Wednesday, April 17, 2019

3228. Has Germany Forgotten the Lessons of the Nazis?

By Paul Hockenos, The New York Times, April 15, 2019
An Alternative for Germany demonstration.

The reunification of Germany, in 1990, was a moment of exalted pride for the postwar federal republic. After decades of warning that a united country would resurrect the horrors of the 20th century, its neighbors and allies, many of them former battlefield foes, came around to accept and even welcome it. That’s in large part because, during those same decades, West Germany had undertaken a self-administered “Vergangenheitsbewältigung,” a mouthful of a German word that translates as something like “the overcoming of the past,” and refers to the country’s collective effort to grapple with the causes and legacies of the Nazi era.

It was a painful, halting process, but it helped transform Germany from pariah state to the moral leader of continental Europe. In recent years, though, the achievements of the postwar era have come under scrutiny. “Our culture of remembrance is crumbling,” Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said recently.

The most damning evidence is the hard-right Alternative for Germany party, which surged into the Bundestag in 2017; in parts of eastern Germany it is the most popular party. The AfD is riding a shocking rise of German anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Forty percent of Germans say it’s right to blame Jews for Israel’s policies in the Middle East. In my neighborhood in Berlin, and others across the country, people wearing Jewish headgear are harassed on the street. And in the aftermath of the refugee crisis of 2015-16, many Germans — including mainstream, middle-class citizens — embraced the far right’s premises. In surveys, ever more say they desire an authoritarian leader and distrust liberal democracy.

The AfD gives cover to expanded expressions of intolerance and hate. In the Bundestag, the party’s members speak about foreigners, the Holocaust and Muslims in a way that a decade ago would have triggered a full-blown scandal — but that today is commonplace. They downplay the significance of the Nazi era, and demean efforts to reconcile with the past, like the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Popular TV shows and best sellers set in the Nazi era treat Germans as victims, not perpetrators. At the same time, 40 percent of young Germans say they know very little or nothing about the Holocaust.

“We were so sure that we’d learned our lesson, and what is not allowed cannot happen. We thought serious anti-Semitism was the past,” said Andreas Eberhardt, director of Remembrance, Responsibility and Future, a Berlin-based foundation concerned with historical remembrance. “But now we’re rethinking things.”
What went wrong?

There’s no question that Germany’s efforts to overcome its past were sincere and largely effective. But they also came with their own blind spots.

One was the assumption that Germany’s treatment of the past was as thorough as many believed. New research shows that far fewer Nazis were brought to justice in the immediate postwar years than previously thought. Indeed, just as the ’60s-era students charged, former Nazis occupied many positions of authority — as teachers, judges, media professionals and even politicians — for many decades after the war, transmitting their values with them.

And while the Germans laudably focused on the country’s anti-Semitic legacy, they overlooked other aspects of the Nazis’ genocidal racism, like its anti-Slavism, the genocide of Roma and the incarceration of homosexuals in concentration camps. Until recently, Germans paid scant attention to their country’s first genocidal campaign, in colonial-era southwestern Africa, which bolstered the racist foundations for Nazi ideology. Such selective moral reckoning left room for racism to fester.

Nor did Germany ever eradicate deep-seated prejudices toward outsiders. Even as it brought in millions of guestworkers from Turkey in the 1960s, it long resisted integrating them, let alone opening its culture to include non-ethnic Germans. Germany praised itself for facing its Nazi past, but it practiced widespread discrimination against immigrants. “The clash over the Merkel government’s refugee policy,” argued German historian Norbert Frei, referring to the protests and xenophobic outbursts following the summer 2015 influx of refugees, “was simply a welcome occasion to revitalize national-conservative and völkisch thinking that had been socially suppressed over decades but had never disappeared.”

Then there’s the split history of East and West Germany. East German Communists proceeded more rigorously in their postwar purging of Nazis, and its leaders too quickly proclaimed that they had eradicated all vestiges of fascism in its territory. They told East Germans that they were the anti-fascist victors — guilty of nothing — and that West Germany, a caldron of old Nazis, was just a scaled-back version of the Third Reich. And the East, despite its own, smaller influx of foreign workers (mostly from fellow Communist countries like Vietnam), did an even worse job of promoting diversity and ethnic tolerance.

Ironically, the fall of Communism and the terms of reunification made all of this worse. Even as Germany was winning praise as a model cosmopolitan society, it was struggling to incorporate millions of former citizens of a fallen dictatorship. Thirty years later, the former East Germany is a hotbed of xenophobia and the far right.

The passing of time doesn’t help, either. Today, millions of Germans were not even born when East Germany fell; to them, the Nazi era feels like ancient history. They struggle to see why they should identify Hitler’s barbarism with their lives. With the World War II generation mostly gone, the school lessons on the Holocaust and Nazism are taught secondhand, the tone often pedantic and their rituals rote.

Add to this mix the trauma and indignity that many eastern Germans experienced as westerners took over their culture and economy, the disorienting effects of globalization, and the resentment stemming from the ever-wider discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots in Germany, and it’s hardly surprising that Germany is facing what was once thought impossible: not a new Nazism per se, but rather a proliferation of hard-right movements and clusters, the latter even found in police and army units, and a new tolerance for racist ideas and violent hooliganism.

None of this is to demean postwar Germany’s achievement: As partial as its processing of the past has been, it shaped generations of enlightened, liberal, self-critical citizens. Among its errors, though, was the assumption that history could ever be “mastered” and the process wound down. Learning from history, it seems, is an exercise in democracy that can never stop.

Monday, April 15, 2019

3227. How a "Green Real Deal" Can Help Beat Trump in 2020

By Thomas L. Friedman, The New York Times, April 9, 2019
Students demanding action of climate change in March. Photo: Tom Brenner, Getty Images.
Here’s some news you may have missed. Southeastern Africa got hit in March with a cyclone that United Nations officials say was one of the worst weather disasters to ever strike the Southern Hemisphere. “Ever” is a long time. 

The storm swept through Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, killing hundreds. My friend Greg Carr, who runs the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, told me that the lions, elephants and zebras sensed the storm coming and moved to higher ground to avoid the flooding. Among the people and birds that survived, many of the former lost their homes and the latter their nests and eggs.

While this historic weather disaster was unfolding, President Trump was urging Republicans not to kill the Democrats’ Green New Deal proposal — not because Trump wants to work with it, but because he wants to run against it in 2020.
Trump wants to take the Green New Deal, co-sponsored by Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx, and mock its aspiration to urgently decarbonize our electric grid, transportation sector, industries and buildings, while pairing all that with programs to ensure that every American can get a job and have access to health care and “safe, affordable, adequate housing,” as well as other social goods.

AOC’s rejoinder: “For everyone who wants to make a joke about that, you may laugh, but your grandkids will not.”

