Palestine 2018 proved the futility of anticolonial nonviolence

There is no case of nonviolent anticolonial struggle

The US struggle for civil rights, remembered as the nonviolent movement of Martin Luther King, was also the movement of the Deacons for Defense in Louisiana, the movement of the Mississipi Regional Council of Negro Leadership which could “speedily mobilize substantial and deadly firepower” including E.W. Steptoe who had “guns all over the house, under pillows, under chairs”, of Robert Williams of Monroe, North Carolina’s NAACP who said in 1959 that “we must be willing to kill if necessary”, the movement of a night-long battle with police in Albany, Georgia in 1962 and in Birmingham, Georgia in 1963, when “every day of riots was worth a year of civil rights demonstrations”. 

The Indian Freedom struggle, remembered as the nonviolent movement of MK Gandhi, was also the movement of the Hindustan Republican Army, of Chandrasekhar Azad and of Bhagat Singh, of the Telengana Uprising of 1946, of the Tamil Nadu anti-feudal struggle of 1943, of the underground guerrilla struggles after Quit India in Odisha, West Bengal, Bangalore and elsewhere, of the Toofan Sena in Maharashtra, of Indian National Army of Subhas Chandra Bose, and of the Naval Mutiny of 1946. 

The two most iconic tales of the deployment of strategic nonviolence turn out, upon historical examination, to have been armed struggles, replete with violence.

Through an analysis of the work of Gene Sharp (“Gene Sharp’s Neoliberal Nonviolence” part 1 and part 2), writer and academic Marcie Smith has revealed the existence of a sort of “nonviolence industrial complex”, a network of institutions linked to the US foreign policy establishment, dedicated to two things: 1. steering opposition to US-backed states and projects in nonviolent directions, and 2. to using methods of nonviolent insurgency as a part of a set of tactics (including covert, violent action) to destabilize US targets. 

The jewels in the narrative crown of this nonviolence network are the US civil rights movement and the Indian Freedom Struggle, which is why I devoted the two previous articles in this series to showing that these were in fact armed struggles. 

The narrators of the nonviolence network have one other weapon: quantitative analysis. But this weapon too, turns out to be a plastic replica. 

In their book Why Civil Resistance Works, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan claim to have proven through statistical analysis that nonviolence is more effective than violence. Their analysis is worth detailed examination since it claims to have the authority of a huge dataset and logistic regression proving the chances of success are higher with nonviolence. 

But what did they actually do? They made a list of several hundred revolutions from the 20th century (nearly all of which were in fact violent), coded some struggles as violent and others not, coded some struggles as successful and others not (in fact many of the successes delivered the countries and their economies directly over for imperialist plunder), and then after a quantitative assessment which amounts to counting the number of successful cases of each type, found that their “nonviolent” coded struggles had a higher chance of success. These nonviolent-coded struggles include: 

  • the South African struggle (including its armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe); 
  • and the many East European color revolutions. 
  • the Palestinian Intifada;

A quick skim of any of these histories show that these were all violent struggles. The data reveal the conclusion the authors believed at the outset and for which they coded their data. Why Civil Resistance Works is historical falsification covered with a quantitative mystique. 

To determine the veracity of their analysis we need examine only those events coded as both nonviolent and successful. Nonviolent failures are of no interest, since they do not bolster the nonviolence narrative. Neither violent successes nor failures are of interest either, since to the nonviolence industry armed struggles are already failures. 

The database published with the book contains 57 nonviolent successes. There are two types of movements analyzed in the database: movements for regime change and movements for secession. There are no nonviolent successes for secession movements: all 57 nonviolent successes are regime change successes. There are only 4 secession successes out of 46 attempts in the database (Croatia, Tigray, Bangladesh, and Aceh from Indonesia starting in 1976-2005). All of these were violent.

Philosophers of science know that there is a complicated set of human decisions that go into the translation of things occurring in nature into statistical data. Even such decisive phenomena as birth and death can only be entered in a spreadsheet as “0” and “1” by the declaration of a doctor. Of all the types of data to translate into “0”s and “1”s on a spreadsheet, historical data is the worst. Was the French Revolution a success, a failure, or is it too early to tell? In history, some failures are necessary prerequisites for future success; some processes simply cannot be classified as one or the other (Chenoweth and Stephan include a “limited success” category to try to capture these). 

The relevant point here is that the coding of these 57 events as both “nonviolent” and “successful” ranges from deeply problematic to utterly preposterous. 

Going through them: 

In this database, the Palestinian liberation struggle apparently started in 1973, was violent, and a failure. The Intifada, 1987-1990, is considered a nonviolent partial success. The 1979 overthrow of the Shah of Iran, which I won’t dispute was successful, is coded as a nonviolent process – which would be a surprise to the guerrilla fighters and defectors who fought the Shah’s soldiers in the streets. The 2005 Cedar Revolution in Lebanon is coded as a success, but it did not change the regime and Lebanon’s political system continued as before. 

The Cedar Revolution is not the only “color revolution” (short-hand for a US-backed regime change operation in a US enemy country led by US-trained political and media cadres) coded as a nonviolent success. Indeed a good part (14 of the 57) of the nonviolent successes are East Europe color revolutions: 1989 Germany, 1981 Poland, 1989 Hungary, 1989 Czech, 1989 Slovakia, 1989 Bulgaria, 1990 Russia, 1989 Estonia, 1989 Latvia, 1989 Lithuania, 2001 Ukraine, 2003 Georgia, 1989 Kyrgystan, 2005 Kyrgistan. In the background of all of these color revolutions was the threat of US-led NATO expansion and US nuclear war, as well as the fact of US violent covert operations. Three more of these East Europe nonviolent successes – 1999 Croatia, 2000 Yugoslavia, 1989 Slovenia – are from the incredibly violent US-led dismembering of Yugoslavia in a series of civil wars (described in, e.g., Michael Parenti’s book To Kill a Nation and Diana Johnstone’s book Fool’s Crusade). 

Operation Allied Force: The NATO Bombing Of Yugoslavia
NATO bombed bridge in dismembered Yugoslavia, 1999, one of the nonviolent successes in the database.

In Africa, in addition to coding the South African anti-apartheid struggle as nonviolent (which would be news to umKhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress), and the Ghanaian, Zambian, and Malawi Independence struggles as nonviolent (they were not), the majority of African nonviolent successes in the database were mass mobilizations to press for elections. These were: 1989 Mali, 2000 Ghana, 1993 Nigeria, 2001 Zambia, 1992 Malawi, 1991 Madagascar, 2002 Madagascar, 1985 Sudan (in active civil war at the time).

In East Asia, the 1960 April Revolution in Korea (in which 186 people were killed) is coded as a nonviolent success, as is the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines (after decades of guerrilla struggle and notable defections from the military). East Timor, widely recognized to have suffered a genocide from the 1970s to the 1990s, is coded as having had a nonviolent success in 1988, despite Independence coming in 1999 after a long guerrilla war. A 1973 popular uprising in Thailand, that had bomb explosions and dozens of deaths in riots, is coded as a nonviolent success. So, too, in Thailand, a long-running political crisis in 2005 that culminated in a military coup in 2006, is coded as a nonviolent success. 

In the Americas, the database includes as nonviolent successes a 1931 naval mutiny in Chile, a 1944 armed revolution in Guatemala, 1958 Venezuela (which featured attacks on security services headquarters and resulted in the awful Punto Fijo pact), a clear failure to overthrow the system in Mexico in 1987, and struggles against dictatorships in Argentina (1977 and 1986), Uruguay (1984), and Chile (1983), all of which had prominent guerrilla movements. The database cites 2002 in Venezuela as a nonviolent success, but there were two things that happened in April 2002 in Venezuela: a violent coup against Chavez and its reversal when the army refused to endorse the coup: the coup failed, the the successful reversal of the coup involved military moves. 

In Europe, a 1974 military coup in Portugal is coded as a nonviolent success. Of the churning conflicts, revolutions, and civil wars in Germany in the 1920s that culminated in the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and the most violent events in human history so far, 1923 in Germany is coded as a nonviolent success. 

There is, however, a specific type of conflict coded as a nonviolent success in the database that recurs in different parts of the world, in which a spent dictatorship gives way, in the face of a basically nonviolent popular movement, to an election. About eight of the 57 nonviolent successes belong to this pattern: 1963 and 1974 in Greece, 1977 in Bolivia, 1984 in Brazil, 1985 in Haiti (which led to a military coup and additional years of mobilization until Aristide was elected, then violently overthrown again…), 1990 Guyana, 2000 Peru, and 2001 in the Philippines. This particular set of eight cases (five of which took place in the Americas) could be used as evidence for the argument that, under the right circumstances, largely nonviolent popular mobilization can reverse a stolen election or force a weakened government to agree to elections. It does not prove at all that nonviolent movements have a better chance of success than violent ones. But even in these cases, the threat of violence existed. 

There is value in analyzing and comparing movements of resistance in history. There may even be value in coding them and calculating probabilities. But there is no value to be had in building a model for probability of success based on violence and nonviolence by miscoding failures as successes and armed struggles as nonviolent. 

We never needed a database to tell us that under some circumstances a social and political struggle can be kept on the nonviolent plane. The key factor is the investment elites have in maintaining the policy that is being challenged. Union struggles can often succeed in winning wage and working conditions improvements nonviolently. Every election where the loser congratulates the winner and there is a peaceful transfer of power is an example of a successful nonviolent struggle. But colonialism, struggles over land, in which oppressors have racial ideas of superiority over the oppressed? In these cases, whether it succeeds or fails, armed struggle alone has a chance. Only by wielding falsified histories and models can the nonviolence storytellers argue otherwise.

Palestine 2018: the final proof of the uselessness of nonviolence in anticolonial struggle

And so we turn to Palestine, a colonial struggle over land, in which the oppressors have racial ideas of superiority over the oppressed and are, since 2023, engaging in active genocide. Palestine has been an area of focus for the nonviolence industry for decades. 

A February 2024 paper by the Center for Constitutional Rights has shown that US anti-terror legislation was “driven by anti-Palestinian agendas from the beginning.” The nonviolence industry has had a similar Palestine focus from the beginnings of Gene Sharp’s Albert Einstein Institute. The 1987-1989 Intifada was an object of fascination for Sharp and for the nonviolence industry. Sharp’s Journal of Palestine Studies article in 1989, “The Intifadah and Nonviolent Struggle”, identifies him as the author of the 1973 book The Politics of Nonviolent Action as well as the author of Almuqawama Bila Ounf (Nonviolent Resistance), published in Jerusalem by the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence in 1986. In the article, Sharp argues – quantitatively again – that 85% of the intifada has been nonviolent. He simply asserts that armed struggle and nonviolent struggle are “not easily mixed to advantage” – and so the Palestinians should go from 85% to 100% nonviolent. After the usual arguments absolving Israelis of responsibility for the violence they mete out on Palestinians and the normal nonviolence argument that the the colonial repression faced by the victims is their fault for provoking their oppressors, Sharp suggests Palestinians go on a 21-day hunger strike, followed by “whistling or wailing at night, especially in dark streets” and “having the youths standing peacefully, not fleeing, holding small Palestinian flags, their right hands outstretched in a gesture of friendship.” Sharp dangles recognition before well-behaved Palestinians: “The shift to fully nonviolent struggle would also make possible more active support for Palestinian independence in Western Europe and the United States.”

