Sunday, 27 June 2021

Cancel Canada Day

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You’re listening to Back in the USSR, comrades and friends.  This is Siegfried.  Once more, things did not work out as planned.  I planned on making new episodes of the show on a more regular basis after the long hiatus I took this spring, but, as it so often does, life got in the way and I was unable to do that.  That being said, I’ve wanted to make a show about the topic that I’m going to discuss today for quite some time now.  It’s not an easy subject to discuss.  Many of the details are absolutely horrific.  But as settlers on stolen native land, we have to see the truth of indigenous genocide and confront its reality.  The discovery of the bodies of hundreds of indigenous children beneath the grounds of multiple former residential schools cannot be papered over by the rhetoric and false promises of politicians.  Mass murder is a Canadian reality and Canada Day, July 1, should be a day of mourning, not celebration.  Countries built on genocide should never be celebrated.  If we want a country that we can be proud of, we’ll have to vanquish colonialism and start again.  I’m firmly convinced of this.

Earlier this month, I attended the gathering in downtown Guelph to mourn for the 215 indigenous children discovered in unmarked graves on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.  Since then, the grounds of other former residential schools have also been investigated through the use of ground-penetrating radar and hundreds more bodies have been found.  This past Thursday, on June 24, the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan reported that between 600 and 751 unmarked children’s graves were discovered at the former Marieval Residential School.  Like the Kamloops school, Marieval was also run by the Catholic Church in cooperation with the Canadian Government between 1886 and 1970.  In a statement, the Cowessess First Nation stated that “our community is in mourning and our families are in pain.  Every one of our Cowessess members has a family member buried there.  The pain we are feeling is real.”

It’s important to remember that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), in the final report of its investigation into residential schools released in 2015, documented 566 deaths at this school alone over the course of its nine decades of operation and admitted that the true numbers were likely much higher.  Remember that there were 139 residential schools across Canada, created under the Indian Act with the specifically stated intention of destroying indigenous culture and assimilating children into white society by stealing them away from their families and communities, forbidding them from speaking their own languages and placing them under some of the cruelest disciplinary regimes imaginable.  These were genocidal institutions. 

The TRC confirmed 6000 deaths related to the residential school system, but given its magnitude and its longevity, with the last school not closing until 1997, that is almost certainly a gross undercount of the true figure.  As more and more bodies come to light, we’re discovering the truth that the Government of Canada and the various churches it collaborated with (Catholic, Anglican, United etc.) in running school was not only committing cultural genocide, but physical genocide as well.  The residential schools weren’t just brainwashing and horrifically abusing indigenous people, they were killing indigenous people, and doing so on a large scale across many decades.  White Canadian heroes like Tommy Douglas and Pierre Trudeau did nothing to stop this murderous system, instead they facilitated it.

It’s important to note that we know who perpetrated these crimes.  This is not a mystery.  Beginning in 2005, the Federal Government hired seventeen private investigative firms to track down thousands of people guilty of physically and sexually abusing children at residential schools.  But they weren’t tracked down to face criminal charges, only to see if they would be willing to testify in hearings to determine compensation for residential school survivors.  Needless to say, very few of them agreed to do so.  As a comrade of mine pointed out, probably a dozen different people who work under Carolyn Bennett (Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs) have the power to unilaterally acquire and leak the names of 5315 already-identified residential school abusers contained on a secure server at the cost of their jobs, and they just don't.  So, all these abusers are known to the government and all of them are walking free despite having been active participants in genocide, how’s that for a travesty of justice? Yet it’s hardly surprising in the context of a settler-colonial society, founded on the destruction of indigenous nations, that wants to sweep these crimes under the rug.

And, of course, Justin Trudeau’s up there doing his usual clown routine, talking endlessly about how he’s “committed to truth and reconciliation.” Giving the same false promises and empty rhetoric that he gave during the Wet’suwet’en anti-pipeline protests last year.  He’s expressed his horror and disgust without making any firm commitments, which is kind of his calling card by this point.  In true White Canadian fashion, he’s all about deflection, to the point of arguing that Canada owns up to its genocidal “past” unlike China with the Uighur population of Xinjiang.  Once again, trying to sweep the residential school issue under the rug by shouting “look over there”. 

