New Arrivals: WWII-era Soviet Pamphlets

A few “new” and exciting books arrived in the mail, including some historically significant WWII-era pamphlets that will make a fabulous addition to our already substantial collection of Soviet works.

First-edition (1935) copy of Georgi Dimitrov’s famous The United Front Against Fascism and War speech to the 7th Congress of the Communist International.

First-edition (1939) copy of Vyacheslav Molotov’s Statement at the Session of the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. on the Ratification of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, August 31, 1939.

First-edition (1940) copy of Vyacheslav Molotov’s speech to the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. on March 29, 1940, on the Finland War (Winter War).

These will compliment greatly other historically significant Soviet works we own, such as:

First-edition (1937) Report of Court Proceedings in the Case of the “Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre” Heard before the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the U.S.S.R.

First edition (1938) Report of the Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet “Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites” Heard before the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the U.S.S.R.

First-edition (1939) History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks): Short Course, autographed by Tim Buck, General-Secretary of the Communist Party of Canada (1929-1962),

Review: “South Africa’s Transkei: The Political Economy of an ‘Independent’ Bantustan’ – Roger Southall

Roger Southall’s “South Africa’s Transkei: The Political Economy of an ‘Independent’ Bantustan” (Monthly Review, 1983) is a technical book that examines the emergence of ‘independent’ bantustans in South Africa from the 1970s to the end of apartheid in 1994. Using Marxian political economy, Southall unravels the economic and material basis of the bantustans, focusing on Transkei, the first of the ‘independent’ bantustans, to demonstrate how the supposedly ‘de-colonized’ black states were inextricably a product of and subservient to apartheid and white capital.

According to Southall, the Natives’ Land Act of 1913, which established native “reserves” and other legislative acts of segregation, served to subsidize capitalist interests. This was especially true in the case of South Africa’s most important industry – gold mining. Gold is a unique commodity, as readily detailed in A. Anikin’s “The Yellow Devil: Gold and Capitalism” (Progress Publishers, 1983). On the one hand, since the price of gold was fixed internationally, the cost of labour could not be readily passed on to the consumer in the form of price increases. On the other hand, the market would accept all the gold that was offered, eliminating crises of overproduction and the consequent decline in the rate of profit. The primary emphasis in pursuing mining profits was thus on minimizing the cost of labour.

No less dependent on cheap labour was settler agriculture. With the expansion of the home market as a result of the mining industry, settler agriculture was increasingly in competition with mining interests for cheap labour. The effect of this mutual competition for labour was to raise, rather than depress, wages, necessitating extra-economic coercion to induce a supply of labour at a price below that which would be available under free-market conditions.

Segregation and the native “reserves’ – and later the ‘independent’ bantustans under apartheid – served this aim. By stabilizing the existing land distribution between blacks and whites, the 1913 Land Act arrested the development of landlessness among blacks, allowing Africans to retain limited access to land but insufficient to allow for their subsistence, necessitating wage labour at the mines and settler agriculture. Since the subsistence requirements of Africans could be partially, but not entirely, met by farming on the reserves, “capital was enabled to pay African labourers at a coercively induced cheap wage. In other words, the workforce was paid at a rate below the cost of physical reproduction as a class, so that, in effect, the productive capacity of the reserves served as an indirect subsidy to white-owned capital” (p. 26).  

By 1948, when National Party came to power, the reserves’ declining ability with their pre-capitalist production modes to subsidize white-owned capital reached crisis proportions. Overpopulation and environmental degradation had significantly reduced the agricultural capacity of the reserves. Moreover, rising African national consciousness, European decolonization, and the requirement of South African manufacturing for semi-skilled workers increased the political pressure on the South African regime.

The solution devised was to create a class of African petty-bourgeoisie in their own nominally independent states but subservient to South African capitalism – the bantustans. On the one hand, the bantustans served to weaken African national consciousness through divide and rule. “By restoring the traditional leadership and by binding it to the state as the source of its wealth and authority, the National Party sought to counter the heightened political consciousness of the African masses by dividing the latter into its ethnic segments and subjecting it to a system of indirect rule” (p. 103). On the other hand, the bantustans served to continue to subsidize South African white-owned capital. The bantustans “bore the stamp of an explicit process of intended apartheid-style neo-colonization, whereby the reins of power within Transkei would be handed over to a pliable elite, and the conditions of bantustan existence so circumscribed that it would have no alternative but to service the labour needs of the South African economy” (p. 115). “But as the wind of change swept across the continent, the regime found it expedient to adopt the vocabulary of decolonization and to ape the imperialists by the grant of (a limited form of) ‘self-government’ to the tribal homelands” without changing the substance of their dependence on South Africa (p. 103).

Overall opinion: Southall’s political economy of apartheid bantustans is an excellent primer to anyone interested in a Marxist analysis of apartheid, although I found it repetitive and excessively wordy for my liking.

Review: “Sweatshops on Wheels: Winners and Losers in Trucking Deregulation” – Michael H. Belzer

Before obtaining his Ph.D. in economics from Cornel University, Michael H. Belzer logged over 750,000 over-the-road miles as a Teamster tank-truck driver. Thus, along with his academic background, Belzer has firsthand experience working in the trucking industry. Like Belzer, I, too, am an academic with experience working in the trucking industry, increasing the appeal of this book to me. While I do not have a Ph.D. in economics, I worked as a tank-truck driver, albeit never unionized, before returning to college to study software development. Also, I recently published my first book, “Nagorno-Karabakh: A Reassessment of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict” (2022). Consequently, though our areas of specialization are different, Professor Belzer and I have much in common.

In “Sweatshops on Wheels: Winners and Losers in Trucking Deregulation,” Belzer shows how trucking has deteriorated from a middle-class occupation into virtual sweatshop-like conditions. The first page of the book is worth quoting at length for those unfamiliar with trucking as an occupation:

What would the world be like if we all worked like truck drivers? Imagine a world in which there is no effective minimum wage and no 40-hour workweek or time-and-one-half for overtime.

Imagine a world in which most people work more than 60-hours per week – not to get “ahead” but just to make ends meet.

Imagine a world in which most of us compete to offer our services at the lowest possible price but which is so competitive that we get what we want – and end up working longer hours just to earn enough to subsist.

Image a world in which people who work like this with no regular schedule – irregular days and irregular hours, switching from day to night and back again with little predictability.

Imagine a world in which production workers’ wages stop abruptly with every hiccup in the assembly line.

Imagine a world in which employers decide which work to pay you for and which you have to perform for free – and that work comprises 25% of your work day!

Imagine no further, because that is the life of the truck driver today in the hyper-competitive trucking industry. This book documents how truck drivers’ work has changed over the last two decades of deregulation. Truck drivers work longer hours for lower real pay than they earn decades ago. They suffer the indignity of being forced to wait for hours to get loaded or unloaded while people whose time is more highly valued are taken care of first. Their work and pay structure often calls for them to forego compensation for their time in trade for the opportunity to put in extra hours to run extra miles every week, often keeping them away from home for weeks at a time.

According to Belzer, three conditions characterize sweatshops. Firstly, the wages are so low that they are below subsistence. In particular, wages are so low that workers cannot support their families well enough to maintain their current class position and reproduce that level for future generations. Since the wages are too low to entice less skilled workers to enhance their human capital to enter the trade, this creates a vicious downward trend of labour shortages and a surplus of low-skilled workers. That this exists in the trucking industry is plainly visible to everyone.

Trucking companies in the US and Canada are increasingly resorting to desperate measures to find drivers. In Canada, 60% of the trucking industry is controlled by Punjabis, and at least one in five truckers in Canada is of a South Asian background. I have worked for a trucking company in Canada as a supervisor that was founded by an Indian immigrant and hired almost exclusively Temporary Foreign Workers (TPF) from India. A similar ‘shortage’ exists in the US, where teenagers are being recruited to work as drivers, and Punjabis control as much as 40% of trucking in California. Furthermore, wages in sweatshops are characteristically based on piece work, not hours worked, forcing workers to sweat themselves to increase their income. Secondly, a necessary condition of sweatshops is overworking, a natural consequence of low wages and piece work. Truck drivers in Canada south of the 60th parallel can work up to 14 hours per day and 70 hours in 7 days, while in the US, truck drivers can work 14 hours per day and 70 hours in 8 days, none of which qualifies for overtime. This is what truck drivers can legally work, but since drivers are paid not for hours worked but by the miles driven, a flat rate, or some other pay structure, and customers demand loads to be delivered on time, there is a strong incentive to work more than what is legal. When I used to deliver bulk LPG in Manitoba and northwestern Ontario, I regularly worked more than 20 hours per day. I was even told by dispatch to violate Canadian HOS regulations. Thirdly, sweatshops involve unhealthy working conditions. Workers are often forced into cramped factories and exposed to toxic substances in poorly lit and ventilated spaces. Truckers live for weeks in small boxes, often without access to a bathroom or other facilities, forcing them to pee in water bottles, and are exposed to various horrible fumes and chemicals. Numerous studies indicate that truck drivers are at high risk of developing cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders, musculoskeletal problems, cancer, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse issues.

