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The Geneva Men: A Review of ‘Globalists’ by Quinn Slobodian

A review of Quinn Slobodian, 2017. Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of
Neoliberalism. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51kcoHzJqyL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgNeoliberalism and globalism have both become buzzwords used within the political discourse by intellectuals, journalists, as much as celebrities in order to describe and explain recent events. But what are really neoliberalism and globalism, and in what relation do they stand to each other? Quinn Slobodian argues in his recent book Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, that neoliberalism and globalism are commensurate concepts, an economic doctrine on the one hand and a political worldview on the other, both mutually reinforcing a particular form of contemporary capitalism. Slobodian puts the notion that neoliberalism lacks a clear referent to rest. Instead, he argues that neoliberalism and globalism have existed as a coherent body of thought since the 1920s. Tracing the origins and consequent development of these ideas, he offers the readers a richer, more precise history of both the idea and practice of neoliberalism-globalism, with particular attention to their relationship with sovereignty and democracy. As such, he provides us with a much needed historical and theoretical corrective to the oft repeated and yet often historically inaccurate theories of neoliberalism.

Donald Trump, who railed against ‘globalism’ on the campaign trail, was elected in 2016 partly on a platform of defying free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and NAFTA. Similarly, we have recently witnessed a proliferation of anti-EU forces from both the left and right in Europe, notably in form of Brexit in the UK and in Italy’s recent elections. Mexico has also recently elected the ‘populist’ Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who threatens to destabilize NAFTA, at least as we know it. These political upheavals against the postwar world order make Globalists a timely and necessary reading for anyone interested in intellectual and economic history.

Central to Slobodian’s argument in Globalists is a rejection of the idea that neoliberalism can simply be reduced to ‘market fundamentalism’, a term central to Karl Polyani’s critique. Rather, Slobodian argues, neoliberalism is a form of regulation, rather than a radical opposition to regulation; it is a form of regulation that seeks to reshape societies to be more favorable to the interests of the market and of the capitalist class, in opposition to democracy and sovereignty if necessary.

Typically, histories of neoliberalism begin somewhere around the Reagan and Thatcher governments of the 1970s. However, Slobodian traces the history of neoliberalism further back, beginning in Austria in the 1920s with the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and of the House of Hapsburg. During this time of the beginning of the end for the old empires of Europe, Austria held its first election with universal male suffrage, catapulting the radical Social Democratic Party to previously unforeseen influence in the government. Without the autocratic counterweight of the Hapsburg monarchy, conservative Austrian elites feared that their privileges and class power would be undone by the new democratic government. In response, the Austrian nomenklatura, now-infamous names like Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises among them, called for a renovation of the capitalist class’s approach to managing power. Their proposed solution was not only intended to the challenge social democracy and the global compounded rise of nationalism, socialism, but also more crucially democratic self-determination. To the capitalist class these forces represented different sides of the same basic threat: the rubes of the world, incapable of governing themselves, turned against their betters. In the words of Lionel Robbins, one of the first ardent globalists, ‘”Mines for miners” and “Papua for Papuans” are analytically similar slogans.’

Contrary to widespread belief, the Austrian School of Economics, as Hayek and Mises’ faction are often called, did not propose a regime of laissez-faire economics as we normally understand it. Rather, they sought to overcome the limitations of the old regime of mercantile colonialism, which divided the world territorially amongst competing camps of European capitalists, through the use of truly global institutions—the League of Nations, the European Court of Justice, the World Trade Organization, international investment law, etc. — to insulate markets. Their basic ethos could be summed up as follows: ‘International institutions should act as mechanisms for protecting and furthering competition without offering spaces for popular claims-making’ (p. 271). This, they believed, would protect the profits of the capitalist class against the laws of sovereign states, political instability, and demands raised by civil society and workers for greater equality and social justice. Many leaders of the early neoliberal movement relocated to Geneva in order to influence the shaping of these institutions, leading Slobodian to call them the ‘Geneva School’ (p. 7). The Geneva School was closely tied to business and finance, and its members moved easily between academic settings and lobby organizations such as the International Chamber of Commerce.

The popular (mis)understanding of neoliberalism is perhaps best represented by Karl Polyani’s description of the movement in The Great Transformation, where he uses the term ‘market fundamentalism’ to describe the Geneva School ideology. In this interpretation, neoliberals advocate for ‘disembedded’ markets which, separated from society, replace social bonds with atomized relations, giving rise to counter-reactions within society in the form of either xenophobic nationalism or revolutionary socialism. Slobodian, however, identifies the objective of the Geneva School instead as ‘enclosing’ markets in international institutions and treaties. Far from being fundamentalists with an irrational faith in the market, Hayek and Mises readily accepted that markets are ‘products of the political construction of institutions [which] encase them’ (p.7).

