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The Labour Movement in Africa

AFRICA

Introduction to Pambazuka’s Special Edition on the

 

labour movement in Africa

(From International Viewpoint)

Friday 10 February 2017, by Shaun Whittaker

In the face of multiple crises of profit-driven socio-economic systems that have driven millions of people in Africa into hopeless poverty, the urgent questions of our time are quite clear: How do we change the balance of class forces in favour of the working class? What are the radical reforms around which a program of mass action could be initiated? How do we form mass workers’ parties all over the continent? What about organisations of the jobless, the landless and the homeless, the feminist structures, the youth?

Humanity has entered an interregnum of long duration and ever-increasing morbid symptoms. This conjuncture will generate a whole layer of populist leaders and movements, and new waves of suppression and militarism for the foreseeable future. These are the ways in which capital would attempt to survive the multiple crises that beset the profit-driven socio-economic system – in specific the breakdown of the world capitalist system since 2008. So this confluence of historical events will also spawn enormous struggles all over the globe that the left-wing should prepare for in earnest.

Are we ideologically equipped for this? Ideology is an imperative site of struggle. For sure, we should start with our ideas about transformation and grapple with what that would mean in practice for the left-wing on this mercilessly exploited continent. A frequently voiced criticism of Marxism(s) on this landmass is that it is Eurocentric and was developed by ‘white’ males, and is therefore not of relevance. Similarly, the opposition to Marxism(s) in Latin America continued for a very long time due to the perceived harsh evaluation of Simon Bolivar by the young Karl Marx. Fortunately, the works of the Argentinean radical thinker, José Aricó, has put that to rest now. Clearly, it is high time that we fully debunk all these misconceptions about Marxism(s) on this continent as well.

The essentialism that dismisses Marxism(s) in such a cavalier manner does not even begin to wrestle sufficiently with that theory of transformation, and fails to provide a left-wing alternative to the socio-economic crises. In fact, in contrast to Marx’s political attitude towards Bolivar, that revolutionary intellectual was appalled by colonialism in Africa and elsewhere, and referred approvingly to the resistance of the slaves. The critique of the (anti-social) logic of capitalism – and the urgent need to transform it - reverberated throughout Marx’s writings when he, for instance, pointed out the fate of colonised peoples, i.e. that with ‘the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production’, Africa was turned into ‘a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins’. Similarly, in The German Ideology, he remarked favourably on the fugitive slaves of all the colonies and the insurgent slaves of Haiti.

Indeed, the so-called marginal works of Marx provided a strident criticism of slavery in the southern parts of the USA, colonialism in India and Ireland, etc. So, the left-wing today still fight for the universal values that arose out of class struggles (e.g. of the ‘black’ Jacobins) in the aftermath of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. After all, the emergence of industrial capitalism cannot be comprehended without acknowledging the links with colonial capitalism in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

The pan-Africanism of the elite, the conservative ‘black’ nationalism and the third worldism of a Frantz Fanon represent a political cul-de-sac. If anything, this era requires the hegemony of the working class – whatever the social manifestations of that class might be as unemployed, casual or part-time workers, etc. And the continent actually has a long history of Marxisms and anti-capitalist struggles. Cases in point include the noteworthy correspondence of the Workers’ Party of South Africa with Leon Trotsky in the early 1900s; the remarkable leadership provided by the South African revolutionary socialist Isaac Tabata over a period of several decades; the anti-colonial resistance of Jonker Afrikaner and Jakob Marengo in Namibia, etc. In every single country on this continent is to be found valiant histories of anti-colonial fighters and anti-capitalist activists. It is just that we have yet to complete the writing of this crucial history. And it is an urgent project for the organic intellectuals of this continent and the left-wing in general.

Another pressing task is the promotion of multilingualism. We should strengthen the network of left-wing activists on the continent by finding practical ways to overcome the language barriers presented by English, French, Portuguese, Arabic, etc. There must be linkups with left-wing translators, and the development of effective multilingual programs. We need to convert all the crucial left-wing literature into key African vernaculars. Surely, the works of Antonio Gramsci, André Gorz, Rosa Luxemburg, Amilcar Cabral, Neville Alexander and many others deserve to be translated into African languages. And this would constitute a vital part of the cultural liberation of the continent. This special issue of Pambazuka News could regrettably not obtain papers from North Africa, where massive struggles are ongoing, probably due to the language barriers. Nonetheless, the translation of the paper on Congo Brazzaville published in this edition shows that it is possible.

Besides the ideological aspect, the struggle, of course, is also about the organisational forms that this assumes. This Special Edition is fortunate to host the first public debate on the recent conference of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the largest trade union on the continent. Following that meeting of December 2016, some of the political questions ought to be clear by now: How do we change the balance of class forces in favour of the working class? What are the radical reforms around which a program of mass action could be initiated? How do we form mass workers’ parties all over the continent? Should workers’ councils be founded? What about organisations of the jobless, the landless and the homeless, the civics, the feminist structures, the youth committees, the reading groups, and so forth? Does it make any sense to prioritise the struggle for a living wage in the context of mass unemployment? Should the left-wing not be calling for the abolishment of the wage system and rather put forth radical reforms that would benefit the entire working class?

Radical reforms could focus on, for example, the demand for 50 litres of water and 1 kilowatt hour of electricity to be provided free per person on a daily basis, food banks that prepare one free meal per day, a basic income grant, and, in the longer term, the equal distribution of jobs and wealth, a shorter work week, social housing, etc. A crucial conversation would have to be about whether or not the working class should support industrialisation or, alternatively, what kind of industrialisation must be tolerated in light of the ecological crisis which holds tremendous implications for this continent. Any serious left-wing project ought to permanently keep this calamity in mind.

In the final analysis, the challenge for the left-wing is to link up with the jobless, the landless and the homeless in a mass workers’ party and to unite employed and unemployed, formal and informal, permanent and temporary, urban and rural, women and men, young and old, ‘black’ and ‘white’, etc. Political lessons from elsewhere would suggest that the left-wing – not the trade unions - should take the lead in building such a workers’ party.

And it ought to be a non-sectarian leadership that could combine the entire working class and all those left-wing political tendencies that concur on mass action as the primary way forward. In fact, as we always insist, trade union members should join such a mass workers’ party as individuals, and not as a bloc. The patient building of a revolutionary mass party with a politically conscious cadre is a better option in the longer term.

Lastly, we would like to thank all the contributors to this Special Edition for their significant inputs – without their time, effort and commitment this issue would not have materialised. And it was important to receive articles on dissimilar countries such as South Africa, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Congo Brazzaville, the Ivory Coast and Namibia. The unevenness in mass consciousness among different working classes is evident, but this should not demoralise us in fighting for another world that is possible.

Similarly, the comrades of Pambazuka News ought to be recognised for their exceptional role in providing a platform for left-wing discourse on the continent over so many years. This publication has become central to continent-wide discussions and should only expand.

It is our hope that this edition on ‘The Labour Movement in Africa – Prospects and Challenges’ will likewise contribute meaningfully to the much-needed ongoing dialogues among left-wing activists. In deliberating on the prospects and challenges, let us be guided by Gramsci’s aphorism, viz. optimism of willpower, pessimism of intellect.

On behalf of the Marxist Group of Namibia, I dedicate this Specific Edition to all the working class leaders of this continent – in particular to the memory of Johannes Nangutuuala, the leader of the Namibian general strike of 1971-72, who died under mysterious circumstances while in the company of a Swapo securocrat. Memory is a weapon.

A luta continua!

Shaun Whittaker, Guest Editor

Thursday 26 January 2017

Pambazuka News

The Question of the Decolonization of Education in Fascist India

We are publishing this article by Comrade Murzban Jal. We consider it an important contribution to current debates, both on how to characterize the regime, and on the nature of its ideological offensive. We hope it will provoke thinking and discussion. We are open to dialogues, and will be willing to consider publication of responses.  -- Administrator, RS Website

MURZBAN JAL

 

 

Castro sitting in military uniform in the United Nations Organization does not scandalize the underdeveloped countries. What Castro demonstrates is the consciousness he has of the continuing existence of the rule of violence.....(Is this revolutionary violence? My insertion, M.J.)....

 

Frantz Fanon.

 

The European elite undertook to manufacture a native elite. They picked out promising adolescents; they branded then, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of western culture; they stuffed their mouths with high-sounding  phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth. After a short stay in the mother country they were sent home, whitewashed. These walking lies had nothing left to say to their brothers; they only echoed.

 

Jean-Paul Sartre.

 

 

The School, this privileged instrument of the bourgeois sociodicy which confers on the privileged the supreme privilege of not seeing themselves as privileged, manages the more easily to convince the disinherited that they owe their scholastic and social destiny to their lack of gifts or merits, because in matters of culture absolute dispossession excludes awareness of being dispossessed.

 

Pierre Bourdieu & Jean-Claude Passeron.

 

 

 

The Production of Reified-Fascist Consciousness

 

Following the triumph of the fascists in the 2014 National Elections and following the consolidation of power by the Indian fascists led by theRashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) or the National Voluntary Corps which has paralyzed the secular and democratic forces, the fascists now seek a complete transformation of the educational system where they claim that hitherto education under the auspices was not nationalist, but determined by left-wing ideologues. The Indian fascist movement which was born in the early 1920s with V.D. Savarkar’s book Essentials of  Hindutva and the birth of the RSS in 1925 which learnt a lot from the fascist movement in Italyand later from German Nazism imagines that it is truly nationalistic.

The central part of thinking a critical education programme is to be understood within the historical materialist matrix of concrete modes of production and the class struggle emerging thereon. Talking of education devoid of the class struggle is mere empty talk. Also talking of a “general education system” is mere rhetoric. Instead of this empty talk, or talking through a form of what is known as “false consciousness”, which we know since Lukacs’s History and Class Consciousness as the reification of consciousness”, we talk through a concrete historical perspective. This concrete historical perspective we call after Antonio Gramsci as historicism and humanism. Class struggle will govern this process of historicism and humanism.   

In actuality we shall be arguing out a new education programme rearticulating the entire project of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment constituted within the theoretical problematic of class struggle. At the outset it must be said that by both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, we do not mean only the European Renaissance and Enlightenment, but the World Project of Renaissance and Enlightenment. We base our model on Samir Amin’s theory of the 3 waves of Universal Humanity—Amin calls it the “Humanist Concept of Universalism”—where the Eurocentric model of unilinear history is displaced with a multilinear and dialogical theory of history.[i] In this new theory of history, a very different idea of emergence of knowledge systems emerged where in the ancient world, Indian, Iranian, Greek, Chinese, Babylonian and other systems in a state of dialogical discourse initiated the emergence of philosophical and scientific discourse. This, in a certain way, one can call the basis of the emergence of philosophical and scientific thinking.