Thus, Belzer concludes, sweatshop conditions — low wages, long hours, and unsafe and unsanitary working conditions — have returned to trucking since economic deregulation. Indeed, the decline in driver earnings alone is staggering. According to Belzer’s statistics, although employment in trucking increased by 3.9% per annum since the 1980s, average real driver earnings dropped by 30% between 1977-1995. The average driver in 1997 dollars earned $11,793 less than in 1995 than they would have had wages remained at the same level as their 1997 wages — a 30% earnings drop. The average truck driver’s annual earnings declined four times more than for other blue-collar production workers. Had earnings remained constant for truck drivers, the average truck driver would have earned $140,658 more between 1977-1996 than they did.

The sweatshop conditions of the trucking industry are compounded by how most truck drivers are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which established a minimum wage and maximum working hours for American workers. Working conditions in trucking are regulated only insofar as they help make roads safer since the Department of Transportation (DOT) does not concern itself with wages or industrial relations, making unionization of truckers almost impossible. Similarly, in Canada, inter-provincial trucking is regulated by the Canada Labour Code and Transport Canada. While a minimum wage is supposed to be paid even if not on an hourly basis, as stipulated in the Labour Code, most companies can avoid this through selective payment of piece work (ex., by-the-mile, per-load, etc.). Having worked as a supervisor at several trucking companies, I have firsthand experience of how employers avoid paying the bare minimum for subsistence.

However, despite all the statistics and evidence presented in this book, Belzer does not go so far as to criticize the capitalist system, which is the only major criticism I have of his book. Indeed, Belzer’s target audience seems to be trucking companies whose profitability has suffered under the weakening and later dissolution of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and those misled proponents of the “free market.” Belzer tries to sell the benefits of unionization and market regulation to the capitalists and their spokespeople, not criticize the capitalist system and alienate his target audience. “It is critical to understand,” Belzer writes, “that the presence of sweatshop-like conditions does not mean that evil, money-grubbing bosses just choose to exploit workers; that caricature would be a cartoon.”

On the contrary, although the profitability of trucking has indeed declined since deregulation due to unfettered competition, a class analysis would reveal that money-grubbing bosses are a major contributing factor, as is the whole capitalist system based on the exploitation of the working class. This is the issue with analyses devoid of a class perspective. As Michael Parenti wrote:

“When we think without Marx’s perspective, that is, without considering class interests and class power, we seldom ask why certain things happen. Many things are reported in the news but few are explained. Little is said about how the social order is organized and whose interests prevail. Devoid of a framework that explains why things happen, we are left to see the world as do mainstream media pundits: as a flow of events, a scatter of particular developments and personalities unrelated to a larger set of social relations — propelled by happenstance, circumstance, confused intentions, and individual ambition, never by powerful class interests — and yet producing effects that serve such interests with impressive regularity.”

Belzer has compiled an impressive array of statistics and empirical evidence. Still, without Marx’s perspective, that is, without a class analysis, his conclusion offers little besides wishing for a return to the ‘good ol’ days’ of humane capitalism. Belzer’s book is nonetheless a devastating critique of the trucking industry. Although published 22 years ago, it was especially interesting to read in light of the debate about the nature of the recent trucker convoys in the US and Canada, including the siege of Ottawa, which even Professor Richard Wolff, a supposed Marxist economist, supported. According to Wolff, these truckers “just wanted to regain decent livelihoods and job conditions.” But nowhere is there evidence that ending the sweatshop-like conditions prevalent in trucking was among the objectives of the “freedom” convoys. Nobody was demanding higher wages, a shorter workday, or better schedules. What was apparent was the Nazi and Confederate flags flying in Ottawa, the desecration of the Terry Fox Memorial, and the anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT, and pro-Trump background of many of the organizers.

Review: “Soviet-Polish Relations, 1917-1921” – Piotr S. Wandycz

Piotr S. Wandycz examines Soviet-Polish relations in the period between the October Revolution of 1917 to the conclusion of the Soviet-Polish war with the signing of the Treaty of Riga in 1921. For a book published by Harvard University Press, Wandycz is surprisingly and refreshingly detailed and objective as he examines the diplomatic and military chess match between the Soviets in the context of the Russian Civil War and Piłsudski’s “White” Poland. Wandycz’s writing comes off as neither rabidly anti-Soviet nor pro-Polish nationalist. Indeed, his style of writing reminds me of Nicholas Bethell’s “Gomulka: His Poland, His Communism,” insofar as both authors commendably examine Polish-Soviet relations and issues despite their ideological convictions. On the one hand, Wandycz is critical of the Soviet march on Warsaw, which even Lenin later criticized, but supportive of the incessant Soviet peace initiatives despite their ideological motives. On the other, Wandycz is sympathetic to Polish nationalist ambitions, but critical of Piłsudski’s desire to restore Poland as a great power in Eastern Europe based on the 1772 borders and for a military victory over the Soviet Union. Overall, I am impressed with this book; it surpassed by expectations by a long shot.

“Nagorno-Karabakh: A Reassessment of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict” – AVAILABLE NOW!

I am very excited to announce that my first book – “Nagorno-Karabakh: A Reassessment of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict” – is now available on Amazon.com!

The Azerbaijani attack on the de facto independent Republic of Artsakh (formerly the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic) in September 2020 shattered the illusion that this conflict is “frozen.” The forty-four-day war in 2020 was the bloodiest outbreak of violence over the separatist region since the conflict began in the late 1980s and threatened to embroil Turkey and Russia in a dangerous proxy war in the volatile South Caucasus. Despite the publication of several works on the conflict since the 1990s, many aspects of the conflict remain poorly understood or distorted in Western scholarship due to US-NATO political influence. Are the origins of the conflict found in Soviet nationalities policy and Joseph Stalin’s divide-and-rule methods? Do the Armenians in Artsakh have a right to self-determination as enshrined in treaty and customary international law? What role do Russia and Turkey have in the conflict? Did Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence establish a precedent for Artsakh and other separatist states such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia? By breaking with the dominant US-NATO political paradigm, this book strives to answer these and many other questions to provide a long overdue reassessment of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict.

New Book Coming September 2022: “Nagorno-Karabakh: A Reassessment of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict” – Me

I am very excited to announce that my first book – Nagorno-Karabakh: A Reassessment of the Armenian-Azerbaijani Conflict – is currently being formatted for publication on Amazon as a hardcover and eBook, and is expected to be available for purchase in September 2022.

Stay tuned for more updates!

Review: “Central Asia in Modern Times: A History from the Early 19th Century” – Devendra Kaushik

“Central Asia in Modern Times: A History from the Early 19th Century” by Devendra Kaushik is a history of Central Asia since the Russian conquest in the mid-1800s. As a Marxist-Leninist from India who studied the national archives in Russia, India, and Uzbekistan, Kaushik’s perspective is very much of an outsider looking in. This outsider perspective distinguishes this book from other books published by Progress Publishers about Central Asia. The material itself is not that remarkable; there are far better Marxist-Leninist books on Soviet Central Asia. A Marxist Model of Social Change: Soviet Central Asia, 1917-1940 by R. R. Sharma, another Marxist-Leninist scholar from India, or W. P. Coates’ Soviets in Central Asia, offers more empirical data. However, neither Sharma’s nor Coates’ book was published by Progress Publishers. This makes Kaushik’s book incredibly unique. Despite being published by Progress Publishers, Kaushik is highly critical of Soviet historians and historiography in Central Asia, which is highly unusual. There is an eclectic mixture of orthodox Soviet Marxism-Leninism typical of Progress Publishers and an anti-imperialist, Third World ideology that is independent of Soviet Marxism-Leninism and is even critical of it in some respects while sharing many of its basic tenets. A fascinating combination for a book on Central Asia.

Review: “Ethnocultural Processes and National Problems in the Modern World” – ed. I. R. Grigulevich

“Ethnocultural Processes and National Problems in the Modern World” is a collection of essays by Soviet ethnologists edited by I. R. Grigulevich about ethnic, racial, and national issues in both the USSR and other countries.

