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Ukraine – the Russians are the aggressors

Ukraine – the Russians are the aggressors

Putin! Hands off Ukraine - at Moscow anti-war protest (pic Ben Neal via RS21)

Putin! Hands off Ukraine – at Moscow anti-war protest (pic Ben Neal via RS21)

The Russian seizure of Crimea has sharply divided opinion on the British left writes Liam Mac Uaid. On one side No2EU is saying:

“The European Commission will officially hand over €1.1 billion this week to far right coup leaders in Kiev that removed the elected government with street violence.

US secretary of state John Kerry also said on a visit to Kiev this week that Washington will add $1 billion into the pot to shore up fascist rule.”

A less shrill echo of this view is offered by the Stop The War Coalition which prominently features an article by Eamonn McCann in which he sets out their stall.  “In the game of Great Power politics, if we have to pick a side over Crimea, let it be Russia.” Counterfire have republished the same article along with one by Chris Nineham which argues that the strategic issue is that “Nato and EU expansion in the last two decades has dismantled Russia’s traditional buffer zone.” From this he also concludes that we have to back Russia.

We can speculate that some around No2EU see Putin’s Russia as being, in some distorted way, the heir to socialist bulwark that the Soviet Union once was in their eyes. For people from the SWP tradition this isn’t the case and their rationale is that as socialists in the European Union and (EU) their main responsibility is to oppose NATO and the EU.

Self evidently if the EU or NATO were to start making claims on Russian territory we would oppose that. It is also obvious that the land seizures so far have all been initiated by Russia, which stage managed a flagrantly ridiculous referendum and used the result to seize Crimea. Russia was the aggressor.  It violated Ukraine’s national sovereignty.

The movement that brought down the Yanukovich regime was contradictory. It could hardly have been otherwise in a society run by gangster capitalists who atomised mass consciousness and ran political parties as means of sharing the spoils between competing groups of oligarchs. An issue of serious concern has been the presence of the far right both in the mass movement and the newly formed government. We’ll set aside for a moment the widespread presence of the far right in Putin’s Russia. Ukraine has a specific history which has left a legacy of a deep antipathy to everything tainted by the Soviet Union. The famine Stalin inflicted on Ukraine in 1932-3 (which was covered up by many socialists at the time) is estimated to have killed 7.5 million people. Many Ukrainians interpret it as a deliberate act of genocide by the Moscow regime. It is inevitable that a national trauma on that scale will affect the way people view history. It goes some way to explaining why anti-Soviet rhetoric has such an appeal and the far right has successfully exploited the memory of that Stalinist crime.

Revolutionary content

However, socialist participants in the events, such as Ilya Boudraïtksis  of  “Vpered” (“Forward”), Russian section of the Fourth International saw the mass movement as containing the germs of a revolutionary process:

“…each element of which breathes an authentic revolutionary consciousness, painted in some strange, unusual colour – a kaleidoscope of propaganda from every possible ultra-right-wing party and sect, with countless “Celtic” symbols and runes on the walls. The incredibly sickening dissonance between the revolutionary content of the process and its reactionary form represents circumstances demanding not squeamish ethical evaluations, but action aimed at changing such an ugly equation.”

This ideological confusion is the fruit of a society in which independent working class consciousness was suppressed for decades by a bureaucracy which claimed to rule in the name of that class. The thieving oligarchy, which apologists like George Galloway refer to as the overthrown government, viewed the state as a treasury to be plundered. As a result mass consciousness has been evolving rapidly from a primordial swamp of old prejudices, half remembered ideas and glimpses of the outside world.

For many Ukrainians all that is good about the outside world is represented by the European Union. From their point of view, and that’s what matters here, joining the EU means that they might have a chance to get a job in England, Germany or Belgium. In a country in which virtually every transaction between a citizen and the state means paying a bribe, the EU can seem like a corruption free paradise. Singing a song which mocks the government doesn’t get you thrown in jail. The Sex Pistols weren’t sent to a labour camp outside Birmingham for singing God Save the Queen. Contrast that with Putin’s treatment of Pussy Riot. Who wouldn’t choose to live in a society like Denmark when the option on offer is living in a client of Putin’s Russia?

Analogies

Putin’s strategy is to gouge out chunks of Ukrainian territory. He started with Crimea. That is roughly analogous to the north of Ireland. The British state has used the presence of a Protestant population which is opposed to a united Ireland to claim sovereignty over Irish territory. Another analogy is the Israeli state. There, a settler population displaced the original inhabitants and denied them the right to a Palestinian state. Stalin’s tactics in Crimea were not too different from those of the Israeli state’s founders. He deported almost 200 000 Crimean Tatars and filled the gap with ethnic Russians. Putin is planning to use the presence of Russian speakers in other parts of Ukrainian territory to annex them. This has even worried Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko. According to The Moscow Times  he criticised Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea as setting a “bad precedent.” Even Putin’s friends in the region are twitchy now.

Current polls say that the chief Russian kleptocrat is enjoying a burst of popularity as a consequence of his aggression against Ukraine. The same thing happened when he invaded Chechnya and flattened Grozny, turning the country into what the murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya called “a small corner of hell”. Putin and his cronies must have been terrified when they saw the people take to the streets against Yanukovich. If it could happen in Kiev it could happen in Moscow or Saint Petersburg. His aggression on Ukraine served the double purpose of intimidating the mass movement there and showing any Russians inclined to imitate it what they might expect. It was a real source of optimism that 50 000 people took to the streets of Moscow to protest against their own state’s aggression, an event that went unremarked by the British Stop the War Coalition.

Saying that we are against the Russian seizure of Ukrainian territory does not for one moment imply that we defend the new government in Kiev. Like the old one, it is largely comprised of robber oligarchs and now includes a significant far right presence. That does not make it a fascist government. We are on the side of the Russian anti-war protestors and the multi-ethnic thousands who took to the streets of Ukraine’s cities demanding an end to corruption, the plundering of state assets and cops who were indistinguishable from criminals. A defeat for Russian imperialism in Ukraine is both a victory for that mass movement and the Russian working class. Socialists in imperialist countries should see their primary responsibility as establishing links and building support for those groups in Ukrainian and Russian society which are opposing the oligarchs and organising a real movement against them. That is rather different from helping Putin hold on to power by annexing his own imperialist “buffer zone”

 

http://socialistresistance.org/6085/ukraine-the-russians-are-the-aggressors

IPCC recognizes inequality as a key for “climate risk”. But we must go much further than that.

Ciimate Change

IPCC recognizes inequality as a key for “climate risk”. But we must go much further than that.

Wednesday 16 April 2014, by Alexandre Costa


http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article3373

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change started the publication of its 5th Assessment Report (or AR5), initially showing the work by the Working Group I, which deals with the physical basis of climate change. Now, the AR5 process continued with the publication of the “Summary for Policy Makers” by the Working Group II, concerning "impacts, adaptation and vulnerability."

It is common for the socialist left to neglect the issue of climate change. But this is a very serious mistake. We insist that seeking answers to the central question of the ecological crisis in general (and in particular the climate crisis) is crucial to the struggle of the working classes and the poor in the 21st century. After all, the fight to avoid a catastrophic outcome to this crisis engendered by capitalism is the fight to safeguard the material conditions for survival with dignity of humankind. No Socialism is possible in an isolated country. No Socialism is possible while keeping sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia. Socialism is not possible on a scorched Earth.

Are IPCC assessments reliable?

They mostly are. The role of the IPCC is to survey the scientific literature, in order to compile the current and most advanced knowledge in the area of climate and its impacts. Their reports are scientific compendia of high quality and of great value, not only for academic purposes. More than that, unlike the myth that climate change deniers attempt to spread, trying to discredit the scientific community, the IPCC reports are anything but "alarmist" or "catastrophist". Instead, the language is very moderate, conservative and timid, belying the magnitude of the problem they address.

These reports leave no doubt about the extent and depth of the changes that occur in the Earth’s climate system nowadays, nor regarding their causes. The planet is warming, the polar ice caps and glaciers have shrunk, the seas are rising and acidifying, extreme events (heat waves, floods, droughts, hurricanes) have become more frequent and/or intensified. These are facts. Just as it is a fact that there is no other plausible cause for this warming than the excess of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, i.e., CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels (oil, coal and natural gas), but also methane, nitrous oxide (both associated with agriculture) and halocarbons. In particular, the concentration of CO2 has grown over 40 % since the pre-industrial period (around 280 parts per million, or ppm) and in a year or two will exceed 400 ppm in the annual average (already in 2014 it will be above this number for several months).

There is a broad consensus within the Climate Science community that an average temperature rise of several degrees will worsen this whole picture so much that Earth’s climate may become quite hostile. This almost certainly will become an irreversible path, if global warming surpasses 2°C, which is expected to happen after a concentration of 450 ppm CO2 is exceeded. It is noteworthy that the projections presented by the IPCC have been confirmed or underestimate the pace of the changes: the reality of rising sea levels and especially the loss of sea ice in the Arctic is much more serious than previously thought.

Inequality in emissions, inequality in benefits inequality in impacts

“All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including food access, utilization, and price stability”; “Climate change over the 21st century is projected to increase displacement of people”; “Climate change can indirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence by amplifying well-documented drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks”; “Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger”.

In these words, the IPCC report on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability identifies as clearly as in no other previous report, the possible breadth and depth of social impacts, recognizing the real possibility of extreme deepening of the problems of hunger, water supply, deaths from severe weather events, migration, conflicts, etc.

The report understands that the impacts on society are a combination of climatic factors and how much you are "exposed" and "vulnerable" to these factors. It is quite obvious that these last two aspects have to do with the deep inequality between rich and poor, between the central capitalist countries and the periphery.

But it is also evident that the report does not go all the way in their conclusions, saying only "transformations in economic, social, technological, and political decisions and actions can enable climate-resilient pathways" (in fact it goes almost nowhere). OK, what transformations are these? What are these pathways? How we can achieve them?

In addition to the unfairness in impacts, climate change is a matter of inequality, of class struggle at its roots. The extraction, sale and use of fossil fuels is dominated by a handful of companies (7 of the 11 largest companies in the world are petrochemical and their total annual revenues surpass France’s GDP) and propelled the growth of the capitalist economy, accumulation and concentration to unimaginable levels .

Also, the wealth created based on the energy from fossil sources mostly benefited a minority of countries (mainly Europe and USA) and, of course, a minority within them. These countries have much greater capacity to adapt to the serious problems inevitably arising from the warming of the climate system. Furthermore, the rich within them have much better adaptation potential than the poor. And the gap is only going to widen between global elites and the broad masses in impoverished countries in the periphery of capitalism, indigenous peoples, the African countries and island countries, etc. under a scenario of reduced freshwater availability and agricultural productivity, more floods, droughts and wildfires, increased erosion and coastal flooding. This is a reality that contrasts sharply with the illusions sold by "green capitalism" (two words that cannot go together), which says that we all inhabit "the same ship". Of course, this analogy is meaningless, unless it is based on Titanic, whose closed gates prevented third-class passengers from having access to lifeboats, while a good part of the first class escaped.

Finally, the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere (along with the chemical and radioactive contamination of the global ecosystem) clearly demonstrates the "metabolic imbalance" between industrial production of material goods and the ability of natural ecosystems to process the wastes from this production.

Recognizing the material on the physical basis of climate change, the IPCC acknowledged the need to impose strict limits on fossil fuel use, to prevent an extremely dangerous and irreversible process, which turns out to be a spiral in which no adaptation is possible. But it does not state how we can enforce those limits, in a situation where the corporations own fossil fuel reserves that, if burned, would be sufficient to massively exceed the barrier of a 2°C global warming (or 450 ppm CO2) and still madly open new sources of exploitation, whether the Brazilian pre-salt layer, the Arctic, the Alberta tar sands, Chinese coal or the world-wide gas fracking boom.

What policies are needed in face of dramatic climate change? ?

The climate crisis cannot be resolved within the framework of "market solutions": far from it.

The so-called "carbon market", in which the "right to emit/pollute" is treated as a commodity, was revealed as a total deceit. It does not makes sense, given the necessary large-scale and accelerated restriction in emissions, to sell a "right" that no one has. It is not much than a ploy to allow big capitalists in the core countries to benefit from preferential treatment compared to peripheral countries. As in any minimally fair agreement, restrictions on CO2 emissions in the central capitalist countries must be much higher.

Regarding energy policy, it is also not possible to bet on false solutions like the construction of large dams (which, in addition to the emissions of CO2 and methane due to the decomposition of organic material in the flooded area, produce a number of other deleterious socio-environmental impacts) or nuclear power (which is not renewable, produces waste that remains radioactive and dangerous for long periods, risks accidents such as Fukushima, and may promote the proliferation of nuclear weapons).

Also it is not sufficient to introduce renewable sources (wind, solar) in the energy matrix. Today, in most cases, they have simply been added to the matrix as part of the "eternal growth" of capital, rather than replacing fossil (and nuclear) power plants. Moreover, it is common that renewables are being adopted following the capitalist pseudo-rationality, sparking conflicts with traditional populations and/or damaging coastal ecosystems, such as the shoreline zone of Northeast Brazil.

For a successful exit strategy for the climate crisis, one needs to move beyond blending renewable sources generated in medium and large units (already installed hydropower, wave power, tidal, geothermal, wind and solar). Even adopting strict measures to minimize its impacts, they are often distant from the consumption site, leading to losses in transmission lines and other problems. Thus, one must invest in a decentralized system in which cities generate a significant portion of the energy they consume, with a large contribution from solar photovoltaic generation at domestic/small scale (an association of producers/consumers, or a "solar communism").

Concerning transportation, the replacement of diesel and gasoline-powered vehicles, by agrifuel-powered ones or even by electric cars does not offer the slightest mirage of a decent solution. Corn and sugarcane ethanol as well as a large variety of biodiesel sources often come from monoculture and agribusiness, with strong effects on food security, invasion of small landowners, indigenous peoples and traditional communities, massive use of pesticides and fertilizers. The benefits of electric cars become clearly limited if electricity continues to be generated mostly by coal power plants (whose environmental impacts include not only CO2 emissions, but also those from mining and other pollutants) and if traffic congestion is not addressed. The perspective is to break up the paradigm of individual transportation altogether, combining the struggle for free movement and the defense of mobility and urban quality of life, promoting a radical turn towards public, free, high-quality, non-pollutant, collective transportation combined with other modalities (e.g. bicycles) to serve the interests of the majority and at the same time drastically reducing the associated emissions.

