We need an inquiry into the origins of the pandemic

By Stephen Gowans

June 5, 2021

On 4 March of this year, two dozen scientists, social scientists, and science journalists from the United States and allied countries—countries whose governments are engaged in various maneuvers to ‘contain’ a rising China—released an open letter attacking the WHO-convened mission which inquired into the origins of SARS-CoV-2. This letter is widely cited in Western journalism that now accepts the once discredited Wuhan lab leak theory as credible and worthy of consideration.

The WHO mission had concluded that the virus likely originated in bats and spread to an unidentified second species before spilling over into humans. It concluded that spillover through a laboratory accident was very unlikely.     

The authors of the open letter said they released the letter to raise public awareness of the fact that half of the WHO team was comprised of Chinese citizens and that the scientific independence of these team members may have been limited. They did not question the scientific independence of other members of the team, implying that the Chinese members were partial but that the other members were not.

The motive for the letter appeared to be unease with the WHO mission’s conclusion that a lab leak was very unlikely. The authors called for a new inquiry to consider five possible pathways, all but one of which, if found to be the cause, would implicate employees connected with Wuhan laboratories.

The authors listed the following as the possible origins of the virus.

  • A pure zoonosis event with/without intermediate host;
  • Infection at a sampling site of a lab employee or of some accompanying non-lab personnel;
  • Infection during transport of collected animals and/or samples;
  • Lab Acquired Infection (LAI);
  • Lab-escape without LAI.

To be sure, all of these are possible pathways for SARS-CoV-2, and for other zoonoses, as well. It is unnecessary, however, to know which of these possible causes, if any, lie at the heart of the SARS-CoV-2 spillover to know that any of these, generalizing from Wuhan labs to all labs, could be the possible cause of a future spillover. What measures, therefore, ought to be taken to close or at least severely restrict these possible pathways? The authors of the letter do not say.

While the signatories urge that a new inquiry be undertaken because “Finding the origins of SARS-CoV-2 is critically important to both better addressing the current pandemic and reducing the risks of future ones”,  they offer no explanation for how identifying the specific actual causes of this pandemic will help reduce the risk of future ones; (there are multiple possible causes of zoonotic spillovers, and those involved in a future spillover may be different from the causes underlying the current one.) What’s more, it is unclear how finding the origins of SARS-Cov-2 will help better address the current pandemic; (discovering the ingress point for a mouse into your house won’t help catch it.)

The cause of the pandemic, not the original outbreak, but the development of a potentially controllable zoonosis into an outbreak of global reach, is already known: It was the failure of the United States and its allies to take quick and decisive action in February 2020 at a time the catastrophe in embryo could have been aborted. Rather than mobilize public health measures to extinguish small fires and prevent their spread, as Beijing did, the United States, and countries that followed its lead, did precious little, unwilling to disrupt business activity and the continued tranquil digestion of profits. It is US and allied non-feasance—that is, human inaction—that transformed a preventable catastrophe into a full blown calamity that so far has produced over 3.7 million deaths.

As the editor of the British medical journal The Lancet, Richard Horton, recalled: “The United States of America wasted the whole of February and early March before they acted. That is the human tragedy of COVID-19. Thanks to the work of Chinese doctors and scientists working in international collaborations, all of this info [showing a deadly virus had emerged that had no treatment and could be passed between people] was known in January but for reasons that are difficult to understand, the world did not pay attention.”

But Horton had offered a clue as to why Washington failed to act, in an editorial he wrote for The Lancet.

The degree to which the USA stalled in taking aggressive action to curtail the spread of COVID-19 is directly the product of an administration marked by consistently poor timing, intent on making decisions in favor of economic interests instead of those that are guided by science and to protect health. The rush to reopen the country [put] dollars over deaths.

Zoonotic spillovers in nature may be infrequent, but they do occur. So, too, do lab leaks. To be sure, measures need be taken to reduce these events. But the events by themselves do not inevitably precipitate pandemics. Pandemics, like conflagrations, require a spark, but also kindling, and at times, firefighters who fail to act.

An unrestricted international investigation, guided by the goal of learning how to better address the current pandemic and reduce the risks of future ones, unquestionably needs to be undertaken. But the investigation, if it is to be meaningful (and not a fishing expedition to gather data with the aim of pillorying a near-peer competitor), must inquire, not into what we already know—that certain events are possible causes of zoonotic spillovers—but into what we are not clear about, namely, the institutional forces that stopped the United States and its followers from acting decisively to avert an impending public health disaster. In other words, the inquiry must identify why the United States, and many other countries under its sway, followed not the dictum, public health is the highest law, but the principle, private profit is the highest good.

It is the answer to that question that must be known if we are to reduce the risk of future pandemics and better address the current one.

A scandal is being thuggishly covered up by a regime more interested in propaganda than human life

If a scandal is being thuggishly covered up by a regime more interested in propaganda than human life, the US government is the regime, the scandal is the preventable deaths of over half a million US citizens, and the propaganda is Biden’s Wuhan lab leak hypothesis.

By Stephen Gowans

June 1, 2021

China is a paragon in dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic—the country all others ought to emulate. Its Covid-19 elimination strategy brought community transmission to a virtual halt, allowing the country to reopen quickly and return to the path of robust economic growth.

An April 28 report in the medical journal The Lancet concluded that “SARS-CoV-2 elimination,” the strategy pioneered by China, and “not mitigation,” the US approach, creates the “best outcomes for health, the economy, and civil liberties.” [1] The British Medical Journal concurred, concluding in a report in December that China’s elimination strategy “could be the optimal response strategy for covid-19 and other emerging pandemic diseases.” [2]

In contrast, the United States stands close to the other end of the continuum, a negative model of what countries should not do. As of May 31, there were 1,796 COVID-19 deaths per million in the United States, 558 times greater than the 3 deaths per million in China, according to Our World in Data. [3]

Had Washington acted quickly and decisively to check the spread of the virus, emulating China’s zero-COVID approach, it would have prevented more than 588,000 deaths. [4]

Even on vaccines—an area in which the United States claims leadership—China is ahead. The East Asian giant has produced more doses, and shipped more abroad, than the United States, according to the Wall Street Journal. [5]

Vaccine doses shipped abroad

  • China, 252M (total produced, 659M)
  • EU, 111M
  • Russia, 27M
  • USA, 3M (total produced, 333M)

Moreover, it has become evident that the preferred US strategy of emphasizing the development of vaccines and anti-viral drugs over non-pharmaceutical interventions—that is, a strategy of bolstering biopharma profits while continuing to starve public health–is a road to failure. As Nature reports, “Even with vaccination efforts in full force, the theoretical threshold for vanquishing COVID-19 looks to be out of reach.” [6]

This is because, as The Lancet reported, “relying solely on COVID-19 vaccines to control the pandemic is risky due to their uneven roll-out and uptake, time-limited immunity, and the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants. History shows that vaccination alone can neither single-handedly nor rapidly control a virus and that a combination of public health measures [is] needed for containment.” [7]

Humiliated by China’s superior performance, and its own abject failures, Washington retaliates. Recycling the Trump administration’s baseless claim about the virus leaking from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Biden seeks to divert attention from US failures and Chinese successes. With the aid of the Western news media, Biden shifts the story, from the genuine scandal of nearly 600,000 needless US deaths to the invented scandal of Chinese incompetence in preventing a lab leak.

Bret Stephens, the New York Times columnist, nicely summarizes the narrative the Biden administration is trying to instill in the public mind:

If it turns out that the Covid pandemic was caused by a leak from a lab in Wuhan, China, it will rank among the greatest scientific scandals in history: dangerous research, possibly involving ethically dubious techniques that make viruses more dangerous, carried out in a poorly safeguarded facility, thuggishly covered up by a regime more interested in propaganda than human life, catastrophic for the entire world. [8]

Stephens, by the way, notes that “this possible scandal … is as yet unproved”, which kind of gives the game away.

The US president and the Western news media want it both ways: they want to present a leak at the Wuhan lab as a possibility worthy of consideration while at the same time acknowledging there’s no evidence. But if there’s no evidence, the possibility can hardly be worthy of consideration.

Following a clear double-standard, they say there’s no evidence for China’s counter-allegation that the virus could have leaked from laboratories at the US military base, Fort Detrick, and therefore that the Chinese allegation is unworthy of consideration. Seemingly unbeknownst to Stephens, Fort Detrick is the site of dangerous research, possibly involving ethically dubious techniques that make viruses more dangerous, carried out in poorly safeguarded facilities, which on more than one occasion have been shuttered owing to biosafety concerns. Indeed, this has been reported in Stephens’ own newspaper under the headline Deadly Germ Research Is Shut Down At Army Lab Over Safety Concerns. [9] [10]

Hence, if the Wuhan lab needs to be investigated once again, it seems perfectly fair and reasonable to investigate Fort Detrick as well. Given the mishaps at the US lab, there’s a more compelling reason to begin there.

Stephens’ observation that the “possible scandal…is as yet unproven” points to a favored Washington tactic: start with a desired conclusion, and work backward to collect if possible and manufacture if necessary evidence to substantiate it. Recall the WMD scandal, in which ethically dubious deceptions about Saddam concealing weapons of mass destruction were carried out and covered up by a regime more interested in propaganda than human life, which, on the basis of this deception, thuggishly murdered countless Iraqis in cold blood, tortured hundreds, toppled their government, rewrote their constitution, destroyed their livelihoods and infrastructure, and took away their independence.

The outcome of the intelligence community investigation ordered by Biden may be the kind of assessment we’ve seen in the past with allegations of Syrian chemical weapons attacks—namely, some elements of the US intelligence community will produce a document that says while they have no proof, they assess (it is their judgment) that what the White House has alleged is indeed true. Or perhaps a dodgy intelligence dossier will be conjured, recalling Colin Powell’s infamous conduct before the UN Security Council in which he produced false intelligence to suggest Iraq was secreting weapons of mass destruction.

If this plays out as it has in the past, the news media will report that the US intelligence community has concluded that the Wuhan laboratory was the source of the pandemic. The key qualifier that the conclusion is based on no proof, will be quickly passed over and eventually forgotten, and the reality that the conclusion came from the intelligence community will be adduced as its substantiation, as if US spooks are impartial arbiters of all questions of consequence, and not part of a state apparatus that has a vested interest in discrediting a country Washington deems a near-peer competitor.

Former CIA case officer Ralph McGehee’s view of his former employer suggests what outcome we can expect from Biden’s ‘find me some evidence’ order to the intelligence community. “The CIA is not now nor has it ever been a Central Intelligence Agency,” McGehee said. Instead, “it is the covert action arm of the president’s foreign policy advisers” whose role is “reporting ‘intelligence’ justifying” the president’s positions and activities. The CIA “shapes its intelligence … to support presidential policy.” McGehee concluded that disinformation is a large part of the intelligence community’s ambit, and the US population is “the primary target audience of its lies.”  [11]

The catastrophe of the Covid pandemic was caused by the failure of the United States and its allies to act quickly and decisively to eliminate community transmission. In the critical month of February 2020, as China acted with resolve to smother the flames of a developing pandemic, the United States dithered, incapable of mobilizing its underfunded public health infrastructure, which barely existed, and reluctant to disrupt business activity. The result was that a small fire that could have been contained and extinguished, soon grew into a global conflagration. This ranks among the greatest failures in history: profits were prioritized over public health—a process involving ethically dubious decision-making that made the pandemic more dangerous, thuggishly covered up by a regime more interested in propaganda than human life, trying to divert attention from its abject failures by falsely blaming the one country, China, that has done more than any other to bring the pandemic to a close.

1 Miquel Oliu-Barton et al., “SARS-CoV-2 elimination, not mitigation, creates best outcomes for health, the economy, and civil liberties,” The Lancet, April 28, 2021, DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)00978-8

2 Michael G Baker, Nick Wilson, and Tony Blakely, “Elimination could be the optimal response strategy for covid-19 and other emerging pandemic diseases,” The British Medical Journal, December 22, 2020 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4907 

3 COVID-19 Data Explorer – Our World in Data, accessed June 1, 2021.

4 With (a) a US population of 328.2 million and (b) 1,796.26 deaths per million to May 31, there were (a)/1,000,00 x (b) = 589,533 covid-19 deaths in the United States. If the fatality rate had been as low as that of China, there would have been  (a)/1,000,00 x 3.221 = 1,057 covid-19 deaths, or 588,475 fewer.

5 Yuka Hayashi, Sabrina Siddiqui, and Andrew Restuccia, “U.S. to Increase Covid-19 Vaccine Exports Amid Global Pressure,” The Wall Street Journal, May 17, 2021

6 Christie Aschwanden, “Five reasons why COVID herd immunity is probably impossible,” Nature, March 18, 2021

7 Miquel Oliu-Barton et al., “SARS-CoV-2 elimination, not mitigation, creates best outcomes for health, the economy, and civil liberties,” The Lancet, April 28, 2021, DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)00978-8

8 Bret Stephens, “Media Groupthink and the Lab-Leak Theory,” The New York Times, May 31, 2021

9 Nicholson Baker, “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis,”  New York, January 4, 2020

10 Denise Grady, “Deadly Germ Research Is Shut Down at Army Lab Over Safety Concerns,” The New York Times, August 5, 2019

11 Quoted in A.B. Abrams, Power and Primacy: The History of Western Intervention in the Asia-Pacific, Peter Laing, 2019, p. 124.