This is an impressively comprehensive book. Part 1 of the book examines ethnocultural processes in the USSR and is divided into regions and subjects. The Reflection of Ethnocultural Links in Present-Day Dance in the USSR looks at the development of multinational performing arts in the USSR. The Converging of Nations in the USSR and the Main Trends in the Development of Bilingualism investigates the spread and growth of bilingualism in the USSR, its trends, and methods of developing it further. It offers some fascinating research on why some peoples adopt bilingualism quicker and easier than others and what sociological, psychological, and socio-economic factors influence the growth of bilingualism in the USSR. The development of multinational families is examined in Ethnos and the Family in the USSR. Ethnocultural Changes Among the Peoples of the Volga, Urals, and Far North of Europe surveys the national consolidation and the building of socialism among the Udmurt, Mari, Chuvash, Mordovian, Tatar, Bashkir, Karelian, Komi, Nenets, and Saami people. National State Demarcation and the Ethnic Evolution of the Peoples of Central Asia provides a comprehensive history of national territorial delimitation in Central Asia, refuting bourgeois lies and distortions, and surveys the national consolidation and building of socialism among the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmens, Pamiris, and Karakalpaks. Present-Day Ethnic Processes Among the Peoples of Siberia surveys the national consolidation and building of socialism among the Buryats, Tuvans, Yakuts, Chukchi, Chuvans, Koryaks, Itelmens, Eskimos, Kachins, Koybals, Sagai, Beltirs, Kyzyls, and a plethora of other peoples.

Part 2 examines ethnocultural processes outside the USSR. National Processes and Relations in Western Europe and North America examines racial, linguistic, national, and ethnic issues in North America and Western Europe. In Europe, the essay examines ethnic consolidation and conflicts between Flemish and Walloons in Belgium, Catalans, Basques, and Galicians in Spain, the national question, anti-immigrant racism, and the conflict in Northern Ireland in Britain. In North America, the essay examines racism and immigration (ex. Irish, Germans, Japanese, Chinese, Italians, Indians, Mexicans, etc.), the genocide of indigenous peoples, the issues facing African-Americans in the US, and Quebec separatism in Canada. Ethnic Processes in Southeast Asian Countries examines ethnic consolidation, linguistic development, and conflict among the various peoples of Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. The Specific Character of Ethnic Processes in African Countries examines various ethnic conflicts and issues confronting post-colonial African states. The essay is divided into four sections: Part 1 examines North Africa, where the population is more or less uniform in ethnic composition (Arab and Berber), close in religion (Islam), and culture; Part 2 examines East, Central, and West Africa, including the conflict in Sudan and national consolidation in Ghana, Senegal, Cameroon, Togo, Burkina Faso, and other countries; Part 3 examines Equatorial Africa, namely the Congo, and the difficulties of the development of a national political community and national consolidation out of the separate ethnic groups; and Part 4 examines Southern Africa, especially white-colonial racism and apartheid in Rhodesia and South Africa and the struggle against racist regimes. Policy on the National Question and Interethnic Relations in Oceania examines the national question and ethnic issues in Oceania, New Zealand, and Australia. Particular attention is devoted to ethnic issues between Native and Indo-Fijians in Fiji, national consolidation among the various tribes in Papua New Guinea, ethnic relations in Nauru, and French colonialism in French Polynesia and New Caledonia.

I was very impressed by this book’s wealth of analysis and information. It is a tragedy that the USSR is no longer here; Progress Publishers published some genuinely remarkable works that I doubt we’ll see again until capitalism is abolished.

Review: “To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia” – Michael Parenti

“To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia” by Michael Parenti is the best book on the Balkan wars I have ever read. Parenti is my two favourite authors (the other being Victor Perlo), and this is probably my favourite book by him. Anyone interested in the Balkans and NATO’s aggressive expansion since the overthrow of the USSR needs to read this book.

Although marketed to Western audiences as a humanitarian intervention against Serbian atrocities, the US and NATO had been interfering in Yugoslavia’s internal affairs long before any Serbian atrocities. In 1984, the Reagan administration in the US issued National Security Decision Directive 133, which called for the support of “quiet revolutions” in communist Eastern Europe. This involved supporting reactionary secessionist leaders and their movements in Yugoslavia. The US threatened to cut off all aid to Yugoslavia unless elections were held, but only within the various republics and not at the federal level, inflaming inter-ethnic tensions. The US National Endowment for Democracy and other CIA fronts supported the electoral campaigns of pro-West, anti-Serb, and anti-socialist leaders in the national republics. At the same time, countries such as Germany and Austria sent arms shipments and military advisors to secessionist leaders in Croatia and Slovenia. German military instructors even engaged in combat with Yugoslav troops. By 1991, a European conference on Yugoslavia declared its support for “sovereign and independent republics” within Yugoslavia, effectively repudiating Yugoslavia’s sovereignty.

Alongside US-NATO support for right-wing secessionist leaders was the IMF-imposed fiscal dismemberment of Yugoslavia. In the 1960s and 1970s, Yugoslav leaders had made a catastrophic error in borrowing money from the West, and by 1991 Yugoslavia’s international creditors were in complete control of domestic monetary policy. Under the IMF-imposed structural adjustment and capitalist shock therapy, transfer payments from the federal government to the national republics were cut, leaving the republics to fend for themselves. As Chossudovsky wrote:

By cutting the financial arteries between Belgrade and the republics, the reforms fueled secessionist tendencies that fed on economic factors as well as ethnic divisions, virtually ensuring the de facto secession of the republics. The IMF-induced budgetary crisis created an economic fait accompli that paved the way for Croatia’s and Slovenia’s formal secession in June 1991.

Between 1991-1992 Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia, and the US and its NATO allies hastened to recognize the right to self-determination of these republics. The secession and subsequent US-NATO recognition of these republics led to a bloody cycle of violence that ravaged the Balkans. Under the Yugoslav constitution, the will of a republican majority could not override the equally valid will of a constituent national minority within that republic. The large Serb population inhabiting Croatia and Bosnia had a constitutionally protected right to self-determination and overwhelmingly wished to remain within the Yugoslav federation. US and NATO recognition of Croatian and Bosnian self-determination was, therefore, an implicit rejection of the right to self-determination of the large Serb population inhabiting these republics.

Moreover, the secessionist leaders supported by US and NATO were violently opposed to sharing power with constituent national minorities. Although Slobodan Milošević has frequently been compared to Hitler, it is more appropriate to compare Hitler with the secessionist republican leaders supported by the US and NATO. In Croatia, the US and NATO’s ally was President Franjo Tudjman. In 1989, Tudjman wrote how “the establishment of Hitler’s new European order can be justified by the need to be rid of the Jews” and how “Genocide is a natural phenomenon in harmony with the sociological and mythological divine nature.” As independent Croatia’s first president, he appointed Nazi collaborators to government posts, adopted the currency and emblem of Nazi-controlled Croatia, and boasted to his generals that the Serbian question had been resolved after the war. With NATO-supplied weapons and aerial support, the Croatian military under Tudjman ethnically cleansed the republic’s Serb population, “replete with rapes, summary executions, and indiscriminate shelling, driving over half a million Serbs from their ancestral homes in Croatia,” Parenti writes. In Bosnia, the US and NATO’s ally was President Alija Izetbegovic. During WWII, Izetbegovic was a member of the pro-Nazi Young Muslims, which recruited Muslims to serve in the Nazi SS. Izetbegovic intended to transform Bosnia into a fundamentalist Islamic state, claiming “Islamic society without an Islamic government is incomplete and impotent.” Months before the outbreak of the war, his fundamentalist militia waged a civil war against more moderate Bosnian forces and, according to a White House estimate, ethnically cleansed 100,000 Serbs before the war.

Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia naturally armed and organized themselves in defense against ethnic cleansing and massacres by Croat and Bosnian militias. These Serbs were supported by the Yugoslav People’s Army, which took active measures to ensure the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia against US-NATO-supported aggression. This is not to deny that the Serbs and Yugoslav troops committed horrible atrocities, but I haven’t seen evidence that what atrocities were committed could be classified as “genocide”. The US and NATO and their fascist proxies are responsible for the conflict. Once war starts, it develops a momentum of its own. Moreover, US-NATO countries or their allies have committed comparable and even worse atrocities without there ever being a genocide tribunal, such as in the Philippines, Indonesia, Colombia, Sri Lanka, or the British in Northern Ireland or the Russians in Chechnya. In Canada, Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act and suspended civil liberties because the FLQ kidnapped two people, killing one. How would Trudeau have responded if Quebec armed itself with foreign weapons and ethnically cleansed its non-French population?

US-NATO humanitarianism revealed its true self after the 1995 Dayton Accords. Bosnia became a virtual colony of the US and NATO. Under US-NATO control, Parenti writes,

Bosnia-Herzegovina became a Western colonial protectorate. Western officials imposed most of the fiscal and monetary policies. Western intelligence agents operated at will throughout the society. The media and the schools were cleansed of any dissident viewpoints. If any groups were to organize and agitate for an end to debt payments, or a return to socialism, or complete independence from Western occupation, SFOR, the NATO-stabilization forces in Bosnia, was ready to deal with them.