After months of genocide, starvation, and the gleeful mass murder of tens of thousands of children, all filmed and celebrated across Israeli society and by Israel’s supporters in the West, Sharp’s arguments are striking for their absurdity as well as their vulgarity. 

But Sharp was not alone. 

Pakistani activist and academic Eqbal Ahmed made the argument to Palestinians numerous times. He reported to journalist David Barsamian in 1996 (published in the 2000 book Confronting Empire) that he’d told a group of Arab students in the US after the 1967 war that “armed struggle was supremely unsuited to the Palestinian condition,” that “Israel’s fundamental contradiction was that it was founded as a symbol of the suffering of humanity at the expense of another people who were innocent of guilt,” and that “you don’t bring (the contradiction) out by armed struggle. In fact you suppress this contradiction by armed struggle.” He told them in 1968 that 

“This is a moment to fit ships in Lebanon and say, ‘we’re not going to destroy Israel. That is not our intent. We just want to go home.’ Reverse the symbols of Exodus. See if the Israelis are in a mood to sink some ships. They probably will. Let them do so. Some of us will die. Let us die.” Eqbal Ahmed imagined if Arafat were to “take on the role of a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King and announce tomorrow, ‘I must stop these settlements. They violate the spirit of Oslo. We are committed to peace. You are making war. We do not want to use violence against you. Peacefully we will march against you. We will sit in. We will clog the roads, start a full-scale movement, and discipline the Palestinians not even to throw stones, intifada-style, because Israelis will use and justify bullets against stones. They will use soldiers against children. Don’t even give them that.’ Israel will divide. It will divide as a society the way America divided. I would keep it divided until it makes peace.” 

But Eqbal Ahmed, despite being an  insightful anti-colonial strategist, was wrong about the histories he cited (Gandhi and Martin Luther King) and wrong about what would happen in the face of Palestinian non-violence, which did not divide Israel but incited Israel to ever-more intense racism. 

Norman Finkelstein wrote a whole book (What Gandhi Says) trying to assimilate lessons from Gandhi to the Palestinian struggle. His conclusions are ambivalent to say the least, since at times he writes things like “it might fairly be said that Gandhi fostered a death cult.” The book ends up being a presentation of the self-contradictory politics in Gandhi’s writing, not the practical manual of civil resistance Finkelstein may have hoped to create when he picked up Gandhi’s 100 volumes of writing as an aid for the US-based academic and activist “to think through a nonviolent strategy for ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.” 

Palestinians took up these ideas in good faith for years – in better faith than the method deserves. Hundreds of Palestinians died trying to do nonviolent struggle. So too did a handful of friends of Palestine, including Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall, and others in the International Solidarity Movement.

Eqbal had suggested finding out “if the Israelis were in the mood to sink some ships.” They were – they already had been in 1967, if we count the USS Liberty –  but in 2010 a nonviolent flotilla tried to go to Gaza*. Israel boarded the ships, killed some of the activists, and arrested, mistreated, and deported the rest. 

'The Marmara raid wasn't a failure' -
Israelis attacked the Mavi Marmara as it tried to break the blockade on Gaza in 2010

But the culmination of the nonviolent vision, the maximum horizon of all nonviolence, the controlled scientific experiment of perfect nonviolence, occurred in the Great March of Return in Gaza in 2018. It proved that nonviolence does not work. From a scientific standpoint, the nonviolence debate ended in 2018. 

As Gene Sharp’s article on the First Intifada opened the debate on nonviolence in Palestine, Jehad Abusalim’s article, “The Great March of Return: An Organizer’s Perspective”, in the same journal, closed the debate on the topic. 

The Great March of Return started, Abusalim reports, with a facebook post by Abu Artema on January 7, 2018. Abu Artema asked, “What could the occupation bristling with arms do to a mass of human beings advancing peacefully? Kill ten, twenty, or fifty of them? And then what? What could it do in the face of an unwavering mass peacefully marching?” Abu Artema and others worked to make it happen and organized for months, calling for a date in March: 

“To the surprise of all concerned, an estimated 30,000–45,000 people showed up on the first day of the Great March of Return. And on that day, Israeli snipers shot dead 17 Palestinians and injured some 1,400 others.32 The mainstream international media instantaneously referred to the carnage as “rioting” and “clashes” but to those on the ground in Gaza, it was beyond shocking: how could nonviolent protests unleash such fury as to cause Israel to kill 17 peaceful protesters and maim or injure another 1,400? That is how, from the very first day, bloodshed came to define the protest.” 

By the end of the protest, cold-blooded Israeli snipers had killed 226 Palestinians and methodically injured 30,000. For the Israelis, it was sport. The Western media fluidly and easily lied about the march, its nature, and the murderous Israeli response. Neither Israel nor its sponsors faced any crisis or internal division about what they were doing to the Palestinians. Neither Israel nor the West paid any cost for inflicting these tens of thousands of Palestinian casualties. 

Abu Artema, the protest organizer interviewed by Abusalim in the article, seems bereft of ideas at the end – he feels that more international mobilization is needed, some tool that prevents Israel from “targeting Palestinians in such a horrific way” and to “prevent the occupation from using propaganda to prime the public for slaughtering us.” The nonviolence industry was unable to come up with any such tools: the slaughter of Palestinians at the Great March of Return was not the fault of the nonviolent protesters any more than the genocide in 2023-24 was the fault of the Palestinian armed groups. Israel is a genocidal state: then as now, it is doing what it is organized to do. 

Six years later, Palestinians are waging an armed struggle against the Israeli military in Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli military has chosen to accept military casualties and defeats on the battlefield (including the methodical destruction of its armored vehicles and groups of soldiers) to focus entirely on conducting a genocide against Palestinian civilians, with the central goal being the destruction of all of Gaza’s hospitals and educational institutions and the murder of patients and medical personnel, while blocking food and water from reaching people. Palestinians’ allies in Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen are all engaging militarily with Israel and its Western sponsors. In the region, for the time being, the nonviolence case is closed. 

Back in America though, in the solidarity movement, with the expansion of campus protests in April 2024, along with police repression all over the US, the nonviolence debate will rise again.

anti-genocide students face the cavalry in Texas

Anti-genocide students demand universities – which turned out, to the surprise of the students and faculty, to be investment banks that sometimes teach classes – divest from the military industry feeding the genocidal state. The pro-genocide establishment has called the police to crush the protests. What will be the outcome? Nonviolent or violent? Success or failure? 

*As I write this, another nonviolent international flotilla is planning to leave from Turkey to Gaza.

The Myth That India’s Freedom Was Won Nonviolently Is Holding Back Progress

Some struggles can be kept nonviolent, but decolonization never has been—certainly not in India

[This article is the second in what I believe will be a series of 3 articles. The first one talked about the armed elements in the supposedly “nonviolent” struggle for civil rights in the US South, and showed that that struggle was not, in fact, a “nonviolent” struggle. The current article does the same, but for the supposedly “nonviolent” struggle for Indian Independence. The third will talk about Palestine.]

If there is a single false claim to “nonviolent” struggle that has most powerfully captured the imagination of the world, it is the claim that India, under Gandhi’s leadership, defeated the mighty British Empire and won her independence through the nonviolent method.

India’s independence struggle was a process replete with violence. The nonviolent myth was imposed afterward. It is time to get back to reality. Using recent works on the role of violence in the Indian freedom struggle, it’s possible to compile a chronology of the independence movement in which armed struggle played a decisive role. Some of these sources: Palagummi Sainath’s The Last Heroes, Kama Maclean’s A Revolutionary History of Interwar India, Durba Ghosh’s Gentlemanly Terrorists, Pramod Kapoor’s 1946 Royal Indian Navy Mutiny: Last War of Independence, Vijay Prashad’s edited book, The 1921 Uprising in Malabar, and Anita Anand’s The Patient Assassin.

Nonviolence could never defeat a colonial power that had conquered the subcontinent through nearly unimaginable levels of violence. India was conquered step by step by the British East India Company in a series of wars. While the British East India Company had incorporated in 1599, the tide turned against India’s independence in 1757 at the battle of Plassey. A century of encroaching Company rule followed—covered in William Dalrymple’s book The Anarchy—with Company policy and enforced famines murdering tens of millions of people.

In 1857, Indian soldiers working for the Company rose up with some of the few remaining independent Indian rulers who had not yet been dispossessed—to try to oust the British. In response, the British murdered an estimated (by Amaresh Mishra, in the book War of Civilisations) 10 million people.

The British government took over from the Company and proceeded to rule India directly for another 90 years. 

From 1757 to 1947, in addition to the ten million killed in the 1857 war alone, another 30-plus million were killed in enforced famines, per figures presented by Indian politician Shashi Tharoor in the 2016 book Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India.

A 2022 study estimated another 100 million excess deaths in India due to British imperialism from 1880 to 1920 alone. Doctors like Mubin Syed believethat these famines were so great and over such a long period of time that they exerted selective pressure on the genes of South Asian populations, increasing their risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other diseases that arise when abundant calories are available because South Asian bodies have become famine-adapted.

By the end, the independence struggle against the British included all of the methods characteristic of armed struggle: clandestine organization, punishment of collaborators, assassinations, sabotage, attacks on police stations, military mutinies, and even the development of autonomous zones and a parallel government apparatus.

A Chronology of India’s Violent Independence Struggle

In his 2006 article, “India, Armed Struggle in the Independence Movement,” scholar Kunal Chattopadhyay broke the struggle down into a series of phases:

1905-1911: Revolutionary Terrorism. A period of “revolutionary terrorism” started with the assassination of a British official of the Bombay presidency in 1897 by Damodar and Balkrishna Chapekar, who were both hanged. From 1905 to 1907, independence fighters (deemed “terrorists” by the British) attacked railway ticket offices, post offices, and banks, and threw bombs, all to fight the partition of Bengal in 1905. In 1908, Khudiram Bose was executed by the imperialists for “terrorism.”

These “terrorists” of Bengal were a source of great worry to the British. In 1911, the British repealed the partition of Bengal, removing the main grievance of the terrorists. They also passed the Criminal Tribes Act, combining their anxieties over their continued rule with their ever-present racial anxieties. The Home Secretary of the Government of India is quoted in Durba Ghosh’s book Gentlemanly Terrorists

“There is a serious risk, unless the movement in Bengal is checked, that political dacoits and professional dacoits in other provinces may join hands and that the bad example set by these men in an unwarlike province like Bengal may, if it continues, lead to imitation in provinces inhabited by fighting races where the results would be even more disastrous.”

