Updates

Articles

Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

Portugal After the Defeat of the Right wing Government

PORTUGAL

What will happen after this weekend’s agreement between the Socialists, the Left Bloc and the Communists?

Tuesday 10 November 2015, by Francisco Louçã

On Tuesday 10 November, the rightwing government in Portugal was defeated by a vote of 123 against, 107 for. [1] The Socialist Party has concluded an agreement with the Communist Party and the Left Bloc that would make it possible for the Socialist Party to form a government if the President invites them to do so. Françisco Louçã, former national spokesperson of the Left Bloc explains what is at stake.

Over the weekend, the Socialists and the Communists signed an agreement. Since the Left Bloc and the Socialists had already done likewise, there is, right now, a parliamentary majority to defeat the briefest government in the history of Portuguese democracy, bringing an end to the Passos Coelho and Paulo Portas saga. The outcome is fundamental as much as it is historical: after the horror of austerity, a new page is being turned.

Over the previous weeks, I have been quite critical of the time it took to close a deal and of its lack of audacity, because two separate agreements – even if they are basically the same – and three motions for rejection to take down the government mean a choice was made not to come up with a strong statement. But now that an agreement has been reached and it is public, it’s time to focus on its contents and durability, which I shall discuss from the only point of view that matters (to me): how to answer to the social crises exacerbated by the torment of austerity.

I will start with the agreement’s contents.

The three conditions mentioned by Catarina in her television debate with Costa were, even before the electoral campaign, the starting point for this weekend’s agreement: the SP must drop the reduction of the Single Social Tax paid by the employers, as well as the Single Social Tax for workers whose pensions have been cut; forget the so-called “conciliatory lay-offs” and unfreeze pensions. Faced with electoral results, which left the right wing with no majority, the SP accepted these conditions. And there were plenty of socialists sighting in relief, for they did not support those three ideas put forward by their own party.

But the agreements that have now been made public go further than that — much further than that, actually. They did come up with an emergency response embodying emergency measures, but did go the extra mile, inasmuch as some of them could become longstanding alternative answers to austerity if there is a will to do so.

The agreements stipulate the end of privatisations — there will be no more privatisations. They also cancel the recent processes of handing the urban public transports of Lisbon and Oporto to private companies. They protect water as an essential public asset.

As for labor incomes, which affects millions of workers, public sector wages will be fully restored (in 2016), while wages in the private sector will benefit (those over 600€ due to a reduction in the surcharge, which will be abolished in 2017; the ones bellow 600€ because of a decrease in social security contributions, with no future impact on pensions nor the sustainability of the social security). Four public holidays will be restored. Bearing in mind that losing them meant workers that to work more hours for the same wages, all workers will be positively affected — all 4,5 million of them.

All pensioners will be better-off (pensions bellow 600€ will be unfrozen and shall see a small recuperation, while those above 600€ will no longer have to pay the IRS surcharge), and that means two million people will be better-off. In contrast, the right wing had vowed to go ahead with a 4000 thousand euros cut in Social Security (1600 millions by freezing pensions, plus 2400 in 600 million a year in benefit cuts, as promised to Brussels). The difference is abyssal.

New fiscal rules will apply: IRS progressivity is restored with more tax brackets; the familiar quotient, beneficial for wealthier families, is replaced by an IRS deduction per child; there is a limit clause for rises in Municipal Property Tax (it cannot exceed 75€ per year) and Corporate Income Tax reductions will come to a halt; the deadline to report company losses will be reduced to five years, instead of the twelve, and new rules will curb fiscal benefits from dividends. Finally, VAT in restaurants will return to 13%.

To fight poverty, the minimum wage will rise to 557€ on January 1st, 2017, and to 600€ by the end of the mandate. Poor families will be entitled to reduced electricity fares. Such measures will benefit one million people.

Measures shall be adopted to make sure false autonomous workers are provided with proper contracts; collective bargaining shall be reinstated; the special mobility regime for public workers, which lead to lay-offs, will be cancelled.

Attachment orders on people’s homes due to public liabilities will no longer be allowed. Mortgage debts will from now on be settled whenever there is dation in payment (that is, the bank keeps the house), if there is no alternative in terms of new deadlines and interest rates.

The list of measures on health and education includes reducing NHS user charges and a textbook exchange mechanism.

The Socialist Party withdrew its electoral law proposal, which included single member constituencies (the “first to pass the post” system used in the UK).

Finally, a parliamentary cooperation proceedings have been agreed, with multiple meetings between the parties, and including setting up committees on external debt sustainability and the future of social security. These committees shall write trimestral reports.

What is thus achieved is stability in people’s lives, relief for pension holders, wage recovery, jobs protection and more fiscal justice. On the other hand, such an increase on aggregate demand will cause an immediate positive economic reaction.

What is then missing?

The agreements lack structural solutions for investment and on how to manage and improve both external and income accounts. Only debt restructuring will enable it; otherwise, there will be no leeway to resist external pressures and launch employment. It will take investment and promoting the productive capacity, and the State will have to play a strategic pivotal role in reacting to the protracted recession we have been dealing with.