She is right. And given the choice between a “Green New Deal” that envisions scaling justice for all and Trump’s “Black New Deal,” which protects profitable pollution for the 1 percent, my heart is with the greens. But my head says you can’t transform our energy system and our social/economic one at scale all at once. We have to prioritize energy/climate. Because for the environment, later will be too late. Later is officially over.
And if Democrats approach this right — with a barrage of political ads paired with a focused green strategy, like the “Green Real Deal” proposed by Ernie Moniz, Barack Obama’s energy secretary, and Andy Karsner, George W. Bush’s assistant energy secretary for renewable energy — they can win on this issue in 2020 and make Trump the laughingstock.

I’d pound Trump with these points, but they will be effective only if married to a “Green Real Deal.” For Moniz and Karsner, that would involve every state or city adopting its own version of a plan California approved last year called S.B. 100.
S.B. 100, which was spearheaded by State Senator Kevin de León, an unsung hero of the green movement, mandated that power companies steadily increase carbon-free electricity on their grid until it reaches 100 percent by 2045.

As David Roberts wrote for Vox, de León kept “the bill simple and direct enough to command broad support. … Somehow, everyone saw themselves in S.B. 100. Labor and business, nukes and renewables, markets and mandates, cats and dogs — somehow the bill hit the sweet spot. It contained enough substance to matter, but not so many bells and whistles that everyone found something to hate.”

The law sets a steadily rising standard for California power generation companies: 50 percent renewables by 2026, 60 percent renewables by 2030 and 100 percent carbon-free — so as to include energy sources that aren’t actually renewable, but don’t emit carbon dioxide— — by 2045. So wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, large hydro, nuclear power and natural gas paired with carbon capture and storage (C.C.S.) can all play, plus whatever new clean power gets invented. And the steadily rising California standard guarantees they’ll all have a growing market to sell into.

A Green Real Deal would be a nationwide effort to inspire and enable Democrats and sensible Republicans to come up with state and local versions of S.B. 100 and thereby stimulate America’s earth race — not space race — to get to national net-zero emissions by 2045, or earlier.

It could garner a lot of G.O.P. support in wind states, businesses could make money off it, and it would put Trump totally on the defensive.

As Moniz and Karsner wrote in an essay on “Climate deniers, as well as those with demonstrably impractical, short-term, feel-good solutions, are moving us sideways when forward motion is essential.”A Green Real Deal, they argue in The Santa Barbara Independent, would set “ambitious, but achievable, stretch goals that can be flexibly met and spur innovation and prosperity.”

Trump is vulnerable to a bipartisan, industry-friendly plan like this. Last year, The Atlantic reported that “a coalition of 34 student groups from around the country — including 23 chapters of the College Republican — announced the formation of Students for Carbon Dividends, a bipartisan group calling for national legislation to fight climate change. … It marks the first time that a coalition of College Republican groups has publicly backed a climate-change policy.”

Glenn Prickett, founder of Rock Creek Strategies, which advises organizations and companies on how to incorporate the value of nature into economic development, remarked to me: “I have been sensing something in the air that I have not felt since the late 1980s — when global warming first became prominent and Time magazine made Planet Earth the Person of the Year — and that is that people really want the government to take this issue seriously. I have to give AOC credit for helping get it back on the agenda.”

Prickett added: “I spent 25 years talking about what would happen if we don’t address this issue. Now I have to correct myself and say what is happening.” The impacts are real and they are here, “but what is new is that while the politics remain polarized, business leadership is getting behind this issue and we now have the technologies to create scale solutions.”

I repeat: Later will be too late. So let me end where I began — with Greg Carr in Mozambique’s Gorongosa Park, one million acres of wilderness, which has been protecting both wildlife and the 200,000 people living around it.

First of all, Carr noted by phone, “nearly half of Gorongosa Park is now a lake,” thanks to Cyclone Idai, but its trees and soils “acted like a giant sponge and absorbed tons of water,” so flooding of communities downstream was not as bad as it could have been. Parks mitigate climate extremes. “Hurricanes are going to be more of a problem, and more nature is the solution. I am talking to the government about creating another 250,000 acres of wetland conservancy to the south of us to soak up more water, because this will not be our last cyclone.”

It was also Carr’s 260 park rangers who delivered 100,000 pounds of food, rescue teams and new seeds for replanting flooded crops to all the villagers living around them. (To help, go to Carr wants to see national parks in Africa transformed from just tourist sites to economic development engines, absorbers of climate change and first responders to disaster.

Low-lying coastal cities in America should be thinking the same. Nine out of 10 homes in Beira — Mozambique’s fourth-largest city, on its coast — were devastated by Idai. Gorongosa is upstream from Beira and absorbed enough water to prevent that port city from being wiped off the face of the earth, Carr said.

A Green Real Deal — if framed and focused properly — could wipe that smirk right off that smirk right off Trump’s face.

that smirk right off Trump’s face.Trump’s face.

3226. Paul Krugman on "Green New Deal"

By Paul Krugman, The New York Times, April 11, 2019

Right now there are two big progressive ideas out there: the Green New Deal on climate change and “Medicare for all” on health reform. Both would move U.S. policy significantly to the left. Each is sponsored by a self-proclaimed socialist: the Green New Deal by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Medicare for all by Bernie Sanders. (Of course, neither of them is a socialist in the traditional sense.) Both ideas horrify not just conservatives but also many self-proclaimed centrists.

Yet while they may seem similar if you think of everything as left versus right, they’re very different on another dimension, which you might call purity versus pragmatism. And that difference is why I believe progressives should enthusiastically embrace the G.N.D. while being much more cautious about M4A.

You see, for all its sweeping ambition, the Green New Deal is arguably an exercise in pragmatism — in the proposition that the perfect is the enemy of the good.
What’s the perfect in this case? Climate-policy purists are focused on the notion of a carbon tax to discourage greenhouse gas emissions, and they look down on any proposal that doesn’t put such a tax front and center.

What’s wrong with a carbon tax as the centerpiece of climate policy? There are some narrow economic arguments for a broader range of public policies — for example, government support can be crucial for the development of new energy technologies.
Even more important, however, is the political economy. A carbon tax would hurt significant groups of people — and not just fossil-fuel billionaires like the Koch brothers. As a result, a carbon tax on its own is the kind of eat-your-spinach policy that technocrats love but many ordinary citizens hate, as illustrated by what just happened in France, where a planned fuel tax increase was withdrawn in the face of furious “Yellow Vest” protests.

So how do you make climate action politically feasible? The G.N.D. answer is to bundle measures to reduce emissions with a lot of other stuff people want, like big public investment even in areas with only weak direct relationships to climate change. 

You could call the G.N.D. a proposal for economic transformation that includes climate action. But you could also call it a “Christmas tree,” the traditional term for legislation festooned with lots of riders unrelated to the ostensible purpose in order to win political support.

The point is that climate action probably won’t happen unless it’s a Christmas tree — and the G.N.D.’s advocates are O.K. with that. In that sense, they’re pragmatists despite their big ambitions.

