Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

Solidarity with Egyptian Activists

Egypt – A call for solidarity: Alexandrian activists face two years in prison
6 January 2013

Well-known revolutionary activists from Alexandria have become the latest to face harsh jail terms and large fines for defying the anti-protest laws.

Lu’ay Al-Qahwagi, Amr Hafez, Nasir Abu-al-Hamd and Islam Muhamadein were sentenced to two years hard labour in prison and ordered to pay a 50,000 LE fine (£4,000) on 2 January. Mahienour el-Masry and Hassan Moustafa, both leading activists with the Revolutionary Socialists movement received the same sentence but were not present in court.

Their ‘crime’ was to organise a demonstration without police permission in violation of the new anti-protest laws which came into force late in 2013.

Mahienour and Hassan have long histories as activists – both played leading roles in building the campaign to expose the role of the security forces in the horrific murder of Khaled Sa’id, battered to death outside an internet cafe in 2010. The protests which followed Sa’id’s murder played a key role in galvanising opposition to Mubarak in the run-up to the uprising of 2011 which toppled the dictator.

Hassan was also prosecuted during Mohamed Morsi’s period in power. After he attempted to file a complaint about the lack of legal representation for dozens of protestors arrested on 20 January 2013, he faced a string of accusations including assaulting an officer and inciting detainees to flee. He was cleared of these charges in November 2013, only to be charged again under the anti-protest law. Mahienour, a qualified lawyer, was arrested and beaten by the police in March 2013, after she went with a group of lawyers to represent arrested demonstrators at a police station in Alexandria.

The sentences against the Alexandrian activists come after leaders of the 6th April Youth Movement were given three year jail terms by a Cairo court in December.

What you can do:

Sign our statement in solidarity with the Egyptian Revolution, calling for the release of all political detainees (also available on ESSF – article 30777): http://menasolidaritynetwork.com/25...

Join the protest at the Egyptian Embassy in London at 2pm on 25 January in solidarity with revolutionary activists. Facebook event here.

Use our toolkit to build support for the campaign against the anti-protest law

MENA Solidarity Netwrok, January 6, 2014

The Ukrainian Crisis



The Ukraine crisis expresses the intersection of profound contradictions" – (A View from the Left)


Alexander Buzgalin



30 December 2013




As this text is being written, the outcome of the resistance remains undecided, but the author is certain that one way or another, the present Ukrainian authorities will draw closer to the European Union. Meanwhile, one thing is clear: the profound problems of Ukraine, and of Russia’s relations with it, will not be solved as a result.


 A tragedy turning into farce? Or farce as tragedy?


Ukraine is shot through with contradictions. For the second time in ten years Kiev has become the scene of mass protest actions and of clashes with the authorities. But the events of late autumn 2013 are only superficially similar to those of 2004. The situation has grown far more complex.


In 2004 the main force on Maidan (Independence Square) consisted of people who had grown tired of the arbitrary and contemptuous behaviour of the ruling politico-economic elite. The nationalist groups and so forth were perhaps no less strong in 2004 than they are in 2013, but the main thing then was the mass outrage of the population. Further, the choice posed in 2004 was not only geopolitical (whether to join with Europe or to be aligned with Russia), but socio-political as well – between us, the citizens, and them, the parasites.


The situation on Maidan now is different in many ways. The general discontent with the parasitism of the authorities remains, but what is now taking centre stage is the result of carefully thought-out organisation on the part of the pro-Western political and economic elites. While in 2004 the behind-the-scenes operators were still reluctant to show themselves openly, they have now moved unashamedly to the forefront. And there is another, very important aspect: in 2013 nationalist and pro-fascist organisations have taken to Maidan in a capacity approaching that of the main, effectively organised force of the “protest” (just so, in inverted commas).


In essence, the situation has now become multi-dimensional, and analysing it is thus all the more important. The contradictions tearing Ukraine apart have to be understood not just from the now-fashionable geopolitical point of view, but also in terms of their socio-economic, politico-ideological and cultural-historical dimensions.


Hence the main thesis of this text: just as in the past, modern-day Ukraine represents the intersection of profound contradictions, and not just the contradictions of Ukraine itself.


Ukraine consists of steelworkers and “office plankton”, of teachers and peasants, of service company proprietors and oligarchs, with the latter divided into various “clans”. The country has pro-Western, pro-Russian and “independent” trade unions and public organisations. The latter consist mostly of cynically pragmatic parliamentary parties which view the question of integration with the European Union above all through the prism of the electoral challenges they face. Ukraine is also a primarily Ukrainian-speaking population and a mainly Russian-speaking one. Finally, Ukraine represents centuries of wars with and incorporation into Poland and Lithuania. It is 450 years of unification with Russia and centuries of oppression by the Russian Empire. It is the heroism of antifascist partisans and the crimes of Banderist supporters of fascism.


