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Imperialist feminism

 

Issue #102: International Socialist Review 
http://isreview.org/issue/102/imperialist-feminism 
 

This is a modified version of a presentation given 
at Socialism, a conference held in Chicago in July, 2015. Audio files of presentations from this yearly event can be found at wearemany.org.

On International Women’s day this past March, a global campaign was launched to tackle gender inequality and violence against women. This is certainly a much-needed campaign, especially if we look at what women have experienced over the last few years. For instance, in the United States military, rape and sexual assault is a major problem. In 2012, an estimated 26,000 rapes and sexual assaults took place—and keep in mind that only one in seven victims report these attacks. In Britain, after the financial crisis of 2008, domestic violence spiked dramatically, and by 2010 had increased by 35 percent. In Afghanistan, after the US/NATO occupation and the rise of the warlords to commanding positions, sexual and physical violence against women increased significantly. Last year, when Israel attacked Gaza and killed over 2,000 people, a significant percentage of the dead were women and girls. Looking at this picture, we can

conclude that there is a dire need to build an international campaign to fight against the physical and sexual violence that women experience around the world from the United States to the UK, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, and beyond.

However, this global campaign is not that. Backed by a large number of international organizations, this campaign, which is calling itself India’s Daughter, in fact doesn’t address any of the issues noted above. India’s Daughter is a British documentary film made by Leslee Udwin that tells the story of a brutal gang rape in Delhi in December 2012 that led to the death of Jyoti Singh, 23, a medical student, and the month-long street protests that followed demanding an end to violence against women.* The campaign is tied to this film which has been shown in numerous countries around the world from Canada to Norway to the United States, with the support and backing of celebrities such as Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto. If you look at the issues included on the campaign website, it lists everything from rape to domestic violence, “honor based violence,” child marriage, infanticide, and so on. But what’s interesting is that the only time that white women in the West make an appearance as victims in this so-called “global campaign” is in the section on “Equality,” where the wage gap between men and women in the United States and UK are discussed. The section on rape doesn’t mention rape in the United States (either in the military or college campuses, where one in five women are raped); instead, the focus is on war rape and the examples given are of Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Yugoslavia. Is it any wonder, then, that the first goal of this campaign is to target 20 million school pupils and rural communities in India?

The question we might ask is why this campaign is called “India’s Daughter” rather than “America’s Daughter” or “The American Problem” because, after all, not only is sexual violence against women a massive issue in this country but also, around the same time as the Delhi rape, in Steubenville, Ohio, a sixteen-year-old girl was gang raped and sexually assaulted by a group of men. Why didn’t this case become the focus of a documentary and global campaign? What stands out for me is that the rape was filmed by a bystander who thought it was so normal and amusing for a young woman to be repeatedly raped that he posted it on YouTube. In the video, you hear him laughing hysterically and saying things like “She is so raped right now,” “She is deader than Trayvon Martin,” “They peed on her, that’s how you know she’s dead.” You see here how race and gender intersect, a point I will come back to. When this story broke, the level of misogyny shocked people, just as another story in 2014 did when a young man named Elliot Roger set out on a misogynistic campaign to kill women at a sorority house in Isla Vista, California for rejecting him. 

The India’s Daughter campaign says nothing about these “First World” problems. Instead the message is that rape, sexual violence, and other forms of female oppression take place elsewhere: in the Global South, in cultures that the West considers backward and barbaric, and not only is it not a problem here, but it the responsibility of women in the West to wage a moral crusade to rescue their Brown and Black sisters. This then is the logic of imperialist feminism in the twenty-first century, shaped by the deeply racist framework of the “clash of civilizations,” which is based on the idea that the West is a superior culture because it believes in democracy, human rights, secularism, women’s rights, gay rights, freedom of speech, and a whole host of other liberal values, whereas the Global South is barbaric, misogynistic, driven by religion, and illiberal. From this follows the “white man’s burden” and the “white woman’s burden” to intervene through any means necessary, including wars of colonization, to “liberate” less fortunate women in other parts of the world.

There are three points I want to explore and I welcome comments and suggestions since these are my preliminary thoughts on this issues. First, how did we get to a point where an India’s Daughter campaign can become the face of global feminism? I will argue that a number of factors come together in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries that shape the language and practice of imperialist feminism today. What is the historic context in which a number of factors have come together to shape imperialist feminism as it expresses itself in the twenty-first century? These factors include the neoliberal gutting of social welfare programs, the space that this has opened up for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the corresponding NGO-ization of feminism, the launching of the “war on terror”, the appropriation of older orientalist tropes to serve imperial aims, and finally, the remaking of Western nation-states in line with the clash of civilizations framework. In other words, I think it is not enough to understand the phenomenon of imperialist feminism simply as liberation at gunpoint, instead we need to situate it within a broader historical context and examine the economic and political conditions that enable its rise to the level of what is today seen as common sense, not just in the West but among the middle and ruling classes in the Global South as well. 

Second, I will unpack the origins of imperial feminism going back to its heyday in the nineteenth century and argue that it is not enough to look only at how Brown and Black women were constructed within the dominant colonial logic, which is the focus of much scholarship on the topic, but to understand how white women were implicated within colonial politics. Some middle- and upper-class women supported colonialism, seeing it as a means to win rights for women. In reality, empire does not liberate women either in the colonies or in the metropole. I argue that women in imperial centers, particularly working-class women, have little to gain from empire. 

Finally, drawing on the work of various feminists I lay out a framework for how to talk about transnational feminist solidarity and present a few analytical propositions for how we might create a genuine grassroots global feminist movement.

Neoliberalism—the current form in which capitalism is organized—has brought with it a series of changes over the last few decades. In contrast to earlier economic models where the state, or the government, provided for its citizen’s needs in the form of social welfare programs, subsidized food programs, public schooling, state provided health care, and so on. (Here I am drawing a global picture—in the United States other than Medicare and Medicaid, we’ve never had an entirely state-run healthcare system like in Canada or the UK. In developing nations you have subsidized food programs that are far more extensive than the limited food-stamps program that we have here. In a previous era there was a notion that the state had a part to play in meeting the social needs of a society.) This notion has been attacked, and all these programs either gutted or dismantled in the era of neoliberalism. 

Privatization and the attack on social programs do two things for neoliberalism: they open up new opportunities for investment (private parks, private schools, privatized child care etc.), and they force onto individual families various social reproduction tasks which invariably fall on the shoulders of women, who provide them, free of cost out of “love” and “duty.” Working-class families are especially impacted. Because they cannot afford various things that have been privatized, they are more vulnerable at the workplace, more reliant on their low-paying jobs, and less able to resist the neoliberal assault. 

There is another unique form created by neoliberalism: the NGO. The withdrawal of state and public resources from the processes of social reproduction creates a gap that NGOs have been able to fill over the last few decades. We have seen a massive growth in NGOs from the 1980s to the present. Today it would not be an exaggeration to say that NGOs have become crucial players in national and global politics, especially on questions related to women’s welfare and rights. By 2000 they were disbursing between twelve and fifteen billion dollars, by 2012 in some parts of the world, the NGO sector had become more powerful than the state. 

But it is in the 1990s that NGOs become a force to be reckoned with, and half of all international NGOs were focused on three issues—women’s rights, human rights, and the environment. This focus on human rights is not accidental; it comes into being with the end of the Cold War, and the birth, or rebirth, of humanitarianism as the justification for imperial interventions in a whole host of countries from Iraq to Somalia to Yugoslavia. In this context, humanitarian NGOs and human rights groups abandoned their tradition of neutrality in conflicts, calling instead for military intervention by Western powers, and even collaborating in invasions and occupations. CARE agitated for UN intervention in Somalia to end the famine in the early 1990s. World Vision and Human Rights Watch argued for military intervention against Serbia to protect Muslims in Srebrenica; Oxfam argued for the NATO attack against Serbia to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. In later decades, Amnesty USA would conduct a campaign to ask NATO to continue its occupation of Afghanistan. The United States has been happy to incorporate NGOs into military planning, operations, and postwar occupations. Colin Powell had this to say about humanitarian NGOs in Afghanistan: they were a “force multiplier for us, an important part of our combat team.” After military conquests, aid agencies took on state-like functions such as running health, education, and welfare systems.

The appeal of NGOs in the war on terror, and for neoliberalism generally, is that they privatize social functions and put various social reproduction needs in the hands of entities that are easily controlled by corporations and powerful states. Because NGOs rely on funds from various donors, they are bureaucratically organized entities designed to be accountable to their donors, be they governments or private institutions. Needless to say, these entities are seen as less threatening than social movements, which can’t be controlled as easily.

Feminist and women’s NGOs operate in this general context. Additionally, they have been shaped by various UN conferences on women held in Mexico City, Nairobi, and Beijing. It was actually at the Beijing women’s conference in 1995, the conference at which Hillary Clinton made her now famous speech that “women’s rights are human rights,” that NGOs came to world attention and to the forefront of feminist activism.

Sabine Lang refers to this process as the “NGO-ization of feminism,” and what she means by this is not only the massive growth of feminist NGOs over the 1990s and 2000s, but also a process whereby feminist activism has shifted from participation in political/social movements to advocacy and action in and through feminist NGOs. Now this is not all bad; feminist scholars have pointed out that in regions where there is little or no social support, NGOs provide badly needed services and have been advocates for women’s rights. NGOs aren’t a monolith; there certainly are some NGOs doing good work in many parts of the world. But it is also important to note that the best funded NGOs, and therefore the most powerful NGOs, are tied to all sorts of corporations and international agencies, and have also co-opted and demobilized movement activism in favor of a liberal rights-based approach and a politics of capitalist development with an overall framework that upholds the legitimacy of empire and capital. 

For example, in Gaza and the West Bank there has been a massive increase in the number of NGOs since the 1990s, but the result of this has been to demobilize the Palestinian women’s movement, which used to be political, activist, and grassroots. Additionally, various human rights activists and researchers have complained that work they had done documenting the impact on women of the Israeli occupation and its siege of Gaza miraculously just disappears from the final reports produced by groups like Human Rights Watch. The result is that the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which is an important and foundational context for the oppressive conditions that Palestinian women live under, is erased from the picture. In this way, the structuring reality of occupation and empire is removed, which then makes it possible to offer limited individualistic solutions that don’t challenge the underlying causes. To make matters worse, social movements are demobilized and the best activists are sucked into NGOs. 

Another trend is the commercialization of human rights work; take the case of the eight-month campaign called “Beauty without Borders” in Afghanistan. It was funded by Revlon, L’Oreal, and other cosmetic companies to the tune of three quarters of a million dollars. The goal was to teach Afghan women how to be beauticians as a route to liberation. (Of course the beauty companies got a nice little public relations boost out of it, not to mention profits and new markets for the sale of their products.) 

One of the women who ran the program said, “When I first came to Kabul, I was shocked at what these women did to their hair and faces.” She added, “They would use henna, which is horrible for your hair. The scissors looked like hedge trimmers. They used buckets from nearby wells outside to rinse hair. I asked one of the girls to do my make-up once and I looked like a drag queen.” So teaching beauty tips became a crusade for this woman, because that was apparently the most serious need for women in war-torn Afghanistan. Rather than ask why women have to get water from nearby wells not simply to wash their hair but also for their daily needs, and what might be done to provide clean running water in people’s homes, this NGO staffer was focused instead on beauty standards. Of course, not all people who work for NGOs are this ignorant or racist, but we do have to question the logic behind such programs. The logic is to provide beauty skills to women so that they can start a beauty salon, which is based on a developmental/modernization approach that “empowers” women by training them to be entrepreneurs. This modernization framework of training individuals to own their own business as a means of liberation is a dominant framework in the NGO world. This is why Jyoti Singh can become the poster-girl for a documentary like India’s Daughter. While Singh should be admired for her hard work and determination—she worked a night job to put herself through medical school and harbored dreams of building a hospital in her home town—she is the kind of person who can be appropriated into the individualistic logic of developmental modernization. She is lionized for taking advantage of the all opportunities afforded her by neoliberal India while leaving unquestioned a system that forces people like her to work night jobs when in fact education should be free. 

At any rate, there are many examples of the commercialization of women’s liberation like the “Beauty without Borders” campaign. As Lila Abu-Lughod in her book Do Muslim Women Need Saving? notes, 

The One in Three Women Global Campaign to raise awareness around violence against women asks that you buy their cards, charms, and dog tags. Peacekeeper Cause-metics asks you to support women’s causes by purchasing their lipstick and nail polish. They only give a fraction of this money to fight violence against women in Muslim-majority countries. Hirsi Ali’s foundation is only the most recent to pick up this commercialization of women’s rights inviting us to get our own high-quality “honor” tote bag for a donation.

Today, the way to show solidarity with women around the world is reduced to shopping and charity. 

The upshot of all these processes is that by 2010 we have a situation in which neoliberalism has thoroughly saturated and consolidated the practice and rhetoric of imperialist feminism. It is in this sense that the imperialist feminism today is of a different kind than its nineteenth-century counterpart. While it shares much in common with its precursor, it also has its own unique characteristics. 

What is similar between what was called “Colonial Feminism” and what is today called imperial feminism?

Colonial Feminism comes into being in the nineteenth century in the context of European colonization of large parts of the world. In order to justify colonialism, as Edward Said teaches us, a new body of ideas was produced called Orientalism, based on the notion that the West is superior and the East, which is backward, is in need of civilizing. Eastern and Muslim women would become a central part of this Orientalist framework. Many scholars have shown that Muslim women were cast in one of two ways: first as sex objects in a fantasy world of the harem, or second as downtrodden victims who were imprisoned, secluded, shrouded, and treated as the slaves of men. In both constructions, it fell upon various colonial officials and overlords to supposedly rescue these women.

In reality, of course, the liberation of Eastern women has never been on the agenda for colonial powers. As one nineteenth-century French official put it, “If we are to strike against Algerian society’s capacity to resist, then we must first of all conquer their women,” adding, “We have to go and find these women, under the veils they hide behind.’”