Medicare for all, by contrast, is an exercise in the proposition that we must not settle for anything less than the ideal.

Indeed, Sanders has explicitly refused to support Nancy Pelosi’s proposal to enhance Obamacare, even though her proposal would expand health insurance coverage to millions of Americans and make it more affordable for millions more. His reasoning seems to be that making things better, even as an interim step, would undermine support for a more radical transformation.

To be fair, the simplicity of the pure single-payer, government insurance system Sanders advocates would have some advantages over the hybrid public-private systems that have been proposed by other progressives — for example, letting people keep private insurance if they want, but offering the option of Medicare buy-in. 

You might say that single-payer is the system technocrats would choose if they had a free hand, with few political constraints. In fact, that’s pretty much what happened in Taiwan, which asked a panel of experts to design its health care system, and ended up with single-payer.

On the other hand, international experience shows that universal coverage and high quality health care can be achieved in a variety of ways; technocrats may prefer single-payer, but it’s not essential.

And the political obstacles to a Sanders-type plan are formidable. Almost 180 million Americans are covered by private health insurance, and many of them are satisfied with their coverage. Polling suggests that while the public reacts favorably to the slogan “Medicare for all,” that support drops precipitously when people are informed that it would eliminate private insurance and require substantial tax increases.

The Sanders view, however, is that a sufficiently determined leader can overcome these doubts and persuade many voters who are currently doing O.K. that radical change is nonetheless in their interests. I don’t know of anything in recent history to justify this belief, but there it is.

My guess is that if Sanders does make it to the White House, he’ll quickly find that he can’t deliver on his grand vision, and will eventually try for a less purist alternative. And let’s be clear: A lot more Americans will have affordable health care if any Democrat is elected than they will if Donald Trump retains the White House.

Still, it’s important to realize that among Democrats, purity versus pragmatism is as important an axis as left versus right. And the two big progressive ideas are on opposite ends of that axis.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

3225. Book Review: A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas’ Victory

By Lazaro Monteverde, Socialist Action, March 22, 2019
Fidel Castro addresses a crowd of several hundred thousand persons in the park in front of the presidential palace in Havana, Cuba, in January 1959. (AP Photo/Harold Valentine)
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution. Given its durability, revolutionaries should pay close attention to both its successes and failures. This is not always easy to do, given the deluge of propaganda we in North America have been exposed to over the last 60 years.

The same people who purvey the disinformation are the same people who have fought a 60-year war against the revolution: the U.S. ruling class and the U.S. government. This war against the revolution included an invasion with a proxy army at the Bay of Pigs, numerous acts of economic sabotage, assassination attempts, and a 55-year economic blockade against Cuba that has yet to end. 
Under the Trump administration this war has escalated. Rolling back some of the policies of the Obama administration, the Trump administration has targeted Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela as the “troika of tyranny.” (1)

The hatred of the U.S. ruling class stems from two factors: first, the centrality that Cuba played in the U.S. empire from 1898 to 1959; second, the Cuban Revolution as a “proof of concept” that revolution is possible in the Latin America.

After the Spanish-American War of 1898, in which the rising U.S. empire defeated the declining Spanish empire in Latin America and the Pacific, the U.S. 
restructured the Cuban economy to fit imperialist needs. Under the Platt Amendment, the U.S. converted Cuba into a colony that could be ruled indirectly by the U.S. It was a new form of colonialism that the U.S. pioneered and perfected in Cuba. Cuba became a source of great profits for the U.S. (along with Central America) in the first half of the 20th century. (2)

The second reason for the hatred of the U.S. ruling class is that the Cuban Revolution and Cuba today are a proof of concept—a demonstration that successful revolution is possible within the U.S. empire and that socialism is possible for the countries of Latin America. While the Cuban Revolution has been crippled by U.S. imperialism over the last 60 years, and while it had been distorted by the influence of Stalinism, it was a genuine socialist revolution made by the Cuban people, and Cuba remains to this day a workers’ state. For how much longer, though, is anyone’s guess.

Steve Cushion is an activist worker and scholar from London. He worked as a bus driver in London for 20 years, earned a Ph.D. in Caribbean Labor History, and has been active in labor and socialist struggles his entire life. He enjoyed unprecedented access to Cuban historical archives and received the help of numerous Cuban and non-Cuban historians. The result is a profound re-telling of the Cuban Revolution that transforms prior misunderstanding of the process. What follows is a brief synopsis based on Cushion’s history.

The Cuban working class

By the 1950s Cuba had developed a relatively large urban and rural working class, as Cushion points out. This working class was also highly unionized, with “the highest percentage of unionized workers in Latin America” (Cushion, p. 22). These workers were organized in a single labor confederation, the CTC (Confederacion de Trabajadores de Cuba), that was state sponsored and initially influenced by the PSP (Partido Socialista Popular), the Stalinist Communist Party of Cuba. The CTC developed in 1935 after a failed general strike led by an earlier national labor federation.

March 2019 Cuba gen strike 1933
The Cuban general strike of 1933. Another general strike followed in 1935.

Batista, representing the interests of the U.S., used the military to defeat the 1935 general strike and ruled indirectly until 1940, when he won the presidential elections with the support of the PSP. The CTC and PSP declared a class truce during World War II and tried to enforce a no-strike and wage freeze deal on the workers. When Batista’s hand-picked successor ran in 1944 supported by the Stalinists, he lost (Cushion, p. 21).

The no-strike and wage freeze deal was met with resistance by rank-and-file labor activists. Perhaps the most dramatic and successful resistance occurred in Guantanamo in 1943, where railroad workers were led by Trotskyists in a strike in which they demanded payment of a 15 percent wage increase that had already been agreed to by the railroad. The Trotskyists were members of the POR (Partido Obrero Revolucionario, the Revolutionary Workers Party in English), which since the 1930s had their center of activity among the workers and peasants of eastern Cuba.

These workers later formed an important network of support for the July 26 Movement led by Fidel Castro (Cushion, p 33).

The international context changed at the end of World War II, when the U.S. adopted new anti-communist policies both at home and in its empire. The Communists were purged from the CTC national leadership in 1947, and Eusebio Mujal, a loyal Batista supporter with connections to both the AFL and the CIA, became the general secretary of the CTC. After the March 1952 coup in which Batista took power permanently, Mujal became an important supporter of the dictatorship.

In addition to the political changes brought about in the 1950s by the Batista dictatorship and the pro-capitalist policies of the Mujal trade-union leadership, the Cuban working class experienced important economic changes. In the 1950s, sugar accounted for 80% of Cuba’s exports (Cushion, p. 43). Sugar production produced enormous profits for the U.S.; for instance, “between 1948 and 1955, $637 million in profits from sugar alone were repatriated to the U.S.” (Cushion, p. 45), and closely tied the Cuban ruling class to U.S. capitalism. When the price of sugar on the world market collapsed in 1952 because of overproduction, Cuba experienced an economic crisis.

