History

Churchill and His Crimes: The Indian Cauldron

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The following excerpts are adapted from the author’s later book, Winston Churchill – His Times, His Crimes, published by Verso Books, the largest independent, radical publishing house in the English-speaking world, publishing one hundred books a year.

Life: enough of this poetry

We need hard, harsh prose;

Silence the poetry-softened noises;

Strike with the stern hammer of prose today!

No need for the tenderness of verse;

Poetry: I give you leave of absence;

In the realm of hunger, the world is prosaic

The full moon is scalded bread.

Sukanta Bhattacharya, ‘Hey Mahajibon’ (O, Great Life) (1944)

During the interwar period India was in a state of continuous turmoil. The reforms of 1919 – which had promised increased political participation of Indians in government but denied them power – were regarded by most Indians as ill-intentioned and offering very little. In Parliament in 1917, Edwin Montagu, the secretary of state for India, had declared ‘the gradual development of self-governing institutions, with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire’. The result was a build up of pressure from below.

The British Empire clearly faced a choice: it could grant India dominion status or it could rule largely through repression. The failure to grant the first necessitated the second.

The Pashtuns, Punjabis, Bengalis and Malabari (now Keralans) saw the rise of mass movements and terrorism on the pre-revolutionary Russian model. Peaceful marches were violently broken up by the police. The 1919 massacre in Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar is the best known, but there were others. The Moplah peasant uprising in Malabar in 1924 was deliberately misinterpreted by Raj ideologues. The Chittagong Armoury Raid in April 1930 was an audacious attempt to seize police and auxiliaries’ weapons and launch an armed uprising in Bengal. The raiders were revolutionaries of various sorts, united by the belief that only an armed struggle inspired by the Easter Rising of 1916 (they called themselves the IRA: Indian Republican Army) could rid them of the British. The plan was to take government and military officials hostage in the European Club where they hung out after work, seize the bank, release political prisoners, destroy the telegraph offices and telephone exchanges and cut off all railway communications.

They partially succeeded, but could not capture the British officers and civil servants. It was Good Friday. The European Club was empty. Despite this, the main leader of the uprising, Surya Sen, assembled their forces outside the police armoury, where he took the salute as IRA members (numbering under a hundred) paraded past him. They hoisted the Indian flag and declared a Provisional Revolutionary Government. The British swiftly took back control and guerrilla warfare ensued. The IRA was outnumbered. A traitor gave away Sen’s hiding place. He was captured, tortured and, together with another comrade, hanged. Other prisoners were packed off to the Andaman Islands.

In Lahore, the capital of the Punjab, a twenty-two-year-old, Bhagat Singh, who hailed from a staunch anti-imperialist family, decided with a handful of supporters to carry out two missions in 1930. The aim of the first was to assassinate the British police officer who had badly beaten up the nationalist leader, Lala Lajpat Rai, at a demonstration in Lahore. But they shot the wrong police officer. The second was to throw a few bombs into the Central Legislative Assembly in Delhi when it was empty. Bhagat Singh declared they did so because they wanted the noise of the blast to wake up India.

In prison he became a communist and wrote that terrorist tactics were not useful, but he refused to plead for mercy. Gandhi half-heartedly spoke on his behalf to Lord Irwin, the liberal Viceroy, but was rebuffed. Bhagat Singh and two comrades, Sukhdev Thapar and Shivaram Rajguru (all members of the tiny Hindustan Republican Socialist Party), were hanged in Lahore Jail in 1931.

There were similar events on a lesser scale elsewhere, and peasant uprisings too, the largest of which, in modern Kerala, shook the landlords and their British protectors. The peasants were mainly poor Muslims. They were defeated and the leaders of the revolt despatched to the Andamans for fifteen years. In 1935, the British realised the seriousness of the situation and passed a second Government of India Act through the House of Commons.

Churchill was vehemently opposed to the new law but was out of office. The Act provided for a controlled provincial autonomy, with the governors in each province holding reserve powers to dismiss ‘irresponsible’ governments. The tiny franchise was somewhat enlarged, and in 1937 the dominant Congress Party virtually swept the board in provincial elections, with the crucial exceptions of the Punjab and Bengal where secular-conservative, landlord-run parties obtained majorities.

Within two years of these elections Britain was at war. The Congress leaders, astounded that they had not been consulted before India was dragged into the war, instructed all their provincial governments to resign in protest and refused to offer support for the war. All this confirmed Churchill’s prejudices. He simply refused to grasp Indian realities.

The volume of protests and resistance from the end of the First World War till the late thirties had been rising with each passing year. Gandhi himself, in his South African phase, was a staunch Empire-loyalist. His view that ‘the British Empire existed for the benefit of the world’ neatly coincided with that of Churchill, and the Indian lawyer was not in the least embarrassed at acting as a recruiting sergeant during the First World War. He moderated these views when he returned to India and reinvented himself as a political deity. He was happy to mobilise the masses, but on a ‘moral level’. He would leave statecraft to the politicians, mainly Nehru and Patel. Though when they needed his imprimatur during crisis times (Partition and the Indian occupation of Kashmir), he always obliged.

Gandhi’s decision to make the Congress a mass party by appealing to the vast countryside had increased its size and political weight. In an overwhelmingly Hindu country, Gandhi had used religious symbols to mobilise the peasantry. This began to alienate Muslims, and since the Brahmins dominated the Congress leadership, the ‘untouchables’ knew their grievances would never get a hearing. Despite this, Gandhi, Patel and Nehru built a formidable political machine that covered the whole of India. The 1937 elections demonstrated as much, and it’s worth pointing out that in the north-western frontier province bordering Afghanistan, the predominantly Muslim Pashtuns had voted for the Congress Party as well.

The decision to take India into the Second World War without consulting its only elected representatives was yet another avoidable error on London’s part. The British underestimated the change in mood among the masses and some of their leaders. Had they consulted Gandhi and Nehru, offering them a fig-leaf to support the war, things might have panned out differently. The Congress leaders felt they had been treated shabbily and, after internal discussions that lasted a few months (revealing a strong anti-war faction led by the Bengali leader, Subhas Chandra Bose), they opted to quit office.

The British Viceroy immediately began to woo the Muslim League, and vice versa. The League’s leader gave full-throated backing to the war as did the conservative pro-British elected governments in Punjab and Bengal.

When, on 22 December 1939, the Congress Party announced its decision to resign and did so a week later, Jinnah declared that henceforth 22 December should be celebrated as a ‘day of deliverance’ from Congress rule. Ambedkar, the ‘Untouchables’ leader, provided strong backing, saying he ‘felt ashamed to have allowed [Jinnah] to steal a march over me and rob me of the language and the sentiment which I, more than Mr Jinnah, was entitled to use.’ Surprisingly, Gandhi also sent his congratulations to Jinnah for ‘lifting the Muslim League out of the communal rut and giving it a national character’. Little did he know where this would lead.

Emboldened by the emergence of an anti-Congress minority, the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow expressed some optimism:

In spite of the political crisis, India has not wavered in denunciation of the enemy in Europe, and has not failed to render all help needed in the prosecution of the war. The men required as recruits for the Army are forthcoming: assistance in money from the Princes and others continues to be offered: a great extension of India’s effort in the field of supply is proceeding apace.

With this in mind, Linlithgow was confident he could survive the storm. When the Congress ministers resigned en masse, the Viceroy ordered the arrest of its leaders and activists. They were released in December 1941 as the British attempted to reach some accommodation. Gandhi was carefully studying the development of the war in Europe as well as Japanese moves closer to the region, and wondering whether the British might be able to hold out. He was not yet sure. The local impact of Operation Barbarossa was the release of imprisoned Communist Party leaders and militants, who now came out openly in support for the war. Gandhi continued to wait. It was the humiliation inflicted on the British in Singapore in February 1942 that led to a change of course. The Congress leaders began to think about calling for a Quit India movement and, in this fashion, declared their own (partial if not complete) independence from the British. Gandhi had engineered Bose’s isolation within the Congress, but he was very critical of Nehru’s anti-Japanese militancy. Nehru had suggested that Congress should organise armed militias to fight against the Japanese were they to take India. Gandhi reprimanded him strongly. He should not forget that Japan was at war with Britain, not India.

In contrast to Gandhi’s handwringing and delays, the Bengali Congress leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, always deeply hostile to the notion of offering any support to the British war, went on the offensive. Of the entire Congress high command, he was the most radical nationalist. He began to work out a master plan that owed more to the organisers of the Chittagong Armoury Raid than to Gandhi. Bose did not believe that peaceful methods could prevail. They were fine at certain times, but the situation was now critical. Britain had insulted India by taking its young men away once again to fight in inter-imperialist wars. Bose wanted to create an Indian National Army and began to explore all possibilities.

In 1942 Churchill agreed that Sir Stafford Cripps, the left-wing, former ambassador to Moscow, be sent to India to meet with Nehru, Gandhi and other leaders and plead with them to help Britain. If they agreed, he could offer a verbal pledge of independence after the war. However, before Cripps could depart, bad news came from South-East Asia: Singapore had fallen. Churchill blamed the men in the field. The British Army had not fought back effectively: ‘We had so many men in Singapore – so many men – they should have done better.’ As stressed above, it was a huge blow.

Cripps arrived in India, but few were willing to listen to his message. Jinnah’s Muslim League and the Communist Party were backing the war, but so speedy was the Japanese advance that Gandhi genuinely believed they might soon be negotiating Indian independence with Hirohito and Tojo rather than Churchill and Attlee. When Cripps insisted he was offering Congress a ‘blank cheque’ they could cash after the war, Gandhi famously riposted: ‘What is the point of a blank cheque from a failing bank?’