In her book Separate and Dominate: Feminism and Racism after the War on Terror, Christine Delphy, following Marnia Lazreg, states that the 

French did nothing to help North African women. But they carried out a few “un-veiling” campaigns during the Algerian War . . . under the pretext of “liberating women.” In reality, the purpose of these campaigns—like the rapes committed by soldiers or the use of “lascivious” native women in brothels—was to demoralize the Algerian men by “stealing” their last bit of property: women.

Additionally, attacks on the veil and attacks on Islam were a means by which to de-fang the national liberation movement that used Islam as an ideological glue to bring people together to stand up to French imperialism.

When the British invaded and occupied Egypt in 1882, Lord Cromer, who oversaw the occupation, claimed to be liberating women. He had very specific views about Islam, about women and the veil, and he wrote about all three. He wrote that Islam as a religion is a “complete failure” and is responsible for the “degradation of women.” Unlike Christianity, which he claimed led Western men to “elevate” women to a high status, in Islam the practices of veiling and segregation leads Muslim men to “degrade” women and in the process they wind up inferior themselves. To uplift Egyptians, according to Cromer, they must be “persuaded or forced to imbibe the true spirit of Western civilization.”

It is important to note that it was not just colonial overlords who developed this line of argument, there were various native collaborators who helped with this project too. Qasim Amin, a French-educated upper middle-class lawyer, wrote a book called The Liberation of Women (1899), which reflected and reproduced colonial arguments. It is rumored that Cromer actually asked him to write this book and indeed, Leila Ahmed’s analysis shows how it is not only obsequious in its praise for the West and harsh in its denunciation of Egypt, but it is actually antifeminist. Amin argued that Muslim societies had to abandon their backward ways and follow the Western path to civilization and success, and this would happen by Muslim mothers following the “noble duty” that mothers in “advanced societies” had, which was to raise good sons. Liberation meant liberation from Islam, so that Muslim women could be turned into good, docile, Victorian mothers. The Liberation of Women is not about the liberation of Egyptian women or European women, but about making them better adjuncts and caregivers to men. Did Cromer’s policies liberate Egyptian women? Absolutely not. Ahmed shows how the British placed all sorts of restrictions on women’s education that were detrimental to their advancement.

Instead, Cromer and Amin are obsessed by the veil and insist that women remove it. Critics of Cromer and Amin, particularly Egyptian feminists in the early twentieth century, argued that the veil was a red herring. They argued that what was needed to advance the cause of women’s liberation was access to education and health care, the ability to work outside the home, and rights related to marriage and divorce. Without these rights, simply taking off the veil would do nothing to elevate the status of women.

In addition to men like Cromer and Amin, various women also participated in the project of imperialist feminism. Various missionary women who traveled to Egypt and other parts of the world would argue that only Christianity could save the poor, downtrodden Muslim women. Here is how one European missionary put it: “Muslim women needed to be rescued by their Christian sisters from the ‘ignorance and degradation’ in which they live.” British feminists, particularly upper- and middle-class white women who were active in the struggle for suffrage, would also jump on this bandwagon. As Antoinette Burton shows, the argument that suffragists made was that if Britain was to be a truly great civilization and great colonial power, then what was needed was to give women equal rights. In other words, various suffragists adopted the Orientalist notion of the West as superior, and used that line of argument to assert that women deserved the right to vote in order to make the Empire truly great. Writing about British women supporters of empire, Indrepal Grewal in Home and Harem says: 

As travelers, ethnologists, missionaries, and reformers, Englishwomen could show their equality with Englishmen by participating in the colonial project that was defined in purely heterosexual, masculinist terms as a “penetration” and “mastery” of “virgin” territory of feminine and weak cultures. By such participation, they could uphold their supposed racial and national superiority over Eastern women that, many Englishwomen felt, justified their possession of equal rights with men.

In reality, colonialism did not benefit the cause of women’s rights in either the colony or  the metropole. For instance, Lord Cromer, the supposed champion of Egyptian women’s rights, was a strong antisuffragist in Britain. He was a founding member and the president for a period of the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage. We can call him a hypocrite, but in fact he was not; he was simply using women’s rights to advance empire in Egypt, and back home he upheld Victorian gender norms. Keep in mind that British women at the time had few rights—neither the right to vote, to own property, to sue, etc. When she was married she pretty much became the property of her husband and, as such, marital rape was the right of husbands. This was the order that Cromer sought to uphold in Britain.

This is why the imperialist feminist narrative is a false feminism. It not only fails to address or “liberate” Eastern women, but it also does a disservice to Western women. In presenting Western women as being already liberated because they are a part of a “superior civilization,” this rhetoric obscures the very real oppression faced by women in the heart of empire. It further drives a wedge between Eastern and Western women that is predicated on racism, nationalism, and the logic of civilizational superiority. Even though ruling-class white women in Britain may have benefitted financially from the spoils of empire, they too, like their working-class counterparts, lost out politically. 

The same attitude was expressed by Lord Curzon, viceroy of India. When he finished his term and was set to leave India, he gave a speech lavishing praise on his wife for the work that she had done to “uplift” Indian women. However, upon returning home, he took over from Lord Cromer the presidency of the League to Oppose Women’s Suffrage. Grewal writes:

A list of antisuffragists published in 1910 and 1911 by the Anti-Suffrage Review lists Kipling, Cromer, Curzon, and Joseph Chamberlain, all men who had much to do with England’s imperialist policies. For these men, the empire was a symbol of masculinity and Englishwomen were the keepers of morals and the angels of the house; colonial matters . . . were not to touch these women, as Kipling’s fiction reveals. Furthermore, women were considered unqualified to make decisions in the masculine enterprise of empire. For instance, a member of Parliament, Mr. J. A. Grant, said in the House of Commons in 1913: “In controlling a vast Empire like our own, an Empire built by the mental and physical capacity of men, and maintained, as it always must be maintained, by the physical and mental capacity of masterly natures—I ask; ‘is there a place for women?’”

The answer to this question, of course, is “no.” Empire, and particularly war, is a masculine enterprise, and it relies on a notion of white femininity that is docile and supportive. Such a world view does not benefit women but grants them, at best, second-class status. 

Even today, empire is still a masculine and sexist enterprise, but what has changed in the twenty-first century is that there is now a “place for women.” Thus, we see the likes of Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright. But it is not just white women who are agents of empire; Black men like Colin Powell and Black women like Condoleezza Rice have been given leadership roles in the new imperial project. Additionally, native-collaborator roles are represented by women. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the Qasim Amin of today, having done more than anyone else to malign Muslim majority countries and sing the praises of empire, all the while masquerading as a “feminist.” But even with women and people of color at the helm of empire, racism and sexism still remain central to the imperial mission. 

Take Hillary Clinton for instance. She is a hawk and a strong defender of US imperialism. This means of course that she is silent on human-rights and women’s-rights violations in countries that the United States regards allies, such a Saudi Arabia, but when useful she will position herself as feminist. Her main claim to being a defender of women’s rights is the speech she made in Beijing in 1995, when she stated that women’s rights are human rights. Of course, if you look at her record back home you see that she willingly participated in the violation of women’s rights by supporting her husband’s move to end “welfare as we know it.” She had little to say when Bill Clinton threw Lani Guinier, his initial choice for assistant attorney general, under the bus, and she cozied up to the health care industry and sold out universal health care. [Since this talk, a new anthology, False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Clinton was published which explains why she is not a feminist]. But even beyond Clinton’s policy choices it would be fair to say that she has always accepted the status of a second-class citizen in relation to her husband. The most obvious instance of this is not just the adoption of his name but the contradiction between her persona abroad and that at home; even while she argued for women’s rights in Beijing, back home she remained the dutiful wife of Bill Clinton standing by her man despite his numerous infidelities. As much as roles change for women and people of color in the imperial drama, imperial feminism remains mired in sexism. 

This hasn’t stopped various Western nations from remaking themselves in the era of the war on terror as bastions of liberalism. Whether looking at France, the UK, Canada, or the United States, there is a pattern whereby these nations have branded themselves as the upholders of liberal values in a world where war, assassination through drone strikes, extensive surveillance, indefinite detention, and other such practices are presented as the only means by which to keep the “barbarians” at bay; illiberal actions are necessary to preserve liberalism. In other words, Islamophobia and racism are once again central to national identity in ways similar to what occurred at the highpoint of colonialism in the nineteenth century. This explains France’s ban on the headscarf and then the veil, all in the name of laïcité and the supposed liberation of Muslim women. This devotion to secularism is, however, highly selective. The French government pays for the upkeep of 36,000 churches, and pays the salaries of priests, pastors, and rabbis; half of all French children and teenagers are educated in religiously run, mostly Catholic schools. Take also the defense of “free speech” after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Charlie Hebdo journalists were celebrated as defenders of free speech, because, it was claimed, they criticized all religions equally. In truth, Islam was the target of the “most frequent and vicious attacks” writes French feminist Delphy. There are also double stands in relation to French free speech laws; the “Gayssot law” makes it a crime to raise questions about the Holocaust. Thus, some kinds of speech are allowed and others disallowed. 

The end result is a selective appropriation of women’s rights, of secularism, of free speech as a way to remake the nation in classically colonial terms, with racism as its bedrock. The January 11, 2015 march for “national unity” was about strengthening French “values” and French nationalism in the context of a world supposedly characterized by a clash of civilizations. It is not surprising, therefore, that at this march were present Benjamin Netanyahu, Angela Merkel, and a whole host of other global leaders casting the West as a beacon of civilization fighting against the supposed barbarism of Islam. 

This is true not just of France but various Western nations. In the UK, schools are required to promote “fundamental British values.” John Nash, the schools minister, explained the program and these values as follows: “We want every school to promote the basic British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs. This ensures young people understand the importance of respect and leave school fully prepared for life in modern Britain.” 

Thus, Modernity=West. Liberalism=West. 

After the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage in this country, the British surveillance agency GCHQ, probably the most invasive and extreme surveillance agency in the West, decorated its headquarters in rainbow colored lights! The CIA does the same; it routinely trots out its LGBTQ employees or showcases women in leadership positions, as ways to demonstrate its progressiveness. This strategy has been perfected by Israel, in what is called “pink washing.” 

In other words, what we have seen in the era of the war on terror is not only the remaking of Western nation states in classically colonial forms, albeit with important differences, but also the appropriation of the gains of various social movements, including feminism and gay liberation, as a way to advance the agenda of empire.

So, if we reject imperialist feminism as a false feminism, what alternative ways might we think about and how might we formulate a transnational feminist movement?

There is a lot we can say about this question, and feminists like Chandra Mohanty and others have written extensively about transnational feminism. What I want to emphasize are two central pillars of what I think would constitute real solidarity and internationalism. First, in place of charity, shopping, and donations as a way to address the oppression of women in the Global South, we need to insist that solidarity is about the recognition of mutual oppression. This means taking a comparative approach, one that admits that women all over the world face oppression, even if it looks different in different parts of the world, different within various regions in a particular nation, different for different classes of women, and different if we account for factors such as sexuality, race, ethnicity, age and ability. This is the basis from which people can work cooperatively with one another based on the recognition that all women, despite the aforementioned differences, face sexism. The universality of women’s oppression is due to the structuring reality of capitalism and imperialism. Second, and this follows from the first, we need to root our analysis of women’s oppression within the larger structures that produce this oppression and reject simplistic explanations that say religion or culture are primarily to blame.

What does it mean to take a comparative approach? First, we have to move away from the imperialist notion that misogyny only exists elsewhere in countries with “backward” cultures and religions, take a long hard look at the oppression that women face in the heart of empire, and explain how both are tied together. 

For example, women in various countries around the world are killed by family members. In Pakistan, this amounts to about a thousand. Pakistan is a country of 140 million people. This is a serious problem, and as feminists, progressives, and leftists, we shouldn’t paper over these realities. However, we should also challenge the ways in which these murders are characterized. To call them “honor killings” as if religion and culture are solely responsible for the murder of women, gives a complete pass to the larger economic, political, and social conditions that produce this violence. 

These conditions are important because a similar set of conditions produce horrific levels of violence against women in the United States. Here, 1500 women are killed by their spouses or boyfriends each year in what are called “crimes of passion.” From 2002 to 2012, the number of women killed by intimate partners was 15,462. The US has a population of 300 million, twice the size of Pakistan, but the figures nonetheless are comparable. However, in the mainstream framing of the issue of violence against women, we hear about the murders of women “out there,” but rarely about what happens here. Every day about four women are killed by intimate partners in the United States, but we don’t know their names, we don’t know their stories, and even when we do it is discussed as individual aberrations, crimes driven by passion, rather than by a society that systematically treats women as second class citizens. So rather than resort to this clash of civilizations framing, where “our” misogyny is either papered over or reduced to individual aberrations, while “theirs” is viewed as a product of their backward culture, what we need to do instead is to conduct a concrete analysis of what produces violence against women globally. This necessarily involves looking at structural factors rather than just culture, either “rape culture” or “Islamic culture.” 

Let me give another example: in the autumn of 2003 sexual violence and the trafficking in Iraqi women and girls rose dramatically. The fall back analysis to explain this spike is to say that Islam is to blame because Islam turns women into sexual slaves. In fact, this is not just lazy, but wrong. Feminists who have studied the situation for women in Iraq after the US invasion have shown that a major explanation for the rise in violence and trafficking is the loss of jobs for women. Seventy percent of salaried women in Iraq had government jobs, and when entire government ministries were dismantled by the United States after its invasion of that country, women lost their jobs. This meant that they had to earn their subsistence by selling their bodies. When we look at structural factors we find that claims that “culture” and “religion” are solely responsible for women’s oppression in the Middle East fall flat. This is why imperial feminists avoid structural analysis, because such an analysis reveals that empire bears the brunt of the blame. Let’s be clear about one more thing: Women in the West do not benefit from imperial feminism, particularly the vast majority of women who don’t occupy positions of power and wealth. When men are trained to be ruthless killers by the military, their wives, partners, and fellow female soldiers also pay a price. Domestic violence in military families is significantly higher than in civilian families, and tens of thousands of women are sexually assaulted every year in the military. Women also pay a price when trillions of dollars are spent on empire, money that could have been used to meet basic social reproduction needs.

