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Pakistan: Gilgit Marxists Freed of Terrorism charge, Receive Heroes' Welcome

 
   
 
Dear comrades,

Yesterday 5 out of 12 comrades were released from Gilgit Jail. They were welcomed by thousands upon there arrival in Hunza. I was told by Nasir, brother of Baba Jan, that over 350 vehicles made the caravan to bring them home. It was great reception for activists who were just known as comrades of Baba Jan.

They were released after the Chief Court ( Supreme Court) decided to do away with the decision of Anti terrorist court to sentence them for life.

Baba Jan and others are not released as they are facing some more cases and in an other case Baba Jan is sentenced to life as well.

However, the acquittal of the comrades in this major case is a great news.

Thank you all for your consistent support for the release of the comrades.

We are planning to send some three nationally known lawyers to Gilgit when the next hearing come for Baba Jan at Chief court. Hope that will push the judges to think again and again to ratify the anti terrorist court decision.

Comradely,

Farooq Tariq
General Secretary
Awami Workers Party

Radical Socialist Statement on Police Violence at SFI Protest in Kolkata

Radical Socialist Statement on Police Violence at SFI Protest in Kolkata

The police violence on protesting Students’ Federation of India activists in Kolkata must be condemned unhesitatingly. Two years ago, Sudipto Gupta, SFI member, died due to police violence. Till now, the guilty have not been punished. Indeed, they have been defended by the government.

The SFI and its allied student groups were protesting today (2 April 2015), because Sudipto’s death has gone without action. They had declared they would carry out a civil disobedience. This can be tackled in two ways. The government of the day can decide that this will be reduced to the lowest violence possible. In such a case police formally arrest the people carrying out the civil disobedience, formally charge them or even let them go after PR bonds are signed. Or the matter can take a serious turn. The degree of seriousness is dictated by the issue, the organisation/s carrying out the movement, and the way the government is looking at them.

It was clear that the SFI was not trying to initiate a process of armed overthrow of the government, or anything approximating that. So the use of great violence is because the government is not going to budge an inch from any case of violence unleashed by its agents. The Commissioner of Police, Kolkata, issued a statement that the police in the front row had no batons or sticks. But television footage showed clearly that the students were being brutally attacked, with sticks/batons.

There is a need to protest all this in a united manner. There is no need to merge banners. But there is a need to realize that defending the rights of SFI to protest must be unconditional. We do so, not because we are supporters of the SFI or the CPI(M), but because we cannot demand democratic rights for ourselves while keeping silent about democratic rights of those whose politics we may disagree with. There is no question of forgetting the past of the CPI(M) when it was a ruling party, but that cannot be an excuse for not defending their democratic rights now. When we defend democratic rights, we are defending the rights of everyone, all toiling people, not just the SFI.

2.4.2015

Women’s history as a guide for activists

 

Argentina Economy

 

By CHRISTINE MARIE

Wendy Z. Goldman, Women, The State & Revolution: Soviet Family Policy & Social Life, 1917-1936 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); La mujer, el estado y la Revolución (Buenos Aires: Pan y rosas and Ediciones IPS, 2012).

On Oct. 10, the Marxist scholar Wendy Z. Goldman published a piece in Counterpunch entitled “The Takeover of the R.R. Donelly Factory: Behind Every Worker is a Family.” The article was about her recent visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina. She had been invited to speak about her book, “Women, the State, and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917-1936.” It is an academic book, published by Cambridge University Press, but Goldman was not in Argentina on a publisher’s academic book tour.

She was there because the book had been translated and recently distributed by Pan y Rosas, an Argentinean socialist women’s organization that is affiliated with one of the revolutionary socialist political parties there. The book—first written in 1993—is a detailed accounting of the effort of the Bolshevik party in the first years of the Russian revolution to socialize household work, as well as a look at two moments of dramatic retreat from that revolutionary perspective, once under the NEP in the 1920s and again in the 1930s, when Stalinism’s hold on the nation was complete.

The audience of 700 people had students and faculty, but also workers from many factories in the area who were influenced by the Bread and Roses group.

Goldman tells the story of one of the women who spoke in the discussion period. She was an older domestic worker who had spent her life cleaning the houses of the rich. She said, “The Bolsheviks talked about the socialization of household labor. Today only women do this work. And if a woman is wealthy enough, she pays another woman like me to do it.”

This woman was one of many who were studying the Bolsheviks’ approach to the liberation of women by reading the translation of this weighty book. A Pan y Rosas organizer told Wendy Goldman that some of the women workers who were in the audience had broken into tears when they first heard about the revolutionary socialist vision for transforming daily life and human relationships that the Russians had tried to carry out just after World War I.

Donnelley Women’s Commission

The centerpiece of Goldman’s trip was a visit to a factory, the R. R. Donnelley plant, which had recently been taken over by a democratically elected body called the Workers Assembly and Women’s Commission. The workers and their families had been studying her book and formal discussions about its lessons were being carried out in the Women’s Commission.

From afar, the work of the Women’s Commission sounds a lot like the Daughters of Mother Jones, who were active in the Pittston Coal Strike, or the women’s support group of the Austin, Minn., P-9 strike at Hormel, two historic labor strikes in the United States in the 1980s. That is, they do solidarity work and take care of the families of those in need due to the struggle.

To enable themselves to take on this political role, the R. R. Donnelley Women’s Commission built a child-care center in the worker-occupied plant. Unlike their North American counterparts, however, they are studying the Bolsheviks and the most dramatic and serious attempt to liberate women that the working class has ever undertaken.

Russian Revolution opened new possibilities

 So what’s in this book that has the women of the vanguard of the Argentinian working class breaking into tears at the very thought? What was the Bolshevik strategy for women’s liberation? In a nutshell, the Bolsheviks widely believed that under socialism, the family, like the state, would “wither away.”

In Wendy Goldman’s words, they believed that “the state, an institution needed only for one minority class to suppress another more numerous class, would lose its function in inverse proportion to the development of a fully democratic and egalitarian society built on an abundance of use values that meet the most basic human needs. The family economic unit, an institution that relieved the capitalists of any responsibility for the care and maintenance of children and the working class, would become the choice of fewer and fewer as socialized alternatives to its functions replaced dog eat dog ethos of capitalist society.”

Socialists have long pointed out that capitalism throws each individual working-class household into competition with the other for jobs, scarce resources, education, and health care. In this setup, the capitalist class is rewarded with millions of individual wasteful units of consumption, and women and children are left dangerously isolated and prey to violence and coercion. The fact that women may live in a home with a male breadwinner is used to justify denying them a livable wage.

Capitalism, the Bolsheviks understood, has zero incentive to provide alternatives to the private family household as an economic unit.

The Bolshevik vision

The Bolsheviks envisioned, instead, a society in which communal dining halls, day care centers, and public laundries would replace the unpaid labor of women in the home. They hoped that freed up from isolation in the home or double duty, women could achieve equality with men and that romantic love and respect could replace legal and economic dependence as the basis for relations between the sexes.

The tasks of the household, the Bolsheviks believed, could be shifted to the public sphere and performed by well-paid workers. Parents, regardless of their marital status, could call on help from the state for the care for children. Goldman places their views in the context of hundreds of years of utopian hopes and experimentation.

Lenin was deeply involved in the discussions of how to go forward to socialize housework, which he described as the most savage and arduous work a woman can do, that degrades a woman, “forcing upon her … stultifying drudgery.”

Bolshevik leader Alexandra Kollantai spoke of the family’s horrible waste of resources and said that the people’s economy would have branches in which cleaning and washing would sit alongside metallurgy and machine production. Trotsky said that as soon as “washing was done by a public laundry, catering by a public restaurant, and sewing by a public workshop, the bond between husband and wife would be freed from everything external. Affection and attraction would be the sole criteria for relationships and marriage.”

There were differences among these leaders, and they had no access to today’s science on child-parent bonding, sexuality, and so forth, but they were united in their willingness to try to free women from all social relations based on private capitalist production.

Unlike small utopian communities dependent on producing for the capitalist market in exchange for just being left alone, the Russian revolutionary government, the Bolsheviks understood, had the potential to use all the powers of the state to make alternatives quickly available to millions.

When the Russian capitalists, aided by world imperialism, went to war against the revolution, the Bolsheviks were forced to move quickly and they began to organize production and society on a war footing. In this period, there was a crash program to build communal dining halls, childcare centers, public laundries, and so on.

For a brief moment, many Bolshevik women thought that they could see the future unfolding in an uncomplicated manner. In 1918, Inessa Armand, who was the head of Zhenotdel, the Women’s Department of the Bolshevik party, said to a conference of women workers in a burst of revolutionary optimism, “The bourgeois order is being abolished. Separate households are harmful survivals that only delay and hinder new forms of distribution!”

Armand’s dream that the oppression of women in Russia was soon to be completely eradicated was crushed by the imperialist assault.

