Tuesday, February 27, 2024

'If This Isn't Genocide, I Don't Know What Is,' Says Lula of Israeli Attack on Gaza

"What the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinian people is not war," said the President of Brazil. "It's not soldiers who are dying, but women and children who are dying inside the hospitals."


Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva delivers a speech during the launching ceremony of a Petrobras cultural investment project at the Modern Art Museum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on February 23, 2024.

(Photo by Pablo Porciuncula/AFP via Getty Images)


JON QUEALLY
Feb 25, 2024
COMMON DREAMS

Just days after Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was announced to be 'person non grata' by the Israeli government for critical comments he made about its conduct in Gaza, the leftist leader known as Lula remained outspoken over the weekend as he condemned the military onslaught that has claimed nearly 30,000 lives, mostly innocent civilians, in just over four months.

"What the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinian people is not war, it is genocide,” Lula thundered in remarks Friday during an event in Rio de Janiero. "They are killing women and children. There are thousands of children dead and thousands missing. It's not soldiers who are dying, but women and children who are dying inside the hospitals."

He continued: "If this isn't genocide, I don't know what is."




In his remarks, Lula condemned the failure of the UN Security Council to intervene in a meaningful way to stop the carnage in Gaza. On Feb. 19, the United States once again used its veto power to reject a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire.

The UNSC "represents nothing," he said. "It does not take any decisions, it does nothing for peace," he added, while decrying the amount of "hypocrisy in the world today" when it comes to political leadership.
Denmark Finds 'Deliberate Sabotage' of Nord Stream—But Ends Probe With No Charges

The country is the second U.S. ally in the past month to end an investigation into the pipeline explosions.



The gas leak at Nord Stream 2 is seen from the Danish F-16 interceptor on Bornholm.
(Photo: Danish Defense)

JULIA CONLEY
Feb 26, 2024
COMMON DREAMS


Denmark became the latest country to close its investigation into the underwater explosions that caused leaks in two pipelines that were built to carry gas from Russia to Germany, with authorities saying they had found that "there was deliberate sabotage" of the infrastructure but would not go further in their probe to confirm who was behind the blasts.

"The assessment is that there are not sufficient grounds to pursue a criminal case," said the Danish police, prompting criticism from Russian officials and other critics.

Since the gas leaks were discovered in September 2022, seven months after Russia invaded Ukraine, various observers have accused the two countries as well as the United States of being at fault.

The leaks—which experts said led to the single largest release of methane gas due to human activity—were discovered beneath the Baltic Sea, off the coast of the Danish island of Bornholm. Seismic institutes found that two explosions had occurred underwater just before the leaks were recorded.

Russian energy giant Gazprom owns a majority stake in the pipelines, with German, Dutch, and French companies also owning interests. Weeks before the leaks were discovered, Russia had intensified tensions in Europe by cutting gas supplies in suspected retaliation for sanctions against Moscow.

The U.S. was a longtime critic of the Nord Stream pipelines, arguing they would increase European dependence on Russia for energy.


Just before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden said in a joint news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that a Russia offensive would push the U.S. to "bring an end to" the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.


But the U.S. has denied involvement in the explosions, saying in February 2023 that one report alleging U.S. sabotage published by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh was "false and complete fiction."

Hersh reported, based on a single anonymous source who had "direct knowledge of the operational planning," that Biden had authorized U.S. Navy divers to plant remotely triggered explosives that destroyed the Nord Stream pipelines, enlisting the help of the Norwegian Navy and secret service.
                                                                  
In March 2023, weeks after Hersh's report was released, the U.S. and several Western allies opposed a United Nations Security Council resolution that aimed to launch an international probe into the Nord Stream explosions.

Earlier this month, Sweden concluded its own investigation, saying the case did not fall under its jurisdiction and noting that they had given "material that can be used as evidence" to German authorities for their probe. Swedish prosecutor Mats Ljungqvist said that the "primary assumption is that a state is behind it."

The German federal prosecutor's investigation is ongoing.

Journalist Thomas Fazi suggested U.S. allies have dropped their probes because they are "terrified of actually finding the culprit."



The question of who caused the Nord Stream gas leaks, said author Tony Norfield, "has troubled Swedish and Danish investigators so much, they have closed their inquiries. Just in case they uncover something embarrassing."
FTC and State AGs Sue to Block Kroger-Albertsons 'Mega Merger'

"By suing to block the Kroger-Albertsons merger, the FTC is keeping grocery bills down and workers in their jobs," said one anti-monopoly campaigner.


Unionized grocery store workers rally to oppose the proposed merger of Kroger and Albertsons on April 13, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

JAKE JOHNSON
Feb 26, 2024
COMMON DREAMS

The Federal Trade Commission and a bipartisan group of state attorneys general joined forces Monday on a lawsuit aimed at blocking the supermarket giant Kroger from buying up the Albertsons grocery chain, warning the merger would hamper competition, further drive up food prices, and harm workers.

If completed, the $24.6 billion deal would mark the largest supermarket merger in U.S. history at a time when grocery chains are facing growing scrutiny for driving up prices to pad their bottom lines. A Kroger-Albertsons grocery behemoth would control more than 5,000 stores and 4,000 retail pharmacies across the country, according to the FTC.

"This supermarket mega merger comes as American consumers have seen the cost of groceries rise steadily over the past few years," said Henry Liu, director of the FTC's Bureau of Competition. "Kroger's acquisition of Albertsons would lead to additional grocery price hikes for everyday goods, further exacerbating the financial strain consumers across the country face today."

"Essential grocery store workers would also suffer under this deal, facing the threat of their wages dwindling, benefits diminishing, and their working conditions deteriorating," Liu added.

The attorneys general of Arizona, California, Washington, D.C., Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wyoming are joining the FTC's suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.

The lawsuit drew immediate praise from progressive advocacy groups and opponents of food industry consolidation.

Stacy Mitchell, co-executive director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), said the decision to sue shows that the FTC "sees what we have long argued—there was no upside to this merger for anybody other than the top executives at these two companies and their investors."

ILSR has estimated that if the deal survives legal challenges, Kroger-Albertsons and Walmart—the largest low-wage employer in the U.S.—would control 70% of the grocery market in over 160 cities.

"Concentration in grocery retail has already caused food prices to skyrocket," said Mitchell. "We know from past grocery mergers that this one would have sent prices for consumers even higher. It would have left many communities, especially on the West Coast, with little to no competition or choice about where to shop. And it would have hurt retail workers by giving the combined companies even more leverage to push down wages and dictate terms."




Grocery prices have outpaced overall inflation in the U.S. over the past four years, surging by roughly 25%—and they remain stubbornly high even as inflation has fallen substantially from its peak of 9.1% in the summer of 2022.