Ghosh outlines some more of these cases:

“In Bengal, the Alipore Conspiracy Case, Midnapore Conspiracy Case, the Howrah Gang Case, and other conspiracy trials enabled the government to detain those involved with secret and underground political groups. Relying on a century-old piece of security legislation that included the Regulation III of 1818, the government also passed the Indian Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1908 and the Defence of India Act in 1915 to bring political violence against the state under control.”

But, as Ghosh argues, the imperialist response wasn’t solely to pass draconian laws. On the contrary, they made concessions—growing concessions—toward independence and other demands by the “terrorists,” and tried to disproportionately reward their “nonviolent” interlocutors from the Congress. Bengal was reunited; the British moved their capital from Calcutta to Delhi to get away from the terrorist movement in that province.

Revolutionary Struggles 1914-1918: With the end of the Swadeshi movement of 1905 to 1907 began what was called, simply, the “Terrorist Movement” from 1907 to 1917. The terrorists opened with an attack on Bengal Lieutenant Governor Andrew Fraser in Midnapore in 1907. During WWI, the Ghadar movement tried to overthrow British rule multiple times—a (foiled) rebellion in February 1915 led by Rash Behari Bose and another (foiled) raid in Calcutta planned for Christmas Day 1915. Revolutionaries in Bengal raided arms depots, obtained military assistance from Germany, fought a pitched battle against the British in September of 1915 at Chasakhand, and even operated internationally in places like the U.S. and Japan. Revolutionary leaders Chittapriya Ray Chaudhuri and Jatindranath Mukherjee both died in this battle.

The response by the British to the terrorist movements in their colonial possessions was to pass wartime laws: the Defence of the Realm Act in Ireland, and the Defence of India Act. But also to make concessions. 

Turning point in 1919: The Amritsar massacre of 1919 was a massacre of hundreds of protesters dissenting from Britain’s desire to extend wartime measures indefinitely through the 1919 Rowlatt Act. After the slaughter, the British engaged in an orgy of racial violence and ritual humiliation, making Indians crawl on their knees down streets, for example. After 1919, Gandhi also led a nonviolent campaign, the non-cooperation movement. What is less known, documented by Durba Ghosh, is that the terrorist movement was in constant contact with Gandhi and the Nehrus (both Motilal and Jawaharlal) throughout this period. The British passed the repressive 1919 Rowlatt Act, but also passed the first Government of India Act and the Montagu Chelmsford Reforms, promising self-government in some distant future.

Also, recall that in 1919 the British also fought an unsuccessful war with Afghanistan and unsuccessfully invaded the new Soviet Union. These violent, military conflicts set the context for the changes the imperialists were forced to make in India.

Interwar Revolutionary Struggle

In the history of the 1920s, the most visible face of the Indian struggle was Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement. But there was an uprising in South India as well, in Malabar in 1921, which the British tried to steer in a communal direction and ended up crushing by force.

The 1920s and 1930s were a time of constant acts of armed struggle. In the 1920s, the Hindustan Republican Association engaged in “patriotic robberies” like one in Kakori, after which four of the leaders were hanged and three others sentenced to life in prison. In 1929, Bhagat Singh and Batukeswar Dutt threw a bomb in the Central Legislative Assembly.

In 1925 and 1930, the British passed two Bengal Criminal Law Amendment Acts. The 1930 amendment was put in force on March 25. On April 18, the Indian Republican Army with Surya Sen and 60 terrorists led a raid on the Chittagong Armory:

“The raid was an elaborately planned attack in which revolutionaries managed to occupy major colonial sites, including the European club, police armoury, and the telephone and telegraph office. The raiders cut off all communications with officials in other parts of India, gathered arms, and hoped to terrorize the British while they enjoyed a Friday evening at their club.”

Also in 1930, Odisha saw a tribal uprising against the British in which villagers battled police—Sainath talked to some of the veterans of this uprising in Last Heroes, chapter 2.

In 1931, the British hanged Bhagat Singh, Shivaram Rajguru, and Sukhdev Thapar. They murdered Chandra Sekhar Azad in a park in Allahabad. They passed the Bengal Suppression of Terrorist Outrages Act in 1932, but terrorism continued.

In 1935, the British made a major concession, another Government of India Act, which expanded the franchise and promised the Congress leaders that they would eventually become the rulers (on the British imperialist timeline). The quid pro quo was that these Indian leaders would suppress the terrorists. Among the British weapons was nonviolence, including the Civil Disobedience movement. The Congress leaders knew, however, that without some terrorism, their leverage with the British would be zero. So they played their own game, quietly supporting the terrorists at times, publicly denouncing them at others, while conducting civil disobedience within a framework of rules that involved jail time for nonviolent actors and British assassination and hanging for terrorists who wouldn’t play the civil disobedience game. Violent struggle was the price paid by the “terrorists” so that the nonviolent could sit at the table to negotiate with the imperialists.

In Chapter 4 of Lost Heroes, Sainath spoke to bomb-maker Shobharam Gaharwar, active in Rajasthan and elsewhere in the 1930s and 1940s, who confirmed the ubiquity of bomb-making activity during the independence struggle:

“We were in great demand at that time! I have been to Karnataka. To Mysore, Bengaluru, all sorts of places. See, Ajmer was a prominent centre for the Quit India movement, for the struggle. So was Benares [Varanasi]. There were other places like Baroda in Gujarat and Damoh in Madhya Pradesh. People looked up to Ajmer, saying the movement is strong in this town and that they would follow the footsteps of the freedom fighters here. Of course, there were many others, too.”

Quit India 1942 and Disillusionment: For Lost Heroes, Sainath spoke to veterans of the armed struggle in Punjab as well as in the south in the Telangana People’s Struggle, led by Sundarayya. Known as the Telangana Uprising of 1946, it was a multiyear struggle over an immense area, and in addition to battles with feudal landlords, police, and hired goondas, he reports:

“At its height, the Veera Telangana Porattam spread across almost 5,000 villages. It touched over three million lives across some 25,000 square kilometres. In the villages under their control, this people’s movement set up a parallel government. That included the creation of gram swaraj committees or village communes. Close to one million acres of land were redistributed amongst the poor. Most official histories date the Communist-led uprising as occurring from 1946-51. But great agitations and revolts were already underway there from late 1943.”

Another southern state, Tamil Nadu, was the site of an immense anti-feudal struggle at the same time as the Quit India movement of 1942. Sainath spoke to veteran R. Nallakannu: 

“We’d fight them at night, throw stones—those were the weapons we had—and chase them away. Sometimes, there would be pitched battles. This happened several times during the protests that came in the 1940s. We were still boys, but we fought. Day and night, with our kind of weapons!”

In one village in Odisha in August 1942, activists took over and declared themselves magistrates, beginning to administer justice. They were quickly arrested, but once locked up they immediately began organizing the prisoners, as they told Sainath:

“They sent us to a prison for criminals. We made the most of it… In those days, the British were trying to recruit soldiers to die in their war against Germany. So they held out promises to those who were serving long sentences as criminals. They promised that anyone who signed up for the war would be given 100 rupees. Each of their families would get 500 rupees. And they would be free after the war.

We campaigned with the criminal prisoners. Is it worth dying for Rs 500 for these people and their wars? You will surely be amongst the first to die, we told them. You are not important for them. Why should you be their cannon fodder?

After a while, they began to listen to us. They used to call us Gandhi, or simply, Congress. Many of them dropped out of the scheme. They rebelled and refused to go.”

In West Bengal, Bhabani Mahato organized logistics for underground fighters in the Quit India struggle. Activist Partha Sarati Mahato told Sainath how it went:

“Only a few better-off families in the village were to prepare meals for however many activists in hiding there [in the forest] were on a given day. And the women doing this were asked to leave the cooked food in their kitchen.

They did not know who it was who came and picked up the food. Nor did they know who the individuals were that they were cooking for. The resistance never used people from the village to do the transportation. The British had spies and informants in the village. So did the feudal zamindars who were their collaborators. These informants would recognize locals carrying loads to the forest. That would endanger both the women and the underground. Nor could they have anyone identifying the people they sent in—probably by nightfall—to collect the food. The women never saw who it was lifting the meals.

That way, both were shielded from exposure. But the women knew what was going on. Most village women would gather each morning at the ponds and streams, tanks—and those involved exchanged notes and experiences. They knew why and what they were doing it for—but never specifically for whom.”

The Toofan Sena 

In 1943, the Toofan Sena, the armed wing of the prati sarkar (or provisional government) of Satara, declared independence from British rule in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Sainath describes the reach of this autonomous zone:

“With its headquarters in Kundal, the prati sarkar—an amalgam of peasants and workers—actually functioned as a government in the nearly 600 villages under its control, where it effectively overthrew British rule. Hausabai’s father, the legendary Nana Patil, headed the prati sarkar. Both sarkar and sena had sprung up as disillusioned offshoots of the Quit India movement of 1942.

Nana Patil, as well as other leaders, including Captain Bhau, led a bold train robbery on June 7, 1943. “It is unfair to say we looted the train,” the captain told Sainath. “It was money stolen by the British rulers from the Indian people that we took back.” Captain Bhau also objected to the notion that the prati sarkar was an “underground movement.”

“‘What do you mean underground government?’ growls Captain Bhau, annoyed by my use of the term. ‘We were the government here. The Raj could not enter. Even the police were scared of the Toofan Sena.’… It organized the supply and distribution of [food grain], set up a coherent market structure, and ran a judicial system. It also penalized moneylenders, pawnbrokers, and landlord collaborators of the Raj.”

Another Toofan Sena member reported to Sainath how they went about punishing informers:

“When we discovered one of these police agents, we encircled his home at night. We would take the informer and an associate of his outside the village.

We would tie up the ankles of the informer after placing a wooden stick between them. He was then held upside down and beaten on the soles of his feet with sticks. We touched no other part of his body. Just the soles.’ No visible marks were there on the body from the feet up. But ‘he couldn’t walk normally for many days’. A powerful disincentive. And so came the name patri sarkar [note: in Marati, the word ‘patri’ means ‘wooden stick’]. ‘After that we would load him on the back of his associate who would carry him home.” 

The Indian National Army

In 1938, the Indian National Congress saw Subhas Chandra Bose become president. He was immensely popular, with an independent power base. While respectful of Gandhi, he was not committed to nonviolence. He was ousted from the party in 1939. In 1941, during World War II, Bose formed the Indian National Army, backed by Imperial Japan, whose goal was to liberate India by force. The same year, Nehru was transferred to Lucknow Jail where he spent time with many imprisoned terrorists. When Gandhi’s Quit India movement was crushed in 1942 within months, Bose and the INA fought on, and Bose was killed in 1945.

