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Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

Cambodia: Stop government violence against workers

Cambodia: Stop government violence against workers

9 January 2014
 
More informations on this website : http://www.labourstartcampaigns.net...

A LabourStart campaign in Partnership with IndustriALL, UNI Global Union, the International Trade Union Confederation, the Cambodia Labour Confederation, and Workers United.

This campaign is in solidarity with Cambodian garment workers and unions, who initiated a general strike seeking an increase in minimum wage from US$80 per month to US$160. The strike was very effective, with many thousands of workers participating, and the employers association (GMAC) called a lockout and urged the government to crack down on the workers. On January 3, 2014, the government sent military police to attack a demonstration at one of the struck factories, and they opened fire on the demonstration with AK-47 rifles and killed five workers and seriously injured dozens more. The government has since banned all demonstrations and used military force to clear the streets. At least 39 workers have been detained and are held in unknown locations. Faced with this brutal repression, the unions have called off the strike and workers are returning to work, although they are continuing to press their demands.

You can help! Type in your name and email address, then click on ’Send Message’ on the bottom of this page.

http://www.labourstartcampaigns.net...


The Letter

I support the trade unions in Cambodia which are asking that the government stop the violence, restore freedom of association and assembly, release the detained workers and drop any charges against them, and resume negotiations for an increase in the minimum wage. They are also asking that the global brands that produce garments in Cambodia - Gap, H&M, Inditex, Adidas, Puma, Walmart, C&A and others - condemn the violence, and only send new orders to Cambodia when workers rights are restored and negotiations on the minimum wage resume.

Palestine/Israel: Ariel Sharon, Rot in Peace

Palestine/Israel: Ariel Sharon, Rot in Peace

13 January 2014
From EuropeSolidaire Sans Frontieres website

Ariel Sharon died eight years ago (after a botched medical procedure put him in an irreversible coma). This past weekend, the corpse stopped breathing. Big freaking deal.

What makes it a big deal is how the media and governing elites treat it. “The tough warrior for Israel who became a pioneer for peace,” “military hero turned statesman,” and all the rest of it. Joseph Biden will head up the U.S. delegation appointed by president Obama to Sharon’s funeral – on Biden’s last visit, the Israeli government deliberately humiliated him and the United States by announcing another settlement expansion.

Give the scum his due. It’s not an easy thing for a military-political figure in a rather small country to rise to the level of a full world-class war criminal, but Sharon achieved it. His field of operations could never match the sheer global scale open to Kissinger, Nixon, the Clintons and the Bushes, but he made the most of what he had. Just consider a few high points in a mass killer’s career.

In 1953, his “elite” military Unit 101 massacred 170 or so civilians in the Arab village of Qibya. In 1971, he organized the bulldozing of a wide swath of homes in the already overcrowded Gaza strip in the process of crushing the Palestine Liberation Organization there. But his crowning moment was the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. While prime minister Begin proclaimed (and apparently believed) that Israel would occupy only a several-mile zone for border security, Sharon drove all the way to Beirut, laid siege to the city and organized Phalangist militias to massacre an unknown number of Palestinian civilians (somewhere between 800 and several thousand, probably) in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. [1]

Israel’s Lebanon debacle drove Begin (a murderous figure in his own right) into a deep depression from which he never recovered. That gave Sharon, after his own political rehabilitation, the opening to take over Begin’s rightwing Likud party. In 2000, just in time to sabotage any possibility of successful peace negotiations brokered by U.S. President Bill Clinton, Sharon marched onto the grounds of the al-Aqsa mosque accompanied by a huge military detachment, touching off the Second Palestinian Intifadah with horrific civilian casualties on all sides.

Sharon was responsible for the massacre of Palestinian civilians in refugee camps.

He is widely credited, though it is unlikely ever to be proven, with masterminding the radiation-poising assassination of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. (And while it’s been mostly forgotten, the Sabra and Shatila slaughter of 1982 was triggered by Phalangist revenge for the murder of their leader Bashir Gemayel, shortly after a reportedly angry meeting with Israeli officers over their intention to stay in Lebanon for an extended time…)

Ultimately, Sharon got his peace statesman badge with the “unilateral Israeli withdrawal” from Gaza, with the purpose freeing the army from the burden of protecting Israeli settlements and turning the place into a free-fire zone. Not long afterward, his own demise came before he could reap the peace prize he may have craved or the war crimes trials he so richly merited.

