Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

Radical Socialist condemns Custodial Rape in West Bengal by army personnel

Protest Against Custodial Rape

More than 60 people joined the Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) at the street corner of Academy of Fine Arts in Kolkata on January 2, 2016—to protest against the cruel rape of a 14-year-old minor girl by army personnel in a moving train. The survivor was en route to meet a friend she made over Facebook via a Howrah-Amritsar mail. She took the compartment reserved for army personnel. She was later forced to consume a spiked alcoholic drink, and reportedly raped six times by at least two people. Following the complaint by her family about her disappearance, RPF and GRP personnel found the girl to be in the train and rescued her. The survivor identified the assaulters through CCTV footage. Accused persons have been arrested.

Heinous as it is, such crimes are far from rare. This brutal incident is merely the most recent addition to the long list of atrocities committed on a regular basis by the army, especially in the North Eastern states of India and Kashmir, thanks to the prevalence of the Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA). Survivors are still awaiting justice for the Kunan Poshpora gang-rape  incident perpetrated by army personnel in 1991—where the number of women raped by the Indian Army is somewhere between 23 to 100. Ordinary Kashmiri citizens and family members are still awaiting justice for the rape and murder of Neelofar Jan (aged 22 years) and Aasiya Jan (aged 17 years). In the wake of the rape and murder of  Thangjam Manorama, Manipuri women took to the streets in an unforeseen act of defiance—they stood naked with a piece of cloth covering them which had “Indian Army Come Rape Us” written on it.

While the sensitivity to cases of sexual assault has increased a little bit after the horrifying gang rape of Jyoti Singh in Delhi in 2012 —general people and the media are still oblivious to the countless number of atrocities committed on the poor and marginalised, Dalits and Adivasis and LGBT in particular. Many voices have raised the concern of stricter punishment for rapists, forgetting that often the enforcers of law of the bourgeois state are the ones committing the crimes. Forced disappearances of suspected militants cannot be solved by stricter laws. We do not need castration, or death penalty to reduce instances of sexual assault—we need sustained campaign to raise awareness on restorative justice, and on resisting the glorification of masculine values which reinforce sexual oppression. Political parties too legitimise masculinity by carrying out retributional politics of rape. We cannot fight a social problem with a legal solution. We need to embrace feminist politics to fight misogyny and patriarchy embedded in the social structure which caters to needs of capital. In the absence of a feminist politics, people will raise questions as to why the 14-year-old girl was visiting her virtual friend—an insinuation at a ‘socially’ unacceptable sexual relationship. This is raised, as though if it could be proved she wanted to have sex with a virtual friend, her rape would be justified.

Radical Socialist unequivocally condemns this incident of custodial gang rape of a minor and demand:


  • Perpetrators of sexual assault be given exemplary punishment without delay

  • The survivor be given adequate medical help both for physical injury and mental trauma

  • Safety measures be ensured by the governments in all public transport  

  • An end to all repressive acts and laws by the state including the AFSPA prevailing in Kashmir and the North Eastern states of India

  • We demand that the perpetrators of numerous instances of sexual violence and massacres in Kashmir and in the North East be brought to justice immediately.

China: Workers Rising?


China: Workers Rising?


 by Jane Slaughter

From Against the Current

When I read a book about rebellious factory workers in China, what I want to know is: Where are all the wildcat strikes heading? Will workers be able to build real (at this point illegal) unions? Will they be able to keep any kind of organization going? Will they ever be able to make connections across factories and coordinate their actions?

China’s leaders are intent on making the 21st century the Chinese century. To do so they will need the cooperation of the world’s largest working class, which these days is showing more restiveness than that of just about any other country. It would be good to read that this very new working class, an immense potential source of global worker solidarity, is overcoming its fragmentation and getting organized.

Neither of two fascinating books about China in 2014 and 2015 give me the answer that I want to hear.

Lu Zhang is assistant professor at Temple University and a researcher who interviewed 200 Chinese auto workers and 78 managers, party cadres and union officials at seven assembly plants. She does not predict the future except to say that local rebellions will continue and that the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), which is actually part of the government and the only “union” allowed, will likely become more active on workers’ behalf.

Eli Friedman, assistant professor at Cornell’s Institute for Labor Research who speaks Mandarin and has spent a great deal of time in China, sees it as next to impossible that workers will win better conditions through the ACFTU or through legislation, which goes unenforced. He’s pessimistic about the legalization of real unions. He, too, says worker unrest will continue, but in its current fragmented form, not strong enough to force reforms, and inequality and poverty will persist.

It’s not a pretty picture, and not hopeful for workers in the West who are constantly told by management that they are competing against “the China price.”

Still, both authors take us inside the astounding manifestations of worker discontent that have the central government worried enough, in the last year, to crack down. The government has suppressed the worker-centered NGOs that sprang up in various cities to help workers file legal claims for unpaid wages or to assist on health and safety issues. It even shut down a labor-research center at SunYat-sen University in Guangzhou, co-sponsored by the University of California, Berkeley, that the regime found too friendly to worker concerns.

The message coming from the government these days is all about avoiding pernicious “Western influences” — which would include independent unions.

Growing Protests and Limits

Strikes and labor protests in China more than doubled last year to 1,379, according to the China Labour Bulletin, based in Hong Kong. In 2011 there were only 185. All strikes take place outside the official channels of the union.

Friedman shows us throughout Insurgency Trap: Labor Politics in Postsocialist China how the ACFTU takes a “passive repressive” response to worker unrest — and sometimes not so passive. His case studies show how in even the supposed best examples of collective contracts — the ones ACFTU officials show to visiting foreign unionists — workers find their union worthless and the contracts go unenforced.

His upshot, confirmed by other observers, is that the rising wave of protests wins gains for particular groups of workers but does not result in lasting organizations that workers could use to fight to alter the balance of power.

China’s government makes sure that’s the case because it fears independent worker organization more than anything — far more than outbursts of worker unrest.

A main role of the ACFTU, sometimes aided by the police, is to block any budding organization that might arise. The Wall Street Journal reports that during a recent strike at a clothing factory in Shenzhen, police entered the plant to force workers back to their jobs, breaking from past police practice of staying outside the premises.

A strike by 100 women workers at a small bike-light factory in Shenzhen in May this year is perhaps emblematic. Labor Notes reports that a Taiwanese company, New An Lun Lamp, was ignoring labor law and social insurance policies by not paying into workers’ pension or housing funds.

The company refused to pay for sick, maternity, work injury, or marriage leave or the high-temperature allowance that workers were entitled to. Bathrooms were locked except during official breaks. When workers held a sit-in in May, 100 police came to help the company move out finished bike lights. Strikers were evicted and nine were arrested.

The nature of the ACFTU is fairly well known; Friedman explains that it’s under the control of the government at the national and city levels, while at the company level, it’s controlled by the employer. Higher-level officials are not elected but appointed. They’re rotated in and out of union jobs and other positions in the state machinery.

Friedman says, “It is not at all unusual for people with no experience in trade unionism whatsoever to be appointed to very high-level positions...leadership is frequently unfamiliar with, and often uninterested in, labor issues...these officials think of themselves as, and behave like, government officials.”

Indeed, the 2001 Trade Union Law says that in the event of a work stoppage, the “union shall assist the enterprise or institution in properly dealing with the matter so as to help restore the normal order of production and other work as soon as possible.”

At the company level, Friedman reports, “it is quite common to have human resource managers or the enterprise owner serve as union chairs.” And if a pro-worker union chair somehow makes it into office, “there are countless examples of activist union chairs being summarily fired for antagonizing management.”

Faced with a union like that, what are workers to do? Over and over again, they organize on their own.

Auto Workers’ Strike Wave

Friedman details the famous 2010 strike wave in the auto sector. It began when about 50 workers from the assembly department of a Honda powertrain factory sat down in front of the plant in May, demanding a big raise of 800 RMB ($50 a month). The strike spread to other departments, and within a week the lack of parts had shut down every Honda facility in China.

At the start of the strike’s second week, the district-level union federation sent vanloads of what appeared to be hired thugs, wearing union insignia, who ordered strikers to return to work. They assaulted some workers.

This intervention reinvigorated the strike — but also brought in riot police to cordon off the road to the factory. The local government, Friedman says, wanted neither violent confrontation nor the possibility that the strikers might leave the grounds.

The union chair had been involved in negotiations with management, but essentially took Honda’s side. In order to resolve the strike, local government now actually demanded that the strikers select their own representatives. Bravely, the strikers stated that they would accept nothing less than their original demands without a general meeting of the workers.

In the end, they got wage increases of 500 RMB, and 600 RMB for the second-tier “intern” workers, a hike for the interns of more than 70%. Says Friedman, “Such large wage increases in response to strikes were unprecedented.”

That summer, strikes spread throughout the auto industry and spilled into other sectors. At Denso, a major parts supplier for Toyota, 200 workers met in secret to plan their walkout. They blocked trucks from leaving the plant, elected 27 representatives to negotiate, and demanded an 800 RMB raise. They got it.

In the northern city of Dalian, 70,000 workers struck at 73 employers in a development zone, winning average increases of 34.5%.

Friedman says the dozens of reported strikes are surely a small portion of those that occurred that year. Wage increases around the country — sometimes offered by management preemptively — prompted media commentators to declare the end of low-wage labor in China. That was premature.

The Honda strikers were perhaps the most daring and “political” of the strikers: one of their demands was for a “reorganized” union, that is, one that represented its members. After the strike, the ACFTU allowed workers to elect their reps — but only at the level of the team, representing about 30 people. At higher levels, management stepped in, and mostly white-collar employees won the elections.

Friedman interviewed Honda workers in July 2010 and found them dismissive of the union, finding no change since the strike: “They just collect the dues each month and that’s it.” “If this company has a union or not, it makes no difference.”

It would seem hopeful that the following winter, the elected representatives participated in wage negotiations at the Honda powertrain plant, and that management granted another 611 RMB raise. Some observers might seize on this as evidence of a real change in power relations. And Friedman notes how much power these workers potentially had, because they were the sole supplier of some parts for Honda in China — and because they’d demonstrated their willingness to act.

But he also points out that their wages are still low, below those of Honda assembly plant workers in China, and that no gains were made on any non-wage issues.

Most important for long-term hopes for worker resistance: Workers in the strike wave of 2010 were clearly inspired by each other, but “there was no coordination between strikers from different factories.”

Two-Tier Workforce

In Inside China’s Automobile Factories: The Politics of Labor and Worker Resistance, Lu Zhang describes vividly the two-tier system in Chinese auto plants. Most are joint ventures between foreign companies and local or regional governments. All are new and modern; all use a form of the Toyota lean production system, which Lu describes as grueling, monotonous, exhausting and authoritarian.

