A Recap of the War in Ukraine: a succinct summary of Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and what lies ahead

Gonzalo Lira, “A Recap of the War in Ukraine” (Twitter, 26 April 2022)

For those people confused by the sudden invasion of Russian forces into Ukraine or suspicious of the reporting on the intervention in the Western news media, a quick recapitulation / summary was helpfully provided by Gonzalo Lira on his Twitter account on 26 April 2022. Lira is a Chilean-American citizen currently in Kharkov in north-eastern Ukraine where he has lived with his Ukrainian wife and children for some years. Lira rose to prominence as an online citizen journalist with the outbreak of hostilities in late February after Russian forces entered Ukraine for reporting what was actually happening around him in Kiev (where he happened to be at the start of hostilities) and then later in Kharkov on his YouTube channel. Western audiences aware of the disinformation being pushed on them by Western MSM outlets began following Lira and soon alternative news media websites began featuring his reports and interviewing him. His profile rose even more when he failed to turn up to a Zoom interview with British journalist George Galloway on 17 April 2022 and for several days he did not post anything to YouTube or Twitter, causing alarm among his audience who feared he had been arrested, tortured and even murdered by the feared Ukrainian SBU or neo-Nazi gangs. The Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed his disappearance after searching for him. On 22 April 2022, Gonzalo Lira announced through an interview conducted by Alex Christoforou of The Duran that he was alive and well, and had been detained by the SBU since 15 April 2022. As far as I am aware, Lira is currently under house arrest in Kharkov and has lost access to his mobile phone, computer and his social media accounts.

On 26 April 2022 Lira put out no fewer than 24 tweets summarising what has happened so far in Ukraine since 24 February 2022 when Russian forces entered Ukraine from northeast, east and south of Ukraine’s borders. The tweets have been compiled into an article by Bernhard H at his Moon of Alabama blog for easier reading. Lira noted that Russia invaded the country with 190,000 troops against 250,000 combat troops fielded by Ukraine: a figure contrary to what most military strategists would have advised governments intending to invade other countries – a ratio of 3:1 would have been advised, in other words, Russia should have fielded an invasion force of 750,000. 30,000 Russian troops were placed near Kiev: not enough to capture the city but enough to pin down 100,000 Ukrainian soldiers and stop them from joining Ukrainian troops amassing in eastern Ukraine and preparing to launch a massive blitzkrieg invasion of the breakaway Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics. This blitzkrieg campaign was the immediate reason for Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine, to pre-empt this invasion after eight years of harassment of the breakaway republics that resulted in the deaths of 14,000 people in their territories. By attacking from the north and south as well, the Russians cut off supply lines from western Ukraine – supply lines that would have been fed by NATO countries bordering western Ukraine – and effectively isolating Ukrainian forces in the east. Surrounding Kiev was a brilliant feint, tying up Ukrainian forces there and compelling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to flee to Poland.

The Russians had hoped to pressure Zelensky to negotiate a political settlement that would allow Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts and other oblasts in eastern and southern Ukraine to decide on their future, whether they wished to remain in a federal Ukraine, form a new country or join Russia. Under pressure from the West however, Zelensky refused to negotiate and instead (probably with help from outside) launched a massive propaganda campaign to motivate Ukrainian forces to fight to the death, demoralise Russian forces and get money and weapons from the West: this campaign included fake stories about an ace fighter pilot called the Ghost of Kyiv shooting down Russian fighter jets and deliberate staged murders of civilians in Bucha and a missile attack on people at a train station in Kramatorsk. These outrageous acts of brutal violence and others carried out by Ukrainian forces, neo-Nazi battalions and/or armed gangs were blamed on Russian forces and Western mainstream news media dutifully reported the Ukrainian version of the events.

However Kiev’s refusal to negotiate and Western economic and financial sanctions on Russia – which have hurt Russia’s economy but only temporarily, after Russia announced that everyone buying its gas had to pay in roubles (thus sending the value of the rouble back to the level it had before 24 February 2022) – have apparently led the Russians to change their lightning raids and feinting, and adopt a different strategy in which they intend to hold onto the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine. If Lira is correct, this would deprive the rump Ukraine access to the Black Sea and Russian-held territory would reach as far as Transnistria in Moldova and Odessa near Romania. The richest parts of pre-2022 Ukraine, agriculturally and industrially, would be claimed by Russia. Hungary might claim the Transcarpathian oblast in far western Ukraine where Hungarian communities live. Poland would claim Volhynia and Halychyna (Galicia) in north-western and western Ukraine, these areas having been part of the old Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth before the 1800s and then part of a reconstructed Poland between World Wars I and II. Significantly Volhynia and Halychyna are hotbeds of neo-Nazi extremism, this phenomenon having had its roots during Polish rule in the early 20th century when forced Polonisation aroused resentment among Ukrainians and encouraged them to form nationalist political movements. Good luck to Poland if it can hang onto these areas!

So far Lira has given a succinct summary of the war in Ukraine, the reasons for Russia’s invasion and the reaction of Kiev to the invasion and its obstinacy in refusing to negotiate despite losing thousands of soldiers and the total destruction of its materiel, not to mention its economy, and the Moon of Alabama blog has made the summary more accessible to readers. Initially the Russians were careful not to destroy Ukrainian civilian infrastructures but in their new strategy they may destroy those civilian structures and networks being used by Ukrainian forces and their NATO allies to maintain supply lines. The Ukrainians themselves may even destroy their own civilian infrastructures in order to use the materials for war purposes.

Lira ends his tweets musing on the senseless waste of human lives and potential, and the equally stupid destruction of a nation, however unstable it was originally when it became independent in 1991, by a government led by an incompetent President egged on by Western nations (mainly the United States) that were only interested in harvesting Ukrainian resources for their own elites. The greed, stupidity and short-sightedness of the West, in expanding NATO into eastern Europe right up to Russia’s western borders (despite having promised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the late 1980s / early 1990s that NATO would not expand any farther into central and eastern Europe after the reunification of East and West Germany) and encouraging neo-Nazi infiltration in Ukraine’s government and security agencies, at the cost of stability and even the lives of thousands in eastern Ukraine, have been on full display over the past three decades.