The first economic gathering to take the entire world as its subject was the World Economic Conference of 1927. Famous neoliberals like Mises, Gottfried, Haberler, Röpke, Hayek and the aforementioned Robbins all took a direct role in the conference and the subsequent declaration advocating global economic governance, codifying international opposition to ‘trade obstacles’ on the part of the European elite (p. 30). This is the first attempt documented in Globalists of neoliberals trying to conjure up a supranational federation of capitalists as a way to offset the dual pressures of national economic planning and decolonization.

The wave of independent nation-states rising from the ashes of empire after the world wars prompted greater urgency for such a supranational power. From the perspective of capitalists and their neoliberal lieutenants, these were adversaries to be thwarted. ‘For [Mises]’, writes Slobodian, ‘the real war was not between individual nations or empires but between the world economy and the nation as forms of human organization’ (p.109). It is from this capitalist project of ‘militant globalism’ against ‘economic nationalism’ 01b_wto_interior-(Heilperin, quoted on p. 130) that Slobodian traces the development of entities like the European Union, Free Trade Agreements and the Investor-State Dispute clauses they contain, as well as the World Trade Organization, and the neoliberal intellectuals’ instrumental role in their construction. While these institutions ultimately benefited the elites of the European countries and the United States, they required even the wealthy countries to acquiesce their sovereignty to dictates which spanned multiple sovereign jurisdictions, making them difficult to be challenged by any one government without inviting conflict.

Of particular interest to anthropologists, Slobodian focuses on neoliberal ambassadors’ deep interest in the area of culture. The globalists, from their vantage point in Geneva, left no intellectual or topical stone unturned. The Rockefeller and Ford Foundation, two of the largest funders of ethnographic projects to date, were generous in their support of neoliberal intellectuals seeking to broaden the conceptual scope of their project. The Rockefeller Foundation, for example, essentially bankrolled a study by Wilhelm Ropke in the Danube region which lambasted the locals for ‘economic simplism’ for seeking greater authority over their own economy (p. 75). Interestingly, Ropke considered this demand for economic control as a cultural phenomenon and sought to develop methods and instruments to reshape the culture of the Danube to be more accommodating to the global market.

Related imageGlobalists is effective in its ability to lay bare and substantiate with broad source evidence what Slobodian classifies as some basic truths about neoliberal ideology. The book also weaves a convincing narrative about these tenets and their implementation across the modern world. The basic principles Slobodian ascribes to neoliberal globalism are mostly described in negatives. The first is neoliberalism’s aversion to democracy, particularly to democracy that cannot be manipulated or neutered in some way. Slobodian demonstrates this through quotations from neoliberal intellectuals, Mont Perlin Society memos, and internal documents of the European Union, IMF, and other bodies. The second is neoliberalism’s aversion to the nation-state and sovereignty, which binds capitalists by certain obligations which may limit their profits and liquidity, something Mises was particularly adamant about. The third and final, related to the proceeding points, is neoliberal globalism’s resistance to politicization; that states or peoples should have levers by which to regulate or transform their social conditions is the antithesis of the neoliberal project. The neoliberal globe is one without politics, especially without politics that could potentially interrupt the smooth expansion of the market. This may also explain why we can observe an uncanny rise of disturbing pseudo-politics within the last decades.

Neoliberalism as a body of thought and its Geneva School ambassadors have had profound political, economic, and cultural influence on the modern world. Globalists does an excellent job of summarizing and explaining neoliberalism’s development, its core principles, and its direction. It is also a retort to lazy analyses of neoliberalism, which focus solely on aspects of economic policy or reform, and not on the other arenas of human life – culture, politics, international relations, etc. – which the Geneva School has actively and consciously sought to shape, along with Keynesians, imperial bureaucracies, business lobbyists, activists of certain stripes, and a host of other actors. Globalists is a valuable and refreshingly thorough book which clearly defines and scrutinizes the intellectual and practical components of neoliberalism in a manner which is deserving of commendation.

This of Dr. Quinn Slobodian’s most recent book was originally written for and published in the Journal of Extreme Anthropology as part of their forthcoming special issue on SOVEREIGNTY, which you can access here. A pdf of the review is available from the JEA page and on my academia.edu page.

As part of my work maintaining Peripheral Thought, we will soon publish a series of articles on SOVEREIGNTY, in part inspired by and intended to accompany JEA’s release of the special issue on the same topic. 