New Economic Policy and bureaucratization

Although the Bolsheviks won the civil war, the legacy of that brutal conflict and of World War I left the country in dire economic straits. The economic crisis forced the revolutionary government to pull back from war communism measures and to institute the New Economic Policy. In addition to bringing massive layoffs and a return to discrimination against female workers in industry, there was also an immediate drop in the allocation of resources to women and children’s institutions and to day care.

In this context, revolutionary measures designed to facilitate easy divorce, once a means to women’s freedom, contributed to the abandonment of women and children on a massive scale.

The economic disaster also contributed to the rise of a counterrevolutionary bureaucratic caste (led by Joseph Stalin) that did not have the commitment of the old Bolsheviks to women’s liberation and that, over time, attempted to reinforce the traditional family unit as a bulwark of their undemocratic rule.

Lessons for revolutionary socialists today

The lessons that the Women’s Commission of R. R. Donnelley, and all revolutionary socialists since the time of the Russian Revolution have drawn is that while only a socialist revolution can free up the resources necessary for working women’s emancipation, the revolution can only be a prerequisite and not a guarantee. Women’s liberation will only be fully won when our revolution is shielded from imperialist intervention, buttressed by international solidarity and cooperation, embraced as the arena of struggle by independent women’s organizations, and led by leaderships who accept the centrality of those organizations.

Wendy Z. Goldman’s book, which lays out in incredible detail the victories and defeats experienced by Soviet women, will contribute to educating and creating that kind of leadership for the working class worldwide.

Photo: Rally outside the Donnelley printing plant in Buenos Aires. Women’s Commission banner is in the background. Workers took over the plant after the U.S. owners had shut it down.

 

Greece Launches Debt Commission to Audit Odious Debts

Greece
The Speaker of the Greek parliament launches a debt audit commission

The Speaker of the Greek parliament, Zoé Konstantopoulou, has announced during a press conference on 17 March 2015 the creation of a commission to audit the Greek debt. The scientific coordination of the commission will be led by Eric Toussaint, Spokesman for CADTM and a member of the Ecuadorian debt audit Commission that sat in 2007-2008. “The purpose is to identify any debts taken on by the Greek government that may have an illegal, illegitimate or odious nature,” the Greek people “has the right to demand that any part of the Greek debt that may eventually be shown to be illegal – be erased,” declared the Greek Parliament’s Speaker.

by CADTM
20 March 2015

Also present at the press conference was Sofia Sakorafa, SYRIZA elected MEP (since 2014), who accepted to be the newly formed committee’s liaison with the European Parliament. Sofia Sakorafa quit the PASOK party in 2010 when George Papandreou pushed through the memorandum signed conjointly with the Troika. Already in December 2010 as a Greek MP she was favourable to a proposition to create a debt audit. In 2011, she took part in launching a committee for the citizen’s audit of Greek debt (ELE). In 2012 she was the the Greek MP, all parties considered, elected with the highest number of votes. Georges Katrougalos, Minister for institutional reform was also present at the press conference to bring his support to the Parliamentary Speaker’s initiative. Georges Katrougalos had also participated in the launching of ELE. Finally, the Parliamentary Speakerhailed the presence of ELE members: Moisis Litsis, Sonia and Giorgos Mitralias ( CADTM Greece), and Leonidas Vatikiodis (one of the authors of the films Debtocracy and Catastroïka).

The Greek, as well as French and Spanish, media have widely reported this press conference:(Le Monde, Le Soir, L’Echo, L’Avenir, Agence France Presse...), as well as publicly run radio stations in Belgium and Romansh Switzerland. The one o’clock news on the Belgian public radio and television service broadcast an interview with Eric Toussaint live from Syndagma place in Athens just after the press conference (can be seen here).

JPEG - 75.8 kb
Sofia Sakorafa, Zoe Konstantopoulou and Eric Toussaint at the press conference

In all, about thirty Greek and International experts will take part in the commission and a preliminary report is expected in June. “Either when the 20 February agreement comes to termination or when a new round of negotiations will start”, says Adea Guillot, permanent correspondant to Le Soir and Le Monde. Not all of the names of the commission members will not be known until the first meeting in early April. From April to June is not much time but that will only be the beginning. Eric Toussaint said in an interview given to the Belgian financial newspaper L’Echo “We will make a preliminary report in June mostly concerning the debt claimed by the Troika, now called the ’Institutions’, but the whole audit will probably take until December 2015. The goal of the commission is to show to the Greek people, by deep reaching analysis, the nature of the loans made to Greece. This matter is urgent, the Greek people are being stigmatised”.

Zoé Konstantopoulou is already being accused by different Greek political parties (New Democracy, PASOK and Potami) of fanning the flames of dissent. But this woman, who has an enormous capacity for work (http://www.lemonde.fr/international... ), will keep going. “A whole people has been pushed to its knees and we cannot accept to be subjected to such propaganda (…) We have a duty to act or this debt will burden our future generations.”

In any case the Debt Audit Commission is not a substitute for the Greek government who will decide which debts should be paid and which debts should be erased. Again as Adea Guillot remarked: “Once the result of the audit is known, and should it conclude that a part of the Greek debt is illegitimate, nothing will oblige the creditors to accept pure and simple write-offs of their loans. But ’the Greek government could take the sovereign decision not to pay’, says Eric Toussaint. ’Our commission seeks to provide solid and rational arguments to support the Greek government should it take this course of action’, he added”.

Translation : Mike Krolikowski

Plantation workers interests sacrificed to keep owners happy

Plantation workers interests sacrificed to keep owners happy

Sushovan Dhar

 

The eastern states of India, Assam and West Bengal, together contribute around 70% of the tea produced in India. Employing 1.2 million workers in around 1,500 tea gardens, this 150 year old industry is also one of the economic pillars of the region. It is estimated that between 6-7 million people depend on the tea industry in the region for their livelihood. The industry is a major foreign exchange earner with volumes of export and the prices rising every year. The domestic market is also expanding fast prompting the Tea Board to forecast that by 2020 India's tea production would fall short of estimated demands. Though this trend may be good for our current-account deficit economy and for the companies owning plantations, it has hardly any positive impact on the lives of the workers. They still remain as the most poorly paid workers in the organized sector. The total wage of a tea plantation worker in the states of Assam and West Bengal is less than any other organized sector workers and in West Bengal this also falls much short of the unorganized sector workers covered by Minimum Wages. For instance, the agricultural workers receive Rupees (Rs) 206 as minimum daily wage while the tea garden workers even after the recent hike are subjected to work at Rs 112.50 per day. Furthermore, the vast majority is engaged as daily rated workers and work on a 'no work no pay basis'.

 

West Bengal is the second largest tea growing state in India after Assam and home to the world renowned Darjeeling tea. The state contributes more than 21 per cent to India's total tea production. North Bengal (the region of the province of West Bengal where there are tea gardens) has about 276 gardens spread out in the Darjeeling hills, Terai and Dooars region with around 4,50,000 workers.

 

Table 1: PRODUCTION: (Quantity in Million Kgs, Source:Indian Tea Association ITA)

 

 

1998

2005

2007

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

Production

874

946

986

979

966

1116

1126

1200

Imports

9

17

16

25

20

21

21

20

Exports

210          

199

179

198

222

215

208

212

Consumption

650          

760

798

839

860

881

903

926

 

Table 2: Tea Growing Regions

 

 

Acreage

Production (Million Kgs)

ASSAM

Assam Valley, Cachar

32214 ha

588

WEST BENGAL

Darjeeling Dooars, Terai

115095 ha

276

SOUTH INDIA

Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka

119740 ha

232

OTHERS

Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, Manipur, Nagaland

713769 ha

16

 

 

 

Prominent players in the tea industry in West Bengal are Tata Tea, Williamson Magor Group, Goodricke Group and Duncans Group. The Williamson Magor Group has recently invested US$ 20 million on its facilities to increase its packaged tea business.

 

The lush green and charming view of the tea estates of North Bengal hide a bleak reality - malnutrition and starvation deaths. More than 100 people have reportedly died in five closed tea gardens since January 2014. However, the current Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in the state, like its predecessor, the Left Front government, refuses to acknowledge any such death. Unofficial estimates say that the death toll for the past one and a half decade, of workers and their families, in the closed gardens of Dooars and Terai, may well cross 1,000.