The still young United Nations responded by calling an international conference of sugar producing nations in London.  The London Sugar Agreement of 1953 established quotas for each nation in an effort to maintain prices. Not all nations participated, however, and individual countries had an incentive to break the quota to increase their own sales on the world market; the agreement was a failure and sugar prices stayed low.

The U.S. and Cuban capitalists responded with an effort to increase their profits on the backs of the workers by increasing productivity. Specifically, they sought to increase mechanization in harvesting, processing, and transporting sugar, thereby reducing both the number of workers needed and their labor costs. They also sought to break the unions and reduce wages and benefits. It was in the context of the economic crisis and the war on the working class that Batista seized power a second time in 1952.

On July 26, 1953, Fidel Castro and 135 others seized the Moncada army barracks with the aim of starting a mass insurrection against Batista. The attempt failed and Castro and others were tried and convicted. Castro’s courtroom defense, “History will absolve me,” was a stirring critique of the dictatorship. At the same time, the PSP turned away from its policy of peaceful coexistence with the capitalists and support for the government and turned “toward the working class” (Cushion, p. 113) and a strategy of mass action, especially strikes and strike support.

A turning point in the war on the working class took place in 1955 when Batista and the ruling elite aggressively imposed their program of wage cuts and mechanization. Cushion details the resulting wave of strikes in Chapter 3.  He highlights the brutal nature of the attacks, along with the important role of women and students in the strikes. In 1955 there were 13 major strikes outside the sugar industry and 14 major strikes within the sugar industry along with numerous other smaller strikes and labor actions. In addition, a massive amnesty campaign succeeded in freeing Castro and other participants in the attack in 1955. Castro and his followers regrouped in exile, forming the July 26th Movement (Movimiento Revolucionario 26 de julio).

The strike wave met with both successes and failures, with both the PSP and the July 26th Movement gaining adherents. Their involvement in the mass struggles also placed the two groups in closer proximity, with the PSP slowly coming to realize the significance of Castro’s group as a potential ally or competitor. After a number of defeats in the 1955-56 strike wave, workers took stock and re-assessed their strategies and tactics.

Workers adapted in two ways. First, they started to combine strikes with industrial sabotage. Second, they formed clandestine cell structures within their unions and communities. This clandestine cell structure later formed the basis for the July 26th Movement’s workers’ section [sección obrera]. Meanwhile, militants and leaders in the PSP moved toward embracing the general strike as a way to bring down the dictatorship.

Into this pre-revolutionary crisis stepped Fidel Castro, who arrived with other militants of the July 26th Movement on the boat Granma near the end of November 1956. Supported by workers who helped prepare the way by stockpiling food and arms, as well as engaging in supporting strikes, Castro and his militants set up bases in the Sierra Maestra, in Eastern Cuba.

The Batista regime responded with a reign of terror against workers and domestic political opponents, as Cushion details in Chapter 5. Activists and political leaders of all strips were arrested, tortured, and sometimes killed, constitutional rights were suspended, and press censorship was enforced. This did not curtail the activism, however, and 1957 saw another wave of strikes, albeit mainly defensive in nature. At the same time, activists in local areas from both the PSP and the July 26th Movement, along with activists from other political tendencies came together in local areas and cooperated with one another, a kind of political convergence at the base.

The general strikes

The most successful political action against the dictatorship was a general strike in August 1957 (described in Chapter 6). The August general strike in eastern Cuba started when Frank Pais, the leader of the July 26th Movement underground in Santiago, was captured and executed at the end of July. The strike is often described as spontaneous, a term Cushion notes is often used by historians when they don’t know who organized an event. Cushion shows that the strike was organized by the network of militant trade-union activists who were “able to react quickly and seize an opportunity without requiring orders to do so” (Cushion, p. 157).

The strike did not spread beyond eastern Cuba but did paralyze a number of towns and factories in the east. The strike was most successful in places where the July 26th Movement and the PSP cooperated with one another and where there were clandestine workers’ cells. Women played a crucial role in this strike, as did a number of Trotskyists who had joined the July 26th Movement.

The August 1957 strike led to increased cooperation at the base between the July 26th Movement and the PSP. The leadership of the two organizations drew different conclusions from the strike. The PSP saw the strike as evidence of the strength of their mass-struggle approach and emphasized a 20% wage increase as a crucial part of their program.

The July 26th Movement, on the other hand, felt that the dictatorship was on the verge of collapse, and that a single push from a general strike combined with a guerrilla offensive would end the dictatorship. The July 26th Movement called for a general strike on April 9, 1958. Workers had not prepared for the strike—the call came as a surprise to most workers but not the government, who was expecting a strike at any time.

While the strike activities in Havana and outside of the capital (see Cushion, pp. 167-168 for a list of the strikes outside of the capital) were impressive, the July 26th Movement had not done the hard work and careful preparation needed for success. The strike ended in defeat and was considered a disaster by both the PSP and the July 26th Movement.

The failure of the strike produced a tactical convergence between the July 26th Movement and the PSP. Castro and his leadership team realized the importance of careful preparation, economic demands, and collaboration with the PSP. The PSP realized the importance of insurrection (of which the armed struggle in the mountains, the focos, was an important part), armed support for the strikers, and of cooperation with the July 26th Movement, which they now viewed as the leadership of the revolutionary struggle. While the April 9 general strike had failed, it laid the foundation for the defeat of Batista and the success of the revolution.

Chapter 7 details the rapid developments that took place after the failed April 9, 1958, strike. These developments produced the defeat of Batista at the end of the year. The guerrillas adopted a policy of leniency and fair treatment to captured enemy soldiers (in contrast to the extreme brutality and torture used by Batista’s troops). This encouraged many of the troops to surrender or change sides. The July 26th Movement and the PSP decided to form a united front of all workers organizations and created a joint organization, the FONU (Frente Obrero Unido Nacional/United National Workers Front, in English).

FONU very quickly started organizing united-front groups of workers in all areas of the country and in all industries. FONU planned for a national strike to start in January 1959, in conjunction with the start of the sugar harvest. In preparation for the strike, FONU organized two democratic national workers conferences (in July 26th Movement controlled territory) of rank-and-file militants.

As a consequence of these national workers conferences (which Cushion argues have been generally ignored by historians), FONU undermined the last vestiges of authority of the pro-capitalist labor movement. Equally important, the July 26th Movement gained enormous status as the leadership of the working class. While the FONU never really existed as a single united organization at the national level (there simply was not enough time to merge the national leadership of the two groups), it was a potent symbol and, more importantly, there were united-front actions among workers in various industries, cities, and regions.

Chapter 7 describes the end of the Batista dictatorship, which happened quickly. Batista was not able to maintain the conditions for normal economic activity, and the economy ground to a halt. The capitalist class abandoned him, hoping to replace him with someone who could drive down wages and defeat the July 26th Movement. In May 1958, Batista’s forces launched an offensive against the guerrillas; the offensive failed completely. By August, two columns of guerrilla forces were marching west. The July 26th Movement seized Santiago de Cuba on New Year’s Day when they heard the news that Batista had fled the country.

