If there are two names that many identify with international activism, they are most likely those of Vijay Prashad and Walden Bello, two leading public intellectuals from the global South.  Prashad is the director of Tricontinental Institute for Social Research and author of forty books, including On Cuba (with Noam Chomsky) and The Darker Nations. He lives in Santiago, Chile.  Bello is the co-founder and currently co-chair of the Board of Focus on the Global, who has written 25 books and is a former member of Congress of the Philippines. Recently, their paths crossed in Honolulu, Hawaii, where students at the University of Hawaii at Manoa asked them to hold a “Conversation” with them on April 11, 2024. MEER is reproducing that discussion because it contains ideas, perspectives, and insights that might be of interest to the many young people who are turning into activists in the shadow of Gaza.

Question: Can you tell us something about yourselves?

Vijay: “I came here from Santiago de Chile, where I live, which is literally the other end of the world. It’s like New Zealand. Nobody goes to New Zealand to go somewhere else. It’s like the end, the terminus point. Maybe you go from there to see the penguins, but beyond that, it’s the end of the world. I direct an institute called Tricontinental, which has an ambition of being linked to different kinds of political movements, and we build research with the movements to uplift their stories, and very much in the tradition of Focus on the Global South, and other organizations that have been doing work like this for a long time. We were inspired into this by the landless workers of Brazil. They were the ones who guided me on how to build this institute. And so, that was very helpful to have their guidance and leadership.

In this day and age, it’s tough to do this kind of work because our enemies are so well-funded and they are so nasty, and they will do anything in the battle of ideas. So you know, it sometimes feels like you want to retreat from this, go and swim in the ocean for a few hours because it never ends. The sense of fragility. They are fragile, They don’t have any ideas, and so they don’t attack you on ideas anymore. Now, they just come after you with all kinds of, call it disinformation, but it’s an old practice. It’s not new. But I want to just say that, because, you know, some of this has to do with the retreat of the academy. And as the academy has retreated more and more from the world, it’s opened space up for the right in public discourse, to dominate ideas. Even when they don’t have any fresh ideas as such. I spent some time this morning in the library looking at books published by UH faculty. And I thought, my God, you are such brilliant people, but you write about such limited topics. It doesn’t have any bearing on the world. You know what I mean, Walden? The world is falling apart and they’re writing about very narrow subjects. The academy has retreated from the world. And that makes it hard for us to do our kind of work. Right? Yeah. So, just to speak plainly.”

What about you Walden?

“Well, I just wanted to say a few words. Since a number of us here are from the Philippines, I just wanted to say that we are facing a real national crisis. The Marcos government has practically outsourced its foreign and defense policy to the United States. And it has given the US four bases, in addition to the five it now has. And then Marcos is going to Washington where he will meet with Biden and Kishida, the Japanese prime minister, to basically participate in a Council of War—you know, how are they going to step up their military cooperation to contain China. So, the last two years the main news coming out of the Philippines has been the US move, in a very real way, into national sovereign space. So, that’s the situation right now.

Now, we face a very dangerous situation in the South China Sea, which we also call the West Philippine Sea, because we have, almost daily naval confrontations between Chinese and US ships, and the thing that I just wanted to say is that, since we have limited time, is the US is in a very aggressive mood. And the whole point of its strategy in the Asia Pacific is the containment of China, and the Philippines is a major launching pad for that.  Some people say that the buildup in Philippines is for the defense of Taiwan? No. Taiwan is an excuse to build up the Philippines as a launching pad for the  containment of China.

A few years ago, when I was a member of Congress, I got invited by Madame Binh , to Vietnam.  She was  one of the National Liberation Front’s peace negotiators for Vietnam in 1968-73 during the Paris Peace negotiations.  Anyway, the Vietnamese invited me to Hanoi in 2014. They said that they were very worried because the US and other warships were playing “chicken” in the South China Sea. Now, people know what “chicken” means, right? Which is, two ships head for one another, then swerve at the last minute. So, the Vietnamese said, ‘What if you miscalculate and you were not able to swerve and you collide? There are no rules of the game.'”

That’s really worrisome.

Walden: “Yes, I repeat.  There are  no rules of the game. So, that a mere ship collision can move up very quickly into a major form of conflict.  Recently, the Biden administration has given the go signal for US ships to transit to the Taiwan Straits. I think there have been three or four incidents over the last year and a half, of American ships going through there. Then the head of the US Air Mobility Command, Mike Minihan, made the statement that — this is almost a direct quote — We should expect to go to war with Chin within the near future, by 2025. Then he says, “My gut tells me that this is going to be the case.” So, there’s definitely this war-mongering mood.