Before he began living in Ukraine, Gonzalo Lira had been a film-maker and writer (with three novels to his name) in the United States and Chile. He began publishing economic analyses in 2010 and contributed the same to other blogs such as Naked Capitalism. By 2017 he was active on social media under the monicker Coach Red Pill. Lira is obviously a highly restless and curious character, not always careful or conscientious as demonstrated by his dubious collaboration with Australian economist Steve Keen, and his chameleon past and mercurial ways have put him in the right spot at the right time to finally make his reputation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech at Leaders of Russia management competition, Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s speech at Leaders of Russia management competition, Moscow (19 March 2022)

In a perhaps unexpected venue – meeting with finalists of a competition in which participants manage a company going through a crisis in a simulated reality – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in his capacity as Chairman of the competition’s Supervisory Board, delivered an important speech against what he sees as the context of events occurring in Ukraine from late February 2022 onwards. Essentially Lavrov’s speech refers to actions and policies of the West towards Russia since the 1990s and the role Ukraine has been shunted into, as a puppet tool to intimidate Russia, threaten Russian security and ultimately weaken Russian sovereignty with the aim of opening up the country to Western influence and infiltration and splitting it up into weaker, poorer states. Despite Russia’s attempts to be friendly and to cooperate in tackling regional and global issues and problems facing Europe, the Northern Hemisphere and ultimately the whole planet Earth, the West and especially the United States has consistently egged on Ukraine in its antagonistic behaviour towards Russia and Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine.

Lavrov gives detailed examples of the way in which Ukraine has either ignored its obligations to Russian-speaking Ukrainians and other Ukrainians belonging to various ethnic minorities in its territory or pursued an aggressive and bullying stance towards its minorities and to Russia. He notes the discriminatory language policy of Ukraine towards Russian, Hungarian and other minority languages. He mentions the ongoing harassment by Kiev of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics since 2014 when those republics declared their independence, to the extent that terrorist-style infiltration (including outright violence) by Ukrainian military forces or neo-Nazi units embedded with them in those republics has resulted in 14,000 deaths of DPR and LPR inhabitants, and Kiev’s recent decision to boost its forces by 120,000 troops along the de facto border between Ukraine and the rebel republics. Once Ukraine began shelling the republics in early 2022, with preparations for a later invasion, Russia took quick action: Moscow recognised the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics and launched a military operation into Ukraine to defend the republics. Within a historical context such as this, outsiders should not be surprised that Russia decided to invade Ukraine with the aim of demilitarising and deNazifying Ukraine, at least at the latter’s military level; rather, we should be surprised that Russia took so long to react – eight years and 14,000 casualties later.

Since Moscow’s military campaign began, the Russians have uncovered an extensive bioweapons programme in which some 30+ military biological research laboratories run by the US Department of Defense were established in various cities throughout Ukraine. The Russians have also taken note of the virulent anti-Russian propaganda operation operating in the West to demonise all things Russian and to portray the Russian campaign as a failure that will damn Russian President Vladimir Putin and encourage the Russian public to overthrow him as leader.

Lavrov invited his audience to ask questions and their queries ranged from the practical and the specific (for example, how Russians living in former Soviet republics can travel to Russia) to the general (for example, how Russia and other nations can pursue international relations and return to cooperation and resolving conflicts peacefully). To all these questions, Lavrov gave detailed answers and reiterated the Russian desire to work towards peace and solving global problems with other nations.

Lavrov’s speech is important in that it lays out succinctly the historical environment over the past 30 years in which actions taken by Ukraine, aided and abetted by the US, NATO and the EU, have culminated in a situation of weakened national and regional security in Europe, political instability and economic crisis in Ukraine, and heightened fears of a major world war – World War III, indeed – affecting much of Europe and leading to the use of nuclear weapons by both Russia and the West and their respective allies. It is also significant in that it publicly signals a change in which Russia conducts diplomacy with the West: Moscow is not likely to become more aggressive or hostile but the Russians are definitely less likely to tolerate Western aggression and insolence, and will find ways of circumventing Western hostility, especially if such hostility can be undermined and Russia and its allies will benefit as a result. As Lavrov observes at the end of the Q&A session, lessons will be learned. The reaction by the West to Russian warnings and Ukrainian aggression though has been to urge the Ukrainians on their reckless actions and to criticise Russia for doing or not doing things that are actually the responsibility of Ukraine under the Minsk agreements.

Though the speech and the Q&A session that follows are quite lengthy and detailed, and viewers might be advised to familiarise themselves with the post-Soviet histories of Russia and Ukraine, the speech is not very long and it is very straightforward and blunt in tone and aims. An English-language transcript of the speech is available at this site.

John McWhorter’s “Cancel Culture and Wokeness” talk on dangers of Critical Race Theory

John McWhorter, “Cancel Culture and Wokeness” (Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin, 10 September 2021)

John McWhorter is a linguist and associate professor of linguistics at New York City’s Columbia University where he teaches linguistics, philosophy, American cultural studies and music history. He has been involved in socio-political debates for many years and attracted much public attention by criticising the conflation of challenging power structures in Western society with aspects of Western culture to the extent that many of the tools, methods and language we use to challenge power themselves end up complicit as forms of oppression and must be replaced. By replacing these tools and methods and changing our vocabulary and grammar, we end up being hijacked by the very elites we should be challenging and our energies are deflected and directed to targeting those who should be our allies. Movements aimed at ending discrimination against minority groups with the aim of bringing people together to fight power elites end up being used by those very power elites to divide people in classic “divide and rule” fashion. Tools and methods used by feminist groups movements to create safe spaces, institutions and networks for women are are taken over by people claiming to be transgender to invade those very spaces, institutions and networks – while genuine transgender people end up being targeted and vilified for actions, behaviour and other activities they are not responsible for; similar can be said for ethnic and religious minorities that have attempted to carve out public space in Western society for their members, only to discover their culture, practices and belief systems are being exploited by governments for the latter’s own agendas and benefits, while they themselves face public wrath.

