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 of the UK and any other European countries allied with that nation and involved in the US war against China would strain AUKUS relations and lead to the British public turning against London. 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.

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.

Magnitsky Acts are dangerous laws based on a hoax – Interview with Lucy Komisar: how human rights legislation is being degraded

Glen Isherwood, “Magnitsky Acts are dangerous laws based on a hoax – Interview with Lucy Komisar” (Citizens Insight / Australian Citizens Party, 28 October 2020)

In light of news that politicians Andrew Hastie and Kimberley Kitching are pursuing a bill through the Australian Parliament that would empower Canberra to target and impose sanctions on officials and individuals for supposed human rights abuses – the so-called Magnitsky legislation – Australian Citizens Party researcher Robert Barwick interviews US investigative reporter Lucy Komisar on the work she has done exposing such legislation using supposed human rights abuses to target and blacklist nations such as Russia, China, Iran and Venezuela and set them up for strategic confrontation and regime change. This interview is very detailed if selective (mainly due to time constraints), starting with Komisar’s early work as an investigative journalist and human rights activist across three continents in the 1960s through to the 1980s and then jumping to her work investigating the activities of Bill Browder in Russia through his Hermitage Capital Management Fund in the 1990s to capitalise on the privatisation of Russian state corporations under the Yeltsin presidency.

Taking the form of a conversation in which Barwick allows Komisar to explain at length what Browder did over the 1990s and the early 2000s, setting up shell companies for the purposes of transfer pricing (originally a legitimate practice in which two related companies in different taxation jurisdictions exchange goods and the price at which the exchange takes place is settled by the tax authorities in those jurisdictions according to rules and methods those authorities agree upon; companies may take advantage of such rules and methods to reduce the amount of tax they pay) and taking advantage of and abusing legislation in Kalmykia (an administrative region in Russia where the major ethnic group is Buddhist Kalmyks) in which companies got tax concessions if they employed people with disabilities, the bulk of the interview can sometimes be hard for viewers to follow unless they are already familiar with the history of Browder’s activities and of Magnitsky himself. The truth is Magnitsky was arrested and jailed for tax evasion as Browder’s accountant, and that Browder himself was being pursued by Russian authorities for stealing millions through the shell companies he set up with Magnitsky’s advice and assistance. The notion that Browder and Magnitsky are or were human rights champions keen on uncovering and exposing corruption in Russian politics in the 1990s and beyond – a notion that Browder promoted in the US and the EU, and is now promoting in Australia – proves to be a smokescreen covering up Browder’s own venality which as Komisar explains extends back in time even further than his adventures in Russia with Hermitage Capital Management Fund.

The more interesting part of the interview comes late in its second half when Barwick and Komisar discuss how her submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade – Human Rights Sub-Committee exposing Browder as a human rights fraud and that the Magnitsky sanctions legislation is based on lies was redacted and virtually ignored by the sub-committee. (As a result of her submission, Komisar was accused by Browder of being allied to or working in some capacity for the Russia government.) This leads among other things into a discussion on how the weaponisation of human rights in the form of sanctions legislation can be an attack on the concept of human rights itself, in that sanctioning individuals for supposed human rights crimes makes a mockery of human rights legislation and can be used to attack genuine human rights activists. If the bill backed by Kitching and Hastie were to be passed in Canberra, people targeted by the legislation would have no right of due process if they were to try to challenge it. (Even Australian citizens themselves might fall foul of such legislation, if they were to try to send money or gifts to relatives linked to sanctioned individuals or relatives living countries whose governments have been sanctioned.) The Human Rights Sub-Committee is deliberately ignoring submissions like Komisar’s submission in driving the new Magnitsky sanctions legislation, and the reason for doing so is purely political: to persecute and isolate individuals, organisations and even entire nations that follow policies or agendas that the US, the UK and their allies disagree with. Australia is expected to follow what the US and the UK decree, even at its own expense.