The destructive legacy of Ariel Sharon, may he rot in peace, will last for decades. He was truly a living modern Golem.

David Finkel, January 13, 2014

Instead of tendering apology to Bangladesh

Instead of tendering apology to Bangladesh…

“This is enemy territory. Get what you want,” roared Lt. General Niazi on his first day in Dhaka after he assumed command from Lt. General Tikka Khan in 9171. The supplementary part of the report presented by Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission states:


“…after the military action the Bengalis were made aliens in their own homeland. The life, property, and honour of even the most highly placed among them were not safe. People were picked up from their homes on suspicion and dispatched to Bangladesh, a term used to describe summary executions…”

The report also noted that all Bengalis were treated as enemies, even the loyalties of officers who served in the Army were viewed with suspicion and their arrests were ordered without taking their superiors or Government of East Pakistan on board. Bangladesh Authorities alleged Pakistanis killed three million, sparing none, and raped 200,000 of Bengali women. Pakistan disputed the figures while conceding to “excesses” of a few who were duly punished. The Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission with no plausible explanation to the contrary; rebuffed the claims of Bengalis as “fantastic” and “fanciful”. Indeed the blessed were those who departed and the wretched survived—all but statistics for us.

“How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal?” asked Harold Pinter in his Noble Lecture. Never mind our sloppy obsession with numbers, they can never convey harrowing tales of Dhaka. And there is only so much we know about it because the report has been shelved by Pakistan authorities for decades- except the supplementary part leaked to our friends across the iron border.

The response in Pakistan on the execution of Abdul Quader Molla was outrageous. Tributes were paid from all over the country. The National Assembly passed resolution expressing concern and condolences over the execution of Molla for his loyalty to Pakistan. One wonders how Adam Smith’s impartial spectator would have reacted to our theatrics. The impartial spectator from a distance; immuned from vested interests, parochial values and social conditioning, would have broadened the localize events and might asked us: how would we feel if the verdict of our apex court triggered such outcry in another country?

Our reaction had nothing to do with the issues of Prosecution or evidence nor did we fret about the opportune political scheduling of the case. It was only grounded in false, nay xenophobic, sense of history that continues to dominate our national psyche.

Our jingoistic patriotism once again trumped Bengali sensitivities. Instead we should have introspected and asked: why an active member of Pakistan Movement and the chief polling agent of Ms Fatima Jinnah became disillusioned. Sirs, it did not happen overnight. A steady accumulation of thousand slights, inflicted over a period of time, ensued in Mujib-ur-Rehman an anger and resentment; one shared by most if not all Bengalis, which led him and Bengalis adrift. Our antics on the streets and oddly naive resolution in the National Assembly only vindicated their struggle.

Berlusconi when he visited Benghazi in 2008 said: "It is my duty as a head of government, to express to you in the name of the Italian people our regret and apologies for the deep wounds that we have caused you [Libyans]”. Apology, to the people of Bangladesh, for not just the war crimes but also the discriminatory policies right from the independence, might be far-fetched. But we must at the very least acknowledge the wrongs done in our brief and inglorious history. Its time we introduced Al-Shams and Al-Badr into our curricula. Our children should be taught about all the circumstances that led to the Fall of Dhaka.

Kenzaburo Oe, the famous Japanese writer, hoped his nation shall remain committed to “idea of democracy and determination never to wage war again” aided by an understanding of its own “history of territorial invasion.” In Pakistan we must develop such understanding from our history if we wish to avoid another tragic partition. Those who fail to learn from history, they say, are doomed to repeat it.

ITALY: The Current Social Crisis

ITALY

The Current Social Crisis

 Franco Turigliatto

The mobilization of certain sectors of Italian society (the so-called forconi –pitchforks), which took place at the beginning of December, demonstrates how the country is now entering a new phase of its social and economic crisis. In the past the social groups that this movement represents shied away from certain forms of action that occurred on this occasion: road blocks, improvised rallies, and mass demonstrations in the Italian piazze.