The suggested citation for this review is:

Lutes, Abram. 2018. “The Geneva Men: A Review of ‘Globalists’ by Quinn Slobodian” in Journal of Extreme Anthropology, Vol. 2, no. 2: Sovereignty.

 

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Empires of Aid and Compassion: Foundations as Architects of Neoliberalism

They seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see in poverty, but their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it… the proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.

(Oscar Wilde on philanthropists, quoted in Global Justice Now, 2016. Emphasis added.)

The existence of, and significance, of philanthropic foundations and their influence are increasingly becoming part of public discussion. Foundations have come to be significant in US partisan politics after the 2016 election, with criticism from both the left and right being directed towards Bill and Hilary Clinton’s Clinton Foundation, including its scandalous kickbacks schemes in Haiti, and its dependency on donations from the Saudi royal family. Asra Nomani also brought attention to the dominance of organizations funded by one of Clinton’s most generous financial backers at the Women’s March on Washington, George Soros, who also heads the Open Society Foundation, a significant philanthropic actor in its own right. More recently, Donald Trump’s philanthropy has also come under scrutiny.

Perhaps the most critical analysis of modern philanthropic foundations available to the wider public is a report by the UK pressure group Global Justice Now. Their report Gated Development: Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good? (2016), which provides a damning assessment of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMG for short), received little attention in the mainstream media, apart from an article in the UK paper The Independent. The article summarizes the Global Justice report as saying that the Gates Foundation promotes neoliberal economic policies and “corporate globalization” in service of its allies and funders, including major transnationals, agricultural companies, and pharmaceuticals.

Given the Gates Foundations’ significant investments in ExxonMobil, Dutch Shell, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and McDonald’s, and its significant ownership of pharmaceutical intellectual property (McGoey, 2012), Global Justice’s claim deserves more attention than it has been given by the media. The Gates Foundation purports itself to be at the forefront of improving quality of life in the Global South, yet invests in some of the largest transnationals involved in destructive resource extraction and exploitative labour practices throughout the world, to say nothing of Microsoft’s own exploitative, neoliberal growth schemes (Microsoft is one of the largest funders of the Gates Foundation besides Warren Buffett and the Gates themselves), which provided the surplus wealth necessary to create such a massive philanthropic enterprise.

Transnational Oligarchs, gangsters turned self-appointed Saviors

The Gates Foundation is often seen as the global vanguard of what its proponents call “philanthrocapitalism” – the application of business strategies to the distribution of charity and aid through philanthropic organizations. Such a strategy and ideological fixation has recently come under criticism, even by the “cautious fans” of philanthropic organizations, pointing out how profit-maximizing logics when applied to international development often result in shortsightedness (Youde, 2013; Edwards, 2009)

Looking at history, it is clear that this is by design, rather than by accident. Birn (2014) provides a historical comparison between the Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Both foundations have been significant in shaping the development of global health policy, operating on similar models, which the Rockefeller Foundation pioneered and the Gates Foundation claims to innovate upon. Thus, the contemporary hype around “philanthrocapitalism” is more of a re-brand of old-fashioned oligarchic foundations rather than anything substantially new. Both Gates and Rockefeller disbursed charity strategically, as way to secure their for-profit companies’ investments, fend off radical alternatives, and promote development strategies which keep recipients dependent on their aid and their products.

It is difficult sometimes for the public to imagine philanthropic foundations, which spend lots on public relations emphasizing the selfless “good” their work does, are actually doing harm or advancing private interests. I myself remember growing up in an environment saturated with stories of the benevolence of Bill Gates, “the billionaire who wants to give it all away”. Gates in those days, and to an extent still does today, possessed a veneration as a kind of philosopher-king, making it somewhat unthinkable to question in decent company why this one individual should have more wealth than the GDPs of forty-five countries. This is consistent with the capitalist moral ethos which Linsey McGoey (2014), an expert in philanthropic foundations, says that philanthropy helps reinforce.

bono-philanthropy

Yet this humanitarian morality, what Maximillian Forte calls “moral narcissism” (2012), hardly stands up to examination. After all, as the Global Justice Now report points out, the practices of the BMG Foundation are consistently part of a strategy to bolster the investments of its funders and those companies it holds shares in. Funds and resources are often disbursed not to the poorest of the world’s population, but to countries and populations that the BMG can expect a return from (Global Justice Now, 2016). Furthermore, similar programs could easily be funded through state revenue acquired by taxing such large personal fortunes as that of the Gates and Buffets, thus private, unelected actors are taking over what was historically the responsibility of democratic, sovereign state formations (Global Justice Now, 2016; St.-Pierre, 2014). Such philanthropic elites often circumvent their obligations to their fellow citizens in the form of taxes through elaborate tax evasion schemes, such as those uncovered by the Paradise Papers.