What we claim is there is no “Western” world, nor no “Eastern” world. This location of the “West” and the “East” are very modern fictions that emerged in the cranium of the British imperial forces. From this fiction, there emerges another fiction: that there is something called an “Eastern Method of Education”—this imagined “East” that is said to be spiritual—in contrast to an equally imagined “Western Method of Education”—with its pretensions of rationality and objectivity. The entire education methodology in India is based on this illusion. Thus when we claim that we deal with ‘education’ we are merely educating illusions. What one calls the “colonizing of education” is the actually a systematic structure created merely for geo-political reasons.

It is at this vantage-point where one relates education policy that is yet in the grips of the ideology of the colonized mind with the central ideological perspective of geo-politics. The education system of this colonized mind based on imperial geo-politics creates an imperial form of Occidental cosmology.  Here it is imperative to say that the ruling ideology of Occidental civilization is its essential expansionist mode. We know that thinkers like Paulo Friere and Frantz Fanon in realizing the inherent imperialist attitude of the contemporary education system, argued for an alternative form of education. What this “imperialism of categories” (to borrow Ashis Nandy’s term) does is that it creates as the model the American model of education, forgetting this inherent imperialism and destruction inherent in this model.  Being centrifugal in mode, this Occidental model divides the world into two regions: the centre and the periphery.  A part of the periphery, the Occidental center hopes to occupy by being accepted with consent and other part, or “the margin” which rejects the center and labeled as “Evil” has to be destroyed.  According to Occidental cosmology reality is a manipulable thing to be ruled over.  Instead of real humanity and real nature we have the understanding of reality (both nature and humanity) as either something inert, almost dead. Knowledge in this perspective is about power. The imperialist have perfected this macabre ‘art’ of power politics.

And instead of the concept of the real sensuous self, Sigmund Freud’s architecture of the repressed unconsciousness enters the discourse of education that is governed by the old colonial patterns and the new imperialists’ interventions in education in India.  Not only does the idea of the repressed unconsciousness fit into the concept of the authoritarian nature of the colonized person, but also the ideas of neurosis and psychosis.  This imperialist and masculine ‘man’ that the Indian elites are trying to imitate, mime and create (in the celebration of the will to imperialist power) is constructed thus that it is made to rules nature and other people. 

The model that is created is the pyramid model. It is hierarchical and despotic. On top of the pyramid of life is perched the western male.  But this western male who sits on the pyramid is suffering with repressed unconscious. The early model in the era of developing capitalism there was the rational ego that was recognized as the centre of the human psyche. Now things have changed.  Instead as Theodor Adorno and Slavoj Zizek have pointed out, late capitalism has erased this model of the ego and instead has replaced it with the idea of narcissistic and psychotic self who imagines himself to be at the centre of the world. Thus it is not merely that the elites are on top of society and the western male is on top of the world. Instead we have the neurotic and psychotic elites who are sitting on the top of the pyramid.

This is the philosophical basis lies for the understanding of the emergence of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist education. We need a coherent anti-colonial and anti-imperialist education. This philosophical and scientific thinking has to be highlighted. After all, as Fanon had rightly stated, we all are black skins who are wearing white masks.

That is why we also say that there is something else and that education does not exist by itself, just as the political economy and the ideology of “development” do not exist by itself. Education has as its core class struggle and the struggle to regain humanity and thus those who talk of “development” without mentioning that this “development” that the Indian state is now talking of is only brutal capitalist development, one is only talking through the air. What one does in this phantasmagorical talk of development devoid of humanity is actually that one actually imposes what one knows after David Harvey as “accumulation through dispossession”. Accumulation through dispossession, whilst being a process of accumulation of capital (and poverty) is also an accumulation of alienation, repression and psychosis. What it creates is a divided self, a self that is hysterical and paranoid. The system that modern bourgeois education system seeks to produce is a broken down society and a broken down individual. 

Instead of the colonial-capitalist education system in India, one needs to articulate a completely new and different problematic itself, that we call “synesthesia”—a very different  educational philosophy where reason, feeling and thinking are synthesized as the unity of philosophy, science and the arts. The leitmotiv of articulating a philosophy of people’s education policy is based on understanding education as cultivation of humanity as humanity. The idea of the historicization and humanization of knowledge is the essence of this New Peoples’ Education Program. The triad of science, philosophy and the arts serves as the methodological basis of this program. We have thus a complex in our framework: the understanding of the laws governing nature and society and the philosophical issues of the quest of truth, ethics and beauty.  The questions of the sublime and the beautiful are central to this New Education Paradigm. To create the sublime feeling of enthusiasm is the main part of this program. 

It is thus that we claim that a people’s education document is based on the understanding of education as cultivation of the human mind. But it is not merely the cultivation of the mind that is important, but the cultivation of humanity as humanity. Its starting point is philosophical: its main questions are: “what can humanity know?”, “what can humanity do?”, “what can humanity hope for?”and “how can free humanity be truly possible?” The modern principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are its guiding principles. Challenging educational orthodoxy is its leitmotiv. De-schooling society is its essence, since schools have become the prison-houses and panoptic systems that imprison young minds. To render the necessity of critical thinking is its motto. Philosophy, science and aesthetics are its three basic epistemological components. Perception, understanding and reason along with feeling, willing and desiring are its ontological components. As Marx had once said: let us produce according to the laws of beauty.[ii] The critique of human alienation and the commoditization of education are its important concerns. Not only the critique of alienation in modern capitalist India, but also the critique of alienation in traditional caste-based society, combined with alienation in centres of learning (schools, colleges and universities) shall be forms of communist programmatic concerns.

The most fundamental point in this theory of alienation is how alienation has been mobilized by the Indian ruling elites in the service of globalization and imperialism and in the background of western post-colonial colonial power. Look what the colonialists think of the speaking and thinking subject that was and is subjected to colonialism:

 

What? They are able to talk by themselves? Just look at what we have made of them! We did not doubt but that they would accept our ideals, since they accused us of not being faithful to them. Then, indeed, Europe could believe in her mission; she had Hellenized the Asians; she had created a new breed, the Graeco-Latin Negroes.[iii]

           

 

We must admit: we are this strange breed of Graeco-Latin Negroes. We are this “hellish other” (to borrow Sartre’s term from a different context). The only thing is that we feel that we are less black than the Graeco-Latin Negroes. In fact we think that we are almost as white as the Europeans themselves. The Hindutva thesis that V.D. Savarkar had launched in the early 1920s in the background of constructing a phantasmagoria of an imagined “Aryan race” is precisely this thesis of British colonialism that the reactionary elite in India are now emulating.

 

 

The Need for a Radical Decolonization

 

The following points are important in the scientific, philosophizing and aestheticization of education[iv]:

 

(1)   Education is in actuality of educating the class instincts of the India working classes. It is directed against the thesis of the “white man’s burden” that the Indian elites are carrying since 1947. It is the tearing out the white masks. Tear of the masks and seek humanity that lies behind these phantasmagorical masks.

(2)   Consequently the cultivation of humanity is the culmination of the Subaltern Indian Renaissance. But this Indian Renaissance is a Renaissance “from below”. It therefore follows the subaltern logic of class struggle.  It studies humanity as humanity (free from superstitions, free from semi-feudal values, free from caste and patriarchy, free from communal hatred, free from scarcity and want and free from the capitalism mode of production). As the culmination of the Indian Renaissance “from below”, it talks of a New Humanism for India. Cultural transformation is the main point in this program of Communist New Humanism.

(3)   It follows the research methodology of historical dialectics where science is seen as a unified science. Here neither are the different branches of the social sciences split from one another, nor are the natural sciences split from the social sciences.  It sees the unity of the natural and the social sciences since it sees the unity of nature and society. Its method is human natural science also known as the natural science of humanity[v], where social history as natural history[vi] is marked as its leitmotiv. By science we do not mean a form of scientism or positivism. Instead we have something very different:

 

History itself is a real part of natural history—of nature developing into humanity. Natural science will in time incorporate into itself the science of humanity, just as the science of humanity will incorporate into itself natural science: there will be one science.[vii]

 

Science here, in the very Marxist humanist sense, does not merely study facts, but as human natural sciences unites facts and ethics. It always sees the human basis of facts. The humanization and naturalization of knowledge and education is thus its philosophical premise. What human natural science does is that it critiques the dominant methods of education that have been borrowed from colonialism. The critique of Eurocentrism (the method that claims that the West is inherently endowed with reason, whilst the rest of the world can only develop on borrowed European and American methods, a model that is the basis of the neo-liberal political economy of globalization, a political economy which the new establishment strongly believes in) and the critique of the colonization of education find its place in this process of the humanization of education. Thus this critique of Eurocentrism is also coupled with the critique of the indigenous colonization (known as “Brahmanization”) of education. The New Indian Renaissance finds two sites of the colonization of the Indian mind: Eurocentrism and Brahmanism. Whilst we involve the method of humanization of knowledge, we also set up different interventions within the domain of a general theory of humanist education where Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Humanity, the Hegelian dialectical method, the Marxist critique of capitalism, Jotiba Phule’s theory and praxis of “manuski” (humanist) education, along with B.R. Ambedkar’s program of the annihilation of caste (and semi-feudal values) is taken as its motif. Thus the best that world education has to offer shall be taken.

(4)    With these principles of the New Indian Renaissance and human natural science, the role of education as a weapon that grips the masses comes up. Education as the cultivation of the human mind and as the study of knowledge links this scientific enterprise with developing societies. The critique of pre-capitalist forms of exploitation (wrongly christened “Indian feudalism”) and neo-liberalism finds its place here. A rethinking of Indian history from the perspective of the Asiatic mode of production where caste, communal-fascism and patriarchy along with economic and cultural underdevelopment is undertaken in the production of the Renaissance “from below”. The philosophical and scientific foundations of the annihilation of caste, communal antagonisms and patriarchy are laid in this paradigm of the New Indian Renaissance.

(5)   From this we deduce the political economy of underdevelopment where the centre and periphery of globalized capitalism’s accumulation of wealth is scientifically critiqued. Both the economic and cultural dependency of India on borrowed colonial models is reviewed.

(6)   This critique of the colonization of the mind is not based on the ideology of abstract intellectualism. Instead it unites the intellect and the will, thinking and feeling. It is consequently based on what is now being called “synesthesia” or the “union of the senses”. The leitmotiv of this project of synesthesia is philosophical, in the sense it will seek the groundwork of knowledge based on the question: “how is free humanity possible?” It thus seeks the groundwork for the possibilities of free humanity. What we mean by “education” is consequently based on the above premises. G.W.F. Hegel’s theory of dialectical logic, Marx’s critique of alienation and his reworking of Ludwig Feuerbach idea of “species being”, Gramsci’s theory the organic intellectual, J.P. Naik’s theory of understanding education as a Revolution with a Revolution, Ivan Illich’s idea of de-schooling society and Paulo Friere and Pierre Bourdieu’s ideas of bourgeois education as cultural subjugation shall be the guiding principles of a people’s education policy. The idea of challenging educational orthodoxy is the leitmotiv of this program.