After Cripps returned empty-handed, Churchill pinned his hopes for a stable Indian army largely on Jinnah and Sikandar Hyat Khan, the leader of the Unionist Party and elected Premier of the Punjab, a province crucial to the war effort in terms of manpower and for being the granary of India. When, after Cripps’s return, Churchill said ‘I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion’, he was expressing a long-held view, but in this instance was referring to the Hindus who had badly let him down.

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Humanity will Eat itself through Violence, War, Hatred and Neglect

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Mutilation & Burning at the Stake: United States 1899 in the US State of Georgia:

“Sam Hose was brought to a patch of land known as the old Troutman field. Newspapers reported that members of the mob used knives to sever Hose’s ears, fingers and genitals while others plunged knives repeatedly into his body, to cheers from the mob. Men and boys gathered kindling from the nearby woods to create a pyre. The skin from Hose’s face was removed, and he was doused with kerosene. He was then chained to a pine tree. Several matches were thrown onto the pyre by members of the mob, lighting it on fire and burning Hose alive. The heat from the fire caused Hose’s veins to rupture while his eyes nearly burst from their sockets.[ One journalist present noted the crowd watched “with unfeigned satisfaction” at contortions of Hose’s body. As the flames consumed his body, Hose screamed out, “Oh my God! Oh Jesus!”. From the time of Hose’s first injuries to his death, almost 30 minutes passed. One woman thanked God for the actions of the mob. Some members of the mob cut off pieces of his dead body as souvenirs. Pieces of Hose’s bones were sold for 25 cents, while his heart and liver were cut out to be sold.” ~ Wikipedia

Scaphism in ancient Persia:

In order for the method to work, it had to take place in a swamp or somewhere where the boats could lie exposed to the sun. The victim would be tied inside the space between the boats in a way that left their head, hands, and feet outside. Then, the person in charge of the process would feed the victim a mixture of milk and honey, forcing them to swallow against their will, so the mixture dripped everywhere, covering their eyes, face, and neck. This same mixture was then spread all over the exposed body parts, and the idea was that it would attract every insect, vermin, and wild animal in the area. Very soon afterwards, flies and rats, for instance, would show up and start attacking the victim, eating the mixture of milk and honey, but also eating the person alive along the process.Now, as if the bugs eating them alive weren’t enough, there was also the severe diarrhea that left them feeling weak and dehydrated. This horrifying symptom was the intended consequence of their enforced milk-and-honey diet. The more they were fed this mixture, the more they would defecate inside the boats, but also, the longer they stayed alive. This point, precisely, was the cruelest yet most effective aspect of scaphism: the victims couldn’t die from the diarrhea-induced dehydration because they were fed milk and honey every day. As a result, the victims could survive for days and even weeks in a small hell of bugs, feces, milk, and honey.” ~ culturacolectiva.com

United States in the 21st Century:

Afghan national Alif Khan told Amnesty International that he was held in US custody in Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan for five days in May 2002. He said that he was held in handcuffs, waist chains, and leg shackles for the whole time, subjected to sleep deprivation, denied water for prayer or washing, and was kept in a cage-like structure with eight people.” ~Amnesty International

Myers Enterprises located in the US State of Denver, Colorado, produces the “stun cuff” that shocks unruly prisoners back to order. It takes international orders.  Axon Enterprise made $863 million in revenue in 2021 with one of its core product being the Taser, according to its Investor Slide Deck. There are 960 thousand Tasers floating around the United States and in Europe. Axon sells a number of other products particularly integrated computing observation and reporting systems. While there are complaints about deaths involving Taser’s, or what are known as Conducting Electricity Devices (CED’s), in June 2022 the Office of Justice Programs found that. “law enforcement need not refrain from deploying CEDs, provided the devices are used inaccordance with accepted national guidelines.” Meanwhile,  Amnesty International in a December 2020 report seeks strict controls on CED’s (good luck with that). Since a Taser is a form of gun, it falls, arguably, under the protection of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution (the right to keep and bear arms).

General Mike Minihan, the US Air Mobility Commander opined recently that, “Lethality matters most. When you can kill your enemy, every part of your life is better. Your food tastes better. Your marriage is stronger. This is who we are. We are lethal. Do not apologize for it, after listing distinguished Air Force commanders like Gen. Curtis LeMay and Brig. Gen. Robin Olds, who had no scruples against killing the enemy. The pile of our nations enemy dead, the pile that is the biggest, is in front of the United States Air Force,” he said.

Task & Purpose, September 2022

Imagine a world where roughly 5 billion of the Earth’s 7 billion people has access to a World Wide Web of knowledge that would allow them to search studies on anatomy, chemical engineering, genetics, geography, anthropology, quantum mechanics, artificial intelligence and military science, Shannon’s theory of information, crops and farming, and more. Much more, it turns out. There are free online courses which allow you to learn Algebra or just about any technical or non-technical subject matter on the planet. Want to refute of confirm what “a leader” just told you, look it up online. And collaboration, the Web was designed just for that.

Instead, the Web has become more polluted, if that is possible, with cognitive/attention span killing programs like Tik Tok, Twitter, Facebook, and thousands of reality-bending nuanced disinformation sites that plague the Web. What was supposed to have been a liberating force for humanity’s knowledge is now a crass advertising and propaganda monster. But, perhaps the saddest thought is that it doesn’t take much to tunnel through all the bull&^%$ and find the data buried behind the cognitive/attention span-killing cotton candy. Information sources such as the National Institutes of Health, New England Medical Journal, Defense Technology Information Center and a plethora of other sites on the Web like them are credible, reliable sources. Prominent universities in the USA typically publish their rigorous research findings (MIT, Harvard, CALTECH, Stanford). Do you want to find one place that gives the Russian military campaign in Ukraine its props on manoeuvre warfare? Look no further than the US Marine Corps Gazette, August 2022, paper 22, authored by Marinus.

The Web has become a partisan wasteland with users looking to bounce their left, right and centre world views right back into their brains after some sort of affirmation by the left, right and centre triad. Rarely, if ever, do they cross over into the realm of the other.

I suppose that the Web imitates life in meatspace and there it is arguably worse: global economic woes, USA challenging China and Russia directly, elections of significance in Brazil and the United States, an increase in violence in America’s cities, a pandemic that is not over, climate change, shifting international alliances, America’s global sanctions regime, Russia vs Ukraine conflict, exploding healthcare costs, food shortages, finance capital, ad nauseam.

Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic, summed it all up in a recent speech to the United Nations in August 2022, “The seriousness of the present moment obliges me to share difficult but true words with you. Everything that we are doing today seems impotent and vague. Our words make a hollow and empty echo compared to the reality that we are facing. The reality is that no one listens to anyone, no one strives for real agreements and problem solving, and almost everyone cares only about their own interests.

Solutions?

Why prolong the inevitable end?

Playing With Matches is Dangerous

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Truth is always the first casualty of war – and no less so than the current conflict in Ukraine. Russia insists it’s a localized police action to uproot a new Nazi uprising. Ukraine, which has become a US protectorate, insists it’s fighting to halt Russian aggression against a freedom-seeking nation. No mention that Ukrainians used to be called Russians.

For interesting contrast, go back to the first Chechen War from 1994 to 1996 and the second one from 1999 to 2009. The 1.4 million Chechen, a fierce Muslim people of the Caucasus Mountains, who had been battling Russian imperial expansion for 300 years, rose up and waged two David v. Goliath wars to regain their freedom from Russia.

In the first war, Chechen fighters routed Russian forces. Moscow agreed to independence for the Chechen Islamic Republic. But then hardliners, led by security chief Vladimir Putin, resumed the war after a staged fake bombing of Moscow apartments by the renamed KGB, the SVR that killed 200-300 people.

At that time, the US was actively supporting the Yeltsin regime in Moscow, particularly so with massive financial aid. Yeltsin had long-established links to CIA and Britain’s intelligence agency, MI6.

The US refused to help the Chechen resistance or recognize its fight for independence. I know this because I was closely following this tragic story and trying to raise some support for free Chechnya.

As fighting raged in Chechnya, the US called on the then Chechen leader, Gen, Dzhokhar Dudayev, to negotiate with Boris Yeltsin. Dudayev was given a special mobile phone supposedly connected to one held by Yeltsin for the ’peace talks.’

As so as Dudayev and Yeltsin were connected, a covert US aircraft launched a missile that homed in on Dudayev’s phone receiver. The Chechen leader was blown to bits. With further help from US intelligence, the Chechen resistance was relentlessly ground down and eliminated. Chechens were arrested and tortured en masse in so-called Russian ‘filtration camps.’ A Chechen warlord, Ramzan Kadyrov, was named ‘gauleiter’ of Chechnya. Chechen leaders were hunted down and assassinated by KGB or Kadyrov’s agents.

Chechnya was literally thrown to the wolves by the US. What a contrast this is to the current situation in Ukraine which has been flooded by $15-20 billion of modern US weapons in recent months and aided by a massive propaganda campaign directed by the US and Britain.

Unlike 1991, the US sees the war in Ukraine as a rare chance to tear a big chunk of Russia away or even go on to crush the Russian Federation into fragments. Many Ukrainians would be happy to see this outcome. The memory of how Stalin’s USSR starved or shot some six million Ukrainians in the 1920’s and 1930’s lingers among the older generation.

But younger Ukrainians must question what will happen if their war with Russia continues. Will Ukraine invade Russia and try to regain Crimea? Will the US or some European powers support an attack on Crimea? Poland and Britain are already deeply involved in the war. Who will be next?