Besides, we cannot yet foresee what the conditions imposed by Brussels, Berlin or the ECB will be, but we know they won’t be favourable. We must keep in mind the statement issued by the European Commission only two days after the elections, which demanded new measures on social security — the subject will remain a matter of dispute. And we must also keep in mind how rating agencies have been threatening the Portuguese Republic. Lastly, the Novo Banco issue [the bank that was created after the bankruptcy of BES and that the government has been trying to sell, unsuccessfully] will blow up before the summer, bringing about wither important losses to the budget balance, demands for recapitalisation or a new bank resolution process, which must be carried out in accordance with technical demands that protect the public welfare and cut down on external debt.

These are the problems that will be knocking on our doorstep over the next months and years. The new majority is quite aware of it, because there is a safeguard clause guaranteeing that no budgetary unforeseen event or situation will lead to higher taxes on labor or lower wages and pensions. The time has surely come to start devising the answers to such unforeseen events and situations, because they will be here before the new Budget.

Source: Esquerda.net.

Footnotes

[1The Guardian“Portuguese MPs force minority government to quit over austerity ”.

 

From International Viewpoint.

Francisco Louçã is an economist and a Left Bloc member of the Portuguese parliament. He was the candidate of the Left Bloc in the presidential election of January 2005 (where he won 5.3% of the votes).

Migrations and Rural Workers – In solidarity with migrants

Migrations and Rural Workers – In solidarity with migrants

Monday 14 September 2015by Via Campesina (Europe)

 

The European Coordination Via Campesina in solidarity with migrants

Brussels, 14th September 2015

In view of the humanitarian crisis that we are living in Europe, the peasants of La Via Campesina Europe want to show their sincere solidarity with all refugees who were and who are forced to leave their villages and their countries. We show our solidarity especially with Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, Kurds, those coming from all different regions of Africa dying by the hundreds on their way to Europe.

We would like to denounce the current cruel European migration policies, as well as all measures put in place to prevent or to complicate the free access to Europe.

Even though the media rarely talk about it, we want to call the reasons that force refugees to flee their countries to mind. We have to tackle the problem at its roots in order to end the aggressions and to change the living conditions these people suffer from in their home countries.

Finally, we want to remind that once more civil society as well as peasants have reacted faster and much better than most of our governments. With our commitment and solidarity we aim to build a Europe where human beings are more important than neo-liberal economic interests.

Spokespersons on this issue:

Unai Aranguren, ECVC Coordination Committee

Paula Gioia, ECVC Coordination Committee

The Red Green Alliance in Denmark Changes Perspectives

Danish RGA changes perspective

 Michael Voss


The RGA defines its task as building a new Left in opposition to Social Democracy and to the right wing. The focus will no longer be appeals to or demands towards Social Democracy, but rather building our own political and organisational alternative and taking on responsibility for building social movements.

For the socialist left in Denmark the relationship to Social Democracy has always been the crux of political tactics. This focus has taken different forms. Some parts of the left worked for an alliance with the social democratic leadership. Other parts of the left expected some improvements from a social democratic government, compared to governments of the traditional right wing parties. Then again others made it a priority to reveal the class treason of the social democrats.

The Fourth International organisation in Denmark tried to implement a united front approach, based on the understanding and definition of Social Democracy as a reformist workers party or a bourgeois workers party.

All these variants of a socialist left approach to the historic big party of the labour movement have been present in Enhedslisten/Red Green Alliance.

Young illusions

In addition to the traditional currents of the socialist left, also known in the rest of Europe, a special current developed in the Red Green Alliance during the 10 years of right-wing government from 2001 to 2011. A layer of young activists came out of the autonomous movement, the different student organisations, the anti-racism movement, the pro-refugee movement, the anti-cuts protests and other anti-government manifestations.

They experienced alliances with social democratic youth leaders, social democratic union leaders and on a few occasions support from social democratic MPs in opposing the right-wing government of that period. They were of a generation that did not study the history of the labour movement and experiences, strategies and tactics of the revolutionary movement very much. Out of this came a romantic view of previous Social Democratic governments and some illusions in what a new Social Democratic government would do or could be convinced to do.

This generation of RGA-members had an important position in the party in the period preceding the 2011 elections: in the National Leadership, in the – at that time – small parliamentary group, among the party staff in Parliament and in the group of candidates for the 2011 elections.

Hope for change

The focus on Social Democracy and on the importance of a change of government was not without foundation. Though based on an overall neoliberal approach to economic analysis, financial politics, social welfare politics and labour market politics, Social Democracy did actually propose some pro-worker and pro-welfare reforms in their election campaign of 2011.

Illusions in the outcome of a change of government were shared by an important part of the Social Democratic electorate. For the first time in many years union activists campaigned actively for a new government.

This situation inside and outside our party defined the RGA election campaign. The RGA challenged Social Democracy to carry out the best of their own election promises and to use a governmental change to make a real political change. In my view that was a necessary tactic, but already during the election campaign it was obvious that the young generation of the leadership did not only see it as a tactic, but really expected a government that would cooperate with the Red Green Alliance in implementing some progressive reforms – or at least put a halt to neoliberal austerity.