Imprisoned for journalism, Bengaluru-based H.S. Doreswamy described his encounter with Indian National Army prisoners whose massacre he witnessed in 1943:

“Once, when we were in prison in Bengaluru (1942-43), it was midnight, and a group of captives was brought in. They came in shouting slogans, and we thought they were more of our people. But they weren’t. They were Indian military personnel. We were told they were officers but didn’t know for sure. We didn’t know their ranks.

There were fourteen of them—from different states. They had decided to leave the British Indian military and join Netaji Bose’s Indian National Army (INA). They tried to leave the country. And were on their way to Burma [now Myanmar] when they were arrested. All fourteen of them. They were brought to Bengaluru and court-martialled. And sentenced to death by hanging.

We interacted with them. They wrote down, with their blood, a letter to all of us. It said, ‘We are so happy that you are 500 here. This country, this Bharat Mata, requires the blood of so many people. We are also a part and parcel of that effort. We have also pledged to give our lives to this country’s cause.’ That is what they wrote… ‘We heard that all of them were lined up in a row and shot dead—all of them—at one time… They knew it. That they were going to their death. But they were very cheerful. That’s why they gave us that letter written in blood addressed to all of us.’”

When the British tried to execute INA officers for treason at the symbolic Red Fort in Delhi, they ended up with an uprising. In 1946, a Naval Mutiny centered in Mumbai was suppressed at huge cost to the British: Their Indian Empire had unraveled. In his book on the naval mutiny, Pramod Kapoor notes that while Quit India was called in 1942, Independence followed very quickly after the 1946 Naval Mutiny. A look at the chronology suggests that the mutiny was more decisive than the nonviolent campaign in bringing about Independence.

The British quickly partitioned the subcontinent, poisoned the chalice, and handed it over to their chosen Indian Congress interlocutors.

As H.S. Doreswamy put it: “When the Britishers left the country, they did so with three formulae. One, to form Pakistan and Hindustan. Two, to keep the people in both countries divided on communal lines. And three: those 562 princely states—they were free to join or stay out of this Indian Union.” The princely state plot was foiled by the post-independence government, but the communal plot and the partition plot both succeeded. So did the sponsorship of the myth that Indian independence sprung from a series of nonviolent campaigns, and not the same processes of armed national liberation struggle that occurred in India as everywhere else in the world that faced a similar situation.

The Harm Caused by the Nonviolence Myth

The nonviolence myth helped preserve feudalism. Like slavery and segregation in the U.S., colonialism in India was overthrown by violence. But also like the U.S., the myth of nonviolence has done real damage to India’s polity. Gandhi’s spiritual successor, Vinoba Bhave, traveled the country trying to convince landowners to conduct a voluntary land reform (contrast this with the violent land reforms enacted in neighboring China, described in Fanshen by William Hinton). 

Vinoba Bhave’s was a nonviolent campaign of land reform which kept feudalism largely intact in India. Ironically, Vinoba Bhave was known to have threatened the landowners with violence—explicitly stating that by voluntarily giving up some land, the landowners could save themselves from future violent revolution. Again, we see nonviolent leaders putting the poor in the position of the supplicant, asking for crumbs from the rich based on some distant possibility of revolution instead of working to organize the poor for that revolution.

The nonviolence myth does not produce nonviolent societies. One of the central arguments for nonviolence dating at least back to Gandhi is that nonviolent means lead to better ends. Noam Chomsky put it this way in the 1967 debate with Hannah Arendt:

“It seems to me, from the little we know about such matters, that a new society rises out of the actions that are taken to form it, and the institutions and the ideology it develops are not independent of those actions; in fact, they’re heavily colored by them, they’re shaped by them in many ways. And one can expect that actions that are cynical and vicious, whatever their intent, will inevitably condition and deface the quality of the ends that are achieved. Now, again, in part this is just a matter of faith. But I think there’s at least some evidence that better results follow from better means.”

Since Gandhi’s nonviolence argument was based on the notion that means and ends are inseparable and that the choice of violent means would lead to violent ends, it should follow that the central importance of nonviolence in the Indian freedom struggle led to India being a particularly nonviolent country after independence. Italian communist author Domenico Losurdo, in his book Nonviolence: A History Beyond the Myth, answers that one: “[F]ar from being the embodiment of the ideal of non-violence, India today is one of the most violent countries on earth. Armed clashes between the different religious and ethnic groups are widespread; in particular, massacres of Muslims and Christians are recurrent.”

The inseparability of means and ends is an argument against nonviolence. Nonviolence is a means that involves begging the powerful for concessions and inviting them to do violence without consequences for themselves: it leads to a society with an elite that feels complete impunity to do horrific violence while facing opponents that will try, at worst, to melt their hearts through an example of suffering. It turns oppressors into worse people, drunk on power and feeling no consequences.

Decolonization Is a Violent Process, and India Was No Exception

As Losurdo tells it in his book, nonviolence is an ideal that was developed in the UK and U.S. to ensure that resistance to slavery would be ineffective—for keeping resistance to one of the most vile institutions ever invented within controllable bounds. Christian pacifists and Quakers developed it because they did not want to participate in the violence of slavery. Very few of them were moved to fight slavery violently.

Gandhi’s Indian enemies have argued that it is these Christian, Anglo-American roots from which Gandhian nonviolence springs, and not from Hindu notions of ahimsa or satyagraha. In the end, Indian people did not behave like otherworldly sages. They did what all colonized people do: they fought an armed struggle for independence.

Shorn of the myth of nonviolence, what are the lessons of the real Indian independence struggle and how do they fit into our understanding of social change? It is clear that some struggles—for improved wages or working conditions, better municipal services, or other struggles for equality within a community—can be kept on the nonviolent plane. Colonialism, based on racial oppression and dehumanization, cannot be, and India is not an exception. Like colonialism itself, the absence of a nonviolent solution to colonialism is tragic, but the sooner the reality is recognized by advocates of social change, the better.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Are We Living Through a De-Dollarization?

De-dollarization is apparently here, “like it or not,” as a May 2023 video by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a peace-oriented think tank based in Washington, D.C., states. Quincy is not alone in discussing de-dollarization: political economists Radhika Desai and Michael Hudson outlined its mechanics across four shows between February and April 2023 in their fortnightly YouTube program, “Geopolitical Economy Hour.” Economist Richard Wolff provided a nine-minute explanation on this topic on the Democracy at Work channel. On the other side, media outlets like Business Insider have assured readers that dollar dominance isn’t going anywhere. Journalist Ben Norton reported on a two-hour, bipartisan Congressional hearing that took place on June 7—“Dollar Dominance: Preserving the U.S. Dollar’s Status as the Global Reserve Currency”—about defending the U.S. currency from de-dollarization. During the hearing, Congress members expressed both optimism and anxiety about the future of the dollar’s supreme role. But what has prompted this debate?

Until recently, the global economy accepted the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency and the currency of international transactions. The central banks of Europe and Asia had an insatiable appetite for dollar-denominated U.S. Treasury securities, which in turn bestowed on Washington the ability to spend money and finance its debt at will. Should any country step out of line politically or militarily, Washington could sanction it, excluding it from the rest of the world’s dollar-denominated system of global trade.

But for how long? After a summit meeting in March between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping, Putin stated, “We are in favor of using the Chinese yuan for settlements between Russia and the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.” Putting that statement in perspective, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said, “The world’s second-largest economy and its largest energy exporter are together actively trying to dent the dollar’s dominance as the anchor of the international financial system.” Already, Zakaria noted, Russia and China are holding less of their central bank reserves in dollars and settling most of their trade in yuan, while other countries sanctioned by the United States are turning to “barter trade” to avoid dependence on the dollar.

A new global monetary system, or at least one in which there is no near-universal reserve currency, would amount to a reshuffling of political, economic, and military power: a geopolitical reordering not seen since the end of the Cold War or even World War II. But as a look at its origins and evolution makes clear, the notion of a standard global system of exchange is relatively recent and no hard-and-fast rules dictate how one is to be organized. Let’s take a brief tour through the tumultuous monetary history of global trade and then consider the factors that could trigger another stage in its evolution.

Imperial Commodity Money

Before the dollarization of the world economy took place, the international system had a gold standard anchored by the naval supremacy of the British Empire. But a currency system backed by gold, a mined commodity, had an inherent flaw: deflation. As long as metal mining could keep up with the pace of economic growth, the gold standard could work. But, as Karl Polanyi noted in his 1944 book, The Great Transformation, “the amount of gold available may [only] be increased by a few percent over a year… not by as many dozen within a few weeks, as might be required to carry a sudden expansion of transactions. In the absence of token money, business would have to be either curtailed or carried on at very much lower prices, thus inducing a slump and creating unemployment.”

This deflationary spiral, borne by everyone in the economy, was what former U.S. presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan described in his famous 1896 Democratic Party convention speech, in which he declared, “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” For the truly wealthy, of course, the gold standard was a good thing, since it protected their assets from inflation.

The alternative to the “cross of gold” was for governments to ensure that sufficient currency circulated to keep business going. For this purpose, they could produce, instead of commodity money of gold or silver, token or “fiat” money: paper currency issued at will by the state treasury. The trouble with token money, however, was that it could not circulate on foreign soil. How, then, in a global economy, would it be possible to conduct foreign trade in commodity money and domestic business in token money?

The Spanish and Portuguese empires had one solution to keep the flow of metals going: to commit genocide against the civilizations of the Americas, steal their gold and silver, and force the Indigenous peoples to work themselves to death in the mines. The Dutch and then British empires got their hands on the same gold using a number of mechanisms, including the monopolization of the slave trade through the Assiento of 1713 and the theft of Indigenous lands in the United States and Canada. Stolen silver was used to purchase valuable trade goods in China. Britain stole that silver back from China after the Opium Wars, which China had to pay immense indemnities (in silver) for losing.

Once established as the global imperial manager, the British Empire insisted on the gold standard while putting India on a silver standard. In his 2022 PhD thesis, political economist Jayanth Jose Tharappel called this scheme “bimetallic apartheid”: Britain used the silver standard to acquire Indian commodities and the gold standard to trade with European countries. India was then used as a money pump for British control of the global economy, squeezed as needed: India ran a trade surplus with the rest of the world but was meanwhile in a trade deficit with Britain, which charged its colony “Home Charges” for the privilege of being looted. Britain also collected taxes and customs revenues in its colonies and semi-colonies, simply seizing commodity money and goods, which it resold at a profit, often to the point of famine and beyond—leading to tens of millions of deaths. The system of Council Bills was another clever scheme: paper money was sold by the British Crown to merchants for gold and silver. Those merchants used the Council Bills to purchase Indian goods for resale. The Indians who ended up with the Council Bills would cash them in and get rupees (their own tax revenues) back. The upshot of all this activity was that the Britain drained $45 trillion from India between 1765 and 1938, according to research by economist Utsa Patnaik.