(7)   Understanding this challenging of educational orthodoxy impels us to articulate the role played by material labour in this New Cultural Transformation. In this materialist ontology of labour a different understanding of India’s social history is seen where the Asiatic mode of production is articulated along with the traditional Asian craft and guild system from an anti-Brahmanical perspective. In this critique of Brahmanism one documents the labour movement in India. One also documents how the false division of people as pure and clean (the Brahmans) and unclean and impure (the Shudras), along with the false construction of Brahmanical rituals as “spiritual sciences” and the consequent spurious division of the “spiritual sciences” and the “indigenous technical-material sciences”, was made since Shankara’s counterrevolution against Buddhism in 8th century C.E. What happens in this divided world is that rituals and mantras were declared true, whilst material sciences were declared false. This division between sacred and the profane also led to the declaration that the latter were false and also that the castes practicing them were polluted and unclean. The Brahman/Shudra hostility based on the purity/pollution opposition was institutionalized since this counterrevolution.[viii]But these Brahman/Shudra, material labour/spiritual labour divisions were never seriously challenged, nor was the dubious theory of the privileging the so-called “spiritual sciences” challenged, even in independent India. Both pre-colonial India as also British colonialism took this division and opposition as something natural to Indian civilization. Whilst industrialization in India did break up the village communities, the caste system was revamped in modern lines to suit modern capitalism. The old opposition between Brahman and Shudra was transformed into the new opposition of bourgeois and proletariat. What one now needs to do is to critique both the traditional caste mode of production as also the destructive industrial model that India has undertaken as the dominant economy since independence. Our main critique is that of neo-liberalism capitalism and imperialism. This part of subaltern social history which inverts the Brahmanical and neoliberal theory of education articulates the program of people’s education. The plural and cosmopolitan understanding of Indian social history determined by the labour question shall emerge in this site.

(8)   This ontology of labour now takes a new twist where a new discipline is created: the discipline of “desireology”. Here education ceases to be obsessed with the mind as such. Instead it involves a paradigm shift where “ideas’ are displaced for “desires”. We cease to be involved with consciousness as such, but from now on education deals with the dialectic between labour, alienation and the deep unconscious. In this sense we follow Andre Breton’s First Manifesto of Surrealism which privileged the element of the fantastic in dreams. What Marx calls the estranged mind in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and the phantasmagoria in Capital now become the main objects of educating desires, especially in the critique of neo-liberal capitalism and fascism.  The synthesis of science, philosophy and the arts is now realized as a dramatrugy—the struggle against fascism. It is thus on this site that a radical critique of fascism shall emerge. Indian fascism has two parts: one that is based on the hierarchical caste system and the other which emerges from industrial capitalism. Real education has to be anti-fascist and anti-fundamentalist. Here it must be said that fascists cannot think, nor can they philosophize. They can only create mass hysteria and then destroy human civilization. True and authentic education will directly have to confront fascism. It will soon become a life and death struggle, just as neighbouring countries in South and West Asia are battling their fundamentalists and fascists.

(9)   Based on the above 7 points the philosophy of emancipatory praxis follows. The praxis of free-universal education emanates from this struggle against neo-liberal capitalism and fascism. We move thus from theory to praxis. The poor and wretched masses of India are the main focus of this campaign.  Whilst removal of illiteracy is its main focus, the accompanying program of offering an alternative education to the mainstream reified types of schools is made here. We move then to forming educational collectives. Educational collectives de-school society from the outside. This “outside” remains literally “outside” the schools, colleges and universities at the first level, but consequently penetrates the formal educational systems, thus transforming them from hierarchical systems to systems of radical equality. It neither remains on the older spaces of civil society (meaning at the level of the NGOs now totally corrupted with international MNC donations attached inexorably with imperial interests) and the state (i.e. waiting for a so-called welfare or even the so-called socialist model of education, i.e. the education system that existed in the USSR). Instead educational collectives transcend both civil society and the state, and move in the New Site of the “commons”. Education, i.e. true and authentic education, can only be possible when the understanding of the commons and the consequent occupation of the commons is possible. The understanding and occupation of the commons is only possible when the Subaltern Indian Renaissance is understood, started and then completed. Consequently it is imperative to differentiate the “Renaissance from above” that included the Hindu reform movement (led by Rajaram Mohan Roy) and the “Renaissance from below”.

And that is why I insist that the “Renaissance from above” led to Indian liberalism. Now the fascists have come. It is time for the “Renaissance from below” to speak for itself.[ix] And once this “Renaissance from below” speaks for itself, it immediately relates itself to the most urgent issue of democratizing and socializing humanity. This “Renaissance from below” does not deal with the imaginary theme of “Western education” vs. “Eastern education”. It deals with the present era—the extreme brutality of capitalism in the era of late imperialism in permanent crisis. The conflict in this era is the conflict between fascism and socialism. The education of the masses shall thus be based on this conflict.

 



[i] Samir Amin, Capitalism in the Age of Globalization.  The Management of Contemporary Society (Delhi Madhyam Books, 1997), p.80.

[ii] Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1982), p. 69.

[iii] Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Preface’, Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the World (London: Penguin Books, 2001), p. 9.

[iv] See my ‘Towards a New Education Policy’, in Mainstream, VOL LII, No 44, October 25, 2014

[v]Karl Marx, op. cit, p. 99.

[vi] Ibid., p. 98. Also see Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1983), p. 27.

[vii] Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, p. 98

[viii] See my ‘Asiatic Mode of Production, Caste and the Indian Left’, in Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. XLIX, No. 19, May 10, 2014.

[ix] See my ‘Towards a New Education Policy’, in Mainstream. Also see my Why We Are Not Hindus (Delhi: Aakar Books, 2015).  

Statement on Bhangar Land Disputes and Atrocities on Peasants

It is over a decade since Mamata Banerjee made peasant discontent with government takeover of their land the unique selling point by which to make herself and her party the focal point of opposition, so that she could co-opt a part of the grass roots agitations that had developed in Singur and Nandigram, and marginalise the more radical elements. When she won elections in 2011, and again in 2016, it was by the pretence of being the great supporter of peasants.  The reality is different.

The new land acquisition law by which the TMC government has been operating has moved away from the colonial to a neoliberal market oriented set up. Under the old act, the state would declare that a project was in public interest, and take over land at a compensation rate to be decided by the state. Under the new style, direct acquisition rather than state intervention is being highlighted.

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Austerity, neoliberalism, and the Indian working class

 

International Socialist Review Issue #103Features
 
http://isreview.org/issue/103/austerity-neoliberalism-and-indian-working-class-0

In recent years, the Indian economy has been the darling of pundits commenting on international economic outlooks. During the quarter from April to June of 2016, India recorded a 7.1 percent increase in GDP—down from 7.8 percent last year, but still impressive enough to be at the top of the world’s economies. Much of this has been attributed to the pro-business policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his willingness to push through a number of changes to the laws regulating the Indian economy. At the same time, India finds itself in the midst of a crisis.

First of all, almost no one believes the Indian government’s figures about growth. They are now based on market-price calculations rather than on production figures, which most analysts agree are widely inflated.1 Second, whatever growth there has been has depended almost entirely on state expenditures, up some 18 percent over last year. Third, actual production rates have ground to a halt: railway freight, one of the best indices of how much is being produced and traded in the country, declined 9 percent this year. Fourth, the Bombay Stock Exchange took a massive dive in August 2015, as foreign investors withdrew upwards of $2.5 billion from several funds.2 This crisis renewed calls for economic reforms, especially labor laws, which are seen as overly restrictive for businesses. Finally, the public banks, which control some 70 percent of the country’s investments, are known to sit on a glut of bad loans. The combination of these factors produces an unsustainable situation.

At the same time, there has been a debate on the left about where this growth has come from. Since an estimated 80 to 90 percent of the Indian workforce labors in the informal sector of the economy, it has led many to conclude that the driving engines of growth in India are not based on exploitation at the point of production but rather on extractive industries and financialization, or what in other contexts has been called accumulation by dispossession. While these critics have been quite right to focus on the egregious actions of the Indian state against tribal populations (who live on large mineral reserves), the creation of Special Economic Zones, and the privatization of state-owned industries, they have largely ignored the way that the majority of the economy still depends on the exploitation of labor. In fact, the only way to understand the history of neoliberalism in India and the current crisis that Indian capital faces is to understand the last forty years as a systematic attempt to reorganize the labor process to benefit Indian capital.

The decline of labor
The current crisis and the bourgeoisie’s solutions stem from the ways that neoliberalism was implemented in India. It was not merely policy changes and a liberalization of trade; the implementation of neoliberalism required the crushing of India’s once impressively powerful labor unions. In fact, it is only by comparing the unions now to the power of labor in an earlier incarnation that one can see just how far labor has been pushed back onto its heels. The years which ushered in neoliberalism were also the years when labor was handily defeated and defanged by ruling classes everywhere, which makes it difficult to accept the argument of some left analysts that the expansion of extractive industries is more important than a weaker union movement for the restoration of profit rates.

The years between 1974 and 1984 were probably the height of the combativity of the Indian working class, but this period also saw the first decisive victory for the capitalist class, a victory that it has held onto ever since. The global economic downturn of the early 1970s had ripple effects in the Indian economy. Stagnating wages, inflation, and unemployment all made the Indian working class desperate. Beginning with the strike wave of 1973, when there were more than 3,370 industrial disputes, continuing until 1984, when the Bombay textile strike was finally defeated, the Indian working class was able to demonstrate its extraordinary social power.

Nevertheless, the unions were defeated, primarily by the government of Indira Gandhi, but also by communalism and the politics of Hindu chauvinism (in the case of Maharashtra). Nor can the totally bankrupt strategies of the official left unions be overlooked as a contributor to the defeats. This period ushered in the process that we today call neoliberalism. In fact, without the systematic repression of labor and the rewriting of important labor laws in this period, capital would not have been able to massively restructure the economy. Indian capital relied on the state to implement martial law in the 1970s because it had such substantial class enemies and a much stronger labor force. Defanging most of the unions by law meant that the state could legally repress them, thus tipping the balance in capital’s favor.

The great railway strike
The nineteen-day long railway strike of 1974 brought the entire nation to a standstill as some 1.7 million workers downed tools in the largest industry-wide strike in the nation’s history. It was provoked by a decade of organizing inside the railway industry, in which rank-and-file workers demanded raises, job protections, and challenged horrific working conditions.

One of the legacies of colonialism was the interpretation that the railroad companies applied to worker’s “shifts.” “Historically,” writes one analysis of the strike, “many of the British-run rail networks had termed the work of the loco staff as ‘continuous,’ implying that workers would have to remain at work as long as the train ran on its trip, often for several days at a stretch especially on the goods trains. Independence did not change this. The spread of diesel engines and the consequent intensification of work in the Indian Railways since the 1960s created much resentment among the workers.”3

The railway workers were represented at the time by two unions: the pro-Congress National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NFIR) and the Lohiaite socialist-inspired All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF). The two unions had already become thoroughly bureaucratized and bought off by the government by the mid-1960s, and saw their primary task as controlling the anger of railway workers rather than addressing their grievances. So when anger built up in the rank and file, they had to organize themselves, replace their union leaders, and set up independent unions. There were dozens of smaller unions up and down the country that had been engaging in local actions in the years leading up to 1974.