The right wing of the US Democratic Party, now in power, is far more warlike and anti-Russian than most Americans realize. In fact, it’s the real `war party.’

If this half-baked war continues, the risks of a nuclear or chemical confrontation grow daily. So does an accidental clash in the Black Sea between Russia and the US. Off on the sidelines the Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Azeris, Egyptians. Iranians and Israelis may be spoiling for a fight.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2022

Final tribute to a much loved monarch

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On a day of national mourning, there was seen much pomp and symbolism. Grief was seen etched on the faces of members of the royal family as well as on the huge crowds who lined the streets of London as the coffin of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II was drawn on a gun carriage, by naval ratings from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey, for her final State funeral.

The invited 2000 VIP’s, Foreign Royals, Presidents, Princes, and Prime Ministers of Britain and the Commonwealth were in attendance to say a final farewell to a much loved monarch.

The most poignant scenes were witnessed when the coffin was transferred to a hearse to take the late Queen to her final resting at Windsor Castle.

The crowds that lined the route to Windsor was estimated at over 2 million on a bright and sunny afternoon, after 11 days of continuous mourning, and millions more, viewing at Westminster Hall braving the weather, which was colder at night time. The love and affection shown by the public was seen as crowds of mourners throwing yellow roses and flowers along the route to Windsor.

The Brits are a very reserved people, with a reserved sense of pride of their Queen and Country.
The Queen was a mother first of all, of 4 children, grandma to 8 grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.

The Queen was also Head of State, not only of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, but of many countries of the Commonwealth.

As such republicans and anti-monarchists may have a bias that the Queen devoted more time to statecraft than her family? Doubtless, the matters of State took a lot of her time, but she also had quiet times with her close family, showing them by her example the burdens of selfless service.

No doubt the Queen was bound by duty and service to State, and perhaps, she did not show the personal touch with her family, but steered a very responsible role with her role as Sovereign. She reigned as Queen but never ruled. Queenship was thrust on her at a very early age of 25, when her father, King George VI died, and she ruled for 70 years with gracious majesty and dignity. Her quiet diplomacy will be cherished as her lasting legacy.

Everything the Queen did was symbolic as well as more than symbolic, with a purpose. Even though it was seen by some with mixed emotion, in parts of the U.K and abroad.

To the Americans the Queen was a symbol of regalia, a novelty, which they could never aspire. They never have forgotten that America was colonised by Britain. To the Russians, the Queen was a link with her ancestry, the Czars. She was the grandniece of Nicholas II, Russia’s last Tsar. He was a cousin of the Queen’s Grandfather, King George V. She invited spaceman Yuri Gagarin, as well as a state visit of President Vladimir Putin to Buckingham Palace. She was invited in return to Russia in October 1994, the first British monarch to set foot on Russian soil. To many colonials and black people, the Queen
enriched them a Commonwealth and an opportunity to come to Britain, like the Windrush generation of people arriving from the Caribbean in the UK between 1948 and 1971. Last, but not the least, it was the Kings and Sultans of the Arab world who had a high regard of H.M. The Queen, for her love of horses and for military hardware, which Britain supplied them.

Queen Elizabeth has departed but her legacy remains for her bountiful service to the nation, the Commonwealth and to the people in faraway lands. Today the symbol of monarchy will continue to be carried on by the work of the British Council, will continue providing scholarship to students to come and graduate in the prestige institutes of learning in Great Britain and return back to their homelands with a clamour for republicanism.

Mendaciousness of Monarchy

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No institution helps obscure the crimes of empire and buttress class rule and white supremacy as effectively as the British monarchy.

The fawning adulation of Queen Elizabeth in the United States, which fought a revolution to get rid of the monarchy, and in Great Britain, is in direct proportion to the fear gripping a discredited, incompetent and corrupt global ruling elite.

The global oligarchs are not sure the next generation of royal sock puppets – mediocrities that include a pedophile prince and his brother, a cranky and eccentric king who accepted suitcases and bags stuffed with $3.2 million in cash from the former prime minister of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, and who has millions stashed in offshore accounts – are up to the job. Let’s hope they are right.

“Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories,” Patrick Freyne wrote last year in The Irish Times. “More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.”

Monarchy obscures the crimes of empire and wraps them in nostalgia. It exalts white supremacy and racial hierarchy. It justifies class rule. It buttresses an economic and social system that callously discards and often consigns to death those considered the lesser breeds, most of whom are people of color. The queen’s husband Prince Phillip, who died in 2021, was notorious for making racist and sexist remarks, politely explained away in the British press as “gaffes.” He described Beijing, for example, as “ghastly” during a 1986 visit and told British students: “If you stay here much longer you’ll all be slitty-eyed.

Tip of Iceberg of Crimes Records

The cries of the millions of victims of empire; the thousands killedtortured, raped and imprisoned during the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya; the 13 Irish civilians gunned down in “Bloody Sunday;” the more than 4,100 First Nations children who died or went missing in Canada’s residential schools, government-sponsored institutions established to “assimilate” indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture, and the hundreds of thousands killed during the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan are drowned out by cheers for royal processions and the sacral aura an obsequious press weaves around the aristocracy. The coverage of the queen’s death is so mind-numbingly vapid — the BBC sent out a news alert on Saturday when Prince Harry and Prince William, accompanied by their wives, surveyed the floral tributes to their grandmother displayed outside Windsor Castle — that the press might as well turn over the coverage to the mythmakers and publicists employed by the royal family.

The royals are oligarchs. They are guardians of their class. The world’s largest landowners include King Mohammed VI of Morocco with 176 million acres, the HolyRoman Catholic Church with 177 million acres, the heirs of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia with 531 million acres and now, King Charles III with 6.6 billion acres of land. British monarchs are worth almost $28 billion. The British public will provide a $33 million subsidy to the Royal Family over the next two years, although the average household in the U.K. saw its income fall for the longest period since records began in 1955 and 227,000 households experience homelessness in Britain. 

Royals, to the ruling class, are worth the expense. They are effective tools of subjugation. British postal and rail workers canceled planned strikes over pay and working conditions after the queen’s death. The Trade Union Congress (TUC) postponed its congress. Labour Party members poured out heartfelt tributes. Even Extinction Rebellion, which should know better, indefinitely canceled its planned “Festival of Resistance.” The BBC’s Clive Myrie dismissed Britain’s energy crisis — caused by the war in Ukraine — that has thrown millions of people into severe financial distress as “insignificant” compared with concerns over the queen’s health. The climate emergency, pandemic, the deadly folly of the U.S. and NATO’s proxy war in Ukraine, soaring inflation, the rise of neo-fascist movements and deepening social inequality will be ignored as the press spews florid encomiums to class rule. There will be 10 days of official mourning.

In 1953, Her Majesty’s Government sent three warships, along with 700 troops, to its colony British Guiana, suspended the constitution and overthrew the democratically elected government of Cheddi Jagan. Her Majesty’s Government helped to build and long supported the apartheid government in South Africa. Her Majesty’s Government savagely crushed the Mau Mau independence movement in Kenya from 1952 to 1960, herding 1.5 million Kenyans into concentration camps where many were tortured. British soldiers castrated suspected rebels and sympathizers, often with pliers, and raped girls and women. By the time India won independence in 1947 after two centuries of British colonialism, Her Majesty’s Government had looted $45 trillion from the country and violently crushed a series of uprisings, including the First War of Independence in 1857. Her Majesty’s Government carried out a dirty war to break the Greek Cypriot War of Independence from 1955 to 1959 and later in Yemen from 1962 to 1969. Torture, extrajudicial assassinations, public hangings and mass executions by the British were routine. Following a protracted lawsuit, the British government agreed to pay nearly £20 million in damages to over 5,000 victims of British abuse during war in Kenya, and in 2019 another payout was made to survivors of torture from the conflict in Cyprus. The British state attempts to obstruct lawsuits stemming from its colonial history. Its settlements are a tiny fraction of the compensation paid to British slave owners in 1835, once it — at least formally — abolished slavery. 

During her 70-year reign, the queen never offered an apology or called for reparations.

The point of social hierarchy and aristocracy is to sustain a class system that makes the rest of us feel inferior. Those at the top of the social hierarchy hand out tokens for loyal service, including the Order of the British Empire (OBE). The monarchy is the bedrock of hereditary rule and inherited wealth. This caste system filters down from the Nazi-loving House of Windsor to the organs of state security and the military. It regiments society and keeps people, especially the poor and the working class, in their “proper” place.

A Balance Sheet of 70-year Reign

The British ruling class clings to the mystique of royalty and fading cultural icons as James Bond, the Beatles and the BBC, along with television shows such as “Downton Abbey” — where in one episode the aristocrats and servants are convulsed in fevered anticipation when King George V and Queen Mary schedule a visit — to project a global presence. Winston Churchill’s bust remains on loan to the White House. These myth machines sustain Great Britain’s “special” relationship with the United States. Watch the satirical film In the Loop to get a sense of what this “special” relationship looks like on the inside. 

It was not until the 1960s that “coloured immigrants or foreigners” were permitted to work in clerical roles in the royal household, although they had been hired as domestic servants. The royal household and its heads are legally exempt from laws that prevent race and sex discrimination, what Jonathan Cook calls “an apartheid system benefitting the Royal Family alone.” Meghan Markle, who is of mixed race and who contemplated suicide during her time as a working royal, said that an unnamed royal expressed concern about the skin color of her unborn son.

