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GREECE “Popular Unity” is born

 

Friday 21 August 2015, by Stathis Kouvelakis

Early this morning, 25 Syriza MPs left the parliamentary group of the party to create a new group under the name of “Popular Unity”. Most of these MPs are affiliated to the Left Platform, but some others also joined like Vangelis Diamantopoulos or Rachel Makri, a close collaborator of Zoe Kostantopoulou. [1]

This is a major development in Greek politics but also for the radical Left, in Greece and at an international level.

Three elements need to be emphasized.

The first is that “Popular Unity” is the name of the new political front, which will regroup thirteen organizations of the radical Left, those who signed the text issued on August 13 calling for the constitution of the Front of the No.

This front is therefore the first tangible result of a recomposition within the Greek radical Left. A recomposition that draws the lessons of the last five years and of course of the experience of Syriza in office and of the resulting catastrophe. But the goal of the front is even broader than this, it is to provide an expression to social forces that do not necessarily recognize themselves as part of the Left but want to fight austerity, the Memoranda and the "Troika rule reloaded" of the new Memorandum.

The second is that the goal of the front is to constitute the political expression of the No as was expressed both in the January elections and in the referendum of July 5. The main programmatic lines are the rupture with austerity and the memoranda, the rejection of all privatizations and the nationalization under social control of strategic sectors of the economy, starting with the banking system, the cancellation of the major part of the Greek debt (starting wit the immediate interruption of its repayment) and, more broadly a set of radical measures that will shift the balance of forces in favour of labour and of the popular classes and open up a path for the progressive reconstruction of the country, of its economy and of its institutions.

These goals cannot be realized without exiting the Eurozone as the recent disaster has abundantly demonstrated and without breaking with the whole set of policies institutionalized by the EU. [2].The front will also struggle for a unitary internationalist struggle around common objectives at the European and international level and will support exiting NATO, breaking the existing agreements between Greece and Israel and radically opposing imperialist wars and interventions. This transitional programme is situated in the perspective of a socialism of the 21st century.

The third is that this new parliamentary group is now the third in terms of its size in the Greek Parliament, ahead of Golden Dawn, the neonazi party. This means that in the next few days its leader, Panagiotis Lafazanis, will get a mandate to constitute a government that will last for three days, as the Greek constitution stipulates.

After the resignation of the Tsipras government this mandate is now in the hands of the second party in Parliament, New Democracy, the main rightwing opposition party. This span of time will be used by Popular Unity to trigger a broad debate and the mobilization of all the social forces who wish to fight austerity and the Memoranda, the previous as well as the new one.

The programme of the party and the full range of its support among leading personalities of the Greek Left, which is expected to be quite impressive, will be released at the start of next week.

Athens, August 21 2015

Footnotes

[1] The 25 members of parliament are: Panagiotis Lafazanis, Stathis Leoutsakos, Kostas Isichos, Rachel Makri, Kostas Lapavitsas, Dimitris Stratoulis, Evgenia Ouzounidou, Thanasis Petrakos, Stefanos Samoilis, Athanasios Skoumas, Yannis Stathas, Alexandra Tsanaka, Despina Charalambidou, Eleni Psarea, Thomas Kotsias, Aglaia Kyritsi, Vasilis Kyriakakis,Michalis Kritsotakis, Ioanna Gaitani, Litsa Amanatidou, Yannis Zerdelis, Kostas Delimitros, Ilias Ioannidis, Zisis Zannas and Vangelis Diamantopoulos. There is speculation in the Greek press that a further four will join them.

[2] During the press conference organized on 21 August, Panagiotis Lafazanis, former Energy Minister in the Tsipras government, explained that if it were necessary to leave the Eurozone to cancel the memorandum they would do so, adding that such an exit would be “prepared”.

Radical Socialist statement on today’s incident at Presidency University and appeal to Defend Democratic Rights in West Bengal

Radical Socialist expresses serious concern over the alleged police violence on some of the protesting students of Presidency University earlier today, 21st August. A section of students of the University had attempted to show black flags to the Chief Minister of West Bengal during his visit to the University. Extreme sensitivity to any form of criticism, and the violent response shown to criticism, has been a hallmark of the current regime from its inception. The Chief Minister, well known for the way she has patronised thugs in her own party, and the way she has condoned overt violence by party thugs, signifying such events as little mistakes by small kids, was found in a pontificating mood. Police during her regime is regularly being used to prevent dissent voices, even if they are most peaceful, democratic, rudimentary and miniscule in nature which in any sense cannot pose threat to the rule. So, there are enough reasons to believe in the claim by the protesting students. Injuries to some of the students are a proof of the allegation. However, in absence of any video footage and existence of counter claims, we demand an independent and neutral inquiry mechanism in place followed by punitive actions against the guilty.The Vice Chancellor of the University has shown the typical role of all VCs under the present regime, and has shut her eyes and has been claiming that she “[does] not know whether someone was injured”. By this callous attitude, she has condemned herself from her own mouth.

Democratic rights of opponents in West Bengal have been severely curtailed. Students of Presidency University are hardly isolated in this. For the crime of being active in trade unions not affiliated to the TMC affiliated union, contract workers in Haldia are dismissed and thrown out of their jobs. Rural Bengal has been seeing recurrent bouts of violence inflicted on people belonging to opposition parties, or simply people opposing actions of the TMC. For the crime of protesting the rape and murder of a young student in Kamduni, the Headmaster of the local school has been transferred to a distant place.

In condemning the violence at Presidency University, we therefore urge everyone to realise the context. Democratic rights are indivisible. If one cannot defend democratic rights in Haldia, in Kamduni, in a myriad other localities, it will be impossible to imagine that democratic rights will be intact in Presidency University or elsewhere.

·         Solidarity with the protesting students of Presidency University

·         Defend democratic rights across West Bengal

 

Radical Socialist           21 August, 2015          www.radicalsocialist.in

Trotsky and the Revolutionary Party: An Exploration of a Few Historical Myths

Trotsky and the Revolutionary Party: An Exploration of a Few Historical MythsT

 

Kunal Chattopadhyay

 

By the end of the twentieth century, it can hardly be said that there is any dearth of literature on Trotsky. There are well-researched biographies in all the major European languages, studies of his political thought, books and articles on particular facets of his work or his ideas, and discussions on Trotsky in general works on Marxism or on the Russian revolution.[i] But nevertheless, certain myths have become common-sense ideas, and as a result, tend to get repeated from book to book and from article to article. One such is the myth surrounding Trotsky and the revolutionary party. A slightly simplified version is, that Trotsky was, from the 2nd RSDRP Congress till February 1917, a Menshevik.[ii] Under the pressure of events he was compelled to move in the direction of Bolshevism. The story then trifurcates. For the Stalinist/post-Stalinist, this move by Trotsky was opportunistic, and he had never understood or accepted real Leninism, which resulted in his subsequent "anti-Soviet" role.[iii]  The anticommunist scholar's story-line avers that Trotsky, facing power, abandoned his years of democratic commitment and went over to authoritarian Bolshevism. He was a pivotal figure in the establishment of the roots of what under Stalin flowered into a full-fledged totalitarianism.[iv] Finally, for those who would be good Leninists as well as a variant of orthodox Trotskyist, Trotsky recognised the error of his ways in 1917 and became a real Leninist from that time on.[v] An historical examination of Trotsky's role, and of his writings, sharply questions all these simplifications. It is true that Trotsky opposed Lenin at the 2nd Party Congress and sided with the Mensheviks.[vi] It is true that he joined the Bolshevik party only in 1917. And it is true that he considered himself a Leninist in later years, and that this was strongly contested by his opponents in the Russian/Soviet Communist Party.[vii] Beyond these bare bones, however, the story, in all its versions, runs into severe difficulties. In the present paper, the following arguments will be briefly advanced:

1.      Trotsky's project of building the revolutionary party stood in the tradition of the classical Marxist perspective;

2.      Trotsky's critique of Lenin was not Menshevik;

3.      The differences between Lenin and Trotsky cannot be summed up either by the formula that Trotsky had failed to understand the Leninist party building project, or by the formula that the younger Trotsky represented a democratic alternative to authoritarian Leninism;

4.      The historical record shows that the party building work went through many turns, and it is totally erroneous to talk about an infallible Lenin or about a prophetic Trotsky;

5.      After 1917, Trotsky accepted the core arguments of Lenin, but fused them with his own previous insights.

6.       

Building the revolutionary Party: Classical Marxism, Lenin, and Trotsky:

 

The foundation of classical Marxist politics is the principle of proletarian self-emancipation. This was expressed clearly in the Preamble to the Rules of the International Workingmen's Association, drafted by Marx, which began with the assertion that the emancipation of the working class is a task of the working class itself.[viii] A few years later, angered at the idea put forward by some socialists that workers first needed guidance by bourgeois and petty bourgeois intelligentsia, they wrote in a letter to a number of social Democratic leaders: “At the founding of the International we expressedly formulated the battle cry : The emancipation of the working class must be achieved by the working class itself. Hence we cannot co-operate with men who say openly that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves, and must first be emancipated from above by philanthropic members of the upper and lower middle classes.”[ix] This has been the historic tenet of party building in Marxism, and it was more or less practised, both by the Second International and by the early Communist International.

When Lenin published his What Is To Be done?, this tenet is what he seemed to challenge. It can be argued that he was in fact not opposing the principle of working class self-emancipation, and that in other writings he distanced himself from the extreme positions developed in this book.[x] But since the first differentiation between Bolsheviks and non-Bolsheviks took place, not on the basis of political programmes but on the basis of the organisational question, this book did become important in the early years. So contemporaries who criticised it cannot be written off on the ground that later on Lenin was to change his position. Since Trotsky is simply portrayed as an anti-centralist as a result of his polemics with Lenin, it is worth looking at his early career. Arrested ,tried, sentenced to exile in Siberia, the young Trotsky had there developed the idea that the numerous small groups of Social Democrats had to be centralised.[xi]  In the exile colonies his arguments were powerful enough, not only to provide material for discussion, but also, eventually, to get him a Siberian mandate to the 2nd Party Congress. He had argued that it was not possible to call a Congress first and then resolve the issue. A political centre had to be created first, and only then a Congress called.[xii] Only a few brief passages of this essay are known, but a curious dispute can be seen over them. Deutscher found in these passages a view "identical with" Bolshevism, while Krasso pronounced magisterially that Trotsky's proto-Bolshevism merely repeated the external and formal aspects of Lenin's theory, without its sociological content.[xiii] As a matter of fact, a reading of the text suggests Trotsky was proposing the creation of a strong political centre, something already being done in emigration by Plekhanov, Axelrod, Lenin, Martov and a few others. They were to launch Iskra precisely to create the authoritative centre before calling a new Congress. It can be demonstrated that for Trotsky centralisation was more a political than an organisational or administrative task. In the article, he advocated de-recognition of local units refusing to accept centralisation , but went on to stress that: 'such a bold measure is only to be applied in exceptional cases. ' He argued that the Central Committee could not go against the party, and that in the ultimate analysis the views of the Central Committee were to be formulations of the common requirements of the whole party.[xiv]  Nor did he repudiate this position at the end of the Congress. It would therefore be very misleading to claim that Trotsky entered the 2nd  Congress as a heated protagonist of centralism and came out of it as an opponent of centralism.[xv] It is more accurate to say that the argument in favour of centralisation was widespread, but Lenin added a special dimension by raising it to the level of a principle. This is more typical of Lenin the man than of Marxist theory. It was his lifelong pattern, to isolate the most important theme of the day, and to take a polemically exaggerated and apparently extreme position. But it had a negative side, in that at times it miseducated those who failed to understand his polemically exaggerated purpose. After his death, many of these polemical or tactical utterances were elevated to an unwarranted canonical status both by hagiographers as well as by demonologists.

What is true, is that Trotsky was immature in the manner in which he launched his polemic, and he was also, quite evidently, incapable of understanding a core point being made by Lenin. Lenin wanted to unify the revolutionary forces in one organisation, and he wanted to emphasise that the "Economists", Social Democrats arguing that struggles over economic demands would automatically lead to socialist consciousness, were wrong, and that socialist consciousness had to be developed by integrating the experiences of all sectors of the working class, by examining social relations in their totality, and that this called for a high degree of political centralisation by the revolutionary party.[xvi] The central thrust of Lenin's work was a positive elaboration of the view that the party had to act as a political centraliser of fragmentary struggles, sectional experiences and partial viewpoints of different parts of the working class, since the class was in practice fragmented. This was another meaning of the inside/outside dichotomy portrayed by Lenin. He was arguing that economic struggles did not automatically lead to socialist consciousness. The political organisation had to be built, so that the working class could gather consciousness about the entire range of politics and develop a revolutionary strategy.  Failing this, the revolutionaries were doomed to tail end the masses. Another important theme of the book was the development of the "professional revolutionary". This call came from two factors. The conjunctural factor was the absence of democracy in Russia. Only if party activists were full-time revolutionaries could the stability of the party be guaranteed. Moreover, the elective principle and publicity for party decisions, essential preconditions for real inner party democracy, were impossible in Russia. The more basic reason was that a party of professional revolutionaries would make it possible to release workers from tiring and tedious jobs, enable them to develop theoretically, and to ensure mass participation in the broad movements.[xvii]

The split between Bolsheviks and Menseviks at the 2nd Party Congress was not yet over basic principle of politics. But it involved a minority refusing to accept majority rule, thereby rendering organisational functioning impossible. In opposition to historians critical of Lenin who gloss over this simple fact, it is essential to stress that in 1903 it was the Menshevik faction that was undemocratic. However, it is also necessary to point out that there were serious problems, both in Lenin's arguments, and in the political practice of would-be Bolsheviks of the first period. Lenin provided a long quotation from Kautsky, to assert that Social Democratic consciousness is brought from outside the working class and is created by the bourgeois scientist.[xviii]There have been arguments to the effect that this was a polemical exaggeration, and that Lenin later repudiated this. While true, this argument disregards or minimises the fact that many of the activists who called themselves Bolsheviks treated the argument as the final word in party building. Thus, Francois Vercammen in his article talks about the fact that Stalin had been a Bolshevik cadre at a time when Trotsky was supposedly a Menshevik. But what was the content of Stalin's Bolshevism? In organisational matters, it was this: during the revolution of 1905, while the mass movement was rushing ahead, he was calling on the working class to rally round the party committees because “only the party committees can worthily lead us”[xix].   Indeed, throughout 1905, Lenin found himself at loggerheads with many of those who had become "good Bolsheviks" by a course of What Is To Be Done?

Before the Third (Bolshevik) RSDRP Congress, called by Lenin and his supporters against the Menshevik-dominated party press and party Council, could meet, a revolution had begun in Russia. For a few years, the struggle of workers and radical students had been intensifying and mass strikes developing. Along with repression came an attempt to form legal workers’ societies with police approval, to block the revolutionaries. Quickly, however, these unions became radicalized, and were in most cases disbanded. However, in St. Petersburg, the “Assembly of Russian Factory and Workshop Workers”, led by Father Gapon, a prison chaplain, continued . The Gaponist Union opposed class struggle. But in early 1905, a strike began in the giant Putilov works, employing 12,000 workers. Four workers of Gapon’s organization had been sacked. Gapon had to react to stop the erosion of his credibility. As a result, mass meetings were held. A series of general demands were formulated, including an eight-hour day, a general wage rise, etc. The union leaders thought that a petition to the Tsar, and a few benevolent words from the Throne, would be useful to counteract the agitation of radical students.