The FTC, which has been assessing the proposed merger for more than a year, said Monday that because Kroger and Albertsons are direct competitors, a merger of the two "would eliminate head-to-head price and quality competition, which have driven both supermarkets to lower their prices and improve their product and service offerings."

"If the merger takes place, grocery prices will increase, and Kroger and Albertsons' incentive to improve product quality and customer service will decrease, further harming customers," the agency said.

The deal would also bring economic pain for workers, according to merger opponents. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has estimated that if the acquisition is completed, roughly 746,000 grocery store workers in over 50 metropolitan areas of the U.S. would see their annual earnings fall by a combined $334 million.

"Workers' ability to negotiate better pay and working conditions rests on their capacity to switch jobs," EPI senior economist Ben Zipperer explained in a 2023 memo. "By decreasing the number of outside options available to workers, the merger will limit competition for hiring and retaining employees, and grocery store worker earnings will fall as a result."

The FTC said Monday that executives at both Kroger and Albertsons have admitted that the proposed merger is anticompetitive. The agency quotes one unnamed executive as saying, "You are basically creating a monopoly in grocery with the merger."

Morgan Harper, director of policy and advocacy at the American Economic Liberties Project, said in a statement that "by suing to block the Kroger-Albertsons merger, the FTC is keeping grocery bills down and workers in their jobs."

"From higher prices for consumers, worse wages and benefits for workers, a tighter squeeze on producers and farmers, to an increased risk of grocery and pharmacy deserts across the 48 states this merger affects, the harms of this deal were clear from the start," said Harper. "No divestiture or concession would make it work—which is why over 100,000 workers and countless advocates have spoken out against this disastrous merger."

"Kroger and Albertsons would be wise to save everyone's time and abandon this deal," she added.
Canadians Cheer 'Big Deal' Plan for Single-Payer Pharmacare


However, at least two provinces—Alberta and Quebec—have said they would opt out, which critics called "outrageous."

Liberal Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh participate in a debate in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada on September 9, 2021.

(Photo: Justin Tang/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)


JESSICA CORBETT
Feb 26, 2024
COMMON DREAMS

Advocates of boosting Canadians' access to prescription drugs in recent days have cautiously celebrated forthcoming legislation for a universal national pharmacare program, which will begin with coverage of contraceptives and diabetes medication.

The supply and confidence agreement between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals and the New Democratic Party (NDP)—announced in 2022 and set to continue through the middle of next year—called for "passing a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023 and then tasking the National Drug Agency to develop a national formulary of essential medicines and bulk purchasing plan by the end of the agreement."

However, the parties last year agreed to push it until March 1. With that deadline rapidly approaching, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on Friday confirmed to CTV News that the parties had struck a deal on "historic" draft legislation.



"I can proudly say that not only do we have legislation that specifically refers to single-payer, that refers to the Canada Health Act, and the principles and values, we also have secured commitments to delivering diabetes medication and contraceptives using a single-payer public model," Singh said in a Sunday appearance on CTV.

The draft hasn't yet been introduced, but Nikolas Barry-Shaw, the trade and privatization campaigner at the Council of Canadians, highlighted in a Monday analysis that "several leaks (if correct) have suggested the Canada Pharmacare Act will include plans to develop a list of essential medicines that would be covered by pharmacare and a bulk purchasing plan, as well as an 'implementation council' to advise on financing."

"This represents one of the biggest advances in Canadian healthcare in decades but it's nevertheless a fragile victory," Barry-Shaw declared. "The program would be life-changing for people who rely on birth control and diabetes medications, and after the legislation is passed we hope the formulary will be expanded so more people can have that life-changing access to medicines."



Bea Bruske, president of the Canadian Labor Congress, also welcomed the win, saying Friday that "this is a BIG deal" and "represents the most significant enhancement to our healthcare system since the creation of public healthcare in Canada."

"I have personally heard from workers unable to afford their diabetes medications, and parents faced with the heart-wrenching choice between feeding their children or providing them with essential lifesaving medicines," Bruske continued, taking aim at Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre, who said he wants to see the plan's details when asked about it on Friday.

"These are the struggles many Canadians face daily—not the fake outrage that Mr. Poilievre is talking about these days. The introduction of a universal single-payer pharmacare program is not just a policy change; it's a lifeline that will bring tangible improvements to the lives of countless individuals," Bruske stressed. "This achievement is a testament to the power of collective effort and advocacy."



While the plan, as Barry-Shaw detailed, would involve the federal government buying prescription drugs in bulk, so that everyone in Canada with a health card can get them without any out-of-pocket costs, "pharmacare will be delivered through provincial drug plans," which, as he the campaigner put it, is "a double-edged sword."

Global Newsreported that in a Sunday email, the office of Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange, who belongs to the United Conservative Party (UCP), "said that if the federal government pursues a national pharmacare program, Alberta intends to opt out, and instead intends to obtain a full per capita share of the funding."

Blasting Alberta's UCP premier, Friends of Medicare executive director Chris Gallaway said Monday that "by preempting their decision on pharmacare even before the federal announcement is made, Danielle Smith's government has made it clear they would rather play politics than get things done to help Albertans. By doing so, they are siding with the profits of big pharmaceutical and insurance corporations over the health and well-being of Albertans."



"Canada currently pays some of the highest drug costs in the world, and millions are struggling to afford the medications that they need," Gallaway noted. "It is well documented that moving to a national, single-payer pharmacare plan would save governments, employers, Albertans, and our provincial healthcare systems billions of dollars per year. And most importantly it would save countless lives!"

"The fact is, Canada remains the only country with a universal Medicare program that does not include prescription medications," he added. "At a moment when so many Albertans are struggling with the cost of living, and access to the healthcare they need, it is outrageous to see our provincial government working to undermine this long-overdue expansion of our public healthcare coverage."

Alberta is not alone among Canada's 10 provinces and three territories. According toCTV, "Quebec has also said it intends to opt out, and British Columbia and New Brunswick said they're waiting for details before deciding whether to sign on."
Global 'War on Fair Taxation' Has Slashed Taxes for Richest 1% by a Third

Years of tax cuts and elites' "war on democracy" have fueled inequality and harmed G20 nations' ability to fund basic public services, according to a new Oxfam analysis.



Protesters hold placards reading "Tax the rich" during a protest in Paris, France on February 24, 2024.
(Photo: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images)

JAKE JOHNSON
Feb 27, 2024
COMMON DREAMS

An analysis released Tuesday by Oxfam estimates that the richest 1% in G20 countries have seen their top income tax rates plummet by around a third in recent decades, a trend that the group attributed to political and economic elites' yearslong "war on fair taxation."

