Sunday, 24 January 2021

Biden: The Masquerade


This is Back in the USSR, I am Siegfried, and welcome to the “new era” my friends.  Trump is gone, the “adults” are back in the room, “sanity” has won through and everything is good…right? Well no.  But there are plenty of powerful interests that want you to believe that right now and the PR blitz is nothing short of breathtaking.

Last week, in my first show of the new year, I went into the details of the present situation and the literal catastrophe that capitalism has unleashed on America and many other countries that fundamentally failed to come to grips with the pandemic.  And the reason is because these countries, Canada included, placed profits before people.  This fundamental fact isn’t going to change, regardless of how many times Biden repeats that he is going to act “according to the science”. 

Let’s unpack that for a moment.  Biden just promised to vaccinate 100 million people by the end of his first hundred days in office.  And no doubt that’s some impressive rhetoric after all the nonsense Trump was spewing over the course of last year.  But it is equally nonsensical.  The United States doesn’t have a functioning healthcare system right now.  There is no mass testing, no targeted quarantines, no effective effort to stop the virus at its source, no shutting down of non-essential workplaces, no adequate income support for workers, and no debt relief.  Beyond a slight expansion of the food stamp program and an extension on the repayment of student loans, there might, and I stress MIGHT, be a $1400 federal cheque for each person rolling out sometime in the first half of 2021 IF Biden’s stimulus bill is passed unaltered, which is unlikely given that he’s committed himself to working with the Republicans and Wall Street Democrats.  In this environment, even if 100 million vaccines could be distributed to the public, which, once again, seems to be to be administratively impossible given the state of American healthcare, it wouldn’t stop the pandemic.  For it to end the pandemic, the virus would have already have had to be contained before the vaccination campaign began.  China is in a position to do this, but America is not.  Vaccination is only the last step of containing the virus, not the first.

Biden’s “health strategy” is basically too little, too late.  And the same could be said for virtually every single one of the fifteen executive orders that he signed on his first day in office and which some people have been hailing as great progressive victories.  As I mentioned earlier, he extended the already existing freeze on student loan repayments until September.  That’s not debt relief, that’s just delaying the inevitable.  The same goes for his extending the moratorium on evictions until March.  Rent and student debt are both deep points of crisis in America, amounting to trillions of dollars, and neither of these executive orders will do anything to solve them.  And the fact that one of the laws that Biden championed in his recent legislative career was a federal bankruptcy law that denied people the ability to file for bankruptcy because of student debt says it all.  That law is still on the books.  Too little, too late.

You might say the same thing about Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline.  I’ve seen certain activists almost reduced to tears of thankfulness over this one.  And while it does open up a certain avenue to put pressure on Canadian politicians, who continue to press for the construction of pipelines on stolen indigenous land, it’s hardly a radical decision and in many ways serves to mask a much deeper problem.  Keystone XL was already dead in the water by 2021.  It had been held up by judicial orders, administrative red-tape, public pressure, indigenous resistance, and the loss of prominent investors.  I think even the Koch brothers finally abandoned it as a dead-end.  Jason Kenney and his goon squad in Alberta were about the only ones still holding out hope that it would be finished.  So, this is an easy move for Biden to make in order to give him environmental street cred, and it’s the same thing with re-joining the Paris Climate Accords.  It doesn’t mean that he has to do much or make greater commitments.  You’ll notice that the Dakota Access Pipeline, resistance to which led to the Standing Rock protests and a massive crackdown on indigenous land defenders, isn’t touched in this executive order.

Tar-sands oil was never all that profitable, let’s face it.  Fracked natural gas on the other hand is very, very profitable and America has been going crazy with it.  It’s highly unlikely that Biden is going to move against this industry, critical if America is going to do anything to cut greenhouse gases substantially, and threaten the profits of his Wall Street backers.  Especially when he said he was going to ban fracking during the primaries and then completely reversed his position when it came to the actual presidential election.  But it doesn’t take much to appear environmentally conscious after Trump. 