 

By 7th January, there was a general strike in St. Petersburg. On the 9th, a peaceful demonstration was confronted with murderous fire. An appalled Gapon told the workers, ‘We no longer have a Tsar’. Within days, a massive protest movement had developed. The patriarchally minded worker had given way to the revolutionary proletariat. The number of workers on strike during January and February 1905 was greater than the total for the ten years prior to this[xx]. Trade unions and workers’ assemblies began to spring up. There was a vast growth in working class assertiveness, and forms of self-organisation. Tsarism contributed unwittingly by deciding to set up a commission under Count Shidlovsky, including workers. Workers were asked to elect delegates to it. The commission did nothing and was soon dissolved, but the election of delegates by the factory taught the workers a valuable lesson in co-ordinating their own affairs[xxi]. Another development was the growth of strike-committees. In a few cases the strikers won the fight to maintain a permanent representation of deputies[xxii]. An example was the ‘Soviet Deputatov  Tipolitograffi Moskvy’ incorporating 110 plants[xxiii]. The final step was the fusion of the economic and political struggles. This resulted in the appearance of general workers’ councils, (the ‘Soviets’ in the sense usually known). Perhaps the first was the Ivanovo – Voznesensk Soviet. The nationally important case was, however, that of the St. Petersburg Soviet. A printer’s strike in Moscow was followed on 27 September by a general strike. On 7th October, the Moscow railways were dying. From the first day, the October strike had a political character. Since October 14, the capital of the Russian Empire had no rail connection, no telephones, no newspaper. The Tsar, despite his dislike for count Witte, sought his help. At his suggestion, though modifying it, the Tsar issued the October 17, 1905, Manifesto, guaranteeing civil liberties, a Duma elected on a fairly wide suffrage, with right to enact laws [xxiv].

 

The St. Petersburg Soviet sprang up in course of the strike. It had the precedence of the Shidlovsky Commission, and the Menshevik propaganda of a “revolutionary self-government”. On October 10, the Menshevik  Committee in St. Petersburg proposed founding a city-wide committee to lead the general strike. On 13 October, the St. Petersburg Soviet first met at the Technological Institute . Responding to the appeal, workers elected deputies. On 15 October, 226 representatives from 96 factories and workshops  and 5 trade unions were prsent. On 17 October, the body named itself the Soviet Rabochikh Deputatov ( Council of workers’ Deputies)[xxv]. It was this example that inspired the setting up of Soviets elsewhere, in Moscow, Odessa, Novorossiisk, Donets, etc. There were also a few instances of Soldiers’ Councils and Peasants’ Councils.

 

The Soviet emerged in fulfillment of an objective need for an organization that would represent peoples’ authority, an organisation that would to encompass hundreds of thousands of workers of various factories, varying age-groups, diverse viewpoints, different level of skills and earnings, without imposing on them so much organisational restraint that this newly won cohesion would break down. This set them off from the parties, despite the fact that party activists could be, and usually were, workers or professional revolutionaries dedicated to workers’ struggles. “Prior to the Soviet we find among the industrial workers a multitude of organisations… The Soviet was, from the start, the organisation of the proletariat, and its aim was the struggle for revolutionary power"[xxvi]. It was this class character of the Soviet, and its non-partisan structure, that was its strength. That did not prevent Social Democrats from gaining intellectual leadership.

 

The Soviets in fact had a multiple function. They represented the general interests of the proletariat vis-à-vis the rulers, and were created with that purpose. But such a mass working class organisation meant a high degree of political consciousness Among the working class, possible only in a revolutionary period. This also meant that they had to fight for the hegemony of the proletariat in the revolution, and to turn themselves into centres of revolution. The trial of the St. Petersburg Soviet brought this out admirably.

 

“Under the conditions created by a political general strike, …the state mechanism…found itself ultimately incapable of action…Meanwhile the strike had thrown hundreds of thousands of workers from the factories into the streets...who could direct them… . no one , except the Soviet… And that being so, the Soviet, in the political strike which had created it, became nothing other than the organ of self-government of the revolutionary masses: an organ of power ".[xxvii] So said Trotsky in his speech to the court that tried the Soviet. In St. Petersburg , the Soviet’s threats forced the regime to negotiate on different occasions. In Moscow, in Novorossiisk, the Soviets co-ordinated the insurrection.

 

On the rising trade union movement, the Bolsheviks often had a narrow approach. In September 1905, S. I. Gusev proposed a resolution at the Bolshevik Odessa Committee’s meeting, which counterposed trade unions and the revolution. However, Gusev also proposed trying to gain leadership of trade union. Others, sceptical about the direction of the spontaneous workers’ struggles, now quoted What Is To Be done? to claim that ”the trade union struggle…makes bourgeois notions stick to the proletarians’ psychology”[xxviii]. Leading Bolsheviks like Bogdanov and Lunacharsky were wary of strikes, and counterposed the armed insurrection to the strikes[xxix], instead of looking at strikes as movements that united the workers and raised their class-consciousness.

 

A similar situation developed regarding the soviets. P. A. Krasikov, a leading Bolshevik, called the St. Petersburg Soviet a “non-party Zubatovite committee”[xxx]. When the Soviet was formed, a member of the  Petersburg Committee, M.M. Essen, exclaimed, “But where do we come in?”[xxxi]. At a meeting of the Bolshevik Executive committee of the Neva District of Petersburg.: “On 29 October, one of the fifteen members opposed taking part in it at all because the ‘elective principle could not guarantee its class consciousness and social Democratic character’ Four voted against taking part in the Soviet, if it did not accept a Social Democratic programme."[xxxii] The Bolshevik Central Committee, elected by the Third Congress, presented an ultimatum to the Soviet. After a very brief debate, it was rejected. It needed Lenin’s intervention before the Bolsheviks changed their position. Knuniants-Radin, a party leader, had asked, ‘Soviet or Party’ ? The basic problem was organizational rigidity. The Bolshevik committeemen took one phase of the movement, when there had been only a party of workers’ leaders and underground activists, as the permanent character, thereby bearing out the validity of the criticisms of Luxemburg and Trotsky. Even the sympathetic Krupskaya recorded in her memoirs that the committeemen were conservative, opposed to inner party democracy, and undesirous of changes[xxxiii].

At the Third Congress, Lenin and Bogdanov proposed that workers should be taken into the party at all levels in large numbers[xxxiv]. The delegate Gradov (Kamenev) accused Lenin of demagogically raising the question of the relationship between workers and intelligentsia[xxxv]. Reports by Leskov, Filippov and Krasikov made it obvious that workers were not being drawn into the party. One delegate, Mikhailov, even accused in disgust that “the requirements for the intelligentsia are very low, and for the workers they are extremely high”[xxxvi].

 

Condemnations of the critiques by Trotsky and Luxemburg appear somewhat exaggerated , but not totally unfounded, when this history is kept in mind. Trotsky’s central charge against Lenin was that of “substitutionism”. That is, he accused Lenin of wanting to replace the self-activity of the working class by the voluntarist actions of a self-proclaimed vanguard. In attempting to reject what he saw as Leninist elitism, he was also rejecting the necessity of uniting the vanguard workers around a common banner and thereby making them a more effective force. This led him to argue that :“The most conscious and therefore the most revolutionary elements will always be a ‘minority’ in our party. And this can only be explained by our faith in the fate of the working class as being social revolution, and revolutionary ideas as being those corresponding best to the historical movement of the proletariat.”[xxxvii] In pursuit of this line of argument, he said that Leninism was the theory of an ‘orthodox theocracy’. To it he opposed the idea of a broad-based mass party which would yet be revolutionary. It had key flaws, above all for being a kind of proposal for an ideal type regardless of concrete situations. Both Trotsky and Luxemburg erred centrally over the question of whether or not to organise the most politically conscious and militant workers separately. The building of the revolutionary party of the working class is the process whereby the theoretical consciousness developed by revolutionary nuclei are tested through practice and fused with the outlook of a significant section of advanced workers. It is true, as both of them asserted, that the revolutionary party cannot claim to be THE VANGUARD. It can act as a vanguard force only by constantly drawing in the vanguard of the class within its fold and by being in the class struggles. To do so, however, the revolutionary activists had to be united first. On this point Trotsky acknowledged his error several times, as in the unpublished November 30, 1924 manuscript ‘Our Differences’[xxxviii] However, Trotsky no less than Lenin progressed in his thinking, and we find him taking a dialectical stand in 1905 on the question of building the party. At that time, he was editing a popular socialist paper, Nachalo. Though Deutscher gives the impression that he only preached permanent revolution and unity, we find him devoting space to programme and organisation as a whole.  In an article of late November, he defended the three conditions for membership: acceptance of the programme, membership of a definite organisation, and regular financial contribution. He then went on to argue that two false alternatives were being presented: "either to become dissolved in the masses, having popularised among them our basic demands and the name of international Social-Democracy, but having lost at the same time the character of a centralised political organisation, or to stand aloof from the masses, reserving for ourselves 'supreme' political control over its slogans…we should say that both roads were equally dangerous, and essentially led to one and the same result, namely, the annihilation of a genuinely proletarian Party, that sets itself definite tasks and develops independent tactics for their performance."[xxxix] Thus, his conception of party building was a revolutionary, and not a Menshevik one. And where he differed with Lenin, he was not always wrong. Let us look at Trotsky's recasting of the question of spontaneous struggles and the class-conscious organisation: "Between these two factors -- the objective fact of its class interest and its subjective consciousness -- lies the realm inherent in life, that of clashes and blows, mistakes and disillusionment, vicissitudes and defeats. The tactical farsightedness of the Party of the proletariat is located entirely between these two factors and consists of shortening and easing the road from one to the other…. The Party bases itself on the given level of consciousness of the proletariat; it will involve itself in every important political event by making an effort to orient the general direction towards the immediate interests of the proletariat, and, what is still more important, by making an effort to embed itself in the proletariat by raising the level of consciousness, to base itself on this level and use it for this dual purpose…. The greater the distance separating the objective and subjective factors, that is, the weaker the political culture of the proletariat, the more naturally there appear in the Party those 'methods' which, in one form or another, only show a kind of passivity in the face of the colossal difficulties of the task incumbent upon us. The political abdication of the 'Economists', like the 'political substitutionism' of their opposites, are nothing but an attempt by the young Social Democratic Party to 'cheat' history."[xl]

Trotsky's opposition to Lenin centred here on three points: the opposition between the self-activity of the class and Lenin's allegedly fantastic error of wanting a ready made set of tactics whereby the party could control the masses; the opposition between democracy and bureaucratic centralism; and the opposition between a formalist and a historical point of view. In the Report of the Siberian Delegation, Trotsky wrote that 'for many comrades, 'politics' and 'centralism' still only have a purely formal meaning, that they are only the empty anti-thesis of 'economism' and 'dilettantism'."[xli] He went on to explain that unless the general political interest of the working class was linked to day to day needs and struggles, it would result in a purely formal centralism and a formal political style without solid content. The crux of his charge against Lenin and his supporters is that they believed in automatic success due to their possession of Marxist ideas. As a Marxist himself, Trotsky was not decrying the value of Marxism. But he was questioning its exclusive possession by any individual, group of individuals, or party. And even more strongly he was challenging the notion that possession of Marxism was a guarantee against mistakes. And in looking at the class movement and the history of organisations, he made the perceptive comment that part of the mistakes of organisations stem from an ahistoricity: "Each period has its own routine and tends to impose its own tendencies on the movement as a whole."[xlii] This was how he viewed the one-sidedness of the economists, the aberrations of some of Lenin's supporters who are cited in the pamphlet, and this was how he was to look at problems of party development in later periods. This gave him the idea that a mere attempt to "liquidate" a phase of party history was a wrong way of trying to move forward. Every partial process, he indicated, had a tendency of imposing its inertia on the movement as a whole, and that a living revolutionary organisation always had to be aware of this danger.

In presenting his critique of Lenin, whatever else he did, Trotsky did not slide into opportunism or pro-opportunist political positions himself. Even though in the pamphlet he still considered him a part of the minority, he was already arguing that the task for which the minority had set itself up as a faction was over, and it should now dissolve.[xliii] Politically, he was hostile to the economists and other groupings. At the earlier phases of the Second Party Congress, he had indeed earned the title "Lenin's cudgel" for the vehement way in which he defended the political programme of the Iskra-ists. But he insisted that opportunism, revisionism etc were not external elements, viruses, on the healthy body of the proletariat. They were parts of the proletarian movement, and political differences with them could not be settled simply by reference to any higher authority. They had to be won through a combination of political debates and practice.

The resolution of this conflict can be achieved only by knocking down another pillar of so-called Leninist orthodoxy, namely, the idea that a single party can exhaustively represent a class. This was what led Trotsky to make an assertion in Our Political Tasks to which we will find him returning all his life: "The problems of the new regime are so intricate that they can be solved only through the rivalry of the various methods of economic and political reconstruction, by long "debates", by systematic struggle -- not only between the socialist and the capitalist worlds, but also between the various tendencies within socialism, tendencies that must inevitably develop as soon as the dictatorship of the proletariat creates tens and hundreds of new unresolved problems….And no 'strong authoritative organisation' will be able to put down these tendencies and disagreements for the purpose of accelerating and simplifying the process, for it is only too clear that the proletariat capable of a dictatorship over society will not tolerate a dictatorship over itself."[xliv] Though Trotsky, too was to accept for a while the need for the strong, authoritative hand of one party, he alone among leading Bolsheviks returned subsequently to a clear articulation of the need for political pluralism within the council system.[xlv]

 

Liquidationism and the Underground:

 

The revolutionary yeas 1905-6 were succeeded by a period of powerful counteroffensive by the regime. Legal rights began to shrink, and trade unions, to say nothing about soviets, collapsed. The Bolshevik-Menshevik schism, apparently healed by the revolution, reappeared and intensified. Too often, the history of party building in this period is reduced a so-called struggle against liquidators and recallists. This is a simplification which does gross damage to the real history of the Russian working class movement and the history of the Social Democratic Party. Within Russia, there were those who wanted to build a revolutionary party. And all of these people did not consider themselves to be 'Leninists'. A large group of worker-activists, who had been party members in 1905-06, sought to fuse legal work with the underground. They were criticised from opposite ends by Lenin, who wanted complete domination of legal work by the underground committees, and by rightwing Mensheviks like Potresov and Axelrod, who wanted to abolish the old party and set up a broad based party even in the authoritarian regime. Vercammen, in his article, tries to claim, in a couple of cleverly worded passages, that Trotsky was in agreement, (with reticence) with this perspective.[xlvi] That is not what modern research indicates. Since Vercammen footnotes Swain, it is worth looking briefly at his findings. There were younger Mensheviks, the 'praktiki' or practical workers, who rejected the proposals of liquidators (i.e., those who wanted to "liquidate" the old party). There were Bolsheviks who opposed Lenin's orientation as well as that of Bogdanov and his fellow recallists. Forces like these sometimes found in Trotsky an alternative rallying point.

By late 1909, on the initiative of Bolshevik-conciliators like Rykov, Goldenberg-Meshkovskii and Kamenev, it was decided that the Bolshevik factional paper Proletarii would become a theoretical paper, while Trotsky would be asked to join forces with the Bolsheviks, the Poles of the SDKPiL (Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches, Felix Dzerzhinsky etc.), and the Pravda, edited by Trotsky from Vienna, would become a powerful agitational paper.[xlvii] Swain is wrong to conclude that from this point the terms Bolshevik and Menshevik became meaningless, because a significant part of the Mensheviks followed Martov, who was unwilling to break with the liquidators.[xlviii] However, this event shows that a different kind of leftwing regroupment, based on revolutionary principles, but calling for a different relationship between the pro-party legal activists and the underground, was possible. Inside Russia, the older factional line-ups did collapse considerably, as Trotsky was later to show.[xlix] Until 1912, Trotsky continued to try and build a revolutionary party based on the self-activity of the worker militants. For writers who have a totally uncritical view of Lenin, this phase constitutes an embarrassment, since  "by smudging over the dividing line between 'liquidator' and 'legal activist', Lenin was able to brand anyone as a 'liquidator'. Thus the majority of delegates to the Proletarian meeting were, by Lenin's definition, 'liquidators'."[l] In fact, Swain, and even more Bonnell, shows that the liquidators were in a minority among the practical workers.[li] This can once again be touted as a case of "bending the stick", but if that were so, there is no reason now, with a dispassionate historical analysis, to uphold Lenin as the sole distillation of the revolutionary line. Nor does it explain the intensity of Lenin's attacks on Trotsky, nor, finally, the decision to hijack the title Pravda. Only by recognising that Pravda from Vienna was a potential challenger to the position of leadership of the left wing of the party can we make sense of this. This may appear sectarian in retrospect, but it is necessary to look at the context more closely. In the Marxist tradition of party building, two distinct lines had coexisted rather uneasily. One was the building of a distinct communist organisation, as in 1848-51 (the Communist League) and the other was the building up of the mass workers' party, which was what Marx tried to promote through the First International , particularly from its London Conference.[lii] In a way, the mass parties of the Second International straddled both traditions. But in Russia, no party had yet been built up, properly speaking.[liii] This is why, time and again, the "organisational question" looms so large in Russian and other East European debates. The fact that neither Lenin, nor Trotsky, was fully correct did not mean that a compromise resolution, and a compromise tactical line, was able to unite them. Instead, they fought in an extremely heated manner.