Oxfam's analysis was published as G20 finance ministers and central bank governors convened in São Paulo, Brazil for their first meeting of 2024.

The humanitarian and anti-poverty group noted that in Brazil, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy, the mega-rich pay a lower effective tax rate than the average worker following years of regressive cuts across the G20, which is home to most of the world's billionaires.

In 1980, Oxfam said Tuesday, the average top marginal tax rate across G20 nations was 59.5%. By 2022, the top rate had been cut to 40.4%—a 32% drop. In the U.S., tax cuts under the Bush and Trump administrations cut the top marginal rate for wealthy Americans and added roughly $10 trillion to the national debt.

The richest 1% in G20 countries collectively brought in more than $18 trillion in income in 2022.

"Countries are putting more and more money and power into the hands of a tiny, inequality-fueling elite," Katy Chakrabortty, Oxfam's head of policy and advocacy, said in a statement Tuesday. "As the finance ministers of the world's largest economies gather this week, the focus should be agreeing on policies that close the gap between the richest and the rest—that means fairer taxation and support for everyone."

Katia Maia, executive director of Oxfam Brazil, said the global "war on fair taxation has coincided with a war on democracy, putting more money and power into the hands of a tiny, inequality-fueling elite."

"As the finance ministers of the world's largest economies gather this week, this contest takes center stage: will they reclaim their democracies by taxing the super-rich?" Maia asked.

"A fair tax system can curb inequality and foster healthier, more inclusive societies."

Ahead of this week's meetings in São Paulo, Brazilian Economy Minister Fernando Haddad said he plans to present "a proposal to tax the super-rich, based on the best studies available."

"I cannot go into specifics yet," Haddad said in an interview with the Brazilian newspaper O Globo, "but I do confirm that we will continue to defend progressive taxation as a goal in the G20."

Oxfam estimated that a 5% wealth tax targeting multimillionaires and billionaires in G20 countries could raise around $1.5 trillion a year in revenue, which the group said would be "enough to end global hunger, help low- and middle-income countries adapt to climate change, and bring the world back on track to meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG)—and still leave more than $546 billion to invest in inequality-busting public services and climate action in G20 countries."

Currently, according to Oxfam, just eight cents in every dollar in tax revenue raised in G20 nations comes from levies on wealth.

A recent survey conducted on behalf of the Patriotic Millionaires, a U.S.-based advocacy group that supports progressive taxation, found that 74% of millionaires in G20 countries approve of higher taxes on wealth. The poll also showed that 70% of respondents view extreme concentrations of wealth as harmful to democracy.

"A fair tax system can curb inequality and foster healthier, more inclusive societies," Maia said Tuesday. "Higher taxes for the super-rich means being able to invest in working families, protecting the climate, and making important public services like education and healthcare available to all. It also means being able to repair holes in social safety nets, to soften the blow of future crises."
The Show Trial Against Julian Assange
How US and British authorities are bending the law and undermining press freedom

February 26, 2024
Source: Substack

Outside the High Court in London on 24 January 2022. 
Photo: Alisdare Hickson CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 Int.

“Those who tell the truth need a fast horse,” says an Armenian proverb. Or they need a society that protects the truth and its messengers. But this protection, which our democracies claim to offer, is in danger. As a journalist, Julian Assange has published hundreds of thousands of files documenting war crimes committed by the USA and its allies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo and elsewhere. The authenticity of the documents is beyond question. However, none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice or convicted. In contrast, the messenger has been incarcerated in a high-security prison in London for five years with life-threatening health problems, having previously spent seven years locked up in the Ecuadorian embassy. He has been charged with no crime in the UK, in any EU country or in his home country of Australia. The only reason for his grueling deprivation of liberty is that the US government has initiated extradition proceedings accusing the journalist Assange of espionage, invoking a law dating back more than a hundred years to the First World War: the Espionage Act.

Never before has a journalist been charged under this law. The extradition process therefore sets a dangerous precedent. If it is successful, every journalist on Earth who exposes US war crimes would have to fear suffering the same fate as Assange. That would be the end of freedom of the press as we know it. Because it is based on the capacity to bring to light the dark sides of power without fear of punishment. Where this freedom is extinguished, it is not only the freedom of journalists that dies, but the freedom of us all: the freedom from the arbitrariness of power.

For this reason alone, this extradition process should never have been accepted by the courts in a functioning legal system. Julian Assange did not act as a spy in any way, but as a journalist and as such is subject to special protection. Incidentally, the key witness for the espionage charge was the notorious fraudster and convicted paedophile Sigurdur Ingi Thordarson, who admitted in 2021 that he had lied on behalf of the FBI and had been granted immunity from prosecution.

Let us imagine the case with reversed roles: Suppose an Australian journalist had published war crimes committed by the Russian military and intelligence services and sought protection in a Western European country. Would the courts seriously consider extradition proceedings to Moscow for espionage, especially if the key witness is a convicted criminal?

Assange is facing the absurd sentence of 175 years in the USA. It is to be feared that he will not survive the extremely harsh conditions in the notorious US prison system. For this reason, the London Magistrates’ Court initially halted his extradition in 2021. The US government then published a paper stating that Assange would not face solitary confinement. However, according to Amnesty International, this declaration is “not worth the paper it is written on”, as the non-binding diplomatic note reserves the right for the US government to change its position at any time. The Court of Appeal, however, found this paper sufficient to clear the way for extradition – a travesty of justice, as Amnesty noted.

The hearings, which took place on February 20 and 21 at the High Court in London and whose verdict is expected in March, are the last opportunity for Assange to obtain an appeal against this extradition decision. However, there is a high risk that the law will once again be turned on its head. As the investigative platform Declassified UK reports, one of the two judges, Jeremy Johnson, previously worked for the British secret service MI6, which is closely intertwined with the CIA and whose illegal activities came to public attention through the work of Julian Assange.

For Julian Assange, the trial itself has already become a punishment. Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, concluded after detailed investigations that Assange had been subjected to systematic psychological torture for years. The fact that the US was prepared to go even further came to light in September of the same year: according to reports in the Guardian, senior intelligence officials, including the then head of the CIA and later Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, planned to kidnap and murder Assange in 2017.[v] The background: Wikileaks had published documents that year that became known as “Vault 7”. They show the CIA’s massive activities in the field of cyber warfare and prove how the secret service systematically and comprehensively intervenes in web browsers, IT systems in cars, smart TVs and smartphones, even when they are switched off. This was one of the most sensational revelations by Wikileaks since the leaks by Edward Snowden, who uncovered the massive illegal surveillance by the NSA. The CIA was not to forgive Assange for this coup and subsequently classified Wikileaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service” – a momentous neologism that allowed journalists to be declared enemies of the state. After Pompeo became Secretary of State in 2018, the US government initiated the extradition proceedings. This move replaced Pompeo’s original kidnapping and killing plan, with the goal remaining the same: the destruction of an inconvenient journalist.

