“It’s a Miracle We’ve Survived This Far”

Mental Midgets/Musqonocihte

By Trace Hentz

Blue Hand Books (2018)

Book Review

This exquisite little book is actually two books in one – both thoughtful compilations of original poems, prose snapshots, memes, photos and “creative nonfiction,” all beautifully laid out on the page.

Mental Midgets contains a moving tribute to Native American musician, poet, philosopher and activities John Trudell, who died in 2015.

General themes covered in both books are colonization, the survival and resistance of indigenous people and the attitude of hopeful resistance all of us need to survive the barbarity and insanity of advanced industrial capitalism.

There are also thought-provoking quotations from fellow dissidents Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Lev Tolstoy, Chris Hedges, Kurt Vonnegot and Neil Young.

It’s the type of book I envision re-reading repeatedly over coming months and years.

Hidden History: The Abolitionists who Led the European Colonization of Africa

Slavery Trade Routes – Part 3 Slavery’s New Frontiers

Al Jazeera (2018)

Film Review

The final episode in the series begins with the revolution in Saint-Domingue (modern day Haiti) that would signal the beginning of the end for the slave trade. Led by Tousaint L’Ouverture, in 1791 the entire slave population of Saint Domingue (90% of residents) revolted again their plantation owners. It would be Napoleon’s first military defeat.

Although the British Navy succeeded in shutting down much of the slave trade in 1815, they couldn’t stem the flow of slaves to feed the prison-style industrial coffee plantations in Brazil. An additional 2 million Africans were deported to Brazil between 1815 and 1850. At present, Brazil has the second largest population of Africans in the world (with Nigeria at number one).

Although the trafficking of slaves to the US stopped in 1815, the American slave population continued to grow – in part due to the routine rape of female slaves by their white masters.

US Last Country to Abolish Slavery

In 1825, after achieving independence, all former Spanish colonies abolished slavery. French, English and Dutch colonies would gradually follow suit. The US formally abolished slavery in 1865 during the Civil War. In reality slavery continued in southern states with Jim Crow laws that denied Blacks the right to vote, freedom of movement and the right to self-defense. In addition, laws providing for the arrest of unemployed blacks for vagrancy resulted in a de facto involuntary servitude.

European Colonization of Africa

For me, the most interesting part of the film concerns the direct link between the abolition of slavery and the intensive European colonization of Africa. The military adventurers who conquered Africa were all “abolitionists.” Officially the purpose of their missions to Africa were to end the slave trade. In reality, they were deeply committed white supremacists who cut deals with Arab slave traders and local chieftains to put poor African peasants to work (involuntarily) on their African coffee, palm oil, rubber and cotton plantations.

The video can’t be embedded but can be seen free at the following link:

Slavery’s New Frontiers

Colonization: Deciding It’s OK to Steal Someone Else’s Land (and/or Body)

In the following presentation, Native American activist Ward Churchill offers ones of the most fascinating explorations of colonization I have ever encountered.

He maintains that indigenous people have an inherent right both to self-determination and to fulfill their duty to manage land and habitat to guarantee the survival of their descendants for seven generations into the future.

With colonization, colonists dispossess a native population of their land for some alternative use.

He explains the concept of “settler colonialism” – giving the Nazi occupation of Europe as the prime example (along with the Israeli colonization of Palestine, the European colonization of North and South America and the English colonization of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand).

He also introduces the concept of “false colonization,” which occurs when settlers continue to deprive native peoples of  their land and rights despite breaking away from the mother country.

He blames the plight of African Americans on “black colonies,” which he defines as “internal colonial constructions.”

Churchill believes Europeans themselves have been colonized, which he traces back to Charlemagne (737-814 AD), when early European tribal groups (“barbarians”) were dispossessed of their land and right of self-governance in the formation of nation states.

Patriarchy: The Crucial Role of Women’s Unpaid Labor Under Capitalism

Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour

by Maria Mies

Zed Books (2014 edition)

Book Review

In this 1986 classic, Mies challenges Marx’s description of the unpaid labor of women (childrearing, care of the sick and elderly, housekeeping and subsistence agriculture, handicrafts and firewood and water collecting in the Third World) as part of their “natural” function. In doing so, she provides the first comprehensive economic analysis of patriarchy.

