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USA: Manufacturing Bankruptcy – The assault on pensions



USA:
Manufacturing Bankruptcy – The assault on pensions


Against the Current


Pension theft: imported from Detroit? In giving the state-appointed Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr the green light to take the city into bankruptcy, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes’ December 3 ruling opens up a national offensive to loot public sector workers’ pension and health care benefits.


Within a week Forbes magazine, aimed at audiences who don’t rely on public sector pensions for their secure retirement, published an article proclaiming “a silver lining” to be found in the ruling. The author, Martin Fridson, believes this teaches public sector unions that it will be safer to negotiate 401(k)-type plans, which “belong” to the worker and would not figure into future municipal bankruptcies. He does not mention, of course, that such plans typically pay significantly less than the traditional defined-benefit pension plan.


The same day as Rhodes’ bankruptcy ruling, the Illinois legislature cut cost-of-living raises on that state’s plan. As in Michigan, Illinois public pension rights are guaranteed under the state constitution. No matter, according to Judge Rhodes’ ruling. They’re on the chopping block, along with all of Detroit’s material assets. The pillage is on. And the implications are staggering not only for Detroiters but nationally, as the Detroit bankruptcy ruling is considered to mark new legal precedents in previously uncharted legal territory.


To understand the politics behind Detroit’s manufactured bankruptcy, one has to unpack the essence of capitalism. It is capital’s expropriation of assets — land, nature’s resources and workers’ capacity to produce — that produces wealth. There’s also a clear policy of Michigan’s elites: After so many years of corporate downsizing and relocation, after so many years of renovating Detroit’s downtown at the expense of the neighborhoods, their “solution” is deepening austerity and abandonment for much of the city’s African-American, working-class majority.


Trending Downward


It used to be that 40% of all U.S. workers received pensions. Although corporations have cut that figure in half over the last 30 years, more than 80% of all public sector workers still have defined-benefit pensions. Studies have shown that these workers make less than private-sector workers, but in this era of neoliberalism, it’s the public sector workers who are on the hot seat.


The attack on pensions, which began in the corporate sector, is spreading now to a full assault on public workers. Teachers and other municipal workers are demonized as lazy and overpaid. Since proportionately more African Americans and women are public sector workers, the racism and sexism that infects our culture is an additional factor in viewing these workers as “undeserving.”


State pension funds currently top $2.6 trillion. In 15 of those states, public employees do not receive Social Security so they are entirely dependent on pensions and their own savings in their retirement. These include California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio and Texas. In Detroit, uniformed (fire and police) workers aren’t in the Social Security program.


When the economy heated up in the 1990s, states were advised that they didn’t need to contribute to the pension funds; high interest rates alone were enough. Since accounting standards for public sector pensions are lax, officials were able and delighted to act on that advice! Then, when the bubble burst, many states skipped their contributions as a way to balance their budgets.


As a result, two-thirds of state pensions are now considered underfunded, meaning that they do not have enough money to cover all the long-run claims of their work force. Supposedly Illinois is about 67% funded while New Jersey is at 33% and Massachusetts stands at 27%.


This underfunding, the result of bad advice by high-paid financial advisors and banks and indolence of state legislatures, also seems to be a convenient setup for the next stage of making working people pay. In April 2013 Moody’s, one of the biggest rating companies, changed the way they evaluate pension assets. Instead of using a formula to smooth out market price fluctuations over a three- to five-year span, they will only count the current market value.


Another important change that Moody’s instituted is to assume a yearly interest rate on investments of 4.5% rather than the 7-8% (admittedly, wildly overoptimistic in the post-2008 Great Recession climate, but historically reasonable) that had been used. In a recent article Dean Baker pointed out that over a 20-year period the difference would result in a 40% decline in value. (See Dean Baker’s “The Financial Health of Public Pensions,” 5/3/13 at http://www.cepr.net/index.php/blogs....)


Next Stage for Detroit


The pensions that the city owes to 30,000 retirees and the thousands of active city workers now have no greater standing than any other “unsecured” creditor. “Unsecured” means that there is no stream of revenue, such as a tax or fee, dedicated to paying the debt. Of course, city workers for decades have contributed a percentage of their earnings, and the city has put in money toward these funds. Currently the two city pension boards control more than $5 billion worth of investments. But in bankruptcy those funds are effectively up for grabs and their boards subject to dismissal by Emergency Manager Orr.


The bankruptcy process, Judge Rhodes ruled, will proceed without interruption. Next, Orr will develop a “plan of adjustment” by early 2014 and reopen negotiations with those “unsecured” creditors, including workers, who are expected to take a haircut. In reducing those obligations, Orr would supposedly free up that money to rebuild the city’s deteriorating infrastructure. However $62 million has already been spent to pay multiple “consultants” for their restructuring proposals, including Orr’s own former law firm Jones Day.


The big question for the shock-doctrine restructurers may be how far pensions can be cut for retired city workers — many of whom barely get by as it is — without running the risk of a political or social explosion. That may be an underlying reason why Rhodes announced that he would not necessarily rubberstamp Orr’s plan.


The suggestion Orr has floated is that pensions would be tiered, with some receiving close to their current payment (an average of $19,600 for city workers and $30,000 for police and fire). For the current work force, at least those who become “vested” with three years seniority, their retirement contributions would be transferred to individual 401(k)-type plans, with limited city contributions. These workers, who have already taken a 20% pay cut and contribute 20% to their health care benefits, would be free to add to their account — if they can afford it! — and could expect a retirement benefit between 25% and 50% of their pay.


What then might happen to the pension boards, which are made up of officials and elected union representatives? The Emergency Manager’s claim that the pensions are underfunded opens the door to seize and turn them over to the State Treasurer. According to the Emergency Manager law (PA 436) rushed through the legislature and signed by governor Rick Snyder — after a referendum vote in the November 2012 election voided the previous version, PA4 — if pension funds fall below 80% of the total obligation, the EM has the go-ahead to snatch them up. Since his appointment by the Governor in March 2013, Orr conveniently skipped the city’s 2013 contribution.


The police and fire pension board maintains that it is funded at 96%, while the city pension board’s funding stands at 78%. Orr asserts that both funds are significantly less healthy, and given that he used a different formula for evaluating the funds, it’s understandable how he came to such a dire conclusion. Yet one might wonder why long-term debt features so prominently in the discussion. After all, most homeowners have a longterm debt (their mortgage) but don’t count the total amount owed when they are figuring up their yearly cash flow.


The banks — who have stiffed the city with huge fees, variable interest rates and taken advantage of lowered bond ratings to jack up the interest, to say nothing of foreclosing on thousands of financially distressed Detroit homeowners — aren’t penalized to pay for their role in creating the mess. Quite the contrary, they’re first in line for repayment, under the pretext that their loans are properly “secured” through pledged tax revenues.


A Way Out?


Demos, a public policy think tank, released a report authored by Wallace Turbeville, who examined the city’s finances and concluded that its problem stems from a decline in revenue, not from obligations to the so-called legacy costs. He points out that the $18 billion debt that Orr maintains is the city’s albatross includes both “secured” debts — such as the $5.8 billion Water and Sewerage Department debt, which is covered by the fees charged to the three million users throughout southeastern Michigan — as well as pension and health care costs. He suggests these obligations are overstated and in any case irrelevant to solving the city’s cash flow problem.


Chapter 9 allows for municipal bankruptcy when it is unable to pay its debts as they come due. According to Orr’s bankruptcy filing, the deficit is $198 million for fiscal 2014.


Certainly with the city’s longterm decline in jobs and infrastructure, Detroit is continuing to lose population — a 53% decline in employment and a 25% population decline between 2000-12.


What has Michigan done to help its largest city? Since 2011 alone the state has cut $67 million a year in revenue sharing to Detroit. (About $24 million is the result of the decline in population, but that still leaves $43 million that the city should have received.) It has done nothing to make sure commuters who work in private sector jobs in Detroit pay non-resident income taxes, costing the city an estimated $30-45 million annually.


Both Democratic and Republican governors have taken over the school system, resulting in closing 200 schools, approving for-profit charters and driving the system into debt. Governor Snyder keeps telling Detroiters that he is only “trying to help” as he appoints Emergency Managers to both the city and the school system. At the same time, Snyder has enthusiastically supported Mike Ilitch’s proposed downtown sports arena, offering to contribute some $300 million in state funds.


Meanwhile, Detroit cut operating expenses by nearly 38% between 2008 and 2013 — mostly by laying off 2,350 workers, cutting pay and reducing benefits. Pension contributions were relatively flat during this period while healthcare contributions increased 3.25% per year, less than the national average of 4%. City workers protesting the bankruptcy speak from experience when they say that they have already been fleeced.