That “the Western powers put aside indirect forms of neo-imperialism and opted for direct colonialism” in Bosnia is most clearly evident in the Serb-inhabited Republika Srpska. US-NATO forces denied the Bosnian Serbs the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, independent media, free elections, and every other fundamental human right. In response to crowds angrily protesting against media censorship, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana went so far as to announce that NATO “will not hesitate to take the necessary measures, including the use of force, against media networks or programs” critical of NATO. “For all intents and purposes,” writes Parenti, “Republika Srpska became a NATO colony. Its citizens were free to pursue only those policies pleasing to their imperialist overlords, free to listen only to media programs and elect only candidates approved by NATO. By definition, the free-market reforms and NATO domination were equated with democracy. And by definition, any resistance to such rule, even by duly selected RS representatives, was deemed hard-line, anti-reformist, and anti-democratic.”

In other words, the US and NATO supported fascists with arms and weapons who ethnically cleansed Serbs from their republics. When Yugoslav forces retaliated, the US and NATO battered Yugoslavia and imposed a colonial regime on Bosnia that was more oppressive than under Milosevic. This might seem irrational, but empire is not irrational. The Bosnian War enabled the US and NATO to achieve their ultimate objective: the Third Worldization of Bosnia. Bosnia’s “state-owned assets, including energy, water, telecommunications, media and transportation, were sold off to private firms at garage-sale prices. Essential health services fell into a state of neglect, and the economy as a whole remained in a sorry condition.” US-NATO forces forced Bosnians “to reconstruct the shattered economy along free-market economy lines, including significant privatization and close cooperation with the World Bank.”

But this wasn’t enough for US-NATO leaders. What was left of Yugoslavia, i.e., Serbia and Montenegro, still refused to be Third Worldized. For Western free-marketeers, an unacceptable state of affairs continued in Serbia: 75% of Serbia’s industry remained publicly owned as late as 1999. These publicly-owned industries needed to either be privatized or destroyed. As Parenti writes, “a massive aerial destruction like the one delivered upon Iraq might be just the thing needed to put Belgrade more in step with the New World Order.”

The US-NATO needed a new pretext to bomb Serbia — this was Kosovo. Parenti makes a convincing case that Kosovo was far from requiring a humanitarian intervention:

As an autonomous province of the Serb republic, Kosovo enjoyed far more extensive rights and powers within the FRY than were allowed national minorities in any Western European state or the United States. Kosovo was allowed to have its own supreme court and its own Albanian flag. University education was in Albanian, with Albanian textbooks and teachers. There were also Albanian newspapers, magazines, television, radio, movies, and sporting and cultural events. All education below the university level was exclusively in Albanian, a language radically different from Serbo-Croat. With only 8 per cent of Yugoslavia’s population, Kosovo was allocated up to 30 per cent of the federal development budget, including 24 per cent of World Bank development credits.

The terrorist activities of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) deliberately undermined Kosovar-Serb relations. The KLA attacked police stations, Serbian villagers and farmers, government officials, and professionals, all to provoke conflict between Albanians and Serbs. Even moderate Albanians were terrorized and murdered if they didn’t support the KLA. These attacks continued for more than a year before triggering a concerted response from Yugoslav authorities. As even a UN court ruled, Serbian troops did not carry out genocide against ethnic Albanians during Milosevic’s campaign of aggression in Kosovo from 1998 to 1999.

Just like in Bosnia, the objective of US-NATO bombing was not human rights, democracy, or humanitarianism, but the Third Worldization of Serbia. Besides supporting an organization that the US itself considered a terrorist organization only a few months before, the US and NATO’s agenda to Third Worldize Serbia was most clearly evident in its choice of targets. In what Parenti describes as “privatization by bombing,” NATO humanitarian bombing targeted Serbia’s economic and cultural capital:

NATO’s attacks revealed a consistent pattern that bespoke its underlying political agenda. The Confederation of Trade Unions of Serbia produced a list of 164 factories destroyed by the bombings — all of them state-owned. Not a single foreign-owned firm was targeted. As I observed on a trip to Yugoslavia shortly after the war, the huge, state-run Hotel Yugoslavia was made uninhabitable by NATO missiles, while the corporate owned Hyatt Hotel, with its all-glass facade — as inviting a target as any mad bomber might want — suffered not a scratched window-pane. Buildings that displayed highly visible rooftop signs that advertised Panasonic, Coca-Cola, Diners International, and McDonald’s, the latter replete with immense golden arches, survived perfectly intact.

The NATO bombing targeted only publicly-owned schools, libraries, telecommunications, energy and transportation infrastructure, factories, theaters, hospitals, and clinics, as well as historical sites, cultural monuments, museums, and churches — “something not even Hitler did.”

Considering the current conflict in Ukraine and NATO’s involvement in it, this book is a powerful indictment of NATO, the world’s largest terrorist organization. Everyone should read this book.

Review: “The Autobiography of Big Bill Haywood” – William D. Haywood

The one-eyed William D. “Big Bill” Haywood (1869-1923) was a founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a member of the Communist Party of the USA, and a revolutionary fighter against capitalism and exploitation.

His autobiography is a riveting working-class history of the USA. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1869, he describes growing up in the “Wild West” with all its evils: racism, poverty, outlaws, mob violence, street shootings, religious fanaticism, and lynches of Mexicans, Native Americans, and African-Americans. At age 9, while carving a slingshot, Bill stabbed himself in the eye with a knife (ouch!), and at age 15, he began work as a miner.  

Major labour uprisings such as the 1886 Haymarket Massacre in defense of the 8-hour workday and the Great Pullman Strike of 1894 greatly influenced Bill’s ideological development. By 1900, Bill had become a member of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) General Executive Board. As a member of the WFM executive, Bill was actively involved in the Colorado Labour Wars of 1903-1904. According to Hugh Davis Graham and Ted Robert Gurr,
“There is no episode in American labor history in which violence was as systematically used by employers as in the Colorado labor war of 1903 and 1904.” As a founding and leading member of the IWW, Bill was also actively involved in other significant strikes, such as the Lawrence Textile Strike of 1912 and the Paterson Silk Strike of 1913.

Bill’s labour and IWW activities and his opposition to World War I earned him the wrath of state and federal authorities. Police repression and his many legal troubles feature prominently in his memoirs. In 1905, Bill was kidnapped in Colorado by Pinkerton detectives working for Idaho state officials to face trial for the assassination of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg. He was acquitted and became a national labour icon. In 1917, the Justice Department raided IWW offices and arrested more than 100 activists under the Espionage Act for “conspiring to hinder the draft, encourage desertion, and intimidate others in connection with labor disputes.” Bill was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but skipped bail and fled to the USSR, where he lived until his death in 1928.

An excellent memoir by one of America’s most powerful trade unionists.

Karakalpakstan: Mirziyoyev the New “Saakashvili”? (Some Thoughts)

Widespread demonstrations in Uzbekistan’s large autonomous republic Karakalpakstan have reportedly left 18 people dead and triggered the declaration of a month-long state of emergency by the Uzbek regime. The demonstrations come after President Shavkat Mirziyoyev proposed on 1 July 2022 a new Constitution of Uzbekistan—which has since been withdrawn—that would have ended Karakalpakstan’s autonomous status and its right of secession.

Karakalpakstan was established during the national-territorial delimitation of Soviet Central Asia, first as an Autonomous Oblast in 1925 before being upgraded to an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1932. As Arne Haugen writes, the Karakalpak national identity remained limited if not entirely nonexistent until the national-territorial delimitation in the 1920s, and there is little credible evidence of a “centuries-old dream” of Karakalpak nationhood. This has led some scholars such as Alexandre Bennigsen and Chantal Lemercier-Quelquejay (1961) to argue that the Karakalpak nation is “artificial,” a creation of the Soviets’ Machiavellian agenda[1]. Haugen, and quite rightly so, rejects this argument. He argues that the establishment of the Karakalpak AO and the development of Karakalpak nationalism were due to the dynamism engendered by the process of national-territorial delimitation itself. The Soviets had intended the delimitation project to correspond with the three major national groups in Central Asia: the Uzbeks, Turkmens, and Kazakhs. “When the ultimate result diverged so much from the original plan,” Haugen writes, “it was not because the Soviet authorities preferred six nations to three, or wished to foster the fewest possible identities. Instead, it was due to the mobilization of various groups, such as Kyrgyz and Karakalpak. The division of Central Asia assumed its own dynamic, with less important decisions becoming accentuated and politicized.”[2]

Under Uzbekistan’s post-Soviet regimes, it is questionable how much genuine autonomy Karakalpakstan has. Until his death in 2016, Islam Karimov ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist, like most other Central Asian dictators. Despite Karakalpakstan’s nominal legislative, political, and legal autonomy, Tashkent likely ruled Karakalpakstan like any other region in Uzbekistan. However, in cultural matters, Karakalpak’s have genuine autonomy, as even Francisco Olmos from the UK’s Foreign Policy Centre admits. The widespread demonstrations against President Mirziyoyev’s proposal to end Karakalpakstan’s autonomy indicate that Karakalpaks value what little autonomy they do enjoy, even if like the right to secession it exists only on paper.