The revelations of whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning and journalists such as Julian Assange have shown that in the shadow of the so-called war on terror, a vast parallel universe has emerged in recent decades that is obsessed with the illegal spying on its own citizens and the arbitrary imprisonment, torture and killing of political opponents. This world is largely beyond democratic control, indeed it is undermining the democratic order from within.

However, this development is not entirely new. In 1971, leaks revealed a secret FBI program for spying on, infiltrating and disrupting civil rights and anti-war movements, which became known as COINTELPRO. In the same year, the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers leaked by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, which showed that four successive US administrations had systematically lied to their citizens about the extent and motives of the Vietnam War and the massive war crimes committed by the US military. In 1974, Seymour Hersh revealed the CIA’s secret programs to assassinate foreign heads of state and the covert operation to spy on hundreds of thousands of opponents of the war, which ran under the code name “Operation CHAOS”. Driven by these reports, the US Congress convened in 1975 the Church Committee, which carried out a comprehensive review of the secret operations and led to greater parliamentary control of the services.

Julian Assange is part of this venerable journalistic tradition and has made a decisive contribution to its renewed flourishing. However, there is one important difference to the 1970s: Today, the most important investigative journalist of his generation is openly persecuted, criminalized and deprived of his freedom. When states declare the investigation of crimes to be a crime itself, society enters a dangerous downward spiral, at the end of which new forms of totalitarian rule can emerge. As early as 2012, Assange remarked, at the time with regard to the increasingly comprehensive surveillance technologies: “We have all the ingredients for a turnkey totalitarian state”.

If the US authorities succeed in convicting a journalist for exposing war crimes, this would have another serious consequence. In the future, it would become even more difficult and dangerous to expose the sordid reality of wars, especially those wars that Western governments like to sell as civilizing missions with the help of embedded journalists. If we do not learn the truth about these wars, it becomes much easier to wage them. Truth is the most important instrument of peace.

Julian Assange has not yet been extradited and sentenced. Over the years, a remarkable international movement has formed for his release and the defense of press freedom. Many parliamentarians around the world are also raising their voices. The Australian parliament, for example, supported by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, passed a resolution by a large majority calling for Assange’s release. A group of over 80 members of the German parliament have joined in. However, the German government is still refusing to exert any serious pressure on Joe Biden’s government, which continues to persecute Assange. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who as the Green Party’s candidate for chancellor had spoken out in favor of freeing Assange, has persistently avoided questions on the subject since joining the government. Her ministry has left questions from MPs about the case unanswered for months, only to then make elusive rhetorical excuses. The leading politicians of the governing German coalition, who like to loudly present themselves as the guardians of democracy and the rule of law, must finally take action in this case of political justice and unequivocally demand the release of Julian Assange before it is too late. However, this would require overcoming the cowering attitude towards the godfather in Washington and actually standing up for the much-vaunted values of democracy.

The German version of this article is to be published by the Berliner Zeitung on February 24, 2024.

Fabian Scheidler is a freelance author who works for the Berliner Zeitung, Monde diplomatique, Taz. Die Tageszeitung, Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik and many other media. His book “The End of the Megamachine. A Brief History of a Failing Civilization” has been translated into numerous languages. In 2021, he published “The Stuff We Are Made of. Rethinking Nature and Society”. Fabian Scheidler received the Otto Brenner Media Prize for critical journalism in 2009. www.fabianscheidler.com
“Green Mining” Won’t Prevent Ecological Damage by Global Rush for Raw Materials

The unsustainable global use of materials and energy must be radically reduced, and in an egalitarian manner.
February 26, 2024
Source: The Conversation

Image: Sepp Photography


The United Nations’ flagship Global Resources Outlook report is the portrait of a juggernaut. Due to be published later this month by the UN’s International Resource Panel, it highlights how global consumption of raw materials, having increased four-fold since 1970, is set to rise by a further 60% by 2060.

Already, the technosphere — the totality of human-made products, from airports to Zimmer frames — is heavier than the biosphere. From the 2020s onward, the weight of humanity’s extended body — the concrete shells that keep us sheltered, the metal wings that fly us around — have exceeded that of all life on Earth. Producing this volume of stuff is a major contributor to global heating and ocean acidification, and the rapidly accelerating extinction of plants and animals.

As the UN report spells out, the extractive activities that lie behind the concrete, metal and other materials we use are disrupting the balance of the planet’s ecosystems. The mining industry requires the annexation of large tracts of land for extraction and transportation; its energy consumption has more than tripled since the 1970s.

That upward curve is set to continue. The demand for materials is rising, the quality of ores such as copper is declining, and deeper and more remote mines require extra energy for extraction. More seams will be dug and more mountains moved to bring glittering fortunes to some while many regions, above all in developing countries, become sacrifice zones.
Critical raw materials

Attention is increasingly focused on a particular class of material. “Critical” and “strategic” raw materials are those that face supply risk either in their scarcity or their geographical concentration, and which the major powers require for their military sectors and for competitive advantage in tech industries. Right now, the race for critical materials is geopolitical: each major power wants to secure supplies in allied countries.

Critical raw materials are indispensable to the green transition too. The EU, for example, deems nickel a strategic material in view of its role in batteries.

A wind turbine can require nine times the mineral inputs of a typical gas-fired power plant, while the average electric vehicle contains between six and ten times those of its conventional counterpart, according to the UN report that is due to be published on February 26.

None of this means that a green economy would use greater quantities of materials than the current fossil fuel-based one. Energy consumption due to mineral demand for energy transition technologies is dwarfed by that which arises from mineral demand for the rest of the economy.

Nonetheless, the mineral demand of the energy transition stokes the mining boom in such sectors as copper and lithium.

The need for critical raw materials, such as copper, is rising, but mining must develop more sustainable practices


Urban mining

Mining must change in order to reduce its environmental impact. On the supply side, recovering minerals from waste goods can be ramped up, for instance by forcing retailers to offer collections of household electronic waste that can be sent for enhanced recycling.

There is scope for urban mining: for example, locating copper from inactive underground power cables or recovering elements from construction waste, sewage, incinerator ash and other garbage zones.

In practice, however, the use of secondary materials relative to newly-extracted ones is declining. The recovery rates of minerals from recycling remain low. Another UN study of 60 metals found the recycling rate for most of them was below one percent.

The current economic system makes extractive mining cheaper and easier than urban mining. Extractive mining involves the purchase of cheap land, often in developing countries.