The revolutionary process was now at a crucial turning point. A number of capitalist politicians sought to seize control of the government in a coup. Castro addressed the country by radio from Santiago, calling for the start of the general strike. The strike paralyzed the country, prevented any pro-capitalist coup, and guaranteed the victory of the July 26th Movement. Castro himself acknowledged the importance of the general strike, which “was decisive in delivering the fortresses of the capital of the republic, in defeating the final maneuvers of the enemies of the people, and in giving all power to the revolution” (Cushion, p. 198).

Cushion ends his analysis with Chapter 8, on the first year of the Cuban Revolution, and with a final concluding chapter.  The united front between the PSP and the July 26th Movement broke down almost immediately, with internal divisions and realignments in both groups. Eventually, both groups split, and then the left wing of both groups merged to form the Cuban Communist Party. The conclusion is especially worth reading, as it provides a succinct summary of the historical lessons of the Cuban Revolution.

The myth of the foco

The Cuban Revolution has generally been understood, or rather misunderstood, on the basis of two myths. The first is the myth of the foco, the small band of revolutionaries fighting in the mountains that makes the revolution. The other is the myth of the middle class in revolt, bringing down the hated dictator Batista, only to have their democratic revolution highjacked by Castro and the radicals. Cushion alludes to both of these portrayals of the revolution at the very beginning of his book in the form of two contrasting movies: Che, a movie about the heroic revolutionaries fighting in the mountains, and Cuidad en Rojo, a Cuban film about the urban, middle-class opposition to Batista in the final days of the dictatorship.

Cushion’s invaluable work shows that it was the working class, led by the vanguard MR 26-7 and Fidel Castro, that made the revolution. The isolated focos fighting in the mountains, as Cushion shows, could not have survived without the active support of networks of urban and rural workers who supplied them with food, weapons, logistical support, and information. In many respects, the Cuban Revolution followed the basic pattern of the Russian Revolution, although more by accident than because of a grounding in Marxist theory.

The portrayal of the revolution as a consequence of heroic revolutionaries fighting in the mountains is in part a creation myth created after the fact, just as the portrayal of the revolution as a middle-class struggle (many in the middle class did oppose Batista, especially at the very end) hijacked by Castro is also a myth.

The origin of both myths is complex, and they are embraced by very different groups. The foco myth owes much to a book by Regis Debray, a French philosopher who taught at the University of Havana in the 1960s and who was a friend of Che Guevara. In 1967 Debray published “Revolution in the Revolution,” which soon became a type of handbook for revolutionaries throughout Latin America. (3)

Cushion does not address the foco strategy of guerrilla warfare but his historical research is directly relevant to questions of revolutionary strategy. Cushion’s pathbreaking historical research should put to rest any question about how revolutions are made. Revolutions are not made by small groups, but by the working-class masses. These masses need a revolutionary vanguard, but this vanguard is itself made up of the most advanced members of the working class.

Armed struggle may be an important or necessary tactic, but it is the use of strikes and protests, including the general strike, which will ultimately bring about a mass insurrection. The way ahead, for revolutionaries everywhere, is what is generally thought of as the Leninist strategy.

“Socialism in one country”

Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky all envisioned socialist revolution as a world revolution, starting perhaps in one or a few countries and then spreading in both the capitalist core and the capitalist periphery. None of them believed that socialism could survive in one country, let alone a country in the underdeveloped and neo-colonial periphery of the capitalist world system. The abominable Stalinist doctrine of “socialism in one country” made a virtue of a grim necessity and was used to justify the reactionary policies of the Soviet bureaucracy.

The leaders of the Cuban Revolution knew better. In an article in the January 2019 issue of Monthly Review, journalist Ron Augustin has offered a timely analysis of the Cuban Revolution and the problem of socialism in one country. (4) Augustin focuses on the views of Che Guevara and other members of the Cuban revolutionary leadership. Guevara knew that socialism in one country replaced “internationalism with chauvinism” (Augustin, p. 42). In the early years, Cuban leaders also believed that the development of socialism in Cuba depended on socialist revolutions happening elsewhere in Latin America (Augustin, p. 43).

Given the weakness of the Cuban state in the face of the imperialist juggernaut, Cuba did not have a lot of room to maneuver. While Cuba gave extensive support to revolutionaries throughout Latin America and Africa, especially before the demise of the Soviet Union, the main policy—at least in the past—was to convince by example, or as the Cubans say, to “send out moral missiles” (Augustin, p. 43).

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the hardships that ensued during what is known as the Special Period, Cuba has been forced to reintegrate its economy into the capitalist world system. This has placed enormous pressure on the Cuban state and economy, creating new tensions and problems. Augustin’s conclusions are very relevant to our current political moment:

The fact remains that maintaining and transforming the country’s socialist development does not depend on internal conditions alone. As long as Cuba has to go against the tide of present-day international realities, its process of socialist development will continue to be an extremely complex and difficult one.

Thus, the question is not so much whether the Cuban Revolution can survive but whether its isolation in a capitalist world will be broken by other social revolutions. Instead of making that tourist trip “before it’s too late,” it might be good to ask ourselves how we can help create two, three, many Cubas (Augustin, p. 47).


(1) See the speech by Trump National Security advisor John Bolton on November 1, 2018 at a forum at Miami Dade College.  During the speech Bolton announced new sanctions against all three countries.

(2) See “The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire,” by Stephen Kinzer. (New York: Henry Holt and Comp., 2017).

(3) “Revolution in the Revolution,” by Regis Debray and Bobbye Ortiz. (New York and London: Verso, 2017.)  Originally published in the U.S. by Grove Press in 1967.

(4) “Cuba, Che Guevara, and the Problem of “Socialism in One Country,” by Ron Augustin. Monthly Review, January 2019, pp. 37-48.

3224. Julian Assange Outside the Gate of Hell

By Tariq Ali, Verso, April 11, 2019
Julian Assange being handed over to the British police by 
the Ecuadorian embassy staff early on April 11.

I’ve been to see Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy several times, mainly when Rafael Correa was President and the Embassy felt like a liberated space. A few weeks ago I met him again. By now Correa’s successor, Lenín Moreno, had capitulated on every level to the American Empire. The Embassy became a prison and Assange’s health deteriorated. He was in no doubt that Moreno had been asked and had agreed to expel him from the Embassy. The U.S. demand for extradition was no longer a secret. The Embassy handed him over to the British police earlier today.

If we lived in a world where laws were respected, then Assange would be charged with jumping bail (a minor offense), fined or kept in prison for a few weeks and then released to return to his native Australia. But both the UK and Australia are, effectively, imperial satrapies and likely to bow to U.S. demands. The secret and not-so-secret state in both countries work closely with (or under) its U.S. masters. 