I got a taste of this suffocating snobbery in 2014 when I participated in an Oxford Union debate asking whether Edward Snowden was a hero or a traitor. I went a day early to be prepped for the debate by Julian Assange, then seeking refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy and currently in His Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh. At a lugubrious black-tie dinner preceding the event, I sat next to a former MP who asked me two questions I had never been asked before in succession. “When did your family come to America?” he said, followed by “What schools did you attend?” My ancestors, on both sides of my family, arrived from England in the 1630s. My graduate degree is from Harvard. If I had failed to meet his litmus test, he would have acted as if I did not exist. 

Those who took part in the debate – my side arguing that Snowdon was a hero narrowly won – signed a leather-bound guest book. Taking the pen, I scrawled in large letters that filled an entire page: “Never Forget that your greatest political philosopher, Thomas Paine, never went to Oxford or Cambridge.”

Paine, the author of the most widely read political essays of the 18th century, Rights of ManThe Age of Reason and Common Sense, blasted the monarchy as a con. “A French bastard landing with an armed banditti and establishing himself as King of England against the consent of the natives, is in plain terms a very paltry rascally original…The plain truth is that the antiquity of the English monarchy will not bear looking into,” he wrote of William the Conqueror. He ridiculed hereditary rule. “Of more worth is one honest man to society, and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.” He went on: “One of the strangest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings is that nature disproves it, otherwise she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule, by giving  mankind an ass for a lion.” He called the monarch “the royal brute of England.”

Royalists Rallied Against Thomas Piane

When the British ruling class tried to arrest Paine, he fled to France where he was one of two foreigners elected to serve as a delegate in the National Convention set up after the French Revolution. He denounced the calls to execute Louis XVI. “He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression,” Paine said. “For if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.” Unchecked legislatures, he warned, could be as despotic as unchecked monarchs. When he returned to America from France, he condemned slavery and the wealth and privilege accumulated by the new ruling class, including George Washington, who had become the richest man in the country. Even though Paine had done more than any single figure to rouse the country to overthrow the British monarchy, he was turned into a pariah, especially by the press, and forgotten. He had served his usefulness. Six mourners attended his funeral, two of whom were Black.

You can watch my talk with Cornel West and Richard Wolff on Thomas Paine here.

There is a pathetic yearning among many in the U.S. and Britain to be linked in some tangential way to royalty. White British friends often have stories about ancestors that tie them to some obscure aristocrat. Donald Trump, who fashioned his own heraldic coat of arms, was obsessed with obtaining a state visit with the queen. This desire to be part of the club, or validated by the club, is a potent force the ruling class has no intention of giving up, even if hapless King Charles III, who along with his family treated his first wife Diana with contempt, makes a mess of it.

Views expressed are personal

Was Gorbachev a failure?

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17 mins read

“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” (William Shakespeare)

Mikhail Gorbachev’s passing away on 30th August has compelled observers around the world to assess his place in history. For three decades, he has cut a tragic figure, ignored and vilified, mocked and sneered at by his own people and country. The reality is far more complex, and can be appreciated only if one has an understanding of the state of the Soviet Union when Gorbachev assumed power in March 1985.

I was privileged to be a witness, with a ringside view, to the Gorbachev era – first as Political Counsellor in the Indian Embassy in Moscow from 1984 to 1988, and then as the Head of the Soviet and East European Department in the Ministry of External Affairs in India from 1988 to 1991. During this time, I had occasion to meet him, study him, analyze his policies, including as the interpreter from the Indian side for the talks that Gorbachev held with Indian leaders during his visit to India in 1986.

Returning to Moscow in July 1984, exactly nine years after I’d left the country at the end of my first posting to the Soviet Union from 1973 to 1975, I found that the country had not changed at all in the intervening period, except that the ailing and geriatric Leonid Brezhnev had passed away in 1982, as had his successor Yuri Andropov in 1984. Konstantin Chernenko was the new leader, but he was also on his last legs. When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated in October 1984, Chernenko visited the Indian Embassy to sign the condolence book. At the request of the Soviet side, the book was kept in the entrance at the ground floor of the Indian Ambassador’s residence so that Chernenko would not have to climb the steps to the reception room on the first floor. Even then, Chernenko had to be physically hauled up the two small steps at the threshold of the Ambassador’s residence!

To me, that symbolized the state of the Soviet Union in 1985, when Chernenko died and Gorbachev took over. The atmosphere was one of stagnation and gloom, resignation and indifference. Both society and politics had ossified. Survival in the Soviet Union was practically a full-time job, even for diplomats who had privileged access to hard currency stores. In the local markets, fresh fruits and vegetables and decent quality meat was a rarity (I once had to barter a bottle of Scotch whisky for a leg of lamb!). Rumours of availability of basmati rice, fresh bananas or watermelons in local markets were enough to prompt people to set aside their work and rush to grab them before they vanished. Although I never had such a first-hand experience, veteran diplomats who had served in Moscow in the sixties said that it was considered acceptable behaviour for guests attending National Day celebrations organized by Embassies to pocket oranges and apples from the buffet table, since that was the only way to get them! The best memories that Soviet officials travelling to India on official trips came back with were of enjoying fresh tomatoes and cucumbers! For visitors from India, especially if they were vegetarian, a meal at an Indian home was like dining in a Michelin star restaurant where they could actually eat fresh vegetables that used to be transported for Embassy personnel once a month at subsidized rates by Air India flights.

You might have to spend a whole day wandering across town looking for a can opener, and in the process come across the strange sight of people walking with a garland of toilet paper rolls that they had managed to buy – not just for themselves, but for family and friends too. Russians always had a sturdy string bag in their overcoat pockets just in case they came across something worthwhile to buy. On seeing a queue, people instinctively joined it since it was assumed that it had to be for something worthwhile; securing a place in the queue was more urgent than finding out what was on sale! For an inexperienced foreigner, trying to buy anything in a grocery store was a bewildering exercise, what with different queues for different products, and a complex system of ensuring that one spent as little time as possible in the shop. There were queues to first check what was available, do a quick mental calculation and join another queue to pay the bill, then back to the original queues to pick up stuff, all the while keeping a sharp eye out for which queue might be moving faster, and then securing one’s place in different queues by marking one’s place with the person in front and behind! Workers in state and collective farms could not keep anything for their own consumption; everything had to be sent to a regional collection point, to which farmers had to drive in their vehicles or buses to visit towns or villages to buy milk, meat and eggs produced in their farms!

Foreigners were corralled in special buildings, with KGB guards controlling entry and exit. In all hotels, a floor lady monitored the activities of guests and visitors. All local domestic help, and any kind of services (like travel, hotel bookings, home repairs, even tickets to the Bolshoi Theatre) were channelized through a special agency staffed and controlled by the KGB. Most of the Soviet Union beyond a 25-kilometre radius from the centre of Moscow was closed to foreigners, and prior permission was required to visit any of a handful of open cities. Contacts with locals were actively discouraged.

As for the locals themselves, they were shut off from the outside world. Travel to the West was a dream, and only the privileged elite could visit friendly socialist countries. News and information, especially from abroad, was strictly censored, and dissidents were either sent into exile in Siberia or had taken refuge abroad. There was little creativity in the arts and literature. Factories turned out shoddy goods, which is why wary consumers always took care to check the date when an item had been manufactured, since it was a common belief that goods produced towards the end of a month were inferior quality products that were churned out in a hurry to meet the monthly production targets. Not that there was any reliability about statistics – as was later admitted, these were all cooked up. For most people, life meandered on aimlessly. Corruption, absenteeism and alcoholism were rife. True, no one was starving or homeless, but life was stuck in a deep rut with little hope or prospect of any change for the better. The Soviet Union continued to be ruled by an oligarchy of old men and an entrenched self-serving and self-perpetuating nomenklatura (bureaucracy). The three decades of Stalin’s rule had deadened Soviet society and polity, and deeply affected the psyche of the people. So secretive and tightly controlled was the system that the outside world only had an inkling of how hollow and brittle the system had become.

The system was crying out for a radical change – in fact, it had been doing so for the previous three decades after the death of Stalin, and the problems had only aggravated with time. Khrushchev did try to eradicate Stalinism. His “secret” speech at the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956 was seen as a landmark event, but Khrushchev ultimately failed to bring about any change. Kosygin (in the second half of the sixties) and Andropov (during his brief tenure between 1982 and 1984) also tried to institute economic reforms, again to no avail. On Chernenko’s death, Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the CC of the CPSU by a very narrow margin. As a young man influenced by the “thaw” created by Khrushchev in the mid fifties, and as a protégé of Andropov, Gorbachev clearly had the conviction and the determination to reform the Soviet Union, as well as a sound assessment of the reasons for the failure of earlier reform efforts. Now, with a mandate and opportunity to change things, he was imbued with a sense of mission. There was no time to lose. As he put it, “If not now, when? If not we, who?”

Subsequent pillorying of Gorbachev as being politically naïve does not provide a satisfactory answer to the question of how he managed to climb up to the very top of the greasy pole of Soviet politics at such a young age. It also ignores his ruthless sidelining of opponents and his steady accumulation of power in his early years in office. Both by background and conviction, Gorbachev was cut from a different mould than his predecessors. Unlike them, he was well educated, that too at the prestigious and premier Moscow State University. In addition, in Raisa he had a spouse who was smart, educated and intellectually aware. Unlike the spouses of his predecessors and much to the annoyance of traditionalists both in the party and society, she was not content to live life in anonymity and is thought to have played an important role in shaping his policies.