It is clear that production by sectors such as fossil fuel industry, the automobile industry (not to mention the armaments industry), contributing to the myth of "GDP growth", identified as an increase in overall wealth and, worse, life quality, must be completely reorganized, so that they turn to meet the needs of restructuring the energy and transport infrastructure. We need to show that a real protection of workers’ job security dwells in a thorough, profound shift about what is produced and how, along with a fundamental change from private, vertical, authoritarian capitalist management to collective, common, radically democratic socialist decision-making.

Given that most of the fossil reserves must remain untouched, a measure to be taken is the immediate expropriation of all fossil fuel companies as collective property with democratic management by society. In parallel, it is necessary that agriculture shifts from agribusiness to family farming and other small-scale food production, such as urban farming cooperatives, backyard gardens, etc., with strong encouragement to agriculture free of chemical fertilizers (great source of nitrous oxide, the third greenhouse gas in importance, behind CO2 and methane). Deforestation, still the major source of emissions in many tropical countries, needs not only to get down to zero, but to be reversed by the recovery of degraded areas.

Is ecoosocialism a petit-bourgeois thing? Is ecology the opium of the people?

Of course we disagree with any assertion of this type, but we regret that some who claim a “left” political position (or worse, a “radical left” position) spout this type of nonsense. Unfortunately, it shows that opinions that combine ignorance and bigotry and distance themselves completely from the concrete reality of capitalism in the twenty-first century are very much present amongst socialists.

The ecological crisis (of which the climate crisis is the most global expression) is a manifestation of a stage of capitalist development in which it advances over the last expanding frontiers possible within the Earth, in search of the resources it devours in the industrial process. Doing so, it exceeds natural limits and preys on the environment that sustains human society as if it were boundless. At the same time, it becomes more violent, as it inveighs unambiguously against the "obstacles to development" (indigenous people who "disturb" the expansion of agribusiness or mining, or poor populations located in places sought by construction and land speculation, in the cities).

The radical socialist left is very much aware that, in order to promote substantial changes in society, occupying positions in the bourgeois state (bureaucratic, impermeable to popular participation, with elections dominated by economic power, corrupt, structurally constituted to serve the ruling classes) is not even close to a solution. But for a large sector claiming this political position, the perception that the state apparatus is not neutral and that one cannot just put it to work "in the service of workers " is not extended to the productive base of society. The transition to socialism would take place mainly (or mostly) via the simple exchange of ownership of the mean of production, putting them to "produce in the workers’ interests" as if technologies, methods of work organization, options for energy sources, etc. were neutral.

This is false. In addition to the more obvious contradictions (the armaments industry, for example), not all production now reigning in capitalism should be maintained, qualitatively (what to produce) or quantitatively (how much to produce). In the long term, Socialism should not produce goods that lead to environmental and climatic imbalance as we have now under capitalism, as this puts into question the permanence of our own species. It must be clear that fossil fuels and nuclear power have no place in a socialist society. The logic of overproduction of luxuries and planned obsolescence must also be overcome and the volume of production of material goods itself must respect the limits imposed by the flows of matter and energy in the Earth system. This involves the recycling of waste from the production process and replacement of materials and energy resources available for so that production in a sustained manner. The mere substitution of property relations without advancing this set of issues (and also in human relationships beyond the terrain of work and production, where prejudice and oppression, incompatible with Socialism, stubbornly reside), given the depth of the revolutionary changes needed, appears as a veneer of reform, rather than genuine social revolution!

One cannot reconcile capitalism and sustainability, but it is not permissible, for the sake of immediate and long-term interest of the social majorities, to have Socialism not address the ecological issues as central. This is a necessary reckoning, not only with global ecocide promoted now by capitalism, but also with environmental disasters (Chernobyl, the Aral Sea, lakes of Siberia) perpetrated by the same "actually existing socialism" that murdered revolutionary leaders, massacred ethnic groups and created indecent bureaucratic privileges. Ecosocialism, in this sense, appears as a strategic goal for the revolutionary left that is in tune with the needs of the twenty-first century. It is far more radical than traditional and dogmatic “left” thinking supposes it is.

LINKS:

IPCC Physical Basis Summary for Policy Makers:

IPCC Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Summary for Policy Makers

Québec Solidaire and the resistance

Québec Solidaire and the resistance

Saturday 19 April 2014, by Benoit Renaud

 

With 15,000 members, two elected Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) in Québec’s provincial parliament, and about 10 percent in the polls, Québec Solidaire (QS) is now a well-established force in a shifting political landscape. A party uniting different currents and sensibilities on the left, it has emerged in the context of a series of mass mobilizations against austerity policies and imperialist wars. It embodies the enormous potential of those movements as well as their limitations and contradictions.

QS was the only party that wholly identified with the massive student mobilization from February to June 2012, known as the Maple Spring (printemps érable). The only QS MNA at the time, Amir Khadir, not only opposed the “back to school legislation” adopted to force an end to the strike, he endorsed disobedience to that law and participated in illegal demonstrations himself, like most QS members. QS is also the only party in the National Assembly advocating free tuition for universities. Undoubtedly, this explains why the party membership doubled in 2012; this in spite of the fact that all major student unions kept their distance from political parties during the struggle and remained neutral during the election campaign.

More recently, it has been the only party squarely opposed to the various pipeline projects going through Québec to bring tar sands and shale oil to the East Coast, as well as plans to develop offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. It led a campaign last fall around a series of proposals for a green energy and green jobs policy. In the context of the accidental corporate bombing of Lac-Mégantic—the derailment and explosion in eastern Québec last summer of fourteen train cars carrying crude oil that killed more than forty-five people and destroyed more than thirty buildings—this approach is very well received by a significant segment of the population.

The dynamic of Left regroupment

After decades of domination of the global Left political landscape by social-democratic/labor or Communist/Stalinist parties, the 1980s was a period of decline of these traditions and the opening of a space allowing for new political experiences and experiments. Social-Democrats adapted completely to the austerity regime of neoliberalism, transforming themselves into social-liberals. Communists were demoralized and demobilized by the collapse of the bureaucratic dictatorships they had equated with socialism and the neoliberal transformations of Russia and China.

But from that crisis of the old to the birth of the new, the process is long and complex and takes many different forms adapted to the specific history and situation of each country. In Brazil, a vibrant working-class movement against the military dictatorship allowed for the creation of the Workers Party (PT), which later formed the government under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and adapted, in turn, to neoliberalism. Being the first country with a new type of party (the PT called itself neither social-democratic nor communist), it also saw the first second generation left regroupment with PSOL, in 2004.

In Italy, a split in the very large and influential Communist Party led to Rifundazione Communista. Through the 1990s, it played a key role in the multiparty Italian Parliament, but entered into a crisis after supporting a social-liberal-led coalition government. In Germany, a left split from the Social-Democrats, converging with a fragment from the East German Communist Party gave us Die Linke (founded in 2007), a party with significant anticapitalist elements, but one that also participated in local and regional governments in coalition with the old Social-Democrats.

This list could go on and on with Respect in England and Wales, the Scottish Socialist Party, the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (NPA) in France, the Left Bloc in Portugal, and Syriza in Greece. For our argument, the main lesson to draw from these experiences is that they all represent a step forward in attempting to build a new mass political movement on the left, but always with contradictions and difficulties. We need to embrace that potential while being aware of its limitations to make the most out of those opportunities.

Mass movements of resistance to austerity, oppression, and imperialist war need to find a political expression, to converge into an attempt to change power (not simply take it) if they are to be successful and not always on the defensive. At the same time, activists are wary, with good reason, not to repeat top-down political models based on accommodation with capitalism or bureaucratic centralization.

A history of national oppression

A distinctive feature of politics and social struggles in Québec is that the majority of the population of the current Canadian province has experienced a history of oppression based on their language (French) and religion (Catholic), starting with the conquest of New France by England during what US historiography calls the French and Indian War (or Seven Years War—1756–63).

The British occupiers followed the classic colonialist model of coopting local elites and supporting their privileges in exchange for an alliance against the overexploited lower classes. As a result, the Catholic Church maintained its domination over education and health services until the 1960s. Also, the semi-feudal landowning system established in New France (seigneuries) was continued until the 1850s, when the peasantry was allowed to take massive mortgages in order to buy the land they had been working on for several generations. This made it possible for the lords to convert their old privileges into capital, while poor peasant families continued paying those mortgages for decades.

The French Canadian working class was used as cheap labor (not unlike the Irish) in the second half of the nineteenth century, many migrating to New England to work in textile mills. Until the 1970s, it was very common for French-speaking workers to have English employers and have to function in an English-speaking workplace, in spite of French speakers being the majority, both at the factory and in the town.

This oppression led to several major confrontations between the majority of French Canadians and the Canadian State, especially in times of war. Political crisis erupted during both World Wars over the draft. With the Quiet Revolution—the period of secularization, modernization, and progressive state and educational reform in Québec during the 1960s—a new movement for independence developed, with strong socialist elements. The Canadian state responded with massive police surveillance and waves of repression, most notably during the October crisis of 1970 when 500 activists were imprisoned without charges and 3,000 homes were searched by police without warrants.

To this day, the province of Québec still hasn’t ratified the new Canadian constitution adopted by all other provinces and the federal parliament in 1982. Support for independence has ranged between 35 percent and 40 percent for most of the past thirty years, with a peak around 50 percent in the early 1990s. This movement is an expression of resistance to oppression, even if the current leadership of the movement does everything it can to appear reasonable and win over the capitalist class.

Challenges of left politics in Québec

One significant difference between the case of QS and the other Left regroupments mentioned earlier is that it was formed in a society that had no tradition of mass working-class politics. Québec has had a very militant labor movement, but the domain of electoral politics has been dominated by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois forces. This is one of the symptoms of Québec’s national oppression. Successive bosses’ parties have managed to prevent the creation of a significant working-class political alternative by playing the nationalist card in various ways. Most recently, this has been the pattern for the hegemony of the Parti Québécois (PQ) over the left of the political spectrum since its creation in 1968.

From the 1920s to the 1960s, several attempts were made either to rally Québec workers to a Canadian working-class party or to create an original one. Divisions over the questions of language and national self-determination played a key role in the ultimate failure of all such attempts whether by the Communist Party, the Canadian Commonwealth Federation [2] and its successor the New Democratic Party (NDP, a labor party) or the Parti Socialiste du Québec (PSQ).

In 1970, the PQ was the first party advocating for the transformation of the Québec provincial state into a sovereign country to elect members into the Québec Parliament since the rebellions of the 1830s. Hopes were high throughout the 1970s that this young party, a cross-class coalition of right and left political forces, would achieve some sort of independence. Many on the left, including revolutionary socialists, rallied to it with the stagist strategy of achieving independence first and fighting for socialism after. Others turned their backs entirely on the national struggle, calling it a bourgeois distraction. Forty years later, with two failed attempts (in 1980 and 1995) at renegotiating the relationship of Québec with the rest of Canada by way of a popular referendum mandate, the PQ has only proven that it can be a completely ordinary provincial government, implementing the same kind of pro-business policies as the federalist Liberals. In the meantime, the radical Left was reduced to very small groups often dedicating more energy to fighting each other than fighting the Right.

For QS, this lack of a working-class political tradition has had advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, it has contributed to the party being a direct expression of the new social movements that have emerged since the 1970s. QS is unequivocally feminist, ecologist, and for global justice (altermondialiste). It has deep roots in antipoverty groups and the student movement. Also, it has experienced very little tension and infighting caused by old divisions within the Left. On the negative side, the roots and influence of the party in the union movement are minimal and the working-class perspective is not always present in its analysis.

Struggling toward an alternative

As mentioned above, when the sovereigntist PQ was founded in 1968, most of the Left rallied around it in spite of the fact it had been created and was led by liberal and conservative politicians. The uniting factor in that coalition was the goal of achieving some type of independence for the French-speaking nation. What further cemented this alliance of Left and Right was a program of social reforms made possible by the postwar boom and a common view of “progress” that included better working conditions and expanded social services.

This started changing in the early 1980s when the PQ government, under its founding leader René Lévesque, took a sharp turn to the right as a response to the global recession. But the Left—still reeling from the collapse of sizable Maoist groups, divided by sectarianism and isolated by the defeats of the social movements—was unable to truly take advantage of the crisis in the nationalist party resulting from this new turn and the defeat of the first referendum (May 1980).

For a new politics to emerge, the decline of the old was not enough. What was needed was the rebuilding of a capacity for mass resistance to right-wing policies—which emerged when the PQ came back to power in 1994. The PQ held a second referendum on sovereignty the following year (losing by 1 percent of the vote, with over 93.5 percent turnout), and then proceeded with another right-wing turn in the name of fiscal responsibility.

The first in the new wave of popular mobilizations was the March of Women against Poverty and Violence in June 1995. Fifteen thousand women participated, which could be considered a modest mobilization by today’s standards, but was remarkable after many years of isolated struggles generally ending in defeat. That movement was organized by the Québec Women’s Federation (FFQ), chaired by Françoise David, who was to become the second QS MNA in 2012. Some of its demands were met with a favorable response; enough to give people hope that struggles could still achieve results, but not enough to renew people’s trust in the PQ government.

Then a student strike took place, mostly in the colleges, [3] in the fall of 1996 as the government was holding summit meetings to discuss how to eliminate the province’s deficit. This strike was successful in forcing the government to abandon the idea of increasing tuition fees and of introducing them in the college system.

The government-sponsored summits were also the target for large rallies uniting students with unionized workers and members of community organizations. The signing of the zero deficit pact at the second summit (October 1996) by the presidents of the main unions was met with strong criticism from the rank and file. The policy of “concertation,” or constructive dialogue between the government, bosses, and the unions, had reached its objective limit (but not the subjective one, which seems to be infinite!).

It is in that context, with brutal austerity policies enforced by a party that had enjoyed the support of many activists in the social movements, combined with large mobilizations against those policies, that the need for a political alternative became obvious to many. After a few preparatory meetings, hundreds of activists met in 1998 to create the Rassemblement pour l’alternative progressiste (RAP). But this organization had a hard time breaking completely from the PQ and only supported a handful of candidates in the general election held in November.

Meanwhile, the former Québec section of the New Democratic Party (NDP, Canada’s Social-Democrats), which had changed its name to Parti de la démocratie socialiste (PDS) in order to underline its differences with the federal party (notably its support for independence), had candidates in most ridings, [4] but only garnered about 0.6 percent of the vote. A lot of work still needed to be done.

A new global movement

While RAP and PDS struggled to create an alternative to the left of the PQ, the women’s movement and antipoverty groups continued building on the success of the 1995 march and worked toward a World March of Women for 2000. That event was a great success, with 40,000 participants across Québec, demonstrations in dozens of countries, and five million signatures gathered worldwide for a common set of demands.

Less than a year after the historic Seattle demonstrations against the World Trade Organization, this global movement initiated from Québec was another example of how the tide had changed and a significantly broader section of the population was no longer willing to accept neoliberal policies and inaction on pressing social issues.