What is most significant about these demonstrations in defense of Karakalpak’s self-determination, however, is that they reveal much about President Mirziyoyev’s regime and Uzbekistan’s future.

President Mirziyoyev has been hailed in the West for ushering in an “Uzbek Spring” with his economic and to a lesser extent political reforms. Despite his regime’s brutal authoritarianism, Karimov never adopted Western “free-markets” wholesale like what happened in Russia, Poland, and other former socialist countries. Instead, his cautious economic reforms were nearer to those adopted in Belarus by Alexander Lukashenko. As a result, Uzbekistan “was able to maintain social services better than other Central Asian countries,” Mamuka Tsereteli writes. “By some measures, Uzbekistan was the best-performing of all Soviet successor states in the 1990s, despite [sic – because of] its rejection of the rapid reforms recommended by International Financial Institutions: by the end of the decade it was the first Soviet successor state to regain its pre-1991 real GDP level.” Since Karimov’s death, however, Mirziyoyev has slowly begun to dismantle the state-oriented economy of Karimov’s Uzbekistan in favour of a liberalized “free market.” Under Mirziyoyev several special economic zones with substantial tax-breaks for foreign investors have been created, a moratorium on business inspections imposed, the Uzbek national currency is now fully convertible, and talks have resumed to join the World Trade Organization.

Naturally the capitalist press in the West, from the Washington Times to the New York Times, have been full of praise for Mirziyoyev’s reforms. On its own this wouldn’t be newsworthy; however, similar praise was once heaped on other so-called reformers of post-Soviet states, such as Georgia’s Mikheil Saakashvili and Armenia’s Nikol Pashinyan. All three leaders – Mirziyoyev, Saakashvili, and Pashinyan – came to power with an agenda of “modernization,” “liberalizing,” “opening up,” “human rights,” “fighting corruption and bureaucracy,” “a break with the past,” all the key Western buzzwords, and were welcomed with open arms by the West. But underneath this reformist facade there was greater imperialist economic and political penetration. Both Saakashvili and Pashinyan courted NATO, and Mirziyoyev was warmly received by Trump and his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

An important consequence of this “opening up” to Western imperialism was a marked deterioration in ethnic relations. As well as being praised for their reforms, Uzbekistan, Georgia, and Armenia have all experienced the most ethnic violence since the overthrow of the USSR in 1991 under Mirziyoyev, Saakashvili, and Pashinyan, respectively. In 2008, Saakashvili attacked Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. In 2020, Armenia was militarily and politically crushed by Azerbaijan in the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War. Now, in Karakalpakstan, a region where ethnic unrest was virtually unheard of since Soviet times, Uzbekistan is facing the largest ethnic mobilization in its entire post-Soviet existence.

Only time will tell what will happen to Uzbekistan under Mirziyoyev’s reforms. But if the unrest in Karakalpakstan is any indication, it won’t be good.

[1] Page 173, “The Establishment of National Republics in Soviet Central Asia,” Arne Haugen.

[2] Page 178, “The Establishment of National Republics in Soviet Central Asia,” Arne Haugen.

Review: “Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe” – Gérard Prunier

Gérard Prunier’s Africa’s World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe is a masterful study of the causes and consequences of the Rwandan Genocide (1994) and the First and Second Congo Wars (1996-1997, 1998-2003).

The Rwandan Civil War (1990-1994) began when Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) invaded Rwanda from Uganda. After the assassination of Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana, Hutu extremists, both inside and outside of the Rwandan regime, massacred in door-to-door violence 500,000 to 1,000,000 people between April and July 1994. The RPF resumed the civil war and overthrew the regime, which fled with hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighbouring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo).

The flight of the former Rwandan regime and génocidaires and hundreds of thousands of Rwandan refugees into Zaire transformed the conflict between a rebel movement and an African regime into an ethnopolitical quagmire that is almost impossible to understand. This is not to deny the ethnic complexities of the Rwandan Civil War. As René Lemarchand writes in Burundi: Ethnic Conflict and Genocide, the terms Hutu and Tutsi are not mutually exclusive, and an individual can identify as both Hutu and Tutsi. “In Kirundi, the term [Hutu] has two separate meanings: one refers to its cultural or ethnic underpinnings, the other to its social connotations. In the latter sense, Hutu refers to a ‘social subordinate’ in relation to somebody higher up in the pecking order. […] Thus a Tutsi cast in the role of a client vis-à-vis a wealthier patron would be referred to as ‘Hutu,’ even though his cultural identity remained Tutsi. Similarly, a [Tutsi] prince was a Hutu in relation to the [Tutsi] king, and a high-ranking Tutsi was a Hutu in relation to a [Tutsi] prince.” (pp. 9-10). This ambiguity regarding the terms “Hutu” and “Tutsi” made it impossible to accurately distinguish a person’s ethnic identity during the Rwandan or Burundian genocides. Often a victim was massacred with a machete or bludgeoned to death by their neighbour for no other reason than to steal the victim’s belongings or house. “Other genocides have been committed by strangers killing other strangers, and their violence was often engulfed in the wider violence of large international wars or revolutions,” Prunier writes. In Rwanda, the genocide “was a hill-by-hill and a home-by-home thing. And it is this neighborly quality, this grisly homespun flavor, that contaminated the world of the survivors after the killing had stopped.” The Rwandan Genocide “was so intertwined with everyday life that it could be used at every turn to secure an economic advantage, to settle an old grudge or to cover one’s tracks. Many people were killed by former Interahamwe simply because they might give evidence against them. Other people quickly found out that having survived the genocide could be a profitable business. They created ‘accusation cooperatives,’ which would sell their denunciations of real or supposed Interahamwe activities to those who could use such testimonies for economic or political benefit.” Tutsis survivors “were caught in nightmarish world between their Hutu neighbors, some of whom had been their saviors and some who had tried to murder them, and strange returnees from abroad who often accused them of compromising with the killers in order to save their lives. As for Hutu survivors, they were looked on as génocidaires by the returnee Tutsi and as traitors by the sympathizers of the old regime. Nobody was automatically innocent, and suspicion was everywhere.” (pp. 1-3).

When the former Rwandan regime, the génocidaires, and hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to Zaire, this created additional ethnic, social, economic, and political factors to the already complex Rwandan conflict.

Before the Rwandan Genocide, the corrupt Mobuto regime in Zaire was already on its last legs. The end of the Cold War transformed Mobuto from an anti-communist freedom fighter into an anachronistic African dictator in the eyes of the West. Mobuto’s support for, tolerance of, or simple incapacity to deal with foreign rebel movements active in Zaire — including UNITA fighting the MPLA regime in Angola; the génocidaires and former Rwandan regime fighting Kagame’s Rwandan regime; and various Ugandan rebels supported by Sudan and fighting the new Ugandan regime of Yoweri Museveni; the CNDD–FDD fighting against the Burundian regime — alienated many of the West’s new African allies. Many of these states, in turn, supported anti-Mobuto rebels in Zaire. Adding to this social, economic, ethnic, and political quagmire, the massive influx of foreigners — including the heavily armed forces of a former African regime — into the impoverished and ethnically volatile Zaire, especially its Kivu region, added further pressure on the land and environment the populace depended on for its subsistence. This created conflicts between the multitude of different peoples in the eastern Congo: the autochthonous peoples in the Kivus and Ituri, the Tutsi in South Kivu (Banyamulenge), the Hutu and Tutsi in North Kivu (Banyarwanda), the Rwandan and Burundi refugees that arrived in the 1960s and 1970s, the recent Rwandan and Burundian refugees, and the génocidaires and former Rwandan regime, which continued the genocide of Tutsis and moderate Hutus within the refugee camps in eastern Zaire.

“Does the reader at this point want to throw in the towel and give up on the ethnopolitical complexities of the region? I would not blame him,” writes Prunier (p. 201). YES — at least that’s what I thought.