Biopower and “Compassionate” Biological Imperialism

Each of these two über-powerful foundations [Rockefeller and Gates] emerged at a critical juncture in the history of international/global health. Each was started by the richest, most ruthless and innovative capitalist of his day” (Birn, 2014)

The use of philanthropic foundations towards the insurance of capitalist ends is particularly evident in global health governance, a sector itself pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. Rockefeller’s motivation for establishing global health as a humanitarian sector was primarily driven by his desire to stave off criticism of his business practices and combat the rise of militant labor unions and radical socialist organizers within his US workforces, especially after armed guards massacred striking workers at a Rockefeller-owned mine (Birn, 2014; Youde, 2013). The Rockefeller Foundation represented the entrenchment of philanthropy, as opposed to church charity, which explicitly understood itself as being a defensive investment in alleviating suffering among the masses to forestall said masses from taking issues into their own hands.

Michel Foucault described biopower as “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations” (1976) pursued by states and the administrators of various capitalist power structures. In the case of global health governance, the “bio” in biopower is quite literal. The BMG, in continuation of its predecessor the Rockefeller Foundation, is one of the largest players in global health governance, policy, and research development today. It is the second-largest funder of the World Health Organization, second only to the United States government, and owns most of the HIV/AIDS research being conducted in the world today, leading to increasing concern among the scientific community about the independence, accountability, neutrality and purposes of HIV research being conducted (Birn, 2014). Meanwhile, Brazil and India were both served lawsuits for subsidizing the manufacture of cheap, no-name HIV and Malaria treatments (St-Pierre, 2014).

Further exercise of oligarchic-imperialist biopower by Gates Foundation includes reproductive health aid and in agricultural reform, pushing alarming agendas. Research shows that the BMG’s promotion of genetically modified seeds has served as an instrument to displace Indian peasants, as intellectual property ownership over seed DNA is given priority over traditional land rights. Meanwhile, concerns have emerged that Gates Foundation-funded hospitals and medical facilities are performing forced sterilizations and other non-consensual population control operations on African women as part of BMG’s reproductive health programs.

Africa: The Philanthropic Playground

Nowhere is this philanthropic power-grabbing most pronounced than on the African continent. After all, it is usually African children, African cities, and African landscapes that are used as props for philanthropic advertising, a sadistic showcase of desperation if there ever was one. The BMG is of course active in creating these “poverty porn” productions, but these visual manifestations of imperial humanitarianism also enlist the talents of celebrities, such as U2’s Bono, who readily embrace the “private sector” as a solution to “Africa’s problems”. Nowhere do these philanthropists indict colonialism, imperialism, or neo-colonialism in Africa for contributing to the continent’s many problems, because this of course would indict them and their own enterprises in perpetuating Africa’s status as a vast dependency.

The “concern” generated by such imagery, and the push for “innovative” solutions aggrandized by them, is mobilized selectively. For example, Mozambique’s public healthcare system, dubbed a model for the developing world, was gutted after the fall of the USSR (Mozambique’s main financier and ally) and USAID support was redirected to be filtered through NGO’s and Private-Public Partnerships (P3’s), some overseen and lobbied for by the BMG. P3 hospitals poached Mozambique doctors away from the public service with promises of higher salaries, eventually causing the public health system to completely implode, and for health services in Mozambique to be operated primarily by private actors (St-Pierre, 2014). This is consistent with Global Justice Now’s accusation of promoting “corporate globalization” (2016) – using aid as an instrument to force the privatization of robust public services, transforming them into profitable commodities for sale with captive markets of desperate citizens looking for adequate health services.

One should also scrutinize the positions of humanitarian imperialists like Bill and Melinda Gates about issues not immediately within their sphere of influence. The language of humanitarian imperialism has existed quite comfortably for some time now in the circles of militarists and interventionists overseeing US imperialism’s operations on the African continent. It was the same humanitarian imperialist discourse of “saving” that was used in the US-NATO intervention in Libya (Forte, 2012), which after months of indiscriminate bombing and support for jihadi terrorist organizations, resulted in the looting of that countries oil and mineral wealth and the absolute collapse of Libyan society. The fall of Libya’s pan-Africanist, anti-imperialist oriented government also created a power vacuum quickly filled by the US African Command (AFRICOM), which is now waging wars throughout the continent.  Given that statistically speaking, wealthy Americans are the demographic most likely to support foreign military interventions abroad, and often lobby for such interventions, it would not be ridiculous to suspect that philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates were quite pleased with the Obama administration’s interventionist strategy in Libya, and the subsequent expansion of AFRICOM, seeing it all as part of the West’s great humanitarian project. A 21st-century white man’s burden.