At the end of the day, transnational solidarity is about tying together the struggle of people like Emma Sulkowicz (the Columbia University student who carried around the mattress she was raped on in order to call attention to the shoddy in way in which she was treated by the Columbia administration after she filed a rape complaint) with that of Jyoti Singh. There is a story to be told about the links between the rape of women on college campuses in the United States and the sexual violence that poor women in India experience. Take the case of rural Indian women who, because Pepsi is depleting the water table, have to walk long distances to collect water and who along the way are raped and sexually harassed. Those who run Pepsi back in the US, who are part a class of men who typically go to school at Columbia University and have been encouraged to think of themselves as “masters of the universe,” dehumanize women here in ways similar to the people they exploit in developing nations. 

It is not enough to simply talk about rape culture and misogyny here and “backward cultures” there, but instead to ground our analysis of sexual violence within the structural context of neoliberal capitalism and the ways in which it is restructuring people’s lives in various locations in the twenty-first century. When our feminism is based in an anticapitalist and anti-imperialist politics, we have a real basis for solidarity, one, moreover, that is rooted in material interests rather than morality and charity. At the end of the day, it is not beauty campaigns that are going to liberate women but their own self-activity and a politics of transnational solidarity based on a rejection of neoliberalism and empire. 

• For more on India’s Daughter, see ISR #97.

Books Cited

Lila Abu-Lughod, Do Muslim Women Need Saving? (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).

Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993).

Antoinette Burton, Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture, 1865–1915 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1994).

Christine Delphy, Separate and Dominate: Feminism and Racism after the War on Terror, (London: Verso Books, 2015).

Conor Foley, The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War (London: Verso Books, 2008).

Inderpal Grewal and Victoria Bernal (eds), Theorizing NGOs: States, Feminisms, and Neoliberalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).

Inderpal Grewal, Home and Harem (Duke University Press, 1996).

Marnia Lazreg, Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).

POLAND The #czarnyprotest and Monday’s women strike might be a turning point in Polish politics

 

Monday 3 October 2016


Large protests have taken place in Poland against a proposed ban on abortion in all cases. On Monday (3 October) Polish women are taking part in a nationwide strike to defend their basic reproductive rights. Mark Bergfeld, who researches Polish immigrant workers as part of his PhD, spoke to Aleksandra Wolke who is a feminist activist and on the steering committee of the Razem party in London and Mikołaj Ratajczak, a philosopher who edits the Praktyka Teoretyczna journal and is a member of the Razem party in Warsaw.

Aleks, what will the proposed abortion law mean for women in Poland?

Aleksandra: If the new law is implemented, it will force women to give birth regardless of threats to life and health associated with it. Women will be forced to birth seriously malformed foetuses the lives of which will end soon after, often in great pain. The proposal will also force victims of sexual violence to give birth regardless of psychological and physical harm it will cause. This will also affect underage victims who are not biologically ready for pregnancy.

The proposal would introduce prison sentence of up to five years for those who terminate pregnancy, including pregnant women. Cases of abortion performed to prevent ‘direct threat’ to woman’s life would be exempt. However, the definition of ‘direct threat’ is likely exclude chronic illnesses such as cancer, the treatment of which would be withheld during pregnancy.

Women who miscarried will be put under additional stress by formal investigation if circumstances are deemed suspicious by the authorities. The changes would, of course, affect the report rate of rape and sexual assault.

How did this movement against the abortion law start and what are the politics like?

Aleksandra: So when the right-wing think tank Ordo Iuris proposed to curtail abortion rights back in March-April, it sparked a massive women’s movement which resulted in, among other things, the creation of a group called Gals for Gals (Dziewuchy Dziewuchom). This had been by far the biggest movement focused on women’s rights in Poland ever.

The movement seems quite ‘good’ politically. For example, it accommodates the fact that it’s not only cis-women who may need an abortion.

Mikołaj: The #czarnyprotest campaign and the black Monday strike are actions against the new anti-abortion law discussed in the parliament. The petitioning has been immense. The initiative Ratujmy Kobiety (Save the Women) gathered more than 215,000 signatures under the civic legislation project however this project was rejected by parliament initially. Arguably, the wave of support for the liberalization of the current abortion law which has been in place since 1993 is quite substantial.

What is the role of the Catholic Church in all of this?

Mikołaj: The Polish Catholic Church doesn’t have a clear stance. At first, the Polish Episcopate openly supported the new abortion law and allowed for signatures for the ban to be gathered next to churches. But today the same episcopate has declared that women shouldn’t be penalised for having an abortion. It’s difficult to say what motivates the Church. One explanation might be that they’re afraid of people – especially young people – turning their backs on them.

Could the strike feed into other social movements or is this a single issue campaign?

Mikołaj: It’s obvious that the current protests are officially directed against the new abortion law. But many women and other individuals who post photos of themselves dressed in black or show their support online openly talk about the right to choose.

The big question will be whether the campaign against the discussed anti-abortion law will turn into a new social movement or will aid the existing movements. Will it lead to the continuation of the fight for the liberalization of the abortion law in Poland despite the rejection of the civic project submitted by the Ratujmy Kobiety initiative? These are open questions.

What has Razem’s role been in the protests? Have other political parties supported the movement?

Aleksandra: The Razem party supports the initiative in itself. However, we are trying to channel the energy and activities towards organising localised actions. It’s not just about taking a day off work for the sake of being absent.

Mikołaj: There’s an important question in regards to the relationship between social movements and political parties, not only Razem. The black protest was initiated by the Razem party. Monday’s strike was declared by individuals associated with the KOD, the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (Komitet Obrony Demokracji), an independent social movement which campaigns for civic rights and the rule of law in Poland. KOD is openly supported by parties in opposition (Platforma Obywatelska, .Nowoczesna, Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe), some of whose parliamentary members have voted for the new abortion law and rejected the civic legislation project submitted by the Ratujmy Kobiety initiative. Believe it or not, the Euro-parliamentarians of Platforma Obywatelska even dared to vote against the petition to discuss the situation of women in Poland in European Parliament.

It’s not entirely clear what the relationship between social movements, political parties and civic initiatives looks like when it comes to the current protests. But the dynamic already reveals that the question “where do you stand in the abortion debate” will become one of the most important fault lines in the political scene in Poland. Moreover, the relationship between the extra-parliamentary opposition and political parties – especially Razem – will be renegotiated on the basis of this question.

Have any labour unions supported the movement?

Mikołaj: The labour union which is active in the campaign is a small, but very militant, union “Inicjatywa Pracownicza” (“Workers’ Initiative”). It fights for workers’ autonomy and organizes precarious workers, workers in special economic zones and others not represented by major trade unions. Although the subject of women workers’ rights isn’t present in the current campaign, the comrades from Inicjatywa Pracownicza are very conscious of the control of the female body in the reproduction of capitalist social relations. They openly support Monday’s strike.

What have you done in London to support this on-going movement?

Aleksandra: Earlier this year in April, we in Razem Londyn co-organised a demonstration outside of the Polish embassy. More than 400 people came. It was the largest Polish people’s demonstration in Britain in decades. Only far-right protests have been able to compete with that.

For the moment pro-choice initiatives and women’s groups in London have been organizing the protests here in London. This weekend there’s a lot going on. We will be attending the events as individuals because they are in support of the National Womens’ Strike which Razem criticizes because not everyone can take a day off work without consequences. The lack of access to union protection, as well as being unable to take a day off, will affect especially the poor and those in precarious jobs as well as workers in certain industries such as health care.

Who are the key actors behind the strike?

Aleksandra: They are individuals who came together after the Ordo Iuris proposal was pushed through a parliamentary committee last week.

According to statements and proclamations, they want to recreate what happened in Iceland in 1975. But the crucial difference between the strike in Iceland and the one taking place in Poland on Monday is that Icelandic unions were involved in the organising of the strike. This is not the case with the National Women’s strike in Poland. Thus, many public sector workers such as nurses won’t participate.

Mikołaj: One of the key actors have been young people. It is important to highlight their politicisation. In recent elections, young people overwhelmingly voted for conservative parties, including the ruling Law and Justice (PIS) and even joined right-wing movements. One of the reasons might be a lack of any alternative or a political symbol that would have mobilized high-school and university students to get engaged in left-wing initiatives and politics. In this context, the black protest might be a huge turning point.

An independent web analysis shows that the black protest campaign, initiated by Razem, has become the largest and most effective internet-based campaign started by a political party. Estimates suggest that it might have reached up to 10 million people on social media alone.

Can this strike and protest movement potentially defeat the bill?

Mikołaj: Hopefully the result will be a greater political consciousness among young Polish women and men and a hegemonic turn in the discussion of abortion from liberal sphere (as a “cultural issue”) to the register of leftist politics (as a “social issue”).

Aleksandra: It’s a difficult question whether the strike will defeat the bill or be effective. It’s hard to predict what will actually happen. To be honest, it’s already very popular and has made a huge impact on social media. Thousands are attending, even more are interested and continue to share it.

If it is effective on a local level it might result in some incredible actions. But unfortunately I doubt that it will actually stop the bill from being passed. If anything, it may lead to some alterations in the bill itself. For instance, they may keep the possibility of accessing an abortion if a woman’s life is in direct danger (and the definition of ‘direct danger’ may change). This is important!

Source rs21.


http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article4721 

SYRIA Calling for an end to intervention is not nearly enough

 

Friday 7 October 2016, by Joseph Daher

The ceasefire in Syria concluded on September 9, 2016 between the US and Russia came to an end on September 19 at 7pm. It was a total failure politically, military and in humanitarian terms.

For some sections of the “left” and sections of the antiwar movement in the USA and Britain, the failure of the truce is a result of the internationalisation of the war in Syria. This is explained by British Stop the War activist Chris Nineham : “The central problem is the internationalisation of the war. Syria has for years been a theatre in which regional and global powers have been pursuing their geopolitical interests – prolonging and intensifying the conflict. This process has been gathering pace recently and in the run up to the worrying US election there are growing calls for further western escalation”.

Anyone reading the article will notice that not a single word is said about the destructive policies of the criminal and authoritarian Assad regime – the main source of nearly half a millions deaths in the country, forced displacement of millions inside and outside of Syria and destruction throughout the country. This is not a simple oversight and this is why, as I will show, simply calling an end to all interventions, putting them on the same level, to reach peace in Syria as stated in Nineham’s text is not enough and is simply wrong.

Firstly, the truce was far from being respected by the regime and its allies. Military clashes resumed violently few days before the official end of the truce, while the delivery of humanitarian aid to besieged cities was done only sparingly for the vast majority, except in the case of the town of Talbiseh in Homs province to which aid was delivered on September 19 the first time since July. The convoy brought in food, water and hygiene supplies for up to 84,000 people. But most aid shipments envisaged under the truce have yet to go in besieged cities. The liberated areas of Aleppo (neither under the domination of the Assad regime nor Daech or Fateh al-Sham, former Jabhat al-Nusra), in which around 275,000 residents are again subject to a terrible siege and the military bombardment of the regime and its Russian ally after a brief interruption, have for example received no aid, while this was one of the priorities in the agreement concluded between Russia and the USA in the ceasefire.

Armed opposition forces to the Assad regime, including groups of the Free Syrian Army and various Islamic fundamentalist movements, announced a few hours before the end of the ceasefire that they were preparing to launch a new military offensive to break the siege imposed on the liberated areas of Aleppo. Syrian or Russian aircraft – it still remains to be determined who were the authors of the raid – struck an aid convoy near Aleppo between the night of September 19 and 20. According to the Syrian Arad Red Crescent (SARC), this killedaround 20 civilians”, including the head of one of its local offices, Omar Barakat, and damaged at least 18 of 31 trucks in a U.N. and SARC convoy along with an SARC warehouse. The convoy was delivering aid for 78,000 people in the hard-to-reach town of Urm al-Kubra in Aleppo Governorate. At least 36 civilians were killed in Aleppo and its province in Syrian or Russian raids on Monday night.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights documented the deaths of 237 people, including 38 children, from air strikes on Aleppo city and the surrounding countryside between September 19, when the ceasefire ended, and 26. Of those documented deaths, 162 were in opposition held east Aleppo city.

Russia and the Syrian regime also accused the US of undermining the continuation of the ceasefire after the U.S.-led coalition bombed Assad regime forces in Deir ez-Zor of, killing more than 60 soldiers, while allowing Daech fighters of capturing Mont Thourda, which dominates the airport held by the regime. US officials said it was a mistake and apologized to the families of victims. It is interesting to note that once again Chris Niehman joined this particular version by writing “One thing is for sure, the bombing of Syrian army positions around Deir ez-Zour by western coalition forces, including the US, Britain, Denmark and Australia, which led to the deaths of 60 or more Syrian soldiers, will have been a major blow to the prospects of any ceasefire holding”.

The Assad regime ultimately announced officially on September 19 that the seven-day truce period had ended and it accused “terrorist groups,” a term the regime uses for all opposition groups, whether peaceful or armed, of exploiting the calm to rearm while violating the ceasefire 300 times, and vowed to “continue fulfilling its national duties in fighting terrorism in order to bring back security and stability”.

These accusations are attempts to hide the continuation of the war led by the forces of the Assad regime and its allies against Syrian civilians and opposition during the week of the ceasefire. Russian and Assad’s regime airstrikes took place in various areas held by the opposition during the week of the ceasefire resulting in 26 civilians killed, including 8 children. On September 18, regime airstrikes targeted the liberated districts of Aleppo killing one civilian and eleven others in the province of Deraa after dropping explosive barrels.

Meanwhile the besieged district of Waer in Homs, the last bastion of the city controlled by the opposition and in which between 60,000 and 75,000 people live, is in the process of undergoing the same fate as the town of Daraya few weeks ago. An agreement was reached with the regime to transfer some of the residents and fighters in the region of Idlib, in the hands of Fateh al-Sham (former Jabhat al-Nusra) and Ahrar Sham. Homs Governor Talal Barazi said on September 19 that the evacuation would include 22 busses transferring around 300 fighters and their families, around 1,000 people in total.