While Marx and Engels readily acknowledge that capitalism oppresses women, they overlook the fact it also exploits them via the massive amount of free labor it makes them provide. According to Mies, it’s only this unpaid labor, which Mies refers to as super-exploitation, that makes wage labor exploitation possible.

Super-exploitation of Women and Colonies Finances Capitalist Expansion and War

She compares the super-exploitation of women under patriarchy to the super-exploitation that occurs under colonization. Both are intimately associated with violence, and both increase during the periods of rapid capital accumulation, which are necessary to finance capitalist expansion and war.

Violence and the Sexual Division of Labor

Based on modern anthropological research, Miles also offers a much clearer explanation of how the sexual division of labor arose, as well as its intimate link with violence. Citing numerous studies, she shows how women’s childrearing role made them them responsible for most food production in primitive societies (80% in hunter gatherer societies). Women also developed the first tools – namely baskets and pots for storing grain.

Popular culture places much more emphasis on the tools invented by men – weapons – and their use in hunting. Current anthropological evidence suggests they played a much bigger role in raiding other tribes to kidnap and enslave women (over time men were also enslaved), both for procreation and their food producing capacity.

Witchcraft Trials, Colonization, Mass Enslavement and the Rise of Capitalism

With the rise of capitalism, violence against both women and colonies (to compel their free labor) significantly increased. The pervasive witchcraft trials (and land confiscations) that began in the late 15th century, accompanied by the violent enslavement of New World colonies and Africans, would create the massive capitalist accumulation required for full scale industrial development.

Why Violence Against Women is Increasing

Mies also provides an eloquent analysis – linked to the intensification of capital accumulation – for the global increase in violence against women and Third World colonies over the last four decades. The onset of global recession in the 1970s forced capitalists to shift their labor intensive work to the Third World, where harsh US- and European-backed puppets use violence to suppress wages..

In the First World, simultaneous cuts in public services, have significantly increased demands on women for free labor (especially in the area of childcare and care of the sick and elderly). The simultaneous increase in violence against women (and the psychic trauma it induces) make it all the more difficult for women to organize and resist this super-exploitation.

 

The Movement to Abolish Prisons

Moana Jackson: Why Did Maori Never Have Prisons?

(2017)

At present, New Zealand has the second highest rate of mass incarceration in the world (after the US) – with the majority of inmates identifying as Maori. In the following presentation, Maori constitutional lawyer Moana Jackson makes the case for abolishing prisons. He cites the example of Norway, Finland and other Scandinavian countries, which decided decades ago that prisons were unsustainable and ineffective in reducing crime. In Norway, prisons are being replaced by open “habilitation” centers. In Finland, the number of prisons has been reduced from 100 to 20. The latter have mainly been replaced by mental health treatment centers.

Jackson’s main argument is that prisons are a direct result of colonization – that Maori had no prisons before European settlers arrived.* Prior to colonization, the primary Maori concern when people infringed on each other was the disruption in the net of social relationships. Different tribes set aside special facilities where victims and offenders could stay with their families to repair fractured relationships. In modern terminology, the process is referred to as “restorative justice.”** In New Zealand, we have no juvenile lock-up facilities. Instead offenders and their families meet with victims to make reparations.

Jackson also challenges the racist depiction of Maori as violent, naturally aggressive warriors. This stems from a European need to depict indigenous peoples as racially inferior to justify dispossessing. Stripping Maori of their true identity has traumatized generations of  young Maori men by providing them with a distorted image of who they really are. Peeling away this lie will be essential to abolishing prisons in New Zealand.

I was intrigued to learned that both Norway and Finland consulted with indigenous Sami (who also had no prisons prior to colonization) in devising alternatives to prison.


*Europeans also had no need for prisons prior to the Enclosure Acts that drove our ancestors off the commons. Deprived of access to land, they had no means of supporting themselves and the majority ended up in prisons and workhouses or “transported” by the courts to the US or Australia. See https://stuartjeannebramhall.com/2015/08/04/forgotten-history-the-theft-of-the-commons/

**South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is another famous example of restorative justice.

 

 

Bill Clinton’s War Against Yugoslavia

The US War on Yugoslavia

Michael Parenti (1999)

This talk, one of my favorites, is 1999 talk about about US empire. It offers quite a stark depiction of a US foreign policy consisting primarily of continual wars of aggression against democratic governments that thwart Wall Street Interests in exploiting their natural resources and labor force.