Hence the profound, fundamental contradictions of Ukrainian society, historically determined and conditioned by social and class factors. The contradictions are multi-dimensional: historico-cultural, politico-ideological, pragmatic-economic, geopolitical, and social and class dimensions are now once again intersecting on Maidan.


There is one more thing that should not be forgotten: Ukraine is also the unity, at once concrete and universal, of its peoples, history and culture. This is the “Ukraine” that is a certain integrity, a wholeness, with a general national interest of peace.


It is through the prism of these issues that we can and should analyse the question of the integration of Ukraine with Europe.


But first, a few words on the international context, on Russia and the European Union.


 Russia: traditions of friendship between peoples and increasing chauvinism, goals of social liberation and the rapaciousness of oligarchic capital…


Let me say at the outset: for me, Kharkov, Kiev and Lvov, the Dnepr, the Carpathians and Crimea, are inseparable parts of my homeland, the Soviet Union. I grew up and lived in this space, in which I had friends everywhere. But I also grew up with an understanding that my homeland, the USSR, was permeated with deep contradictions, which were capable of destroying it and which in the end did so. I can also say the same of contemporary Russia: this is my country, the most important part of my homeland. I love it sincerely, but precisely for this reason I am unwilling to close my eyes to the fact that in modern-day Russia reactionary political and economic forces for the most part prevail.


More precisely, modern-day Russia still retains a vast historical potential in terms of culture, science and education. In this country, numerous sociological surveys indicate, the majority of citizens still embrace the values of social justice and popular power. Until now, and despite profound internal contradictions and growing nationalism, out people in their majority have kept their orientation toward friendship and equal relations with the peoples of other countries. This applies in particular to the peoples of such countries as Ukraine, since our parents and children fought together against fascism, and our peoples joined for centuries in building a unified socio-cultural space in which no-one thought particularly to ask whether someone like, for example, the writer Nikolay Gogol should be considered Ukrainian or Russian.


From this has stemmed the powerful trend toward the integration of the peoples of Ukraine and Russia. I stress – not simply of Ukrainians and Russians; our countries are multinational, and understanding this is of fundamental importance. From this stems the undoubtedly progressive and productive character of our increasingly deep collaboration, our extremely close cultural integration, that has allowed each of our countries to develop and spread its culture more fully and broadly not only on its own territory but also on that of its neighbour. It is important to note that Russia would live badly and with difficulty without the cultural heritage of Ukraine, including the refined European heritage of western Ukraine. The Ukrainian language, the poems and plays of Lesya Ukrainka, Gogol’s Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka, the steep bluffs overlooking the Dnepr, old Lvov and the avenues of Kharkov are all part of our common cultural world.


But modern-day Russia is also the great-power chauvinism nurtured by the country’s barbaric capitalism, and also Russia’s still-dominant elite. In this respect everything is far more complex and difficult, and indeed, worse. For Russia’s oligarchs Ukraine represents above all a new territory on which they can implement the same policies of parasitising natural riches and cheap labour power as in Russia. To the peoples of Ukraine, Russia’s “senseless and pitiless” business will bring the same it has brought to our country: a mixture of harsh capitalist exploitation and semi-feudal dictatorship.


The same needs to be said of our dominant “political class”. Russia today is ruled by a corrupt bureaucracy that in intertwined with raw materials and financial oligarchs plus the bosses of the military-industrial complex. The real social and civil rights of Russians are remote from anything that corresponds to the norms of a democratic state, and the rights of independent trade unions and social movements are extremely restricted. An important factor in Russian political life is the great-power nationalist sentiments of various figures in the country’s ruling circles.
This makes Russia’s actual ruling elite an extremely problematic partner for integration, to put things mildly. Economic and political integration with this Russia would do no more than to provide a basis for strengthening pro-Russian oligarchs and pro-Russian political elites in Ukraine. The peoples of Ukraine would on the one hand acquire relatively cheap resources for the country’s citizens and for production, plus the retention (and perhaps eventual growth) of heavy industry and of the industrial proletariat, plus the large markets of the countries of the customs union. Meanwhile, they would also acquire the preservation and strengthening of primitive-capitalist forms of exploitation and of the semi-feudal exploitation of workers, along with paternalist-bureaucratic tendencies in the state apparatus and the danger of geopolitical domination by the Russian bureaucracy. When the balance-sheet of these two sides was drawn up, the ultimate result would be that little would change for most Ukrainian citizens.


What about the European Union?


  The European Union: Achievements and Crimes. Or, What could Integration into the EU Give Ukraine?


The first point that needs making is an obvious one: the achievements of the European Union are real and are familiar to everyone. If, that is, we are talking about the “centre” of the EU. Here, despite all the present difficulties, a great many positive aspects remain. If we are considering Northern Europe, the so-called “Scandinavian” model implemented there has real advantages compared to the systems that prevail in Russia and Ukraine. Above all there is the high degree of socialisation of the economy. These countries feature a progressive income tax, generous social welfare provisions, mainly free access to education, health care and culture, and strong, active trade unions. They have low levels of social differentiation (with a gap of 6-7 times between the richest and poorest deciles of the population, that is, less than half the figure in our countries), and genuine rights for the institutions of civil society.