From his very first days in office, Gorbachev showed a decisive and vigorous style of leadership, oozing determination and confidence, impatience and urgency. He was open and accessible, mingled freely with ordinary citizens in the streets, encouraged popular criticism, and eschewed any personality cult. When one met him in person, he radiated warmth and sincerity. His initial goal was to reform socialism, not destroy it; to make the Party a more effective instrument of governance, and not sideline it. Thus his slogan in the early days was merely “uskorenie” or acceleration. He called for “new thinking” for an interdependent world in the nuclear age, dreamt of the Soviet Union as part of a “common European home,” brought about a thaw in relations with China, withdrew troops from Afghanistan, gave a new dynamism to relations with India, worked for bold and courageous cuts in nuclear and conventional weapons and, in the Delhi Declaration signed with India in November 1986, breathtakingly endorsed the idea of a nuclear weapons free world. The tight grip over the East European countries was loosened, and support to Marxist regimes around the world on ideological grounds was given up. Although discerning diplomats and journalists could see the far-reaching logical and ultimate consequences of Gorbachev’s foreign policy pronouncements, no one really expected, at least in the early years of Gorbachev, that Soviet troops would be actually removed from the Warsaw Pact countries.

Was Gorbachev merely a dreamer, an idealist imbued with the ideas of truth, morality and humanism? As subsequent events showed, he did have some of these qualities, when he refused to send troops to quell uprisings in different parts of the Soviet Union and in the East European satellite states. But Gorbachev was also a realist. His outreach to the West was a compulsion, born out of the recognition that, saddled with a stagnant economy, the Soviet Union did not have the wherewithal to compete with the West, with which he foresaw a period of intense competition, aggravated by US President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”). As a satiated territorial power, Gorbachev needed peace with the West, and did not want to fritter away energy and resources to export of revolution. To many of us living in the Soviet Union at that time, it was evident as early as in 1985 that Gorbachev’s coming into power would be a turning point in the history of the Soviet Union. Even cynical and skeptical observers were compelled to revisit old stereotypes and assumptions about the Soviet Union.

After having got a mandate from the 27th Congress of the CPSU in 1986, and having consolidated his political authority in the Politburo, Gorbachev shifted gears from merely “uskorenie” or acceleration to a wider “perestroika” or comprehensive restructuring of all aspects of political, economic, social and intellectual life. In order to overcome the entrenched vested interests of the party elite who were bent on sabotaging Gorbachev’s policies, Gorbachev tried to enthuse ordinary people to support his perestroika. He exhorted people to believe and feel that they were the ‘owners’ of the country. His was a nutcracker approach: cleanse the top ranks of the leadership, and then use the people to exert pressure on the party and bureaucracy from below. In the early months, there was indeed considerable enthusiasm and optimism among at least a section of the elite in the cities. The cultural renaissance, criticism of past leaders’ policies, removal of ‘blank spots’ in history, release of dissidents, reopening and restoration of churches and monasteries, easier travel abroad, emigration of Jews, access to foreign broadcasts, articles in the press exposing misdemeanours of officials – all this released considerable pent-up frustration. 1986 and 1987 were years of heady optimism, mingled with anxious hope that this was not just a dream.

Gorbachev’s strategy didn’t quite pan out the way he had intended. None of this ferment percolated down to the small towns and villages. The bulk of the people were passive and could not get out of their ingrained habit of receiving orders from above. They were uneasy at having responsibility thrust upon them, and their decades-long bitter experience of life in a Stalinist environment prompted them to be naturally cautious and circumspect, even fearful. The bureaucracy was sullen and hostile, at best fence sitters. In any case, they did not know how to work in a more open and liberal environment. One instance that typifies this problem comes to mind. Thanks to Ambassador TN Kaul’s initiative, an agreement was reached to open an Indian restaurant as a joint venture in Moscow. The opening of a foreign restaurant in Moscow was a pioneering and path-breaking development. But the nitty-gritty of opening was infuriatingly frustrating. The Russian General Manager and his Indian deputy took a long time to arrive at a compromise on whether the doors of the restaurant should be kept open or closed. The Indians wanted open doors, whereas the Soviets (in keeping with the prevalent practice that doors to restaurants were kept shut and it usually required a bribe of a rouble or two to persuade the doorman to let in customers!) wanted the doors to be kept shut and a doorman appointed to regulate access to the restaurant. The compromise reached was that the doors would be kept open, but there would be a doorman to keep an eye on who was coming in. A couple of days after the opening of the restaurant, a diner hailed the Indian Deputy Manager with a complaint that his soup was cold. As he went to the kitchen to investigate, he found that there was a babushka(old lady), seated at the entrance to the dining room from the kitchen, weighing the portions of soup and other food items before they were sent to the dining room. Aghast, the Deputy Manager asked why this was being done. The babushka said that she was simply following rules: the prescribed quantity of each soup serving was 300 ml. and she was just making sure that no one got more or less soup! It took considerable effort by the Deputy Manager to persuade the kitchen staff and the supervising babushka that two ladles of hot soup were preferable to an exact 300 ml. of cold soup!

By 1988, perestroika had begun to sputter, and within a year the situation had become critical. There was a flux in all spheres of life. Old systems had been dismantled but new ones hadn’t been set up. The most worrying aspect was the state of the economy because, far from bringing a change for the better, perestroika had worsened the day-to-day life of people. Ethnic and separatist problems began to surface. Gorbachev’s popularity and credibility sharply declined. He was widely blamed and intensely hated for crating the mess in which the country found itself. As it was impossible to turn back the clock, Gorbachev decided to press ahead even harder with radical changes. He got himself elected as President, though not through direct elections. While that gave him more legal powers, it did not give him greater political legitimacy. There were now many independent centers of power – the party, the republics, the army, the KGB, the miners, workers and farmers. Ethnic and regional nationalism, as well as separatism, surfaced menacingly throughout the country.

Soon, the Soviet Union was like a runaway train, hurtling towards a crash. Gorbachev had opened too many fronts simultaneously, and was unable to control the course of events. The Communist Party was made to give up its leading role, but it was forgotten that it was not just a political organization but also the administrative organ of the State that held it together. The old system had been dismantled, but there wasn’t a new one to replace it. Laws to regulate property rights were not in place. No one in authority had any experience in managing a market economy. Nor did ordinary people understand what it meant. By the second half of 1990, as republics, regions, towns and districts declared their “sovereignty” there were serious widespread doubts in the minds of observers and even Gorbachev himself whether the Soviet Union could survive. A referendum in March followed by an agreement reached in April 1991 between nine of the fifteen Republics to have a new treaty that would restructure the Soviet Union as a loose federation or confederation of sovereign states with a weak Centre was a last-ditch effort to avert a looming train wreck. However, the August 1991 failed putsch against Gorbachev, and Yeltsin’s grab for power torpedoed this possibility. On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev stepped down as President of the Soviet Union. The Gorbachev era was over.

Was Gorbachev a failure? In his later years in power, in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and even a few years later when he received less than one percent popular support for a failed Presidential bid, he was scorned and hated by the people at large. It was not just because the Soviet Union had been broken up, and day-to-day survival had become an ordeal for ordinary people. The sense of despondency and despair deepened during the tumultuous decade of the 1990. Gorbachev slid into irrelevant anonymity as a drunken and dysfunctional Yeltsin did nothing to set things right, the West and local oligarchs looted Russia; and NATO steadily spread eastwards. Yet it is noteworthy that he was given, albeit grudgingly, a modicum of respect by the establishment when he passed away, and many ordinary citizens, as well as former Russian President Medvedev and Hungarian Prime Minister Oban, attended his funeral.

Gorbachev was one of the most consequential figures of the 20th century. Like him or hate him, he cannot be forgotten or ignored. There is wide consensual acknowledgment of his enormous global contributions – a peaceful end to the Cold War, reduced risk of use of nuclear weapons, freedom to Eastern Europe from the Soviet yoke and the reunification of Germany without bloodshed. Just for that, he deserves a grateful salute. Outside Europe, Gorbachev’s policies have shaped, for the better, the development path that China and India have taken over the last three decades. The Chinese leaders drew their lessons from Gorbachev’s failed perestroika and took a reform path that was intended to avoid the pitfalls of Gorbachev’s strategy. India was forced to open up its economy and diversify its foreign relations, which is why India today is a more self-confident country with global influence. Ideological regimes across the world that had been propped up by the erstwhile Soviet Union have collapsed. As far as his ideology goes, Gorbachev continued to believe in socialism, but a “humane socialism.” Even if the socialist and communist experiments around the world have left much to be desired, the idea of socialism remains firmly entrenched among hundreds of millions around the globe, especially as it is glaringly evident that capitalism has been unable to ensure either sustainable or inclusive growth, has caused irreversible damage to the environment, and accelerated climate change. Gorbachev’s call for “new thinking” remains painfully relevant.

For Russians, the touchstone of Gorbachev’s legacy is the transformation he has brought about in his homeland. Was he responsible for the breakup of the Soviet Union? He certainly set in motion policies and processes that led to the breakup, but the Soviet Union could have survived as a confederation were it not for the selfish ambitions of the demagogic Yeltsin who stoked Russian chauvinism, and the inherently artificial and semi-colonial structure of the former Soviet Union. It is noteworthy that the Central Asian republics, heavily dependent on Russia, did not want the breakup of the Soviet Union; it was Russia that spurned them in the mistaken belief that they would become a burden on Russia. Gorbachev also made mistakes – there was too much breast-beating and self-flagellation about the crimes of Stalin and other preceding Soviet leaders. He did not realize that sovereign states have an obligation to engender a positive national narrative, and do not admit their mistakes. He was naïve in trusting the West, and failed to secure ironclad guarantees about the future direction of a united Germany and the Soviet Union’s erstwhile satellite states in East Europe. It was humiliating for a proud and patriotic people to stomach the betrayal of their toil and sacrifices to build up their country and the squandering of the gains of a hard-fought victory over Nazi Germany.