The Assad regime has several times used this strategy of local agreements with cities and / or districts besieged and continuously bombed to forcefully displaced local population opposed to the regime to leave their homes for other areas under control of the opposition. These regions such as Idlib are still suffering, from Assad’s regime and Russian airstrikes and lack often the sufficient means to welcome the newcomers, not to mention the political and social pressures sometimes imposed on them by Islamic fundamentalist movements in this area.

At the political level, this ceasefire was born to fail because it did not address the political roots of the problem in Syria: the Assad regime. The agreement provided for greater military coordination between Russia and the United States in the “war against terrorism” in Syria, targeting the jihadist groups of the Islamic State and Fateh al-Sham, by the establishment of a Joint Implementation Center. The agreement did not denounce the interventions of the Islamic republic of Iran, Hezbollah and other various Shi’a fundamentalist militias alongside the Assad regime, while it was completely silent and did not to mention any political transition to a democratic system and the departure of Assad dictator and his criminal clique. This political agreement concretely actually led to stabilization of the Assad regime under the so-called pretext of the “War against terrorism” for the political interest of the USA and Russia. That is why this agreement was rejected by large sections of the democratic opposition, whether armed or peaceful.

Meanwhile, the Turkish armed forces continued their progress in the Syrian border territories and their support to armed opposition groups (factions of the Free Syrian Army, Turkmen factions, and Islamic fundamentalist movements) to impose a form of Turkish “safe zone” cleansed of Kurdish PYD forces and Daech. In the city of Jarablus, conquered during this military intervention, the Turkish armed forces were attempting to impose a Turkmen council to govern the city, instead of another council, which has been established for two years and is recognized by the temporary government and the Aleppo province council, in addition to all Jarablus constituents, according to Mohamed al-Ali, head of the current Jarablus council.

At the same time, the great majority of the Syrian Kurdish political movements, including the PYD and Kurdish National Council, were angered by the recent transition plan, proposed by the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee for the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, as the plan did not envision any form of federalism in post-war Syria. The High Negotiations Committee for the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces proposed the principle of administrative decentralization in managing the country’s affairs. The Kurdish National Council, which is part of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces but which has failed repeatedly to recognize Kurdish rights with this latter or the previous Syrian National Council at the 2011 Tunis Conference and at subsequent conferences in Geneva and Riyadh, stated clearly that “this document is not part of a solution, but rather a danger to a democratic, pluralistic and unified Syria guaranteeing cultural, social and political rights to all its ethnic, religious and linguistic groups”. They add “Whoever reads the document notes immediately that point 1 of the “General Principles” exclusively lists the Arab culture and Islam as sources “for intellectual production and social relations”. This definition clearly excludes other cultures – be they ethnic, linguistic or religious – and sets the majority culture as the leading one. As Syrian Kurds, we feel repulsed by this narrow perception of the Syrian people. The similarities between this definition and the chauvinist policies under the Assad regime are undeniable”.

It is true that the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces has long lost any legitimacy to represent the aspirations for democracy, social justice and equality of the Syrian revolution and revolutionaries by its alliance with dictatorships and authoritarian regimes in the region, while collaborating with sectarian and reactionary forces (Jaysh Islam) or seeking more cooperation with them (Ahrar Sham and Fateh al-Sham). Just as its corruption and promotion of neoliberal policies, and rather poor consideration for democracy, in addition to its chauvinist and racist policies against Kurdish people, objectively oppose the objectives of building of a new Syria for all Syrians without discrimination. The hope for radical and positive change relies rather in the popular organisations and local councils still struggling for the initial objectives of the revolution, which we saw notably in February in the partial ceasefire, organising mass democratic and non sectarian demonstrations throughout the country. These people still exist and still struggle.

We agree with Chris Nineham’s words “The anti-war movement needs to raise its voice and demand an end to the foreign interventions that are tearing Syria apart”. All international and regional imperialist interventions occurred against the interests of the Syrian people and the objectives of the revolution for democracy, social justice and equality, while often strengthening sectarian and ethnic tensions in the country. This said, the interventions of Assad allies, notably Russia and Iran, have been much more significant and destructive at all levels. And contrary to what Nineham suggests or draws as two possible conclusions of the Deir Zor incident that “either elements in the western coalition are still conducting an unreported war against the Assad regime, or their claims about the limited nature of accidental killing as a result of their bombing are complete fantasy”.

This first claim can completely be ignored, the constant policy of the US and Western states has not been to change the Assad regime in Syria, but to maintain it as showed in previous articles. This has been done in addition to preventing any armed assistance to democratic groups of the Free Syrian Army. So we are quite far any “unreported war against the Assad regime”.

This is however not enough and responsibilities should clearly be pointed out in the war in Syria. Imperialist manoeuvers have of course to be opposed as they are against the interests of the Syrian people and have destructive consequences, but it should not be limited to this, while ignoring the role of Assad’s regime, at the risk of loosing the objectives of stopping the war. In in this context, the continuation of the war by the Assad regime and its allies, Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, against the Syrian people make it impossible to end the war in the current conditions. One simple example of this is the campaign against medical personnel and facilities. There have been 382 attacks on medical facilities in Syria between March 2011, when the Syrian civil war began, and June 2016, according to data collected by Physicians for Human Rights. Of those strikes, at least 344 — or 90 percent — were conducted by Syrian government forces or Russian forces fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. These forces have also killed over 700 medical personnel in Syria, according to the group’s statistics.

This is why any political transition to end the war and towards a democratic system must include the departure of the dictator Assad and his clique from power, otherwise the war will continue and provoke more catastrophes in terms of human lives. In this transition, all war criminals must be held accountable for their crimes, including and firstly Bachar al-Assad and his clique as they are the main force responsible for around 500,000 deaths and the forced displacements of millions of people since the beginning of the uprising in March 2011.

The end of the war is an absolute humanitarian and political necessity. The end of the war must lead to the end of the suffering of millions of people inside and outside Syria and give them the possibility to return to their homes. The end of the war is also a political objective because it is the only way for democratic and progressive forces to reorganise and once again play a leading role in the struggle for a new Syria for all without discrimination far from the dictatorship of the criminal Assad regime and the authoritarian practices of Islamic fundamentalist forces. At the same time, there is a need to empower the democratic popular movement and FSA democratic groups upholding the objectives of the revolution and uniting the various components of the Syrian people to challenge sectarianism and racism.

We should remember the action of activist Rima Dali in April 2012 who stood in front of the Syrian Parliament in Damascus holding a banner that read, “Stop the killing. We want to build a country for all Syrians”, it remains indeed a priority and very much current in the context of today.

25/09/2016

Socialist Resistance

 

http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article4728 

On The Allies We’re Not Proud Of: A Palestinian Response to Troubling Discourse on Syria

 

Friday 14 October 2016

We, the undersigned Palestinians, write to affirm our commitment to the amplification of Syrian voices as they endure slaughter and displacement at the hands of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. We are motivated by our deep belief that oppression, in all of its manifestations, should be the primary concern of anyone committed to our collective liberation. Our vision of liberation includes the emancipation of all oppressed peoples, regardless of whether or not their struggles fit neatly into outdated geopolitical frameworks.

We are concerned by some of the discourse that has emerged from progressive circles with regards to the ongoing crisis in Syria. In particular, we are embarrassed by the ways in which some individuals known for their work on Palestine have failed to account for some crucial context in their analysis of Syria.

The Syrian revolution was in fact a natural response to 40 years of authoritarian rule. The Assad regime, with the support of its foreign financial and military backers, is attempting to preserve its power at the expense of the millions of Syrians whom the regime has exiled, imprisoned, and massacred. We believe that minimizing this context in any discussion of Syria dismisses the value of Syrian self-determination and undermines the legitimacy of their uprising.

We also believe that an important consequence of all foreign interventions, including those purportedly done on behalf of the uprising, has been the setback of the original demands of revolution. The revolution is a victim, not a product, of these interventions. It is imperative for any analysis of Syria to recognize this fundamental premise. We cannot erase the agency of Syrians struggling for liberation, no matter how many players are actively working against them.

Though we maintain that the phenomenon of foreign aid demands thorough critique, we are concerned by the ways in which foreign aid has been weaponized to cast suspicion on Syrian humanitarian efforts. Foreign aid is not unique to Syria; it is prevalent in Palestine as well. We reject the notion that just because an organization is receiving foreign aid, it must follow then that that organization is partaking in some shadowy Western-backed conspiracy. Such nonsense has the effect of both undermining humanitarian efforts while simultaneously whitewashing the very crimes against humanity that necessitated the aid in the first place.

Furthermore, we object to the casual adoption of “war on terror” language. Enemies of liberation have historically used this rhetoric to target humanitarians, organizers, and community members. From Muhammad Salah to the Midwest 23 to the Holy Land Five, our community is all too familiar with the very real consequence of employing a “war on terror” framework. Therefore, we reject a discourse that perpetuates these old tactics and peddles harmful and unwarranted suspicion against Syrians.

Along these lines, it is our position that any discussion of Syria that neglects the central role of Bashar Al-Assad and his regime in the destruction of Syria directly contradicts the principles of solidarity by which we abide. We have reflected on our own tendency to heroize those who advocate on behalf of the Palestinian struggle, and we fear that some members of our community may have prioritized the celebrity status of these individuals over the respect and support we owe to those Syrians affected most directly by the war, as well as those living in the diaspora whose voices have been dismissed as they have watched their homeland be destroyed.

We will no longer entertain individuals who fail to acknowledge the immediate concerns of besieged Syrians in their analysis. Despite reaching out to some of these individuals, they have shown an unwillingness to reflect on the impact of their analysis. We regret that we have no choice left but to cease working with these activists whom we once respected.

We would like to encourage others who are guided by similar principles to do the same.

13 October 2016

Signatures: Abdul-Wahab Kayyali, Abdulla AlShamataan, Abdullah M, Abed Abou Shhadeh, Abir Kopty, Adam Akkad, Adnan abd alrahman, Adrian McAfee, Ahlam abdulrahman, Ahmad, Ahmad Al-Sholi, Ahmad Kaki, Ahmad N, Ahmed, Ahmed A, Ahmed Mousa, Aiman Abdelmajid, AJ N, Ala K, Ala’a Salem, Alexis Abuhadba, Ali A. Omar, Ali Mohammad Kabli, Amal A., Amal Ayesh, Amanda Batarseh, Amanda Michelle, Amanda N, Amani Alkowni, Ameen M, Ameen Q., Amena Elmashni, Amera AK., Amir Bey, Amira S, Amjad Hajyassin, Amr Khalifa, Anass, Andrew Kadi, Areej, Aref Nammari, Arwa Alkhawaja, Atef Khalaf, Aya Khalifeh, Aziz F Ammoura, Aziz Jamous, Azmi Bishara, Bashar Subeh, Bayan Abusneineh, Beesan Ramadan, Bilal Shreidi, Boulos Bathish, Bushra Hayati, Butheina Hamdah, Dalal Hillou, Dalia, Dalia, Dana Itayem, Dana M, Dania Barakat, Dania Mukahhal, Danielle Rabie, Dareen Mohamad, Dena E., Diana J.A., Diana Naoum, Dina A., Dina Moumin, Dina Sayedahmed, Diyala Shihadih, Dorgham Abusalim, Dr. Isam Abu Qasmieh, Ebaa Rezeq, Eman Abdelhadi, Eyad Hamid, Eyad Mohamed Alkurabi, Fadi Amireh, Farah Saeed, Faran Kharal, Faris G, Faten Awwad, Fatima El-ghazali, Fouad Halbouni, George Abraham, GMU Students Against Israeli Apartheid, Gorbah Hamed, Grace Ghunaim, Hadeel Hejja, Haitham Omar, Haleemah A, Hana Khalil, Haneen Al-Ghabra, Haneen Amra, Hani Barghouthi, Hani Kharufeh, Hani Khatib, Hanin Shakrah, Hanna Alshaikh, Hareth Yousef, Hasan H., Hashem Asfour, Hassan Aboud, Hatem Hammad, Hazem Jamjoum, Heba Nimr, Helal Jwayyed, Husam El-Qoulaq, Hussain Al-Sahyuni, Ibraheem Sumaira, Ibtihal Mahmood, Ida A., Imran Salha, Iskandar Abbasi, Ism Mustaar, Iyad El-Baghdadi, Izzaddine M., Izzaddine M., Jackie Husary, Jane Tannous, Janeen Obeid, Jannine M, Jehad Abusalim, Jenien B, Jennifer Mogannam, Jennine K, Jihad Ashkar, Joey Husseini Ayoub, Jomana Abdallah, Jon Day, Jordan Robinson, Julia Hachme, Jumana Al-Qawasmi, Kareana Kee, Kareem El-Hosseiny, Kareem Samara, Karmel Sabri, Kefah Elabed, Khaled Barakat, khaled bobakri, Khalid Hijazi, Kiyan Sahyuni, Kowther Qashou, Laith H, Lama Abu Odeh, Lamees Mekkaoui, Lana Barkawi, Lara Abu Ghannam, Lara Kollab, Layan Jaber, Layanne H., Laymoor Saadat, Leena Aboutaleb, Leila Abdelrazaq, Lila Suboh, Lina Barkawi, Lina Eid, Linah Alsaafin, Linda Ereikat, Lojain Saadat, Lojayn Ottman, Loubna Qutami, Lubna H, Lubna Morrar, Magda Magdy, Mahmoud Elsheikh, Mahmoud Khalil, Mahmoud Qudaih, Mai Anwar, Mai Nasrallah, Maisa Morrar, Majed A. of Jerusalem, Majed Abuzahriyeh, Manal Abokwidir, Manal El Haj, Manal H, Maram Kamal, Marguerite Dabaie, Mariam Barghouti, Mariam Rimawi, Mariam Saleh, Marwa Fatafta, Maura Yasin, Maxine Anwaar, Mekarem E., Menat Elattma, Michael Hunt, Minem Marouf, Mira Shihadeh, Mjriam Abu Samra, Mohamad Batrawi, Mohamad Sabbah, Mohamed hassan, Mohamed Taleb, Mohammad Abou-Ghazala, Mohammad Al-Ashqar, Mohammad Horreya, Mohammed Sulaiman, Mohsin S, Mona Bibi, Mona Naser, Moureen Kaki, Msallam AbuKhalil, Muna Sharif, Muniba Hassan, Musaab Balchi, Nadeen Shaker, Nader Ihmoud, Nadia Z. Ismail, Nadia Ziadat, Nadine D, Nadine H, Naeem, NAJI EL KHATIB, Natalie Spring, Nawal Musleh, Nayef Al Smadi, Neil Fowler, Nida Khalil, Nidal Bitari, Nihal Q, Noor Gaith, Noor Qutami, Nora Abushaaban, Nour Azzouz, Nour Hamida, Nour Salman, Nusayba Hammad, Omar Coolaq, Omar Jamal, Omar Masood, Omar Zahzah, Osama Aburumuh, Osama Khawaja, Osama Mor, Raed Khartabel, Raef zreik, Rami Okasha, Ramsey K, Ramzi Issa, Rana Asad, Rana Baker, Randa MKW, Rani Allan, Rania Salem, Rasha A., Rawan A., Rawan Eewshah, Rawya Makboul, Reem J, Reem S, Reema Asia, Rena Zuabi, Renad Saadat, Riad Alarian, Riya Al-sanah, Ryah A, Sabreen Ettaher, Saeed U, Salim Salamah, Samar Azzaidani, Samar Batrawi, Sameeha Elwan, Sami J., Sami Mubarak, Sami Shahin, Samia S., Samir Hazboun, Samya Abu-Orf, Sandra Tamari, Sara Zubi, Sarah Abu., Sarah Ali, Sarah Aly, Sarah Ghouleh, Sarah Shahin, Sarah Z, Sarona Bedwan, Seham Alyan, Serena Umer Khan, Shadi H, Shady Zarka, Shafeka Hashash, Shahrazad Odeh, Shermin Ahmed, Shifa Alkhatib, Shirien D, Sima Dajani, SOAS Palestine Society, Soheir Asaad, Sonia Farsakh, Susan Al-Suqi, Susan Jenin Yaseen, Susie Abdelghafar, Tahani H., Taher Herzallah, Tala Barakat, Talal Alyan, Tamar Ghabin, Tarek Abou-Ghazala, Tareq R, Tariq Luthun, Tariq Nafi, Tasneem Abu-Hejleh, Tasneem mujahid, Tawfieq Mousa, Tawfiq Kayyali, Tsedenya Bizani, Ummi Fulani, Wajih Abousalim, Wala Salameh, Walid Shoebat, Wassim Kanaan, Yahiya Saad, Yahya Abou-Ghazala, Yahya Abu Seido, Yamila shannan, Yasir M. Tineh, Yasmeen S, yasmeensh, Yasmine Nammari, Yasser Quzz, Yazan Amro, Yazan Meqbil, Yousef Y, Yousuf Soliman, Zachariah Barghouti, Zaid Khatib, Zaid Muhammad, Zainab Alkowni, Zein Rimawi, Zeina A., Zeina Labadi, Zeyad El Omari,