Mixed in with this barrel of social-democratic honey, however, is a spoonful of tar. More than one, in fact. The impressive social outcomes in these countries were first achieved many decades ago, after which the process…stopped. Meanwhile, a social democratic trend, like a bicycle, cannot stand still; it has to keep moving forward. If an attempt is made to stop at a particular point, if the transformations are frozen halfway, society will finish up in a condition of stagnation, of social and spiritual inertia.


Such are the achievements of the EU. The second point – the crimes of the EU – might seem to be a far-fetched ideological insinuation by the enemies of European integration and democracy.




As in the case of Russia’s ruling elite, in our analysis of the EU we have to distinguish between the achievements of the citizens of the European countries on the one hand, and the policies implemented by European transnational corporations and by member governments of NATO on the other. By the achievements of citizens, we have in mind above all the achievements of workers, of their trade unions, of left and left-centrist parties, and of social movements and non-government organisations, whose active struggle over more than a century for social and civil rights has yielded undeniable results. When the question is posed in this way it becomes clear immediately that the NATO governments, as “actors” of the European Union, are responsible for the deaths of thousands of peaceful citizens of the former Yugoslavia. Nor is this all; they are responsible too for the financial crisis that since 2008 has struck virtually all the peoples of the world, for the mass unemployment in the countries of Southern Europe, etc., etc.


Most important is the fact that integration of Ukraine into the European Union does not mean that Ukrainian citizens in the foreseeable future will live in the same way as the citizens of Germany or Austria. Like the world as a whole, the European Union is divided into rich and poor regions. On one side of this division are the “homelands” of the European transnationals, the countries that concentrate in their hands the major masses of capital and most of the innovative technologies, along with extremely valuable simulacra ranging from product brands to all sorts of mass-cultural and media garbage. On the other side are the countries where cheap labour power (by European standards) is concentrated, along with resource industries, polluting processes, assembly plants, and populations ready to work for 12 to 14 hours at a stretch without days off in order to partake of the “European way of life”. The social differentiation within the EU, if we compare the richest decile with the poorest across all the countries of the community, turns out to be approximately the same as in Russia and Ukraine…


In this context, it is important to recognise that if Ukraine follows the route of integration into the European Union, it will fall into the category of the poor periphery. No-one, strictly speaking, disputes this. It is simply that the pro-European circles in Ukraine “forget” about it. Or more precisely, refuse to discuss it.


What, in these circumstances, would lie ahead for our Ukrainian brothers and sisters? An extremely contradictory outcome, just as if they moved in the direction of Russia.


They might be able to expect a certain formal shift in the direction of parliamentarism and rights for various minorities (though hardly of rights for trade unions and the left). The Ukrainian elite could also expect an easier dialogue with the West and inclusion in the EU establishment, along with new opportunities to expand the activity of the small and middling bourgeoisie in the areas of commerce, tourism etc. Plus – and this is of fundamental importance – victory for Ukraine’s pro-Western oligarchic factions in the competitive scramble for state resources and markets. Meanwhile, this would also strengthen the already significant migration of Ukrainians to the EU, mainly as a form of “outsourcing” of low-paid workers. Also in the picture would be an intensification of the process of deindustrialisation and a growth of Ukrainian nationalism, along with substantial socio-cultural problems for the Russian-speaking population.


 So what should Ukraine do?


What, then, is best for Ukraine? To become another peripheral area of the EU, to integrate itself with Russia, or to be an independent country of the Third World?


Personally, I would formulate my answer along three lines.


In the first place, this question must be decided by Ukrainian citizens themselves. For emissaries of the European Union or of the US to exercise pressure here is just as unacceptable as for Russians.


Secondly, different strata of Ukrainian society have an interest in different solutions. Naturally, I do not claim to be able to pronounce any ultimate truth, but as a scholar and a citizen I am reluctant to take the position of a neutral observer. In my view, the situation can thus be presented (in extremely compressed form) as follows:


For most of the peasants and industrial proletariat of eastern Ukraine, collaboration with Russia (I stress: as a matter of principal, we are not talking about incorporating Ukraine into Russia) would bring greater stability, and would not create new cultural and language problems. This is the case despite the obvious vices of Russian business and Russian bureaucracy. The same would apply to members of the mass intellectual professions such as teachers, health staff and other highly trained workers in state institutions. All these people would receive a relative stability in exchange for paternalist tutelage from the Ukrainian bureaucracy and further restrictions on their civil and social rights. Also gaining from a rapprochement with Russia would be the corresponding circles of big business, along with the political and bureaucratic groups intertwined with them. All these “pluses” are extremely ambivalent. But there is one undoubted plus to be had from our countries drawing closer together: a revival and intensification of our socio-cultural dialogue. This parameter is of fundamental importance, and is uniformly positive.