Parenti begins with a brief overview of colonization, starting with Western Europe’s colonization of the Slavic peoples and England’s colonization of Ireland. He goes on to to describe how India and Africa both enjoyed advanced and wealthy (far more wealthy than Europe) civilizations until they were invaded by European armies and their economies destroyed.

He proceeds with a detailed inventory of America’s continual invasions, bombing campaigns and covert wars around the world. The last half of the presentation focuses on the deliberate break-up of Yugoslavia by the US security state, demolishing the myth perpetuated by the Clinton administration and the US media that ethnic conflict was the cause of the Balkan wars.

Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Wall Street elites tolerated a socialist state in Yugoslavia (with free health care, education and public transport and housing) because they viewed Yugoslavian president Josip Tito’s independent socialism as a buffer against the Soviet Union.

The initial US attack against Yugoslavia was economic, when Bush senior, in 1990, persuaded Congress to end lending credits to the Yugoslav government. The legislation they passed stipulated that US banks could only loan money to autonomous Yugoslav regions (Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia, etc) provided they declared independence and formed autonomous republics.

Parenti notes the new law was implemented somewhat unevenly, so that only right wing fascist governments qualified for loans. By 1992, internal sanctions against Serbia had resulted in 70% unemployment, widespread malnutrition and collapse of the health care system.

He goes on to provide fresh insight into the background of Slobodan Milosovic – who Clinton described as the “new Hitler” – an anti-communist banker who was the CIA’s first choice to run Serbia. When Milosovic refused to fully embrace US colonization, he was systematically demonized by the Clinton administration and corporate media. In 2006, he would die in prison in the Hague.* The war crimes he was accused of were never substantiated.

Parenti also details the NATO carpet bombing of Serbia (designed to maximize civilian casualty by targeting life support infrastructure, such as power and water filtration plants), the CIA penetration of the Kosova Liberation Army (enabling them to corner the European heroin market), Noam Chomsky’s support for Clinton’s war against Serbia, and the notorious Sarajevo false flag operation (actually carried out by Muslim extremists) used to justify the NATO war against Serbia.


*There is strong evidence he was covertly assassinated: Did NATO’s Kangaroo Court Poison Milosevic?

The Crusades: Europe’s First Imperialist War of Colonization

The Crusades: An Arab Perspective

Al Jazeera (2016)

Film Review

The Crusades is a fascinating history of a subject that was quite new to me, as Americans rarely study the Crusades in school. Despite the title, the expert commentators represent a balance of French and English historians, as well as Muslim scholars from various Middle Eastern universities. Most of the documentary series consists of historical re-enactment of papal enclaves, battles, sieges, treaty signings and other historical events. The filmmakers use a series of maps to plot the progress of European occupation of Jerusalem and the Levantine* coast, as well the eventual liberation of these territories in the 13th century.

The documentary leaves absolutely no doubt that the Crusades were an imperialist campaign of colonization – and not religious wars, as is commonly claimed. Whenever European crusaders conquered a specific city or region, they indiscriminately slaughtered most of the inhabitants, whether they were Muslims, Jews or fellow Christians. The entire fourth Crusade (1203) was devoted to sacking the greatest Christian city in the world (Constantinople), whose residents were mainly Byzantine Greeks.

Part 4 is my favorite because it focuses on the role of the Crusades and Muslim influence in facilitating the European Renaissance of the 14th-15th centuries. When the Crusades began in 1085, the vast majority of Europeans (99%) were illiterate, whereas Middle East cities enjoyed an advanced flourishing civilization (as did India, China, Africa and North and South America prior to European colonization). When occupying crusaders were finally defeated and forced to return to Europe in 1291, they took with them advanced knowledge of Arab military tactics and agriculture, sugar cultivation, medicine, algebra, glass manufacturing and Greek philosophers ( whose work had been translated and preserved by Muslim scholars.

