We see history more clearly after tearing down statues of racist colonisers

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, criticised the Black Lives Matter (BLM), stating we should not import their issues and causes into the Australian context. Perhaps he is unaware of modern history, but white nationalism is a global ideology, and its advocates derive supporters and inspiration from its application across the globe.

The most successful exporter of white nationalist ideology, and the most efficient practitioner of that ideology, was the capitalist British empire. Employing ruthless means, the British ruling class expanded its operating frontiers, not only to increase its economic wealth. White supremacy was the ideological glue that cemented connections between the empire’s colonies and English centre. The empire was held together by overwhelming coercion, racism and economic exploitation of its nonwhite peoples.

One of the major results of exporting English imperial capitalism was the eventual emergence of the nation of Australia. Founded on the dispossession of the indigenous nations, the newly constructed Australian capitalist class used, among other methods, slave labour to enrich itself – blackbirding, as it is known in Australia. The kidnapping and forcible exploitation of Melanesian labourers on the cotton fields and pearling industries of the new nation have been amply documented.

What is not so well-known is the warm reception granted by Australia to a class of fleeing merchants from another colonial-settler nation – slave owners and traders from Louisiana, in the United States. As the American civil war began, the viability of continued cotton plantations – resting as they did on slave labour – was being undermined. The plantation owners who fled that state found an opportunity for a fresh start, in Queensland, Australia.

Louisiana planters, finding their cotton production grinding to a halt, found a receptive commercial environment in Queensland. Given a business-friendly economic setup, they continued their use of slave labourers, albeit from a different source – the Pacific Islands. Queensland became the replacement cotton industry for those slave owners and traders whose businesses were disrupted in the United States. It is indicative that the Queensland colony’s authorities – ultimately responsible to Britain – were quite comfortable with providing asylum to their fellow white supremacists from the northern hemisphere.

When protesters pull down statues of Columbus in the US, or slave traders like Edward Colston in Britain, the reflexive cry of ‘just get over it’ can be heard in the shrill conservative punditocracy. This claim is intended to dampen any debate about our collective history, and provide a rationale for continued historical amnesia regarding the black presence in white majoritarian nations. Indeed, such a cry undermines an extensive examination of how our societies became white majority states in the first place.

In this context, it is instructive to note that the white nationalist view of history extends beyond national boundaries, and engages in historical revisionism of its own. Dylann Roof, the white nationalist American who gunned down several African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015, was wearing the flag of the long-dead white supremacist state of Rhodesia on his person, among other racist symbols. Rhodesia-nostalgia has become a bedrock of white nationalist propaganda.

As John Ismay, writing in The New York Times, explains it:

Nostalgia for Rhodesia has since grown into a subtle and profitable form of racist messaging, with its own line of terminology, hashtags and merchandise, peddled to military-history fans and firearms enthusiasts by a stew of far-right provocateurs.

Reclaiming the long-gone white supremacist nationalism of Rhodesia has long and disturbing echoes. In fact, the decision by the-then Rhodesian government to declare independence was based precisely on a tribalist refusal to accede to majority-rule in the former British colony. American (and Australian) white nationalism extends its cross-border solidarity to the historic whites-only statelet, to indicate their desire to configure their own societies on the same organising principle as that of Rhodesia.

The appeal to Rhodesia nostalgia is not a mere hobby-like exercise in historical appreciation. It plays the same, albeit updated role, that the myth of the “Lost Cause” of the slave-owning Confederacy plays within the circles of white nationalist retroactive victimhood. Preying upon the real socioeconomic anxieties of poor white workers, Rhodesia nostalgia channels those social concerns into an anti-immigrant direction, mythologising a supposedly lost ‘golden age’ of a white exclusionary tribalism.

While current US President Donald Trump has recycled old white nationalist tropes in his current capacity, it would be delusional to think that white nationalism began with him. In the last stages of World War 2, as the regime faced certain defeat in 1945, the United States provided a secretive yet crucial refuge for white supremacists fleeing Europe. Operation Paperclip was a secret American initiative to recruit Nazi scientists, engineers and technical experts, and seamlessly assimilate them into the burgeoning US military-industrial complex.

The Soviets also nabbed German scientists, in 1946, as well. This measure is routinely interpreted as evidence of an ideological correspondence between two ‘totalitarianisms’. Let us for the moment accept that rationale. What excuse does the United States have for initiating such a programme? I think there is a little-examined yet striking ideological continuity between the ostensibly democratic United States and Nazi Germany – mutual dedication to white supremacy.

Prior to World War 2, when Nazi party ideologues and leaders were looking for a successful example of a racially-stratified society, they found inspiration and legally-significant examples to emulate in the United States. The goal of a whites-only homeland found common currency on both sides of the Atlantic. Adolf Hitler’s opposition to race-mixing was well within mainstream thinking about race in the United States.

Tearing down statues of racist conquistadors, rather than erasing history, provides a necessary starting-point for illuminating the darkest corners of imperial colonisation. We would do well to consider whom we uphold as venerable figures for our children.

The Korean War Memorial in Sydney, toppling statues and understanding what we memorialise

In Sydney’s picturesque Moore Park, there is a memorial to those Australians who served in the Korean War. Located at the northernmost tip of the park, it is always a pleasurable experience to visit the memorial. Moore Park is close to the large and cultivated Centennial Parklands, a popular destination for walkers, cyclists, joggers and tourists. This past June 25th marked the 70th anniversary of the start of the Korean War.

A small service was held to mark the occasion, attended by Australian defence force personnel and members of the Korea War Veterans association. The memorial honours those Australians who perished in that conflict, and is a welcome addition to the beautiful surrounds of Moore Park. In the immediate aftermath of the global movement in toppling statues, the primary designer of the memorial was asked for her thoughts.

Jane Cavanough, the designer, stated that she welcomed the debates and histories that have found expression and wider audiences in the context of questioning historical landmarks. To that end, let’s make a contribution to the question of the Korean War, and what we are memorialising. There is no disputing that Australians suffered during that conflict. But let us not allow our own nationalism to blind us to the horrendous suffering endured by the Korean people.