One reason for Detroit’s fiscal debacle is the downturn in the stock market at the time the housing bubble burst. When mayor Kwame Kilpatrick entered into a bargain with Wall Street in 2005-06 via Certificates of Participation instead of general bonds, they wined and dined him. These certificates were essentially a gamble that variable interest rates would go up, making them more valuable for the city. Once the Federal Reserve, in response to the economic crisis, set rates near zero, the city (like many homeowners) went underwater, its credit rating downgraded.


This is the way the scam worked in Detroit: The city was deliberately underfunded and the infrastructure took a hit, then city officials listened to various financial advisers and borrowed recklessly from the banks — racking up huge fees and agreeing to risky variable rates. Now the deficit is overstated by the trickery of combining short- and long-term obligations, and public sector workers take the fall.


Detroit’s bankruptcy is manufactured and manipulated, but the crisis is real. The fact is that neither Detroit, nor any other municipality or state in the same sinking boat, can cut, slash and burn a way to a viable future. The way out is not to destroy the safety net, but to expand it. With retirement savings next to impossible for more and more families, Social Security needs to be substantially increased. Health care needs to be guaranteed by a “single payer” system of Medicare for all.


Can we free the resources now wasted on military and prison spending, and massive corporate subsidies, to rebuild our cities and turn to production for human need and a sustainable environment? The answer: Yes we can; but no, capitalism won’t.


This is an editorial that will appear in the January/February 2014 issue of Against the Current, A US based revolutionary socialist journal.


Against the Current

Bulgaria: The wave of protests, 2012-2013



Bulgaria:
The wave of protests, 2012-2013

Mariya Ivancheva
from International Viewpoint
http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article3225

In the past half-decade, post-socialist Bulgaria has witnessed a persistent wave of protests. These protests have coincided with the global wave of anti-neoliberal mobilization against austerity, debt, and precarity, heralded by the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and Indignados movements. Yet, interpreting the Bulgarian protests as part of the same protest wave might turn out to be dangerously misleading.


In this paper, I explain the dynamic of contestation and frames of protest by discussing the three peaks of the 2012–2013 protest wave. I show a number of characteristics of the political and social landscape of post-socialist Bulgaria, which have made the anti-neoliberal or anti-capitalist framing of the protests increasingly difficult. I claim that a reason for this has been a few mutually reinforcing characteristics of the Bulgarian protests, typical not only for Bulgaria, but also for other post-socialist countries.


First, the recurrence or persistence of a strong neo-liberal capitalist party in power – which draws on the symbolic legacy of state socialism but fervently destroys socialist welfare institutions – perpetuates a strong ‘anti-communist’ framing of the protests. Second, the trope of the ‘hard-working middle class’ – a main slogan of the transition to liberal democracy and free-market capitalism since 1989 – has made inter-class alliances between the economically vulnerable low- and high-skilled workers impossible. Last, but not least, given the decades of creation of neo-liberal hegemony in the country, ‘smoothly functioning capitalism’ has been seen as a solution to, and not the cause of, impoverishment, indebtedness, and precarity. These three motives, which are all present in the Bulgarian case, make it impossible to frame protests in an anti-neoliberal and anti-capitalist way. They also draw a line between parallel but not coinciding waves of social protests around the world: a demarcation that might turn out to be a frontline in emergent mobilization for global social change.


The protest wave emerges


Since 2007, Bulgaria has witnessed a continuous wave of protests. Triggered by the increasing construction on protected land, they took place mostly in the capital city of Sofia. Despite the protection of Bulgarian reservations under the European Commission’s Natura2000 program, a massive wave of semi-legal and unregulated construction was brokered by the Bulgarian political class and profit-seeking developers. Spots of natural significance were turned into concrete wastelands, resulting in the destruction of water sources, soils, and natural habitats. The protest wave was paralleled by campaigns against genetically modified organisms (GMOs), shale-gas fracking, and the ACTA agreement: all framed as important assets of middle-class consumption, health, and access to education and leisure. This wave peaked in June 2012, when a new Forestry Act was passed in Parliament. The capital city’s central boulevard was occupied for days by protests. Pressed by the massive unrest, the political class passed the law without the clauses concerning reservation lands.


Ecological activists hailed these protests as a success. Yet, their struggle for nature was not grounded in debates about crisis-born alternatives to neo-liberal capitalism. Slogans against oligarchy and corruption have eclipsed the debate of similar practices in other sectors since 1989. In the process of mass rapid privatization and draconian austerity, governments in the late 1990s and early 2000s dismantled the infrastructure and welfare institutions of the socialist state and led millions of Bulgarians into unemployment, precariousness, or misery-forced migration. Yet, the protesters against the Forestry Act, shale-gas fracking, ACTA, and GMOs showed little solidarity with teachers, academics, students, miners, factory workers, and drivers, who marched in parallel to them in order to contest the privatization of industries and the cutting of public-sector jobs, salaries, securities, and services. Despite their use of slogans inspired by Occupy Wall Street and other anti-austerity protests, Bulgarian environmentalists did not see capitalism as a problem. Not only did they declare themselves ‘anti-communist’ and thus opposed to the state socialist past and its metastases in state power, but they often declared capitalism as an ideal, problematic not in its global manifestation (e.g., the crisis since 2008, to name but its most recent failure), but in its local ‘oriental’ version: disrupting the consumption and leisure of the hard-working middle class.


Due to the same reasoning, in the summer of 2012, the environmental activists ignored two crucial possibilities to engage with people who were concerned not with leisure, consumption, and the long-term ecological survival of the planet, but with making ends meet. First, they haughtily ignored the counter-protest of peasants from the reservation areas, for whom the development of these regions could only mean jobs and economic survival. Second, while protests about reservation land were taking place, the environmental protesters did not challenge the 13-percent increase of the price of electricity, which occurred when they were still marching in the streets of Sofia. At that point, activists had already pointed out that the increase would mean that half of the monthly pension or minimal salary of millions of Bulgarians would go into the accounts of privatized power redistributive companies. And while no one took the topic seriously in the summer of 2012, all Bulgarians began paying a steep price for their lack of response to electricity price hikes starting in the winter of 2013.


‘Civil vs. social’


In late January, Bulgarians woke up to enormous electricity bills, which many could not pay. The response was incendiary: an increased suicide rate and casualties among elderly people culminated in seven self-immolations of unemployed and working-class people. The cases did not cease during the winter: two more acts of self-immolation also occurred this past summer. The bills and the casualties catalyzed social mobilization around the country starting in the winter of 2013. Protesters were mostly rank-and-file Bulgarians: middle-aged men and women, young couples with children and students, and also a number of right-extreme football hooligans. Using different protest repertoires, they all questioned the high energy costs, mediocre living standards, and blatant corruption. The protests were not massively joined by the environmental movements from the summer of 2012, although they also protested throughout the winter season against the Belene nuclear power plant and against new legislation that outmaneuvered the Forestry Law. Trying to please the government that made the concession in the summer, the environmentalists insisted that only the Minister of the Environment – and not the entire government – should resign. In their discourse, they said that they did not want to join the contestation of price hikes, emphasizing that they fought for ‘civil’ and not ‘social’ causes. The salvation of the Bulgarian forest was a cause of a ‘civil society’, while welfare, labor rights, and access to services were seen as ‘social’ – ergo, irrelevant – causes.


The counterproductive division between civil and social causes was reproduced in the next peak of the protest wave, which started in the summer of 2013. After clashes between protesters and the police in February 2013, the center-right government of GERB resigned and was replaced by a similarly neo-liberal government of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), the Movement for Rights and Liberties (DPS, representing the Turkish minority in the country), and the right-extreme party Ataka. This coalition between social Democrats, ethnically based liberals, and a right-extreme party could be seen as a true contradiction in terms, yet it was completely aligned with the traditional procedure of Bulgarian political coalitions throughout the past 23 years of transition: parties of allegedly different segments of the political sector converged around the interest of global power blocks and local capitalist elites. BSP, an oligarchic structure with roots in the socialist nomenklatura, and its post-socialist national and transnational allies elected Plamen Oresharski – a financial minister of two former cabinets, declared as left- and right-wing – to head a coalition cabinet.