Then, in April 2001, close to 100,000 people marched in Québec city against the Summit of the Americas and the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). This mobilization united most progressive movements across Québec around a common focus (no to the FTAA) and a new sense of optimism. The fact that the PQ had supported free trade policies from the start, in the late 1980s, meant that this mobilization was incompatible with the pro-PQ strategy of the union bureaucracy and created further space for an alternative to emerge.

A few days before the summit, a by-election was held in the Montréal riding of Mercier. This could very well have been a non-event, as most by-elections usually are. But a coalition of political groups and parties (including PDS and RAP), as well as some local unions, decided to back an independent candidate under the banner of Union des forces progressiste (UFP). This candidate (Paul Cliche, a retired union staffer) got 24 percent of the vote, which sent a shockwave through the ranks of the broad Left and pushed hard toward the founding of UFP as a new party the following year.

Then opposition to the Iraq War brought to Montréal the largest demonstrations in any Western country not part of the “Coalition of the Willing,” with more than 200,000 people in the street, not once but twice (February and March 2003). We now know that the Liberal Canadian government seriously considered joining said coalition but thought better of it in the face of such a mass movement. March 2003 also saw an election campaign in Québec, in which UFP got 1 percent of the vote overall, including 5,000 votes for Amir Khadir in Mercier. Khadir, a medical doctor born in Iran, became the first QS MNA five years later.

Founding a new party

In order for these threads to come together and create QS, another push had to come from social movements and the struggle. This took the form, in 2002, of a campaign against the rise of a populist right-wing party called Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ). The rise of that party in the polls signaled a new phase in the long decline of the PQ, still in government at that time. The movement against this shift to the right was called D’abord Solidaires (Solidarity First).

Then, following the election of a provincial Liberal government under Jean Charest in 2003, the activists involved, many of whom had followed the FFQ and Françoise David through the Marches of Women of 1995 and 2000, had to decide what to do next. Many of them decided to embark on the challenging process of engaging with electoral politics. This new group called Option Citoyenne (OC—Citizens Option) rapidly built a membership comparable to that of UFP and called for the founding of a new party.

Negotiations then took place through all of 2005 between UFP and OC, leading to the founding of QS in February of 2006. At the start, the party had 4,000 members and was well received among a significant segment of the public. At its first general election in 2007, it garnered close to 4 percent of the popular vote, but failed to get into the National Assembly.

The founding meeting proceeded with the election of a first coordinating committee, a collective leadership with gender parity, including Amir Khadir and Françoise David as the two spokespersons. Some individuals obviously had more influence than others in the new formation, but it consciously decided that it would not have a leader in the traditional sense.

Also of note, the initial membership of the party was very well balanced in terms of gender and generations and spread out across all regions, with a concentration in Montréal. Most of the members were of French Canadian ethnicity, descendants of the French colonists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which is also the case for about 75 percent of the Québec population. But there were also a good number of Latinos, Anglos (English-speaking Canadians), and members of various other minorities.

What does QS represent?

As this brief history clearly shows, QS was the result of a combination of two processes, which we could label convergence and emergence. On the convergence side, several organizations had to come together and overcome their differences in order to create a broader party. At the same time, new layers of activists made the leap from movement activism to electoral politics: what we can call emergence. This dual process went through several iterations before leading to the critical mass making it possible for the Left to break from its marginal position and gain the ability to get people elected in spite of the “first past the post” system.

“Uniting the Left” by itself would not have been sufficient; the move toward electoral politics by hundreds of social movement activists, sick and tired of having the doors of parliament shut in their faces, and their demands rejected out of hand in the name of the neoliberal consensus, was absolutely necessary. At the same time, the established Left groups, with their experience of electoral politics and programmatic debates, provided the frame around which these new layers of activists could get organized rapidly and meet new challenges.

What does it stand for?

The QS views on the Québec national question may seem innocuous at first glance but constitute a program for a democratic revolution, which rests on the potentially explosive convergence of the national struggle with social and environmental struggles. The key proposal in that part of the program is the election of a Constituent Assembly, which would be mandated to draft a constitution for Québec following a vast public consultation. This would be followed by a referendum asking the people to support this new constitution and make Québec an independent country.

It also distinguishes itself from the PQ by standing in complete solidarity with the struggles of indigenous First Nations (for self-government, against capitalist pillaging of resources, etc.) and committed to international solidarity. For example, QS is the only party in Québec to endorse the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign on Palestine and oppose the trade agreement with Israel.

The QS election platform and its unfinished program are reflective of the complexity of its origins, the diversity of its membership, and the contradictions inherent in mass movements in a wealthy liberal capitalist society. Some of its proposals are certainly compatible with the capitalist order, like investing in green energy and public transit or defending human rights. Others are much more subversive, like the ban on lockouts or the creation of workers’ cooperatives in response to plant closures.

On the spectrum of Left politics, we could position QS as radical reformist, or implicitly anticapitalist. Nothing in its program is explicitly revolutionary, but the long list of reforms and the solid principles they are based on are very far from the type of social liberal politics we have seen from Labour and Socialist parties in Europe or the NPD in Canada.

The formulation created to reflect this orientation is “going beyond capitalism” (dépasser le capitalisme). What is meant by capitalism in this expression is not very clear; neither is what going beyond it concretely means. For some members of the party, capitalism is about greed and bad policies and going beyond it means adopting good policies and limiting the influence of greedy corporations over society and governments. For others, capitalism is a global system, dominating our society and shaping the state, and going beyond capitalism means imagining and creating a post-capitalist society and a radical democracy.

So far, these two main tendencies have managed to work together very well, united against right-wing parties and austerity policies. One could qualify QS as a united front party, with reformists and revolutionaries working together to achieve common goals. But for the full dynamic of a united front to be at play, there is a need to better organize and activate the revolutionary minority. The active involvement of revolutionaries was made possible, although not encouraged, by the structure of the party. Members are allowed to form collectives, based on any type of affinity they may have, including a full political program or tradition. This makes it possible for revolutionaries to organize without being attacked for “factionalism” or accused of forming a party within the party. On the other hand, those collectives don’t have delegates at party meetings or the right to put forward motions, but have the right to distribute materials, which limits their ability to influence debates and encourages members to channel their involvement in riding and regional associations instead.

In spite of that, many revolutionary socialists are involved in the party because they can see beyond the ambiguities in the program and understand that QS, being deeply rooted in the working class and oppressed groups and their struggles, is more likely to radicalize than to rally to neoliberalism when push comes to shove. But this cautious optimism is not simply a prediction. It is what socialists inside QS are working on, consciously and sometimes collectively, as with the formation of the Ecosocialist Network (Réseau écosocialiste) in March 2013, following the massive student strike of 2012.

QS and federal politics after the Orange Wave

Québec Solidaire is involved in provincial politics and doesn’t have a sister organization at the federal level. But the Canadian state cannot be ignored and the evolution of federal politics can have a significant impact on social and environmental struggles as well as on the ideological climate.

A recent development at that level which poses a challenge for the Left in Québec is the surprise election of a majority of social-democratic NDP [5] candidates in Québec ridings at the last federal election, in May 2011. This has been referred to as the Orange Wave (orange being the color associated with the NDP). It was the first time since the founding of the sovereigntist Bloc québécois (BQ) in 1990 that another party won a majority of the 75 Québec seats in the House of Commons. In fact, the BQ collapsed, with less than a quarter of the vote and only 4 seats.

For QS, federal politics pose a significant challenge. It is torn between its commitment to independence, which leads some of its members to support the sovereigntist Bloc Québécois (BQ), and its opposition to the hegemony of the procapitalist PQ in provincial politics; the activist base of the PQ and the BQ being mostly made up of the same people. In 2011, QS called for opposition to the ruling conservatives, without explicitly endorsing either the NDP or the BQ. In the next federal election, which is scheduled for November 2015, this tactical discussion will take place in a radically different context, with most incumbents being NDP and the main challenge being to deny the Conservatives another term to implement brutally antiunion and antiecological policies, as well as racist and sexist policies.

The BQ, which cannot form the federal government because of its regional and separatist nature, had been led for most of its short history by Gilles Duceppe, a former union staffer, and a team well connected to sections of the labor movement. It received the explicit and active support of the Québec Federation of Labor (FTQ, the largest union body in the province) in several elections including the last one. This means that the union movement in Québec will soon have to decide if it backs the federalist NDP, with its deep roots in the union movement across Canada, or stick to its traditional support for the sovereigntist but increasingly irrelevant BQ.

The recent announcement of the official registration of a provincial NDP in Québec could also complicate things. But there are no clear signs of this possible new division in the Québec Left becoming a real factor. Many QS activists are also involved in the NDP and so the federal NDP would have a lot to lose in alienating the QS base by engaging in provincial politics.

What next?

2014 is increasingly looking like a pivotal political year for Québec. The PQ minority government, after abandoning most of its progressive election promises and getting back to its deep commitment to neoliberal budget and economic policies, is attempting to gain political momentum by playing the identity card. Their new series of proposals for a “values charter” (now Bill 60) are taking advantage of a lack of clarity in Québec on the issue of the secular nature of the state and public institutions as well as the lack of a clear resolution to the media created “crisis” of religious accommodation in 2007, in order to foster divisions between the French speaking and historically massive Catholic majority of the population and several religious and cultural minorities, with a special emphasis on Muslim women who wear hijabs, orthodox Jews, and Sikhs. The spearhead of that divisive tactic is the proposed ban on wearing “conspicuous religious symbols” for all workers in the public service and provincially funded institutions like schools, hospitals, and municipalities. More than 600,000 jobs would be affected by that ban.

Many analysts have agreed that this is a strategy aimed at turning the fifty-four-seat minority PQ government into sixty-three-seat or bigger majority by rallying various strands of Québec nationalism and undermining the third party, the neoliberal and moderately nationalist Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ). But this strategy has already backfired, causing divisions in the sovereignty movement and alienating many members of various minorities who can no longer identify with the PQ and its cause. The resignation of Maria Mourani (the only woman and member of a cultural minority left in the five-member caucus of the BQ), followed by her conversion to federalism, is symptomatic of this situation.

Fortunately, an increasingly vocal section of the movement for Québec independence is already denouncing that proposal as being very bad for the national cause, sacrificed for the convenience of narrow electoral calculations by the PQ.

In this new polarization between an ethnocentric and pessimistic nationalism and a progressive and pluralistic movement for independence, QS could emerge as the main party that still embodies the struggle for national liberation. Mass struggles against the integration of Québec in the oil and gas industrial complex centered around Alberta’s tar sands, which the PQ government now favors, could also play a key role in continuing the tradition of mobilizations which made QS possible and push the party to new heights. But whatever the future has in reserve, it is preferable to be facing it together in QS than isolated without it. The struggle continues.

Further reading about Québec politics, Québec Solidaire, and the Réseau Écosocialiste

In French

www.ecosocialsime.ca – The Réseau Écosocialiste website

www.quebecsolidaire.net – Official site of Québec Solidaire

www.pressegauche.org – Main alternative news source for the Québec Left

www.leblogueursolidaire.blog... – Benoit Renaud’s blog

In English

www.rabble.ca – Main online news sources for the English-speaking Canadian Left

www.socialistproject.ca – Site of a socialist collective with some articles on Québec, including: www.socialistproject.ca/bull...

www.socialist.ca – Online news site of the International Socialists (Canada) with ongoing coverage of Québec politics and social movements

www.rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers... – Blogger based in Québec city, member of Réseau Écosocialiste

www.socialistvoice.ca/?p=896 – A detailed account of the 2009 QS convention, discussing the national question and secularism

Some historical background on socialists and the Québec question

www.socialisthistory.ca/Reme...

www.socialisthistory.ca/Docs...

From International Socialist Review.

Footnotes

[1] Canada has ten provinces and three territories, each with their own parliament. Québec is the only province with a French speaking majority, a legacy of New France (1600–1760).

[2] The Canadian Commonwealth Federation, a party created by workers and farmers during the Depression of the 1930s, on an anticapitalist but reformist program.

[3] Called Cégep (collèges d’enseignement général et professionnel), a unique Québec institution between high schools and universities.

[4] A riding is the Canadian equivalent of an electoral district in the United States.

[5] The New Democratic Party was founded in 1961 from a convergence of the old CCF, the Canadian Labour Congress, and a movement of reformist intellectuals.

 

From International Viewpoint

 

http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article3374

The Defeat of the Left Front and the Search for Alternative Leftism

The Defeat of the Left Front and the Search for Alternative Leftism[*]

Soma Marik and Kunal Chattopadhyay


Even as late as 10 May, when the last round of polling was held for the 2011 West Bengal Assembly elections, Left Front leaders, especially Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) leaders were announcing with complete confidence and a degree of arrogance that they were going to form the 8th LF government. 24 Ghanta (24 Hours), a pro-CPI(M) television channel even produced an “exit poll” result, according to which the LF would get close to a majority. The counting of votes on 13 May showed how totally away from reality the Left Front leaders were. After this, CPI(M) leaders were heard complaining  that they had been dissociated from the masses. But this merely partial comment does not explain what had happened. A CPI(M) youth leader, currently political bureau member Sitaram Yechuri, had visited Romania shortly before the fall of the party-state regime there, and had reported that All IZZ Well. When the regime fell, some youth close to the party charged him with lying to the party. A party veteran,  M Basavapunnaiah defended him, saying, Yechuri had not lied to his party, nor had the Romanian party comrades lied to the Indian party. It was the people of Romania who had lied to their party. This arrogant belief that a personified history had given the communist party power for all time, and that people should serve the party rather than the other way round, has been bred deep into the official, Moscow-Beijing brands of communism. The Party imagines the ‘real’ people in terms of its wishes and its bureaucratic command systems. If the masses do not fit the imagination, they are non-proletarian, even reactionary. This attitude of manipulating the masses, of riding them to power, persists in all shades of Stalinism. If the CPI(M) believes in manipulating them for electoral gains, the CPI (Maoist) believes in taking power purely by force of arms and in declaring people who do not support them, whatever their class position, as enemy agents. As a result, the CPI(M) has so far been unable to make a class analysis of its defeat. Now that pro-TMC intellectuals and post-modernists are saying that the discourse of class is itself irrelevant, such an analysis is even more necessary, so we shall attempt a preliminary one. We have presented some statistical data in three tables.