Why do they want him so badly? To set an example. To incarcerate and isolate him as a warning to others not to follow the Wikileaks path. Chelsea Manning has been re-arrested because she refused to testify to a Grand Jury against him. Since the Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies are pretty much aware of what the U.S. is up to in most parts of the world, the threat posed by Wikileaks was that it made its information available to any citizen, anywhere in the world, who possessed a computer. US/EU foreign policy and its post 9/11 wars have been based on lies, promoted by global TV and media networks and often accepted by a majority of North American and European citizens. Information contradicting these lies challenges the stated motives for war — human rights, democracy, freedom, etc.

Wikileaks has been exposing all this by publishing classified documents that shine a light on the real reasons. It is an astonishing record. Till now WikiLeaks has published almost 3 million diplomatic cables and other U.S. State Department records, comprising some two billion plus words. This stupendous and seemingly insurmountable body of internal state literature, which if printed would amount to some 30,000 volumes, represents something new in the world. This is where the Internet becomes a subversive force, challenging the propaganda networks of the existing order. Assange and his colleagues made no secret that their principal target was the American Empire and its global operations. The response of U.S. institutions has been hysterical and comical. The Library of Congress, blocked Internet access to WikiLeaks. The U.S. National Archives even blocked searches of its own database for the phrase “WikiLeaks.” So absurd did the taboo become that, like a dog snapping mindlessly at everything, eventually it found its mark — its own tail. As Julian Assange pointed out: “By March 2012, the Pentagon had gone so far as to create an automatic filter to block any emails, including inbound emails to the Pentagon, containing the word ‘WikiLeaks.'” As a result, Pentagon prosecutors preparing the case against U.S. intelligence analyst PFC Manning, the alleged source of the Cablegate cables, found that they were not receiving important emails from either the judge or the defense.

The British government is insisting that they will follow the law. We shall see. The U.S. Department of Justice has stated that Assange could face five years in a U.S. prison. Diane Abbot, a leading member of Jerremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet, said in parliament today:

On this side of the house, we want to make the point that the reason we are debating Julian Assange this afternoon–even though the only charge he may face in this country is in relation to his bail hearings–is entirely to do with the whistleblowing activities of Julian Assange and Wikileaks. It is this whistleblowing activity into illegal wars, mass murder, murder of civilians and corruption on a grand scale that has put Julian Assange in the crosshairs of the U.S. administration. It is for this reason that they have once more issued an extradition warrant against Julian Assange … Julian Assange is not being pursued to protect U.S. national security, he is being pursued because he has exposed wrongdoing by U.S. administrations and their military forces.
We will learn more in the days and weeks ahead. In the meantime, Wikileaks and its founder expect and deserve the solidarity of all those of us who believe that citizens should not be treated like children and that most politicians in the US/EU orbit are untrustworthy and hate their lies and corruptions being exposed.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

3223. Candida Auris: A Factory Farm Fungus Among US

By Alex Liebman and Rob Wallace, The Agroecology and Rural Economics Research Corps, April 10, 2019
Candida globe

St Paul, April 9—Eighty percent of U.S. antibiotics are used to promote livestock and poultry growth and protect the animals from the bacterial consequences of the manure-laden environments in which they are grown. That’s 34 million pounds of antibiotics a year as of 2015

The agricultural applications help generate drug resistance across multiple human bacterial infections, killing 23,000-100,000 Americans a year and, with an increasing amount of antibiotics applied abroad, 700,000 people worldwide.

Now a fungal species, Candida auris, has developed multidrug resistance and is rapidly spreading across human populations across the globe (see nearby figure). The CDC reports 90% of C. auris infections are clocking in resistant to one antifungal drug and 30% to two or more.

Candida U.S.
Clinical cases of Candida auris reported by CDC as of February 28, 2019: by country (top) and U.S. state (bottom). From CDC (2019).

C. auris, a yeast, is killing immunocompromised patients in hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes at a prodigious clip, up to 40-60% of those who suffer bloodstream infections in a month’s time.

In the rooms of the infected and the dead, the fungus appears intransigent to nearly all attempts at eradication. The fungus can survive even a floor-to-ceiling spray of aerosolized hydrogen peroxide.

How have drug-resistant fungi come to haunt the modern hospital and jeopardize the sterile spaces asepsis addressed 150 years ago?

It is becoming increasingly apparent that C. auris’s resistance, and that of many other fungi species, is traceable to industrial agriculture’s mass application of fungicides. These chemicals approximate the molecular structures of antifungal drugs.

Across crops—wheat, banana, barley, apple, among many others—the fungicides select for resistant strains that find their way into hospitals where they are also resistant to the drugs administered to patients.

The path of yeast resistance

Matthew Fisher and colleagues recently classified six main classes of fungicides, all rarely used in the U.S. Midwest before 2007.

The azoles and morpholines target the ergosterol biosynthetic pathway, which generates the plasma membrane of fungi cells. The benzimidazoles interfere with fungi cytoskeleton, preventing the assembly of cell microtubules. The strobilurins and succinate dehydrogenase inhibitors take more physiological routes, inhibiting the electron transfer chain of mitochondrial respiration. The anilinopyrimidines appear to target mitochondrial signalling pathways.

Candida auris has evolved resistance to a suite of azole antifungals, including fluconazole, with variable susceptibilities to other azoles, amphotericin B, and echinocandins. Azoles, used in both crop protection and medical settings,  are broad-spectrum fungicides, annihilating a wide range of fungi rather than targeting a specific type.

How did fungus and fungicide find each other in the field?
C. auris, likely long circulating on its own for thousands of years as CDC’s Tom Chiller hypothesizes, was first isolated in humans from the ear canal of a 70-year-old Japanese woman at a Tokyo hospital in 2009 (although a 1996 isolate was subsequently identified). Later isolation found the yeast capable of bloodstream infection.

In an effort to identify the source of the infection, an international team sequenced resistant isolates collected from hospitals across Pakistan, India, South Africa, and Venezuela, 2012–2015.

Against expectations, the team found divergent amino acid replacements associated with azole resistance among the ERG11 single nucleotide polymorphisms—one among several such SNPs—across four geographic regions. They weren’t the same strain, indicating that each resistant phenotype had emerged independently.

In other words, strains isolated by distance from each other evolved unique solutions to the fungicides to which they were exposed.

That might indicate molecular adaptations to different exposures. But it also might indicate that in response to such wide exposure to fungicides in the field, each strain evolved its own unique solution to the problem.

Even as fungi do not horizontally transfer their genes at rates that virus and bacteria do,  migration of patients and fungi alike, the latter by way of agricultural trade, can help increase diversity in the fungicidal resistance circulating in any one locale.

A second team identified multiple genotypes of different international origins in the relatively bounded confines of the United Kingdom. A third team, as the nearby map shows, identified a similar mix in U.S. cases.