The danger of the West adopting the Magnitsky laws is that they set a dangerous precedent and model for other governments to target the political opposition and dissidents within their own nations. Laws that purport to uphold human rights are instead twisted into laws that degrade human rights. In addition, adopting Magnitsky laws that sanction individuals, organisations and nations when laws already exist to censure such entities can only result in confusion for governments to enforce and for courts to interpret if the new legislation contradicts current legislation.

The interview deserves to be seen at least twice or three times for viewers to understand the danger that passing the Magnitsky sanctions bill in Parliament poses to human rights activists in Australia. Viewers will need to do their own research on Browder and Magnitsky’s activities in Russia in the 1990s and the early 2000s that resulted in Magnitsky’s arrest and imprisonment. The implication that even in death Magnitsky is being used as a pawn by Browder to escape trial and imprisonment and to enrich himself, at the expense of people living in countries targeted by Magnitsky legislation where it has been passed, and of genuine human rights activists, is not lost on viewers. That Bill Browder can continue to cause havoc wherever he goes, and is seemingly unstoppable, given his history, might encourage some viewers to consider that he may be an intelligence asset.

Vladimir Putin’s Valdai Speech (2020) / Q&A Session

Vladimir Putin’s Valdai Speech at the XVII Meeting (Final Plenary Session) of the Valdai International Discussion Club (Moscow, 22 October 2020) – Part 2: Q&A Session

After his speech (see Part 1), Russian President Vladimir Putin took several questions from Fyodor Lukyanov, the moderator of the plenary session, and various attendees at the Meeting both in person and online. These questions covered a wide range of topics, not all of which had been mentioned in Putin’s speech, and several were general, even abstract almost, while others were specific and covered incidents that were topical at the time.

As moderator, Lukyanov probably had the lion’s share of questions (though he may have been relaying questions from parts of the audience) and one pertinent question was why Russia would not pursue an economic lock-down again if it were hit by a second wave of COVID-19 and if this meant that Russia’s priorities in dealing with the pandemic had changed to favour the economy rather than people’s health. The examples of Sweden and Belarus as nations that did not introduce economic lock-downs were cited. Putin replied that during the lock-down during the first wave in Russia, the government mobilised resources and funding to support individuals, families, small to medium-sized businesses and even companies and industries, and to build up the healthcare system so it has the flexibility (including a reserve of hospital beds) to cope and deal with the pandemic should it flare up again. Putin believes that the funding allocated to support the health sector and other economic sectors was used effectively, and that this will enable the country to ride through a second pandemic wave without having to introduce a second nationwide lock-down that would destroy jobs and threaten distribution networks, and create distress including mental health problems among the public. The President notes also that Sweden and Belarus had their particular reasons for not introducing lock-downs, and that interestingly Sweden did not mobilise its resources to support its economy or its people during lock-down.

Several questions raised the issue of arms control and whether Russia has made too many concessions in adhering to international treaties and limiting its arsenal in the wake of recent US belligerence in refusing to renew treaties or to walk away from them, or even to accuse other nations of violating treaties when in fact those nations had done no such thing. Putin’s response is that arms control treaties are still necessary if the world is to have a future; but if other nations wish to throw their weight around and ignore arms control treaties, the Russians are prepared to build on what has already been achieved in the past, even if it was one step forward and two steps back, and are ready to work with others to achieve arms control no matter what stage or level of global arms control has been reached.

Because I am familiar with Anatol Lieven as a writer and policy analyst, I took note of the question he asked about what position Russia would take with regard to the outbreak of war in Nagorno-Karabakh, whether Russia would side with Armenia against Azerbaijan and Turkey if ceasefires and other attempts at peace fail, and if this conflict might be an opportunity for Russia to work with France and other western European nations. Putin’s reply is to point out that Russia does not favour Armenia over Azerbaijan simply because of having Orthodoxy in common as a religion, and that Russia’s connections with both countries make it ideal as a mediator. As for allying with France against Turkey’s ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean Sea region, Putin states Russia is not keen on picking sides. While perhaps Putin’s replies might not satisfy Lieven and others who want Russia to take one side or the other, one should understand Russia’s reluctance to take on such roles that could give an opportunity for the US and its allies to aid the opposing side, to sap Russian military power and at the same time create other conflicts that would try to draw in Russia as well and force the Russians to fight on several fronts. It is not Russia’s intention to act as the world’s enforcer or police officer and its stand on potential conflict between France and Turkey, or between Armenia and Azerbaijan, reflects that intention.