What most Australians do not realise – just like most Americans – is that the United States, during the Korean conflict, demolished the North Korean side in its entirety. Between 1950 and 1953, North Korea was subjected to intensive aerial bombardment by the US Air Force, in which every city and town in North Korea was destroyed.

Under the direction of General Curtis LeMay, the US proceeded to drop more bomb tonnage on North Korea than during the American campaign in the Pacific in World War 2. When all the buildings, hospitals, roads and schools were bombarded, the US proceeded to bomb rice fields, dams, and other civilian infrastructure, bringing North Korea’s population to the brink of starvation. Aid from China and the Soviet Union averted a wider catastrophe.

Napalm, incendiary bombs, and fragmentation weapons were used to kill and vaporise hundreds of thousands, possibly millions. The North Korean countryside was left scorched and poisoned – but yet, after the war’s conclusion, North Korea rebuilt its society house by house, street by street, brick by brick. After World War 2 concluded, the major powers declared that industrialised mass killing would be outlawed and never occur again.

In the early stages of the world, General Douglas MacArthur, renowned American commander in the Pacific during World War 2, requested 34 atomic bombs to be used to create a radioactive belt in northern China to prevent any land invasion of Korea. Planning an aggressive war to achieve predatory war aims was something for which Nazi and Imperial Japanese generals had been convicted.

Surely South Korea is a democracy, a capitalist economic miracle and ally protected by the US and its friends, such as Australia? There is an element of truth to this description, but not in the way that the majority of Americans (and Australians) realise. The South Korean regime, based in Seoul and installed by the US in 1945, has spent most of its life as various military dictatorships. Syngman Rhee, the fanatical Christian and conservative supported by American arms, ruled South Korea with an iron fist, establishing a police-terror state. Thousands of suspected leftists and regime opponents were tortured and killed by 1950.

If South Korea currently implements democratic practices, it is not because of the regime. It is because South Korean people have periodically risen up and ousted widely-despised military dictators. Syngman Rhee, the longtime strongman, was deposed by the 1960 April revolution. He fled to Hawaii. In 1980, the little-known Gwangju uprising overthrew yet another set of military rulers. The Gwangju revolt was not without its casualties; highly trained elite special forces were deployed to suppress the rebellion.

It is very true that South Korea emerged as an economic tiger in the Asia Pacific. In the 1950s and 60s, Seoul pursued a series of policies that boosted its economy and lifted people out of poverty. But let us be clear on the reasons for their success. Contrary to today’s quasi-religious ideology of free-market fundamentalism, it was the state-driven capitalism that accounted for the stunning growth of South Korea’s GDP and export-intensive economy.

Setting out five-year plans, the Korean state elaborated ambitious targets to be achieved in cooperation with the private sector. General Park Chung-hee, the main architect of this government-driven, centrally-planned economic recovery, learned from his experience as an officer in the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, and corralled the state’s resources to attain spectacular economic growth. Following Japanese models of state-corporatism, General Park created a resurgent South Korean capitalist class.

The South Korean chaebol, which literally means ‘money clan’, is a corporate-dynastic structure, which involves concentrating wealth in the hands of a few ruling family-dynasties. Samsung, Hyundai, LG – now famous international companies, have their origins in a dynastic clannish structure. The alliance between the authoritarian state and the dynastic chaebols contributed to the stunning success of South Korea’s tiger economy. The chaebols are the cornerstones of the economic and political landscape of that nation.

Should the Korean War memorial in Sydney be demolished? No, it should not. Am I suggesting that an enormous statue of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un be constructed in Sydney and worshipped? No, I am not. We need to have a long-overdue national conversation about what we memorialise whenever we commemorate US imperial wars, and what the Asian nations have to say about those wars.

Commemorative memorials do not compensate for serious historical amnesia.

Toppling statues, Black Lives Matter, and Zionism

Across the world, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests against racism and police brutality have compelled countries in Europe (and Australia for that matter) to reconsider their own racist histories. For instance, protesters in Belgium removed the statue of King Leopold II, who was responsible for the deaths of millions of Africans during Belgium’s colonial adventures in that continent. Statues of Confederate generals are being torn down in the United States.

However, not everyone is supportive of BLM.

Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organisation of America and enthusiastic Israel-supporter, denounced the BLM movement in the following words on Twitter:

BLM is a Jew-hating, white-hating, Israel-hating, conservative Black-hating, violence-promoting, dangerous Soros-funded extremist group of haters

Let’s take a look at this stinging attack on BLM, and why prominent Zionist groups find the anti-racism of BLM a strategic threat.

Klein is not alone – numerous Zionist organisations have denounced BLM in similarly vitriolic terms. Israel’s leaders and their supporters have attacked BLM as an anti-Semitic movement, conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. The latter is a frequently deployed tactic to smear critics of the Israeli state as being motivated by irrational prejudice.

Ali Abunimah, cofounder and editor of Electronic Intifada, noted that it is interesting to see Klein incorporate an anti-Semitic trope, the ‘George Soros puppet-master funding protests’, as a legitimate critique. In fact, a number of advisors close to current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recycled this right-wing conspiracy theory. The ‘globalist Jew’ funding revolutionary causes is an old, outdated anti-Semitic slander deployed to discredit social movements as just dupes or pawns in the hands of the ultimate puppeteer, the Jews.

Why is a Zionist circulating an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory? Zionism at its core, is a political ideology that accepts the logic – if one can call it that – of the anti-Semite. Jews, according to the ideologues of Zionism, constitute a distinct, unassimilable, fixed entity no matter where they are born and raised. The proponents of Zionism offer a resolution of the Jewish question – building an exclusively Jewish state in their ‘old-new’ ancestral home of Palestine. Zionism has always been a racialist philosophy.

The BLM movement openly supports and cooperates with the Palestinians, not for any anti-Semitic reasons, but precisely because of Zionism’s racist conception of Palestinians and Arabs. The founders of Zionism made no secret of their colonialist and racist attitudes towards the indigenous inhabitants of Palestine, and offered their services to various colonial powers – such as Britain – to construct an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine. BLM offers its anti-racist solidarity to the Palestinians.