Israel’s relationship with Washington: Talk at the Institute for the Critical Study of Society

My talk on Israel’s relationship with Washington, given at the Institute for the Critical Study of Society’s Sunday Morning at the Marxist Library, May 30, 2021.

Israel’s relationship with Washington

60 minute talk followed by 60 minutes of questions and discussion.

http://www.barakabooks.com

The politics of the Wuhan lab leak hypothesis

By Stephen Gowans

May 29, 2021

US president Joe Biden has ordered a “hunt for new intelligence to determine whether the Chinese government covered up an accidental leak” [1] at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a laboratory in Wuhan, the city in which the novel coronavirus was first identified. The lab is a biosafety level 4 (BSL4) facility, the highest level.

Twelve months ago, then secretary of state Mike Pompeo also “asked intelligence agencies to continue looking for any evidence to support” (what the New York Times at the time) called “an unsubstantiated theory that the pandemic might be the result of an accidental lab leak.” Times’ reporters Edward Wong and Ana Swanson added that the intelligence community had told Pompeo that “they most likely will not find proof.” [2]

At the time, some US “officials were wary of President Donald J. Trump’s motives, arguing that his interest in the origins of the pandemic was either to deflect blame from his administration’s handling of it or to punish China.” The Biden administration says that “the central goal of the new intelligence push is to improve preparations for future pandemics.” [3]  

It is widely agreed that the pandemic originated in a zoonotic spillover—the transmission of the novel coronavirus from another species to humans. The spillover may have happened in nature, or it may have happened in a laboratory. A laboratory spillover would involve the accidental infection of a scientist working with live virus.     

Virus hunters have “collected samples from 164,000 animals and humans and claimed to have found ‘almost 1,200 potentially zoonotic viruses, among them 160 novel coronaviruses, including multiple SARS- and MERS-like coronaviruses.’”  These potential pandemic pathogens are “studied and circulated in laboratories worldwide.” [4]

In 2012, there were at least 42 facilities engaged in researching live potential pandemic pathogens, including 30 labs that were working with live SARS virus. [5]

Writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, Lynn Klotz, Senior Science Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, warned in 2019 that “Incidents causing potential exposures to pathogens occur frequently in the high security laboratories often known by their acronyms, BSL3 (Biosafety Level 3) and BSL4. Lab incidents that lead to undetected or unreported laboratory-acquired infections can lead to the release of a disease into the community outside the lab; lab workers with such infections will leave work carrying the pathogen with them. If the agent involved were a potential pandemic pathogen, such a community release could lead to a worldwide pandemic with many fatalities.” [6]

Nicholson Baker, a prolific writer of both fiction and non-fiction, wrote a long article in New York Magazine in January exploring the lab-leak hypothesis. Baker wrote that “In 2015, the Department of Defense discovered that workers at a germ-warfare testing center in Utah had mistakenly sent close to 200 shipments of live anthrax to laboratories throughout the United States and also to Australia, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and several other countries over the past 12 years. In 2019, laboratories at Fort Detrick — where ‘defensive’ research involves the creation of potential pathogens to defend against — were shut down for several months by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for ‘breaches of containment’.” They reopened in December 2019.” [7]  

According to the New York Times, safety concerns “led the government to shut down research involving dangerous microbes like the Ebola virus” at the military lab in the summer of 2019. The newspaper noted that “Missteps have occurred at other government laboratories, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health.” [8]

Research was also suspended at Fort Detrick in 2009 over bio-safety concerns. [9]

China has demanded an independent inquiry of the Fort Detrick laboratories as the possible source of the novel coronavirus, [10] a demand the US news media have ridiculed, arguing there is “not a shred of evidence to support” a leak at the lab. [11]

But, as lapses at Fort Detrick demonstrate, laboratory accidents do happen, “even in high containment settings.” [12]

According to the scientific journal, Nature Reviews Microbiology, “More than twice a week in US laboratories, there is a ‘possible release event’ or a ‘possible loss event’, even if we look only at select agents — some of the most dangerous pathogens. For every 1,000 lab-years of work in BSL-3 laboratories in the United States with select agents, there are at least 2 accidental infections. This level of safety may be acceptable if the risk is to the laboratory workers only, as it is with most pathogens that are not readily transmissible. However, the same probability of an accident that could spark a global pandemic cannot be called acceptably safe.” [13]

Lynn Klotz, and Edward Sylvester, a professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, ask us to “consider the probability for escape from a single lab in a single year to be 0.003 (i.e., 0.3 percent)…[With] 42 labs carrying out live [potential pandemic pathogen] research, this basic 0.3 percent probability translates to an 80 percent likelihood of escape from at least one of the 42 labs every 12.8 years.” Klotz and Sylvester argue the “level of risk is clearly unacceptable.” [14]

By 2012, SARS had “escaped from laboratories three times.” [15] A “researcher at the National Institute of Virology in Beijing” was infected, and “passed it on to others, including her mother, who died from the infection.” [16] If SARS could escape three times from a laboratory, could SARS-2 have escaped one or more times?

Whether it did or didn’t, lab leaks do happen, and questions need to be raised about whether the risks involved in working with potential pandemic pathogens in the laboratory are acceptable. Many scientists, including  Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, believe the consequences of a potential pandemic pathogen leaking from a lab are too great to accept the risk, no matter how small.  He compares lab work with pathogens that could spark a pandemic to “looking for a gas leak with a lighted match.” [17]

Clearly, the possibility that there was a leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology cannot be ruled out, any more than leaks at Fort Detrick or the dozens of other laboratories around the world that are looking for gas leaks with lighted matches can be ruled out.

And there is a surface plausibility to the Wuhan lab leak claim. As the New York Times reported, “The coronavirus first came to light in the city of Wuhan, home to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where researchers study dozens of strains of coronaviruses collected in caves in southern China.” [18]  

What’s more, according to intelligence shared with Washington by an ally, “three workers in the Wuhan virological laboratory were hospitalized with serious flulike symptoms in the autumn of 2019. [19]

However, there are also plausible alternative explanations. We don’t know whether the novel coronavirus originated in Wuhan. We only know that Wuhan is where a new form of SARS was first identified. The virus may have originated elsewhere, and the first cases misdiagnosed as pneumonia or flu, and later brought to Wuhan.

As to the lab workers who are alleged to have fallen ill in the autumn of 2019, the New York Times reported that US “intelligence officials do not know whether the lab workers contracted Covid-19 or some other disease, like a bad flu. If they did have the coronavirus, the intelligence may suggest that they could have become sick from the lab, but it also could simply mean that the virus was circulating in Wuhan” earlier than currently believed. [20]

And while the lab employees were hospitalized it “isn’t unusual for people in China to go straight to the hospital when they fall sick, either because they get better care there or lack access to a general practitioner. Covid-19 and the flu, while very different illnesses, share some of the same symptoms, such as fever, aches and a cough.[21]

The fact of the matter is that although a lab leak is possible, including one at the Wuhan lab, there is no evidence that one happened.

“Most of the broader intelligence community, including the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency, believe there is not yet sufficient information to draw a conclusion, even with low confidence, about the origins,” according to the New York Times. [22]

“British intelligence services” likewise “are skeptical of the lab leak theory.” [23]

Also, evidence exists that is inconsistent with the hypothesis that the novel coronavirus spilled out of the Wuhan lab.  Virologist Robert Garry “observed that Chinese scientists would have to have collected SARS-CoV-2 and then grown it in a colony of cells, but somehow never publish any details of it even as they published reports on other coronaviruses for years. ‘It makes no sense to me’,” he said. [24]  

Biden says that unlike Trump, he is asking the intelligence community to investigate the possibility of a lab leak in Wuhan in order to “improve preparations for future pandemics,” not to discredit China. [25]  But his claim is implausible.

To show this, consider the following sets of questions. Only one of them is directly relevant to the question of how to reduce the risk of future pandemics.

  • Are the risks of a lab accident acceptable given the possible consequences? If not, can the risks be reduced to acceptable levels by enhancing laboratory safeguards? Or, is it the case, that the consequences of a leak could be so catastrophic, that taking any risk is foolhardy?
  • Did SARS-CoV-2 leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology?

If we’re genuinely interested in reducing the chances of future pandemics, we ought to answer the first set of questions. The second question is irrelevant.

Even if a lab leak didn’t happen at the Wuhan lab, the question of whether the risks of a leak from any lab are acceptable still stands. Should we be looking for gas leaks with a lit match?

And if a leak did happen in Wuhan, the first set of question still remains.

Here are two objectives. Which of these most closely match the questions above?

  • How can we reduce the chance of a future pandemic?
  • How can we blacken China’s reputation?

If Biden were genuinely interested in learning how to prevent a future pandemic he would be exploring how to prevent zoonotic spillovers, both in nature, and in the lab. On the other hand, if he’s interested in tarring the reputation of a country he has labelled a competitor, as his predecessor was, he is proceeding along the right path. Unfortunately, that path has nothing to do with protecting humanity from future pandemics.

1 Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger, “U.S. Is Said to Have Unexamined Intelligence to Pore Over on Virus Origins,” The New York Times,  May 27, 2021

2  Edward Wong and Ana Swanson, “Some Trump Officials Take Harder Actions on China During Pandemic,” The New York Times, May 1, 2020

3 Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger, “U.S. Is Said to Have Unexamined Intelligence to Pore Over on Virus Origins,” The New York Times, May 27, 2021

4 Nicholson Baker, “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis,”  New York, January 4, 2020

5 Lynn C. Klotz, Edward J. Sylvester, “The unacceptable risks of a man-made pandemic,” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,  August 7, 2012

6 Lynn Klotz , “Human error in high-biocontainment labs: a likely pandemic threat,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 25, 2019

7 Nicholson Baker, “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis,”  New York, January 4, 2020

8 Denise Grady, “Deadly Germ Research Is Shut Down at Army Lab Over Safety Concerns,” The New York Times, August 5, 2019

9 Denise Grady, “Deadly Germ Research Is Shut Down at Army Lab Over Safety Concerns,” The New York Times, August 5, 2019

10 “Time to probe Fort Detrick biolab despite US hype: Global Times editorial, “Global Times, May 26, 2021

11 Steven Lee Myers, “China Spins Tale That the U.S. Army Started the Coronavirus Epidemic,” The New York Times, March 13, 2020

12 Gain-of-function experiments: time for a real debate, Nature Reviews Microbiology volume 13, pages 58–64 (2015)

13 Gain-of-function experiments: time for a real debate, Nature Reviews Microbiology volume 13, pages 58–64 (2015)

14 Lynn C. Klotz, Edward J. Sylvester, “The unacceptable risks of a man-made pandemic,” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,  August 7, 2012

15 Lynn C. Klotz, Edward J. Sylvester, “The unacceptable risks of a man-made pandemic,” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists,  August 7, 2012

16 Carl Zimmer, James Gorman and Benjamin Mueller, “Scientists Don’t Want to Ignore the ‘Lab Leak’ Theory, Despite No New Evidence,” The New York Times,  May 27, 2021

17 Nicholson Baker, “The Lab-Leak Hypothesis,”  New York, January 4, 2020

18 Carl ZimmerJames Gorman and Benjamin Mueller, “Scientists Don’t Want to Ignore the ‘Lab Leak’ Theory, Despite No New Evidence,” The New York Times,  May 27, 2021

19  Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger, “U.S. Is Said to Have Unexamined Intelligence to Pore Over on Virus Origins,” The New York Times, May 27, 2021

20 Michael D. Shear, Julian E. Barnes, Carl Zimmer and Benjamin Mueller, “Biden Orders Intelligence Inquiry Into Origins of Virus,” The New York Times,  May 26, 2021

21 Michael R. Gordon, Warren P. Strobel and Drew Hinshaw, “Intelligence on Sick Staff at Wuhan Lab Fuels Debate on Covid-19 Origin,” The Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2021

22 Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger, “U.S. Is Said to Have Unexamined Intelligence to Pore Over on Virus Origins,” The New York Times, May 27, 2021

23 Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger, “U.S. Is Said to Have Unexamined Intelligence to Pore Over on Virus Origins,” The New York Times, May 27, 2021

24 Carl ZimmerJames Gorman and Benjamin Mueller, “Scientists Don’t Want to Ignore the ‘Lab Leak’ Theory, Despite No New Evidence,” The New York Times,  May 27, 2021

25 Julian E. Barnes and David E. Sanger, “U.S. Is Said to Have Unexamined Intelligence to Pore Over on Virus Origins,” The New York Times, May 27, 2021

Talking about Israel on Coming From Left Field podcast

Conversations with Greg Godels and Pat Cummings.

11-“Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East” with guest Stephen Gowans – YouTube

I talk with Greg and Pat on their podcast Coming From Left Field about Israel, a US beachhead in the Middle East.