But it isn’t clear other than travel-related cases whether all the cases originated from strains from abroad. Without a baseline of fungal load among, say, domestic agricultural workers, an endogenous source remains a possibility.

multidrug-resistant C. auris Multiple introductions U.S.
Distribution of Candida auris clades in the United States. (A) Maximum parsimony phylogenetic tree of marker isolates from Colombia, India, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea, South Africa, Venezuela, and U.S. clinical cases in the USA. (B) The frequency of U.S. clinical cases  by clade. (C) The phylogeography of introduced clades. Solid lines indicate introductions that are associated with patients known to have received health care abroad. Adapted from Chow et al. (2018).

To add to the complexity, there also appear multiple mechanisms by which resistance emerges.

Dominique Sanglard summarizes three: decreases in drug concentration in fungal cells, alterations of the drug target, and compensatory mechanisms that depress drug toxicity. Atop these, the three can be arrived at by a variety of genetic events. Alongside SNPs are insertions into the fungus genome, deletions, and structural changes, including gene or chromosome copy events.

One study found 51 genes related to how sensitive circulating strains of a Fusarium blight were to propiconazole, only a single class of triazole fungicide.
The road to such resistance can be complex, winding beyond merely evolving out from underneath a antifungal directly.

In 2015, researchers found that the C. auris genome hosts several genes for the ATP-binding cassette transporter family, a major facilitator superfamily (MFS). MFS transports a large variety of substrates across cell membranes and been shown to effectively dispose of broad classes of drugs. It permits C. auris to survive an onslaught of antifungal drugs.

The team found that that the C. auris genome also encodes a slew of gene families that facilitate the fungi’s virulence. C. auris adaptively forms biofilms that support antifungal resistance by way of a high density of cells, the presence of sterols on biofilm cells, and efficient nutrient use and growth.

Other fungi, other dangers

Candida auris is hardly the only deadly fungus converging upon multidrug resistance. The nearby map shows multiple species overlapping in plant and human resistance.

One fungus, Aspergillus fumigatus, may offer a conditional preview of C. auris’s trajectories present and future.

Azole antifungals itraconazole, voriconazole, and posaconazole have long been used to treat pulmonary asperillogosis, the infection caused by A. fumigatus. The fungi causes approximately 200,000 deaths per year, in the past decade rapidly developing resistance to antifungal drugs.

Fungal species resistance plant and human
Number of peer-reviewed reports of resistance to azole fungicides for plants (in blue) and in humans (in red) for pathogens Aspergillus fumigatus, Candida albicans, C. auris, C. glabrata, Cryptococcus gattii, and Cryptococcus neoformans. From Fisher (2018).

Studies comparing long-term azole users and patients just beginning to take the drug have shown that drug-resistant A. fumigatus was prevalent in both groups, suggesting that resistance evolved in agricultural rather than medical settings.
Researchers have found biogeographical evidence that suggests multi-triazole-resistant A. fumigatus strains in clinical and environmental settings share significant overlap. In the figure nearby, drug resistant A. fumigatus found in the field (green) and in clinical trials (red) map together, demonstrating their coupling in Europe and Asia.

The global map depicts the geographic distribution of multi-triazole-resistant Aspergillus fumigatus strains. Two different mutations are depicted: TR34/L98H (circle) and TR46/Y121F/T289A (square). The percentages denote the environmental prevalence rates of resistance. From Chowdhary et al. (2013). 

Other work recently found azole-resistant A. fumigatus related to the use of triazole fungicides in agricultural fields outside of Bogotá, Colombia. Soils were sampled from an array of crop fields and A. fumigatus was grown on agar treated with itraconazole or voriconazole fungicides. In more than 25% of cases, A. fumigatus persisted despite the fungicide treatment.

That is, due to agricultural practices, Aspergillus is entering hospitals already adapted to the slew of antifungal cocktails designed to check its spread. Dumping azoles to control for fungi on grapes, corn, stone fruit, and a myriad of other crops generated the conditions to accelerate drug resistance in human patients.
While extensive phylogenetic and biogeographical research remains to be conducted, a quick perusal of existing distribution maps suggests similarities between Aspergillus fumigatus and its younger (and suddenly more infamous) cohort Candida auris. The strains share similar geographical distributions, occupying many of the same zones described above for C. auris.

Industrial agriculture’s role

With zones of overlapping human and crop resistant cases of Aspergillus fumigatus and the rising specter of a new azole resistant fungus ravaging clinical settings and evolving at lightning speed, one would hope that azole fungicide use would be closely monitored if not just phased out.

The dangers of continuing upon this path of agricultural development are acute.
Medical and agricultural azole fungicides share similar modes of action, so when resistance pops up in one arena it is easily transferable to another. In both agricultural and medical fungicides, the phenyl group of the chemical forms van der Waals contact with the active site of gene cyp51A.

Organic chemistry specifics aside, the close similarities that the Chowdhary group depict in the nearby figure suggest that a mutation in Aspergillus fumigatus to prevent binding to the cyp51A gene in an agricultural setting—specifically a modification of the 14-α sterol demethylase enzyme—would likely confer resistance to medical applications of stereochemically similar drugs.

A fumigatus strucutral binding
Diagram showing similar mode of action in triazoles between medical (A) and agricultural (B) applications. From Chowdhary et al. (2013).

Agricultural azole fungicides comprise a third of the total fungicide market. Twenty-five different forms of agricultural azole demethylation inhibitors are in use, compared to just three forms of licensed medical azoles.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that in applying these fungicides at landscape scales in the millions of pounds annually, the medical use of triazole antifungals, using the same mode of action, would rapidly turn ineffective.

Instead of intervening in the interests of global public health to limit these long-problematic applications, government policy in recent years has promoted the lucrative global expansion of fungicide use, fostering the conditions for virulent drug-resistant fungi.

In 2009, fungicides were applied on 30% of corn, soybean, and wheat acreage in the U.S., totaling 80 million acres. Preventative use of fungicides to control soybean rust quadrupled between 2002 and 2006, despite a dubious economic rationale. Global sales continue to skyrocket, nearly tripling since 2005, from $8 billion to $21 billion in 2017.

Fungicides expanded not only in sales but also in geographic distribution.
From the maps nearby, we see tetraconazole, an agricultural triazole, moved from isolated usage in the western Plains in the late 1990s to massive application throughout California’s Central Valley, the upper Midwest, and the Southeast. Boscalid, a fungicide used in fruit and vegetable crops, has increased from ~ 0.15 to 0.6 million pounds from 2004 to 2016, a 400% increase, and is now widely applied across the country.

U.S. fungicide distributions
Estimated agricultural use (EPest-high) of fungicides tetraconazole (left) and boscalid (right) in pounds per U.S. square mile, 1999 and 2014. State-based and other restrictions on pesticide use were not incorporated into EPest-high or EPest-low estimates. EPest-low estimates usually reflect these restrictions because they are based primarily on surveyed data. EPest-high estimates include more extensive estimates of pesticide use not reported in surveys, which sometimes include States or areas when use restrictions have been imposed. Users should consult with State and local agencies for specific use restrictions. National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Project/USGS/ARERC.