Disappointment

To the voters of Social Democracy, of Socialist People’s Party and a to a big extent of the Red Green Alliance the hard core neoliberal political practice of the new government came as a huge disappointment (See previous articles, most recently “A defeat for austerity policies but no left wing victory”, June 2015).

This was equally true for the generation of young RGA MPs and party employees. For example, when the government broke off negotiations with the RGA on a tax reform and instead made a parliamentary deal with the traditional right wing parties, the very popular public spokesperson of the RGA, Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, went on national TV in a fit of anger and said that the government “is pissing on their voters” and that from now on no deals on financial politics would be made with the RGA without an exact financial compensation for the negative effects of the tax reform and of other deals with the right wing.

Nevertheless the MP-group - with the support of the majority of the National Leadership - continued the rhetorical narrative of calling “our friends in Social Democracy” to order. They fixed most of their political proposals within the confines of “restoring the welfare society that we have built for decades”. And they agreed to support the national budget of the government once more.

Cracks in this approach did appear, though, from the MP-group itself and coming out of the debates in the party. When elections were called in June 2015, it was obvious that running a campaign on the idea of positive change if the Social Democratic prime minister were re-elected would not be possible. Consequently, the RGA election campaign focused very much on RGA-politics, less on the issue of government. Still, very reasonably, the aim of avoiding the right-wing candidate for prime minister was an important part of the RGA campaign, but this was said in the framework of “things getting even worse” and “minimising the chances of RGA-influence”.

No common project

When the RGA met in September for its first annual convention after the elections, a much stronger underlying change in attitude towards Social Democracy surfaced. The outgoing National Leadership – almost unanimously – proposed a brief text called “The Left of the Future – tasks for the RGA”.

The text said:

“The story about the Helle Thorning-Schmidt government, the election campaign of Social Democracy plus the post-election statements of the new leader of Social Democracy (HTS resigned just after the elections, and Mette Frederiksen took over - MV) have made it clear that the RGA has no project in common with Social Democracy. On the contrary the economic policy and the migrant/refugee policy of Social Democracy are much closer to the right wing than to us.”

The text then stated the need to rebuilt the Left and said:

“In this task we cannot rely on Social Democracy as a co-player. The Left must strengthen itself and develop by itself in opposition to both the right wing and to Social Democracy. Our main task cannot be attempts to make small correction to the defeated and mistaken political perspective of Social Democracy. We are the Left in our own right with our own perspective and our own course.”

The text took notice of the fact that the RGA now is the biggest party to the left of Social Democracy and concluded that it is the duty of the RGA to lead the work of rebuilding the Left.

This overall perspective was divided into seven roughly sketched tasks. Among these was the need for the RGA to take responsibility for building protests, mobilisation and organisations – not just supporting initiatives of others or demanding that other “leaderships” take action.

The text concluded in a call to other groups and individuals to join in the debate about a new Left in Denmark.

No blueprint – no guarantees

With only one vote against and a small number of abstentions the text was accepted by the convention.

Of course this does not change the RGA overnight – for many reasons. The text itself is not a blueprint for a new party project, but it indicates a new direction and some of the steps necessary to move that way.

RGA members and groups of members have made this overall conclusion on the basis of different analyses and experiences. Some have tried to move the party in that direction before. Some base the new approach on an analysis of the long-term development of Social Democracy. Others support the new perspective as an immediate reaction to their disappointment with the SD-led government.

A sober evaluation must include the fact that it is not relevant right now to appeal to Social Democracy or even make alliances with the party – whatever your political perspective is. A traditional right wing majority in Parliament supports the present government, and Social Democracy is only one of several opposition parties with no power at all. When we get closer to the next elections, and the issue of a new government is posed once more, old habits can easily surface again.

Membership democracy defended

Among other issues at the convention was a new plan for building the party. Part of this were several proposals that diminished membership influence, for example National Leadership election every two years instead of every year and choosing parliamentary candidates every two years instead every year. Another proposal weakened minority rights when choosing National Leadership.

These proposals were backed by the majority of the outgoing National Leadership, but they were all clearly defeated at the convention.

 

Michael Voss

Michael Voss is a member of the leadership of the Red-Green Alliance and a member of the SAP (Socialist Workers’ Party, Danish section of the Fourth International). As a representative of the SAP, he participated in the negotiations that led to the establishment of the RGA. From 1995 to 2006, he worked as a journalist and press officer for the parliamentary group of the RGA.

From International Viewpoint

Ten years on: Katrina, militarisation and climate change

CLIMATE

Ten years on: Katrina, militarisation and climate change

Friday 25 September 2015, by Ben Hayes and Nick Buxton

 

A security-led approach to climate change and complex emergencies not only fails to address the fundamental causes of these crises – it will often exacerbate them.

As images from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina are replayed around the world, they are still as shocking as they were ten years ago. Many of us watched in disbelief as we saw how the world’s richest and most powerful state seemed unable, then unwilling, to rescue its own citizens – sending in trigger-happy troops who shot at the hurricane’s victims instead. Coming so soon after the Iraq war, the hapless Bush administration appeared unable to respond to any crisis without resort to the military. As the waters receded, America’s deep-seated racism and inequality was laid bare for the whole world to see.