Pat Cummings grew up with middle-class privilege in a close and happy Irish-American military family. He came of age in the Vietnam era, beginning his activism in the antiwar movement. He spent his life in public education, where he saw first-hand the systemic inequalities that elevated some but suppressed many.

Greg Godels grew up in a working-class family and in a working-class neighborhood. His family’s strong labor ties lead him to anti-racist and anti-capitalist activism and to Marxism-Leninism. He identifies with the legacy of Communism in the US. His writings have appeared in a number of publications in the US and internationally.

Do Communist-Led States Protect Public Health Better Than Capitalism?

By Stephen Gowans

May 5, 2021

Had all capitalist countries managed the Covid-19 pandemic as effectively as the Communist-led countries of China, Cuba, and Vietnam, nearly 147 million people would have been spared illness and over three million lives would have been saved, according to projections based on data from Our World in Data. These projections are based on applying the number of cases and deaths per million for the Communist world to the world as a whole.

Taken together, the Communist countries have limited the spread of the novel coronavirus to 134 cases per million, compared to 24,058 cases per million in the non-Communist world. At the same time, communist countries have held Covid-19 deaths to four per million, while in the capitalist world, the death rate per million has been well over a hundred times greater.

What’s more, according to reports from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, North Korea has likely been as successful as its Communist cohorts in protecting public health in the face of the worldwide coronavirus emergency.

Clearly, compared to the capitalist countries, the Communist-led states have not only done a better job of protecting their citizens from the dangers of Covid-19, they have done a supremely better job.

Continuity

In 1986, sociologist Shirley Ceresto and physician Howard Waitzkin published research in the American Journal of Public Health comparing the performance of Communist-led states and capitalist countries on physical quality of life indicators, including six public health measures: infant mortality, child death rate, life expectancy, population per physician, population per nurse, and daily per capita calorie intake. Using World Bank data, the researchers found that when comparing Communist-led countries with capitalist states at the same level of economic development, the Communist countries came out ahead on all six public health measures.

Waitzkin told The Los Angeles Times that he believed the Communist-led countries fared better because they considered health care to be a basic human right. Ceresto added: “The first thing a country does when it becomes socialist is improve the health care and education and feed the people.” This, she said, “is their goal: To feed their people and get them health care and education.”

In 1992, sociologist and political scientist Vincente Navarro published in The International Journal of Health Services a continent by continent survey of the performance of socialist and capitalist countries in their response to the health needs of their populations. Navarro concluded that socialism and socialist forces [had], for the most part, been better able than capitalism and capitalist forces to improve health conditions.”  

Among other comparisons, Navarro contrasted China with India, showing how life expectancy in the Communist country lagged India’s by seven years when Mao’s forces came to power in 1949. A quarter of a century later, life expectancy had increased by 35 years and was 12 years greater than in India, where life expectancy had increased only 17 years. Today, China continues to lead India in life expectancy at birth.

Navarro concluded that “the socialist experience … has been more frequently than not more efficient in responding to human needs than the capitalist experience.”

Communist Countries Today

As was true in the 1980s, today’s Communist-led states outperform capitalist countries on various measures of public welfare, including life expectancy, hospital beds per thousand, extreme poverty, as well as scoring higher on the human development index, a composite measure of income, life expectancy, and education.

Table 1 shows that average life expectancy is five years greater in Communist countries than capitalist states (77 vs. 72). The lead is even greater in Cuba and Vietnam (seven years), comparing these countries with capitalist states at the same level of economic development.

Table 2 shows that Communist-led states have close to twice as many hospital beds per 1,000 people as capitalist countries, with Cuba having over three times more beds per 1,000 people than capitalist countries at the same level of economic development.

Table 3 shows that the percentage of the population living in extreme poverty is lower in the Communist-led states (for which data are available, namely, China and Vietnam) than in the capitalist world as a whole, or in capitalist countries with a similar GDP per capita.

The idea that extreme poverty is greater in the capitalist than Communist world challenges the myth, industriously cultivated in the rich countries, that capitalism means wealth and development while the Communist countries are uniquely poor. While it is true that some capitalist regions are very wealthy, specifically, those with an imperialist past and present (North America, Western Europe, and Japan), they comprise only a small part of the world’s population, about ten percent. The Communist countries comprise a further one fifth. That leaves the bulk of humanity—seven of every ten people in the world—living within less developed parts of the capitalist sphere. The capitalist norm, then, is not one of wealth and development, but of poverty and underdevelopment.

Capitalism has two faces. One is the face of great wealth. The other is the face of poverty, agony of toil, brutality, and foreign domination. For most human beings, capitalism has showed, and continues to show, only one of its faces: that of poverty, misery, and imperialism. It is from, and against, this sphere that the Communist countries have emerged.

Table 4 shows that the Communist countries have a higher level of human development (the index ranges from 0 to 1, with 1 as the highest level) compared to the capitalist world. The Communist advantage is particularly evident in the cases of Cuba and Vietnam, where human development in these countries exceeds that of capitalist states with roughly the same income per capita.

Managing the Covid-19 Pandemic

Given that the data indicate that Communist-led countries are more responsive to the human and health needs of their populations, we might expect that the Communist-led countries have also been more effective in protecting their populations from the Covid-19 pandemic. The next two tables confirm this expectation.

Table 5 shows the number of infections per million has been considerably lower in the three Communist-led states than in the capitalist world.

Similarly, Table 6 shows that the Communist countries have significantly outperformed capitalist states in limiting the number of Covid-19 deaths per million.

Note that the difference between the Communist and capitalist worlds is not trivial. The infection and fatality rates in the capitalist countries have been, respectively, 180 and 127 times greater than in the Communist states.

Capitalist Exceptions

Some capitalist states have performed better than others. Unique among the capitalist countries in pandemic management are Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, which have not only achieved infection and mortality rates well below the capitalist average, but have done better than Cuba, as Table 7 shows.

However, while the performance of these capitalist countries has been very good relative to their capitalist peers, as Table 8 reveals, it has nevertheless been less effective than that of the Communist-led states as a group.

The achievement of the capitalist quartet in limiting infections and deaths challenges the belief that infection control is only possible in Communist-led countries and is not possible in liberal parliamentary states. Moreover, all four countries had a low rate of vaccination as of the end of April, refuting the notion, widely promoted in the Western news media, that vaccines are the sole route to managing the pandemic.

Had all countries performed as well as these four, 121 million people would have been spared illness and 2.6 million lives would have been saved. While these numbers represent a substantial improvement over how the world has performed, they are nevertheless not as substantial as the gains that would have been garnered had all countries performed as effectively as the Communist-led states.

The Confucius Hypothesis

Some analysts have attributed China’s stellar pandemic performance to the country’s Confucian culture rather than its Communist politics, pointing out that other countries with strong Confucian influences, namely Japan and Korea, have also stood out in the degree to which they have effectively managed the virus. These analysts argue that Confucian values of duty, obedience, and social solidarity, have predisposed the populations of the Confucian-influenced countries to more fully comply with government directives on infection control than is true in countries in which individual liberties are valued over the collective needs of the community. 

While there may be some merit to this argument, it is still the case that within the Confucian trio, China has performed the best, and significantly better than its capitalist counterparts, as illustrated in Table 9. This suggests that China’s nature as a Communist-led country has conferred an advantage in pandemic control greater than whatever advantage it has reaped from Confucian values.

China vs. India

It is illuminating to compare China to India, a fellow Asian behemoth which differs from China in having rejected a development path under the red flag of Communism. On all seven human welfare and health indices in Table 10, India lags China, including on the number of physicians per 1,000 people; hospital beds per 1,000 people; ICU beds per capita; and health spending as a percentage of GDP.

Coincident with its poorer performance in meeting the health needs of its population, India has also failed to effectively manage the coronavirus pandemic, severely underperforming its Asian neighbor. To be fair, India’s GDP per capita is less than half that of China’s. However, the gulf between China and India in satisfying their respective population’s health needs is so great that even correcting for the income difference would fail to eliminate the gap between the two countries. On grounds of human development and health, if one had to choose between the two countries as a place of residence, Communist-led China is clearly the better choice.    

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asian countries have also performed better than the average at curbing the spread of the coronavirus and limiting deaths, though not better than the Confucian trio. Within the Southeast Asian group, Vietnam’s performance is unparalleled. Again, inasmuch as Vietnam and China belong to regions with superior pandemic performance, regional factors have likely contributed to their successes in limiting infections and deaths. However, within both groups, the performance of the Communist-led countries has been ne plus ultra, pointing to their politico-economic orientation as an additional factor explaining their superior pandemic control.

Caribbean and Central American Region

The Caribbean and Central American region has performed less effectively than the rest of the world in checking the spread of the coronavirus and limiting fatalities. While Cuba does not lead the region, as its Communist-led cohort countries do theirs, it has performed much better than the regional average and more effectively than the average of all other countries. Moreover, at 0.58 percent, Cuba is second only to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in case fatality rate, compared to 1.99 percent for the other regions, and 4.64 percent for the Caribbean and Central American region as a whole. Cuba’s low case fatality rate likely reflects the Communist state’s strong emphasis on universal access to a health care system which boasts among the highest number of physicians and hospital beds per capita in the world. Table 2 showed that Cuba not only leads capitalist countries at the same level of development in hospital beds per 1,000 people, but leads capitalist countries in the aggregate.

Table 13 shows health spending as a percentage of GDP among Caribbean and Central American countries. Cuba allocates more resources to health as a percentage of GDP than any other country in the region, demonstrating the Communist-led country’s strong commitment to meeting the health needs of its citizens.

North Korea

Publicly available data for North Korea is scarce if not altogether absent, but there are indications that the DPRK’s performance in checking the spread of the novel coronavirus is consistent with what one would expect of a Communist-led country with strong Confucian influences. Some news reports in Western mainstream news media refer to Pyongyang implementing vigorous measures of pandemic control. For example, The New York Times’ Korea specialist Choe Sang-Hun reported on July 25, 2020 that “North Korea has taken some of the most drastic actions of any country against the virus, and did so sooner than most other nations.” It is clear from the example of China, that countries that have prioritized public health, and have acted quickly and decisively to curb the spread of the coronavirus, have achieved impressive levels of infection control. Additionally, The Wall Street Journal reported on February 26, 2021, that “Alexander Matsegora, Russia’s ambassador to North Korea, said on the embassy’s Facebook page earlier this month that ‘thanks to the most severe bans and restrictions, [North Korea] turned out to be the only country which didn’t get the infection.’”

Given these reports, along with North Korea’s unquestioned ability to manage crises, including the collapse of its foreign markets in the early 1990s, flood- and drought-induced famines in the same decade, and the unremitting threat of US aggression, it seems highly likely that the DPRK has responded to the threat of Covid-19 with a high degree of competence, likely on par with that of its Communist counterparts.

Capitalist Incentives Foster Irrational Public Health Choices

It is instructive to consider that infection control as good as that achieved by the Communist-led countries would have necessitated a departure from capitalist logic in the capitalist countries.  

First, it would have required the temporary closure of a greater percentage of business establishments than most capitalist governments were prepared to tolerate, and for longer periods. Since the shuttering of businesses has deleterious consequences for the profits of business owners, capitalist governments acted to limit business closures in three ways: Shutting down a bare minimum of businesses, allowing many non-essential businesses to continue to operate; re-opening businesses before local infection rates had been brought under control; and failing to require adequate infection control measures for employees in businesses that were allowed to remain open.

Second, to approximate Communist country-performance, capitalist governments would have had to have quickly mobilized substantial public health resources to undertake large-scale screening and robust contact tracing. However, rather than implementing this public solution to a public problem—one which offered no benefit to private investors (except in the UK where contact tracing was handed to a private firm which immediately botched the job)—the leading capitalist governments chose to subsidize major businesses to compensate owners for their pandemic losses and to invest untold billions of dollars in vaccine development or pre-payment of vaccine doses or both, creating a pandemic bonanza for the biopharmaceutical industry and its major shareholders. This is not to say that investing in vaccines was unnecessary or undesirable, but that the timing was driven by capitalist incentives rather than public health rationality.

The leading capitalist countries declined to address the worldwide public health emergency by mobilizing resources for “shoe-leather” epidemiology to bring the pandemic quickly to heel, with the consequence that the emergency worsened. The worsening emergency was then used to justify the roll out of vaccines under emergency use authorization before they had been adequately safety-tested in fully completed Phase III trials.

The winners in this scenario have been the investors whose business interests have been protected from the effects of pandemic disruptions by government subsidies, as well as those wealthy enough to reap the benefits of substantial investments in the biopharmaceutical industry. The losers are the 150 million people who became ill or died unnecessarily and could have been protected from the ravages of the pandemic had their capitalist governments chosen to prioritize the health of the public over the health of their business communities’ bottom lines. Business that were able to remain open to satisfy the demand for goods that shuttered businesses would have provided, Amazon, for example, were also winners.

The leading capitalist governments could have mitigated the emergency to manageable levels, equivalent to those achieved by the Communist-led states, and then worked on the development, testing, and dissemination of vaccines. This would have saved millions of lives, and spared countless millions the potential hazard of being inoculated with vaccines which may or may not be harmful over the long term. This approach, however, would have meant spending public funds on “shoe leather” epidemiology, an investment which offered no profit-making opportunities of consequence to the business class favored by capitalist states. Plus, it would have required the closing of a large proportion of businesses for a month or more, attenuating profits—an anathema in capitalist society.