From Gold to Gold-Backed Currency to the Floating Dollar

As the 19th century wore on, an indirect result of Britain’s highly profitable management of its colonies—and particularly its too-easy dumping of its exports into their markets—was that it fell behind in advanced manufacturing and technology to Germany and the United States: countries into which it had poured investment wealth drained from India and China. Germany’s superior industrial prowess and Russia’s departure from Britain’s side after the Bolshevik Revolution left the British facing a possible loss to Germany in World War I, despite Britain drawing more than 1 million people from the Indian subcontinent to serve (more than 2 million Indians would serve Britain in WWII) during the war. American financiers loaned Britain so much money that if it had lost WWI, U.S. banks would have realized an immense loss. When the war was over, to Britain’s surprise, the United States insisted on being paid back. Britain squeezed Germany for reparations to repay the U.S. loans, and the world financial system broke down into “competitive devaluations, tariff wars, and international autarchy,” as Michael Hudson relates in his 1972 book, Super imperialism, setting the stage for World War II.

After that war, Washington insisted on an end to the sterling zone; the United States would no longer allow Britain to use India as its own private money pump. But John Maynard Keynes, who had written Indian Currency and Finance (1913), The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919), and the General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936), believed he had found a new and better way to supply the commodity money needed for foreign trade and the token money required for domestic business, without crucifying anyone on a cross of gold.

At the international economic conference in 1944 at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, Keynes proposed an international bank with a new reserve currency, the bancor, that would be used to settle trade imbalances between countries. If Mexico needed to sell oil and purchase automobiles from Germany, for instance, the two countries could carry out trade in bancors. If Mexico found itself owing more bancors than it held, or Germany had a growing surplus of them, an International Clearing Union would apply pressure to both sides: currency depreciation for debtors, but also currency appreciation and punitive interest payments for creditors. Meanwhile, the central banks of both debtor and creditor nations could follow Keynes’s domestic advice and use their powers of money creation to stimulate the domestic economy as needed, within the limits of domestically available resources and labor power.

Keynes made his proposal, but the United States had a different plan. Instead of the bancor, the dollar, backed by gold held at Fort Knox, would be the new reserve currency and the medium of world trade. Having emerged from the war with its economy intact and most of the world’s gold, the United States led the Western war on communism in all its forms using weapons ranging from coups and assassinations to development aid and finance. On the economic side, U.S. tools included reconstruction lending to Europe, development loans to the Global South, and balance of payments loans to countries in trouble (the infamous International Monetary Fund (IMF) “rescue packages”). Unlike Keynes’s proposed International Clearing Union, the IMF imposed all the penalties on the debtors and gave all the rewards to the creditors.

The dollar’s unique position gave the United States what a French minister of finance called an “exorbitant privilege.” While every other country needed to export something to obtain dollars to purchase imports, the United States could simply issue currency and proceed to go shopping for the world’s assets. Gold backing remained, but the cost of world domination became considerable even for Washington during the Vietnam War. Starting in 1965, France, followed by others, began to hold the United States at its word and exchanged U.S. dollars for U.S. gold, persisting until Washington canceled gold backing and the dollar began to float free in 1971.

The Floating Dollar and the Petrodollar

The cancellation of gold backing for the currency of international trade was possible because of the United States’ exceptional position in the world as the supreme military power: it possessed full spectrum dominance and had hundreds of military bases everywhere in the world. The U.S. was also a magnet for the world’s immigrants, a holder of the soft power of Hollywood and the American lifestyle, and the leader in technology, science, and manufacturing.

The dollar also had a more tangible backing, even after the gold tether was broken. The most important commodity on the planet was petroleum, and the United States controlled the spigot through its special relationship with the oil superpower, Saudi Arabia; a meeting in 1945 between King Abdulaziz Al Saud and then-President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on an American cruiser, the USS Quincy, on Great Bitter Lake in Egypt sealed the deal. When the oil-producing countries formed an effective cartel, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and began raising the price of oil, the oil-deficient countries of the Global South suffered, while the oil exporters exchanged their resources for vast amounts of dollars (“petrodollars”).

The United States forbade these dollar holders from acquiring strategic U.S. assets or industries but allowed them to plow their dollars back into the United States by purchasing U.S. weapons or U.S. Treasury securities: simply holding dollars in another form. Economists Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler called this the “weapondollar-petrodollar” nexus in their 2002 book, The Global Political Economy of Israel. As documented in Michael Hudson’s 1977 book, Global Fracture (a sequel to Super Imperialism), the OPEC countries hoped to use their dollars to industrialize and catch up with the West, but U.S. coups and counterrevolutions maintained the global fracture and pushed the global economy into the era of neoliberalism.

The Saudi-U.S. relationship was the key to containing OPEC’s power as Saudi Arabia followed U.S. interests, increasing oil production at key moments to keep prices low. At least one author—James R. Norman, in his 2008 book, The Oil Card: Global Economic Warfare in the 21st Century—has argued that the relationship was key to other U.S. geopolitical priorities as well, including its effort to hasten the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1980s. A 1983 U.S. Treasury study calculated that, since each $1 drop in the per barrel oil price would reduce Russia’s hard currency revenues by up to $1 billion, a drop of $20 per barrel would put it in crisis, according to Peter Schweizer’s book, Victory.

In 1985, Norman recounted in his book that Saudi Arabia “[opened] the floodgates, [slashed] its pricing, and [pumped] more oil into the market.” While other factors contributed to the collapse of the oil price as well, “Russian academic Yegor Gaidar, acting prime minister of Russia from 1991 to 1994 and a former minister of economy, has described [the drop in oil prices] as clearly the mortal blow that wrecked the teetering Soviet Union.”

From Petrodollar to De-Dollarization

When the USSR collapsed, the United States declared a new world order and launched a series of new wars, including against Iraq. The currency of the new world order was the petrodollar-weapondollar. An initial bombing and partial occupation of Iraq in 1990 was followed by more than a decade of applying a sadistic economic weapon to a much more devastating effect than it ever had on the USSR (or other targets like Cuba): comprehensive sanctions. Forget price manipulations; Iraq was not allowed to sell its oil at all, nor to purchase needed medicines or technology. Hundreds of thousands of children died as a result. Several authors, including India’s Research Unit for Political Economy in the 2003 book Behind the Invasion of Iraq and U.S. author William Clark in a 2005 book, Petrodollar Warfare, have argued that Saddam Hussein’s final overthrow was triggered by a threat to begin trading oil in euros instead of dollars. Iraq has been under U.S. occupation since.

It seems, however, that the petro-weapondollar era is now coming to an end, and at a “‘stunning’ pace.” After the Putin-Xi summit in March 2023, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria worried publicly about the status of the dollar in the face of China’s and Russia’s efforts to de-dollarize. The dollar’s problems have only grown since. All of the pillars upholding the petrodollar-weapondollar are unstable:

But what will replace the dollar?

“A globalized economy needs a single currency,” Zakaria said on CNN after the Xi-Putin summit. “The dollar is stable. You can buy and sell at any time and it’s governed largely by the market and not the whims of a government. That’s why China’s efforts to expand the yuan’s role internationally have not worked.” But the governance of the U.S. dollar by the “whims of a government”—namely, the United States—is precisely why countries are looking for alternatives.

Zakaria took comfort in the fact that the dollar’s replacement will not be the yuan. “Ironically, if Xi Jinping wanted to cause the greatest pain to America, he would liberalize his financial sector and make the yuan a true competitor to the dollar. But that would take him in the direction of markets and openness that is the opposite of his current domestic goals.” Zakaria is wrong. China need not liberalize to internationalize the yuan. When the dollar was supreme, the United States simply excluded foreign dollar-holders from purchasing U.S. companies or assets and restricted them to holding U.S. Treasury securities instead.

But as Chinese economist Yuanzheng Cao, former chief economist of the Bank of China, argued in his 2018 book, Strategies for Internationalizing the Renminbi (the official name of the currency whose unit is the yuan), Beijing can internationalize the yuan without attempting to replace the dollar and incurring the widespread resentment that would follow. It only needs to secure the yuan’s use strategically as one of several currencies and in a wider variety of transactions, such as currency swaps.

Elsewhere, Keynes’s postwar idea for a global reserve currency is being revived on a more limited basis. A regional version of the bancor, the sur, was proposed by Brazil’s President Luis Inácio (“Lula”) da Silva. Ecuadorian economist and former presidential candidate Andrés Arauz described the sur as follows in a February interview: “The idea is not to replace each country’s national, sovereign currency, but rather to have an additional currency, a complementary currency, a supranational currency for trade among countries in the region, starting with Brazil and Argentina, which are the sort of two powerhouses in the Southern Cone, and that could then amplify to the rest of the region.” Lula followed up the sur idea with an idea of a BRICS currency; Russian economist Sergey Glazyev proposes a kind of bancor backed by a basket of commodities.

Currency systems reflect power relations in the world: they don’t change them. The Anglo gold standard and the American dollar standard reflected imperial monopoly power for centuries. In a multipolar world, however, we should expect more diverse arrangements.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Multiculturalism is over in Canada – it’s back to Sinophobia

How a rogue spy and two reporters are breaking the fragile system for integrating immigrants

Republished from my substack

Breaking Canada-China science connections as prologue

The death throes of Canadian multiculturalism began on February 2023 over China-Canada science connections. Canada’s Innovation Minister said Canadian universities shouldn’t do research with China’s military, as 50 of them have since 2005. “I am not happy and it’s unacceptable,” Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said, quoted in a February 2 Globe and Mail article “Ottawa vows to curb research with Chinese military scientists”. Champagne reminded Canadians that there are new national-security reviews for scientists since 2021 – also designed for China. Michael Chong, the foreign affairs critic with the Conservative party, called for a ban to all research collaboration with China’s military. 

One Canadian research fellow said that “Everyone recognizes the importance of academic freedom but Canadian researchers should be thinking within their souls, not partnering with Chinese researchers who maybe are helping to develop military equipment.” What will these Canadians find in their souls? 

It didn’t take long for Champagne to give these souls a nudge, announcing the ban Michael Chong had asked for on February 14. “Grant applications that involve conducting research in a sensitive research area will not be funded if any of the researchers working on the project are affiliated with a university, research institute or laboratory connected to military, national defence or state security entities of foreign state actors that pose a risk to our national security.” In case you were wondering, the shifty category of “foreign state actors that pose a risk to our national security” does not include the US, UK, or Israel – military research with these partners continues, of course. 

Indeed to try to substitute “the US” or “Israel” for China anywhere in this story would render it incomprehensible. When a group of Palestinian students started a lecture series asserting that Israel was an apartheid state, it was denounced by every mainstream Canadian politician including Trudeau himself and official parliamentary motions. As this very story unfolds a disabled, Black NDP candidate, Sarah Jama, is under attack for criticizing Israel when she was a student activist. Israel, apparently, might be a “foreign state actor”, but no one thinks it “poses a risk to our national security” – on the contrary, Canadian politicians must be vetted and disqualified if they are critical of Israel. 