McWhorter gave a talk at the Internationales Literaturfestival in Berlin in September 2021 on cancel culture and wokeness which form one aspect of how our toolboxes in challenging power structures and networks has been taken over and abused by power elites to keep us weak and divided, and constantly at one another’s throats. In this way, we become our own oppressors, and the power elites do not have to expend any effort or energy to oppress us and to keep us away from them. The central gist of McWhorter’s lecture is that Critical Race Theory, which underlies cancel culture / wokeness, has become the base on which all current intellectual, cultural and even political and economic activity must be founded, and everything that we do must always somehow address inequalities existing between different groups in society. McWhorter likens Critical Race Theory to a religion which is a very apt comparison. He gives examples of how CRT has invaded every aspect of contemporary Western culture in talking about the musical “My Fair Lady”, the study of physics in universities and discussions about art and literature. He sees a parallel between the way CRT invades all the sciences and humanities, and the dominance of Christian theology (controlled by the Roman Catholic Church) in mediaeval Western societies nearly 1,000 years ago.

The actual talk lasted 20 minutes and the rest of the hour-long session was given over to a Q&A session. Host Matthew Karnitschning asked McWhorter for examples of how CRT is poisoning Western society and shutting down the public discourses necessary for democracy and transparency to function. McWhorter gives the example of New York Times journalist Donald G McNeil Jr being sacked for uttering the word “nigger” to high school students on a trip to Peru in 2019, while discussing with them whether their classmate should have been punished for using the word in a video she made as a 12-year-old . He also refers to college courses, publications and other practices which treat black Americans as victims of oppression but end up patronising them and reinforcing the very racism and institutional discrimination that previous generations of black activists such as Martin Luther King had railed against. Other interesting issues Karnitschning raised include the phenomenon of “virtue signalling” in which people demonstrate they are “good” by calling out what they perceive as racial prejudice or discrimination against designated victim groups: in the earlier example of Donald G McNeil Jr, the people involved in “virtue signalling” were the students and their parents who reported him for using the N-word, and the NYT staff involved in his sacking.

McWhorter took questions from the audience which ranged from whether he saw parallels with the Cultural Revolution in China (1964 – 1976) – the only parallel he saw between that period and the current CRT scare is that in both, a minority of people denounced academic and other figures, and the majority sat on the sidelines, too scared to speak up – to a query challenging his assertion that CRT is a religion demanding faith and emotional investment over truth.

The session ended on a rather downbeat note as McWhorter outlined how he saw US society and US colleges and universities in particular continuing under the reign of CRT: in McWhorter’s opinion, these institutions will become more ideologically rigid, and alternative educational institutions and systems that meet more vocationally oriented needs or demands for education based on Enlightenment values will arise. The current trend of falling enrolments of white US men at college was noted but McWhorter believes factors other than CRT (such as college being increasingly overpriced, the burden of student debt and competition from online courses) are the issue.

Strangely during the session no-one including McWhorter thought to mention if the way education systems in the US and other Western nations have been designed and allowed to develop, with private schools, colleges and universities lavished with funding at the expense of their state-funded equivalents, has played any role in birthing CRT. Indeed, the class-based hierarchical nature of Western societies in which privatisation of what should be public institutions, and that privatisation denying large segments of the general public access to education that would encourage critical thinking, logic, use of the scientific method and exposure to alternate and diverse ways of thinking and expression – which Karl Marx identified as the scourge of Western civilisation in his time – can be seen as the petri dish in which CRT and other ideologies enabling the bourgeois classes to view themselves as championing the poor and disadvantaged, or particular sections of the poor and disadvantaged, have arisen and flourished.

The most impressive part of the session is where McWhorter nailed the essence of CRT: perceiving every relationship as being based on differences in the power wielded by the people involved in the relationship, and making those power differences the core issue of every endeavour in Western society. The first 20 minutes of the session are worth repeated viewings, the Q&A session not so much so.

On the Need for a Programme (A Communist Manifesto: The Classic for Today): a vision and path for capitalist societies towards Communism

Paul Cockshott, “On the Need for a Programme (A Communist Manifesto: The Classic for Today)” (25 June 2021)

In response to a request, UK computer scientist / Marxist economist Paul Cockshott produced a slideshow presentation on what he believes a new Communist program (that is, one that transforms a society from capitalism to Communism) should involve. His presentation is structured chronologically, starting with the founding documents of Communism written by Karl Marx in 1848, and moving through the experience and failure of liberal democratic parliamentary systems and Soviet-style Communism to the current global environmental crisis created by neoliberal political / economic ideologies. Cockshott then alights on why Communism is needed and what its goals are: because the capitalist classes are organised internationally, working classes must also be organised internationally; because the control of science and technologies is in the hands of the capitalists, they are able to use such knowledge and tools to reshape the world according to their own narrow vision with the result that socio-economic inequalities are rising, working classes are becoming more impoverished and global ecosystems are suffering.

Cockshott is careful to distinguish among different groups of “socialists” such as reactionary socialists who use the language and tools of socialism against Communism (examples being the National Socialists of Germany in the mid 20th century); bourgeois socialists who demand a cradle-to-grave welfare-net socialism (that benefits them and which they can deny to working classes if the latter don’t vote the way they are expected to) while retaining capitalist structures and institutions; and classical social democrats who want some Communist measures to patch the loopholes of capitalist structures and existing constitutional systems. From there, Cockshott outlines a vision of Communist economy and society in which digital technologies can be used to restructure resource allocation, production and distribution of goods and services, and how these are accessed by the public according to its needs. Money as it is currently used, the debt-based systems that generate and circulate money and the global financial structures based on those systems will be abolished.