In 1994, although for entirely different reasons, multiple African countries invaded or deployed troops in Zaire, including Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, and Eritrea, and supported Laurent-Désiré Kabila’s rebel movement to overthrow Mobuto. After Kabila toppled Mobuto in 1997, he turned against his African masters, and multiple African countries again invaded Zaire, newly renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo. According to Prunier, there were four layers of this second conflict (pp. 201-202):

  1. The Core Conflict. This involved the Rwandan RPF regime, with Ugandan support, trying to overthrow Kabila.
  2. The Second Layer. This involved several powerful African neighbours, including Angola, Zimbabwe, and Namibia, who were not involved and did not care about the Hutu-Tutsi conflict but wanted Kabila to remain in power for their own reasons.
  3. The Third Layer. This involved countries such as Libya, Sudan, and Chad that got involved for reasons related to each other (ex. Chadian-Libyan conflict, the Chadian-Sudanese conflict) and their relations with other states involved in the Congo.  
  4. The Fourth Layer. This involved countries such as Burundi and the Central African Republic that were geographically close to the Congo and that were entangled with other countries active in the Congo

Added to this were the economic interests of the belligerents. Rwanda and Uganda were trying to wage war on the cheap, which involved the self-financing of troops and allied militias in the Congo. At the same time, Zimbabwean mining companies wanted to block South African mining interests in mineral-rich Katanga. Thus, Rwandan and Ugandan troops, while nominally fighting for the same objective — the overthrow of Kabila — engaged in brutal street fighting with each other in the Congo’s third-largest city, Kisangani, to control the airport and the diamond trade in August 1999, May 2000, and June 2000. What began as a “rational” war, Prunier writes, thus degenerated into “myriad ‘privatized,’ socially and economically motivated subconflicts.” (p. 225).

Prunier is a brilliant scholar of Africa and an excellent writer. His ‘tell-like-it-is’ manner of writing is both comical and to the point and makes understanding African complexities easier. After reading this book, I cannot honestly say that I understand Africa’s so-called World War, the deadliest conflict since WWII, with 5.8 million deaths. Still, Prunier’s analysis helped shed much-needed light on the conflict, one that I was not adequately acquainted with before.

Review: “The Battle of Stalingrad” – Marshal Vasili Ivanovich Chuikov, Supreme Commander of Soviet Land Forces

With an estimated 2 million casualties, the Battle of Stalingrad was the deadliest battle in WWII and one of the deadliest battles in the history of warfare. The battle was marked by fierce close-quarters, hand-to-hand combat, and direct air raids on civilians, a reality that was brilliantly depicted in the 2013 Russian film Stalingrad.

Hitler was determined to take Stalingrad due to the city’s strategic importance as a central industrial and transport hub on the Volga and as a springboard into the Caucasus with its vast oil wealth. Vasili Ivanovich Chuikov, commander of the Soviet 62nd Army and later Supreme Commander of Soviet Land Forces, was tasked with stopping the Nazi advance and holding the city whatever the cost.

In this book, Chuikov chronicles in incredible detail what happened in Stalingrad during the five months from August 1942 to the defeat of the Nazi 6th Army in February 1943. Chuikov explains how close-quarters, house-to-house, and even room-to-room combat was, while brutal, a tactical strategy to nullify Nazi air superiority: since Soviet soldiers were so close to Nazi soldiers, the Nazi Luftwaffe couldn’t bomb the Soviets without also bombing their troops. Nazi troops were also unprepared and untrained in close-quarters, hand-to-hand combat, which significantly demoralized Nazi troops based on diaries and letters found on killed Nazi soldiers.

Chuikov describes the heroism and courage of Soviet soldiers struggling against far superior enemy forces under seemingly impossible conditions. Pavlov’s House, where two or three dozen Soviet soldiers under the command of Yakov Pavlov single-handedly survived a two-month siege by Nazi infantry and Panzers in a fortified apartment building, is the most famous. However, as Chuikov writes, there were many other “Pavlov’s Houses” in Stalingrad. Chuikov devotes special attention to the role of women in defense of Stalingrad. Women were equal to men in every respect in the battle against the Nazi invaders. Just as there were many “Pavlov’s Houses,” there were many women “Yakov Pavlovs” in Stalingrad. Chuikov recalls how in a primarily women anti-aircraft unit that took a direct hit from the Luftwaffe, the women remained at their weapons and continued to fight until the last breathe despite being gravely injured (lost limbs, eyes, etc.).

Finally, on November 19, 1942, the Soviets launched Operation Uranus to encircle and crush Nazi and allied Romanian and Italian forces near Stalingrad. Chuikov’s 62nd Army joined in Operation Uranus, and Chuikov describes in vivid detail the defeat and capture of Field Marshal Friedrich von Paulus, commander of the Nazi 6th Army, and more than 265,000 Nazi and allied troops in Stalingrad on January 31st, 1943.  

After Stalingrad, Chuikov and his troops fought all the way to Berlin, where Chuikov personally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi forces in Berlin on May 2nd, 1945. (I shall soon read Chuikov’s memoirs of the Battle of Berlin, which I also own.)

An excellent book and one of my favourite books of all time.

Review: “The History of Democracy: A Marxist Interpretation” – Brian S. Roper

What are the origins of ‘democracy’? Are countries like the US, Canada, Britain, etc., democratic? In “The History of Democracy: A Marxist Interpretation,” Brian S. Roper examines liberal assumptions about the origins and essence of democracy using Marxist historical materialism.

Roper begins by examining the system of participatory democracy in Athens and Rome and its later suppression under the Roman Empire. In this, Roper differs little and indeed borrows significantly from Ste. Croix’s “The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World: From the Archaic Age to the Arab Conquests.” The only significant difference between Ste. Croix and Roper’s studies of Athenian and Roman democracy is that Ste. Croix examines how the class struggle shaped the political systems of Athens and Rome.

In contrast, Roper looks at Athenian and Roman democracy to underscore how little capitalist representative democracy shares with the democracy of the ancient world. Although the franchise was significantly smaller and excluded enslaved people, women, etc., Athenian and Roman democracy enabled far greater possibilities for active participation in the political system than is possible under capitalist representative democracy. As Roper writes, a critical difference between Athenian and capitalist representative democracy “lies in the status of the labouring citizen in the two forms of democracy. Here the full significance of the earlier model of democracy stands out in start contrast, for it is only in this model of democracy that the labouring citizens exert genuine influence over the governance of society” (p. 35).

More significantly is Roper’s study of the origins and functions of modern capitalist representative democracy. It is here where Roper’s study is second to none. Roper offers a devastating critique of capitalist representative democracy, beginning with the American Revolution. The particular form of democracy that developed in the US, Roper writes, was due to the need of American independence leaders to appeal “to universal notions of liberty and democracy, on one hand, while simultaneously defending the sanctity of property and the rule of a rich capitalist minority, on the other” (p. 129).

Roper defends Charles Beard’s brilliant 1913 study “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States,” which I own and have read, that although the drafters of the US constitution might not have benefited financially from it, as non-Marxist historians argue, “they had a clear understanding that the new constitutional framework would have to, as one of its core tasks, successfully entrench and codify the rights and liberties of property. If it failed to do so, their own wealth and privileges would be undermined, and the rapid expansion of capitalist agriculture, industry, commerce and banking would be impossible. The Republican notion of civic virtue served their purposes admirably in this respect because it enabled them genuinely to believe that they were acting not in their own selfish interests but in the interests of property generally, interests that they equated ideologically and philosophically with those of the society as a whole” (pp. 138-139).

Capitalist representative democracy has redefined the words citizenship and democracy to be devoid of their traditional social meanings. Democracy no longer means the active participation of the citizens themselves, their exercise of political power, but their relinquishment of political power, its alienation from the populace, hitherto the antithesis of democracy. Rather than being the defining feature of democracy, its revolutionary essence, the active participation of the poor and working-class population is seen as fundamentally antithetical to capitalist representative democracy. As Roper writes, capitalist representative democracy “is a historically unique form of democracy” because “it ostensibly embodies but actually curtails the rule of the majority of people” (p. 152).

Roper’s study of democracy is fundamentally flawed in his analysis of the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and the spread of capitalist representative democracy in the age of imperialism. Alas, Roper is a Trotskyist, and his brilliant use of historical materialism in the study of democracy slowly disintegrates under the weight of his idol’s corrupting ideological influence. Typical of a Trotskyist, Roper fails to follow his political theories to their logical outcome and makes absurd arguments, such as Lenin didn’t believe a socialist revolution in Russia was possible until the prophet Trotsky showed him the light; that decolonization in Africa, Latin America, and Asia was possible because of the self-sufficiency of the capitalist world in raw materials, labour, etc., and the post-WWII capitalist economic boom; and that the US and its NATO allies that as per Roper are fundamentally antagonistic to genuine democracy supported revolutionary-democratic uprisings in Libya and Syria.