For most members of the “free professions”; for the small and middle bourgeoisie of the commercial sector; for those oligarchs whose activities have become interwoven with Western trans-nationals; and also for pro-Western political forces, an orientation to the European Union would be advantageous in the short term.


Further along the track, these groups would most likely find themselves subordinated to the corporations of the EU “centre”, just as happened with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Paradoxically, temporary gains from European integration might be possible for independent trade unions and various non-governmental organisations (especially those at a certain distance from present-day socio economic problems, such as campaigners for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual rights). These groups might be freed from some of the restrictions imposed by the present bureaucracy.


These democratic advances, however, would scarcely be important or enduring, even if they were to occur at all. In the countries of the EU periphery, the norms of civil and social rights are violated with striking ease. Meanwhile, the Brussels bureaucracy shows an astonishing blindness in “failing to notice” these breaches, unless they affect the interests of European transnationals or of their Brussels neighbours at NATO headquarters.


Now for the key element in this point. Unlike the case with the events of 2004 (where the author was present in person), nationalists and fascists came close to making up the largest and best-organised force, in practical and active terms, involved in the Maidan actions of 2013. It needs to be said straight out: the growing strength of right-wing nationalist and pro-fascist organisations in Ukraine, just as in the Baltic countries, is the direct fault not only of the authorities in these countries, but also – and I stress this in particular – of the ruling structures of the European Union. The liberal democrats of Europe have tried already on occasion, and with monstrous results, to achieve their aims by playing the fascist card (we may recall the Munich Agreement of 1938, to cite just one example). The present use of nationalists and fascists as one of the key forces in the Maidan protests is in essence just such a crime (though for the moment on an incomparably lesser scale), committed by the Ukrainian “oppositionists” and the European Union.


Thirdly, even a brief analysis of the situation in Ukraine, carried out from a Marxist perspective, tells us plainly: all of us, especially in Ukraine, need to escape from the closed circle of choosing the supposedly less evil of two equally futile alternatives. We can and must find a perpendicular response. It lies on the plane of first of all solving the socio-economic, political and cultural problems, not on the level of pragmatic geopolitics (of the type, as the saying now has it, of “Who should we sell ourselves to?”), but of genuinely radical economic and political reforms within (at a minimum) Ukraine itself. Here too we can and must make critical use of the experience of struggle of the European democratic left, and of our shared experience – highly contradictory, but of fundamental importance – of the transformations that occurred within the Soviet Union.


Nor should we forget the crucial element: an essentially class-based left politics cannot and must not ignore the presence as well of a general Ukrainian popular interest, as a concrete-universal (and hence contradictory) unity of the country’s ethnic groups, history, culture and geography. This interest is marked by contradictions that cut across numerous dimensions. Nevertheless, it exists. Only the peoples of Ukraine itself, not Russians or European “policy-makers”, can and should determine a strategy, conditioned by this general interest, for the country’s development.


Accordingly, I cannot and will not attempt to set out such a strategy for the citizens of Ukraine. But as a Marxist scholar and as someone who grew up amid a dialogue of our peoples and cultures (and not of them alone), I cannot and will not remain on the sidelines as an indifferent observer. I would thus like to remind all concerned that the highest criterion of progress for any people, a criterion that exists despite the post-modernist aim of “deconstructing grand narratives”, has been and remains the free, rounded development of the individual. This means not just economic growth, but also the advancing of human qualities and capacities, and the solving of social, environmental and humanitarian problems.


As I have argued repeatedly in the past, such an alternative for the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and any other country does not lie along the road of transformation into a periphery of any “empire of faith”, whether of the European Union or North America. Nor is it to be found in a union of oligarchs and bureaucrats of semi-peripheral countries. In the broad sense, finding such a solution requires rejecting a choice between “lesser evils”, and searching instead for a “perpendicular” response. This response can only consist of advancing along the road of democracy and socialism. Only this road can yield both integration into a global collaboration (a collaboration of peoples and cultures), and also the progress of national culture, since an authentic culture is always both global and national.


This is not an abstract recommendation. Setting out on this course is already possible, even for countries that are not among the world’s largest or most developed. Present-day examples of such countries include a whole series of Latin American states whose peoples have rejected the tutelage of the US and have started implementing a democratic, socially oriented model of development. These countries have made their first priority not pursuing geopolitical intrigues, but choosing a socio-economic and political-ideological strategy that presents an alternative to the global hegemony of capital.


Aleksandr Buzgalin, Editor in Chief of the journal Alternatives

Egypt :Return of the military… and then?