As I said last week, China already has 3.5 times more installed renewable energy capacity than the United States does, possesses the majority of the world’s green transit systems, and has made firm commitments to go carbon neutral by mid-century.  A country that is addicted to fracking and beholden to the demands of Wall Street for short-term profitability isn’t likely to make much of a dent in its carbon emissions unless revolutionary change occurs. 

Biden’s act of simply rejoining the Paris Climate Accords is window dressing, especially seeing that the UN and leading scientists are all saying that the goals of those accords are far from enough.  And it doesn’t inspire confidence that, in a list of American politicians who received money from the fossil fuels industry, Biden was second only to Trump in the amount that he got.  That means some folks in expensive suits are going to be calling in favors pretty soon.

At best, what you’ve got here in a long list of half-measures.  Biden just raised the federal minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour, but that’s largely a symbolic gesture given that there’s nothing to prevent employers from cutting back on their staff or limiting the number of hours they work.  Nor will the majority of workers be affected by the change and it certainly won’t have the effect of reversing the wave of poverty that we’re seeing in America today.  Nor is there anything in the list addressing mass incarceration or the prison-industrial complex that Biden did so much to expand through his crime bill in the 1990s.  Are prison laborers going to get a fifteen-dollar minimum wage in federal penitentiaries? I don’t think so.

Getting into foreign policy.  One of the things Biden was hailed for is reversing the racist Trump-era travel ban on seven Muslim majority countries.  Except he didn’t reverse the December 2015 Visa Waiver Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act signed by Barack Obama, that designated Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia as “areas of concern” and heavily restricted travel to and from these countries on the basis of racially profiling Muslims as “terrorists”.  Trump’s total ban on travel from these countries was based on this law and it looks like it isn’t going anywhere.  Like everything on this list of executive orders, the promise falls apart when you dig a little deeper.

For example, merely ending Trump’s border wall won’t get those kids out of those cages in the ICE concentration camps and re-unite them with their families.  This is the most powerful man in the world, and he could free those kids at the snap of a finger.  Just like he could snap his finger and cancel student debt or ensure adequate healthcare.  But he won’t.  And remember that the Obama/Biden administration was responsible for more deportations that any other US administration, including Trump’s.  It’s a whitewash.

And where is the firm commitment from Biden to end the war in Yemen that he helped to start in 2015? Where is the firm commitment to end the crippling sanctions against the Syrian, Iranian and Venezuelan peoples? Where is the commitment to pull occupying US troops out of the sovereign countries of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria? Where is the commitment to end military brinkmanship with China and military provocations in the South China Sea? Where is the commitment for a constructive dialogue with China and Russia? I haven’t seen anything and I think all the nonsense around Russiagate, a fraudulent and utterly futile attempt to bring down Trump by attacking him from the right, will seriously undermine the prospects for world peace, not to mention the utterly racist demonization of China in US politics and media.

The most that the guardian of the capitalist system will give to workers and the oppressed are crumbs, half-measures and empty promises.  It’s a masquerade.  The president serves Wall Street and the Fortune 500, not the people and Biden’s already promised his real constituents that nothing would fundamentally change after his election.  He’s leaving neoliberalism and hypercapitalism fully intact and only rolling back some of the things that Trump did that the capitalist state considers superfluous.  And they want you to drop your guard and shut up.  Don’t fall for it.  This is the equivalent of giving a galley slave a little vinegar to revive him just enough to keep rowing his master’s ship.  That’s “stimulus” for you.

            It comes down to this, I will not apologize for this new emperor of the American Empire.  I will not blindly accept him as “better than Trump” or be thankful for “the lesser of two evils”.  I fight for a world without emperors or empires.  Without exploitation and systemic oppression.  I am a communist and I do not support these blatant attempts by the new administration to whitewash a fundamentally monstrous system.  It’s the same old carrot and stick approach that the capitalist class has always used to maintain its power and hegemony over everyone else.  Trump was not an “anomaly” or a “mistake”.  He was the product of an evil system, the same system that Biden is trying to normalize and rehabilitate in the midst of a pandemic and economic crisis brought about by the profit motive’s unsustainable drive for expansion.  And this is after he stole the primaries and stomped all over Bernie Sanders and his supporters, blocking any meaningful attempts at reform. 

