by Maryellen Kurkulos
On Saturday, April 29th MAPA’s 2023 Annual Meeting was held as a virtual gathering, where our members met to affirm our values and set our path forward for the coming year. Our keynote speaker was the noted African-American historian, prolific author and political activist Gerald Horne. Dr. Horne holds the Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston and in 2021 was awarded the American Book Award for The Dawning of the Apocalypse: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, Settler Colonialism, and Capitalism in the Long Sixteenth Century.
In his keynote talk, “Cold War 2.0 and the Fate of White Supremacy”, Dr. Horne discussed the reasons behind the heightened tensions that have erupted between the U.S. and China, their relation to the Ukraine War and what it all means for MAPA and the U.S. peace movement writ large.
To begin, Horne identified three reasons for the increasing provocations of China by the U.S. They are (1) China’s ascendant power and the threat it presents to waning U.S. global dominance; (2) the fact that the challenge to the U.S., a country founded on white supremacy, is coming from an Asian (read: non-white) nation; (3) and additionally because that country is led by a Communist Party some 90 million strong. The idea that the United States, the so-called “indispensable nation” that remains zealously anticommunist, should be eclipsed by an Asian nation galvanizes Washington’s otherwise adversarial politicians to unite in a common cause.
To illustrate how dramatically U.S.-China relations have flipped over the last 50 years, Horne reviewed the remarkable transformation of China from a relatively poor country into the juggernaut it is today, a transformation largely due to the strategic arrangement it entered into with the United States in 1972. This partnership, which came at the expense of the interests of the then Soviet Union, resulted in massive foreign investment from the U.S. and significant rewards for many of the largest U.S. corporations. And while China has emerged to be an economic powerhouse and major world leader, today it simultaneously finds itself in the crosshairs of its former benefactor, the U.S., and in an unexpected de facto alliance with Russia due to the conflict in Ukraine.
Horne understands the Ukraine War as another consequence of the geopolitical forces that have thrust China to the fore and is in agreement with the consensus in the global South that NATO’s advancing encirclement of Russia helped to create that conflict. He reminded us of the history of strategic blunders of Western imperialists, intent on the conquest of Russia – from Napoleon’s Waterloo, to London’s financial backing of Japan’s attack on Russia in 1904, to Operation Barbarossa that produced tens of millions corpses and devastation across the Eurasian continent. Indeed, while Western military leaders privately concede the Ukraine war is at a senseless stalemate, American and European dominant media continue to promote the war and advocate for ever more advanced weaponry to Ukraine. Horne stressed how critical it is to support Chinese diplomatic efforts for a peace plan for Ukraine. Otherwise this New Cold War could yield another strategic blunder with no one left to write its history.
Acknowledging what an especially challenging moment this is for the peace movement, Horne concluded his talk by offering several ideas for moving forward.
He repeatedly stressed that activists must stay abreast of geopolitical developments and become adept at identifying contradictions that could work to our advantage and help defuse tensions that could escalate to the unthinkable. France, a country that has weathered several tense periods over the course of its alliance with the U.S., provides one example. From the recent statements of French Prime Minister Macron during his meeting with China’s Xi Jinping and in his remarks to the Munich security council, France opposes a Cold War with China and is critical of U.S. aims for regime change in Russia. These are signs that a possible split could occur within NATO, something that would benefit global security and that peace activists could help to accelerate. Another possibility is South Korea and the new “friendship” with Japan being foisted on it by the U.S. and where Biden now promises to deploy nuclear armed submarines. South Koreans vehemently oppose U.S. pressure on their government given Japan’s brutal, 35 year-long rule over the Korean peninsula that ended with the defeat of Japan in WWII.
Dr. Horne stressed how important it is that MAPA and the U.S. peace movement writ large align more closely with the global peace movement, and in particular with movements in NATO member countries, chief among them France given the circumstances described above. MAPA’s close relationship with the New England Korean Peace Campaign as well as with groups working to end the embargo on Cuba are logical places to start. MAPA has ties with peace organizations in Scotland and Britain and can pursue connections in other countries starting with World Peace Council affiliates.
He also recommended we cultivate ties with Brazil and South Africa and more generally with the nations of the global South. There is a notion gaining popularity in those countries that, of the two U.S. political parties, it is the Republican party that represents the lesser of two evils since the Democrats are eagerly preparing for war on two fronts (Russia and China) whereas the Republicans have trained their attention primarily on China.
Horne additionally advocates we explore the possibilities of collaborating on a long-term campaign of fundamental reformation of the AFL-CIO International Department by cultivating our existing ties with local labor movements.
And finally and arguably most importantly, he stressed that peace can only be won by committing to a militant fight against and dismantlement of white supremacy here at home. To quote Horne, “We need an updated analysis of the history and reality of this nation. Continuing to see the depredations of imperialism as an exception to an otherwise progressive nation simply won’t do.”