Chinese Canadians must prove they are loyal to Canada and not China; Canadian politicians must prove that they are with Israel and not the Palestinians.

The Globe and Mail  didn’t stop with mere government declarations. They got quotes from CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, and also a report from a “US strategic intelligence company Strider Technologies Inc” that stated that “Researchers at 50 Canadian universities… have conducted and published joint scientific papers from 2005 to 2022 with scientists connected to” China. 

No questions asked about why a US strategic intelligence company is studying Canada-China research connections for these guardians of Canadian sovereignty.  

Fife, Chase, and their CSIS source break the 2021 election story

On February 13, Robert Fife and Steven Chase published a story in the Globe and Mail “CSIS warned Trudeau about politician’s alleged ties to China.” In this story, the reporters cite “two national security sources” making accusations against a Canadian Liberal Party politician Michael Chan, saying that CSIS “has a dossier on Mr. Chan that contains information in the 2019 and 2021 federal election campaigns and meetings with suspected Chinese intelligence operatives.” This dossier made by the intelligence agency has now been entered into the public record. Chan fired back hard: “Your own statement to me about a recent briefing by CSIS to Prime Minister Trudeau, serves only to ignite xenophobia and cause continued, unwarranted and irreparable damage to my reputation and the safety of my family,” he said.

He added: “CSIS has never interviewed me regarding their false and unsubstantiated allegations. However, I am aware that they have conducted intimidating interviews with my friends and acquaintances and then instructed them to keep their mouths shut.”

That might have been the end of it, but the story has legs. What follows in Fife & Chase’s report – and in the growing scandal in Canada – is a narrative where every sentence begins or ends with the phrase, “CSIS believes”. Michael Chan met with Chinese diplomats, who CSIS believes are “suspected intelligence actors”; “security sources” told Fife & Chase that they had told the prime minister’s office that Chan should be “on your radar”. They briefed the prime minister on “foreign interference, tactics and Chinese tradecraft.” 

Reporter Robert Fisk said, in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, that all newspapers should change their name to “US officials said”, since their reporting relied solely on unnamed US officials using their newspapers to generate support for the war. Perhaps the Globe & Mail should change its name to “CSIS believes.” 

Fife & Chase repeat a set of sinister phrases, all citing back to their source in CSIS who is leaking them “top secret” information – a cachet that adds undeserved weight to their assertions: “CSIS has repeatedly warned that China has been conducting foreign interference operations in Canada, including efforts to influence the political process.” They quote CSIS director-general of intelligence Adam Fisher:  “They are not necessarily relying on trained agents. They use cutouts. They use proxies. They use community groups. They use diaspora organizations and community leaders,” he said. They quote Cherie Henderson CSIS assistant director of requirements “They will use whatever avenue they can to achieve their objectives”. The story’s sourcing is principally their unnamed CSIS leaker, backed up by official statements… also by CSIS officials. The total impression given by this set of quotes is that an informed Chinese Canadian who effectively pushes back against Canada’s belligerence towards China will automatically become a prime suspect for Chinese collusion. 

Michael Chan protested to Fife & Chase that he is a “loyal Canadian” – a phrase with historical resonance for anti-racists. Chinese Canadians must prove their loyalty – ideally, by publicly denouncing the Chinese state. 

Then, the bombshell on February 17, 2023. Fife and Chase again, in a report titled “CSIS documents reveal Chinese strategy to influence 2021 election.” This breathless story reports as if established fact that China was working for the Liberals and against “Conservative politicians considered to be unfriendly to Beijing”. The basis of Fife & Chase’s story is the usual: “The full extent of the Chinese interference operation is laid bare in both secret and top-secret Canadian Security Intelligence Service documents viewed by The Globe and Mail.” 

Fife & Chase call it “an orchestrated machine” run by the “Chinese Communist Party leadership in Beijing” to use Canadian organizations “while obfuscating links to the People’s Republic of China.” 

From February on, the Globe and Mail with its reporting duo of Fife & Chase, its TV network, and its CSIS source, have worked to create a national media scandal. Let’s call this network CSIS-GM. 

As with the 2014 Trojan Horse Affair in Britain or the Dreyfus Affair 100+ years ago in France, the flimsy basis of the accusations isn’t questioned. The Trojan Horse Affair and Dreyfus Affair were based on outright fake documents. In contrast, Fife & Chase and their paper, the Globe and Mail, are working with a secret faction inside CSIS in ways that will incite racist attacks on Chinese Canadians and they do not appear to care. If they cared, their standards for evidence would be much higher. 

Since the CSIS leaker is anonymous, we don’t know his goal. Here’s a guess for what this CSIS-GM operation could accomplish: better Canadian state control and monitoring of contact between Canadians, especially Chinese Canadians, and Chinese people. The unelected and unaccountable CSIS retains its personnel and infrastructure regardless of who is in the Canadian parliament. With centralized control over Canada-China contacts, CSIS will make a better asset for its real master, the US, in the latter’s ever more aggressive and dangerous confrontation with China. 

Interlude 1: A reminder of the major problem with Canadian elections

For Canadians worried about whether electoral outcomes reflect the popular will, there are some real questions. Why is health care being privatized when no Canadians want or voted for that? Why did the Green Party – a minor party nowhere near power – seem to self-destruct when a pro-Palestine candidate made a good showing in the leadership race? 

Canada’s wealthy donors and corporate lobbies certainly have their say through electoral financing, though they have to work creatively around spending limits. More powerful, though, is the revolving door of corporate boards and the chance to own privatized businesses, with former Ontario premier Mike Harris in the Long-Term Care business, a Toronto public school board leader being part owner of a private school, former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino cashing in on legalized marijuana, etc. 

The parties’ processes of vetting candidates also helps ensure a unanimity of ideology. When, for example, candidates with a pro-Palestine past (something that usually only happens on the left, ie., in the NDP, like the aforementioned Sarah Jama) become controversial, they are purged by the party apparatus. This has been going on for years and perhaps decades – I wrote about it in 2015

Perhaps even more important is the intense concentration of Canadian media. The Canadian Media Concentration Research Project reported in 2021 that “The top six Canadian companies—Bell, TELUS, Rogers, Shaw, Quebecor and the CBC— accounted for 69% of network media economy revenue last year; in contrast, the “big six” US-based Internet giants’ combined revenue in Canada of $14.5 billion gave them a 15.3% market share.” What Canadians see and read come from six Canadian and six US corporations, all of which share the same view of the world and of the place of various peoples in it. Good thing we’ve banned Chinese-owned TikTok, right?

Can a concentrated media, careful ideological vetting, and a wealthy class that can offer the riches of Croesus to retired politicians who have done them good service have any influence on elections? Should Canadians worry about that? Never mind! Focus on Chinese interference, says CSIS-GM. 

CSIS-GM accusations grow

Back to our story. By February 20th Fife & Chase, with the same CSIS sourcing – remember the phrase: “secret and top-secret Canadian Security Intelligence Service documents viewed by The Globe and Mail “, were describing an ever-more terrifying system of “ Chinese government espionage that employs blackmail, bribery and sexual seduction, with the country even enlisting the Bank of China in its foreign-influence activities.” What they called an “orchestrated machine”, three days later was a “a broad Chinese strategy to interfere in Canada’s democracy and gain influence over politicians, corporate executives, academics and vulnerable Chinese Canadians.” A national security expert, Akshay Singh, sounded a frightful alarm: “It’s about different levels of government. It is about academia. It is about civil society and it is about private enterprise.” The Chinese, it seems, were everywhere.

On February 21st, Fife & Chase’s reporting had won results. Their report that day, “Committee to probe Chinese interference in 2021 election”, described how a parliamentary committee would convene on Chinese interference. Opposition parliamentarians demanded the committee investigate the 2021 election based on Fife & Chase’s “shocking revelations.” 

The same day the Globe and Mail’s editorial board began to drive the political line for the scandal. “Stand up to China, Mr. Trudeau.” The editors asserted that Canadians didn’t care about the spy agency leaking “top secret” information, but about the Chinese undermining democracy. Apparently the Globe and Mail editors thought Canadians valued precisely what the Globe and Mail had given them and Canadians weren’t suspicious at all of the CSIS leaker or the corporate media pushing the story. The paper collaborating with the spy agency to generate suspicion of all Chinese Canadians cast itself as the victim in the editorial because Trudeau had said the CSIS reports, whose “top secret” status was hyped up by the Globe and Mail to add energy to their story, shouldn’t have been leaked. 

CSIS-GM counter Trudeau’s threat to investigate the leaker – with another leak

Fife & Chase stepped up the game again on February 28 breaking another story, again from their CSIS source: 

“The source said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service captured a conversation in 2014 between an unnamed commercial attaché at one of China’s consulates in Canada and billionaire Zhang Bin, a political adviser to the government in Beijing and a senior official in China’s network of state promoters around the world.

“They discussed the federal election that was expected to take place in 2015, and the possibility that the Liberals would defeat Stephen Harper’s Conservatives and form the next government. The source said the diplomat instructed Mr. Zhang to donate $1-million to the Trudeau Foundation, and told him the Chinese government would reimburse him for the entire amount.”

The Trudeau foundation provides scholarships and has nothing to do with elections. It is named for the current prime minister’s father, who was also prime minister of Canada decades ago. The foundation returned the donation days after the story broke. 

Interlude 2: A review of the difference between evidence and intelligence

Perhaps we should review the different standards of evidence. To meet the standards of a court of law, evidence has to be very good, since someone could go to jail based on it. To meet the standard of publication, evidence also should be good, since lives and reputations could be ruined. Intelligence agencies, meanwhile, are allowed to give their briefings in secret because they can then assess threats and probability freely without worrying about destroyed reputations or innocent people going to jail. They can produce reports that would be libelous (false and defamatory) if published but might be useful for a government scanning the horizon for threats to sovereignty. What they should not be allowed to do is hide behind anonymity to spread secret evidence, inciting racism against a whole group of people who, according to multicultural theory, are as Canadian as Fife & Chase or their CSIS leakers.

Some Canadian intelligence officials have tried to sound some warnings about the difference between evidence and intelligence, but the scandal keeps growing. 

At any given moment, if the political climate is right for it, the publication of intelligence materials as established fact will be enough to cause a public scandal. 

In the case of this CSIS-GM operation, this is bigger than an intelligence agency leaking their threat assessments to a corporate media monopolist to challenge an election outcome. 

The end of Canadian multiculturalism

There’s more at stake because Canada has a history of Chinese Exclusion, of anti-Chinese racism, and a recent history of multiculturalism which is now coming to an end.