 

New Wage Agreement

 

A tripartite agreement with every union (i.e. of CPIM, RSP, Congress, Trinamool Congress (TMC) etc.) except Progressive Plantation Workers Union (PPWU), as signatories was signed on 20th February 2015. The agreement provides for an increase of Rs. 17.50 and Rs. 22.50 for the first year in Dooars/Terai region and  Hill region respectively, followed by Rs 10.00 each in next two years consecutively, thereby raising the daily wages of daily rated workers to Rs. 112.50, Rs. 122.50 & Rs. 132.50 from April 2014 to March 2017. Though the tea industry is in the Schedule of Minimum Wages in West Bengal, about 4 decades ago, the unions decided that it was more advantageous to go for an industry level tripartite agreement, as minimum wages were increasing very slowly. For some years, this was advantageous for the workers , but later with higher rates of inflation, and weakened bargaining power of the unions, wage increases became marginal and tea plantation workers found they were being paid pittance wages. In 2005, things worsened further. In the agreement, wages were increased by only Rs.8 over a three year period. Worst still, wages, for the first time, became productivity linked. Horrifyingly, this defeat came after a long and resolute strike of almost 15 days by the unions, when many workers lost wages for that period. In 2008, again the tripartite agreement could yield only an increase of Rs.14 over three years and in 2011, wages were increased by Rs.28 to reach Rs.95 after three years. In the process, with continuing inflation, the gap between what the workers needed and what they got widened. Between 2003 and 2010, huge numbers of starvation deaths took place, with studies showing that even workers in open gardens were malnourished.

 

Table 3: Wage increment vis-a-vis inflation

Year

Increment(Rs)

Wage (Rs)

Increment (%)

Inflation for the corresponding period (compounded)

1987-90

2.55

13.80

22.67

22.96

1990-93

5.50

19.30

39.86

47.68

1994-97

7.00

26.30

36.27

32.37

1997-2000

8.50

34.80

32.32

27.05

2000-03

11.10

45.90

31.90

21.31

2005-08

8.00

53.90

17.43

17.63

2008-11

13.10

67.00

24.30

34.64

2011-14

28.00

95.00

41.79

32.22

2014-17

37.50

132.50

39.47

??

 

A comparative study of the previous eight wage agreements since 1987 suggests that on four occasions the hike for the three year period was much lesser than the inflation for the corresponding period. On a couple of occasions the “increment” managed to beat the inflation by a few percentage points. It is amply clear that workers have seen their real wages erode significantly making them one of the worst sufferers at the expense of companies and international consumers. Secondly, the compounded increment for the agreement period (2014-17) is 39.47 which is lower than 41.79 of the previous agreement period (2011-14).

 

There are also debates regarding the calculation of inflation for workers. In India, inflation for workers is measured by the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) which is computed using the wholesale price of a basket of goods. The WPI basket has a number of items that has very little to do with workers' daily needs. For instance, the WPI keeps a tab of steel prices and the products that are made from it. And it does not account for services of any kind, whether housing, transport or education that impact consumers. Additionally, contribution of food prices to inflation is an important parameter while estimating the impacts of inflation on the workers. A number of studies has shown that food inflation takes a bigger toll on the poor because they spend most of their income on food. Therefore, a higher food inflation reduces the workers' real income disproportionately since a large part of their budget is tied to food. According to RBI reports “Beginning 2005-06:Q2 till 2012-13:Q4, with the exception of few quarters during 2007-08 and 2011-12, food inflation in terms of wholesale price index (WPI) remained above overall inflation. The quarterly food inflation grew at an average rate of 10.16 per cent during this period compared with 6.76 per cent for overall inflation.”

 

 

Failed commitments

 

During this period, other promises also remained on paper. After 33 years of Left rule, the West Bengal government issued a gazette notification declaring a draft minimum wage in August 2010. However, despite the fact that this wage could have been finalised and declared as the minimum wage within three months of the draft notification, this was not done. The Left Front lost power in May 2011, without having made such a declaration. In 2011, it was agreed that modalities for a variable dearness allowance (VDA) would be worked out immediately. However, in the three years between 2011 and 2014, the owners didn't care to work on this, nor did the TMC government force the owners to abide by the agreement signed by them.

 

The present agreement has thus been preceded by wage agreements that gave pittance increases, by broken promises and by a draft minimum wage notification that was never finalised. It was in this atmosphere that the United Tea Workers Front (UTWF) was formed to bring together large unions like DTDPLU (Darjeeling Terai Doars Plantation Labour Union) and PTWU (Progressive Tea Workers Union) who were not part of the two existing joint committees of tea workers, the CITU led Coordination Committee and the HMS led Defence Committee. This time from the very beginning of wage negotiations the UTWF was not ready for any paltry lump sum settlement,  instead it stuck to the call to incorporate the tea industry within the purview of minimum wages, under Minimum Wages Act, 1948. Initially, the rest of the unions, especially the CITU led Coordination Committee was emphasizing on Variable Dearness Allowance, but subsequently all unions (including UTWF members) formed the Joint Forum for minimum wages and started demanding it unitedly. Several rounds of tripartite discussions failed. A few months ago, the owners/planters association indicated that they would raise the wages by only Rs. 37.00 in three years. The Government of West Bengal pushed the unions to accept that amount and promised that they would look into the minimum wages matter later. At that point all the unions jointly condemned the proposal and rejected it, leading to a failure of that round of negotiation. The present agreement, which is being termed a 'Political Victory' has been settled after a few months for exactly the same proposed amount. In a situation of frequent starvation deaths and deaths due to malnutrition of the tea workers, what is the political victory achieved by increasing Rupees 10-20 a day when on a national scale all the Central trade unions are demanding a minimum wage of Rs. 15000/- per month? In terms of amount of wage increase this agreement can therefore be termed nothing short of “shocking”.

 

A questionable victory

 

Some unions have claimed a victory because the agreement is to remain in force till the wages under Minimum Wage Act were effected. The agreement refers to a government notification, declaring the formation of “a Minimum Wages Advisory Committee for the state of West Bengal to hold enquiries and advise the State Government in the matter of fixing and revising the minimum rates of wages payable to the employees.” The agreement requested this committee to give its report “as early as possible”. The Government notified the minimum wage advisory committee on 17th February 2014, three days before the agreement was signed. The agreement therefore did little to add more teeth to this notification to ensure minimum wages in any way.     

                

No deadline has been mentioned in the agreement for the completion of the Committee’s report and its submission. Nor is there any guarantee that the State Government will accept the advice of the committee and declare a minimum wage. The Minimum Wages Advisory Committee on the other hand has been given a term of two years only. Keeping in mind the history of broken promises in the tea sector, it is little wonder that a section of the workers feel they could be cheated once again.

 

 

If an agreed and signed tripartite agreement on VDA can be flouted so easily, we have reason to believe that a separate and de-linked government notification can be easily thrown into the waste paper bin. The signatories of the agreement have said that they shall continue their struggle for implementation of minimum wage. Some of the major unions gave a deputation to the Governor demanding minimum wages just a few days after signing the agreement, which shows that they have little confidence in the agreement they signed. If struggle is the only way to achieve a decent wage, then why did we stop and not carry on with the same unprecedented unity for a few more months? Was there any sign of workers getting tired? Ir was the agreement giving us a remarkable raise that would encourage the workers for more militant struggles? Neither of these is true. So the question still remains – why this agreement? whose interests were served?

 

It is a shame that the workers remain impoverished and that the collective bargaining process is used for maintaining systemic exploitation in relative and absolute terms. Tea workers earn a pittance of the profits garnered on the open market, especially in foreign countries. In effect, multinationals and local capitalists are equally responsible for the super-exploitation of workers. It is hard to believe that tea workers and their families can sustain on these wages-even if the cost of living is minimal. This collective bargaining process maintains a system of oppression. We must recognize the relative and absolute forms of exploitation among tea workers and all peasants in the region. Relatively speaking they are no better off--in absolute terms they are entrenched in poverty that is reminiscent of serfs in Tsarist Russia or slaves in the United States.

 

Postscript: The role of the Left and other small left unions

 

Who is the leader of the tall claim of political victory and successful settlement? It is the CITU, the trade union front of CPIM who did not bother to consider the implementation of minimum wage in the tea-sector in their 34 year long rule in West Bengal. Instead, they have continuously denied the series of starvation deaths of tea workers during their regime. They painted those deaths as natural or due to diseases or due to old age. Now, when they are out of power and similar deaths are taking place one after another, their past shameless defence of starvation deaths through a series of lies is being reiterated countered by the TMC government in a copycat fashion. When CPIM left office in 2011 the daily wages of the tea workers were just Rs. 68. Unfortunately, unions and forces that claim to be struggling are tailing this CPIM. We are firmly of the opinion that the agreement that has been signed and the settlement made is a starvation wage agreement.  

 

It is unfortunate, but a fact that unions of CPIML Liberation, SUCI(C), CPIML Kanu Sanyal group and PCC-CPIML are also part of this agreement. However, they are merely paper unions and represent some tens of workers among few lakhs and therefore have no real claim of things shaping in tea industries. Moreover, both the CPIML Liberation and SUCI(C), who otherwise have some presence in the state and in other parts of the country, are suffering from political frustrations and are taking refuge under the wings of CPIM, both in the state and in the country as a whole. While for the PCC, the political bankruptcy has reached such a level that it advocates an alliance even with bourgeois forces like the Congress or the TMC in the name of fighting the BJP's rise. The necessity of an alliance with the bourgeois parties to fight the BJP, while depriving workers of their legitimate dues and rights is highly questionable. Though it is a matter of another debate, one thing is sure for now that it is impossible for these small left organisations to independently hold the flag of class battle high. We believe that this role in the trade union field is merely the outcome of their political decision to trail after the CPI (M) in the name of a bigger left unity even while the CPI (M) is running after the Congress, and all the so-called secular democratic bourgeois parties.