Cockshott then explains how modern States arose and how current political systems are structured to protect the interests of the wealthy and the classes that support them. He goes on to outline what changes are needed for political systems and their institutions to represent working classes and serve their interests. These changes are far-ranging and include changes to the judicial and legal systems, the educational systems from elementary education upwards, and the armed forces and security forces including the police. Cockshott advocates for land nationalisation and economic rents to be paid to local communities. Essential infrastructure and the creation and circulation of money, credit or their fungible equivalents should be centralised under public control.

The presentation ends very abruptly which I find a pity as Cockshott provides no explanation as to how such changes can be brought about and moreover can be sustained in the face of a vicious backlash by capitalist classes and their allies, some of whom will claim to be “socialist”, even “Communist”. As the long history of Western social democracy and its erosion and corruption by neoliberalism, and the failure of Soviet Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union illustrate, those tasked with maintaining socialist and Communist systems and institutions can easily become a new wealthy class identifying with those they are supposed to combat. State-controlled infrastructures can be privatised, their assets sold off and the people working within them made unemployed. The constant struggle of Communist and socialist governments and systems in nations like China, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela to rediscover their original goals and visions, relearn hard lessons and remake themselves where necessary surely serves as a warning to us all.

AUKUS and the danger of war: a persuasive if simplistic argument on the stupidity of the AUKUS pact

Paul Cockshott, “AUKUS and the danger of war” (23 September 2021)

After a Twitter exchange on whether the US was in a fit state militarily to challenge China, and in the wake of the AUKUS naval and defence pact formed by the US, the UK and Australia – it should have been called USUKA but AUKUS flows more mellifluously than “you-suck-ah” – in September 2021, with the pact’s first initiative being to supply nuclear-powered submarines to the Royal Australian Navy (and those submarines to be purportedly built in Adelaide, compelling Australia to break its current contract with France to build 12 diesel submarines), Scottish computer scientist / economist Paul Cockshott created a slideshow explaining how the AUKUS alliance endangers Australia and the US in the event of a war with China in the western Pacific Ocean region. The slideshow demonstrates how dependent Australia will be on the UK and the US in obtaining highly enriched nuclear fuel to power the submarines (and the proliferation risks involved, since enriched nuclear fuel can be used to make bombs) as Australia lacks the know-how and the infrastructure (including nuclear plants) needed to enrich the fuel. From there Cockshott looks at why, after 70 years, Britain has suddenly decided to sell Australia its nuclear technology and expertise, and concludes from examining speeches made by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Tory MP (and Johnson’s predecessor as Prime Minister) Theresa May that the reason for Australia having nuclear-powered submarines, as they are designed for attack and not defence purposes, is that they ultimately will be part of a US-led naval blockade of China in the event of a conflict over Taiwan based on Western assumptions that China will invade Taiwan – even though over the past 70 years China has respected Taiwan’s physical, political and economic integrity to the extent that China’s hi-tech industries depend on Taiwan for its semiconductors and other raw materials, and tourists, business people and others regularly travel from one country to the other quite freely.

After reaching this conclusion as to the purpose of AUKUS, Cockshott spends the rest of his presentation examining the most likely course of a war between China and AUKUS, and makes his case that a Western blockade of China would be extremely risky and hazardous to AUKUS forces. China would quickly establish air and sea dominance over Taiwan’s territory (including airspace and maritime territory) and US support would be limited to the kind of hurried airlift “rescues” of US citizens seen recently in Kabul when the puppet Ghani government there collapsed in the wake of the Taliban’s peaceful victory in Afghanistan. A possible US attack on China itself, on the assumption that US forces can break through Chinese air and sea defences, is shown to be nigh impossible due to the severe decline in US military capabilities and the advanced age of US bomber planes since 1945. An economic blockade based either on blocking trade routes in Southeast Asia or on sanctions on nations trading with China would disrupt economies all over the world – and encourage even more integration of the Eurasian continent in China’s Belt Road Initiative to circumvent a blockade or sanctions. Cockshott looks at the shipbuilding capabilities of the combatants and finds that China’s shipbuilding capabilities far outstrip those of the US. South Korea would most likely declare neutrality in the war but in the event that Seoul is compelled to side with AUKUS, South Korea would be exposed to attack from North Korea and China.

The result is that the economies of the AUKUS members and any others participating in the war against China will be severely damaged, so much so that their societies and politics will become unstable and the very polities themselves liable to break up. They will lose cultural prestige as well and the very concept of Western liberal democracy – itself hazy and contradictory with its emphasis on free markets unhindered by government oversight and regulation – will be discredited. While China and its allies will also suffer economic damage, they will be in a better position to recover through China’s BRI.

While Cockshott’s presentation is well set out if a bit slow and repetitive, it does appear simplistic to the point where the figures and facts he pulls out look cherry-picked. In a real war, China would have Russian support which could include Russia cutting off natural gas supplies to the UK. An economic blockade initiated by China or Russia of the UK and any European countries allied with that nation and involved in the US war against China could strain relations among them and among other things encourage the British public to turn against London, especially as (with the phasing out of the use of older fossil fuel technologies like coal-dependent technologies) Europe is becoming more and more dependent on importing Russian natural gas. The Taiwanese people themselves, as opposed to their government, might prefer Beijing’s domination to the extent that their forces might pledge to fight on the Chinese side. Australia itself will be a target for attacks and economic blockades and sanctions from China, Russia and their allies, and Australians themselves would have to choose whether remaining part of AUKUS or any alliance with the US is worth risking their future for.

At the same time Cockshott’s presentation is silent on China’s submarine capabilities against future combined AUKUS submarine attacks. One could argue though that there are many ways to fight “hot” wars and not all of them have to be purely military, let alone match one nation’s sub-set of military weapons against another’s exact equivalent. For China, the war AUKUS will wage against it will be a defensive war and defence calls for different strategies and the necessary tactics and hardware those require: the problem is how varied and how deep China’s defensive capabilities are, and if they can withstand the offensive strategies and capabilities of the AUKUS alliance. Cockshott’s presentation suggests that China will have more flexibility and more strategies, tactics and weapons (especially soft non-military weapons) at hand than the AUKUS alliance will.