From the perspective of a capitalist logic, the course chosen was far more desirable, even if it meant more illness and more deaths. Limit business closures to a bare minimum to protect profits. Channel resources into subsidies for major businesses hurt by the pandemic. Make vaccines the main plank of the pandemic management strategy. These were the choices made by capitalist governments guided by capitalist logic. Vaccines offered an alternative to business closures and public expenditures on mass screening and contact tracing—an alternative with the promise of vast profits for those wealthy enough to get in on the action in a consequential way. 

The capitalist governments could have made the public health-friendly choices above to mitigate the emergency, prevent sickness, and save lives. They could have, but had they, they wouldn’t have been capitalist governments.

Conclusion

Capitalist society exists to protect and expand the interests of capitalists, not the interests of those who work for them. Capitalism may or may not exist in Communist society, but where it does exist, it is yoked to the people-centered aims of Communism, not the aims of capitalists. In Communist states, capitalists do not have political mastery.  

The degree to which Communist countries have eclipsed capitalist states in protecting their citizens from Covid-19 is substantial, and is evidenced in this: Had all capitalist countries managed the pandemic as effectively as the three Communist-led states, nearly 147 million people would have been spared illness and over three million lives would have been saved.

This conclusion is arrived at in the following way: At the end of April, 2021, approximately 147.8 million people had tested positive for Covid-19. Assuming a world case rate of 134 cases per million, equal to that of the Communist-led countries, the total number of cases in the world would have been 134 x a world population of 7.7 billion x 1/1 million, or approximately one million cases. Hence, 147.8 million less one million, or 146.8 million people worldwide would have avoided the illness. By significantly reducing infections, the pandemic may have been effectively extinguished, and the circulation of the virus sufficiently retarded that it could have been held in check by wide-reaching screening programs and robust contact tracing. This would have provided breathing room for a more deliberate and careful pace of vaccine development, thereby obviating emergency authorization of vaccine use prior to the collection of sufficient safety data.

Communist-led countries limited Covid-19 deaths to four per million. This fatality rate applied to the world as a whole would have produced a little over 27,000 deaths globally, compared to the 3.1 million who have died to date. In nearly a year and a half, a capitalist logic that discouraged temporary business closures, adopted non-pharmaceutical interventions with great reluctance and abandoned the few that were adopted much too early, and by its very nature favored the profit-making opportunities inherent in the pharmaceuticalization of public health, has cost the world over three million lives to date. Many more needless deaths will follow.

The Catastrophes of the Pandemic are the Catastrophes of Capitalism

Make no mistake: Business interests trump public health.

Abstract: For capitalist governments, maintaining conditions conducive to the profit-making interests of business owners and investors is the top priority; public health, only so far as it is necessary to maintain an adequate supply of labor, is not. Understanding this helps explain (i) why many capitalist governments have, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, exhibited a high tolerance for public health catastrophes that could have been averted if only even mild measures had been taken to temporarily subordinate business interests to the public good, and (ii) why countries led by people-centered governments have performed better in protecting public health against the pestilence of COVID-19 than capitalist governments as a whole. This article demonstrates the second point empirically, via an analysis of cross-sectional country-level data bearing on the performance of people-centered vs. capital-centered governments in protecting the health of their citizens in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.  

Stephen Gowans

April 21, 2021

For days, doctors and scientists in Canada’s largest province, Ontario, had offered the government the same advice: close non-essential businesses for a few weeks to avert a looming public health crisis. Coronavirus infections were spreading rapidly in the workplace, in factories, in warehouses, and on construction sites. Workers who were infected on the job, were bringing the virus home to their loved ones. With new cases growing daily at an accelerating rate, hospital beds filling up, a backlog of surgeries growing ever larger, and COVID-19 therapeutics becoming scarce, the public health care system teetered on the edge of an abyss. Strong measures were needed.

The government acted.  It prohibited virtually every activity that could potentially create a super-spreader event—except one, the most significant: employees of non-essential businesses co-mingling at work. This was the engine of the new third wave. And yet the government refused to turn the engine off.

Critical care physicians, ICU nurses, and epidemiologists were bewildered. Why had the government ignored their advice to shutter non-essential businesses? Why was it refusing to implement measures to prevent suffering and save lives?

The director of the committee the government had set up to make science-based recommendations said he was “at a loss” to understand why the “government announced a suite of measures that didn’t account for his group’s advice.” Another panel member said “he was dumbfounded by the government’s rejection of science and common sense.” A third said “she and her colleagues were stunned.”

One critical care physician, interviewed on TV, said that she had been “reflecting on why this happened  and one thing that occurred to me is that the role of government is to protect the citizens.” Why, then, was the government failing to do so?  

Incompetence?

Governments are often accused of ineptitude when they behave in ways that lead to catastrophe. The disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic by the Trump administration in the United States, and the botched response of the Johnson government in the United Kingdom, are often attributed to mismanagement. It’s as if some governments don’t know what they’re doing.

But the only way to know whether a government is incompetent, is to evaluate its actions against its goals. If you say my weight loss plan is a masterpiece of ineptitude because I’ve gained ten pounds, you’re right, assuming my goal is to lose weight. But if my goal is to manage my weight as best I can while gorging on pastries every day, your assessment is off the mark.

The trouble with declaring a government inept is that we may be mistaken about what the government is truly trying to achieve. Too often we make the wrong assumption about the goals that guide a government’s actions.

The critical care physician mentioned above assumed the public health goal of the government was to protect its citizens. And all the advice she offered took this assumption as its starting point. The obvious dissonance between protecting public health as a goal and the government’s failing to do what was necessary to achieve this goal, left her dumbfounded.

One way she could have resolved her puzzlement was to ask whether the government was pursuing a different goal. In fact, at one point she conceded rather tentatively and with much reluctance—as if the thought was too unsettling to contemplate—that maybe the government was more committed to the interests of business owners than to the welfare of the larger community.

As unthinkable as the thought may be, could it be that the true role of government in capitalist society is not to protect its citizens, but to protect what lies at the very heart of capitalism itself: profits? If so, then what seems at first to be government ineptitude, may, to the contrary, be government acting as it ought to act (or must act) within the framework of a capitalist logic.

It would hardly be surprising to discover that the Ontario government has a strong affinity with the business community. Its members are part of that community, and came to power on a platform of catering to its (and their) interests. They promised citizens they would deliver jobs and prosperity in return for allowing businesses to generate handsome profits.

For the head of the government, profits are not only critical, but personal. He is the co-owner of a manufacturing firm—one of the non-essential businesses that scientists advised him to temporarily shutter. Heeding their advice and ‘following the science’ would have had a direct and unwelcome effect on his bank account.

Members of his cabinet are no less married to profits. They include: a former investment banker and insurance company executive; the founder of an advertising business; a corporate/commercial lawyer; a former chamber of commerce president; and a financial analyst, the daughter of a former CEO, prime minister, and member of multiple corporate boards; she is married to an investment banker who is the scion of a wealthy publishing family. One would hardly be going out on a limb to suggest that this group might have a greater preference for keeping the profit spigot open than keeping the polloi—with its lowly factory, warehouse, and construction workers—safe from a pandemic.

It’s also probably safe to assume that the cabinet members are all ambitious people who hope, when their political careers are over, to secure lucrative positions in the C-suites or on the boards of major corporations. They know their ambitions are more likely to be realized if they have acquitted themselves admirably in government as able defenders of the business community against the democratic demands of the public.  Sacrificing profits to public welfare could not possibly recommend them to high-level, munificently remunerated private sector opportunities.

This is not to say that the Ontario government is indifferent to public health, only that public health comes second, and not at all, if one must be sacrificed to the other. The metaphor of sampling delights at a local bakery (protecting profits) while paying some heed to weight-management (protecting public health) illustrates the relationship. Capitalist governments like to say they’re protecting public health, and they are, to a point, but they’re only doing so, so far as they don’t endanger the health of the most important patient—profits.

Who gets harmed by a business-first, public health-second policy? In the case of the Ontario government, not its cabinet. After all, its members have been vaccinated, and have access to private medicine or connections that allow them to get priority access to the public health care system, even one under stress. And while the people who go to work every day in factories, warehouses, and construction sites will, along with their families, bear the brunt of the escalating crisis, what does it matter from the perspective of the business community and their representatives in government? In a capitalist system, factory, warehouse, and construction workers exist for one purpose: to promote shareholder value. Those who the virus ushers along the path from workplace to sick bed to cemetery, to no longer serve their useful function as means to shareholder ends, are easily replaced. The business-friendly fiscal, monetary, and immigration policies of the Ontario government’s federal counterpart have seen to that; they have underwritten a reserve army of potential replacement employees, ready to rapidly fill whatever void the virus creates.

From this perspective, the decision of the government to ignore its science panel’s advice to close non-essential businesses makes perfect sense. Seeing the logic in the decision requires that we ask: Government for who? Policy for who? Democracy for who? If the pandemic policies of the Trump and Johnson governments were disasters, who were they disasters for? They may have been catastrophic for the bulk of US and British citizens, but were they disasters for major investors and shareholders?

In a multitude of ways the interests of private profit-making enterprises, and those of the public, are antithetical. Businesses have an interest in paying their employees as little as possible, and employees have an interest in resisting their exploitation, and eliminating it altogether. The public has an interest in clean air and water, and polluters have an interest in shifting the costs of remediating pollution to the public. Employers have an interest in making their employees work under unsafe conditions if it means healthier bottom lines, and employees have an interest in safeguarding their health.

 In competitions that pit investors and shareholders against employees and consumers, businesses often come out on top. Their ownership and control of the economy equip them with the resources and leverage they need to ensure their policy preferences are transformed into policy directives—not always, but most of the time. They do so by ensuring their representatives are elected to public office, by funding think tanks to propagate their policy preferences, and by lobbying governments to adopt policies that are congenial to corporate aspirations. 

Moreover, the business community sets the ideological tenor of the times. It influences public opinion through its ownership of the mass media and influences the academic agenda by endowing university chairs and funding research programs. As a result, a pro-business ideology is instilled in politicians long before they arrive in government.

In an analysis of over 1,700 public policy issues, political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page concluded that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial impacts on government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” [1]

In other words, the demos, the ordinary people referred to in the word ‘democracy’, have virtually no influence on public policy, while wealthy business people and their lobbies and representatives in government, who constitute only a tiny fraction of the population, have substantial sway. G7 countries, and many others in the world, are not democracies, but plutocracies, countries ruled by the wealthy. And the public health policy of a plutocracy is one which, not always, but for the most part, addresses the concerns, interests and aspirations of the country’s financial and business center, not Main Street.

If government policy makes no sense within the logic of public welfare, but makes perfect sense within the logic of capitalism, the reason why is plain; it’s not incompetence that leads governments to stumble into public health catastrophes; it is capitalist logic that produces public health catastrophes as a by-product of the pursuit of capitalist interests.

A publicly-owned and publicly-directed economy is preferable to one predicated on a capitalist logic, for three reasons.

#1. A public system is specifically designed to redress the capitalist shortcomings and inequities that affect the lives of the majority.  

#2. Democracy. Capitalism, by definition, is a system for privileging capitalists, an infinitesimally tiny elite, at public expense. In contrast, a public system—which is accountable to the public at large rather than a small minority of private business owners—is democratic, by definition.

#3. People matter more in a public system. This can be seen in the superior pandemic performance of countries that have moved, to varying degrees, toward the ideal of public-ownership and planning of their economies, namely, Cuba, North Korea (DPRK), China (PRC), and Vietnam—countries led by what I’ve called Communist, or people-centered, governments. While none of these countries has achieved the ideal, they are the furthest along the path. 

In the graph below, I’ve shown per capita fatality rates for four Communist countries, as well as for major capitalist powers. I’ve also included capitalist countries and jurisdictions in East Asia and Oceania which have performed well in pandemic management. Since a country’s ability to manage a public health crisis ought to vary proportionally with income, I’ve juxtaposed fatality data against GDP per capita.

The graph shows that countries with higher incomes (Italy, France, the UK, and the USA) have performed poorly in protecting the health of their citizens, while the four Communist countries have performed well, despite having considerably lower incomes and therefore fewer resources for pestilence-management. The graph also shows that with the exception of Cuba, the best performers have been the East Asian and Oceanic countries, both capital- and people-centered.

The graph below shows that the three East Asian Communist countries have performed better than South Korea (ROK), Japan, and Australia, but only as well as Taiwan and New Zealand. However, the region’s people-centered  countries have achieved comparable levels of pandemic management despite lower per capita incomes than their capitalist regional counterparts.

The final graph compares the four people-centered countries with the capitalist world as a whole. Clearly, the East Asian and Oceanic capital-centered countries are anomalies, and the performance of the capitalist countries as a category has been significantly worse than that of the Communist countries in protecting their citizens from COVID-19.