A related issue was posed to Putin, as to what Russia’s fundamental foreign policy goals are towards nations around its borders that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Putin’s reply is that Russia’s foreign policy goals are taking place within the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and that all the post-Soviet states will recognise the common interests and overlapping histories and cultures they share which will help to draw them closer and achieve stability.

The issue of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny and his recent poisoning while flying from Tomsk to Moscow, during which his plane was diverted to Omsk where he received hospital care, later to be transported to Berlin (at the request of his family, which Putin granted even though Navalny was technically under house arrest) where doctors reported he had been poisoned with Novichok, brought into the spotlight the question of whether Germany and Russia still had a special relationship (due to the mixed history of relations between Germany and the Soviet Union / Russia in the past) or whether that relationship had changed. After noting that Russia had opened an investigation into Navalny’s poisoning, in which investigators had asked for information from Germany to assist (and that information had not been supplied), Putin notes that the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev played a major role in allowing East and West Germany to reunite in 1989, that Germany is Russia’s second largest trading partner (after China) and that having mutual interests such as trade and stimulating employment will always be at the heart of Russian-German relations.

Questions on Chinese-Russian relations were dealt with by Putin emphasising the areas in which Russia and China are working together (trade, sharing military technologies, developing infrastructure, holding joint military exercises).

A question from Anton Roux, head of the ADC Forum in Melbourne, on how Putin might wish to be remembered, brought forth Putin’s reply that he is not concerned about his reputation or how future generations of Russians might see him. (A very interesting response indeed, given that many Western leaders seem anxious about leaving a highly burnished reputation behind despite being very mediocre politicians.)

The last question put to Putin concerned the lack of government support for Antarctic research, even though a research station was already under construction with government funding, and Putin promised to bring up this issue with the relevant government department and find out why the research funding is being neglected.

While the range of questions put to Putin covered many different areas, and many related to domestic Russian issues as well as international issues, Putin’s responses generally err on the side of caution, with a conservative attitude that stresses co-operation and mutual agreement, and Russia’s strategic interests. While this means Putin’s answers are not exciting or particularly revelatory, one can understand the caution given that many questions came from people living overseas in countries where anti-Russia propaganda is in full swing among people at all levels of society and some of these questions may have required careful answers.

Perhaps the most significant revelation for Western audiences is that Putin actually approved the transfer of Alexei Navalny to Germany for medical treatment despite knowing that Navalny was a criminal. Amazingly, no-one seems to have asked why he personally intervened and gave permission for Navalny to be flown overseas. Surely Putin’s action casts a slur on the heroic attempts of the doctors, specialists and nurses at the Omsk hospital to save Navalny’s life?

Several of the questions asked were typical of questions Putin gets during his annual Q&A sessions with the Russian public and one might expect that in future Valdai Club Meetings, the moderators perhaps should steer questions away from issues of a domestic nature and encourage people to ask questions relevant to the topics raised in the annual Meetings. The downside of this suggestion though would be to make the Valdai Club Meetings rather less attractive and accessible to the Russian general public and perhaps limit its access to Putin to raise his awareness of important national and regional issues. For his part, Putin may not mind being asked questions concerning domestic issues at the annual Valdai Club Meetings if he is keen on keeping a finger on the public pulse.

