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Kashmir and Indian democracy

Kashmir and Indian democracy

By Nagesh Rao

Virtually every news article about the Indian elections begins by reminding us that India is "the world's largest democracy," with 800 million eligible voters.

In other news, meanwhile, Kashmiris are boycotting the elections en masse.

What does it say about democracy when millions of people in a state think it's a fraud? All over India, people have turned out in impressive numbers: 75 percent here, 80 percent there. In Kashmir, however, news reports about the early phases of polling have pegged voter turnout at 28 percent. Isn't this low enough for Indians to ask what it is about these elections that is so unappealing to Kashmiris?

We all cherish the right to vote as a fundamental democratic right, and yet here we see a mass boycott of that very basic political right that we all hold dear. Why are Kashmiris so averse to voting in these elections? It isn't enough to say that they are being misled by their leaders. That's simply elitist--you're thinking of Kashmiris as dupes, as robots controlled by self-serving humans. If Kashmiris respond to boycott calls in such numbers it is because they do not see these elections as anything other than a "military exercise" (as a press release by Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society recently put it), a way to legitimise a military occupation of their land.Like the Zubin Mehta concert did in September last year, elections in Kashmir provide an occasion for a military occupation to be given a democratic veneer.

Most Indians are probably aware of the present troubles in Kashmir, and figure that whatever is happening there was caused by some disgruntled militants. You've heard on the news that an Indian Army major and a jawan were killed by militants. Yes, that did happen on April 26, during an "encounter" with "terrorists" in which Major Mukund Varadarajan of the Rashtriya Rifles and a jawan (news reports rarely name the jawans who die, just the officers). Whatever happened next and whatever actions the government takes in response are now justified in your mind by the news of this encounter.

And so you discount the campaign of police retaliation that has followed, the curfews and the beatings, the lathi charges and firings. You may not have heard that on April 30, Bashir Ahmad Bhat, a 24-year-old man who ran a tailoring shop, was shot dead when CRPF soldiers opened fire with live ammunition against a group of stone-throwing youth. Young Bashir wasn't throwing stones, his grieving father insists, challenging the CRPF to prove otherwise.

You may not have heard that Indian forces have carried out mass arrests in nocturnal raids to ensure "smooth conduct" of elections.  You may not have heard that on May 2, a prominent scholar of Islamic Studies, Dr. Ghulam Qadir Lone, was arrested for making "anti-election" statements. Hundreds of students at Kashmir University protested his arrest, but you probably didn't hear about this either. Nor would you have heard that in Bandipora in Baramulla constituency hundreds of youth were rounded up in night raids carried out by police and joined by the army. A news report describes the chilling effect of these raids on the people:

Fearing arrests, many youth in the town have gone underground. Some parents told Rising Kashmir that they have sent their wards to safer places. “Army and police are hunting innocent youth so it’s better to send them to some safer places till elections are over,” said Ali Mohammad.

Many youth have moved to Srinagar and other places to stay with their relatives and friends. The recent arrests made in South Kashmir and Srinagar ahead of polls have also made them apprehensive of arrests.

The Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS) says that "around 2000 people have been arrested, mostly youth. Leaders like Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, Yasin Malik, Shabir Ahmed Shah and scores of other political leaders and activists have been detained. Besides these political persons a very huge number of young people who are mostly students have been arrested, tortured and humiliated." In preparation for the last phase of the election, there's been a huge mobilization of army and police in Sopore, virtually outnumbering the local populace.What does it mean when you need to deploy 30,000 troops to ensure a "free" election? What does it say about the practice of "democracy"?

Marx once wrote that a nation that oppresses another nation forges its own chains. He was referring to the relationship between the English and the Irish. As long as the workers and the poor of England supported their government's domination of Ireland, they were only strengthening the classes that dominated them. The same logic applies in India today.

Here are some basic questions that every election-loving Indian democrat should ask: How does the forcible retention of Kashmir help in improving the lives of the hundreds of millions in India who lack basic needs like food, shelter, education, healthcare, a clean and safe environment, access to land and resources to lead productive lives? What does it cost to maintain a military occupation involving half-a-million troops in mountainous terrain, and how might those resources be put to better use? And it's not just about economics. What are the consequences of turning a blind eye to atrocities committed in one's name in far-off lands, and how long can one keep at bay the evil this breeds in society at large?

In February this year, a military court acquitted the army personnel involved in the infamous Pathribal fake encounter, in which five Kashmiris were killed and then passed off as "militants." More recently, in the village of Tsunduru in Andhra Pradesh, 56 upper-caste murderers of Dalits have been acquitted of their crimes by a High Court ruling. These things are related.

Today, many are worried that an authoritarian and intolerant bigot might become the next Prime Minister. But how did such authoritarianism become acceptable to so many people? When generations have grown up learning to dehumanize and look down upon those considered "below" them in caste, something happens to human empathy. It withers away. The same holds true with colonial and neo-colonial occupations. Kashmir has become that space in Indian public culture where the police and army can be given free play, where repression can be made palatable, where judicial complicity can be overlooked, and where human rights can be violated with impunity, all in the name of "national unity" and "integrity."

We may not see the emergence of a Nazi-style fascist dictatorship come May 16. But it would be useful to think about how a culture that has learned to accept atrocities committed abroad might become incapable of preventing atrocities at home.