Oresharski’s promise of reforms that would benefit the economically vulnerable Bulgarians could not suppress the moral panic among many anti-communists. They feared the return of BSP to power, which would make Bulgaria subservient to Russian interests. Curiously, the fear of power blocks beyond Russia was mostly eclipsed. At the same time, the distrust against the new government was fueled by an increasing crisis of political representation and the apparent lack of any political and economic program that could fill the emptied state treasury. Successive appointments of oligarchic figures made the government’s credit of trust quickly dissipate. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the election of Delyan Peevski as Head of the State Agency for National Security (DANS). Oresharski announced Peevski as a fighter for transparency, but in the eyes of most Bulgarians, the media monopolist and beneficiary of shady privatization deals was corruption incarnate. Even when Peevski resigned, people continued to go out in the streets on a daily basis. As of the writing of this article, thousands of Bulgarians (mostly high-skilled workers and students) still gather on the streets (mostly in Sofia) on a daily basis, demanding Oresharski’s resignation. They equate the neo-liberal, capitalist BSP and its oligarchic parties in power and the opposition as ‘communist’. As in the summer of 2012, the protesters mostly neglect the daily counter-protest staged by Bulgarians with less symbolical and economic capital: those for whom a change of the government would not mean much, whereas cosmetic reforms would mean a few more crumbs to survive the winter.


Winter vs. summer?


The protests of the summers of 2012 and 2013, in addition to those of the winter in between, seem to be part of the same protest wave in Bulgaria. Since they coincided with protests in Greece, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey, and other countries in Europe and beyond, they were also at times interpreted as part of a larger wave of anti-austerity and anti-privatization protests. Yet, the reality on the ground was more complex. While the protests during the winter were an outburst of people suffering poverty and deprivation amid the economic crisis, those in the summers of 2012 and 2013 were caused by a moral panic of oligarchic and illiberal ruling forces. And while all of the protests made claims against the state’s takeover by oligarchic networks, the February protests articulated some anti-capitalist demands for security and equality, while demands in June have either eclipsed or been watered down to claims for democratic liberties. In this, ‘oligarchy’ is justly equated with the current political elite. Yet, instead of seeing it for what it is – a typical state power elite, defending the interests of big capital – the Bulgarian neo-liberal oligarchy is seen as ‘communist’, and thus any claims against it have to be either anti-communist, or invalid and futile.


What is more, while many Bulgarians who were in the street in the winter of 2013 also came out to protest in the summer, the liberal media has taken to dividing the two waves as incompatible, using the trope of the ‘middle class’ borrowed from the protests of the summer of 2012. This motif eclipses the reality of those with mediocre incomes in the European Union’s poorest member state, who hardly make ends meet on an average salary. Yet, the rhetoric of the ‘middle class’ remained present in local narratives in favor of the protests. It was used by the protesters in the summer of 2013 and also one year earlier, in order to defend their ‘civil’ cause of ‘values’ against the ‘social’ cause of ‘starvation’. Intellectuals who sided with the protests have claimed that the split between winter and summer has been between those who read and those who don’t; between those who comprehend European civilization and values, and those who don’t; between the ‘poor’ and the ‘morally indignant’; between those who can pay their bills and taxes, and those who can’t afford to do so and who therefore live off of welfare. This fake division has enraged many socially minded people, and made them stop going to the protests.


At the same time, the protesters’ economic demands during the winter and summer remained rather unclear and intrinsically contradictory. In the summers of 2012 and 2013, the discussions of how reservation land or public resources could be managed by the people in a more transparent way usually drew blanks. Privatization was seen as wrong only when it hit reservation lands or when it happened in a non-transparent way. Green capitalism, green energy, low taxes for the rich, and a rapid smooth privatization to earnest and moral capitalists were some of the demands raised by the summer protests. And while they shared the concern of anti-corruption and transparency, their analysis did not see the current economic system as unjust or problematic. Western free markets and representative democracies, all shaken by substantial crises, were still idealized: ‘Europe’ was asked in protest slogans to help Bulgarians out of corruption. The winter protests allowed for anti-privatization rhetoric, but only initially. Once the key demand of ‘the end of all monopoly’ was raised, it transpired that the majority of people blamed the not-sufficiently privatized power distribution companies for the high electricity prices. They glossed over the fact that prices were kept high by a cartel agreement and because they were not regulated by the government. On the issue of political rights, winter and summer protesters also did not significantly diverge: they made various mutually incompatible demands, and the expert government, majority representatives, and direct democracy were all to be seen and heard as slogans born from the streets.


Opportunity openings and closures


All of these mutually contradictory claims have presented an equally fangless diagnosis and prognosis that would allow people to mobilize against the current political and economic system. What they showed, more than anything, was that the amnesia of 23 years of transition to a liberal democracy and market economy has emptied the political imagination, dictionary, and repertoire of the protesters. Despite the global wave of protests against neo-liberal capitalism, it was still celebrated consensually by all parties of the Bulgarian transition, and seen by the people in the streets as the only way ahead. The prevalent ‘anti-communist’ frame of the protests made any appearance of a left-wing, socialist, or anti-anti-communist frame impossible. The middle-class trope precluded coalitions built with those suffering not only moral, but also economic, deprivation.


Still, a small number of critical voices emerged among the ranks of the summer protesters, who stated that they shared much in common with those who went out during the winter, but also with the summer counter-protesters: that all people are suffering from the current political and economic situation, and that precariousness is a country-wide condition. It is now their call to reframe the protests in a more inclusive way, and to make the Bulgarian protests resonate with the global wave of anti-austerity mobilization. If this does not happen, Bulgarian protesters will still remain on the opposite side of the barricade. They will increasingly represent the outrage of the peripheral wannabe elite, who wishes to maintain the powers that be in a different constellation and fight to the last drop of blood for the early transitional utopia of global capitalist prosperity – a cause that has been withering away in the core countries of the global capitalist system.



    Mariya Ivancheva

    Mariya Ivancheva has a PhD in Sociology and Social Anthropology from the Central European University in Budapest. She is a junior visiting fellow at the Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna, working on higher education reform in Bolivarian Venezuela. She is a member of the Social Centre Xaspel collective in Sofia and the transnational organization European Alternatives, and is also editor of the Eastern European left-wing web portal “Lefteast.”

Scrap Article 377, Defend LGBT /Queer Rights Through Mass Movements

Scrap Article 377, Defend LGBT /Queer Rights Through Mass Movements
Soma Marik

In 1895, during the trial of Oscar Wilde, the German socialist Eduard Bernstein wrote a few articles in the German Social Democratic press on the issue. While confused by today’s standards, Bernstein made a few cogent points. On the view that same sex relations were unnatural, Bernstein commented:
“Our entire cultural existence, our mode of life from morning to night is a constant offence against nature, against the original preconditions of our existence. If it was only a question of what was natural, then the worst sexual excess would be no more objectionable than, say, writing a letter – for conducting social intercourse through the medium of the written word is far further removed from nature than any way as yet known of satisfying the sexual urge. Have there not been observed among animals (usually amongst domestic and captive animals, of course, but these are still significantly closer to nature than man himself) and amongst so-called natural peoples practices relieving the sexual urge which would colloquially be termed, “unnatural”?

He went on to argue that in reality, in most civilised countries, sexual intercourse, while formally being described as being related to the propagation of new generations, was actually conducted for pleasure, and was “unnatural” in the sense that all attempts were usually taken to ensure that childbirths did not result from the act.
Bernstein used the word “abnormal” in preference to “unnatural”, suggesting that this was a deviation from the norm. He suggested that there was a need to understand the history of same sex relations rather than to condemn it. In particular, he made out an extremely strong argument. It is the male same sex relation that has been the prime target. Both English and German law condemned this. Anal sex perpetrated between two men was a criminal offence, as it indeed still is, in terms of Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code. But quoting Kraft-Ebbing, Bernstein showed that Prussian law did not punish sodomy when one partner was a woman. As he argued, this latter was most often carried out on women who had no say in the matter, so that it was in fact “inferior” (in his words) to such a relationship between two males. The rise of the “paternal-right family” meant the woman’s body was of little consequence. If she was a prostitute, the state in Prussia oversaw the health of her sex organs to the extent that if a man infected her with a sexually transmitted disease, she was kept locked up. But how a man, whether the husband or the customer, used a woman’s body was of supreme unconcern to the state.

Bernstein’s authority being Kraft-Ebbing, he had the problem of viewing same-sex relations as a medical or psychological issue. Despite that, a century and eighteen years back, he, and a large part of the SPD, were involved in the campaign for the abolition of punishment for homosexual relations.