Radical Socialist Statement on Kashmir

Radical Socialist condemns the continued violence against people in the Kashmir valley, where the death toll is continuously rising, making people remember 2010 all over again. Even by Government figures, in the last two decades around 40,000 people have been killed, including over 21000 real or spurious terrorists. Civil rights groups put the figure at around 100,000.

The violence this time was sparked off by state response to the public protests at the killing of Burhan Wani, described by Indian state and media as poster boy of the Hizbul Mujahideen. Wani was the latest in a series of “terrorist killed in encounter”. In many of these cases, the killings have been extremely dubious. Some reports (e.g., by the PUCL) about Wani’s killing suggest he was shot dead from a distance of four feet in a case of cold blooded murder. Two other persons accompanying Wani were also killed by a special team of the security forces. Such cold blooded killings camouflaged as “encounter” in an alleged gun-fight is unacceptable in a democracy. This followed previous such cases and sparked widespread outrage.

The response of the state has been to intensify shootings, killings, and other violence. Over forty people have been killed so far, and over 300 injured till date. The unprovoked indiscriminate firing, teargas shelling and lathi-charge on a mob gathered for Wani’s last rites, is a gross violation of the law and a human rights excess, or would be in any democratic country.

Indiscriminate repression by the Indian state is experienced by Kashmiris in their day-to-day lives. Secular and democratic forms of protest have been brutally silenced over the years. Certainly, terrorism exists in Kashmir. But unless the conversation is shifted from terrorism to the causes of terrorism, India can only go on increasing the size of the armed forces and the numbers killed, maimed, raped, without any just peace. The 22 year-old Wani, belonging to one such group became, in his death, a symbol of the Kashmiri aspiration for freedom and resistance against state oppression. Thousands of mourners gathered on the fateful weekend could relate to his death, as death of their own kin who took up arms for the cause of freedom. The eruption witnessed in the last week in the valley, unlike the portrayal in the media is not a make of any foreign power. This represents popular anger, and a refusal to put up with the military dominated national integration practiced by India.

It is important to point out that under the present regime, while the actual behavior of the military and the police has not changed the degree of ideological pressure in India to accept this has grown. Thus, television channels have been used to silence all dissent on Kashmir. The social media has been widely used to propagate not merely hatred, but slogans of annihilating the Kashmiri people, forcible population transfers to turn them into minorities in their own land, etc. Rapes and sexual violence of all sorts have become commonplaces in Kashmir. The quarter century old Kunan Poshpora rape case drags on in a far away court. It is not even allowed to be brought to the Srinagar High Court. Sexual violence in a war like context is not about sexual desire. When 125 soldiers enter a village, separate the men from the women, and sexually assault 50 women aged between 13 and 60, clearly we are seeing a military practice. But while huge numbers of rapes are claimed by women, there is not a single conviction. Justices B.S. Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar, during the hearing of the Pathribal fake encounter at the Supreme Court in 2012, had said to armed personnel: “You go to a place in exercise of AFSPA, you commit rape, you commit murder, then where is the question of sanction? It is a normal crime which needs to be prosecuted, and that is our stand.”

But the executive and legislative wings of the state have flatly ignored this occasional intervention by the judicial win roleIndia asserts that Kashmir is an integral part of India, something proved by the fact that elections are periodically held. Residents of the Valley have lost all faith in these claims, at least since the late 1980s. Kashmir’s right to self-determination, conceded verbally in 1948, has been systematically ignored. By holding elections, India has falsely claimed that high voter turn-out during such elections is an indicator of the ebb in the demand for Kashmir’s freedom. However, the political demand for self-determination has remained deeply etched in the popular consciousness of the people. Imposing draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Power’s Act that give the impunity to state forces to kill, exposes the role of the Indian state that uses brute force to subjugate people in the valley.

Under the garb of protecting territorial integrity and national security, excesses and abuse of state power in Kashmir by the Indian state continue unabated. While, the Indian state cries foul over Pakistan’s sponsoring terror in Kashmir, it conveniently ignores the state terror that the people in the valley are subjected to.

The rise of Hindutva ideology has added another dimension. Every Kashmiri Muslim is seen as a de facto terrorist. While crocodile tears are shed about Kashmiri Pandits, they are retained in the same position, even by the BJP, because their prime value lies in responding to all criticism about AFSPA, fake encounters, etc with a one line query: “What about the Pandits?” Given that in Pakistan occupied Kashmir too, opposition to spurious governments imposed from Islamabad are met with violence, it is clear that Kashmiris see themselves as a distinct nation.

We do not find it necessary to endorse this or that particular party or leadership. Nor are the people of Kashmir waiting for endorsement, and still less guidance or direction from India. As Indians, our responsibility is to mobilize people, to demand from the Government of India:

• Repeal the Armed Forces Special Power’s Act.

• Stop all forms of violence including sexual violence.

• De-militarise Kashmir.

• Restore freedom of the press inside Kashmir.

• Conduct a thorough investigation into the excesses carried out by military, para-military and police forces.

• Exemplary punishment to those found guilty.

• Affirm the right to self determination.

• Immediate relief measures for the survivors of state violence.

July 16, 2016

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Radical Socialist Election Bulletin April 2016


This bulletin was published in Bangla in early April 2016, explaining our political stance. However, given the issues, it was felt necessary to also provide an English translation. We are grateful to Professor Chandak Sengoopta for translating it into English. The RS post-election analysis has also been published in Bangla, in the June 2016 issue of Radical, our journal. It will be translated into English and circulated through the website later. -- Administrator.


Fascism on the Rise

Trinamul Misgovernment

The Congress-Left Front Alliance

 

West Bengal Assembly Elections 2016:

Political Background and Questions of Strategy and Tactics

Radical Socialist

 

Preamble

Does bourgeois democracy offer us any advantages within an overall bourgeois system?  And if it does, then does that have a bearing on our electoral preference?  We need to answer these questions before discussing how the working classes ought to vote in the forthcoming elections for the legislative assembly and the ideological issues that may be involved.

One major feature of bourgeois democracy is the requirement for political parties to find support from the people at elections held at fixed intervals, which means that public opinion has some importance.  It is true that this “public opinion” is largely artificial, since the consciousness of the people can be easily misdirected.  It is not, however, correct to conclude that elections are entirely a farce and do not reflect the people’s “real” desires and opinions at all.  In fact, the parties of the ruling classes are compelled, up to a point, to take the people’s wishes into account and fulfil their demands.  During elections, the importance of the people naturally rises in the eyes of the parties and that creates the opportunity for different classes to obtain some advantages for themselves.

Those who are concerned solely with the interests of exploited workers and other oppressed communities cannot ignore elections; indeed, they have to take a considered position in them, because the electoral struggle can be of some assistance in obtaining some advantages, deflecting at least some ruling class oppression and in raising general social consciousness.

There can be no unchanging formula for evaluating an electoral situation or for specifying what position one must adopt.  The situation is constantly liable to change and we must avoid being entrapped by some “political puritanism.”  The economic and political realities of the nation and the state, the current balance of political and social forces, and the political goals desired by the working classes are what should determine our electoral strategy.  How we participate in this struggle will depend on the organizational strengths of our political and social forces, and of those sharing our objectives.

There are many leftist groups outside the Left Front, which are often categorized as the“revolutionary contingent” or “revolutionary communists.”  These groups are far from identical and we shall discuss them in greater detail later.  In 2011, some of these groups advocated voting for the Left Front with reservations; some put up their own candidates; some were in favour of NOTA; and some, directly or indirectly, urged voters to support the Trinamul Congress.  Even those who put up their own candidates previously cooperated, to varying extents, with Trinamul; their abrupt turn to an “independent” position was either strategic or due to Trinamul’s failure to fulfil their expectations.  The situation is different in 2016.

The Radical Socialist position in 2011 was based on our analysis of the state of the class struggle, and not on a calculation of immediate benefits and risks.  We began by arguing thatthe conviction that “they are all the same” issimplistic and characteristic of petit-bourgeois anarchists.  We clearly stated that the CPI or the CPI(M) were definitely not communist parties.  “The Communist Party of India was influenced by Stalinism from the 1930s.”  (Radical, April 2011, p.1)  “The parties constituting the Left Front, such as the CPI(M), are not themselves bourgeois parties but rather, parties that emerged from the workers’ struggle that are unable to work outside the bourgeois framework” (ibid.)

In 2011, we stated that “if we start with the interests of the working class, then we need to take a different approach to the matter.”  We do not support a vote-boycott.  A vote-boycott is appropriate in two circumstances.  When fascism has established itself openly, then participating in an election would be to confer legitimacy on fascism.  Conversely, when the working class mass movement has reached an intensity that could generate a different, better kind of democracy, a system that would allow working people to determine their own future, then the limitations of bourgeois democracy might impede the emergence of that superior democracy and better society.  A boycott would then be the correct strategy.

“In all other cases, voting could be based on principle or strategy.  The principled approach is not to vote for bourgeois parties and candidates under any circumstances.  The strategic approach would consider how the unity and confidence of the working class could be best enhanced.  If, in a constituency, there are only two (or more) bourgeois candidates, then the more working-class people abstain from voting, the more they damage the bourgeoisie and the more they reinforce their own unity.  But what if a bourgeois candidate is confronted by a revisionist/Stalinist candidate?  Here too, we shall need to find a strategic response” (ibid., p.2)  Then, comparing the CPI(M) of 1977 with the CPI(M) of 2011, we said that “if, after this, we ask the working class to vote for the Left Front simply in order to stop Trinamul, then we would be asking it to accept that its crisis could be resolved by the return of the decadent, corrupt Left Front to power.”  Based on this analysis, we urged: “instead of voting for any bourgeois party or placing any reliance on the Left Front, please support independent candidates from the working class, from oppressed groups, and from minority communities, and help build independent workers’ organizations to conduct the class struggle” (ibid., p.2)

 

The West Bengal Elections in the Present Context of Indian Politics

We must not approach the West Bengal election as a purely provincial matter.  If that were the case, then, despite considering the CPI(M) to be a revisionist party, we could have adopted the same position as we did in 2011.  But the situation has changed: a party that intends to establish fascism has come to power at the centre.

We have analyzed fascism at length in the past.  Where we differ from other left groups is our stress on examining all the characteristics of the fascist BJP-RSS and determine the nature of their relationship with the big bourgeosie. 

What is fascism?  Why do we regard the Sangh Parivar as the only fascists in India?  In a nutshell:

(1)   The essential precondition for the rise of fascism is a pervasive structural crisis in bourgeois society.  The crisis of international capitalism in generating surplus value and transforming it into profit and fresh capital led to a crisis of Indian capital and attracted the Indian big bourgeoisie to Modi and the BJP.  Since traditional approaches could no longer generate enough capital, they wanted to exercise extreme methods to maximize surplus value.