In February 1974, the unions organized the National Coordinating Committee for Railwaymen’s Struggle (NCRRS), which brought all of the unions, the political opposition, and the main trade union federations together in order to prepare for the strike. The government of India refused to budge, and was preparing for its own crackdown. On May 2, the government arrested the leader of the impending strike, George Fernandes, without any warning. In response, the workers immediately went out—not waiting until May 8 as planned. The entire nation was brought to a standstill as 1.7 million railway workers dropped their tools. In Bombay, electricity and transport workers as well as taxi drivers joined the protests. In Gaya, Bihar, striking workers and their families squatted on the tracks. More than 10,000 workers of the Integral Coach Factory in Perambur, Tamil Nadu, marched to the Southern Railway headquarters in Chennai to express their solidarity with the striking workers.

This display of solidarity, while important, was short of what was necessary to defeat the repression that was coming. What would have been needed was a full understanding of what the Indira Gandhi government represented, something the Communist Party of India did not possess. In fact, the CPI not only joined the government and supported martial law, it also instructed its affiliated unions not to strike. Two things ultimately broke this strike even before the state was able to use its full force: divisions in the working class about how and when to offer solidarity; and the Left’s confusion about whose side Indira Gandhi was on. The realpolitik of the various official left groups has always dominated their class solidarity instincts, and this has allowed the state and capital to divide the working class at key moments of struggle.

As glorious as the strike was, the government was prepared to be brutal and vicious. More than 50,000 workers were arrested, along with the top leadership of the strike. Another 17,000 workers were fired from their jobs. The railway colonies were practically under siege. For instance, in Mughalsarai in Uttar Pradesh, which has one of the biggest railway yards in the world, women were assaulted and even children were attacked. The Border Security Force (BSF), the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), and the Provincial Armed Constabulary were deployed in the townships where railway workers lived. There were also instances of workers being forced by terror to work. Instances of train drivers being shackled in their cabins were reported at the height of the strike.4

It took the full force of the state to crush the strike—but it hadn’t defeated labor yet. Indira Gandhi’s imposition of the emergency laws in 1975 allowed her to make some important changes to the Indian constitution and remove several civil liberties, implement repressive censorship and security laws, as well as eliminate the right to strike, but still labor and other forces protested. It was, in fact, the movement of the left-wing activist Jayaprakash Narayan (also called the “Bihar movement”) that ultimately ended Indira Gandhi’s military rule.

Bombay textile strike
In this period of restructuring, the Bombay textile strike of 1982–84 was the last real gasp of a fighting labor movement in India. The restructuring of capital begun in the 1970s accelerated. Already the state was offering protections to smaller firms so that they could compete in the domestic markets (these laws were initially designed to protect handlooms), giving the smaller power loom workshops an advantage over the large industrial mills, which were not only taxed and regulated but also were required to recognize unions.

Labor laws in India before 1975 protected workers in workplaces with more than one hundred employees, allowing them to have access to unions and some kind of regulatory enforcement of their rights. But with the growth of power looms, the shift in the marketplace away from cotton to synthetic materials, the aging infrastructure of the industrial mills, and the bosses’ contempt of the unions, the owners sought to abandon the mills altogether and shift over to the smaller workshops. The Ambani family’s Reliance Industry made its seed money in making just this shift.5 When the unions struck in 1982, they were protesting working conditions, stagnating wages, and the lack of bonuses.

The textile mills had once been the strongholds of the Communist Party in Maharashtra, but they were replaced after independence by the Congress-Party affiliated Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Sangh, which had sole bargaining power with the textile mills. The RMMS refused to challenge the bosses when wage increases tied to bonuses based on profits were denied. (Textile workers were paid about thirty rupees a month with a dearness allowance of another fifty rupees, while the official living wage was pegged at 165 rupees.) The rank and file was accordingly forced to organize around the state-backed union leadership.

This time, however, the strike faced two disadvantages. First, as capital was looking to get out of the mills anyway, the strike became the pretext for asking the state to intervene and solve the conflict for the capitalists. The state helped break the strike by providing legal cover for the mill owners as they transferred their assets out of the mills. Bosses were allowed to declare bankruptcy (often right after they had taken out loans from the banks), and in many instances were able to either purchase power loom workshops or buy back the mills and turn them into real estate.

Secondly, part of the way that the Communists had organized throughout the 1960s was to lead campaigns around Marathi nationalism, including the campaign for a separate state for Marathi speakers. Bal Thackeray, founder of the Shiv Sena, was centrally involved in the strike activities of 1982–84. When the strike failed, the Shiv Sena was able to scapegoat workers from other parts of India as responsible for the economic problems the workers faced.6 The real lesson from this strike was ignored by the unions: The state was not a reliable ally in the fight against capital. Not only did the state make it possible for big capital to escape with its assets intact, it also allowed the transfer of control of the industry to smaller firms without any of the regulatory oversight.

Political, not structural, defeats for labor
These two historic strikes were key defeats for the Indian working class, and arguably, the class has never really recovered from them (in much the same way that American labor has never really been the same since President Reagan fired the air-traffic controllers in the PATCO strike). But the reasons that they failed were political rather than structural.7 At each moment it would have been theoretically possible for the Communist parties in India to resist very differently than they did, and their refusal to lead the working class with slogans and the organization of solidarity allowed the class to be decimated. This historic defeat is what inaugurated the four main problems that the Indian working class faces today: draconian labor laws; right-wing Hindu and Marathi chauvinism; the over-reliance on the state to settle industrial disputes rather than preparing to fight until victory; and finally, the lack of any real solidarity between the more than ten major trade union federations. It is impossible to understand neoliberalism without understanding these political failures. And it is also important to understand these failures in order to counter those who diminish the importance of the working class by mistaking conjunctural realities for structural ones.

Labor reforms
To make matters worse, the current regime in charge of the Indian state is asking for even more from the Indian working class. Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power promising a massive overhaul of India’s regulatory regime, with labor laws in particular in his crosshairs. Modi’s “Make in India” plan hopes to bring foreign investment to India, but India’s labor laws are normally cited as the reason that manufacturers don’t want to come to India. At issue is Modi’s attempt to make it easier for employers to lay off their workers in order to pursue his plans to bring more manufacturing to India. The Industrial Disputes Act of 1947 requires employers to give two-months notice and seek government approval before laying-off a worker in any workplace that has more than one hundred workers. Modi wants to raise that limit to 300, thereby making it more attractive to invest in larger enterprises and less risky should they fail—currently, 85 percent of India’s businesses employ fifty people or less.

The biggest target that the Modi government has its eyes set on are the flimsy labor laws that offer the Indian working class the barest of protections. In addition to laws that protect workers at large workplaces from being laid off without government notice, Modi’s plans include decertification of unions, hiring and firing at will, and even going after some of workers’ basic rights to organize. In Rajasthan, for instance, the BJP government has just eliminated the protections that workers had under the Industrial Disputes Act (which protects workers from being laid off without compensation), the Contract Labor Act (which protects casual labor from being exploited), and the Factories Act (which governs workplace safety and regulation). The state of Madhya Pradesh followed suit not long after. Now there is talk of a large overhaul of all of the labor laws at the federal level, which would completely undercut the kinds of protections that unions have relied on in order to defend even the barest of gains. It is important to remember that a mere 7 percent of the Indian working class is unionized.

The rollback of workers’ rights represents the bourgeoisie’s solution to their crisis of profitability, as well as the ordinary operation of capitalism when it smells blood in the water. One reason these laws are necessary is because of the high cost of doing business in large factories, and the industrial classes want to move towards larger factories to compete internationally. Currently, manufacturing is dominated by the informal sector in India—84 percent of manufacturers rely on workplaces of fifty people or fewer.  Modi’s plans match the Organization of Employers recommendations to overhaul the labor laws:

  • India is perhaps the only country, where the requirement of strike notice, barring public utility service, is totally lacking. Therefore, Section 23 of the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 [is to] be suitably amended to provide at least a compulsory three weeks strike notice. . . . To deter illegal strikes, it can be proposed to provide for 8 day’s deduction of wages for each day of illegal strikes.
  • Provision for recognizing a Bargaining Agent under the Trade Unions Act, 1926 may be introduced to strengthen the collective bargaining machinery. A union with 51 percent membership should be recognized as the Sole Bargaining Agent. In cases where no single union has 51 percent, the top 2–3 unions with more than 25 percent membership may come together to form Joint Bargaining Councils. A union with less than 25 percent membership should not have a right to challenge a collective agreement nor raise a collective dispute.
  • The number of outsiders in the Trade Union Executive should be restricted to a maximum of two persons as against 50 percent in the legislation and out of the two top positions of “President” and “General Secretary,” at least one post should be held by the internal employee.8

In part, the reason that the bourgeoisie is so interested in overhauling the labor laws in India is because they are the main weapons of the major trade union federations to settle disputes with management. As a result, almost all trade union activity in the major unions is geared towards electoral politics and forming coalitions with other parties rather than shop-floor organizing. Now that the BJP has won a handy majority, the emptiness of that strategy stands revealed, just as does the atrophying of labor’s muscles throughout India. While there are slight signs of hope in the new data on strike figures, even here there is weakness, because the balance sheet reflects the turnout of the massive symbolic one-day actions that the unions have called regularly since the National Democratic Alliance came to power and not sustained struggles to gain a share of profits.

YearStrikesDays LostLockoutsDays LostTotal Lost
2000 426 11,960,000 345 16,800,800  
2002 295 9,664,527 284 16,921,382  
2003 255 3,205,950 297 27,049,961  
2004 236 4,828,737 241 19,037,630  
2005 227 10,800,686 229 18,864,313  
2006 243 3,160,000 192 10,600,000  
2007 210 15,055,713 179 12,111,039  
2008         17,434,000
20099 167 8,075,046 178 9,547,009 13,365,000
2010 199   172   18,068,000
2011 179   191   14,483,013
2012 260   179   12,727,973
2013 178   20   3,654,361
2014 88   16   18,232,773

10 Source: “Industrial Disputes,” Labor Bureau, Government of India, at http://labourbureau.nic.in/idtab.htm.

The 2015 strike
The unions that have retained some combativity—auto, airlines, nursing, domestic labor—have continued to grow, but even so, the picture continues to look tough for labor. But on September 2, 2015, ten of the twelve major national trade union federations called a massive one-day strike in response to a breakdown in negotiations with the central government over economic reforms and minimum wages. Media estimates of participation in the strike were generally inflated, but it would not be an exaggeration to say that millions of workers participated. ASSOCHAM, the Indian chamber of commerce, estimated that the strike cost the economy $3.7 billion dollars.