The Caribbean poet and intellectual Aimé Césaire wrote eloquently that the acceptance of colonial conquests abroad "distilled a poison into the veins of Europe," so that they were unable to confront the monster of Nazism when it bared its teeth at home. It's a lengthy quotation, but well worth reading today if we substitute "Kashmir" for "Vietnam" and "Madagascar," and "India" for "France": 

First we must study how colonization works to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred, and moral relativism; and we must show that each time a head is cut off or an eye put out in Vietnam and in France they accept the fact, each time a little girl is raped and in France they accept the fact, each time a Madagascan is tortured and in France they accept the fact, civilization acquires another dead weight, a universal regression takes place, a gangrene sets in, a centre of infection begins to spread; and that at the end of all these treaties that have been violated, all these lies that have been propagated, all these punitive expeditions that have been tolerated, all these prisoners who have been tied up and “interrogated”, all these patriots who have been tortured, at the end of all the racial pride that has been encouraged, all the boastfulness that has been displayed, a poison has been distilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly but surely, the continent proceeds toward savagery.

And then one fine day the bourgeoisie is awakened by a terrific boomerang effect: the gestapos are busy, the prisons fill up, the torturers standing around the racks invent, refine, discuss.

People are surprised, they become indignant. They say: “How strange! But never mind – it’s Nazism, it will pass!” And they wait, and they hope; and they hide the truth from themselves, that it is barbarism, the supreme barbarism, the crowning barbarism that sums up the daily barbarisms; that it is Nazism, yes, but that before they were its victims, they were its accomplices; that they tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them, that they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimized it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples; that they have cultivated that Nazism, that they are responsible for it, and that before engulfing the whole edifice of Western, Christian civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps and trickles from every crack.

It's not too late for Indians to speak out against the occupation of Kashmir, to call for an end to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, to call for a withdrawal of all occupying troops, to support the Kashmiris' right to self-determination (azaadi), to challenge the priorities of a system built upon inequality and privilege, and in the process to reclaim and reinvent democracy at home so that it works for all the people instead of a tiny wealthy upper-caste elite.

 

The Defection of the Liberals to Fascism

The Defection of the Liberals to Fascism

Kunal Chattopadhyay

 

Andre Beteille, well-known liberal and internationally reputed scholar, has become the latest liberal to endorse the BJP. He has suggested that too many terms in government by any one party is not good. Hence it would be good for India, apparently, if the BJP was voted to power. More interestingly, if interesting is the proper word, Professor Beteille has said that the Westminster model of Parliamentary Democracy is a colonial hangover and may not be suited for India.

This intervention is helpful, in a sense, because unlike a number of others, whose switch over to the fascists had been clouded by attempts to argue that they are really not fascists, and so on. Professor Beteille does not go into the nature of the BJP. He is making certain key comments which we need to understand.

First, we need to remember that the choice of Modi  was not initiated by the RSS or the BJP. It was the ruling class which came forward. The biggest names in Indian capitalism, Anil Ambani, Mukesh Ambani, Ratan Tata, all have declared faith in the Mighty Modi, superhero of contemporary Indian capitalism. Their major concerns are, how to expand the scope of the “free” market, how to reduce to literally bare minimum subsistence levels the share of labour in the GDP; and how to smash through stupid things like environmental protectionism. In a developing country, so goes the rhetoric, such laws, such coddling and pampering of labour, are all harmful.

That Modi lives up to these expectations is by now well established. The Congress, under stalwarts like Manmohan Singh, Chidambaram, or his predecessor Pranab Mukherjee, was no friend of labour and environment. But despite its efforts it could not do enough at the service of capital. Moreover, in attempting to enrich capital, it got caught in several cases of corruption. And so, Modi’s role in 2002 could be redesignated as an aberration and he could be promoted as a guru of development.

What Modi’s development model means should be well understood by all working people. When the Central Government set up the new Pay Commission to look into the pay scale structure of Central Government employees, Modi opposed it. His grounds were clinically precise. If the Union Government employees’ pays are raised, State Government employees start demanding raises. If they get it, private sector employees also expect a raise. This uncalled for wage rise expectation has to be opposed.  (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Cant-afford-7th-pay-panel-burden-say-Gujarat-Bengal/articleshow/31014085.cms )

The Modi model of development should also be understood by looking at the deaths of RTI activists in Gujarat. The biggest number of RTI activists killed or assaulted anywhere in India are the  Gujarat activists. Environment related RTIs are routinely tossed into the waste basket, if at all possible.  

In other words, the “strong man” who sat silent and under whose rule the pogrom of 2002 took place, is dynamic in flouting environmental laws and in helping to put down the rights of workers.

But the full agenda even of India’s capitalists seemingly cannot be met by the parliamentary path. The Indian parliament is too complex. The lower House has 543 seats. The Upper House has a lesser number, but elected from each State Assembly. As a result, getting a solid majority in both Houses is a tedious, long term, and in today’s political situation, with so many caste, region and ethnicity based parties, almost impossible job. So the ruling class needs a different solution.

Professor Beteille is coy about the alternative. But there are basically three alternatives, which eventually resolve themselves into two. One can shift to a US style imperial presidency. One can shift more power to the bureaucracy. And one can have an open fascist rule, when an initial phase will see the domination of an enraged petty bourgeoisie which will use mass violence “from below” (backed by state assistance from above), but when, afterwards, the matter will resolve into a heavy bureaucratic rule, albeit a new bureaucracy into which the upper echelons of the fascists have been absorbed, and one that will therefore be profoundly infused by the specific dynamics of the fascist movement of India – communalism, upper caste domination, and the lot.