The only other thing I wanted to say is that, yes, we have the problems with China in the South China Sea. I think some of you know that, but I just wanted to put it in the context that China’s moves there have been mainly determined by a defensive position overall because what you have is all the major industrial facilities of China are in the southern and southeastern Chinese coast. In the event of war, there are hundreds of US bases from Japan, to Korea, to the Philippines, to Guam, and then the 7th Fleet is right there, twelve miles from the Chinese coast. So, the whole point of Chinese moves in the area  has been mainly determined by a defensive stance. My position has been that, yes, there’s no justification for China’s unilaterally saying that the South China Sea is ours; this could have been negotiated. This could have been negotiations between ASEAN and China to demilitarize the area. That has been a possibility — and it still a possibility.”

But what is making that so difficult?

Walden: “You know, it’s still a possibility. But, the US has been taking advantage of this conflict to use the Philippines and Filipinos as  the first line of offense against China. If you ask me, and I’ll just end with this, what is motivating the US?  It’s unavoidable. Vijay will agree. It’s irrational. All they want to do now is to maintain their hegemonic position. Even all the nice words before about preserving democracy and all of that? That’s all gone. It’s like we cannot be ever number two.  Even when China is saying that it’s not interested in being No. 1. So, I just wanted to say that the dangers of war are really, really, really great at this point. I know we are all focused on Gaza at this point, and that’s very important, but we also need to pay attention to what’s happening right here. And  my last point is that Honolulu is the nerve center of US Pacific command. This is it.  This is ground zero. Yeah, you know…Anyway, that’s it.”

Do you agree with that, Vijay?

Vijay: This is an analysis I hundred percent agree with. You know, we published a text in January called ‘Hyper Imperialism’, and what we did was we looked in great detail principally on military spending. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute or SIPRI tracks military spending, but they do so by accepting what governments tell them. So, the US declares its military spending at 900 billion. But we looked at everything: nuclear and so on, and the actual number is 1.53 trillion. And adding US military spending, then you have to estimate upward world military spending: US, plus NATO, plus NATO allies, which are principally Korea and Japan, you add them all up and it’s 75% of world military spending. China is 10% of world military spending.