Could it happen again today? To an important extent, the US government’s response to Hurricane Katrina has become a textbook example of ‘how-not-do-it’ for crisis managers around the world. Embarrassed by their failure, the US government carried out a significant reorganisation of the maligned Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). When Hurricane Sandy caused carnage in 2012, their response – while still wanting in places – was more widely praised.

But the structural inequality and institutional racism that underpinned the Bush administration’s response is still there, a fact that President Obama noted on his visit to New Orleans this week. Moreover, the already bloated military and security complex that reflected these power relations has expanded enormously since Katrina – and is now using the spectre of climate change to grab yet more public resources.

Two years after Katrina, in 2007, the Pentagon released its first major report on climate change, warning in no uncertain terms of an “age of consequences” in which, amongst other things, “altruism and generosity would likely be blunted.” This was followed up a year later by an EU security report that talked of climate change as a “threat multiplier” that “threatens to overburden states and regions which are already fragile and conflict prone.” It warned that this would lead to “political and security risks that directly affect European interests”. Over the next few years, the national security strategies of the countries across the global north would be rewritten to offer the same self-interested and dystopian vision.

In the aftermath of the financial crisis and the so-called Arab Spring, the dystopian thinking of powerful elites has had to face up to increasingly ‘complex emergencies’ as the reliance of modern societies on global supply lines, industrial food production, transnational infrastructure and high-tech communications have exposed and exacerbated existing vulnerabilities, by ensuring that disaster in one place now reverberates far beyond the initial point of contact. Climate change, the narrative goes, will add more fuel to the fire.

Former UK Government Chief Scientist John Beddington has already warned of a potential “perfect storm” of converging food, water and energy crises by 2030, which could see states struggle to control delivery of basic goods and services. Doomsday scenarios are very much the order of the day. For some commentators, this is little more than ‘collapse porn’, a malign and apathy-producing catastrophism that fails to take into account the capacity of modern societies to adapt and become more resilient.

However, in one sense, the accuracy of the predictions doesn’t really matter. On the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina we only have to look at how the humanitarian crisis on Europe’s doorstep and in its borderlands is unfolding. In Calais, we see a humanitarian emergency being treated as a security issue as the British government has pledged £22 million pounds on fences, police and dogs to keep out refugees fleeing war and torture. Both Hungary and Bulgaria announced this week that they were deploying troops, so-called “border hunters”, to prevent refugees entering the country from the former Yugoslavia.

Further afield in Brazil, there were reports this summer of authorities mobilising troops to defend water infrastructure amid an ongoing drought in the megacity of São Paulo. Absent credible plans to conserve water and tackle some of the root causes of water scarcity such as deforestation, journalists reported that approximately 70 soldiers were involved in exercises to prepare the utility for an uprising, with 30 men with machine guns stationed in the facility’s canteen.

And we can already see how the national security planners are factoring protests against inequality and social injustice into the new crisis management paradigms: by trying to predict complex emergencies and social unrest. Today, the UK’s National Risk Register, for example, lists “public disorder” and “disruptive industrial action” as among the most severe and likely security threats facing the country. Crucially, by casting these issues as security threats rather than social justice issues, a very different medicine is proscribed. Moreover, the authorities have greatly increased their powers to deal with these so-called ‘threats’. Staying with the UK, the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 permits ministers to introduce "emergency regulations" without recourse to parliament and "give directions or orders" of virtually unlimited scope, including the destruction of property, prohibiting assemblies, banning travel and outlawing "other specified activities". Again, this is the shape of emergency planning the world over.

Dystopian preparations by the state are reflected in the corporate arena. Where we see a future climate crisis, many companies see only opportunity: oil firms looking forward to melting ice caps delivering new accessible fossil fuels; security firms touting the latest technologies to secure borders from ‘climate refugees’; or investment fund managers speculating on weather-related food prices – to name but a few. In 2012, Raytheon, one of the world’s largest defence contractors, announced "expanded business opportunities" arising from "security concerns and their possible consequences," due to the "effects of climate change" in the form of "storms, droughts, and floods". The rest of the defence sector has been quick to follow.

The implications of a militarised and profit-making approach to climate adaptation and crisis-management are very disturbing – and need to be taken more seriously by anyone concerned with environmental justice, civil liberties and democracy.

Ultimately, a security-led approach to climate change and complex emergencies not only fails to address the fundamental causes of these crises – it will often exacerbate them. Worldwide the increased focus on food security is already driving increased land grabbing. The diversion of resources into military spending and strategies is preventing much needed investment in crisis-prevention and tackling the root causes of human insecurity. Given that climate change will impact disproportionately on the poorest, a militarisation of our response merely compounds a fundamental injustice – that those least responsible for climate change will be most affected.

In this sense, Hurricane Katrina was a watershed moment and a warning to us all as it laid bare the way in which democratic states would become more preoccupied with the threat posed by their own citizens – instead of taking the bold steps needed to protect current and future populations. Transformed by 9/11, it is this vision of ‘Homeland Security’ that is shaping future responses to emergency – and transforming climate change from a social justice issue to a national security one. We the people have to combine our actions to end worsening climate change with a transformation of the institutions that seek to respond to its impacts.