It is also worth remembering that the argument about the Westminster model being a colonial hangover is not novel, not an invention of Professor Beteille. Anthony Elenjimittan, a Christian convert to the RSS outlook, explained back in the 1940s: “The RSS from the very inception of the movement hoisted Bhagva flag, Dharma Chakra and  Satya Meva Jayte as their symbols, and have grown around these patriotic ideals. Hence, the RSS youth, given more favourable circumstances can be in India what was Hitler youth in Germany, fascist youth in Italy. If discipline, organised centralism and organic collective consciousness means fascism, then the RSS is not ashamed to be called fascist. The silly idea that fascism and totalitarianism are evils and parliamentarism and Anglo-Indian types of democracy are holy, should be got rid of from our minds ….” (The Philosophy and Action of the RSS for the Hind Swaraj, 1951,  p.197). We are confident that Professor Beteille is not advancing a Marxist critique of the limitations of bourgeois democracy, for then he would have talked about the experience of the early Soviets and councils in other countries, and he would certainly not have called for a support to the BJP.

So, though Modi represents a terribly anti-labour, anti-poor, anti-environment, and also anti-Dalit option, Beteille has no hesitation endorsing him. One needs to argue, in addition to what has been said above, that this represents the necessary culmination of all those who in the name of the universal reject preferential action for the most oppressed and exploited. Beteille opposed the decision to extend reservations to OBCs, arguing that “We can either move forward and create centres of academic excellence or go along with the demands of identity politics based on caste and community, but we cannot do both.” (http://indiatogether.org/nkcresign-opinions#bet ) But obviously, he sees no problem in endorsing Modi, whose rhetoric of Indian nationalism is embedded in a fierce divisiveness, targeting both Muslims and lower castes and adivasis. Gujarat under Modi was the country’s fifth highest in terms of atrocity cases against dalits. According to an article by Yoginder Sikand in INSAF bulletin, Gujarat had at least 400,000  child labourers, the bulk of them dalits and adivasis (http://www.insafbulletin.net/archives/1110) . But Prof Beteille, believing that caste was an issue whipped up by the media for elections (http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/indias-destiny-not-caste-in-stone/article2914365.ece ), saw no problem in endorsing Modi.

What all this shows, ultimately, is that liberalism, including the liberal intellectual, are poor fighters against fascism. The economic bonds between liberalism and fascism prove stronger than the fine nuances of political theory. Prof. Beteille would like rotation, so that occasionally the BJP too could come to power. If the fascists, in power, in a system that is no longer the colonial Westminster model but a brand new bureaucratic Presidential model, refuse to give up power, the liberal will sometimes shed pious tears, at other times find  why even this is good for the nation “as a whole”, even though some marginal groups like workers, poor peasants, dalits, adivasis, people of minority religion, are a bit inconveniences, perhaps all the way to prisons or worse.

Not by relying on liberal lesser evils, but by building working class alternative with unity of all the oppressed, can we resist fascism.

In high profile Parliamentary constituency, Vadodara, workers' safety, health take a back seat

In high profile Parliamentary constituency, Vadodara, workers' safety, health take a back seat

By Our Representative 
Even as the campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections is going on in full swing, Workers Health and Safety Net (WHSN), Vadodara, has sought answers from the two main warring parties as to why some of the basic issues related to workers’ safety in this industrial city remain unresolved, despite several representations. Led by four senior activists, Bharat Pathak, Rohit Prajapati, Jagdish Patel and Kantibhai Mistry, and accompanied by workers, a group of representatives from the WHSN visited the Employees’ State Insurance (ESI) Hospital in Vadodara to find out whether their earlier representation to improve situation with regard to workers’ safety and health had made any impact. 
A WHSN statement said, they had visited the hospital on October 7, 2013 and had even made written representation to the ESIS director nearly a fortnight later, on October 20, 2013. “It is now six months that we made the representation”, the statement said, adding, “During our visit on April 18, 2014, again, the situation has not changed, and we were not surprised.” The visit is considered significant, as it comes in a city which has suddenly shot into prominence – it is from here that the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi is fighting polls. 
In a pointed question, the statement wondered, “Do the candidates representing BJP, Congress and others intending to represent people of Vadodara in Parliament know what the situation is of this important social security scheme affecting thousands of workers and other problems faced by workers? Do they know in which corner of the city ESI Hospital is situated? Will they know even after getting elected? Will they ever visit this hospital? Do they have any dreams or schemes to improve the working of ESI? When workers and industries keep the wallet of ESI full of money why is this situation?” 
The statement state, during the latest visit, the activists and workers found that “the cleanliness standards in the hospital are very poor, bed sheets are not only not changed daily but not even once in a week, pillows are so filthy and old that even if you donate them no one will accept, cots are old and its legs bent inside, toilets and bathrooms are not maintained well, and there are buckets in there, not even electric lamps.” 
Further, the statement said, there are “no Anglo-Indian tubs for the patients who cannot squat, there is no warm water facility for patients to take bath in winter and so on, there is no sink to wash hands or brush teeth, there is no water in some washrooms, and some sink have been broken but broken pieces have not been removed.” For drinking water “there are several water coolers but only one is working, there is inadequacy of staff for cleaning, the floor is moped once only in a day, sonography machine is out of order for quite some time, and patients are sent to the SSG Hospital, where there are long queues, and at times ESI patients bribe the staff to jump queue.” 
The statement further said, “Some fans in ward and waiting room are no t in working condition. Patients are provided food but the patient has to bring utensils like plate, glass etc. from home. Earlier pure ghee was used but there now only hydrogenated oil is used in kitchen. Outpatient department (OPD) timings are from 8 am but doctors start their work at 10 am and patients are to keep waiting. Doctors take round of ward once only in a day.” 
Pointing out that the “hospital building is very old and need repairs in big way”, the statement said, “There is no psychiatrist appointed hence patients with mental health problem are sent to the SSG Hospital. In Vadodara there were two dispensaries, at Gorwa and Makarpura, which were kept open for 12 hours, since these are industrial areas. Both have been now converted to routine six hour split timing dispensaries, and times are 8.30 to 12 noon and 4.30-7.00pm. In the period 2003-08 nine dispensaries in different parts of city were closed down and merged with other dispensaries. The ESI Chest hospital has also been closed.”