This would be truly laughable if it were not so serious.  This settler-colonial country founded on genocide trying to distract people from its very real, documented, undeniable crimes, by pointing to a post-colonial socialist state that even the US state department’s lawyers say cannot be charged with genocide based on the current situation in Xinjiang in accordance with international law.  I’m sure the thousands and thousands of residential school survivors in Canada and the US (because there were plenty of similar institutions there too) would love to have the wall-to-wall media coverage and attention that these handful of Uighur “concentration camp" survivors get.  You know, the many, many, many survivors of the real genocide that’s been documented by multiple royal commissions and official government reports (the TRC alone made 94 recommendations in its 2015 report on residential schools, which the Canadian government has effectively ignored), as opposed to the sham genocide alleged to in bogus studies by US government funded hacks like Adrian Zenz affiliated with the neoconservative Jamestown Foundation and the quasi-fascist Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.  The current genocide allegations against China are not unlike what happened in the 1980s when the Reagan Administration promoted the bogus claims of far-right Ukrainians that more people died in the 1933 “Holodomor” famine than were killed in the Holocaust – which some of these same Ukrainians actually participated in, by the way, including our own Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s grandfather, who she remains very proud of.

Settler-colonial governments promote fake genocide narratives about other countries while covering up the real genocides that they commit or are complicit in at home or abroad.  Even in the face of undeniable evidence, like the hundreds of dead children unearthed at these former residential schools, they still try to claim the moral high ground and attempt to point the finger at someone else.  And all this after more than a century of policies aimed at crushing indigenous people politically, economically and culturally.  It’s the ultimate in cowardice and hypocrisy.

But fortunately, people are waking up.  Hundreds of people showed up to the event that I attended earlier this month, mourning the 215 children found in Kamloops.  There are major actions planned for July 1st.  Egerton Ryerson, the founder of Ryerson University in Toronto and one of the key architects of the residential school system, had his statue torn down.  Thousands of people have stood in solidarity with indigenous people across the country as they fight for truth and justice.  And thousands more have agreed to “cancel Canada Day”, refusing to celebrate genocide.  A shift in consciousness is taking place, not unlike what happened during the Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests last year only more profound. 

But anger and tears are not enough.  Reparations need to be made to residential school survivors and their communities, not only by the government but by the churches that ran the schools.  Surviving perpetrators of abuse at these schools should be tried for their crimes and punished.  The racist Indian Act needs to be torn up.  Treaties must be respected.  The tyranny of Child Protection Services over indigenous families, which continues to tear indigenous children away from their communities, must be brought to an immediate end.  Serious action must be taken to protect indigenous women and girls, NO MORE STOLEN SISTERS.  And indigenous nations must have genuine self-determination and sovereignty over their lands in the face of capitalist development projects, pipelines, and extractive industry.  And, in the end, a new constitutional arrangement must be democratically drafted, voted on and put into effect to end the mechanisms of colonialism and make this country a voluntary federation of distinct nations.

Canada will most likely not survive a process this thorough.  The old settler-colonial country will have to die and a new country will have to be built in its place.  But if that’s what justice demands, then it must be done.  We can’t have it both ways.  White Canadians in particular are going to have to make a choice, whether they want colonialism or justice.  Indigenous people have made their voices clear.  We must listen to them and decide what it is that we want for ourselves.  I for one, would like to see those of us of European descent become something better than colonizers and abusers. 

