Sinistra Publishing takes on Engels and the Foundations of Socialist Governance

This year is of course the 200th anniversary of the birth of Friedrich Engels (on 28 November). It is also the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of Australia, of which I happen to be a member.

So I am extremely pleased to announce that Sinistra Publishing will publish my book, Friedrich Engels and the Foundations of Socialist Governance. Who is Sinistra Publishing? It is a small publishing house in Australia that ‘aims to bring original, refreshing socialist perspectives from across the globe to an English-speaking audience’. It shot to fame in the not-so-distant past by obtaining the rights to translate and publish Domenico Losurdo’s great book, Stalin: The History and Critique of a Black Legend (see my earlier review of book here).

But given that this year is an anniversary in honour of Engels, the book will also appear in Chinese with Renmin University Press in China, as well as in the form of four abridged articles in the Turkish journal İştirakî (Socialism). Hopefully, there will be Portuguese versions of these articles as well, to be published in Brazil.

All of this is quite humbling, since as a rather solitary scholar I often find few avenues to speak and to make my research known. Thankyou to all of these comrades.

What is the best way to deal with human-animal disease cycles?

The recent outbreak of another strain of influenza in China – known as ‘Novel Coronavirus’ – set me thinking about human-animal disease cycles. This is a problem as old as human communities.

About 12,000 years ago, human beings began the long process of moving towards collective living in villages. It took a long time, perhaps 4,000 years, and entailed the slow domestication of animals and plants. During this period, hunting remained a crucial feature in human food supply – what we now call ‘game’ meat. Why so long? Domestication takes some effort: originally wild animals need to mutate, through restriction of movement, controlled breeding, regulation of feeding, and extension of lactation. The first animals – in Asia, which usually leads human development – were what we now know as domesticated sheep and goats. In the process of mutation, wool became longer and more amenable to human use (by selective breeding through which plucking during annual moulting gave way to non-moulting wool that could be shorn), and the animals became smaller than their wild relatives. Meanwhile, hunting of the gazelle, onager, aurochs, hare, fox, and wild sheep and goats continued for a long time alongside the herding of domesticated animals, but the shift had been made.

However, this process of collective and semi-settled living and domestication of animals (and plants) also brought with it a whole series of new diseases. Why? Many diseases require different hosts for their life cycles, and with human beings and animals living in close proximity, humans became more and more part of the cycles. To be sure, this was already the case with the hunting of wild animals, in which the eating of ‘game’ meat brought its own risks. But with daily interaction between human beings and sheep, goats, pigs (where water was plentiful) and the rare bovine, a series of new diseases arose. Plagues were common, small populations were regularly decimated, and life expectancy was short (about 30 years).

In our world, we are supposed to have overcome these ‘primitive’ realities. Not so.

Hunting is still common in many parts, especially for ‘real men’. In the United States, Canada and Australia – for example – you can (with a gun license) go out and shoot wildlife, cut it up, take it home and eat it. Go to a fancy restaurant in Sydney or Copenhagen and you can buy an expensive dish of ‘game’ meat. Or go to the simplest barbeque, and it will be the men who stand around the barbeque cooking the ‘kill’ (even if it comes from a butcher).

In regard to disease cycles between domesticated animals and human beings, these continue to abound. Think of the ‘swine flu’ (H1N1), of which the most recent version appeared in North America in 2009, especially the United States of America. Or the avian influenza, which makes its way from the wild bird population, into the domestic bird population, and into human beings. Or the Middle-East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), which appears to have entered into the human population in 2012 via camels (and perhaps originally bats).

As for transmission from the ‘wild’ population, we have of course the coronavirus (influenza) from bats with both SARS and the recent Novel Coronavirus. But more notable is HIV/AIDS, which came through from primates into human beings and became a pandemic, originating in the United States.

Obviously, these disease cycles are a reality of human communities and their association with animals. They will continue as long as these two realities continue, so the question is how one deals with them. Let me take two comparable examples, one negative and one positive.

The first is the outbreak of ‘swine flu’ (H1N1), which appeared first in the United States (or perhaps Mexico). The World Health Organisation initially called it ‘North American Influenza’. The response by the regime in the United States was shambolic and slow. Schools remained open, workplaces did not use face masks, and U.S. airlines took virtually no measures, relying instead on previous and ineffective practices of looking for individuals with flu-like symptoms, not providing face masks even for cabin crew, and relying on the aircraft’s air-cleaning systems. Other airlines did take measures, especially from Eastern Asia. I recall arriving in Shanghai in 2009, and before we were allowed to disembark, all passengers were checked by health officials (one passenger had a temperature and those up to three seats around were quarantined). Perversely, the U.S. regime issued a travel warning for ‘restrictive’ measures instituted by Chinese medical experts. The result: by the time the pandemic had run its course, about 30,000 people died in the United States and up to 579,000 worldwide.

Obviously, this is an example of how not to deal with an outbreak.