So, the idea that this is an inter-imperialist conflict does not match the facts. China is a defensive power. Russia is a defensive power. And the thing that the Yanks just can’t understand is they got their ass kicked by the Taliban. Like, what the hell do they think is going to happen if they frontally engage China? It’s a nuclear power! You know, I don’t get these guys. Testosterone has taken their brains away. It’s like: ‘Hey guys you were defeated by the Taliban!’ I mean, the general theme that we operate with in our institute is ‘United States can blow up all the bridges of the world, but it no longer knows how to build them.’ And that comes to your thing about investment and infrastructure. They can’t even bring a Taiwanese company to build chips in Arizona. They spend a lot of money, the company came, all these Taiwanese workers move from Taipei to god knows where Arizona, and within 6 months they just went home. They said that we can’t work here. The work culture is not conducive. So, they went back to Taipei. I mean there are some deep, cultural, political, economic problems in the West that they won’t acknowledge. So, in my opinion frankly, guys, you asked about who will be in power. It’s not a question of Biden being senile and old, and whatever, or Trump being a real jerk. It’s that you actually have nobody in the US who understands the actual historical motion. There’s no politician at all who actually understands the movement of history. So, in fact, if Biden dies, Trump dies, there’s no No. 2 or 3 who’s better. Take the example of Europe.  [German Chancellor] Olaf Scholz is a man of little interest in the world. He was so embarrassed by Anwar Ibrahim, the Malaysian prime minister. Stood next to him and said, ‘what kind of human being are you?’ to the German chancellor. That’s what he effectively said, you should watch the clip. Rishi Sunak, Emmanuel Macron. None of them have a project.  So, where’s the hope? The hope is the fact these guys have no idea what’s going on.  You reached a state now where in the United States, students are going to disrupt high officials every time they speak: Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, they’re going to be disrupted. People don’t respect them. This is hope for me. That there’s now maybe a million young people in the US who just don’t respect and fear high officials, right? They’ve been going into Biden’s meetings, and calling him Genocide Joe to his face. That’s incredible! I mean that’s a new period. And, I’m not exaggerating when I say million young people you know. I spoke at the November rally in Washington DC. There must have been 50,000 people there. And I started by saying: ‘Joe Biden, you’re a war criminal’, and the sound of the crowd was deafening. There’s a new phase you entered. We will have to go through some very dangerous, ugly, difficult times because it’s not just that the US doesn’t want to give up power, but the old, aged, mostly white elites, also don’t want to give up power. They will criminalize dissent, like the protesters in New York. Nancy Pelosi said they are funded by the Russians. Then she said, funded by the Chinese. Come on guys, these are young people, you know? College students, whatever.  Pomona College, they just arrested 19 students. Suspended them. What the hell, man? Nineteen kids. And the president said, ‘Oh, they were masked.’ What the hell is that? I mean, after the pandemic? What are they, like bandits? You know they are students, and they were wearing bandanas and so on. I saw the video, she said, ‘I was scared of them.’ Are you crazy? Come on. So, I think you have entered a phase, maybe in our lifetime, we won’t see the new period. But you entered a phase where they have lost and they’re trying desperately to hold on with whatever military might, you know, trying to say that students are this and that, Xi Jinping is inside your head, whatever crap they say. They will try to do it. But I don’t think they will succeed because they don’t have anything compelling. They can’t build a high-speed rail in the US anymore. I mean, I was in Beijing, went [from] Beijing [to] Shanghai on the train. It’s incredible, the technology, you know. The US is out there, basically fiddling about, playing games, exacerbating tensions between India and Pakistan, Nepal. It’s a classical colonial thing. A few years ago I was in New Delhi and I met the — this is during Trump’s administration — met the assistant, secretary, deputy, whatever shit, South Asia. He was like a 10-year-old kid, you know. He was like a political science student from Columbia University, with a blue suit and a tie. He was sweating like crazy, it was boiling hot. I was like, he didn’t know the first thing about South Asia, but he was in charge! Like, he was meeting the prime minister and people was hanging on his every word, like what is David Morris going to say? I was like, David Morris is an idiot! You know, I can’t believe this guy. I don’t know what — you probably have the same experience. They send some assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia or whatever, and it’ll be some kid, you know. So, that’s actually hopeful to me. You know what I mean? Like, I’m not gonna say ‘hope is young people’. Hope is actually that they have lost the plot. They’ve lost the plot. And you meet some of these Asian leaders. I did a two-hour conversation with Gita Wirjawan. He was the Indonesian minister of trade in the previous government. He’s a right of center guy. But he and I are friendly because we are both the same age, we both like to play the guitar. We did a two-hour conversation which broadcast on his channel. He has a huge viewership in Indonesia. I was talking about Marxism, thing’s banned in Indonesia. He ran it! But the thing is, Gita is interested in ideas, you understand? He’s a cabinet minister in the Indonesian government right of center, but he’s at least interested in ideas. Can you imagine sitting down for a conversation with an American minister of anything?”

Did you want to add something, Walden?

Walden: “I was just going to add to what Vijay said. The only high-speed rail you have in the US is the one between Boston and Washington, which is about 730 kilometers long.  From almost nothing at the start if the 21st century,  China has about, what…at least 38,000 km of high-speed rail, state of the art rail, crisscrossing and all over.

Vijay: “Yeah, 300 km an hour.”

Walden: “So, if you haven’t been to high-speed rail yet, and you probably have not because there’s only one in the US…”

Vijay: …And it doesn’t go more than 250  and some kilometers.”  And the Chinese are developing a new train, 600 km an hour which is the one with magnets. But it’s too expensive to put it into practice. but 600 km an hour, I mean that’s insane. It’s like flying on a plane.”

“I have a question.  I guess in terms of being in occupied lands here in Hawaii and being, guess, in the United States. How can we, I guess, how do we or yet or organizing our works our as academics, as people in the academe, how do we orient our energies in terms of slowing down Empire while we’re at the belly of the beast, with Hawaii being ground zero of this conflict? What are your thoughts on that?”