It seems very odd that Westerners in Putin’s audience did not press him further on his vision of what constitutes a free, strong and independent civil society with vibrant institutions supported by the state and the citizenry, or challenge him on what he says or insinuates about the United States and its alliesi, or those NGOs and international organisations that act as regime-change agents and creators of instability and chaos. In my view, we have missed an opportunity to learn something from Putin and what his vision of Russia might be.

A transcript of this Q&A forum and of Putin’s speech preceding it can be viewed at this link.

Vladimir Putin’s Valdai Speech (2020): finding hope, opportunity and direction in a world in crisis

Vladimir Putin’s Valdai Speech at the XVII Meeting (Final Plenary Session) of the Valdai International Discussion Club (Moscow, 22 October 2020) – Part 1

The 17th Annual Meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club was held in Moscow over 20 – 22 October 2020 with the theme “The Lessons of the Pandemic and the New Agenda: How to Turn the World Crisis Into an Opportunity for the World”. For the first time in its history, the Club’s programme, ranging over the global COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, the escalating US rivalry with China, the possibility of global tech war and global climate change, all inter-related and in which a common theme of the world falling apart through suspicion and paranoia rather than coming together with an open spirit can be detected, was open to the news media and the general public. On the last day of the Meeting as per custom, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered the final speech via video link. At the end of his speech, Putin took questions from various individuals attending the Meeting, both physically and via video link: the questioners included Samuel Charap, senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, well-known writer / journalist / policy analyst Anatol Lieven, Anton Roux of The ADC Forum in Melbourne, Hans-Joachim Spanger of The Leibniz Institute Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt and Zhao Huasheng of The Institute for International Studies, Fudan University, Shanghai.

Putin opens his speech by observing how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the Valdai International Discussion Club’s ability to hold debates and discussions and introduce new experts to share their views and opinions. He then goes on to describe how the Russian government has met the challenge of the pandemic in Russia itself, and how this challenge has emphasised the importance of certain values such as mutual assistance, service and self-sacrifice within the country. Putin stresses that only strong and secure states can deal effectively with the crisis presented by COVID-19, and that such states are strong because of the trust and confidence their citizens place in them. For states to be strong, they must have their own political cultures and traditions, and their own visions of what they want for their citizens and their particular pathways to achieve those visions. The state must support public initiatives by providing them with appropriate platforms, infrastructure and resourcing to sustain them and by opening up opportunities for them to grow an thrive. To the extent that this can be possible, other nations cannot impose their visions of “democracy” and “civil society” on states developing their own political cultures and traditions. (This is a clear jibe at Western nations interfering in other countries’ affairs to the extent of infiltrating and grooming non-government organisations and charities in those countries to carry out regime-change activities and overthrow their governments.) Putin then describes how Russia in the 1990s, and other countries in a similar situation, were dependent on foreign funding to finance non-government organisations and the threat this posed to Russia’s survival as a single nation.

Looking at the world in 2020, Putin observes how much it has changed since the end of World War II in 1945. Then, the post-war order was (as Putin sees it) established by the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom. Since then, the Soviet Union has disappeared and Russia has taken its place to some extent; the United Kingdom has become a waning power; the United States still believes in its own exceptionality and invincibility but is also a declining power; and other nations such as China and the Federal Republic of Germany are rising to superpower status. Putin notes that international organisations established to carry out particular missions as part of the post-war international rule of law have been subverted by particular nations and behave in particular ways according to ideology, and not on the basis of reason, pragmatism or need depending on the context or the situation. The result is that various issues end up highly politicised and cannot be resolved properly because they are interpreted and polluted by false propaganda narratives.

On the other hand, there have been initiatives established by nations coming together to solve specific issues and Putin expresses hope that mutual help between nations can and will continue to achieve international stability and security, fight terrorism and solve problems beyond the ability of any one nation to solve successfully. These problems include climate change as it manifests in different parts of the world: in Russia, it manifests in the melting of the Siberian permafrost, leading to the sinking of buildings in towns and cities, disruption in utilities and necessary infrastructure, and the large-scale release of methane into the atmosphere which will accelerate global warming.