Was perestroika a failure? Certainly, from an economic perspective, perestroika failed. Should it have been even tried? There was a strong feeling among the leadership, though not a complete consensus, that there was an urgent need to change the way the Soviet Union was functioning; otherwise, Gorbachev would not have been elected as the General Secretary. He could well have taken a safe line and done nothing, but the danger was that the Soviet Union was likely to have become a giant, and more dangerous, version of North Korea. Could Gorbachev have gone about perestroika differently? Could he not have followed the Chinese reform strategy? Not really – for many reasons. Apart from the fact that the Chinese had the benefit of learning from Gorbachev’s mistakes, Russia was saddled with far more baggage than China. While China had the advantage of having a tradition of entrepreneurship that had survived the three decades of Mao’s rule, Russia had been catapulted from a feudal society to a completely new and untested form of governance, communism, whose prolonged life over seven decades of Stalinist rule had snuffed out all spirit or knowledge of entrepreneurship. Unlike Russia, China also benefited from having Hong Kong as a crutch and a teacher, as well as a large and prosperous Chinese diaspora. Since earlier incremental reform efforts had got bogged down and ended in failure, Gorbachev felt that a more radical, even if riskier, approach was called for. In pursuing this line, the deeper he dug, more and more unanticipated problems surfaced, and soon Gorbachev found that he had opened a can of worms.

As I see it, Gorbachev’s biggest and lasting achievement is the eradication of the cancer of Stalinism in Russia. He definitively and irreversibly destroyed the old centralized, inefficient and corrupt authoritarian system of governance based on Marxist-Leninist ideology. Equally importantly, he radically transformed the psyche and liberated the minds of his people. His domestic critics would do well to reflect on the irony that they got the right and courage to speak out only thanks to Gorbachev! By bringing down a crumbling, hollowed out edifice, Gorbachev created the precondition for a rejuvenated Russia. It is unrealistic to expect that he should also have managed to clear the rubble and erect a new structure. Those who destroy are not destined to create as well; that is a task left for new leaders and generations with different skills. To those who may regard this as an unduly apologetic and charitable perspective, it is worth pointing out that the suffering and trauma that millions of Indians experienced as a result of the Partition of India does not take away from the achievement of Independence from British rule. Many might even regard the Partition, perhaps justifiably, as a blessing in disguise.

Although three decades have passed since the end of the Gorbachev era, it is still too early to pass a definitive judgment on Gorbachev. As long as Putin, the handpicked successor of Gorbachev’s arch-rival Yeltsin, remains in power, it would be difficult for the Russian establishment to make or even permit an objective assessment of Gorbachev. In the decades to come, history is likely to judge Gorbachev more kindly. Russia is once again at a turning point. Russia’s break with the West is likely to be a definitive one for at least a generation or two. Russia appears to have finally given up its centuries-old effort to gain acceptance as a “European” country, and is now focussing on forging an independent Eurasian identity. It will have to rely more on its indigenous talent and resources and build cooperative relations with countries that constitute the Rest rather than the West. The conflict in Ukraine is for Russia an existential battle for survival. It is a war that Russia cannot afford to lose. Its outcome will shape the future of both Russia and the West. Should Russia be confronted with the admittedly remote possibility of losing, then, sadly, the use of nuclear weapons cannot be ruled out. Putin’s Russia will not go down without taking the West down with it. On the other hand, if Russia were to prevail, it would be only because, thanks to the flywheel that Gorbachev set in motion, Russia is a stronger, more confident nation than the old Soviet Union could ever have become. Either way, Gorbachev would be smiling in his grave, whether ruefully or happily!

Views expressed are personal

Farewell Gorbachev

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2 mins read

It was an unforgettable evening in Moscow.

I was taken by Russian friends to the city’s then largest cathedral which had been closed for decades by Stalin’s orders.

Amid clouds of incense and the glow of countless candles, a chorus sang the old Orthodox liturgy. Most of the worshippers openly wept. This was the first time that Russians had been allowed to celebrate Orthodox Christmas mass since the 1930’s. Though not myself religious, I was swept away by the deep emotions and beauty of the moment.

The new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, had allowed his nation’s churches to reopen. This historic act, and a host of other liberalizations, restored Russia to its cultural roots and brought a dawn to the benighted Soviet Union after the dark Communist times.

Mikhail Gorbachev, a soft-spoken bureaucrat from the rural Stavropol region, seemed unlikely to assume leadership of the mighty Soviet Union. But three previous chairmen of the Union had died from age-related infirmities. The Communist Party’s ruling circles decided that their nations needed youth, rejuvenation and a battle against corruption.

So Gorbachev was named the new party chairman. He wasted no time in unleashing a torrent of reforms known a ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika.’ Gorbachev was hugely aided in this revolution by the tough KGB chief of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze whose primary role in Gorbachev’s revolution was not understood by the west. We used to call him ‘Chevy Eddy.’ He enjoyed this sobriquet.

Gorbachev wanted a Europeanized, liberal Russia living in harmony with the western powers. He partly dismantled the fearsome KGB, guardian of the communist party. I interviewed the KGB’s two most senior officers at the notorious Lubyanka Prison and learned of their tentative support for Gorbachev’s reforms.

The most important action taken by Gorbachev was his refusal to use force against ethnic nationalists in the Baltic states, Ukraine, Central Asia and, increasingly, Eastern Europe. Force and fear had held the old Soviet Union together. Once removed, the union quickly began to disintegrate.

Gorbachev also sought to end the Cold War confrontation with the US and its allies, rightly understanding that the USSR could not sustain a ruinous military confrontation with the western powers. Russia at one time had 50,000 tanks and 5,000 nuclear warheads but no food in its miserable markets.

So Gorbachev bravely called an end to the Cold War and embarked on nuclear disarmament programs. He ended the hopeless war in Afghanistan and recalled the Red Army. As rebellions erupted in East Germany, the Baltics and Central Asia a bunch of drunken Communist Party bigwigs tried to overthrow Gorbachev in August 1991 while he was vacationing in Crimea. The coup was a comic fiasco, but it ended Gorbachev’s authority. Boris Yeltsin, secretly supported by the US and Britain, seized power.

The USSR collapsed, splintering into pieces. Gorbachev and his allies were unwilling to employ brute force to stop the process. Had they done so, nuclear war with the US and NATO would have been likely. While Gorbachev avoided war and allowed the historic reunification of Germany, the US invaded Iraq. Many Russians warned that the US was determined to destroy the Russian Union. Washington’s vows not to expand NATO east turned out to be untruths that delivered the final fatal blow to Gorbachev. He became the most reviled man in Russia, an outcast in his own country. His lovely, cultured wife Raisa was denounced as a snob, but she would form the model for modern Russian women, transformed from dumpy versions of Mrs. Khrushchev into stunning beauties.

Former President Mikhail Gorbachev died last week aged 91 after a long illness. Like the late US president Jimmy Carter, he struggled to spare the world from the threat of nuclear war. He made many mistakes, but Gorby was a great man, a great statesman and a great human being.

Rest in peace, Mikhail Sergeyevich. I salute you.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2022

The Legacy of Gorbachev: International Peacemaker or National Resentment?

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339 views
4 mins read

Another influential figure passes from the genus of the living and into the memories of the lost. As the month of August completed its timely lapse, the final leader of the Soviet Union passed away at the ripe old age of 91.

At the news of his death, political leaders of the West remembered Mikhail Gorbachev for his distinguished character, his unflinching faith in peace, and his tiring efforts for reformation. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres paid tribute to the Soviet leader commenting that he was ‘a one-of-a-kind statesman who changed the course of history’, while US President Joe Biden hailed him as ‘a man of remarkable vision’. Nevertheless, while he is being praised by the ascendancies of the Western political camp, he was even denied a state funeral in his own nation for his responsibility in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev led a distinguished and unconventional life that earned him international reverence but national revilement. When he acceded to power as General Secretary in 1985, he presided over one of the most powerful countries in the bipolar world order of the 1980s. However, when he resigned, he left a disintegrated and weak Russian state that had become the fallen pole in the emerging unipolar world of the 1990s.

The rise of Gorbachev was glorious and unprecedented in the history of the USSR. This dynamic and charismatic leader was to bring the idea of reformation to the rigid administrative structure of the Union. His famous slogans ‘perestroika’ (rebuilding) and ‘glasnost’ (openness) were the fundamental ideologies used as the guiding tenets that were to bring the Soviet edifice to heightened prosperity and opulence. The United States and its allies welcomed him with open arms as they foresaw the opportunity that the capitalist machine could reap from a communist leader having democratic ideals.

The ideals of Gorbachev, however, were no doubt based on the noble principles of well-founded intentions. He visioned the bringing of a peaceful reformation from within, yet his ideas proved too idealistic to be true. The effort to hold the Empire together without the regressive control of central authority was a futile attempt. As the Empire opened up, multiple European and Baltic satellite states under the Kremlin began calls for independence. When Gorbachev refused to use force to repress the protests, the fall of the Empire became inevitable – a drastic similarity to the fall of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the face of the JVP-led regime change operation in Sri Lanka.

As Gorbachev’s biographer William Taubman wrote; ‘he was a good man, he was a decent man. I think his tragedy is in a sense that he was too decent for the country he was leading’. The failure of Gorbachev remains an example of how a top-down approach for a rapid transformation of an oligarchical system is not possible along a peaceful road. Such efforts to pressurise change more often lead to violent push-back from the status quo even if the proponent of that change is one of them.