Walden: “Yeah, let me just preface this because I agree with some very important points made by Vijay. I think it’s really the elite that is very, very aggressive. And basically, this war-mongering talk, is talk by the elites of this country. I think they do not understand that most of the people here, in the US, are tired of war. That they’re very wary about any new foreign adventure. They’ve realized that war has been accompanied by a tremendous, economic crisis. They know that the period 2001 and 2021,  when the US was pinned down in Afghanistan, was  also the period of tremendous American deindustrialization and the financialization of economy, and the coiuntry experienced crisis after crisis Now, even Trump when he ran in 2016, there was the strain within his campaign that basically was saying we can’t engage in any more foreign wars. We have to put America first. Of course, it was interpreted in a right wing kind of way, but there was that element of foreign wars having become too expensive. And so both on the left, the middle and even key parts of the right, there’s just this sense that getting involved in another war would be very expensive, and shattering for the United States. So, my sense — I made this point yesterday at the conference —  my sense is not to underestimate the possibilities of mobilizing people on an anti-war platform. I think one of the things that has been so, so inspiring to me has been the way young people in the United States have just come and changed the narrative about Palestine.

Israel and the Zionists were just cornered, ideologically that is. They lost the narrative. They lost the narrative because people on the ground were basically just saying that this is the product of more than 100 years of oppression. So, I think there’s that infrastructure  of anti-interventionist, anti-war sentiment that can be mobilized even more now. Of course, you belong to a new generation and the way that you organize is going to be very important, but I think there is that there is that massive potential there and it really needs to be harnessed in a progressive direction at this point. So, I fully agree that this is a very critical moment for organizing.”

And you, Vijay, what’s your take?

Your question was about yourselves as well, and I’m the worst person to give any advice for academic careers, having several times sabotaged my ascent. Look , frankly, you have to really ask yourselves why you’re doing this. You know yourselves, because you’re all bright people, I now understand why bright people come into the academy and then decide to become careerists, because if you’re going to be a careerist, go hard into industry at least make some money and have a nice apartment. Why would you come into the academy and work for $70,000 and then be a careerist? That seems to me [like] intelligent people make a grotesque mistake. You can make 10 times that in industry. More maybe, you know? Depending on your field, right? You’re a scientist, I mean…You can probably figure out a way to make weapons of microparticles in the ocean. How to control them to go and sink a ship and so on. If you’re, I mean, if you’re serious about being in the academy, you should be serious about it. Like, use the institution to conduct a serious battle of ideas in society, you know? Not just with other academics. Like, if I was in the University of Hawaii as a professor, I would constantly go out there among the movements and lift up their ideas because they simply don’t have the prestige. I would lift up the ideas. I’ll write reports, give press conferences, go to the legislature, organize three or four progressive people. Use whatever leverage you can because these institutions have respect. I would in that sense ride it as far as it goes and that’s what I mentioned about the books in the library. Why would you retreat in an institution like this when everything is going to shit and you have all this power? The cultural power, you know. It’s real. We underestimate the amount of power professors could wield. You could wield a lot more influence over society, and they used to. That’s the key thing. If we look at our histories of national liberation, so many of the leaders were professors: Walter Rodney, people like that. They came out there and took risks in public. So that’s what I always think. I’m always puzzled by people who become careerists. I always think: ‘you’re selling yourself so short.’ Both ends. Like, if you really wanted to have social respect, go out there and join [the] industry, you know? But if you wanna have political respect, then don’t sell yourself so short. And that I find really frustrating. I find my generation, people who got their PhDs in the late 80’s, early 90’s? My generation completely gave up the ghost, you know? We were in our late 20’s when the Soviet Union collapsed, you got a PhD around then, globalization, whatever, maybe a little bit of anti-globalization part came in, but it was sort of at the edges of your projects and you began to write these super technical, historical or political essays about something very esoteric and so on. And you had a little edginess but you didn’t want to commit to anything. Because this entire generation and the next thought getting involved movements will corrupt you. Somehow you lose your independence. You have to be independent, you have to be against everything. So, I find scholars will be like, ‘I’m against the US, I’m against China, I’m against everything.’ They’re not even anarchists. They just feel that their integrity is to be alone. Like, loneliness is a form of integrity. And I would caution you: don’t get involved in that. It is like we live in a world of people, and people are social, and as social people they gather and they have political opinions, and joining something isn’t a crime. Speaking from a movement is not a problem. That’s where the people are at, you know? And there’s another thing, because when this does happen in academic spaces, it’s always this small. So, they have gone in the smallest beautiful romance. I read a book written by a very good scholar, but it’s a book about an Indian women’s movement which is eight women in a town in Uttar Pradesh. Eight women in this organization. So, I remember thinking you know there’s a communist women’s movement, which has 11 million members. It has 11 million members, and they have a branch in the city of 3,000. But in your book, on these eight women, and their sort of storytelling form of feminism, which is powerful, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with studying the eight of them, but in the same book you never mentioned that there’s a 3,000-strong unit of this mass feminist-communist organization that creates the ground for these eight women to have their group. It sets the terms and context because they fight against violence against women and so on. But authors like that ignore the left, calling them authoritarian and so on. This is where academic life has gone. This great belief that anything with more than 10 people is authoritarian. Except when you become chair of the department, then it’s okay.