(2)   For this reason, they were ready to abandon their usual preference for bourgeois democracy.  Bourgeois democracy has certain advantages in a country like India, characterized over many years by the diverse struggles of workers, peasants, dalits and minorities.   First, people have the opportunity every few years of removing a party from power and bringing in a new one.  This is held up as the victory of the people.  Second, some economic and social concessions can be granted when needed, and these reforms can temporarily channel the class struggle into a less radical course.  For example, the Manmohan Singh government started NREGA whilst simultaneously facilitating globalization at the behest of the World Bank, IMF and the big bourgeosie.  The first 100 days’ work helped poorer people, albeit to a small extent.  Third, bourgeois democracy disseminates political power widely within the bourgeois class.  The majority of that class participates in running the state and government through political parties, the mass media, universities, chambers of commerce, bureaucracy and so forth.  But the longevity of bourgeois democracy depends on the balance of economic and social forces.  When this balance is lacking, the big bourgeoisie seeks to protect its historical interests by enhancing the power of the state and it is prepared to accept the political hegemony of a constricted minority.  Fascism stems from the growth of monopoly capital but ultimately deprives monopoly capital of any direct political power.

(3)   In contemporary societies, where the bourgeoisie is far smaller in extent than the working class, it is impossible to transform production exclusively through some form of state power, including the police or the army.  The working people in bourgeois democracies have obtained some rights by fighting for them, e.g., a minimum wage, fixed working hours, or reservations for dalits and adivasis in education and work.  Trade union rights and the right to strike were also wrested through struggle.  To deprive them of these hard-won rights requires a different kind of mass-mobilization driven by a different ideology.  The conscious sections of the working class are sought to be subdued by terror and violence perpetrated by a reactionary “mass movement.”

(4)   This kind of reactionary movement is sustained by the petit-bourgeoisie.  If they are strongly united, they can pull in the less progressive sections of the working class.  Specifically in India, fascism has been created by combining religious/communal, upper-caste and ultra-national forces.  Initially, this ideology had no place in the arsenal of the big bourgeoisie, which, over the last three decades, sought to capture power through gradual infiltration into civil society.  The RSS, from its inception, was ultra-Hindu, ultra-Brahminical and supportive of fascism.  In the 1940s, RSS supporter Anthony Elenjimittam wrote: “From the very beginning of its movement, the RSS used the saffronflag, dharma chakra and the slogan of satyameva jayate as its symbols and these patriotic ideals have governed the Sangh’s evolution.  Had the environment been more positive, then RSS youth could have been for India what the Hitler Youth was for Germany or the Fascist Youth for Italy.  If discipline, centralized organization and organic collectivism signify fascism, then the RSS is not embarrassed to call itself fascist.  We need to get rid of the stupid idea that fascism and totalitarianism are evil and the parliamentary system or British-Indian style democracy sacred” (The Philosophy and Action of the RSS for the Hind Swaraj, p.197).

 

Leaders of the RSS, such as Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, stated clearly that nationalism is not a geographical doctrine.  In other words, they are not just ultra-nationalists but consider nation-building to be a religious process based on an extreme interpretation of Hinduism.In this view, the Brahman is supreme, and the “lower castes” inferior for all time.  Whilst holding to a pseudo-egalitarian stance and calling for the end of reservations, they condemn all inter-community and inter-caste relationships.  Their support for khap panchayats is as unsurprising as the fact that Arun Shourie, a theoretician of the Sangh Parivar, once penned a malicious tract against Babasaheb Ambedkar.  Their interpretation of Hinduism is strongly anti-Muslim and anti-Christian.  The Viswa Hindu Parisad was founded with the goal to make all of India Hindu or subservient to Hindutva.  The very character of communal riots changed after the Parisad’s foundation – Muslims were warned that the “angry Hindu” has awakened and Muslims who did not follow the dictates of Hindus would pay for their disobedience.

 

In the last few years, the influence of the RSS has grown in West Bengal too, not only among unemployed and despairing sections of the petit-bourgeoisie or ideologically backward sections of the working class but also among their educated and well-established members.

 

(5)   There is a significant difference between historical fascism (Hitler, Mussolini) and contemporary fascism.  Classical fascism emerged in nations where bourgeois democracy was weak.  But in India, there was a growing demand for democracy from the 1920s and the political leaders of the Indian bourgeoisie had to accept those demands, despite making many compromises in the 1930s.  Hence, unlike Hitler in Germany, the successors of Golwalkar and Savarkar could not ignore Indian democracy.  In a nation where 60, 70 (or, even in some places, 80) per cent of people vote, there is obviously strong support for (bourgeois) democracy.  The RSS, therefore, was compelled to tailor its methods accordingly and began to infilitrate civil society.  In the 1980s, they already had thousands of sakhas across India and the number has risen since then.  Since 2014, however, there has been a qualitative change.  The BJP had previously entered government only as a member of a coalition.  This time, however, they showed their true colours and put forward Modi as leader and promoted the likes of Amit Shah.  And the big bourgeoisie accepted this.  Clearly, their economic goals – the “reform” of labour laws, the intensified exploitation of temporary labour by reforming the laws related to them, the “reform” of factory laws and so forth – are to ensure that despite the economic weakness of their situation, they can compete with the more developed economies of China and the West in accumulating capital.  Huge general strikes in 2010, 2012 and 2013 had shown that the UPA Government, although right wing in its orientation, was too weak to facilitate this.

 

Hence, the Sangh Parivar, now strongly entrenched in civil society, has been able to strike a deal with the ruling classes.  Having come to power, they are now serving the economic interests of Indian capital with great energy.  In order to do so and also because they have now been allowed to pursue their own ideology openly, they are ruthlessly seeking to stifle democracy.  It should be noted that their chief ideological opponents are not the Congress, Trinamul, Janata Dal (United), or RJD.  They have consistently attacked dalits, adivasis and leftists, and among leftists, they have not distinguished between revolutionaries and revisionists.  Of the three arrested during the attack on Jawaharlal Nehru University, one (Kanhaiya Kumar) is a leader of AISF, the student wing of the CPI, and the other two, Umar Khaled and Anirban Bhattacharya, are more-or-less aligned with the extreme left.In Allahabad, the target was a worker of the AISA, affiliated with the CPIML (Liberation).  Professor Nivedita Menon, feminist and (for the most part) subalternist, was attacked viciously.  Professor Saibaba, reportedly a Maoist, is still in jail.  Whilst it is undoubtedly important to determine the correct interpretation of Marxism, anybody talking about class or the class struggle is considered dangerous by fascists, and in need of being silenced.  And those Untermenschen, the Dalits, have to be beaten into submission.

 

Why this hatred for the Left?

We have to look beyond elections and parliamentary strength to answer this question.  The reason the bourgeosie supports fascism is because the other parties found it impossible to to enforce extreme right-wing principles by using the state’s mechanisms for repression.

 

The promise of fascism is this: they would create a reactionary mass movement among ordinary people.  Their propaganda is obsessed with beef-eating or the nature of “true” nationalism, but their main ideological adversaries are the leftists.Why?  Clearly, it has nothing to do with vote counts.  Had it been a matter of electoral strength, then Congress, Janata Dal (United), or Trinamul would have been the targets.

 

The fact that even today in India, certain issues are raised – poverty, the removal of poverty, the role of the state in education, health or transport– is not due to Sonia or Rahul Gandhi, nor to Mulayam Singh, Nitish Kumar or Lalooprasad Yadav.  Nor is it the strategy of Sitaram Yechury or D Raja.  It is because class struggle in India is still conducted in leftist terms, even though leftists do not always gain politically from it.  But the specific issues, the language in which they are discussed and the social interests in question, all reveal the influence of leftism and class struggle.  In the 2014 elections, the greatest emphasis was on the BJP securing an absolute majority and the big bourgeoisie of India had bet on it.  The BJP had promised to extirpate all the class interests of workers (from unions, salary scales and minimum wage to general strikes).  But despite bringing nationalism and Rama into the fray, they could not extinguish those class-demands.  It was seen that the trade union movement prevented the bourgeoisie from obtaining the kind of reform of labour laws that they had wanted.  And it is the AITUC and CITU that, despite all their limitations, opportunism, bureaucracy and tendency to compromise with capitalists, have unified that trade union movement and played significant roles in the repeated success of national general strikes.

 

That the discourse of agitations for democracy is also largely leftist is demonstrated by the Sangh Parivar and their supporters responding to democratic demands with the questions: Did Russia have democracy?  Did China?  We are fully conscious of the absence of democracy stretching from Stalin’s Russia to Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea. We do not even consider those regimes to be socialist.  But we know that from Marx and Engels through the Second International and up to the first period of the Communist International, the Marxist tradition was one of fighting for democracy.  In this country too, it is the leftists who, despite their many shortcomings, have been instrumental in the fight for democracy, the right to strike, or the right to form unions. 

 

Where leftist agitation – in particular, the communist mainstream – failed, the struggle was conducted by Babasaheb Ambedkar and his followers.  That struggle was for the democratic rights of the “lower castes.”  The dalit agitation remained weak for almost two decades after Dr Ambedkar’s death.  But various streams of dalit agitation began to merge from the 1970s.  Some of these were revolutionary, such as the Dalit Panthers of Maharashtra, but the larger movement also included the Backward and Minority Classes’ Employees Federation led by Kanshi Ram, from which emerged the Bahujan Samaj Party.  The Dalit Panthers and the Dalit Sangharsh Samity of Karnataka were inspired by Marxism and Ambedkar’s thought.  Kanshi Ram, on the other hand, first formed a trade union and then an electoral party.  Even he, however, admitted to being influenced by Dr Ambedkar. 

 

The Brahminical RSS found both these movements threatening.  Any kind of dalit organization is bound to offend those who consider the very idea of dalit equality to be unacceptable.  Ambedkar, consequently, was the bete noire of Hindutva ideologues.  Savarkar’s statement that in ancient India the Buddhists were treasonous elements, has to be interpreted in the light of Ambedkar’s criticism of Hinduism and the mass conversions to Buddhism that he organized.  More recently, Ambedkar was castigated by Arun Shourie.

 

But it is impossible to scorn all dalits when organizing a mass organization on the basis of Hindutva.  Hence, the Hindutva brigade is seeking to assimilate dalits on the one hand, whilst fighting progressive dalits on the other.  The reason for this is that leftist ideology is one kind of ideology.  The existence of dalits is a social fact.  Dalit ideological protests are attacked ruthlessly, whilst including dalits in “Hindu society” at times of anti-Muslim riots or to build majorities during elections.  Therefore, Tathagata Ray, a leader of the same Sangh Parivar that was responsible for the death of Shankar Guha Neogy in Central India and for the imprisonment of Dr Binayak Sen and Saibal Jana on false charges, sheds tears for (largely lower-caste) refugees from Bengal in Central India.  The institutional murder of Rohit Vemula and attacks on the Ambedkar Students Association are complemented by the infiltration of matuas in the quest to capture dalit votes.

 

But the dalits entering politics on their own?  That is unforgivable.  So, Apparao Podile is returned to the Univesity of Hyderabad.  The university is transformed into a fascist camp, with no water, electricity or internet and no access to the press. 

 

Another mainstay of fascist ideologies all over the world is gender discrimination, which, needless to say, takes different forms in different cultures.  Among the proponents of Hindutva and Brahiminism, it comprises the strict regulation of the lives of high-caste Hindu women and attacks on Muslim and dalit women.  The most extreme version of this was the mass rape and murder in the name of “resistance” in Gujarat in 2002.  But attacks on high-caste and dalit marriages and support for khap panchayats are routine.  The battle with Brahminism and Hindutva must, therefore, join forces with the struggle for gender equality.

 

Five Years of Trinamul and the Current Election

The five-year term of Trinamul must be assessed by two distinct criteria.  One is their performance in the state.  At the state-level, they have done all they could to break up mass movements, workers’ movements and strikes.  In this state plagued by unemployment, workers are being hired freely on temporary contracts for permanent government posts and one must ask how they could live on the wages they are being offered.  Simultaneously, democratic rights are under constant assault.  Repression of trade unions and student unions is routine.  The worst days of the Left Front pale into insignificance beside the election violence and fraud and the extent of police and bureaucratic cooperation with such practices.  A new element is the suicide of farmers.  The deaths of tea-garden labourers by starvation has broken all records.  Oppression of women, sexual violence and rapes are multiplying at dizzying rates.  Dismissing these incidents as “concocted” or “staged” is part of the new culture of this state.  Along with these, countless reports of corruption crowd the headlines.  Were Trinamul’s party expenses funded by the millions paid by customers of Mamata Banerjee’s paintings?  From Sarada to Narada, tales of bribery and corruption are legion.  And anybody raising these questions has been attacked as a Maoist or a CPI(M) supporter. 

Trinamul supporters as well as “leftists” blinded by their hatred of the CPI(M) would ask, “did the Left Front not nurture thugs?  Was there no corruption in the days of the Left Front?  Did the Left Front not conduct campaigns of repression?”

We have two things to say.  First, we do not admire the Left Front.After the defeat of the Left Front in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, two of our memberswrote in a nationally and internationally disseminated analysis: “Over 32 years of uninterrupted rule in West Bengal, they have brought about what one may call Stalinism in one state … as in Eastern Europe in the past, the Left Front first targeted those who might challenge its rule from the left.  The APDR and other organizations have chronicled the long-term repression of Naxalites, and this has intensified remarkably over recent years.  Massive repression has been justified by appeals to ‘Maoist danger’ and ‘secessionism’” (Kunal Chattopadhyay and Soma Marik, “The Elections of 2009 and the Prospects of Left Revival,” Indian Social Thought, 8, no 1 [April-June 2009], p. 43).