Return of the military… and then?

by Dominique Lerouge

From International Viewpoint

The massive rejection of the repressive neoliberal policies of the Muslim Brotherhood was reflected in spring 2013 by the biggest popular mobilisation that Egypt had know in its long history. The left forces were unfortunately not in a position to offer a political outcome finally allowing the realisation of the social and democratic demands of the revolution of 2011. That allowed the army to return on July 3 to the power that they had to abandon following the presidential elections of June 2012.

A broad repressive wave

On August 14 the army launched an offensive of wide scope against the sit-ins organized by the Moslem Brotherhood demanding the restoration to power of former president Morsi. Around 500 people were killed in half a day. In “reprisals” the next day the Islamists were accused of attempting to unleash an inter-communal war with the firing of 36 Coptic churches, followed by a series of aggressions like an attack on a Copt wedding on October 20. This led to four deaths including two girls aged 8 and 12, as well as a dozen wounded. On October 6, 2013 clashes between pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi forces led to 51 deaths and 371 wounded.

On November 4 the trial began of the overthrown president and 14 Muslim Brotherhood leaders for “incitement to murder” of demonstrators. The Brotherhood had predicted a huge response across the country, but it did not materialize. This was due to several factors:

- the unpopularity of the Brotherhood, reflected in street attacks on some of them and the destruction of some of their offices;
- the scale of the police operation put in place on that day, involving around 20,000 men;
- the most significant repressive wave that the Brotherhood had suffered since the 1950s: more than 2,000 members were arrested including the three main leaders.

It is however probable that all this will not be enough to destroy a movement which has managed to exist underground for decades. All the more so inasmuch as a great part of their economic power and their charity activities are organised in a way which makes them hard to dismantle. There is a real risk that the new regime will engage in a repressive spiral which could strike not only the Islamists but all those opposed to the regime. Some human rights activists have raised concerns on this subject. In the name of the fight against terrorism, a draft law is being drawn up which would lay the bases of a new police state, worse than that of Mubarak.

Al-Sissi future president?

The strong man of the new regime is riding on a wave of popularity acquired through vanquishing the Brotherhood. Former head of intelligence services under Mubarak, General Abdel Fatah al-Sissi nonetheless enjoys support from some of those who played a decisive role in the fall of the dictator in 2011 and the mobilizations of June-July 2013:

- A part at least of the leadership of the Tamarod (Rebellion) movement, which impelled the mobilizations against Morsi; * Kamal Abu Aïta, former president of the first independent trade union and then the EFITU federation, who has become minister of labour; * Hamdeen Sabahi, the Nasserite candidate who almost equalled the vote of the Brotherhood and military candidates at the presidential elections of June 2012, who has already said he will support Sissi if the latter contests the next presidential elections.

The risk is then real that the army of Mubarak, which has conserved its immense economic empire even under the presidency of Morsi, will recover the essence of political power.

What left alternative?

Contrary to what has happened in the past, a minority on the left has refused to play one camp against the other, courageously declaring itself “neither for the Brotherhood, nor for the army”. On this basis “The Front of the Path of Revolution” has been established by militants active in the mobilizations of 2011 and 2013. It is based on a fairly broad political spectrum including notably the Revolutionary Socialists, liberals and activists of the traditional left. The rise in power of such an orientation will depend on its ability to root itself in the essential components of the Egyptian revolution: youth and employees. It is the juncture between these two social movements which made possible the fall of Mubarak. It is on them that the continuation of the revolutionary process rests.

The action of the working class

Certainly many strikes have taken place. But most of them ended in defeat with the risk of tiredness and discouragement that this entails. One of the reasons for this is the great difficulty in developing independent trades unionism. For more than 50 years, the so called “trade union federation”, the ETUF, has primarily been an extension of the state regime into the world of labour. It was only in 2008 that the first independent trade union emerged in the wake of a massive, self organised and extended strike. Two independent federations were founded in the midst of the revolution of 2011. But they remain extremely fragile: the previous legislation not having changed, employers usually have a free hand to dismiss activists seeking to create an independent trade union.

Even if the first independent federation, the EFITU, has around 2 million members, it has derisory resources: most of its members not paying dues because dues are generally automatically deducted by the employer and paid to the old federation. And the latter continues to be responsible for the provision of social services such as health insurance! In becoming minister of labour, former EFITU president Kamal Abu Aïta notably fixed the objective of reviving the draft law of March 2011 finally establishing trade union freedom in Egypt. We will see if his friends in the government will accede to this wish. The fact that in the “committee of 50” responsible for modifying the Constitution, the two places reserved for trades unionists have been offered to fierce opponents of independent trades unionism, hardly gives grounds for optimism in this area. The two places have in fact gone to a representative of the ETUF and somebody from a phony federation set up by an employer concerned with recruiting staff for work in the Gulf countries.