“I have a question. I have a Chinese question. I am very aware of like the very Sinophobic trope, especially in the US targeting China and then using the containment of China as militarization. I’m very aware of that, and every day people ask me about it and I’m like so tired of it. But at the same time, I think we all know that China — [the] Chinese government has its own violence and settler-colonial projects and expansion, and then it also doesn’t have any ideas in its leadership. Super technocratic, so I was wondering as critical scholars and organizers, how do you balance that? ‘Cause I find myself uncomfortable in the position of I don’t want to defend China, but I also don’t want to feed into any kind of US militaristic mobilization of anti-China sentiments.”

Vijay: “Yeah, I mean look, firstly, no people are perfect. I mean, all projects in the planet are going to have a million problems. Of course, there are problems in China, and I think it’s perfectly legitimate to lay them out, and discuss them and talk about them. The issue is why are we interested in talking about it? If I’m going to say, ‘look, I have a problem with let’s say, the seven-layer system because it’s super bureaucratic or whatever’. We can have a discussion about that and say, ‘is there a way to make things a little more approachable? So that people don’t feel alienated and so on’. And that may be because we feel, well, we want to improve things rather than to overthrow things. That becomes a dividing line it’s the conversation Fidel had in 1961. He called the leading intellectuals of Cuba to the Havana library and he said to them: ‘Look, you can criticize a revolution, but the real issue is from what standpoint? You want to criticize within the revolution, you can say whatever you want. But if you want to take a step outside the revolution, and say we need to overthrow this revolution in order to change things, then there’s no room for you here because we are trying to build this. I think that formula is interesting to me. Are we within something or outside something? Not like, for instance, in China, if I take the case of the poverty eradication, that was incredible. I mean, you know especially from the standpoint of India. I often understand China in comparison to India. Why? Because both of them, in a way, become free at the same time. India ’47, China ’49. And in India, it would be unthinkable. No government has ever put eradication of poverty on their agenda. And I know people say ‘well, they didn’t really eradicate poverty’, whatever, whatever. But, I remember going to China first in the 1980’s. I went with my mother to visit rural cooperatives and so on. It was a super poor country. Like, unbelievably poor. I remember being in Shanghai. It was a completely poor city. It wasn’t what it is now. It has a lot of problems now, but you don’t see the kind of gut-wrenching poverty that you see in India. And that, to me, is where I start. Shanghai, it’s like an urban nightmare. It’s too big and it needs to be six cities, you know blah, blah, blah. But so is Bombay, and in Bombay there is gut-wrenching poverty. In Shanghai there’s barely any. I remember once having a debate with somebody who said, ‘Oh, in Shanghai they removed the poor out of the city.’ So, I asked some people ‘take me to see where the poor was removed.’ So we went to a place, it’s a housing development. It’s not a slum like in India. So, I think what happens to people in the US is a couple of things. One is, they compare China to the US, which I don’t think is a fair comparison, because China does not have colonies like the United States has had. Its form of development is different. [The] second thing is it’s an Asian country. I mean, I think we are all Asians here. We are familiar with one issue, which is that we come from deeply hierarchical cultures. All this familial piety, respect to elders, these cultural traditions are going to be with us for a few hundred more years, you know. And it’s like, in China when people say, ‘Oh, it’s authoritarian’. I say ‘No, it’s Asian. You don’t get it.’ Even if this was not a communist government, it would be like this because it’s structured around filial piety and respect for elders, and respect for the boss. I mean, in India, it’s insane! The amount of hierarchies that are there. Philippines, which I’ve always thought was the most advanced of all of us because you were wrecked by American imperialism and feudal cultures were removed. Visited the Philippines, filial piety, you going to people’s homes they almost touch their parents’ feet, right? So, these things have to be there on the table for us. Non-Asians don’t get this at all. They really don’t understand this part of—when people come to India for the first time, India is the most alienating country to visit in the world for non-Indians. It’s like you go there and you’re like what is this place? Like, how can people behave like this? They are nasty to each other, brutish. I don’t feel embarrassed saying this, you know, I know this whole Orientalism thing, you’re not supposed to talk about Asia, it’s all nonsense.