118 years later, the Supreme Court of India as well as the entire range of Indian political parties have shown their inability to grasp this. Bernstein had grasped, however imperfectly, that hetero-sexism is rooted in the heterosexual, patriarchal family relations. Under capitalist conditions, the family of this kind is important for the perpetuation of class divisions from one generation to the next. It provides a cheap and ideologically acceptable mechanism for reproducing human labour. This involves using unpaid, and overwhelmingly female labour in the family to care for the young, the old, as well as for the male working adult. Monogamous, heterosexual love as a compulsion is a central aspect of the family system as it exists. The state and its laws, the medical and psychiatric establishments, much of the educational system, are all tailored to promote procreative heterosexuality and to stigmatize and suppress other forms of sexuality, often described as abnormal, irresponsible, or medical cases.

Marxist responses subsequently to start with Engels varied from hostility, indifference, and deprioritization. Since the 1970s different currents of Marxists have been compelled to take up the LGBT issue seriously as a political issue. The Fourth International argued in 2003:

“As long as society is organized in a way which assumes that many basic needs will be met within the family, all those who are marginalized from it or choose not to live in it will have difficulty in meeting their needs. This family form under capitalism presupposes and reproduces a heterosexual norm, which pervades the state and society and is oppressive to anyone who deviates from it. As long as heterosexual love is the basis for forming a family, people whose emotional and sexual lives revolve largely around same-sex love are marginalized from family life. As long as the family is a central place where children are raised, lesbian/gay/ bisexual/transgendered children will grow up alienated - even more than children and young people in general are alienated in the family; and children’s access to adults, especially unmarried adults, and other children to whom they are not biologically related will often be limited. As long as only heterosexual desire and romance permeate capitalist consumer culture, LGBT people will feel invisible. As long as heterosexuality is defined as the norm by the state and medical and psychiatric establishments, LGBT people will be explicitly or implicitly discriminated against and marginalized. Repressive laws and widespread social discrimination intensify this oppression in most parts of the world, but repealing repressive laws and combating social discrimination will not by themselves eliminate it”.

In India, the LGBTQ community is mostly hidden. The Telegraph, reporting the SC judgement, suggested the figure of 12 million for a possible size of this community. In course of the case, Suresh Kumar Kaushal & Another v. Naz Foundation & Others, attempts were made to present before the Supreme Court a mass of evidence concerning discrimination, harassment, and torture faced by LGBT persons.
The Supreme Court, in striking down the Delhi High Court judgement, has argued that the High Court had relied too much on foreign judgements, which cannot be applied to the Indian context. This is not the first time that judgements in foreign courts have been discussed by Indian courts. So this insularity has to do with a political orientation, regardless of the formal words uttered. In that case, what the Supreme Court is deferring to, is the socially constructed and maintained conservatism. This finds striking confirmation in the utterances of Baba Ramdev, the BJP, and the Darul Uloom Deoband. For Ramdev and the BJP this is a western aberration that has no space in “Indian tradition”. For the Darul Uloom Deoband deputy Vice Chancellor Maulana Abul Khlik Madrasi, “Homosexuality is an offence under Islamic law and ‘haram’ [prohibited] in Islam”.

The apex court has upheld the constitutionality of IPC 377 by rejecting the constitutional validity of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of our constitution. By this it had written off the very cornerstone of democracy,----pluralism.  

The court distinguishes between “those who indulge in carnal intercourse in the ordinary course” and “those who indulge in carnal intercourse against the order of nature”.  The Court says that therefore section 377 is not classified irrationally or arbitrarily. In other words, the Supreme Court is opposed to sex against the “order of nature”. But in that case, should the Supreme Course not oppose, in a spasm of judicial activism, the Government of India’s decades long birth control or the so–called ‘population control’ campaigns? Sex using condoms, sex after various measures to ensure that women do not get pregnant? Is not it going to the extent of authorising the policing of sex lives to check whether fellatio is committed?

The Supreme Court has also argued that the LGBT community is a very small community. So it seems that if a community is sufficiently small, then being a minority confers no assistance. Rather, if you are a small enough minority, then your rights can be violated with impunity since that does not disturb the public peace. The Court cites the fact that there have been only a handful of convictions as proof the community is small. It prefers to ignore how the police routinely harass, take bribes, etc, when it sees same sex activities. The fact that the existence of the law acts as a perpetual threat to the LGBT community is totally ignored.

The court also rejects the claims that Article 377 leads to violation of the right to privacy, the right to bodily integrity and sexual choice and the right to live with dignity. The cases cited by the court have been extremely confused. Of course, the women’s movement has long opposed certain uses of the argument of privacy, for e.g., when it is used to hide rape of a wife by a husband. But that is not the concern of the SC. Ignoring the fact that what was under the scanner was consensual sex between two adults, the SC cited a case where a doctor had disclosed the HIV positive nature of his patient to her fiancée. In that case, it had been correctly held that privacy was subordinate to the right of health and freedom of others. But changing the scope of Article 377 to remove consenting adults from its purview does not come under this head. Once again, if two consenting adults have any kind of sexual relations, whose health and freedom is negatively affected?

The strategy of over-reliance on judiciary can sometime be counter-productive. To cite two landmark cases, the Supreme Court did not come out with a rights perspective for the marginals. It had rejected the Narmada Bachao Andolan plea, and had acquitted the accused in the Mathura Rape Case. If we focus on the elite, if we focus on well-paid lawyers arguing in courts, we cannot expect a wider discourse of rights to be articulated or honoured. To rely on NGOs, to lobby, cannot go far when fundamental social issues are involved. And at the beginning of this essay that is what we argue. To decriminalise and recognise the equality of same sex relations is detrimental to fundamental interests of the ruling elite. Lesbian/gay liberation is part of a broader, human liberation we are fighting for. We cannot fight for full rights for LGBTs and think that we do not need to fight for the immediate scrapping of the AFSPA. Even closer to the community itself, the ‘queer movement’ of the subcontinent has to look at the queer who are poor, who are not from the upper castes, who are non-urban. To get rights one has to fight for rights, not just lobby for rights. Lobbying can get little advantages for small segments. Full equality cannot be gained other than by mass struggles. It is when there are mass struggles that courts, legislatures, have shown themselves to be willing to be positive. This is not a call for rejecting court battles, but a call to recognise that if we want, not slight gains for small sections of LGBTs, but full equality, then we need to fight for it.
One needs to be grateful for the SC nonetheless, for it has forced into the open the issue of LGBTs. One is grateful also to the BJP, for having come out openly, showing that it is reactionary across the board. But what about the hypocrites in the mainstream parties who are today suddenly concerned about LGBT rights? Much calculation goes into their stances. The Congress has today declared it will bring legislation or push for ordinance. Where was it all these years, especially in periods when it enjoyed comfortable parliamentary majorities? Clearly, at best, the Liberals on the Right wanted to let the courts decide. To take up the cause of alternative sexualities risked losing votes, which they were not keen to do. The reason for Rahul Gandhi’s sudden concern is not far to see. The Deobandis have already declared that they are not particularly keen to take the side of Congress against the BJP. Meanwhile the Delhi elections have shown that the younger generation and the middle class generally has rubbed the Congress out. So this is a desperate gesture to try and regain some support. At the same time, it is quite a safe gesture. The government will either try for a “curative petition” (i.e., again ask the Supreme Court) or ask Parliament, a very safe option since in the current parliament the bill cannot be driven through with a party whip, as not enough parties are openly for the decriminalization of alternative sexualities, so that the congress gets left-liberal approval without antagonising its other potential voters too much.

Nor, sadly, are those whose stated agenda are for social change fully behind the struggles of the LGBTs. The AIDWA demonstrated criticising the Supreme Court. Yet it was also the same AIDWA that had criticised the World March for Women, because in the AIDWA’s opinion, the WMW was wrong in putting LGBT rights upfront along with issues like economic security. Biman Bose, the CPI(M) leader and Chairperson of the Left Front in West Bengal, was blunt. He is on record as having said that there is no hurry as there are more important issues. In other words, the Left is unable to understand that pushing LGBTs back to the closet will be worse for LGBTs from socially deprived sectors.

The women’s rights movement has also not always taken up LGBT rights sufficiently seriously, or in a sufficiently central way. One can think of moments when one has seen LGBT organisations visibly distressed by the reluctance of the sectors of the women’s movements one has participated in, to foreground LGBT rights.

And the LGBT movement, likewise, has to recognise that political rights and civil liberties are indeed indivisible. If we fight for civil and political rights, we cannot afford to be sectoral. One cannot say that one is supporting the rights of people of Manipur but not someone accused of being a Maoist. Likewise, one cannot desire rights for LGBTs but say that one is unconcerned about the rights of others. It is by building popular alliances, by launching peoples’ struggles, that we can win. And we cannot fight purely on the terrain of courts.