It is no secret that anti-Semitic and far-right parties across the world look to Israel as an example to follow. They in turn provide political support for the objectives of Zionism. Ultranationalist and racist European parties have expressed their admiration for Zionism and Israel, and a number have visited that nation in a show of political solidarity. Netanyahu has been quick to reciprocate.

The United Nations, in 2017, issued a damning report comparing the practices of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians with the policies of the apartheid government in South Africa. The process of ghettoisation and partition of the occupied Palestinian Territories bear striking similarities to those implemented by the white Afrikaners towards the black South African population.

Ronnie Kasrils, a formerly leading activist the African National Congress (ANC) and subsequent government minister, wrote that as a Jewish South African, he saw the fundamental similarities between apartheid in South Africa and the policies of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians. The Afrikaners who settled in South Africa founded states for themselves – Transvaal, Orange Free State – which became the union of South Africa. They were founded on the exclusion of the indigenous Africans. Zionism has produced a similar and parallel outcome in the land of Palestine.

Recognising the colonial-settler project of Zionism is not a product of irrational and fanatical anti-Semitism, but a recognition of the dispossession and exclusion of the Palestinians upon which Zionism is predicated. Indeed, Zionist leaders from the 1920s and 30s admitted that Palestinian resistance to Zionism was based on opposition to the colonising project, and not on any anti-Semitic hatred.

Tearing down statues of racist slave-traders, such as Edward Colston in Bristol, or conquistadors such as Christopher Columbus, is not an exercise in erasing history – far from it. The United States and Britain have been compelled to recognise and understand their histories of slavery and imperialism only because of the collective struggle of non-white peoples. Erecting statues to slavers, or Confederate generals, is an exercise in reasserting white supremacy, and constructing a white nationalist view of history.

The global protests in support of BLM are not motivated by hatred of white people, anymore than anti-Semitic prejudice. Indeed, African Americans and Jews have a long history of cooperation on the issue of civil rights in the United States. Political struggles always involve asking questions that make us uncomfortable about ourselves. Ran Greenstein, writing in 972 magazine, states that anti-Zionism is not a platform for anti-Semitism but rather an opportunity to correct historical wrongs inflicted on the Palestinians.

Black Lives Matter and Palestine form a historic alliance, opposed to all forms of racism. A necessary step towards decolonisation is the removal of historic monuments to the colonisers.

Trump’s racism is part and parcel of everyday mainstream white nationalism

White nationalism remains a flammable poison in the midst of US society.

Any notion that the United States is a post-racial society, or that racism was no longer an important issue, was dispelled by the eruption of anger at the spate of racist police killings in that country. Protesters demanding accountability of the police officers involved have taken to the streets. The mobilisations have been multiracial, reflecting opposition to racism from across the ethnic spectrum of society.

While I will not focus exclusively on this latest upsurge of protest, it is instructive to learn from a related incident just how deeply white supremacy infects every level of American society. The killing of George Floyd was not an aberration, but the latest chapter in a long, painful experience of black America with white supremacy.

Last month, US President Donald Trump, when touring a Ford factory plant in Michigan, made a remark which indicated the depth of his white nationalist outlook. He was at the motor company factory to praise Ford’s cooperation with General Electric, to produce ventilators and face masks. Departing from the prepared script, he declared that the Ford company’s director had ‘good bloodlines‘.

Henry Ford, the historic founder of the company and automaker, was a vicious anti-Semite and racist who used his financial power to promote racist literature and pro-Nazi views in American society. Trump’s remarks were not the first instance of his reference to good genes as evidence of superior intellect and achievement. He has spoken, for instance, of possessing ‘good German blood’ in explaining the reasons for his ostensible success in life.

Such sentiments correspondent to the worldview advocated by the late Henry Ford.

Trump’s words of praise were racist, but not unusual in the context of American white supremacy. In fact, it would be delusional in the extreme to place the entirety of blame for white racism on Trump’s shoulders. His white nationalist views did not arise out of nowhere, but constitute a continuation of white supremacist ideology deep in American society.

Since the end of the American civil war, white supremacist ideology, backed by significant sections of the ruling class, has fought a revanchist war of revenge, seeking to dispossess African Americans through various alternative economic and political measures. Racialised violence has periodically exploded to maintain and extend a functioning capitalist system.

The systemic racial vengefulness of the American capitalist system has manifested itself since the end of the civil war through poverty, degradation and legalised exclusion of the black American community. A neo-Confederate history of white racial terror provides the backdrop for police violence against people of colour. Police and state troopers provided the vector by which the virus of white supremacy spread.

Nostalgia for the Confederacy is not just a harmless, academic exercise in sustaining historical memory. The flag, statues of Confederate generals and soldiers, the symbolism and myths of ‘kindly Southern gentlemen‘, are all part of a campaign to rehabilitate and update white nationalism for modern purposes. The New York Times editorial board stated it plainly – when the US military names its bases after Confederate generals, they are honouring racist traitors.

There is still a statue in honour of Confederate general and racist traitor Robert E Lee in Richmond, Virginia. Earlier this year, Mississippi governor Tate Reeves declared April to be Confederate history month. Mississippi was one of the first slave owning states to secede and join the white supremacist Confederacy. Dylann Roof, the white racist killer who shot dead nine black American people in Charleston, South Carolina, was wearing the Confederate flag.

Prior to World War 2, the United States was a world leader in one crucial area, which provided inspiration for European white supremacists – the implementation of race laws. The Nazi party, while objecting to what they perceived as America’s weaknesses, were nevertheless inspired by the system of legalised racial segregation.

Adam Serwer, scholar and expert of race relations, wrote in a thoughtful article that:

The seed of Nazism’s ultimate objective—the preservation of a pure white race, uncontaminated by foreign blood—was in fact sown with striking success in the United States. What is judged extremist today was once the consensus of a powerful cadre of the American elite, well-connected men who eagerly seized on a false doctrine of “race suicide” during the immigration scare of the early 20th century. They included wealthy patricians, intellectuals, lawmakers, even several presidents. 