Moreover, the superior public health performance of the people-centered countries has been achieved with significantly fewer resources than are available to capitalist countries, which have higher incomes per capita, and therefore more resources to protect public health if they choose to allocate their resources to this project. This finding suggests that Communist countries are not only more committed to safeguarding the health of their citizens, but do so with greater efficiency, since they have achieved better outcomes with fewer resources. This is consistent with the well-established finding that public systems deliver better public health outcomes at lower cost than private systems.

The graph also demonstrates that the idea that the public health role of government is to protect its citizens, while valid in connection with people-centered countries, is invalid as a description of capital-centered countries as a whole. Clearly, in the capitalist world, business interests trump public health.

Together, the graphs also show that public health disasters and recurring waves of infection are not inevitable outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic, and that it is possible to provide a high level of public health protection against the dangers of COVID-19, even with limited resources. Given that the people-centered governments have performed admirably without wide-spread vaccination roll-outs, it can also be concluded that vaccination is not the sole route to public health protection in the face of a novel virus. It is widely believed in the leading capitalist countries that vaccines are the offramp from the pandemic, but the data  presented here suggest that it was capitalist logic that steered most countries onto the pandemic freeway in the first instance—a freeway on which the Communist countries have never travelled.

An objection to this analysis is that Communist China and Vietnam are not people-centered but profit-centered, since both have embraced capitalism. While it is true that these countries have flourishing private sectors, it also true that they have substantial and growing public sectors and significant state planning. Moreover, Communist parties remain in charge, and while China and Vietnam may appear, at first glance, to be Communist in name alone, the red flag continues to fly in Beijing and Hanoi. In Bright Red: The Chinese Communist Ideal, [2] French Sinologist Alice Ekman examines the Chinese Communist Party’s internal documents and concludes that China’s true color remains red. China’s orientation toward capitalism compared to that of the United States, in which there is no ambiguity about its capitalist identity, is perhaps best illustrated by the following observation from the Wall Street Journal. “A figure like [Apple’s Tim] Cook commands a great deal of respect, even deference, in Washington. In Beijing, he’s treated like any other business executive—as a supplicant, angling for favors to keep his market hopes alive.” [3] In other words, unlike in capitalist countries, where government is but the means to capitalist ends, in China, capitalists are but the means to Communist ends.

Pandemics are inevitable. Whether they become disasters is contingent on who is prioritized by the underlying logic of a society’s organization. As the data above suggest, it is in capitalist countries, where capitalist logic elevates the interests of a tiny minority of wealthy business-owners above public health interests, that the coronavirus pandemic has become a disaster. In contrast, in Communist countries, where capitalist logic has either been eliminated or subordinated to Communist goals, public health has been protected to a degree far in excess of what is true of capitalist countries as a whole.  Avoiding future pandemic disasters will depend on learning the lessons that the public health catastrophes of COVID-19 have been the catastrophes of capitalism, its successes the successes of people-centered Communism, and that a pandemic of catastrophes need not happen the next time a zoonotic pathogen breaches the species barrier. Whether we, in the capitalist world, meet the next public health crisis as effectively as China, Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea have met the challenge of COVID-19, will depend on the choices we make about whether to transition to a democracy where our common interests are brought to the fore, or whether we continue to accept our subordination to a capitalist logic in which we are only the means to capitalist ends.   

Sources

GDP per capita (PPP), The World Factbook, Central Intelligence Agency.

“Mortality Analyses”. Johns Hopkins University, Coronavirus Resource Center, March 28, 2021. Accessed on 7 March 2014.

Notes

1.Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “Testing theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics, Fall, 2014.

2. English translation of the book’s French title, Rouge Vif: L’Idéal Communiste Chinois.

3. Andrew Browne, “China’s dream is Apple’s nightmare: US tech firms cave for Beijing’s rules,” The Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2017.

DPRK. While there are no solid COVID-19 data for North Korea, there are a number of indications that the country’s infection and fatality rates are low. First, we can assume that the factors that have uniquely contributed to the superior performance of East Asian countries in managing the pandemic also apply to the DPRK as a fellow East Asian state. Second, a number of news reports refer to Pyongyang implementing vigorous measures of pandemic control.  For example, the New York Times’ Korea specialist Choe Sang-Hun reported on July 25, 2020 that “North Korea has taken some of the most drastic actions of any country against the virus, and did so sooner than most other nations.” It is clear from the example of China, that countries that have prioritized public health, and have acted quickly and decisively to curb the spread of the coronavirus, have achieved impressive levels of infection control. Additionally, the Wall Street Journal reported on February 26, 2021, that “Alexander Matsegora, Russia’s ambassador to North Korea, said on the embassy’s Facebook page earlier this month that ‘thanks to the most severe bans and restrictions, [North Korea] turned out to be the only country which didn’t get the infection.’”

Given these reports, along with North Korea’s reported commitment to effectively managing the pestilence, and its unquestioned ability to manage other crises, including the collapse of its foreign markets in the early 1990s, flood- and drought-induced famines in the same decade, and the unremitting threat of US aggression, it seems highly likely that the DPRK has responded to the threat of COVID-19 with a high degree of competence. Accordingly, for this analysis, DPRK deaths per 100,000 were set to the minimum for all other countries.

Taiwan. While the analyses include Taiwan, the territory is not recognized here as a separate country, but as a part of China under the control of the government of the Republic of China. Since the ROC offers an example of a capital-centered government in contradistinction to the PRC’s more people-centered approach, its inclusion in the analyses as a separate jurisdiction was warranted.

A Quintessential Eastern Marxist State: A Review of A.B. Abrams’ Immovable Object: North Korea’s 70 Years at War with American Power

By Stephen Gowans

April 3, 2021

On the eve of the First World War, and for a good many years thereafter, the bulk of humanity was in the thrall of a handful of great powers: Britain, France, Russia, and the rising powers of the United States, Japan, and Germany. These self-declared chosen nations and soi-disant models for humanity, enjoyed unexampled prosperity as the product of their ruthless despoliation of nine-tenths of humanity, made possible by their military and industrial supremacy.

In East Asia, the French raped Indochina; the British plundered Borneo, Malaya, Siam, and Hong Kong; Japan held Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria in colonial subjection; the United States colonized the Philippines and Guam; the Netherlands looted Indonesia; the Portuguese enslaved Macau and East Timor; and China, as Sun Yat-sen remarked, was exploited by everyone.

The First World War—the Weltkrieg, or World War, as the Germans called it—marked the beginning of the end of the Columbian period, that era marked by the plunder of the world by Europe and its offshoots beginning with the voyages of Columbus to the Americas at the end of the fifteenth century and continuing through today. The 500-year-plus domination of Asia, Africa, and Latin America by the West has been aptly called “The 500 Year Reich,” an allusion to the identity of the practices used by the Nazis with those of their predecessors and contemporaries, not only by Germany, but also by the other ‘model nations’ as well. These practices comprised the methodology of colonialism. Deployed by Spain, Portugal, Britain, France, the United States, Italy, and Japan outside Europe, they became the paradigm for the Nazis, whose great crime in the eyes of their rivals was that, as Sven Lindqvist put it, they did in the heart of Europe what had theretofore only been done in the hearts of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Racism, genocide, dispossession, and colonial subjugation outside of the metropole were acceptable in the capitals of Western Europe and North America, deemed necessary and inevitable, even extolled, but became great iniquities only when the Nazis inflicted them upon Europe.

Today, nearly half of the world’s wealth is controlled by the 10 percent the population that makes up the G7 countries, while the other half is shared by the remaining nine-tenths. The chasm dividing the East from the West has considerably narrowed with the Communist Party-orchestrated rise of China, a phenomenon ultimately traceable to what Domenico Losurdo argued was the signal event of the Weltkrieg.

The World War of 1914-1918 was many things, but among these it was “a war between two groups of the imperialist bourgeoisie for the division of the world, for the division of the booty, and for the plunder and strangulation of small and weak nations,” as Lenin put it. Lenin called for unity among the workers of the “model” nations, to emancipate, not only their labor from its exploitation by the bourgeoisie, but also to liberate their bodies from the war of industrial extermination the bourgeoisie had visited upon them. At the same time, the Bolshevik leader called for unity between the workers of the West and the oppressed peoples of India, China, Korea, Indochina, and elsewhere, against their common oppressor, the metropolitan bourgeoisie.  Broadening the compass of Marxism, the Bolsheviks extended Marx’s and Engel’s 1848 battle cry “Workers of the world unite!” to “Workers of the world and oppressed peoples, unite!”

This widening orientation, along with the Bolsheviks’ success in using the state and patriotism to mobilize the Russian population against the intervention of the “model nations” in Russia’s Civil War of 1919–21, inspired revolutionary nationalists like Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, and Kim Il Sung, inaugurating a movement to end the 500-year Reich.

The World War, and the Bolshevik Revolution that sprang from its womb, had generally positive effects in the East. The toll of the war weakened the grip of the exploiting nations upon the peoples they exploited, while the Bolshevik example precipitated the anti-colonial revolution in the East. An Eastern Marxism developed, responsive to the needs of colonial peoples to overcome their dependency and achieve political and economic sovereignty.  Revolutionary nationalists would make good use of patriotism, the state, and industry to achieve political sovereignty and economic independence, as well as to protect dearly bought gains from the unceasing efforts of the imperialist Leviathans to reverse them.

By contrast, the Weltkrieg was a catastrophe in the West, and Western Marxism developed to reflect the experience of the war in Europe. Whereas the revolutionary nationalists of the East harnessed patriotism to the project of national liberation, Marxists in the West eschewed national devotion as a bourgeois subterfuge used to divide the proletariat along national lines. In the East, Marxists saw violence as a means of liberation and the military as an instrument for defending national revolutionary gains. In the West, the horrors of the war envenomed Marxists to violence and the military. Marxists of the Orient viewed the state as the means to organize economic development and as an instrument of repression to be ruthlessly deployed in the defense of revolutionary nationalist gains. Marxists of the Occident viewed the state with suspicion, an engine of class oppression, that had been used against them.

Each form of Marxism represented a set of proposed solutions to the problems of emancipation present at a specific time and place. In the East, the germane question concerned how people under colonial and semi-colonial domination could achieve political and economic sovereignty and safeguard their achievements once gained. In the West, the relevant question revolved around how to win political power to liberate industry from the control of shareholders and financiers and vest it in the hands of the proletariat.

Whether intentional or not, A.B. Abrams’ Immovable Object: North Korea’s 70 Years at War with American Power, examines the relationship between North Korea and the West from an Eastern Marxist perspective. Without using the idiom, Abrams presents the DPRK as a quintessential Eastern Marxist state. Korean patriotism, strong central authority, military preparedness, self-reliance, and the development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles are identified as sources of North Korea’s resilience in the face of Washington’s 73-year project to bring about “the end of North Korea”, as John Bolton once described Washington’s policy aim. These practices are presented as the bases for the DPRK’s success in achieving the revolutionary nationalist goals that lie at the center of the Eastern Marxist project.

Abrams’ history of the DPRK-US relationship begins with the arrival of US forces in Korea in 1945, after Koreans had declared a Korean People’s Republic, with which the US military government immediately went to war. Abrams devotes considerable attention to the Korean War, known as the Great Fatherland Liberation War in North Korea (memorializing the success of the combined Korean and Chinese forces in evicting the US invaders from territory administered by the DPRK), and the War to Resist America and Aid Korea, in China. Nearly half of the tome, weighing in at 675 pages, covers events since 1990, and a substantial part deals with recent events.  

Abrams’ history is not archival; he uncovers no new facts. Instead, it is perspectival, offering a fresh take on what the archives have already revealed—or, what seems like a fresh take to those, like myself, who are familiar with an historiography that is congenial to the Western Marxist perspective. To illustrate, Abrams makes an observation and poses a question that, at best, are quickly passed over in Western  accounts, if broached at all, but within the framework of Eastern Marxism, are critical. The observation is this: Of small countries that have liberated themselves from the iron-grip of colonialism, only North Korea, a country of a mere 24 million, has survived the aggressions of US imperialism, stood unbowed before relentless military pressure, withstood the burdens of sanctions, and developed its military strength to a high degree sufficient to take a US war on the East Asian state off the table. To be sure, in the realm of post-colonial resistance to US imperialism, Cuban resilience also stands out, but unlike the DPRK, Havana cannot stay the hand of US military aggression with a retaliatory strike capability.

Indeed, there is a lengthy list of states that have succumbed to US efforts to reverse the tide of national liberation. Egypt betrayed the Arab nationalist cause; the Soviet Union surrendered; Ba’athist Iraq was outmaneuvered; Gaddafi fell prey to the West’s blandishments and left his country defenseless; Ba’athist Syria has been partitioned among the United States, the Turks, the Israelis, Al Qaeda, and Kurd separatists; Iran’s economy is squeezed by a US blockade; and Venezuela is bedeviled by the twin demons of low oil prices and US sanctions. “Yugoslavia, Haiti, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Syria and others were all much softer targets,” writes Abrams.

“The KPA [Korean People’s Army] boasted the most sophisticated defense industry, densest air defense network, best trained soldiers, hardest fortifications, and largest submarine force and special forces of these states. Of America’s potential targets, Korean air, artillery, tank and ballistic missile forces were second only to those of China.”