Trotsky's central thesis was that the underground committees had become cut off from the working class, and were taking the class to be merely raw material fit to be taken in tow by the committees.[liv] Reacting to this, Pravda advocated a line of retaining the underground committees but making them responsive to the pro-party legal activists and the struggles they were waging. At a Temperance Congress, such activists, supported by Pravda but not by either the Bolsheviks or the Mensheviks, put up a good performance. Trotsky's influence was to rise correspondingly, so that at the January 1910 Plenum of the Central Committee, strong backing from delegates from the interior saw his proposal being passed rather than those proposed by Lenin and Martov. Zinoviev in his tendentious history presents the Plenum as a purely émigré conflict, because he could not admit that on the key issue of the struggle against liquidationism, the practical workers had supported Trotsky.[lv] Bolshevik-conciliators like Dubrovinsky, Rykov, Sokolnikov and Lozovsky supported the resolution. That this did not lead to a unification of forces on the left was more the responsibility of Trotsky. Whatever Lenin's aims, and his detractors have certainly ascribed the worst to him, is hands were tied because the majority of Bolsheviks were opposing him. But when Martov refused to break with the open liquidators, Trotsky did not take up the battle against him. In addition, the agent provocateur Roman Malinovsky's betrayal[lvi] resulted in the arrest of the newly created Russian Bureau, where Trotsky had a number of supporters. Nonetheless, as late as the first quarter of 1911, after the old splits were hardening again in emigration, the resolution of the January 1910 Plenum was being accepted in Russia, and underground committees and legal activists merging to form common organisations. When Lenin attempted to make the split final in 1912, he could do so because he had accepted this basis. It was at this point that the weak side of Trotsky's conciliationism caught up with him. By rejecting the invitation to the Prague conference, and by calling a counter-conference at Vienna hich the Leninist Bolsheviks boycotted and the Bogdanovist Bolsheviks walked out of, he created a bloc in which Martov, and Mensheviks to his right, became dominant. Trotsky himself had to abandon the bloc shortly, while between 1912 and 1914, the Bolsheviks became the dominant force among the politically conscious workers in St. Petersburg and Moscow.[lvii] Bonnell's study shows that the new organisational structure enabled party cadres to translate party strategy into effective action. In that sense, it was a revamped party, which differed markedly from the orientation of 1907-9, and also from all later official Soviet claims about Leninist parties.

 

Beyond the Revolutionary Year:

 

The revolution of 1917 saw Trotsky joining the Bolsheviks. His demand that they should change the name was not a serious proposition, yet it contained the germ of his later understanding of Bolshevism. For, the party of 1917 was vastly different from those conceptions of What is To Be Done, which emphasised that revolutionary consciousness would have to be bought from outside the working class and that from ithin itself the proletariat can only develop trade union consciousness, or from the conception of a party run essentially by small groups of committees. In terms of the programme, the Bolshevik propaganda was marked by an important shift that few historians have noticed. During 1914- January 1917, a major difference between the Bolsheviks (especially Lenin) and other anti-war, revolutionary socialists, like Luxemburg and Trotsky, was Lenin's stress that to be a consistent communist meant to be a defeatist. The problems with the "defeatist" formula were manifold and each of Lenin's main essays on the subject tended to present a slightly different meaning to skirt some problem or the other. Lenin had opposed the slogan of peace as one that fell short of the goal of proletarian revolutionaries. In 1917 the Bolsheviks, confronting not the patriotism of small groups of leaders, but of the masses of workers, had to revise their tactics in order to get a hearing. The slogan for peace was different from the slogan for defeatism. This suggested that wen the revolutionary party wished to win over the bulk of the class, not the "sharpest" formulation, but the one that best linked the revolutionary line with the aspirations of the masses, was ultimately the most revolutionary. There were important lessons to be learnt from all this, regarding the relationship between class, party and other class organisations in the preparation and the making of revolutions. It was Trotsky, who subsequently drew these lessons, in a series of important conclusions about Bolshevism. In 1917 and later, Trotsky was always to acknowledge that he had been wrong not to recognise the need for a split with the Mensheviks.[lviii] That this was the key issue seems recognised as well in Lenin's comment about Trotsky being the best Bolshevik ever since he understood that there could be no unity with the Mensheviks.[lix] But in a number of pieces, notably The Lessons of October, the History of the Russian Revolution and the Stalin, Trotsky explicitly tried to reconcile his past critiques with his acceptance of Bolshevism. As a result, in The Lessons of October, on one hand, he was willing to recognise, in a sharper formulation than in the pre-1917 era, the centrality of the party as an instrument of the struggle for power: "Without a party, apart from a party, over the head of a party, or with a substitute for a party, the proletarian revolution cannot conquer".[lx] But in the same work he was also to warn that it was "almost an unalterable law' that a revolutionary party would face a crisis at each turning point, and revolutions are lost if the party cannot make the transition in time.[lxi] This was not an abstract theorisation. The work was written soon after the defeat of the German revolution of 1923, and in the middle of the "Bolshevisation" of the Comintern embarked upon by Zinoviev, which was the starting point of the bureaucratic transformation of the Comintern. Here, Trotsky was trying to set the record straight on what was permanent and what was not, in Bolshevism. When he took up the theme in the History of the Russian Revolution, a false idea of the vanguard had taken hold, and he was challenging that quite sharply. In the History, we find that the Bolshevik workers, and workers standing on the left (like the mezhraiontsi), had led the insurrection, but when new political institutions were created, hegemony passes to the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. The reason, he argued, was that the mass of workers made little distinction between the three socialist parties, so that the two moderate ones, with a far greater share of the intellectuals, could build up an apparatus. This created a wall between the working class and its aims. Thereafter, only a complex interweaving of class, party and leadership could ensure first, the reconquest by the Bolsheviks of the vanguard layers of the working class, and then the establishment of the hegemony of the Bolsheviks and the vanguard around them over the majority. This required a leadership possessing certain capabilities. Here Trotsky argued that Lenin could provide the kind of leadership that we see him playing in 1917, because a leadership is also constructed, not obtained ready-made, and Lenin's position had been created through his role, in conjunction with bolshevism as a current, within the working class for many years.[lxii] The other pole of this was the stress on the ability of the party to learn from the working class and to negotiate crisis points by being revolutionary in principle, but capable of strategic shifts in time. All this implies that revolutionary parties are not easily constructed, and that substituting them by apparently easier options can be dangerous. Through much of the 20th Century, one could have written off this claim as a counterfactual. After all, the Chinese revolution was made without either the kind of leadership or the democratic class-party relationship Trotsky was emphasising. Much of the world seemed to be going the "socialist" way through precisely the substitutionism that the young Trotsky had inveighed against. But at the beginning of the new century, looking at how the "socialist" states collapsed and how so many of the "communist" leaders turned out to be willing fighters for capitalist restoration (Yeltsin, Deng, Jaruzelski, and others), it is worth looking more seriously at the alternative Trotsky had stood for. When the relationship is one of a Great Helmsman and a minority always deciding on the line and the working class being told to implement it, such a movement may be said to be based on the working class, but it is hardly one where the self-emancipation of the proletariat that is being worked out. Looking back over a century of revolutions, it is necessary to make a distinction between those made by the working class, and those made by revolutionary elites in the name of the working class. When confronting weak bourgeois rulers, the substitutionist revolutions could take power, but never were these workers' powers as classical Marxism envisaged. Such substitutionism led to dictatorships and an eventual road back to capitalism. Only, in the Russian revolution, there had to be a Stalinist counter-revolution by a new bureaucracy first.

 

 



T I am grateful to Paul LeBlanc, Peter Solenberger, and Ron Lare for discussions on various previous drafts. This paper was presented at the 61st Session of the Indian History Congress, Calcutta 2001.

 



Notes and references:

[i] For bibliographic detail about the major works, the reader can consult Kunal Chattopadhyay, The Marxism of Leon Trotsky, Kolkata, 2006. The most comprehensive, though by no means fiully representative especially of Asian writings is Wolfgang and Petra Lubitz, An International Classified List of Publications about Leon Trotsky and Trotskyism: 1905 - 1998, 2 vols., 3rd Edition, Munchen 1999.

[ii] All official histories from the Soviet Union had this line. See, for example, V. A. Grigorenko et al, The Bolshevik Party's Struggle Against Trotskyism (1903 - February 1917), Moscow, 1969, p.30.

[iii] The fountainhead was J. Stalin,  History of the CPSU(B) -- Short Course, Moscow, 1938; though one may fairly say that most of Zinoviev's book, written in 1924, had a similar motive. In 1924, however, slander could not reach such peaks as it did in 1938.

[iv] See B. Knei-Paz,The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky, Oxford, etc., 1978pp. 225, 226, 232.

[v] J.Molyneux, Marxism and the Party, London, 1978, pp.46-55; T. Cliff, Trotsky: Towards October, London, Chicago and Melbourne,1989, pp. 50 - 79; E. Mandel, Trotsky: a Study in the Dynamics of his Thought, London, 1979, p.53.

[vi] However, he joined them for just about a year, agreed with them only on certain organisational issues, and broke with them oer the political orientation that they began to exhibit. On this see A. Woods, Bolshevism -- the road to revolution, London, 1999, pp.142-3.

[vii] G.Zinoviev, History of the Bolshevik Party, London, 1983 is among the first major broadsides by his opponents in the Bolshevik Party.

[viii]K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, , vol. 20, Moscow, 1985, p.14.

[ix] Ibid, vol. 24, Moscow, 1989,p.269.

[x] This has been argued by Neil Harding Lenin's Political Thought. London and Basingstoke, vol. 1, 1977;vol. 2, 1981; 2v. combined publication. 1983; by Tony Cliff, Lenin, vol.1, Building the Party, London 1975; by Paul LeBlanc, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party, New Jersey and London, 1980; and by Alan Wood, op. cit., in a number of ways.

[xi] L. Trotsky, My Life, Harmondsworth, 1975, p.136

[xii] Cited in L. Trotsky, Report of the Siberian Delegation (1903), London, n.d., p.40.

[xiii] I. Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, London, 1976, p.45; N. Krasso, ed., Trotsky: The Great Debate Renewed, St. Louis, 1972, p.13.

[xiv] Report of the Siberian Delegation, pp.40-41.

[xv] A recent claim of this sort is an extremely tendentious article by Francois Vercammen, 'The Question of the Party: Trotsky's Weak Point', International Viewpoint, No.324, Sept.-Oct 2000, pp. 32 - 36. The significance of the article lies in the author, a member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, who seems to be writing in order to gather enough courage to proclaim that the organisation and politics of the Fourth International had been fatally flawed from birth because Trotsky had retained his misunderstandings of Lenin and his erroneous party building conceptions all his life.

[xvi] See K. Chattopadhyay, 'Lenin O Biplabi Dal' , Yubakantha, Autumn No., 1992; and Paul LeBlanc, op.cit.

[xvii] V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, (hereafter LCW), vol.5, pp. 464-66, 472, 477.

[xviii] Ibid., pp. 375, 383-4.

[xix]J. Stalin, Works, vol.1, Moscow, 1947, p.80

[xx] O. Anweiler, The Soviets : The Russian Workers’ , Peasants and Soldiers’ Councils 1905-1921, New York, 1974, p. 34.

[xxi] L. Trotsky, 1905, Harmondsworth, 1971, p. 123.

[xxii] O. Anweiler, The Soviets, p. 38.

[xxiii] G. Kostomarov, Moskovskii Soviet v 1905 godu, Moscow , 1955, pp. 65-69.

[xxiv] On Witte and the Tsar, see H. D. Mehlinger and J. M. Thomson, Count Witte and the Tsarist Government in the 1905 Revolution , Bloomington, Indiana, and London,  1974.

[xxv] O. Anweiler, The Soviets, p. 46

[xxvi] L. Trotsky , 1905, p. 266.

[xxvii] Ibid., p. 399.

[xxviii] S. M. Schwartz , The Russian Revolution of 1905 , Chicago , 1967, p. 153.

[xxix] Ibid., pp. 131-32.

[xxx] V.S. Voitinskii , Godu pobedi porazhenii, Moscow 1923, Quoted in J.L.H.Keep, The Rise of Social Democracy in Russia, London, 1963, p.230.

[xxxi] Recollection of B.I.Gorev, a representative of the Bolshevik centre in Petersburg, quoted in Schwarz, op.cit., p.180.

[xxxii] D.Lane, The Roots of Russian Communism, Assen 1969, p.88.

[xxxiii] N.K. Krupskaya, Memories of Lenin, Moscow, 1959, pp. 124-126.

[xxxiv] LCW, vol.8, pp.409-410.

[xxxv] Tretii S” ezd RSDRP , Moscow , 1959, p. 255.

[xxxvi] Ibid., pp. 265, 267, 335, 362.

[xxxvii] L. Trotsky, Our Political Tasks, p.123.

[xxxviii] N. Allen (ed.), The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-25) , New York, 1975, p.263.

[xxxix] L. Trotsky, 'We Must Build the Party', Journal of Trotsky Studies, vol.3, 1995, pp.100-101. I am grateful to Jamie Gough for sending me this, and other related material.

[xl] Our Political Tasks, pp.74-76.

[xli] Report of the Siberian Delegation, p.18.

[xlii] Our Political Tasks, p.31.

[xliii]  Ibid., p.3.

[xliv] Our Political Tasks, section entitled The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, quoted in J. Molyneux, Leon Trotsky's Theory of Revolution, Brighton, sussex, 1981, p.66. My edition does not have this, or any similar passage. It seems that  the New Parks edition omitted this section.

[xlv] "Democratisation of the soviets is impossible without legalisation of soviet parties. The workers and peasants themselves by their own free vote will indicate what parties they recognise as soviet parties.", The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, in Leon Trotsky, The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, New York, 1974, p.105.

[xlvi] Op. cit., p.34.

[xlvii] Cf. G. Swain ed. and with an introduction, Protokoly soveshchaniya reashirennoi redaktaii 'Proletarii', London, 1982, pp.110, 119, 134.

[xlviii] G. Swain, Russian Social Democracy and the Legal labour Movement: 1906 - 14, London and Basingstoke, 1983.

[xlix] L. Trotsky, Stalin, London, 1946.

[l] G. Swain, Russian Social Democracy…, pp. 86-87.

[li] V. E. Bonnell, Roots of Rebellion, Berkeley, 1983.

[lii] For a thorough treatment, see S. Marik, Reinterrogating the Classical Marxist Discourses of Revolutionary Democracy, New Delhi, 2008.

                                [liii]  For an admission by a leading Bolshevik that the mass party of 1905 had totally collapsed, see G. Zinoviev, op.cit.

[liv] See, for example, 'Nasha partiia i ee zadachi', Pravda No.4, 2/14June 1909.

[lv] G. Zinoviev, op. cit., pp.166-167.

[lvi] For Malinovsky see R. C. Elwood, Roman Malinovsky: A Life Without a Cause, Newtonville, Mass., 1977.

[lvii] Cf. V. E. Bonnell, op.cit., pp.393 - 408, for a detailed examination of this process.

[lviii] See for example, L. Trotsky, My Life, Harmondsworth, 1975,p.342.

[lix] See Lenin's speech in L. Trotsky, The Stalin School of Falsification, New York, 1972 (1979 reprint), p.110. It should be noted that in the late 1980s, the Soviet periodical Voprossii Istorii investigated the Central Party Archives and certified that the documents published by Trotsky in this book were all authentic.

[lx] L. Trotsky, The Challenge of the left Opposition (1923-25), p.252.

[lxi] Ibid., p.203.

[lxii] L. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, London, 1966, vol.1, pp.310 -- 11.