Lastly Putin discusses the impact of COVID-19 on cyber-technologies that enable distance communications but which also exposes people and communities to issues of cyber-security such as hacking and other cyber-crimes, and unwanted and intrusive surveillance by governments and corporations, public and private. All these plus the other crises and challenges Putin has mentioned in his speech can certainly pose threats to our security but they also present opportunities for transformation to a better way of life and a more secure and stable planet.

Throughout his speech Putin poses the choice facing us all: we can choose to react with fear and paranoia to the challenges brought about by changes that have occurred throughout the world since 1945, as a result of a relatively long peace in First World and Second World nations (in large part because they cynically used Third World nations as their proxy battlegrounds), the fall of Communism in the late 1980s / early 1990s, and the arrival of new technologies, in particular digital technologies, that changed cultures and societies; or we can choose to overcome our fears, prejudices and presumptions about others to reach out to friends and foes alike, find common ground, and work together to find solutions to the threats endangering Earth and humanity’s future. The point here is that what appears at first to be a crisis with potential for great loss, destruction and chaos can be turned into an opportunity to achieve better and greater things – but only if we are prepared to work with others, and that means respecting their rights, opinions and beliefs, and not insisting that they change to our expectations.

Significantly as in previous Valdai Club plenary session speeches, Putin does not name those nations that seek to undermine other nations’ governments and security through overthrowing their leaders and installing their own increasingly despotic and vicious versions of “democracy”, “freedom” and “civil society” but his audience will well understand him to mean the United States, the United Kingdom, France and other EU nations, and their allies.

The Q&A session that follows Vladimir Putin’s speech will be dealt with in a separate essay. An English-language transcript of the speech and the Q&A forum following can be found at this link

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The Image Book: a demanding critique on the role of film in contemporary Western society

Jean-Luc Godard, “The Image Book / Le Livre d’Image” (2018)

At 84 minutes, in no way is this a long film, yet it’s far more demanding of one’s attention in so many different aspects than more commercial films that are at least half as long. This film works on so many levels and probably needs to be seen at least a few times for Godard’s message/s to sink in.

On one level, the film questions and criticises the dominant role of cinema as escapist entertainment in an age where so many technologies and trends that have developed at the same time and in parallel or even enmeshed together with cinema have had destructive effects on humanity around the world: modern warfare, the development of weapons capable of destroying all life on earth, propaganda, societies dependent on technology (including cinema) and materialism to keep people distracted and unaware of their repression by Deep States. On a second level, in its use of snippets of other directors’ films, film audio soundtracks, music and paintings, Godard pays homage to directors and films that he may consider significant: I managed to pick out Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Salo”, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” and Georges Franju’s “Blood of the Beasts” among the films referenced. By juxtaposing audio soundtracks from other films with the snippets of film organised collage-style, Godard creates a new narrative that, among other things, criticises Western viewpoints of Arabic-language peoples and their cultures and histories, and invites viewers to question how their opinions and worldviews have been moulded and manipulated by film in all its variety, documentary and newsreel film as well as film drama. This narrative includes a completely fictional story about the despotic ruler of an imaginary Arab country called Dofa which has no resources – not even oil or natural gas to speak of – but which lack does not stop this ruler from dreaming of dominating all the Arabian Gulf oil states.

There is much beauty, a lot of it deliberately over-coloured or overlit in ways to make the film look psychedelic and hallucinatory, as if to call attention to the power of film and film narrative to keep people in a heightened state of addiction and to change their neural networks (not always for the better). For all its experimentation, the film does present a linear narrative based on the five fingers of the hand – because the hand does much if not most of the work of the imagination and creation – with each chapter in the narrative representing some form of motion or conflict: water, trains, warfare, the law and the Western view of the Middle East.

The film’s collage nature and confrontational message make it difficult viewing for most people. I must confess I did find the middle section of the film quite heavy and tiring.