Joe Biden promised to be an effective chief salesman of capitalism.  And the last thing the world needs is another champion of neoliberalism who sells exploitation with a smile the way Obama did.  The only silver-lining is that Biden is unlikely to be able to convince a majority of Black people in America to support imperialist war in the way Obama did.

What I’m seeing in Joe Biden’s election and replacement of Donald Trump at the head of the American Empire is continuity rather than change.  Speaking as a non-American, I hope that America remains mired in domestic disputes and infighting for a long time to come.  A strong America is not in the interests of working class and oppressed people both internally and internationally.  A disunited America in disarray means more peace for the rest of the world and more space for alternative systems to grow.


Sunday, 17 January 2021

2021: A Short Introduction


Hello comrades and friends, this is Siegfried speaking for Back in the USSR, and welcome to our first show of 2021.  It hurts to admit that I haven’t recorded a new episode for the past four weeks.  Like so many people, I was demoralized.  I was scared.  I was uncertain.  I was sleep-deprived.  I didn’t know what to say or where to begin.  Especially when the new year rang in with increasing COVID fatalities and new lockdowns.  And there was no end in sight. 

The best-case scenario for Canada is that a vaccine will reach the general public by the fall of this year.  That’s going to be too late for a whole lot of people who will get sick and die because of the policies put in place by the federal and provincial governments.  Instead of mass COVID testing and quarantining virus outbreaks at their source, the Government of Ontario has put profit first and people second: sending people back to work and school without the virus being contained and often without adequate safety measures.  Cargill, a major meatpacking plant in Guelph, remains open despite being the source of a large-scale COVID outbreak that has claimed the lives of at least two people.  It’s the same story all over the country, with social assistance drying up and workers compelled to put themselves in harms way for the sake of a paycheque.  It should come as no surprise that infections are increasing and that Doug Ford’s “stay-at-home” orders amount to window dressing and nothing more.  Quebec’s measure of instituting a dusk to dawn curfew has proven to be equally ineffective at halting the spread of the virus yet very effective at encouraging police harassment.

The international situation is also bleak.  Whether its fascists storming the US capitol with the open collaboration of law-enforcement or the outgoing Trump Administration ratcheting up tensions with China, Russia and Iran with aggressive military build-ups and provocative statements, things are not looking good.  Nor does Joe Biden appear to offer any solutions.

The American Empire is in a dangerous mood and there’s no telling what it will do next, the only guarantee is that it will be violent.  Instead of putting people first and going all out to halt a pandemic that has claimed more than 400,000 lives in the US, congress has instead passed a record-breaking military budget and handed literally trillions of dollars to big business.  At the same time, it has been bickering over whether the public should get a one-time cheque of $600 or $2000 per person in federal relief, which amounts to next to nothing when rent and other expenses are factored in, nor is debt forgiveness being considered.  And, of course, they want to blame China for the catastrophic and systemic problems that the pandemic has exposed for all the world to see.  American capitalism, as well as global capitalism, is in a deep crisis.

But this fact only highlights and confirms the very real successes that socialist societies around the world, including socialist countries suffering under sanctions and blockades, have had in combating the pandemic over the past year.  In the case of China, they achieved much more than bringing COVID-19 under control, they actually broke the bonds of poverty itself, successfully overcoming one of the cruelest legacies of colonialism.  China has entirely eliminated extreme poverty, even in Xinjiang and Tibet.  It also landed the Chang’e 5 spacecraft on the moon, dispatched the Tianwen-1 spacecraft to Mars and launched its own GPS-style satellite network.  I could also get into China’s recent advances in quantum computing, nuclear fusion, high-speed rail, electric vehicles and semi-conductors but I think you get the picture.  China’s total renewable energy capacity reached 840 GW in 2020 (3.5x that of the US), including 240 GW of solar power.