We can’t keep leaning on BIPOC people to tell us what to do or make all the decisions for us, putting all the burden on their shoulders.  That’s childish and racist.  We have to take responsibility and decide for ourselves what we want to be.  What future do we want? No one else can do this for us and there’s a lot of right-wing, reactionary forces that want to stunt our growth and keep us tied to colonialism.  White people need to stop being good little colonial policemen.  White people need to stop being good little colonial conscripts keeping everyone else in line within a racist system.  We need to rebel.  We need to mutiny.  We need to evolve.  If we do this, there is no reason why we can’t become some of the world’s fiercest fighters against systems of oppression and exploitation.  The mutinous soldier is always the empire’s most dangerous foe.  Remember 1917.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Solidarity with the People of Colombia

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You’re listening to Back in the USSR, I am Siegfried, and I’d like to welcome you, comrades and friends, to our latest episode. 

Last week, I focused on Palestine and the defiance of a colonized people in the face of the brutal violence being inflicted on them by an occupation force wielding some of the most powerful and advanced weapons in the world.  More than two hundred Palestinians died in Gaza alone over ten days of bombardment, including numerous children.  While a ceasefire last Friday has finally given Gaza some peace, the government of the Israeli Apartheid state continues to crack down on Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  In fact, only hours after the ceasefire came into effect in Gaza, Israeli security forces again attacked Palestinian worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  It has to be remembered that the latest round of escalation in violence began with Israeli attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the evictions of Palestinian families in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, not in Gaza.  It’s not over, comrades and friends.  Violence is a pervasive feature of any settler-colonial system and we must continue to stand with Palestine until liberation is achieved for all its people.  Don’t turn away.  Keep up the solidarity.  There was another major march in Toronto on the 22nd, thousands of people coming out supporting Palestine, let’s keep this up and force the Canadian government to stop collaborating with Israeli Apartheid.

I’d like to devote this episode to another country where people are rising against a brutal neo-colonial regime backed by the United States and Canada.  A country that has been dubbed the “Israel of Latin America”. 

Colombia is a country where institutional violence has been normalized to a terrifying degree.  A country where to be a trade unionist, human rights activist, or indigenous leader means facing down a murderous array of hitmen, death squads, undercover cops and soldiers. 

Colombia is among the most neo-liberal and pro-capitalist countries on earth.  Multi-national corporations, including numerous Canadian mining companies, face almost no regulations or restrictions.  Meanwhile, those who would challenge the plundering of resources by these companies, their exploitation of workers, and theft of indigenous land, face death and torture, mainly at the hands of right-wing paramilitary gangs aligned with the state. 

Colombia has been in a state of civil war for decades, as left-wing guerilla groups fight for change against a brutal government that has so far crushed every attempt at peaceful political and economic reform.

But the Colombian people have had enough of this horrendous status quo.  In the midst of the ongoing and devastating COVID-19 pandemic, during which the far-right government of Colombia basically left the people to fend for themselves, a national strike has begun.  Tens of thousands of people have been in the streets for weeks now, facing down horrific police violence, struggling for their own dignity as human beings.

The situation in Colombia gets far less media and activist attention than it deserves.  While there have been actions in support of the Colombian protestors in Toronto over the past few weeks, they were tiny in comparison with the actions in support of Palestine, and that’s a shame because these two struggles are very much connected.

The current national strike began on April 28th in response to a proposed change in the country’s tax law by the right-wing, neo-liberal government of President Ivan Duque.  The change would have forced a regressive tax-hike onto poor and working-class people through value-added charges on goods and services, and was explicitly meant to deal with the economic shortfalls caused by the pandemic.  If passed into law, it would have forced the poorest people in Colombia pay for the pandemic while leaving the fortunes of the rich untouched.  According to a study carried out by the Index of Regional Development – Latin America in October 2020, Colombia is among the most unequal countries in Latin America and is the most unequal when it comes to the internal economic/social disparities between its various provinces.

But the proposed tax increase was only the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  The 2016 peace accords between the Colombian government and the socialist guerillas of the FARC, which stipulated the demobilization of the latter in exchange for meaningful political and economic reforms, was meant to end decades of violence in the country.  Violence that the US-led War on Drugs fueled even further.  But the accords had the opposite effect.  The demobilization and disarmament of the most powerful leftist guerilla group in the country allowed right-wing paramilitaries aligned with the capitalist state to run amok: murdering and repressing peasants, workers, women, and indigenous people alike.  Thousands of people, including hundreds of social leaders and former guerillas, have been assassinated since 2016, with the government refusing to intervene to stop the violence that its own agents and proxies perpetrate against the poor and oppressed.