 

 

 

 

Table-1

Election results of major parties

Year

Total Seats

Congress

CPI

CPI(M)

Forward Bloc

RSP

Other Left

Other significant parties

1952

238 (the figures for all seats not known)

150

28

Did not exist

21+2

 

15 KMPP

 9 Jan Sangh, 4 Hindu Mahasabha

1957

 

152

46

 

8

 

21 Praja Socialist Party

25 Hindu Mahasabha

1962

252

157

50

 

13

 

5 PSP, 9 RCPI

 

1967

280

127

16

43

13

6

7 PSP, 7 SSP, 4 SUCI, 2 Workers Party, 1 Marxist FB

34 Bangla Congess, 1 Jan Sangh, 1 Swatantra

1969

280

55

30

80

21

22

21

33 Bangla Congress, 4 Gorkha League

1977

294

20

2

178

25

20

4 Other LF partners, 4 SUCI (anti-LF), 1 CPI(ML)

29 Janata Party

2006

294

21

8

176

23

20

2 SUCI

30 Trinamool Congress, 3 GNLF

2011

294

42

2

40 (reduced to 39 after a by-poll)

11

7

1 SUCI

184 TMC, 3 GJMM, 1 independent

The figures for all seats were not found. We have given the seats for the major Left Parties, the major Rightwing parties, and the most important national/ethnic minority party to win seats.

Congress – Traditional and principal party of Indian bourgeoisie.

CPI – Communist Party of India, from which a pro-China break off to found the CPI(M), and then the most pro-China people left it to form a number of Naxalite organisations

RSP – Revolutionary Socialist Party. Originally a large anti-Stalinist party which however dissociated itself from Trotskyism, though it ha d a few Trotskyists in its ranks. Member of the Left Front for a long time.

KMPP – Now defunct, merged into the socialist Party.

Jan Sangh – Hindu Rightwing party, predecessor of the BJP

Hindu Mahasabha – proto-fascist Hindu rightwng party, one of whose ex-members was responsible for the murder of Gandhi.

SUCI—Extreme Stalinist formation with its own cult leader, Sibdas Ghosh

MFB—split off from Forward Bloc

RCPI—Anti-Stalinist Party. Now a small group inside Left Front, with little political weight or anti-Stalinism left

Bangla Congress – Small landlord based split from Congress in 1966-67.

Janata Party – United organisation formed by the Socialist Party, the Congress (O) [which was the anti-Indira Gandhi faction when the Congress was split in 1969 by Indira Gandhi], the Jan Sangh and the Swatantra Party, along with dissidents from Indira Gandhi-led Congress. Formed in 1977, split in 1979-80. A predecessor of the subsequent janata Dal.

Swatantra Party – Formed by erstwhile rulers of princely states and advocates of economic liberalism and opponents of the state-led capitalist development model adopted after independence.

Gorkha League – First major Gorkha organisation speaking for the Gorkha [Indian Nepalo] population of the hill areas of West Bengal

GNLF – Gorkha National Liberation Front

GJMM – Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha [lit. Gorkha Peoples Liberation Platform]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table – 2

Seats in the Burdwan District (mainly industrial areas)

Seats

Winner

Votes secured

Loser

Votes

Asansol North

Moloy Ghatak (TMC)

96,011

Ranu Roychowdhury (CPIM)

48,218

Asansol South

Tapas Banerjee (TMC)

89.645

Ashok Kr. Mukherjee (CPIM)

61,104

Ranigunj

Md. Sohrab Ali (TMC)

73,810

Runu Dutta (CPIM)

72,059

Kulti

Ujjal Chatterjee (TMC)

77,610

Maniklal Acharyya (FB)

49,044

Jamuria

Jahanara Khan (CPIM)

72,411

Pravat Kr. Chatterjee

(TMC)

58,538

Durgapur West

Apoorva Mukherjee (TMC)

92,454

Biprendu Kr. Chakraborty

(CPIM)

75,448

Durgapur East

Nikhil Kumar Banerjee (TMC)

87,050

Alpana Chowdhury(CPIM)

78,484

 

Table- 3

Mostly Industrial and white collar Seats Near Kolkata

Seat

Winner

Margin

Seat

Winner

Margin

Barrackpur

Trinamul Congress

36000+

Dum Dum North

Trinamul Congress

31,000+

Naihati

Trinamul Congress

27,000+

Panihati

Trinamul Congress

31,000+

Jagaddal

Trinamul Congress

36,000+

Kamarhati

Trinamul Congress

24,000+

Bhatpara

Trinamul Congress

44,000+

Baranagar

Trinamul Congress

36,000+

Beejpur

Trinamul Congress

12,000+

Rajarhat-opalpur

Trinamul Congress

35,000+

Amdanga

Trinamul Congress

21,000+

Khardaha

Trinamul Congress

26,000+

Noapara

Trinamul Congress

41,000+

 

 

 

 

 

The Meaning of the Statistical Data:

If we look at the votes received by the left forces from 1952 to the present, we find that the election of 2011 has pushed them to the position they had in 1957. We have omitted the massively rigged 1972 elections. Of course, CPI(M) leaders will try to explain the votes in diverse ways. They have already claimed that the total votes secured by the Left Front increased compared to the parliamentary polls of 2009. They are also presenting convoluted claims about percentages. This is all rather pointless. India has always had the British model first past the post system, and in the past the Left Front has benefitted, as when in 2001 Congress and TMC local level rivalries meant candidates against one another and the resultant left victory.

1.      The LF says it has received a high percentage of votes. True. But the Congress, and the Janata Party, had both received significant percentage of votes in 1977, when the LF came to power. We have the first past the post system in India, and flawed as it is, the LF itself has been its beneficiary for three decades.

2.      Even if we look at percentage points, the LF share has declined in comparison not only to 2006 Assembly elections, but even the 2009 parliamentary elections.

3.      In a whole series of predominantly working class seats the LF has done very badly. Both in the so-called red belt of Burdwan as well as in areas near Kolkata, the LF has fared badly in industrial seats. Thus both the organised and the unorganised working class voted solidly against the LF.

One simple calculation shows that the people, not merely the elite, had turned violently against the LF. The main mass organisations led by the LF parties, that is, trade unions, peasant organisations, women’s organisations, student organisations, youth organisations, teachers’ organisations, government employees’ organisations, put together had a membership of about 35 million or a bit more. If we assume a 25 per cent overlap (one person being member of more than one organisation) they still had about 26.2 million members. Across West Bengal the total votes received by the LF was 16.9 million. In other words, after the 2006 elections, a vast number of workers and peasants, formerly aligned with the LF, have turned increasingly against it. Postal ballots, cast by people on election duties, were mostly from government employee or school teacher categories. In these sectors the CPI(M) has had an iron grip for over three decades. But while overall the LF won 62 seats, in the postal ballot counting they were ahead in merely 39 seats. So neither a mono-causal harping on canards spread by the media, nor a claim that Singur mistakes resulted in the defeat, are enough. We must search for the causes in the transformations of the mainstream left and its class basis.

The Communist International and the Transformation of Indian Communism

Without understanding the transformation of communism in India, there is no point in either abusing the CPI(M), or the Maoists, or the SUCI’s love for the TMC. From the foundation of the CPI, whether in Tashkent or inside India, serious communists worked among the working class, built militant trade unions like the Girni Kamgar Union or the Bengal Chatkal Mazdoor Union. They also became vanguard fighters against British imperialism. At the Kolkata session of the Congress where the radicals were defeated by Gandhi in their attempt to pass a purna swaraj resolution, 50,000 workers marched up to the Congress pandal demanding full independence. Through Workers and Peasants Parties, the CPI also started working among peasants, though the two-class party conception .

In order to smash this growing communist threat, British imperialism launched a furious offensive. The Meerut Conspiracy Case was started, and most leading communists arrested and put on trial for a process that lasted several years. The party was in disarray. And before it could overcome these problems, there was a profound transformation wrought in international communism, to which we must turn.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, its leaders, like Lenin, Trotsky or Bukharin, were clear that the interests of the Russian working class were not national interests but class interests, and these class interests transcended international frontiers. Only a world socialist revolution would ensure socialism in their country as well. For the first time, European socialist revolutionaries decided that the struggles of the colonial masses were as important as the struggles in the imperialist metropolis. During the Brest Litovsk negotiations, the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Trotsky, announced that the Soviet government recognised the right of all exploited colonies to self determination. The foundation of the Communist International in 1919 also began a process of thought concerning how to achieve the colonial revolution. In 1920 came the celebrated Lenin-Roy debate. Roy’s thesis, often ignored, had an important point that Lenin conceded. Roy had made very erroneous comments – like charging that the European working class was incapable of being really revolutionary. But Roy had argued that not all colonies were the same. Some had powerful local capitalists, so in those countries the class struggle had to include opposition to local exploiters as sharply as the opposition to imperialism. While Lenin was right in stressing some of Roy’s one-sided formulations, and in amending them, he also supported accepting that document as a supplementary document.

Before World War I, Marxists believed that not only in colonies but also in backward countries like Russia, the coming revolution would be a bourgeois democratic revolution. Lenin wrote a thick book, Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, where his debate with the Mensheviks was over the tactical line within a common understanding about the stage of revolution. In 1917, however, the Bolsheviks, not without internal debates, ended up accepting more or less the arguments advanced first in 1905 by Leon Trotsky, according to which, if the working class took the leading role in overthrowing tsarist autocracy, they would not be able to stop short at the bourgeois stage of revolution. Internal dynamics of class struggle would compel them , even if they tried to implement their minimum programme, to go beyond it and take over class power and make deep inroads into the rule of capital.

After 1919, these ideas were also taken up, gradually, in connection with the colonial revolutions. It was with the Chinese Revolution (1925-27) and its bloody defeat, that debates led to the clear separation of two opposite lines.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 was part of a world revolution. There was an armed uprising for Irish freedom, in which Marxists like Conolly played an important role, in 1916. In 1918-19, revolutions broke out in Germany, Austria-Hungary. In Hungary, for a short while, there was even proclaimed a dictatorship of the proletariat. A general strike brought the Italian bourgeoisie almost to its knees in 1920. In 1919, China saw the famous May 4th Movement. In India, there were agitatins all the way from the Anti-Rowlatt Act agitations to the Non Violent Non Cooperation. But by 1920-21, most of these struggles were slowing down and capitalism getting a relative stability. Meanwhile an isolated soviet Russia had lost its bravest workers in a bloody civil war aided by imperialism and interventionist forces. Other vanguard workers were enmeshed in the essential tasks of running the working class state. But with all other parties more or less either siding with the Whites or playing an uncertain role, Soviet democracy virtually broke down.

At this juncture, Lenin, Trotsky and their comrades made two vital mistakes. First, in order to save the revolution during the civil war they had to adopt emergency measures that might have been essential but were temporary expedients that went against the basic premises of workers democracy. These included actions like banning the opposition press. Necessary during the civil war, it was a plain mistake to persist in this and to even justify it as a higher form of class rule. Secondly, because only one party stood for the revolution, increasingly the distinctions between party and state started getting blurred. From 1922, Lenin, Trotsky, and some other leaders and cadres felt worried about this. Lenin in particular saw the office and the staff of the General Secretary of the Party as a centre of the infection. Moshe Lewin’s book, Lenin’s Last Struggle, shows how the sick Lenin fought his best against Stalin and the bureaucratic power around him.

From mid-1923 Trotsky launched a battle for extension of democracy. 46 party leaders demanded discussions for a new course. This was the last time a democratic debate was begun. But as Trotsky and the Left Opposition looked like gaining huge support in Moscow, manipulations and anti-democratic methods were started. In the rest of the country there was hardly any open debate. Eventually at the 13th Party Conference the Left had only three representatives. Between 1924 and 1929, Stalin consolidated power. In the initial stages Zinoviev and Kamenev supported him in order to reduce the popularity of Trotsky, assuming it was a mere factional conflict without serious social implications. But the social reality was never absent. The defeat of the world revolution meant a precarious equilibrium. This made possible the rise of the bureaucracy. But the bureaucracy needed a certified Old Bolshevik. Stalin was willing. The Left Opposition was attacked for violating party discipline and was accused of being semi-Menshevik because (a) they did not believe it possible to build a classless society in isolated Russia, and (b)they thought that the social democracy was a reformist wing of the working class movement, so in order to defeat fascism a United Front with it was necessary.

After the defeat of Trotsky, Stalin, now supported by Bukharin, embarked on an economic policy that turned Zinoviev and Kamenev against them. Moreover, from this period the Communist International was turned into an instrument of Soviet foreign policy, which Zinoviev, the President of the Comintern, objected to. Routed at a rigged party congress, they now joined hands with Trotsky, and all other leftwing currents, to form the United Opposition. In 1926-27, this United Opposition fought over a number of issues – restoring working class democracy, industrialisation, support to revolutionary processes and working class independence, etc. This time they could not even present their views before the party. Instead, they were expelled. Zinoviev and Kamenev recanted, but the Left Opposition did not. It was sent into exile, then further repressed in the 1930s till the final purge when the surviving left opposition leaders were tried, forced to confess to absurd charges, and executed, or shot dead without even the pretence of a legal trial.

The Debate over the Chinese Revolution:

The new bureaucratic layer that began dominating detached the “national” interests of the USSR, which in turn was identified with the social privileges of this layer, from the historic interests of the international working class. The Communist International was turned into an instrument of foreign policy of the USSR. At one stage of this process, in the hope of getting the support of the Kuomintang regime of China against the imperialists, the Communist Party of China was turned into a subordinate of the Kuomintang. Much earlier, as a tactical measure, the CPC had entered the KMT. But when the KMT began putting forward demands that went against basic communist interests, including accepting Sun Yat Sen’s thought as the highest principle, and handing over the lists of party members inside the KMT to the KMT leadership, many leaders of the CPC objected. They included Chen Duxiu, the General Secretary of the CPC. But in the name of Comintern discipline, advisers from Moscow compelled them to follow this line. In the Comintern, Trotsky, Radek, Zinoviev, the Yugoslav communist Vuyovich, opposed this line. During debates in the Soviet communist Party and in the Comintern the line upheld in particular by the Left Opposition included the following points:

·         The Communist Party must have freedom of action

·         Only an independent working class power can properly lead the tremendous agrarian unrest

·         The bourgeoisie can compromise at any time with imperialism

·         If an anti-imperialist revolution was led by the working class and was based on a worker-peasant alliance then it would not stop at the bourgeois stage but would press forward to become a part of the world socialist revolution.

In response Stalin and his then ally Bukharin said the bourgeoisie was not in a position to betray – this speech of Stalin was naturally hidden from his so-called collected works, but post-glasnost research shows that documents published by Trotsky were accurate. Further, according to Stalin and Bukharin, an abstract notion of stage of revolution determined the tasks. Since this was seen as a bourgeois stage, so they concluded, one must keep the bourgeoisie as ally. Eventually, all the loyal allies on whom Stalin was banking, Chiang Kai Shek, Wang Ching Wei, and others, betrayed, if that isthe right word when they were serving their own class. The Chinese Revolution was drowned in blood. And then, to conceal this, an ultraleft, totally irresponsible uprising was organised in Canton, using surviving pro-Communist troops and some workers. This resulted in the total annihilation of the CCP from the major cities.