Radical Socialist statement on Tarun Tejpal and the issues round his case

Condemn the Tarun Tejpal Sexual assault case

Build up Resistance and Sustained Agitations against all similar cases

 

The unfolding of Tarun Tejpal's deeds and the attempted cover up have again raised the question of incessant rapes and sexual assaults on women all over India. Radical Socialist severely condemn the Tejpal case which exposes that Tehelka, for all its supposedly upright stance and “feminist” managing editor, had not been complying with the 1997 Vishakha guidelines of the Supreme Court of India. It did not have an internal committee in place, to which women could turn in cases of sexual harassment. Only after the charges against Tejpal became public did the Managing Editor go through motions of creating a committee, by which time few people, including above all the woman concerned seemed to have any faith in any such internal process.

 

Tarun Tejpal, former Editor-in-Chief of Tehelka, stands accused of having misused his position of power to sexually assault a young woman employee working under him, in a way that tantamounts to rape as per the new definition. Against the objections of the woman, he allegedly violated her bodily integrity twice in two consecutive days. His text messages to her showed an arrogant use of his power. The journalist informed a few of her colleagues soon after the first assault, and since then, her version of the incidents have remained the same. Tejpal by contrast has moved from one explanation to another, in an attempt to protect himself. He attacked the victim for having spoken out to his daughter, who was her friend. After the woman complained formally to Tehelka, he talked about a “lapse of judgement” and an “unfortunate incident”. He proceeded to try and act as his own prosecutor and judge, deciding he should “atone” by “recusing” for six months. When, as a result of the young woman standing firmly by her stance and a considerable amount of public outcry, the Goa police moved into action, Tejpal declared that it was he who was being victimised by the BJP. He also openly accused the woman of being a liar, claiming there had been a single 'incredibly fleeting consensual sexual encounter'.

 

Tehelka Management, represented by Shoma Chaudhury, tried a clear case of cover up. When the complaint was first made, she did not accept the complainant's demand for a public acknowledgement of the sexual assault and the setting up of a Committee against Sexual Harassment, something Tehelka had to do in accordance with the Supreme Court judgement. Nor did she report the matter to the police, as she was supposed to do. Instead, she backed Tejpal's story in practice, by accepting his misleading 'apology'. Her memo to employees called the action an unfortunate incident. When the matter was finally leaked to the media, she tried to claim the complainant was satisfied. The media was accused of being more aggrieved than the victim – a posture that is familiar, from governments seeking to cover up or play down rape cases. On television, the Managing Editor urged that Tejpal's 'version' should be considered. Only when the exposure became too great she resigned, but again, claiming that she had all the while stood by the woman: “Since the devastating allegation was first brought to my notice on 18th November, I have taken a series of actions in response to this complaint. To my mind, I acted on instant outrage and solidarity for our colleague as a woman and co-worker”.

 

This entire narrative as it has unfolded shows that all workplaces in India continue to be extremely skewed against women employees. Even today, the Vishakha Guidelines continue to be flouted. The Supreme Court itself did not have the mandatory committee. Every democratic Indian, every Indian at all sensitized to the demands for women's equality and their right to work, has to recognise how difficult the situation continues to be for women at home and outside.

 

Cases of rapes and sexual assaults continue with impunity. The media coverage of the case has also been dubious, with graphic details of the complaint leaked and even re-enacted on television under the pretext of exposing the crime. It is precisely the fear of the publication of these details, or the traumatic event, that deters women from complaining. The publication of the details violates them as much as the incident itself. This is not about stigma or the fear of losing one's job, but about the fear of losing one's own dignity.  All the while, the media has been less than forthcoming on the reality that sexual harassment is rampant in many media houses.

 

The politics around the Tehelka case is also significant. Tejpal’s argument about BJP trying to frame him is no different from the claim of Asaram that the Congress government in Delhi was hostile to him. The political motivations of different sections of India's elite are not difficult to see. The BJP, which had tried to get Asaram off the hook, and which has been covering up for the Gujarat Chief Minister, who is implicated in using the ATS to illegally spy on a woman's private life, has been issuing statements about Tehelka. That Tejpal is part of the Indian elite can be seen from both his opulence, and the relative gentleness with which he was treated. An ordinary person, accused of similar crimes, would have been arrested much earlier, and any bail plea would have been heard when he was already in custody. There can be no doubt that when members of the elite are charged in cases of this kind, they do have opponents within the elite who would like to bring them down a little. But that does not in the least mean that the woman who complained is lying. It simply means that Tejpal is complaining that if others are getting away, why should he be prosecuted. But the conduct of political parties, including the mainstream left (e.g., the CPIM) as well as the Congress and BJP when their own leaders have been accused of violence against women, means they have no moral standing to display “outrage” on the Tehelka case.

 

Radical Socialist:

 

·         Expresses complete support and solidarity to the survivor and her courage to speak out.

·         Demands women’s control over their own bodies which should neither be the sites for power play nor for contest among political parties.

·       Demands due legal process and prompt action by the Tehelka management and the government.

·       Rejects the self-serving claims of the management.

·           Condemns the mob attack orchestrated by the BJP on Shoma Chaudhury’s residence

·           Demands that the state must carry out the task of ensuring the safety for women and create conducive conditions where they can go out to work without being under constant threat.

·           Demands for the immediate formation of the committees at all work places as per the Vishakha Guidelines announced by the Supreme Court of India in 1997 for prevention and redressal of sexual harassment.

·           Demands immediate framing and notification of the rules and effective implementation of the recently passed “The Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013.”

Given the National Crime Records Bureau data and the continuous rise in cases of rape and sexual violence in India, only a handful of cases are taken seriously. Even in such cases, sustained public agitations, campaigns and mobilisations can only push the governments to take prompt actions. We believe that the legal processes give meaningful results when mobilisations and campaigns are carried out. We urge all democratic minded organisations and people to build such mobilisations, including as parts of the ongoing International Fortnight on Violence against Women.

 

Soma Marik and Trupti Shah

On behalf of

Radical Socialist

2 December 2013

 

 

 

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Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

The death of Nelson Mandela closes the life of a heroic resistance figure who devoted his very being to the struggle against apartheid even though this came at immense personal cost. Mandela was, also, however, the saviour of South African capitalism, which condemned so many of his countrymen and women to continuing terrible hardship even after the destruction of the apartheid regime. His broad popularity in South Africa, ranging from the pauper to the plutocrat, cannot be understood without comprehension of both these facts.

Mandela was loved by the masses because of his immense dedication to and sacrifice for the cause, epitomised by the 27 years he spent in the regime’s rotten jails, 27 long years in which he grew to be an old man.

For the first 18 years of his imprisonment, Mandela was held on Robben Island off Cape Town, cut off from all that he had known. His first cell was a dank 2.4m by 2.1 m with only a straw mat to sleep on.

He was prevented from attending the funerals of his mother and first son, permitted only rare and brief visits by his daughters and wife Winnie, herself frequently jailed, beaten and banished for political activism. For the first decade he was allowed only one letter every six months. Newspapers were banned and prisoners were forbidden from talking to each other while eating or undertaking prison labour.

Prison life at Robben Island took its toll on Mandela’s health which makes his longevity all the more surprising. At the age of 46, he was condemned to hard labour on the island’s limestone quarry and denied sunglasses, the glare from the harsh sun ruining his eyesight. Many years later, at the age of 70, after having been moved to a jail in Cape Town, Mandela contracted tuberculosis.

Mandela could have won relief from all this by turning his back on the fight and on his comrades, by renouncing armed struggle, by cooperating with the apartheid system, by joining all those other black leaders who made peace with apartheid for 30 pieces of silver. But Mandela pursued instead the path of resistance for 40 years and, with other ANC activists, turned Robben Island into a university of struggle, forcing the prison authorities gradually to relax the harsh regime.

Before being thrown in jail, Mandela was, with a handful of others, responsible for reviving the rump African National Congress in the 1940s, a conservative organisation committed to the interests of the tribal leaders. The ANC’s vision went no further than sending fruitless appeals to London for redress. Mandela and his comrades transformed it into a mass organisation capable of mobilising thousands, and, later, hundreds of thousands of South Africans in a fight for freedom.

Mandela was instrumental in most of the turning points of the ANC’s modern history. With Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo, he created the ANC Youth League in 1944, which outflanked and then overturned the old leadership, ushering in a new generation of more militant leaders. The state repression of the 1950 May Day strike, which he opposed but which brought out half of Johannesburg’s black workers at the call of the Communist Party (SACP), brought home to him both the brutality of the state but also the realisation that the working class could be mobilised for political action and the need for better relations with the SACP, which he had previously fought vigorously.