To kill or not to kill—a twisted test of nationalism

To kill or not to kill—a twisted test of nationalism

Kolponashokti-r Doinyo

 

“There is no justice in killing in the name of justice.” – Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The last week of July 2015 presented two tests of nationalism before Indians. The first was whether one mourned the passing away of former President APJ Abdul Kalam Azad, also known as the ‘Missile Man’ of India; the other was cheering for putting to death Yakub Memon, who was convicted and executed in relation to the Bombay blasts in 1993. In the case of Abdul Kalam, no arguments—however painstakingly made—that one who opposed hyper-militarism and came from an anti-war perspective need not consider Kalam a hero, were accepted. These arguments were quickly labelled naïve and unbefitting of the realities of the 21st century. Others, equally naïve, were preparing to commemorate 70 years of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Any arguments questioning the competence of Kalam as an engineer (he was not a scientist)[1], or the cynical nature of his political appointment in the wake of the 2002 Gujarat riots[2], when the BJP was in need of a Muslim face, who was ‘steeped in Hindu culture,[3]’ were met with charges of being anti-national.

Even though met with resistance, criticism of Kalam upon his death was still permissible; but not participating in the celebrations of the execution of Yakub Memon was considered beyond the pale. BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj, who is facing multiple charges of murder, rape and gang rape (with his two nephews), said that “[s]edition charges should be slapped against people sympathising with Yakub Memon and those who have no faith in the Indian Constitution should go to Pakistan.[4]” Yakub Memon was found guilty of conspiracy in the Bombay blasts of 1993, which killed 257 people, convicted and hanged to death in the early hours of July 30, 2015, which by a tragic coincidence also happened to be his birthday. The prime accused in the case—Tiger Memon, Yakub’s brother, and Dawood Ibrahim—are both absconding.

On display was a degrading spectacle of goading in front of television cameras, discussing the macabre details of the length of the rope that would hang Yakub, how and when he would be handed the Quran, when he would be given new clothes, what breakfast will be offered, and in one case “an officer who had been on the investigating team of the 26/11 attacks, excitedly showed how Yakub's hands would be tied at the back when he takes his last walk—from his cell to the phansi yard.[5]” These are the same people who are appalled at the barbarity of the Saudi Arabian state’s violent form of punishments, and loathe, rightfully, the practices of the Islamic State. Noting on the inhuman barbarity and immorality of death penalty, Albert Camus wrote:

“But what then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders, to which no criminal's deed, however calculated it may be, can be compared? For there to be equivalence, the death penalty would have to punish a criminal who had warned his victim of the date at which he would inflict a horrible death on him and who, from that moment onward, had confined him at his mercy for months. Such a monster is not encountered in private life.”

Hundreds, according to some reports nearly 8000 Muslim, mourned the death of Yakub Memon. According to an Indian Express report dated July 31, 2015, Mushtaq Phoolwala, the lone florist inside Bada Qabrastan said that “I’ve worked here for 30 years. Aisa manzar pehle nahin dekha (never seen such a sight before).[6]” However, none of this was reported, as Sanjay Barkund, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations), issued a 13-hour gag order to the media prohibiting “photographing and videographing the funeral procession and the last rites of [the] hanged convict.[7]” In an intensely militarised atmosphere, with the presence of about “1,000 policemen, 125 Rapid Action Personnel (RAF) and riot control police,” family members and others who mourned were disallowed to see Yakub’s face, for one last time, citing concerns of law and order problems[8]. Tripura Governor Tathagata Roy tweeted that those who visited the funeral of Yakub Memon were potential terrorists. He defended his tweets and dismissed those who alleged his remarks reeked of communalism. Hours later, he tweeted: “An explosion of tweets on a hanged terrorist almost made me forget the most important tweet: GURU PURNIMA GREETINGS to all.[9]

Amidst the sickening display of blood lust for a man helplessly captive in jail, it was heartening to see that quite a few Indians voicing their concern against a culture of violence, and opposing death penalty in general. Aakar Patel, Executive Director, Amnesty International India said “[t]his morning, the Indian government essentially killed a man in cold blood to show that killing is wrong.” In a July 30, 2015, report titled Execution of Yakub Memon cruel and inhuman, Amnesty International went on to observe:

“The use of the death penalty in India has been repeatedly acknowledged by Indian courts to be arbitrary and inconsistent. There exists no credible evidence that the threat of execution is more of a deterrent to crime than a prison sentence. This fact has been confirmed in multiple studies carried out by the UN and in many regions around the world.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution. It opposes it as a violation of the right to life as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.[10]

Many eminent personalities, including retired judges of Supreme Court and various High Courts signed a petition to stall the hanging of Yakub Memon, including but not limited to “Justice Panachand Jain (Retd), Justice H.S. Bedi (Retd), Justice P. B. Sawant (Retd), Justice H. Suresh (Retd), Justice K. P. Siva Subramaniam (Retd), Justice S. N. Bhargava (Retd), Justice K Chandru (Retd), Justice Nagmohan Das (Retd). Retired judges of the Supreme Court of India like Markandey Katju went on to say Yakub Memon’s hanging would be a gross travesty of justice.[11]” Professor AnupSurendranath, faculty at National Law University, Delhi (NLUD), and Director of Death Penalty Research Project, resigned from the post of Deputy Registrar (Research) in the Supreme Court of India. Such instances of protest from jurists and eminent individuals amongst a general atmosphere of call for violent retribution has reignited the question whether capital punishment is a legitimate form of punishment in liberal society.

The case against Yakub

Since the current discussion has been initiated around Yakub Memon’s involvement in the Bombay blasts, let us examine some of the facts of the case. Some people have claimed that Yakub Memon got a fair trial and all legal avenues were exhausted, and in fact they claim that the Supreme Court has shown unprecedented leniency in Yakub’s case—as an example they cite the late night hearing of the mercy petition by panel of Supreme Court judges at the CJI’s house. As Manisha Sethi, faculty at Jamia Millia Islamia, points out “there was nothing unprecedented about a late night sitting of the Supreme Court. In 2014, Chief Justice HL Dattu stayed Surinder Koli's imminent hanging through a late night order after his lawyers woke him up at 1 am,” and “… Yakub's death warrant was issued before he had exhausted his legal rights—a clear violation of the ‘procedure established by law’ to precede a death sentence;[12]” while senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan said that “[y]esterday the issue was of giving 14 days time, as per a Supreme court judgement, so that he can challenge the dismissal of his mercy petition in court and that he can settle his worldly affairs. But it (mercy petition) was dismissed late last night. No time was given to him. What was this unseemly hurry? What was the need for us to be so bloodthirsty?”

The charge brought against Yakub was that of conspiracy. Nowhere under the law does anyone deserve a death penalty for conspiracy. In this case he was guilty by association—he being the brother of the prime accused Tiger Memon. He was found guilty of transferring money and handling hawala transactions for Tiger Memon, a contemptible crime deserving of punishment for sure. But, the law is clear on the point, that one does not get a death penalty for conspiracy. As N. K. Bhupesh in a Tehelka article points out: “Now, compare this with how the law of the land was applied in the case of Mahatma Gandhi assassination case in which only NathuramGodse and Narayan Apte — two of the eight murder convicts — were hanged. “The others were not given the death penalty because they did not take part directly in the murder but only assisted in it.” But, that consideration was extended neither to Afzal nor to Yakub.[13]” Hence, while the real perpetrators Tiger Memon and Dawood Ibrahim remain absconders, Tiger Memon’s brother is made a scape goat, and had to pay with his life.

There is no direct evidence against YakubMemon. The only evidence is the statement of an approver and confessional statements of a co-accused made to the police, which was later retracted. Former Supreme Court judge Justice (Retd) MarkandeyKatju upon studying the Supreme Court judgement said that the evidence is “very weak.” He observed that “[t]his evidence is retracted confession of the co-accused and alleged recoveries,” and added that “everyone knows how confessions are obtained by the police in our country by torture.” Prashant Bhushan said that a case mounted solely on the basis of confessional statement would not be admissible under normal law, but can only happen under TADA, which brings me to my next point.

YakubMemon was tried, and convicted under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, also known as TADA, a draconian law which was later scrapped for its misuse. As Manisha Sethi argues eloquently:

“Its appeal lay in its usefulness as a tool to quell dissent, suppress movements and torment minorities—all through a law legislated by the Parliament and sanctioned by the Supreme Court. By 1995, TADA had been in operation for over a decade. A mountain of evidence pointed to its inherent abuse and lawlessness. Its various sections enabled the police to detain suspects for long periods of time without charging them; simple suspicion became grounds for arrest, confessions before police became admissible – in contravention to the established law of evidence, which protects an accused from incriminating himself—and prosecution could produce secret witnesses against the accused. In early 1995, the incumbent Chairperson of the NHRC, Justice Ranganath Mishra, made an appeal to Parliamentarians to not renew the law, dubbing it “draconian in effect and character” and “incompatible with our cultural traditions, legal history and treaty obligations”. …

But it was TADA’s partisanship that was its most striking feature. It was invoked against striking workers and trade unionists in Gujarat, against Dalit landless labourers and Communist activists in Bihar (but never against upper caste private militias), against Muslims accused of perpetrating bomb blasts in Mumbai (though of course not against those who killed, looted and terrorized Muslims in the ghoulish violence that preceded the blasts).

In 1994, the National Commission for Minorities documented that 409 out of the 432 arrested under TADA in Rajasthan belonged to minority groups. In Punjab, thousands of Sikhs were rounded up, detained, incarcerated for years.[14]

The Supreme Court should definitely have taken into consideration mitigating circumstances associated with YakubMemon’s trial. There seems to be some debate as to whether he was actually arrested in Kathmandu or New Delhi, and whether a deal was actually struck by the CBI and Indian officials with Yakub, a speculation which gained currency after the posthumous publication of an article by B. Raman, who was a R&AW official. Even without discussing all these details, what can be said with absolute certainty is that the information provided by YakubMemon built a water tight case of Pakistan government’s complicity in the Bombay blasts. Yakub came back from Pakistan—and also made sure eight other family members of the Memon family came back to India—and provided Indian officials with very valuable information about Tiger Memon, TaufiqJaliawala and other ISI operatives and their direct involvement in the bomb blasts. While he was in Pakistan, Yakub started making audio and video recordings, with the intention of turning it over to Indian officials, which he eventually did. He provided three audio cassettes, recording conversations of Tiger Memon, TaufiqJaliawala and other ISI persons involved in the blast. He provided Indian authorities with videos of bungalows of Dawood Ibrahim, TaufiqJaliawala and Tiger Memon.

In view of the facts that a person who has provided crucial information on the involvement of the principal accused in the blast; direct complicity of the Pakistan government; against whom there is no direct evidence except confessional statements, some retracted; and who is tried and convicted in accordance to a law which the country has long scrapped deciding it to be draconian, the judgement of capital punishment seems exceedingly harsh and immoral. Even if one were to accept the premise that there are some criminals who deserve to be given capital punishment, Yakub Memon seems not to fit the bill.

Killing as Justice?

But, as I have indicated before, I am opposed to capital punishment in general. I will try to go over some of the most salient points on capital punishment.

(i) The most common argument put forward in favour of capital punishment says that it provides a deterrence. Leaving aside the point of how morally abhorrent the practice is, there is absolutely no evidence to buttress this claim in the first place. As Shashi Tharoor correctly points out (since we know he is not always right):

“The overwhelming evidence suggests that the death penalty cannot be justified as an effective instrument of the state. Look at the numbers: there's no statistical correlation between applying the death penalty and preventing murder. About 10 people were executed from 1980 to 1990 for the offence of murder under section 302 of the India Penal Code, but the incidence of murder increased from 22,149 to 35,045 during the same period. Similarly, during 1990-2000, even though about 8 people were executed, the incidence of murder increased from 35,045 to 37,399. However, during 2000-2010, only one person was executed and the incidence of murder decreased from 37,399 in 2000 to 33,335 in 2010. No correlation: QED.[15]

More than 100 countries have abolished capital punishment. The universal declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly considers right to life a most fundamental of human rights, and hence considers capital punishment one of its worst violations.

(ii) The power to put someone to death at the hands of the state is dangerous. The state and all its institutions reflect the biases and prejudices of the society we live in. Thus, the clause that an incident which is deemed to be the ‘rarest of the rare’ are eligible for capital punishment, makes it vulnerable to misuse because of prevailing prejudices of society which even the best amongst us are not immune to. No wonder research shows that it is the marginalised and the most vulnerable in our society who are at the receiving end of the death penalty. As N. K. Bhupesh observes:

“A recent report of the Death Penalty Research Project of the National Law University, New Delhi (NLUD), reveals that most of the death-row convicts are from the underprivileged sections of society and raises serious questions on the criteria courts adopt to classify certain cases as “rarest of rare”.

The NLUD report was not the first to make such an assertion about how the death penalty is given almost exclusively to people from the minorities, exploited castes and oppressed castes. Human rights activists have long maintained that political, religious and ethnic prejudice play a part in adjudication and sentencing. To drive home the point, late human rights activist KG Kannabiran cited the case of two Dalit peasants, Kishta Goud and Bhoomaiah, who were hanged during the Emergency. That was a time when militant agrarian struggles were raging in different parts of the country, including Andhra Pradesh, against the atrocities committed by feudal landlords and peasants, most of them landless, were demanding the constitutional promise of “land to the tiller” to be implemented. Kishta and Bhoomaiah were accused of killing a landlord and sentenced to death. …

Looking at the profile of Indian citizens hanged since then, Anup Surendranath of NLUD, who has done extensive research on death-row convicts, tells Tehelka that the death penalty is not imposed as a deterrent but to send a political message. Every execution reassures the State of its absolute power over citizens. Surendranath argues that if the death penalty was meant to be a deterrent, then most of those on death row would have been from the zones of conflict across the land. But that, he points out, is not the case because “in the conflict zones, the State doesn’t have the patience to go through the judicial process”. “There, extrajudicial murder is clearly the most favoured form of execution,” he says.”

(iii) What if there are mistakes made? Surely no one thinks that our judicial process is immune to human error. But capital punishment is irreversible. The principle that “it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” cannot be safe guarded with capital punishment in vogue. Consider the death penalty of Dhananjoy Chatterjee, accused of sexually assaulting and brutally murdering 18 year old Hetal Parekh, who was executed on August 14, 2004. A People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR) report reads:

“Almost 11 years later to date, a report released by two scholars of Indian Statistical Institute (Kolkata) exposing the shoddy and biased investigation and trial, provides evidence that points towards his innocence and wrongful execution. According to the report by DebashishSengupta and Prabal Chaudhury titled "Re-Analysis of the case of the murder of Hetal Parekh: And the Judicial Killing of Dhananjay Chatterjee" all the mainstays of the police and prosecution’s story are open to question …

The report makes clear that Dhananjoy Chatterjee is only the latest addition in the list of wrongful executions in India. In 2012, 14 eminent jurists including Justice PB Sawant, Justices A P Shah, B A Khan, B H Marlapalle, B G Kolse-Patil, Hosbet Suresh, PrabhaSridevan, K P Sivasubramaniam, RS Verma, and P C Jain had appealed for the commutation of death penalty in separate letters to the President in the cases of 13 persons on death row who they claimed were erroneously sentenced to death. They specifically drew attention to the grave miscarriage of justice in the case of Ravji Ram and Surja Ram who were hanged in the late 1990s and who according to the Supreme Court's own acknowledgement were wrongly executed.

While the possibility of miscarriage of justice is ever-present and no form of punishment is reversible, the death penalty forecloses any possibility of reversal.[16]

(iv) Last, but not least, is the moral argument. There is absolutely no justification to kill a person in captivity. I am no pacifist. I affirm the right of the oppressed to struggle and fight for their emancipation—to quote Malcom X—“by any means necessary.” But, killing a person, however wicked, proven guilty beyond any doubt, serves no purpose. It is not a reflection of justice delivered, but that of the society that carries out such a horror.

Why did this happen to Yakub?

Why then did the Indian judiciary carry out this murder state-sponsored murder? Many say it is for justice, for closure of the victims of the Bombay blasts. Really? The Srikrishna Commission report—comprising of 15,000 pages, containing depositions of more than 500 witnesses, and taking on record more than 2900 exhibits—provides details of the violence inflicted by Hindu fanatics, led by Shiv Sena, on the Muslim community, and provides evidence of police complicity in the violence. It claims that “[o]ne common link between the riots of December 1992 and January 1993 and bomb blasts of 12 March 1993 appear to be that the former appear to have been a causative factor for the latter. There does appear to be a cause and effect relationship between the two riots and the serial bomb blasts.”  