The issue that remains is why Australian political and defence elites were so stupid and idiotic to sleepwalk into a pact that robs Australia of any sovereignty over its land, sea and air territory, and ultimately puts their own survival in doubt.

Can the Chinese Communist Party Rule for Another 100 Years? – political scientist thinks it can

“Can the Chinese Communist Party Rule for Another 100 Years?” (Foreign Correspondents Club, Hong Kong, 29 June 2021)

On the eve of the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, the Foreign Correspondents Club, Hong Kong (FCC HK), hosted a conversation and discussion with political scientist / venture capitalist Eric Xun Li. FCC President Keith Richburg was moderator in this discussion. Much of this discussion was a Q&A session between Richburg and Li.

For the first several minutes Li provided a fascinating history of the CPC’s development since 1949, with the Party’s reinvention, responsiveness and changing its policy platforms, even its objectives and goals, with the aim of improving the lives of Chinese citizens, being constant themes of his talk. For a number of decades the CPC’s focus on economic development and economic gains for Chinese citizenry, often at breakneck speed, was almost all-consuming but it also led to social and economic inequalities and serious environmental consequences. People of Li’s generation looked outwards and admired Western economic and social achievements, often to the extent that people wished and even advocated for political change to a Western-style liberal democratic system with privatisation of state corporations and greater economic efficiencies.

In recent years, especially since 2001, people in China have come to see how dysfunctional and illiberal, socially, politically and economically, the West has become today, and this has led to revulsion among the Chinese people, especially among the young people, towards the West and its ideologies. Respect and support for socialism and for the CPC have risen amongst the young as a result. The result is that patriotism among Chinese youth is high, respect for President Xi Jinping is also high, and Li’s view is that the CPC’s future is bright for a considerable length of time.

Unfortunately the bulk of the discussion consisted of FCC HK Chairman and moderator Keith Richburg continuously baiting Li on various aspects of the organisation and leadership of the CPC. The tone of Richburg’s questioning and the directions in which it drifts betray Richburg’s ignorance about Chinese politics, his lazy reliance on assumptions and stereotypes about the CPC and the Chinese leadership, and his beliefs that Western and in particular US political structures, procedures and ideologies represent the ideal model towards which all other nations should progress. Of course in this paradigm, Chinese politics will always be found wanting. Li cleverly responds to the deliberate misinformation and baiting by pointing out that the CPC has always engaged in self-criticism and currently is moving towards a more centralised form of leadership and decision-making in order to tackle the major problems of corruption among public servants, poverty mitigation and environmental degradation and social inequalities created by past economic development policies. In particular, Li points out that Chinese political organisation and structures emphasise performance and outcomes in contrast to Western political organisation, structures and institutions which are overly legalistic and which emphasise procedure and ideology over actual performance, allowing incompetent or even corrupt politicians to rise to positions where the decisions and policies they make can have profound influence on economies, cultures and societies.

One audience question Li had to answer also betrays an assumption that China does not adhere by rules and by implication is not an efficiently run society. Li points out that many thousands of corrupt officials are at present in jail. He also answers a question about Xi Jinping’s continuing stay as President of the People’s Republic of China by stating that the Chinese public approves of his extended tenure, which is supported by the achievements made during his Presidency, and that this extension was approved based on the situation facing China at the time: the issues of widespread corruption, economic restructuring, tackling environmental problems and uplifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty to a modestly prosperous standard of living; and China’s external relations with nations often hostile to it due in large part to China’s successful record in improving its people’s standard of living. 

The discussion would have been much shorter and less excruciating (for me as a viewer and listener) if Richburg and others questioning Li had taken the time before the discussion to learn something about how the CPC is structured, how it makes decisions, how it responds to individual needs and criticisms, and what the party has done to reform its organisation, rid its structures of corruption and become transparent and open about its policies and programs. How the Party recruits new members and trains them, weeds out people with self-serving agendas and promotes only those members with intelligence, ability and leadership qualities would also have benefited the conversation. With some background knowledge, Richburg could have asked more informed questions of Li and Li would not have been defensive in parts of the discussion. Much time was also wasted arguing over China’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan in early 2020 and how prompt (or not) it was in comparison to the West’s shambolic responses in the early days of the pandemic.

At least Li did well to stand up to the baited and often hostile questioning and the assumptions behind them by being knowledgeable not just about China’s politics but also about the failures of the West in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the dysfunctional and corrupt nature of US and other Western governments. 

The Unknown Cultural Revolution: showing how social conditions and cultural values can be changed to transform people’s lives and redirect society

Dongping Han, “The Unknown Cultural Revolution” (Guns and Butter, 13 January 2010)

Dongping Han is a history professor at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina and the author of “The Unknown Cultural Revolution: Life and Change in a Chinese Village” which challenges the Western narrative of the Cultural Revolution in China as a destructive period of economic regression and of violence and persecution of Chinese intellectual elites. This Guns and Butter recording on SoundCloud is an edited version of Han’s presentation made at the University of California in 2009 in which he talks about his childhood during the Cultural Revolution in a rural part of Shandong province. His premise is that an individual’s psychology is shaped in large part by the social conditions in which that individual grows up and by the values that are emphasised in those conditions. The topics he covers in this presentation include the development of the education system during that period and how it transformed peasant communities in Shandong province; the general transformation of Chinese society, culture and values under Communist rule; the tensions and riots between Uyghur and Han Chinese communities in Xinjiang; and the famine during the Great Leap Forward in China in the 1950s.