Not only did the violence not stop, but the progressive reforms promised in 2016 were never delivered on.  Instead, the Colombian people have faced wave after wave of austerity measures, privatizations, and corporate giveaways, which proceeded in tandem with the assassinations and repression.  Major protests by students and workers in recent years were put down with brutal violence by the notorious ESMAD anti-riot police.

It should therefore come as no surprise that in the period between April 28 and May 6, following the declaration of the national strike by activist groups, trade unions, indigenous groups, students and other progressive forces, the Colombian police made 934 arbitrary detentions and engaged in 1728 documented acts of violence against protestors.  In that same period, 37 people were killed, many of them by police, others by right-wing paramilitaries, and there were 11 confirmed cases of sexual violence by state security forces.  Currently the death toll is at 51 with 2387 documented cases of police brutality.  But this is likely a serious undercount, because hundreds of people involved in the demonstrations have gone missing.

This is why, even though the reactionary tax bill was eventually withdrawn, the protests have continued with an explicit focus on condemning police violence and demanding justice for those who have been murdered.  This includes Allison Melendez, who was sexually assaulted by four members of the ESMAD riot police in the city of Popayan after they caught her filming them.  They only released her after finding out that she was the daughter of a police officer.  She killed herself the next day.  She was 17 years old.

This is the kind of violence that the people of Colombia are standing against right now.  They want an end to the violence and impunity.  They want basic rights to health, housing and education.  They want an end to neo-liberal austerity.  They want to live.  This why they continue to come onto the streets in such massive numbers, even at the risk of their own lives.

This is not the first time that a national strike of this magnitude has happened in Colombian history.  The present strike was constructed on a bedrock of popular resistance stretching back decades.

This is a report from Peoples Dispatch describing the national strike of 1977, at the very beginning of the neo-liberal era, and how it relates to what is going on today in Colombia.

Colombia’s Long Struggle: the 1977 National Strike and Today

For decades, the capitalist state in Colombia has been killing its people to create an environment favorable to the Fortune 500.  In the name of defeating communism, drug trafficking and “terrorism”, the US government has poured billions of dollars in weapons and training into Colombia, and has set up numerous military bases around the country.  The US has consistently supported a government that criminalizes all dissent and views all opposition as a military threat to be crushed.  It has used Colombia as a base to launch its attacks and destabilization campaigns against neighboring Venezuela, and to push pro-capitalist policies throughout the entire South American region.  The parallels with US support for Israel in the context of the Middle East could not be more stark.  Colombia, like Israel, serves as a key regional base for the American Empire.  And its people, like the Palestinians, are made to suffer for it.

But this time the Colombian people are refusing to be intimidated.  Like the Palestinians, threats of assassination, repression and incarceration have failed to stop them from organizing and resisting.  The Colombian government was forced to withdraw its tax reform and more recently has been forced to abandon a planned law that would further privatize healthcare in the country. 

The people are winning real victories.

Left forces are on the move again in South America.  The people of Chile have voted to scrap the reactionary constitution adopted in 1980 under the Pinochet dictatorship and the right-wing parties that attempted to block the creation of a new constitution have been decisively defeated at the polls, with numerous communist candidates being voted in, even in former conservative strongholds.  This only came after years of mass protests and violent repression by state forces, but neo-liberalism is beginning to crumble in Chile, and this shows what can be achieved when the people rise up.

Solidarity with the people of Colombia!