August 28 Open Democracy

CLIMATE: DISASTER IS ON ITS WAY!

CLIMATE: DISASTER IS ON ITS WAY!

 

The earth's climate is changing quickly, much faster than experts thought.

 

There is no doubt what is causing this: the warming of the atmosphere as a result of emissions by greenhouse gases, mainly CO2 from the burning of oil, coal and natural gas.

 

The Earth has warmed by 0.8°C degrees over the last two centuries. This is sufficient to cause a rise in sea levels by almost two metres in the centuries to come. Nobody can stop it. Hundreds of millions of people will be forced to move, millions of hectares of land for growing food will be lost, urban areas will need to be evacuated. The peoples of the South, who are the least responsible, will be the most affected.

 

Governments have ignored the warnings. Twenty-three years after the Rio Summit, annual emissions of global greenhouse gases are rising twice as fast as in the 1990s. Despite the economic crisis! 

 

At this rate, the warming at the end of the century would not be 2°C but 6°C. This will lead to terrible disasters, which are totally unimaginable.  

 

COP 21: Dust in the eyes of the people, gifts to the bosses  

 

The urgency is intense because the measures we need to take have been put off for decades.

 

The “developed” countries must begin immediately to reduce emissions by at least 10% per year and completely eliminate them by 2050. The major emerging countries must quickly follow. Other countries still have a margin, but it is quickly being reduced.

 

If nothing changes, the quantity of oil, coal and natural gas that can still be burned without exceeding 2°C of global warming will be exhausted by 2030. 

 

The 21st United Nations conference on the climate (COP21) will be held in Paris in December 2015. The political leaders are trying to hoodwink us by saying that, this time, they will conclude an “ambitious” agreement. 

 

It is true that they might conclude an agreement to save face. But what is certain is that this agreement will be totally inadequate environmentally and very socially unfair.

Its content is determined in advance by the commitments of the major polluters: United States, European Union, China, Japan, Australia, and Canada. On this basis, the warming of the Earth will be at least 3.6 to 4°C by the end of the century. 

 

These commitments were negotiated with the industrial and financial lobbies and are tailored to their interests. The multinationals are rubbing their hands at the prospect of new markets opening up: carbon markets, “green” technologies, forest compensation, capture-sequestration, adaptation to the effects of global warming and so on. 

 

But a warming of 4°C means an increase in sea level of 10 metres in the long term as well as the more immediate impact: accelerated decline of biodiversity; more storms, cyclones, droughts, floods, heat waves; reduction of agricultural productivity and so on.

 

Saving capitalism or the climate?

 

The truth has been established for decades. The IPCC is an inter-governmental body; national governments are supposed to be committed to the main lines of its reports. Technical solutions exist, the financial means also. So why do governments not take the necessary steps? Why do they recommend false or dangerous “solutions” such as shale gas, agro-fuels, nuclear energy, geo-engineering and so on? 

 

The answer is simple: because the governments are at the service of the multinationals and banks who are waging a war of competition for maximum profit, a war which prompts firms to produce still more (and therefore consume more resources), and more than 80% of the energy they use comes from coal, oil and natural gas.

 

To save the climate: 1) 4/5ths of known reserves of fossil fuels must remain underground; 2) the energy system based on these fossil sources (and on nuclear power) must be destroyed as quickly as possible, without compensation; 3) production which is harmful, unnecessary or based on planned obsolescence must be abandoned, in order to reduce the consumption of energy and other resources; 4) the despotic and unequal productivist/consumerist system must be replaced by a renewable system, one that is efficient, decentralized, social and democratic.

 

It is possible to stop the climate catastrophe while guaranteeing a dignified life for all.  On one condition: taking anti-capitalist measures. Governments prefer to destroy the planet, endangering the lives of hundreds of millions of poor people, workers, peasants, women and young people who are already victims of climate change, and threaten humanity with barbaric chaos while the arms dealers profit. 

 

Capital considers nature and work as its property. There is no choice between climate emergency and social justice; it is one and the same struggle. Let us mobilize. Beyond the COP21, affirm our rights, develop our struggles, let us build our common actions, and build a planetary mass movement. 

 

All to action, together on all fronts

 

The fossil multinationals need to extend their grip. Let’s stop them. Mobilize against the infrastructure projects which are at their service: the new airports, new pipelines, new motorways, and the new madness of shale gas. Denounce the tax and other benefits offered to maritime, air and road transport companies. 

 

The “developed” powers which are mainly responsible for global warming then turn their backs on the refugees created by the crises that their policy of domination and aggravated arming cause. Reject the walls and camps of fortress Europe, demand that climate migrants be given the right of asylum.

 

Agribusiness and the timber industry are responsible for 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. Mobilize against GMOS, support local organic smallholder agriculture and food sovereignty. Build networks and associations of producers-consumers. Support the rights of indigenous peoples to their resources and the struggles of women who produce 80% of the food in the countries of the South.