That land gets dug up, pulverised and processed in a simple flow that is amenable to capital-intensive operations. Urban mining by contrast is often labour-intensive and requires a complex and state-enforced regulation of waste streams.

Urban mining suffers from the refusal of governments to shift taxation from labour to “the use of non-renewable resources”, as Walter Stahel, an originator of the circular economy concept, recommended in 2006. Until robust regulation and taxation is introduced, all forms of circular economy risk unleashing rebound effects.

So, throwing more materials onto the market lowers prices, which tends to expedite economic growth, raise energy consumption, and proliferate environmental harms. In short, there is nothing intrinsically “green” about urban mining or the circular economy. The progressive potential of all such engineering programmes is governed by the political-economic framework.

Is degrowth the answer?

The insufficiency of engineering and green growth programmes has informed the waxing interest in “degrowth” strategies. This term is not intended to suggest that all economic sectors should shrink, but that for society-nature relations to regain some balance, the unsustainable global use of materials and energy must radically reduce, and in an egalitarian manner.

As the scale of the environmental crisis grows more daunting, even moderate voices — not degrowthers — have recognised that certain sectors, such as shipping and aviation, will have to be cut to virtually zero over the next 20 or 30 years.

What does this mean for critical minerals? According to degrowth advocate Jason Hickel, political means should be forged through which to plan priority sectors.

Reducing luxury and wasteful sectors such as SUVs, aviation and fast fashion would free up critical materials for the green transition. “Factories that produce SUVs could produce solar panels instead,” suggests Hickel. “Engineers who are presently developing private jets could work on innovating more efficient trains and wind turbines instead.”

Such practical examples highlight the possibility that today’s predictions of utterly unsustainable materials throughput by 2060 could at least be revised downward.



Old Problems with the New: Reforming the UN Security Council


The end of the Second World War was a calamitous catalyst, laying the bricks and mortar for institutions that were always going to look weary, almost comically so, after some decades.  The United Nations was meant to be the umbrella international organisation, covering an eclectic array of bodies that seem, to this day, unfathomably complex.  Its goals have been mocked, largely for their dew-eyed optimism: international peace, prosperity, levels of stable development.  The balance sheet is, however, more complex.

In this organisational mix stands the haughty, sometimes interested, sometimes violent club known as the UN Security Council.  On paper – well, the UN Charter, anyway – it remains one of those bodies that is perky, powerful and determined.  It’s the only international body with all the cards that matter, capable of exerting near supreme powers.  From the summit of the United Nations, it remains the policing enforcer, capable of adding teeth to what might be otherwise toothless tigers and enfeebled pussycats.

Member states on the Council can authorise, almost tyrannically, the use of force.  They can impose sanctions, create ad hoc tribunals to try war crimes, and set up bodies of their own wish and design.  But the supreme power of the Security Council granted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter has its own, self-stalling measure.  One might even call it retarding, a limitation that makes deliberations often look carnivalesque.  The main participants in the carnival are always the permanent five (P5): the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China.  Their continued relevance lies in their unaccountable exercise of the veto, an aborting device that kills off a resolution with swiftness and finality.  And only one of them need exercise it, whatever other Council Members think.

With such an uneven, ramshackle structure, proposals for reform were bound to come.  For two decades, they have haunted the halls of the UN, with little threat of materialising.  Since 2023, the ghosts of such proposals have been inspired by lethargy and inactivity on the part of the Security Council in various areas of conflict, with Ukraine and Gaza featuring prominently.  Any matter concerning the Ukraine-Russia War is likely to end up being blocked by Russia.  The United States performs the same spoiling role when it comes to Israel’s war in Gaza: anything deemed against the Jewish state’s interests will be stomped and snuffed out with haste.

During his speech at the General Assembly’s annual debate last November, GA President Dennis Francis warned delegates that the Council’s performance would inevitably continue to suffer in the absence of reform.  “Violence and war continue to spread in regions across the world, while the United Nations seems paralysed due largely to the divisions in the Security Council.”  In such a fractious, and fragmenting environment, the Council was “dangerously falling short” of its mandate as the guarding custodian of international peace and security.

The advocating parties for such changes are almost always likely to feel like disgruntled invitees to a party they cannot wholly enjoy.  Exclusive benefits are only available to the blessed, anointed and those with historically appropriate character references.  The pathway is otherwise barred.

Unremarkably, the countries most keen to tout their credentials for admission are those putting the case that their time has come.  The G4, comprising Brazil, Germany, India and Japan, are calling for a total of 11 permanent members (P11): China, France, The Russian Federation, the UK, the US, with six others.  The process sounds wearisome and is outlined at some length by Thalif Deen of the Inter Press Service.  Country candidates, upon adoption of a framework regarding Council reform, would inform the President of the General Assembly, who would then set a date for the election of the six permanent members.  The change would have to be secured by two-thirds of the GA members via secret ballot.  The GA rules of procedure would then apply to the election of the new members.

As with all clubs with stringent requirements, admission would also be subject to Article 23(1) of the UN Charter: “due regard being specially paid, in the first instance to their contributions to the maintenance of international peace and security and to the other purposes of the Organization, and also to equitable geographical distribution.”

The G4 proposal further suggests that the six new permanent members be elected with a specific distribution in mind: two from African Member States; two from the Asia-Pacific; one from Latin American and Caribbean Member States; and one from Western European and Other Member States.  To this grouping can also be added four or five new non-permanent members to further swell the Council, to be elected along similar lines.

Other countries are also weighing in.  Turkey, being another proclaimed actor of heft and influence, recently made sharp noises at the G20 international forum on the subject.  On the second day of the G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting in Brazil held this month, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan proved particularly active during the Global Governance Reform session.

Fidan had been appropriately briefed about the imprecise and often crude jargon that has come to characterise the field vaguely called international relations.  According to TRT World, he spoke of the importance of “multinational institutions” and “effective global governance mechanisms” in coping with “geopolitical tensions in the evolving multipolar new world order.”  To acknowledge such a change, one vital target stood out: the UNSC.  The Council, he argued, “casts a shadow on the reputation of the entire UN system”.  A “more democratic and accountable system” with sound international law foundations was needed.

As always, the impetus for reform is contingent on the jacketed traditionalists, long in the tooth and wary about a change in the furniture.  Not only will a two-thirds majority be required among all GA members; it would have to be approved by a jealous P5 less than enthusiastic in having their power diluted or checked.

Rigidly devoted to their model, the G4 may not necessarily be improving matters. Why assume that enlarging the pool of P5 veto-wielding powers to 11 will necessarily do so?  The lines of power, instead of blurring, would only harden.  The risk of procedure triumphing over the substance of peace and international security is all too apparent.


Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com. Read other articles by Binoy.

 

Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave, When First We Practice to Conceive


Is it, or isn’t it? If it is, there is absolutely no room to equivocate. If an embryo is truly a human child, pontificating and political posturing must be put aside; drastic and immediate intervention is called for. The lives of real children are at stake.

In Alabama, it’s been decided: embryos are children; there’s nothing left to debate. Those in the know are absolutely certain that at the moment of conception, when sperm and egg unite to become an embryo, a human being is immediately formed. Those in the know are absolutely certain that every embryo is a child, and each child is a gift from God.

Justice Tom Parker is a man in the know. His Alabama Supreme Court recently ruled that embryos are human children. Embryos are not going to become children; they are already indisputably children and must be recognized as such. Surely recognizing the existence of a child requires some follow-through; the children can’t just be left to languish in the hands of their captors. So, what’s to be done with them? What’s to be done with all the children imprisoned in cryogenic freezers throughout the country? If they are truly children, if they are a gift from God, isn’t it mandatory that they be rescued from frozen purgatory and allowed to resume their human lives as quickly as possible (like right now)?

It’s not just a few; there may be hundreds of thousands of embryos (children) held captive in cryopreservation. When couples go to fertility clinics to consider in vitro fertilization (IVF) they are often advised to have from two to four embryos frozen for each child that might be planned. Every embryo not immediately used is cryogenically stored for years or even decades. Given time and thousands of prospective parents, the numbers have added up. Way back in 2002, a RAND-SART survey found 396,526 frozen embryos (children) being held in 430 reproductive technology facilities across the United States. It’s quite possible that there are even more than that today. There could be half a million (or more) embryos (children) stored (imprisoned) in frozen limbo at this very moment. Surely the clinics and laboratories holding them must be forced to release their hostages – they are real children, right?

But they can’t just be released; they have to be saved; and to be saved, they must be biologically nurtured for nine months. How is that to be done? There are thousands upon thousands of embryos (human babies) needing homes, and upon liberation from the freezer, their first and essential home needs to be a warm womb. Will there be enough volunteers for this “coming to Jesus” kind of moment? If you believe as Justice Tom Parker believes, and if you are a woman, won’t this be your time to step forward? Won’t this be an opportunity (or even an obligation) to put the bumper sticker words into action? If you are a Pro-Life evangelist, if you truly believe that an embryo is a human child and a gift from God, then you know that each embryo is calling out to you. Could you even think to turn away?

Yes, it’s both an opportunity to save a child and to serve God, but it will also be a heavy load to bear. Women shouldn’t be expected to bear it alone. Justice Parker and strong men like him who know that embryos are living children and God’s gift to mankind have to step forward and passionately encourage the women in their lives to do what needs to be done. Their wives, their daughters, and even their granddaughters must be lauded in their blessedness, and then supported physically, emotionally, and financially as they step forward to save the life of a child. It’s the right thing to do.

Okay, it’s almost unthinkable, but what if there aren’t enough volunteers? What if, you know, the timing just isn’t quite right for some of the faithful to step forward? What if thousands of frozen children are still left to linger in uncertainty? They can’t just be abandoned and allowed to go unclaimed. How might they be saved?

Well, should it turn out that the knowing faithful are not quite up to walking the walk, there is another possibility for rescue, and it lies right at our doorstep. There are thousands of desperate men and women standing at our border every day awaiting the slightest chance for admittance. What if some of the women standing there were offered citizenship in exchange for birthing a child? Rather than putting all those hapless would-be immigrants on busses and abandoning them in strange faraway cities, governors like Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida could offer free rides to fertility clinics. It would be a win, win, win, type of scenario. The children would be rescued, some merciful women would attain citizenship, and those in the know who had really wanted to save the children, but for whom the timing wasn’t quite right, would be taken off the hook for coming up short.

So, do they, or don’t they? Does the good judge, Tom Parker truly believe in what he decrees? Do Parker, his fellow jurists, Alabama lawmakers, and other Pro-Life adherents really believe that embryos are children? If they do, they should already be doing what needs to be done. If the embryos are children, there’s no time to dither; it’s a real “house afire” emergency. If embryos are children, there are hundreds of thousands of children awaiting rescue right now, thousands of lives that are prone to dissipating every day. Where is the National Guard that should be surrounding each clinic and protecting the babies? Where are the men and women that should already be out on the streets signing up volunteers? And where are all those volunteers; the Pro-Life evangelists who will dutifully carry a gift from God for just nine months in order to save the life of a child? Do all the Pro-Life men and women really believe in what they proclaim, or are “embryos are children” just words for image promotion and meant to be kept comfortably in the abstract?

Aside from the blaring headlines, it’s pretty quiet out there.

InVitroFertilization


Vern Loomis lives in the Detroit area and occasionally likes to comment on news and events that interest him in whatever capacity available. Besides Dissident Voice, his other musings can be found at Transcend Media Service, ZNetwork, CounterPunch, The Humanist, and The Apathetic Agnostic. Read other articles by Vern.
SCI-FI, UTOPIAS, AND SOCIALISM

We have described a World-in-which-we’d-love-to-live… The way we see it, this is a world where creative labour is the ultimate satisfaction and the source of happiness for people. Everything else is built on the foundation of this principle. People are happy there when they manage to actualise this main principle. Friendship, love and work are the three main pillars that support the happiness of such humankind. We could not imagine anything better than that, and why would we want to?
Boris Strugatsky

01 September 2021

What kind of society would appeal to a socialist? What kind of life would we actually enjoy once the logic of capitalism driving the world of today releases its grip not only on the resources of Earth – material or human – but also on the minds of its inhabitants? I believe that in order to promote the socialist cause we need to have a clearer understanding of answers to these questions. There is a caveat there, of course: what is appealing to people today may not appeal to people in the future.

Dystopias

I have to confess, I am a sucker for sci-fi. And when it comes to sci-fi, I am omnivorous, reading and watching anything I can get my hands on. There is probably a hidden yearning for a better future in this passion, as I am particularly interested in the fiction about Earth-like worlds, especially those that are more developed than ours. But I have recently noticed an interesting feature of the vast majority of the sci-fi visions of the future: they are overwhelmingly dark, presenting rather a failed world than a successfully developed civilisation. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, George Orwell’s 1984, Evgeny Zamyatin’s We, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or his post-World War II fascist America in The Man in the High Castle… Cyberpunk is a good example of a genre that produced enormous quantities of dark sci-fi works, and post-apocalyptic fiction writers have been prolific on this topic as well. Seems like the future people foresee in fiction as the most likely is not very bright at all. Beginnings like ‘after an ecological catastrophe wipes out most of humanity…’ or ‘It’s the future, and the planet is a dusty, radioactive wasteland…’ sound like a cliché in a film about the future. And technological breakthroughs gone horribly wrong are a really popular theme, with many examples brilliantly shown in the Black Mirror series.