The strategy of Gorbachev worked in the international sphere where he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for playing a leading role in ending the Cold War between the US and USSR. But of course, wide speculation exists on whether the Peace Prize was given as a ‘Thank You’ token for allowing the United States to win against the Soviets. The nuclear arms race was a leading concern in the 1980s as the looming risk of nuclear war between the world powers was a constant possibility that could cause unimaginable destruction across the world. The combined efforts of Gorbachev of the USSR and Ronald Reagan of the US helped in the voluntary reduction in nuclear arsenals of both countries. The Reagan Foundation and Institute looked back and described Gorbachev as ‘a man who once was a political adversary of Ronald Reagan’s who ended up becoming a friend’.

On the global stage of diplomacy, Gorbachev was praised as a peacemaker. However, in his homeland, he faced scathing criticism. The political career of Gorbachev could not survive the disintegration of the USSR as it was seen as a humiliation brought upon the people of the former Soviet Union. He was not only blamed for the hyperinflation and food insecurity that followed, but also for the very failure to uphold the tenets of the Empire that were structurally in place for more than half a century. Soon after he resigned in 1991 on the eve of the Soviet collapse, the Kremlin was once again reclaimed by the Russian hardliners. In his resignation speech in December 1991, Gorbachev proclaimed that the ‘old system collapsed before the new one had time to begin working, and the crisis in the society became even more acute’. When he tried to return to power in 1996, it was too late and he received only 1% of the vote from the constituents of the collapsed Union.

The death of Gorbachev comes at a disoriented juncture for the Russians as it remains deep in war against its former republic state of Ukraine. The failure of Gorbachev to become the linchpin for the Soviet Empire resulted in the perceived victory of the Western camp in winning the Cold War. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Union, the United States and its allies began inundating former Soviet states into the Western sphere of influence. Highly influential former Soviet republics began switching teams with the United States. Poland, Hungary and the Czechs joined the American NATO in 1999 while Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined in 2004. The ever-creeping US ideological machine continues to thrust Eastward. America’s attempt to bring Ukraine into its direct sphere of influence triggered Putin’s war machine that launched its invasion of Ukraine to thwart any attempts to install a NATO power in Russia’s backyard.

The policy adopted by hardliners like Vladimir Putin is the opposite of Gorbachev’s so-called peace policy. They blame Gorbachev for the Soviet Union’s fall from grace. While Gorbachev attempted to rule in the American style of governance that led to failure, Putin appears to remain vigilant and downright rejects the Americanisation of the former Soviet Empire. This is in no way to opine that the Russian style of governance is superior to its American counterpart, but simply a comment on the rather colossal ideological confrontation that continues to burn. In 2005, the Russian president called the break-up of the USSR ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century’.

Gorbachev’s life and the collapse of the Soviets continue to stand as examples of the use of Western liberal practice in non-Western nations as a style of governance. Like the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, the disintegration of the Union transpired as a result of replacing stalwart control with liberal-backed suspended governance. The legacy of Gorbachev will remain a silent reminder of a somewhat liberal Russia – one that encouraged individualism and accepted the limitations of collectivism. Yet the question persists if the overwhelming praise of Gorbachev in Western media could ever conceal the marginal ostracism that he suffered on the home front. Gorbachev’s life will remain a consequential pillar in the annals of history in the great East-West control for influence. Rest easy, Mr Gorbachev; rest easy.

Bangladesh: The carnage shook the World

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6 mins read

As long as Padma, Meghna, Gouri, Jamuna flows on,
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, your accomplishment will also live on.” – Annada Shankar Ray

No mercy or clemency to the killers of Father of the Bengali Nation – Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

This column is well worth a visit. Because it is not a simple murder only by the anti-Bangladesh malefactors and their ill-chums – the obnoxious nexus of America’s CIA and Pakistan’s ISI. It was a murder of a sky-touching figure like Bangabandhu Mujib and most of his family members. It has changed the entire political landscape of Bangladesh. The core spirit that we attained through our glorious Liberation war of 1971 to establish Bangladesh was tattered for an indefinite time.

The carnage shook the whole world in the wee hours on 15 August 1975.

If the crimes were ever a topic of discussion around, it was only people of all classes expressing their strong resentment (the media was then fully controlled by those arrant killers) with a national loss that seemed intent on forever branding our beloved Dhaka’s Road No. 32 Dhanmondi as a murder moorage.

Our glorious Liberation war of 1971 to found Bangladesh is our plume. Our national flag is our preen. Our national anthem is our prideful-ness. We achieved Bangladesh at the blood-bath of 3 million of our people by the lunatic Pakistani military regime and their local brutish cohorts, majorly the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) sub-humans. To attain Bangladesh, three hundred thousand of our mothers and sisters lost their chastity at the hands of those malefactors. We saw their baleful everlasting annihilation of the freedom-loving people of all classes and of all religions in the country.

These perps forced out ten million of our people from their homes with unspeakable sufferings, made them shelter-less and forced them to take refuge inside India. All these men-made disasters were played out throughout a 9-month war in 1971. We finally gave them a crushing defeat on 16 December 1971 and our beloved Bangladesh came into being as an independent and sovereign state in the world map. We are proud of the secular spirit that we earned through our glorious Liberation War in 1971.

But the bacilli of the defeated forces could not be destroyed after Bangladesh’s Founding Father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s brutal killing intentionally and with premeditation on 15 August in 1975 by Khondokar Mushtaqu Ahmed and his camarilla and because of skullduggeries of depraved military rulers – Gen. Zia, Gen. Ershad and their compadre – Begum Zia for two decades or so. Unfortunately, they have infected, among many other people in the country.

From our side, the war was fought on the philosophies of establishing of Nationalism, Democracy, Socialism, and Secularism in the country. The true spirits and values of our glorious Liberation War of 1971 can best be described by a song sings by famed singer Rathindra Nath Roy, “For the youngsters; for the adults; for the poor; for the riches; for all; for the have-nots; for the beggars-our country is for all people; for all people where there is no difference between punters and blacksmiths; where there is no difference amongst Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians; one mother; and one country, but belong to all (Chotoder boroder, shokoler, ……..ek mata, ek desh shokoler).”

This is what Bangladesh we wanted in 1971 and we established that glorious Bangladesh in 1971.

Idealism got jumped in the alleyway of realpolitik when the governments of military dictators usurped the throne of Bangladesh and ruled the country. In truth today, today’s Bangladesh is not our Bangladesh. It is not a Bangladesh which we achieved in 1971 at a very high price. Depraved military dictators, Zia and Ershad usurped power and ruled the country for 16 years. The spirits and values of our glorious Liberation War were battered according to their whims; the anti-liberation forces on the run for their grave misdeeds in 1971, were arrogantly rehabilitated everywhere in the country to serve their petty political interests.

One of them was made Prime Minister, some ministers and placed others in key positions of the country. The bright constitution of 1972 was ravaged like anything. The immortal slogan “Joy Bangla” was sent into oblivion. The so-called ‘Zindabad’ slogan with the Pakistani spirit soiled with dirt or soot was restored in its glorious place. The name of our glorious Liberation War, the name our country’s Founding Father…. were made naught.

The two-nation theory which was buried by our glorious Liberation War, was brought back to designedly assault our heroic and patriotic war of 1971. The Satanic lust and twists polluted the hearts of two evil military dictators, and also one civilian dictator and their mango-twigs who ruled the country…

A large number of war criminals who were in jails were set free and garlanded to further rape the country with more ferociousness using the name of our holy religion, Islam. Communalism was patronised to push out of the way of secularism which had great beauty and splendor and which was achieved through our national liberation characterised by grandeur.

The valour, patriotism, the supreme sacrifices of our millions of people, our deep love for the country – everything were laid down by these shenanigan politicians. It is as if these morally reprehensible people raped everything and the beautiful country; its bright sun; and its bright moon and what not. The bare truth is that all these evil schemes were not needed to have done under any circumstances. Communalism now-a-days has risen its ugly head more vigorously. The golden days which we have passed through are all really gone!

And this is not what Bangladesh we wanted for in 1971.

Bangladesh has to be made Bangladesh in its original form. Keep moving on the ideals of 1971 war which need to be revived in full spirit.

Fuyumi Soryo has rightfully reminded, “If a castle gets destroyed, you just build a new one. If you wanted me to, I’d build them over and over. Let’s build them together.” Let us build together what precious treasures we have lost in Bangladesh. Moving towards the people’s desire for the restoration of glorious, creative past is a vital work for the state and its people and should be read by all who want to … The lost glory will truly be a remarkable work which is not just for the leaders, but a message for every people of the country.

Changing a little bit of the words of Teddy Roosevelt, we wish to say, “This is a nation — not a polyglot boarding house. There is not room in the country for any 50-50 Bengali, nor can there be but one loyalty — to the Green and Red coloured Flag.” The lost glory of Bangladesh that ideal for which many have fought and died for, has to be restored in full. The departure from the very Bangladesh for our nation has to be restored in full. The remnants of Pakistani ghosts and goblins and the Bangla speaking Pakistanis must be reduced to ashes.

Our principle in this matter should be absolutely simple. We should insist that if everyone lives here does in good faith become a Bengali and assimilates himself to us, he or she shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man or woman because of caste, creed or religion. But this is predicated upon the man’s becoming in very fact a Bengali and nothing, but a Bengali.

We have room for but one flag, Bangladesh’s flag, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Bangladesh’s, and its nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding house; and we have room for but one soul sic loyalty, and that is loyalty to Bangladesh’s people. But this is predicated upon the man’s and woman’s becoming in very fact a Bengali and nothing but a Bengali.

