Focus on Tiger Woods – The Issue is Racism

December 11, 2010 (Last in a series of articles, “Reflections on 2010”) • Eldrick “Tiger” Woods might have lost his top spot in golf rankings in 2010, but he kept his place at the top of search engines around the world, coming in, for instance, at seven out of 10 for the year on searches carried out by Yahoo Canada.[1] Of course what drove this was not his golf game. For the first time since 1995, Woods did not win a tournament, let alone a major. The year 2010 saw his record 623-week reign as the world’s number one ranked golfer come to an end. No, what drove interest in Mr. Woods was the publicity generated by the very public break-up with his wife, Elin Nordegren. Now it is not actually news that a celebrity athlete gets married, has a few affairs, and then has marital difficulties. However most do not receive the massive outpouring of media scrutiny experienced by Mr. Woods. But Woods, you see, is black. His wife, and his girlfriends, were white. That combination still touches a raw nerve throughout much of the Global North, particularly in the United States. The extraordinary obsession with the personal life of one golfer is a reflection of deeply held racist ideas, ideas which permeate modern society.

At the peak of the story, in the Autumn of 2009, the quantity of coverage of this one golfer’s personal life was by any standard, phenomenal. Take New York City. It is not surprising that in the wake of 9/11, that city’s New York Post would devote considerable coverage to the attack on the twin towers. In fact, 9/11 appeared on its front page for 19 consecutive days, and until 2009, that was a record for any one story in the paper’s history. But in 2009, coverage of Mr. Woods beat that record. For 20 consecutive days, the tabloid screamed out, on its front-page, headlines concerning his private life.[2] That is worth emphasizing – nineteen front pages for the attacks on the World Trade Centre which triggered wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 20 front pages for the marital difficulties of a golfer. This treatment of Woods was not from some marginal publication. The New York Post is one of the oldest continuously published media outlets in the United States, having been founded in the early 1800s by Alexander Hamilton.[3] In 2009 it was the sixth most widely circulated newspaper in all of the United States.[4]

It’s not that it was a “slow news” autumn. In that span (November 29 to December 18, 2009) there were a few other choices for an editor to feature on her/his front page. A quick glance at The Globe and Mail for that period offers a few possibilities: on November 30, the crushing debt problems of once booming Dubai;[5] on December 2, President Obama’s troop surge in Afghanistan;[6] or December 17, the president’s dilemma at the Climate Change talks in Cophenhagen.[7] Quite possibly the financial crisis, the war in Afghanistan and Global Warming could be considered more newsworthy than Mr. Woods’ personal life.

When the Woods’ Affair first broke, US Magazine lent its weight to the discussion, publishing a list of “12 Unforgettable Sports Scandals.”[8] The list includes one white man (Pete Rose for gambling in Baseball) and two white women (Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan – Harding having organized an assault on her fellow skater Kerrigan). All remaining nine were men of colour, eight of them African American. For seven of these nine men of colour, the “unforgettable scandal” involved their relations with women. For the top three, it involved their relations with white women.

Among the detritus of sports-coverage on the Internet, one oddity is a poll conducted by The Q Scores Company, designed to reveal the most liked and the most disliked athletes. The focus on Woods’ personal life saw his standing in this survey plummet, to the point that he quickly shot to the bottom as one of the six “most disliked” athletes in the U.S. Who were the other five? LeBron James, Michael Vick, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, and Kobe Bryant. What do they have in common? They are all African American males. [9]

But surely it is clear why Michael Vick, for instance, is so hated. After all, he was a grown man who organized illegal dog-fights, and surely that deserves opprobrium. Fine, but what about the grown men all throughout professional sports who organize legal man-fights? Thousands have seen the video of professional hockey player Todd Bertuzzi hitting Steve Moore from behind, ending Moore’s hockey career.[10] No one was put behind bars for that. The latest fad to sweep the sports pages is the gladiatorial “sport” called Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), a barely disguised street brawl. No one is sent to jail for that. Is it that we value dogs more than people? Or is something else behind the selection of who is hated and who is not? Think of the white faces not on the list of the most hated. Former cycling champion Floyd Landis, stripped of his 2006 Tour de France title for illegal doping[11] is not there, nor is disgraced multiple Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, himself also facing charges of illegal drug use, nor any number of white male athletes whose actions, or alleged actions, might well have qualified them for consideration.

The “most disliked” ratings story of basketball player LeBron James is quite revealing in this regard. In January 2010, James’ “positive score … was the highest we had ever seen it” said Henry Schafer, executive vice president of The Q Scores Company. But when he decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, and sign with the Miami Heat, he became an extraordinarily hated man – not just in Cleveland (where fans were understandably disappointed about losing one of the best athletes on the planet), but inexplicably across the entire United States. The switch of teams made him “the sixth most disliked sports personality” in the United States.[12] But just as Woods is not the only athlete to have marital difficulties, James is not the only athlete to abandon one team for another in search of more money and a championship. Roy Halladay’s decision to leave baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays for Philadelphia comes to mind. But Halladay didn’t, as a result, join Woods and James on the list of hated athletes. Instead he has been singled out for respect and praise on a fan-based web-site called “Thanks, Roy.”[13] Halladay, as you might have guessed is white. And don’t think the love for the now departed Roy is because Toronto is polite, while the United States is rude. Vince Carter was a sports idol in Toronto when he played for the Toronto Raptors, and nothing but an object for hatred since deciding to leave. [14] Vince Carter is not white.

There is only one explanation for the cluster of African Americans at the bottom of the “most disliked category” in 2010. It reflects attitudes towards African American males as a group. The obsession with Woods’ personal life has to be put in this context.

There are other issues in the Woods’ story that could be highlighted. Just before his fall from grace, Woods was in the news, not for his marital difficulties, but as “Sports’ First Billion-Dollar Man” – the first athlete in history whose lifetime earnings would top $1 billion.[15] Given this, there are some very progressive individuals who argue – because these are the troubles of a rich man, they just don’t matter.[16] Others see his comeuppance as an exposé of a sexist lifestyle. Martha Burk, for instance, quite rightly organized a boycott of the 2003 Masters event, because its venue, Augusta National, is a male-only preserve. Commenting on Mr. Woods’ choice of the Masters as the place for his return to golf after a self-imposed absence, she said: “I think this is a safe haven for him … They’re all chauvinists themselves. It’s a perfect fit.”[17].

But class and gender are not the main issues at stake here. Golf is a particularly “white” sport. Eldrick Woods – a black man – is arguably the greatest golfer ever to play the game. It is right to critique Augusta National and its showpiece annual event the Masters, the most prestigious golf tournament among the annual events sanctioned by the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). But what is most clearly revealed when one opens that door, is a stark picture of systemic racism.

The PGA “customarily excluded blacks from becoming members since its inception in 1916” and in 1943 made that exclusion official by inserting a clause – “widely known as the ‘caucasians-only clause’” into its constitution in 1943. That membership restriction was only removed in 1961.[18] As for the Masters, until the 1975 participation of Lee Elder, no black man had ever been allowed to play in the tournament. Until 1982, to get on the course at all as a black man, you had to be a caddy. In fact, until 1982 – when for the first time PGA tour golfers were allowed to bring their regular caddies – every caddy on the course was black. This was no accident. Clifford Roberts, founder of the tournament, is quoted as saying: “As long as I’m alive, golfers will be white, and caddies will be black.”[19] And even when, through the 1970s and 1980s, some golfers and some caddies were allowed onto the course, membership in the club itself remained white-only. Only late in 1990, in anticipation of new 1991 PGA guidelines “requiring private clubs that want to host tournaments to demonstrate that their membership policies are not discriminatory,” did Augusta National finally remove its “white-only” colour bar.[20]

This is worth emphasizing. We are describing a venue where until late in the 20th century, to golf you had to be white, and personal service on the golf course had to be performed by black men. That venue’s principal tournament was called “The Masters,” and its locale was in the former Confederate state of Georgia, a state which only abandoned the barbaric practice of slavery after suffering military defeat, and which became one of the centres for the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow, and all manner of racist reaction in the post Civil War years. (This, by the way, somehow failed to make it to the US Magazine list of “Unforgettable Sports Scandals.”)