Statement of Radical Socialist on the Madhyamgram Rape and Murder

Arrest the rapists and murderers and punish them

Punish rapists, not the women

Remove the Chief Secretary of West Bengal for his callous political comment

Statement of Radical Socialist on the Madhyamgram Rape and Murder

Nothing has changed in matters relating to rapes and killings in India since December 16, 2012, except perhaps a degree of heightening of awareness among ordinary people, especially the youth. The terrible incident in Delhi, India’s capital, when a young woman was gangraped in a moving bus, and then she and her companion were thrown out , and when she eventually died, led to a massive wave of protests. Yet, beyond passing a law (death penalty for rapists) which many activists argue will actually prevent an increase in the number of convictions, neither Central Government nor state governments have done much. Between 16 December 2012 and the Asaram Bapu arrest (31 August 2013, when a so-called Godman was arrested after much pushing and prodding on the charge of raping a girl) there were, according to one survey, 101 cases of rapes of dalit women. Yet these did not hit newspaper headlines, did not lead to TV talk shows (possibly because the media was simply not interested in highlighting such stuff), did not lead even middle class activists to pour out in such massive numbers.

In West Bengal, there have been continuous cases of rapes and killings. The current Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, used rape on women as one of the issues when she was in opposition to the CPI(Marxist) led government. On 7 January 1993, Ms. Banerjee went to the Writers’ Building with a hearing and speech impaired girl, who had been raped, and was pregnant. Ms. Banerjee claimed that the rapist was a CPI(M) man. Mamata Banerjee was then a Union Minister and youth Congress (I) leader in West Bengal. She led a three hour demonstration in front of the Chief Minister’s chamber at Writers’ Building, the seat of the government in West Bengal. Eventually she was violently thrown out and arrested, some members of the press manhandled, and the Press Corner demolished thereafter. Mamata Banerjee vowed she would never return to the Writers – and she returned only as Chief Minister, eighteen years later.

But now that she and her party are in power, it seems that West Bengal has already attained Nirvana, or has become Paradise. From 2009, the slogan of change was what brought her to power in 2011. But just what are the changes for women?  When any problem is mentioned, she treats it either as a legacy of the CPI(M), or as a false charge manufactured by the CPI(M) or some other political opponent.

The current mobilisation is over the repeated gangrape of a young girl in Madhyamgram, not too far from the state capital Calcutta.  A 16 year old daughter of a taxi driver was gang raped. When she dared to lodge a complaint to the police, she was waylaid and gang raped a second time. This was in late October 2013. By then, a whole series of rape as well as rape and murder incidents had already occurred in West Bengal post-the change in government from CPI(M) led Left Front to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress (TMC).  These include the rape of a woman in Park Street, Kolkata’s posh eating out area, rapes and murders in Kamduni near Barasat, Kharjuna in Murshidabad district, and other cases. The National Crimes Record Bureau gave out figures in June 2013, according to which there had been 2046 rapes in West Bengal in 2012.

The responses of the West Bengal government have been the following:
•    Try to play down the issue. Treat each case as isolated.
•    Vilify the accusers or the people who campaign for civil liberties. The CM herself did this in a live TV programme once, when she told a young women who had asked uncomfortable questions that she was a CPI(M) agent  and a Maoist.
•    If after all this there are protests, then there are attempts to threaten, victimize, and silence these protests.
•    Finally, if the case is too well publicised to be shut out, like Kamduni, or now Madhyamgram, token gestures are made, while putting pressure on the family to distance themselves from protestors.

In the Madhyamgram case, the young woman was under continuous pressure after the repeated gang rapes.  The family, originally from Samastipur in Bihar, had settled in Madhyamgram a year ago. However, they shifted to Dum Dum after some local goons threatened them with dire consequences if they didn't withdraw the case against the accused. The family say they had informed the police, but clearly no action was taken. On December 23 a close associate of the gang leader had barged into their Dum Dum residence and again threatened them following which the girl tried to commit suicide the same day. According to another version which includes her dying declaration she had not set herself ablaze. And yet, the Chief Secretary of West Bengal, (i.e., the highest ranking state bureaucrat, who is directly under the Chief Minister, who is also the minister in charge of the police force) asserted that the state had taken necessary measures. Had this been true, why did the family have to shift residence and why was it again attacked?

The Government of India is culpable, because it has done nothing but take action when the Delhi population is out on the streets. The Government of West Bengal is culpable, because it has, by denying the gravity of rapes in the province, emboldened rapists (it is also reputed that many accused in a number of rape cases are connected to the ruling party).  We protest the way governments are abdicating responsibility and thereby de facto helping rapists and murderers. We demand the arrest of rapists in every case, and justice. We demand the suspension of police officials who failed to provide assistance in the Madhyamgram case even after the first report. We demand the removal of the Chief Secretary, for whom protesting rape is “playing politics with dead bodies”.

The top ten articles of 2013 in the Radical Socialist Website

The top ten articles of 2013 in the Radical Socialist Website

The Radical Socialist website has been running for several years. At the beginning of 2014, we have attempted to take a look at what our readers are focusing on. We will examine the implications later. For now, here are the links to the top ten articles among those posted in 2013 and read by readers.