This experience led to a sharp polarisation of lines. Stalin and his friends said that in the colonies the bourgeoisie is an ally and must be kept pacified. The Left wing communists said that the colonial bourgeoisie might fight against imperialism in its own interest from time to time, but it will never hesitate to crush the rebellious workers and peasants and to form an alliance with imperialism for that cause. In order to counter the left opposition and also to defeat Bukharin, from 1928 Stalin embarked on a seemingly left line. This included suddenly declaring a “third period” of class struggle since World War I when revolution was imminent and there could be no alliance with any reformists. This saw the German Communist Party declaring the Social Democrats to be Social Fascists.

The Communist Party of India and Stalinism:

Founded in 1920 abroad and in 1925 in India, the Communist Party of India had a rather poor foundation. By the time the different Indian communist groups got together to create an all India party in 1925, the Communist International was already undergoing a transformation. M. N. Roy had shifted from his excessive leftism of the Second Congress to a right communist position, and was one of the advocates of the two class party idea. Workers and Peasants Parties were formed in a number of provinces. Then came the left line, faithfully parroted in India, whereby the All India Trade Union Congress was split and Red Trade Unions created, which enabled reformists to control the AITUC after a period of growing communist influence. There followed a massive blow. British imperialism had launched the Meerut Conspiracy Case. A large number of CPI leaders and trade unionists close to them were arrested. All the way to 1935, this sectarian line persisted, so that the genuine limitations of the bourgeois nationalist leadership could not be used to effectively fight to remove their hegemony over the freedom movement.

In 1935, two years after Hitler’s triumph, the Communist International changed its line.  Sobhanlal Dutta Gupta has argued persuasively that Dimitrov, who crafted the so-called United Front line, led people who were trying to resist and change Stalin’s line. Their subjective motives might be important. But Dutta Gupta underestimates the Stalinist bureaucracy’s own needs. When it felt threatened by Hitler, it did not simply call for working class united fronts. Instead, it went all out to forge alliances with capitalist, imperialist powers opposed to German aims. Thus, it became a sudden devotee of the League of Nations. The Communist International’s Seventh Congress saw a spurious United Front line being developed, in which “democratic” bourgeoisie also found place. The application for India came in the form of a document written by Veteran Stalinist R. Palme Dutt and Ben Bradley. As a result, this document has often been called the Dutt-Bradley thesis. It said that the entire Congress must be a partner in the struggles. Giving such an undertaking meant effectively abandoning any struggle for hegemony.

Reception of Stalinism and the Transformation of the CPI:

The Communist International control over the CPI, and hence effectively the Stalinist transformation of the CPI, was deeper in the period after this. As a result, those Maoists who claim that Khruschevite or Brezhnevite revisionism has dragged in class collaboration are simply covering up for certain crimes of Stalinism. One dimension that should be mentioned in particular is the recruitment of large numbers of revolutionary nationalists. This had contradictory effects. The revolutionary nationalists were men and women of middle class origin, especially in Bengal. They had rejected the Gandhian path and sought for more militant routes to overthrowing the British. This was what eventually attracted them to Marxism. At the same time, their previous politics and organisational tactics, which looked at the masses of people as passive supporters while the revolutionary organisation was the dynamic, heroic body, made them receptive to an interpretation of the communist party as vanguard where substitutionism became central. The former revolutionary nationalists played a decisive role in building the CPI in Bengal. But the substitutionism was retained, and would repeatedly come out and express itself, now decked in apparently Marxist forms, with quotations from Lenin and Stalin.

Between 1936 and 1948, the various lines of the CPI were united in their all being class collaborationist. Up to the outbreak of World War II, the attempt was to be with the Congress. This involved manoeuvrings, such as providing only limited support to Subhas Chandra Bose, the petty bourgeois leftist leader who was pushing for greater militancy and who was eventually pushed out of Congress by Gandhi and his supporters. During the war, once the USSR was invaded by Hitler, the CPI proclaimed the war to be a “Peoples’ War” and as a result opposed the Quit India movement and abandoned any pretence to any class struggle. After the war too, while the post-war upsurge saw the CPI gaining ground, it did so within a strategy of bourgeois hegemony. Thus, challenging the congress hegemony was completely out of its vision.

Within this, however, the CPI General Secretary through this entire period, P. C. Joshi, seems to have had a policy of extending CPI influence though civil society. He understood, correctly, that sectarianism or imposition of the party line from above would not allow for such penetration into civil society. But this in turn led to a blurring of class lines. Thus, in the final period before independence, when a major question was how to avoid partition, Joshi’s stress was not on class struggle to overcome religious sectarianism, but the appeal to Gandhi and Jinnah to meet and negotiate.

This was opposed by another member of the CPI Politbureau, B. T. Ranadive. By 1948, with Communist Information Bureau support and directive, his line was dominant. Ranadive replaced Joshi as Genersal Secretary. This was a call for rapid shift to a revolution by fiat. Party workers were told to push for agitations and conflicts. An ultra left outlook was imposed. Its culmination came with the call for an all-India railway general strike, an utterly unplanned and impractical move that in fact set back the railway union and demoralised cadres. Three key political errors committed by Randive remained, despite all formal criticism of that period, in the party’s outlook.

  • Imposition of complete party control on unions and other mass organisations.
  • Refusing to recognise that the Indian bourgeoisie had wrested considerable power from imperialism.
  • Calling for armed struggle in a country where (bourgeois) democratic freedoms were being set up and therefore in fact gaining in popularity.

These would be the features of “left” variants of Stalinism over all these years.

But the defeat of Ranadive did not end ultraleftism. The first round of Maoism in India came up in the form of the Andhra line. Rajeswar Rao (later CPI General Secretary), Tarimela Nagi Reddy (later the most important of the Andhra naxalite leaders), Devulapalli Venkateswara Rao and others pushed for a rural guerrilla warfare line in imitation of China.

What these alternatives meant was that Indian Stalinism oscillated between abject surrender to bourgeois democracy and absolute rejection of it even when it was present and could not be flatly rejected.

In the 1950s the inner-party debates in the CPI had three sides. One was the Maoist current, often submerged. The other two were two tactical lines within a general agreement that in a country like India a two stage revolution was essential, and this meant seeking bourgeois allies. The sophisticated verbal wrestling over National Front and Democratic Front essentially meant whether the allies were to be sought among “progressive Congressmen” or among parties outside the Congress. Led by Mohan Kumarmangalam, one large group took the logical next step and left CPI to join the Congress, themselves becoming “progressive Congressmen”.

From the United Front to the Left Front

In the context of West Bengal, the Dutt-Bradley thesis had its first triumphs in the form of the 1967 and 1969 West Bengal United Front governments. Popular discontent after two decades of Congress rule was harnessed to electoralism. Two fronts had been created, one through an alliance between the CPI and the Bangla Congress, a split off from the Congress, and the other under CPI(M) leadership. The CPI-CPI(M) split had been bitter, and the CPI(M) had been more concerned with establishing itself as the major force in opposition to the CPI. But it was seen that results were compelling the left parties to combine, along with Bangla Congress.

At the same time, the Maoists saw this as the opportunity to go in for a fresh attempt at revolution. For them, bourgeois democracy was not truncated democracy but not democracy at all. Fascism and bourgeois democracy were one and the same. The only way to remain a revolutionary was to call for armed struggle, which was being delayed, not for any objective reason, but solely because the leadership consisted of large numbers of traitors. So, basing themselves on militant peasant struggles for land that had broken out in Naxalbari, they decided to go in for armed revolution. This led to a split in the CPI(M) and the formation of the CPI(ML), the MCC and the UCCRI(ML), three of the principal Maoist organisations. For the CPI and the CPI(M), in the same period, the aim was to go into government, carry out some reforms, but ensure that the government lasted. Neither line was very successful. The UF was unstable, because the bourgeois partners were not willing to tolerate any kind of militancy. Ajoy Mukherjee, the Chief Minister and Bangla Congress leader, eventually carried out the farce of organising a protest against his own government. This period ended in 1971-72, when a new tough Congress leader, S. S. Ray, took charge in the province. He used a combination of police and central forces, along with groups of armed youth, to carry out tremendous violence against all shades of the left. This had different consequences for different parties. The Maoist groups were severely repressed. As a result, there were multiple splits, and it would be a long time before the number of Maoist groups came down and distinct strategies emerged.

For the CPI(M) it was different. This party had projected itself as being to the left of the CPI, and of being mainly a pro-China party in the international debate. Now it shifted stances. The search for bourgeois partners on the all-India scale intensified. As repression forced the party to turn to defensive action in West Bengal, it sought help from the anti-Congress (Indira) Grand Alliance (the Congress(O), the Swatantra, the Jan Sangh and the Socialist Party).In 1974-5, it participated in the “partyless” democracy movement launched by Jaya Prakash Narayan, and marched without flags side by side with cadres of the RSS and other rightwing forces. Meanwhile the CPI, which had been whittled down by the CPI(M) in West Bengal, had joined hands with S.S. Ray in the 1972 elections, under the plea that through actions like bank nationalisation Indira Gandhi had shown that her party represented the progressive national bourgeoisie. The 1972 elections to the West Bengal Assembly were conducted under a reign of rightwing terror. CPI(M) election agents were often simply driven away from polling stations. Booth capturing, false voting, forced voting, were rampant. The CPI saw its seats increasing as the junior partner of the Congress(I), but as a result of that very alliance, its reputation plummeted greatly. During the J.P.-led movement, the CPI argued that this was a fascist movement, by pointing to the RSS component. Having done so, it tail-ended the Congress(I), and when Indira Gandhi declared the “Emergency” (a suspension of many of the basic democratic rights and the establishment of a dictatorship) the CPI went on to support that.

In 1977 Indira Gandhi ended the emergency and went in for elections, under the impression that she would win. Instead she was swept away. The Bharatiya Lok Dal, formed by several anti-Congress (I) parties in 1974, was expanded, including Congress dissidents and the Jan Sangh, to become the Janata Party. A Janata government was formed. The CPI(M) was a purely default beneficiary of this process. Since CPI(M) leaders, confident that with the passage of years people have forgotten what the situation was, now make tall claims, let us quote briefly an article by Biman Basu, CPI(M) leader, where in an unguarded moment he had let slip the truth. “In the elections to the state assembly that were held soon afterwards, the Janata Party underestimated the Left Front, considered it as the junior constituent and adamantly demanded that it would fight 60 percent of the constituencies. Following a series of discussions between the leaders of the Janata Party and the Left Front, the Left Front finally placed the proposal that the Front would file candidates in 48 percent of the seats and the Janata Party in 52 percent. But the Janata Party would not accept anything below 56 percent of the seats, and the talks broke down. In the changed situation, the Left Front resolved to put up candidates in all the 294 assembly seats.”[1]

In other words, had Prafulla Sen, former Congress Chief Minister of West Bengal and in 1977 the leader of the Janata Party in West Bengal, not become too greedy,  there would have been no 34 year long Left Front government. When the CPI(M) leaders seek to remind people of the “progressive’ steps taken by the Left Front government, we need to be clear as to how progressive these were and why. Certainly, we make a distinction between reformism and rabid right wing politics. The Left Front won the elections of 1977, for whatever reasons, foolishness of Prafulla Sen or not. And they stated in power for 34 years. We have heard much talk about “scientific rigging” by the CPI(M) and so on. The real cases of rigging are well known – for example in the famous Garbeta election where CPI(M) polled over ninety percent votes in many booths, due to massive intimidation of voters by Susanto Ghosh. But the sustained victories were the result of a combination of reasons. They included the first past the post system and on one hand the unity of the Left Front and on the other the fragmentation of anti-Left Front votes; but they also included large scale voting by workers, peasants, agricultural labourers and the urban petty bourgeoisie in favour of the Left Front.  So we need a more serious probing of the politics and ideology behind the sustained victories of the Left Front.

Class Struggle:

In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the CITU [the CPI(M) led trade union centre] was certainly built through militant struggles. But it was also built by attacks on rival unions. Today, the CPI, as a friend of the CPI(M), may not admit it publicly, but if one reads the pages of the CPI daily Kalantar for the period under discussion, or if one looks at certain pamphlets put out by the CPI and the AITUC, the crude violence unleashed on the AITUC in order to “capture” unions is well recorded. Thus, violence within the working class in the name of defeating revisionism went hand in hand with struggles in jute mills. This combination of two trends intensified after 1977. The CITU sometimes carried out aggressive unionism. But state intervention helped its cause. And being in the wrong union was a serious offence. Police firing killed a worker in the Calcutta Docks early in LF days. Parimal Dasgupta, a trade union leader with Naxalite leanings, had built up a strong union among electricity workers. This union came in for a degree of attack that even many Naxalite critics had perhaps been unprepared for. But on the other side were certain measures, like security for trade unionists of certain types, as well as a growth in the numbers, wages and security of government employees and government-aided workers. In other words, sections of the working class were given patronage, and as long as it was possible to provide small scale benefits for workers without directly provoking the basic interests of the ruling class, some such actions were taken.

In the agrarian field, occupation of vested land and its distribution among landless peasants had been a major form adopted in the days of the United Front. The amount distributed under the long Left Front regime was less than what had been done through militant peasant participation in the 1960s. But still, a lot of small peasants got some land. Then came Operation Barga, the registration of sharecroppers. This was a purely bourgeois reformist move as it did not challenge class relations in the countryside at all. Registration merely listed the sharecropper. And it was a selective process. Moreover, studies have found that in a number of cases, big peasants leased in land posing as sharecroppers, from smaller peasants, so that they could not be “evicted”. In short, the consequences were far more complex. Finally, sharecroppers who lacked the ability to get modern material for agricultural work were left behind and often ended up part of their land.

Another action that initially strengthened the Left Front in the countryside was the three-tier panchayat system [rural local self government system]. Here, in the first elections, the CPI(M) showed an ability to use class struggle in a controlled manner for short term electoral gains. But within a short while, a new dominant layer rose up, combining party bureaucracy, middle peasant, and state bureaucracy under ultimate party control.

The Bengali Petty Bourgeois Elite:

The transfer of the capital of India from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911 began the process of Calcutta’s economic decline. After independence, while Bombay based itself on indigenous capitalists to grow in stature as an industrial as well as commercial city, a Calcutta centred economy actually bled West Bengal while failing to maintain the economic standing of Calcutta either. The spread of the railways, the rise of Gandhi and then the left, meant that in the twentieth century politics became mass politics and people all over the country were involved, a process deepened by parliamentary elections. Speaking eloquent and flowery English was no longer the sole passport to rising high in the political sphere. Thus, economically as well as politically, by the 1950s Calcutta was suffering a decline.