Sunday, 16 May 2021

73 Years of Nakba

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You’re listening to Back in the USSR on 93.3 FM CFRU.  This is Siegfried and it’s my first new show in awhile.  The last new episode of 2021 was the one I did in March for International Women’s Day.  As I’ve said before, the pandemic really gets to you psychologically, and there are weeks, even months, when you don’t know what to say or feel about the state of the world.  It’s definitely been hard for me over the last few months to put my thoughts and feelings into words, as the lockdown continues and as neo-liberal governments continue to mishandle the COVID pandemic at a terrible cost to working class and oppressed people worldwide.  But I’ve finally found my voice and it’s about time because there are some pretty serious matters to discuss.

May 15 2021 was Nakba Day, the Day of Catastrophe, when Palestinians mark the anniversary of their violent expulsion from the lands currently occupied by the Apartheid-state of Israel.  Thousands were massacred, while hundreds of thousands more were forced to flee for their lives.  Even though this genocidal action took place 73 years ago in 1948, the genocide against the Palestinian people never stopped.  This was the point driven home at the rally I attended in front of Guelph City Hall on the 15th, in which three hundred people showed up (masks on of course) to show their solidarity with Palestine.  There were marches all around the world that day, 100,000 people in the streets of London, 10,000 in Washington D.C., thousands in Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, all in support of an oppressed people fighting for their lives against a brutal occupation that keeps on killing.

Today we’re seeing Israeli bombs raining down on Gaza, with upwards of fifty airstrikes taking place within the space of fifteen minutes.  Today we’re seeing Palestinian citizens of Israel hunted down by Zionist settler mobs with the full backing of the police and military.  We’re seeing Palestinian neighborhoods attacked and vandalized, the forcible expulsion of Palestinian families from Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque placed under siege by far-right Israeli settlers chanting “death to Arabs” and other racist slogans.  As of Sunday May 16, 174 Palestinians have been killed in this latest round of violence by an Apartheid system that has oppressed them for more than seven decades.  Over thirty of those deaths have been children. 

This is what settler-colonial violence looks like.  The kind of racist lynch-mob violence on stolen land that gripped Apartheid South Africa in the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre or Jim Crow Apartheid USA during the “Red Summer” of 1919.  The kind of institutional violence that is always under the surface in settler-colonial societies like Canada and is always ready to erupt into open brutality, blatant massacres and killing sprees.  The type of violence exhibited by the Israeli settlers currently attempting to expel Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, forcibly taking over their homes with the full backing of the police and military, is more than familiar to indigenous peoples in North America.

The following is a good summary of the Nakba that People’s Dispatch put out recently:

“The Nakba Never Ended”

Some of you may remember a talk by Michael Parenti that I’ve played before on the show entitled “Rambo and the Swarthy Hordes” in which he outlines one of the central cultural themes of settler-colonial societies: the wagon train vs the swarthy hordes.  This is the paradigm playing out in the mainstream Western media right now, just as it was in 2014 and 2009 when Israel bombed Gaza: Palestinians are portrayed as unruly “savages” who fire rockets and engage in violence for no reason, while Israel is depicted as a bastion of civilization with the “right to defend itself”. 

And just like the Hollywood movies that Parenti describes in his talk, in which outnumbered colonizers are portrayed as the good guys holding out against hordes of barbarous natives, this media narrative turns reality on its head.  The Palestinians don’t have an army, they don’t have fighter jets, they don’t even have a state.  Meanwhile Israel, a classic Western-style settler-colonial state built on stolen Palestinian land, has one of the most powerful armies in the world and receives billions of dollars in military aid every year from the United States, Canada, the UK and other Western countries.  Out of a population of only 7 million people, more than 600,000 Israelis are active-duty soldiers at any given time.  And yet the media tries to portray the violent repression directed against Palestinians as a “conflict” between two roughly equal camps.  It’s ridiculous and bears no relation to reality.  All this false balancing does is provide propaganda cover for an Israeli Apartheid system and the settler-colonial occupation of Palestinian land.