Did you want to add something, Walden?

Walden: “I just wanted to add [to], what Vijay said, talking from the perspective of the Global South. One is it’s not the Chinese government that claims that poverty has been reduced to 2%, it’s the World Bank. So, it’s like 2%. If you’re from the Philippines, you’re looking at a country that, in 30 years, they moved from about 50% poverty to 2%. And then you compare it to your country, because it’s important to compare it to your country, and you have the Philippines which has been, quote-unquote, ‘liberal democratic’ for so many decades, and the poverty rate at this point in time is 25%. I mean, that’s a huge, huge, huge difference. So, I think when you look at what people in the Global South really consider extremely important because if you’re poor you do not have freedom. That’s the basic thing. If you’re poor, you do not have the possibilities of developing yourself. You know, what Isaiah Berlin said about positive freedom—the freedom to be a developed human being because you’re not mired in poverty, in an animal-like existence. That’s sort of a very important criterion by which people from the Global South look at China. This is the reason why there are very many countries in the Global South, yes, they have some aid from China, but I think more important than the aid has been the model of development.

You know that China has been able to move very quickly in terms of super-industrialization. Of course, that has its own problems, as Vijay said and, you know, because if you’re going to develop, development is a process of creating one crisis after another. It’s unbalanced. Development is always an unbalanced thing. The important thing is when a crisis emerges, you try to solve it. So you move from a very industrialized process, it creates environmental problems, and of course in China we have a very active environmental movement. They’re all over the internet and, so now, it’s a problem, the government pays attention to it. So my sense is, as Vijay said, if what people expect is an American-style, liberal style, democratic process of solving problems. It’s crazy! That’s the false kind of expectation. I think my sense, and I’m not trying to defend the Chinese government, I think they’re trying really to grow with the situation of making more mass participation in a very viable way that at the same time does not invite the instability that you have in the United States and a number of other countries at this point in time.

That’s one thing. The second thing is, I don’t know whether the younger people in China have the same appreciation as those who fought in the revolution and who spent their first years, young years, building up the new China, but the threat from the West is really there, and I mean we’ve seen that in the United States! The United States is just not going to rest until it puts down any challenger. So, my sense is it’s not the government’s making up some excuse or whatever, a myth. It’s a very real thing. I mean, the 19th century up to 1949 was really for, I think, for the older generation of Chinese  the century of shame. I mean, the country almost got destroyed and colonized. I think that the generation and later generations that went through that, but were able to get out of it, of course, they’d say ‘we’re not going through that again.’ And this is why right now, my sense is with the way the US is acting, it’s in fact calling up those memories of British imperialism and all of that. The only other thing that I would say is that, following what Vijay said, let’s not import liberal, democratic, Western models in our judging China because I think it’s the wrong way to go. Now, whether or not you agree with the filial piety, all that. We really need our own ways of having a real participatory system. And I think that, despite the western propaganda, I think China trying to do that. Because it knows that lack of participation is a problem or that is an issue that needs to be addressed.  But at this point, corruption is a bigger problem, and Xi Jin Ping’s anti-corruption campaign is addressing that.  My point is that lack of political participation is a problem, but it will be addressed in a Chinese, not western, way.

Vijay: “You know, it’s very interesting what you said. I interviewed a guy who is in the US National Security Council and I asked him a question like, ‘what do you feel about like the future prospects of China?’ And one of the things this guy said, which is so interesting, which I’ve used a lot, is he said we couldn’t find a Gorbachev.

“A what?”

“A Gorbachev. He was basically saying that in the Soviet Union…the Soviet Union didn’t collapse, you know. It could have lasted longer. But within the leadership of the USSR, the US found people willing to basically surrender it. Yeltsins, Gorbachevs, people like that. So, what this guy was saying to me, very candidly, was in China they just couldn’t find the Yeltsins and the Gorbachevs, and it’s interesting because I’ve talked to a lot of people in the Chinese middle leadership, you know, like level 2 in the seven-layer cake that they have. Layer 2. And I found them pretty interesting people. Like, they have certain commitments and I would say many of them are more patriotic than they are Marxist. Patriotism is a big thing in the ranks of a lot of the leadership. Xi Jinping, I think, is a Marxist. I have a feeling that he has more of Marxism than just patriotism. But many of them are merely patriotic,  and I think this comes to that century humiliation. When they see US warships off the coast of, almost Shanghai: that’s the first and second Opium War. That’s the British taking Hong Kong. That’s the Portuguese sitting on Macau.”