The strike was felt most acutely in the transportation, banking, and mining industries. In states like West Bengal, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh, it massively disrupted everyday life as buses and taxis stopped running and banks were closed. The strongest attack against strikers was in West Bengal, where the ruling Trinamul Congress Party unleashed its cadres and the police. More than a 1,000 people were arrested and dozens were wounded. Television reports showed police officers dragging female activists through the streets. In the days leading up to the strike, the chief minister of West Bengal, Mamata Bannerjee, declared that she would use her power to stop any disruption to the economy.

The strike was the result of a breakdown in negotiations between the main trade union federations and the central government. The main issues related to differences over a new minimum wage (unions were asking for 15,000 rupees and the center countered with 6,330), universal social security, a reduction in layoffs, a halt to price rises in key consumer goods, and improved enforcement of labor laws. But there was also a push back against some of the new legislation that Modi was trying to implement. The unions objected to the disinvestment in public sector undertakings (PSUs), the unwillingness to recognize unions in a timely fashion, the introduction of foreign direct investment into railways and defense, and the lack of any limits to the contract system (casualization).

More serious threats
But the most serious threats came through amendments to India’s labor laws, many of which the unions rely on for basic protection for their workers, especially limits to how employers lay off their workers. These are all reforms that the capitalists in India have been clamoring for, citing them as the primary reasons that they are unwilling to invest in large enterprises in India. This is all the more worrisome given that Indians themselves have been willing to overlook the genocidal policies of their country’s current prime minister in exchange for 7–8 percent growth rates. In fact, India’s economic success has allowed its rulers to get away with murder—literally.

But had the analysts bothered to look below the surface, they might have seen just how unstable the Indian economy actually is. The economic data only tell part of the picture, not the least because the data are completely jerry-rigged. India’s growth rates this year miraculously jumped from 4 to 7 percent when the Central Statistics Office announced it would be recalculating how growth was to be measured—switching from GDP to gross value added.11 Simply lowering the poverty line similarly halved India’s poverty rate. The World Bank routinely assesses poverty as earning less than two dollars a day, but India now counts urban poverty as thirty-three rupees a day (fifty-five cents a day) and rural poverty as twenty-seven rupees (forty-five cents a day). This has remarkably reduced poverty in India from almost 50 percent to 30 percent without materially changing anything.

But the story gets even worse when you look at the rest of the official figures. These figures are just for people living in abject poverty in India. Slightly better are those that fall under the Empowerment Line, who earn 50 percent more than the abject poor or 75 cents a day. The number in this group rises to 56 percent, a whopping 680 million people. And if you look at what the World Bank considers to be vulnerable sections of the population—those who still have trouble meeting basic needs—you add another 413 million people to the mix. That’s close to one billion people living in dire straits. What that leaves are the two hundred million people that India considers to be middle class and the tiny section of the very rich.

This is not only a human crisis; investors have recently begun to withdraw from the Indian economy, citing the slow pace of labor reforms. Using other indicators than the manufactured GDP numbers, India’s economy looks troubling:

  • India’s cargo traffic—rail, air, and sea—is sluggish. Two-wheeler sales are decelerating. March’s factory-output figures showed the slowest growth in five months, though the seasonally adjusted HSBC India Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index indicated a nineteenth straight month of expansion in May. Exports fell in April for the fifth month in a row.12
  • There is a crisis in profitability in India, with returns on investment shrinking (see figures below). The preferred strategy over the last thirty years has been to try to make the working class pay to restore them, which accounts in many ways for the abysmal wage rates in India. Median household purchasing parity is under three dollars a day.13
  • This has resulted in a massive concentration of wealth at the very top with few productive outlets. In June, the Boston Consulting Group issued a report that the number of Indians with ultra-high net worth (UHNW) tripled in 2014. India went from 284 people with a net worth greater than $100 million in 2013, to 928 people in 2014. That puts India in fourth place behind the US (5,201), China (1,037), and the UK (1,019). India ranks third in the world in the number of billionaires.14

It’s something of a joke that the Indian ruling class has run out of ideas about selling the economy. It used to be that the ruling class tried to say that it cared about the poor, and its election slogans stressed “bread, clothing, housing,” (roti, kapda, makan), or “electricity, roads, water” (bijli, sadak, pani), but now they’ve given up even talking about the social problems that the poor face, and instead extoll the Indian economic miracle by referring to “India Shining” (Bharat Uday). They note that the good days (acche din) have come as India pursues manufacturing as part of Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” campaign. None of this, however, hides the current crisis of profitability, which is a direct result of the fact that the Indian ruling class pursued the same policies as the rest of the world when it faced a major economic crisis in the 1970s.

Neoliberal outcomes to the defeat of labor
After a period of robust, even astronomical growth beginning in the 1990s, and continuing on into the twenty-first century, the economy is once again facing serious problems. The right wing in India and the capitalist class have used these new glitches in the economy to argue for their standard solutions—the suite of neoliberal policies: restructuring the working class, especially reducing legal protections on unions and workers; more deregulation and informalization of production; a further reduction in the regulatory regime and the scope of its laws; an end to what little social welfare continues to exist; an expansion of state-sponsored infrastructure development, but a continuation of the privatization of state-owned industries; and a greater reliance on the state to force through development against those sections of the population that might otherwise resist displacement.

Two things have happened as a result of twenty years of pursuing neoliberal policies in India that are key if we want to understand the crisis that India will be facing in the coming years. First, the entirety of the growth that has been generated in India has been on the backs of the working class, whose wages are abysmally paltry. The main target here has been unions and the laws that favor them. This is not a strategy that can continue indefinitely, and not just because it results in the immiseration of the Indian working class, but also because we know that for many of the industries global competition requires economies of scale making large workplaces still important and potentially locations for organizing workers.

Second, even as the Indian ruling class has amassed a vast fortune, it has run out of productive places in which to invest its profits. India is facing a decline in its investment-to-GDP ratio, which measures how much capital is getting reinvested as a proportion of the total output of a country. India’s investment-to-GDP ratio has fallen to below 30 percent from a high of 40 percent a decade ago.15Most of the growth that was generated in India over the last decade depended on these high investment rates, especially the purchasing of heavy machinery and the construction of infrastructure, all of which was important for India to recover from the problems it inherited from British colonial rule. This rapid decline in investment rates is normally talked about as a result of high interest rates; however, earlier this year the Reserve Bank of India lowered interest rates, but this hasn’t solved the problem.

The investment rate is important because it shows that capital cannot reinvest profitably. Instead, capitalists would rather save their money than put it back into the economy. In comparison, China’s investment-to-GDP ratio is 47 to 50 percent.

Accumulation by dispossession?
That there has been substantial real growth over the past twenty years cannot be disputed, but there has been a debate about how those gains have been achieved. According to David Harvey, capital accumulation can no longer happen through simple reproduction but has to happen instead through what he calls accumulation by dispossession: the use of state power to acquire land, dispossess the people who live on it, and then extract the resources underneath. 16  Harvey lists all of the ways that the commons are raided by the state for the benefit of freeing up areas that allow capital to expand. This, Harvey claims, is the way that capitalists have resolved the crisis of profitability. These land disputes have also been a focus of the left and are the scene of some of the most spectacular resistance by peasants.

There are problems with this view, the most important one being that it changes both the agent and the method by which this accumulation is challenged. If Harvey is right, accumulation by dispossession can only really be challenged through social movements, organized largely by the people affected by this dispossession, but lacking in many ways the economic power possessed by labor. Moreover, several critics have noted that Harvey’s definition of accumulation by dispossession is so capacious that it even includes surplus value extraction and, therefore, becomes less useful as a tool for explaining the shift in nodes of accumulation. In India there are additional problems. First, most of the land that has been acquired through state coercion has been gifted not to capitalists from the Global North, but to Indian and other Asian firms; accumulation in the Global North, then, cannot be used to explain accumulation in the Global South. Second, mining and the extractive industries account for 2 percent of GDP as of 2014, so we can’t say that there is a shift to extractive industries as the primary source of economic development in India. Third, most of the land that is acquired in this way is actually set aside for new real estate development—land for manufacturing and new commercial campuses—and not for extraction. Most of this land is used to bypass ailing infrastructure and to provide space for the expansion of the service sector (as in the Mahindra World City outside Jaipur), or in manufacturing (as in the Noida Special Export Processing Zone). And even here, much of the economic activity is the same that would happen in any city.

Fourth, the kind of industry that is developing in these zones relies on expanded accumulation for which the new labor rules are important—workplaces that deal in workforces of more than 300 people. Other analysts, like Kalyan Sanyal,17 use Harvey’s ideas to make radical claims that the informal sector—comprising a good chunk of the jobs of the working class—makes it impossible for workers to do anything but barely survive; claims that are belied by the rise of new slum entrepreneurs in places like Dharavi and Delhi. This should make us rethink whether it is the case that the primary struggles are no longer at the point of production. The All India Organization of Employers has produced another graph that makes the same point. If you start in 1980 and draw a line through to 2010, measuring the number of industrial disputes, there is a very clear pattern:

18

The fact remains that the gains in India’s growth have been concentrated at the very top. In 1971, total sales of the top twenty industrial houses in India accounted for about 61 percent of the net domestic product of the private organized sector; the corresponding figure for 1981 was 87 percent.19 To come to the situation in the early part of this century, note the continued dominance of what the business press regularly calls the “big four” of Indian business: the Tatas, the Birlas, the Ambanis and the Mittals. In key industries like energy, telecom, steel, automobiles, IT and retail, these four business houses either continue to dominate or are poised to do so in the near future.

Another measure of the concentration of Indian capital at the top can be seen from the following: In 2008, of the 500 surveyed companies, the top twenty private companies accounted for about 40 percent of the sales, 47 percent of after-tax profits, and 45 percent of market capitalization.20 This concentration of capital at the top also becomes a barrier to profitability. Michael Roberts has shown that profit rates in India are falling largely because so few firms are willing to invest in capital formation so long as the infrastructure in India is as terrible as it is. 21 

Low capital investment means low productivity, which also means a severely falling rate of profit. The goal of the bourgeoisie currently is to get the state to shoulder the costs of infrastructure improvements, so it can get on with the business of investing and raising profitability again.

The fact that disciplining labor has been so important to the neoliberal project has not been accidental—it has been the primary way that accumulation has proceeded. But it is not enough to argue that labor is important economically. It also matters whether or not labor can fight back in serious and substantial enough ways to fundamentally alter the economic arrangement. Historically, there have been reasons to suspect that Indian labor unions, tied to large political parties, have been unwilling to act in decisive ways against big business.

Most of those who take labor seriously are cynical about large labor unions that are dominated by the official left (i.e. the Stalinists) as well as unions (the non-Stalinist trade union left) so tiny as to be unable to influence labor struggles in important ways. All of this is to say that getting a very good understanding of the nature of class and social struggle in the New India is a very difficult thing to do because of the ways that the working class has been defeated and the ways that the various strands of the left in India have responded to that working-class defeat.

