 countries were spending more on public debt service than on their health care systems as a share of GDP. Today, we are entering an alarming situation where many poorer countries will face increasingly burdensome debt repayments while simultaneously attempting to manage an unprecedented public health crisis – all in the context of a very deep global recession.

And let us not harbour any illusions that these intersecting crises might bring an end to structural adjustment or the emergence of some kind of ‘global social democracy’. As we have repeatedly seen over the last decade, capital frequently seizes moments of crisis as a moment of opportunity – a chance to implement radical change that was previously blocked or appeared impossible. Indeed, World Bank President David Malpass implied as much when he noted at the (virtual) G20 meeting of Finance Ministers a few days ago: “Countries will need to implement structural reforms to help shorten the time to recovery … For those countries that have excessive regulations, subsidies, licensing regimes, trade protection or litigiousness as obstacles, we will work with them to foster markets, choice and faster growth prospects during the recovery.”

It is essential to bring all these international dimensions to the centre of the left debate around COVID-19, linking the fight against the virus to questions such as the abolition of ‘Third World’ debt, an end to IMF/World Bank neoliberal structural adjustment packages, reparations for colonialism, a halt to the global arms trade, an end to sanctions regimes, and so forth. All of these campaigns are, in effect, global public health issues – they bear directly on the ability of poorer countries to mitigate the effects of the virus and the associated economic downturn. It is not enough to speak of solidarity and mutual self-help in our own neighbourhoods, communities, and within our national borders – without raising the much greater threat that this virus presents to the rest of the world. Of course high levels of poverty, precarious conditions of labour and housing, and a lack of adequate health infrastructure also threaten the ability of populations across Europe and the US to mitigate this infection. But grassroots campaigns in the South are building coalitions that tackle these issues in interesting and internationalist ways. Without a global orientation, we risk reinforcing the ways that the virus has seamlessly fed into the discursive political rhetoric of nativist and xenophobic movements – a politics deeply seeped in authoritarianism, an obsession with border controls, and a ‘my-country first’ national patriotism.

A report on a social climate change action in West Africa

Patrice Assiongbon Sowanou

Hospital ship MV Africa Mercy, off West Africa

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager, is very active in climate change campaigns. Obviously. She made it all clear to the United Kingdom’s parliament the consequences, such as a rise in Earth’s temperature, high risk of environmental pollution and the impacts on our planet if actions were not taken or reinforced.

Being in Africa, on the other side of the world, it is very difficult to say if any serious action has been taken against climate change. The fact is, from the top leaders on down, people seem ignorant of the scourge.

In Benin, my country, we should ask ourselves if we really have knowledge about climate before thinking of any possible action. In 2014 AVAAZ, a humanitarian organization, mobilized many people in Cotonou, especially the youth, for a climate change campaign.

Three weeks earlier before this campaign, a series of trainings were undertaken. The youth were well informed about the emergency related to climate change. All in attendance came to realize how careless environmental practices in daily life and the excessive use of plastic causes serious damage to our planet.

The objectives of the campaign are to call the attention of everybody on the imminent dangers. Television, radio stations and newspapers relayed the tremendous work AVAAZ was doing. The campaign took place on the main street and ended up on the widest beach of Cotonou. Men and women were dressed in white and green T-Shirts with a sole call: SAVE OUR PLANET.

For more than four hours of walking the number of walkers increased. Many people joined the queue. It was the biggest campaign of information about climate change in Benin. Under a hot sun, the marchers kept walking, and passing out flyers. Groups of the Red Cross were in charge of bottled water distribution. Not a single bottle or flyer was wasted or thrown on the street. All possible trash was carefully disposed of.

Fidjrosse beach was the last stage of the campaign. Many groups were at the beach to remove any kind of trash, plastics, papers, bottles. In the space of an hour, the beach was completely cleaned up in a way it had never been before.

To the great surprise of everybody, the Minister of Environment made his way with his people to the center of the gathering. In a shaking voice, he managed to deliver a message of gratitude to the planners of this campaign. He saluted the initiative of AVAAZ and promised to do his best to effectively insert the climate topic in the government.

At the end of his speech, the founder of AVAAZ folded the message, put it into a calabash and threw it into the sea as a symbolic imminent call to humanity for action.

May Day 2020 – Class Struggle in the Pandemic

By the National Committee of Solidarity

AS THE ECONOMIC and coronavirus crises reveals in brutal form the sharp contours of capitalist exploitation and inequality everywhere, working people have responded by reaching out to each other and forging bounds of mutual aid and solidarity.