It’s quite a rambling talk and I must confess I did get lost along the way during the first half hour of the talk as Han ranges across a variety of topics relating to Chinese social development during the Cultural Revolution and the far-reaching results it had on the country’s economic, political and social directions in the half-century that followed. The very first topic on the importance and value of work, especially work done voluntarily by individuals as part of a team, is very interesting and highlights the difference between Western societies which basically view individuals as selfish and incapable of improvement (a view encouraged by traditional Christianity which regards humans as being born in sin) and who must be forced to work or threatened with punishment, and societies such as Communist Chinese society which regard humans as capable of change and self-sacrifice. I did try to follow and concentrate as much as I could on the part of his presentation where he discusses Xinjiang and relations between the Han Chinese and the Uyghurs. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the Han Chinese and Uyghurs were equals and treated one another fraternally; under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership in the 1980s – 90s, when state enterprises were privatised, relations between the Han Chinese and Uyghurs deteriorated and ethnic tensions arose as Han Chinese employers of firms based in Xinjiang favoured people from their own regions or ethnic groups over local people in Xinjiang. Again, this part of Han’s presentation implies that changing social conditions during the second half of the 20th century as a result of the changes in political leadership in China can have grave consequences for the strength of the social fabric in communities of great ethnic and religious diversity.

The talk becomes more structured once people are invited to ask questions and one person wants to know what kinds of new values were created in villages and rural communities during the Cultural Revolution and how this creation took place. Han emphasises through anecdotes how people were taught and encouraged to care for others and to look out for them, especially if they were all part of work teams. Looking out for others is often motivation enough for people to undertake work of their own volition without needing personal material rewards. Urban-based intellectuals were encouraged to work with rural-based peasants and farmers.

Han discusses why and how Mao Zedong was so popular among ordinary people, especially rural people: the policies he instigated were aimed at improving their lives, and many of these policies had either immediate results or powerful long-term results. One consequence is that very few people criticised Mao: criticism was discouraged because, as Han sees it, the people discouraged such criticism, not the government. Some of Mao’s policies often struck his followers as odd or even dangerous: on attaining power in October 1949, Mao insisted on continuing to employ public servants who had served under the Nationalist government – the reason being that if he were to get rid of them, these people would turn their energies against the Communists (and be co-opted by hostile anti-Communist forces within and outside China).

Han concludes his talk by comparing and contrasting contemporary Chinese society with US society, especially the contrasts he found when he first started studying and working in the US. He points out that while some Chinese citizens have become billionaires, their wealth has not come at the cost of their fellow citizens’ welfare whereas in Western societies many individuals have become extremely (and insanely) wealthy as a result of wealth transfers created by (among other things) privatisation of public institutions and services. The Chinese government has retained state ownership of critical industries and prioritised employment over inflation or monetary policies to steer the economy.

The presentation is edited in a way that makes Han’s audience appear uncritically accepting of everything or nearly everything he says. People could have challenged him on how China under Mao dealt with those who opposed Communism or criticised Mao’s policies and how such dealings were or can be justified on the basis of the new values being sown among the working class in cities and rural areas alike. Listeners wanting more can try finding the whole presentation online or read Han’s aforementioned book.

Unadulterated Propaganda versus Accuracy: Alexei Navalny versus the ‘underpants poisoner’

Latika Bourke, “Alexei Navalny versus the ‘underpants poisoner'” (Sydney Morning Herald, 5 February 2021)

As examples of crude mainstream media propaganda bashing Russia and in particular the Russian President Vladimir Putin go, few breathlessly pack in as many lies and falsehoods as this article for the Sydney Morning Herald by British-based Australian journalist Latika Bourke. The online article reads like a story written for primary school-age children but the print article in the Saturday edition of the Sydney Morning Herald is hardly much better when it comes to patronising its readers.

Firstly Navalny is claimed to be a thorn in Putin’s side, though the evidence Bourke puts up to justify this is assumed when it is really non-existent. The incident in which Navalny was supposedly poisoned with Novichok while on a plane from Tomsk to Moscow in August 2020 has yet to be investigated by police and examined in a court of law because Russian authorities are still waiting for German authorities to pass on their evidence that Navalny was indeed poisoned with the nerve agent. The film that Navalny recently made purporting to show that a palace in Gelendzhik on the Black Sea coast in southern Russia is owned by Putin has been debunked by Russian journalists who visited the palace and discovered that it is actually a luxury five-star hotel still under construction and owned by Russian billionaire businessman Arkady Rotenberg. (A video of the building can be viewed here.)

Bourke then goes on to give a potted history of Navalny starting with his blogging activities in which he presents as an anti-corruption campaigner targeting corruption in government-owned companies. He did this by buying shares in various enterprises so he could get access to company financial reports and attend shareholder meetings, and also by establishing his Anti-Corruption Foundation (its Russian acronym is FBK) to compile reports from ordinary citizens of everyday government corruption. Along the way Navalny collected over six million YouTube subscribers and over two million Twitter followers, not all of whom necessarily live in Russia. One notes that Navalny limits his investigation of corruption activities to those where the people involved in corruption may be linked to senior figures in the Russian government; to take one example, he does not appear ever to have investigated the corruption of former Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov who was fired by Putin in 2012.

What Bourke fails to mention though – and this is critical to understanding why Navalny was arrested, charged and convicted in court, and subsequently jailed as soon as he arrived in Moscow in January 2021 – is that Navalny was embroiled in at least two cases of embezzlement and fraud. In 2008, Navalny and his brother Oleg formed a transportation company (Glavpodpista) to deliver goods on behalf of the Russian branch of French cosmetics company Yves Rocher: the transportation company turned out to be a shell company that paid another delivery company to transport the goods for less than what Glavpodpista was paid by Yves Rocher Vostok to do. Both Alexei and Oleg Navalny were found guilty of embezzlement on 30 December 2014 and Alexei was sentenced to 3½ years of house arrest while Oleg Navalny went to jail for the same period of time. In the second case, Alexei Navalny was hired as a business consultant to advise a publicly owned timber company, Kirovles, in Kirov region; instead Navalny formed a company to buy timber products from Kirovles at reduced prices and resell the timber to Kirovles’ customers at prices they would normally pay Kirovles if buying direct from that company. As a result, Kirovles went bankrupt and its employees lost their jobs. For this, Navalny was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment on 18 July 2013. The reason that Navalny is in jail at this time of writing is that he violated the conditions of his house arrest (from the Yves Rocher case) throughout the first several months of 2020 before he made his trip to Tomsk in August by not reporting regularly to the police authorities as he should have done.