But the second of our assertions is that the Left Front and in particular the CPI(M) is a large revisionist party.  Despite occasionally talking about social change, they really wish to stay within the bourgeois system.  They dream of serving the bourgeoisie for ever, whilst at the same time assuring the working class of looking after their interests.  That is why they get so annoyed when they hear of revolutionary and alternative trade unions.  That is why they do not want to move a step beyond bourgeois democracy.  They patronized thugs, indulged in some corruption – for example, by employing people from their membership lists to government and semi-government educational institutions.  But this is where they differed from Trinamul.  In the Trinamul regime, the party does not hire lumpens.  The regime itself is run by lumpens.  Trinamul rule aims to reinforce social and economic misfortunes and despair, and to produce lumpens from the ranks of the unemployed and semi-employed, a significant number of whom are from the religious minorities.  They are subject to even greater difficulties than the rest and the Trinamul government is using them as the social basis of their rule.  They are the ones who break up mass movements, attack trade unions, and determine election results.  The CPI(M) used to impose its authority on trade unions; Trinamul seeks to destroy the trade union movement altogether.  Their role in the general strikes of 2012, 2013 and 2015 shows that they are even more extreme than Congress.  Congress was in power until the early part of 2014 but Trinamul was far more active in breaking strikes in 2012 and 2013.  As for corruption, there was a syndicate even in the days of the Left Front.  But there is no distinction between party and syndicate under Trinamul.  In higher and school education, the contributions of Trinamul are sweeping privatizations on the one hand and reductions in permanent appointments for teachers on the other.  The CPI(M) used to reject applicants more capable than their members.  For example, Teachers and Scientists against Maldevelopment published a list of 50 incompetent bootlickers of the CPI(M).  Trinamul supporters are so unqualified that they cannot even fulfil the minimal requirements.  That is why the appointment of full-time teachers has decreased at every level over five years of Trinamul rule, and their jobs are being done by temporary teachers – qualified as well as unqualified – on low pay.  In the end, therefore, there a big distinction between revisionist leftism and right-wing “populism.”

But it would be a mistake to confine our assessment of Trinamul to this level.  In their quest for long-term powerin West Bengal, Trinamul has adopted the despicable tactic of collaborating with Muslim fundamentalists.  They imagine that if they could capture the lion’s share of Muslim votes (26-27%), then they would need only some of the other votes to capture power.

And this is why the BJP has gained strength in West Bengal along with Trinamul’s rise to power.  Trinamul retained much of its strength in the last Lok Sabha elections but the Left Front vote collapsed disastrously.  The loss of the state power that the Left Front had used to shore up its strength and spread its influence over 34 years (1977-2011) was one reason for the latter.  Another was the gradual loss of the ideological strength that had once allowed the Left Front to inspire the masses with calls for struggle.  We had explained in 2014 that “since the election defeat of 2009, the CPI(M) had fallen to such a level that it was incapable of organizing any mass movement” (Radical, September 2014, p. 23).

Consequently, one portion of the CPI(M)’s mass following went over to the BJP.  Communalisms gain their strength from one another and therefore, Muslim and Hindu communalism grew simultaneously and the first beneficiary of this was Trinamul, since the BJP was cutting into CPI(M) votes. 

But the Hindutva lobby is relatively weak in West Bengal and a major ideological debate is involved here.  Hence, the BJP regards the Left, not Trinamul, as its chief adversary.  Sangh Parivar activists on the internet often put secularists, Marxists and Muslims in the same category.  This is why they revel in attacking workers of the PDSF, ISA, USDF and Radical.

Conversely, BJP and Trinamul are serving each other’s interests in different ways.  By adopting the role of a “responsible opposition,” Trinamul is shoring up the Modi government, especially in the Rajya Sabha.  And that is why the BJP has protected Trinamul in the Sarada scandal and others.

In 2011, we wrote: “She [Mamata Banerjee] has learnt the lessons of the 2004 and 2006 elections.  She realizes that it would be politically suicidal to have an alliance with the BJP in West Bengal, where many seats would be lost without Muslim votes.”  An open alliance, therefore, is out of the question.  But some of the CPI(M) votes would be allowed to go to the BJP, which would strengthen fascism.  Why should Mamata Banerjee lose any sleep over it?  Was she ever an anti-fascist?

The general state of the nation and the specific circumstances of West Bengal make it essential to remove Trinamul from power.  A large section of West Bengal’s population wants an end to their regime.

 

The Radical Socialist position on the Left Front

After the victory of Trinamul in the 2011 election, we analyzed its significance, once again stressing the character of the CPI(M) and the Left Front.  We showed why those, such as the “internal critics” of the party, who considered the CPI(M), in spite of its many errors, to be a communist party were wrong.  But even then, we distinguished between the Left Front, the constituent parties of the Front, and the Left Front Government.  We said: “The Left Front government is a reformist government in a bourgeois state.  Using bureaucratic avenues, it provided some gains for the working class on salaries and allowances, through government subsidies and licenses, maintaining a kind of balance within the state-run economy.  Those small gains for the workers were all that constituted leftism in that system” (Radical, July 2011, p.4)  We discussed how the coming of globalization made it essential to evolve a new definition of leftism and new forms of class struggle, remarking: “But these goals are unattainable where politics is based on government handouts.”

It is easy to prove that the CPI(M) is not communist but problems emerge when revolutionary-minded critics conclude that because the CPI(M) is not communist, it is bourgeois.  In an article written after the fall of the Left Front, Professor G N Saibaba called the CPI(M) a party of social fascists.  Some do not use the actual phrase “social fascism” but proceeding from similar premises, declare that there is no real difference between the CPI(M), Trinamul Congress, and the BJP. 

In truth, there is no reason to equate a working-class party with a revolutionary party.  That is why we said in 2011 that the only question about the CPI(M) was whether it was progressing toward a social democracy that was fit for the twenty-first century or whether it was content to remain within a Stalinist framework, mouthing revolutionary slogans whilst actually serving bourgeois interests” (Radical, July 2011, p.6)

So how do we differ from other “revolutionary left” or “communist left” parties?  Let us explain.  We think that the CPI(M) is an unrevolutionary workers’ party.  The Communist Party of India was under Stalinist influence since the 1930s and followed the path of class-collaboration.  But that same Stalinism also pushed them at one time toward impulsive ultra-leftism.  The principle of “socialism in one country” led communist parties of other countries to equate the interests of socialism with the interests of Soviet bureaucracy and to determine their tactics in line with the latter.  It was only after the Sino-Soviet split that the communist parties of the world gained some independence on this issue.  Meanwhile, though, decades of class-collaboration had reshaped the party’s DNA.

This politics of class collaboration, however, only works when a party’s social basis lies in the working class.  Those who criticize this standpoint argue that every political party in India creates its own trade union and one cannot say anything specific about the character of the CPI or the CPI(M) on the basis of their relationship with the AITUC or CITU.

Such views are easily countered by a deeper look at the relationship of the party with trade unions and the trade union movement.  Despite entering government, despite their countless compromises with the bourgeois system, the CPI as well as the CPI(M) need to maintain close links with workers’ movements and organizations simply in order to survive as parties and to win votes.  This does not happen with bourgeois parties.  The fascists want to smash workers’ movements out of existence.  When other bourgeois parties such as Congress or Trinamul establish trade unions, their aims and the importance of the unions in the internal politics of the party are distinct from what one finds in reformist/opportunist parties. During the 2015 General Strike, the AITUC and CITU tried to forge unity amongst all the unions; the INTUC and others did not.  Moreover, the significance of the AITUC and CITU to the CPI and CPI(M) is not matched by – or will ever match – the importance accorded to “their” unions by the Congress, Trinamul or BJP.

Therefore, we are unwilling to describe the CPI and the CPI(M) as “social fascists” or “bourgeois parties.”  We shall, of course, be asked whether we are forgetting that the murder of Khidirpur Dock Workers, the vicious police attack on the electricity workers’ movement at Santaldih, or the barbaric attacks at Marichjhapi on lower-caste/dalit refugees seeking to return to West Bengal from Central India all occurred during the rule of the Left Front.  Are we overlooking Binay Konar’s insolent threat – “they are just 13 villages; we could turn their lives into hell”?  Have we forgotten Tapasi Malik and Radharani Arhi?

No, we have not forgotten any of these.  But we do not think that resentment is the sole ingredient of class struggle.  Did Lenin forget about the murder of Rosa Luxemburg or Karl Liebknecht?  Did Lenin, Trotsky and the leaders of the Communist International forget about the betrayal of revolutions by the social democrats in 1918-20 in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy?  They did not – but they were conscious that if the liberation of the working class was to be won by the working class itself, then the majority of the working class would need to unite under the revolutionary flag, and the route to that unity might need to follow various unpredictable paths.  Hence, when the majority of workers, and even the majority of organized workers, support the reformists and revisionists, then, as a defensive manoeuvre, one might even need to form united fronts with those traitors.

Those who regard BJP-Trinamul-Congress and CPI-CPI(M) as two sides of the same coin on the basis of a few superficial similarities would do well to recall these words of Karl Marx: “…all science would be superfluous if the form of appearance of things directly coincided with their essence” (Karl Marx, Capital, vol 3, p. 956 [Penguin, 2011]).

 

Today, there is no question of forming a united front with the CPI(M), and the reasons have been explained in the essay “The Ganamancha and Us” in Radical.  But Lenin, Trotsky or Clara Zetkin called for a united front of the working class, unlike Stalin or Dimitrov who sought an understanding between the bourgeoisie and the working class.  So, they evidently regarded social democracy, in spite of all its misdeeds, as a party of the working class. 

It may be objected that this is all ancient history.  In that case, let us look at contemporary Britain.  The Labour Party, led by Tony Blair, took some extreme decisions to serve imperialist interests.  Blair was as responsible as Bush for the lies justifying the invasion of Iraq.  And yet, the resurgence of the labour movement in that same country has led to the leftist Jeremy Corbyn being elected to lead that same Labour Party.  Over the last few months, Labour is speaking with a different voice.  But the party has not thereby been transformed into a revolutionary one.  It remains social democratic.

 

So, how to vote?

The first question would be – should we vote for the left parties outside the Left Front?  Or, at least, make them our first preference?  We have stated at the very beginning that we want to use the election to assist in the class struggle.  Hence, there can be no permanent or “pure” position.

We have two long-term suggestions.  First, we want the Indian electoral system to be reformed and the introduction of proportional representation.  Elections come and go, and the party that is only slightly ahead gets into power despite receiving less than 50% of votes.  With proportional representation, different leftist combinations in various states could, if they were in the lead of the class struggle, provide some representation. 

But there is no point in discussing something that does not exist.  At this time, bearing in mind the intensity of the fascist assault, we advise voting for the Left Front.  Many have been troubled by the alliance between Congress and the Left Front for this election.  But we found this far from surprising.  In the post-independence decades, the CPI/CPI(M) and Congress have cooperated on countless occasions, including elections.  Those who are astonished by their joint campaigns and processions must be easily surprised.  Things do not stay the same for ever.  They have failed to understand the way history moves.  Although not the only possible outcome of the history of the CPI and CPI(M), this is definitely a natural culmination.  And our position is based on this interpretation.  But we would still advise voting for Left Front candidates alone, and voting against candidates from Congress or other bourgeois parties in the alliance.

The smaller leftist parties or those outside the Left Front often distinguish between the unprincipled pseudo-leftism of the Left Front and their own genuine leftism.  We reject this view and would refer our readers once again to the 2014 essay, “The Public Arena and Us.”  In 2014, we said that “in India, attempts to form a centralized workers’ party have all failed.  At this point in time, any attempt to unify organizations scattered across the country would generate only some theoretical discussion and a very limited joint programme of action.  Past experience proves that such unity is transientand the splits that follow produce more bitterness and disunity than had previously existed” (Radical, September 2014, p. 20).

Regarding these organizations, we wrote: “There is a word in English – ‘sectarian’ – that is usually translated into Bengali as sankirnatabadi (closed-minded/dogmatic) but this translation does not convey the full meaning of the English expression.  A sect is a political organization that imagines itself to be creating theory and expects the working class to dutifully follow that theory once it has been disseminated by the sect’s propaganda … Every sect wants to examine only that portion of the overall course of the class struggle that fits their own pre-determined theory.  Hence, they are uninterested in other forms of struggle and even dismiss them as bourgeois or petit-bourgeois” (ibid.)

The various left parties and combinations outside the Left Front are displaying this same tendency at this election.  They are either reluctant to describe the politics of the Sangh Parivar as fascist or even if they do so, they are unable to reach a correct analysis of the rise of fascism.  Some have seen the signs of a conspiracy to establish religious fascism in the incidents at JNU.  Astonishingly, they are evading the responsibility to clarify the connection between a genuine fascism and the bourgeoisie.  Alternatively, some are describing India as an undeveloped, agrarian country in the same breath as acknowledging the rise of fascism.

They are unable to comprehend that the rise of fascism indicates a change in the character of Indian capital.  Today, China and India are new centres for the accumulation of capital in the world market.  India, needless to say, is far behind China.  But the fact that many farmers in India are still desperately poor does not contradict assertions about the growing power of Indian capital.  It shows that since Indian capital never had any access to large colonies, it has grown by the ruthless exploitation of indigenous farmers, workers and tribal communities.  Over the years of globalization (1991-2015), wealth has been rigorously extracted from them and transmitted upward on the social scale. 

This process, however, has faced resistance.  The pace of “development” has been slowed.  The bourgeoisie, consequently, is now eager to reject all social democratic models.  This is why Indian big capital favours fascism.  And this is why fascism can be opposed only by a more intense class struggle and to complement it, by sending in as many leftist representatives as possible to Parliament and the state assemblies.  We have all failed to create alternative parties and forums.  We are conscious, however, that at the present juncture, there is no point in offering alternative candidates merely as a flag-waving gesture.  If there is indeed an area where an alternative leftist force is of significance, then it would certainly be worth putting up alternative candidates there.  It is essential to include them in the fight against fascism.

But those who call the Sangh Parivar fascist are obliged to ponder how, in this complex situation, elections can be used to fight fascism. 