1.    The Struggle Against Rape and Sexual Assault: A View from the Left  


2.    Greater than the Might of Armies: The General Strike of 20-21 February 2013   


3.    Class Struggle versus Serving the Rulers and Becoming Regional Linguistic Chauvinist: The Retreat of CITU in the coming General Strike  


4.    A Report on a Convention on Strategies for Struggle Against Rape, Sexual Harassment, held on 5 January 2013


5.    Laboratory of Fascism: Capital, Labour and Environment in Modi’s Gujarat   


6.    An open letter to Rahul Pandita   


7.    Revolution and Terror     


8.    Massive Sexual Violence on Women and the Collapse of Left Pretensions    


9.    Book Review of Beyond Capitalism? by Luke Cooper and Simon Hardy   


10.    Letter to Members of Parliaments: “We seek your support for our nonviolent struggle against the Koodankulam nuclear power project”     


Thompson, William Morris and Ecosocialist Tasks

Thompson, William Morris and Ecosocialist Tasks

Rafael Bernabe

AS I LOOK back on E.P. Thomp­son’s work and the impact it had on me, his biography of William Morris — William Morris, From Romantic to Revolutionary (1977) — stands out brighter than all other texts, including his deservedly acclaimed The Formation of the English Working Class.

It was the genius of William Morris to prefigure and express many concerns that today must be part of an ecosocialist synthesis, and it was the genius of E.P. Thompson to detect the originality and relevance of this 19th century poet, craftsman, designer, conservationist and socialist for the present.

Ecosocialism today, as the term indicates, implies a fusion of ecological and anti-capitalist perspectives. To be truly meaningful, this encounter must be not a mere mechanical addition, but a transformative integration: neither partner can or should emerge the same from the encounter.

Socialism can no longer be conceived as just the liberation of the existing productive forces from the fetters of capitalist social relations, nor an expansion of consumption as defined by them, nor as an acceleration of quantitative growth, but rather as a redefinition of quantitative into qualitative growth, and a remaking of existing forms of production and consumption, with the extraordinary scientific, technological and engineering effort that this implies.

To what extent this is already present, either implicitly or explicitly, in the work of Marx himself is, of course, a point of considerable debate. I, for one, think it is present, in many cases explicitly.

Think of the aspiration in the 1844 Manuscripts to a fuller life of the senses beyond the reduction by capitalism of all enjoyments to the joys of possession; of Marx’s description of the “rift” provoked by capitalism in the “metabolic interaction” of humanity with nature (and the duty of socialism to restore it); of the more specific denunciation of the destruction of the soil by capitalist agriculture; of the warning by Engels that lording over nature as a conquering army rules a subjugated people will bring unexpected and destructive consequences; and of the admonishment that no generation owns the planet and its resources but only holds them in trust for those that will follow, to mention just a few examples.

The writings of John Bellamy Foster have explored this extensively. Yet it must be admitted that much of this lay buried in Marx’s work until the ecological movement came along. The fact that Foster and others have had to dedicate so much effort to unearth “Marx’s ecology” is an indication of this. But independently of where we stand on that debate, the practical conclusion stands: Marxism must insist that labor’s struggle against capital cannot but have an ecological dimension, without which it cannot claim to be the bearer of a full break with the exploitive and destructive consequences of capitalism.

But this is a two-way street: The ecological movement needs to recognize that capital’s inherent tendency to enclose, commodify and consequently turn all aspects of nature within its reach into a source of private profit places it in irreparable contradiction with natural rhythms and cycles.

Ecology speaks of material limits that we must take into account, but capitalist accumulation is limitless. This refers to fundamental longterm tendencies, beyond the daily misuses of the environment by capital in the pursuit of an extra ounce of profit.

To the extent that the ecological movement fails to recognize this and to extract the logical anticapitalist conclusion, to that extent it turns its back not only on socialism but on the environment it seeks to protect. The destiny of the labor movement is as central to the future of ecologism as it is to the future of socialism.

William Morris’s Message

Where does William Morris come into this picture? It was not the relations of exploitation at the center of capitalism that first fueled Morris’s indignation, but the base material surroundings it created: its “sordid, aimless, ugly, confusion” in which “the pleasure of the eye was gone from the world.”

In his essay “How I became a socialist,” Morris proclaimed that “Apart from the desire to produce beautiful things, the leading passion of my life has been and is hatred of modern civilization…” Here, “civilization” refers not only to capitalist social relations but to many of the physical structures and formations erected by it: the extreme polarization of city and country, the degraded urban landscape, the shoddy individual buildings, the poisoning of water and air.

The consummation of such a civilization would be “a counting-house on the top of a cinder-heap.” This aversion to the assault of industry on all the senses, on nature and on the past built environment fueled Morris’s attempts to protect or revive endangered skills (book printing, decorative arts) or structures (he founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings).