You wanted to say something, Walden?

Walden: “That’s true, you know. US ships sometimes provocatively go just outside the 12-mile territorial waters of China.  It’s a very provocative move, I mean. 12 miles, that’s Shanghai.”

Vijay: “Yeah, you can sometimes see the worships, they say. I’ve never seen it from the boat. But I’m told on certain days, you can see the US warships because you know on a clear day, you can see about 20 miles of water. I regularly write for a Chinese language website called Guancha, which is, I think is a really interesting website. And it’s privately owned, it’s not a government website, and every time I write in Guancha, my colleagues translate some of the comments and send it to me. I mean, China and India, man. Nine times out of 10 they say, ‘ I can’t believe this curry smeller right so well!’ or like, ‘this curry man!’ Asian mutual racism are hideous. We are like all blown up out of shit by white racism our own internal things are hideous. I mean, anyway. But the point is not anyway—”


Vijay: “But what’s interesting is that nine times out of 10, they have all this kind of stuff and still they say their viewpoints are deeply patriotic. So when I write things, I say something like ‘the United States has 900 — we did a calculation, not 800, but 902 military bases. I wrote that thing and then like — you know, it’s supposed to be read by like a million people, and then there’s like 3 or 400 comments in the first few hours and it’s deeply patriotic, like, we will defend our homeland. That’s the overwhelming feeling. We will defend the homeland. And I think we sometimes forget that patriotism is like a core idea in many of our countries that as much beyond liberal democracy or communism or whatever. It’s a core thing, the patriotic impulse. It’s something that we on the left don’t know how to talk about effectively, partly because we may be a little embarrassed of it. We generally think of patriotism as ideology of the right. But in fact, that’s not true, because, I mean, think about the Philippines. All of your national liberation fighters were deeply patriotic people, yeah? Get the Americans out, 1890. All patriotic. But somewhere along the 20th century, we lost grip of patriotism. We gave it up to the right. And I think I actually have taught a lot recently about. ‘is there a way for us to recover that feeling of anti-imperialism as patriotism?’ and bringing on board people who are not ideological. They are not of the right, or of the left, they’re merely patriotic. They’ll say ‘why should the Philippines give five bases to the Americans?’ but they may have actually been pro-dictatorship. but they say, ‘why should they have the bases, it’s our sovereign land?’ What on the left, what language do we create there? And I feel this embarrassment, it’s time to let it go. I’m not saying become like a Jingoistic nutcase. Like anti-foreigner kind of thing, but patriotism doesn’t have to be Jingoism. Because we have this tradition, right? In India, it was a great left-wing tradition. But we just lost the plot. So anyway, I would say on this? A lot of Chinese young people are patriotic. Maybe even in the Philippines, I don’t know enough…”

So, as graduate students, what can we practically do to shake things up a bit?

Vijay: “I don’t know guys, because this is one of those areas of life where you are also building your own careers at the same time and I don’t wanna say anything reckless, yeah? You know what I mean? Because you know, I love you guys, and I don’t want to, from afar, say something stupid and then…right? I mean…There’s that you know.”

“I don’t actually think you need to worry about the faculty, I think you need to think about yourselves. What kind of career would you like to build? Don’t worry about them. You can’t move them. What can you say to somebody who’s made certain choices in their life, especially as a student? I think it’s maybe reckless too, because they will feel offended. So, I would just ignore it. I would think about what kind of career you want to build, how you want to — what stance do you want to take as a professor, let’s say? You need not teach in the US academy. There are a million jobs all around the world. Maybe go to a place which is not declining. Think about that also.”