From within each new locale, the fungicides percolate into the local environment.
In 2012, USGS scientists studied 33 different fungicides used in potato production and found at least one fungicide in 75% of tested surface waters and 58% of ground water samples. With half-lives stretching to several months, azole fungicides are able to easily reach and persist in aquatic environments by runoff and spray drift, becoming highly mobile.

As climate change fundamentally reshapes the U.S., bringing higher overall temperatures and extreme oscillations between drought and heavy rainfall, fungi are predicted to expand outside of their current ranges while also responding specifically to new climate regimes. Aspergillus flavus, the producer of a cancer-causing aflatoxin that reduces corn yields and poisons humans, thrives in drought conditions and large crop-water deficits.

With the market treated as a force of nature stronger than climate or public health, under current agricultural production, broad-spectrum fungicide use is likely only to increase.

Farming as its own fungus control

In response to drug-resistant bacteria and fungi, research institutions are calling for the collection of better data on agricultural antibiotic use and on the potential economic costs of transitioning away from from high rates of application.
A 2016 UK report, citing the overapplication of agricultural fungicides, recommended increased surveillance of antibiotic usage overall and a regulatory apparatus organized by the WHO, FAO, and OIE that among its duties would list critical antibiotics that should be barred from agriculture use.

But aside from collecting more information and calling for what appears minimal regulation, what is to be done?

Given recent travails in antibiotic and herbicide resistance, it seems likely that chemical companies and their farming clients will pursue developing new fungicides based on targeted molecular research, multiple drug cocktails, and gene-edited resistance.

Governmental agencies are likely to impose increased if dubious biosecurity measures, which also frequently foment xenophobic anxieties and are used to blame workers for contamination, rather than addressing the systemic failures of industrial agriculture.

The conjoined motives of powerful medical and agricultural companies are almost certain to promote ‘solutions’ that exacerbate an arms race between toxic drug applications and fungal resistance, spew growing permutations of lethal chemicals into the environment, and further consolidate and privatize the agro-pharmaceutical sector.

There is, however, a different, evidence-based paradigm for responding to fungicidal collapse.

A quick review of agroecological examples suggests that a combination of disease modeling and cultural practices such as crop rotation and cover cropping can greatly reduce the presence of fungal diseases and thus dependence on fungicides.
Intercropping, here soybean and flax, can increase and diversify the soil microbiota to exclude pathogenic fungi. Photo: Alexis Stockford.

In the California’s Central Valley, strawberry producers accustomed to fumigating soils with fungicides to control incidence of Verticillium wilt, a pathogenic soil fungi, have found that planting broccoli crops in between rotations of strawberry crops greatly reduced levels of Verticillium. 

Dating back several decades, similar results have been found in the diversification of potato crop rotations

Researchers in India—a country where drug-resistant A. fumigatus and C. auris have both been found—have studied novel approaches to controlling late blight in potato.

Potato crops often receive large doses of azole fungicides to control for fungal pathogens such as late blight. Rather than fungicide treatments, scientists applied silica to foliar tissue, finding that silica was absorbed and strengthened the potato’s cell walls against fungal invasion. Disease infestation rates ranged from 2.8 – 7.9% in the silica-based integrated management systems and 49.4 – 66.7% in the conventional fungicide dependent systems.

In general, organic farming supports mutualistic fungi to a much greater degree than conventional farming, crowding out pathogenic strains. Crop rotations, the incorporation of legumes, and the cultivation of soil aggregates support ecological niches for soil microbiota.

Reducing chemical fertilizers and limiting tillage, two agroecological practices with major benefits for reduced pollution and enhanced carbon storage, also select for beneficial strains of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi that form mutualistic relationships with plant roots and can confer resistance to soil pathogens.

Integrating agricultural production into a broader matrix of non-crop vegetation is also important for controlling fungal pathogens. Wild landscapes reduce the potential for pathogen populations to adapt to crops and modeling suggests that contiguous swaths of wild patches reduce the aggressiveness of pathogens upon agricultural crops.

Ivette Perfecto and John Vandermeer’s labs have done yeoman work, written up in depth here and summarized here, tracing the means by which thatches of ecological relationships—predation, mutualism, competition, etc.—up and down the food web in which a crop finds itself can box out pest damage, including, their teams find, from rust fungi.

The nitty-gritty as it applies to fungi can be found in Vandermeer student Douglas Jackson’s dissertation on agroecological fungal control in coffee.

Zachary Hajian-Forooshani (pictured), another University of Michigan student, followed up research from the 1970s and found Mycodiplosis fly larvae feed on the coffee rust the Perfecto-Vandermeer team study in Mexico and Puerto Rico.

More than mining soil

All this work squares well with agroecological theory that under current political policies and demographic trends, farm fields integrated into a matrix of nature conservation are more likely than ‘land-sparing’ approaches to conserve natural resources while simultan

What emerges is a picture of ecological complexity in which fungicidal warfare is exactly the wrong tool.

Instead, throwing bad money after bad, fungicides today are applied in a system in which diseases thrive out of simplified landscapes, vast and uninterrupted genetically identical monocultures, rapidly accelerating global warming, and an ever quickening pace of global trade.

In a cruel irony, fungicide application places evolutionary pressure on pathogens to develop resistance at the same time that industrial management provides the near-perfect conditions for fostering and spreading these virulent mutations.
It all makes sense only when we recognize that the agribusiness sector views nature as its stiffest competition

Wiping out local ecologies and the near-free work these offer in helping farmers enrich their soils, clean their water, pollinate their plants, feed their livestock, and control pests—pathogenic fungi among them—means the largest companies can now sell commodified equivalents to a captured market.

The damage done is more than agricultural or economic. It’s a business plan pursued even at the risk of eroding our capacity to socially reproduce ourselves as a civilization.

Farmers and food activists have complained industrial agriculture represents little more than nutrient and carbon mining. Companies are compelling farmers to grow so much so fast that production squeezes carbon out of the soil in the form of food commodities. As a result, land and water are polluted into such oblivion that food safety cannot be accounted for.

By that pollution, occupational exposures, outbreaks of increasing virulence and extent, metabolic diseases such as diabetes, antibiotic resistance, and now the growing threat of fungicide resistance, carbon mining now extends to gouging out global public health.

Once made the order of the day, alternate agricultures long pursued and updated by smallholders worldwide, and backed by a growing scientific literature, offer a way out of that trap.

Alex Liebman is a plant-soil and political ecology researcher with Lurralde, a Chilean group supporting the Atacameña and Ayamara peoples in their struggle for territorial sovereignty and water rights in the face of multinational copper and lithium mining interests in the Atacama Desert.

Rob Wallace is an evolutionary biologist and public health phylogeographer. He’s the author of Big Farms Make Big Flu and, most recently, co-author of Clear-Cutting Disease Control.

The ideas and opinions posted here are the authors’ and not necessarily that of ARERC as an organization.