After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket: thinking through the new and rethinking the old

After the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket: thinking through the new and rethinking the old

Pierre Rousset 11 February 2015

We should start with a worrying observation. Heads of state understood the importance of the events of January. Representatives of “democracies” and dictatorships alike, they came to Paris and locked arms together to show solidarity “at the highest levels”. A spectacular gesture if ever there was one! On the other hand, a significant segment of the radical Left thought it was just business as usual. To be sure, some organizations published declarations of solidarity (and deserve genuine thanks for this) as well as articles grappling with the significance of the events. But many others felt it was enough to score debating points, correct as they may have been (against cross-party national unity, for example); or had as their first concern the need to distance themselves from the victims (declaring “Je ne suis pas Charlie” [“I am not Charlie”] in flagrant disregard for the message intended by those saying “Je suis Charlie” [“I am Charlie”]); or, far worse, felt the urgent task was to assassinate morally those who had just been assassinated physically. Soon after the events, I co-wrote an article with François Sabado in which we specifically sought to understand what was so unique about the event and its implications in relation to our tasks. [1] No doubt, much more needs to be said on that score, but I’d like the text that follows (and which deals in large measure with the state of radical-Left opinion) to be read in conjunction with the previous one to avoid pointless repetition.

 

The unique character of the event

 

I’ll be referring in particular to an interview with Gilbert Achcar, with which I agree on many points of analysis, but which also contains a number of surprising blind spots. The first of these has to do with the unique character of the event. Gilbert seeks to trivialize the whole affair. “The reaction [to the attacks] has been what anybody would expect. […] These were quite similar reactions from appalled and frightened societies [the USA after 911 and France now] — and, of course, the crimes were appalling indeed. In both cases, the ruling class took advantage of the shock […] There is nothing much original about all this. Instead, what is rather original is the way the discussion evolved later on.” [2] Gilbert is quite right to point out [elsewhere in the same interview] that it is extremely exaggerated to place the Charlie Hebdo attack and the September 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center Twin Towers on the same footing. And yet millions of people spontaneously took to the streets following the French events, unlike what happened following previous no less atrocious attacks, such as the murder of children in front of a Jewish school in Toulouse. So, as far as the “national context” is concerned, the reaction to the January crimes is certainly not trivial and merits specific attention. Of course, there is something unpredictable and elusive about such a unique event. How to know which straw will break the camel’s back? Let me nonetheless suggest a handful of hypothetical answers. One feature of the attack was that it appeared to have been carried out by a trained military commando, and not by a “lone wolf” – evoking a planned action, organized by one or more movements (an impression subsequently borne out). Then there was the nature of the gory “message”: a warning to the press (which journalists clearly felt and understood). Then, with the attack on the Hyper Cacher Jewish grocery store, the perception (also borne out subsequently) that there were multiple targets. And the backdrop of all this: the crisis in Iraq and Syria, the growth of the Islamic State (even if the attack against Charlie Hebdo was ordered by Al-Qaida in Yemen). A general feeling that we have entered a new and more dangerous phase. On this point, at least, the comparison with 911 is probably valid, but only if we factor in what has happened over the past decade and half (in particular the hope and despair of the uprisings in the Arab world). We have to take this context fully into account. It makes the second unique feature of the January events all the more remarkable, as François Sabado and I said in the opening of our co-authored piece. The mass demonstrations in France expressed open-ended solidarity, massive opposition to racism and to equating terrorism with Islam. In the current context, is this a trivial matter? I don’t think so. Quite significantly, in a survey carried out 10 days after the massacre, the Ipsos polling agency found there had been a big decrease in “tensions regarding Islam”: “We have to distinguish between levels and trends. With respect to levels, there are still 47 percent of people in France who, when considering the way the Muslim religion is practised in France, believe that ‘this religion is not compatible with the values of French society’ which is quite a high level. With respect to the trends, though, this level is 10 points lower – and not higher – than what we observed one year ago. This is where we can see that there has not been an increase in distrust.” [3] Let’s just say that the January events have given rise to two contradictory trends within the population. On the one hand, a clear rise in the number of racist and Islamophobic acts, but from a minority segment of French society. On the other, a rise in fraternal feeling among the majority. [4] There is a third unique feature that should be highlighted: the solidarity expressed by a number of organizations representing immigrants to France (from North Africa in particular), and from organizations and individuals in a number of Arab and Middle Eastern countries, despite the vicious portrait that has been painted of Charlie Hebdo. In our earlier article, we spoke primarily of the feeling of alienation found among marginalized and precariously employed young people, because this is of paramount importance with respect to our responsibilities and tasks. I’d now like to focus on the solidarity that has been expressed. It is one feature of a contradictory state of affairs, but it is nonetheless revealing of what the main issues are for those who are in the clutches of fundamentalism or feel threatened by it. These same issues are also systematically obscured by those who seek to put Charlie Hebdo on trial – when it is not about taking “the French” more generally to task, a combat sport very much in vogue in the Anglo-American world. It is indeed a commonplace when governments take advantage of such events to enact a new series of freedom-destroying measures and dress up imperialism with talk of human rights. And it works, too, because security measures receive widespread support. On the other hand, the visit “en masse” and in the heat of the events by heads of state and their representatives is not a commonplace. This surprising development was a function of the international context and its novel character, and was definitely not prompted by a desire to defend civil liberties or give a leg up to François Hollande. And this is the fourth unique feature of the January events. It confirms our need for collective thinking about the evolution of the world situation and its implications. [5] There is of course much in common between what happened in France and in other countries reeling from a devastating attack. So why is it important to underscore the unique character of what happened? To do justice to the event and grasp its complexity. This helps deal with new developments and avoid merely repeating what we have been saying for years. It enables us to more effectively tackle the question of our tasks by avoiding simplistic explanations and one-size-fits-all judgements. So I’ll focus my thinking on what I see to be new and complicated, and regarding which I often don’t have tried and tested answers.

 

Religious fundamentalism here and there

 