 

We are witnessing a biodiversity catastrophe. The sixth extinction as it is known: the biggest extinction of species since the demise of the dinosaurs. Between 40 and 50 percent of all species on the planet could be extinct by  the mid-century. A quarter of all mammal species are currently at risk of extinction against a background (natural) extinction rate of just one every 700 years. Organise to protect biodiversity.

 

The right of everyone to a decent standard of housing, to clean water, to transport, to heating and light, is good for the climate and for employment. Organise to ensure that water, transport and the insulation and renovation of housing are provided in the public sector, under the control of producers and workers, and that all are free at the point of use.

 

The productivist and consumerist madness in furniture, textiles, electronics, packaging etc. have contributed much to global warming. Reject products which are disposable, have planned obsolescence, are non-repairable or non-recyclable.  Organize to support the workers of these sectors, particularly in countries where wages are low.  

 

Workers should not bear the costs of the transition. Workers occupied in wasteful, harmful, polluting, industries should mobilize for collective conversion without loss of salary, to socially useful and environmentally responsible functions.  

 

The right to free time is good for the climate, for health and for employment. Let’s mobilize for everyone to work less and less flexibly by the reduction of working time, without loss of salary, with compensatory recruitment and reduction of rhythms of work.

 

The fossil multinationals and the banks are blocking the transition. Demand the disinvestment of these sectors. Expel the private sector from energy and finance, without indemnities or buyouts. This is the indispensable condition to enable the community has to organize the transition quickly and rationally. Energy is a gift of nature, it must belong to nobody. Let us mobilize for a public energy service, decentralized, under the control of workers and users. 

 

Ecosocialism or barbarism

 

The climate crisis gives a great topicality to the alternative “socialism or barbarism”.  A true revolution is necessary. We must change everything! Not only to distribute in an egalitarian manner the fruit of our work, but also to decide what we produce and how we produce – free from hype and waste- and call into question the roles that patriarchal capitalism gives men and women. 

 

In short, it is a shift of civilization, of transition to a new society, eco-socialist, eco-feminist, based on solidarity and respect for the environment. A society where the major management decisions, the priorities of production and consumption will no longer be taken by a handful of exploiters, bureaucrats or pseudo-experts, guided by profit but by all. This change will come not through elections, but through our struggles. All together, we can impose it, if we want to!

 

Bureau of the Fourth International

21st of September 2015

http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/

 

 

Greek General Elections: The Crisis of Left Politics

Soma Marik

For the second time in a year Greeks went to general elections to elect a new parliament. Syriza, led by Alexis Tsipras, won the elections. But this does not at all mean that Greece has emerged out of its crisis. Indeed, Greek left politics is also facing a turning point.

The Background to the Elections:

In the elections of January 2015, Syriza, constantly called a far left or radical left party, won 149 seats out of 300. Though it had won the election by promising to oppose the exploitation by banks, it swiftly took the path of compromises. After first not opposing directly the issue of debt repayment, in early July, the Tsipras government organised a referendum. Unexpectedly for them, there was a mass outpouring, and 61 per cent of the people taking part (6,161,140 of them, or 62.5 per cent of the total voters) voted a resounding OXI (No), i.e., they rejected the demands made by the Troika or European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF. In working class areas and among youth in some cases the No reached up to 90 per cent. But viewing parliament as the main terrain of struggle, Tsipras followed up this tremendous victory, not with mass mobilisations but renewed negotiations, where German imperialism bullied Greece, and compromise turned into supine surrender. The aggressive terms imposed by the Third Memorandum were indeed worse than what had been rejected. The question that naturally came up was, whether such surrender was without any alternative.

From 2012, Syriza had been insisting that it was opposed to debt repayment, for the socialisation of banks, and for the restoration of the minimum wages. This was why in 2012 they rejected any collaboration with any bourgeois party. And this seeming commitment to principle was why in January 2015 they got the first position in the elections, with 36.3% votes (2,245, 978). So the surrender for obvious reasons generated cracks in the party. In the Central Committee, initially 109 of the 201 members condemned the Troika’s impositions. 37 Syriza MPs voted against Tsipras’ proposals in parliament. The proposals passed with the support of right wing parties. But it was evident that Tsipras could no longer run a government in the current parliament. So he decided to go in for elections while his popularity lasted.

After the election proposal came, leftists in Syriza tried to quickly regroup and form an alternative party. 24 MPs including Panagiotis Lafazanis, formerly a minister in Tsipras’ cabinet, resigned and formed Popular Unity, a new party that proclaimed that it wanted to go back to Syriza’s original principles. The question came up, whether this would split the left vote and enable the right wing to forge ahead. Seemingly, it is Tsipras and the left that have won, but we need to understand what lies behind this victory.

Election Results:

The election of 20 September 2015 will occupy a special place in the Greek constitutional and electoral history. The Greek law makes voting mandatory, so though harsh punitive measures have usually not been imposed, polling tends to be high. This time, some 1.6 million of those who voted in the referendum were absent. Even taking the January polls as the bench mark, some 8,00,000 fewer people voted. The turnout was short of 56 per cent. So over 44 percent registered their protest by not voting. The moral legitimacy of the elections are thus certainly called into question, though after twice rejecting the mandate he had been given, Tsipras is hardly likely to be bothered by moral questions.