In particular, they hire a core of formal workers who have higher wages than the average Chinese factory hand and some job security — although their initial contracts may be as short as one year — and a large number of temp agency workers.

Temp workers tend to be between 18 and 24 years old; they earn half to two-thirds the pay of formal workers, with far fewer benefits. They do the same jobs as formal workers, often for years, but with no hope of becoming permanent.

In six assembly plants Zhang studied, the percentage of temporary workers ranged from a third to 60% of the workforce. (Oddly, the one plant that did not use temporaries as of 2011 was a Japanese joint venture.) Even lower in the hierarchy are student interns, who must work six months in order to graduate from technical school. They get no training except in basic jobs on the assembly line and receive only a base wage, with no benefits. Sometimes their schools retain a portion of their pay.

At two plants, student interns were 30% of the workforce, and overall they were 30% of the temporary workforce.

Temp agency workers have become ubiquitous in China: at 60 million, they are 20% of the employed population, used long-term alongside regular workers not just in factories but in government agencies and industries of all sorts.

Lu explains the paradox of this system, which she calls “labor force dualism.” Management began using temporaries for flexibility in numbers, to save money on wages and, presumably, to create a division inside the workforce that would defeat solidarity.

It’s the oldest trick in the book: create loyalty, or at least a reluctance to rock the boat, among one segment of the workforce (“at least we’re not as bad off as those other guys”). And make the other segment more vulnerable, more fearful of losing their jobs, and thus more likely to conform to management demands.

But dualism hasn’t worked as well as management hoped. Although it has kept formal workers from actively supporting the temps, for temporary workers it has become “a continuing source of irritation and an impetus to rebel,” Lu reports.

She notes three characteristics of temporary workers that help when they decide to dissent. Both regular temps and student workers are more likely to be urban, with higher education levels, than former temporaries who were migrants from the country. Even workers from rural areas want to stay in the city and get ahead. All talked of the injustice of their unequal treatment.

Second, temp workers are concentrated in dormitories, enabling them to form close connections. Third, they are adept at using social media. Three-quarters of those interviewed said they were active on online forums, and half said they had posted online comments about their jobs.

Presumably, many or most of those comments were complaints. One stated, “Although we work side by side with formal workers, they have preference over the job assignments, and they usually work at the same position as long as they want. But we have no choice, and we are...allocated to the least desirable positions — those tiring and dirty jobs, most at the welding shop.”

Temps frequently cited the “equal pay for equal work” clause in China’s labor law and denounced the illegality and injustice they suffered. Their deep resentment of the dual system meant that “their claims and protests were often explosive and morally based,” Lu writes.

A Pair of Strikes

Temporaries therefore resorted to minor sabotage, absenteeism, slowdown, and collective resignations. Most effective and most interesting were strikes.

At one state-owned plant, the vocational school that supplied student workers was late with their pay. More than 300 night-shift student workers decided not to go to work; they stayed in their dorm sleeping and a whole assembly line stopped.

A formal worker reported, “It was fun to watch managers running around and trying to find workers to get the line to start running again. But it was impossible when three-fifths of the line workers [temporary workers] went on strike.”

Strikers’ descriptions from a group interview are worth quoting at length:

“The shop manager came to our dorms one hour later and asked us to go back to work. We said not until we got paid our wages in arrears. The manager said they would discuss the issue with our school but we must go back to work first. No one responded. That was almost 10 p.m. And we learned that our co-workers, the formal workers, went back home without working as well. The whole assembly shop was shut down.

“The following morning the production manager and the HR manager came to our residence...They promised to solve the problem, but we must go back to work immediately. They threatened to fire those who didn’t go back to work. Many of us were frightened, but we insisted on getting paid first.

“Our brothers in the day shift stayed with us and no one showed up at work....The vice principal of our school...apologized and said... we should see our paychecks in our bank accounts by noon. And we did. Most of us went back to work shortly afterwards.

“At that moment, you feel like we are all staying together, we are all supporting each other. You realize at least I am not alone...That makes you feel stronger. It’s a great feeling!”

Lu notes the power the student workers had, to shut down the plant during peak season. She credits the formal workers with “silent support;” they too were feeling resentful, because of heavy overtime and a puny bonus. A team leader said that the student workers’ strike became an outlet for the formal workers to vent their discontent as well.

Four months later, the temporary workers upped the ante. Formal workers had gotten a raise but temp workers nothing. Again 300 student workers stayed in their dorms, demanding the same wage increase formal workers had received.

This time management took a hard line: return to work by noon or be fired. Eighteen workers who did not return were dismissed. And this time the dual system worked as management wanted it to: formal workers were not supportive.

Lu quotes one formal worker giving the classic “you’re lucky to have a job” rationale: “The market is not that good these days...You know, it is just impossible to pay everyone the same. Otherwise, why would the factory even bother to hire temporary workers? Because it needs cheap and flexible hands. I also think this is unfair. But look, there are so many people who don’t even have a job. They [temp workers] should feel lucky to even have a job and work here.”

The temp workers believed that their strike did cause management to give raises a month later: 100 RMB for those who struck and 200 for those who did not. They saw their main problem as having no representative to speak for them: “Individually, everyone was scared to be identified as black sheep and get fired. If we could have a union or an organization that can genuinely represent us and speak for us, things could have been different.”

Can Stability Be Maintained?

Lu Zhang emphasizes throughout the central government’s focus on maintaining “stability.” As Friedman puts it, “different levels of the state are all concerned about worker unrest and are searching for various methods of dealing with the problem.”

Guangdong province, north of Hong Kong, produces more than a quarter of China’s exports and is a major site of worker restiveness and strikes. Last year more than 40,000 workers there, in seven factories, for two weeks struck the Yue Yuen company, which makes a fifth of the world’s sport shoes, including Nike and Adidas.

They demanded that the company stop short-changing their pension contributions — and the company not only gave in but raised their pay by 230 RMB. According to a Hong Kong NGO, in the first quarter of this year 11 large factory strikes in Guangdong brought about violent police reprisals.

Guangdong officials responded by passing a labor law with disturbing implications. Workers will have the right to demand that their employers negotiate over wages and benefits — but the law spells out that this can happen only through the ACFTU. And the law makes it illegal to strike during such negotiations — for the first time officially prohibiting strikes and making possible long prison terms for violators.

Previously labor law had been silent on the legality of strikes; it was a “grey area,” according to Anita Chan, longtime China labor scholar and editor of Chinese Workers in Comparative Perspective. No one has as yet been arrested for striking, she says, but rather for “disturbing the peace” or “causing social instability.”

The new law “legalizes” strikes only in order to prohibit them, spelling out a long list of banned actions: “Employees are forbidden to initiate or promote a collective bargaining by: (i) refusing to complete assigned duties by breaching employment contract; (ii) breaching disciplinary rules, or forcing other employees to leave their duty; or (iii) blocking up entries and exits of enterprise or traffic arteries, impeding the transportation of personnel and assets, destroying equipments and facilities, or impairing business order or public order.”

Such a law, says Chan, ”only means there will from then onwards be many ‘illegal’ strikes, allowing the government and the police to crack down.”

Still, even without legal protections, Chinese factory workers have been remarkably unafraid to take bold action and have learned that it often works, in the short term. They apparently don’t buy into the government’s official goal of a “harmonious society,” at least in practice.

Lu’s book is full of evidence that workers, formal and temporary, see through the notion that all is fair under “socialism with Chinese characteristics” — read, capitalism. They are experiencing the worst of both worlds — capitalist exploitation and the harshness of its lean production regime, combined with the repression of a government accustomed to one-party rule and determined to keep it that way.

Lu Zhang urges us to look past the “localized, cellular, and apolitical” nature of Chinese workers’ outbursts and instead “identify the potential for transformation from below.” The question is whether workers’ bravery and initiative can outmaneuver the corporations and government who are betting everything on their ability to contain them. The potential is enormous, as China’s rulers are well aware.

September-October 2015, ATC 178

COP21: in spite of the show, the glass is 80% empty


COP21: in spite of the show, the glass is 80% empty

Saturday 19 December 2015, by Daniel Tanuro (International Viewpoint)

The COP21 Paris Climate Conference has, as expected, led to an agreement. It will come into effect from 2020 if it is ratified by 55 of the countries which are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and these 55 countries account for at least 55% of global emissions of greenhouse gases. In the light of the positions taken in Paris, this dual condition should not raise any difficulty (although the non-ratification of Kyoto by the United States shows that surprises are always possible).

“Well below 2°C”: how?

The agreement sets the objective of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

In addition, the preamble to the agreement affirms its willingness to achieve these objectives while respecting the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, human rights, the right to health, the right to development, the rights of indigenous peoples, the rights of persons with disabilities and children, gender equality (by promoting the “empowerment” of women) as well as intergenerational solidarity, stressing the importance of a “just transition” for the world of work and taking into account the respective capabilities of countries.

One can of course only agree with these positions, but the text adopted by the 195 countries represented at the COP gives no guarantee that they will be effectively followed. In addition, and more importantly, it remains completely vague with respect to the deadlines for the climate goals to be achieved: it simply says that the “Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century.” However, the peak year, the annual rate of overall reductions of emissions after this peak and the precise time between 2050 and 2100 where the overall balance of emissions/removals is achieved condition the stabilization of warming at such or such a level.

“Reconciling the irreconcilable?”

Taking the floor before the plenary of participants, on December 12, 2015, French President François Hollande welcomed the fact that the conference had “reconciled what seemed irreconcilable” by adopting a document “both ambitious and realistic.” “The decisive agreement for the planet is now”, he concluded. Speaking before him as president of this COP, his foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, welcomed a result representing “the best possible balance.”

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change dates from 1992. It has led to a very insufficient sequel: the Kyoto Protocol. For some years the climate challenge has contributed more and more to undermining the legitimacy of capitalism and the credibility of its political managers. In the wake of the COP in Paris it is already clear that we are going to be faced with a very broad counter-offensive aimed at spreading the idea that the system, contrary to what has been said, is able to stem the disaster that it has created, and that the governments in its service are up to the challenge facing them.

Those who do not believe in the possibility of a green capitalism, who do not believe in particular in the possibility of saving the climate without calling into question the fundamental tendency of the system to growth, therefore have an interest in examining the Paris agreement from this angle: does the COP21 “reconcile the irreconcilable”? This article focuses primarily on this. We will return later on other aspects of the Agreement, such as adaptation, support for the countries of the South, and so on.