Image result for sirte us intervention
Sirte, Libya, post US-NATO “Humanitarian” Intervention

Conclusion

While the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are perhaps the most obvious culprit given their foundation’s massive size, one should not let other foundations like the Clinton Foundation, the Trump Foundation, George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, or new entrants like the Zuckerberg Foundation, off the proverbial hook. It should be evident that philanthropic foundations, being extensions of capitalism and of the financial and political dominance of capitalists, operate according to the rules of profit-maximization and continued accumulation by dispossession. Far from being passive entities in this process, they are often its active architects and thus deserve to be regarded and scrutinized in the same way any for-profit corporation performing similar roles should be.

References

Birn, Anne-Emmanuelle, 2014. “Philanthrocapitalism, past and present: The Rockefeller Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the setting(s) of the international/ global health agenda.” Hypothesis Vol. 12, no.1: 1-27.

Connett, David. 19 February 2016. “Gates Foundation accused of ‘dangerously skewing’ aid priorities by promoting ‘corporate globalisation‘” Independent.

D’Souza, Dinesh. 2016. “How the Clinton Foundation got rich off poor HaitiansNational Review.

Edwards, Michael. 2009. “Why ‘philanthrocapitalism’ is not the answer: private initiatives and international development” in M. Kremer et al., eds., Doing Good or Doing Better: Development Policies in a Globalising World, 237-250.

Forte, Maximillian. 2012. Slouching Towards Sirte: NATO’s War on Africa and Libya. Montreal, QC: Baraka Books.

Foucault, Michel. 1976. The History of Sexuality Vol. 1. Paris, FR: Editions Gallimard.

Global Justice Now. 2016. Gated Development: Is the Gates Foundation always a force for good?

Greenwald, Glenn. 2016. “Why Did the Saudi Regime and Other Gulf Tyrannies Donate Millions to the Clinton Foundation?The Intercept.

McElwee, Sean, Brian Schaffner and Jesse Rhodes. 1 March 2017. “How Wealthy Donors Drive Aggressive Foreign Policy” in The Nation.

McGoey, Linsey. 2012. “Philanthropcapitalism and its critics.” Poetics Vol. 40, no.2: 185-199.

Morgan, Wesley and Bryan Bender. 10 December 2017. “America’s Shadow War in Africa.Politico.

Nomani, Asra. 2017. “Billionaire George Soros has ties to more than 50 ‘partners’ of the Women’s March on Washington.Women in the World. 

St-Pierre, Emile. 2014. “Iatrogenic Imperialism: NGOs and CROs as Agents of Questionable Care” in Maximilian C. Forte, ed. The New Imperialism, Volume 4. Good Intentions: The Norms and Practices of Imperial Humanitarianism. Montreal, QC: Alert Press, 37-55.

Youde, Jeremy. 2013. “The Rockefeller and Gates Foundations in Global Health Governance.” Global Society Vol. 27, no. 2: 139-158.

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90 Miles free from Empire: A Tribute to Fidel Castro and the Cuban People

“It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President. Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation. While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for el Comandante. I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honor to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba. On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.” — Justin Trudeau

(Statement by the Prime Minister of Canada on the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro)

 The above statement by Prime Minister Trudeau pushed me the closest I have ever felt in my adult life to feeling national pride. Even this (I think quite moderate) praise of the achievements of the Cuban revolution has earned Trudeau considerable backlash, from neighbors in the other imperialist countries of the USA and Europe as well as right-wing forces around the world, despite the fact that political leaders representing over 3/4ths of the world’s population joined him in praise of the late Cuban leader.
I do not mean to present Trudeau as some sort of special rebel against the imperial establishment. In fact, he quite quickly backed down from directly defending Castro. I simply note that even “giving the devil his due” so to speak, as Trudeau did (probably begrudgingly) with his statement on Castro, is maligned in the current “end of history” media discourse. Despite plenty of history happening since Francis Fukuyama claimed it was over in 1992, mainstream media clings to a world where the liberal, capitalist-imperialist order reigns supreme despite the fact that this system is bursting at its seams. With the establishment in such a conundrum, it is no wonder they want to vilify such a powerful example of a working alternative as Cuba.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world mourns the death of larger-than-life revolutionary who helped lead his country, despite being only ninety miles from the coast of Florida, to expel US-backed dictator Batista and embark on one the most profound experiments in national self-determination the world has ever seen.

United States of Hypocrisy

To be sure, Fidel did not always have the moral high ground in the way he dealt with his enemies, though I would argue neither did they. In some ways, he was not even a “good” communist.  But for setting an example that shook the arrogance of the American empire to its core, he will be always remembered. 