The Srikrishna Commission reports that mahaarti ritual held from December 26, 1992, “ostensibly to protest the namaz on the streets and the calling of azaans from mosques.” “Some of the mahaartis were later used as occasions for delivering communally inciting speeches; and the crowds dispersing from the mahaarti indulged in damage, looting and arson of Muslim establishments …[17]” R. Padmanabhan in a Frontline article extensively quotes from the Srikrishna Commission:

““From January 8, 1993 at least, there is no doubt that the Shiv Sena and Shiv Sainiks took the lead in organising violent attacks on Muslims and their properties under the guidance of several leaders... from the level of shakhapramukh to... Bal Thackeray, who, like a veteran general, commanded... Shiv Sainiks to retaliate by organised attacks against Muslims.” Statements and acts of Sena leaders and Thackeray's writings and directives meanwhile kept building up communal tension, says the Commission. “The... rioting triggered off by the Shiv Sena was hijacked by local criminal elements, who saw... an opportunity to make quick gains. By the time the Shiv Sena realised that enough had been done by way of 'retaliation,' the... violence was beyond the control of its leaders...””

Just to give an example of one horrible incident: “On 12th January 1993, a Hindu mob surrounds, strips and assaults two Muslim women. The older woman manages to run away. The uncle of the younger woman, who comes to rescue the young girl of 19, and that girl are beaten and burnt alive by the violent mob. The names of the miscreants are disclosed to the police by a Hindu lady in the locality. Though the miscreants were arrested and tried, they were all acquitted.[18]” 

With clear evidence that Shiv Sena leaders were stoking communal violence, police and authorities made no endeavours to stop them, and made claims that any effort to stop them would result in a backlash and worsening of the law and order situation; which further increased the violence incitement from the leaders, now that they had proof that their actions will go with impunity. The commission provides painstaking evidence of the complicity of 26 police stations in the violence. A report published by The Citizen claims that:

The evidence collected was traumatic, recording instances of Shiv Sainiks and the Mumbai police going into houses and killing innocent inhabitants. Asked by the interviewer about the then well knownHari Masjid incident, Justice Srikrishna said that prima facie evidence established that the police had entered the mosque and opened fire on the unsuspecting congregation. He described this as “inhuman” and said that a police man was named as being the prime motivator, but clearly no action was taken against him. In his report he indicted 15 police officers including then joint commissioner of police R.D. Tyagi, and 16 police constables for their ‘delinquency’ during the riots.[19]

Three people have been so far been convicted from the Bombay riots, one of whom, the Shiv Sena MLA Madhukar Sarpotdar, died in 2010 without even serving a single day in prison. Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray, who openly incited violence, on occasions challenged the police to arrest him threatening that the law and order situation will deteriorate in that event, was given a state funeral upon his death. That was closure for the Bombay riot victims.

What about another riot that we know of? The 2002 state-sponsored pogrom carried out by Hindu fanatics in cahoots with the administration[20]. The official estimates claim that 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus died, but the unofficial estimates claim that the death toll exceeded 2,000, of which the majority were Muslims. Communalism Combat, a journal edited by civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad, had issued prior warnings about the looming danger of communal violence. Eminent historian Tanika Sarkar points out:

Each individual feature of Gujarat has been anticipated and experimented with since the Ramjanmabhoomi (Birthplace of God Ram) movement began: in Meerut, Maliana, Bhagalpur, at Ayodhya, Mumbai, Surat, Bhopal, at Manoharpur in Orissa and at countless other places.[21]

The Hindu mobs had computer printouts of voter registration documents and knew addresses of Muslim-owned properties. Muslim-owned shops were looted and vandalized and shops partially owned by Muslims were also looted and damaged, indicating that preparation had started long before the Godhra incident. SmitaNarula, senior South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch and author of the report India: Gujarat Officials Took Part in Anti-Muslim Violence said:

“What happened in Gujarat was not a spontaneous uprising, it was a carefully orchestrated attack against Muslims. The attacks were planned in advance and organized with extensive participation of the police and state government officials.[22]

The police aided and abetted the mob in carrying out the violence. In some cases, they were silent spectators and did not interfere while the saffron-clad Hindu mobs proceeded to kill Muslims with swords and sticks. On other occasions, they abetted by masquerading as protectors, only to lead hapless Muslims straight toward a waiting mob.

Ambulances were allowed to pass once they yelled Jai Shri Ram (meaning Hail Ram, indicating the victim is a Hindu). First Information Reports (FIR), the initial complaint made about a crime, were often denied or not recorded. Sometimes the police entered FIRs collectively and did not allow individual names, despite the victims claiming to have recognized the perpetrators. The state tried to cover up its complicity and the role of the SanghParivar.

As Tanika Sarkar writes, words like “communal violence” and “massacre” have been too “domesticated,” to be used to describe the depravity of the violence. Women in particular were made targets of violence and revenge, according to philosopher Martha Nussbaum:

“Particularly striking were the mass rapes and mutilations of women. The typical tactic was first to rape or gang-rape the woman, then to torture her, and then to set her on fire and kill her. Although the fact that most of the dead were incinerated makes a precise sex count of the bodies impossible, one mass grave that was discovered contained more than half female bodies.[23]

According to the Human Rights Watch Report[24], “[i]n some cases, pregnant women had their bellies cut open and their fetuses pulled out and hacked or burned before the women were killed.”

These atrocities didn't stop Modi from declaring—even as the scale of violence was at its most intense—that the “people of Gujarat have shown remarkable restraint under grave provocation,” according to the HRW report. The then Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee said in April 2002:

“[W]herever Muslims are living, they don't want to live in harmony. They don't mix with the society. They are not interested in living in peace...We don't need lessons in secularism from anyone. India was secular even before the Muslims and Christians came.[25]

Atal Behari Vajpayee was given a Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian honour an Indian can get, on March 27, 2015. His birthday, December 25, is now declared to be “Good Governance Day.” No communalism here, if you are raising questions, you are probably not nationalistic enough, and would be well served if you relocated to Pakistan.

More than 200,000 people were internally displaced, in Gujarat in the aftermath of 2002 pogrom. Muslims fled riot-prone neighbourhoods in search of shelter from the unspeakable violence. The state turned a blind eye to survivors and the relief camps organized for them. Not only did the state provide inadequate relief, it refused to acknowledge the relief camps set up by international organizations and Indian nongovernmental organizations that did make efforts to address the humanitarian crisis. It has also been reported that in some cases, the relief camps were organized near graveyards, and some victims even had to sleep between graves.While the plight of Muslims in the country is such, BJP MP and current External Affairs Minister SushmaSwaraj has assured, on August 2, 2015, to help Hindus in Pakistan[26].

In a sting operation, Tehelka recorded a video where former Bajrang Dal leader Babubhai Patel, also known as Babu Bajrangi, said:

“We didn't spare a single Muslim shop, we set everything on fire … we hacked, burned, set on fire … we believe in setting them on fire because these bastards don't want to be cremated, they're afraid of it … I have just one last wish … let me be sentenced to death … I don't care if I'm hanged ... just give me two days before my hanging and I will go and have a field day in Juhapura where seven or eight lakhs [seven or eight hundred thousand] of these people stay ... I will finish them off … let a few more of them die ... at least 25,000 to 50,000 should die.[27]

In the video BabuBajrangi also claimed “that he had called the state Home Minister Gordhan Zadaphia and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad general secretary Jaideep Patel at the time, to inform them about the killings.” He has been given life imprisonment, but has been out on bail for more than 125 days, and was granted a bail six times—sometimes for niece’s wedding, sometimes for medical reasons—the last time on July 23, 2015.

The other person convicted for Gujarat 2002 was Maya Kodnani. She has been described by court rulings as ‘the kingpin of Naroda Patiya massacre.’ She has been given a sentence of 28 years in jail. The Gujarat government withdrew their appeal to seek death penalty for Kodnani. Here, so there is no misunderstanding, I would like to reiterate that even for criminals like Maya Kodnani and Babu Bajrangi, I vociferously oppose death penalty.

How can one expect closure of the Gujarat 2002 pogrom, when Himanshu Trivedi, who was a judge in the City Civil and Sessions Court from October 2002 to May 2003, in a recent facebook post came out saying that he quit judiciary because the State of Gujarat wanted the judges to act against the minority community?[28]

In the case of the Malegaon blasts of 2006, the initial suspicion was that Pakistan or Lashkar-e-Toiba or Jaish-e-Mohammed were involved in the blasts. Among those arrested were activists of Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). After Hemant Karkare’s investigation found that the initial Muslim men suspected were innocent, the case was handed over to National Investigative Agency (NIA). When it was found that the accused are no longer Maoists, Muslims, or does not fit a description which can be used to declare them a national enemy or ‘greatest internal security threat,’ the situation became complicated. Special Public Prosecutor Rohini Salian has come out saying that after the change in the central government, there has been more pressure to favour the accused.

In the case of the grenade attack on a Friday prayer gathering at the Ahle Hadees mosque in Peer Mitha on January 9, 2004, which had left two J&K officials dead and 19 injured, the Jammu police initially blamed Tehreek-ul Mujahideen, and arrested 108 people. As reported in an Indian Express article:

“Seven years later, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) had said Rajendra Chaudhary and Dhan Singh, arrested in connection with the 2007 Samjhauta Express attack and the 2008 Malegaon blasts, were behind the attack. In December 2012, an NIA team had questioned two youths from Kanachak in Jammu.

In the light of the NIA disclosures, a re-investigation was ordered, but it never took off because the J&K Police said that the original case file had been “stolen”...

As per the NIA, in a “disclosure statement”, Rajendra Chaudhary had said that in 2001 he had met Sunil Joshi, then a pracharak in Mhow, at Depalpur in Indore district of Madhya Pradesh...

“Dhan Singh told me he had come to the camp around two months ago. Sunilji left Jammu after dropping me there. We, three, stayed in that room at Purkhu camp for about three months… Patil showed us two hand grenades kept in his suitcase and asked us to explode them. Along with Dhan Singh and Patil, I went to the mosque at Peer Meetha (around 15 km from our place) by bus. They told me to wait at the local bus stop and went to the mosque. After hurling grenades (I heard the sound of explosion), they both came running to the bus stand. I later came to know that due to that explosion, two persons had been killed and a few injured. Along with Dhan Singh, I returned to Indore, leaving Patil in Jammu.[29]

This list can go on. There is no closure to the Babri Masjid case, despite the damning evidence provided by the Liberhan Commission report; no closure for the victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots; no closure for the victims of the Kunan Poshpora in Kashmir, where according to human rights organizations like HRW about 100 women were gang raped by Indian army personnel; no closure for the Sopore massacre in Kashmir, where Indian army killed 55 civilians, and according to conservative estimates of the government 250 shops and 50 houses were burnt and so on.

The duplicity of the liberal defenders of Modi, BJP and Sanghparivar in general is pathetic. When one raise the question of Gujarat 2002, one is repeatedly accused of being stuck in the past, yet the Sangh Parivar go back thousands of years and search in mythical stories about temples built in particular places. There is a myth going around that Modi has been given a clean chit; well not exactly, as an article in India Resist points out[30]. How can you expect justice, when the perpetrators of Gujarat 2002 pogrom go unpunished, while Teesta Setalvad, whose untiring efforts have helped bring justice to the survivors of the pogrom, is being hounded?

There is another charge that activists only bring up the case of abolition of death penalty when a Muslim man is on death row. That is patently false. As I have mentioned before, I would be opposed to death penalty for Maya Kodnani, or even Henry Kissinger, who probably would be one of the biggest war criminals on earth if ever tried. Committed and principled activists have been fighting for the abolition of death penalty for a long time. We opposed the noose symbol in the Shahbagh movement; we have opposed the death sentence awarder to Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Morsi; the order of death penalty to 183 Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt; and now we are opposed to the death penalty of Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam.

Reaction from the political parties

The Congress did not even raise the issue of principled opposition to capital punishment. Given that Sonia Gandhi had earlier forgiven the killer of her husband, she had some moral capital to at least start up a conversation on the issue of mercy and against retributive justice. Although individual Congress leaders, like Digvijay Singh, opposed the hanging of Yakub, the party was largely silent.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) opposed the death penalty of Yakub Memon. Veteran CPI(M) leader Prakash Karat wrote in The Citizen, “Yakub Memon’s fate underlines the need for the abolition of the death penalty, a demand which the CPI(M) has been making.[31]” The hypocrisy of this statement is palpable. Let us remind ourselves that the West Bengal CPI(M) government had taken an active role in hanging Dhanajoy Chatterjee, with the Meera Bhattacharya—the wife of the then Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya—taking the lead role. As remarked upon earlier, new evidence has surfaced, which casts doubt on the role of Dhananjoy, and it might have been a wrongful execution. Upon the hanging of Afzal Guru, convicted for being involved in theparliament attack in 2001, SitaramYetchury, who is currently the General Secretary of CPI(M), had said “I think, the law of the land with all its provisions has finally been completed as far as the Afzal Guru case and the attack on the Indian Parliament is concerned. The issue which had been lingering for the past 11 years has finally completed its due course.[32]” Arundhati Roy noted then: “In a moment of rare unity the Nation, or at least its major political parties, the Congress, the BJP and the CPM came together as one (barring a few squabbles about ‘delay’ and ‘timing’) to celebrate the triumph of the Rule of Law.[33]” After the December 16 horrific incident of rape of a Delhi woman, Prakash Karat commented: “As per the present laws, capital punishment is prescribed for cases of murder and Supreme Court has defined it or interpreted it as the rarest of rare cases when death penalty can be given...of course, in the case of the brutal gangrape and murder of this young woman, that law would apply.[34]” Though, given what I noted earlier, CPI(M)’s deep historical commitment to fighting capital punishment is hard to find, I think it is a welcome development that at least now they have an official position of opposing death penalty as a legitimate means of punishment, and in the case of Yakub Memon had openly opposed it.

Conclusion

With the change in the central government, there is a process of Hinduization of institutions and society playing out, with a precipitous increase in communal disharmony. There is a spate of activity of “shuddhikaran”, “gharwapsi”, attacks on churches all of which barely receive any comments from Prime Minister Modi. In a report, which came out marking the 100 days of Narendra Modi’s government, John Dayal notes that there have been more than 600 incidents of communal violence since the new BJP government came into power[35]. From declaring the Gita to be the national book, to making political appointments of people with ties to the Sangh Parivar, the current BJP government—when not actively stoking communal tension—conveniently turns a blind eye to the atrocities. While we should take a principled position, not only questions of capital punishment, but also on questions of terrorism, and condemn the attack on innocent civilians, whether the victim is in India or a blogger in Bangladesh, we cannot forget that our main battle remains in our own country where we are based. We condemn horrific attacks everywhere else, and write statements of solidarity to groups fighting extremism and bigotry, but our task is to organize on the ground where we are based. It is important for us to fight islamophobia, because it is an important tool at the hands of Hindutva forces, which it will, as it has done in the past, use cynically to gain political power at the cost of innocent human lives from either sides of the religious line.