Black deaths at the hands of the police are not flaws or mistakes, they are the logical end product of racialised white supremacist capitalism. That is the conclusion of an article by Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP. Whether it is access to education, employment or housing, or the higher rates of COVID-19 deaths among African Americans, racism is the underlying condition of capitalist America.

The civil rights movement, the election of a black President, and the symbol of Dr King, have been turned into a kind of false finish line under the problem of racism in the United States. The recent spate of racially motivated killings must help us readdress what we do not want to acknowledge – that racism is the norm in American society, not the exception.

The Zhivago affair, literature and propaganda

Literature is certainly a separate and distinct field from politics. Political power should never be used to pressure writers into towing a party line. But literature can never be indifferent to, or isolated from, the political climate.

Literature, in this case Doctor Zhivago, was turned into an instrument of Cold War propaganda – by the United States. Despite strenuous denials from Washington, the promotion of the novel by Boris Pasternak, and the latter’s award of the Nobel Prize for Literature, was part of a concerted ‘soft power’ campaign to promote literature as a political weapon. This effort was orchestrated at the highest levels of the US government, and involved the CIA and British intelligence.

Let’s unpack this issue, and explore what it means for us today.

The Zhivago novel, and the cultural and political firestorm surrounding its publication, is the subject of The Zhivago Affair: the Kremlin, the CIA and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book, published in 2014. The authors describe how the US ruling institutions recognised the political value of secretly publishing novels the Soviet government had banned.

Pasternak’s novel, published in 1957, gained an international audience, and earned its author a Nobel prize, due to its promotion by powerful forces in the capitalist West. In fact, it is no exaggeration to state that Pasternak’s pathway to the Nobel prize was paved for him by the CIA.

The novel itself, partly autobiographical and part historical drama, revolves around the life of Dr Yuri Zhivago in the wake of the 1917 Russian revolution and subsequent developments. The author, Boris Pasternak, while not anti-Soviet, basically remained indifferent to the socialist revolution. Pasternak achieved great fame as a novelist in the Soviet Union, gaining prestige as a national treasure. Previously honoured as a great writer, the Kremlin decided to ban his novel as a work contrary to the ideals and goals of the Soviet government.

The CIA and British intelligence sensed an opportunity. Secret copies of the book were smuggled out of the USSR, to be published and circulated in the capitalist nations. The book was illegally circulated through underground channels inside the Eastern bloc, with the express goal of exerting ideological pressure and encouraging Soviet citizens to question their state.

Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958, though he was forced to reject it by the Soviet authorities. Made into a movie in the early 1960s, Pasternak became a symbol of artistic and literacy defiance in the face of authoritarianism. It is interesting to note that the US and British governments, while claiming to defend artists and writers from political persecution, used novels and literature as political weapons in their efforts to combat socialist culture and ideas.

For decades, the role of the US and Britain, and its covert political motivations, remained hidden behind a mask of promoting artistic and literary freedom. Writers and artists, we were told during the Cold War, should be free from politics and government interference. The Soviet premier at the time, Nikita Khrushchev, admitted in his memoirs, written years after the Zhivago affair, that he had been wrong in banning the novel.

The Nobel committee, in mending fences with the Soviet authorities, awarded the literature prize in 1965 to prominent Soviet novelist Mikhail Sholokhov, in particular for his epic, historical four-volume novel, And Quiet Flows the Don, which examines the Soviet government’s sweeping economic and cultural changes in the with the revolution, civil war and collectivisation on the Don Cossacks.

The book itself, average in tone and unremarkable, was promoted for its propagandistic value. This may seem a strange concept to grasp – surely the capitalist West does not engage in vulgar propaganda? Peter Finn and Petra Couvee, the authors of the book mentioned above who have examined the Zhivago affair, wrote that:

During the Cold War, the CIA loved literature – novels, short stories, poems. Joyce, Hemingway, Eliot. Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Nabokov. Books were weapons, and if a work of literature was unavailable or banned in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe, it could be used as propaganda to challenge the Soviet version of reality.

Literature is not only a reflection of a given society, it can also influence the outlook of its readers, and become a potent force for shaping that society. The political ramifications of historical novels is something that cannot be handled by censorship, that is for sure. However, we would be deluding ourselves if we did not recognise the galvanising impact that a novel can have on political vision. This is not merely an academic question, but has real-world contemporary relevance.

Consider the case of The Turner Diaries.

Published in 1978 by American white supremacist and neo-Nazi William Luther Pierce, the Turner Diaries has achieved a kind of Bible-status among the white nationalist Right. The themes elaborated in the novel have inspired terrorist actions in the US, including the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

The novel elaborates how ‘race traitors’, enemies of the white race, are eliminated, along with African Americans, Jews and other minorities. This book, rather than extolling a bygone era of slavery, shifted white nationalism onto a futuristic perspective. It provided a blueprint for white nationalist action, and served to unite splintered groups.

The tone of the novel is lurid and violent – with misogyny and anti-Semitism dripping from its pores. Its impact cannot be underestimated – it has become a seminal text in the canon of racist hate literature. It has served to inspire terrorist violence, and has spawned a veritable genre of racist literature. A hero fighting against the odds is not a new idea in American literature – but Pierce gave it a white supremacist spin. Canada, among a number of countries, has deemed the book hate literature, and has outlawed its importation.

It is time to face the reality that literature, even when not overtly political, is part of the political and cultural climate. It has the ability to set the framework through which millions of readers understand political and historical issues. The Soviet programme at cultural and social engineering was more ‘sledgehammer’ in form that in the United States. But make no mistake, capitalist cultural engineering, while subtle and psychological, is no less powerful and saturates the public mind.

Israel and the Gulf States – a partnership emerges from the shadows

Israel and the Gulf monarchies, led by Saudi Arabia, have no formal ties.