North Korea’s borders are secure; it has a manufacturing economy that produces many of its own goods; it makes its own tanks, artillery, and submarines (including those capable of launching ballistic missiles), manufacturers MiG-29s domestically under license, and produces some of the world’s most advanced missiles. Pyongyang exports military gear to Cuba, Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah, and has provided special forces training to its allies. Its pilots flew missions on behalf of Arab nationalist forces in the 1967 Six Day War, the 1973 October War, and against US forces in the Vietnam War.  Far from being a failed state and the impoverished, bizarre,  laughing-stock of US propaganda, North Korea, in point of fact, is the most accomplished of the small post-colonial states. This gives rise to the central question that lies at the heart of Abrams’ book. How has Pyongyang managed to pull off this extraordinary feat?

“The successes of North Korea’s defense sector in developing high end missile technologies, and having done so in such a short time, with a very limited budget, totally contradicted predominant Western perceptions of the state as corrupt, inept, and backward. …[How] could the failed ‘Kim Regime’ have developed such technologies?”

In 1950, the DPRK fielded an army of soldiers equipped with rifles against a nuclear-armed military whose brutality knew few limits. In a footnote, Abrams observes: “It is estimated that the number of civilians killed by the IDF [Israeli military] in more than 70 years of frequent wars [is] less than the US-led coalition killed in an average week of war in Korea.” 

Since the US  war of mass extermination against the DPRK—at a minimum, 20 percent of the country’s population was killed by US and allied marauders from 1950 to 1953—the United States has continued to do everything in its power to enfeeble North Korea. It has deployed battlefield nuclear weapons to the peninsula; threatened the DPRK repeatedly with nuclear annihilation; and imposed the world’s longest lasting, and by now, most comprehensive, sanctions regime. Despite facing Himalayan obstacles, North Korea has advanced both economically and militarily. Its economy is stronger than ever, and it has replaced rifles with nuclear-tipped ICBMs as its principal means of self-defense. This represents a radical break from the Columbian era, when Europe and its offshoots felt free to wage war on the peoples it sought to conquer, knowing their victims were incapable of retaliating. No more will the DPRK face a nuclear-armed United States with rifles alone.

In Abrams’ view, the DPRK’s successful test launch in 2017 of an ICBM capable of striking the US mainland…

“represented the first time a medium or small state was able to effectively deter a superpower at such a peer level without need for support from a nuclear umbrella of a superpower sponsor of its own. In this respect North Korea’s achievement in 2017 was historically unprecedented, and was referred to by Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Commander of the US Strategic Command John Kyten as having ‘changed the entire structure of the world.’”

This radical change, construed as ominous by Kyten, is assessed as a welcome development by Abrams—one which heralds peace and stability in East Asia.

“Considering the rationales widely expressed for American military action against the DPRK [and] the apparent willingness [of the United States] to bring death and destruction to supposedly allied Northeastern Asian states [in pursuit of the US foreign policy goal of bringing about the debellation of the DPRK] there is a strong argument that North Korea’s development of a viable nuclear deterrent with an intercontinental range is strongly in the interests not just of its own population—but of peace and stability in the entire region. Had the US and its Western allies been free to initiate a war, South Korea and Japan would have been devastated alongside North Korea and very likely parts of China and Russia, as well. By constraining America’s ability to start a war in East Asia through introduction of mutual vulnerability, North Korea’s deterrence program has ensured that extra-regional actors cannot initiate a regional war by ensuring that they too could be targeted should hostilities break out.”

What accounts for North Korea’s success?  Abrams traces the DPRK’s achievements to:

“The Korean nationalist state’s rooting in both Korean history and culture, its ‘culture of resistance’ built on the potent historical memory of subjugation, and its firm commitment to the centrally organized party system…These often overlooked factors do much to explain its unique ability to sustain a conflict under immense pressure for so long.”

Immovable Object argues that Washington’s hostility to North Korea originates, not in the East Asian state’s  proliferation activities, alleged human rights abuses, or mislabelled ‘provocations’ (North Korea doesn’t initiate provocations, but it does respond to them), but in Pyongyang’s embodiment of the fundamental values of the UN Charter—values which contradict Washington’s arrogation of world “leadership” (read dictatorship).

“North Korea’s existence is considered unacceptable [to Washington] because it refuses to submit to the imposition of Western leadership and become part of the Western-led order. For Pyongyang, the Western position is considered unacceptable because it is contrary to states’ right to self-defense as contravening international law and the UN Charter. The Western Bloc are so often referred to as ‘the imperialists’ in Korean rhetoric because they seek to impose their values, their ideologies, their economic and political systems and above all their soldiers and governance—whether direct or indirect—on the Korean people.”

In Abrams’ view, the mutual hostility of the United States and DPRK springs from a conflict between their antithetical Weltanschauungs. This isn’t…

“…a clash of capitalist and socialist ideologies, but rather of nations’ perceptions of the nature of international relations, world order and states’ rights to self-determination. The DPRK, like other East Asian states which won their independence in the aftermath of the Second World War, expressed a strong belief in global and regional orders comprised of nation states equal in their rights to their sovereignty, including self-defense and self-determination and prohibiting forced external interference into their domestic affairs. This is the same order enshrined in the United Nations Charter.”

While I agree to a point, I would argue that Washington is not opposed to Pyongyang’s embodying the UN Charter simply because it doesn’t like the UN Charter,  but that it dislikes the UN Charter for legitimizing the right of countries to pursue their own economic development outside of a system that privileges Wall Street’s interests.  This view is summarized in the words of Norman Bethune, a Canadian whose life anticipated that of Che Guevara: physician, communist, internationalist, martyr. Bethune died while serving with the Eight Route Army in China. He wrote: “Money, like an insatiable Moloch, demands its interest, its return, and will stop at nothing, not even the murder of millions, to satisfy its greed. Behind the army stands the militarists. Behind the militarists stands finance capital.” To which can be added: Behind finance capital stands a contempt for the UN Charter and any country that, exercising its Charter-defined right to independent economic development, denies the insatiable Wall Street Moloch its interest.   

Abrams’ compares South Korea’s Westernized society, with its strong US cultural influences, to North Korea’s non-Westernized society, with its strong indigenous influences.

“[South] Korean society [values] US education ties more than any others—with the majority of professors at leading universities holding degrees from the US … Similar trends can be observed among the country’s political elite. From 1948-1968 much of the [South] Korean leadership boasted higher education in Japan, which, as the previous imperial power occupying Korea, had heavily influenced the Korean elite through education. This Japanese influence would gradually recede to be replaced by an American one, and from 1968 to 2001 71% of ministers in the ROK held degrees from the United States. This fosters not only positive views towards and close ties with the new hegemon, as it was intended to do towards Japan beforehand, but also ensures American thought will continue to have a major influence over scholarship and political discourse in the country.”

The contrast with North Korea is sharp.

“North Korea lacks the colonial-era foundations for Western soft influence and an idealization of the West common to many countries formerly under American or European rule. North Koreans were never second class citizens in their own country, which combined with a lack of Western soft influence and strongly nationalist ‘Korea-first’ identity, perpetuated through media and education, means its population are not moved to remake themselves in the image of or to idolize the West—esthetically or otherwise. The extent of Western influence in South Korea and other Asian client states, and the depths to which it has permeated, shows the alternative fate for the Korean population to that of resistance under the DPRK—namely life under a system which attributes the greatest value not to one’s own nation, culture and thought, but instead under one which is heavily influenced by and idolizes the Western hegemon.”

One important aspect of Abrams’ book is its delineation of North Korea’s foreign relations and the vital support it provides to other small- and medium-sized states that are on a congeneric path of development independent of US domination and control. This is a neglected area. In Western propaganda, North Korea is portrayed as a ‘hermit kingdom’, hermetically sealed and separated by choice from the family of nations. While it is undoubtedly a US aim to isolate North Korea, and block its commerce with other countries, the aim is not reality. Readers might be surprised to discover that the DPRK has long been engaged in aiding the struggles of other peoples to free themselves  from the 500-year Reich. I will highlight two: Syria and Hezbollah, though Abrams also covers DPRK engagements with Vietnam, Iran, Libya, and southern Africa.   

“Of all America’s adversaries,” notes Abrams, “it is the Syrian Arab Republic which has relied most heavily on North Korean support in the face of Western and allied military and economic pressure.” From 1980 to 2010 the KPA “bolstered Syria’s defenses with a permanent stationing of forces including pilots, tank operators, missile technicians, and officers who trained much of the country’s military.” North Korean engineers “developed a specialized class of missile specifically for Syria’s defense needs, known as the Scud-ER,” and the East Asian state furnished Damascus with nuclear technologies to construct a reactor based on the DPRK’s Yongbyon plutonium reactor. The Syrian reactor was destroyed by Israel in 2007.

“Without continued Korean assistance Syria’s deterrent capabilities likely would have eroded into obsolescence in the post-Soviet era,” writes Abrams, “leaving the state highly vulnerable. Korean actions thus served to severely constrain Western and allied freedom of military action against a leading regional adversary.”

The resurgence of the Islamist war on the secular Arab nationalist state in 2011 led to stepped up North Korean aid.

“Notably, in 2015, the Korean People’s Army reportedly set up a command and control logistic assistance center to support the Syrian war effort, with Korean officers deployed to multiple fronts, including the frontlines of engagement against jihadist forces in Aleppo. A number of Western sources have meanwhile claimed regarding the KPA role on a second front in 2013: ‘Arab-speaking North Korean military advisors were integral to the operational planning of the surprise attack and artillery campaign during the battle for Qusair. According [to one report] KPA pilots were operating Syrian aircraft against jihadist forces. Considering the significant shortages of trained pilots Syria has endured since the mid-1990s, this report has some plausibility. Other reports … indicate that North Korea dispatched two special forces units … to Syria to engage jihadist forces, and that these units proved ‘fatally’ dangerous on the battlefield.”

Notably, Syria established a park in 2015 to honor the founder of the North Korean state, Kim Il Sung. The park is adjacent to a street in Damascus named after the Korean leader.

The DPRK’s military aid to Hezbollah has also been extensive. Abrams notes that “much of Hezbollah’s central leadership, including current Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, Security and Intelligence chief Ibrahim Akil and head of counter-espionage operations Mustapha Badreddine, were trained” in North Korea.

Hezbollah’s military wing is “effectively a smaller reproduction of the Korean People’s Army.”

“Some indications of the extent of defense cooperation between the two parties were highlighted in the aftermath of the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah War—a conflict in which the militia’s means of waging war indicated strong Korean influence. Israeli experts described Hezbollah’s war effort as ‘a defensive guerilla force organized along North Korean lines,’ concluding ‘all the underground facilities [Hezbollah’s], including arms dumps, food stocks, dispensaries for the wounded, were put in place primarily in 2003-2004 under the supervision of North Korean instructors.’ Other intelligence sources indicated that the Korean People’s Army had a military presence on the ground, concluding that Hezbollah was ‘believed to be benefiting from assistance provided by North Korean advisors.’ A further decisive factor was Hezbollah’s high degree of discipline and effective command and control…These factors were reportedly strongly focused on by the KPA when training Hezbollah’s special forces and officer corps.”

Abrams’ attributes Hezbollah’s success in defeating the Israeli military in 2006—the first time Israel had been vanquished in war—to the assistance it received from Pyongyang.

“Had Hezbollah lacked the tunnel networks, intelligence network, high level training, or missile assets provided by the DPRK, it is highly likely that it would have faced a swift and outright defeat in the summer of 2006 as the Israeli government had initially predicted. The tunnel and bunker network in particular, alongside the communications network and fortified armouries, were all reportedly built by Korean Mining Development Trading Corporation.”

Abrams’ chapter on North Korean ideology is particularly valuable for Westerners, for whom North Korean thinking may seem to be opaque, and may to Marxists appear to be un-Marxist. The renowned Korean scholar Bruce Cumings was once asked: “How many liberal democrats are there in North Korea?”  He replied: “As many as there are followers of Confucius in the United States.” Many Westerners fail to understand the DPRK because they view it from the lens of Western culture and fail to grasp the unique set of circumstances that created the Korean experience.

Abrams’ writes:

“From its formation North Korea’s ideology has been influenced by and has assimilated parts of the country’s traditional culture, Confucianism in particular, in a way that few if any other ideologies have in communist states. Premier Kim Il Sung’s reformism Juche speech in December 28, 1955, which outlined the country’s future ideological position … notably stressed the need to draw inspiration from national culture, history and traditions... While no mention was made of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao or even Stalin, the Korean leader warned against the ‘negation of Korean’ history with ‘foreign ideas,’ emphasizing above all else the importance of a Korean national identity. While the Stalinist economic model, which had rapidly industrialized the Soviet Union, would be largely adopted, this would be interpreted and applied in a way that was compatible with Korea’s own culture. As the Korean leader envisioned, the ‘essence’ and ‘principles’ of communist ideology would be ‘creatively applied’ in line with the needs of the Korean nation—the former would bend to the latter rather than vice-versa. He thus strongly criticized ‘dogmatism and formalism’ in ideological work and advised: ‘There can be no set principle that we must follow the Soviet fashion. Some advocate the Soviet way and others the Chinese but is it not high time to work out our own?’”