Here’s how Craig Phelan characterizes the problem:

One reason why so little is known about Indian labor and trade unionism is its complexity and diversity. There is no coherent Indian industrial relations system; both the central and state governments have been prolific in passing labor laws. Rather than a single national trade union federation, there are no less than twelve, each of which in turn serves as the labor wing of an established political party. There are also a growing number of unaffiliated unions that, although usually lacking in resources, pursue their own agendas free from the domination of political parties. Indian trade unionism is deeply divided along ideological lines, and it is further divided by caste and community ties. By law, only seven workers are needed to form a union, and therefore an unhealthy level of union proliferation is reflected in the workplace, eroding collective bargaining strength, stifling worker militancy, and undermining any sense of working-class unity.22

Another example: by most estimates India’s informal and unorganized workforce is at about 85 to 90 percent of all workers, a massive 300 million workers. That means, that even when strikes do happen, they are limited to very small sections of the economy. The minimum wage, such as it is in India, guarantees workers in the official economy an average annual salary of around $700 a year, putting them at barely above the poverty line. For the rest of the economy, it is a one-sided class assault. This has meant that capital accumulation has proceeded virtually unabated; but does that mean the working class is increasingly irrelevant to the process of accumulation?

Ultimately the problem is not hopeless, as jobs have not shifted into the frictionless world of post-Fordist production. This is how Pranab Bardhan explains how labor was reorganized:

With the current decline of agriculture there has not been a commensurate increase in manufacturing particularly in labour-intensive industries; some of the successful cases of industries both in exports and domestic production are in capital- or skill-intensive activities (vehicles, car parts, machine tools, pharmaceuticals, etc.). The real expansion has been in the service sector, not just in business processing, software, communications and finance, but also in traditional services (like trade and transportation). The contribution of the service sector to GDP is now more than 55 percent (the major part of which, contrary to popular impression, is still in the traditional service sector). Even with the widest definition of all information technology-enabled services, they employ less than one-half of 1 percent of the total labor force.23

These facts are important because they dispel the claims that Harvey makes about where the new nodes of accumulation actually are.

Signs of hope?
For the last ten years, the Indian media has been going wild about the rising Indian middle class and its massive consumptive power as the exemplary symbol of India’s enormous economic growth rates. Much of this new Indian middle class works in the service industry, mostly private, though some are employed as civil servants. But the jewel in the crown of this new middle class has definitely been India’s much touted IT sector, even though it employees a tiny fraction of India’s workers. Still, the IT sector has been the coveted place for students to try and find jobs, so much so that it has skewed the priorities of the nation’s educational system and produced a glut in the IT job market.

But ever since 2008, with the global financial crisis, the IT sector has been facing a serious crisis. Earlier this year, India’s largest IT firm, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) announced that it would be issuing letters of termination. Rumors began to circulate that it would result in as many as 25,000 layoffs in Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad. Around the same time, Yahoo, IBM, and HP also announced that they would be laying off employees. Unions speculated that 35,000 people had already lost their jobs in the last two years for cost-cutting purposes. Until the beginning of this year, the laws that govern the IT sector had not been tested, nor was it clear that IT workers qualified as laborers protected under the Industrial Disputes Act.

The intervention of the major unions, the organization of rallies and protests, and the filing of petitions in the courts resulted finally in a ruling that IT workers were indeed workers, and that their layoffs were therefore illegal without proper legal notice. By February, the companies had all announced much smaller layoffs and the unions had revealed significant successes in organizing what was otherwise seen to be an unorganizable sector. Industry journals in the United States even began to worry that the growth of trade unions in Indian IT would put the entire model of outsourcing at risk and threaten their profits. Trade unions have continued to agitate since then for greater openness in hiring and firing in the entire IT sector. It should come as no surprise, then, that thousands of tech workers joined their fellow unionists during the most recent general strike.

These should be signs of hope for the left. They serve as a reminder that the power of capitalism to suppress working-class dissent is not total and that the working class continues to fight back. Even if the current trade union leadership has no real strategy for confronting capitalists in India, they are sometimes forced to bring their members out on strike and to fight in the streets where workers get a sense not only of their power, but who are their real allies.

The most recent mobilizations of labor in India have not been decisive, but they demonstrate both the unevenness of the gains of economic growth, as well as the real force that the working class is capable of mobilizing. What is revealed, most importantly, is that the Indian economic miracle has not been without its problems. There is no uniquely Indian fix to the problems inherent in capitalist accumulation; nor has the working class disappeared into complete inactivity. The recent massive general strikes reveal some of the strengths that labor has left, while the signs of new organizing offer some hope of renewed vibrancy as well.


  1. “The elephant in the stats,” The Economist, April 9, 2016, http://economist.com/news/finance-and-ec....
  2. “India stock market witnesses massive plunge,” The BRICS Post, 24 August 2015, http://thebricspost.com/india-stock-mark....
  3. V. Sridhar, “Chronicle of a Strike,” Frontline, Volume 18, Issue 19, September 15–28, 2001.
  4. See Nrisingha Chakrabarty, History of railway trade union movement (New Delhi: Centre of Indian Trade Unions, 1985); T.N. Siddhanta, The Railway General Strike (SI: AITUC, 1974); Stephen Sherlock, The Indian Railways Strike of 1974 (New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2001).
  5. “Dhirubhai Ambani: Streaking up the ladder, ” India Today, October 9, 2013, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/dhiru....
  6. The Shiv Sena was an Indian far-right regional political party whose ideology is based on pro-Marathi ideology and Hindu nationalism (Hindutva).
  7. This is important because some, including Nivedita Menon and Aditya Nigam (see their Power and Contestation, India since 1989), conclude that labor has become irrelevant both to economic questions in India and to the social resistance to neoliberalism.
  8. “Industrial Unrest: Past Trend & Lessons for the Future,” All India Organization of Employers, http://ficci.in/spdocument/20188/industr....
  9. Source: “Industrial Disputes,” Labor Bureau, Government of India, http://labourbureau.nic.in/idtab.htm.
  10. Statistics on 2009 labor disputes, Closures, Retrenchments, and Layoffs in India, Government of India, Ministry of Labor and Employment, http://labourbureau.nic.in/ID_2009_ALL9.pdf.
  11. David Ashworth, “India Now Uses Gross Value Added to Calculate Economic Output,” Market Realist, 28 May 2015, http://marketrealist.com/2015/05/india-n....
  12. Raymond Zhong and Gabriele Parussini, “Behind India’s World-Beating GDP Data, Central Bank Sees Weakness,” Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2015, http://wsj.com/articles/behind-indias-wo....
  13. Eric Bellman, “India or China: Which Asian Giant Has More Inclusive Growth?”, http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2015/....
  14. “No. of Indians with over $100 million hits 928,” Times of India, 17 June 2015, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/busin....
  15. Rahul Anand and Volodymyr Tulin, “Disentangling India’s Investment Slowdown,” IMF Working Paper (WP/14/47), March 2014.
  16. David Harvey, Limits of Capital (London: Verso Books, 2007).
  17. Kalyan Sanyal, Rethinking Capitalist Development (New Delhi: Routledge India, 2014).
  18. “Industrial Unrest: Past Trends & Lessons for Future,” All India Organization of Employers, 1, www.ficci.com/spdocument/20188/Industria... (1980–2010).
  19. Pranab Bardhan, “Notes on the Political Economy of India’s Tortuous Transition,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 44, No. 49 (December 5–11, 2009), 31.
  20. The Economic Times, “Top Companies in India 2015,” http://economictimes.com/et500.
  21. Michael Robert’s Blog, “India’s Modinomics,” https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2....
  22. Craig Phelan, et. al., “Labor History Symposium: Workers, Unions, and Global Capitalism: Lessons from India,” Labor History 52:4, 535–562.
  23. Pranab Bardhan, 31.

A Critique of "Left wing" defense of the Russian backed Assadist genocidal violence on Aleppo

Letter to a “comrade” who insists on justifying the

 

unjustifiable

 

Tuesday 20 December 2016, by Julien Salingue




“Comrade”,

For several weeks now I’ve been saying to myself that I’m going to write to you, and the tragic events of Aleppo and your reaction to them, and sometimes your non-reaction, is what eventually persuaded me that the time had come to address you.

Not necessarily with the aim of convincing you; I believe that unfortunately it is already too late. But this way at least you would have been warned and you will not be able to claim that you did not know.

In the name of anti-imperialism?

The city of Aleppo has been victim of a massacre, of a real carnage, which one cannot help comparing with other martyred cities like Srebrenica, Grozny, Fallujah, as well as Warsaw and Guernica, or the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatila.

The direct testimonies pouring from the city, coming from “ordinary” Syrians and not only from members of armed groups, are eloquent, a fortiori when they are accompanied by photographs or videos. Words and images that tell about the distress, the impotence, the horror.

But you, “comrade,” have done your utmost in these last few days — if this exercise can be considered as having anything to do with a virtue — to explain that we should not engage with the inhabitants of Aleppo and that there was no need to denounce the bombing of which they are victims, nor to denounce the abuses committed by the troops on the ground during the “liberation” of the city. In other words, you have come to explain us that we should not take a clear and determined position against the planed massacre perpetrated by the dictatorial regime of Bashar al-Assad and its allies, with Russia and Iran at the forefront.

If I address you, “comrade”, it is because in the past we have shared numerous battles, especially — but not only — the fight for the rights of the Palestinian people. Because I thought that, despite our differences, we had common principles. Indeed, I have nothing to say to the pro Putin and/or pro Assad right and far-right, who are unambiguous in their support of authoritarian regimes in the name of shared “values”, and who have never bothered to appear as wanting to build real solidarity with oppressed peoples.

But you, “comrade”, you arrogate to yourself “progressive”, “anti-imperialist”, “socialist”, “communist”, and even “revolutionary” virtues. And in the name of these virtues you attempt to convince us that for the time being we shouldn’t resolutely position on the side of the besieged and massacred people of Aleppo, and that tomorrow we shouldn’t position on the side of the rest of the already besieged and soon massacred Syrian cities.

Which is not, you will admit, the least of the paradoxes.

“The bad guys are not necessarily the ones we believe”

My understanding was that what constituted the common genetic heritage of the anti-imperialist left was to be on the side of the peoples crushed by the imperialist states and their allies. My understanding was that in this genetic heritage, that we seemed to share, we did not compromise with international solidarity. And I had hoped that, despite your sometimes more than ambiguous positions on the Syrian tragedy, the martyrdom of Aleppo would bring you back to reason, and home.

But no. You’re stubborn. You persist with trying to explain that one cannot take sides with the massacred population in Aleppo.

You persist with trying to explain that “things are not so simple”. You persist with trying to explain that in this “war” there is no “good guys on the one hand and bad guys on the other”, and that we need to keep a cool head and not succumb to the easy.