To a large extent, the Western radical Left is ill-equipped to fight against religious fundamentalism, for a number of reasons. For many years now, sections of the Western radical Left, and not minor ones, have cast the strong rise of fundamentalism in the Muslim world in a very positive light – as a (more or less distorted) expression of anti-imperialism, whereas they are actually (as in other religions) reactionary and counter-revolutionary currents. More broadly, a number of currents have adopted the detestable habit of only defending the victims of their “main enemy” (their government, their imperialism), without worrying about the victims of the “enemies of their enemies” – in this case, fundamentalist Islam. They do so in the name of exclusive “priorities” or, worse, on the basis that defending such victims amounts to an act of complicity with imperialism. We should note in passing that the same kind of reasoning can be applied to victims of a so-called “anti-imperialist” dictatorship such as the Assad regime in Syria. What’s more, wrong conclusions have often been drawn on the basis of a correct observation: the condition of populations identified as Muslim is not the same “here at home” as it is in majority-Muslim countries. “Here at home” we of course have to fight racism, state Islamophobia, the racialization of social discrimination, and so forth. However, there is no impenetrable barrier between “over there” and “here at home”. Even as “minorities”, non-state actors are in a position to practise oppression against other minorities or within “their” own “community” – against women, for example. Finally, in a large majority of cases, the Western Left is not rooted within precarious layers of the population, even though many solidarity initiatives are organized (including in France, whatever some may say) in support of undocumented immigrants, the homeless, and so on. As Gilbert Achcar points out, this is a worrying state of affairs, without being specific to France. “What is usually called the ‘radical Left’ […] has a poor record on relating to people of immigrant origin. This is a major failure—though, of course, you can find similar situations in most imperialist countries.” This considerably limits our ability to act (or even to be well-informed), at a time when these same precarious layers are occupying an increasingly crucial place in a number of our countries. I don’t place an equal sign between “precarious layers” and people “of immigrant origin” (for how many generations is one “of” some “origin” or another?). Both categories are heterogeneous. But if we were better rooted in these social layers, the question of relations with the precarious segment of the immigrant and immigrant-offspring population would at least be partially settled. The role of political Islam in power (Egypt), and of “radical” Islamisms against popular revolutions in the Arab world, has largely clarified the debate about whether these political-religious currents are progressive or not. As to the impenetrable barrier between over there and here at home, it is actually rather porous after all. That was to be expected (and sometimes it was). The observation is unassailable: Salafism, Wahhabism and other fundamentalisms (including evangelical fundamentalism among Christians) now have roots in Europe. We shouldn’t take this question lightly. These movements are enemies of progressives, but also of “non-compliant” Muslims (that is to say, the large majority). They have to be fought with and for Muslims, as part of our project of a society based on solidarity. We have to fight on many fronts at the same time: against anti-egalitarian and discriminatory policies, against Islamophobia and racism, and against the far-Right and religious fundamentalisms that, in France, have become or are once again dangerous political forces (including in their Christian variants). We’re not prepared for this complex fight. We’re aware of some of the causes, but only some of them. To move forward, we can’t be satisfied with truisms (however valid they continue to be). We have to closely examine things we’re not used to talking about, including things that are unexpected and surprising. Here are two examples. We never tire of repeating the fact that imperialist wars (such as the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003) have created the fertile ground on which the Islamic State has prospered. Quite right, and we have to keep repeating this so that no one believes that imperialist war is the answer. But another cause are the policies pursued by ruling classes in the Muslim world. A recent issue of the NPA’s French-language weekly l’Anticapitaliste takes up this question, but only with great trepidation. [6] After all, fundamentalist movements aren’t just reacting to the behaviour of imperialist powers. They have become players in their own right, with their own plans, their own histories and their own roots. It isn’t their barbaric acts that should prompt us to address the question of religious fascism. When Farooq Tariq, for example, characterizes some of these movements as representing a new form of religious fascism, he does so on the basis of an assessment of the way their social base has evolved in Pakistan. [7] Is such an assessment open to debate? Of course, but it should at least be taken seriously, coming as it does from a country torn asunder by sectarian conflict. The backdrop for religious fundamentalisms is evolving rapidly and past analyses, however relevant they may be, have to be brought up to date. The Islamic State, for example, is a recent development and may itself be undergoing rapid change. To be sure, none of the affected countries resemble the Europe of the inter-war period. Still, these movements fulfill functions (against the Arab revolutions, for example) comparable to those of European fascisms (against the workers movement). Some of these movements, in Pakistan at any rate, have built a real mass base within extremely reactionary segments of the educated middle classes [8], and also within “plebeian” layers through Koranic schools. Perhaps we should speak of fundamentalist political-religious movements of a fascist type. It’s not that I want to come up with a one-size-fits-all term, but I feel there is a need to update our analysis of fundamentalisms (in the plural). Which brings me to my second example. We (rightly) stress that it’s not religion that lies at the origin of the radicalization of young French nationals going to Syria, but social despair, the daily experience of discrimination, injustice, and the well-known double standard. Religion is only a “vector” and not a “factor”, to use Julien Salingue’s terminology. [9] But once the “vector” has led to sectarian involvement in a fundamentalist current, the latter becomes a “factor” driving forward a social vision (which includes power over women and the dehumanization of the “other”) and cloaking barbaric acts with religious justification, whatever the personal motivations may be. We have to hone in on socio-economic questions to deal with root causes, but this settles neither the political question (new far-Right formations) nor the uses to which religion is put. And then there are facts that don’t fit in to our traditional analytical approach — and that too, whether or not one believes this approach is valid. For example, what to make of the significant numbers of converts to Islam one finds among the French nationals joining fundamentalist movements? Or the involvement of teenagers from stable families and backgrounds, including from quiet towns in the countryside? There are also highly-skilled young people who would have no difficulty finding employment and yet have chosen to contribute their know-how to the Islamic State (hackers, for example), not to mention those who are taken in by calls for humanitarian assistance in Syria. Indeed, how is it that the usual methods of sects and cults of all sorts – which cut off the targeted individual from their usual environment – work so effectively? I think we would do well to study these questions further to enrich and broaden our understanding. In France, the bulk of our writing is aimed at countering our leaders’ hypocritical claims and the lies of the dominant ideology. This is correct and necessary. The problem, though, is that with such an approach we risk repeating what we already knew and going no further. We have unambiguously condemned the murders, but often without drawing explicit conclusions in terms of tasks. And yet we have to create much stronger ties than before between solidarity with progressive currents facing fundamentalists (and dictatorial regimes) from Syria to Pakistan, on the one hand, and resistance in Europe to the powerful upsurge of these new far-Right political-religious forces. This is something we have to do in our program and in our methods, with Muslims and in their defense. Otherwise, we won’t be providing convincing alternatives to the security agenda and will be yielding this terrain to our adversaries, the state and the “Western” far-Right.

 

Is Charlie Hebdo the problem?

 

In some activist circles in France and, especially, in the international blogosphere (particularly in the English language), the “problem” appears to be none other than Charlie Hebdo itself. So much so that some even neglect to condemn the murderers, or support the victims in the way a noose supports a hanged man. I have learned to despise the phrase “of course, murder can never be justified,” invariably followed by a lethal “but…”. I’ve had a few e-mail exchanges with an Indian correspondent who, having tried to find what in recent issues of Charlie Hebdo had “provoked” the attack, was surprised not to find anything. There’s a reason for this: there was no controversy surrounding Charlie at the time of the attack. The magazine had fallen back into relative obscurity and was struggling to make ends meet. If Charlie Hebdo hadn’t existed, the January attacks would have taken place nonetheless, because they were a response to the role played by the French state in the Middle East and Africa. This is why France was chosen rather than Denmark, country of origin of the notorious Muhammad caricatures. [10] The political targets were the press, the police and Jews. There is no wanting for physical and symbolic targets. Demonized as it was, Charlie Hebdo was useful, but in no way indispensable. So it was in no way indispensable to in turn “judge” Charlie in order to analyze the nature and scope of the attacks, the nature of the organizations that ordered them and the ways in which the international context has changed. But just as much as there has been a profusion of writing about Charlie Hebdo, there has been a paucity of commentary on these questions. The organizations that ordered or inspired the January attacks spend a great deal of their time massacring Muslims. They manipulate religious feelings as others manipulate national feelings and feelings of identity more broadly. We’re not talking about a bar room brawl between one of Charlie’s illustrators and a French youth of Arab background hurt by his drawings! We’re talking about politically rational acts given the goals pursued by al-Qaeda in Yemen and the Islamic State (as for the rationality of the individual perpetrators of the attacks, I prefer to take a more prudent approach than Julien Salingue has). But the political rationality has not caught the attention of many commentators let alone prompted them to investigate the matter further. “Suis-je Charlie?” (“Am I Charlie?”) has become the top question agitating the blogosphere. And the question can indeed be the starting point for an interesting series of reflections – but only based on an understanding that the question can feed a dangerous misunderstanding when counterposed to the statement “Je suis Charlie”; if it leads to stating “Je ne suis pas Charlie” (“I am not Charlie”), or something along those lines. “Je suis Charlie” never meant identifying with the real or supposed editorial line of Charlie Hebdo, but was simply a statement of human solidarity with the victims. A straightforward form of solidarity, with no “ifs, ands or buts”, as is called for in such circumstances – and not a political statement. Counterposing “Je ne suis pas Charlie” to “Je suis Charlie” means beginning to measure out one’s level of solidarity according to one’s level of political agreement. I know that this isn’t the intention of some who have used this fashionable tagline. However, among many others, a desire to minimize solidarity with the victims, to undermine their standing, or even to put them on trial, has been plain to see. And this is a very serious matter. There are certainly many legitimate debates to be had about creative freedom, press freedom, freedom of expression and the responsibility of creators, journalists and the man and woman on the street. The reasons why French youth of Arab background refuse to identify with Charlie Hebdo are clear and legitimate. But here we’re talking about Left political organizations and individuals who, in the aftermath of the attacks, determined that it was more urgent to proclaim “Je ne suis pas Charlie” – or even to counterpose the statement “Nous sommes tous des musulmans” (“We are all Muslims”) to “Je suis Charlie”. [11] We are to understand, then, that the real victims weren’t the ones felled by the assassins’ bullets, but rather those who had supposedly been the object of the murder victims’ derision, because Charlie Hebdo was an “ideological representation” of oppression. Richard Fidler (who, it goes without saying, condemns the act of murder) issues the following extraordinary warning: “Above all, we must not allow ourselves to make the same mistake made by the Charlie Hebdo assassins — identifying the source of their oppression with its ideological representation, not its material, class basis.” Themselves oppressors of Muslims, the assassins didn’t make any mistakes as far as selecting targets goes. Their targets were perfectly in keeping with the goals of fundamentalist movements. The British SWP pushed things particularly far in this area. The Central Committee statement released following the Charlie Hebdo massacre is written from start to finish in such a way as to minimize the responsibility of the assassins, even if the attack is described as “wrong and completely unacceptable” and the killings as “horrific”. Alongside imperialism, Charlie Hebdo comes off as a major guilty party due to its “provocative and racist attacks on Islam,” adding for good measure that while “that does not justify the killings, but it is essential background.” The only task of the hour is therefore to “unite against racism and Islamophobia”. [12] It’s easy to understand why the SWP would react in this way, given that it has to erase its tracks and blind readers to its own responsibilities. It was one of the main organizations of the radical Left to describe the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as the expression of a new anti-imperialism. And when women in Britain itself called on progressive forces to support them against the fundamentalist threat, the SWP made it nearly impossible for them to get a hearing on the Left.