Of course, there is a sub-genre that focuses specifically on the stories about ‘perfect’ worlds – Utopias. Ironically, when searching for utopias on Google, it is quite hard to find any – the search engine stubbornly shows ‘best dystopias’, and even articles on utopias often discuss mostly dystopian books and films. My first several ‘utopian books’ searches returned the Vulture’s 100 Great Works of Dystopian Fiction, Tales About A World Gone Wrong and a BBC article Science Fiction: How Not To Build A Future Society. Maybe a good drama needs suffering, and this is why tragedies have always enjoyed more popularity than comedies? Whatever the reason, the number of utopian worlds seems to be surprisingly small. Do any of them offer appealing visions of a socialist or a socialist-like world?

There are some notable examples, such as Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed, B. F. Skinner’s Walden Two, and Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time. These and some other novels describe interesting social innovations, which are often very close to socialist ideals. For instance, the utopian world in Woman on the Edge of Time promotes such values as common ownership and (gender) equality; the inhabitants of the Walden Two community are free to choose their vocation and have no police force that could enforce their will through violence; and on the moon of Anarres in The Dispossessed, everyone is free to start their own productive enterprise, where there is no incentive to grow production or compete since there is no market, so all production is aimed solely to fulfil everyday needs.

While many ideas described in these and other books are worth discussing and thinking about, some details are questionable or even disturbing. For example, Skinner’s Walden community has a set of guardians who are somehow wiser than the ‘common people’. Skinner himself believed in the need for elitist rule: ‘We must delegate control of the population as a whole to specialists – to police, priests, teachers, therapies…’ (John Staddon, The New Behaviorism, 2014, p.125). The utopian agrarian community of Piercy’s Mattapoisett (Woman on the Edge of Time) shows a governmentally decentralised egalitarian society, mostly based on feminist and anarchist ideals. The world of Mattapoisett at times comes through as a fantasy, a feverish dream in the mind of a person in a mental institution under the influence of heavy tranquillisers, propelled by the feelings of powerlessness and grief. We are never told in the book if the visions the protagonist had are true or not. Would I want to live in Mattapoisett? Probably not. It seems quite focussed on offering the alternative to the patriarchal and exploitative capitalist ways of life, but more in the way of renouncing something negative rather than by offering something viable and attractive in its own right.

Importantly, it is still not clear on how this set of communities (or the one on Anarres in The Dispossessed) is supposed to work: both rely on self-governance and the structures of meeting and discussion, which might function well on the level of a town but certainly not a planet. Ursula Le Guin is perhaps more realistic in her novel, because Anarres in The Dispossessed is not shown as a Garden of Eden. It is a barren and dirty world, where life is decidedly hard for its inhabitants. Do any of them offer appealing visions of a socialist or a socialist-like world? They also have problems with their PDC (Production and Distribution Coordination), which exhibits some signs of government. In any case, it is probably not the best example to illustrate the advantages of a socialist society. But I guess my biggest problem with most utopias is that they simply don’t appeal to me; I wouldn’t want to live there myself.

I understand, writing utopias is hard. Unlike dystopias, it is not as simple as to show some horrors of destruction or societal decay (which could be easily borrowed from a daily tabloid). New ideas have to be created and, on top of this, put together in a coherent system that would look realistic. When thinking them up, authors would undoubtedly lean on their own life experiences, environment and cultural upbringing. For many of them, the best vision of a progressive society not corrupted by consumerism or greed would be inspired by communities in the countryside, or perhaps by stereotypes of preindustrial self-sufficient settlements. Many utopias share these elements of ‘environmental wisdom’ or even a pre-technological biblical paradise, for example, in Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia, citizens aim for a balance between themselves and nature. Callenbach himself said of his book, in relation to Americans: ‘It is so hard to imagine anything fundamentally different from what we have now… [But] we’d better get ready. We need to know where we’d like to go.’

‘Noon Universe’

There are a couple of authors – two brothers – who borrowed their ideas from a different cultural environment: that of the post-war Soviet Union, and about how their utopian world came out different as a result.

The Strugatsky brothers, Boris and Arkady, wrote their books collaboratively. They needed to pass Soviet censorship in order to get published, so they came up with an ‘approved’ setting for many of their books, called ‘Noon Universe’, in which communism has triumphed globally. Of course, they both loathed the constraints of state capitalism and totalitarianism on the lives of Soviet people, so their utopias went much further, painting a world free of money or coercion – a world where they would themselves want to live and work. Most of those books were written in the 60s and 70s, but to this day a more compelling, believable fictional world of the future where people are happy and lead dynamic lives has yet to be written – at least in the Russian science-fiction literature.

The Noon Universe, named after Noon: 22nd Century, chronologically the first novel from the series, also features in the following books: Hard to Be a God, The Inhabited Island, Space Mowgli, Beetle in the Anthill, and The Time Wanderers, among others. To give you an idea of some features of the future social organisation Arkady and Boris Strugatsky presented in their Noon Universe, without giving away any spoilers, here is a brief overview:unequivocal victory of socialism: no monetary system, all production for common goodabsence of institutionalised coercion, such as police or militaryadvanced technological progress, ubiquitous robotic assistanceeveryone is engaged in a profession that inspires them

This fairly common set of features then goes on, now with a somewhat different focus:the system of education is given utmost importance: students spend at least as much time or more at school than at home; they have very small class sizes and have personal Mentors that lead them on the path of learning about both the world and themselves; they must reach a high level of scientific knowledge, societal responsibility and creativity (arts and humanities)ethics/morality is given a very important role, on a par with technological competencea new kind of human (intellectually and ethically superior to most modern humans; importantly, much more socially responsible) is raised, who deeply cares about the planet and all its life forms, and is thus willing to both drive and accept societal progress

Finally, what makes this world both believable and appealing, is this combination of on the one hand a democratic and science-based social system without exploitation, and on the other, individuals raised to support such socialist society:this way of raising responsible individuals makes it possible to avoid coercion and resolve issues collaboratively, based on evidence and rationalitythis society does have some structure / governance where a number of meritocratic High Councils composed of the world’s leading scientists in each particular field of specialisation provide guidance and rules of functioning

Unfortunately, apart from The Gulag Archipelago, the legacy of Soviet literature is largely unknown in the Western cultural sphere, and the Noon Universe with its bright and highly optimistic vision of the future has not been popularised through films or comic books. I have tried to search for similar utopian universes in English or American books, or shown in films, but, as described in the beginning, found mostly dystopian sci-fi or stories of societies that went backwards ‘to the cradle of nature’ in their attempts to invent a fairer and wiser world. Perhaps the closest to the creation of the Strugatsky brothers comes the Earth in Star Trek: The Original Series, and even that is rife with militaristic and patriarchal themes.