It’s worth recalling the hostile and utterly racist attitude that the Western media displayed toward China from the beginning of the pandemic one year ago.  The COVID-19 virus was portrayed as the death-knell for China’s socialist “authoritarian” state, offering final proof of its failure and illegitimacy.  The pundits were positively crowing that the end was near for the People’s Republic of China and for the Chinese Communist Party, with the Wall Street Journal proclaiming that “China is the real sick man of Asia” (thus resurrecting a racist stereotype common at the beginning of the 20th Century).  Nor did any of them seriously consider that the virus might threaten their own countries.  It was a “Chinese Virus”.  Smug in their own delusions of superiority, they sat back to watch the presumed death-throes of another “evil empire”, with Donald Trump declaring that the United States was the best prepared country in the world for a pandemic and that no additional measures were needed.

One year later, the world is a very different place.  China didn’t collapse.  Not only did it successfully contain the pandemic in the winter months of 2020, not only was it was the only major economy to see growth that year, it also fulfilled its goal of eliminating extreme poverty by the end of December.  Even in the most remote and isolated regions of the country, people now have adequate shelter, income, healthcare and nutrition. 

There was also an extraordinary coming together in the face of the pandemic.  Chinese doctors and healthcare workers were given all the tools they needed and put in extraordinary live-saving efforts, often in new hospitals purpose-built and rapidly constructed to deal with the influx of COVID patients, in a nation-wide coordinated campaign.  Huge labs were built that were capable of conducting thousands of COVID tests per day along with mobile labs that were able to test whole neighborhoods at a time.  Communist Party committees ensured that people were fed and that their needs were met, even in cities under heavy quarantine, sometimes delivering food and necessities via drone.  Everyone followed the science and did their part.  The response was unified, pro-active and effective.  Wuhan, the first city to experience the outbreak, came out of lockdown after 76 days, while most other affected cities were able to safely re-open after two to three weeks.

China’s anti-virus measures extended worldwide.  China was the number one supplier of personal protective equipment to the whole world in 2020, and dramatically expanded production capacity to meet rising demand.  China supplied no less than 40 billion masks to the US alone over the course of the year, along with 12,000 ventilators – which is not something that the mainstream media likes to talk about.  China was also able to deliver desperately needed medical supplies to countries devastated by US sanctions like Venezuela and Iran, much to the Empire’s anger.  It also has the greatest number of COVID vaccines in phase 3 trial and will likely become the world’s leading vaccine supplier in 2021.  It is noteworthy that Chinese vaccines, the SINOVAC vaccine in particular, have undergone far more rigorous and widespread testing than the candidates put forward by Western corporations like Pfizer and Moderna.

China is now pretty much back to normal; millions of people traveled around the country during the National Day holiday at the beginning of last October.  Christmas and New Years were marked with large-scale parties.  Chinese New Year 2021, which is coming up in February, will likely be just as busy as it was in 2019 when I was over there teaching.

The United States, by contrast, has been tearing itself apart, as have other Western countries, but none so spectacularly as this supposedly “indispensable nation”.  Warnings were ignored, three months worth of precious time was wasted, the healthcare system (such as it existed) rapidly broke down, and all efforts were made to reopen the economy as fast as possible, even as the death count mounted, while attempts to educate the public were half-assed at best.  The result of these anti-human policies is a country that has over 1000 COVID deaths per million among its citizens, compared with just 3 per million in China.

Consider that when California first imposed a lockdown in March 2020, the state ordered all non-essential businesses to remain closed.  However, when it re-imposed the lockdown in December, at the peak of the holiday shopping season, all retail stores were allowed to remain open, even as outdoor parks were closed and COVID deaths were spiking.  That’s what capitalism looks like.  Profit comes first, public health a distant second.

In addition to exposing the tyranny of the profit motive, the pandemic also exposed the tyranny of racism in American society.  America is a white supremacist nation that also relies on a multi-ethnic and multi-national workforce, a contradiction that it tries to literally paper over with a highly flawed and woefully out of date constitution that it still promotes as being “divinely inspired”.  Of course, Asian Americans were widely scapegoated for the pandemic and faced a wave of racist violence in which they were yelled at, spit on and physically assaulted.  University students and professors of a Chinese background faced a virtual inquisition at the hands of academia and the FBI, with some being deported or railroaded into prison on trumped up espionage-related charges.  Of course, the killing George Floyd and numerous other Black Americans by racist cops only further confirmed the criminal nature of an American system built upon slavery and genocide and resulted in mass protests that were met with savage repression by the authorities. 