 



[1]Bidwai, Praful. (June 23, 2002.) ‘Missile Man’ as India’s President. Retrieved from http://original.antiwar.com/bidwai/2002/06/22/missile-man-as-indias-president/ (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[2] Deb, Swati. (July 29, 2015.) Post-Godhra riots, BJP used APJ Abdul Kalam's presidency to counter 'anti-Muslim' perception. Retrieved from http://www.firstpost.com/politics/post-godhra-riots-bjp-used-abdul-kalams-presidency-to-counter-anti-muslim-image-2368292.html (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[3]Shashi Tharoor in the wake of Kalam’s death tweeted “Abdul Kalam ignited minds, inspired young people, & embodied the potential in every Indian. A Muslim steeped in Hindu culture, a complete Indian.” A specific test of nationality for Muslims in India is their acceptance of Hindu culture, otherwise a Muslim makes an incomplete Indian. https://twitter.com/ShashiTharoor/status/625715457908051972 (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[4] (August 1, 2015.) Those mourning YakubMemon are anti-national, should go to Pakistan, says SakshiMaharaj. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/those-mourning-yakub-memon-are-anti-national-should-go-to-pakistan-sakshi-maharaj/ (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[5] (July 30, 2015.) Sethi, Manisha. Why YakubMemon's hanging should have been telecast live. Retrieved from http://www.catchnews.com/india-news/why-yakub-memon-s-hanging-should-have-been-telecast-live-1438261849.html (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[6] (July 31, 2015.) YakubMemon Hanging: In quiet grief, hundreds turn up, crowd chorus is naarebazinahin. The Indian Express. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/in-quiet-grief-hundreds-turn-up-crowd-chorus-is-naarebazi-nahin/ (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[7] (August 1, 2015) Thousands bid farewell to Memon; Media blacks out funeral after gag order. Caravan report. http://caravandaily.com/portal/thousands-bid-farewell-to-memon-media-blacks-out-funeral-after-gag-order/ (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[8] (July 31, 2015.) Thaver, Mohamed. Mourners wished to see YakubMemon’s face, police said no. The Indian Express. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/yakub-memon-hanging-mourners-wished-to-see-his-face-police-said-no/ (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[9] (July 31, 2015) Many YakubMemon Mourners Are Potential Terrorists: Tripura Governor. Tehelka Web Desk. http://www.tehelka.com/2015/07/many-who-attend-yakubs-funeral-are-potential-terrorists-tripura-governor/ (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[10] (July 30, 2015.) Execution of YakubMemon cruel and inhuman. Amnesty International India. https://www.amnesty.org.in/show/news/execution-of-yakub-memon-cruel-and-inhuman/  (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[11] (July 29, 2015.) Samar. Never Forget, Never Forgive Us YakubMemon. Countercurrents. http://www.countercurrents.org/samar290715.htm (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[12] (July 30, 2015.) Sethi, Manisha. Why YakubMemon's hanging should have been telecast live. Retrieved from http://www.catchnews.com/india-news/why-yakub-memon-s-hanging-should-have-been-telecast-live-1438261849.html (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[13]Bhupesh, N. K. Death By Collective Conscience. Tehelka. http://www.tehelka.com/2015/07/death-by-collective-conscience/ (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[14] (July 29, 2015.) Sethi, Manisha. TADA Is Dead, Will Memon Live? Countercurrents. http://www.countercurrents.org/sethi290715.htm (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[15] (July 30, 2015.) Tharoor, Shashi. Hanging YakubMemon Makes Us Murderers Too. Retrieved from http://www.ndtv.com/opinion/hanging-yakub-memon-makes-us-murderers-too-1202042?fb (Last accessed on August 6, 2015) 

[16] (July 13, 2015.) Bahl, Megha and Purkayastha, Sharmila. The Murderers of DhananjoyHazirHo! Abolish Death Penalty. People’s Union for Democratic Rights. http://www.pudr.org/?q=content%2Fmurderers-dhananjoy-hazir-ho-abolish-death-penalty (Last accessed on August 6, 2015)

[17]Quotes are from (August 15 - 28, 1998) Padmanabhan, R. The Shiv Sena indicted. Frontline. http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl1517/15170200.htm (Last accessed August 7, 2015.)

[18] (Srikrishna Commission Report, Volume I, Chapter II, 1.15) Quoted from (July 29, 2015.) Sukumaran, C. V. An Open Letter ToYakub Memon. Countercurrents. http://www.countercurrents.org/sukumaran290715.htm(Last accessed August 7, 2015.)

[19] (July 23, 2015.) There Is More To The Mumbai Violence Than YakubMemon. The Citizen. http://www.thecitizen.in/NewsDetail.aspx?Id=4485&There%2FIs%2FMore%2FTo%2FThe%2FMumbai%2FViolence%2FThan%2FYakub%2FMemon(Last accessed August 7, 2015.)

[20]The portion on Gujarat riots of 2002 heavily borrows from an article that I wrote for Socialist Worker. (April 15, 2013.) Doinyo, Kolponashokti-r and Wells, Dia B. Confronting a Hindu fascist. Socialist Workerhttp://socialistworker.org/2013/04/15/confronting-hindu-fascist (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[21] Sarkar, Tanika. Semiotics of terror: Muslim children and women in Hindu Rashtra. Economic and political weekly (2002): 2872-2876.

[22] (May 1, 2002.) India: Gujarat Officials Took Part in Anti-Muslim Violence. Human Rights Watch. http://www.hrw.org/news/2002/04/29/india-gujarat-officials-took-part-anti-muslim-violence (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[23] (June 01, 2004.) Nussbaum, Martha C. Body of the Nation--Why women were mutilated in Gujarat. Boston Review. http://www.bostonreview.net/martha-nussbaum-women-mutilated-gujarat(Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[24] (April 2002) "We Have No Orders to Save You" State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat. Human Rights Watch.http://www.hrw.org/reports/2002/india/gujarat.pdf(Last accessed on August 7, 2015.)

[25] (March 1, 2012.) Jose, Vinod K. The Emperor Uncrowned. The Caravan Magazine. http://www.caravanmagazine.in/reportage/emperor-uncrowned (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[26] (August 2, 2015.) SushmaSwaraj assures help to Pakistani Hindus. The Indian Express. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/sushma-swaraj-assures-welfare-of-pakistani-hindus/ (Last accessed August 7, 2015.)

[27]The transcript is from an article published in The Citizen. (July 31, 2015.) Memon's Execution Focuses Spotlight on Gujarat's NarodaPatiya. The Citizen. http://www.thecitizen.in/NewsDetail.aspx?Id=4589&MEMON%E2%80%99S%2FEXECUTION%2FFOCUSES%2FSPOTLIGHT%2FON%2FGUJARAT%E2%80%99S%2FNARODA%2FPATIYA%2FCONVICTS (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

The video for the sting operation can be found here: Compelling Evidence proves - Narendra Modi Ordered Gujarat Riots 2002. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFZBNUnG5pI

[28] (August 4, 2015.) Former Gujarat Judge Says He Quit Over Government’s Anti-Muslim Bias. The Wire. http://thewire.in/2015/08/04/former-gujarat-judge-says-he-quit-judiciary-over-governments-anti-muslim-bias-7822/?utm_content=buffer747f5&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[29] (July 27, 2015.) 2004 J&K mosque attack: A file goes missing, trail cold in attack by ‘Hindu extremists’. http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/2004-jk-mosque-attack-a-file-goes-missing-trail-cold-in-attack-by-hindu-extremists/ (Last accessed August 7, 2015.)

[30] (August 5, 2015.) Did the SIT give clean chit to Modi? The answer is a big NO, here is why. India Resists. http://www.indiaresists.com/did-the-sit-give-clean-chit-to-modi-the-answer-is-a-big-no-here-is-why/ (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[31] (July 30, 2015.) Karat, Prakash. YakubMemon: Miscarriage of Justice. The Citizen. http://www.thecitizen.in/NewsDetail.aspx?Id=4567&YAKUB%2FMEMON%3A%2F%2FMISCARRIAGE%2FOF%2FJUSTICE (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[32] (February 10, 2013.) Afzal Guru hanging: voice of affirmation across political spectrum. The Hindu. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/afzal-guru-hanging-voice-of-affirmation-across-political-spectrum/article4397059.ece(Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[33] (February 11, 2013.) Roy, Arundhati. A perfect day for democracy. The Hindu. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/a-perfect-day-for-democracy/article4397705.ece (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[34] (January 05, 2013) CPM favours jail for life, not death for rapists: Karat. CNN IBN. http://www.ibnlive.com/news/others/oscars-2015-jk-simmons-wins-best-supporting-actor-for-whiplash-530064.html (Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

[35] (September 28, 2014.) India: 100 days Under the Modi Led Government: State of Minorities - A Report. South Asia Citizens Web. http://www.sacw.net/article9648.html(Last accessed August 8, 2015.)

CORBYN: A REMARKABLE CAMPAIGN

CORBYN: A REMARKABLE CAMPAIGN

The Corbyn campaign is a remarkable phenomenon. He actually stands a very good chance of winning the Labour leadership unless the Labour establishment can turn around the tide over the next six weeks.

As things stand, however, the tide remains with him. The Labour leadership are like rabbits in the headlights. Large numbers of people, young people in particular, are joining his campaign and people are flocking to his rallies and campaign events. Many are signing up to Labour as registered supporters or as affiliated supporters through their unions (According to Labour List in late June the figures were registered supporters: 9,115, affiliated supporters: 3,788 while the number of full members has also grown significantly since the general election. )

The support from inside major trade unions for Corbyn’s candidacy has been extraordinary.

Labour has always been different from many of its fellow social democratic parties in having the direct affiliation of trade unions. Fourteen unions are affiliated and historically they have tended to act as a force against the left and to support the leadership establishment of the party. But the two largest trade unions affiliated to the party – Unite and Unison – have now both endorsed Corbyn.

Unite, led by Len McCluskey, was not a particular surprise as the union had been following a more left wing line in recent years, but the nomination of Corbyn by Unison is a major change in the situation. Unison is a major public sector union that has talked a lot against austerity and cuts to benefits and services, but has rarely organised action. At one time in the recent past Unison had the largest affiliated membership of the Labour Party and over one third of its million plus members are on its ‘Labour Link’ mailing list. A consultation exercise over the leadership election of Unison’s 12 regions showed that nine of them wanted Corbyn nominating.

The Communication Workers Union is also a major national union with over 200,000 members. It not only nominated Corbyn, but General Secretary, Dave Ward, took to YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_b3Vh-EkSg&feature=youtu.be) to motivate its members to register to vote for Corbyn on the grounds of his policies and to signal a move to the left and against austerity in the party.

Corbyn also has the nominations of several smaller unions, such as the Bakers Union, transport union the TSSA and train drivers union ASLEF, while the other large affiliate, the general union GMB, has declined to nominate any of the four candidates – a blow for the right.

Following the Collins’ review of 2014, trade unions no longer have the say they used to have in the Labour leadership election, but any member of an affiliated Corbyn also has the nominations of several smaller unions, such as the Bakers Union, transport union the TSSA and train drivers union ASLEF, while the other large affiliate, the general union GMB, has declined to nominate any of the four candidates – a blow for the right.

As we near the closing date for supporting nominations, Corbyn also has a massive lead in nominations over his rivals from local party branches (Constituency Labour Parties – CLPs) with over 130 nominations (from 600+) compared to around 100 for other challengers.

Corbyn’s campaign has made major inroads into three areas – traditional party members organised in constituencies, affiliated trade unionists and new, overwhelmingly young, members and supporters of the party. This is a profoundly radicalising development, whichever way the vote goes.

If Corbyn wins and sets off in an anti-austerity direction major new possibilities will open up including a probable split by the Blairites. If he loses he will have encouraged and radicalised a lot of young people and trade union activists, strengthened the left in the Labour Party, and exerted leftward pressure on whoever does win.

Tony Benn failed to win the deputy leadership of the Labour Party in 1981 (albeit by a tiny margin) after a massive campaign with a big and vibrant Labour Left and a large and militant trade union movement in a period of industrial militancy. Now Corbyn is on the cusp of winning the Labour leadership with a (more or less) non-existent organised Labour left, a very weak trade union movement and historically low strike levels.

Some of the factors involved are clear. Labour lost an election that it clearly could and should have won—and the reason it lost was because it tail ended the Tory cuts agenda. This was followed by Harriet Harman’s appalling decision not to oppose Osborne’s budget (which ended up with her position outflanked to the left by the Lib Dems and unionist parties). All the other contenders for the Labour Leadership not only supported her in that but further collapsed into the Tory agenda by toeing the line that Labour had lost the election because the campaign had been too far to the left and that the progressive policies that it did adopt should now be dropped.

Conviction politics is playing a role in this. People inside the Labour Party and outside find it a breath of fresh air to find someone in the Labour leadership contest who says what they mean and means what they says in a non-egotistic way.

Corbyn rally in Bristol

Corbyn rally in Bristol

It is also clear that Scottish politics are also a part of this development, not just the radicalising influence of the independence referendum, and the rise of the SNP, but also the role of the SNP MPs in Parliament since the election. They have been in effect the real opposition for the Tories as shown in the vote against benefit cuts where the SNP’s 55 votes outnumbered the votes of 47 Labour MPs, led by Corbyn, who defied the leadership.

The recent ‘maiden’ speech in parliament by new SNP MP Mhairi Black, at 20 years of age the youngest MP for centuries, challenged Labour to oppose the Tory benefit cuts and declared Tony Benn one of her heroes. The YouTube video of that speech became one of the most watched parliamentary speeches in Britain ever, as it clocked up millions of hits online, many from young people.

A few months ago it seemed unlikely that Corbyn would even get on the ballot paper. He only secured the necessary 35 nominations of MPs with two minutes to spare and after a number of right wing MPs agreed to nominate him, ostensibly to give the opportunity for Andy Burnham to appear as a middle-of-the-road candidate rather than the most leftwing person in the race.

Of Corbyn’s nominators only 18 followed him in voting against the benefit cuts. The gulf between the parliamentary party and the base of the membership in the trade unions and the party at large is massive. A Corbyn leadership would struggle to fill the Shadow Cabinet meeting room with his handful of MP supporters and there is a danger that he would become a hostage to the parliamentary party if he did not organise more extensively his supporters in the party at large.

While the left in the Labour Party have created a strong united challenge, the right wing is in disarray, with allegations against each other descending into puerile abuse such as calling each other ‘morons’ in public. Right wing MPs are openly talking about a ‘coup’, overturning a Corbyn leadership by the parliamentary party alone, or even a split modelled on the creation of the short-lived Social Democratic Party (SDP) of the 1980s (not a glorious example to emulate).

This is not to say that everything Jeremy Corbyn is saying is right. He seems to have nothing to say on the environment or on electoral reform—which are massive issues since the last election.

A Corbyn victory, however, or indeed a close second, would be a victory for the whole of the left. It would open up the political situation in Britain and radicalise a lot of people—particularly young people. Whether it split the Labour Party or not it would create completely new conditions for anti-austerity politics in England.

Left Unity has rightly welcomed Corbyn’s campaign from the beginning understanding its significance and its progressive dynamic.

The conditions for the creation of a new left wing alternative in Britain exist now more than ever. A key task of the coming period will be to unite all those forces that believe in challenging austerity, climate change and resisting the Tory government and its implementation of the neo-liberal consensus. A change in the Labour Party leadership would have a massive effect, but in order to become really significant and sustainable it also needs to reach out and link up with the millions of people who voted Green or SNP or Plaid Cymru (or the smaller socialist groups) in the general election, those who support Left Unity and especially the millions of young people resisting austerity.

The struggle against the effects of climate change and for solidarity

The struggle against the effects of climate change and for solidarity

Badrul Alam, Pierre Rousset

 

Badrul Alam, a representative of the BKF-BKS movement in Bangladesh, was in France in June 2015 and was interviewed by Pierre Rousset.

(from http://internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article4153) 

 

You came to France at the invitation of the Confederation paysanne to participate in the mobilization in Amiens on June 17, in defence of peasant activists on trial for their action against the “farm of a thousand cows”.

 

We wanted to affirm an international solidarity with the Confederation and its members dragged before the courts for a struggle - in the face of giant industrial farms - which we fully support. Like the Confederation, we are a member of La Via Campesina. I represented in Amiens our twin associations, the BKF-BKS comprising some two million peasants in Bangladesh, half men (in the BKF) and half women (in the BKS). Having two parallel organizations has facilitated the integration of peasant women, it being understood that the husbands cannot join the BKF unless they accept that their wives should do the same with the BKS. Agro-industry imposes its law at the international level and it is very important that our solidarity is stated at this level. Via Campesina has sections both in the North (as in France) and the South (as in Bangladesh).

 

Before Amiens, you participated, in Montreuil, in the international meeting preparing the actions during the conference on climate change to be held in Paris next December.