Participating in this movement are sectors of the petite bourgeoisie, which due to the economic crisis have experienced setbacks in their incomes and interests; small-business owners, market stall sellers, artisans, truck drivers, and small agricultural entrepreneurs. But other more or less marginal sectors of society also joined in: groups such as youths from the cities’ peripheries, the unemployed, and also a certain number of students. All these aspects were particularly apparent in a town like Turin, for most of the 20th Century a city with one of the strongest working class movements and the industrial powerhouse of the country (as well as the site of FIAT’s headquarters). For in contrast to what the centre of the city may showcase to visitors, its recently restored royal palaces and buildings, life today is one of significant impoverishment for many of its inhabitants.

A subsequent attempt by the forconi to realise in Rome a further big demonstration did not succeed, due to internal divisions (some of their more well-off sectors such as the agricultural entrepreneurs and truck drivers believed that benefits would be gained by negotiating with the central government –and thus disassociated themselves from this attempt); however, this does in no way mean that such protests are not the result of profound and serious causes, and there is every chance they will happen again in the near future.

The economic crisis and the petty bourgeoisie

Significant sectors of the Italian small and medium bourgeoisie have for many years benefitted from relative and tranquil prosperity (for some of them the result of tax avoidance and evasion), but today, after six years of economic crisis, their social and economic pillars have begun to founder and for many of them a rapid decline in living standards and into poverty is beginning to seem a real possibility. These sectors are affected not only by the dynamics of the economic crisis, but also –as is the overwhelming majority of Europe’s population– by the austerity policies of the European fiscal compact put in place by the various governments of the bourgeoise.

For several years these policies have massacred the living standards of working men and women, both in the private and public sectors, decimating their salaries, their job security, and the welfare state –all in the name of “sacrifices” demanded by neoliberalism and which have the sole purpose of guaranteeing profits and annuities for the captains of industry and grand bourgeoisie, as a class and as individuals. More recently, in order to guarantee this transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top, the ruling class calls for sacrifices from broad sectors of the middle classes, thus impoverishing these intermediate sectors of society, although they remain fundamental for maintaining the political and social status quo.

“To squeeze” is the verb that best describes the contemporary policy of crushing and decimating the rights and living standards of the majority; it is a verb foisted above all on the working classes but now it also impacts sectors of the petite bourgeois and so determines their social disarray. The situation here described is one of the distinctive traits of serious economic crises, which are then transformed into political and social ones as well, resulting in lacerations to the social fabric across society as a whole. This is one of the reasons why we now speak of an epochal change occurring in Europe.

Turin and the social and economic crisis

In many cities such as Turin, the crisis has taken numerous and dramatic turns; once the industrial powerhouse of Italy, it was a city with a strong and militant working class movement, and where although there had always been social inequalities, none quite like the ones present today. In just a few years unemployment has reached staggering proportions; in fact, in the whole region of Piedmont the number of those out of work or laid off is several hundreds of thousands.

It is now obvious that the petite bourgeoisie –and in particular shopkeepers, already hurt by the general economic crisis– were going to suffer from a reduction in commerce and revenue, due to the simple fact that if such large numbers of working men and women lost or saw seriously diminished their purchasing power, the ripple effect on small business could not be avoided. The economic crisis first hit workers, now its consequences are on small business owners and shopkeepers, who have also had to confront the guillotine of budget cuts applied locally by city councils, called on by the central government to be the general managers of austerity policies. Furthermore, planning regulations previously existed which delineated and controlled the number of new commercial enterprises, but the almost complete liberalization of the market, coupled with the enormous power of large distribution chains, has crippled local shops, beginning with market stall sellers, squeezed out of the marketplace not only by large shopping malls but also by the cutthroat competition between the remaining small shops. The latter now open and close doors continuously, changing hands over and over, due to the owners’ discovery that there is little or insufficient revenue in their operation. Within this phenomenon there is a further and new aspect; many among the new shopkeepers come from the working class, many from the ranks of the unemployed; vast numbers of young men and women who in the past were dependent workers may have gathered just enough of their families’ last funds in order to set up a small shop in search of income, only to then realize that it is insufficient to make a living.