So, has Paris given the lie to those terrible grumpy pessimists and eco-socialists? The answer to this question is -at least - 80% “no”. Why 80%? Because, on the basis of the expertise of the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), we can say that only a fifth of the path to stay under 2°C of warming has been taken (and this only on paper!). In other words, it is not a case of the glass half full and half empty: the glass of COP21 is four-fifths empty, at least. Fundamentally, the climate catastrophe continues, the evidence that things deemed irreconcilable can be reconciled has not been presented. We will explain.

Between the Agreement and the INDCs

There are two elements in the negotiation: the agreement adopted in Paris and its preamble, on the one hand, and the projected “Climate Plans” that each country participating in the Conference has adopted and transmitted to the Secretariat of the UNFCCC in view of the COP, on the other hand. In the jargon of the negotiators, these projected climate plans are designated by the acronym INDC (for “intended nationally determined contributions”). The text adopted in Paris poses the objective of a warming lowered to 2°C, as close as possible to 1.5°C. But the INDCs - which relate to 2025 or 2030 - are far from achieving this objective: according to the estimates which have been made, their cumulative effect would be to lead us toward a catastrophic warming of approximately 3°C.

This contradiction between the declarations of intent of the Agreement and the reality of the climate plans of the countries which are signatories to the agreement is not a secret. The preamble to the agreement adopted in Paris, "(emphasizes) with a serious concern the urgent need to tackle the significant gap between the aggregate effect of the promises of mitigation of the Parties in terms of annual global emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 (on the one hand), and the cumulated emission trajectories consistent with the objective of maintaining the increase of the average temperature of the globe at well below 2°C and to continue the effort to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (on the other hand). "

This gap between the cumulative effect of the INDCs and the objective of 1.5 to 2°C adopted in Paris has been studied by the ad hoc working group established at the COP in Durban to decide on ways and means to enhance the level of ambition of the climate policy (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action). On October 30, 2015, in the framework of the preparation of COP21, this working group submitted a detailed report to the Secretariat of the UNFCCC.

In this text, the sum of the INDC emissions at the deadlines in 2025 and 2030 is compared to the “business as usual” emissions, on the one hand, and, on the other to (variants of) the reduction trajectory for global emissions which should be followed, according to the IPCC, for having a 66% probability of keeping warming under 2°C “at least cost” (these trajectories constitute what the last IPCC report called the “least cost 2°C scenarios”).

The method of the authors of the study is simple: they take the “business as usual” emissions as the reference scenario (0% of the 2° objective) and the “least cost 2°C scenario” as the goal to achieve (100% of the 2° objective); this done, they express the sum of the emission reductions projected by the INDCs as a percentage of the 2° objective. Here is their conclusion: “in this comparison, the INDCs are estimated to reduce the difference between “business as usual” emissions and the 2°C the scenarios by 27% in 2025 and 22% in 2030”. That is why we have said above that “the glass of COP21 is 80% empty”.

It is moreover not excluded that this figure of 80% is lower in reality. The INDCs should be subjected to a more detailed review, to check whether states have not inflated their figures in order to give an image of being good pupils. Cheating of this kind has already occurred several times in relation to the climate (we think for example of the way in which the member states of the EU have overestimated the emissions of their polluting industries, so that the latter receive free of charge a maximum of emission rights resold with profit). The fact that a good number of INDCs rely heavily on removals of CO2 by forests, or on reductions relating to emissions, and relatively little on net reductions, encourages mistrust. But let us leave this aspect to the specialists and rather see how the Paris Agreement intends to bridge the gap between the INDCs and the objective of a warming maintained between 1.5 to 2°C.

Bridging the gap

In advance, I must confess that one point of the IPCC reports remains for me unexplained: whereas the diagnosis of the severity of climate change is increasingly worrying and the phenomenon is growing much more quickly than projected using the models, how is it that the peak of global greenhouse gas emissions to meet in order for there to be a 66% chance of remaining under the limit of 2°C has been deferred so significantly between the fourth and the fifth report? According to the fourth report, in order not to exceed the 2°C increase, it was necessary that global emissions peak no later than 2015; however, according to the fifth report, it would still be possible to remain under 2°C by starting to reduce global emissions only in 2020, in 2025, and even in 2030 – although at the price of increasingly significant difficulties. I suppose that the authors of the reports do not simply intend to maintain the flame of hope, and that there is a scientific explanation for this elision. But I don’t know.

In any case, let us assume that the peak of emissions compatible with 2°C or 1.5°C can indeed only occur in 2025 or in 2030, and go back to our question: how does the Paris agreement envisage bridging the gap between the INDCs and the objective of a warming “well below 2°C”? The answer is in the text adopted: by revising the INDCs every five years, with the aim of increasing the ambition. This revision will be based solely on the goodwill of the parties: the agreement is not legally binding and provides no penalty, so while the house burns down, a commitment as light as this is presented as a historic breakthrough.

One of the important issues here is that of timing: the Paris Agreement will enter into force in 2020, and the first revision will take place only in 2023. Remember that it took eight years to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which concerned only a small number of parties and only implemented derisory emission reductions. To think that in ten years, whereas geopolitical tensions are growing, 195 countries will quickly agree on 80% of the path they must still take to save the climate, is in reality to play Russian roulette with the fate of hundreds of millions of human beings and with the ecosystems. COP21 does not invalidate the eco-socialist analysis, on the contrary it confirms it: the capitalist system, when it comes up against the ecological limits, can only postpone the essence of the problem facing it, making it increasingly complex and dangerous.

Fossil fuels

In relation to the dangers, those who insist on believing that a miracle happened on December 12 at Le Bourget should still ask two more questions: 
- How is it that the words or expressions “fossil fuels”, “industry”, “coal”, “oil”, “natural gas”, “car (industry”, and others equally crucial to the topic which occupies us, do not appear at all in the Paris text? That the word “energy” is only used twice in the same sentence about Africa (plus in the name of the International Energy Agency)?

- Conversely, how is it that the words or expressions “energy transition”, “energy sobriety”, “recycling”, “re-use”, “common goods”, “localization” are never used? That the expression “renewable energy” is used only once, and only about the “developing” countries (“Africa in particular”)? That “biodiversity” is used only once? That the concept of “climate justice” appears only once, as “important for some” - precisely in this same grab-bag paragraph which mentions biodiversity and the importance (“for some” also!) of Mother Earth?

These gaps are not the fruit of chance but the mark of a specific project, a strategy of capitalist response to the climate challenge. The climate negationists seem to be losing the ear of the dominant class, and so much the better. For all that, it would be wrong to consider with relief that the Paris Agreement is a “strong signal”, “would turn the page on fossil fuels” or would mark the turning point toward a “just transition”, as some people have said. Those responsible for the disaster - the fossil fuel and credit sectors, broadly speaking - still hold tight to the rudder.

A turning point but which?

Is Paris a turning point?. Probably. There is probably awareness, at the highest level, of the major, incalculable risk that global warming represents for society, its cohesion and its economy if it is not confronted (the Encyclical of Pope Francis is a manifestation of this phenomenon). It is likely that some capitalist decision-makers do want more than using this COP as a smokescreen to hide the disaster that their political mismanagement has produced since the Earth Summit in 1992, that they will attempt to try to bridge the gap between the INDCs and what is needed to contain warming below 2°C. But it is very unlikely (and this is an euphemism) that they will succeed: their awareness has come very late, fossil fuel capital has its foot on the brake and the multi-polar world is torn by ferocious inter-imperialist rivalries, without clear leadership.

In addition, the objective is not everything, there is also the manner. The “least cost 2°C scenario” that inspires the strategists is the use not only of “soft energies” but also nuclear power, the combustion of fossil fuels with capture-sequestration of carbon, giant hydro-electricity and the combustion of biomass with “carbon recovery”. The fifth report of the IPCC is clear: without this, remaining below 2°C is really “not profitable”, costs explode, and profits are threatened! Sacrilege!

In the hit parade of these sorcerer’s apprentice technologies, the combustion of biomass with carbon recovery ranks high (Bio-energy with carbon capture and sequestration, or BECCS). Its supporters argue that burning this biomass, by storing the CO2 from this combustion and cultivating a new biomass to burn which will absorb CO2 from the air, will not only reduce emissions but also reduce the stock of CO2 accumulated in the atmosphere. The reasoning is faultless, but the tremendous consumption of biomass that this project involves can only destroy both the ecosystems and the human communities which live there. Compensation, biomass destruction and carbon storage are the heart of the Paris agreement. The text announces a broad “mechanism for sustainable development”. On reading it, we understand that it will simply amplify to the maximum the “clean development mechanism” of the Kyoto Protocol, through which the European car companies, in particular, “offset” their emissions by investing in the South in “forest” projects on the backs of the indigenous peoples.

This is the “realistic ambition” described by Hollande. This is the true face of what some persist in hailing as the march toward a “green capitalism”. Let us deal with reality. What is being put in place in the name of “sustainable development” is anti-ecological, anti-social, will not save the climate and will require ever more repression to break resistance and silence dissent. Decreed under the pretext of combating terrorism, the French state of emergency is in any account very revealing of certain hidden tendencies of this COP.

South America: end of a cycle? Popular movements, “progressive” governments and eco-socialist alternatives


Thursday 10 December 2015, by Franck Gaudichaud

More than 40 years after the coup d’état that defeated the Chilean road to socialism and 30 years since the foundation of the largest social movement on the continent, the Movimiento de trabajadores rurales sin tierra (MST - Movement of Landless Rural Workers) of Brazil; 20 years since the Zapatista cry of “Ya basta!” in Chiapas against neoliberalism and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), more than 15 years since the electoral victory of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela (and more than two years after his death), the peoples of South America and their attempts to build an emancipatory project seem to be at a new turning point. A, social, political and economic cycle of medium length gradually seems to be becoming exhausted, but not in a uniform or linear manner. With its real (but relative) progress, its difficulties and significant limitations, the experiences of the different and varied “progressive" governments of the region, whether centre-left, social liberal, or radical national-popular, claiming to be anti-imperialist or characterised in conservative circles as “populist", the Bolivarian, Ando-Amazonian or “citizen” revolutions or simple institutional progressive changes, these political processes seem to be encountering big endogenous problems, a strong conservative backlash (national and global ) and not a few unresolved strategic dilemmas.