Ten years later, we have the Novel Coronavirus outbreak in China. In this case, the Chinese government moved quickly, mobilising all of the state’s significant resources to contain the outbreak, communicating directly with WHO on a daily basis and sharing all information. Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, went into lock-down, all post Spring Festival travel was halted across a country of 1.4 billion, and from villages to cities people undertook the necessary measures to contain the virus’s spread. How was this possible? It has nothing to do with ‘authoritarian’ measures, but everything to do with the primary focus in China on the common good. Everyone contributes. The outcome: at the time of writing, about 10,000 people have been infected, only those with underlying conditions have died (in the low hundreds), and more and more leave hospital after recovering – and this is before a vaccine has been developed.

So effective were the measures that the World Health Organisation promoted them as a new model for dealing with diseases arising from the human-animal cycle (see also here).

On retirement and other matters

A slightly more personal post than usual these days. A little over a week ago, I retired. It was an early retirement, since I am not quite yet 59, which is the average age of retirement age in Australia. I have worked for the last 11 years at the University of Newcastle in Australia, although I only ever had one foot in the door since I worked at no more than 50 percent. I must admit that I feel incredibly good about retiring.

Why? The negative side is that universities in Australia – like most universities that claim a heritage from the ‘Western’ liberal tradition – are in a spiral of decline. Governments keep cutting funding in the vain belief that the US model is the one to which one should aspire, so periodic ‘restructuring’ is the order of the day. It goes without saying that ‘restructuring’ is a euphemism for cutting costs and thus positions. For example, I recently witnessed the University of Newcastle axe whole disciplines, such as philosophy, (Western) classics and religion. Given that my training was in precisely in these areas, I felt somewhat alone.

But the negative reasons for retiring are a relatively minor matter. They can continue their downward spiral and lose international pretige and – increasingly important for the bottom line – international students. On a distinctly more positive note, I have been engaged in China for some years now. I first came to China in 2007, but for the last six years or more I have been engaged more closely with a few universities, initially in Beijing and more recently elsewhere.

I have experienced at first hand not only how central Marxism is to the Chinese project, but also the incredible level of work and innovation, forging ahead to continue to build the new China.

So what do I do with all this inspiration from the Chinese experience? I am trying to put all of this in ways that non-Chinese people who are interested in a rapidly changing world can understand. In this light, I am reshaping this blog so that it provides more information for those who are interested, including relevant downloads from my recent (last ten years) of publications.

Light from the east: red star over Christmas

I have always been intrigued by the biblical ‘light from the east’ that led the wise men in the traditional nativity scenes. Clearly, the East was seen as a place of wisdom and culture, and indeed stars. Obviously, this one is ripe for some communist symbolism, given that the red star is a very communist one:

From a nativity scene to the Soviet red star:

Although in the Soviet Union they tended to focus celebrations on New Year’s Day

With Lenin, of course:

And an emphasis on Soviet achievements in space:

Now we still have the red star from the East, the red star over China:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Model workers: Common people doing their jobs with devotion

China is witnessing the return of the old revolutionary idea of the model worker, reshaped for the modern era. These days, it is ordinary people doing extraordinary jobs. It might be a postman in Tibet, or a teacher in a remote village, or a university graduate who has gone to the countryside to upgrade farming practices in the final frontier against poverty.

In this case, I am interested in a certain Chang Xiaolong, who in 2015 began working as a railway police officer in the mountainous Anhui province. His daily life includes basic conditions, keeping an eye on a 21.48 km stretch of railway line, which has 8 villages, 9 tunnels and 11 villages, growing vegetables, assisting the elderly with buying rail tickets, and working on poverty relief. I should add that in China such a job is seen more in terms of fulfilling a duty to assist in the greater common than simply as a job.

A few pictures from Xinhua News:


Two must-see documentaries on terrorism in Xinjiang

Two recently released videos on terrorism in Xinjiang, with much material not seen until now. The first concerns the ‘East Turkistan Islamic Movement’ (ETIM), with close connections to the Washington-funded ‘World Uyghur Congress’ (WUC).

The second concerns the complex and long-term counter-terrorism work in Xinjiang, which is made even more complex by some ‘Western’ countries supporting such terrorism.

Two points worth noting:

First, the Chinese analysis of the root cause of terrorism concludes that is not primarily due to religion or ethnicity, but to foundational socio-economic matters. Thus, poverty, connected with lack of education and  employment, all come first – as aspects of the economic base – and they provide fertile ground for extremist religious views. Obviously, a distinctly Marxist analysis of terrorism, and it also shapes short and long-term policies in Xinjiang.

Second, when the security bodies of Russia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and East Asia meet, one of the common items on the agenda is dealing with the way some ‘Western’ countries complicate the problems by fostering terrorism in some parts of the world.

*NB: Youtube has been systematically deleting these two videos, with an effort to prevent the many likes and comments appearing as well. The previous links suffered this fate, so I have updated them. They be deleted once again. So you will need to go into youtube and search ‘The Black Hand: ETIM and Terrorism in Xinjiang’ and ‘Fighting Terrorism in Xinjiang’. Fortunately, some people keep reloading them so they can be viewed in more places around the world – already 100s of millions have done so.