Beginning in the 1970s (with the current prime minister’s father) multiculturalism was the framework for integrating immigrants into Canada and has always carried both an anti-racist and a sinister element. It is based on the belief that people from any country of origin could become as “Canadian” as the British colonists who seized it in the name of the English Crown. The resulting Canada would be a “mosaic of cultures”, not a melting pot that pressures people to sever ties with the old country and assimilate as happens in the United States. 

On the sinister side, the multicultural idea is used to try to lower the special status of First Nations down to the level of any other part of the mosaic and hide the fact that they retain sovereignty over the land. If Canada is to be a mosaic, immigrants would have to be invited by First Nations on their terms, not by the state that stole their land. 

Canadian multiculturalism is also used to weaponize diasporas for campaigns against their home countries, wherever those home countries are in the crosshairs of the US. These diaspora communities of the mosaic are assumed to have homogeneous politics as regards foreign policy: their visible leaders and their community media are of course vocally against the Chinese government, but also pro-US sanctions and wars, anti-Communist, against Palestinian sovereignty, etc. 

Multiculturalism was strained by the War on Terror decades as Canadian police and informants infiltrated Muslim communities and entrapped them in terror plots the same way the FBI did in the US, but Canada didn’t go as far as the UK did with its Trojan Horse Affair. Sinophobia in Canada has a much deeper tradition, with race riots in British Columbia and the Chinese Exclusion Act. 

CSIS-GM are working towards an open parliamentary inquiry on Chinese interference. This would be like the McCarthy inquiry for Canada. And as James Bradley noted in his book The China Mirage, McCarthyism in the US did indeed begin as an anti-China initiative. So we’re back full circle. A simple protectionist measure has been debated: expelling Chinese diplomats. The problem with that, Canada’s foreign affairs minister said, was that China would then expel Canada’s diplomats, which would “harm Canada’s ability to have ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground in China.” (that’s from a March 10th report by… Fife & Chase). What a colonial dilemma for poor Canada, who needs to maintain its “eyes and ears” to spy and interfere in China and cannot risk losing this access even to protect Canadians from alleged Chinese spies and interference!

After last weekend’s removal of the Toronto MPP Vincent Ke from the caucus of the Ontario Tories – under the pressure of unnamed intelligence sources pushing against all in Canada who were born in China, or have Chinese connections, through the instrument of willing media operatives – a respected reporter on party politics, Chantal Hébert, could not help but call this what it is. Canada’s latest yellow-peril purge was becoming a “witch-hunt,” she told CBC (as it operates in Quebec), “and not just a political witch-hunt but a witch-hunt to which the media is contributing.”

“At what point,” she joined a usually servile media corps in asking, “does one stop being an investigative journalist and start being the secretary of a source that dictates to us things that we don’t verify . . . ?” In other words, even journalists who accept as given the need for a new Cold War patriotism against China are starting to feel some palpable unease. “Think on it well,” Hébert warned her colleagues: “we know where it starts, but do you know where it ends?”  

If the Globe and Mail and CSIS get the national scandal they are working to generate, it will be the end of multiculturalism in both its positive and negative aspects. Minorities, starting with Chinese-Canadians, will be made to understand just how conditional the multicultural embrace really is. As both living standards and educational institutions in China continue to improve (ending Canada’s joint research will have absolutely no negative effect on China’s progress), Chinese people will increasingly avoid Canada. Chinese firms will be kicked out of the Canadian surveillance capitalism market so that work can be done by American and Israeli firms. Maybe that, and not some narrow partisan advantage gained by questioning the government’s electoral legitimacy, is the desired endgame of this campaign. 

Whatever the real CSIS-Globe and Mail game is, it is a dangerous one that is already out of control. Chinese Canadians are the target – but the whole thing will not end well for Canada.

Asking the Oppressed to Be Nonviolent Is an Impossible Standard That Ignores History

In January 2023, after five police officers killed Tyre Nichols, President Joe Biden quickly issued a statement calling on protesters to stay nonviolent. “As Americans grieve, the Department of Justice conducts its investigation, and state authorities continue their work, I join Tyre’s family in calling for peaceful protest,” said Biden. “Outrage is understandable, but violence is never acceptable. Violence is destructive and against the law. It has no place in peaceful protests seeking justice.”

In June 2022, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Biden made the same call to protesters. “I call on everyone, no matter how deeply they care about this decision, to keep all protests peaceful. Peaceful, peaceful, peaceful,” Biden said. “No intimidation. Violence is never acceptable. Threats and intimidation are not speech. We must stand against violence in any form, regardless of your rationale.”

It is a curious spectacle to have the head of a state, with all the levers of power, not using that power to solve a problem, but instead offering advice to the powerless about how to protest against him and the broken government system. Biden, however, showed no such reluctance to use those levers of power against protesters. During the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, when Biden was a presidential candidate, he made clear what he wanted to happen to those who didn’t heed the call to nonviolence: “We should never let what’s done in a march for equal rights overcome what the reason for the march is. And that’s what these folks are doing. And they should be arrested—found, arrested, and tried.”

In the face of murderous police action, Biden called on protesters to be “peaceful, peaceful, peaceful.” In the face of non-nonviolent protesters, Biden called on police to make sure the protesters were “found, arrested, and tried.”

Are protesters in the United States (and perhaps other countries where U.S. protest culture is particularly strong, like Canada) being held to an impossible standard? In fact, other Western countries don’t seem to make these demands of their protesters—consider Christophe Dettinger, the boxer who punched a group of armored, shielded, and helmeted French riot police until they backed off from beating other protesters during the yellow vest protests in 2019. Dettinger went to jail but became a national hero to some. What would his fate have been in the United States? Most likely, he would have been manhandled on the spot, as graphic footage of U.S. police behavior toward people much smaller and weaker than Dettinger during the 2020 protests would suggest. If he survived the encounter with U.S. police, Dettinger would have faced criticism from within the movement for not using peaceful methods.

There is a paradox here. The United States, the country with nearly 800 military bases across the world, the country that dropped the nuclear bomb on civilian cities, and the country that outspends all its military rivals combined, expects its citizens to adhere to more stringent standards during protests compared to any other country. Staughton and Alice Lynd in the second edition of their book Nonviolence in America, which was released in 1995, wrote that “America has more often been the teacher than the student of the nonviolent ideal.” The Lynds are quoted disapprovingly by anarchist writer Peter Gelderloos in his book How Nonviolence Protects the State, an appeal to nonviolent protesters in the early 2000s who found themselves on the streets with anarchists who didn’t share their commitment to nonviolence. Gelderloos asked for solidarity from the nonviolent activists, begging them not to allow the state to divide the movement into “good protesters” and “bad protesters.” That so-called “antiglobalization” movement faded away in the face of the post-2001 war on terror, so the debate was never really resolved.

For the U.S., the UK, and many of their allies, the debate over political violence goes back perhaps as far as the white pacifists who assured their white brethren, terrified by the Haitian Revolution, which ended in 1804, that abolitionism did not mean encouraging enslaved people to rebel or fight back. While they dreamed of a future without slavery, 19th-century abolitionist pacifists understood, like their countrymen who were the enslavers, that the role of enslaved people was to suffer like good Christians and wait for God’s deliverance rather than to rebel. Although he gradually changed his mind, 19th-century abolitionist and pacifist William Lloyd Garrison initially insisted on nonviolence toward enslavers. Here Garrison is quoted in the late Italian communist Domenico Losurdo’s book Nonviolence: A History Beyond the Myth: “Much as I detest the oppression exercised by the Southern slaveholder, he is a man, sacred before me. He is a man, not to be harmed by my hand nor with my consent.” Besides, he added, “I do not believe that the weapons of liberty ever have been, or ever can be, the weapons of despotism.” As the crisis deepened with the Fugitive Slave Law, Losurdo argued, pacifists like Garrison found it increasingly difficult to call upon enslaved people to turn themselves back to their enslavers without resistance. By 1859, Garrison even found himself unable to condemn abolitionist John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.

The moral complexities involved in nonviolence in the antiwar movement were acknowledged by linguist, philosopher, and political activist Noam Chomsky in a 1967 debate with political philosopher Hannah Arendt and others. Chomsky, though an advocate for nonviolence himself in the debate, concluded that nonviolence was ultimately a matter of faith:

“The easiest reaction is to say that all violence is abhorrent, that both sides are guilty, and to stand apart retaining one’s moral purity and condemn them both. This is the easiest response and in this case I think it’s also justified. But, for reasons that are pretty complex, there are real arguments also in favor of the Viet Cong terror, arguments that can’t be lightly dismissed, although I don’t think they’re correct. One argument is that this selective terror—killing certain officials and frightening others—tended to save the population from a much more extreme government terror, the continuing terror that exists when a corrupt official can do things that are within his power in the province that he controls.”

“Then there’s also the second type of argument… which I think can’t be abandoned very lightly. It’s a factual question of whether such an act of violence frees the native from his inferiority complex and permits him to enter into political life. I myself would like to believe that it’s not so. Or at the least, I’d like to believe that nonviolent reaction could achieve the same result. But it’s not very easy to present evidence for this; one can only argue for accepting this view on grounds of faith.”

Several writings have sounded the warning that nonviolence doctrine has caused harm to the oppressed. These include Pacifism as Pathology by Ward Churchill, How Nonviolence Protects the State and The Failure of Nonviolence by Peter Gelderloos, Nonviolence: A History Beyond the Myth by Domenico Losurdo, and the two-part series “Change Agent: Gene Sharp’s Neoliberal Nonviolence” by Marcie Smith.

Even the historic victories of nonviolent struggles had a behind-the-scenes armed element. Recent scholarly work has revisited the history of nonviolence in the U.S. civil rights struggle. Key texts include Lance Hill’s The Deacons for Defense, Akinyele Omowale Umoja’s We Will Shoot Back, and Charles E. Cobb Jr.’s This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed. These histories reveal continuous resistance, including armed self-defense, by Black people in the United States.

Even before these recent histories, we have Robert Williams’s remarkable and brief autobiography written in exile, Negroes With Guns. Williams was expelled from the NAACP for saying in 1959: “We must be willing to kill if necessary. We cannot take these people who do us injustice to the court. … In the future we are going to have to try and convict these people on the spot.” He bitterly noted that while “Nonviolent workshops are springing up throughout Black communities [, n]ot a single one has been established in racist white communities to curb the violence of the Ku Klux Klan.”

As they moved around the rural South for their desegregation campaigns, the nonviolent activists of the civil rights movement often found they had—without their asking—armed protection against overzealous police and racist vigilantes: grannies who sat watch on porches at night with rifles on their laps while the nonviolent activists slept; Deacons for Defense who threatened police with a gun battle if they dared turn water hoses on nonviolent students trying to desegregate a swimming pool. Meanwhile, legislative gains made by the nonviolent movement often included the threat or reality of violent riots. In May 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, for example, after a nonviolent march was crushed, a riot of 3,000 people followed. Eventually a desegregation pact was won on May 10, 1963. One observer argued that “every day of the riots was worth a year of civil rights demonstrations.”