Before the Indian elections: The remaking of Narendra Modi

Before the Indian elections: The remaking of Narendra Modi

 
 
“Narendra Modi has to be understood because he stands as one of the major threats to the Indian polity”
January 2013

POWER fascinates and when self-obsessive, it is even more fascinating. Subject to continuous churning, a dynamic sense of power has a magic few other processes possess. Narendra Modi is not just a man obsessed with power, but one who sees himself as a basic medium for it. Here is a Frankenstein redoing himself, creating a new self and a new costume. The remaking of Narendra Modi has to be understood because he stands as one of the major threats to the Indian polity. His attempt to project himself as a future prime minister has paid dividends. This essay is an attempt to understand the remaking of Modi, the modernist as fascist.

Recently, Time magazine asked us to be realistic and adjust to him. The Brookings sees him as a necessary evil, more necessary than evil. The report of think tanks should serve as a warning that recognizes that policy makers are already assuming the coming era of Modi. Yet, there is a paradox here. While Modi consolidates his image outside Gujarat, the state itself might be turning more lukewarm to him. The lack of enthusiasm emerges from three sources. First, elements within the BJP find him a hot potato and would be content to queer his pitch. A whole array of small movements, from the boat yatras to the battle against the Nirma plant, betray an unease with his development policies. Third, the shadow of the 2002 carnage still hangs over him and not all the perfumes of the SIT (Special Investigation Team) have been able to cleanse his little hands.

As opposed to this, the middle class who loves a winner sees in Modi a man who caters to their vulnerabilities and projects their fears in searching for solutions. The middle class sees in Modi a decisive, security oriented, and development centred, urban fixated politician who has voiced all their fears about Muslims, anarchy, security and transformed it into a huge vote bank. The future and Modi appears twinned in the middle class mind. So how did a simple, lower middle class pracharak, already diagnosed as a fanatic and a fascist by the psychologist Ashis Nandy, try to change his spots? It is this remaking of Modi that we must understand if we wish to unmake it.

A decade ago he was a simple cadre functionary. As the pracharak became chief minister, he extended the pracharak’s lens on to his new world. Gujarat was seen a cadre to be transformed. Modi’s world was simple but his idioms were powerful. Like most RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) organizers, he evoked a swadeshi cultural idiom which was ascetic, nationalist and nativist. What was good for Gujarat was good for Gujaratis, as long as Modi determined it. Here was a man uneasy with difference and sought to meet it either by erasing or denying it. He lived out a parallel history where Delhi was seen as an alien region controlled by foreigners. He enacted out the feelings of many Hindus who thought of electoral democracy as majoritarian tolerance that had gone too far, convinced that official history had been unfair to Gujarat which had produced both Sardar Patel and Mahatma Gandhi. Even worse, that Delhi acted as if Gujarat was a non-place. Rectifying history was Modi’s and the RSS’ favourite idea of justice.

This process paralleled the rewriting of history by Stalinists. The Stalinists rewrote history to supress dissent. Modi rectified history to construct and consolidate the mentalities that would sustain him in power. Both used production statistics to create legitimations. Stalin had Stakhanov, the legendary worker who always met unreal production quotas. Modi cited Gujarat as a continuous example of business booms and found the semiotic Stakhanov in himself. He worked overtime to project an image of Gujarat as if he alone was responsible for Gujarat’s success. Continuous repetition creates its form of legitimation and loyalty. By repeatedly reciting the story of Gujarat’s success, Modi created a sleight of hand. The propagandist of Gujarat’s success was gradually seen as the creator and cause for it. It was an act of usurpation that was swift and complete.

The man who complained that history was unfair decided that fairness comes from rewriting it. Modi was sure that propaganda by creating self-fulfilling prophecies becomes true. He realized that he could not be a Gandhi or a Patel. They were ideals or icons he could not mimic. He also understood that the Gujarat of his time had no national figure. The textile strike and the collapse of the industry had created a tabula rasa in terms of models. With the death of textiles, the mahajans and seths who reinforced its orderly world lost their halo. Modi realized that the time was ripe for a new construct, an image constructed out of anxieties, fears, and even the traditions of achievement that have made Gujarat into an increasingly urban society.

Narendra Modi is a master of the language of populist politics. He understands the cultural idiom, in particular both the dialects and the dialectics of resentment; his grasp over the cultural politics of relative deprivation convincing Gujaratis that their contribution to the nation, GNP and history was not recognized. By playing on this unconscious, he shaped it to suit his instrumental politics. Any complaint about Gujarat would immediately switch to these cultural tracks, creating the logic of insider/outsider politics. The insiders were patriots; the outsiders were illiterate, unfair and arrogant. The corollary was obvious. Any insider who criticized Gujarat and its synecdoche, Narendra Modi, was automatically classified as an outsider. This classificatory exile was the task of enthusiasts who found in English journalists and newspapers their targets. English was an alien language and represented the outside.