The coincidence of North Korea’s ‘Stalinist’ economic model with the ability of the country’s economy to weather the fierce storms of US hostility, raises two questions: Can the same model be exported to other countries to produce the same success? What could North Korea achieve without the unceasing efforts of the United States to bring about its destruction? While Abrams doesn’t address these questions, elsewhere he has written:

"If the country were free to trade and export its goods, capitalizing on advantages including a weak currency and a highly educated and skilled workforce and established technological and industrial bases, annual growth rates several times higher and likely significantly over 10% would be expected.”

 Syria’s ambassador to North Korea in 2017, Tammam Sulaiman, intoned, “I visited many other countries. I look at this country I see that … they do miracles here, really. This country, after the sanctions and with the skills that they have, they are making miracles.” Pausing he asked, “What if they were not under sanctions? They would do even more.”

According to one view, communism is the politics of liberation. Indeed, communists have always been involved in, if not in the van of, the world’s greatest emancipatory struggles. “The socialist revolution is by no means a single battle,” Lenin wrote in his essay “The Revolutionary Proletariat and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination.” Instead, it is “a whole series of battles around all problems of economic and democratic reforms” including “equal rights for women” and—importantly from the perspective of people trying to free themselves from colonial subjugation— “self-determination.” Socialism “would remain an idle phrase,” Lenin insisted, “if it were not linked up with a revolutionary approach to all the questions of democracy, including the national question,” by which he meant the right of peoples, including Koreans, to exercise sovereignty over their own affairs, rather than being dominated by imperialist masters.  Lenin envisaged what he termed “a truly democratic, truly internationalist” order, in which each nation is free to set its own course, and freely join with other states in relationships of mutual benefit. That, significantly, is the vision of the DPRK.

If Eastern Marxism is the use of patriotism, the military, and state-directed economic development to achieve and defend emancipatory goals, then the DPRK is, in practice, a quintessentially Eastern Marxist state. It is, moreover, a successful one, whose emulation by similar states in similar circumstances inspired by similar goals could significantly advance the world’s struggle to achieve a complete victory over the 500-year-plus Reich. 

Immovable Object is published by Clarity Press.

Stephen Gowans is the author of Patriots, Traitors, and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom, and Washington’s Long War on Syria, both published by Baraka Books.

The watchdogs of imperialism and the Uyghur genocide slander

March 2, 2021

By Stephen Gowans

On February 26 the Canadian Parliament passed a motion, by a vote of 226 to 0, expressing the opinion that “the People’s Republic of China has” implemented “measures intended to prevent” Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim births and that these measures are “consistent with” the United Nations Genocide Convention.

The reality is that Beijing is not preventing Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim births, and a report by a German anthropologist widely cited as evidence that it is, contradicts this claim. That report, by Adrian Zenz, a fellow at a US government-created foundation whose mission is to bring about the end of communism and the Chinese Communist Party,  reveals that while Chinese family planning policy restricts the number of children Chinese couples are allowed to have, it does not prevent couples in any group, including Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, from bearing children. Moreover, limits on family size are the same between the Han Chinese ethnic majority and religious minorities. There is, therefore, no discrimination in Chinese family planning policy on the basis of national, religious, or ethnic affiliation.

Perhaps aware their position was untenable, the parliamentarians sought to buttress their motion by citing political opinion in the United States, where “it has been the position of two consecutive administrations that Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims are being subjected to a genocide by the Government of the People’s Republic of China,” the motion observed. In an act of unseemly subservience to imperial power, Canada’s parliament constructed a motion, based on no evidence, to echo a point of view articulated in Washington, also based on no evidence.

Significantly, the last two consecutive administrations have designated China a rival, and therefore have politically-motivated reasons for slandering their challenger. Moreover, apart from using the hyper-aggressive US military to extort economic and strategic concessions from other countries, US administrations have a long record of fabrication to justify their aggressive actions. That “two consecutive administrations” have held that the Chinese are carrying out a genocide is evidence of nothing more than Washington continuing to operate in its accustomed fashion of churning out lies about states that refuse to be integrated into the US economic, military and political orbit. A Serb-orchestrated genocide against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo; hidden weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; moderate rebels in Syria: these are only the tip of the iceberg of US lies and calumnies offered as pretexts for imperial aggression. Genocide in Xinjiang is but the latest.

Below, I look at the genocide slander from four perspectives:

  1. The geostrategic context.
  2. Who is behind the accusation?
  3. How do the accusers define genocide?
  4. What is the evidence?

The geostrategic context

In 2003, Graham E. Fuller, a former vice-chair of the US National Intelligence Estimate and one-time CIA station chief in Kabul, wrote a book for the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Study at the Johns Hopkins University, titled The Xinjiang Problem. His co-author was the academic  S. Frederick Starr.

Fuller and Starr wrote that:

the historical record suggests that the decision of countries and even of international organizations to raise specific human rights issues is often politicized and highly selective. Many countries will devote attention to human rights issues in China in inverse proportion to the quality of their overall bilateral relationship.

It need not be said that today, 18 years later, the quality of overall bilateral relations between the United States and China has deteriorated sharply. China has emerged as a formidable competitor to US economic and technological supremacy, and US policy has shifted, beginning with the Obama administration, toward an explicit program of eclipsing China’s rise.

In recent days, US president Joe Biden has said “American leadership must meet … the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States.” The Wall Street Journal reports that Biden’s “goal is to stay ahead of China in semiconductors, artificial intelligence and other advances that are expected to define the economy and military of the future.” However, the US president, according to the newspaper, intends to portray the conflict as one based on “a clash of values: democracy vs. autocracy,” rather than a clash of economic interests.

At the base of a deteriorating Sino-US relationship, then, lies a commercial rivalry, on top of which Washington has layered a narrative about a clash of values. In a Foreign Affairs article written before he became president, Biden outlined a strategy of confronting China over the economic challenges it poses to US businesses, US domination of the industries of tomorrow, and US technological (and concomitant military) supremacy. Biden said he would use a human rights narrative to rally support for a US-led campaign against China.

Fuller and Starr continued: “It would be unrealistic,” they wrote, “ to rule out categorically American willingness to play the ‘Uyghur card’ as a means of exerting pressure on China in the event of some future crisis or confrontation.” Many “of China’s rivals have in the past pursued active policies in Xinjiang and exploited the Uyghur issue for their benefit.” Almost two decades later, with US hostility rising as Washington’s claim to primacy on the world stage is under challenge, the United States has decided to play the Uyghur card.

Who is behind the accusations?

A network of groups and individuals, animated by an antagonism to the Chinese Communist Party, and supportive of continued US global supremacy, are involved in originating the slanders against Beijing. At the center is the German anthropologist, Adrian Zenz.

Zenz’s opposition to Beijing lies in his religious beliefs. A fundamentalist Christian, he views communism, feminism and homosexuality, as abominations against God. Zenz also believes that he is on a divinely-inspired mission to bring about the demise of communist rule in China.

Zenz is a senior fellow at the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. The foundation, created by the US government to discredit an ideology which competes against the United States’ first favorite religion, US state-capitalism (Christianity being the second) seeks to free the world “from the false hope of Marxism” and save it from “the tyranny of communism” (the leitmotif of Hitler’s political career.) This it strives to do by educating future generations that “Marxist socialism is the deadliest ideology in history,” (one that, by this view, is fully capable of carrying out a genocide), a task the foundation sees as especially pressing today, when “Positive attitudes toward communism and socialism are at an all-time high in the United States.”

Zenz has also written anti-Beijing reports for the Jamestown Foundation,  an anti-Communist outfit supported by corporations, foundations, and wealthy individuals, whose mission is to shape public opinion against China and North Korea.

The slanderers also include a number of Uyghur exile groups, including the World Uyghur Congress, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy. The NED is a US government-bankrolled organization whose first president conceded that it does overtly what the CIA used to do covertly, namely destabilize foreign governments by strengthening fifth columns. The NED does so under the cover of promoting democracy and human rights.  The organization has boasted on Twitter that it has been funding fifth columnists in Xinjiang since 2004.

Another propagator of anti-Beijing slanders is the Epoch Times, the newspaper of the Falun Gong. Like Zenz, the roots of Falun Gong’s anti-Beijing animus lie in reactionary religious convictions. The cult deplores gender equality, homosexuality, and communism as affronts against God.

How do the accusers define genocide?

Those who accuse Beijing of carrying out a genocide employ a ruse regularly used in the corporate world to dupe consumers and employees. The subterfuge is to redefine a word to mean something other than what the word would be reasonably interpreted to mean.

Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo used this ruse. He accused Beijing of trying to integrate Xinjiang and its Turkic people into the larger Chinese society. While this did not meet the definition of genocide, Pompeo labelled Beijing’s actions as genocide all the same.  According to the magazine Foreign Policy, State Department lawyers told Pompeo that Beijing’s actions in Xinjiang did not satisfy the UN convention’s definition of genocide. Pompeo, who has no respect for the truth, much less the contrary opinions of government lawyers, was undeterred.

The current US secretary of state Anthony Blinken also accused Beijing of genocide. Using the same ruse, Blinken pointed to non-genocidal actions, namely one million Uyghurs in ‘concentration camps’, to make the claim that Beijing was trying to destroy a Muslim minority.  The claim was a double deception. First, there are no Uyghur concentration camps in Xinjiang, and second, even if there were, concentration camps do not equal genocide. Blinken was likely trying to exploit the association of the Holocaust with German death camps to insinuate that concentration camps and genocide go together, like the artic and snow, and that the Chinese government, and its Communist Party, are contemporary expressions of Nazi horror.    

The source of the concentration camp allegation is yet another of Beijing’s political foes, an Islamist media outlet run by Uyghur separatists in Turkey, which serves as a platform for the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, an al-Qaeda affiliated jihadist outfit which seeks to transform Xinjiang into an Islamic State. ETIM is considered a terrorist organization by the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States—or was considered a terrorist organization by the United States until Pompeo removed the group from the US terrorism list in October, thereby eliminating an impediment that had limited the contribution the jihadists could make to the US project of destabilizing Xinjiang, propagating calumnies about the Chinese government, and ultimately undermining China’s ability to compete with US businesses on the world stage.

In July of last year, Zenz wrote a paper for the Jamestown Foundation on Uyghur birthrates, which appears to be the basis for the claim cited by Canadian parliamentarians that China is carrying out a genocide in Xinjiang. Zenz’s report raised the question of genocide only in its final sentence, and then only tentatively. It was, instead, the Jamestown Foundation editor, John Dotson, a former US naval officer and US Congressional staff researcher, who concluded in an introductory note that “Zenz presents a compelling case that the CCP party-state apparatus in Xinjiang is engaged in severe human rights violations that meet the criteria for genocide as defined by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” Zenz, however, concluded only that Chinese policies “might be characterized” as constituting “a demographic campaign of genocide per” the UN convention. To be sure, any policy might be characterized in any particular way one wants, but the ad rem question isn’t, can policy x be characterized as y, but is it y?  Zenz, unlike Dotson, was not prepared to say that Chinese birth control policy constitutes genocide. And there’s a good reason for this; it clearly doesn’t.

Zenz’s paper was a political tract erected on the foundations of a report on Beijing’s family planning policies and their effects on Uyghur and Han birthrates in Xinjiang. What the report showed, notwithstanding Dotson’s politically-motivated misinterpretation, was that:

  • Previously, Han Chinese couples were limited to one child, while Uyghur couples were allowed two in urban areas, and three in rural areas. Family planning restrictions were not rigidly enforced on Uyghur couples.
  • Today, Han Chinese couples are permitted to have as many children as Uyghur couples are permitted (two children in urban areas, and three in rural areas.)
  • Family planning restrictions are now rigidly enforced.
  • The change from lax to rigid enforcement has been accompanied by a decrease in the Uyghur birth rate.

Zenz’s report showed that the Uyghur population continued to grow, despite enforcement of family planning policies; Uyghur couples are not prevented from having children, (they’re only limited in the number of children they can have); and family planning rules apply equally to Han Chinese.

Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, reads as follows:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

  • Killing members of the group;
  • Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  • Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  • Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  • Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

The relevant consideration is the fourth item, namely, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group. Chinese family planning policy does not prevent births within the Uyghur population; it only restricts them, and the restriction is non-discriminatory; it applies equally to all groups.

What is the evidence?

US State Department lawyers told Pompeo there is no evidence of genocide in Xinjiang. As we have seen, that didn’t stop Pompeo–who once boasted that as CIA director “we lied, cheated, and stole“– from making the accusation. He simply changed the definition of genocide, carrying on the US state tradition of fabricating lies to advance its interests.

Bob Rae, Canada’s representative to the UN, accused China of committing genocide, and then said efforts should be made to gather evidence to demonstrate this to be true.

John Ibbitson, a columnist with Canada’s Globe and Mail, conceded that Chinese government actions in Xinjiang do not meet the UN definition of genocide, but that Beijing is carrying out a genocide all the same.