This May 1 both the intensity of the attack on workers, and incipient resistance have been highlighted — at Amazon, Whole Foods, Walmart, FedEx, Target and Instacart, among frontline hospital workers and the heavily immigrant and people of color work forces at meat processing plants. Even at places like the Smithfield pork plant in South Dakota lacking the most basic protection for their workers, even in facilities where hundreds of workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and dozens have died, meat processing facilities are deemed “essential” and ordered to remain open by Trump’s presidential dictate.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell proposes that states declare bankruptcy – so state governments can (or might be forced to) ditch state workers’ pensions and union contracts, public education obligations and basic services. Senate Republicans are committed to legislating corporate “immunity” from negligence lawsuits over deaths from coronavirus, giving companies a license to kill their workers.

Around the country, spearheaded by informal job actions at Amazon, walkouts, rent strikes and car caravans in support of workers, prisoners and immigrants detained in horrific conditions marked the day, and that’s just the beginning. An on-the-ground report from Ann Arbor, Michigan is representative of activities around the country:

“Ann Arbor saw quite a bit of activity last Friday on May Day! Movimiento Cosecha had an estimated 100 (!) cars in their caravan between Ann Arbor and Ypsi, receiving some coverage from MLive and the Michigan Daily. A number of university students were out on the streets taking graduation photos (or selfies with the caravan). Quite a few onlookers and cars in Ann Arbor expressed their support by giving us thumbs up, fist pumps, peace signs, and waving.

“Additionally, ‘A2 After Bernie’ held a caravan outside Whole Foods and the USPS office for grocery store and postal workers. We passed by it on our way back but hadn’t known about it in advance. The very nascent, newly-reborn Ann Arbor Tenants Union (No Rent Michigan) held a Teach-In together with Detroit Renter City, which had 20+ participants. 

“And our Huron Valley Labor & Community COVID-19 coalition held our first virtual Town Hall, featuring nurse union activist Anne Jackson, along with an immigrant worker, tenant organizer, and mutual aid organizers. Despite technical glitches, we were very happy that figured out how to use Zoom to simultaneously broadcast it live on the Facebook pages of GEO, Huron Valley DSA, We the People MI, Science for the People (Ann Arbor), and the WACWA Baristas!”

Crucial issues in these fights include employees’ demands for compensation for unpaid time off for work, hazard pay, personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies. There are also rent strikes by people who have lost their jobs, and by others in solidarity. These struggles will expand, because both the public health emergency and the deep economic downturn are likely to be protracted.

With the Big Three eager to resume production, Autoworkers Caravan posted a petition on their Facebook page, outlining what would be necessary for workers to safely return to work. Within ten days, over 1500 autoworkers signed the AWC appeal.

Cars drive around downtown Santa Barbara to mark May 1, 2020 and call for a bail out for the working class. / Photo by Daniel Dreifuss

On May Day, AWC organized a car caravan from Detroit to Grand Rapids with signs on workers’ safety, expressing solidarity with a UAW Committeererson fired for warning co-workers about the threat of the virus in their plant. The caravan went by the plant, displaying their signs and honking.

Graduate students at the University of California, struggling for a cost-of-living adjustment, organized car and bike caravans demanding to “bail out the working class” and supporting prisoners and immigrants. These actions took place in Santa Cruz, Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. See also UC Graduate Student Workers Wildcat Strike.

The crisis has forced public recognition of the essential role of the poorly paid, low status workers who assure our basic necessities from food supplies to medical care. That recognition should include a living wage as well as the respect and power commensurate with the role of labor in assuring social needs.

Since it was founded as a workers’ holiday in 1886, International workers day demonstrations on May 1 have celebrated worker solidarity across borders and all divisions that divide working people. Never before has the idea of international worker solidarity had more power. Everywhere, workers and the oppressed are bearing the brunt of the health crises and experiencing the worst effects of the economic crisis. International supply chains in commodity production and distribution, which so much of the world relies on, depend on the labor of workers throughout the world and make international cooperation a matter of life and death.

This year May Day saw humanity facing a crisis of civilization and existence — of environmental disaster, made infinitely worse by years of cuts to health care systems, including some of the world’s most advanced, and the contradictions of the capitalist economy that was heading for trouble before the virus emerged. All this was made worse by politicians who put the interests of their capitalist masters first and public health last.

Workers in the USA are facing massive unemployment that could reach 30%, levels beyond that of the great depression of the 1930s. Small business owners, often employers of workers in industries such as hospitality and other service industries have seen public monies snatched up by bigger chains forcing them to close and throwing their workers into unemployment.

Workers in low paid jobs and the unemployed, communities of color, who have been hit at double and triple rates are experiencing the worst fallout of the crisis including food insecurity. The twin crises have magnified the oppression that women experience in the world of work, domestic life, and the public arena of social policy.

Huge parts of the Global South are headed for disaster from the coronavirus as patterns of global exploitation and inequality, formed over centuries, result in populations weakened by malnutrition and grossly inadequate public health systems. A damaged planet and a population increasingly divided into haves and have nots can simply no longer continue with the present system. It is becoming clearer every day that capitalism has failed humanity at all levels. Now more than ever, socialism is a matter of life or death for our planet and its peoples.