The imaginary house that Modi built had two sites, the Gujarat of his imagination and Delhi as his imaginary. Delhi was the last colony. It was the location where the imperial forces of the Congress ruled by the empress Sonia lived. Delhi embodied an extension of Mughal rule perpetuated by the Congress. Delhi was non-Gujarat, it embodied colonial history without a hearing aid, deaf to the complaints of its opponents. Delhi was soft on the Muslims creating an invidious politics which favoured bootleggers and smugglers. Modi was adept at taking partial ethnic truths and transforming them into political slurs.

Narendra Modi is a shrewd politican. In recognizing the limits of Hindutva politics conducted in Hindutva idioms, he unconsciously realized that a rampant Hindutva might eventually threaten Hindus themselves. In that sense, his co-religionists were a problem as they are soft on history, preferring a soft democracy more in tune with their syncretic mentality. Modi sensed, early on, that his role as the lumpen speaker gorging on the violence of the riots had to be a temporary phenomenon. He sensed that while such resentment could be a layer in the unconscious, what one needed was an image of a more positive politics, something that could exorcise the ghosts of 2002. More than exorcism, one needed a semiotic makeover to create a set of self-fulfilling prophecies around the new Modi to survive politically. Populist politicians can perpetuate their tyranny by letting the rumour and gossip of a new leader play itself out. As a wag put it, Narendra Modi became ‘The Gentleman’. It is this transformation that we need to understand.

Modi is a cultural construct whose semiotic grammar we have to understand. Semiotics as a theory of signs and symbols served to update Modi. Originally Modi appeared in the drabness of white kurtas, which conveyed a swadeshi asceticism. Khadi is the language for a certain colourlessness. Modi realized that ascetic white was an archaic language. His PROs forged a more colourful Modi, a Brand Modi more cheerful in blue and peach, more ethnic in gorgeous red turbans. His ethnic clothes serve as diacritical markers of respect. He plays the chief in full regalia. Having earned traditional respect, he needed a more formal attire – suits for Davos, a bandhgala for national forums. Hair transplants and Ayurvedic advice served to grow his hair. Photographs show him even trying a Texan hat. Hoarding after hoarding proclaims not only the same message but a diverse attire of designer wardrobes. He senses he has to sustain himself as both icon and image of a different era.

Modi grasped that the core competence of a politician must be built around different cores or, to switch metaphors, he needed a set of second skins which people would see as natural. He was shrewd in realizing that it was the Hindutva man in him that had to be deconstructed and recomposed. Like Eliza Dolittle, he had to project a new grammar. He (or I guess his PROs) disaggregated elements of his Hindutva to create a new image. Hindutva or the RSS training evoked the state as the God of society, organizational skill, asceticism, a cultural embedding of ideas, a sense of competence as machismo, a clear idea of history. Modi presented himself as the Vivekananda in politics.

Modi realized that the chameleon in him could transform Hindutva into a more neutral but aggressive technocratic idiom. Management became a form of masculinity and the idea of Hindutva conventionally seen as local or parochial now became globalized. Modi’s Gujarat behaved like a city state, a combination of Singapore and Shanghai on a larger scale. What came to his aid was the language of the World Bank. Modi’s expert handling of the earthquake was decisive. He realized that World Bank transmuted its ideologies into methodologies of audit and standards, creating as it were a new kind of accountability. Modi may have been responsible during the riots but he was definitely responsive to World Bank idioms and norms. The language suited him as he could preen himself with numbers.

The aura of accountability found its hyphen in the obsession with security. Security was the technocratic idiom of nationalists. Security was also the machismo that would fight terror. Gujarat’s handling of terror was presented as exemplary. The brilliance of it was that security and accountability were positivist terms measured by tonnage or control. In Modi’s thesaurus, they substituted for the ethics of responsibility. Responsibility is more encompassing in its philosophy, more inclusive in involving minorities. As a way of life, it involved dialogicity, an accommodating mentality, while security or accountability could be handled with forceps. They were distancing terms. If responsibility sounded soft, security was hard. It exuded power, control, and hierarchy. Gujarat was secure under Modi while Delhi was vulnerable to terror under an effete Congress. Technology needs a sense of cosmopolitanism which Modi’s presence in Davos as the only Indian chief minister provided.

Sreekumar, the ex-Inspector General of Police who is an acute observer of Modi, is full of insightful nuggets into the craft and craftiness of the man. He said, ‘For all his Hindutva, Modi has become a devotee to power. Power is his only idol. Power secularizes Modi by instrumentalizing him. Modi will have no problem attacking Hindus to retain control.’ In fact, Sreekumar claimed that Modi’s ‘secularism’ can be double-edged. Modi, he said, demolished 600 temples to clear road obstructions in Ahmedabad. The message was clear. It was not that he was secular but that he was in control. The act could also be used secondarily to show how Modi can control Hindus when they get out of line. Modi began playing the Lee Kwan Yew of Gujarat emphasizing that all problems could be dealt with at a single window – Modi.

The myth of efficiency epitomized as security and stability needed investments as a continuing barometer of success. Modi played the self-styled magnet for investments brilliantly. In this new age of liberalization, investments are manna, the gift, the grace all tyrants are looking for. Investments are more powerful than riots in silencing critics. Gujarat was soon to become the Camelot of investments and its centre was Sanand. Modi created a dreamland for the automobile industry, successfully inviting Ford, Tata, Maruti and contouring this hub with a stunning array of ancillary industries which could add to employment. Modi’s message to the corporations was clear and Ratan Tata was among the first to sense it when he said, ‘It would be stupid not to be in Gujarat at this stage.’ Modi had become Gujarat’s best political salesman and his clients were the corporations and the diaspora. He played or enacted his vision of shining Gujarat impressing diasporic Indians, starved and nostalgic for efficiency and decisiveness. For them, as for Time magazine later, here was an Indian who could stand up to the Chinese. This was a helpful aura to have especially with the US government. A nuclear plant or two would become an apt mutual token of esteem.