The attitudes shaped by this history of racism are by no means of only historical interest. Return to the coverage of Mr. Woods’ personal life. Toronto’s mass-circulation tabloid, the Toronto Sun, like many other media outlets, has used a considerable amount of ink to cover Woods, on subjects other than his golf game. Those familiar with Toronto would know that any interest displayed by that paper in Mr. Woods’ relations with women will quite likely have little to do with women’s rights. The Sun is, after all, notorious for its long-standing practice of objectifying women through its “Sunshine Girl” feature. But that paper’s editorial decision on February 20, 2010, to craft a front page around Mr. Woods’ public apology for his indiscretions, spoke volumes. The front page headline, that day, on its Saturday edition, was comprised of two enormous capitalized words – “NO BALLS,” two words which filled most of the page, accompanied by a photograph of a contrite looking Mr. Woods, his eyes lowered to the ground. This front page, far from being a source of controversy, was more likely to be seen as a “funny.” That, for instance, was the response of Ontario sportswriter Paul Svoboda, who “loved the headline.” [21] Mr. Svoboda notwithstanding, the headline is objectionable on many levels, not the least being the adolescent-level standard of its “humour.” But more importantly, the headline taps a nerve just below the surface in North America – a mixture of racism, violence and sexuality, about which serious journalists should be aware.

For their files we can compile a short dossier. The sport of golf, as documented, above, has only recently emerged from Jim Crow era segregation. That era was one where racism often took the form of violence, violence mixed up with sexuality and black-white relations. This took extreme forms after the defeat of the racist Confederacy in the U.S. Civil War

The separation of blacks and whites was essential to Southern whites who were determined to retain supremacy after the Civil War; consequently the “mixture’ of people of European ancestry and people of African ancestry became a much more serious taboo. Because it was the men among the former slave population who gained suffrage rights and a measure of political power – and who therefore had the potential to destroy the racial caste system – whites focused on the taboo of sex between white women and black men with new urgency.[22]

There was, in other words an “equation of political rights and black manhood.” Throughout the U.S. south, “extreme white anxiety over sexual liaisons between white women and black men was linked to fears of black men’s political and economic independence.” It meant that for the white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, “the greatest violence was reserved for black men.”[23]

Some of this violence is well-known. “Lynching” – the extra-judicial killing, usually by hanging, carried out by racist white mobs – was a violent method by which white supremacy was enforced in post Civil War United States. Between 1882 and 1968, one source documents 3,446 black deaths from lynching – 539 in Mississippi, 352 in Texas, 335 in Louisiana, 299 in Alabama, 257 in Florida, 226 in Arkansas, 204 in Tennessee, 156 in South Carolina, 142 in Kentucky, and 492 in Georgia, home of the Masters.[24]

There were less publicized, but equally gruesome forms of violent assertion of white supremacy. For black men accused of sleeping with white women, castration was often the weapon of choice. The issue of black-white liaisons was often really only the surface excuse for this barbaric violence. The horrifying story of Henry Lowther brings this out in stark relief. Klansmen were after him for political reasons. “They said I had taken too great a stand against them in the republican party,” he said. The dispute escalated until, “[a]s Lowther remembered the scene, almost two hundred Klansmen arrived in the middle of the night, and twenty of them carried him away to a swamp. ‘The moon was shining bright, and I could see them,’ Lowther recalled; all the men were Democrats. There the Klansmen castrated him.”[25] Klansmen would resort to castration and other forms of “sexual mutilation for any act that struck them as demonstrating political or economic power on the part of black men, whether or not they tacked on an accusation of sexual misconduct.”[26] Had they known this history, perhaps the Toronto Sun editors would have reconsidered their choice of front-page headline for Feb. 20, 2010.

The shadow of this racist violence was visible late into the 20th century. It was reflected in laws which existed in many states prohibiting marriage between blacks and whites (so-called “miscegenation”) “Laws prohibiting miscegenation in the United States date back as early as 1661 and were common in many states until 1967.”[27] Laws are themselves reflections of attitudes. Even when the Supreme Court in 1967 ruled definitively that it was unconstitutional to prohibit intimate relations between blacks and whites, attitudes reflecting that prejudice persisted, often with tragic results. In New York City, in the summer of 1989, “a young black man named Yusuf Hawkins was shot and killed by a group of young white men, who thought Hawkins was going to visit a white girlfriend. … Only one white man was convicted for the murder … the others were convicted of lesser charges or acquitted.”[28]

This history needs to be understood, if we are to arrive at an explanation for the otherwise bizarre focus on one man’s personal life. There are celebrity figures in the spotlight because of violence or alleged violence in their personal lives. There have been no suggestions anywhere that Mr. Woods has been violent with any of his partners. There are other rich men who have had marital troubles. For most of them, the story remains a private matter – or at best, something which involves 15-minutes of infamy, and then a return to the back pages. Think David Letterman. But with Mr. Eldrick Woods, the media frenzy has lasted more than a year. The obsession with one man’s personal life can only be explained in the context of the grim history of racism briefly sketched out above. Mr. Woods’ spectacular success in a white man’s game and his pattern of marrying and/or dating white women, touched a deep nerve in North American society. The backlash against him is an exposé of the still deep racism which systemically permeates that society.

© 2011 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] “2010 Year In Review: Top Searches.” Yahoo! Canada News. Accessed 11 December, 2010.
[2] Kyle Koster. “New York Post puts Tiger Woods on cover for 20th straight day.” Chicago Sun-Times. 18 December 2009.
[3] Nicholas Tan. “New York: The History behind the New York Post.” Streetdirectory.com. (Accessed 12 December 2010)
[4] “2009 Top Media Outlets.” BurrellesLuce. .
[5] Patrick Martin. “Soaring debt brings Dubai back to Earth.” The Globe and Mail. 30 November 2009: A1.
[6] Paul Koring. “Bold troop surge, early exit: Obama makes Afghan war his own.” The Globe and Mail. 2 December 2009: A1.
[7] Konrad Yakabuski. “Obama’s climate challenge starts here.” The Globe and Mail. 17 December, 2009: A1.
[8] “Unforgettable Sports Scandals.” US Magazine. 11 September 2009.
[9] Darren Rovel. “LeBron’s Q Score Takes Huge Hit.” CNBC. 14 September 2010.
[10] “Todd Bertuzzi Sucker Punches Steve Moore.”
[11] “Landis says clenbuterol use widespread in cycling.” Merced Sun-Star. 29 November 2010.
[12] Darren Rovel. “LeBron’s Q Score Takes Huge Hit.” CNBC. 14 September 2010.
[13] “Thanks Roy.”
[14] See Adam Proteau. “How our love for Vince Carter turned to hate.” ESPN.com. 20 April 2007
[15] Kurt Badenhausen. “Sports’ First Billion-Dollar Man.” Forbes.com. 29 September 2009.
[16] Representative of the latter is Liam Macuaid. “Tiger Woods – a Marxist analysis.” 13 December 2009.
[17] Cited in Neil McLeman. “Tiger Woods a sexist pig.” Mirror. 2 April 2010.
[18] Marvin P. Dawkins. “Race Relations and the Sport of Golf: The African American Golf Legacy.” The Western Journal of Black Studies. Vol. 28, No. 1. 2004: 328.
[19] Cited in Rick Reilly. “Strokes of Genius.” Sports Illustrated. 21 April 1997.
[20] Jaime Diaz. “Augusta National Admits First Black Member.” The New York Times. 11 September 1990.
[21] Paul Svoboda. “Tiger should get into acting.” Paul Svoboda. 22 February 2010.
[22] Martha Hodes. “The Sexualization of Reconstruction Politics: White Women and Black Men in the South after the Civil War.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 1993, vol. 3, no. 3: 403.
[23] Hodes: 404 and 407.
[24] Charles Chesnutt. “Lynchings: By State and Race, 1882-1968.” The Charles Chesnutt Digital Archive. Accessed 14 December 2010.
[25] Hodes: 407.
[26] Hodes: 408.
[27] Bárbara C. Cruz and Michael J. Berson. “The American Melting Pot? Miscegenation Laws in the United States.” OAH Mazaine of History Vol. 16, No. 4. (Summer, 2001): 80.
[28] Hodes: 417.