Mandela was responsible for the 1952 Defiance Campaign, a movement of non-violent mass disobedience which helped the ANC’s membership balloon from 20,000 to 100,000. In 1955 he convened the Congress of the People, which hammered out the ANC’s defining statement, the Freedom Charter, and in the following year he was arrested with most of the ANC Executive for “high treason” against the state. The subsequent trial lasted six years. Mandela was found not guilty in 1961, but the jail doors were soon to slam shut on him.

Following the massacre of 69 protestors on the streets of Sharpeville in 1960, something that brought apartheid to the attention of the world, Mandela pressed ahead with plans to create an armed wing of the ANC and in 1961 formed Umkhonto we Sizwe ( MK) – Spear of the Nation – to carry out sabotage on military and civilian infrastructure within South Africa. If this failed, Mandela and his comrades planned to escalate the operation to guerrilla warfare.

At great personal risk, Mandela coordinated the MK sabotage campaign. However, he was quickly picked up by the authorities and in 1964 sentenced to jail for life, only narrowly beating the death sentence.

Although hostile to the left as a young man, a product of his own relatively privileged background and his early adherence to a narrow African nationalism, Mandela went on in the early 1950s to form an alliance with the SACP, in whose ranks were some of the country’s most committed trade unionists and socialists. This African nationalist-Communist alliance was to underpin the ANC’s trajectory in subsequent decades and explained its ability to win a mass audience among blacks.

The struggle of black South Africans inspired many millions of blacks around the world to fight for their rights. And not just blacks. For several generations of leftists, the anti-apartheid struggle was, with the fight against the Vietnam War, one of the main touchstones of all those involved in resistance to injustice. The image of Mandela languishing in jail was one of the most important elements of this struggle, personifying the sacrifices of so many nameless blacks who were similarly suffering the lash of apartheid. And when Mandela was released from jail in February 1990, the event was marked by celebrations around the world.

It is the memory of Mandela’s contribution to this struggle that is inspiring so many non-white and, indeed, many liberal white South Africans to express their collective grief at his passing.

Hypocrisy of the West

But it has not just been the masses who are expressing their sorrow at Mandela’s passing. Western statesmen and women are trying to outdo each other in their plaudits for the South African leader. British Tory Prime Minister David Cameron has called Mandela “a hero of our time” and ordered the flag at 10 Downing Street to be flown at half mast.

For those of us old enough to remember the heyday of the anti-apartheid struggle, these paeans of praise are nothing but a sick joke. As blacks were being shot in the streets, hanged on the gallows, jailed by the thousands, tortured in police cells and tear-gassed and clubbed while protesting in schools, universities, factories and mines, Western governments turned a cold shoulder to the South African fight for freedom and treated Mandela as a pariah.

So it was that when Mandela toured Europe in the early 1960s, looking for assistance for the anti-apartheid cause, the doors of pretty much every government were slammed in his face.

In the 1980s, both the Thatcher government and the Reagan administration in the United States routinely referred to the ANC as a terrorist organisation, and it took the US until 2008, 18 years after Mandela had been released from jail, before both he and the ANC were removed from its terrorism “watch list”.

Thatcher and Reagan were lavish in their praise of the Pretoria regime as a loyal Western ally. President Reagan told CBS in 1981 that he supported South Africa because “it was a country that has stood by us in every war we’ve ever fought, a country that, strategically, is essential to the free world in its production of minerals”.

These governments stood in staunch defence of the big Western capitalists who made a fortune from the cheap black labour whose perpetuation was the chief purpose of apartheid. Shell, Consolidated Goldfields, Caltex, Mobil, Honeywell, IBM, Ford, GM, Westinghouse, Pilkington, BP, Blue Circle and Cadbury Schweppes – a veritable Who’s Who of the London and New York stock exchanges – all invested heavily in South Africa in the 1960s, when the economy boomed. They maintained their investments through the 1970s even as the repression escalated. Others held shares in South African conglomerate Anglo-American, which made its enormous profits on the broken backs of South African mineworkers.

In the 1980s, a sustained divestment campaign forced some big companies to pull out, but not before they had licensed their products to local distributors. And the pull-out was done slowly and only patchily: at the end of 1987, 410 European and North American companies had divested from South Africa but 690 still remained. Even as late as 1988, US companies invested $1.3 billion in South African industry, and held $4 billion in investments, or 14 percent of the total, in the crucial mining industry. US exports to South Africa actually rose by 40 percent between 1985 and 1988. While there were profits to be made, Western businesses and  governments turned a blind eye to the oppression of black South Africans.

The hosannas currently being showered on Mandela by these parasites are hypocrisy of the highest order.

Saviour of South African capitalism

So what explains this about-face by Western leaders? Why was Mandela transformed from communist stooge and terrorist to a secular saint and “Father of the Nation” in mainstream political discourse? Central to understanding this is his role in the transition from apartheid in the latter half of the 1980s.

Apartheid South Africa was hit by two major crises in the 1980s. For many years apartheid had been useful to international capitalism because, by savagely repressing the black working class, it kept wages sufficiently low to make the South African mining industry profitable. South African capitalism boomed in the postwar decades, with growth peaking at 8 percent in the first half of the 1970s. Thereafter the economy slumped and never recovered, with growth slowing down to a meagre 1.5 percent.

The economic crisis interacted with the explosion of popular insurgency, starting with the 1976 Soweto uprising and culminating in a nationwide wave of township insurrections in 1984-86. This insurgency meshed with the emergence of a black workers movement organised in largely non-racial unions. Starting in Durban in 1973 but reaching full force in the early 1980s, trade unionism swept the black working class. In 1979, the new unions were organised in a new union federation, FOSATU, whose leaders were in many cases revolutionary syndicalists who saw mass working class action as the vehicle to smash apartheid. Socialism gripped the unionised masses like a new gospel.

The administration of P.W. Botha initially responded to the economic crisis and upsurge of militancy by a combination of partial reforms and vicious repression. Botha hoped to extend the life of apartheid by incorporating Indians, so-called “coloureds” and a minority of blacks into the system. This project failed dismally when the ANC and its allies refused to cooperate. In 1986 Botha declared a state of emergency, an exercise in state repression but also an admission of failure. Nervous about “instability”, foreign capital started to flood out of the country.

The ANC could not be crushed by state repression. Even though the ANC had tailed behind, rather than led, many of the big developments of the period, such as the 1976 Soweto rising and the creation of the independent unions, it had nonetheless managed to attain hegemonic status within the movement. Rival currents, chiefly the Black Consciousness movement and the syndicalist unionists, failed to challenge it effectively, allowing it to take the initiative. This became clear in 1989 at the third congress of COSATU, successor to FOSATU, when the ANC’s political line of march dominated.

In this context, more far-sighted bosses in South Africa, along with an increasing number of foreign governments and business people, realised that the ANC had to be brought inside the tent and no longer shunned. All the epithets that the bosses had thrown at the ANC were forgotten when they realised that Mandela and the ANC were the only thing that could halt a working class revolution.

Starting in 1985 with a meeting in Zambia between ANC leaders in exile and South African business chiefs, the path to a negotiated removal of the apartheid political structure was therefore opened up. Restrictions on Mandela were gradually eased, and by 1988 he was regularly conversing with delegations of National Party ministers even while still a prisoner of the regime.

The ousting of Botha in August 1989 by F.W. de Klerk was another step in the reform project. De Klerk was a dyed in the wool National Party figure but could see that more radical concessions were needed. In February 1990 the new president freed Mandela and all other political prisoners and unbanned the ANC and SACP. Four years later, the ANC won a sweeping victory in the country’s first democratic elections. The political structures of apartheid were dismantled and black majority rule was confirmed.

It was during this period that Mandela became a darling of the West and hailed as saviour by his former enemies in South Africa. Mandela undertook all of the early negotiations alone and without consultation with his ANC comrades. He was the chief figure responsible for selling negotiations, in place of revolution, to the ANC’s mass base. At key moments in the transition it was Mandela who steered the masses away from an insurrectionary path towards set-piece stay-aways and demonstrations. So important was Mandela that the government was terrified when he contracted tuberculosis in 1988 – they feared that with his death there would be nothing to hold back the revolution.

The most important precondition for the negotiated settlement was that the fortunes of Anglo American and the other robber barons would be left untouched. Nationalisation was dropped from the ANC program, and Mandela repeatedly reiterated his commitment to private enterprise, foreign investment and “restructuring” of the big civil service and state-run industries that had been created by the National Party government.