No doubt, this time of mourning has provided an opportunity for the Empire to bite back at defiant Cuba. The United States maintains that Cuba has scores of political prisoners locked away, yet when prompted cannot produce a list of said political prisoners, when they were arrested, or where they are held. Implying either that there are no or very few political prisoners in Cuba or that the United States is incredibly good at guesswork. Meanwhile, numerous political prisoners languish in American jails on trumped-up charges, including (but not limited to) Chelsea Manning, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, Oscar Lopez-Riviera, and others. The United States also has the world’s largest prison population overall. When they’re not in prison, Black people in the United States are targeted by police violence.

This is alone shows the utter hypocrisy of the United States and its partners, but it doesn’t stop there! We should not forget that the United States and American capitalism was built on a foundation of genocide and slavery. The United States continues to operate an international network of torture and intimidation, including in Guantanamo which it refuses to return to Cuba. The United States also continues meddle in other countries affairs either through direct intervention or regime change strategies, with costly human consequences.

Meanwhile, despite the United States acquiring vast amounts of loot from the rest of the world, everyday Americans are increasingly impoverished by neoliberal trade policies whilst Indigenous peoples live in pockets of third-world conditions.

And of course, I must comment on my home country of Canada. In addition to in many instances aiding and abetting the atrocities above (such as Trudeau’s “badass” defense minister’s role in torturing Afghan civilians), Canada is also built on genocide and exploitation in its own right. Canada’s reservations are, to this day, arguably even more atrocious than some in the United States, and Canada’s working class is living on the edge struggling to buy food.

I will not comment on Europe but I hope all readers are aware that each European power has committed more than its fair share of atrocities and genocides in the course of colonization and today plays an active role in NATO imperialism.

Whether you believe the ridiculous allegations against Cuba or not, none of the Imperial powers have any moral right to lecture Cuba on human rights.

NATO the Destroyer versus Cuba the Healer

For sure, all is not well in Cuba. There are serious problems impeding development and sustainability of the Cuban system which its leadership and its people will have to address together. However, I believe that such problems are extremely exacerbated by the massive embargo against Cuba enforced by the United States on the rest of the world, which the Cuban government estimates has an impact of $753.69 billion on the island. That’s a lot.

Yet, despite this, Cuba remains independent and resilient, continuing to build on the gains of its independence and share those gains with the world. Where NATO destroys, Cuba heals.

Below, I attempt to provide an outline of some of the most immense achievements and key elements of the Cuban revolution:

Self-Determination and Dignity for Cubans

fidelspeaks

The current government of Cuba came to power in a popular revolution led by Fidel Castro,  which ousted repressive US-supported dictator Batista. The fact that the revolution ousted such a government is an achievement in and of itself. How could Cubans ever have any sense of democracy or self-determination whilst being culturally, politically, economically, and physically dominated by the United States and its lackeys? Whether you agree with the current direction of the Cuban government, is it not more “democratic” to not be dominated by an occupying power?

However, for those who think elections are the only indicator of popular power, elections do take place in Cuba. Elections to Cuba’s national parliament (the National Assembly) take place every five years and elections to regional Municipal Assemblies every 2.5 years. Everyone is allowed to participate, including liberal dissidents despite having almost no popular support on the island. Cuba’s current socialist constitution was approved by referendum, after all. To be sure, Cuba is what we would call a one-party state and not a liberal democracy, but the idea that liberal democracy is the only kind of democracy and that anyone living under any other system is oppressed is an ethnocentric notion (for more on Cuban democracy, see book Cuba and its Neighbors linked below).

The average Cuban voter can hardly be easily deceived by sham elections when education is free, universal, and of high quality and almost the entire country is literate, a passion project of Castro’s. Cuba is ranked at number 16 in UNESCO’s Education for All Development Index, higher  than the US, which is ranked at number 25. Cubans also enjoy zero homelessness as housing is considered a human right.

Medical Internationalism

“Cuba demonstrates how much nations can do with the resources they have if they focus on the right priorities – health, education, and literacy.” — Kofi Annan

Cuba’s healthcare system is one of the crowning achievements of its socialized economy. Cuba “boasts better health indicators than its exponentially richer neighbor 90 miles across the Florida straits” (emphasis added). Life expectancy is an impressive 79. Infant mortality is 4.83 deaths per 1,000 live births compared (better than the US figure of 6.0, and incomparably better than the average for Latin America and the Caribbean, which is around 27 deaths per 1,000 live births). Cuba has the lowest HIV prevalence rate in the Americas. There is one doctor for every 220 people in Cuba – “one of the highest ratios in the world, compared with one for every 370 in England” (emphasis added). These successful healthcare initiatives are based in communities they serve, oriented towards holistic health and prevention, and mostly free at the point of use as they are funded through state revenue from other industries.