Bolivia and the birth of a movement for Climate Justice

One of the most important but too often neglected events of 2010, was the little country of Bolivia putting itself at the head of the Climate Justice movement. This report, written May 8, 2010, showed how that action galvanized Climate Justice activism in Toronto. Longer version of report published at Rabble.ca  (Part of a series of articles, “Reflections on 2010”) • MAY 8, 2010 – Yesterday, a lively crowd of between 200 and 250 piled into the Steelworkers hall in downtown Toronto in an event that brought together Latin American solidarity, First Nations and environmental activists. Toronto Bolivia Solidarity had helped sponsor a group travel to Cochabamba, Bolivia, for the April people’s summit, called by Bolivian president Evo Morales, as a response to the failed Climate Change talks in Copenhagen in December of 2009. What was clear to all in Cochabamba – and in the Steelworkers hall on May 7 – was that we are witnessing the birth of a new movement, a movement led by the Global South, calling for climate justice.

More than 30,000 people from 100 countries had participated in the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Kimia Ghomeshi, Campaign Director for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, reported how the event was infused with an anti-capitalist spirit. What is clear to the participants, she argued, was the fact that the devastation to the environment is deeply rooted in a world driven by the priorities of corporate profit.

The evening had earlier been opened by a powerful set by the Red Slam Collective (http://www.youtube.com/RedSlamCollective) and a video put together by Raul Burbano. Ben Powless, a member of the Indigenous Environmental Network, accompanied his presentation with a slide show of images from the conference. The combination of the video and the slide show gave the audience a sense of what it meant to be at the extraordinary Cochabamba summit. Danny Beaton, 2010 recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award (NAAA) for Environment and Natural Resources, reminded us of the roots to past struggles. He told the audience that he had not been in the Steelworkers Hall for 20 years – but recognized some faces, because those 20 years ago he and they had been in the same hall to help organize solidarity with the Lubicon Lake Indian Nation, in their battle against energy corporation exploitation of their land. His words were important – indicating to people that our movement is a marathon, not a sprint.

The closing speaker was Robert Lovelace, a leader of Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. His moving speech culminated with an observation, that we will not win climate justice until we recognize that we are all indigenous. All of us, he argued, have been separated from the land by forces we don’t control. Recognizing our connection to the land is an indispensable first step in creating a movement to build a society based on climate justice.

Ten years ago, Cochabamba made world headlines for the first time. It was the centre of a desperate battle to prevent Bechtel corporation – under the watchful eye of the IMF and the World Bank – from privatizing water in that city. After bitter protests, and the tragic deaths of six protesters, suddenly in April 2000, the movement had won. Privatization was defeated, and the control of water in Cochabamba was handed over to a grassroots coalition. Cochabamba in 2000 was a spark that helped ignite the anti-corporate globalization movement of the early 21st century.

Now in 2010, Cochabamba is again a spark. The three strands of the movement at the conference and in the Steelworkers Hall were beginning a conversation. For those whose focus has been Latin American solidarity, the focus has been on the damage done by Global North imperialism to the countries in the Global South emerging from the shadow of colonialism. For those whose focus has been First Nations’ struggles in Canada, the focus has been on Canada’s own colonial legacy. For activists in the environmental movement, the focus has been on the threat posed to the environment by unconstrained corporate development. A remarkable feature of both the Cochabamba event, and the report back on May 7, was the extent to which all three streams are flowing together into a common river. The result is a Climate Justice / Global Justice movement, called into being by Latin America’s second poorest country, with its first Indigenous head of state – Evo Morales.

The challenge thrown down by Cochabamba is enormous. A people’s agreement was drafted – now being nicknamed the “Cochabamba Protocol.” It points the figure at capitalism and the Global North, and puts forward a plan to effectively deal with the threat to the environment posed by unregulated capitalism. Given the failure of the Global North leadership at Copenhagen, an important part of this protocol is the call for a Global Referendum so that the people of the world can have their say.

To become involved in this new Climate Justice movement, contact Toronto Bolivia Solidarity, torontoboliviasolidarity@gmail.com.

The documents from the conference have been made available on the site “Climate and Capitalism.”

The Cochabamba Protocol
Indigenous Peoples’ Declaration
Universal Declaration of the rights of Mother Earth

(c) 2011 Paul Kellogg

Colombia, not Venezuela, is the problem

The mass challenge to neoliberalism and imperialism in Latin America, continued throughout 2010. The following was written May 13, 2010, and submitted as a Brief to the Subcommittee on International Human Rights (SDIR), Committees Directorate, House of Commons (Part of a series of articles, “Reflections on 2010”) • Thank you for the invitation to my organization (Coalition Venezuela We Are With You / Coalición Venezuela Estamos Contigo) and to myself to present a brief to your committee. I will not be able to be present in person. I have been in touch with others from the solidarity movement in Toronto who will be making presentations, and am confident that they will make a very thorough presentation of the key issues. What follows are some brief written remarks as a modest supplement to your deliberations.

I am trained as a political scientist (Ph.D. Queen’s University). For the last several years I have had a keen interest in events in Latin America and the Caribbean making it one of my research areas. For the last two years, I have been an assistant professor in the Department of International Development Studies at Trent University, in Peterborough, Ontario. So with that background, I have developed somewhat of an appreciation for the situation in Latin America and the Caribbean.

However, it does not take an extensive academic background to know that there are issues of human rights to be studied in Latin America and the Caribbean. Many of my first year students in the large introductory development studies class at Trent University – who at the age of 18 do not, of course, have an extensive academic background – are quite aware of human rights issues in Latin America and the Caribbean. What is surprising to me, and would be surprising to them, is your choice of country. Surely the issue in 2010 in terms of human rights in Latin America and the Caribbean is not the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, but rather its neighbour, Colombia.

I urge you to study the 2009 edition of the “Annual survey of violations of trade union rights.” What you will read in the section on Colombia should give you chills. In 2008 alone, 49 trade unionists were assassinated “of whom 16 were trade union leaders, 45 were men and four were women. Attacks, disappearances and death threats continued.”[1]

Imagine the outcry in Canada if even one trade union leader had been assassinated in 2008. It would dominate the pages of the press. Were there to be 16 union leaders assassinated and 33 others, that outcry would be massive indeed. The truly horrifying aspect of this, however, is that this is by no means a one-year phenomenon. In 2007, there were 39 such assassinations so that “Colombia remained the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists.”[2] In 2006 there were “78 trade unionists murdered during the year.”[3] This is in fact a very old story – a long-standing, and quite well-documented story about a terrible situation confronting one of the most basic of all human rights – the right of workers to freely associate and collectively organize.

There is another reason why, in 2010, it is surprising to focus a human rights lens on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela rather than on Colombia. The Government of Canada is embarking on bilateral trade negotiations with a number of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. There is no indication that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has been selected as one of these countries. However, as is also well known to my first year students at Trent University, Colombia is one such country. I read from a Government of Canada web site that on March 10, 2010, “the Government of Canada tabled legislation to implement the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Labour Cooperation and Environment Agreements.”[4] Surely the name itself – given the facts outlined above – should demand an urgent investigation into the human rights situation in Colombia. This is not just being called a trade agreement but a “Labour Cooperation” agreement. The Government of Canada is entering into a cooperative relationship with a country, on the issue of labour, when that country is widely seen as having the most anti-labour environment in the entire world.