Left politics capitalised on this, but in the process transformed itself. From the 1920s to the 1940s, despite the growth of Stalinism, class struggle in some form, and a focus on worker-peasant mobilisation, even if in a controlled manner, had been vital to CPI politics. This changed from the 1950s. The tebhaga movement was the last major rural struggle launched in Bengal. From the 1950s, the new cornerstone of Stalinist politics in West Bengal was refugee politics. As a result of partition, and subsequent communal violence, there was history’s greatest population transfer between India and Pakistan. India took better care to settle refugees from West Pakistan, since many of them came so close to the capital Delhi. Refugees from East Pakistan got a much more raw deal. This enabled opposition parties to take upo the issue. If we look at the growth of the CPI and other left parties and the decline of the Hindu Right, a significant picture emerges. Congress got 150 seats in 1952, 152 in 1957 and 157 in 1962. It was the Jan Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha that were wiped out. It was thus a regionalist identity and a petty bourgeois ideology and politics that dominated. At its core was a belief that Bengal had a right, from which it had been cheated by an uncaring central government. This was even enshrined in print in a famous book by the journalist Ranajit Roy, entitled The Agony of West Bengal. Banned during the emergency, it virtually created the horizon of expectation of the Bengali middle class or bhadralok. This was then taken up in lieu of class struggle by the Left Front government. For its entire duration, a common song it used to sing was about the “central government’s step-motherly attitude to West Bengal”.

The second crucial political dynamics of left front rule in West Bengal was the Stalinist attitude about party and class. Their substitutionism, wedded to bourgeois parliamentarism, meant that the only role the masses had was to vote for the party and to dutifully turn out for meetings called by the party or take part in occasional bandhs called against the Central Government. The Stalinist nomenklatura was replicated in West Bengal as far as possible. In state, economy, civil society, everywhere the important position were occupied by people who were pushed into position by chosen people. Most of the time, loyalty to the party was the chief criterion for their selection. In municipalities, in public sector undertakings, in the health and education sectors, a vast network of patronage and distribution of benefits was set up. Though this, a large petty bourgeois population as tied to the party. These social layers had relatively little interest in investment and capital accumulation. They wanted positions in the bureaucracy, education and health sectors, and certain specific types of government-friendly industries.

In the field of education they were so massively present, that after the fall of the Left Front, the new incumbents have found it difficult to get a sufficient number of academics on their side. There was first the bid to capture Calcutta University. This was followed by the capture of other Universities, The College Service Commission, set up to streamline the process of teacher recruitment, became a recruiting ground for students who had followed the correct political choice. Then came a similar action with regard to schools, through the setting up of the School Service Commission. In the last fifteen years of Left front rule, Vice Chancellors of Universities were little more than rubber stamps for the state CPI(M) headquarters at Alimuddin Street. To be really skilled was quite often a certificate of disentitlement from more scholarly positions.

In the Health Sector, a major development was the decline of public health care and the nexus between party and promoters of private hospitals. One can add to this the nexus between party and house developer-promoters. Over the last two decades they have flouted every law in the books, filled up water bodies illegally, forcibly taken over land, used local hoodlums to get rid of poorer residents in many areas, and begun the building of massive urban complexes.

So what needs to be realised is that during its first twenty years, the Left Front gave a little bit to some sections of the working people. In the last fifteen to twenty years it has given much more to he newly wealthy layers. One might say that in a cruel paradox of history, by agreeing to take power and attempt to rule for such a long time in a capitalist set up with a backward economy, the Left Front has actually succeeded in creating a kind of capitalist layer in Bengal who are indigenous Bengalis. The upwardly mobile petty bourgeois, along with the party and state bureaucracy formed the principal social basis of the Left Front. The workers and poor peasants were taken for granted, but especially in the last decade, virtually never consulted or even thought about.

The Challenge of Globalisation

As the foregoing discussion shows, the nature of the class struggle was not the same through all 34 years. The Left Front government was, in the first place, a government of reformist parties of Stalinist origin within the bourgeois set up. They had brought about a kind of equilibrium for some time, based on bureaucratically ensuring largesse to some layers of workers, pay scales and dearness allowance, the granting of licenses etc. Leftism had come to mean some small donations for the toilers within the existing set up. From the 1990s, as the pressure of liberalisation mounted, maintaining this became ever more difficult. As private capital started playing an ever greater role compared to the state, the song and dance about how the centre was depriving Bengalis was also becoming obsolete.

Class struggle under the new circumstances demanded new tactics. In the name of accepting international agreements, exploitative terms were being imposed. The response to this had to be militant countrywide struggles. The creation of first Export Promotion Zones and then Special Economic Zones made it necessary to build new style trade unions, to organise the unorganised. But a policy of distributing patronage from the government could not cope with such changes. On the other hand, for many in the Maoist mould, the belief that armed struggle is true revolution and trade union building a reformist activity, meant that they too tended to underestimate the need for such sustained struggles. Yet the Stalinist two-stage theory of revolution made even the problem of peasants insurmountable as they were faced with the challenge of multinational agribusiness. The large-scale penetration of international capital into agriculture means greater stress on the production of commercial crops, class differentiation sharpening within the peasantry, and much more capital intensive production systems coming up. In a place like West Bengal, with limited land, substantial distribution and considerably low land ceiling, the solution for small peasants, agricultural labourers, sharecroppers, is only possible through cooperatives, collective farming and similar efforts. But that in turn is possible only if workers and peasants in alliance gain power and exercise it democratically.  The profit oriented short term agricultural strategies of capitalism have also caused untold harm for the environment, has ruined agricultural land, and depleted water. Yet the leftism of the Left Front never took any of this into cognizance.

When the CPI(M) saw that in the USSR, former Stalinists switched to capitalist restoration after breaking up the CPSU, and in China the CPC signboard was retained while restoring capitalism, its leadership also adopted a line of cautiously adapting to globalised capitalism in the Indian context. So their strategy underwent a sea-change. From 1977 to 1990, keeping in mind their contradictory situation – an opposition at the all-India level though a ruling party in West Bengal and periodically in Kerala, they had waged some amount of struggles, while keeping firmly to the basic class collaborationist popular frontism they had learnt from the 1930s. All Social Democratic and Stalinist reformism has been compelled to do this. But from the mid-1990s there was a clear change, as the CPI(M) decided to overcome the widening gap between old ideology and new reality. Their principal target, the urban petty bourgeoisie, was adapting to the lures of capitalism. Mobile phones, computers, shopping malls, more easily available Western goods as the trade barriers were removed, all attracted this layer. In order to ensure the profits of big capital and the desires of the petty bourgeoisie, privatisation grew in the fields of education, health care, and other services. Attacks were mounted on the workers, peasants, and the urban plebeian masses. The sequence began with Operation Sunshine in 1996, when hawkers were sought to be removed on the ground that they were illegal encroachers. Of course they were, but because the economy and the state have made no legal provisions for their survival. Then came the Tolly Nullah evictions in 2001, the eviction of shanty dwellers in Beliaghata, and a whole strategy of urbanisation that ignored the poor or the lower middle class. Peasants’ lands were purchased for a song in Rajarhat, near the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass, and elsewhere, and handed over to promoters who are now getting per flat what they had paid per acre.

But this is where the Left Front stumbled. The closure of many old industries and the loss of jobs by workers, the systematic theft of PF money by factory owners, and government silence and even careful support to the owners, and the resultant demoralisation of the working class; the building of SEZs, the takeover of peasant land, turned peasants hostile. Two other vote banks were also placed in jeopardy. The situation of the former refugees has not remained static. For many, now that rehabilitation has been achieved, a feeling of grievance against Muslims (on the ground that they had been driven out of East Bengal by Muslims) resurfaced. The Hindutva forces, notably the BJP, has begun capitalising on this. On the other hand, Muslims had been told that the Left is their sole hope. But the publication of the Sachar Committee report showed that in reality Muslims are badly educated and generally backward in West Bengal. Reacting to this, the government tried a policy of soft pedalling about the activities of Muslim communalists, as though they represented the Muslims. As a result came the shameful events of 21 November 2007, when a small Muslim communalist organisation paralysed Kolkata, and the subsequent decision to throw out Taslima Nasreen from her refuge in West Bengal.

Is the CPI(M) Still a Communist Party? 

Theoreticians and intellectuals with supple spines and even more supple brains are not prevented from finding communism even in this degenerated CPI(M). According to Prabhat Patnaik, a CPI(M) intellectual, the CPI(M) remains a communist party, and cannot be called Social Democratic, because the crucial dividing line between a CP and an SD is anti-imperialism.  We need to pause a little before this pearl of wisdom. First of all, political dividing lines can change over time. Secondly, is it accurate to say today that any party that uses the word imperialism in some documents, takes out a demonstration supporting Chavez, is a Communist Party? During World War I, Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg had analysed imperialism and had shown that anti-imperialism had to be a component of the struggle for international socialism. This was changed in the Stalin era. The existence of imperialism was formally recognised. But the twin theories of two-stage revolution and “building socialism in one country” meant that anti-imperialism was restricted to a bourgeois stage, and delinked from the struggle for socialism. Soviet foreign policy dictated who was a good imperialist and who bad. In the name of anti-imperialism an alliance was made with the Guomindang in China, resulting in the smashing of the Communist Party. This heritage and the heritage of Lenin and Trotsky are not the same.

In this Stalinist tradition the CPI(M) has supported all manner of dictators like the Ayatollahs of Iran, the family based rule pretending to be “socialist” in North Korea, etc. Forget foreign countries. In India, as long as the Indo-US nuclear deal was not inked, the CPI(M) had supported UPA-I, which in turn was welcoming imperialism into India. It had accepted, after the charade of protest that never went to jeopardise the government, the rising inflation, the destruction of the Public Distribution System, the passing of the SEZ Act.

Another point to note is, not all Social Democrats denied the existence of imperialism. Centrists like Kautsky had talked about imperialism. The difference between Kautsky and the revolutionary Marxists was over class struggle and its orientation, not just the existence of imperialism. The anti-imperialism of the Stalinists is hardly different. Verbal anti-imperialism went hand in hand with pathetic appeals to the imperialists to invest in West Bengal. This desire to serve capital is what has led to a growing anger against the CPI(M) and the Left Front. The anger was neither manufactured by the TMC nor the result of some media blitz.

 

The Future of the Left Front and the CPI(M)

Over ninety percent of the present members of the CPI(M) became members after 1977. Power, patronage, getting jobs for one member of the family, other advantages, and the fact that they could be “party members” while working for a ruling party, motivated most of them. Since the defeat they have been in a state of collapse.  Even the state leadership is hardly in a better state. They have little more to think of, other than the fact that someday the TMC will fail to deliver and people will (hopefully) vote CPI(M) again. In order to defend the West Bengal government, the CPI(M) and its mass fronts, or mass organisations it has controlled, have behaved in an utterly craven manner. Thus, West Bengal is supposed to be one of the provinces where teachers are best organised. Yet the West Bengal government (Left Front) had been chipping away at teachers’ rights. Retirement age was lowered in colleges by abolishing the provision for re-employment up to five years. Full time teachers have been replaced in many cases by part timers and contract teachers. Yet the college and university teachers’ association WBCUTA has not gone on strike even once, demanding that all Honours Departments must have a minimum of four full time teachers in Humanities departments, and more in Science departments, across West Bengal. This alone can ensure quality education in a large number of colleges, along with creating thousands of jobs. Instead, WBCUTA leaders had been busy explaining that with limited finances the state government cannot do more, and pointing to cases where the picture is even worse than in West Bengal. Among government employees, the CPI(M) dominated State Coordination Committee has forgotten the meaning of the word agitation. As a result, a purely negative, anti-Left Front feeling was born. This negative feeling resulted in voting for the TMC-Congress alliance in such a huge wave. Will the CPI(M) change its basic attitude? Initial responses don’t suggest that. The only question seems to be, whether it will follow Prakash Karat in keeping up a Stalinist front while serving world capitalism, or whether it will follow Buddhadev Bhattacharjee in openly transforming into a Social Democratic party.

 

Maoists after the Fall of the Left Front:

Maoist intellectual (the term is used in a generic sense, not at all to imply membership of any party) G. N. Saibaba has written, in an essay after the defeat of the CPI(M), that the CPI(M) is a Social Fascist party. This revival of the long discredited and utterly reactionary theory of Social Fascism is dangerous. Social Fascism is the theory used by Stalinists to reject the united front of the working class with the Social Democrats. It was used with great effect in Germany to ensure that Hitler came to power. To think that the Social Democrats who were destroyed by Hitler were fascists is absurd. To think that the CPI(M) is fascist is equally dangerous. This is a route to supporting bourgeois parties. The CPI(Maoist),  and its forerunner, the CPI(ML) PWG, have regularly called formally for boycotts but on the other hand used their false class analysis to justify votes for bourgeois parties. This time, the clearest indication that in the Jungle Mahal they supported the TMC is the relatively low votes scored by Chhatradhar mahato. This showed that many of the Maoist cadres of the People Committee Against Police Terror campaigned for the TMC. Kishenji, one of the CPI(Maoist) leaders, had long ago gone on record saying they would like Mamata Banerjee as Chief Minister of West Bengal.  The ex-Naxalite intelligentsia are in even worse shape. They have combined legitimate condemnation of CPI(M) sponsored violence with support for violence on CPI(M) supporters. They have also openly called for voting for the TMC. As a result, they are all set to discredit themselves within a short time, as brokers between impossible partners – the Maoists and the TMC.

After the Left Front:

The Left Front is not only defeated. It is dead. This was not merely a government. In the last 34 years an entire system of rule had been created. Even if some LF partners are later elected with a majority in parliament, From 1995-96, spontaneous revolts against it had begun. But in history pure spontaneity has little scope. As the radical left failed to take a clear stand on working class self emancipation and class struggle, the early efforts of leftist cadres to build struggles was hijacked by TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee. This was not inevitable. Back in 2007, a public meeting had been called by Swajan, a network of intellectuals and artistes. Amlan Dutta, a veteran anti-communist, Asok Sen, a former communist fellow traveller now known as a friend of the Post-Modernist intellectuals of Kolkata, and Kunal Chattopadhyay, a Fourth Internationalist, had been the invited speakers. Kunal Chattopadhyay stressed that in our necessary goal of defeating the fake left CPI(M) we must take the road of working class self emancipation. An ex-Naxalite, present in the meeting, took the floor to say that classical Marxism had been proved wanting, and it was necessary to plan how to topple the CPI(M) government. Like a vast onrushing flood, ex-Marxists of all hues started shouting, that in order to save democracy, the CPI(M) must go, and the opposition votes must not be wasted. As a result, they all helped to channel the left dissenting votes into the TMC ballot box.