I must emphasise that Narendra Modi’s tactics were not taking place in a vacuum. The chief minister is a very tactical man and his initial tactics differentiated between opposition and dissent. Modi recognized that the opposition was effete. The Congress, as the opposition, willingly or inadvertently had tied itself into knots, raising issues which it could not follow up. He sensed that the Congress was afraid of opposing him nationally, afraid to lose the Hindu vote. The Congress opposition in Gujarat was reduced to sniping with little effect.

Modi discovered that it was dissent, not opposition, that was devastating. Small pockets of activists created little colonies of resistance that was effective. For example, Teesta Setalvad and her team created a memorial for the survivors at Gulberg House, the housing colony where the Congress MP, Ehsaan Jaffri and 69 others, were brutally murdered. The event at Gulberg House was not organized or instigated by any party. A loose network of citizens put it together. The impact was stunning. Over 2500 people came and spent the day in a quiet act of solidarity. Shubha Mudgal came and sang powerfully, creating a circle of emotion, with the survivors in tears.

Modi understood that it was this form of protest that most threatened him and as part of his new repertoire he chose to suppress dissent in the academe. A senior professor at DAIICT, Gandhinagar, was asked to resign. In fact, what one is now witnessing is Modi’s effort to take control of key national institutions like CEPT and the Indian Institute of Management. The report by Time was publicized and translated into Guajarati to submerge such dissent. He has been successful, temporarily, in part because many academics see in the future Modi a career to be pursued. Modi is shrewd enough to anticipate that even if Gujarat becomes an intellectual corridor, dissent is one epidemic he cannot afford.

Modi’s effort to mobilize film stars like Anupam Kher, Sunil Shetty, Ajay Devgan, and Amitabh Bachchan is an attempt to create a groundswell of cinematic support for the regime. The use of Visvanathan Anand to announce and inaugurate Gujarat as a major chess culture is another powerful example. To combat dissent, Modi has created a brainstrust of advisors, including corporate dons like Narayana Murthi and Azim Premji, giving him legitimacy in entrepreneurial and managerial circles. IIM Ahmedabad’s decision to invite him as CEO for the day is merely one more example of academic institutes quietly falling in line. He has also nurtured a bureaucracy that is only a prosthetic extension of him.

The tactical brilliance of Modi lies in his ability to use law to thwart justice and employ democratic ideals to perpetrate his control. In this, both he and the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalithaa are siblings in politics. Both have criticized the Congress for not adhering to the spirit of federalism. Yet, the very same politicians who tout the importance of democracy at the federal level are reluctant to allow democracy at the state level. Modi’s contempt for his own party men and his distancing from them is projected as part of his honesty, his refusal to recognize party politics as a spoils system. In fact, distance becomes tactical. Initially, Modi was presented as a politician almost tactilely in touch with the masses. Now he is presented as a hoarding, a larger than life creature to be quoted, cited, his every act a policy event.

It is Modi’s use of the law, however, that appears most cynical. The Nanavati Commission continues happily creating an archive that means little. The SIT, behaving technically and narrowly, gave him a clean chit. He seemed to enjoy all the moral luck till the Ramachandran Report queered his pitch. But the pseudo trial by commission and committee sanitized a space around him, blurring basic ethical questions. What it conflated specifically was the difference between guilt and responsibility.

Assume that the CM had no direct role in the riots, yet was he right in disowning responsibility for the victims of the riots? Gujarat was the first example of a state government in India which refused responsibility for the aftermath of the riots, disowning any connection with the refugee camps that mushroomed after the carnage. The argument was that to accept responsibility for the camps was to signal a guilt about the riots. With one bad syllogism, a huge sector of victims were declared less than citizens and forced into subhuman lives in transit camps. Ten years after the riots, transit camps have acquired an air of permanence while everything within is ramshackle. Yet, Modi denies the camps exist or claims that they have shut down. Their very names, Ekta Nagar and Citizen Nagar, provide an ironic note to the ethical presence of the regime.

Yet viewed objectively there is a shrewdness to this tactic. Modi has injected the idea of development as a credo deep into the middle class. For them and him, development is a process that cannot wait, that has an inevitability to it, that is Darwinian in that the fittest survive. The Modi credo then suggests that those who act tangential to or are recalcitrant about development are reluctant citizens. The idea of development creates a double demand on ethnics, marginals, minorities. It throws them two specific challenges. First, it asks them to de-ghettoize and de-ethnicize themselves and erase, if necessary, identity and memory. It asks them to forget the riots, plainly stating why wait for justice when we are offering you development. It argues that development can be more distributive than justice can. The catch is that they have to become citizens and citizenship is defined as attempts to join the mainstream.

Here Modi’s discourse also suggests that minorities have hidden behind their ethnicity and behave like reluctant citizens. He claims that his is the ‘true’ secular option. He seems to suggest that the majoritarian electoral democracy of Congress plays to religious sentiments, while the BJP’s offer of development is an invitation to secular citizenship. With this, Modi acts as if he has claimed the higher moral ground.

Many Muslims find this suggestion tempting. They realize that they need to join the mainstream but they also sense the craftiness of the Modi option. He is asking them to abandon memory and justice, to forget, erase and accept entry into development, yet realizing that development too might be a zero-sum game. They sense that the new urbanization in the aftermath of the riots may disempower them further. Many of the Muslim women had an answer for Modi. They (in a composite sense) said, ‘We want to go on but this society won’t let us. We do not want our children to carry the burden of violence. We want to forget the past; they want us to erase it. Yet, they will not let us return to our livelihoods.’ The politics of memory has become a millstone around the Modi neck and the many commissions have not sanitized him completely.