In a certain sense, my brief to your committee should end here. My one point to you is that you have the wrong area of inquiry, that given Canada’s policy orientation towards Colombia, the focus in terms of human rights needs to be Colombia and not the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and that were you to spend any time engaging in such an inquiry, it would immediately call into question the ethical, moral, and political problems in intensifying collaboration with the Government of Colombia.

However, as a political scientist, it is incumbent on me to open up one more issue for you to consider. You will all be well aware that no political action takes place in a vacuum. Understanding the context is something that I urge all of my students to attempt, no matter what their choice of essay topic. A reasonable thesis for one such student essay might be to suggest that it is precisely the context outlined above – the push for a bilateral trade, labour and environmental agreement with a government widely known for its terrible human rights record – that might impel a Canadian government to focus on another country, any other country, in order to “change the channel.” If we announce to the people of Canada that in 2010 human rights in Latin America and the Caribbean is to be our subject, and that in this year, the key country to study is the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, then it might have the political effect of focusing attention away from what is really going on – an intensification of Canadian involvement with a very suspect regime in Colombia.

There might, however, be one benefit from such an exercise. An intensive focus on the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is long overdue. The situation in that country, as in the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, is exceedingly difficult. President Hugo Chávez Frias inherited an economy and society, severely damaged by long years of interference by International Financial Institutions (IFIs), institiutions in which Canada plays a leading role. Undoing the damage caused, in part, by the irresponsible Structural Adjustment Programmes of the IMF and the World Bank has been an enormous challenge, not just for President Chávez, but for political leaders all through Latin America and the Caribbean. The societal disruption caused by years of structural adjustment throughout Latin America, has contributed to an environment where human rights abuses do intensify. There is no more fertile ground for human rights abuses than the chaos created by economic decline and societal instability.

What needs to be soberly confronted by policy makers in Canada, is that the antidote to this economic decline and societal instability is – not to give legitimacy to regressive regimes such as the one in Colombia – but to do as has been done in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in the little country of Bolivia, and elsewhere – and resist the policy prescriptions of the IFIs, and to insist that the way forward in Latin America and the Caribbean is for sovereign development, controlled by the peoples of the region, not by distant institutions based in the Global North.

Your investigation of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela will surely lead you to encounter the interesting alternatives being developed to the Global North IFIs – including but not restricted to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). The establishment of these organizations has accelerated the assertion of sovereignty in the region as a whole – an assertion of sovereignty which is the precondition for any and all improvement in the conditions of the people of the region, including an improvement in human rights.

Sincerely
Dr. Paul Kellogg
Dept. of International Development Studies
Trent University
Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8

(c) 2011 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), “2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights: Colombia” – Accessed May 13, 2010.
[2] ITUC, “2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights: Colombia” – Accessed May 13, 2010.
[3] ITUC, “2007 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights: Colombia” – Accessed May 13, 2010.
[4] Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, “Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement” – Accessed May 13, 2010.

The Question of China

2010 again highlighted the newly important role of China in world economics and politics. The following is a slightly longer version of the review published in Socialist Studies[1]  (Written April 15, 2010Part of a series of articles, “Reflections on 2010”). • It is difficult to ignore the centrality of China as we enter the second decade of the 21st century. The biggest industrial revolution in human history is underway in the world’s most populous country. This fact is forcing many to rethink old orthodoxies. Minqi Li’s book is an important contribution to this project. The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy is very successful at posing the big questions, no small achievement in itself. But the analysis is premised on a questionable political economy and an overly “rosy” view of the Mao period in China. The answers provided are not always convincing, and sometimes schematic in a way which detracts from the overall effect of the book itself. These weaknesses notwithstanding, this is a book with which any who are interested in the current dilemmas of world capitalism, and the prospects for building an alternative, should be familiar.

The first dozen or so pages are the first reason to read this book. Li sketches out in spare, but gripping prose, the horrendous history of China’s (and India’s) encounter with European “civilization.” With an analysis rooted in World Systems’ theories, Li shows clearly the key role that both of these countries played in the rise to dominance of European capitalism. “The tributes from India played a crucial role in the British rise to world financial and commercial supremacy.” (p. 6) But China was at least as important.

According to Li, the two opium wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860) – where the western powers succeeded in keeping China open to the British-controlled drug trade – these wars “marked the beginning of China’s incorporation into the capitalist world-economy.” (p. 6) In those wars, China was forced to cede Hong Kong to Britain, and open five of its ports to trade. These wars also triggered a near collapse of the state, and created the conditions for a major peasant rebellion – Taiping Tianguo – whose suppression led to untold hardships for the Chinese people. Defeat at the hands of Japan in 1894-95 led to China paying “an enormous indemnity of 230 million taels of silver” which “amounted to three years of the Qing government’s annual fiscal revenue or one-third of Japan’s gross national product.” (p. 7) Another peasant based uprising – the Boxer Rebellion – was suppressed by the armed forces of eight western powers. In the treaty which ended that war, China was forced to pay another indemnity almost twice as big as the one after the Sino-Japanese war. The list goes on and on and on. If you want to know why there were endless streams of impoverished Chinese labourers available for the dangerous and thankless task of building Canada’s railroads in the late 19th century – this history, summarized very effectively by Li, provides the answer.

The second reason to read Li’s book is his important notion that the enormous pool of cheap labour, created in this process of imperialist depradation, has become one of two important “strategic reserves” for world capitalism. “China’s deeper incorporation into the capitalist world-economy helps to lower the global wage cost and restore the global profit rate.” (p. 16) This is an indispensable insight necessary to explain the long expansion of the 1990s and the intense economic boom experienced by the world economy just before the so-called “Great Recession.” Theorists who have attempted to understand the dynamics of the world economy without this appreciation for the role of China have been forced either to deny the fact of economic expansion over a fifteen year period of time, or to be tempted to see the fact of this expansion as proof that neoliberalism had gone some distance to overcoming capitalism’s internal contradictions. Properly theorizing the role of China allows Li to escape both traps.

But there are some matters that need further discussion. First his political economy rests on an assumption that capitalism cannot survive industrial and economic development in the “semi-periphery”. In an interesting discussion of the potential trajectories of the periphery and semi-periphery, he suggests that if Chinese wage rates “converge upwards towards the semi-peripheral levels” – an important possibility to discuss, given the upward pressure on wages in China’s urban areas – “this will greatly reduce the share of the surplus value available for the rest of the world.” (p. 111) This neglects the fact that with an increasing organic composition of capital, wage rates and overall surplus can (and in fact do) both increase. It is not a zero-sum game. China’s impact on world capitalism, then, cannot just be seen in terms of its impact on wage rates. It has also become an enormous market for commodities to feed its industrial revolution. It is also China’s emerging home market which is transforming the world economy. Li is aware of the central role of organic composition to Marx’s theory of capitalism, he mentions it, but does not integrate into his own political economy.

Second – his relationship to the Mao era is contradictory. He makes the very interesting observation that “it took the entire Maoist era to develop the necessary industrial and technological infrastructure before China could become a major player in the global capitalist economy.” (p. 13) This is an important insight, and it opens the door to understanding the Maoist era as one of the assertion of sovereignty, allowing for national economic reconstruction and repairing the damage done by imperialism. But that is not the entirety of Li’s view. He calls the Mao era “Chinese socialism” and in clinging to an understanding of that era as being socialist, he is driven to either minimize its problems, or worse. He has a completely positive view of the Cultural Revolution, arguing that university students “were required to return to work in their home areas after graduation, so that university education would not become a path for careerist students seeking to join the elite class.” (p. 38) There are other analyses which would say that once Mao’s section of the bureaucracy had emerged victorious, radical students were exiled to the countryside, where they could not coalesce as a threat to the reconsolidated Maoist leadership. Li also has an unfortunate section (pp. 39-42) where he challenges statistics which call the Great Leap Forward catalyst for one of the largest famines in human history. His statistics don’t challenge the fact that something happened in that period leading to a great increase in “excess deaths.” Surely the point should not be to argue definitions as to whether this constituted a famine or not, but to address the fact that something calamitous happened in that period, and that this calamity needs to be explained.