In addition to rebuilding the health system of its sister socialist country, Venezuela, Cuba’s international medical aid has helped restore sight to millions of people across Latin America and the Caribbean. Cuba also has spread its hard-won expertise in the field of saving lives across huge number of other countries in the Global South. “A third of Cuba’s 75,000 doctors, along with 10,000 other health workers, are currently working in 77 poor countries.” Cuba is especially very active in the fight against the scourge of AIDS internationally, for example having helped Zambia to start manufacturing its own antiretrovirals, a project which reflects Cuba’s deep commitments to Africa (more below). Cuba also provides medical training to numerous countries through the  la Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina, including Black Americans.

Cuba, Caribbean, Africa

“As Fidel ascends to the realm of the ancestors, we summon his guidance, strength, and power as we recommit ourselves to the struggle for universal freedom. Fidel Vive!” (Black Lives Matter)

Image result for castro and malcolm xFidel was, to put it simply “an unwavering champion of racial equality, bumping elbows and building friendships with some of the most regarded members of the Black liberation struggle, especially Nelson Mandela, as well as more maligned Black and African radicals such as Malcolm X (pictured) and Moammar Qaddafi. Fidel embraced his own African heritage and Africa’s strong influence on Cuba and the Caribbean islands, long maligned by western-backed regimes. The revolution quickly started attacking racism at its roots, vowing to “straighten out what history has twisted.

Perhaps even more significant and monumental is Fidel and Cuba’s immense sacrifice to secure African independence from colonialism, a struggle which it continues to support. Cuban troops fought side-by-side with Angolan and Namibian revolutionaries to liberate their nations from the domination of European imperialism and the scourge of Apartheid. This culminated in victory at the battle of Cuito Cuanavale (“Africa’s Stalingrad”) after immense struggle by Angolans, Namibians, and their Cuban allies.

I cannot understate the power and significance of such solidarity. In the words of Nelson Mandela:

The Cuban internationalists have made a contribution to African independence, freedom and justice unparalleled for its principled and selfless character… We in Africa are used to being victims of countries wanting to carve up our territory or subvert our sovereignty. It is unparalleled in African history to have another people rise to the defense of one of us (emphasis added).

In addition, Fidel Castro has defended US political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal and provided asylum for Asata Shakur and numerous other Black Panthers fleeing political repression in the United States.

With all this in mind, we should not be surprised, for example, at Colin Kaepernick’s tacit endorsement of Cuban literacy programs and support for African liberation, as this has directly benefited Africans and Afro-Americans.

Rainbow Solidarity, Gender Equality, and Fidel’s Self-Criticism

In a display of humility and honesty very rare for a politician, Fidel Castro admitted responsibility for the mistreatment of gays and other queer people in Cuba in the early decades of the revolution. This of course, should not excuse Castro and the Cuban government of further criticism in this area. However, I do think the attempts at reconciliation with the LGBTQ+ community of Cuba and the world are profound. As David Duran writes: “Cuba is leading by example and positively affecting the lives of not only the LGBT people who reside there but others all over the world who see these massive changes taking place so quickly in a country where most would think the topic of homosexuality would be off-limits.”

To emphasize this state support for LGBTQ+ rights, Cuba has instituted the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) campaigns for “the development of a culture of sexuality that is full, pleasurable and responsible, as well as to promote the full exercise of sexual rights.” This includes especially working to combat homophobia and to move away from elements of “machismo” culture often associated with Latin America.

In addition,  43% of parliament members are female. 64% of university places are occupied by women. “Cuban women comprise 66% of all technicians and professionals in the country’s middle and higher levels. Women are given 18 weeks’ maternity leave on full pay, with extended leave at 60% pay until the child is one year old.

“By several measures, Cuba has achieved a high standard of gender equality, despite the country’s reputation for machismo, a Latin American variant of sexism. Save the Children ranks Cuba first among developing countries for the wellbeing of mothers and children, the report points out. The World Economic Forum places Cuba 20th out of 153 countries in health, literacy, economic status and political participation of women – ahead of all countries in Latin America except Trinidad and Tobago.” (Emphasis added, Center for Democracy in the Americas).