At one go, therefore, nearly all shades of the older left in West Bengal have managed to destroy themselves, or at least damaged themselves deeply. A new left has to be rebuilt, though certainly attracting forces from the old left. What would its contours be like? Again, a full discussion cannot be presented here. We suggest only a few preliminary points.

  • A deeper democratic commitment. The answer to the hollowness of bourgeois democracy is not the dictatorship of the party, not regimentation, but broader working class democracy. This can be achieved only by a struggle waged by the proletariat.
  • To consider all issues of industrialisation, agricultural development, in the light of the environment. Class struggle and environmental concerns must be welded together.
  • Class analysis and the development of programmes by gendering the discourse of class.
  • Determining all tactics by remembering that in multi-lingual, multi-cultural India, any chauvinism is dangerous.
  • Becoming a party to genuine internationalism and the interational class struggle.

 

 



[*] Translated from Radical, the Bengali organ of Radical Socialist, post election 2011 issue.



[1] Biman Basu, ‘West Bengal: How The Left Front And Its Government Emerged’, Peoples’ Democracy, vol XXXI, No. 25, June 24, 2007. http://pd.cpim.org/2007/0624/06242007_biman%20basu.htm

Climate refugees: new social movements, new responsibilities of solidarity

Fourth International

Climate refugees: new social movements, new responsibilities of solidarity

Sunday 13 April 2014, by Pierre Rousset

Some elements of reflection based on the Asian experience and presented to the International Committee of the Fourth International on February 23, 2014.

As with many other movements involved in solidarity with victims of humanitarian disasters, we had to take more centrally into account the breadth of natural disasters (whether or not of human origin) after the tsunami which struck in the Indian Ocean in 2004. The following year, New Orleans in the USA was devastated by hurricane Katrina; then northern Pakistan and Kashmir by an earthquake.

It is in this context that I presented in 2006 an initial report seeking to begin a reflection on these disasters, treating them already at the time as an element of the world situation, analysing in their social bases the “aid policies” implemented by the powers that be, opening the discussion on our own responsibilities and tasks in this area.

This report showed in particular that the solidarity provided by progressive organizations “on the ground” was effective both in the emergency period and in the long term. For the emergency period, I notably took the example of Pakistan where the first “hard” houses rebuilt in Kashmir in the areas devastated by the earthquake were thanks to the campaign launched by the Labour Education Foundation and the Labour Party Pakistan. For duration, I notably referred to the action led by Areds in Tamil Nadu (India), where Dalits (“untouchables”) and fishers were mobilized together, beyond caste barriers, and where the boats rebuilt in the coastal villages became the collective property of women: reconstruction should be not be “identical” – reproducing past inequalities – but “better”, strengthening popular solidarities and combating dependency.

Reconstructing “better” is a struggle. Far from reducing social inequality and oppression, humanitarian disasters sharpen them, the elite seeking to benefit from the state of dependency and shock of the affected populations. The development of tourist complexes instead of the villages wiped off the map by a tsunami provides a classic example of this. An international “people to people” and “movements to movements” effort however helps the popular layers to better defend their rights in all stages from emergency aid to reconstruction (habitats, consciousness, economy and so on).

Eight years have passed since this initial report, with a new accumulation of experiences. The political conclusions drawn at the time seem confirmed to me. It is nonetheless important to now review recent developments and questions which were not approached or neglected in the 2006 report, notably concerning the rules of humanitarian action.

I. Some recent developments

We note among recent developments:

The extension and aggravation of extreme climatic phenomena

Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, which hit the Philippines in 2013 is the most violent cyclone ever recorded to reach land. It should be class 6 (international classification) or class 5 (Philippine classification) – however these levels do not exist, the highest class being 5 (or 4 in the Philippines), which indicates the novelty of the phenomenon.

Global warming leads to an increase in the average temperature of water, thus its level rises – and thus the average gravity of inundations of marine origin, along the coasts. Thus, the elevation of the water level is conjugated with the power of the winds (with speeds exceeding 300 km per hour) leading to destruction of a rare breadth in the central Philippines.

Extreme climatic phenomena are not confined to the South. This winter, France and Britain have suffered a very unusual succession of violent storms (with speeds exceeding 150 km per hour), leading to destruction on the coasts and repeated flooding. The USA has experienced according to the region drought or exceptional cold (the winter being on the contrary especially mild in Western Europe).

The interaction of “natural” disasters with other socio-humanitarian disasters

For a long time climate chaos has deepened conflicts, in particular for the control of water. We will look at three recent examples which illustrate to what point natural disasters can provoke (or combine with) other social and humanitarian disasters.

The most dramatic example is obviously north east Japan where, in 2011, on the basis of irresponsibility and the lack of preparation of the industrial lobbies and the government, an earthquake followed by a devastating tsunami led to the nuclear disaster of Fukushima, the most serious since Chernobyl. Remember that many nuclear power stations have been built along coasts, indeed in earthquake zones.

A significant part of Bangladesh is threatened by floods linked notably to tropical storms. Climate refugees, forced to leave their villages, are already numerous. Migratory flows, including across borders, are increasing in a context of social crisis which, in India as in Bangladesh, sharpens inter-communal tensions.

In the Philippines, typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda affected millions of families. The affected zones already included the most deprived peoples of the archipelago and the people risk plunging into a still greater durable, structural poverty. Numerous climate refugees went to the capital, in Cebu or Mindanao, erecting shanty towns. A supplementary effort was demanded of Philippine migrants working – with or without papers – in numerous countries, who sent a lot of money to their families. The social shock wave of an extreme climatic phenomenon of great scope risks then extending well beyond the areas directly affected.

The countries of the North are generally better equipped to face climatic disasters and limit the propagation of their social effects. But with the rise of precarity in these societies and the increasingly drastic reduction of the resources devoted to public solidarity policies, it can be feared that in this are also there could be a “third worldisation” of a part of Europe or the USA.

Capital, from inaction to negative action

Faced with the global ecological crisis, continue as if nothing happened – such has been the philosophy of the capitalist lobbies and the governments who follow their order. Such action as there is concerns only the margins, or is often reduced to operations of communication.

Thee climatic crisis is an opportunity for immense capitalist profits. The mechanism is tested, on a small scale. One can ensure profits by producing in a polluting way – and new profits by selling systems of de-pollution. Geo-engineering seeks to elevate this logic to the planetary scale: dump iron filings in the oceans to capture CO2 or disperse sulphur in the atmosphere to reduce the temperature, or put giant spatial mirrors into orbit to reflect the sun’s rays.

Research and experimentation in climate and geo-engineering are already underway – with support from public finance. Their implementation will lead to chain imbalances in the atmosphere or oceans (from increased acid rain to the modification of marine ecosystems) whose consequences cannot be entirely foreseen. It will also involve a new leap forward in production, and its impact on climate chaos and more generally the global ecological crisis: an infernal spiral.

However, ecological rationality counts for little faced with the attraction of geo-engineering for capitalists: beyond immense profits, it promises the creation of new oligopolies benefiting from a profitable position through their control of planetary systems – with as counterpoint the strengthening of their dictatorial political power over society.

Haiti and the crisis of the institutional aid system

I will not expand on this question here, but the incredible morass into which institutional aid has fallen in Haiti, after the earthquake of January 2010, has had very profound consequences, revealing to what point the governmental policies and the intervention of certain NGOs could feed perverse logics, disqualifying durably calls to solidarity among many people of good will: murderous failure of the UN and governments, creation of a “market in aid” with competition among humanitarian associations, abandonment of the affected populations to their fate.

I didn’t say in 2006 and don’t say today that no international humanitarian association does good work! But it is necessary to contribute to creating conditions which allow those who do so – through good solidarity work – to cooperate more effectively with progressive social movements.

Conclusions

From all this, I draw three conclusions:

- The effects of the climate crisis are increasingly felt. The source of the problem must be attacked by opposing to the capitalist logic a public logic based on social and ecological needs, so as to limit then stop global warming, necessarily involving radical anti-capitalist measures. But we must also take fully into account the fact that the crisis is a present fact, that it already has consequences that we must integrate into the analysis of the world situation and the definition of our tasks.

- The first of these tasks remains the deployment of a solidarity independent of the established powers. That was the main conclusion of the 2006 report. We cannot rely on the institutions or “aid professionals”. Some progress has been made in this area, but it has been limited. Also, we cannot respond alone to the problem posed. It is very important to associate (or associate with) progressive organizations involved in this area of action, trade unions, peasant movements and so on.

- We must continue to learn from a still very recent experience and fill the gaps in the 2006 report. We need a genuine collective work of reflection on a field of intervention whose importance grows, but which remains largely new to us.

II. Recent lessons

Here again, we have not to reflect in a vacuum: we have to learn from the movements involved in humanitarian aid for a long time. But in some countries, as in the Philippines, our own experience is sufficiently rich to inform our thinking. I want in particular to approach three questions not addressed or insufficiently addressed in my report of 2006: the principles of humanitarian aid, the question of climate refugees as a new social sector, prevention policy – and stress the importance of the choices made in the area of reconstruction.

The rules of humanitarian aid

In 2006 I stressed the undeniable fact that humanitarian action was not above politics. The elites seek to profit from the crisis to strengthen their grip on society and favour their own interests. We seek to help the most deprived so that they are not forgotten from aid and can defend their own interests up to and including during socio-economic reconstruction. There, however, one could conclude that “everything is political” ignoring the rules of humanitarian action in times of disaster.

Let’s draw a parallel with medical action. A group of progressive doctors choose to practice in a poor neighbourhood rather than a rich one; but where they practice, they treat everyone, rich or poor. We choose to prioritize aid to deprived communities, often where institutional aid is non-existent, insufficient or late; but the aid will be distributed according to need (breadth of destruction to which each family has been victim and their state of deprivation, and so on) without making their respective political positions a priority.

This question is especially sensitive after a large scale climatic disaster: devastation is such that the social tissue is torn up and the survivors remain profoundly traumatized, losing their sense of being free actors. Beyond their relatives, the survivors have often lost everything: housing, property, but also means of existence (fishing boats, farming or de transport equipment, harvest or plantations, sources of employment and so on) – the economy itself is devastated. They must literally start from zero. The bigger the area affected, the deeper the feeling of abandonment – the feeling of having no future.

The social movements do not generally stand up to a major cataclysm and in the best of cases need some time to recover a capacity of action. For example, in Tacloban (the main port town of the island of Leyte), after the passage of typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, the militant tricycle drivers union was atomized. It had to rebuild contacts and take care of the families of members plunged into distress, helping them to drink, eat and house themselves, well before the union could again play any role as social actor.

Emergency aid is aimed at those most in need, but also aims to recreate the conditions indispensable to the resumption of a collective activity. It is a very delicate moment where the established powers (big wealthy families, clientelist parties, identity-based churches and so on) will benefit by demanding a « debt of recognition) for the (more or less real) aid contributed.

What could for us be the link between humanitarian action with its “apolitical” principles (offering unconditional aid to the affected populations) and political engagement among the popular layers struggling for their rights in a time of crisis? Our own principles of self-organisation, conceived as the condition of self-emancipation. The established powers seek to perpetuate the state of dependency of the affected population; we seek to favour its capacity for self-affirmation and independence; that is the difference.

Climate refugees: social sector, social movement

One of the main lessons of our recent experience is that in the countries struck by recurrent climatic disasters, a new social milieu, a new social sector, appears: the “surviving” populations, the climate refugees. If the rich have the necessary resources to rapidly regain their footing in society the same is not true of the poor (or families brutally pauperized by the disaster). In the absence of a massive and effective public intervention in their favour, they are condemned to suffer the consequences of such disasters for a long time; while other cataclysms create new surviving populations - or strike anew the victims of the previous one!

We can trace a parallel with the unemployed and marginalized in post war Europe. Yesterday, an unemployed person was generally an employee between two jobs; today, it is a social milieu which has permanence and is constantly renewed. Yesterday the status of precarity was marginal (even immigrants often enjoyed stable employment); today it is a norm. New social milieus appear (reappear), which requires (re)thinking, grasping their possible forms of organization, their dynamics.

Situations of humanitarian disaster are not new today in Mindanao, notably because of recurrent military conflict; and our comrades have a long experience in this area. However, it is only recently that high intensity cyclones have become more frequent in the Philippine south (previously they were more common in the centre or north of the archipelago). In December 2011, typhoon Washi/Sendong and floods devastated the coastal regions where they are active, notably in Iligan, in the popular neighbourhoods where they are based. For the first time, our comrades were directly confronted with the devastating psychological and social effects of such climatic disasters – and the appearance of this social milieu we call climate refuges. They mobilized their activist networks in this province and those around: this was a “founding experience” which allowed them to be better prepared to act when a still more violent typhoon, Haiyan/Yolanda, hit the centre of the archipelago two years later.

Movements of “survivors” were created, self-organized and led by victims of climate disaster. Two years later, while the fight for their rights continues in Iligan (Mindanao), cadres emerging from this experience went to Leyte (Visayas) to bring aid to the victims of the super typhoon Hiyan/Yolanda: these movements are of a long term nature, and thus recognize each other, help each other, make links, and affirm themselves at the national – and why not international - level.

The affected populations have a right to hope for aid and solidarity – which is what concerns us primarily when we are in a position to offer them. But beyond this “elementary” level, we must respond to the emergence of a new social sector (climate refugees) demanding specific forms of organization – this could involve millions of people! Form the very fact of the depth of the disaster, the classic questions we face in mobilizations is posed with a particular sharpness: inequalities of class and status, gender oppression, communal tensions, racism and religious intolerance, casteism (when there are castes), violence towards women, the situation and specific needs of children, and so on.

The point which I would stress is this: intervening in the direction of this new (for us) social sector is complex – it is necessary to learn from experience – and it is a major issue which concerns the whole organization. It is not a fleeting, marginal responsibility, the affair of an ad hoc commission and some “specialists” in humanitarian aid, full of good will. The whole organization must understand what is new in this area, be capable of mobilizing activist resources, supporting a long term action; it must know how to react without delay when a new area is struck and take a number of measures: redeployment of cadres, collectivization of experience, training in basic principles of emergency action and so on.

Also, this area should be integrated into the general programme of the organization. We have already evoked in the past many facets of this question and I would just wish to return today on two of them: risk prevention and reconstruction in the interests of the popular layers.

The policy of risk prevention

The 2006 report did not give the policy of risk prevention the importance it deserves. For countries affected by extreme and recurrent climate phenomena (and they are increasingly numerous), this is not a vague “principle of precaution”: the said risks are known and often administrative departments are supposed to deal with them. If governments nonetheless prove impotent in the face of disaster, it is in full knowledge of the situation.