The lockout of shops which took place in Turin during its first day was near total, both as a conscious and autonomous choice of the shops’ proprietors but also due to the presence of active groups of the organizers that moved around the city forcing store owners to pull down their shutters through a number of means. The closure of the city’s wholesale markets continued into the following days, “guaranteed” by the abovementioned groups.

Perhaps the most significant development that was observable was the participation of large sectors of the young inhabitants of the periphery of the city, who with street blockades and patrols expressed their anger and frustration for the social price they are being asked to pay, and conditions in which they must live their lives. On the streets there were numerous students with many of the same motivations, and whose frustrations have not found more productive avenues for expressing dissent –but this phenomenon was already witnessed in the recent past: the points of reference during these demonstrations are the national flag and anthem, amply demonstrating the weight of the dominant paradigm and ideology of today.

The role of right-wing forces

All these social and economic phenomena just described are then masterfully directed towards the political objectives of the sectoral organizations, which have been very effective in creating an ideology and identity where only the figure of the independent worker and entrepreneur is able to guarantee the prosperity of Italy, while all others are “thieves”, be they politicians, public sector workers (often called “parasites”), or even those workers that benefit from a small safety net when made redundant. It is quite easy to create divisions among the popular social classes when all are experiencing great difficulties and there is little solidarity among groups of workers.

Indeed, the very important role that right-wing and extreme right-wing forces played in the organization of the demonstrations was undeniable and a cause for great concern. These forces were visibly present, they guided groups of youths and shaped the dynamics of the protest, which were often unclear and confused. Through the streets of the city groups of right-wing football hooligans marched together with Italian neo-fascist elements such as Forza Nuova and Casa Pound; reactionary and fascistic slogans and attitudes could be heard throughout; there was also a dangerous confrontation between some sectors of reactionary forces and trade-union workers belonging to FIOM, the largest union representing metalworkers.

Notwithstanding the apparent disorganization, there nevertheless was a clear direction and astute planning behind the unfolding events, a sort of show of strength on the part of right-wing forces, which is then used as a recruitment tool. Lastly, the role played by the police forces needs to be discussed, it was clearly permissive, and entirely different from their behavior during demonstrations carried out by the left. Various signs point to a correlation, not only based on sympathies towards the reasons and frustrations of the forconi, but one which points to an organizational rapport between the police hierarchy and right-wing elements. The most troubling manifestation of this was the blockade of access routes to the township of Pinerolo, on the outskirts of Turin, a blockade planned and managed by fascist forces together with organized crime, well-known tax evaders, and with the complete connivance of the police.

It is in this context that the judiciary in Turin distinguished itself for all the wrong reasons, for at dawn of the same day it ordered police searches against activists of the NO TAV movement protesting the construction of high-speed rail in the Susa Valley; searches which culminated with the arrests of four young activists under “terrorism” charges!

The petty bourgeoisie and right-wing forces

It is all too clear by now that the social classes under discussion (on the streets the demonstrations were largely composed of market stall and small shopkeepers), together with the large number of unemployed, can become the mass-movement base of fascist and ultra-reactionary forces. When coupled with the potential reactionary radicalization of sectors of the petite bourgeoisie this can bring great dangers to the working classes. The current situation can turn dangerous quite quickly because for many years now there has been no working class mass movement to counter it, and the responsibility of the leadership of the trade union movements in allowing this state of affairs to come about is particularly damning.

What is necessary is the mobilization of workers

Only a strong and militant class-based workers’ movement can provide a buffer against reactionary tendencies; in order to respond constructively to the events taking place it is necessary for the trade union movement, beginning with its most militant branches, to construct widespread initiatives based on defending purchasing power, the minimum wage, job security, and proposing an altogether different economic policy; initiatives which must speak not only to the working classes but also parts of the lower middle class and even more importantly to the disaffected and unemployed. Towards this goal the organization of a general strike is an important aspect, for if there had been a true and genuine general strike many young people on the streets would have had a very different occasion to express their disaffection and dissent; moreover, it would be foolish to consider these current demonstrations as a real and constructive struggle against the politics of austerity and the governments that enact it, as some on the left have suggested.