In addition, the world systems theory which is such a strength in an understanding of the past of capitalist development, becomes a barrier when trying to peer into the future. He rests the conclusion of his work on a highly speculative article by Immanuel Wallerstein. Both Li and Wallerstein accurately identify the fact that modern capitalism is riven with contradictions. Both agree that these contradictions have been partially offset by the rise of China – an important insight that should be taken very seriously. But then they make the mistake of trying to gaze into the crystal ball to see what the future holds many years down the road. Wallerstein asserts – and Li quotes him approvingly – that “after 2050 or 2075 … we shall no longer be living in a capitalist world-economy.” (p. 174)

It is as important in this century, as it was in the past century, to insist that there is a difference between seeing the contradictions of capitalism, and predicting its collapse. We can with confidence predict recurring capitalist crises, but its collapse and replacement by a new system will require political action and organizing, and the success of that action and organizing is not inevitable. When Li says “it is quite conceivable that by the mid-twenty-first century various forms of socialist economic organizations will become dominant in the world” (p. 182) it makes the reader ask: “how do you know?”

Further, his image of this socialist future is not comforting. He builds his case on the interesting insight that the second of the reserves on which capitalism is calling is in the sphere of the ecology, “the remaining resources, and the remaining space for pollution” (p. 13)). This is a very good and very valid observation. But Li asserts that even with a socialist transformation, it is too late to stop catastrophic climate change, and all that entails – “a catastrophic sea level rise,” a shrinking of the inhabitable space of the world to “Canada, Siberia, northern Europe, and a few places near Antarctica” (p. 184) and a consequent massive flight of population, and inevitable crash of population. With echoes of Malthus, Li asserts that a socialist world will have to oversee, “an orderly, long-term decline of the world population so that eventually it falls back to a level consistent with the earth’s sustainable ecological carrying capacity.” (p. 188) Even in a socialist world, “there will be re-ruralization and a large portion of the world’s labor force will need to return to agriculture.” (p. 187) Our choices he says are to do this in an orderly fashion through a socialism “which might share important similarities with the historical socialist states”, or in a catastrophic fashion through “a neo-feudalist outcome (which might resemble today’s North Korea).” (p. 181) And while “some form of socialism would be preferred” he argues, “even feudalism is better than capitalism.” (p. 187) If our alternatives are East Germany or North Korea – then the future is grim indeed.

Li has begun a conversation. His insights into the role of China in the reshaping of modern world capitalism are important. Coming from a theorist who spent two years in jail for his role in the Tiananmen Square rebellion of 1989 should give many pause. Too many on the left in the west dismissed that rebellion as being “anti-socialist.” That this rebellion has generated such an important Marxist theorist means that such attitudes will need to be reconsidered.

(c) 2011 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] Paul Kellogg, “Book Review,” Li, Minqi. 2008. The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy. New York: Monthly Review Press. ISBN 978-1-58367-182-5. Pages: 208. In Socialist Studies (6:1), Spring 2010: 220-223. All page references in this review article are to Li 2008.

Cheri DiNovo and the need for ‘Apartheid 101’

This year’s Israeli Apartheid Week took place in a record number of campuses around the world, this in spite of constant attacks on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. In this context, it is worth remembering the stance taken by the NDP’s Cheri DiNovo, this time last year. (Written March 4, 2010 – Part of a series of articles, “Reflections on 2010”) – A Tory resolution condemning the sixth annual Israeli Apartheid Week, received unanimous support from the 30 members of the Ontario legislature who showed up for work on Thursday February 25, 2010. Shamefully, one of those who spoke in favour and voted for this resolution was Toronto-based NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo.[1] In the context of the concentrated attack on Palestinian solidarity coming from all levels of government, DiNovo’s backing of this reactionary motion is very damaging. She and the rest of her party could use a little refresher course – we’ll call it “Apartheid 101.”

In 1948, the State of Israel was formed through the forced expulsion of 750,000 Palestinian residents. Since 1967, Israel has occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River (formerly part of Jordan), the Golan Heights (formerly part of Syria), East Jerusalem and has variously occupied, surrounded and blockaded the enclave called Gaza (formerly part of Egypt). The latter is an open-air prison – its residents hemmed in on three sides by one of the world’s most powerful military machines (the Israeli) and on the fourth by the shameful Mubarak government of Egypt which has sold its support for the Palestinians for a “mess of potage” – massive military aid from the United States. Israel has conducted war after war against the Palestinian communities it controls, most recently, the attack on Gaza in 2008 and 2009 which killed 1,415 people, hundreds of them children. How can we be sure of the exact number? Because the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has recorded and made public the names and age of every Palestinian killed in that conflict. It makes for grim reading, especially the hundreds of names highlighted in yellow, names of children, 17 years old and younger.[2]

But DiNovo says that the word “apartheid” is “inflammatory” and “used inappropriately in the case of Israel.”[3] DiNovo might want to read some of the writings of Uri Davis who defines apartheid as “institutionalized racism legislated by Acts of Parliament.”[4] Or she could refer to key documents of international law, in particular the United Nations’ “Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid” which entered into force July 18, 1976. That document describes as a crime “inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination … inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”[5] But perhaps DiNovo – like the governments of Canada, the United States and Israel – chooses to stand apart from international law and the 107 countries which have agreed to participate in this convention in order to combat the crime of apartheid.

Like any analogy, the apartheid analogy is not exact. But like a good analogy, it captures the essence of the situation. And in many respects, the parallels are uncanny. The Encylcopaedia Britannica says that “80 percent of South Africa’s land” was set aside for the white minority. [6] Israel exists on 78 percent of historic Palestine.[7] The segregation in South Africa was formally based on skin colour, in Israel on religion. However, that “religious segregation” in Israel is extraordinarily racialized. If you are a white person living in Germany, Poland, Canada, the United States or elsewhere, and are defined as “Jewish” by the Israeli state, then you have the right to travel to Palestine and become a full citizen of the state of Israel. If you are a non-Jewish Arab Palestinian, and your parents were expelled from their homes in 1948 – the Israelis – in defiance of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 from December 1948, will not let you go home, take up residence in Palestine, and vote as a full citizen.[8] According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), that original displacement of 750,000 people has grown to a refugee population of 4.8 million Palestinians.[9]

South Africa enforced its apartheid regime with a series of “pass” laws. Here the apartheid analogy is almost completely exact. The occupied West Bank is riddled with illegal Israeli colonies (121 “settlements” and 102 “outposts”) housing 462,000 Israeli settlers.[10] The Israeli state enforces stringent laws on the South African pattern in the West Bank, where Palestinians are required to carry documents and pass through a myriad of checkpoints on the roads they can use – and there are entire highways which they cannot use, the West Bank being criss-crossed with roads which can be used by Israeli nationals, but not by the Palestinian majority. The “separateness” of the Israeli nationals from the Palestinians is being completed by the construction of a hideous wall ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004.[11] In terms of elections, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have no say in the selection of the government which rules over them, instead allowed only a vote for the very restricted mandate of the entity known as the “Palestinian Authority.” To add injury to insult, elected Palestinian officials are frequently arrested and jailed by the Israeli state. In August 2008, for instance, fully 47 Palestinian Members of Parliament were in Israeli jails.[12]

DiNovo has some work to do, to explain the way in which this racialized and racist series of policies should be excluded from the term “apartheid.”

She argues that what we need to speak about “is the occupation (of Palestinian territory), the wall, other issues that face us.” She is right. But where will that discussion happen? The magnificent accomplishment of Israeli Apartheid Week since it began in Toronto in 2005, has been its effectiveness in providing a forum for the discussion of exactly these issues. The students at the core of IAW have done a fantastic job in bringing the issues of the oppression of the Palestinians into the spotlight.