However, this has not stopped a covert and sustained campaign of cooperative measures and socioeconomic linkages between Israel and the Gulf nations. Tamara Nassar, an assistant editor at Electronic Intifada, has written that political and economic connections between Tel Aviv and its Gulf partners has been justified under the rationale of encouraging inter religious cooperation between Muslims and Jews.

Israel and the Gulf states are pushing towards a normalisation of ties, entrenching cooperative measures that go back decades. By solidifying relations with the Gulf monarchies, Tel Aviv aims to isolate the Palestinians, score diplomatic and economic victories, and formalise an anti-Iranian alliance. Saudi Arabia has been advocating an anti-Iranian axis since the early 2000s, and is being encouraged in this course by US President Donald Trump.

In October 2018, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Sultanate of Oman, with the goal of boosting relations with that country. Oman has maintained cordial ties with Israel, and has provided a sympathetic voice for Tel Aviv among the Gulf nations. This visit comes on top of extensive back channel ties and communications between the Gulf states and Tel Aviv.

In February this year, two senior Israeli intelligence figures visited the nation of Qatar, for talks about security cooperation between the two nations. Qatar has hosted pro-Zionist political operators in the past, and has provided a platform for pro-Israeli evangelical Christian groups to advocate their millenarian apocalyptic visions for the Middle East.

Back in 2015, journalist and political commentator Murtaza Hussain, writing for The Intercept, noted that the extent and depth of the burgeoning and clandestine Israel-Gulf states alliance was gradually being revealed. With the Arab uprisings, and the removal of the Ba’athist regime in Iraq, the GCC nations and Israel stepped up their cooperative outreach.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has maintained longstanding security and economic connections with Tel Aviv. In the wake of the pandemic crisis, Abu Dhabi sent a plane load of COVID-19 medical aid to Tel Aviv, the first direct flight between the two countries. The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, hailed this step, and expresses his hope that this would accelerate the normalisation process.

Warming business relations and security arrangements are increasingly coming into public view. Israel intended to open its own pavilion at the World Expo 2020, slated to be held this year, but postponed due to the pandemic. Ties have been promoted under the cynical excuse of interfaith dialogue and Muslim-Jewish understanding. Such a rationale is a perverse deployment of a commendable goal to disguise coldly calculated political and economic objectives.

In fact, portraying the Israel-Palestine conflict as one originating primarily in religious differences between Jews and Muslims only serves to obscure the settler-colonialist ideology of Zionism, the underpinning which motivates the Israeli ruling class’ measures to create a Jewish-only state. Rather than some nebulous, historic ages-old animosity between Judaism and Islam, the conflict is underscored by the colonialist mentality and programme of the Zionist political project.

Ian Black, scholar and former Middle East editor for the Guardian, wrote an article elaborating why Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, led by Saudi Arabia, are quietly cozying up to each other. He wrote:

Evidence is mounting of increasingly close ties between Israel and five of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – none of which have formal relations with the Jewish state. Trump highlighted this accelerating change on his first foreign trip as president – to the Saudi capital Riyadh – by flying on directly afterwards to Tel Aviv.

Black notes that since the founding of the Zionist state in 1948, involving the expulsion of 700 000 Palestinians from their homeland, the Arab states have shared a collective opposition to Tel Aviv. Israel, for its part, has attempted to break out of this hostile environment by forging alliances with Gulf nations that are historically supportive of Anglo-American interests and imperial objectives. In this way, the Zionist state acquires friendly Arab allies, and isolates the Palestinians.

Outreach measures by Tel Aviv are neither new nor original. Since its inception in 1948, Israeli ruling circles have made concerted efforts to find allies in sub-Saharan Africa. Reaching out to non-Arab African states, with promises of security and technological cooperation, has been a crucial programme. Falsely portraying itself as an ‘anti-colonial’ venture, Israel has formed relationships with numerous African countries as they declared independence in the 1950s and 60s.

While sub-Saharan African nations have been supportive of the Palestinians, this has not stopped Israeli PM Netanyahu from establishing friendly relations with numerous African states. Ramzy Baroud, Palestinian journalist and scholar, noted that breaking Afro-Arab unity is a primary objective of the Israeli administration. It is no secret that Israel supports moves towards an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, as a reliable non-Arab ally in that region.

Never has the aphorism “you are known by the friends you keep” been more relevant and applicable.

The end of World War 2 – patriotic myths mark a carnival of racial nationalism

This month – May 8 to be exact – marks the 75th anniversary of the conclusion of World War 2. Numerous commemorative activities were held to honour those who fell in that conflict. Of course, the current pandemic put a dampener on the numbers of people attending outdoor commemorations. Each nation celebrates the end of WW2 in their own way. Britain allowed outdoor events to mark the occasion.

The way that historical anniversaries are remembered is as instructive as the events themselves. The nature of commemorative celebrations tell us about the political vision of those who organise them, and the way the public is encouraged to engage in collective memory. Britain’s VE Day celebrations were a carnival of racialised nationalism, engaged in rehabilitating the British empire rather than an act of WW2 remembrance.

Celebrating Victory in Europe (VE) Day is about commemorating the collective action and multinational solidarity that led to the military victory over fascism. The millions who died fighting the horrifying racial doctrines of Nazi fascism did not do so to reimpose another set of racial hierarchies in the form of English (or French or other white European) colonialism.

The patriotic myth of Britain standing alone against the might of the Nazi war machine may have served a galvanising, morale-boosting purpose in the 1940s, but it is a historical fiction now deployed to promote a narrative of British ‘uniqueness‘ and imperial nostalgia. David Olusoga, writing in the Guardian, addresses this particular issue. Rather than standing alone, Britain had the support of all the nonwhite peoples of its empire:

Britain went to war in 1939 in the name of freedom and democracy, but fielded armies within whose ranks were black and brown men who were regarded and often treated as second-class citizens. To manage this contradiction the government attempted to recast the British empire as a project of partnership, rather than one of domination.