 

Is Charlie Hebdo racist?

 

Charlie Hebdo is a magazine, not an organization. It is put out by a number of journalists with a fairly wide range of opinions. Parts of its history have been turbulent and questionable, such as the chapter that followed the 911 attacks under the editorship of Philippe Val. I have to confess that I have never been a reader of Charlie Hebdo or the Canard enchaîné, although I very much liked the work of the murder victims – especially of Cabu, Wolinsky, Charb and Tignous. Their drawings regularly appeared in Left-activist publications, such as Rouge, my own organization’s newspaper for many years. Others have written about the history of Charlie Hebdo and its illustrators better than I could. [13] Was Charlie Hebdo the ideal victim? Perhaps not, but why should it be? The accusations levied against Charlie’s murder cartoonists often sound like the charges directed at a woman who has been raped. Wasn’t she dressed very scantily? Wasn’t her behaviour provocative? Doesn’t she have a wayward past? First comes suspicion then comes the indictment: Charlie Hebdo was racist. In much of the English-language blogosphere, the verdict has been promptly delivered, an open-and-shut case, repeated round-the-clock, indisputable. Trial by falsification is a simple affair. You merely have to select those drawings that might seem racist while ignoring the much larger number that are explicitly anti-racist. [14] You describe any cartoon of Muhammad as Islamophobic, even when the point is to distinguish between Islam and fundamentalists – such as Cabu’s famous cover illustration presenting the Prophet with his head in his hands bemoaning that “it’s tough to be loved by fools”. Incidentally, many English-language commentators display characteristic cultural imperialism when they refuse to take into account French traditions of satirical cartooning and anticlericalism (or do so only to criticize these traditions). In any case, many don’t seek to understand complexity but rather to give a dog a bad name and shoot it. It’s absolutely frightening to see this approach at work and to see where it can lead. After all, as Gilbert Achcar says, “Some of the people involved in Charlie Hebdo were very much on the left. Stéphane Charbonnier, known as Charb, the editor of the magazine, who was the principal target of the assassins, was, by any standard, someone on the left. He had close ties with the Communist Party and the general milieu of the Left. His funerals were held to the tune of ‘The Internationale’ [15] and his eulogy by Luz, a surviving member of the Charlie Hebdo editorial staff, included a bitter criticism of the French right and far right, and of the Pope as well as of Benjamin Netanyahu. In this respect, the comparison that some have made of Charlie Hebdo to a Nazi publication publishing anti-Semitic cartoons in Nazi Germany is completely absurd. Charlie Hebdo is definitely not a far-right publication—and present-day France definitely not a Nazi-like state.” Or as Michaël Löwy wrote the day after the massacre: “Infamy. That is the only word that can sum up how we feel about the murder of our friends at Charlie Hebdo. A crime made even more hateful because these artist comrades were people on the left, anti-racists, anti-fascists, anti-colonialists, sympathizers with communism and anarchism. [16] Just recently they contributed to a volume published in honour of the memory of a group of Algerians murdered by the French police in Paris on 17 October 1961. Their only weapons were the pen, humour, irreverence, and insolence—including against religion, in keeping with the age-old anti-clerical tradition of the French Left. On the cover of the last issue of the magazine before they were killed was a cartoon against the Islamophobic French novelist Michel Houellebecq, and inside was a page of cartoons against religion…the Catholic religion. Let’s remember that Charb, the editor-in-chief, was a cartoonist with revolutionary sympathies. He drew the illustrations for French revolutionary socialist Daniel Bensaïd’s book Marx: mode d’emploi [Marx: A User’s Manual]. Charb was also in attendance at the evening tribute event that was held for Bensaïd following his death, and drew a number of wry and affectionate caricatures that were projected onto the screen all through the evening.” [17] Some commentators even picked apart the issue put together by surviving contributors ten days after the massacre. Now I find this rather distasteful keeping in mind the psychological state the team must have been in while they worked. But read what Luz had to say [18] about the cover page he drew for the issue, depicting Muhammad holding a “Je suis Charlie” sign in his hands under the headline “All is forgiven” – a cover page that came into being with great difficulty. “[I thought about] the reason why part of the Charlie team was killed [the drawing of Muhammad on the cover of ‘Charia Hebdo’] and which also got our offices firebombed [in 2011]. I spoke to him. My poor old friend, I drew you back in 2011 and that caused us a lot of bother. In a way, it was almost like we were forgiving one another. As the illustrator, I was saying ‘I’m really sorry about dragging you into this,’ while he, as a character, who was forgiving me, was saying ‘It’s no big deal, you’re alive, so you can keep drawing me.’” Is this what an Islamophobic racist would say? As the imam and rector of the Bordeaux mosque Tareq Oubrou has said, “A cartoon is a cartoon. We are in a free country and it’s thanks to this freedom that Muslims can express themselves and practise their religion. We shouldn’t saw off the branch we’re sitting on […] The aim of these cartoons is conciliation; they’re even an act of kindness. You have to see the cartoons as something external to the problem of depicting the Prophet per se.” [19] Riss has replaced Charb as Charlie Hebdo editor-in-chief. He was injured in the attack (a bullet in the shoulder). Interviewed while leaving hospital, he spoke about the massacre, the history of Charlie Hebdo (which “to our great surprise has been turned into a symbol of the fight for secularism”) and concluded by saying, “People will eventually understand that all Muslims are not destined to become terrorists. You can be Muslim in a democracy, there’s no problem with that. Only dishonest people equate Islam with terrorism. And we can see who’s behind this. Terrorists have nothing to do with the overwhelming majority of French nationals of Muslim faith.” [20] Is this what an Islamophobic racist would say? All these remarks were made in the aftermath of an appalling ordeal. And yet our falsifiers don’t care a jot about this. They carefully neglect to inform their audience about the victims’ activist commitments or about the survivors’ statements against equating Muslims with terrorists. These commentators also don’t have much to say about the Jewish victims of the attacks. Empathy and humanity aren’t their strong point. What kind of society would such people usher in?

 

Three questions to conclude

 

I’ve taken the time to defend the victims of the January 7th attack because this is what those of us who knew them personally and used so many of their illustrations owe them in the face of such slanderous accusations. [21] Shortly after the massacre, Luz, one of the survivors, gave a doubt-laden interview that I think should be read by anyone seeking to understand. “We have been forced to shoulder responsibility for symbolic connotations that don’t exist in Charlie’s cartoons. […] Since the publication of the Muhammad cartoons, the irresponsible nature of cartoons has gradually disappeared […] our cartoons are read literally. Since 2007, Charlie has been scrutinized under the microscope of responsibility. Every one of our cartoons is now liable to being read through the lens of geopolitical conflicts and internal French political squabbles. These problems are laid on our doorstep. But we’re simply a magazine that is bought, opened and closed. When people post our cartoons on the Internet, or when the media draw attention to some of our cartoons, that’s their fault. Not ours. […] Unlike Anglo-American illustrators or [Le Monde illustrator] Plantu, Charlie fights against symbolism. Doves of peace and other metaphors of a world at war aren’t our cup of tea. We work on points of detail […] and tie them into French humour. Sometimes cutesy, other times crass […] Charlie is the sum of a number of very different people […].The nature of the cartoon changed depending on which cartoonist was working on it and their individual style, and on their political past in some cases, or artistic past in others. But this humility and diversity of expression no longer exist. Each cartoon is seen as having been drawn by all of us. [Becoming a unanimous symbol for national unity] helps Hollande rally the nation together. It helps [Front National leader] Marine Le Pen call for a reinstatement of the death penalty. Everyone can use this kind of broad symbolism in any way that catches their fancy. Even Poutine can agree with a dove of peace. But that’s precisely what set Charlie’s cartoons apart, since you couldn’t do whatever you fancied with them. When we surgically lampoon different sorts of obscurantism, when we hold political positions up to ridicule, we are not becoming a symbol. Charb, whom I consider to be the Jean-Marc Reiser of the late 20th-early 21st century, was a social commentator. He drew what was under the gloss, slightly ugly people with big noses. Right now we’re covered in a thick layer of gloss and I’m going to find that difficult.” [22] Creative freedom, freedom of expression and responsibility “Complete freedom for art” is what we used to say. [23] It might be useful to revisit surrealism in light of current debates regarding the relationship between the creator (no pun intended) and responsibility. Luz places Charlie Hebdo in the tradition of the illustrator’s limited responsibility. Responsibility ends with the publication of the magazine and doesn’t take into account the possible uses that others will make of the cartoons for fear of stifling creation and getting mired in symbolism. Those more knowledgeable than I describe this is a matter of the ethics of conviction versus the ethics of responsibility. [24] From an activist’s point of view (which is not the same as a creator’s), one cannot ignore the predictable consequences of one’s provocations. Attacking the goody-two-shoes of all religions is a very good thing indeed. Still, in France, can you take the same approach toward Muslim upholders of righteousness as you do toward their Catholic counterparts? I don’t think you can, because it means ignoring the relationship of oppression that changes the way writing or illustrations are read. To my knowledge, this is a question that Charlie Hebdo’s editorial team didn’t want to take into account and this explains (but only in part) the intensity of debates within the French Left about Charlie’s editorial line. Provocation becomes difficult when identity-based conflicts are on the rise. I nevertheless disagree with advocates of self-censorship. We must be blasphemous. Otherwise, we are in practise agreeing with the guardians of virtue who criminalize blasphemy. It shouldn’t be necessary to recall that the criminalization of blasphemy doesn’t seek to protect believers but rather to suppress opponents, like the crimes of lèse-majesté and desecrating national symbols (one of my first acts of protest was to refuse to rise for the French national anthem). Serious thinking about these questions is entirely legitimate. [25] I just doubt that its outcome can be a set of rules applicable everywhere and always.