For the CPI(M) and reformist parties who follow the notions of Stalin and Dimitrov, the problem is a simple one.  The Dimitrov-led “united fronts” were combinations of the working class with the so-called democratic bourgeoisie.  This path was followed in India from the time of the Dutt-Bradley thesis of 1936.  The internal debates in the CPI(M) were concerned with identifying which bourgeois parties to combine with.  The Prakash Karats wanted to create another “third force” by collaborating with the SP and the RJD, whilst the Yechuris wanted to combine with Congress.  The electoral contest in Kerala was between the Congress-led UDF and the CPI(M)-led LDF was defined as a regional tactic with no national applicability. It is clear, however, that in West Bengal, the Left Front-Congress combination, if it wins power, will do so only with the help of the bourgeois, right-wing Congress.  So, the call to bring this combination to power is not a call to arms for the working class.  Whoever forms the government, even if it is the Left-Congress combination (which seems unlikely), the working class will have to continue its struggle.  Now that fascism is in the ascendant, we are not worried about the character of the government and simply want to raise the number of reformist left representatives in Parliament and the assemblies.   

We would even say that if Suryakanta Misra were to be Chief Minister and somebody from Congress the Deputy Chief Minister, it would be simpler for the CPI(M) to attribute every neo-liberal initiative to “pressure” from Congress.  Hence, the Congress-Left Front alliance is not to be supported for the kind of government it would bring, but because a rise in the number of leftist legislators would strengthen the trade unions, the student movements and the feminist movements to some extent.  AAP, JDU, RJD, or Congress may not be remotely leftist, but when the BJP is trounced in Delhi or Bihar, the opponents of the BJP – including the revolutionary left – rejoice across the nation.  The joy is not for those who won, but at the relative weakening of fascism.  For these reasons, the Government has temporarily retreated from the Land Acquisitions Bill and other plans.  Confrontations at JNU, FTII, IIT-M, HCU and other sites have set the scene for a real struggle.

We believe that leftism, no matter how weak at the national level or how crippled in ideological terms, poses the sole obstacle to the aims of the ruling classes.  This does not apply solely to the revolutionary left but also to the CPI and CPI(M).  If leftists are relatively prominent in Parliament or the state assemblies, then it can help to some extent in strengthening the masses they seek to be supported by at the ballot box.  There won’t be a revolution in the legislative assembly if Congress and Trinamul get fewer seats and the left gets a few more than they did in 2011.  There won’t be a revolution outside the assembly either, but it would be necessary to build up movements opposing the deprivation of trade union rights, the refusal to announce salary scales, or the employment of temporary workers. 

Where the Left Front does not have a candidate, we support candidates from the ranks of “communist revolutionaries.”  We would urge the latter not to put up more than one candidate at any one constituency.  It is completely unethical for those who deny the importance of elections and representative bodies to put up multiple candidates for one seat. 

Apart from these, we would support any independent worker, dalit, tribal or minority candidate participating in specific movements, as long as we support the movement and only if the candidate and his/her organization has no connection with the bourgeois parties.

Our friends among the revolutionary communists could raise other questions.  The answer to one possible question emerges from what we have said above.  If they really belong to one camp, then why could they not unite to make class struggle central to the election?  In fact, electoral opportunism was involved in the breakdown of the Ganamancha.  When formed, it was declared that the Ganamancha would build a mass movement highlighting immediate problems and demands.  But in 2015, the Ganamancha suddenly wanted to put up candidates for the municipal elections.  We said that this was not possible until we decided on how to utilize the elections in ideological terms.  Subsequently, all the members (except us) of Ganamancha put up their candidates, sometimes running against one another.  This is what sectarianism can lead to.  Hence, voting for such organizations when they are leading a real mass movement carries a very different significance from voting for them on the basis of their theoretical assertions, especially in the situation we are in today.

It may be asked why we advocate voting for the Left Front – with the constituent parties of which we never conduct joint programmes – instead of supporting those with whom we do cooperate regularly.  But is it not contradictory or even unethical for us to urge people to vote for those leftists from whom we are politically far removed in preference to those to whom we are closer in political terms?

We are not, in fact, proceeding from the belief that these parties would not get many votes and therefore, would not be able to strengthen the battle with BJP and fascism.  Fascism can never be obstructed by electoral contests alone but only through a mass movement.  Although of late, a kind of spontaneous, defensive resistance movement against fascist assaults has developed across the country (particularly in educational institutions), the smaller revolutionary leftist parties (of which we are one) have not yet succeeded in building up a genuine mass movement with a well-thought-out programme to defeat fascism.  No organization could realistically accomplish such a goal on its own but we perceive no sincere determination to combine forces, rise above narrow self-interest and formulate a joint plan for the purpose.  That does not, however, mean that we regard the parties of the Left Front have played or are playing an effective role in the battle against fascism – not at all.  On the contrary, we hold that the decades-long reformism and bad faith of these parties, many of whom enjoy considerable support among the working class, are among the subjective reasons for the rise of fascism.  Relying on them, therefore, cannot avert the threat of fascism.  But at a time when fascism is breathing down our neck, whatever little such wavering, unreliable forces could do to weaken fascism, even in an electoral framework, is to be welcomed.  This is merely an emergency procedure.  The work of revolutionary leftists does not end, but commences with the relative strengthening of the inconstant forces of the reformist left.   If this strategy can bring about a temporary and relative breathing space, then the duty of the revolutionary left is to use that opportunity to harness its forces.  That could reverse the wavering leftists’ rightward drift – evident from their alliance with Congress – and ensure their participation in a united anti-fascist front with the revolutionary left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working Class Struggles Continue in France

Valls doesn’t see the end of the tunnel

 by Léon Crémieux

The Valls government will not manage to stifle the rejection of the labour law before July 5, the date when it returns to the National Assembly for a final vote. Most likely he will not be able to avoid having recourse to article 49.3 [1], unless he really retreats on the content of the projected law.

That is the conclusion that must be drawn by Socialist leaders on the evening of June 29, after the meeting of the government with trade union leaders from the CGT and FO.

However, over the last two weeks, everything has been done to reduce the movement to silence.

After the huge demonstration on June 14 in Paris, the government mounted a very strong campaign of propaganda in all the media to create the impression that the country was ablaze, that every demonstration was becoming a battlefield of civil war. In particular, the dozen broken windows of a children’s hospital in Paris were used to support a media frenzy whose aim was to put pressure on union leaders to end the protests, and in particular the one planned for June 23. What was at stake was to break the movement by negating its main expression, the Paris demonstration. To this end, the government was trying to turn public opinion against the demonstrations by highlighting the state of exhaustion of the police, portrayed as heroes of the nation since the attacks in November 2015 and permanently placed on a war footing with the state of emergency, Euro 2016 and the social movement. Needless to say, according to Valls the only way to change the situation lay in the demonstrations, which by being stopped, would have relieved the CRS and the gendarmes.

In this logic, Valls wanted to force the trade unions to accept cancellation of the demonstration on June 23 and its replacement by a simple rally. Faced with the refusal of the Inter-union coordinating body, the Prime Minister thought he had the necessary relationship of forces to take a gamble and simply ban the Paris demonstration. The ban was announced on the morning of June 22, the day before the demonstration. In a top-level consultation, he imposed his views on Hollande against the advice of Cazeneuve, the Minister of the Interior.

The banning of a trade union demonstration is a rare occurrence in France. You have to go back to February 8, 1962 to find such a decision, when, during the Algerian War, the Prefect of Police of Paris, Maurice Papon, banned a demonstration of the left parties and trade unions for peace in Algeria. The attacks of the police against the protesters caused, that day, the death of eight people at the Charonne underground station in Paris.

The decision by Valls sparked a general outcry, from the trade unions and on the political level, going well beyond the radical left and ecologists. Even the CFDT protested against this decision, as did many leaders of the Socialist Party.

Olivier Besancenot was the first to announce in the media that he did not respect the ban, followed in less than an hour by representatives of the Left Party, the Communist Party, the representatives of the Inter-union coordination... and even several “dissidents” of the Socialist Party. Once again, since February, Manuel Valls had underestimated the strength of the movement, the strength of the rejection of the labour law, and he had greatly overestimated the relationship of forces that he had at his disposal. Very quickly, Hollande and Cazeneuve retreated, disavowed Valls and offered the Inter-union coordination a symbolic victory by lifting the ban and accepting a demonstration, even though it was only authorized to follow a route that was reduced to a minimum.

This episode reflects the contradictory aspects of the present situation: the movement has not the strength to block the government. There has not been, and there will not be in the coming days, a general strike capable of blocking the economy and imposing, through a direct relationship of forces, the withdrawal of the law. The activists mobilized in workplaces and localities and the activists of Nuit Debout were strong enough for that. But to succeed, it was necessary not to disperse the mobilization and that a leadership of the movement could build up a real confrontation over time. The union leaderships of the CGT and FO did not want this prolonged and offensive confrontation. Since March they have constantly accompanied the movement, without providing it with a leadership on the offensive. Workers in many sectors came out on strike over several days in March. But the movement has now exhausted its real forces mobilizing major professional sectors. If, despite this, we have reached the end of June maintaining a high level of confrontation, it is because tens of thousands of activists are still mobilized, imposing their radicalism on the trade union leaders and basing themselves on the profound discredit of Hollande, Valls, the Socialist Party and on a rejection of the labour law. The level of popularity of Holland is constantly falling (88 per cent of negative opinions in the latest poll released on June 30; Valls is on 80 per cent). Similarly, the possible use of article 49.3 is disavowed by 73 per cent of the public in another survey. That is why we have reached the end of June with continued protests and strikes in many private sector enterprises, in particular on the days of inter-union demonstrations. New strikes and demonstrations will take place on July 5 and many people are promising not to stop there, despite the summer holidays and the possible passage of the law.

These contradictions are still alive and, so to speak, the government only succeeds in wearing down the movement by wearing itself out.

The obstacle that Valls is faced with is the return of his draft law before the National Assembly on July 5. Drawing lessons from the discredit caused by the use of article 49.3 in April, the Socialist Party is trying to deactivate the internal opposition which may cause the same scenario next week, causing a deepening of the discredit of the government.

That is the explanation for the political game that led Valls to receive the CGT and FO leaders on June 29 and to give the image of a government willing to engage in dialogue. It was simply a posture, since Valls does not want to negotiate about any fundamental aspect of his law. The sole purpose was to show that he had an attitude of openness, wishing to improve the haughty and arrogant image that he has shown for several months. It is likely that the operation will have fallen flat. Although Mailly and Martinez were willing to go quite far, by not putting forward the demand for the withdrawal of the law, which is however the position of the Inter-union coordination, it will turn out to have been to no avail... Valls wants to give the image of flexibility while not wanting to give any ground. However, the leadership of the CGT had even given a sign of appeasement to the government by refusing to exercise its right of opposition to the agreements signed by the CFDT and UNSA at the SNCF. If the CGT rail workers’ federation CGT had added its voice to that of SUD Rail, those agreements would have been void, restoring momentum to the mobilization. So far this little game has failed to persuade the rebellious Socialist members of parliament to make a present of their votes to Valls and all parliamentary scenarios are still possible.

Meanwhile, despite this blockage and its growing discredit, as the days go by the government is sinking deeper into a policy of police violence, violating democratic rights. While not banned, the last two Parisian demonstrations have taken place in corridors closed by the police, each demonstrator being obliged to pass through several barriers, with body searches, and able to reach the starting point of the demonstration only by a prescribed route. Again, this is an attack that is without precedent for decades; even during the 1970s, demonstrations involved less violence and a lower level of confrontation with the police. The pressure and the provocations are ubiquitous. On June 28, more than a hundred activists were banned from demonstrating. In Paris, 2,500 police surrounded a route of 2.8 kilometers for the demonstration, weapons (teargas grenade launchers, flash balls, etc....) at the ready. Worse, the police went even further that day by searching the homes of five activists in Paris, confiscating their computers and taking them into custody. The same day, 200 activists (casually employed workers from the theatrical world, postal workers....) who had assembled in a trade-union centre before the demonstration, were blocked for several hours and de facto banned from demonstrating by CRS riot police and gendarmes. After the demonstration and the lifting of the blockade of the trade-union centre, more than 800 activists gathered there as a protest. Other cases of police brutality were seen in cities across the country, particularly in Lille, where several activists were arrested.

Such escalation by the police in the violation of basic democratic rights is easily made possible by the state of emergency and the arsenal of draconian measures that the government has implemented since the attacks of 2015.

A few days after the homophobic attack in Orlando, the government even tried unsuccessfully to cancel the Gay Pride march held in Paris on July 2. The march had already been postponed... so as not to hinder the Euro 2016 matches.

Since the beginning of the movement there have been many articles, surveys and records of police violence, signaling the use of offensive arms, the beating up of demonstrators who were already on the ground, etc... A recently released report by an independent commission of inquiry centred on journalists of the ecologist newspaper Reporterre is unfortunately eloquent. Here is a short quote from the introduction: "The report that you will read below confirms that law enforcement action in France has taken a very dangerous turn, which threatens the physical integrity of many peaceful citizens, sometimes minors and even children. The use of launchers of defensive projectiles has become a regular occurrence, whereas it should be exceptional, or indeed prohibited. Grenades being fired into crowds has become unacceptably frequent. The use of unidentifiable plainclothes police to arrest people or carry out acts of repression has become systematic. Failure to respect the right of journalists to cover demonstrations without fear has become customary ... [Among police who have been interviewed], some say that they are being manipulated and used by the government, not to restore order, but to produce images that impress our citizens, as if France was threatened by "wreckers" as violent as they are anonymous, and foreign to the body of society". [2]

An artist, Goin, recently gave a good illustration of Valls and Hollande’s policy in a mural (“The state clubbing freedom”) on display as part of the "Street Art Fest" in Grenoble, featuring Marianne, the symbol of France, bludgeoned to the ground by two CRS, one having a shield marked “49.3”. The mural caused a wave of outrage from leaders of the Right and the Socialist Party, first of all Cazeneuve. The anti-republican blasphemy was intolerable to those who were proud to support the insolence and the freedom to express themselves of the Charlie Hebdojournalists.

30 June 2016

Footnotes

[1] This article allows governments to pass laws without a vote in Parliament.

[2] See Reporterre “Violences policières : le rapport qui dit les faits”

 

Reproduced from International Viewpoint

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