Putin’s supposed targeting of Navalny, which Bourke devotes much space to, revolves around that August 2020 incident in which Navalny fell sick on the plane flight from Tomsk to Moscow and the plane had to divert to Omsk so Navalny could be taken to hospital there. Not long after he fell sick, the German government sent a plane to collect Navalny from Omsk hospital, even though hospital doctors declared he was too ill to travel, and took him to the Charité Hospital in Berlin, where the doctors apparently found he had been poisoned with a cholinesterase inhibitor. In early September 2020, the German government announced that Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok. There then followed weeks of farcical news as, first, the tea which Navalny drank just before boarding the plane in Tomsk was said to have been poisoned; then the water bottle that Navalny drank from at his Tomsk hotel was supposed to have been poisoned (and which was later revealed to have been bought at an airport vending machine by FBK member Maria Pevchikh while travelling with Navalny back to Moscow; Pevchikh then flew back to the UK where she lives and works, avoiding questioning by Russian authorities over Navalny’s supposed poisoning); and finally and currently, Navalny’s underwear was revealed by so-called “citizen journalism” outfit Bellingcat to have been smeared with Novichok. How FSB agents tailing Navalny managed to contaminate his underpants while he and his FBK and other associates were not looking seems never to have been broached.

One notes that Bellingcat apparently acquired information about the FSB agents tailing Navalny by buying phone records with cryptocurrency through a black market dealing with phone data obtained from phone databases. One wonders how accurate such information can be when it is gathered from sources and in ways that are not transparent. Might it be that the FSB agent Konstantin Kudryavtsev, who Bourke says was duped by Navalny into revealing that the latter’s underwear had been smothered in Novichok, actually had never spoken with Navalny, that his identity details had been stolen from a hacked phone database, and that the person who spoke with Navalny was actually an actor pretending to be Kudryavtsev?

On being jailed for violating the conditions of his house arrest, Navalny and his close associates took to social media platforms such as TikTok to implore people (many of them schoolchildren lured by advertisements of parties) to attend illegally organised protest rallies across Russia. Some 40,000 people attended these rallies, which sounds like a lot of people until one remembers that the city of Moscow alone now has 12.8 million (as of late 2020 / early 2021) and so 40,000 represents just over 0.003% of that city’s population – hardly a significant proportion of Moscow’s population, let alone the rest of the country.

The Western MSM spotlight on Navalny’s recent activities from 2020 onwards comes at a time when “Color Revolution” regime-change activities and other means of overthrowing governments that the US and its Western allies happen to dislike have been failing in Belarus, Hong Kong, Venezuela and other parts of the world. On top of that, the responses by Belarus, China, Russia and Venezuela to the COVID-19 pandemic among their peoples and their healthcare sectors have resulted in relatively low death rates from the disease compared with the catastrophic mortality rates in the US, the UK and across the EU. Western public attention to the differences between the West on the one hand and on the other Russia, Belarus and China in the way they have dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic – Russia and China in particular developing their own vaccines like Sputnik V to the disease – and to rising socio-economic inequalities generally in all Western nations must be deflected to issues involving apparent human rights violations: for China, this means focusing on Uyghurs supposedly incarcerated in holding camps where they are beaten, tortured or raped; and for Russia, this means focusing on supposed “opposition political figures” like Navalny, who incidentally has never enjoyed more than 2% support from the Russian electorate and who has never been a politician. An opinion poll conducted by Levada-Center in September 2020 demonstrates the aversion and contempt most Russians have for Navalny.

Why Bourke then repeats the stale lies about Russia annexing Crimea (no, the Crimeans held an independence referendum and voted to leave Ukraine in March 2014); helping to shoot down Malaysia Airlines MH17 (still not proven despite numerous court hearings in The Netherlands); or trying but failing to kill Sergei and Julia Skripal in the UK with Novichok (still not proven either, despite the ever-changing narrative in which among other things the door-handle of the Skripal house was supposedly contaminated with Novichok, necessitating the removal of the house’s roof), in concluding her article, there is certain to be one answer: through banal repetition over and over, Bourke’s article serves to reinforce the Western propaganda narrative that Russia is governed by a devious, untrustworthy and corrupt government that oppresses its people and relies on a faltering economy dominated by fossil fuels to maintain a supposedly failing order. Putin is consistently portrayed as a despotic dictator who steals from his people and relies on an economy dependent on fossil fuel exports, and surrounds himself with excessively kitsch wealth. The Russian business community which has links with the government and Putin – necessary if it needs government approval and funding for major infrastructure projects – is seen to be packed with corrupt Putin cronies. (One can see considerable psychological projection of the desires and beliefs held by Western political elites onto what they imagine passes for backroom politics in the upper levels of the Russian leadership.) The sooner the Russian government and its President are replaced by leaders amenable to the US – so that Russia’s resources can be privatised and plundered by US and other Western corporations – the better: that is the message being hammered into the mass Western consciousness. The objective behind the message however is obscured.

Vladimir Putin’s Davos online forum speech (2021): a plea for cooperation and mutual respect in striving for peace and prosperity

Vladimir Putin’s Davos online forum speech (2021)

Invited to the Davos online forum organised by the World Economic Forum over 25 – 29 January 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech on what he believes will be the state of the world over the third decade of the 21st century and what governments everywhere should do to ensure that everyone everywhere can live in peace and prosperity. After acknowledging the effort made to hold the annual Davos forum during the COVID-19 pandemic, Putin commented on the effect the pandemic is likely to have on current trends in societies and that problems and imbalances that have already built up may worsen. In particular models and instruments of economic development are undergoing a crisis, social stratification and inequalities are increasing and these trends are encouraging the growth of populsim and extremism in nations’ political cultures, with the result that violent conflicts have broken out. In turn, international relations are becoming unstable and unpredictable, regional conflicts that were once dormant or simmering are now escalating into violence and war, and the rules-based international order is breaking down.