Syriza has obtained 35.5% of the votes, or 1,925,904, substantially down from the 2,245,978. Their sears also went down by four to 145. At this point we need to issue  a reminder that the Greek electoral law is loaded towards the top party, which gets a bonus of 50 seats. So the 145 implies 95 won, and 50 bonus. The biggest warning is, despite the decline in votes, the Fascist Golden Dawn’s voters turned up – it secured only 9000 votes less than in January, so in terms of its percentage the figure went up. The party in fact obtained one seat more than last time. The KKE (Communist Party) clung to its percentage and seats. New Democracy, the party getting second place, obtained 27.8% votes and lost one seat. ANEL, the bourgeois partner of Tsipras last time and possibly also this time, lost both votes and seats, getting 10, which however will allow Tsipras to form a government now that the Left of his own party is absent. But the coalition will of course not be very strong.

Tsipras has two advantages. First, the departure of principled leftists from the party enables him to position himself as the best bet for the Greek and the European rulers. Secondly, the main bourgeois opposition party finds itself solidly trounced. But there are plenty of difficulties. Over the past two  months, Syriza leaders have indirectly admitted that the bureaucracy has consistently carried on non-cooperation with them. Secondly, it is evident that the bulk of left voters have still voted Syriza. Those who did not vote Syriza mostly chose to stay away rather than vote Popular Unity. With 155,142 votes, it was unable to cross the 3% mark, which gives parties seats in Parliament.

The Interests of Euro-Capital:

The biggest winner in this election is European capital.  Had Tsipras lost the elections, he might have done a “left” turn and posed at least parliamentary opposition to debt repayment. But was this surrender inevitable? Advocates of Tsipras, like Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, are insisting that this was indeed the case. That is not the reality. After the results of the referendum came out, the Greek Rightwing was in utter disarray. What was necessary was a political battle. What was the demand of the day was  the postponing of debt repayment, or even raising the slogan of not repaying the debt and urging people to come out on the streets behind this demand.

But Tsipras is not the sole problem here. There is also a problem with the leftists who have left to form Popular Unity. The slogan of rebuilding the original and uncorrupted Syriza is still a slogan to build a party whose centre of gravity will be in the parliament. That Popular Unity did not cross the 3% bump and enter parliament is being blamed in certain quarters on Antarsiya and the EEK who formed a bloc and got some 46,000 votes (0.85%) – which showed that their votes increased in percentage and in absolute numbers despite the decline in the total number of voters. Had this been added, the left might have got at least 9 seats.

But the reply to this had been given even before the elections by the OKDE (Organisation of Greek Internationalist Communists, Section of the Fourth International and a constituent of Antarsiya). In the statement issued by them on 3 September, they argued that in the first place, Popular Unity had clearly expressed the position that they were fighting to register protests, not for power. Under the circumstances, calling upon people to vote for Popular Unity meant accepting their programmatic positions, which were at variance with Antarsiya. Antarsiya did not see Syriza as a revolutionary party, so rebuilding a “pure” Syriza was not part of Antarsiya’s agenda. For them, Syriza was a bloc of reformists with revolutionaries in which the reformists dominated and whose orientation was the parliament.

Secondly, formed as a result of elections being declared, Popular Unity had an electoralist appearance. OKDE argued that its main task was to build mass movements. Moreover, OKDE argued that PU had till recently been in the Cabinet, had shown great respect to bureaucrats, so the centrality of parliament meant or them not waging extra parliamentary struggles hard enough.

If battles are waged, keeping opposition to austerity at the centre, te mass movement perspective and the parliamentary perspectives can start coming together. Greek leftists have the same problem as others in countries where democracy of whatever value exists – how to develop a revolutionary strategy incorporating democracy. Failure to do so will mean shuttling between parliamentarism and mass movements that ignore the parliamentary institutions.

The crisis of Greece is yet to be over. One dimension of this is the set of demands presented by the Troika. The European leaders have insisted that Tsipras must waste no more time, but must start “reforms”. In other words, he must use his parliamentary majority to implement the agreements. These include a promise to ensure primary surplus of 3.5% of the GDP from 2018. In that case funds in the hands of people must go down even mote, because neither will taxes be raised on the rich, nor will the economic crimes be checked.

To this is added the immigrant issue. Many impoverished people travel to Europe in the hope of a better life. On the streets of Greece one has watched huge numbers of Bsngladeshis, Pakistanis, and yes, Indians. Not only do they try to find a living for themselves, but they have to work terribly hard to remit money home. So Greece is full of people who do not have proper papers and are therefore “illegal”. These people work for 12, even 14 hours a day. And the rightists do two things, simultaneously. They abuse the Greek workers, who demand an 8 hour working day and minimum wages, as lazy. And at the same time they spread aggressive nationalist hatred against the immigrants and refugees. If the Tsipras Government had anything positive to its credit, that was the relatively humane behaviour it meted out to such people. But now it is under pressure to halt that.

In search of an Alternative Left?