The racial divide of the English empire had to be disguised – it was one thing to combat the white supremacy of Nazi Germany, but quite another to question white nationalism within your own dominions:

To convince Asians and Africans that victory for Britain was in their interest, concerted propaganda efforts were deployed to make them aware of the true nature of Nazism and its underlying racial theories. But in August 1941 a Nigerian newspaper put its finger on the dilemma, when it asked, “What purpose does it serve to remind us that Hitler regards us as semi-apes if the Empire for which we are ready to suffer and die … can tolerate racial discrimination against us?”

The British Eighth Army, the strong unit deployed to defend the Suez Canal from Nazi – and Italian fascist – invasion, was multiracial, composed of Indians, Sri Lankans, Australians, Kenyans, Nigerians – among others. It also fought in the battle of Tobruk. From 1940 and the Blitz, Britain received military volunteers from India and the Caribbean. The contribution of these soldiers breaks the myth of British isolation and exceptionalism carefully cultivated after the end of the war.

Churchill definitely gave rousing speeches to boost morale, and he made abundantly clear his objective of maintaining the empire after the defeat of the Axis powers. Self-determination was to be applied to the nations occupied by Nazi Germany – Britain‘s colonial adventures were not to be questioned. English nationalism, up to and including its Tory Brexiteer variety, forcefully imposed its racially stratified society in the aftermath of WW2.

To be certain, the British ruling establishment is not the only one that quickly sought to retain its colonial possessions, and rehabilitate its empire’s reputation, after the war. On May 8, the Free French forces moved speedily to reimpose French control over its erstwhile colony of Algeria, after the Axis powers were defeated in North Africa. While May 8 is a day of celebration in Europe, it is a somber day of mourning in Algeria, where French colonists, supported by the French army, launched a wave of killings that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Algerians.

As the racist killings of the Nazi war machine became public knowledge, cries of ‘Never Again’ rang out throughout the world. The mass, industrialised killing of the Nazi concentration camps forced us to ask questions about ourselves, and to evaluate how this criminal endpoint was reached by an underlying ideology of European white supremacy. After the camps were closed and Allied armies returned home, the Anglo-French empire-builders revived their particular white nationalist projects with a vengeance.

We are committing a terrible disservice to those who engaged in anti-fascist and anti-racist struggles by rehabilitating the doctrines of their killers. Owen Dowling, writing in Varsity magazine, states that:

The reconsolidation of Anglo-French colonial regimes after May 1945 represented a betrayal of the principles upon which the anti-fascist struggle had been waged, that will forever stain the flags of those victorious Empires. In some territories, notably the Indian sub-Continent, the edifice of colonialism had been so eroded by war and anti-colonial agitation that a sustained reimposition of imperial rule had been made infeasible.

Bellicose nationalism and imperial nostalgia are a violation of the international spirit that motivated the anti-Nazi war effort. Victory in Europe belongs to the millions of workers who organised and fought tenaciously against the fascist threat. When Russian President Vladimir Putin commemorates the end of WW2, he thanks everyone for their sacrifice, including the Americans and British all the while upholding the Soviet Union’s vastly greater and primary effort in defeating the Axis powers.

No, this is not an exercise in hating Britain, or France, or any other nation. It is an exercise in refocusing our commemorative gaze on the defenders of Leningrad and Stalingrad, the rescue workers of London, Coventry, Plymouth and Portsmouth; the anti-fascist resistance in Yugoslavia, France and the Netherlands – these are the real victors of World War 2. We would do well to remember them.

Oil companies should be denied a bailout

Oil corporations have been environmentally destructive for decades. They have funded a tsunami of misinformation about climate change, actively undermining the public’s trust of science and state institutions. Their product is now technically worthless. So why should public money be used to rescue a harmful industry?

Let’s examine all of this. Before we do, let us put aside the objection that workers employed by the oil corporations will lose their jobs. The executives who own and manage these companies have never been concerned with the welfare of their workers. Please stop cynically exploiting the ostensible ‘we are worried about our employees’ to demand yet another multi billion dollar government handout.

There has been an avalanche of commentary regarding the speed and seriousness of the global oil industry’s collapse. Much of the discussion has focused on the unprecedented scale of the decline, and the remarkable speed with which this has happened. The current pandemic compelled the economy – at least what we used to define as constituting the economy – to grind to a halt. This has severely reduced the demand for oil consumption.

Billions of dollars was wiped off from the balance sheets of major oil companies, the price of a barrel of oil plummeted to historic lows, and hundreds of smaller oil producers declined into bankruptcy. This was just in the month of April 2020. The price of oil dropped to negative 37 dollars – oil suppliers were paying others to take oil out of their hands.

The glut of oil on the market meant that oil producers had to pay to store all that excess oil – usually in supertankers dotting the oceans. Each supertanker, capable of storing millions of barrels of oil, and costing oil suppliers 200 000 dollars a day, were left idling on the world’s oceans. This is the latest emblem of the wild irrationality of the capitalist economic model.

The fragility and irrationality of the global oil industry has been exposed and magnified by the Covid-19 crisis – the oil companies were already in trouble prior to the pandemic, but the speedy collapse of the entire industry only illustrated its structural weaknesses. Throughout the 20th century, the oil energy industry was marked by volatility, experiencing periodic boom-bust cycles.

This particular collapse is unique in its suddenness, but is only a concentrated expression of the ongoing and recurrent instability that has characterised the global oil industry. While the oil price has never before declined into negative territory, oil price fluctuations have been numerous and have contributed to geopolitical tensions.

The acquisition of oil resources by the imperialist powers has erupted into warfare throughout the course of the 20th century. However, resource wars are not just a matter of historical interest. The oil-rich nation of Libya, for example, is still undergoing chaotic and internecine fighting as a result of the imperialist-driven intervention into that nation in 2011. The oil factor, while not the only reason, constituted an important motivation for the European states, backed by the US, to intervene.

The consequences of the oil industry decline have been amply documented in the corporate media. Rather than elaborate on that subject, let us look at another major reason why the oil corporations should be denied a bailout. They have been lying to the public – about the causes and impact of industrial-induced climate change. The oil companies, through various subsidiaries, have funded a network of fake climate groups, AstroTurf (fake grassroots) citizens groups and industry-friendly scientists to attack and undermine the scientific evidence for climate change.