Part 1 – covers the role of Pope Gregory and Pope Irwin in instigating the disastrous Peoples Crusade and the first Crusade (1086-1099), resulting in the sacking and occupation of Jerusalem (lasting nearly 200 years).

Part 2 – covers the fragmented Muslim resistance to the expansion of European occupation, hindered by both religious (Sunni vs Shia) conflict and tribal rivalries. It’s during this period (1100-1127) the term hashshashin (origin of the English words assassin and hashish) came into usage, owing to the Shia assassins hired to secretly kill Sunni military commanders. Between 1127-1143 a Muslim revival led to the liberation of numerous crusader strongholds, and the launch of a second crusade by Pope Eugene, Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany.

Part 3 – describes the rise of Salah Ad-Din (known in in Europe as Saladin), who unified rival Muslim armies and by 1187 retook all crusader strongholds except Jerusalem. This led to the launch of the third Crusade by Philip II (France), Frederick I (Germany) and Richard the Lion Hearted (England) This was followed by the fourth Crusade, which sacked Constantinople; the failed fifth Crusade (1213); the sixth Crusade in which Frederick II (Germany) retook Jerusalem by treaty and the failed seventh Crusade, led by Louis IX of France (1248). In 1244, Muslim armies retook Jerusalem, which remained under their control until it became part of the British protectorate of Palestine with the defeat of the Ottoman Empire.

Part 4 – in addition to outlining the cultural riches Europe gained from the Crusades, Part 4 also explores how Europe’s medieval colonization of the Middle East laid the groundwork for the eventual European colonization of North Africa and the Middle East (in 1917), with the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 representing a major milestone in this re-colonization.


*Levantine – a term describing a region on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea north of the Arabian Peninsula and south of Turkey, usually including the area of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria.

Witch Burning and Women’s Oppression

 

caliban

Caliban and the Witch

by Silvia Federici

AK Press (2004)

Free PDF download Caliban and the Witch

Book Review

Caliban and the Witch*discusses the critical role witch burning played in the enclosure movement that drove our ancestors from the commons.

Feudalism Characterized by Continuous Rebellion

As Federici ably documents, medieval Europe was characterized by nearly continuous rebellion by serfs against their slave-like conditions. According to Federici, it was only by introducing a reign of terror involving the execution of nearly 200,000 women that the ruling elite succeeding in preventing total insurrection.

In all European countries (both Catholic and Protestant), witch burning was accompanied by legislation expelling women from most occupations and severely restricting their legal and reproductive freedom. The control over women’s reproduction (including a ban on birth control, abortion and all non-procreative sex) was a direct reaction to the population decline caused by famine and plague. Their lower numbers enabled peasants and urban workers to cause an economic crisis by demanding higher pay and improved working conditions.

The True Purpose of the Inquisition

Contrary to what we’re taught in high school and college history classes, the true purpose of the Inquisition was to not to stamp out heresy but to end the continuous peasant revolts. The hundreds of heretical movements (eg the Cathars) the Catholic Church persecuted during the Middle Ages were actually political revolts aimed at creating genuine political and economic democracy. Women figured very prominently in the Cathars and similar heretical religions. In addition to exercising the same rights as men, they also led many food riots and other revolts against enclosure.

Although none of these insurrections succeeded in overthrowing class society, they were extremely effective in winning greater political and economic freedom for both serfs and proletarian workers in the textile industry and other crafts.

The First Worker-Run Democracies

According to Federici’s research, the strength of peasant resistance peaked between 1350 and 1500, due to a severe labor shortage resulting from the Black Death (which wiped out 30-40% of the European population), small pox and high food prices. Highlights of this period include Ghent, which created the first dictatorship of the proletariat in 1378, and Florence, which created the first worker-run democracy in 1379.

The mass refusal of peasants to work under slave-like conditions created a major economic crisis, which the ruling elite addressed through wars of acquisition against other European countries, the colonization of Asia, Africa, America and Oceania and the reimposition of slavery (both in Europe and the Americas).


*Caliban is the subhuman son of the malevolent witch Sycorax in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

A big shout-out to the reader who recommended this book to me. I loved it.