 

We do not trust the governments and global institutions to curb global warming. However, Bangladesh is one of the countries most immediately affected by the effects of global warming. It is situated on a flat and low delta, at the confluence of the Jamuna (Ganges), Padma (Brahmaputra) and Meghna rivers. It is a region with very fertile soils through the deposits of alluvium, but threatened by floods: the major part of the territory is at least 12 meters in height – of which 10% is located below sea level, under the protection of dykes. In addition, the population density is especially high: we are the 94th biggest country by surface, but the 8th biggest by population. By and large we have a population density more than twice that of the Netherlands - for a population of approximately 160 million! So any rise in the ocean level and any extreme climatic phenomenon has dramatic consequences. We are truly on the front line in terms of climate!

 

To the overall effects of the contemporary capitalist mode of development on climate change, we must add its local effects. Let us take the example of the large-scale production, in the south-west of Bangladesh, of shrimp destined, inter alia, to the European market. The dikes in the polders have been opened and the very rich land where poor peasants were working has been drowned under sea water to create pools for breeding.

 

In the short term, the villagers have benefited from an attractive income through aquaculture; but this industry has destroyed coastal vegetation (mangroves and so on) as well as the biodiversity which was a refuge and a natural protection against the assaults of the ocean. It caused salinization of surrounding lands and their desertification, rendering it unfit for cultivation. As for the shrimp, they are now victims of infectious diseases. The “market” doesn’t care: if necessary, capital will bring destruction elsewhere. But the local population is sunk into poverty.

 

This problem is in fact not recent, it dates back to the early 1990s. In a region where shrimp aquaculture has been developed, nine villages resisted, under the impetus of a woman who was murdered by the police. These villages have become an island of greenery, biodiversity, an example of food sovereignty, a living condemnation of the agro-industry. It is this type of struggle in which we are engaged for the defence of the peasantry, but also precarious workers, street vendors and the urban poor or indigenous peoples (Adivasis).

 

We have provided aid to the textile workers who were victims of the collapse in Dhaka of the Rana Plaza industrial building in 2013 (aid to the hospitalized first, and then the purchase of sewing machines for women workers with lifetime disabilities), or to villages affected by floods or exceptional cold in the north. We have been able to carry out these actions, particularly thanks to the financial assistance that the association Europe solidaire sans frontières (in France) has been able to send us. Aid to the victims of humanitarian disaster - industrial, climatic - has become more and more a part of the tasks of the BKF-BKS.

 

As in many other countries of the South, we are also helping occupations of land left in fallow by big landowners (or whose ownership is disputed). A special feature in Bangladesh is that these lands occupied by the poor peasants are often big strips of sands appearing in the meanders of the rivers and can change location with time.

 

Can you tell us about the “caravans” that you have organized in the past few years?

 

For four years, we have organized Caravans for climate justice, food sovereignty and the rights of women, gender equality, in order to emphasize the interaction between all these areas. On November 14, 2014, the caravan first went through a good part of Bangladesh before travelling to India, and then back up to Nepal to participate in a regional people’s summit. Our caravans have always included foreign delegations from, in particular, other Asian countries (India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Indonesia and the Philippines), but also Europe and elsewhere (this year the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, the United States and Australia). We have expanded our links including through participation in the sessions of the International Institute for Research and Education (IIRE) in Manila, in the Philippines.

 

At each of the twelve stages of our caravan, we organize debates and seminars with the local population, so as to multiply exchanges and awareness of the importance of climate change issues and the role played by agro-industry, such as the dissemination of GMOs. We have promoted local varieties of seeds and smallholder agriculture, studied the use of solar energy (and other sources of renewable energy), fertilizers and organic pesticides, or the organic production of pineapples and taken into account the claims of agricultural labourers. In Calcutta, in India, we have met with associations of the urban poor. In Katmandu, Nepal, the movements met to present their alternatives and responses to the climate crisis.

 

Over the exchanges, our common problems have emerged, faced with the hoarding of land in the hands of the rich, the consequences of the industrialization of agriculture, indebtedness, sexual discrimination (with particularly the double working day, in the fields and at home), the disruption of the climate.

 

Being in India and Nepal was particularly important. There is a growing cooperation, under the current Prime Minister of India, Modi, between the ruling circles in India and Bangladesh. There is a need to strengthen the cooperation of the popular movements and, in particular, between member associations of La Via Campesina. In addition, the border between our two countries is the subject of tensions, exacerbated by migration due to climate disorder; we must combat the rise of xenophobia, reinforce feelings of solidarity, the belief that we must unite in the face of adversity. To do this, we must meet.

 

We are confronted by a hardening of regimes that restrict freedom of movement. Thus, a visa has been required by the Indian authorities of Bangladeshis to let them go to Nepal, which was not possible and some of the members of the Caravan were not able to participate in the final stage. It was a great frustration, after such a path!

 

We will not organize the next caravan this year, but in 2016. We have also proposed a mobilization against the construction of a nuclear power plant planned by the government in collaboration with Russia.

 

In all these areas, the coordination of popular movements at the international level is we believe essential.

 

Pierre Rousset

Pierre Rousset is a member of the leadership of the Fourth International particularly involved in solidarity with Asia. He is a member of the NPA in France.

Badrul Alam

Badrul Alam is President of the Bangladesh Krishak Federation.

The US Elections and the Sanders Campaign

The US Elections and the Sanders Campaign


Introduction


Something unusual is happening in the United States of America. Bernie Sanders, a US Senator, who calls himself a Socialist, is campaigning to be nominated as the Democratic Party candidate for the next US Presidential election. The Democratic Party is one of the two parties of the US imperialist bourgeoisie. In the 19th century, it had a big pro-slavery wing, so that the Republicans under Lincoln appeared as the more progressive party. In the twentieth century, especially since Franklin Roosevelt and the “New Deal”, the Democrats have presented themselves as the party of the left, usually getting some kind of support from the CPUSA, even though this party has been an equal partner in all the imperialist wars and internal reactionary policies. 

From the 1980s, there have been movements that have argued that it is possible to “recapture’ the Democratic Party from the “plutocrats” or the “right”, and give it back to the people. Reverend Jesse Jackson organised his “Rainbow Coalition”. And there was even a great elation when Obama was elected president. But the Sanders campaign goes beyond that, while remaining wedded to that strategy. Sanders, after all, calls himself a socialist. In the USA, this was unheard of. And he has some support among the union bureaucracy, not so much that he could become a real force, but enough to give his campaigners delusions of grandeur. 


In reality, the politics of Sanders is not very radical. But the campaign clearly aims to mobilize and at the same time take out the fangs of the revived popular movements of the last few years, by getting people lined up behind the Democratic Party instead of for independent political action, not just electoral action, but also militant mass movements. Yet, even in India, there have appeared comments hailing Sanders. Sanders has been equated with Jeremy Corbyn and his challenge to the Blairite labour leaders in UK. We do not wish to bring in the British issue, but only to remark that in one case there is an actual labour party, which of course, ever since Neil Kinnock, has been moving against workers, where a challenge has been mounted to take it back to a leftward stance; while in the other case, Sanders is committed to remaining in the imperialist bourgeois party, and even, in advance, to supporting Clinton (or another Democrat) if (really, when) he loses in the primaries. Indeed, Jill Stein, declaring she will run again on the Green Party ticket, is seeking to tap into the left vote that she hopes will be disgusted when Sanders will endorse the mainstream Democratic candidate. Nor is it just a matter of some formal adherence to Democratic Party structures. In the ongoing mass movements, Sanders has a track record that is much questioned. Notably, in the anti-racist campaign Black Lives Matter, Sanders has a poor record. Asked about his views on Baltimore, where White racists used great violence, Sanders responded by saying that “It's primarily a local and state issue”, and went on to talk about job creation. It would be like a supposed communist in India, being asked about increasing violence on Dalits, including regular murders, was to respond by talking about further steps to implement the reservation of jobs, ignoring the killings because that is a state not a centre issue. 


We publish below, four articles of four US organisations – Solidarity, International Socialist Organisation, Socialist Alternative, and Socialist Action, with different views on how to respond to the Sanders campaign and the popular enthusiasm it has been generating. 


Radical Socialist


 

Connecting Sanders’ Audience’s Aspirations to Clear Working Class Political Alternatives

Sunday 2 August 2015, by Traven and Joanna (from Against the Current)


The following document was discussed at Solidarity’s 2015 Convention last weekend and approved by a majority vote, with the addendum that our organization also has many members engaged in the Green Party and that we support their work and the Jill Stein campaign. This resolution is intended to outline an approach to the Sanders campaign and his supporters, and not as an evaluation as Sanders himself or his political views.


Solidarity understands the strategic imperative of organizing a mass base for independent working class political action that unites working people, the independent social movements, and organizations of the oppressed in a battle for their common interests against capitalism and its political representatives. Unlike those on the left who continue to see the Democratic Party as a lesser evil that can be influenced from within, we regard the Democratic Party as unreformable, committed to imposing capital’s neoliberal project. History has shown all too many times that the Democratic Party remains the graveyard of social movements. We reject being drawn into the slippery slope of Democratic Party politics.


Nevertheless, any significant advance in independent working class politics requires a fracturing away of the Democratic Party’s mass base. As an austerity-first party, Democratic lesser-evilism has lost much of its allure. We strongly disagree with Bernie Sanders’ approach of running in the Democratic primary and his pledge to support the Party nominee. However, it would be a mistake for the left not to recognize the enormous significance and potential inherent in the millions of people rallying around his campaign looking to fight against corporate America and what they perceive as the highjacking of the democratic process. Despite Sanders running as a Democrat, we appreciate the significance of the mass support he is receiving for his basic message. It is the message of Occupy—the 99% versus the 1%—proving that eight years into the devastating recession and deepened neoliberal austerity presided over by the Obama administration it is very much alive and embedded in the consciousness of big layers of the US population. This is particularly true of young people who are just entering national electoral politics inspired by Sanders’ message.


We should welcome this outpouring of fight back spirit, and seek to work together on the issues they raise while emphasizing that a Democratic Party orientation is a dead end; and instead win them over to the need for independent politics and building movements that can change society. We urge Solidarity members, those we can influence, as well as other revolutionary socialists to find ways to connect with the millions of people who are being drawn to the Sanders campaign, most of whom will have no patience for the Democratic Party establishment, much less see themselves in an ongoing fight to take the leadership of the Party. This is a key audience to connect with and make inroads into if we are to accomplish any sort of breakthrough for independent left politics. Many Sanders supporters are already involved in, or can be won to, organizing ongoing independent anti-austerity and other social movements, to local independent electoral campaigns, and to the Green Party’s fledgling effort to build a national independent party/movement.


We are supportive of the rank and file rebellions within labor, such as the independent, grassroots Labor for Bernie formation, that are developing around this election. They provide an opportunity to discuss what program and objectives should drive labor’s political choices. The rebellion and disgust with bureaucrat driven, transactional, business as usual politics poses the need, and possibility, to build rank and file networks within labor that demand a real democratic process of endorsements, and that fight to hold the bureaucrats accountable to supporting only candidates that actually support union policies. Political endorsements will not "save" our unions or the working class. But a struggle over internal democracy inside our unions such as the one that has erupted in the AFT can build rank and file power.


Our job as socialists in the labor movement includes a strategy of fostering cracks in labor’s slavish alignment with the Democratic Party establishment. A fissure in terms of a Sanders endorsement is a good thing. We are not indifferent to this fight. A mass, independent working class party will not be created in this country without the activity of the labor militants who are supporting the Sanders campaign. This is also the milieu of labor activists that grasp the necessary task of building the political capacities of workers—something far beyond the scope of any electoral insurgency.


We should embrace movements and mobilizing efforts around specific demands that grow out of the Sanders campaign. There is now a call by young people activated by the campaign for a million student march on Washington this fall, building on Sanders’ call to make public universities and colleges tuition free.


We have yet to see the emergence of a large-scale challenge to austerity and a clear working class political alternative at the national level. An effective left politics, one that can win and implement a left program, requires an organizational infrastructure and political culture that does not exist right now. With a lack of ongoing, successful independent left politics, we have to contend with the reality that anger at the corporate control of politics reflects itself in vague populism and often within the Democratic Party.


We recognize that electoral initiatives like those of Kshama Sawant in Seattle, the late Chokwe Lumumba in Mississippi, the Vermont Progressive Party, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, United Working Families in Chicago, Howie Hawkins Green Party campaign, and others, while they have their limitations and problems, represent a challenge to the hold of the Democratic Party establishment. We support efforts to run pro-worker and labor candidates as independents or on the ballot line of non-corporate parties.


We are interested in working with people who are attracted to a campaign that warns that, “The best president in the history of the world …will not be able to address the major crises that we face unless there is a mass political movement, unless there’s a political revolution in this country.” We should emphasize Sanders’ call for building an ongoing movement beyond this election cycle. Yes, we do not expect the Sanders campaign itself to build lasting grassroots organization. The ball is in our, broadly defined, court. We should seize this potential organizing opportunity, reaching out to people excited by the Sanders campaign with the message, “Let’s not waste this moment where folks are coming together around an anti-corporate, anti-austerity program by ending with the whimper of voting for Hillary and calling it a day. Let’s build up our power.” The tragedy would not be so much people pulling the lever for Clinton, but dissipating and disbanding this mass outcry, having nothing to show for our bottom up efforts.


Jesse Jackson, despite winning 8 million votes in 1988, chose to demobilize the ostensibly independent Rainbow Coalition organization after losing the Democratic nomination so no ongoing coalition went on to continue working around issues of economic and racial justice after the campaign ended. This time, the left should urge Sanders supporters to keep the fight going through joining anti-austerity struggles, social movements or building local, multi-racial coalitions, including independent electoral infrastructures, that live on well after the presidential campaign.


We agree with Howie Hawkins when he says: “We should talk about why independent politics is the best way to build progressive power, about the Democratic Party as the historic graveyard of progressive movements, and about the need in 2016 for a progressive alternative when Sanders folds and endorses Clinton. I don’t expect many will be persuaded to quit the Sanders campaign before the primaries. But I do expect that many of them will want a Plan B, a progressive alternative to Clinton, after the primaries.”

July 29, 2015


What should the left say about Sanders?

May 20, 2015 (From Socialist Worker – online edition)


Promising a "political revolution" against the "billionaires and oligarchs" who have hijacked the political system, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has launched a campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. The announcement generated a lot of enthusiasm--and a lot of debate about the character of the Sanders campaign and how the left should relate to it.

SocialistWorker.org's publisher, the International Socialist Organization, agreed to an exchange of views on the Sanders campaign. Below, we present commentaries by Todd Chretien, writing for the ISO, and Philip Locker, writing for Socialist Alternative. For expanded articles from the two groups, see "The problem with Bernie Sanders" by Ashley Smith for the ISO and "Bernie Sanders calls for political revolution against billionaires" by Philip Locker.


Todd Chretien

For the International Socialist Organization


BERNIE SANDERS' campaign will stand out from the status quo of U.S. politics. He has promised to support a trillion-dollar green jobs program for renewable energy. He defends Social Security and advocates for a single-payer health system. Faced with an intramural battle between the Clinton and Bush wings of the 1 Percent, he calls for a "political revolution." On top of that, he identifies himself as a socialist and says his hero is Eugene V. Debs. It's no wonder many people on the left are excited.


But there's one way that Sanders' campaign doesn't stand out, and it's decisive for socialists. He is running for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, and he has ruled out in advance an independent campaign in 2016. "No matter what I do," he said earlier this year, "I will not be a spoiler. I will not play that role in helping to elect some right-wing Republican as president of the United States."


There is no reason socialists shouldn't take Sanders at his word. He promises to confine his "political revolution" to the role of loyal opposition within the Democratic Party, and to support Hillary Clinton if she rides her billion-dollar campaign to the nomination.


As Bruce Dixon, former Black Panther and Georgia Green Party chair, put it, Sanders will serve as the sheepdog for the Democratic Party--his bark may cause a stir, but his job is to bring discontented voters back into the Democratic flock.

This was the result of Dennis Kucinich's primary campaigns in the 2000s and Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition runs in the 1980s. The hopes of some on the left that, for example, the Rainbow Coalition would break with the Democrats were dashed when Jackson did exactly what Sanders is promising to do in 2016--endorse the mainstream Democrat who gets the nomination.