Politicians are word splitters and consequently world splitters. Muslims like J.S. Bandukwala, a civil rights activist and retired professor of physics from Baroda, talked of apology and forgiveness as rituals of healing. For Modi, power which apologizes is no longer power. He lacks the wisdom and empathy of a Willy Brandt who knelt and asked for forgiveness of the victims of the Holocaust. Brandt rose in stature after the act but a Modi, afraid of the label of guilt, is unable to imitate him. But politicians can create parallel worlds which mimic the authenticity of the real. Modi lacks the courage to ask for forgiveness. He feels no empathy for Muslims. They remain a problem to be solved.

Instead of forgiveness, he chose magnanimity. Magnanimity is imperial; it evokes the height and distance of power. Modi’s Sadbhavana Yatra was an act of piety. Inaugurated on his birthday, where he received a Ramcharit Manas from his mother, the rituals felt like a darbar. The signal to the outside world was that Modi was a changed man. Yet, the message inside Gujarat was different. Minority groups came like subjects to swear fealty to a lord. Attendance was a performance to be duly noted. There was no sense of community; the entire drama spoke of power speaking to vulnerability. What betrayed Modi was his body language. When a Muslim cleric offered his cap, Modi shrugged, creating an embarrassing gaffe. There was a sense that he was not speaking from his heart. One could sense a politician waiting to be prime minister.

The viewer by now realizes that Modi was on a double stage, a CM fighting to be elected and waiting to be proclaimed a prime-ministerial candidate. Such was Modi’s confidence that even Lal Krishna Advani, Nitin Gadkari and Sanjay Joshi, stalwarts from the RSS, surrendered the stage to him. Modi’s autocracy, however, created an interesting shift in messages. Earlier, as a pracharak and a chief minister, the BJP was the text of his messages. Given his distance from internal party democracy, the party began appearing as a context for politics slowly withering to a pretext. His main opposition is now surfacing within his own party tired of his egocentric politics.

Yet, evil for all its flaws is more inventive. Modi, like the devil in Paradise Lost, still has the best lines. More critically, Modi is consolidating power beyond electoral rhetoric. His unease with his party and with his communal image nudges him towards a new discourse, one which make one want to reread the past. Modi seems to have rewritten the scripts of modernization. His modernization no longer seeks the scapegoat in the Muslim; it sees its power in the collective force of the city. Now riots appear to be a clearing house of a project called the city. The fascist as modernizer has found a new symbolic project, the city.

Gujarat has always been the most urbanized part of India with at least 57 major towns. Modi is building on it a new wave of urbanization. Modi articulates the fact that urbanization is both process and a promise. As a process, there is logic to its demands which necessitates certain decisions. Instant cities unlike instant coffee are complex entities. Yet, Modi grasps the fact that cities are a coalition of opportunities. The city caters to a middle class, to corporations hungry for land, to a network of fixers who create opportunities around a city. Each act of Modi invokes a corporation and urbanizes Gujarat. Modi has allied himself with a newly emerging entrepreneurs like Adani and Mittal, with the pharmaceutical industries, and with Nirma, while tying up with the Tatas. He has offered the Japanese, always hungry for land abroad, two cities for development. He has hypothecated the coastline to the corporations like the Adanis, whose control of pipelines and ports make them a formidable force. Corporations desperate for land find him amenable.

The middle class seeing in investment the prospect of employment is also content. Modi has become the new urban hero. Yet, one senses an unease about these new cities. One wonders if they are a kind of enclosure movement, a new way to displace nomadic and pastoral populations as ways of life. Gujarat has long been the home of these great nomadic and pastoral civilizations. The speed of Modi’s policies of urbanization makes one wonder whether marginals and minorities are doomed in this feat of citizenship we call the city. The swadeshi pracharak has transformed himself into a development hero with the city as his script. Modi as a development statesman now projects messages at three levels. Locally he is a BJP CM; nationally, he is a future hopeful for the prime ministership; globally, he is a player articulating the rhetoric of climate change. His idiom and his style are now completely different.

There is also a struggle for a symbolic domain, some claim to a myth or legend of India. In some ways the idea of class now lacks the appeal and Naxalbari, the romance of revolution. The Congress also realizes that its narratives of Nehruism and nation-building ring hollow. As a symbolic entrepreneur, Modi senses it. He realizes that he cannot cite Savarkar or Hedgewar. They make for poor mnemonics, lacking any real appeal for the new generation. Modi is shrewd enough to realize that he needs a floating signifier, something all India can claim and he can claim in a particular way. The choice of Vivekananda appears immaculate. Unlike Ramakrishna, he is not the mystic. He is an outward looking, organization centred religious monk who built an institution. By juxtaposing himself to Vivekananda, Modi becomes another cultural innovator, seeking to revitalize society to face the next wave of modernity. His is not a spiritual pulpit; he is at heart a propagandist. He unleashes thousands of plastic balls with Vivekananda quotes to bounce around a society’s mind.

The question one has to ask is what Modi as performance teaches one about electoral democracy in India. Modi embodies a paradigm of violence forged out of resentment with history. His swadeshism, tinged with the folklore of a Bhagat Singh, sees the state as a masculine trope and the administrator as a decisive person. It is a denial of softness as a part of duty and a summons to violence as a part of patriarchal responsibility. Like many in the Hindu majority, he senses an effeteness about politics and democracy, a minoritarian bias that vitiates power. In seeking to create a strong India, it seeks a character building that emphasizes efficiency, security and decisiveness.