Review: “The Balkans, 1804-1999: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers” – Misha Glenny

At more than 700 pages long, Misha Glenny’s “The Balkans, 1804-1999: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers” is a powerful and impressively comprehensive history of the Balkans. Beginning with the First Serbian Uprising against Ottoman rule in 1804, Glenny chronologically examines the historical origins of nationalism and the various nation-states in the Balkans, including Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, etc. He explores complex and difficult political issues such as the national question in Macedonia, a region inhabited until WWII by Slavs, Greeks, Turks, and Albanians, as well as a large population of Sephardic Jews, Gypsies, and Roma, and the problem of Kosovo, inhabited by ethnic Albanians but also the site of Serbia’s defeat by the Ottoman Empire in 1389 and thus central to Serbian national consciousness. Glenny’s historical narrative provides essential background to many of the historical and recent conflicts that have plagued the Balkans. Glenny’s narrative also challenges assumptions about the source of conflict in the Balkans. According to Glenny, the conflicts that have plagued the Balkans for more than two centuries are not due to primitive tribal hatreds or a greater predisposition to violence among Balkan peoples, but rather to imperialist rivalry among the region’s great powers. The Ottoman Empire/Turkey, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy, France, Germany, and Britain have all manufactured or exploited ethnic and religious differences in the Balkans to serve their own agendas.

While offering an excellent history of the Balkans, Glenny’s political analysis leaves much to be desired. A noteworthy example is Glenny’s description of the Austro-Hungarian Empire adopting a “classically Marxist” (p. 275) position towards Bosnia after the latter was annexed in 1908! Another example is Glenny’s objection to using the epithet “monarcho-fascism” to describe the royal dictatorships in the Balkans before and during WWII. According to Glenny, while borrowing the “paraphernalia and rhetoric of Mussolini and Hitler, none were consistently harsh enough” to warrant such a description, a dubious and highly subjective conclusion. Glenny’s description of Leninist “democratic centralism” as the blind adherence to a leader is a wicked distortion of Leninist tactics and Party policy. Finally, Glenny’s obsession with Stalin so typical of Churchillian liberals makes it almost impossible to take seriously his analysis of socialist Yugoslavia. In the last two or three chapters, the book reads like a parrot constantly repeating a word but not understanding it: *Squawk* “Stalin” *Squawk* “Stalinism”. The final chapter lacks any substance at all; it is simply the words “Stalin” and “Stalinism” mixed in with some other noise.

Review: “State-Monopoly Capitalism and Labour Law” – Igor Kiselyov

You’ll have to forgive me for the brevity of this review. I have been working tirelessly to get my manuscript ready for publication with my editor, which has consequently occupied most of my time, thoughts, and energy. Also, I read this book weeks ago, so might have forgotten some of it by now.

“State-Monopoly Capitalism and Labour Law” by the Soviet scholar Igor Kiselyov examines the dialectics of labour law, i.e., the legal regulation of labour including the activities of trade unions, strikes, collective agreements and employment contracts, wages, working time, leisure time, labour protection, hiring procedures, industrial disputes, etc., under conditions of monopoly capitalism. As Kiselyov explains, “Labour law is a sharp and flexible instrument for the capitalist state to implement its social policy. It is used, on the one hand, to weaken and split the labour movement, undermine the trade unions, strengthen the power of the employers, increase the exploitation of the working people and impinge on their social gains and, on the other, to deceive the workers, dull their class consciousness, conceal exploitation and cultivate the ideas of ‘social partnership’, reformist illusions and opportunism among workers” (p. 6).

The adoption of bourgeois labour law in most capitalist countries dates to the post-WWII period. At the end of WWII, the capitalist ruling class was unable to stand up to the growing onslaught of a militant working-class using tried-and-true methods of oppression. Thus the bourgeoisie made use of methods of struggle that would seem to be at odds with the classical features of capitalist exploitation and oppression. Instead of murdering strikers and union organizers, such as when the richest American family hired terrorists to shoot machine guns at sleeping women and children in Colorado, or when mine owners used an armoured train mounted with machine guns to shoot miners in West Virginia, or when the RCMP murdered striking miners in Estevan and have continued to refuse to allow the words “Murdered by the RCMP” to be displayed on the victims’ tombstones, the bourgeoisie sought to achieve “socio-economic and political stability, a social consensus with the help of a system of shock-absorbers: compromises, partial concessions, the introduction of reforms deigned to pacify the working class and achieve, by means of various types of manipulation, an integration of the working people and their organizations, above all the trade unions, into the system of state-monopoly capitalism, and thus to ease class contradictions and adapt to the changed situation” (p. 23).

Kiselyov examines how bourgeois labour law ostensibly embodies but actually curtails the protection of workers in the US, Canada, France, Italy, Britain, Germany, etc. The primary function of bourgeois labour law is not to protect labour from exploitation and capitalist oppression, but to ensure that worker militancy is directed into “safe” channels that don’t threaten the capitalist system. The unwillingness of capitalist ruling circles to agree to the codification of labour law is an interesting, albeit relatively minor, manifestation of this which really stood out to me. As Kiselyov writes, “Characteristic of the labour law in many capitalist countries is a combination of statutes adopted in various historical eras under different political regimes” (p. 44). In the FRG (West Germany), for example, along with modern legislation labour relations were regulated by the German Civil Code of 1896 (with amendments), the industrial charter of 1869 (with amendments), as well as legislative acts of both the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. Similarly, labour acts adopted in Britain in the 1870s are still in force, testifying to the “continuity and, in particular, of the class content of the capitalist legal regulation of labour, its basic features remaining fundamentally unchanged in the course of historical development and with changes of political regimes” (p. 44). This jungle of laws, complex and confused, is no accident. The bourgeoisie is not interested in a full and comprehensive systematization of labour legislation, for capitalists are able to hire competent and qualified lawyers to defend their interests. However, “business circles are rightly concerned that since, for the adoption of a code an open parliamentary procedure is required, this would inevitably attract the attention of the general public to the problems of labour law, intensify the struggle of the working class for improved labour legislation and its democratization” (p. 45).

Although a slightly dry, sometimes repetitive read, this book nonetheless offers an excellent analysis of bourgeois labour law under conditions of state-monopoly capitalism.

Review: “Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution” – Stephen Zunes and Jacob Mundy

“Western Sahara: War, Nationalism, and Conflict Irresolution” by Stephen Zunes and Jacob Mundy is a masterpiece of history, international law, and the failure of UN conflict resolution. Zunes and Mundy identify and methodically examine the sources of the almost five-decade-long dispute and its intractability, including the Moroccan regime’s need for legitimacy leading to manifest destiny-like irredentism, Sahrawi nationalism born out of Spanish colonialism, the UN’s disastrous decolonization efforts in East Timor and West Papua, and Franco-American support for Morocco in the UN Security Council.

In 1975, shortly before the death of fascist dictator General Franco, Spain unilaterally withdrew from Western Sahara, leaving Morocco and Mauritania to annex the territory without legal basis and fight each other and Sahrawi insurgents led by Polisario for control. Mauritania withdrew from the dispute in 1979, but Polisario, supported by Algeria, and Morocco, supported by the US and France, fought each other to a military stalemate by 1991.

Zunes and Mundy reject two commonly held theories about the origins and intractability of the conflict: firstly, that Polisario and Sahrawi nationalism is a front for Algeria, and secondly, that Morocco’s primary motivation for annexing Western Sahara is resource extraction and exploitation.

Sahrawi nationalism is a product of Spanish colonialism and the colonial dialectic, and it exists independently of Algerian support. It is in the nature of colonialism to create social and geographic boundaries. Spanish colonialism and the social and geographic boundaries it created — real and imagined — played a substantial role in the development of the Sahrawi national identity. Even if Algeria were to withdraw its support for Sahrawi self-determination, Zunes and Mundy argue, Sahrawi nationalism would continue to exist, much like how East Timorese and West Papuan nationalism has survived Indonesian occupation and genocide without external state support. Algeria, however, is unlikely to withdraw its support for Sahrawi self-determination. The self-image of Algeria’s leaders rests upon their support for radical, anti-colonial nationalism. To withdraw support for Sahrawi self-determination would undermine the political power of Algerian leaders. Moreover, Sahrawi self-determination serves Algeria’s strategic interests vis-à-vis Morocco. Algerian-Moroccan enmity predates the Western Sahara conflict by more than a decade when Morocco invaded Algerian Sahara in 1963. A pro-Algerian state in Western Sahara would strengthen Algeria in its rivalry with Morocco for regional hegemony.