 

Secularism, republicanism and post-colonialism

 

For Gilbert Achcar, the problem at hand stems in large measure from a tradition of “the Left’s arrogant secularism” that maybe fed by anticlericalism rooted in the long history of the French Left. For others, it’s about post-colonialism. Either way, there is supposedly a specifically “French problem”. A Filipino friend quite innocently asked me if the failure to organize immigrant workers in France was due to the fact that the country hadn’t come to terms with its colonial past – which implied that the failure was less obvious in other imperialist countries. I was struck by the friend’s question because we had just gone through the huge marches of January, which were remarkable in their rejection of xenophobia — whereas the US was nearly simultaneously rocked by the scandal of the raft of police murders of Blacks covered up by juries of peers. True, France’s colonial past has not been resolved, and especially not the Algerian War whose reputation the Right would like to rehabilitate. But the major powers of the 19th and 20th centuries were Anglo-American. Britain’s looting of the world produced massive famines. The US was built upon a genocide (of Native Americans) and in part also on the massive use of slaves. Where exactly in the imperialist world has this past been resolved? Yes, the organization of immigrant workers in France has largely been a failure, in part due to the position of the Communist Party (PCF) during the Algerian War. But where exactly has it been a real success? A number of struggles by immigrant workers have taken place in France in recent years, especially through the creation of committees of undocumented workers on the basis of national or regional origin. They have been supported by trade unions (including the CGT) and ordinary citizens. The government was hoping to trap undocumented workers by taking their children hostage as they made their way home from school. In response, a very active network of parents and teachers was established to protect the children and their families from the police and deportation. All this is nowhere near enough, of course, but where is the situation qualitatively so much more wonderful? My somewhat different starting point is the observation that integration policies have been a failure across the board. The far-Right is threateningly on the rise almost everywhere in Europe.This is the case even in countries which never (or barely) had colonies outside of Europe, so it’s clear that the post-colonial explanation doesn’t go very far. [26] The common explanatory thread running through all these countries is actually the universality of destructive neoliberal policies. In response, then, the arc of resistance has to be anchored in struggles around socio-economic questions. To be sure, in France we have specific problems stemming from a specific history. My generation didn’t learn how to deal with questions of “identity” or religion because they weren’t raised in such terms during our formative activist years. North African immigrants, for example, had a working-class consciousness. As Olivier Adam has humorously said, we lived in a “blessed era” and a “world without God”. [27] Charlie Hebdo was also cast from this mould. Yes, we can learn from countries that have a different history. But the reverse is also true. Is it not a problem that so many European countries still have royal families and state Churches – not least for the non-Christians excluded from this highly “visible” history? Isn’t the relative radicalism of the separation between Church and State found in France a useful cornerstone for building equal citizenship for all? Far more than an expression of support for cross-party national unity, the January marches were a show of republican unity – a specific, generous vision of the Republic and of shared citizenship. A vision, though, that is not recognized by those living on the margins, who know full well that equality is not the reality of the actually existing Republic. Indeed, the way the republic (and now also secularism) is conceived is a political battleground in France. “Secularism” (even “secularism à la française”) and “Republic” do not exist as monolithic entities. And this is why the banner of the “social Republic” is so important, as a way of refusing to yield to our adversaries a large swathe of popular history, which would ensure the victory of the Republic of the ruling classes.

 

Solidarity and identity

 

I’ve been really struck by the difficulty many organizations (and individuals) have had in standing back to assess the events of January. Many have analyzed the events solely through the prism of their particular areas of work – or of their own personal histories. I’m worried that this is merely a reflection of the level of fragmentation of activist thinking and action (and also, frankly speaking, of the individualism and narcissism inherent to the dominant ideology of neoliberalism). This fragmentation is deadly. The current ruling order is entirely lacking in legitimacy, whether democratic (fostering increasingly authoritarian regimes), socio-economic (destroying social rights) or historical. Its main strength lies in the division of the exploited and oppressed. It therefore seeks to destroy old forms of solidarity and prevent the formation of new ones. To this end, it uses every arrow in its quiver: young against old, men against women, stable jobs against precarious ones, nationals against immigrants, Chinese against Arabs, long-established Arab immigrants against recent ones, one type of racism against another, to name a few. From this angle, the attack on the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket may have serious consequences, setting “community against community” — cloaked under, and exacerbated by, the domestic impact of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Similarly, the government has been exploiting the January events to push through its program of bringing the schools to heel and imposing an anti-democratic and socially conservative agenda against young people. The target right now are young people who, in the absence of classroom discussion, refused to observe the minute of silence in memory of the Charlie Hebdo victims – most of whom happened to be of Muslim background. But the broader target are the “dangerous” classes and age groups, leading to a three-fold discrimination on the basis of “race”, generation and socio-economic background. Unity of the exploited and oppressed will not be built by denying the important of specific discrimination faced by “visible minorities”, in a way that prevents them from effectively asserting their own rights. Nor will it be achieved by pursuing identity politics that prioritize difference over collective resistance. Without a common fight, the battle is lost before it has begun.Such a fight requires reciprocal recognition of shared rights, but also a common socio-economic underpinning. The choice is clear, well and truly strategic in nature – and has concrete implications. There are many types of racism at work in France, and not just one. The Roma are indisputably the most oppressed – scapegoats par excellence. Those identified as Arab and Muslim are the most broadly discriminated against and the target of the dominant narrative. Whatever their religion, Blacks remain Blacks, victims of a more prototypical form of racism. In the recent period, Jews have been the only ones to have been the victims of targeted assassinations (in Toulouse, Brussels and at the Hyper Cacher Jewish supermarket [28]). Some forms of racism are forged by the state, while others aren’t – but all of them are poisonous, solidarity-destroying sources of division and dehumanization. And all of them must be fought in all-encompassing expressions of solidarity. So it would be better to avoid issuing anti-racist statements that fall short of this. There are multiple victims. Let’s defend all of them, within our means but with no pecking order, whosoever the oppressor may be. Should we defend Muslims with Muslims, shoulder-to-shoulder and without paternalism? Absolutely. That’s how we should defend the victims of Islamophobia – and also women “of Muslim background” who are victims of both ordinary and fundamentalist sexism. Can we all agree on this? We have a lot of work to do in order to bring ourselves up to date around a wide range of questions. But this work requires a guiding principle: the convergence of resistance, the building of solidarity, and the unity of the exploited and the oppressed.

 

 Notes

[1] François Sabado & Pierre Rousset, ESSF (article 34151), “France: Charlie Hebdo – And now what? The events, their impact and the issues at play.”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34151

[2] Gilbert Achcar, ESSF (article 34254), “Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket: What caused the killings?”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34254 All quotations from Gilbert Achcar are taken from this interview.

[3] ESSF (article 34237), “Charlie & Hyper Cacher – Après les attentats, « des clarifications qui ont fait baisser les tensions sur l’islam »’” :http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34237 Since it’s the same agency that has carried out a number of opinion surveys, it seems fair to conclude that the findings are indeed comparable.

[4] It’s also worth noting that another poll has revealed that opinions in France about Muslims are the most favourable among all the European countries looked at, with 72 percent of favourable opinions against 64 percent in Britain (ranked 2nd). See: http://artgoldhammer.blogspot.fr/2015/02/facts-about-muslim-population-in-europe.html. Of course, all these polls have to be examined more closely, but one explanation of the apparent differences that exist between polls might be related to the question that is asked. In one case, the question is about Islam (the religion), and in the other about Muslims (the people).