And good that they did not wait for the NDP to provide such a forum – the NDP has had some difficulty with the issue. Left-wing MP Svend Robinson did publicly show solidarity with Palestine. He went to Ramallah in 2002 to show his support for the Palestinian people. The result was telling. First, he was fired from his post as Foreign Affairs critic for the party.[13] Second, it was the trigger for Bob Rae to resign from the NDP and join the Liberals.[14]

DiNovo’s position caused an outcry from solidarity activists in the city. In response, party leader Andrea Horwath distanced herself from the resolution, calling it “divisive by nature.” But Horwath stayed silent on DiNovo’s support for this divisive bill.

Horwath said that New Democrats “believe in finding avenues towards a peaceful solution in the Middle East.”[15] Israeli Apartheid Week events, this year and in previous years, have made a real contribution towards finding just such a peaceful solution.

(c) 2011 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] Robert Benzie, “MPPs decry linking Israel to ‘apartheid,’” Toronto Star, February 26, 2010: p. A.10.
[2] Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, “The Dead in the course of the recent military offensive on the Gaxa strip between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009.”
[3] Benzie: p. A.10.
[4] Uri Davis, “Foreword” to Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for The Struggle Within (New York: Zed Books, 2003), p. xii.
[5] Cited in John Dugard, “ Introduction” to the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
[6] “apartheid,” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Accessed February 3, 2011.
[7] PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, “Twenty-two years After the Palestinian Historic Compromise: It’s time for decisions,” November 2010.
[8] The relevant text reads as follows: “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (III), 11 December 1948. Cited in Lucy Dean, ed. Regional Surveys of the World: The Middle East and North Africa 2004, 50th Edition (London: Europe Publications, 2003), p. 55.
[9] UNRWA, “Palestine refugees: Who are Palestine refugees?
[10] “Israeli Settlements,” Palestine Monitor factsheet, 15 March 2010.
[11] International Court of Justice, “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Advisory Opinion of 9 July 2004.
[12] Rory McCarthy, “Israel releases 198 Palestinian prisoners,” The Guardian, 26 August 2008.
[13] Andrew Chung, “McDonough urges U.S. to stop funding Israeli army,” Toronto Star, Jan. 17, 2003, p. A 07
[14] Bob Rae, “Parting company with the NDP,” National Post, April 16 2002, p. A18.
[15] Andrew Horwath, “Open Letter,” rabble.ca, February 26, 2010

Our Debt to Haiti

The year 2010 saw devastating earthquakes hit both Haiti and Chile. The following was written March 4, 2010, in their immediate aftermath. (Part of a series of articles, “Reflections on 2010”) • The January 2010 earthquake in Haiti pulled that small island country into the news. We need to try and keep Haiti visible – not just in its current suffering and agony, but in its heroic history of struggle and resistance. That history – almost unknown to Haiti’s neighbours in Canada and the United States – is an indispensable part of the struggle for democracy and human rights in the entire Western Hemisphere.

Most, when asked, will be able to identify the United States of America as the first republic in the Americas to emerge in the struggle against European colonialism. Few know that Haiti was the second. Most, when asked, will know that slavery in the United States ended in the context of the Civil War of the 1860s. Few will know that Haiti was the first country in the Americas to abolish slavery, accomplishing this indispensable democratic task three generations prior to Abraham Lincoln.

Most, when asked, will know that during the U.S. war for independence from Britain, the U.S. rebels received material assistance from France, which was engaged in its own long competition with Britain for control of overseas markets, trade and colonies. Few will know that at a critical moment in that war – the siege of Savannah in 1779 –a company of volunteers from what is today Haiti, fought alongside the U.S. rebels against the British colonialists. This “Black Legion” according to one historian “saved the patriot army from what might have been annihilation.” Members of this legion of affranchis (former slaves who had been granted their freedom) included people like Jean-Baptiste Mars Belley, Louis Jacques Beauvais, Martial Besse, and Andre Rigaud who would in later years all play crucial roles in Haiti’s own fight for independence.[1]

In an important sense, without Haiti establishing independence in 1804, the trajectory of the independence movement elsewhere in the Americas would have been much different. By 1815, the great leader of the independence movement in Latin America, Simón Bolívar, was up against a massive Spanish military incursion, the “strongest expeditionary force that had ever crossed the Atlantic.” But because the independent Republic of Haiti had already wrenched its sovereignty from European powers, the beleaguered Bolívar had a haven to which he could retreat.

This haven was important in a very practical sense. Bolívar “was given a friendly reception as well as money and weapons.”[2] Those weapons “helped Bolívar mount the invasion that ultimately defeated the Spanish Empire in the Americas.” Haiti’s president at the time, Alexandre Sabès Pétion, gave Bolívar “arms and ammunition” and allowed “hundreds of Haitian fighters, known as ‘françeses’ to sail with him.” Bolívar’s Haitian exile was also important politically. Pétion received something very important in exchange for the military assistance he was offering Bolívar – a promise from the great independence leader “to adopt measures to extinguish slavery in the lands he was to free.” [3] This was not carried out on the continent as thoroughly and swiftly as it had been in Haiti. But the importance of the anti-slavery promise made by Bolívar to Pétion in exchange for military support, should not be underestimated in its role as an accelerant in the process of eliminating that horrendous institution.[4]

It is well known that Haiti is desperately poor. In 2010, its income per capita (in Purchasing Power Parities) was just $1,200, the poorest of any country in the Western Hemisphere, and with a rank of just 206 from all 230 countries in the world. Contrast that with France ($33,300 per capita), Canada ($39,600) and the United States ($47,400).[5] January 12, 2010, the world saw the consequences of this poverty in the catastrophe which unfolded in the wake of the earthquake. This natural disaster shattered the country killing tens of thousands. But the reasons for many of the deaths were anything but natural. Grinding poverty had created conditions where buildings were constructed with concrete, but without rebars (steel reinforcing bars). A much more serious earthquake swept through Chile in 2010. However, through a building code dating back to the early 1970s and President Salvador Allende, the use of rebars was mandatory in Chile. Chile could take this step in large part because it is nowhere near as poverty-stricken as Haiti. As a consequence, the loss of life in Chile in February was much less than in Haiti in January.[6]

What is not widely known is that this extremely poor country was in 1791 “the richest slave colony of the Americas.” [7] But that wealth was drained towards Europe, and meant nothing but misery for the vast majority of people in the colony. In the late 18th century the island that today incorporates Haiti and the Dominican Republic, was home to the French colony St. Domingue and the Spanish colony San Domingo. According to CLR James – Trinidadian scholar and great historian of the struggle for Haitian independence – San Domingo was “the most profitable colony the world had ever known.”[8] In 1789, the value of France’s trade with St. Domingue amounted to two thirds of all France’s trade, and more than twice the value of all the trade from all of Britain’s colonies combined.[9] “The brilliant prosperity of Bordeaux and Nantes derived from colonial commerce. With some 465,000 slaves St. Domingue was the largest and most productive slave colony in the Caribbean.”[10] This extraordinary wealth was entirely the product of a system of the most brutal slave labour. Newly arrived slaves in the Caribbean – kidnapped from Africa – “had a life expectancy of only seven or ten years.”[11]

Two things were critical in both a) the ending of this system of slave labour and b) the establishment of Haitian independence. First and most importantly, there was an extraordinary and successful uprising by the slaves themselves. Second, this rebellion was inextricably linked to the French Revolution, the great product of the eighteenth century Enlightenment in Europe.