The emphasis is more on duty. Minorities in this discourse have a duty to join the mainstream and respect majority sentiments. Violence or a threat of violence becomes an administrative tactic to keep them in line, to create order. Such a sense of order is uneasy with difference and is often punitive about imagined disorder. The body language is patriarchal, more used to dictates than discussions. The dream is of the motherland, but as fathers see it. A strong state, preferably nuclear because the nuclear commands respect; a strong leader because leadership is the leitmotif of democracy; a strong people, often cadre-like in action, who will help constitute a different India.

Such a notion of order sees minorities, dissent, difference as sources of disorder. A minority that is reluctant needs to be disciplined in this model. A minority that emphasizes rights over duties is not ready for citizenship and is thus open to majoritarian violence as a pedagogical punitive exercise. In such a conception, minorities should episodically be taught a lesson so as to keep them in line. Such a notion frequently sees the majority as a victim of democratic normativeness.

One has to recognize that to many Modi represents a public policy hero, a Hindu Bismarck as a technocrat. Modi has consistently been ranked as the most able chief minister by India Today. As an administrator, he evidences an impressive set of skills; as a politician he is adept at survival. In fact, of late, one can see him chuckling over the embarrassments of the Congress. He comments freely on its alleged ability to handle the national grid or the question of terror. Gujarat scores high in terms of electricity, investment, quality of roads. He is a cultural dream for Hindus tired of softness and gentleness who welcome his technocratic machismo.

The diaspora sees in him an almost American competence, a quickness and a decisiveness rarely witnessed in Indian politicians. But Modi is a Rorschach for these people. They project on to him the qualities they wish to have – economy, decisiveness, a patriarchal brusqueness, a modernity rooted in tradition but without succumbing to it. He is a creation emerging out of a subculture’s deepest fears, hybridized with its sense of the correct response to these fears. If fear and resentment were the mother of invention, Modi as a cultural figure would be one product of such anxieties. A Vivekananda spouting manager, he seems an invention from some B grade commentary on the Bhagvad Gita speaking of security, nationalism and efficiency. He is a bully dressed up in managerial values and projected as the problem solver, an Indian answer to Chinese planning.

Modi realizes that there is an economy to the waiting game. He does not have to do much. He can laugh at the antics of his opponents, create an occasional spectacle, to grab the front page. By simulating a PM in waiting, he is even convincing people that he is going to be one. He is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy around himself. The press falls for it. India Today keeps saluting his powers of governance; Outlook creates the outlines of an unequal battle between him and Rahul Gandhi. This is pre-emptive politics and Modi plays it beautifully.

As a politician he realizes that he thrives on other people’s and other party’s mediocrity. It is not that he has an eloquent vision or an idea of India. He, however, guesses that an India without ideas is sure to vote him into power. Democracy, in this age of politicial mediocrity, will always pick the caricature of the lowest common denominator. Modi combines the worst of our anxieties with the most authoritarian of solutions. Authoritarianism like technocracy is a particular approach to problem solving. The charisma that fascism needs mixes with the pragmatism of technocracy to create a frame of thought as a way of life. Once a society accepts Modi as a mentality, a mode of thought, it might well have to live out its consequences over the next few decades. A friendly fascism can be a lethal mode of governance.

Finally, one has to recognize the moral luck of the man. Time and Brookings go out of their way to give him good conduct certificates for governance. Corporations feel he is the flavour of the year. The one thing that rankled was the refusal of the British and US governments to give him a visa. In October 2012, the British government withdrew its objections, contending that the laws of the land had given Modi a clean chit. Britain, like other countries, realized that Modi was heaven-sent in terms of business investment and the prospect of investment silences any mercantile conscience. The British, like many others, felt that here was a politician whose time has come. The ensuing hysteria made one wonder whether he had received an OBE. This sense of luck is something we need to acknowledge. Demagogues love signs and the signs are that Modi is a politician ready for a bigger stage. The modernist as fascist breathes a legitimacy that electoral pundits love.

Shiv Visvanathan


* From India Seminar #641 January 2013: http://www.india-seminar.com/2013/6...

Ukraine – the Russians are the aggressors

Ukraine – the Russians are the aggressors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revolutionary content

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

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

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

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

Analogies

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

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

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

 

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

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

Ciimate Change

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

Wednesday 16 April 2014, by Alexandre Costa


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

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

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

Are IPCC assessments reliable?

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

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

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

Inequality in emissions, inequality in benefits inequality in impacts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINKS:

IPCC Physical Basis Summary for Policy Makers:

IPCC Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability Summary for Policy Makers

Québec Solidaire and the resistance

Québec Solidaire and the resistance

Saturday 19 April 2014, by Benoit Renaud

 

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

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

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

The dynamic of Left regroupment

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

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

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

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

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

A history of national oppression

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

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

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

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

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

Challenges of left politics in Québec

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

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

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

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

Struggling toward an alternative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A new global movement

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

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

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

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

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

Founding a new party

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

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

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

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

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

What does QS represent?

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

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

What does it stand for?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QS and federal politics after the Orange Wave

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

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

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

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

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

What next?

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

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

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

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

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

In French

www.ecosocialsime.ca – The Réseau Écosocialiste website

www.quebecsolidaire.net – Official site of Québec Solidaire

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

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

In English

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

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

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

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

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

Some historical background on socialists and the Québec question

www.socialisthistory.ca/Reme...

www.socialisthistory.ca/Docs...

From International Socialist Review.

Footnotes

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

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

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

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

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

 

From International Viewpoint

 

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

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