[5] ESSF section (1452), “ Le monde aujourd’hui”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?rubrique1452 and The world today: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?rubrique1451

[6] ESSF (article 34242), “Du Moyen-Orient à l’Afrique: le djihadisme, enfant monstrueux des politiques impérialistes et libérales”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34242

[7] See in particular ESSF (article 33874), “Pakistan: “It was an attack on Muslim children by Muslim fanatics” – Religious fanatics groups or the fascists in the making”:http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article33874 and (article 34192), “After Peshawar (Pakistan) and Paris (France) attacks: Challenge and response”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34192

[8] Among other things, the financial crises of 1997-1998 severely affected middle classes in a number of countries, creating a wave of social panic which radicalized urban middle classes to the right, going as far as an explicit rejection of democracy and the right of the poor to vote (in Thailand, for example).

[9] See ESSF (article 34154), “Don’t let mob rule prevail”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34154

[10] Since these words were written, an attack has indeed taken place in Copenhagen following the pattern in Paris: against freedom of expression (cartoonists) and Jews, causing two deaths. According to available information, it was an “aftershock”, an unplanned “copycat” attack in response to the Paris events and not a complex and minutely prepared operation such as what we saw in the French case. The case of Denmark is no less important, though, for understanding what is going on in European societies.

[11] Richard Fidler: http://lifeonleft.blogspot.ca/2015/01/je-suis-charlie-not-i-heres-why.html

[12] http://socialistworker.co.uk/art/39705/Socialist+Workers+Party+statement+on+Paris+killings

[13] On ESSF, see Ariane Chemin et Marion Van Renterghem (article 34022), “ « Charlie », de menaces en fatwas – Regard sur une histoire”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34022 or Philippe Corcuff (article 34027), “Charlie Hebdo – Mon ami Charb: les salauds, les cons, l’émotion ordinaire et la tendresse”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34027

[14] Two sociologists have looked at 523 cover pages of the magazine from January 2005 to January 2015. The main target is the Right. Religion is addressed in only seven percent of coverpages. Of these, more than half are mainly about Catholicism and fewer than 20 percent Islam (for a total of 1.3 percent of coverpages in the last ten years). So religion was a minor topic, with Catholicism getting the lion’s share of attention. See ESSF (article 34419), Les “unes” de “Charlie” analysées sur 10 ans: Non, « Charlie Hebdo » n’est pas obsédé par l’islam: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34419 Other sociologists have taken a different approach and come up with different numbers. But they all acknowledge that the lack of serious studies “leaves the door open to simplistic interpretations and solutions”. Unfortunately, snap judgements about Charlie Hebdo are all over the place, leading in particular to one-sided condemnations from organizations and individuals who haven’t actually read the magazine, hadn’t heard of it, and are unaware of any serious review studies about it (with good reason, since none exist).

[15] The Italian partisan song “Bella Ciao” was sung at Tignous’s funeral.

[16] Some of them, such as Tignous, were also personally involved in solidarity work with the struggle of undocumented migrants.

[17] Michael Löwy, ESSF (article 34246), “IInfamy – “That is the only word that can sum up how we feel about the the murder of our buddies at Charlie Hebdo””: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34246

[18] Luz is still alive because he arrived late for the editorial meeting. He saw the assassins run out and found his friends dead or dying. “We needed belts to stop the bleeding. I realized that I didn’t have one. So now I wear a belt.” See ESSF (article 34230), “« La majorité des musulmans s’en foutent de Charlie Hebdo »”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34230

[19] Tareq Oubrou , ESSF (article 34088), “En “une” de Charlie Hebdo – Tareq Oubrou: “L’intention de ces caricatures c’est l’apaisement”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34088

[20] Riss, ESSF (article 34140), Riss, directeur de la rédaction à Charlie Hebdo : « Tout le monde n’est pas obligé d’aimer “Charlie” »”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34140

[21] See also Camille Emmanuelle, ESSF (article 34221), “Charlie Hebdo : être aimé par des cons, c’est dur, être haï par des amis, c’est pire”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34221

[22] Luz, ESSF (article 34055), Luz, Charlie Hebdo survivor: “Luz, surviver of Charlie Hebdo: “We are being made to carry a symbolic responsibility (while) Charlie fights against symbolism.””: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34054

[23] https://www.marxists.org/subject/art/lit_crit/works/rivera/manifesto.htm

[24] See ESSF (article 34236), “Charlie Hebdo, liberté d’expression, démocratie, responsabilité”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34236

[25] On this point and the next one, see also Samy Johsua, ESSF (article 34179), “Après Charlie: des principes et des actes – liberté d’expression, laïcité, déségrégation”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34179

[26] On this topic see Samy Johsua, ESSF (article 34297), “Postcolonialisme – Lettre à un camarade : Une pensée simpliste n’aide pas dans une situation complexe”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34297and (article 34180), “Que faire ? Après Charlie, éléments de réflexion stratégique”: http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34180

[27] ESSF (article 34241), “Quand Dieu n’existait pas – “Une époque bénie”’”:http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article34241

[28] and now Copenhagen... *

Translation from French: Nathan Rao. * Five footnotes have been added to the original French version: 4, 10, 14, 23 and 28.

Statement On West Bengal Tripartite Wage Agreement In Tea Industry

We are shocked by the tripartite wage agreement signed on 20.2.2015 in the presence of the State Government in West Bengal. The agreement has provided a raise of Rs.37.50 over three years to tea plantation workers in Terai and Doars and Rs.42.50 to workers in Darjeeling.


Workers will therefore be paid a miserly amount of Rs. 112 .50 in the first year, Rs.122.50 in the second year and finally Rs. 132.50 in the third year. These amount to starvation wages and are likely to worsen conditions of poverty and malnutrition amongst tea plantation workers. We are thus likely to continue to get shameful reports of starvation deaths in an industry that is a huge export earner and has a flourishing and ever expanding domestic market.

By no logic can such an increase be justified. Firstly it comes nowhere near the repeatedly articulated demand by the workers for minimum wages, which all unions had calculated to be between Rs.285 and Rs.345. Nor does it make tea plantation workers at par with other sectors, with the State Government-declared minimum wage even in the poorest agricultural sector, being Rs.206 at present.

As a face saver, the agreement has also put down in writing that the agreement will remain in force till a Government committee formed on 17.2.2015 puts forward its proposal on minimum wages under the Minimum Wages Act 1948. Despite repeated appeals by various unions, no deadline has been given for this committee and it has been asked to submit its report “as early as possible”.

There are well defined and well accepted norms for the calculation of minimum wages. In West Bengal, such an exercise has been carried many steps forward, with a draft notification given in 2010 by the previous Government. With proper political will of all concerned, the exercise to declare a minimum wage for the tea sector should be possible within a short time.

We call upon the State Government to ensure that the minimum wage committee submits its report in the next three months and that the wages in tea sector are raised to meet all accepted norms and Supreme Court orders for a minimum wage.

We also extend our solidarity and support to the tea plantation workers who will now have to continue their struggle for a decent wage.

Organisations

All India Forum of Forest Movements

Asanghatit Kshetra Shramik Sangrami Union, West Bengal

Binodini Shramik Union

Chemical Mazdoor Panchayat

Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (Mazdoor Karyakarta Committee).

CHITRA - Centre for Human rights Initiative, Training & Research Association, Delhi

Darjeeling Dooars United Development Foundation (DDUDF)

Durbar Mahila Sammanvay Committee, West Bengal

Durbar Disha Mahila  Griha Shramik Sammanvay Committee

Garment and Allied Workers Union , Haryana

Haldia Dock Complex Contractor Shramik Union, West Bengal

Hazards Centre , Delhi

Hero Honda Theka Mazdoor Sangathan , Haryana

Himalaya Niti Abhiyan, Himachal Pradesh

Hosiery Workers Unity Centre, West Bengal

Indian Oil Petronas  Contractor Shramik Union, West Bengal

IIT Kanpur Citizens' Forum

Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan, Madhya Pradesh

Jyoti Karmachari Mandal, Gujarat

Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity, Assam

Mahila Mukti Morcha, Chhattisgarh.

National Hawkers Federation

Prayavaran Suraksha Samiti, Gujarat

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity, West Bengal

Paschim Banga Swarojgari O Radhuni Union, West Bengal

Pragatisheel Cement Shramik Sangh

People's Union for Democratic Rights(PUDR)

Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics Workers Union, West Bengal

Shramajivi Mahila Samity, West Bengal

Shramajivi Samanvay Committee, West Bengal

TUCI West Bengal State Committee

Udayani Social Action Forum, West Bengal

Uttar Bango Bon-Jon Shromojivi Manch, West Bengal

Vadodara Kamdar Union, Gujarat

Vettiver Collective, Chennai, Tamil Nadu



Individuals

Amit Bhaduri, JNU, Delhi

Ankita Agarwal, Jharkahnd

Chitra Joshi

Geeta Charusivam, Tamil Nadu

Greeshma Rai

Imrana Qadeer

Juhi Jain

Kaveri Indira, Hyderabad

Kavita Krishnan, AIPWA , Delhi

Nandini Rao

Uma V.Chandru

Subcategories