The watchdogs of imperialism

The United States is waging an economic and information war on China, to preserve its economic,  military, and technological supremacy. Washington is recruiting its citizens, its allies and their citizens, and the progressive community, into a campaign to protect the international dictatorship of the United States from the challenge posed by the peaceful rise of China. Every manner of slander has been hurled at China to galvanize popular opposition to Beijing and mobilize popular support for economic aggression and growing military intimidation against the People’s Republic, from accusations that Chinese officials concealed the spread of the coronavirus; to calumnies about Muslims being immured in concentration camps, subjected to forced labor, and targeted for genocide; that Beijing is violating the one state-two systems agreement in Hong Kong (when in fact it’s only implementing a security law to undergird the one state part of the accord) and that Beijing’s efforts to reunify the country by re-integrating a territory the US Seventh Fleet prevented it from reintegrating in 1950, are really acts of aggression against an independent country named Taiwan.

Progressive forces, from Democracy Now!, which has provided Adrian Zenz a platform to traduce Beijing, to the New Democratic and Green parties in Canada, which voted for the motion declaring a genocide is in progress in Xinjiang, collude in the campaign to protect and promote the profits of Western shareholders, investors, and bankers from the challenges posed by China’s rise. Lenin, who knew a thing or two about communism, international rivalries, and the perfidy of progressives, described the predecessors of today’s Democracy Nows, Greens, and New Democrats as the watchdogs of imperialism. His words echo through the corridors of time.

The problematic relationship of Canada’s parliament to the concept of genocide

By Stephen Gowans

February 23, 2021

Sadly, a country that has played a significant role in what David E. Stannard called the American Holocaust, the massive depopulation of aboriginal people from the Americas, has blithely debased genocide by ignoring it where it occurs and condemning where it hasn’t.

In a vote of 266 for, and 0 against, the Canadian House of Commons declared on Monday that Chinese authorities committed atrocities in Xinjiang that contravene the United Nations’ Genocide Convention.

Canada’s parliamentarians made this declaration on the basis of dubious evidence, sourced to an ideologically-inspired researcher who opposes communism and openly seeks the demise of the Chinese Communist Party.  

The allegation is politically contrived, not legally defensible.

On the eve of the vote, the magazine Foreign Policy reported that “The U.S. State Department’s Office of the Legal Advisor” had concluded that “there was insufficient evidence to prove genocide.”

Even John Ibbitson, a right-wing columnist with the Globe and Mail, a Canadian newspaper which has led the charge against China, conceded that the case that Beijing has breached the United Nations genocide convention had not been made. (That didn’t stop him, however, from insisting that China had committed genocide notwithstanding.)

The genocide allegation, the fantasy of German anthropologist Adrian Zenz, which was aped by Canada’s parliament, is “ridiculous to the point of being insulting to those who lost relatives in the Holocaust”, intoned Lyle Goldstein, a China specialist and Research Professor in the Strategic and Operational Research Department of the Naval War College, quoted by The Grayzone.

The Grayzone’s Gareth Porter and Max Blumenthal showed that the genocide charge—first made by former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in the dying days of the Trump administration—rests on dubious analyses carried about by Zenz.

Zenz has argued that the evidence for a Beijing-orchestrated genocide lies in the decline in the birth rate of Xinjiang’s Uyghur population. While it is true that rate at which the Uyghur population is growing has slowed, slower growth does not mean no growth, or contraction. Indeed, the Uyghur population continues to grow. Growth has slowed because Beijing is enforcing measures to limit population growth in the form of a two child per couple limit (three in rural areas) which apply equally to Uyghurs, and the Han Chinese ethnic majority, alike. Previously, the policy was not rigidly enforced in Xinjiang. Today it is, with the consequence that the Uyghur population is growing, but not as rapidly as it once was. Zenz has seized on the change in birth rate as evidence of genocide. While the UN Convention would define the prevention of births with the intention of destroying the Uyghurs as genocide, Uyghurs aren’t prevented from having children. On the contrary, with a limit of two children per couple and three in rural areas–the same limit that applies to the Han majority–Uyghurs are hardly being subjected to a discriminatory policy of birth control or a demographic genocide.

The German researcher is a senior fellow with the US-government-founded Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which works toward the destruction of the Chinese Communist Party.

As for Pompeo—who did much to publicize Zenz’s nonsense–he once boasted that under his leadership the CIA “lied, cheated, and stole.”  

It is no secret that the United States, and its ductile and craven subordinate Canada, regard China as an economic and ideological rival. Ever since the People’s Republic of China began to challenge US economic and technological primacy, departing from its Wall Street-desired role as low-wage manufactury for US corporations and market for advanced Western goods and services, the United States has pursued a campaign of information warfare to discredit Beijing and blacken China’s reputation.

Joe Biden endorsed this approach nearly a year ago in an article he wrote for Foreign Affairs.

“The most effective way to meet” the “challenge” of China getting “a leg up on dominating the technologies and industries of the future,” the future president wrote, is “to build a united front of US allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations.”

If Biden had said that Chinese human rights violations in their own right merited a campaign to confront Beijing, the sincerity of his entreaty might, for a brief moment, have appeared to possess a jot of credibility. But Washington has shown itself to have an endless tolerance for human rights abuses, as long as they serve US corporate and strategic interests. And he didn’t say that China ought to be confronted over actual human rights abuses; he said that confronting China over human rights (presumably real or imagined) is an effective way to deal with China as an economic rival.

China’s economic rivalry is matched by its systemic rivalry. Where the Chinese government has overcome the Covid-19 pandemic, set its economy once again on a growth trajectory, and lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty (a project that continues unabated), governments in North America have proved themselves incapable of meeting the health, human welfare, and economic challenges of Covid-19. While Chinese citizens look to the future with optimism, their living standards ever improving,  North Americans look to the future with pessimism, plagued by governments that fail to deliver, growing inequality, declining economic opportunity for all but the wealthiest, and incomes that, at best, stagnate.

As the former US diplomat Chas Freeman recently pointed out,

This year, China will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its ruling Communist Party.  Chinese associate the Party with the astonishingly rapid transformation of their country from a poor and beleaguered nation to a relatively well off and strong one.  Most Chinese  … are optimistic that the enormous progress they have experienced in their lifetimes will continue.  China’s decisive handling of the pandemic has bolstered its citizens faith in its system.  Morale is high.  China is focused on the future.

By contrast,

….the United States entered this year in an unprecedented state of domestic disarray and demoralization.  A plurality of Americans disputes the legitimacy of the newly installed Biden administration. Despite a booming stock market supported by cheap money and chronic deficit spending, we are in an economic depression.

If a government fails to delivers for its citizens while its rival succeeds, what better way to divert attention from its failure and recover its credibility than to create a dark legend to vilify its successful rival and a golden legend to celebrate itself?  Certain players in the United States and Canada—Biden, Pompeo, the Canadian parliament, and the mass news media—have chosen to follow this course, and are doing so by carelessly echoing accusations of genocide made by an anti-Communist fanatic with an ideological ax to grind. The practice debases the very concept of genocide. Sadly, it is hardly new.

From my window, I can see Canada’s National Holocaust Monument. A short distance away is the site of the as-yet-completed Memorial to the Victims of Communism. Canada commemorates the genocide of the Jews (carried out in another land by another people) but does not commemorate the Canadian Holocaust, carried out on its own territory by its own people. At the same time, it commemorates the Nazis, fascists, and their supporters, who perpetrated the Holocaust Canadians profess to abhor. The ‘victims’ the memorial honors, were, after all, the very same people the communists jailed and executed.

Canada has no monument to the Canadian Holocaust. While it is prepared to ensure “the lessons of the [Nazi] Holocaust … remain within the national consciousness for generations to come,” it makes no such commitment to ensuring the lessons of the Canadian holocaust remain in the national consciousness, much less enter it.

As for The Holocaust, with a capital H, the Canadian government defines that genocide as “the mass extermination of over six million Jews and countless other victims.”

Who are these countless other victims?

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which defines the Holocaust as ‘the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jewish men, women, and children by the Nazi regime and its collaborators,” has the answer. Helpfully, the Museum enumerates its victims. Unhelpfully, it lists the victims in a way that obfuscates who the primary victims were.

The Museum claims there were nearly 12.5 million non-Jewish Slavs (comprising Soviet civilians, Soviet prisoners of war, and Poles) who were victims of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution, as against the usually cited six million Jews. The Museum breaks out the Slav groups separately, so that individually, neither group preponderates Jewish victims, and in listing the victims this way, the reality that the principal victim category was Slavs, not Jews, is obscured. Richard C. Lukas made a brave attempt to correct this oversight in his 1986 book Forgotten Holocaust.

The conclusion, then, is that while both Canada and the United States commemorate the genocide of the Jews, they have anonymized the more numerous Slav victims, and have largely made them invisible—consonant with the refusal of both countries to commemorate the much larger holocaust against American Indians perpetrated on their own territories.

The elevation of Jews to the status as principal–and in the pedestrian understanding, the sole—victims of the Nazi genocide, did not happen by accident. It is the outcome of a political agenda—one of legitimizing the Zionist settler colonial project in Palestine; sheltering it from criticism; and allowing Zionists to conceal the true motivations for their settler colonialism and aggression on behalf of US foreign policy behind a pretext of Holocaust-prevention. The entire project of Zionism in West Asia, sponsored and bankrolled by the US state, is to promote US corporate, and particularly energy, interests, contra indigenous movements for national independence and sovereignty, rationalizing every action taken on behalf of this project as necessary to prevent another Holocaust.

Likewise, the fabrication of a black legend about a Chinese holocaust in Xinjiang has a political purpose: to discredit an economic and systemic rival.

The holocaust against the Slavs; the Germans’ earlier holocaust against the Nama and Herero people of southwestern Africa; and countless other holocausts perpetrated by colonial powers against defenseless peoples, are marginalized and never memorialized for the simple reason that they were modelled, sometimes explicitly, on the American and Canadian Holocausts. Genocide, as Mahmood Mamdani has pointed out, is an act of nation building, and European settlers in North America provided the template.

Nazi Germany deliberately sought to exterminate the Slavs of Eastern Europe, a territory its leaders saw as equivalent to the North American West. Just as Europeans committed a genocide against the American Indians and stole their land, Germans, following the American model, would exterminate the Slavs and steal their land. It was on this very same territory that the majority of the world’s Jews lived, and were victimized—along with their non-Jewish Slav neighbors—by Germans inspired by the US and Canadian conquest of the North American West.

David Olusoga and Casper W. Erichsen recounted in their 2010 book, The Kaiser’s Holocaust, that “Hitler told his entourage that the peoples of the East were to suffer the same fate as the ‘Red Indians.’ They were to be exterminated and then simply forgotten. ‘We also eat Canadian wheat’, [Hitler] reminded his audience, ‘and don’t think about the Indians.’”

Beijing has had to contend with jihadist violence in Xinjiang, just as other governments have found it necessary to deal with violent jihadism on their own or other territories. The approach of the United States and Canada to violence inspired by political Islam has been war, military occupation, assassinations, torture, arbitrary detention, massive electronic surveillance of their own populations, and Islamophobia.

Beijing, by contrast, has followed an approach based on job training, economic development, and deradicalization. Part of the reason US and Canadian governments have called for boycotts against goods produced in Xinjiang is to stymy Beijing’s efforts to mitigate the problem of violent Jihadism through economic development.

That China is relying on uplift and deradicalization to conciliate its jihadists, rather than aping the US approach of assassination, torture, and secret prisons, explains why “the Organization of Islamic Cooperation — a group of 57 nations that has been a vocal defender of the Rohingyas and Palestinians” has “praised China for ‘providing care to its Muslim citizens.’” Similarly, in July, 2019, “a host of Muslim-majority nations, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Syria and the United Arab Emirates”, signed “a letter to the United Nations Human Rights Council praising China’s governance of Xinjiang.”

If the US response has been decidedly violent, the response of governments with significant Muslim populations has been similar to that of China. Egypt and the Gulf states detain jihadists and Islamist radicals and enrol them in ‘deradicalization’ programs.  It is the similarity in approach to China, according to The Wall Street Journal, that accounts for why Muslim-majority countries have not censured China for its response to Islamist violence. On the contrary, they have praised Beijing for its treatment of China’s Muslim population.

The careless hurling of genocide charges, in the context of a commercial rivalry between a US-led West and China, stamps the practitioners of this regrettable act as chauvinists, prepared to stoop to any depth to give “their” bourgeoisie a leg up in a competition with an international rival. That the so-called progressive wing of Canada’s parliament, the New Democratic Party and Green Party, voted en masse for the anti-Chinese motion, is a stain on their record, but only one of many, and hardly surprising. Progressives have made a habit, dating back to World War One, of backing “their” bourgeoisie, even to the point of siding with their own ruling class in the industrial slaughter of their class cohorts. The infamy continues.

Rather than taking up the jingo’s cry against an emerging China by endorsing a politically-inspired confection concocted by Adrian Zenz, an anti-Communist fanatic who believes a supreme being has inspired him with a mission to destroy the Chinese Communist Party, Canada’s parliamentarians ought to address a genocide that really did happen—the one perpetrated on their own territory, which they continue to ignore.