Without a doubt, in several countries where there have been crushing electoral victories for left-wing or anti-neoliberal forces, in particular when these victories are the product of years of social and popular struggle (such as in Bolivia) or a rapid politicization-mobilization from below (such as in Venezuela), the state and its regulations, domestic economic growth, the fight against extreme poverty through specific programs for redistribution and the institutionalization of new public services have been gaining ground: a noticeable difference to the infernal cycle of privatization, fragmentation and violence of the neoliberal capitalist deregulation of the 1990s. The public force has reappeared as regulator of the domestic market, redistributing part of the income from extraction profits and subsoil resources toward the more impoverished, with direct and immediate effects for millions of citizens, a process that explains in part the solidness of the social and electoral base of these experiences up until today (and in some cases more after more than 10 years of government). For the first time in decades, various “post-neoliberal” governments, starting with Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela, have showed that it is possible to begin to regain control of natural resources and, at the same time, reduce extreme poverty and social inequalities with reforms of political inclusion of broad popular sector. Also the dream of Bolivar has re-emerged at the geopolitical continental level through initiatives of alternative regional integration and cooperation among peoples (such as the ALBA-TCP), trying to regain the space of national sovereignty from the big powers of the North, military imperialism and the transnational companies or the unilateral orders of the world’s financial institutions.

At a time when the old world and the peoples of the European Union are subject to the financial dictatorship of the Troika (IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank) and a deep economic, political, and even moral crisis, it is important to emphasize the ability shown by several popular movements and leaders in Latin America to resist and begin to rebuild multilateralism, democratize democracy and even reinvent politics, with projects that present alternatives for the twenty-first century. When a country like Greece tries to raise its head under the onslaught of the debt and the European ruling classes, when many workers, young people and collectives in this part of the world seek emancipatory directions, we can learn a lot from Latin America, its traumatic experience with neoliberal capitalist fundamentalism and its heroic attempts to counteract it from the south of the world-system.

However, as the theologian and sociologist Francois Houtart said in early 2015 the key challenge - in particular for countries that have most raised expectations of change - remains the definition of paths of profound transition toward a new paradigm of post-capitalist civilization. That is to say not being trapped in an objective of post-neoliberal modernization and even less within a welfare-oriented neo-developmentalism or an attempt at reconciliation between national growth, regional bourgeoisies and foreign capital: it is about aiming at a transformation of the social relations of production and forms of ownership. Without doubt, the task is daunting and arduous.

In this perspective and in this historic moment, despite the democratic advances conquered with blood and sweat [1] there are multiple stresses and limits to the various Latin American “progresismos” which have emerged in the period opened in the year 2000 in the fight against neoliberal hegemony. An intellectual - today statesman - like Alvaro Garcia Linera presents these tensions (in particular between movements and governments) as potentially “creative” and “revolutionary”, as the experiences necessary to advance gradually in the direction of a “communitarian socialism” [2] taking into account the current relationship of geopolitical, political and social forces (and disregarding without much argument as “childish” all criticism coming from their left).

Within this orientation, the electoral conquest of government by national-popular forces is seen as a democratic - and “concrete” - response to the plebeian emergence of the 1990s and 2000s, and the state is considered as an essential instrument of “administration of the ordinary” faced with the kingdom of the law of value and the intensified neoliberal dissolution. In this defence of the different progresismo governments, very often analyzed as a homogeneous whole, we also find prominent intellectuals such as Emir Sader or the Chilean sociologist Marta Harnecker. [3]

“Capture” of the state apparatus, and capture of the left … by the underlying foces in the state apparatus

However, quite a lot of militants on the ground, some movements and critical analysts of various political horizons (such as Alberto Acosta and Natalia Sierra in Ecuador, Hugo Blanco in Peru, Edgardo Lander in Venezuela, Maristella Svampa in Argentina or Massimo Modenesi in Mexico, among others) insist on the ever more “conservative” dimension of the state policies of progresismo or post-neoliberal nationalism (from Uruguay to Nicaragua to Argentina [4]) and even its character as a “passive revolution” (in the sense of Gramsci). It is a transformation “from above” that actually alters the political spaces, public policies and the relationship between the state and society, but by integrating – effectively neutralizing – the eruption of the and down in the networks of institutions, organizing a sudden realignment within the ruling classes and the system of domination, slowing down the self-organization capacity and control from beneath of the peoples mobilized [5]. From this angle the “capture” of the state by force can mean the capture of the left by the forces of the deep state, its bureaucracy and the capitalist interests it represents; seen thus the strategy of seizing power in order to change the world may end in a left seized by power, changing everything to preserve the main current of the world as such. For the Uruguayan writer Raul Zibechi:

“To the extent that the progressive Latin American cycle is ending, it seems an appropriate time to start to draw long term balance sheets, that you do not stop at conjunctural or secondary elements, to begin to sketch an overall picture. It goes without saying that this end-of-cycle is disastrous for the popular sectors and the people of the left, we are filled with uncertainties and anxieties over the immediate future, by the repressive right-wing that we must face”. [6]

In the last few weeks an avalanche of articles of opinion – several of which we have already published in Rebelion.org – have discussed the existence or not of a progressive “end of cycle” or even of the existence of such a “cycle”, this debate reaching such a level of polarization that some authors accuse others of “capitulation” or being “Cafetín leftists" (thus García Linera), while others are accused of having been converted into intellectuals commissioned by and sympathisers in the service of the states of the region and governments which are no longer progressive but regressive. This dialogue of the deaf does little to unravel the current political situation. The notions of a possible “reflux of the change of era” [7] or, from a contrary perspective, the idea of a gradual “end of the progressive hegemony” are probably [8] more useful to begin this discussion in a more constructive manner. All while recognizing that this phenomenon occurs in highly differentiated territorial-national conditions:

“This slippage is more noticeable in some countries (e.g., Argentina, Brazil and Ecuador) than in others (Venezuela, Bolivia and Uruguay) because in these last few relatively compact progressive power blocs remain and strong cleavages to the left have not opened up. In particular, Venezuela was the only country where the widespread participation of the popular classes was given momentum with the creation of the communes from 2009.” [9]

Beyond the controversy about the dimension of the exhaustion, inflection or reflux of the current period, and highlighting the variety of the processes analyzed, it emerges that at many levels the progresismo governments seem to have finally opted, under pressure from global and endogenous players, for a “modernizing realism”, which is often the best path to justify a renunciation of structural changes in an anti-capitalist direction: a dynamic that could be symbolized by the meeting (July 2015) between the Brazilian president Dilma Roussef – a militant of the Workers’ Party - and the war criminal Henry Kissinger (former US Secretary of State), at a time when Dilma was looking for imperialist political support faced with a rise in opposition within civil society and a right revitalized by the amplitude of governmental corruption cases. For sure, the aim of the executive of the main Latin American power with this type of diplomatic gesture is first and foremost to support “their” dominant sectors and provide more “security” for business in Brazil. From another angle, the covert free trade agreement signed in 2014 by Ecuador with the European Union reminds us of the limits of the discourse on the “end of the neoliberal night” even on the part of one of the exemplars of this perspective at a discursive level. Today, this government, faced with the right and denouncing the dangers of a “soft coup”, is also faced with social and indigenous movements (and even with a weak left), to the point that we could talk about a situation of “political impasse”, in the sense developed by the Marxist Agustín Cueva, where the figure of the President plays a functional role of stabilizer to capital:

“There have been recurring moments in the history of Ecuador where the intensity of the horizontal conflicts, inter-capitalist, in combination with the vertical struggles between the ruling and popular classes, were too much to be supported by the existing forms of domination. While the politicians were looking for new more stable forms of domination, instability reigned until an impasse was reached.” [10]

More generally, it is necessary to mention, even if it is not the only problem, the presence in all the progressive countries of a productive model of accumulation combining, at various degrees and intensities, state capitalism, neo-developmentalism and extraction of primary and energy resources, with damaging effects on indigenous communities, workers, and ecosystems. This endogenous tension is articulated, in a combined and unequal manner, with a ferocious globalized financial context and the central fact of the current situation: the economic crisis that has hit the region heavily, causing a sharp fall in the price of raw materials and in particular of the barrel of oil (from almost $150 to less than $50), thus ending the previous period of booms and exposing again the dependent and neo-colonial productive matrix if Latin America, the cursed inheritance from centuries of imperialist subjection. This context corresponds in time with a clear offensive of transnational capital, from the states of the North and some giants of the South (starting with China) to capture more agricultural land, energy, minerals, water, biodiversity, labour, in a maelstrom that seems without end. In countries like Bolivia or Ecuador where there is more political awareness of these dangers, the government and its political supporters quite sensibly defend the tactic of moving through a necessary industrialized-extractive period to build the transition with some economic strength: that is something like a “post-neoliberal transitional extractivism” to enable small countries with few resources to develop, create wealth from primitive accumulation in response to the immense social emergency which exists in these impoverished nations and at the same time begin a slow process of change of model of accumulation. However, according to Eduardo Gudynas, executive secretary of the Latin American Centre for Social Ecology (Centro Latino Americano de Ecología Social - CLAES):

“There is no evidence that this is happening for several reasons: the first is that the way in which the wealth generated by extraction is in good part allocated to programs that deepen extractivism, for example, increase fuel reserves or encouraging mineral exploration. Second, extractivism has economic side-effects that inhibit processes of autonomy in other productive sectors, in both agriculture and industry. The government would need to take precautionary measures to avoid such deformation and that is not happening, in fact, there is a drift to promote agricultural export crops while increasing food imports. Third, as the extractive projects generate so much social resistance (recent examples are the Guaranis in Yategrenda, Santa Cruz, or the Yasuni Reserve in Ecuador), that governments have to defend them so intensively that the extractivist culture is strengthened in broad sectors of society and the search for alternatives is therefore inhibited.” [11]

Multisectoral popular protests

In fact, it is not by chance that the cycle of popular struggles and mobilizations that is emerging in the heart of America, announcing - perhaps - a new historical period of class struggles, is directly linked to this depredation and repression and its consequent socio-territorial resistance:

“The resistance is centred on mining and monoculture, in particular soya, as well as in urban speculation, or in the various modes of extractivism. According to the Observatory of Mining Conflicts in the region there are 197 active conflicts in mining which affect 296 communities. Peru and Chile, with 34 conflicts each, followed by Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, are the most affected countries.” [12]

This tendency is reflected in the context described previously of strong shadows over economic growth in recent years, the profound crisis of world capitalism which is still ongoing and the permanence of immense social inequalities and regional imbalances throughout the continent. On the other hand, it is necessary to emphasize the major offensive by the various business and media right wings and by the oligarchies in the region to take advantage of the end of progressive hegemony to recover the ground lost over 15 years to different charismatic and progressive leaders. The conservative and neo-liberal right continues to control -at the political level - cities, regions and key countries (like Mexico and Colombia), threatening steadily the rights established in the last decade and the process of a new regional integration more independent of Washington. We know that these regressive forces were and are ready to organize multiple forms of destabilization, and even coups (as in the last decade in Paraguay, Honduras and Venezuela), with the explicit or indirect support of the imperial agenda of the US.