Because it’s pretty clear, “comrade”, you don’t succumb to the easy. Never. You propose us a complex, very elevated and nuanced analysis, which reads somewhat like this: “No, Assad is not a democrat, and the countries supporting him are no models either. But be careful: the self-proclaimed Syrian rebellion is mostly composed by forces coming from fundamentalist, even jihadist Islam which are remote-controlled and armed by reactionary regimes like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, even by the Western sponsors of the latter, particularly the US and France”

Conclusion: “Careful, the bad guys are not necessarily the ones we believe”

The Syrian people, you know?

The first problem of your analysis, “comrade”, is that it “forgets” an essential actor: the Syrian people. Indeed, you seem to “forget” that the point of departure of the “events” in Syria is not a Saudi, US, Qatari or Turkish intervention. Not even a Russian one. The point of departure of all this is that in March 2011 hundreds of thousands of Syrian men and women rose up against a dictatorial and predatory regime, like they did in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya. And if Assad and his thugs had not decided to brutally repress the uprising, with more than 5.000 killed and tens of thousands of detentions during 2011, they too would have fallen under popular pressure.

And we are talking about 2011, year in which, remember “comrade”, you were excited about the other uprisings in the region. “The people want the fall of the regime”, do you remember? You may have even chanted it in the streets of a French city, you who are so fond of freedom, social justice and democracy. In Syria it was chanted too, along with the same economic, social and political demands as in the other countries of the region that were touched by the uprising, and Ryad, Doha, Paris or Washington had nothing to do with it. If you are so interested in the Syrian question, you must know that every time there has been a truce in recent years, the demonstrations resumed. That without the intervention of Iran, then of Russia, the regime would have fallen, under the pressure of the Syrian people, not a few thousand “foreign fighters” — who arrived, by the way, long after the regime killed thousands of unarmed Syrians, and brought tens or even hundreds of “jihadists” out of prison. Have you ever wondered why? — And, yes, the roots of the Syrian “crisis” are indeed the popular protest against a clan, and the response of the latter: destroy everything rather than lose its power and perks.

Unless you want to imply that from the beginning Syrians were “manipulated” by Western countries, that all this is basically a story about hydrocarbons, and that the Syrian uprising was remotely guided from outside by powers that need only to press a button for populations to rise. But I dare not even think so: you are not one of those who believe that Arabs are so foolish that they are not able to think for themselves and that when they begin to mobilize and claim “social justice”, even if they risk losing their lives, it is necessarily because they are manipulated by Westerners who think only of “hydrocarbons”.

Right, “comrade”?

Rocket launcher against aviation

The second problem with your analysis, “comrade”, is that you put on the same level, on one side the “support” provided by Russia and Iran to Assad and on the other the “support” brought by the United States, France, Turkey and the Gulf monarchies to the Syrian opposition forces. You try to make us believe that there wouldn’t be an overwhelming military superiority of the Assad regime and its allies and that, after all, to resume, barely altering it, a formula in vogue in a country bordering Syria, “Assad has the right to defend himself”.

But dare you really compare, on one side, the thousands of Iranian “military advisers” and armament, the thousands of Hezbollah fighters and, above all, the Russian air force (as well as the vehicles and heavy weapons supplied by Russia, the 2nd largest military power in the world) that support a state and a regular army, and, on the other, small arms, rocket launchers and anti-missile launches provided or financed by the Gulf monarchies or Turkey and small arms, rocket launchers, a few anti-tank weapons and communications systems and night vision devices provided, by the drip, by the United States and France?

Do you know that what the Syrian opposition forces have been asking for since the beginning are anti-aircraft missiles, in order to defend themselves against the planes of Putin and Assad’s death, and that it is the United States that have systematically vetoed the delivery of such weapons? Do you know that at the beginning of 2014, after the failure of the “Geneva 2” conference, the Saudis for the first time suggested to deliver missile launchers to the Syrian opposition forces, and that the United States opposed it and that they have not changed position since then? The United States, which did not want, and does not want, that these weapons fall “into the wrong hands”, and above all does not whish for the Syrian state apparatus to be destroyed because they have, contrary to others, drawn the balance sheets of their brilliant intervention in Iraq.

Ask yourself the following question: where are the terrible weapons of the opposition? Do you seriously think that Assad could have bombed entire neighborhoods from helicopters flying low if Syrian opponents had disposed of real armament?

And do you remember that last May the Russian embassy in Great Britain, which must be well informed and which, if it had proofs of the great armament of the opponents of Assad, would exhibit them, was limited to tweeting images extracted from a video game (!) to “prove” that the Syrian opposition forces were receiving chemical weapons?

So, please, let’s be serious!

Who is destroying Syria?

The third problem with your analysis, “comrade”, is that you simply forget a fundamental element: the facts. For you will always be able to tell me that what I have just written is impossible to prove, even if it is the main actors of this “non-support” and the “non-supported” who have testified to it, and who continue to do so. Because, perhaps, after all, they are fierce liars.

But if you absolutely want proof, just open your eyes and ask yourself this simple question: how could Syria have been destroyed? When you comment on the images of devastated cities saying that there is “violence on both sides,” you hide a detail: who possesses the weapons necessary to cause a destruction of such magnitude?

To put it another way: who can carry out bombings? Where are the planes of the Syrian opposition forces? Where are their tanks? Hidden underground, like the super-powerful army of Saddam Hussein that threatened the whole world? How many planes have been destroyed by the Syrian opposition forces? Are you aware that in 2013, when they knocked down two helicopters, it was such a rare event that they celebrated it with great pomp and spread images of their “feat” everywhere? Two helicopters! At that time, I could not stop thinking about the people of Gaza celebrating the accidental fall of an Israeli drone ….

The “coalition” led by the United States intervenes militarily, you object. But can you give me a list of the bombings carried out by this coalition against the armed forces of the Assad regime or against the armed forces that support it? No, do not waste your time searching, because I inform myself daily from reliable sources: according to the Damascus regime and the media that relay its communication, sources that can hardly be suspected of wanting to conceal this type of bombing, it has happened … twice. The first time was in December 2015 (4 dead), in the Deir ez-Zor region, the “coalition” denied having targeted the Syrian army and claimed that it had bombed Daech. The second time in September 2016 (between 50 and 80 deaths according to the sources), near the airport of Deir ez-Zor, this time the “coalition” recognized having bombarded the positions of the regime and presented official apologies to Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin.

In summary, and unless I’m somewhere mistaken (no one is infallible), the “coalition”, which claims about 5,000 “strikes” on Syria, has twice targeted the Assad regime since the beginning of its bombing campaign in 2014, and in one of those cases it has “apologized” for it. Therefore, please note down: “The real military operations carried out by the “coalition” targeted Daech and other “jihadist” groups, not Assad and his allies”.

Finally, some “preventive” remarks

There are many other problems with your analysis, “comrade”, I do not wish to take up any more of your time. Indeed, for having often had the opportunity to discuss verbally with you these “analysis problems” by confronting your “geopolitics” and your “anti-imperialism” with the facts and the actual chronology of events, I know you do not like them very much: the facts. They are really too stubborn.

For it is much easier to come to provoke or to stir up trouble via posts/comments on Facebook or discussion forums that to take the time to have a somewhat precise and reasoned exchange.

So in case you are still tempted to succumb to the easy and want to play this little game, I present to you a few “preventive” remarks:

- Before telling me that I defend the same positions as the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, BHL or some other “cumbersome companions”, remember that if you reason in this way you defend on your side the same positions as Russia, Iran, Marshal Sissi, François Fillon or Marine Le Pen, and ask yourself if that’s a good argument.

- Before telling me that since 2011 Israel has bombed fifteen times positions of the Assad regime, and that those who are against Assad are therefore with Israel, remember that last June Putin declared, at the end of a meeting with Netanyahu with whom he had just signed several trade agreements, the following: “We have evoked the need for joint efforts in the fight against international terrorism. In this regard, we are allies. Both countries have significant experience in matters of fight against extremism. We will therefore strengthen our contacts with our Israeli partners in this area”. And ask yourself if that’s a good argument.

-Before telling me that the Syrian rebellion appealed to the Western countries to receive weapons and to benefit from a substantial, especially aerial, military support and that this necessarily hides something, remember that the Kurdish forces that you admire so much — rightly so — since they rejected Daech in Kobane have done exactly the same thing, and they have obtained this support, to the extent that they publicly thanked the United States for their support, and ask yourself if that’s a good argument.

- Before telling me that the Syrian rebellion, even though one might at first have been sympathetic to it, is now confiscated by reactionary forces stemming from political Islam, and that some of these forces do not hesitate to attack civilians or, a variation on the same theme, that it is really tragic to bomb civilians but that it’s because terrorists hide among them when they do not use them as human shields, remember that this is the speech of those who want to justify the campaigns of deadly bombing on Gaza, and ask yourself it that’s a good argument.

- Before telling me that the Syrian insurgents are “objective allies” of Daech, remember that Daech was driven out of Aleppo at the beginning of 2014 by those who are now being massacred by Assad, then think about the concept of “objective ally”, and ask yourself if that’s a good argument. You can also reconsider, if you are not convinced, what I mentioned above about the real targets of the coalition bombing, and ask yourself a second time if the blow of the “objective ally” is a good argument.

- Finally, before telling me that those who denounce Assad and Putin “forget” to denounce the massacres committed by the great Western powers and their allies, keep in mind that of those who mobilize for Aleppo, we are many who also mobilized for Gaza, against military intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or elsewhere, and that we do not renounce, contrary to you who chose not to be on the street last night to denounce the current butchery [December 14 in Paris], to our political consistency, ideals and anti-imperialism. And ask yourself if that’s a good argument.

***

This is, “comrade”, what I wanted to tell you. The tone is not very pleasant, I agree, but it is not much compared to the indifference, sometimes even contempt, that you display towards the martyrdom of Aleppo.

Do whatever you want with this letter, and of course you have the right to continue be complacent in your short-sighted “geopolitical” vision and your Pavlovian “anti-imperialism” while the Syrians crash under Putin’s and Assad’s bombs before your eyes.

We are not talking about an exercise of rhetoric on Facebook through interposed comments, but of thousands, tens of thousands of lives. We are not talking about a discrepancy between us about the appreciation of this or that event, but about your complicit silence or your miserable contortions in the face of one of the greatest tragedies of our time. We are not talking about a simple political disagreement, but a real rupture.

I don’t know when we will talk next time, “comrade”. But what I know is that if you persist, and unfortunately I think that is what you are going to do, there will not even be quotation marks anymore, for there will be no more comrade.

I leave you with Che, who has something to say to you:“Above all, try always to be able to feel deeply any injustice committed against anyone in any part of the world. It is the most beautiful quality of a revolutionary.”

15 Decmber 2016

PS: No, I did not put any footnotes. It is not my style not to mention references, but you will probably have understood that it is voluntary. Because you are very good at doing research on the internet (and elsewhere?), you and I know very well that you will be able to find all the sources used here.

First published on Julien Salingue’s blog Résister à l’air du temps.

Translated into Spanish by Faustino Eguberri for VIENTO SUR

Translated into English from Spanish and French by Rafaela Apel here.