The ANC leadership also agreed to leave the chain of command of the South African military and civil service intact and agreed to a five-year transitional “government of national unity” which was to include senior cabinet portfolios for National Party politicians.

In August 1990 Mandela ordered the cessation of armed struggle. While it may have been expedient given the ineffectiveness of this method against the continent’s most powerful military apparatus, this step signified a further willingness to accommodate.

Some ANC supporters condemned these moves as a sell-out. Many were angry at ending the armed struggle at a time when the government was unleashing death squads against ANC militants across the country. They confronted Mandela with placards “Mandela, give us arms” and “You are acting like a sheep while the people are dying”.

The conditions negotiated by Mandela were, however, entirely consistent with his long-standing politics. He had always supported private enterprise and a parliamentary set-up; his chief objection was that blacks were excluded from participating in them. At the Rivonia trial in 1964, Mandela told the court: “The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change in the economic structure of the country, nor has it, to the best of my recollection, ever condemned capitalist society”.

The commitment to nationalisation contained in the 1955 Freedom Charter was only a token concession to appease working class delegates at the Congress of the People where it was adopted. It was never meant by Mandela to be treated seriously.

Neither Mandela nor the ANC nor even the SACP saw socialism on the agenda in South Africa. This was at best, for the SACP, something that awaited South Africa several decades after the supposed “first stage” of the revolution – the national democratic revolution – was completed. Nonetheless, the SACP was able to use its authority to defuse working class opposition to the rotten deal that was being negotiated in their name, with Mandela’s old MK comrade, the SACP’s chief theoretician Joe Slovo, at the forefront.

The ANC in office

Following the first democratic elections in April 1994, the black working class, which had struggled and suffered for the cause of socialism in South Africa, was left to drink a bitter brew by the ANC while the chiefs of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, soon joined by a number of high profile ANC figures, continued to quaff champagne.

In their gratitude, the bosses cheered Mandela as the head of a new “Rainbow Nation” which enabled them to keep gouging big profits from the working class and shift their head offices overseas while blacks continued to suffer a life of shack housing, pit toilets, lack of running water, metered electricity, shoddy under-funded schools and Depression-era unemployment rates of 30 percent or more.

Two years after introducing a weakly reforming Reconstruction and Development Program, the ANC government abandoned even this in favour of the neoliberal Growth, Employment and Redistribution program, drawn straight from the World Bank recipe book. In 1995, Mandela won further praise from apartheid era die-hards by donning the shirt of the hated Springbok rugby team at the Rugby World Cup as he presented the trophy to the team captain. The wealthy citizens of Sandton, a virtually all-white posh suburb of Johannesburg, erected a statue in his honour at their local shopping centre.

This is why Mandela’s death is being marked today not just by those who dreamed that he would lead them to freedom but also by those bosses whose necks he saved when they came under mortal threat in the 1980s.With Mandela’s death we remember him both as a resistance leader but also as someone who sold his supporters short as he diverted their struggle into a capitalist dead-end.

The police murder of 44 striking platinum miners at Marikana in August last year, in scenes reminiscent of Sharpeville 50 years earlier, demonstrates that the struggle for genuine liberation of the South African working class still lies ahead. It will have to be done in opposition not just to the ANC but to the entire framework of nationalist politics on which Mandela’s life was based.

[Tom Bramble is co-editor, with Franco Barchiesi, of a book of essays about the South African working class titled Rethinking the Labour Movement in the “New South Africa”, which was published by Ashgate (Aldershot) in 2003.]

- See more at: http://redflag.org.au/article/nelson-mandela-1918-2013#sthash.6IkZTix8.dpuf

Modi will uphold democracy, so please do not oppose him unless you want to be arrested

Modi will uphold democracy, so please do not oppose him unless you want to be arrested


Kunal Chattopadhyay


Narendra Modi has many admirers. They see him as the upholder of development, dignity, Hindutva, so many different things. And they are unwilling to hear any criticism of Modi. Anyone criticising Modi is berated as a pseudo-secular, a supporter of the corruption of the Congress, a leftist who is perceived as a defender of the worst tyrannies of the Stalin era. Avbove all they are opponents of democracy and defenders of dynasty raj, according to the binary vision that is attempted to be imposed. And foremost among these Modi-lovers is not Swapan Dasgupta, or Arnab Goswami, or any other media figure, but Narendra Modi himself. And therefore, Modi, through his police, has struck at those who would dare to question development, dignity, Gujarat’s pride, Hindutva’s ascent. These people are horrible. But who are they? And why this anger of Modi?

Narendra Modi has been spending the money of the Gujarat government in massive adver4tisemnts all over India, in newspapers and in TV channels, highlighting the even more massive statue of Sardar Patel. The BJP –RSs has a fascist agenda, as we have been arguing for a long time. But in order to win power, merely sectarian politics cannot suffice. So they want to appropriate as much of Indian nationalism as is possible. Given that their direct rival for governmental position is the Congress (I),  they are on one hand trying to run down the Congress as a Nehru-Gandhi family affair, (along with other types of attacks on it) and at the same time seeking to appropriate whatever element of nationalism they can from the congress. This is particularly important for them, because in the pre-independence period, the RSS had a sorry role in the freedom movement, and therefore needs to clothe itself somehow whenever presenting its nationalist face. This is where Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel presents such a useful alternative (though, as we will see, a little flawed). Sardar Patel was a Gujarati. For the chief minister of Gujarat, who is trying to project himself as an all india figure vbased on his real or alleged achievements in Gujarat, the Patel legacy is useful. He cannot fall back upon the other illustrious Gujarati, for by no stretch of imagination can the RSS show Mohandas Gandhi in its pantheon. Patel was a traditional conservative. But Patel was also a staunch nationalist who used every means at his disposal to incorporate all erstwhile princely states in India, and who as Home Minister used ruthless force to put down left wing militancy, in Telangana as well as elsewhere. Patel, unlike Nehru, had never toyed with socialistic phrases. Patel had been a firm anti-communist who as Union Home Minister tried to take steps to curb all the radical left parties.  Even earlier, it was Patel, who controlled the Congress organisation in the 1930s, who had been instrumental in ensuring that while the left carried the burden of left of centre campaigns for the elections of 1937, the candidates would be quite right of centre, and the Congress governments at the provinces would be committed to capitalists and landlords. While this does not turn Nehru into a socialist, this does stress that the free-market right wing economic aspect of the BJP agenda, along with its utmost hostility to any idea of the working class as a class, makes it possible to appropriate Patel in a way that it cannot appropriate Nehru.

The flaw in all this is, as a Union Home Minister, Patel also displayed a rightwing, but non-communal nationalism, and he was to ban the RSS immediately after the murder of Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, an RSS member who had dropped his membership not out of principled change of heart, but because he did not want  to get the RSS involved directly in his activities.

Nonetheless, as we show above, when the BJP is seeking to win over the centre-right support base from the Congress, appropriating Patel is a sound tactical effort.

And so, Narendra Modi has been involved over the past three years in having built, near the Sardar Sarovar Dam, a massive statue of Patel. There will be a 597 feet high statue, which is to be far bigger than the Statue of Liberty. The proposal is for a project involving a bridge connecting the statue on Sadhu island to the bank of the Narmada river, a memorial, visitor centre buildings, a memorial garden, a hotel, a convention centre, an amusement park, research centres and institutes. The total cost is currently estimated to be Rs 2500 crores (US $ 406.5 million). To understand the meaning of this figure we will cite just a couple more figures – Gujarat’s budget for 2013-14 shows a revenue surplus of Rs 4602 crores, while the allocation for labour and employment is Rs. 841 crores.

The problem with all this all-India, possibly global drum beating of Modi, where he is virtually seeking to put up his own statue under the shadow of the Sardar, is the opposition by locals. Villagers of Kevadia and a number of other nearby places wewre bitterly opposed to all this. Activists of Radical Socialist, trade unionists, environmental activists, and local people, have pointed out that the Kevadia Area Development Authority, a body under the government of Gujarat, had clearly projected plans to turn the place into a tourist spot. In order to do so, Sarpanches of 52 villages got letters from the KADA that they should agree to hand over their villages for tourism purpose or else face consequences.

This is an area where six villages had been compelled to hand over their land back in the early 1960s for the Sardar Sarovar Dam, to build the Staff Colony, Government Offices and Guest House. Only recently, a few days back, Modi agreed to some of their demands, as a result of adverse publicity at a time when he was trying to showcase the Statue of Unity. Till then, these villagers were not even treated as project affected people.