Putin then describes what he believes to be the main challenges facing societies across the world: socio-economic challenges such as the wide and widening differences between the wealth of a small global elite and the wealth of the vast majority of humanity; socio-political challenges such as rising inequality which is leading to social conflicts and intolerance; and the worsening of current international problems such as global debt and the increasing militarisation of the world. He notes that governments need to create programs that restore and stabilise economies adversely affected by the pandemic and that this restoration is sustainable and overcomes the problems created by socio-economic inequalities. Putin proposes that government should concentrate on reducing socio-economic disparities in their own sovereign states and between states. Four key priorities are identified by Putin: the universal need for shelter and decent living conditions with access to transport and public utilities; the need to provide gainful long-term employment for everyone that ensures a decent standard and quality of living; access to high-quality and effective healthcare; and children’s access to education that develops their talents and skills and enables them to achieve their ambitions in the long term. Putin concludes this part of his speech by emphasising the need for nations to cooperate to tackle common problems and for nations to respect diversity in the approaches and policies used to deal with grave issues and problems. This requires the recognition that the world can and should be a multi-polar one in which several axes of power can exist, instead of being a world where only one superpower is allowed to dominate and to dictate to the rest of the world how they should govern themselves.

Putin then narrows his scope to speak about Russia and its role in helping to stabilise different regions in particular parts of the world by stopping armed conflict and bringing warring parties to negotiate, and in developing a COVID-19 vaccine and cooperating with other nations to ensure the vaccine Sputnik V can be made available to their populations.

Not much is new in Putin’s speech that he has not said before, in stressing the need for cooperation and partnership, and for diplomacy and negotiation over conflict and violence. Putin makes no suggestion as to how nations should coordinate their efforts to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic or with any other pressing issues such as climate change. He does not say what he believes are real as opposed to artificial global problems, though one can guess that the real problem is the West’s intransigence in refusing to work with and to respect other nations, and insisting that it alone has the answers to other nations’ problems. Putin says that nations should disabuse themselves of unrealistic ambitions about always being leaders and instead humbly and honestly deal with one another as equal partners. One really cannot ask for more than this, and yet Western nations are likely to refuse to follow this advice, simply because it is coming from a leader the West fears and hates for his ability and effectiveness as a world leader.

The Red Dagger: a fiery poem essay narration and diatribe against corruption and oppression

Alan Cox, Heathcote Williams, “The Red Dagger” (2013?)

Presented in six parts on Youtube, British actor / poet Heathcote Williams’ poem essay “The Red Dagger”, a diatribe against the City of London and the part it has played in oppressing humanity across the world since the 1300s at least, is given vivid and impassioned audiovisual life by fellow UK actor Alan Cox who narrates the poem and supplies the montage of art, photographs, film stills and snippets of film and video to accompany his recitation. The red dagger of the title refers to the red sword that appears on the emblem of the City of London and, according to Williams and Cox, represents the dagger used in the murder of Wat Tyler, one of the leaders of the Peasants’ Revolt in England, in 1381 by officers loyal to King Richard II. (According to other sources I have read, the red sword on the emblem is a representation of St Paul, the patron saint of London.) Through the details of Wat Tyler’s Rebellion, in which Tyler and rebel monk John Ball led a movement insisting on social equality, abolishing the political hierarchy supporting the monarchy and ending the feudal system (under which peasants were the de facto property of landlords, bound to their masters’ lands), the poet Williams calls attention to the corruption of the political and economic elites that surrounded King Richard II (reigned 1377 – 1399) and finds parallels with the present City of London, its corruption and its control of the global financial industry, and how the activities of the financial elites impoverish and enslave entire nations.

Parts 1 and 2 of Cox’s fiery narration cover the 1381 uprising of English peasants against the King and his lords, and in itself the uprising as portrayed is very stirring. Whether or not the uprising has lessons for us in the 21st century might be debatable: for one thing, the levels of technology in mediaeval England were low, scientific and other general knowledge was limited, and the manipulation and exploitation that English elites exerted over the peasantry correspondingly were limited to mainly physical means, with some limited brainwashing of people’s minds courtesy of the Christian Church, a significant landowner and itself a major landlord oppressor of peasants. The most significant parts of Cox’s narration are Parts 3 and 4 in which he goes into detail about the extent of the activities and networking of the elites in the City of London and its secretive institutions, the extent to which the City of London controls the British government, its past participation in the British colonial / imperial project and the Atlantic slave trade, and its current participation in trafficking arms to nations with sordid human rights records and the global drug trade. Individuals and businesses in the UK financial services industry take advantage of opportunities to evade paying taxes owed to the government by sending money into offshore trust accounts or transfer pricing arrangements in tax havens. Something of the lavish, decadent culture of the City of London elites, dependent on rich banqueting and the associated networking, fuelled by addictions to drugs, casual sex and use of prostitutes, and possible links to sex trafficking and other sordid underground activities, is revealed in the narration and montage.

Cox’s film and Williams’ poem cover much ground and detail of how the City of London operates and has operated over the centuries, and viewers might well need to see the film at least twice to absorb most details. Being based entirely around Williams’ poem, the film does not give information sources so viewers will need to do their own research to confirm the information about the City of London. (A good start is Nicolas Shaxson’s book “Treasure Islands” which investigates the global scourge that is taxation evasion.) While the poem and film might play hard and fast with some details in parts, and Tyler’s actual rebellion might not have been as utopian, idealistic and socialist as the poem implies, the poetry genre proves to be an ideal format by which Williams (1941 – 2017) brings important political, economic, social and historical information to the general public’s attention.

The film along with transcripts of each part and footnotes giving information sources can be viewed at this link.