Yet he went beyond this, to understand that behind this bulldozer “civilization” stood the basic tendencies of capitalist production. The “counting-house” at the top of the growing “cinder-heap” could only be dismantled by the collective hands of organized labor. He became a socialist militant.

This is a reminder of the centrality of labor for all of those concerned with the environment in all its dimensions, and of the importance of environmental, urban, engineering and architectural concerns for those seeking to turn the labor movement into the agent of a radical social transformation.

This in no way exhausts the wealth of Thompson’s William Morris. To include a personal reference: my work on the romantic anti-capitalist dimension of Puerto Rican literature is much indebted to Thompson’s discussion of the passage from Keats, to Ruskin and Carlyle (who shared Morris’s aversion to industrialism) to Morris’s own socialism, which differentiated him from them.*

One can confidently say about Thompson’s recuperation of Morris what he would have said about Morris himself: we ignore it at our own expense.

Rafael Bernabe

* From Against the Current n° 167, November/December 2013: http://www.solidarity-us.org/node/4023

Forthcoming struggles of the united Tea Workers Front

The United Tea Workers Front(UTWF) has been launched on 27th December 2013 at Siliguri, primarily to raise the issue of a living wages and related matters in the forthcoming wage negotiations in North Bengal. The tea industry, one of the most profitable, export earning sectors in India, is also the site of the worst labour conditions in the
country. With over 3500 starvation deaths in the period 2003 to 2008 in West Bengal, tea plantation workers continue to be one of the lowest paid workers in the country, with owners reaping profits at the expense of the basic needs of nutrition, health education and housing of the workers and their families. As a result of ill payment, plantation workers have been caught in a viscous circle of poverty, poor literacy and ill health, with children of tea workers ending up
in the same ill paid work as their parents and grandparents before them.

In West Bengal, wages have been kept at a precariously low level through collective wage bargaining agreements every three years. The last set of agreements, which resulted in the low wage of Rs.95 in Terai and Doars, and Rs.90 in Darjeeling, expires on 31st March 2014. The tea gardens have been violating the basic provisions of the Plantation Labour Act with impunity. Provisions of crèche, medical facilities, ambulance, and house repair have all become things of the
past. Moreover, many tea gardens of the region have also not deposited the provident fund dues of the workers amounting to over Rs.77 crores while the state government has provided full support to the garden owners by being a silent onlooker.

Calculations based on 15th Indian Labour Conference (ILC) norms and the subsequent Supreme Court judgments (Unichoy vs State of Kerala in 1961 and Reptakos Brett Vs Workmen case in 1991) provide for a balanced diet with 2700 calories per day per person and other material needs, giving workers a living wage. Using these norms, the wage per worker in the tea-gardens at current market prices should be Rs 322.

The UTWF plans to campaign and raise demands related to the payment of such a living wage before and during the next round of negotiations. The Front demands the payment of a wage that is over and above the wage calculated on the 15th ILC norms and Supreme Court orders. It insists that all wage negotiations must take place at Darjeeling for the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration and in Siliguri for the Terai and Doars regions, so that negotiations are transparent and
democratic, allowing the unions to consult their membership in a regular and realistic manner. Employers and Government must also be transparent about the manner in which calculations and deductions are being made, providing unions with all relevant documents well in time.

UTWF also demands that negotiations must be completed by 1st April 2014, so that the problem of arrears does not arise at all. All payments such as extra leaf payment (ELP), Leave Travel allowance , additional compensation etc. must be price indexed and workers must be paid dearness allowance to compensate for inflation during the term of the next collective bargaining agreement for 2014 to 2017.

As far as bigha workers are concerned , the UTWF demands the extension of all wage and non wage benefits to such seasonal, casual workers. Further, the UTWF demands that all vacant posts be filled immediately, and that management arrange for trainings so that workers can take on posts requiring special skills such as nursing, factory work etc. In
view of the manner in which employers and management continue to flout the law, the UTWF demands that punishment under the law for erring employers be made more stringent and inspection be improved.

The UTWF brings together the Terai Dooars Progressive Plantation Workers Union, Darjeeling Terai Doars Plantation Labour Union, Progressive Tea Workers Union, West Bengal Tea Labour Union, Pachim Banga Khet Majoor Samity and the New Trade Union Initiative.

The UTWF shall be launching a series of protest and campaign programmes, including deputations to all officials concerned in North Bengal, GTA and Kolkata and demonstrations in all block and district headquarters , GTA headquarters and the State capital at Kolkata. It also plans to highlight its problems before an internationally acclaimed jury in February 2014.

The UTWF also calls upon all other fraternal unions of tea plantation workers and in other sectors for a coordination to make the collective bargaining agreement of 2014 to 2017 reflect the true aspirations of tea plantation workers.

Below are the links for the press coverage