From International Viewpoint


http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article4804 

Call for international community – Aleppo civilians plead for help as airstrikes resume: ’Save us’ ’Tomorrow will be too late for many of us’

 

Wednesday 14 December 2016by KAREEM Bilal AbdulSHAHEEN Kareem

Call for international community to put a stop to fighting as evacuation of civilians from stricken city blocked by militias.

Desperate residents in the remaining pockets of rebel-held Aleppo reacted with mounting horror and anguish as shelling and airstrikes resumed in the Syrian city on Wednesday, hours after a ceasefire and evacuation deal offered them hope of escape.

Doctors and other civilians, who hours earlier had expressed cautious optimism that they would be able to leave east Aleppo, again implored the international community to put a stop to the fighting that had left their homes in ruins and allow them to seek a safe haven elsewhere.

Thousands of civilians are still trapped in a small enclave of east Aleppo, bereft of food, water and electricity and without any functioning hospitals.

A ceasefire agreed on Tuesday by Turkish intelligence and the Russian military was to have permitted evacuations to Idlib province to begin on Wednesday morning, but Turkish and rebel officials said the Iranian-backed militias who had spearheaded the Assad government’s assault on rebel-held Aleppo were not permitting civilians to leave. The Turkish Red Crescent said nearly 1,000 people were being held at a militia checkpoint.

Residents said shells had fallen on the road on which the evacuations were supposed to take place.

“Save us, people. Save us, people, world, anyone who has even a bit of humanity,” said one doctor in a voice message from a besieged district. “We beg you, we beg you, the dead and wounded are in the streets and people’s homes have collapsed on top of them. Save us. Save us.”

Another resident said: “We want to leave. We don’t want more massacres, let us leave. What is happening?”

Civilians left in rebel-held Aleppo have been posting farewell messages on social media as Iranian-backed militias and forces loyal to the regime of Bashar al-Assad rampage through newly reclaimed neighbourhoods in what the UN described as a “meltdown of humanity”.

Many civilians predicted they would either die once the regime’s forces reached their homes, or would be detained and tortured if they gave themselves up to them.

The UN reported that the Iranian-backed militias leading the assault, including the Iraqi Harakat al-Nujaba, had carried out at least 82 extrajudicial killings, including of women and children who were living in opposition-controlled areas. Reports of detentions and forced recruitment into the Syrian army have also proliferated in recent days as the regime advanced through Aleppo.

It was unclear on Wednesday when residents would be allowed to leave east Aleppo and whether the evacuation deal would hold. No residents have been evacuated so far.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said shuttle diplomacy with Russia and Iran was continuing to keep the deal on track. The agreement to allow civilians and opposition fighters to leave was confirmed by both Russia and the Assad regime on Tuesday evening, but Turkish and rebel officials said the Iranian-backed militias, who were not involved in the negotiations, had blocked the evacuations.

The Syrian president told Russia Today in an interview aired on Wednesday that western powers were seeking a ceasefire in Aleppo to stop the regime advance and save “the terrorists”.

The evacuation of rebel-held Aleppo would, however, mean the opposition would cede the city, the last major urban stronghold where it maintained an active presence.

Residents said the bombardment on Wednesday, with artillery and airstrikes as well as alleged use of cluster bombs, had resumed at a pace greater even than before the ceasefire deal.

“This is an urgent distress call,” said another doctor who on Tuesday night had told the Guardian he was saddened to leave Aleppo but happy that civilians would survive.

“Save the besieged districts of Aleppo. Since the early morning, the shelling has targeted all the besieged neighborhoods with all types of weaponry. The dead are in the street, and so are the wounded, and there are no ambulances. Save Aleppo. An urgent distress call to every free person in the world.”

Another nurse, whose father and brother were killed on the same day earlier in the regime’s offensive, pleaded that civilians be spared. “A lot of shells and bombs are falling on us, no one can walk in the streets,” he said in a voice message. “Hundreds of shells and rockets. Please let us stay alive. Please pressure the regime to keep us safe. Please, from Aleppo, the last call.”

He added: “The medical situation is so bad. No ambulances, no cars, it’s a very horrible situation in our neighbourhoods. Please let our scream arrive to the whole world.”

Weeks of immense suffering and violence in east Aleppo since the Syrian regime and allies began a final push into territory that had been in rebel hands since 2012 have left residents in total despair and increasingly angry at the international community for abandoning them to their fate.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the security council late on Tuesday that the Syrian government, along with Russia and Iran, bore responsibility for the deaths of civilians in Aleppo. She accused the three states of putting a “noose” around civilians in the city, asking: “Are you incapable of shame? … Is there no execution of a child that gets under your skin? Is there literally nothing that shames you?”

Iranian leaders were congratulating themselves on Wednesday for the role they had played in the assault. The chief military adviser to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saidAleppo had been “liberated thanks to a coalition between Iran, Syria, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah”.

Kareem Shaheen in Istanbul

* The Guardian. Wednesday 14 December 2016 15.22 GMT:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/14/aleppo-civilians-plea-as-airstrikes-resume-syria


Message from Aleppo: ’Tomorrow will be too late for us’

Journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem describes a “desperate situation” and calls for the creation of a humanitarian corridor.

East Aleppo, Syria - We are all praying for rain. When it rains, the planes can’t fly and the bombardment stops for a short while.

We are hoping that it rains long enough for the powers of the world to do something to help the 150,000 civilians stuck in this small neighbourhood in Aleppo escape the carnage.

The situation here is desperate.

People seeking refuge are flooding into the area, cramming into about 10sq km. There are many babies and children here too.

People come with three or four children in tow, fleeing the government forces. They use their pushchairs to carry children, and whatever other belongings they can - some clothes, a few cooking utensils in plastic bags, essentials.

I chose to come to Aleppo several weeks ago. I thought I’d be here with my two-person crew for a few days. I didn’t intend to be here this long. But I knew that coming here at all could be risky.

Reporting from conflict zones is dangerous, but getting the truth to the world is important. Most of the other people here, however, had no choice. They are just caught up in this nightmare against their will.

It is extremely cold. The place where I am staying has no proper walls - I have hung plastic sheets and a blanket in the large holes made by a recent air strike.

The big-hearted Syrian people treat me - a journalist and the only black American in town - generously. They know I can communicate their stories to the world only when they allow me to charge my phone and laptop in one of the few remaining places with a generator and fuel.

The price of the little food that is left is not too high, as people don’t want to take advantage of each other, but there is not much to sell, and everyone is suffering.

In order to cook, people take broken bits of furniture, a brick and a few stones, place their pot on top of it and then light a fire.

The menu is limited: bread, dates, and bulgur wheat, referred to here as “poor man’s rice”. Some charities stockpiled the bulgur but there is not nearly enough. Most people have no access to fresh water.

Even the cooking needs to be done in hiding, out of fear of attracting government planes, or those who are hungry and have no food of their own.

The air strikes are relentless. They operate using a “double tap” method that is designed to kill any Good Samaritans who come to the aid of the injured. They strike once then wait a while; then, when people gather to try to remove those stuck under the rubble, they strike again.

At night, the streets are empty. Low-flying aircraft and their cannons hover around the town, targeting anything that moves. If you must go outside, you listen carefully and wait until they pass before running for your life from one block to another, crouching in the shadows.

It is hardest for the injured. All of the hospitals in eastern Aleppo have been heavily bombed and as of two weeks ago, there are no longer any functioning. All that exists now are pop-up clinics in underground locations.

Getting to these clinics is difficult. The courageous White Helmets are no longer functioning; their ambulances cannot run without fuel or fear of being targeted. Some people risk bringing the injured to clinics in cars or pick-up trucks, if they have a few drops of fuel left. I have even seen people use wheelbarrows to transport severely injured loved ones.

If you make it to one of these “clinics”, a new kind of nightmare awaits you there - they are crammed with people, lying on the floor in pools of blood. There is so much blood that the doctors and nurses wear boots as they slip from one patient to the next.

These clinics cannot offer anything beyond emergency medical treatment, suturing wounds and trying to carry out emergency operations. Their only aim is to stop the bleeding; they can do no more than that. And the moment the doctor is able to stop the bleeding, the victim must leave. The clinics are dangerous places. The more human beings there are assembled in one place, the more likely that place is to be targeted.

’ Tomorrow will be too late for many of us’

The Syrian government opened a corridor for people to turn themselves in. Perhaps 50,000 to 60,000 did hand themselves over. But people are still flooding into our remaining enclave as the government pushes forward. Local civilians prefer to face bombs and harsh conditions rather than disappearance.

The fact that the Syrian army has already killed half a million of their own people is a big deterrent.

But now we hear reports of hundreds of men disappearing in one place, and of men being lined up for summary execution in another. It only adds to the fear of turning yourself over.

It is desperate now. The rain will stop soon and the slaughter will begin again. There must be a humanitarian corridor now. Today. Tomorrow will be too late for many of us.

Bilal Abdul Kareem

Al Jazeera News:
http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/12/message-aleppo-tomorrow-late-161213131759683.html

 

From ESSF  http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article39759 

GErman Fourth Internationalists form Unified Organisation

The Foundation of an International Socialist Organisation (ISO)  

Friday 9 December 2016

The International Socialist Left (ISL) and the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSB) have merged.

On the weekend of the 3/4 December 2016, in Frankfurt, the RSB and the ISL united to form The International Socialist Organisation (ISO) (website: www.intersoz.org). This constitutes the united section of the Fourth International in Germany. Prior to this saw a long period of separate functioning (from the foundation of the RSB in 1994 and of ISL in 2001) and an approximately three-year process of moves towards the agreement of a common programme, a profile and statute of the new organisation, and an analysis of the current political context and the most pressing tasks of international socialists and of a revolutionary Marxist organisation.

About 70 members and guests from home and abroad were present on the first day and took part in the debates. What became clear was the collective conviction, and indeed the will, of the members of both organisations to create a fresh start and to confront new questions. Some of the invited guests expressed a desire to join the new organisation at the conference itself.

During the years of separation, the primary differences were in respect of organisational culture and approaches to other left forces. Whilst these have not fully been eradicated, there has been, during the fusion process, a clear rapprochement and agreement towards a stable basis for unity. There is a desire in the ISO to respect and make productive any future differences of views and approaches.

Members of the new organisation will also continue to work in The Left Party (Die Linke). Additionally, as a result of this fusion, the ISO will support the publication of The Socialist News (Die Sozialistische Zeitung – SoZ) as an independent organ, and also the development of a website and an organisational magazine. As well as publicity, critical socialist educational work will be undertaken. The emphasis of our (certainly strengthened) activities will continue to be in practical work in industry, trades unions and movements.

At a time when the trades unions and the forces of the political and social left are on the defensive and the political right and extreme right are in the ascendency in many countries, the uniting of active socialist forces, however modest their strength, is a good sign and, hopefully, one which will provide an impetus to other forces on the left.

 

From International Viewpoint

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