To believe that the petite bourgeoisie and underclasses, at the time of the greatest globalist expansion of capitalism, can configure an alternative to global capital is not only an illusion –as it runs counter to every historical example– but is a dangerous error which can open the door to very real political tragedies. As Trotsky wrote, the petite bourgeoisie, this dust of history (many individuals not organized in places and chains of productions but still dependent on the social relations that they represent), has neither the role, nor the social or political force to express an alternative project to that of the dominant paradigm. The intermediate classes, in the struggle between the two fundamental classes are in the end polarized towards the one which more effectively shows its strengths; today, just like in the past, the ruling class can use sectors of the unemployed and of the petite bourgeoisie as a battering ram against the working class, in much the same way that Fascism made use of them. The Russian revolutionary, with reference to the Germany of the 1930s, wrote: “With every turn of the historic road, with every social crisis, we must over and over again examine the question of the mutual relations of the three classes in modern society: the big bourgeoisie, led by finance capital; the petty bourgeoisie, vacillating between the basic camps; and finally proletariat. The big bourgeoisie, making up a negligible part of the nation, cannot hold power without the support of the petty bourgeoisie of the city and the village, that is, of the remnants of the old, of the masses of the new, middle classes”. And further. “For the social crisis to bring about the proletarian revolution, it is necessary that, besides over conditions, a decisive shift of the petty bourgeoisie classes, occur in the direction of the proletariat: This will give the proletariat a chance to put itself at the head of the nation as its leader. The last election revealed – and this is its principal symptomatic significance – a shift in the opposite direction. Under the impact of the crisis, the petty bourgeoisie swung, not in the direction of the proletarian revolution, but in the direction of the most extreme imperialist reaction, pulling behind it considerable sections of the proletariat”. In conclusion he stated: “ If the communist party is the party o revolutionary hope, then fascism , as a mass movement, is the party of the counterrevolutionary despair”. (Leon Trotsky: “ The turn in the Communist International and the situation in Germany”, September 26, 1930).

Building the working class struggle

Only with the working class conscious of its role as protagonist, of its strengths, and of its struggle to safeguard the working and living conditions of the popular classes can there be the force with which to polarize sectors of the petite bourgeoisie, or at least neutralize them in the antagonistic struggle with the ruling class. This is the urgent and important task that lays ahead, and which the return of the class struggle in workplaces can facilitate.

However, we are also faced with a question of time: the workers’ and trade unions’ movement must stand again on their own two feet; on the one hand they cannot demonize certain social sectors as such, they must not follow the leadership of the Partito Democratico and of the peak trade unions, the very same who subordinate the interests of men and women workers to those of the ruling class. While on the other hand the workers’ movement must be aware of the fact that the forconi are guided by reactionary and right-wing forces (which have gained strength because of these very events), a challenge which has to be faced.

It is for this reason that the working classes –and the movements of the anti-capitalist left must contribute towards this goal with all their strength– have to begin today their own struggle, their own class revolt against the governments of the fiscal compact, which are none other than the ruling classes themselves.

Solidarity with Egyptian Activists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What you can do:

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

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

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

MENA Solidarity Netwrok, January 6, 2014


The Ukrainian Crisis

 

 

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

 

Alexander Buzgalin

 

 

30 December 2013

 


 

 

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

 

 A tragedy turning into farce? Or farce as tragedy?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What about the European Union?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

However.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 So what should Ukraine do?

 

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

 

Personally, I would formulate my answer along three lines.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Aleksandr Buzgalin, Editor in Chief of the journal Alternatives

Egypt :Return of the military… and then?

Egypt

Return of the military… and then?

by Dominique Lerouge

From International Viewpoint

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

A broad repressive wave

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

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

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

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

Al-Sissi future president?

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

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

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

What left alternative?

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

The action of the working class

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

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

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