Vijay: “No, but I’m serious about that. What happens often is that you enter a graduate program and then there’s…I used to find this funny. I was at the University of Chicago, and I remember they would be like ‘we are against teleological thinking!’, thinking towards an end. Because it was all the time of post-modernism, post-structural. But in their own lives, they were totally teleological. Like, we must get a tenure track job. so we’re not gonna be teleological when it comes to analysis of the world, but completely unself-consciously, we are teleological in our own life choices. So what happens here is the teleology is, ‘I’m gonna get a US-based tenure track job’, and you’ll do everything desperately to get that job, and so on. But free yourself a little bit because lots of interesting jobs, lots of interesting ways to build a life.”

Walden: “The one thing I would add is, my sense is, you can definitely go on your academic path, but the important thing is to combine that with activism and you can be very well a Philippine specialist, but when the times call for it, you join a pro-Palestine rally and put yourself on the line. And I think it’s important to build yourself up not only academically, but by putting yourself on the line. Because my own development…I’ve always been straddling the academy and activism.

The thing I remember, in terms of what pushed me to do the things that I’m now doing, is Henry Kissinger, because in 1970, all of you were not yet born then, he and Nixon decided to end the Vietnam War by expanding it to Cambodia. So I was walking down in Princeton, it was in Princeton, I was walking down the place where you had all the fraternities. Then, I saw that there were these people who were gathered at a place called the Institute for Defense Analysis that was doing Pentagon research, and they were trying to shut it down. So, out of curiosity, I came over and then the police had come in. And these people were linking hands. Then, the police became so brutal, they pulled people and something snapped in me. Then, the next thing I knew, I was there linking hands. On my left was the most distinguished, diplomatic historian of the United States, Arno Mayer…”

Vijay: “Wow!”

Walden: “On my right was the most distinguished US historian of Latin America, Stanley Stein.

But I didn’t know them. I didn’t know who  these two were except I was linking arms with them.”

Vijay: “What an interesting story.”

Walden: “And so it was like from then on, it was a life-changing thing because during that time, if you engaged in political protest, you would be deported. This is 1970′. And if you’re a foreign student, definitely, you would be deported. But at that time, when I leaped there, I didn’t even think anymore, about what was gonna happen. All I knew is that afterwards, when I was being processed by the police, I said, ‘Oh my god, I just deported myself!’, and I think I called my wife and said, ‘start packing,’ though I didn’ tell her why.  But this was before 9/11. It’s only [after] 9/11 that they had consolidated all their records. So actually my arrest was not communicated to immigration.”

“Oh my god!”

Walden: “So my life as an academic was given a new lease on life.”

Vijay: “Did you record that?”

Yeah, I did! And it’s still recording.

It may not be covered by the statute of limitations  Hah hah…

Walden: “But that’s it, you know. Sometimes, things happen that are  most unexpected, then your life takes a different direction.”

Vijay: “What an interesting story, and in fact when you give Henry Kissinger’s name, in fact, he’s also a role model because he’s another academic who intervened in the world…from the right!”

Walden: “When he died, I wrote an article on [how] I owe Henry Kissinger my politicization.”

Vijay: “Thanks, Henry!”

“I have a question. Talking about the South China Sea earlier, and you know, seeing the push to fear-mongering in a lot of media…all the videos on the South China Sea are very like…And when they have a Filipino voice, it’s some right-wing guy … I had some real hope when Duterte spoke out against US, even though despite the all the killings and stuff, when he said he’s gonna rip up the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US… and make move towards developing deals with China. And now we hav e Marcos.  What was your opinion on that? Is it more nuanced? Or is that just like, these promises never came through…”

Walden: “Well, just two things, very quickly because I think people are leaving? I wrote an article that was titled ‘Duterte may be a mass murderer, but I agree with his decision to rip up the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US.’ So, basically I said ‘Yeah, he’s a mass murderer and I hate him for that, but he’s going to rip up the Visiting Forces Agreement.  And the unfortunate thing is he didn’t follow up on it. The Pentagon had his number. This guy’s all bark. He’s not going to serious about turning against us, they thought.

Let’s put my acts I context.  I was the one who authored the resolution renaming the South China Sea the West Philippine Sea. So, I did that. On the other hand, I was always for ripping up the military agreements with the United States, and the whole point is you can’t you can’t take either side. You have to have an independent foreign policy. So the government of Aquino was very upset at me for saying that we need to rip up the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. So this is the problem right now, because you have all this right-wing people (and sometimes folks on the left as well) who basically say you have to choose. You have to either be pro-China or be pro-US.”

Vijay: “Yeah. Like you can’t have a brain.”

Walden: “But you have to have an independent foreign policy. That’s it.”