Perhaps the most blatant example of this happened in 2018 with the Great March of Return.  The Great of March of Return saw thousands of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza marching peacefully to the border wall with Israel to protest against the brutal siege and blockade being inflicted on their communities.  The Israeli Army responded with lethal force, hundreds were killed, including medical personnel, and yet the media still tried to portray this horrific massacre of civilians as a “clash” between militant rivals because some Palestinian youths set some kites on fire and floated them into Israeli airspace.  Some of you might remember the shows I did back then when I would read the names of those Palestinians who were killed during those protests, many of them deliberately murdered by Israeli soldiers using 50 caliber sniper rifles equipped with thermal vision scopes for precision targeting.  It was the same thing on May 15 2021 when the Israeli Air Force dropped a precision laser-guided bomb on a residential high rise in the Al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza, killing eight children along with their mothers.

You can’t tell Palestinians to be “non-violent” after stuff like this.  You can’t get on a moral high-horse and condemn violence on “both sides”.  Palestinians are resisting Apartheid with everything they have, just as Black South Africans resisted Apartheid with everything they had.  And they have a right to do so under international law.  The dogmatic liberal myth that the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa was non-violent is a complete distortion of history that erases the heroic struggles of the South African Communist Party and the Spear of the Nation (the armed with of the ANC) which used armed as well as unarmed tactics against a fascistic regime which was terrorizing and murdering en masse.  Likewise, today we see Palestinians coming out on the streets to defend the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah, fighting the police of an Apartheid state like the youths in Soweto did.  We see Palestinians firing rockets and blowing up Israeli oil pipelines outside Tel-Aviv, just as the ANC blew up three oil refineries outside Johannesburg in 1980, blanketing the sky with thick black smoke for more than 24 hours and showing the Apartheid state that none of its assets were safe from attack.  We are seeing resistance against Apartheid and it is not our place to tell the Palestinians how they should resist the system that has been crushing them for more than seventy years.

This is especially true because Canada is among Israel’s greatest supporters.  Apart from some tepid statements by Jagmeet Singh of the NDP, largely cancelled out by his party’s appalling record in supporting Israeli Apartheid, no one in the Canadian political class has said a word about the mass murder being carried out against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.  Even as multiple American congresspeople are issuing statements that are surprisingly critical of Israel and the Biden Administration’s continued political and military support for Israel.  The U.S. has once again blocked a UN resolution condemning Israeli aggression, while Canada has attempted to do the same in the context of multiple UN agencies, providing diplomatic cover for settler-colonial violence in a fellow settler-colonial state.  Even though upwards of 80% of Canadians in poll after poll have expressed support for the Palestinian cause, Canadian foreign policy has not budged an inch.  This is going to have to change, and it’s only going to change if the mass mobilizations that we saw on May 15th are sustained and can influence the upcoming federal election.  The present consensus in Canadian politics with regard to Israel, from the Conservatives to the Greens, is absolutely disgusting.  Solidarity with Palestine is there in the streets, it’s growing stronger all the time, and it needs to extend to Parliament as well. 

Lowkey – Long Live Palestine

I’m going try to be more consistent with putting out new episodes from now on.  Next week I plan to focus on a country sometimes called the “Israel of the Americas” and the popular struggles being waged there against another US-supported terror state backed by death squads.  Colombia is a country where oppressed people are rising against a neo-colonial ruling class that murders indigenous leaders, trade unionists and human rights defenders on a regular basis.  Colombia is a country armed to the teeth with American weapons, is home to multiple U.S. military bases, and its right-wing government allows Canadian mining companies to plunder the land with impunity.  But the people have had enough and the current national strike movement is gaining momentum every single day as popular mobilizations continue against rampant and lethal police violence, paramilitary killings of popular leaders, and anti-people neo-liberal economic policies. 

So, stay tuned to Back in the USSR for that.  For now, I want to play a clip from the Gray Zone’s May 14th livestream in which Ali Abunimah of the Electronic Intifada outlines the current situation in Palestine and explains, much better than I can, the details of what is going on.

Gaza Under Attack: Israeli Apartheid with AliAbunimah, Rania Khalek and Max Blumenthal