The first months of the revolution in France put in place a “moderate” revolutionary regime which, while opposing slavery in words, was nonetheless too bound up with French commercial interests to challenge the institution completely. So much of France’s wealth was dependent on Haiti’s slave labour, that the commercial class which wanted freedom from the King and feudalism, was at the same time loathe to contemplate freedom for Haiti’s slaves. What resulted was ludicrous. The French Assembly decreed that the almost 500,000 slaves in St. Domingue must stay slaves, unless they could show that their father and mother were born in France. This ended up applying to a mere 400 “mulattos.”[12]

However, small as this concession was, it helped spark an explosion. To contemplate even the possibility of freedom for even a tiny minority of Haiti’s slaves, was a sign of weakness, a sign that there was for the first time, a chink in the armour of the pro-slavery rulers of the French empire. This was an important factor in giving masses of slaves confidence to launch their magnificent rebellion on 14 August 1791, a rebellion which was to last for 12 years. Within months the army of ex-slaves, led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, had captured all the ports on the north of the island. But in spite of that early success, it would take 12 years of bitter warfare – against France, England and Spain – before the people of Haiti could finally win their independence.

The slave rebellion was strengthened when, in France, forces much further to the left replaced the moderates of the first months of the revolution. By 1793, “the Paris masses were for abolition, and their black brothers” engaged in armed rebellion against slavery and French colonialism, “for the first time, had passionate allies in France.”[13] This found its most profound expression on February 4, 1794 when:

… [T]hree emancipationist delegates … a black freedman, a mulatto and a white colon … presented themselves at the Convention [in Paris]. Dufay, the white deputy, delivered a passionate speech … defending the general liberty that had been decreed in St Domingue and urging that … it be extended to the other French colonies. … Dufay’s declarations were met with rapturous applause. Levasseur of Sarthe proposed that the Convention move immediately to abolish slavery in the colonies … The motion was thereupon carried by acclamation.[14]

This was a crucial turning point in the struggle for independence, and ultimately in 1804, Haiti “declared national sovereignty … the second free nation in the Americas.”[15]

For Haiti, independence faced very specific obstacles. Although having won independence in 1804, it faced continuing hostility from the first “free” nation in the hemisphere, the United States, and Haiti’s old colonial master, France. In both cases, the issue was slavery. This might be difficult for readers in the 21st century to properly understand. In our century, slavery is universally seen with repugnance. But in the 19th century, it was an embedded part of international politics and economics. The United States could be considered a “free” nation, even though for the most of its first century of existence as a “free” nation, plantation slavery was a recognized and major part of its economy.

For the United States, the fact of a state based upon the abolition of slavery was a threat to the vast wealth produced on the cotton plantations of the American south by African-American slaves. Thomas Jefferson – revered in most political history as a democrat and freedom fighter – when it came to Haiti, was anything but. He worked hard to abolish all trade between the U.S. and Haiti to contain the contagion of slave rebellion. Jefferson’s attack on trade with Haiti “decimated the Haitian economy, already weakened by 12 years of hard fighting and much destruction.”[16]

The economic isolation of Haiti continued for years. In 1821, France offered to ease economic relations with Haiti if the Haitians agreed to become a French protectorate. The Haitians, of course, refused. But the Haitian government was desperate for international recognition as a way of opening economic doors. “In return for conditional recognition as an independent nation in 1825, President Jean-Pierre Boyer offered France 150 million gold francs … After a show of force by the French navy in 1825, Haiti swiftly borrowed 24 million francs to pay the first instalment. Full recognition by France followed in 1838.”

It was an enormous price to pay and suspect on many grounds. First, “the money was earmarked to indemnify the slave owners and their heirs for their ‘losses’ during Haiti’s revolution.” [17] In effect, the Haitian former slaves had to resort – under the shadow of the French navy – to buying their freedom, something that today would be considered completely unethical. Second – it was far more than the people of Haiti could afford. “The debt was ten times Haiti’s total 1825 revenue.” Third – it was massively out of proportion to any “non-slave” losses incurred by France, “twice what the United States paid France in 1803 for the Louisiana Purchase, which contained seventy-four times more land.”

This is not just of historic interest. The debt – not paid off until the early 1940s – “calculated at $21 billion in current dollars – dwarfs current aid commitments.” In 2004, in the context of the Haitian bi-centenary of independence, then Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide broached the idea of France repaying that $21 billion which would “allow Haitians to develop their economy without the attached strings that keep poor countries dependent on international aid.” [18] But the big news from Haiti in 2004 was not the repayment of this odious debt, but rather the coup d’état (supported by the United States, France and Canada) which removed Aristide from office.

Our debt to Haiti is immense. The barbaric oppression of its slave population before 1804 helped create the great wealth of the European powers, a wealth of which Canada is a fragment. Its successful independence struggle put the issue of emancipation from slavery on the agenda of the Americas three generations before that horrid institution was abolished in the United States. And in response, the great powers have spent generations extorting wealth at such an extraordinary rate, that Haiti remains today the poorest country in the Americas.

It is time that we paid our debts.

(c) 2011 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] George P. Clark, “The Role of the Haitian Volunteers at Svannah in 1779: An Attempt at an Objective View,” Phylon, Vo. 41, No. 4, 4th Quarter, 1980: pp. 356-366.
[2] “Simón Bolívar,” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Online. (Accessed January 1, 2011). 
[3] Robin Blackburn, “Haiti, Slavery, and the Age of the Democratic Revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Series, Volume LXIII, Number 4, October 2006, p. 648.
[4] See also Robin Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery (New York: Verso, 1988), pp. 255-258.
[5] CIA, “Country Comparison: GDP – Per Capita (PPP),” The World Factbook (Accessed January 1, 2011).
[6] K. Baker, “Engineer: ‘This was not an earthquake disaster.’” Haiti Rewired. January 28, 2010; and Naomi Klein, “Chile’s Socialist Rebar“, CommonDreams.org, March 3, 2010.
[7] Blackburn, 2006, p. 646.
[8] James, C.L.R. (1963). The Black Jacobins. New York: Vintage Books.: 57
[9] based on figures in James, 1963: 50
[10] Blackburn, 1988, p. 163.
[11] Blackburn, 1988, p. 20.
[12] Blackburn, 1988, p. 187.
[13] James, p. 120.
[14] Blackburn, 1988, p. 200.
[15] TThomas E. Skidmore and Peter H. Smith, Modern Latin America, Sixth Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 335.
[16] G. Dunkel, “U.S. embargoes against Haiti – from 1806 to 2003,” in R. Clark, et. Al., Haiti: A Slave Revolution (New York: International Action Centre), p. 104.
[17] Dunkel, p. 105.
[18] Anthony Phillips and Brian Concannon Jr., “Justice for Haiti,” TomPaine.common sense, September 1, 2006.

What France Owes Haiti

We have just passed the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. The following was written January 28, 2010, and a version of it printed as a letter to The Globe and Mail. (Part of a series of articles, “Reflections on 2010”) • To the editors of The Globe and Mail. You highlighted, on your front page, the call from the World Bank for creditor nations to forgive Haiti’s debt. You chose to single out Venezuela as one of those creditor nations. You will be happy to know that Venezuela has complied with your wishes, and cancelled the debt Haiti owes Venezuela for oil purchases (link provided below)[1]. There is now no longer any need to single out Venezuela.

You might, rather, shift the spotlight to France. The debt owed by France to the people of Haiti is approximately $21,685,135,571.48 (link provided below)[2], a figure some 2,000 per cent greater than all the money owed by Haiti to all external creditors. The debt in question, as you of course know, was incurred when France extorted from the then 20-year old independent Republic, a completely bogus “compensation” for lost property. Given that this “lost property” was comprised of freed slaves, the French claim was, of course, indefensible.

The people of Haiti could use that $21 billion more than ever. I look forward to your front-page treatment of this important issue.

(c) 2011 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] “Chavez Writes Off Haiti’s Oil Debt to Venezuela,” Latin American Herald Tribune, January 2010.
[2] “Aristide pushes for restitution from France,” The Miami Herald, December 18, 2003.