The storming of the capitol on January 6th by thousands of outright fascists is only the latest confirmation that the American Empire has hit a proverbial brick wall and that its many, many, many chickens are coming home to roost.  It’s no wonder that some Chinese social media commentators, including some who attended university in America, have started referring to the US system and American politics as a “black hole” that is impervious to change from within and will require immense external pressure if it is to adopt a saner and more humane policy stance.

Similar remarks could be made about the UK, which had a similar botched response to the pandemic and has lost more than 100,000 people.  The only thing that has made things a little more bearable in England is the presence of the NHS public healthcare system, which, although badly defunded and riddled with cutbacks, is still better than anything the Americans have. 

You could say the same thing about Canada, although Ontario in particular is looking pretty shabby right now with its overflowing hospitals and morgues, after enduring decades of budget cuts and downsizing under Tory and Liberal governments alike.  Neoliberal policies facilitated this disaster and that should never be lost sight of.  Cutbacks cost lives, big time in the case of a pandemic.

The American Empire, not surprisingly, has lashed out amid its suffering.  Illegal sanctions against Iran, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela were tightened to unheard of levels at the height of the pandemic and all diplomatic protests were ignored.  The Empire wanted to impose as much suffering as it could, cutting off supplies of life-saving medicines to numerous countries, resulting in many needless deaths and untold suffering.  Yet none of these sanctioned countries succumbed and all preserved their independence. 

Socialist Cuba now has four indigenously produced vaccine candidates for COVID 19. Venezuela has developed its own highly effectively treatment for the disease.  And Iran has been working closely with China and Venezuela alike to develop its own effective response to the pandemic. 

Venezuela and Cuba, both socialist countries, have weathered the storm far better than neoliberal American client states like Ecuador and Brazil, which have been devastated.  Both have seen their socialist systems further entrenched in the collective effort of fighting the disease while resisting an ever more aggressive American blockade.  Even Iran has lost fewer people than either the UK or US, both of which may ultimately need those Cuban vaccines when corporate giants like Pfizer fail to deliver…as they already have in some cases.

Overall, it has been the capitalist heartland of North America and Western Europe that has been exposed for all its lies and deception over the course of 2020.  While socialist states keep advancing, aiding all those countries that seek their assistance, nature has dealt the capitalist world a blow from which it will never recover.  As hard as it might be for many people to admit, the evidence is clear: China works, Cuba works, socialism works, but capitalism doesn’t work and neither do the countries that fanatically embrace it. 

We saw the future in how China handled the crisis, putting people before profit.  We saw the future in how the Bolivian people took back their country from a brutal right-wing coup regime backed by the United States.  We saw the future in how tens of millions of workers and farmers rose up across India, challenging a government dominated by open fascists that had thrown them to the wolves.  We saw the future in how countless thousands of people rose up and defied the police across North America, rejecting systemic racism and the efforts of pro-capitalist politicians to silence or co-opt them.  Working class and oppressed people were making history around the world in 2020.  The world did not stand still.  And the same will be true in 2021.

The great Rosa Luxembourg, whose assassination at the hands of a right-wing death squad in the streets of Weimar Berlin was memorialized last week, stated that the world is faced with a stark choice: socialism or barbarism.  The death of Patrice Lumumba, a dear comrade who met a similar fate on January 17 1961, also stood for socialism and against barbarism.  The pandemic has brought this fundamental choice into the limelight and made it inescapable.  Everyone must now ask themselves whether they want to build socialism in 2021 or contribute to barbarism in 2021.  There is no middle ground and we are at a crossroads.

One of these two directions has a future, the other does not.  Socialists fight for life.  Capitalists embrace death.  Which side are you on?