Fossil fuel companies, such as ExxonMobil, have been promoting a false ‘equivalence’ debate on the issue of climate change, perversely exploiting the laudable notion of free and open debate to promote deliberate misinformation. Spending millions on propping up fake climate groups, the big oil corporations have spread distrust of scientific institutions among the public, and have funnelled support to climate change-denying politicians to influence the policy making process.

This network of dark money, funding climate change denial, is not just a side issue in matters of economic and political decision making. The denial of climate change by this billionaire-driven counter movement has sabotaged action on climate change, promoted the growth of ultra conservative and science-denying political parties, and contributed to policies favouring the oil sector.

The US government has enthusiastically turned on the spirit of money to fund bailouts of declining and crisis-ridden industries. With the use of government money to rescue failing industries, there has been a revival of an old idea – nationalising the fossil fuel companies. Stigmatised as a ‘socialistic’ measure, the nationalisation of faltering companies has long been a measure adopted by American and right wing governments.

In fact, it is precisely at times of economic crisis that governments have implemented nationalisation to stave off complete financial collapse, thus rescuing the private sector. Rather than bailing out the corporate polluters, government funds can be used to rescue the workers, who have been bearing the brunt of the oil industry’s collapse. Providing yet more bailouts to the oil conglomerates would only serve to prop up a failed business model.

A Green New Deal, as suggested by numerous climate activist groups, would move away from fossil fuels, boost renewable energy technologies, and transition to new jobs and industries. With the oil industry increasingly becoming an unreliable source of employment, as well as promoting a polluting product, it is time to rebuild the economy, not for the profits of shareholders, but to prioritise people’s needs and address the climate emergency.

While the pandemic has exacerbated economic problems, the economic order prior to the pandemic was already broken. The global oil industry was part of creating the capitalist crisis. We cannot afford to return to what was ‘normal’.

Shakespeare in quarantine, the Merchant of Venice and anti-Semitism

Shakespeare spent a good portion of his life in quarantine. England was being ravaged by the plague – Shakespeare lost older siblings to the disease, though he himself remained healthy. The theatres of London were ordered closed by the authorities, along with other businesses, to contain the spread of the plague. Did Shakespeare write King Lear while in quarantine, with the pestilence and death afflicting his nation? Strong circumstantial evidence suggests that he did.

That is an interesting question, but there is one question regarding the Bard’s work that has had Shakespeare scholars, academics and playwrights debating for at least 400 years – is The Merchant of Venice anti-Semitic? The plague was not the only contagion afflicting Elizabethan England – anti-Semitism had been rife among English society, and throughout Christian Europe, for centuries.

Let’s unpack this subject.

The England in which Shakespeare was born and raised was an anti-Semitic place. Jews were certainly not welcome in that country. King Edward I had expelled the Jewish population from the nation in 1290 – after centuries of anti-Semitic persecution. Jews who remained in England either converted to Christianity, or practiced their faith in secret. Jews who had endured life in Christian European countries, were often confined to small, cramped ghettos. The city-state of Venice, where the action of The Merchant of Venice is set, followed this practice.

In Shakespeare’s lifetime, England witnessed the Lopez affair. Dr Rodrigo Lopez, a Portuguese Jewish convert to Christianity and personal physician to Queen Elizabeth I, was arrested on a charge of attempting to poison the Queen. Charged and convicted as a traitor in 1594, this trial contributed to an ongoing climate of anti-Semitism. One of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, Christopher Marlowe, wrote a play called The Jew of Malta. The main villain, Barabas, is a scheming, deceitful, money-lending Jew. This play undoubtedly influenced the literary community, including Shakespeare.

Jews formed a convenient scapegoat for society’s ills. They were blamed for spreading the Black Death, practicing the sin of usury, and consuming the blood of Christian children, among other things. However, it is the subject of money-lending, and its inclusion as the main feature of Shylock, that has formed one of the most enduring and culturally significant stereotypes down the ages.

As with all stereotypes, there is a grain of truth in the characterisation of Jews and their role as financiers. Excluded from all professions, corralled into ghettos and subjected to periodic pogroms and violence, Jews resorted to the one occupation that could sustain them – money-lending. Lost in the diaspora, Jewish communities kept a cohesive identity by emphasising religious literacy and education. With compulsory education in Hebrew texts, promoting internal cohesiveness and literacy, the Jews became well represented in business and finance. Shylock is a somewhat sinister caricature of the Jewish money-lender stereotype.

Without summarising the entire play, we can understand the character of Shylock as the principal antagonist of the drama. Antonio, the merchant to whom the title of the play refers, requires a loan. He and his good friend, Bassanio, have made clear their contempt of Shylock because the latter is Jewish. Shakespeare’s genius is demonstrated by his ability to humanise an otherwise contemptible, malevolent villain. Shylock demands a pound of flesh from Antonio, should the latter default on his loan.

This demand for a pound of flesh makes Shylock a uniquely vindictive character – among a cast of Christian characters all of whom behave disgracefully. Shylock is not only a victimiser, but also a victim. Shakespeare has Shylock express human emotions of outrage and anger at his mistreatment by the Christian protagonists. Not only does Shakespeare insert the now-famous monologue by Shylock – “I am a Jew” to humanise the character. He also has Shylock expressing caustic sarcasm, denouncing Antonio for his hypocrisy is having mocked him for his Jewishness, yet now asking for his financial help.

By humanising Shylock, Shakespeare is rebalancing the moral calculus of the play. Shylock may be a selfish, malevolent Jew, but he is behaving badly among a cast of reprehensible characters. Shakespeare left open the possibility of playing Shylock as a sympathetic, almost pitiable, character. In the end however, it is Shylock who loses everything – his own daughter turns against him, his wealth is confiscated, and there is only one way in which Shylock can escape with his life – conversion to Christianity. The villainous Jew is isolated and condemned. He can survive, but only by abandoning his Jewish identity.