Moroccan irredentism is primarily ideological and not economic. Although the Moroccan regime and its clientelist network have profited from exploiting Western Sahara phosphates and fisheries, economic factors fail to explain Moroccan irredentism. According to Zunes and Mundy, King Hassan II was experiencing a crisis of legitimacy in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with widespread dissatisfaction, multiple coup attempts, and deteriorating economic conditions. A war to “liberate” Spanish Sahara offered the monarchy a way out of this situation by rallying the Moroccan people around popular anti-colonial sentiments and the vision of a “Greater Morocco.” The need to reassert royal legitimacy in a period of widespread political crises, not a classic land grab, motivated Morocco to annex Western Sahara. Almost 50 years later, little has changed in Morocco. To recognize an independent Sahrawi republic in Western Sahara would jeopardize the monarchy’s main base of support: the military and clientelist interests that have enriched themselves off the Western Saharan conflict.

Since the ceasefire in 1991, both Morocco and Polisario have entrenched themselves in their pre-ceasefire positions, engaging in what Zunes and Mundy refer to as war by other means. Neither Morocco nor Polisario can win the war militarily, so both are involved in a political and diplomatic war over Western Sahara.

The UN has utterly failed to resolve the conflict. In 1975, the International Court of Justice ruled that Morocco (and Mauritania) had no legal right to Western Sahara that would interfere with the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination. However, Morocco has presented the UN Security Council and its closest allies, the US and France, with a fait accompli, in that Morocco controls most of Western Sahara. This leads to a cycle of irresolution. The Sahrawi people have the right to self-determination from Spanish colonialism and Moroccan occupation under international law, but the UN cannot endorse self-determination without a referendum on independence, which Morocco will not accept, and its allies on the Security Council (the US and France) will not enforce under Chapter VII. With US and French veto power, the UN can do nothing about Morocco’s flagrant violation of one of the most basic tenets of international law — the prohibition of wars of conquest. Moreover, with the Trump Administration’s 2020 recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, none of this is likely to change in the immediate future.

Zunes and Mundy offer an outstanding indictment of Morocco’s illegal annexation of Western Sahara and its egregious human rights record, the failure of the UN and international law to resolve this conflict, and US-led Western imperialism.

Review: “Recent History of the Labor Movement in the United States: 1918-1939” – ed. B. Y. Mikhailov

This is the first volume in a three-volume series by Progress Publishers examining the US labour movement from 1918 to 1980. Although the title of the book and of the series is the “Recent History of the Labor Movement in the United States,” there was actually very little history in the book. The book is an economic analysis of the conditions confronting the labour movement in the United States, not a history of the labour movement itself. Indeed, the largest strikes that occurred during these years – the Steel Strike of 1919, the Battle of Blair Mountain of 1921, and the Great Railroad Strike of 1922 – receive only cursory analysis, and then mostly of the conditions that led to them, not the conduct and experience of the strikes themselves.

This was somewhat disappointing to me. I was really hoping for a William Z. Foster-style analysis of the strikes themselves and not an exclusively economic analysis of the conditions in the US that led to said strikes, which I am already familiar with. Maybe Vol. 2 will be better (doubt it).

Review: “The Library: A Fragile History” – Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen

How did public libraries start? What happened to the Library of Alexandria? How did Gutenberg’s press influence libraries and book-collecting? What role did libraries and librarians play in significant conflicts such as WWII? When and why did fiction become so widespread? How did Martin Luther and the Reformation forever change the nature of books?

Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen examine these and many other questions in “The Library: A Fragile History.” Let me be clear: this is not a book about bibliophiles, the wonder of the written word, and the beauty of reading. On the contrary, this is a serious scholarly work of history involving war, genocide, racism, colonialism and imperialism, sexism, slavery, war crimes, political economy, plunder, and more. Perhaps aware of how easy it is to forget about the role played by books, libraries, and librarians during significant socio-economic, political, and religious upheavals, Pettegree and der Weduwen remind readers that whatever the time and whatever the conflict, books, libraries, and librarians were involved.

Books were an invaluable weapon in Martin Luther’s arsenal against the omnipotent power of the Catholic Church. By writing small, quickly produced pamphlets in the vernacular language instead of Latin, Luther was able to rapidly spread his message across Germany, forever changing the German language and the politicization of books.

During the Thirty Years’ war, Swedish armies systematically plunder tens of thousands of manuscripts and books from continental libraries, including German, Polish, and Czech, creating one of Europe’s most extensive and finest libraries in Uppsala. Among the most famous manuscripts looted by Swedish armies is the 6th-century Codex Argenteus. The Codex was a part of the library of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II at his imperial seat in Prague until Swedish armies conquered Prague in 1648.

During WWII, virtually all Polish books and libraries were destroyed or looted, and 20 million books in France, 60 million books in Britain, and 100 million books in Russia were destroyed. Nazi libraries and librarians confiscated the personal libraries of Jews and employed forced labour to sort and catalogue the collections.

Of particular interest to me in this book was the centuries-long debate between fiction vs. nonfiction. I have never understood the appeal of fiction. The real world is sufficiently fascinating enough without the need for fantasy. Moreover, if I am going to invest time in reading a book, I might as well be improving myself and expanding on my knowledge while I am reading it. My preference for nonfiction is the main reason I have built my own personal library of 1,400+ nonfiction books and don’t utilize public libraries. Most public libraries are overflowing with what Sir Thomas Bodley denounced as “idle books” and “riff raffes” in the 16th- century — fantasy, crime novels, etc. The kind and quality of nonfiction books I enjoy are usually found not on library shelves but outside the library, in the dumpster, to make space for brain-rotting “Penny Dreadfuls.” This has left me no other option than to buy all the books I read.

Conclusion: this was a fascinating book about the history of libraries and book-collecting, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in either subject.

Review: “A History of the Tajiks: Iranians of the East” – Richard Foltz

Tajikistan is a country I am very interested in; I own and have read many books about Tajikistan. If I can save enough money, I plan to drive the Pamir Highway from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in a year or two, subject to COVID restrictions.

I didn’t have very high expectations when I began reading Richard Foltz’s “A History of the Tajiks: Iranians of the East.” Most of the books I have read about Tajikistan leave much to be desired. Frank Bliss’ “Social and Economic Change in the Pamirs (Gorno-Badakhshan, Tajikistan)” is an anthropological study of the Pamiri people inhabiting the mountains GBAO and not Tajikistan. Dilip Hiro’s “Inside Central Asia,” Shirin Akiner’s “Tajikistan: The Trials of Independence,” and to a lesser extent Artemy Kalinovsky’s “Laboratory of Socialist Development: Cold War Politics and Decolonization in Soviet Tajikistan” are too heavily laden with pro-imperialist propaganda to be taken seriously as academic studies. Tim Epkenhans’ “The Origins of the Civil War in Tajikistan: Nationalism, Islamism, and Violent Conflict in Post-Soviet Space” only examines the Tajik Civil War (1992-1997) through the perspective of the Tajiks themselves. Epkenhans’ book doesn’t offer the reader much about the general history of the Tajiks or Tajikistan. Paul Bergne’s “The Birth of Tajikistan: National Identity and the Origins of the Republic” is broader in its analysis than the previously described works since, as the title suggests, the book examines the origins of Tajikistan. Bergne’s analysis, however, is heavily distorted by his anti-Soviet bias. Bergne lacks the originality and objectivity of Arne Haugen, Arsene Saparov, Adrienne Lynn Edgar, and Adeeb Khalid. The only book I had read about Tajikistan that offered a genuinely scholarly analysis and general history of Tajikistan worthy of recommendation was “Tajikistan: A Political and Social History” by Kirill Nourzhanov and Christian Bleuer. Although not as radical as Haugen and Khalid, Nourzhanov and Bleuer’s study of Tajikistan can rightly be classified as among the post-Cold War “revisionist” studies of Central Asia that challenge many anti-Soviet myths about Soviet nationalities policy.

As it turned out, my low expectations were unjustified; Foltz’s book is a scholarly masterpiece. Foltz is an outstanding Iranologist whose passion for the peoples and history of Iran radiates through the pages of his book. Foltz provides an excellent overview of the origins of the Tajik language and culture without oversaturating the book with anthropological data like Bliss does. Foltz is anti-Soviet, but not to such an extent that he loses his scholarly objectivity in the book like Hiro, Akiner, and other scholars do. Indeed, Foltz has read the works of “revisionist” scholars like Khalid, and his book should be considered “revisionist” in its own right. Finally, Foltz provides an excellent overview of modern Tajikistan’s origins and struggles, including the Tajik Civil War, the authoritarian regime of Emomali Rahmon, and Tajikistan’s troubled economy.

An absolutely fantastic book.