As a U.S. senator, Sanders calls himself an independent, not a Democrat--but his record should lead socialists to question that label. He caucuses with the Senate Democrats, and left-wing activists in Sanders' home state of Vermont are critical of his support for Democrats like budget-cutting Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin.


And like the increasingly neoliberal social democratic and labor parties in Europe on which Sanders models his socialism, he takes positions on critical questions that aren't radical at all. He voted in favor of the U.S. war on Afghanistan and the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, and, more recently, a Senate resolution supporting Israel's 2014 massacre in Gaza. Asked about the mass protests in Baltimore after the police murder of Freddie Gray, Sanders said that "being a cop is a hard job," before backing tame policy proposals that were no more radical than Hillary Clinton's.


Sanders' announcement comes amid widespread political discontent and the spread of young movements such as Black Lives Matter, Fight for 15, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in solidarity with Palestine, and more. Socialists have a responsibility to discuss the real record of the Democrats, including their liberal wing, with these new movements. We can't shy away from the hard lessons of past attempts to reform the Democratic Party.


Does that mean we are stuck on the sidelines? Not at all. The Sanders' campaign gives us an opportunity to debate socialist politics. If Sanders wants to bring movement and union activists into the Democratic Party through its left entrance, we should try to get them back out that door and into the streets. We can engage on political issues with People for Bernie groups and encourage them to take part in activism outside the electoral arena. And since Sanders' version of "revolution" doesn't challenge the boundaries of one of the richest capitalist parties in the world, we can introduce Debs' socialism to a new generation.


What socialists should not do is follow Sanders into the Democratic Party and organize for his primary campaign, even on a temporary basis. History teaches us that this will make it harder, not easier, to build an independent left-wing alternative to the two-party system.


As Kshama Sawant in Seattle and Howie Hawkins and Brian Jones in New York demonstrated with their independent campaigns, we don't have to wait to begin building that alternative. We can begin our discussion with Sanders supporters by stressing our common aims for radical change--but we have to tell it to them straight: To win that change, the left can't follow Sanders into a corporate party, but must help organize the new movements, while building an independent political challenge outside the Democratic Party.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Philip Locker

For Socialist Alternative


Bernie Sanders' campaign has a fundamental built-in contradiction. On the one side, it stands out as a credible national presidential campaign, giving voice to the seething anger against inequality and the war on working people. Despite significant shortcomings--for example, his failure to speak out clearly in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and his support for key aspects of U.S. foreign policy--his platform has the potential to mobilize hundreds of thousands against corporate politics.

On the other side, Sanders has decided not to run independently, as we have consistently argued he should. Limiting his campaign to the corporate-dominated Democratic Party primaries--that he will not win--is a dead end for building the kind of powerful grassroots movement that is needed. Calling on people to mobilize against Wall Street and at the same time saying you will support the eventual corporate-endorsed Democratic nominee, is like trying to start a fire and announcing your intention to pour water on it as soon as it really heats up.


But Sanders' inspiration to hundreds of thousands could lay the basis--and provide the experience--for many people to leave the orbit of the Democratic Party. Socialists can play a key role in this process by intervening in a skillful but determined way.

For those moving into action around Sanders' campaign, we can provide the link to building mass movements and structures independent of the Democratic Party. We can make the case for a real challenge, arguing that Sanders should run all the way to November 2016 as an independent and, if he doesn't, striving to involve those attracted by Sanders' policies to support the strongest independent left campaign in the 2016 presidential election.


Some of Sanders' supporters have a conscious strategy of working within the Democratic party. But the majority are looking for a political alternative to big business politics.


If Sanders endorses the pro-business Democratic nominee, as is most likely, there will be a section of his supporters who will want to continue fighting and will split off to support the strongest independent left candidate for president. In 2004, when Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean endorsed the Democratic nominee, John Kerry, an important minority of their supporters ended up joining Ralph Nader's independent campaign.


Given the weakness of the forces for independent politics, Sanders' campaign is most likely to be the largest arena over the next year for discussion on fighting corporate politics, and will provide the largest audience for proponents of independent politics to build support.


By boldly intervening in the Sanders campaign--supporting its call for a determined fight against big business while arguing for independent politics--we can most effectively advance the project of independent politics under the current circumstances.

Socialist Alternative will at each stage politically explain the role of the Democratic party as a big business party and argue for building a movement that can create a real alternative for working class people. We will not help to sign people up for the Democratic Party. Instead, we will work with those drawn to Sanders' campaign to fight for $15, single-payer health care, and to take on the billionaire class.


Sanders' campaign will be an arena for debate on the role of the Democratic Party. Sanders believes his platform is compatible with working within the Democrats. We disagree. Many energized by Sanders have not yet thought this through fully, but are instead pragmatically looking to find a way to fight back. But the experience of Sanders' campaign could be part of the process of clarifying for tens of thousands the necessity of building a completely new political force for working people, especially if socialists are actively involved.


The real mistake for those who want to build an alternative to corporate politics is to abstain, or simply criticize from the sidelines. If we are absent from the Sanders campaign, the concrete effect will be to help to facilitate the corralling of Sanders' left-wing supporters behind the eventual Democratic nominee.


We need a correct political understanding and critique of Bernie Sanders politics. But we also need to actively engage with the genuine workers and youth being drawn to Sanders' campaign by his fierce denunciations of the political establishment. Socialists need to go through this experience with them, helping to speed up the process of drawing the conclusion that an independent political alternative to the Democrats is needed.



Bernie Sanders & oppositional criticism

Published June 21, 2015 | By Socialist Action

By JOE AUCIELLO


“… the oppositional criticism is nothing more than a safety valve for mass dissatisfaction, a condition of the stability of the social structure.” — Leon Trotsky in his preface to “The History of the Russian Revolution.”


In early June, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told a conference organized by Service Employees International Union members that she backed the $15-an-hour national minimum wage campaign. She praised the union activists and supporters “for marching in the streets to get a living wage” and added, “I want to be your champion. I want to fight with you every day.”


She didn’t really mean it, of course. Within 24 hours her campaign issued a clarification explaining that in general Clinton favors higher wages for low-income workers, but she does not specifically endorse the demand for a $15 hourly minimum. So, union members and activists heard their hoped-for message; big business and Democratic Party officials heard the more honest message.


Clinton’s cautious centrism permits her only a flirtation with leftist causes, thereby yielding the left-of-center space to another candidate. Thus, the stage is set for the entrance of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, whose campaign website boldly asks: “Ready to Start a Political Revolution?”


Sanders certainly intends to become the voice of “oppositional criticism” in the 2016 election. Thus far, the efforts of this sometime “socialist,” the independent in the Senate who typically votes with the Democrats, have been more successful than those of former Democratic governors Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.

Sanders has been drawing increasingly large crowds in the primary states for his campaign events, and in those states his poll levels are sharply rising. Clearly, Sanders is saying something different—which energizes Democratic and independent voters. The promise of radical change resonates with many whose lives have seen little benefit during the tepid years of the Obama administration.


At this stage in the primaries, the Sanders platform gives a public hearing to many progressive ideas. Most notably, the Sanders campaign directs a spotlight on the obscene levels of income inequality in America. Sanders speaks out for a national, single-payer health care system and pledges to pursue efforts to create sustainable energy to reduce global warming.

He would remove tuition fees from state colleges and universities. He supports the $15 minimum wage, argues for breaking up the mega-banks, and promotes a jobs package that would put people to work by rebuilding the highways and bridges that are deteriorating throughout America. These are reforms that, if enacted, would benefit the lives of millions. No wonder Sanders’ poll numbers have risen dramatically.


Still, Bernie Sanders is hardly an unknown. Given his “socialist-light” political history and voting record, which is virtually indistinguishable from that of a typical liberal Democrat and includes support to funding Israel and the war in Afghanistan, it is fair to ask: Is Sanders really the voice of dissent? Is he really the figure who can galvanize the poor, the working class, women, racial minorities, and youth to lead the political fightback that is so sorely needed?


Though audiences at rallies may be stirred by soaring speeches, high-flown words accomplish little. What’s more, a geyser of popular rhetoric tends to erupt every four years around election time.


A socialist writer has noted that while the Democrats proclaim themselves “as champions of the poor, their ‘soak the rich’ rhetoric is largely a misrepresentation. They and their Republican counterparts use such rhetoric only to appeal to voters. Both parties, over the last decade in particular, have rushed to find tax breaks for the rich and lower the real income of working people. Today even two-income families are having a difficult time paying for basic necessities.”


This observation was made 25 years ago. The article, written by Hayden Perry, was entitled: “Congress approves new budget: Higher taxes and fewer services,” which certainly has a present-day ring to it. Though it was published in the November 1990 issue of Socialist Action, it could be reprinted today with little change.


Bernie Sanders is this year’s model of the token “leftist” who will make oppositional criticism as a safety valve for mass dissatisfaction. His commitment to his causes appears real enough, but it goes no further than the margins of the Democratic Party. Those margins cannot and have never sustained a popular movement that would give real meaning to democracy.

Some fifteen years ago, Ralph Nader launched his bid as the Green Party candidate for the president of the United States. Although Socialist Action gave no support to the Green Party’s electoral campaigns, which only proposed reforms to capitalism, Nader at least argued with a boldness and insight thoroughly lacking in Bernie Sanders today. In his 2000 announcement speech, Nader said that the foundation of his efforts would be “to focus on active citizenship, to create fresh political movements that will displace the control of the Democratic and Republican parties, two apparently distinct political entities that feed at the same corporate trough. They are in fact simply the two heads of one political duopoly, the DemRep Party.”

How did Bernie Sanders, the socialist who asks if we are ready for revolution, respond to the Nader campaign? In his political memoir, Nader explains: “Bernie had told me that while he sympathized and agreed with our pro-democracy agenda, he could not come out officially for us. The reason was that his modus vivendi with the House Democrats would be ruptured and he would lose much of his influence, including a possible subcommittee chair” (“Crashing the Party,” pp. 125-126). Nader was discreet enough not to inquire about the actual results of Sanders’ supposed influence.


Little has changed. The fix is still in. The Democratic National Committee has essentially offered Sanders a simple deal in words approximately like these: “We’ll let you speak out and give you a place in the six Democratic primary debates if you affirm your place as a Democrat. You get to say whatever you want in the state primaries as long as you support whoever we want in the national election.”


It is not a very good deal, but it is the only one on offer, and though Sanders will haggle, pushing for more debates, he will accept what he is given. It’s what Bernie does. In fact, Sanders has built a career as the fighting socialist who takes a dive for the Democrats.


Sanders does not lead and does not intend to. He follows. His vision of the future is restricted to what has been made popular in the recent past. The ideas Sanders offers, the program of his campaign, go no further than the demands raised by the significant social struggles of the last several years: the Occupy movement and the environmental movement, especially.

The lesson for activists working for Sanders is quite clear: Do better work and be more effective by building social protest movements at the grassroots and national levels. The opportunities are many and varied. The Ferguson National Response Network is a good source of information for protest actions taking place in cities all across the United States. The approximately 100 organizations that attended the United National Antiwar Coalition conference would eagerly welcome new supporters.


Whether it is 15 Now, Black Lives Matter, local campaigns against nuclear power plants, struggles for environmental issues, women’s rights, and more, important causes need the time, energy, and money that is being poured into the Sanders for President Campaign.


The biggest flaw with Bernie Sanders is not his failure to condemn capitalism as a system and call for its overturn. It may even be asking too much to expect Sanders to fight for the structural reform of capitalism, to demand the nationalization of basic industries, as the British Labor Party did after World War II, in a platform that won a national election. The Sanders team will say the times are not right for such bold measures, that it is enough if Bernie only wants to soften some of the system’s worst excesses.


But the time has come—in fact, the time is long overdue—to show a new generation of activists just what the Democratic Party is and why it is necessary to move past it. Bernie Sanders fails to take that decisive step. His campaign by its very nature misleads activists by asserting that the Democratic Party is a fit instrument for the kind of social change that is needed to transform America.


A socialist who truly merits the term “independent” once said, “Capitalism rules and exploits the working people through its control of the government. … And capitalism controls the government through the medium of its class political parties. … The unconditional break away from capitalist politics and capitalist parties is the first act of socialist consciousness, and the first test of socialist seriousness and sincerity” (James P. Cannon, “Speeches for Socialism,” pp. 339-340, emphasis added).

Sanders has been compared to a “sheep-dog” who herds people into the Democratic Party. A better analogy might be drawn from the world of sports. In the preparation for a championship bout, boxers hire sparring partners to help them train and get into shape for the real match. That opponent is there to fight but not fight too much. Though putting on a lively show before losing, the sparring partner should not cause the real boxer any serious injury, much less draw blood.

This type of dynamic is underway now in the Democratic Party primaries. Bernie Sanders is primarily a sparring partner for Hillary Clinton.

 

We are supportive of the rank and file rebellions within labor, such as the independent, grassroots Labor for Bernie formation, that are developing around this election. They provide an opportunity to discuss what program and objectives should drive labor’s political choices. The rebellion and disgust with bureaucrat driven, transactional, business as usual politics poses the need, and possibility, to build rank and file networks within labor that demand a real democratic process of endorsements, and that fight to hold the bureaucrats accountable to supporting only candidates that actually support union policies. Political endorsements will not "save" our unions or the working class. But a struggle over internal democracy inside our unions such as the one that has erupted in the AFT can build rank and file power.


Our job as socialists in the labor movement includes a strategy of fostering cracks in labor’s slavish alignment with the Democratic Party establishment. A fissure in terms of a Sanders endorsement is a good thing. We are not indifferent to this fight. A mass, independent working class party will not be created in this country without the activity of the labor militants who are supporting the Sanders campaign. This is also the milieu of labor activists that grasp the necessary task of building the political capacities of workers—something far beyond the scope of any electoral insurgency.


We should embrace movements and mobilizing efforts around specific demands that grow out of the Sanders campaign. There is now a call by young people activated by the campaign for a million student march on Washington this fall, building on Sanders’ call to make public universities and colleges tuition free.


We have yet to see the emergence of a large-scale challenge to austerity and a clear working class political alternative at the national level. An effective left politics, one that can win and implement a left program, requires an organizational infrastructure and political culture that does not exist right now. With a lack of ongoing, successful independent left politics, we have to contend with the reality that anger at the corporate control of politics reflects itself in vague populism and often within the Democratic Party.


We recognize that electoral initiatives like those of Kshama Sawant in Seattle, the late Chokwe Lumumba in Mississippi, the Vermont Progressive Party, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, United Working Families in Chicago, Howie Hawkins Green Party campaign, and others, while they have their limitations and problems, represent a challenge to the hold of the Democratic Party establishment. We support efforts to run pro-worker and labor candidates as independents or on the ballot line of non-corporate parties.


We are interested in working with people who are attracted to a campaign that warns that, “The best president in the history of the world …will not be able to address the major crises that we face unless there is a mass political movement, unless there’s a political revolution in this country.” We should emphasize Sanders’ call for building an ongoing movement beyond this election cycle. Yes, we do not expect the Sanders campaign itself to build lasting grassroots organization. The ball is in our, broadly defined, court. We should seize this potential organizing opportunity, reaching out to people excited by the Sanders campaign with the message, “Let’s not waste this moment where folks are coming together around an anti-corporate, anti-austerity program by ending with the whimper of voting for Hillary and calling it a day. Let’s build up our power.” The tragedy would not be so much people pulling the lever for Clinton, but dissipating and disbanding this mass outcry, having nothing to show for our bottom up efforts.


Jesse Jackson, despite winning 8 million votes in 1988, chose to demobilize the ostensibly independent Rainbow Coalition organization after losing the Democratic nomination so no ongoing coalition went on to continue working around issues of economic and racial justice after the campaign ended. This time, the left should urge Sanders supporters to keep the fight going through joining anti-austerity struggles, social movements or building local, multi-racial coalitions, including independent electoral infrastructures, that live on well after the presidential campaign.


We agree with Howie Hawkins when he says: “We should talk about why independent politics is the best way to build progressive power, about the Democratic Party as the historic graveyard of progressive movements, and about the need in 2016 for a progressive alternative when Sanders folds and endorses Clinton. I don’t expect many will be persuaded to quit the Sanders campaign before the primaries. But I do expect that many of them will want a Plan B, a progressive alternative to Clinton, after the primaries.”

 

 

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