However, from the bottom up, popular multi-sectoral, aboriginal, student and worker protests also advance their own agendas and claims, realizing the limits of the profound transformations made in the countries where “post-neoliberal” forces rule and their absolute absence where the neoliberal right still dominates, denouncing the various forms of repression, intimidation or cooption in both cases: collective opposition to genetically modified soya or workers’ strikes in Argentina; big street mobilizations of youth in major Brazilian cities demanding the right to the city and against corruption; deep crisis of the Bolivarian project, violence of the opposition and reorganization of the popular movement in Venezuela; in Peru, peasant and indigenous struggles against mega-miner groups (such as the Conga project); in Chile, Mapuche, employees and students denouncing the cursed inheritance of the Pinochet dictatorship; in Bolivia, criticism by the Central Obrera Boliviana and sectors of the indigenous movement of the policy of "modernization" of Evo Morales; in Ecuador, abandonment by President Correa of the Yasuni oil project and confrontation between the executive, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador - CONAIE) and significant layers of organised civil society; in Colombia, a search for a real peace, i.e. a peace with social transformation, economic and agrarian reform and so on.

The scene is tense and shaky. But, in spite of everything the "old mole of history" (in the sense that Marx understood it) is still digging and a wide variety of experiences of social struggles, class conflicts and political debates accompanied by multiple exercises of popular power, radical alternatives and utopias in construction are visible [13]. If some critical intellectuals could believe for a time that Latin America - or better said Abya Yala - could reach the new El Dorado of "21st century socialism” thanks to a “left turn” government and democratic electoral victories, we know that the roads to emancipation are more complex and deeply sinuous, and that the power apparatuses (military, media, economic) of the Latin American and imperial oligarchies are strong, resilient, entrenched and ferocious if necessary. Transforming the social relations of production and disrupting the dominations of “race” and gender in the societies of our America is a dialectic that will undoubtedly need to start from below and from the left, from class autonomy and independence, but always in a political key, and not from an illusory change without taking power. `

Ecosocialismo nuestroamericano of the 21st century

This is without denying that these collective attempts of people’s power should continue to rely on partial electoral gains or be able to consider the importance of conquering institutional spaces and supports within the state, if - and only if - the development of such new public policies are placed at the service of the "communes" and the subalterns. Can we use the state to finish with the (capitalist) state, using it for a time as barrier of containment of colossal hostile forces outside? Or, as Marx found, is the state essentially the creature of the dominant which we cannot use as tool without risking that it colonize our minds, souls and practices?

It is clear that the control of the executive represents “only” the conquest of a partial power, and even more limited if there is no parliamentary majority and a mobilized social base - let us remember the lessons of Chile and how Salvador Allende and the institutional route to socialism of Popular Unity was defeated in 1973. That’s why a left-wing and popular government [14] shows its true alternative character when it serves as a lever and stimulus for the self-organised struggles of the workers and the popular or indigenous movements, favouring dynamics of real empowerment, transformation of the social relations of production, construction of self-management and emancipatory roads to “living well”. In the contrary case, the political forces of the left are sentenced to manage the existing order, and even in time of instability to rise above the social classes in a Bonapartist manner to perpetuate the state Leviathan, administering domination in a more or less “progressive” manner, with more or less friction with the local elites.

Without doubt, the inflection and doubts represent current dangers and opportunities; it is also the time to go back to discuss what’s new without forgetting the old and to discuss anti-capitalist strategies to build what we propose to call an “ecosocialimo nuestroamericano” of the twenty-first century: a project that is not a carbon copy, which rejects being overwhelmed by myopic electoral tactics, by the struggles of caudillos and bureaucratic apparatuses, but without accepting the pull and the illusion of the construction of a plurality of social autonomies without common political project, a centralized minimum. With this project, it is essential that we open eyes, smells, senses and hearts to those collective experiments underway, often existing above and below the consensual media radar, no doubt still dispersed or little connected, but that make up a huge river of struggles in a permanent state of transformation, from the real and concrete, from their mistakes and successes. Experiences that allow us to understand dynamic emancipating, original collective attempts and the dangers they face or circumvent.

For sure, we cannot point to an ideal manner of successful attempts at revolt, but rather a mosaic of praxis-knowledge-actions: some focused at the agricultural and the territorial levels, others focused on production and occupied factories, others on the neighbourhood and urban community, others originating from state or institutional policies but controlled by the users: struggles by women against patriarchal violence, of the homeless, indigenous people, the working class in several countries, an example of the agro-ecological alternative in Colombia, the demands for “living well” in Ecuador, the commune councils in Venezuela, or the factories without bosses in Argentina, community media in Brazil and Chile, the community patrols in Peru and Mexico and so on.

“Local organizational initiatives to take and exercise popular power, virulent street protests of rejection of decisions taken by the national and transnational regime; but also constituent assemblies capable of re-founding utopia, recovery of the reins of the political at the level of the states; the roads to emancipation are far from univocal. As experiences, they suppose trials, hesitations, and convolutions. But also, conquests. Complex, sometimes contradictory, but profound and authentic, experiences (that) constitute a source for those who participate in the task of reinventing societies and the way of doing politics,, who act as citizens of the countries of the region or women and men from other areas who have taken the difficult path of resistance and emancipation.” [15]

This plurality of voices and of examples allows us to pick up the thread of a discussion which already runs through the veins of the continent; allows us to think beyond the progressive governmental projects, assuming that it is, at the same time, indispensable to create socio-political fronts to confront the threats of the return of the right wing and imperialism in South America. Above all, it obliges us to think against the tide, against a “left which is contemplative, institutional, administrative, a left of aspiring officials and civil servants, a left without rebellion, without mysticism, a left without left”. [16] And it obliges us to to think critically about our own developmentalist and teleological myths, assuming the global urgency of a mauled planet on the brink of ecological and climate collapse. For sure, it is essential to recognize that these various experiences that we have mentioned here briefly on how to change the world are contradictory, or even divergent: some isolated, very localised and others, on the contrary, institutionalized or dependent on the state. Hence the interest in resuming the major strategic debates of the twentieth century, but starting from current times and remembering the balance sheets of painful past defeats: how do undertake a post-capitalist and eco-socialist transition in the twenty-first century? What will be the role of the political-party tools and of the movements in this transition? What is the role of the armed forces, the parliamentary system, and the trade unions? Do we destroy them, use them, transform them, avoid them, split them… very well, but in any case: how? And in what way can we reconstruct common senses, cultural hegemony and an anti-capitalist left from and for the people? How do we avoid forging illusions about small affinity groups closed in on themselves and, at the same time, avoid the state-centred bureaucratic horror of the twentieth century?

The great Rosa Luxemburg said in 1915, “advance to socialism or regression to barbarism”. In 2015, her words are all a sense even more catastrophic and premonitory: “eco-socialism or global ecocide”. Without doubt, it is from the “audacity of the new” that we will be able to tear down the walls of capital, wage labour, neo-colonialism and patriarchy:

“Changing the world sounds very ambitious. What is more, it seems pretty risky if you take into account all the power groups that would never would allow you to remove capitalist civilization. But in the current circumstances, there is no other alternative. The living conditions for broad segments of the population and the land itself degrade rapidly. We are approaching a point of no return. And the option to switch planets does not exist. ( …) We must accept the challenge. We must be rebels in relation to power (and maybe even desire its destruction). We must accept our limitations as human beings in nature. We must hate all forms of exploitation. We must oppose injustices and those who commit them. We must not resign ourselves. We must continue to demand and build the impossible”. [17]

The task has already started; it is our daily bread, today and tomorrow.


[1] Such as the construction of multinational states, the installation of more or less institutionalized social rights, the creation of constituent assemblies and spaces for community participation or the regional integrationist impulse.

[2] Alvaro Garcia Linera, “Las tensiones creativas de la Revolucion”, La Paz, 20011.

[3] Emir Sader, “¿El final de un ciclo (que no existió)?”, Pagina 12, Buenos Aires, September 17, 2015 and Marta Harnecker, “Los movimientos sociales y sus nuevos roles frente a los gobiernos progresistas”, Rebelión, July 9, 2015.

[4] It should be noted here that, for us, the current Chilean government of Michelle Bachelet is clearly outside of this category, as a “reformist” continuation of the neoliberalism of the governments ran the country between 1990 and 2010.

[5] Modenesi, Massimo, “Revoluciones pasivas en América Latina. Una aproximación gramsciana a la caracterización de los gobiernos progresistas de inicio de siglo”. In: Modenesi, Massimo (coord.), Horizontes gramscianos. Estudios en torno al pensamiento de Antonio Gramsci, México, FCPyS-UNAM, 2013.

[6] Zibechi, Raul, “Hacer balance del progresismo”, Latin American Summary, August 4, 2015.

[7] Katu Akornada, “¿Fin del ciclo progresista o reflujo del cambio de época en América Latina? 7 tesis para el debate”, Rebelión, September 8, 2015.

[8] Massimo Modenesi, “¿Fin del ciclo o fin de la hegemonía progresista en América Latina?”, La Jornada, September 27, 2015.

[9] Massimo Modenesi, op. cit.

[10] Jeffery R. Webber, “Ecuador en el impasse político”, Viento Sur, September 20, 2015.

[11] Ricardo Aguilar Agramont, “Entrevista a Eduardo Gudynas: La derecha y la izquierda no entienden a la naturaleza”, La Razón, August 23, 2015.

[12] Zibechi, Raul, “Hacia un nuevo ciclo de luchas en América Latina”, Gara, November 3, 2013.

[13] Pablo Seguel, “América Latina actual. Geopolitica imperial, progresismos gubernamentales y estrategias de poder popular constituyente. Conversación con Franck Gaudichaud”. In: GESP (coord), Movimientos sociales y poder popular en Chile, Tiempo robado editoras, Santiago, 2015, pp. 237-278.

[14] See Marta Harnecker, op. cit.

[15] Tamia Vercoutère, prologue to the Ecuadorian edition of the book América Latina. Emancipaciones en construcción, Quitogo, IEAN, 2013.

[16] Pablo Rojas Robledo, “Hay que sembrarse en las experiencias del pueblo”. Fin de ciclo, progresismo e izquierda. Entrevista con Miguel Mazzeo”, Contrahegemonía, September 2015.

[17] Miriam Lang, Belén Cevallos and Claudia López (comp.), La osadía de lo nuevo. Alternativas de política económica, Quito, Fundación Rosa Luxemburg/Abya-Yala, 2015, pp. 191-192.