We do not want to be any other nation or any other persuasion, but with a government that has not given up the very foundations that we were founded upon. The political arms in PM’s Secretariate and Bangabhaban have to thwart any ill-motivated move the very constitution that we have had in 1972. The evil and communal forces that want to bring the world of Bangladesh down have succeeded to do so because of the military rulers who ascended the throne of Bangladesh forcefully. It is as if we do not live in Bangladesh, per-se; we live in another country.

But that not be; we will not recant, change, or move away from the true spirits and values of our 1971 war. The new struggle is to our Bangladesh’s ideals; to what my forebears, forefathers of this nation, and to our own blood who preceded us. The anti-liberation forces have garnered supporters because of their unity. For decades our politicians have been slowly diluting the very foundations of Bangladesh with people. Our one sole is now loyalty and that is loyalty to Bangladesh’s people.

So, we have, but room for one allegiance that is to Bangladesh. The patriot Bengalis are those who form the battle line to protect freedoms so that all of us can live under the true banner of freedom without hate to people of other religions. We want keep to the People’s Republic of Bangladesh which we attained in 1971. This is what Bangladesh in the truest sense of the term.

There is strange comfort in knowing that no matter what happened yesterdays, the Sun will rise again tomorrow. The struggles we endure today will be the good old days.

Bangabandhu’s high road of grace will get us somewhere a whole lot faster than the freeway of spite. Joy Bangla. Joy Bangabandhu.

Mendel’s Genetic Revolution and the Legacy of Scientific Racism

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7 mins read

In July, the world celebrated 200 years since the birth of Gregor Mendel, who is widely accepted as the “father of modern genetics” for his discovery of the laws of inheritance. His experiments with peas, published in 1866 under the title “Experiments in Plant Hybridization,” identified dominant and recessive traits and how recessive traits would reappear in future generations and in what proportion. His work would largely remain unacknowledged and ignored until three other biologists replicated his work in 1900.

While Mendel’s work is central to modern genetics, and his use of experimental methods and observation is a model for science, it also set off the dark side with which genetics has been inextricably linked: eugenics and racism. But eugenics was much more than race “science.” It was also used to argue the superiority of the elite and dominant races, and in countries like India, it was used as a “scientific” justification for the caste system as well.

People who believe that eugenics was a temporary aberration in science and that it died with Nazi Germany would be shocked to find out that even the major institutions and journals that included the word eugenics as part of their names have continued to operate by just changing their titles. The Annals of Eugenics became the Annals of Human Genetics; the Eugenics Review changed its name to the Journal of Biosocial Science; Eugenics Quarterly changed to Biodemography and Social Biology; and the Eugenics Society was renamed the Galton Institute. Several departments in major universities, which were earlier called the department of eugenics, either became the department of human genetics or the department of social biology.

All of them have apparently shed their eugenics past, but the reoccurrence of the race and IQ debate, sociobiology, the white replacement theory and the rise of white nationalism are all markers that theories of eugenics are very much alive. In India, the race theory takes the form of the belief that Aryans are “superior” and fair skin is seen as a marker of Aryan ancestry.

While Adolf Hitler’s gas chambers and Nazi Germany’s genocide of Jews and Roma communities have made it difficult to talk about the racial superiority of certain races, scientific racism persists within science. It is a part of the justification that the elite seek, justifying their superior position based on their genes, and not on the fact that they inherited or stole this wealth. It is a way to airbrush the history of the loot, slavery and genocide that accompanied the colonization of the world by a handful of countries in Western Europe.

Why is it that when we talk about genetics and history, the only story that is repeated is that about biologist Trofim Lysenko and how the Soviet Communist Party placed ideology above science? Why is it that the mention of eugenics in popular literature is only with respect to Nazi Germany and not about how Germany’s eugenic laws were inspired directly by the U.S.? Or how eugenics in Germany and the U.S. were deeply intertwined? Or how Mendel’s legacy of genetics become a tool in the hands of racist states, which included the U.S. and Great Britain? Why is it that genetics is used repeatedly to support theories of superiority of the white race?

Mendel showed that there were traits that were inherited, and therefore we had genes that carried certain markers that could be measured, such as the color of the flower and the height of the plant. Biology then had no idea of how many genes we had, which traits could be inherited, how genetically mixed the human population is, etc. Mendel himself had no idea about genes as carriers of inheritance, and this knowledge became known much later.

From genetics to society, the application of these principles was a huge leap that was not supported by any empirical scientific evidence. All attempts to show the superiority of certain races started with a priori assuming that certain races were superior and then trying to find what evidence to choose from that would help support this thesis. Much of the IQ debate and sociobiology came from this approach to science. In his review of The Bell Curve, Bob Herbert wrote that the authors, Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, had written a piece of “racial pornography,” “…to drape the cloak of respectability over the obscene and long-discredited views of the world’s most rabid racists.”

A little bit of the history of science is important here. Eugenics was very much mainstream in the early 20th century and had the support of major parties and political figures in the UK and the U.S. Not surprisingly, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was a noted supporter of race science, although eugenics had some supporters among progressives as well.

The founder of eugenics in Great Britain was Francis Galton, who was a cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton pioneered statistical methods like regression and normal distribution, as did his close collaborators and successors in the Eugenics Society, Karl Pearson and R.A. Fisher. On the connection of race and science, Aubrey Clayton, in an essay in Nautilus, writes, “What we now understand as statistics comes largely from the work of Galton, Pearson, and Fisher, whose names appear in bread-and-butter terms like ‘Pearson correlation coefficient’ and ‘Fisher information.’ In particular, the beleaguered concept of ‘statistical significance,’ for decades the measure of whether empirical research is publication-worthy, can be traced directly to the trio.”

It was Galton who, based supposedly on scientific evidence, argued for the superiority of the British over Africans and other natives, and that superior races should replace inferior races by way of selective breeding. Pearson gave his justification for genocide: “History shows me one way, and one way only, in which a high state of civilization has been produced, namely the struggle of race with race, and the survival of the physically and mentally fitter race.”

The eugenics program had two sides: one was that the state should try to encourage selective breeding to improve the stock of the population. The other was for the state should take active steps to “weed out” undesirable populations. The sterilization of “undesirables” was as much a part of the eugenics societies as encouraging people toward selective breeding.

In the U.S., eugenics was centered on Cold Spring Harbor’s Eugenics Record Office. While Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and its research publications still hold an important place in contemporary life sciences, its original significance came from the Eugenics Record Office, which operated as the intellectual center of eugenics and race science. It was supported by philanthropic money from the Rockefeller family, the Carnegie Institution and many others. Charles Davenport, a Harvard biologist, and his associate Harry Laughlin became the key figures in passing a set of state laws in the U.S. that led to forced sterilization of the “unfit” population. They also actively contributed to the Immigration Act of 1924, which set quotas for races. The Nordic races had priority, while East Europeans (Slavic races), East Asians, Arabs, Africans and Jews were virtually barred from entering the country.

Sterilization laws in the U.S. at the time were controlled by the states. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, the doyen of liberal jurisprudence in the U.S., gave his infamous judgment in Virginia on justifying compulsory sterilization, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” he ruled in Buck v. Bell. Carrie Buck and her daughter were not imbeciles; they paid for their “sins” of being poor and perceived as threats to society (a society that failed them in turn). Again, Eugenics Research Office and Laughlin played an important role in providing “scientific evidence” for the sterilization of the “unfit.”

While Nazi Germany’s race laws are widely condemned as being the basis for Hitler’s gas chambers, Hitler himself stated that his inspiration for Germany’s race laws was the U.S. laws on sterilization and immigration. The close links between the U.S. eugenicists and Nazi Germany are widely known and recorded. Edwin Black’s book War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race described how “Adolf Hitler’s race hatred was underpinned by the work of American eugenicists,” according to an article in the Guardian in 2004. The University of Heidelberg, meanwhile, gave Laughlin an honorary degree for his work in the “science of racial cleansing.”

With the fall of Nazi Germany, eugenics became discredited. This resulted in institutions, departments and journals that had any affiliation to eugenics by name being renamed, but they continued to do the same work. Human genetics and social biology became the new names for eugenics. The Bell Curve was published in the 1990s justifying racism, and a recent bestseller by Nicholas Wade, a former science correspondent of the New York Times, also trot out theories that have long been scientifically discarded. Fifty years back, Richard Lewontin had shown that only about 6 to 7 percent of human genetic variation exists between so-called racial groups. At that time, genetics was still at a nascent stage. Later, data has only strengthened Lewontin’s research.

Why is it that while criticizing the Soviet Union’s scientific research and the sins of Lysenko 80 years back, we forget about race science and its use of genetics?

The answer is simple: Attacking the scientific principles and theories developed by the Soviet Union as an example of ideology trumping science is easy. It makes Lysenko the norm for Soviet science of ideology trumping pure science. But why is eugenics, with its destructive past and its continuing presence in Europe and the U.S., not recognized as an ideology—one that has persisted for more than 100 years and that continues to thrive under the modern garb of an IQ debate or sociobiology?

The reason is that it allows racism a place within science: changing the name from eugenics to sociobiology makes it appear as a respectable science. The power of ideology is not in the ideas but in the structure of our society, where the rich and the powerful need justification for their position. That is why race science as an ideology is a natural corollary of capitalism and groups like the G7, the club of the rich countries who want to create a “rule-based international order.” Race science as sociobiology is a more genteel justification than eugenics for the rule of capital at home and ex-colonial and settler-colonial states abroad. The fight for science in genetics has to be fought both within and outside science as the two are closely connected.

This article was produced in partnership by Newsclick and Globetrotter.