Building the Statue and the project that goes along with it will deprive trival people from land, livelihood, and forest. As a result, they have been fighting Modi for a considerable time. It had been declared that today, Sardar Patel’s birthday, which Modi is seeking to appropriate by inaugurating the statue, would be observed by many such protestors in a peaceful manner. They were going to organise a day long hunger strike, after having given public notice, in a private place, not even in a public space.
 
But to stop even this, raids have been carried out on the evening of 30th October. Rohit Prajapati, Trupti Shah, Amrish Brahmbhatt, and Sudhir Binniwale, who are widely known radical activists of Gujarat, were travelling from Vadodara to Rajpipla. They were apprehended at Rajpipla and forcibly confined in a house without any reason being given. It has further been reported that a significant number of people have been arrested from at least seven villages. The full list of the names of the arrested is not known. However, this includes Lakhan Musafir, Dhirendra Soneji, Dipen Desai, Rameshbhai Tadvi from Indravarna village, Shaileshbai Tadvi from Vagadia village, Vikrambhai Tadvi from Kevadia.

We appeal to all socialist and democratic organisations, to protest the entire project, to support the right of adivasis to land, forest and livelihood, and to support democratic right to protest.

Please send your protests to
The Governor, Gujarat
Fax No . 079-232 31121
  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Chief Minister of Gujarat
Fax : +91 - 79 – 23222101
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Justice Shri K.G. Balakrishnan
Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission of India
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Please forward your protest mails or faxes to
Rohit Prajapati: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
and
Radical Socialist : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Ten Months after Delhi: Continue fighting the Rape Culture through Independent Mobilisations, Resist the Unrelenting Sexual Violence on Women in West Bengal and Everywhere in India

Ten Months after Delhi: Continue fighting the Rape Culture through Independent Mobilisations, Resist the Unrelenting Sexual Violence on Women in West Bengal and Everywhere in India


Statement of Radical Socialist


For the Government of India, only Delhi matters, whether it is the rape of women or the price of onions. So after having sent its managers to handle the negative fall-out of the Delhi case, it has been pretending that all is now well in India.  The reality is that its handling has been narrowly political, interested only in what it perceives as immediate gains. In province after province, and indeed even in Delhi, the reality is different.

In West Bengal, the cases of sexual violence are massive indeed. Three women/girls raped within four days. In Madhyamgram a young woman gang-raped twice, the second time after she had lodged a complaint with the police. The police have gone on record, questioning whether a gang-rape had really happened a second time. In the Rajarhat case, the hospital trainee nurse or attendant (reports differ) was attacked inside a shuttle car, rendered unconscious, and taken to a house in the Sonagachhi area, where she has been gang-raped, according to the police FIR. In Burdwan, a young woman who had gone for a tuition was missing, till her disrobed dead body was found several days later. In  Malda, a ticket checker was arrested by the police for sexual violence against the wife of an army officer travelling in an air conditioned coach. Just under fifty cases of rape reported, not committed but only those reported, in West Bengal in the last sixty days. And a retired police officer goes on television, asserting that rape is not a preventable crime, since the police cannot be expected to know in advance when a woman is going to be attacked and raped.

The TMC government has been now in power for over two years, and it can no longer try and hide behind the over-used excuse of the years of CPI(M) misrule. So what the continuing violence on women show is of great significance.

In the first place, this shows that the criminally irresponsible stance of the Chief Minister and other Ministers and TMC leaders have emboldened rapists. The Park Street rape survivor, despite her strength and perseverance, is still waiting for justice since February 2012, while the main accused is still absconding.......so are the survivors of Katwa, Barasat, Katwa, Falta, Gurap, Santragachhi, Park Circus and other places throughout the province. In Kamduni, threats, constant pressure, and economic hardship have made the retention of solidarity difficult. And so, as protests die down or as the news channels feel that there is no longer much TRP to be milked out of these cases, and therefore report the continuing protests less and less, rapists are emboldened.

In the second place, the developments show that administrations and rulers have no wish to learn from past experiences. For them, rape remains simply a “law and order” problem. One still gets comments about the times when a woman should and should not go out, the issue of whether a single woman should move around at certain times, and worse. On the TV channel 24 Ghanta, an ex-cop defended the police, saying that the police face political pressure. He also argued that police do not have adequate infrastructure, and that is why they cannot tackle rape cases.

The third important point to note is, this has, in a way, started putting paid to all those who were arguing that all the elaborate arguments of the Verma Committee were marginal, and the main thing was to hang a few of the rapists. The trial of the Delhi Rape Case of 16 December was pushed through with a swiftness unheard of in the Indian judicial process, and all the adult criminals were not only convicted by the trial court, but given the death penalty. This has done absolutely nothing to prevent further cases of rape.

Rape is preventable. But prevention of rape requires a sustained political battle. No bourgeois party, nor most mainstream left parties, are willing to take on patriarchy, which is the social-cultural-ideological fountainhead of rape. Whether the BJP, or the TMC, or the Congress, have we not heard them describe the woman, ask questions about her morality, her dress, the legitimacy of her actions, in rape case after rape case? [This is of course quite apart from the political rapes on communal and caste grounds, whether in the Delhi riots of 1984, or Gujarat 2002]. Prevention of rape requires forcing the police to take every rape case, every rape complaint seriously. If rape survivors can be assaulted immediately after they dare to protest, or if people can be assaulted and abducted while travelling from or to work, then even the law and order approach has utterly failed. And by casting aspersion on the woman, the police are certainly aiding and abetting rapists who will use the threat of repeat rapes to silence victims.

To prevent rape, to force major changes in police and administrative functioning, we need a sustained battle. This calls for struggles on several levels.

First, we need a stringent implementation of law even more than law reform and the sensitisation of all arms of the state apparatus. To merely have some women’s cells of the police, or to create some all-women police stations, will do very little, as long as the bulk of the police force believes that it is legitimate to start by doubting the claim of rape, or as long as the government can think that the response to rape can be to offer compensation or Kanyashree scheme of providing scholarships to poor girl students. In the absence of security and adequate transport facilities the girl students will either face relentless sexual harassment and violence or their family will prevent them for pursuing their studies and marry them off.  As long as police, or even sections of the legal profession or the judiciary remain steeped in sexist values or patriarchal beliefs, rape will not be treated by them as a systemic issue.

An ultra-left position would say, there is no point in raising these demands within the bourgeois system at all. We disagree, because it is by fighting for concrete reforms, whether or not all of them are achieved here and now, that we can develop political consciousness, as well as a clearer picture of the kind of society we are fighting for. It is by fighting for the right of all men and women to work, to have the right to go to work without being under threat, that we can put something like the Rajarhat rape case, mentioned above, in the proper context. And while we believe that the police, the judiciary, are all parts of the bourgeois state, revolutionaries also need to understand that unless we integrate the struggle against patriarchy in our everyday struggles, it cannot become a part of the revolutionary programme. At the same time, we need to take special note of the class approach of the police and fight it. In the Malda case, they acted promptly, because the woman involved was the wife of an army officer, and was travelling upper class. In Madhyamgram, the woman is the daughter of a taxi driver, so her claim of being gang raped a second time can be safely deried by the Superintendent of police.

Second, we need therefore to build broad fronts of struggle. All women’s rights organisations, all democratic right organisations, trade unions, peasant organisations, student organisations, as well as political organisations of the radical left need to unite on a non-sectarian basis for wide and sustained mobilisations. The demand for exclusions should be treated carefully here. We agree that there can be no question of giving a clean chit to the previous regime. But the central goal of the struggle should be based on concrete demands, rather than on making lists of who to include and who to exclude from rallies, or other forms of protests.

We demand:
·    Immediate implementation of the Verma Committee Report by the Government of India
·    Abolition of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and stern action against all cases of rape/sexual violence in custody.
·    That the state must provide security to everyone living in India at all times, in all places not just citizens.
·    The Government of West Bengal, especially the Home ministry, must ensure that:
·    Every rape complaint is immediately followed by a proper FIR
·    Rape survivors are given protection as well as the necessary medical and legal assistance
·    The police take proper action all the way to filing charge-sheet, starting a case, and getting convictions.
·    No to “compensation”. Provide trauma therapy instead.
·    Punish the Officer in Charge as well as the Duty Officer of any Police Station that does not follow proper procedure as laid down in several legal documents in handling rape cases.
·    Ensure that police are informed and trained in handling cases relating to women with disabilities.
·    No to political rapes
·    No to rape culture


Kolkata , 29.10.2013

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