There is a definite undercurrent of anti-Semitism in The Merchant of Venice. Portraying the Jew as villain, Shakespeare bequeathed to the world a cultural icon that has been cited by anti-Semites and white supremacists the world over to retroactively rationalise their own prejudices. It is no secret that the play was produced numerous times in Nazi Germany. However, we should also stop looking at Shakespeare exclusively through our post-Holocaust, post-20th century, lens.

The push to absolve the Bard of anti-Semitism derives from a desire to dissociate Shakespeare’s reputation from anything as repugnant as an ancient prejudice. Works of art and literature are inevitably products of their time, and will contain unsavoury and objectionable elements. Rather than banning the play, we must approach it as adults and be ready to confront its prejudicial stereotypes.

Let’s be mindful of the political and cultural circumstances in which we operate. The resurgence of ultranationalist and anti-immigration parties in Europe and the United States has been conducive to a rise in anti-Semitism. The stereotype of the shifty, greedy manipulative Jew, has made a comeback. The last thing we need now is a recycling of an old, outdated caricature.

With regards to The Merchant of Venice – don’t censor it, but let’s put it back in the archives.

Anti-quarantine protesters – a toxic brew of racists and free-market-fundamentalists

Earlier this month, in Michigan, Minnesota, Texas and other states in the US, anti-social distancing protests occurred, demanding an end to the compulsory quarantine and lockdown measures implemented in the face of the pandemic. It is worth examining the character of these protests – staffed by neoconservative and ultranationalist Tea Party people.

These ultra-rightist protesters are actively encouraging those most exploited by the ruling class to adopt the outlook of their exploiters. Let’s unpack this brief observation.

The far right protests were small; some were armed with semiautomatic weapons – were characterised by participants occupying the lower ends of the intelligence spectrum. There is no shortage of idiots in the United States. But to dismiss the political significance of these anti-quarantine protests would be a serious mistake. They represent not just a ragtag coalition of white supremacists, right wing militias and science denialist anti-vaccination zealots. They are billionaire-funded astroturf (fake grassroots) neoconservative formations, designed to turn workers’ anger at existing inequalities into neo-fascistic channels.

Professor Joel Wendland-Liu, writing in Common Dreams magazine, captures the main reasons why the anti-quarantine protesters are doing the bidding of the capitalist class:

The energized campaign to force people back to work and back into the public puts the lives of workers and their families at risk of infection, illness, and death. It dovetails with right-wing callousness and resistance to public interventions during times of social crisis. It highlights the worst characteristics of neoliberal political strategies that aim to privatize public entities and energize the predatory nature of the corporate sector to profit from disaster.

The political composition of the anti-social distancing protests is neither new nor original, but sheds light on the white supremacist – and religious fundamentalist – underbelly of American society. Not only did US President Donald Trump tweet his support for the ultrarightist protests, major conservative news outlets, such as Fox News, actively promoted the neo-Confederate and conspiracy-theory ideology motivating the protest organisers.

Earlier I used the phrase billionaire-funded to describe the recent anti-quarantine protests. This is neither an exaggeration nor hyperbole. It is well-known that billionaires have financed the campaigns of presidential candidates – and a billionaire made it into the White House. What is not-so well known, is that billionaires, through varied front companies and dummy corporations, have funded these far right ostensibly ‘grassroots’ organisations which purportedly speak for the ‘ordinary American.’

T J Coles, writing in Counterpunch magazine, elaborates how various multi billionaire figures have financed, and actively promoted, ultrarightist groups to pursue an ‘antigovernment’ agenda. The reasons that the billionaire class is ‘antigovernment’ are entirely different from the reasons why working class people protest. Pursuing an anti-immigration, neoliberal agenda, the billionaires want to achieve liberty – for big business. The rhetoric of liberty and freedom is deployed precisely against those government agencies that deploy measures in defence of public health and safety.

Occupational health and safety measures, environmental protections, restrictions on private corporate acquiring state assets, are all produced as evidence of government intrusion’ into liberty. Billionaires have long funded fake ‘citizen climate groups‘, all of which are – funnily enough – involved in promoting the denial of human-induced global warming, and advocate opening up ever-larger areas of the environment to the requirements of transnational corporations.

The Michigan Freedom Fund, one of the groups behind the anti-quarantine protests, is financed by various billionaire donors, including the Trump administration’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos. Allegedly speaking for ordinary citizens, the Michigan group advocates the age-old right wing populist slogans of limited government, free enterprise, the rolling back of state laws restricting business – but asking for government bailouts when big business fails.

One of the motivating factors in these protests, encouraged by the Trump administration, is white supremacy. It is no accident that Confederate flags, along with the old conservative Gadsden logo, were on display in the anti-quarantine actions. White racism has long been a feature of ultranationalist antigovernment agitation. White supremacist groups have long utilised arms – and the threat to use them – to undermine even moderate attempts by US legislators to implement anti-racist measures.

The anti-lockdown protesters trace their political lineage to those whites who resisted racial integration and desegregation efforts in the 1950s and 60s. Trump himself embodies the decades of white racist backlash against moves by federal and state authorities to racially desegregate the nation. In 1866, armed white supremacists – including Confederate veterans, stormed the state legislature to stop that body from passing voting rights for newly emancipated black Americans. Scores were killed.

Trump and his ultrarightist supporters seek to preserve the racial hierarchy of capitalist America. Mississippi governor, Republican Tate Reeves, declared April to be Confederate Heritage month. This decision is not merely an exercise in preserving historical memory. It is a deliberate falsification of the causes of the US Civil War, and a repudiation that racism is a major divide in American society. It is no coincidence that Trump and his supporters have ramped up anti-Asian racism, thus empowering the ultranationalist base of the Republican Party – a subject requiring an examination in another article.

When an intricate and clandestine network of billionaires is financing right wing militias and ultranationalist groups, it is time to call out the ideology of corporate neoliberal fundamentalism that underpins them. Let’s listen to the demands of workers, such as at Amazon, or the health care workers and those employed in essential services, for better conditions and a more equitable society.