The reasons behind France’s recurrent deadly floods


The reasons behind France’s recurrent deadly floods

Saturday 5 December 2015, by Michel de Pracontal

Earlier this month, exceptional rainfall caused flash floods in south-east France that swept through the streets of towns and villages, killing 20 people and causing an estimated 500 million euros of damage. It was the latest in a long list of major catastrophic flooding disasters in the country over the past 27 years. As Michel de Pracontal reports, neither fate nor surprise events explain the causes, but rather the incapacity of public authorities to tackle the prevalent dangers, due in no small part to both rampant urbanisation and bureaucratic nonsense.

The storm-driven flash floods that swept through towns on the French Riviera over the weekend of October 3rd left 20 people dead and caused devastation to homes and infrastructures at a cost estimated to reach hundreds of millions of euros.

But the probability of such an event was arguably as foreseeable as the return of Christmas every December. Flooding is now the most frequent ‘natural disaster’ recorded in France, and more than 200 lives have been lost in major, catastrophic floods over the past 27 years, beginning with that in the town of Nîmes in 1988. That was followed by the deadly flooding of the ancient Roman town of Vaison-la-Romaine in 1992; in the Aude département (county) in 1999; in that of the Gard en 2002; the town of Montpellier in 2005; the Var département and the town of La Faute-sur-Mer en 2010; the département of l’Hérault in 2012, in the western region of Brittany and the southern Hérault, Gard and Var départements in 2014, and then this year in the southern city of Montpellier, and finally this month in the Alpes-Maritimes département in south-east France.

Importantly, they demonstrate that neither fate nor surprise is involved. After taking up her post as ecology and energy minister in April 2014, Ségolène Royal, who as president of the regional council of Poitou-Charentes in western France had experienced at first hand the deaths and devastation – not least by flooding - caused in the region by cyclone Xynthia in February 2010, took steps to address the issues surrounding flood risks. In July 2014 she launched the first National Strategy for the Management of Flooding Risks (SNGRI), which allows for a series of measures and programmes to help local authorities dissipate the flooding dangers they face. While its full effects over time cannot yet be assessed, so far it has changed little, as first witnessed by the devastation caused by flooding in south-east France in the autumn of last year, and which left 17 people dead.

In November last year, the Riviera city of Nice experienced the heaviest rainfall that was until then on record, just 11 months before the latest flooding poured through its streets earlier this month. While the intensity of the rainfall this October was higher than November 2014, the phenomenon was hardly a surprise - no lightning strike from a clear blue sky.

According to official figures supplied by the ecology ministry, one in four French people live amid a risk of flooding, representing 17 million people, and the risk of the consequences of flooding threatens one job out of every three. Furthermore, the yearly costs from the damage caused by flooding amount to an average of between 700-800 million euros. In the case of cyclone Xynthia, which notably caused 53 deaths from flooding after its destruction of sea walls in the coastal village of La Faute-sur-Mer, the total damage was estimated at 1.7 billion euros. The cost of this month’s flooding in south-east France is estimated at 500 million euros.

More than 20 years after the dramatic flash flooding in Vaison-la-Romaine in southern France in 1992 in which 42 people died, France remains insufficiently prepared against the dangers of flooding. Yet there is no lack of data and in-depth analysis of the problem, nor conferences and administrative activity dedicated to the issue.

’As of 30 centimetres of water a car starts floating’

The most striking indication of the failure to meet the problem is the persistent high number of fatalities during flash floods. Of the 20 people who died in the flooding this month in south-east France, 11 of them drowned inside their vehicles – seven of whom were caught out by the fast-rising waters that swept a carpark in Mandelieu-la-Napoule, near Cannes. The phenomenon is recurrent, and it is calculated that about 20% of all flooding fatalities are people who drown in their cars.

In 2011, Freddy Vinet, a flood risk specialist and lecturer with Montpellier University, together with his colleagues Laurent Boissier and Stéphanie Defossez, published an article about their research into the fatalities caused by cyclone Xynthias at La Faute-sur-Mer and those caused by flooding in the south-east Var département in 2010 [1].

They noted that “there does not exist in France a detailed data base concerning victims of flooding” and that “everything is as if the mortality due to inundations was residual, negligible, irreducible, and as if the epidemiological study of it is not worth attention”. They underlined that perceived ideas aboutwhich parts of the population are most at risk are broadly erroneous. While old people, women and children are thought to be most at risk, it is in fact adult males who are the most often victims, notably those trapped within their vehicles.

“When the time for putting out a warning is short, as was the case on October 3rd, the only way to limit the number of victims is to develop ‘good habits’ among the population,” Vinet told Mediapart. “There is a difficult pedagogic job to carry out. People take risks to save their belongings, one of the first causes of getting into danger. They are used to going out to get their cars when carparks are threatened with flooding. That doesn’t pose a problem when there’s ten centimeters of water, but as of 30 centimetres a car starts floating, and [this month] there were two metres [of water].”

In their 2011 article published in Vertigo, an online environmental studies review, Vinet and his colleagues underlined the negative effect of the division of responsibilities between ministries and administrations. Search and rescue and crisis management comes under the interior ministry, while flood prevention measures are the responsibility of the ecology ministry and local authorities, and epidemiological studies are handled by the health ministry.

The dangers of urbanisation and log-jammed rivers

While there is little if any progress in reducing the number of deaths and educating local populations on flood dangers, it would appear that preparing terrain for flood dangers and limiting the consequences of flooding is even more of a challenge for the authorities.

In the case of the coastal region of south-east France it would appear at first glance to be fairly easy to conclude its high risk of flooding. The climate alternates between very dry periods and sudden and massive rainfall, and much of the land has been subjected to rapid, massive and concentrated urbanization which significantly heightens the dangers of flooding. The constructions along the coastal strips, driven in part due to the rare presence of inland plains, saw intensive development over recent decades. In 2009, a report by the ecology ministry’s General Commissariat for Durable Development underlined that the département of the Alpes-Maritimes, in which France’s south-east Mediterranean coast is situated, has the country’s highest number of buildings standing in areas officially declared at risk of flooding [2], and in which 9,000 new homes were built between 1999 and 2006. In all, 300,000 people live in zones in danger of flooding in the Alpes-Maritimes, despite the recurrence of flooding. “The impermeability of surface ground, due to the presence of pavements, carparks, buildings and so on, means that water immediately runs and concentrates faster,” said Freddy Vinet. “What’s more, the capacity for [water] evacuation is insufficient in urban zones, thus necessarily making water pass along the surface.”

Which is what happened in the flooding in the region on October 3rd this year. A report published in March by the local prefecture found that out of 963 small municipalities (communes) in the region, 786 (or 80%) had suffered flooding incidents that were categorized as natural disasters (CatNat in the official jargon) [3]. The report, presented six months before the latest disaster, found the strip of coastline that runs west from Nice to Cannes and to Mandelieu, which was the worst hit on October 3rd, faces a significant risk of flooding, with 364,000 inhabitants threatened by rivers bursting their banks, and another 22,000 people at risk of flooding from sea swells.

But urbanisation is not the only factor contributing to flooding. In September 2014, four people died in a campsite at Lamalou-les-Bains, in the southern Cévennes region north of Montpellier. “There is no concrete at Lamalou,” explained Pierre Leclerc, head of an association dedicated to tackling flooding risks in a part of the southern Vaucluse département. “What caused the drama was the rupture of a logjam, a natural dam created by tree trunks, branches and other natural objects […] Generally, along small water courses, logjams are dangerous because they break up in a random manner and make the path of the water unforeseeable. To tackle this danger, there should be maintenance of river beds which in the south [of France] are often filled with trees and bushes. But such maintenance is held back by [the public authorities], who zealously apply European norms which impose the preservation of river beds in the name of the protection of the environment.”

Logjams are not a minor danger, and they were partly the cause of the catastrophic flooding in the Var département in 2010.

High-speed train station to be built in flood-risk zone

The complex bureaucracy surrounding flood prevention legislation can be dazzling. An example is the presentation published by a pressure group based in the Hérault department dedicated to improving the management of water resources and supply, collectif Eau Secours 34, of the application in France of a 2007 European Union directive concerning the assessment and management of flood risks.

“The floods directive requires the management of flood-risks by hydrographic districts,” it explained to its members. “Firstly, the TRIs (Flood-Risk Territories) are identified and mapped in each hydrographic district. Then, a PGRI (Plan of Management of Flood Risks) is devised for each hydrographic district by all the parties concerned and not only the public services. The PGRI is for flood risks the equivalent of what the SDAGE (the Directing Schema for the Layout and Management of Water Distribution) is for the management of water and aquatic sites. The PGRI must be coherent with the SDAGE. SLGRIs (Local Strategies for the Management of Flood Risks) are also developed to the scale of the TRIs. The SLGRIs are the equivalent of SAGEs. The SLGRI must be in coherence with the SAGEs (the Schema for the Layout and Management of Water Distribution), something that is delicate to make successful because a TRI does not always perfectly cover the basin or sub-basin of a SAGE.”

It should be noted that this was a simplified presentation.

Marc Lainé is a French journalist specialised in issues related to water management, and on his blog he denounces an “incomprehensible pile of programmes, plans, prevention measures” regarding policies to tackle flood risks. He argues that the bureaucratic smokescreen hides a “Balkinisation” of the areas concerned, and that the recent reforms that have reduced the number of French administrative regions, creating larger regional councils, means that “in the field, no-one in reality knows who tomorrow will exercise what responsibilities nor how they will be financed”.

But even currently the responsibilities for flood-risk planning are shared among a wide number of parties, with the result that no-one is truly responsible. Pierre Leclerc claims this is behind the startling construction of a fire brigade station in a land bowl in the southern market town of Cavaillon which he says runs a “triple” risk of flooding. A future high-speed TGV train station is to be built in Montpellier, which has suffered regular flooding, in one of the town’s flood-risk zones, along with a business park and housing estate. For Freddy Vinet, while the train station will be elevated, it would be “better to put it elsewhere”.

Because the re-housing of the some 17 million people in France who currently live in flood-risk zones would be a vast and problematic programme, the reality is that better prevention of the existing dangers is all that can be reasonably hoped for. But there remains the question as to how and why homes continue to be built in these zones, and notably despite ecology minister Ségolène Royal’s drive to reduce flood risks.

English version by Graham Tearse.

Syria and the Need for International Solidarity


Response to Tariq Ali 2015, or the need for internationalist solidarity

Wednesday 2 December 2015, by Joseph Daher


Tariq Ali spoke at a Stop the War rally in London on November 28, 2015, on the need to oppose any Western interventions in Syria. He did so by propagating, again, conspiracy views and actually legitimizing Russian imperialist interventions in Syria.