The reasons why a government fails in its responsibilities are multiple: indifference of the élites to the fate of the poor, corruption and so on. These reasons can be very profound. For example, in the Philippines, the distribution of funds and the implementation of national aid takes place via local authorities not to strengthen direct democracy, but because, in a clientelist regime, this strengthens at all levels the relationships of patronage or negotiation of alliances between “big families”. Problems: a major climate disaster renders the local authorities impotent and the system seizes up.

More generally, prevention is not limited to a set of “technical” measures (availability of means of aid and so on). One cannot, for example, anticipate the risks of flooding linked to torrential floods or the elevation of the level of the oceans without taking on powerful economic lobbies: mines, agro-industry, real estate, tourism, financial speculation and so on. This demands that the state prioritize the common interest rather than private capitalist interests.

There is then in this area an especially close link between an emergency programme seeking to protect the population and a set of “transitional demands” whose legitimacy is evident (it is about avoiding humanitarian disasters!) and which for their implementation involve taking on the omnipotence of Capital.

Reconstruction policy

We find this link concerning the policy of reconstruction which we defend after a climatic disaster. The 2006 report stressed it already. We say, very summarily, that reconstruction poses us very directly with the question of agrarian reform in the rural world and urban reform in the towns. It amounts on the one hand to demands made on the authorities, but also things the survivors’ movements can initiate themselves.

In the devastated villages, rebuilding habitations is not enough; the general conditions of existence need to be reconstituted. The authorities should thus endow the families affected with plots of land which will allow them to produce without for example waiting for new coconut palms to arrive at maturity. Also, the movements can on their own initiative reanimate a peasant agriculture which helps to stabilize the social tissue, to no longer depend solely on monocultures or landowners, ensure a healthier environment to children – and which participates in a programme of struggle against global warming. The exchange of experience is crucial here: peasants engaged for years in organic farming in Mindanao contribute their know how to disaster-struck rural communities in Leyte.

In the towns the reconstruction piloted in the popular neighbourhoods by the authorities can lead to disastrous situations when a great part of the funds allocated are diverted, when minimum architectural standards are not respected, when conditions of existence are not taken into account: expulsion of those affected by the disaster far from areas of work, public transport or health services; lack of intimacy inside buildings and children left without protection, when their parents are absent; creation of ghettoized, crime ridden areas and so on. The fight for the right to housing and urban planning conceived in the interests of the poor thus take on an especially vital character against big real estate interests and land speculation.

The struggle of the climate refugees thus is linked to that of the peasant and urban poor movements, favouring convergences and the formation of territorial or sectoral coalitions from the local to the national level.

III. International solidarity

The coalition Mi-HANDs (Mindanao) was set up in response to the devastation produced by the super typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda. It has made a considerable effort to bring aid to the affected communities in the north of the island of Leyte. The campaign it launched rests firstly on its capacity to mobilize activist resources, but also the financial support that it has received on the international plane.

Not counting loans, Mi-HANDs has up until now received 32,000 euros – around 1,000 euros collected locally, 10,000 received from Belgium and 21,000 sent via the campaign initiated by Europe solidaire sans frontières (ESSF). I give these figures to show that even at our scale, what can be done counts effectively. And this support continues, while Mi-HANDs is involved in a new stage: rehabilitation and reconstruction of the devastated villages.

ESSF has received the support of number of persons and organizations, some of whom are in this room. However its resources remain far too limited. It can only initiate one or two financial campaigns per year, exclusively aimed at Asia. The amounts collected are greatly insufficient in relation to what is needed. ESSF cannot work with its local partners as long as is necessary (big solidarity associations undertake reconstruction programmes over a 10 year period). So the basis of solidarity must be widened.

We face a difficulty: the loss of traditions of “popular solidarity”, of “movements to movements”. Mostly, progressive organizations have not been involved for very long in this area, leaving it to specialized NGOs and associations (indeed para-governmental bodies). At best, a union, for example, will send aid to its sister organization in a country affected by a humanitarian disaster. Some progress has been made in recent years; ESSF for example has worked with the Union syndicale solidaires in France. Also, other movements defend conceptions quite close to ours in this area, like Secours populaire français.

We have ourselves much to learn – and that includes associations involved in solidarity actions for many years. We can also encourage other progressive parties and movements to participate on this terrain and encourage the taking into account of this question in activist networks like the Forum populaire Asie-Europe (AEPF). We have our role to play, modest though it is, in the development of this internationalist commitment or in the political reflection it involves. While continuing campaigns of financial solidarity – for now with the Philippines.

A campaign underway: financial support for the activity of Mi-HANDs (Philippines)

To send donations

Cheques

Cheques in euros only and payable in France made out to ESSF should be sent to: ESSF 2, rue Richard-Lenoir 93100 Montreuil France Bank:

Crédit lyonnais Agence de la Croix-de-Chavaux (00525) 10 boulevard Chanzy 93100 Montreuil France ESSF, account number 445757C

International bank references:

IBAN: FR85 3000 2005 2500 0044 5757 C12

BIC / SWIFT: CRLYFRPP

Paypal: you can also make donations via Paypal.

We will keep you regularly informed via our site of the situation and the use of the solidarity fund.

We Condemn Rape, demand action in all cases, but We also Oppose Capital Punishment for the Mumbai Rapists

We Condemn Rape, demand action in all cases, but We also Oppose Capital Punishment for the Mumbai Rapists

Radical Socialist Statement

Radical Socialist, an organisation of internationalist Marxists working in India, is opposed to the death penalty in general. Nonetheless, every time death penalty is invoked, the media sets up a hue and cry about why this  particular case shows such heinous crime that the death penalty must be supported. In this context, we are explaining our opposition to the application of the death penalty for the Shakti Mills rapists.

The death penalty is supposed to be applied in the rarest of rare case. If one looks at the death penalties invoked, a certain class, caste community configuration begins to emerge. The rape of Bhanwari Devi went unpunished. The rapes and killings in the Gujarat pogrom did not result in massive convictions, and in the few cases where convictions were secured after tough battles, this terrible pogrom did not lead the judiciary to hand down large scale death penalties. As opponents of the Death penalty, as we have already stated above, we are not demanding hanging for Maya Kodnani or Babu Bajrangi either. What we do point out is, in these cases, judges remembered the dignity of life. Or, in repeated cases of killings and rapes in the North East, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act stands to protect the suspected rapists and killers.

By contrast, the death penalty was invoked through the abuse of Section 376E. This section, brought in supposedly to punish unrepentant criminals who had been previously convicted, but had not changed their attitudes. To apply this for a set of accused who were on simultaneous trial in two cases is to score points at the cost of degrading the law. Without condoning the rapists, we need to stress that here, the rapists were young boys from poor background.

There are other reasons why we must oppose the death penalty. If the courts send out the signal that raping a woman will lead to hanging, rapists will be more prone to murder them, so as to leave less likelihood of identification and conviction.

The Public Prosecutor, in demanding the death penalty, tried to explain why the “rarest of rare” clause applies here, by saying that a woman would rather lose her life than her chastity.  It was also said that it is an offence against the state and the collective conscience of society demands the death penalty. Yet this collective conscience does nothing to help the raped women to cope with the trauma of rape, as women’s groups supporting the women have pointed out.

·         Scrap Section 376E.

·         Oppose death penalty for rape cases.

·         Maximize conviction

·         Punish all rapists equally, rather than bringing in subtle discrimination based on unstated social factors

·         Oppose and campaign against the ‘values’ of chastity, virginity and masculinity

 

India's Modinomics -- by Michael Roberts

India’s Modinomics

This week marks the start of the biggest democratic election in human history, at least if we mean by democracy a vote for a parliament. Around 814m Indians are eligible to vote over the next six weeks to elect a parliament from which a government will be formed in late May.

The incumbent Congress party-led coalition is heading for a big defeat. The Congress party, India’s main bourgeois party that has ruled for most of the years since independence from British imperial rule in 1949, has been controlled by a family dynasty based on its leader Nehru and the Gandhis. Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia currently control the party. But the failure of their government to sustain economic growth and make sufficient jobs available for the impoverished agricultural peasants and the unemployed and underemployed of the teeming cities has lost them support. As the mainstay of the Indian capitalist class, the Congress leaders have been caught in a series of scandals and corruption that has turned the people away. Congress will be lucky to return half the 200 or so seats they won last time in 2009.

Voter opinion at a national level has turned towards the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi. The BJP has ruled before from 1998 to 2004. But the BJP proved to be an unreliable tool for Indian capital, riddled as it is with former members of what is basically a Hindu religious fascist party, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an organisation modelled on Mussolini’s Black Brigades. Modi is a long time member and worker of the RSS who has moved seamlessly into the BJP.  He claims, of course, that he has moved on and will now be doing the bidding of capital as a whole and will no longer push his former Hindu communalism. But Modi has been chief minister in Gujarat state since 2001, where pogroms of Muslims have taken place without a blink from the Modi government.

But that does not matter to India’s capitalist class, as long as it does not get out of hand. For them, Modi is now seen as leading a ‘business-friendly’ government as he proved in Gujarat, where multi-national companies were welcomed with cheap land deals, reduced taxes and deregulated environmental laws. This is what he likes to call Modinomics.

The irony is that while Modi has made much of his success in boosting growth in Gujarat with neo-liberal policies, the reality is that Gujarat has done little better than other states led by Congress or by more radical ‘social-democrat’ governments. Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate economist, has said the Gujarat state’s social and economic progress is poor. Others claim that keeping growth at healthy levels in Gujarat, a mid-sized state with a strong tradition of trade and a better infrastructure than much of the country, is easier than elsewhere.

Gujarat’s growth rate in the 1990s was 4.8%, compared to the national average of 3.7%; in the 2000s it was 6.9% compared to the national average of 5.6%. The difference between Gujarat’s growth rate and the national average increased marginally, from 1.1 percentage points to 1.3 percentage points. Maharashtra, the top-ranked state in terms of per capita income in the 2000s, improved its growth rate from 4.5% in the 1990s to 6.7% in the 2000s. The difference between Maharashtra’s growth rate and the national average grew from 0.8 percentage points to 1.1 percentage points. Contrast this with the performance of Bihar, the state that has been in the bottom of the rankings in terms of per capita income throughout: its growth rate was 2.7 percentage points below the national average in the 1990s, but 1.3 percentage points higher in the 2000s.  So Modi’s performance is nothing special.

And the problems for Indian capitalism are mounting. After achieving spectacular growth averaging above 9% over the past decade, India has started to slow in the last few years.

India GDP

The slump in infrastructure and corporate investment has been the single biggest contributor to India’s recent growth slowdown. India’s investment growth, averaging above 12% during the last decade, fell towards zero in the last two years.

India GFCF

Mainstream Indian economists blame high interest rates and ‘too rigid’ labour rights. The IMF in turn blames “heightened uncertainty regarding the future course of broader economic policies and deteriorating business confidence”. The IMF wants the new Indian government to raise energy prices to make the state-owned companies profitable and stop labour unions trying to preserve wages and employment, so that the young unemployed can get work (at lower wages, of course).

Two-thirds of Indian workers are employed in small businesses with less than ten workers, where labour rights are ignored – indeed most are paid on a casual basis and in cash rupees, the so-called ‘informal’ sector that avoids taxes and regulations. India has the largest ‘informal’ sector among the main so-called emerging economies.

But small businesses are not very productive. Indeed, India has the lowest productivity levels in Asia. Productivity would rise if generally underemployed peasants could move to the cities and get manufacturing jobs in the cities. This is how China has transformed its workforce, of course to be exploited more by capital, but also to raise productivity and wages. China has done this through state planning of labour migration and huge infrastructure building. India cannot, so its rate of urbanisation is way behind that of China. So Indian and foreign capital are still not fully exploiting the huge reserves of mainly youthful labour for profit.

As a result, employment growth is pathetically slow. An estimated 10-12m young Indian people are entering the workforce each year but many cannot find jobs due to their paucity or because they lack the right skills. Congress says it will find jobs for low caste rural people by introducing ‘affirmative action’ in companies. This would do little except enrage large and small capitalists alike. At the same time, it goes along with the IMF for “a more flexible labour policy”.

And there is the issue of basic resources for India’s 1.2 billion people. Mechanically pumped groundwater now provides 85% of India’s drinking water and is the main water source for all uses. North India’s groundwater is declining at one of the fastest rates in the world and many areas may have already passed “peak water”. The World Bank predicted earlier this year that a majority of India’s underground water resources will reach a critical state within 20 years.

The big demand from Indian capital is to cut back the size of the state. Bureaucratic and inefficient as it is, India’s central and state government, as well as state enterprises set up in the early days of ‘socialist’ India, have provided some solidity to India’s economy. But the multi-nationals and large Indian capitalists want this to go. Central and state government run up significant annual budget deficits because they subsidise food and fuel for the millions of poorer Indians. Those deficits are funded by borrowing and the cost of that borrowing has steadily eaten into the available revenue from taxes, leaving little for education, health or transport.

Government tax revenues are low because Indian companies pay little tax and rich individuals even less. Inequality of income in India is not as high as in China, Brazil or South Africa, but it is probably higher than the official gini index because of huge hidden income among the rich and it has been rising.  According to the OECD, income inequality has doubled in India since the early 1990s. The richest 10% of Indians earn more than 12 times as much money as the poorest 10%, compared to roughly six times in 1990.

india gini

The answer for Indian capital and endorsed by Modi is privatisation, cuts in food and fuel subsidies and a new sales tax, a tax that is the most regressive way to get revenue as it hits the poor the most.  The aim here, as it always is with neoliberal economic policy, is to raise the rate of exploitation of labour so that the profitability of capital is boosted and thus provide an incentive to invest, something Indian capital is refusing to do right now.

Indian companies are increasingly heavily in debt: corporate debt to GDP is one of the highest in Asia. And the cost of servicing that debt has risen sharply as the Reserve Bank of India has been hiking interest rates to try and control the highest inflation in Asia.

Indian capital’s profitability had been falling steadily (if from a high ‘emerging market’ level) even before the global economic slump started. It has fallen further since and is now some 20% below levels in the 1980s. The boom double-digit growth years of the early 2000s, when all the talk was about India’s software outsourcing industry and new auto companies, seem unlikely to return without drastic reductions in the share of value going to labour.

India ROP

A victory for Modi is likely and that is making India’s business class beam. The Indian stock market has reached new highs. But India’s electorate is faced with a choice at a national level between a corrupt family-run party backed by big business and landholder interests and an extreme nationalist party that has adopted Modinomics to ‘solve’ Indian capitalism’s failure to deliver sufficient growth and better profitability. It is a choice that will make many vote instead for various regional parties or small radical parties which may well hold the balance of power in parliament, as before.

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