As Lance Hill argues in The Deacons for Defense:

“In the end, segregation yielded to force as much as it did to moral suasion. Violence in the form of street riots and armed self-defense played a fundamental role in uprooting segregation and economic and political discrimination from 1963 to 1965. Only after the threat of black violence emerged did civil rights legislation move to the forefront of the national agenda.”

Biden’s constant calls for nonviolence by protesters while condoning violence by police are asking for the impossible and the ahistorical. In the crucial moments of U.S. history, nonviolence has always yielded to violence.

This article was produced by Globetrotter. Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer and a writing fellow at Globetrotter. You can find him on his website at and on Twitter @justinpodur. He teaches at York University in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change.

Canada Is Waging an All-Front Legal War Against Indigenous People

After mass graves full of Indigenous children have been found, how can Canada justify ongoing land theft?

Canada is developing a new image: one of burning churches, toppling statues, and mass graves. There are thousands more unmarked graves, thousands more Indigenous children killed at residential schools, remaining to be unearthed. There can be no denying that this is Canada, and it has to change. But can Canada transform itself for the better? If the revelation of the mass killing of Indigenous children is to lead to any actual soul-searching and any meaningful change, the first order of business is for Canada to stop its all-front war against First Nations. Much of that war is taking place through the legal system.

Canadian politicians have said as much, adopting a motion in June calling for the government to stop fighting residential school survivors in court. A long-standing demand, it has been repeated by Indigenous advocates who have expressed amazement in the face of these horrific revelations that the Canadian government would nonetheless continue to fight Indigenous survivors of systematic child abuse by the state.

To get a sense of the scope of Canada’s legal war on First Nations, I looked at a Canadian legal database containing decisions (case law) pertaining to First Nations. I also looked at the hearing lists of the Federal Court of Canada for ongoing cases. My initial goal was to identify where Canada could easily settle or abandon cases, bringing about a harmonious solution to these conflicts. Two things surprised me.

The first was the volume and diversity of lawsuits Canada is fighting. Canada is fighting First Nations everywhere, on an astoundingly wide range of issues.

The second thing: Canada is losing.

The Attack on Indigenous Children and Women

In his 1984 essay “‘Pioneering’ in the Nuclear Age,” political theorist Eqbal Ahmad argued that the “four fundamental elements… without which an indigenous community cannot survive” were “land, water, leaders and culture.” Canada fights Indigenous people over land, water, fishing rights, mining projects, freedom of movement, and more. The assault on Indigenous nations is also a war against Indigenous children and women.

In the high-profile case of First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada et al. v. Attorney General of Canada, laid out in detail by Cindy Blackstock, “the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations filed a complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Act alleging” in 2007 “that the Government of Canada had a longstanding pattern of providing less government funding for child welfare services to First Nations children on reserves than is provided to non-Aboriginal children.” The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) found in favor of the First Nations complainants in 2016.

Note that this isn’t about the history of residential schools. It’s about discrimination against Indigenous kids in the present day. “In fact, the problem might be getting worse,” writes Blackstock, compared to “the height of residential school operations.” As evidence, she refers to a 2005 study of three sample provinces showing a wide gap between the percent of First Nations children in child welfare care (10.23 percent) compared to a much lower rate for non-First Nations children (0.67 percent). In 2006, following the Canadian government’s repeated failures to act on the inequity described in this report (which also included comprehensive suggested reforms that had both moral and economic appeal), Blackstock writes, “the Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations agreed that legal action was required.” The CHRT was very clear in its 2019 decision that the federal government should compensate each victim the maximum amount, which addressed the victims as follows:

“No amount of compensation can ever recover what you have lost, the scars that are left on your souls or the suffering that you have gone through as a result of racism, colonial practices and discrimination.”

In May 2021, Canada, which has spent millions of dollars fighting this case, tried to overturn the CHRT’s ruling.

Canada’s war on Indigenous children is also a war on Indigenous women. The sterilization of Indigenous women, beginning with Canada’s eugenics program around 1900, is another act of genocide, as scholar Karen Stote has argued. Indigenous women who had tubal ligation without their consent as part of this eugenics program have brought a class-action suit against the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, both of which had Sexual Sterilization Acts in their provincial laws from the 1920s in Alberta and 1930s in British Columbia until the early 1970s, and Saskatchewan, where sexual sterilization legislation was proposed but failed by one vote in 1930. A Senate committee found a case of forced sterilization of an Indigenous woman as recently as 2019.

The Legal-Financial War on First Nations Organizations

As Bob Joseph outlines in his 2018 book 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, Canada first gave itself the right to decide Indian status in the Gradual Civilization Act of 1857, which created a process by which Indigenous people could give up their Indian status and so become “enfranchised”—which they would have to do if they wanted to attend higher education or become professionals. The apartheid system was updated through the Indian Act of 1876, from which sprang many evils including both the residential schools and the assertion of Canadian control over the way First Nations govern themselves. In 1927, when Indigenous veterans of World War I began to hold meetings with one another to discuss their situation, Canada passed laws forbidding Indigenous people from political organization and from raising funds to hire legal counsel (and from playing billiards, among other things). The Indian Act—which is still in effect today with amendments, despite multiple attempts to repeal it—outlawed traditional governance structures and gave Canada the power to intervene to remove and install Indigenous governance authorities at will—which Canada did continuously, from Six Nations in 1924 to Barriere Lake in 1995. As a result, at any given moment, many First Nations are still embroiled in lawsuits over control of their own governments.

Canada controls the resources available to First Nations, including drinking water. In another national embarrassment, Canada has found itself able to provision drinking water to diamond mines but not First Nations. This battle too has entered the courts, with a class-action suit by Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Curve Lake First Nation, and Neskantaga First Nation demanding that Canada not only compensate their nations, but also work with them to build the necessary water systems.

Canada dribbles out humiliating application processes by which Indigenous people can try to exercise their human right to housing. When combined with the housing crisis on reserves, these application processes have attracted swindlers like consultant Jerry Paulin, who sued Cat Lake First Nation for $1.2 million, claiming that his efforts were the reason the First Nation received federal funds for urgent housing repairs.

Canada uses the threat of withdrawal of these funds to impose stringent financial “transparency” conditions on First Nations—the subject of legal struggle, in which Cold Lake First Nations has argued that the financial transparency provisions violate their rights. Canada has used financial transparency claims to put First Nations finances under third-party management, withholding and misusing the funds in a not-very-transparent way, as the Algonquins of Barriere Lake charged in another lawsuit. An insistence on transparency is astounding for a country that buried massive numbers of Indigenous children in unmarked graves.

Win or lose, the lawsuits themselves impose high costs on First Nations whose finances are, for the most part, controlled by Canada. The result is situations like the one where the Beaver Lake Cree are suing Canada for costs because they ran out of money suing Canada for their land. When First Nations are winning in court, Canada tries to bankrupt them before they get there.

Land and Resources Are the Core of the Struggle

The core issue between Canada and First Nations is land. Most battles are over the land on which the state of Canada sits, all of which was stolen and much of which was swindled through legal processes that couldn’t hold up to scrutiny and are now unraveling. “[I]n simple acreage,” the late Indigenous leader Arthur Manuel wrote in the 2017 book The Reconciliation Manifesto, this was “the biggest land theft in the history of mankind,” reducing Indigenous people from holding 100 percent of the landmass to 0.2 percent. One of the most economically important pieces of land is the Haldimand tract in southern Ontario, which generates billions of dollars in revenue that belongs, by right, to the Six Nations, as Phil Monture has extensively documented. Six Nations submitted ever-more detailed land claims, until Canada simply stopped accepting them. But in July, their sustained resistance led to the cancellation of a planned suburban development (read: settlement) on Six Nations land.

Many of the First Nations court battles are defensive. Namgis, Ahousaht, Dzawada’enuxw, and Gwa’sala-’Nakwaxda’xw First Nations have tried to defend their wild fisheries against encroachment and pollution by settler fish farms. West Moberly, Long Plain, Peguis, Roseau River Anishinabe, Aroland, Ginoogaming, Squamish, Coldwater, Tsleil-Waututh, Aitchelitz, Skowkale, and Shxwha:y Village First Nations challenged dams and pipelines. Canada has a history of “pouring big money” into these court battles to the tune of tens of millions—small money compared to its tens of billions subsidizing and taking over financially unviable pipelines running through Indigenous lands—including that of the Wet’suwet’en, whose resistance sparked mass protests across Canada in 2020. The duty to consult First Nations on such projects is itself the outcome of a legal struggle, won in the 2004 decision in Haida Nation v. British Columbia.

First Nations who were swindled or coerced out of their lands (or water, as with Iskatewizaagegan No. 39 Independent First Nation’s case against Winnipeg and Ontario for illegally taking their water from Shoal Lake for use by the city of Winnipeg starting in 1913) fight for their land back, for compensation, or both. The Specific Claims Tribunal has 132 ongoing cases. In Saskatchewan in May, the tribunal awarded Mosquito Grizzly Bear’s Head Lean Man First Nation $141 million and recognition that they never surrendered their land as Canada had claimed they had in 1905. In June, Heiltsuk First Nation won a part of their land back.

First Nations also fight for their fishing rights in courts and out on the water, as settler fishers have physically attacked and tried to intimidate Mi’kmaw fishers on Canada’s east coast. In June, on the west coast, after the British Columbia Court of Appeals found against Canada, the federal government announced it wouldn’t appeal, dropping a 15-year litigation that restricted Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations fishing quotas.

Decolonization Just Might Be Inevitable

Why does Canada keep fighting (and losing) even as its legitimacy as a state built on theft and genocide crumbles? It’s not merely the habits of centuries. It’s also the absence of any project besides the displacement of First Nations and the plunder of the land. Canada could take the first step to ending all this by declaring a unilateral ceasefire in the legal war. Too few Canadians understand that this would actually be a very good thing. First Nations lived sustainably for thousands of years in these extraordinary northern ecosystems. Then the European empires arrived, bringing smallpox and tuberculosis among other scourges. Local extinctions of beaver and buffalo quickly followed, as well as the total extinction of the passenger pigeon. Today’s settler state has poisoned pristine lakes with mine tailings, denuded the country’s spectacular forests, and gifted the atmosphere some of the world’s highest per capita carbon emissions (seventh in the world in 2018—more than Saudi Arabia, which was 10th, and the U.S., which was 11th). Indigenous visionaries have better ideas, such as those presented by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson and Arthur Manuel, or for that matter the Red Deal and the People’s Agreement of Cochabamba.

Under Indigenous sovereignty, Canadians could truly be guests of the First Nations, capable of fulfilling their obligations to their hosts and their hosts’ lands, rather than the pawns of the settler state’s war against those from whom the land was stolen.

This article was produced by Globetrotter. Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer and a writing fellow at Globetrotter. You can find him on his website at and on Twitter @justinpodur. He teaches at York University in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change.