The “New Indians” and Decolonization

This is an area where Trudeau could learn from Castro. As noted before, the conditions of indigenous peoples in North America is atrocious, exacerbating by colonial exploitation of their lands and resources. Castro immediately recognized the conditions on Native reservations and compared them to the impact of sanctions on Cuba. Castro understood that colonialism is a relationship of economic exploitation rather than purely cultural conflict, saying of Cuba:

we are the new Indians of this hemisphere. I was saying that in my opinion, when we analyze the social and economic situation of our peoples, I said that the level of exploitation is greater, and in my opinion, in this hemisphere our peoples have become net exporters of capital to the rich countries, to those who have exploited us for centuries, those who made themselves the owners…those that became rich with our sweat and blood, and today continue to exploit us”. (emphases added, Fidel Castro, 1990)

Because of this shared experience of colonial exploitation and repression, Cuba upon request recognized the Seminole Nation of Florida in 1960 as a sovereign nation with the right to independence. Cuba has also provided life-saving diabetes treatments to the Mohawk Nation. It is clear Cuba recognizes the importance of indigenous peoples and decolonization, which might explain the reemergence of the Taino peoples, which the Spanish supposedly exterminated, on the island in recent years.

Cuba and the Philippines: Fraternal Nations

As someone with an interest in Maoist politics, it is interesting to me that despite the Cuban revolutionaries choosing to side with the Soviet bloc over China (as was their prerogative) that the Cuban revolution remains important to Maoist movements despite their substantial differences. This is especially true of the Philippines, which also shares a history of both Spanish and American colonization with Cuba. Jose Maria Sison, leader of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and a prominent member of the Communist Party of the Philippines notes”While Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolutionaries were still in the Sierra Maestra, their revolutionary struggle caught the attention of the world and of course the student organization to which I belonged in the University of the Philippines. Our organization [the underground Patriotic Youth] was engaged in forming study circles for the purpose of resuming the unfinished Philippine revolution for national and social liberation against foreign and feudal domination.”

Even among non-revolutionary Filipinos, the Cuban revolution stands tall. President Rodrigo Duterte has sent emissaries to Cuba in hopes of emulating its healthcare system, de facto following the policy recommendations of the National Democratic Front’s think tank.

In short, according to Sison:

“There is a strong sense of solidarity and empathy between the Filipino and Cuban peoples because they have suffered under Spanish colonialism and US imperialism and struggled against these two foreign powers. They admire each other’s revolutionary struggles and victories. The Filipino people are inspired by the great victory of the Cuban people in liberating themselves from US imperialism and local reactionary classes of big compradores and landlords represented by the Batista regime.” (emphasis added, Jose Maria Sison)

The full interview with Sison by Julia Camagong appears below:

[Many thanks to Carlos Martinez for providing many of the sources cited above, which originally appeared in his article 20 Reasons to Support Cuba

Recommended Further Reading:

cuba_and_its_neighbours

Cuba and It’s Neighbors: Democracy in Motion by Arnold August

Arnold August’s Cuba and its Neighbours  “explores Cuba’s unique form of democracy, presenting a detailed and balanced analysis of Cuba’s electoral process and the state’s functioning between elections. By comparing it with practices in the U.S., Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, August shows that people’s participation in politics and society is not limited to a singular U.S.-centric understanding of democracy. For example, democracy as practised in the U.S. is largely non-participatory, static and fixed in time.” (From the book description). August is a Montreal, QC resident.

I also recommend people reading Dr. Maximilian Forte’s review of August’s book, where Forte discusses the concepts of Cuban and socialist democracy in greater detail and compares them to liberal democracy, which he terms “democratic elitism”. See Part 1 and Part 2 here.

Cuba: A Revolution in Motion by Isaac Saney

This accessible, up-to-date and comprehensive introduction to Cuba today provides both students and general readers with a sense of the changes-and continuities-in Cuba through the 1990s.  Saney describes the economic crash, new policies and subsequent recovery during the ‘Special Period.’

If like me, you are from the Atlantic region of Canada, Saney is especially engaging, as he teaches at Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS and is regularly involved in socialist and anti-imperialist politics there.

Exit Music

There is so much more that I wish I could dedicate time to comment on concerning Fidel Castro and Cuba’s immense achievements. In addition to the accomplishments above, Cuba boasts a sustainable system of organic agriculture, excellent achievements in science,and  uncompromising solidarity with Palestine against Israeli colonization.

In short, rest in power Fidel; history has absolved you.

 

Other Commemorations to Fidel Castro:

Updates:

I am truly overwhelmed. I do not think I was using hyperbole when I said that 3/4ths of the world is in mourning this month (if not many more people). In addition to the two new commemorations I have added, one from the Chinese Premier and one from the ALBA Social Movements, the United Nations has held a minute of silence to respect Castro’s passing, and Cubans have turned out en masse to mourn their fallen commandante.