Canada’s Liberals train Britain’s Tories – Look out for ‘days of action’

This was drafted in August, 2009, before the 2010 defeat of Britain’s Labour government and the election of the “ConDems.” Given events since, it has some facts that are still relevant in 2011. (Part of a series of articles, “Reflections on 2010”)” • Two former leading Liberal government figures from Canada – former top bureaucrat Jocelyne Bourgon and former cabinet minister Marcel Massé – earlier this summer met with leading British Tories including Philip Hammond, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.[1] If Britain’s Tories intend to follow in the footsteps of Canada’s Liberals, then there is trouble ahead for workers and the poor in Britain.

The Canadian Liberals took office in 1993, reducing the Tories to just two seats. The Tories had earned the justifiable anger of the electorate by presiding over an early 1990’s recession that pushed unemployment into double digits. The recession had sent budget deficits to record levels – $40 billion for the federal government, more than $60 billion if the provincial government deficits were added in.[2] The Liberals announced that this had to end, and they ruthlessly set about to do so.

Then finance minister Paul Martin – working with the same Bourgon and Massé who are now advising Britain’s Tories – began a process of cutbacks that devastated health education and social assistance across the country. In a very short time, federal government spending had been slashed by 20 per cent. Close to 50,000 public sector workers, employed by Ottawa, were let go.[3]

And that was just the tip of the iceberg. The principle mechanism used by the Liberals to slash spending was to change the rules by which tax money was shipped out to the provinces. The effect was to reduce by billions of dollars the amount of money given to the provinces – and this was critical, because it is the provinces in Canada that fund health care, education and social assistance.

The Liberal cuts created an environment that brought the most vicious right-wing Tories to the forefront. In Ontario, Canada’s biggest province, a hard right-wing Tory named Mike Harris took office in 1995. He was only too happy to see money from Ottawa drying up. He was a real Thatcherite – and was eager to cut as deeply as he could. He wasted little time.

  • Social assistance was cut by over 20 per cent with one blow – suddenly, Canada’s largest city, Toronto, was a place where visible panhandling became the order of the day and where food bank use soared;
  • Education budgets were slashed, leading to crowded classrooms and fewer education assistants – high school students eventually saw one year of schooling eliminated entirely;
  • Health care budgets were slashed, leading to horror stories of crowded emergency rooms, lack of beds, and patients stashed in hospital corridors;
  • All of this took place in an atmosphere of racism and scapegoating, culminating in the 1997 shooting death, by police, of young First Nations’ activist, Dudley George.[4]

The labour movement leaders had no idea how to respond. The recession in Ontario had been presided over by a government led by Canada’s labour party – the New Democratic Party (NDP) – that had paved the way for the Harris cuts. The tightening of social assistance, cuts to education and cuts to health care – all of these had started under the NDP. Union leaders closely tied to the NDP were frozen, uncertain how to respond.

But a response did come. A series of small community coalitions sprang up, hounding the Tories at every turn. September 27, 1995 – the opening day of the fall session – between 5,000 and 10,000 marched on Queen’s Park, in a demonstration organized by the Labour Council of Metro Toronto and York Region and the Embarrass Harris Campaign. The crowd included 17 busloads of protesters from Ottawa, Peterborough, Sudbury and St. Catharines and members of the Canadian Autoworkers, United Food and Commercial Works, United Steelworkers of America, Canadian Union of Postal workers, Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union – as well as hundreds marching with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty.[5]

The environment of resistance was reflected a few weeks later, when the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) met in session. The 2,000 delegates – much closer to the anger of the rank and file than the deflated and demoralized central union leadership – voted to launch a series of one-day, one-city general strikes to oppose the Liberal/Tory cuts.[6]

These “Days of Action” were magnificent. The first, in December 1995, shut down the industrial city of London, Ontario in the middle of winter. Workers by the thousands illegally walked off the job, some of them carrying signs “London, Paris,” inspired by the great wave of strikes breaking out in France that year. The February, 1996 strike in Hamilton Ontario saw a massive crowd of 100,000 take to the streets. Without a doubt, the high point was the magnificent Toronto strike. October 25, 1996. That day, one million people stayed away from work. The next day, 350,000 marched past the frightened Tories, separated from the massive crowd by hundreds of police outside the city’s convention centre.[7]

Tragically the union leadership threw away this anger from below. Again and again, they used the days of action as safety valves, letting workers blow off steam, but refusing to mobilize effective action. In the fall of 1997 the best chance to take such action occurred, when tens of thousands of Ontario teachers walked out in a two-week illegal strike. Had the call gone out for a sympathy general strike, the Tories could have been stopped. It didn’t happen, and the Days of Action petered to an end.

The lessons for Britain’s workers are clear. If the Tories (or Labour) copy Canada’s Liberals and Tories, then deep cuts are in order. If Britain’s union leaders copy Canada’s union leaders, the fight against these cuts will be stymied.

But if movements can be built which focus the rage and anger that ordinary folk will feel faced with the devastation of social services, if the anger in communities can be linked up with the anger in the workplace, then there is a chance that Britain’s workers will copy the best part of Canada in the mid-1990s – the militant tradition of rank and file opposition which opposed the cuts even when union leaders refused to fight.

© 2011 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] Jonathan Oliver, “Whitehall lines up ‘doomsday’ cutbacks,” TimesOnline, July 5, 2009; and Michael White, “Taking an axe to public spending the Canadian way,” Guardian.co.uk, July 8, 2009.
[2] Statistics Canada, “Table 45: Actual, cyclically adjusted and primary-cyclically adjusted budget balances (millions of dollars), National Economic and Financial Accounts,” accessed August 7, 2009.
[3] Oliver and White.
[4] For an overview, see Robert MacDermid and Greg Albo, “Divided Province, Growing Protests: Ontario Moves Right,” in Keith Brownsey and Michael Howlett, eds. The Provincial State in Canada: Politics in the Provinces and Territories (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2001), pp. 163-202.
[5] Laurie Monsrebraaten. “Protesters, police clash at Queen’s Park,” Toronto Star, Sept. 28, 1995, p. A.16; Paul Kellogg, “Ontario – strike action can stop the Tories,” October 30, 1995; and “Solidarity can stop the cuts,” October 2, 1995 in PolEconJournal II, 1995-1998 (Toronto: author’s collection).
[6] James Rusk, “Ontario unions target London for shutdown,” The Globe and Mail, Nov. 14, 1995, p. A.3; Kellogg, “Dec. 11 – Shut London Down,” PolEconJournal II, 1995-1998, December 4, 1995.
[7] Kellogg, “The face of the new year,” January 8, 1996; “Hamilton Days of Action,” March 4, 1996; “Toronto general strike: A taste of our power,” October 30, 1996; in PolEconJournal II, 1995-1998.

Reflections on 2010

The long nights of winter are always a good moment in which to take stock of the work of the previous few months. Working through the detritus of a tumultuous year, I came across several writing pieces not uploaded to this blog. Some have been published elsewhere (links provided where possible), but given the restrictions of print publications, often in edited form. Others were 90 per cent finished, but never completed and published. All but one were written in the last 12 months. The one exception, dating from the summer of 2009, is included because it deals with something that became quite topical in 2010 – the return to office of Britain’s Tories, and the opening up of another era of cutbacks and resistance in that country. The challenge was, before the nights got too much shorter, to see if a few of these couldn’t make the light of day. Eight are done, and that’s enough. Comments, as always, welcome.

1. August, 2009: “Canada’s Liberals Train Britain’s Tories – Look out for ‘days of action’
2. January, 2010: “What France Owes Haiti” (edited version published in The Globe and Mail.)
3. March, 2010: “Our Debt to Haiti
4. March, 2010: “Cheri DiNovo and the need for ‘Apartheid 101’
5. April, 2010: “The Question of China” (book review, slightly longer version of the review published in Socialist Studies)
6. May, 2010: “Colombia, not Venezuela, is the problem” (submitted as a brief to the Government of Canada)
7. May, 2010: “Bolivia and the birth of a movement for Climate Justice” (longer version of report published in Rabble.ca)
8.  December, 2010: “Tiger Woods – The Issue is Racism

(c) 2011 Paul Kellogg