From the vantage point of the 21st century, there are several issues that could also be improved in the Noon Universe, of course. For example, we might want to introduce some features of Marxist feminism and gender equality, and environmental considerations could have been described more convincingly. But the main features seem to all be there: technological progress comes hand in hand with societal progress, which is in turn driven by personal betterment of every member of that society. It might seem utopian, but I think it is fully socialist in spirit, more coherent and credible, and it really makes me want to step into that world and start living there right now.

SOURCE

This is the text of a talk given by Leon Rozanov at the SPGB Summer School in August 2021 and published in the September 2021 issue of The Socialist Standard.


THE SPACE-AGE COMMUNISM OF IVAN YEFREMOV

01 September 2021 

Ivan Yefremov (1907--1972) was by original profession a paleontologist. His first stories, on the life of explorers, were published in 1944. Andromeda -- in Russian-language editions The Andromeda Nebula -- is his best-known science fiction novel. Not coincidentally, it was written in 1956, the year of the first sputnik (Soviet artificial earth satellite).

This third English-language printing contains an introduction written shortly before the author's death. Here Yefremov explains how he came to write sci-fi and the purposes he thinks sci-fi should serve. For him sci-fi is not a light-hearted genre in which the fantasy is given free rein, but a serious medium for exploring new scientific ideas and their social implications. Its task is also to portray the communist future of mankind. (In this piece "communism" has the same meaning as in Soviet ideology: it refers to the future culmination of social development, NOT the historical forms of the Soviet system, which are called "socialism.")

Indeed, Andromeda is set in a society -- let's call it Yefremia for convenience -- in which communism is already a mature society, several centuries old. Poverty, greed, and heavy toil are things of the distant past; "knowledge and creative labor have freed Earth from hunger, overpopulation, infectious diseases, and harmful animals" (p. 181). A greatly reduced population is concentrated in a temperate zone, mainly around the Mediterranean Sea, between the intensely forested and cultivated (by automation) tropics and the newly wild prairie. An atmosphere is being created on Mars to prepare that planet too for human settlement. Space expeditions penetrate ever further into the galaxy, and the first contacts with extraterrestrial civilizations have been established. Yefremia fuses Marx' vision of earthly communism with Tsiolkovsky's vision of mankind's cosmic destiny. (1)

What of the people who inhabit this utopia? The Yefremians have a great deal of freedom: they travel at will, choose new professions, seek love relationships, initiate projects. At the same time, they are highly socially conscious and self-disciplined, even mildly ascetic. They derive satisfaction mainly from creative work in the arts and sciences and the full development of their intellectual and emotional capacities.

Coercion has not disappeared totally, as there is a small minority of egoistic throwbacks ("bulls"): they may be banished to the Island of Oblivion, or should they conspire to disrupt society eliminated by the "destroyer battalions." (I suppose something like the KGB is still needed to spot "bulls" and pre-empt their conspiracies, though this is nowhere spelt out.)

Yefremia was very much in tune with the spirit of the Khrushchev era, with its naive faith in rapid Soviet-led progress in two closely connected dimensions: scientific progress, symbolized by the new space program; and social progress -- "Our children will live under communism," promised Nikita Sergeyevich. Khrushchev's successors had no such faith and shifted the focus of official ideology from communism, relegated to an indefinitely distant future, to "actually existing socialism" (i.e. the Soviet status quo). In his 1972 introduction, Yefremov admits that many people no longer believe in a communist future. He still believes because the sole alternative is the self-destruction of mankind. The logic here goes as follows: Yes, A is highly implausible, but if not A then B, and B is simply too awful to contemplate, therefore A is inevitable.

How are decisions taken in Yefremia? One of the advantages of the fictional method of presenting utopias is that you never have to explain EXACTLY how they work. But we learn that leadership is shared among a number of councils: the Economic Council, the Astronautical Council, the Health Council, and so on. These councils are advised by an array of scientific institutions, my own favorites being the Academy of the Bounds of Knowledge and the Academy of Sorrow and Joy.

The various councils cooperate on an equal basis: none is supposed to be subordinate to another. Yet the Economic Council does occupy a crucial niche, if only because "nothing big can be undertaken" unless it allocates the necessary resources. It is indeed "the planet's central brain." And there is also the Control of Honor and Justice, "the guardian of every person on the planet," the ultimate judicial authority. (2) Parallels with really existing socialism readily come to mind. However distant the future ostensibly being portrayed, many of the author's assumptions reflect the society in which he really lives. Of course, the one is supposed to be the precursor of the other.

While I have nothing against communism as such, I wouldn't want to live in Yefremia. There is too much tension and heroism for my taste; life is too strenuous -- physically, intellectually, emotionally. I prefer the gentler utopian visions of William Morris' "News from Nowhere" and Ursula LeGuin's The Dispossessed (in which an anarcho-communist society has been set up on the moon Anarres). Surely, once mankind gets past the unavoidable turmoil of class struggle, war and revolution and reaches mature communism it is entitled at long last to a bit of relaxation? After all, it was Marx' son-in-law Paul Lafargue who published a pamphlet entitled The Right To Be Lazy. Those of us who prefer the simple life can, it is true, go fishing on the Island of Oblivion, but in so doing we expose ourselves to abuse at the hands of the "bulls." Why can't we have an island of our own?

But Yefremov's workaholic ("strugglaholic" -- how's that for a neologism?) heroes and heroines have a grand excuse for not letting themselves relax: that cosmic destiny of mankind! The abundance of high-tech low-population communism is drained away by the exorbitant resource demands of ambitious cosmic projects. "We are going to ask mankind to curtail consumption for the year 809 of the Great Circle Era," says the president of the Astronautical Council (p. 330). Now where have we heard this before? No more enemies on earth, at least not to speak of? Never mind, let's go and fight mysterious beings in outer space. The struggle continues! Without end in sight. Space plays the same socially and esthetically conservative role in Yefremov's communism as did the arms race in actually existing socialism.

NOTES

(1) Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857--1935). See pp. 258-281 in Russkii kosmizm [Russian Cosmism] (Moscow: Pedagogika-Press, 1993).

(2) Actually there are two Controls of Honor and Justice, one for the northern hemisphere and one for the southern. Each has 11 members. Cases concerning the whole planet are heard in joint session.

SOURCE

Ivan Yefremov, Andromeda: A Space-Age Tale (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1980). Translated by George Hanna. The book can be read on-line here or with multicolored illustrations here.