Once again, as these words came out from an important figure of the International left, I feel it is necessary to answer and contradict them and for others to see that this is not an opinion shared by all among progressive groups and personalities. Above all, it is also necessary to defend the Syrian revolution and the millions of people that have suffered for their struggle for freedom and dignity against all forms of tyrannies: firstly against the Assad regime and its allies, and then against Daech and Islamic fundamentalist forces such as Jabhat Al Nusra and others. This is why I will deconstruct several moments of the speech of Tariq Ali and demonstrate that not only his analysis and information on the Syrian revolution is plainly wrong, but that also his so called strategy to fight Daech is wrong and doomed to fail.

I had to add several other points after Tariq Ali posted on facebook a TV conference in response “For all those who have been deliberately misinterpreting my speech outside Downing Street on Wednesday, here is my position on Syria, explained at length”. [2] On many aspects this has not changed the key elements he expressed in the rally.

Tariq Ali started his speech by saying that we need to “get rid of the conditions that created Daech”. On this I agree completely, but I disagree strongly with Tariq Ali’s strategy, that I believe will ultimately only reinforced Daech.

He rightfully describes the US -British invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 and the crimes and persecutions committed by the Maliki governments against vast sections of the Iraqi Sunni population. [3] I would add several other reasons, which I think are important as well:

It must be remembered that the country was under the bloody dictatorship of Saddam Hussein’s clan that caused the death, exile and imprisonment of tens of thousands of people from all ethnicities and sects, not to mention the gassing of Kurds in Halabja in 1988 and the harsh repression against Shi’a population in the south of Iraq in 1991. This regime was built on a totalitarian repressive apparatus that accepted no political opposition and independent trade unions, and on a clientelist, tribal and sectarian basis.

In addition, former officers of Saddam Hussein have been massively present within the Daech. This is linked to an older process of iraqisation of al-Qaeda’s command ‘Mesopotamia’, which was part of the strategy of the Jordanian jihadist Abu Musaab Az-Zarqawi and his advisor, Abu Anas ash-Shami in the mid 2000s.

Thus, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the predecessor of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadias head of Daech,, was a former Iraqi colonel of gendarmerie, killed in 2010. Hajji Bakr, killed in January 2014, was a colonel. Abu Abd Ar-Rahman Al-Bilawi, killed near Mosul in June 2014, was a captain of the Republican Guard. Abu Muhannad Suwaydawi, killed at the end of 2014, Lieutenant Colonel of the Air Force Intelligence Service. All four are former officers of the Baathist regime. Finally, at a more local level of command, the nephew of Saddam Hussein, Sab’awi Ibrahim al-Hassan, killed in May 19, 2015 by a US drone strike near Baiji, also exercised responsibilities within Daech. [4]

The membership of this category of officers to the Ba’ath was purely utilitarian: under Saddam Hussein, no officer could seriously hope to make a career without his party card. It is this category, devoid of Baathists convictions and much more permeable to religious fundamentalist ideology, especially after the “campaign for the strengthening of the faith” launched in 1993, that moved over to occupy leadership positions within Daech. Officially launched in 1993 by Saddam Hussein, the “campaign for the strengthening of the faith” has notably led to the implementation of prison sentences for drinking in public space, religious programs on the TV, a reinforcement of learning the Qoran, whose study was valued, in all social milieu and finally to an Islamization from all sectors of the state, including the army and the intelligence services. Saddam Hussein used to talk in the media about building the biggest mosque in the world and about writing the Quran in his own blood. The officers mentioned above joined jihadist groups in the aftermath of the fall of the Iraqi regime from the beginning of the US occupation. [5]

The Maliki government’s responsibility is indeed crucial in the rise of Daech, but it would be wrong not to talk about the role of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) as well as in its role in Iraq in supporting the successive Iraqi governments and Shi’a sectarian fundamentalist movements that committed massacres against Sunni population and continue to do so in some areas in Iraq and in Syria. Just as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the IRI has supported sectarian and reactionary fundamentalist groups to promote their own political interests, like in other countries elsewhere in the region, especially in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.

The IRI has been the primary weapons-provider to the Assad regime. The security and intelligence services of the IRI have been advising and assisting the Assad regime since the beginning of the uprising. These efforts have evolved into an expeditionary training mission using Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Ground Forces, Quds Force, intelligence services, and law enforcement forces. The IRI has been providing essential military supplies to Assad and has also been assisting pro-regime shabiha militias. The extent of IRGC-QF involvement in Syria became clearer in February 2013 when Iranian Brigadier General Hassan Shateri was assassinated in the Damascus countryside while traveling to Beirut, after having travelled to Aleppo. Shateri was a senior Quds Force commander. [6]

In June 2015, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Committee for Foreign Policy and National Security in the Iranian parliament, declared in Damascus that the IRI’s support for the Syrian regime is “stable and constant” and stressed that there were no restrictions or limits to cooperation with Syria and providing support.

The IRI’s allies also have been key actors in the repression in Syria. The Lebanese Shi’a Islamic fundamentalist movement Hezbollah has notably been instrumental in assisting the Assad regime. Hezbollah has intervened militarily alongside the Syrian regime’s armed forces, while providing technical and logistical support to Damascus and helping some of Syria’s Shi’a population to develop their own self-defence militias. [7] Veteran Hezbollah fighters were also commanding squads of Syrian soldiers, essentially acting as Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO), to the less experienced Syrian regular troops in street fighting in Homs. [8] They also took care of the training of some pro regime militias known as “popular committees” [9] and of some of the new recruits in the army. [10]

Estimates at the end-2013 of Hezbollah fighters in Syria number between 3,000 and 4,000, including elite fighters, experts and reservists, at a time and rotating in and out of the country on thirty days deployments. [11] These numbers might probably remain the same until today.

Iraqi Shi’a fundamentalist groups allied to IRI have also been fighting in Syria in support of Assad.

And contrary to what Tariq Ali said in his TV conference, these actors did not enter Syria following the involvement of foreign interventions from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar but prior to them.

This is not to deny that these regional countries (Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar) have on their side funded various groups, in their far majority Islamic fundamentalist groups that oppose the objectives of the revolution, for their own selfish political interests. Qatar for example have been a key supporter of Jabhat Al Nusra (Al Qaida branch in Syria) and Ahrar Sham, while Turkey have also supported directly or in a passive way various Islamic fundamentalist groups, such as Jaysh al Fatah coalition led by Jabhat al Nusra and Ahrar Sham and the IS by providing a complete freedom of actions on both sides of borders for a very long period, in northern Syria against democratic FSA forces and especially to oppose any autonomy of Kurdish regions in Syria under the umbrella of the PKK. Private networks of the Gulf Monarchies on their sides have been acting and funding with the approval of their ruling classes various Islamic fundamentalist forces in the perspective of transforming the popular revolution in a sectarian war.

Moreover and more importantly, the Assad regime helped as well the development of Daech and other Islamic reactionary forces by first being guilty of massive crimes, creating millions of refugees, and causing the destruction of Syria, and secondly by releasing from the prisons of the regime the different individuals who would become the heads of these fundamentalist and reactionary forces. In various amnesty decisions during the start of the revolutionary process, leaders of various Islamic reactionary forces were freed, while democratic activists were imprisoned, tortured, and oppressed. We should realize that the Assad regime targeted and still targets mostly the democratic and progressive activists as well as the Free Syrian Army, while it allowed Daech to grow.

The jihadist presence in Syria was actually increasing in the years prior of the revolution, especially after the US-UK war on Iraq in 2003, reaching up to 8,000 prior the revolution. Many of them were operating freely in Syria following the invasion of Iraq by the USA in 2003. The regime let them go through Syria to fight in Iraq. The rise of Islamic fundamentalist actors in Syria was not only the result of support of Gulf monarchies but above all of the regime policies and repression tactics that targeted popular and democratic organisations, trade unions, etc. prior to and during the revolution. In addition, what is less known is that prior to the revolution the regime, since the era of Hafez el Assad, developed and encouraged religious conservative discourses and practices in total contradiction with the picture conveyed by a so-called secular regime.

This has actually been continued with Bachar Al-Assad as he has increased the collaboration with religious associations and conservative segments of the society. Bachar Al Assad promoted, as explained by researcher Lina Khatib, notably the idea of “takrees al-akhlak wa nashr thaqafat al-tasamuh, wa isal al risala al-haqiqiya lil-islam” (diffusing morality, spreading the culture of tolerance, and communicating the true message of Islam) in many of his addresses, interviews and conference presentations. [12] He presented himself and the Syrian regime increasingly as patron of moderate Islam against “Islamic extremism”, and therefore effectively legitimizing the Islamic discourse engulfing the country.

These elements are to say that it is not enough to condemn western imperialism, but also authoritarian regimes in the region, which are an equal source in the growth of Daech by their repressive and economic neo liberal policies. The prisons and the torture chambers of Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the IRI, etc…are also to be condemned completely and no serious defeat of Daech can be imagined without the fall of these regimes and a democratic alternative.

The solution is of course to oppose the jihadist and fundamentalist reactionary forces of Daech but also to oppose the authoritarian regimes, all of them, with their sectarian and authoritarian policies and the reactionary forces that support them. These two actors feed each other and have to be overthrown and defeated if we ever want to hope to build a democratic and progressive popular movement enabling the region to end a nightmare that has lasted too long.

As written on a placard of a revolutionary in Bustan Qasr, Aleppo, in January 2014, ”Assad will not be overthrown if ISIS is not overthrown”. Yes, no destruction of Daech and of a similar phenomenon can be expected without the overthrow of the Assad regime.

This is why the following sentence of Tariq Ali is very problematic to say the least “If you want to fight ISIS, you should be going in and fighting alongside Russia and alongside Assad”

This dated strategy of choosing a so called “lesser evil” over another, while not tackling the conditions that led to the rise of groups such as Daech, only replicates the same problems over and over again. A solely military solution is in addition definitely not the solution to put an end to Daech or to the conditions that created it.

In 2010, the IS in Iraq was nearly destroyed following the participation of the “Sunni awakening” councils, which fought the IS in Iraq. The refusal of the integration of these groups, the “Sunni awakening” councils, in the Iraqi army and the continued application of the anti-Baathist law established after the U.S. invasion against former leaders close to Saddam Hussein (but mainly used by the Iraqi Prime Minister to suppress all Sunni political forces) together with the repression of popular movements that occurred in various regions of Iraq in the wake of the popular uprisings in the region in 2011and in 2013 in the Sunni-majority areas (who led a mass campaign of non-violent resistance against Maliki’s government, and particularly its sectarian and authoritarian policies) allowed for the renewed growth of Daech who was then able to mobilise for its own political interests some of the popular frustration among the Iraqi Sunni population.