The Sinister Purpose of Western Education

Schooling the World: the White Man’s Last Burden

Directed by Carol Black (2010)

Film Review

Schooling the World, featuring Indian environmental activist Vendana Shiva and Helene Norberg Hodge (producer of Economics of Happiness), is about the colonizing function of western education. The “White Man’s Burden” is a Victorian reference to the schooling of ignorant natives for the purpose of “civilizing” them.

Historically, the primary purpose of western education has been to facilitate the seizure of occupied land by destroying native language and culture. At present, however, its main purpose is to train children to use corporate products in a modern environment and to become compliant workers in a global industrial system. Thanks to western education, “backward” third world children transition from self-sufficient members of local economies to dependent cogs in the global economy.

The documentary gives three examples of this philosophy in practice: the historical outrage of indigenous Americans being kidnapped from their parents (in both Canada and the US) to have their language and culture forcibly stripped from them and modern day Ladakh and India, where rural parents experience intense pressure to send their kids to English schools.

In Ladakh, a Buddhist education teaching children compassion, cooperation and respect for nature has been replaced by an education valuing conformity, regimentation and love for money. Meanwhile many Indian parents sell their homes to pay for western-style education they believe will win their kids positions as doctors or engineers. In the end, the majority end up unemployed, with a lucky few finding entry level work.

Instead of teaching them sustainable living in harmony with nature, Western education teaches children to see themselves as separate from the natural world by locking them up in dark, airless, ugly spaces – and giving them books about nature.

The filmmakers challenge the wisdom of allowing the industrial north to force their educational model on the entire world when it clearly isn’t working for western youth. They refer to statistics showing that 16 million American young people suffer from depression and 1.6 million take psychotropic medication.

They also challenge that “development” (ie colonization) and western education lifts the “developing” world out of poverty. Historical evidence shows clearly that third world misery is a direct result of systematically stripping native inhabitants of their land, local economies, language and culture.

The Origin of Poverty

Poor Us: An Animated of Poverty

Ben Lewis (2012)

Film Review

This documentary divides the history of poverty into six broad areas: pre-civilization, “early civilization” (8000 – 800 BC), Greece and Rome (800 BC – 400 AD), the Middle Ages (400 – 1500), European colonial era (1500 -1850) and industrial civilization (1850 – present). The use of animation is surprisingly effective in painting an overview of the lifestyles typical of these different periods.

Prior to the agricultural revolution that marked the advent of civilization, no one was poor. In a hunter-gatherer society, very little work is required to procure adequate food and water. Leisure time is plentiful. The downside of being a hunter gatherer is that life is very precarious and there’s was no way of planning for sudden climate change and other natural events that periodically wipe out the food supply.

During early civilization, everyone was poor except for rich kings and priests who ran everything. There were repeated famines and the average life expectancy was 35 years.

Greek civilization produced historians and philosophers who, for the first time, tried to identify the causes of poverty. They concluded that poverty was essential to civilization because it induces people to work.

The concept of charity first arose in the early Middle Ages and is a key component of all the world religions, which emerged during this period.

The film maintains that all modern poverty results from plunder and force, mainly at the hands of European colonizers. In the early 1500s, Europe was much poorer than contemporaneous civilizations in China, Africa and the Americans. In medieval China, for example, the government was responsible for flood control and vast granaries that fed the entire population during famines.

Europeans systematically plundered and destroyed the advanced pre-European civilizations in China, Africa and North and South America. Then the European elite used this wealth and power to drive their own peasants off their communally farmed lands. Those who didn’t end up in jail or the workhouse, ended up in squalid city slums and worked in early factories.

Prior to the industrial revolution, 90% of the world lived in extreme poverty. By 1948, this percentage had dropped to 50%. By the 1970s, it was down to 15%. At present most extreme poverty is in third world countries that have been systematically exploited by the industrial North for their resources and cheap labor.

The film features a number of economic analysts with differing perspectives on why industrialization caused the rate of extreme poverty to drop. Most agree it was a combination of fossil fuel-based technology and successful revolutionary and union activity which allowed workers to keep a bigger share of the wealth they produce.

Over the last few decades, the relative weakness of grassroots movements has led to significant increase in poverty within the supposedly wealthy industrialized countries.