Adding the votes of all the left groups, blocs and parties outside Syriza does not carry much political significance. The Communist Party had allied with rightists to defeat the Right Social Democratic PASOK. But it will ally with no left party, believing it has a divine mandate for an eventual majority. Popular Unity will have to decide whether it will make leaving the Euro, bank nationalisation, and sutained struggles against European and Greek capitalists central to its tasks. The difference with Antarsiya seems to be, not just a greater stress on parliament, which might be necessary, but a bit of hesitation about making the exit from the Euro central to its campaigns, though midway though the election process it did call for that. For substantial sections of the Greek left, it is like the Eagles song Hotel California:

You can check out any time you like

But you can never leave.

That Syriza retreated politically but still won the elections has a significance going beyond Greece. Pablo Iglesias, leader of  Spain’s Podemos, stated bluntly that in this game of chess they could not ask for more. As long as the class struggle remains a parliamentary game of chess, this will indeed be “realism”.

 

 

Radical Socialist Statement on the Struggle Against Private Electricity Suppliers and Illegitimate Tariff Hikes

 

By the time this statement reaches people, a group of activists united under the banner of the Peoples Movement Against Power Tariff Hike will have entered the fourteenth day of their hunger strike. The network at present is small, and there could well be debates about some of the tactics it has taken. Some remarks in social media tend to show that such debates about purity are taking place.

 

It is therefore necessary to examine the issue from a clearly socialist point of view. The campaign was initiated due to an action that has been taking place almost every year. The Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation announces, with the consent of the Electricity Regulatory Commission, revisions of rates. Not only does it do so almost every year, but it announces rate hikes with retrospective effect. In other word, after people have consumed power and have even paid the bill, as they thought, they are informed later that they must pay more because the rate is being increased from an earlier date. The success of neoliberalism has meant that all major parties, from right to left, have accepted that certain market linked principles cannot be questioned by elected governments. Indeed, they feel that it is the duty of elected governments to support certain particular forces.

 

The CESC is one of several power suppliers in India owned by private companies. And the logic of private companies is that they must make a profit, not only some profit, but profit at the highest possible rate. So, while the Electricity Act gives governments to override the State Regulatory Commissions in the public interest, the reality is that it does not happen. For many years in West Bengal, for example, the Goenka owned CESC has been imposing and collecting arrears in this way, regardless of whether the CPI(M) led Left Front or the TMC had been in power.

 

While the people who came together might be a small number, what they have done after a long time, is to challenge the consensus that says, profits first, do not challenge the rights of monopoly capital. In this, their action is similar to other small or medium scale actions. For example we can mention the case of the Asongothito Kshetra Sangrami Sramik Mancha organising a campaign for minimum wages for a whole series of sectors in West Bengal back in 2011, shortly after the TMC government was formed and the bourgeois media were heralding the end of the left. Equally as another example, we can talk of a small Union, the Progressive Plantation Workers Union early this year, opposing the rotten agreement in the tea gardens. None of these show a dramatic shift away from the mainstream left. But they all are straws in the wind, that new forces are beginning to come out and question the neo-liberal consensus.

 

This is of course not specific to West Bengal, or even to India. There are various developments, all of which show working people seeking alternatives. In some cases they have emerged. In other cases there might have been expectations belied. Such for example was the broad party building exercise in Greece. In other cases, apparently dead organisations have seen revival, as with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour Party. It would be argued that we are comparing totally different issues. We say, we are pointing to a trend, where some people, everywhere, are beginning to challenge the neoliberal consensus that Margaret Thatcher made famous as TINA (there is no alternative). As of now, the challenges in India are small -- much smaller than some of the European examples we have cited. The mainstream left still dominates the working class, and unlike the trade unions, which have sometimes taken up serious fights, the left parties have a totally spineless attitude. Yet, the fact that in the first half of September, the Left Front also decided to get into the act, shows that while the small forces may not be strong enough to launch and sustain movements where hundreds of thousands of people really join the fight, they are already in a position where they can make masses of people aware, and compel the mainstream left to take periodic actions.

 

This immediately brings up tactical questions which we from outside a particular campaign cannot address in full, yet which do need discussions. The mainstream left cannot be totally ignored, as long as they exist. The sectarian stance is to simply abuse them and turn one’s back on them. This is good for purity, but this means imposing a limit on how large a movement will eventually be built.

On the other hand, to merge banners is to ensure that the mainstream left will step in, steal the issue, and then make a rotten compromise. There is a need to retain one’s organisational independence, which in turn calls for a political clarification and the raising of one’s banner; while at the same time agreeing to specific, limited, united front actions.

If the demands are such that the action emboldens the masses and lead to further militancy, such united fronts serve toiling people and should be promoted. But there cannot be a unity that leads to the surrender of the banner of revolutionaries and of militant fighters, since given the relation of forces even now, despite its continuous bloodletting, shows a far greater numerical strength of the reformist left. Our goal must be, not just a token show of force or even a token concession. In the field of power, the issues and demands must involve the following:

·   Questioning the logic of periodic hikes altogether

·   Scrapping the retrospective effects of power hike

·   Questioning why private companies must be given such crucial public utilities, especially when they do not even produce but mostly buy and supply the power

·   Demanding the expansion of solar, wind power

 

Kolkata 19 September, 2015 

Subcategories