However, contrary to what was then declared by Daech, the support it enjoyed was far from ‘massive’. If it was massive, why would 500,000 people have left Mosul directly after the takeover of the city in June 2014? In the beginning, it might have been viewed by some in the city as a liberation because the Iraqi army was considered corrupt, sectarian and was oppressing the people of the city. However, as soon as ISIS crushed the rest of the coalition (Baathist and other Islamic fundamentalist groups) with which it occupied the city, it became deeply repressive. This has been the case wherever IS expanded. It has been based not on a popular movement from below, but on a military perspective with harsh repression.

This is why the biggest threat for both Daech and the Iraqi authoritarian and sectarian regime is the massive crowds of protesters in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country we saw this summer and continuing until today challenging both of them with slogans in opposition to the sectarian state, against the division between Sunni and Shi’a populations, for women’s rights and equality, and clear condemnations of sectarian political parties with placards notably saying “the parliament and the Islamic State are two sides of the same coin”, “Daech was born out of your corruption”, etc… [13]

This would be the same in Syria, if we followed Tariq Ali’s logic of allying with the Assad regime to crush Daech. Assad’s regime is the main source and reason of the crimes and massacres in Syria. Large sections of the Syrian revolutionaries have repeatedly say that they want to get rid of Daech, but that this latter is the consequence of a much greater evil: the Assad regime. The establishment of the IS in Syria was in autumn 2013. Already before that, the UNHCR declared that the number of Syrians forced to flee as refugees in foreign countries had exceeded two millions. Over 97% of Syrian refugees were hosted in countries located in the surrounding area. In addition, some 4.25 million people were displaced within Syria, according to statistics dating from August 27, 2013 published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Taken together, these figures totalled more than six million displaced people.

The reason that prompted millions of people to flee their homes was the Assad regime that killed, bombarded and repressed large parts of the Syrian population who had risen against its tyranny and barbarism.

But what about after the establishment of the IS in October 2013 in Syria? Was this still the case? Let’s look at the facts for the first six months of 2015. The helicopters of the Assad regime dropped 10.423 barrels bombs on various regions of the country, while the regime forces killed almost 90% of the total civilians dead over the same period, seven times more than the IS. The Islamic State group has executed more than 3500 people in Syria, including nearly 2000 civilians, since declaring its ‘caliphate’ in June 2014, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [14]

Barbarism has many faces in Syria and that of the Assad regime is the worst. The Assad regime and its allies (Iran, Russia and Hezbollah) are responsible in its vast majority of the more than 250 000 people killed in Syria and of the around 10 million of refugees and IDPs since the uprising began in March 2011.

So while Tariq Ali explains that foreign interventions in the region have led to mass displacement, which is true especially in Iraq, he should also condemn the Assad regime and authoritarian regimes that are also as much responsible for the millions of refugees of the region.

Tariq Ali goes on saying that “the West created the vacuum in the Middle East: occupation of Iraq, bombing of Libya, while plans to invade Syria and destroy the regime had long been in motion before any activity in Syria according to ex socialist Minister Rolland Dumas”. He adds that “American general Wesley Clark describes how he walked in the pentagon during the Afghan war and that a long list of other countries were also on the USA’s list of countries to launch wars against such as Syria Libya, Iran, Somalia, Soudan, and they ‘ve been waging wars against these countries through various ways”.

Did plans exist to invade Syria? Maybe, or most probably, yes. Were they implemented? Definitely not. Any kind of serious progressive personality must analyse the Syrian uprising according to the materialist interests that led to this situation. The Syrian uprising is part of the revolutionary processes of the region, which is based on the will for freedom and dignity in the absence of democracy and increasing social inequalities and corruption of the elites. This point, which was mentioned in the rally, is acknowledged in his conference “World Today: Syria Disaster”, but I disagree with him is when he describes about the changing nature of the revolution into a religious one demanding “a Sunni ruler” and “religious system” nearly from the first months of the revolution, this is simply wrong. Democratic slogans and activities remained dominant in the popular movement and is still is in many aspects although much weakened and have indeed less activities, but it still exist. Mass campaigns with democratic aims were still very much present in 2013 and 2014. [15]

Religious fundamentalist movements were above all increasingly present in the militarization of the revolution in armed groups. Jabhat Al Nusra only appeared end of 2011, while Daech appeared in Syria in the autumn 2013, but they were not the one to organise massive demonstrations.

Organised armed resistance only started in July 2011 with the establishment of the Free Syrian Army and Movement of Free Officers. Several elements fostered the emergence of armed groups after more than seven months of demonstrations and peaceful resistance. In the first place, the violent repression of the regime against peaceful demonstrators and against the leaders of the popular movement, killed, arrested or forced into exile. This radicalized the movement and helped to push forward activists more inclined to resist with weapons. More and more groups of citizens took up arms to defend their demonstrations and their homes against the chabihas [militiamen paid by the regime, perpetrators of countless abuses], the security services and the army.

In the second place, the increasing number of desertions from the army, in particular of ranking soldiers refusing to fire on peaceful demonstrators. The reluctance of soldiers to fire on peaceful protests provoked many mutinies and desertions. It is also necessary to mention the willingness of the regime to militarize the revolution by leaving weapons on the fields of battle or by increasing the number of weapons on the market and/or lowering the price of weapons to justify the discourse of the regime that they were fighting against armed extremist groups.

And finally, there was the willingness of political currents and/or states, notably private donors in the Gulf monarchies, to fund specific armed groups to strengthen the support they had or establish relays on the ground. Regarding the objectives of the USA and Western powers since the beginning of the uprising in Syria, they have never been seriously willing to assist and help the Syrian revolutionaries or to overthrow the Assad regime. The USA has tried on the opposite to reach an agreement between the Assad regime (or section of it) and the opposition linked to Western and the Gulf regimes, which are not representative of the popular movement and are completely corrupted. In October 2015, even Senator Lindsey Graham challenged Defence Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Joseph Dunford on the U.S. strategy in Syria. He asked about the possibility of overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying, “This is a half-assed strategy at best”. [16]

As a reminder, according to the Geneva guidelines of June 30 2012, agreed to unanimously by the Permanent five members of the UN Security Council, it would be permissible for Assad to serve on the transitional governing body. Indeed, he could preside over it. All that was required was the consent of the opposition delegation. Similarly, delegates representing the Syrian Arab Republic—the regime and the government—could withhold consent to persons nominated by the opposition.

In addition to this, the absence or the lack of any kind of “large”, organised and decisive military assistance of the USA and/or Western states to the Syrian revolutionaries is another proof of this lack of will for any radical change in Syria. The Wall Street Journal published an article in January 2015 on the CIA aid saying:

“ Some weapons shipments were so small that commanders had to ration ammunition. One of the U.S.’s favourite trusted commanders got the equivalent of 16 bullets a month per fighter. Rebel leaders were told they had to hand over old antitank missile launchers to get new ones—and couldn’t get shells for captured tanks. When they appealed last summer for ammo to battle fighters linked to al Qaeda, the U.S. said no”.

Barack Obama’s plan, which was approved by the U.S. Congress, of $500 million to arm and equip 5,000-10,000 Syrian rebels, was never implemented and was not aimed at overthrowing the Assad regime, as we can read in the text of the resolution:

The Secretary of Defence is authorized, in coordination with the Secretary of State, to provide assistance, including training, equipment, supplies, and sustainment, to appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition and other appropriately vetted Syrian groups and individuals for the following purposes:

– Defending the Syrian people from attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and securing territory controlled by the Syrian opposition.

– Protecting the United States, its friends and allies, and the Syrian people from the threats posed by terrorists in Syria.

– Promoting the conditions for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict in Syria.”

Until today this program is a failure. “The program is much smaller than we hoped,” conceded the Pentagon’s policy chief, Christine Wormuth, saying there were between 100 and 120 fighters currently being trained, while adding that they were also “getting terrific training”. A top military general told Congress that the US had successfully trained just “four or five” opposition soldiers.

The chief of staff of the US-trained Syrian rebel group Division 30 actually resigned from his position and withdrew from the program, on September 19, 2015. Citing problems such as “the lack of sufficient numbers of trainees,” and “the lack of seriousness in the implementation of the project to establish the 30th brigade”. The other problem faced with the United States to constitute armed groups in Syria loyal to their interests was and is also thwarted by the reality on the ground. This is because of the decision of a large majority of opposition groups to cooperate with Washington only if they are able to maintain their independence and autonomous decision-making, and if the collaboration includes a clear plan for the overthrow of the Assad regime.

Israeli military sources have also repeatedly declared the existence of a consensus within Tel Aviv’s decision making circles over the importance of the continuation of the Assad regime. Military affairs commentator Alon Ben-David quoted a source within the Israeli Joint Chiefs of Staff as saying: “Although no one in Israel can say this publicly and explicitly, the best option for Israel would be for the Assad regime to remain and for the internal fighting to continue for as long as possible.” This has been a consistant position in Israel since the beginning of the revolution in Syria contrary to what Tariq Ali advanced in his TV conference.

This is without forgetting that prior to and at the beginning of the revolution, Western states were mostly sympathetic to the Assad regime. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterised at the beginning of the uprising in Syria the dictator Bachar Al Assad as a “reformist” and added that “many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformist”. [17] This is without forgetting the invitation to the national palace of the Elysée by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008.

The Assad regime has actually collaborated with western imperialist governments on many occasions in the past. It was actually Hafez Al-Assad as Minister of Defence who refused to assist the Palestinians and progressive Jordanian groups in overthrowing the conservative Hashemite regime in Jordan during the popular uprising in 1970, known as Black September. This is the same regime that crushed the Palestinians and the progressive movements in Lebanon in 1976 with the tacit agreement of the Western States and Israel by supporting the fascist groups of the Lebanese Phalange, putting an end to their uprising, and participating in the Palestinian massacre of Tal El Zaatar. It then supported the Fatah al-Intifada’s split from Fatah in 1983 and supported the Lebanese Shi’a movement Amal in the War of the Camps between 1985 and 89 against the Palestinians.

The Assad regime participated in the imperialist war against Iraq in 1991 with the coalition led by the US.

They also participated in the ‘war on terror’ launched by President George W. Bush by collaborating on security issues. Israel has actually several times called on the US to ease the pressure on the Syrian regime, which has not shot a single bullet for the occupied Golan Heights since 1973.

Syrian officials have repeatedly declared their readiness to sign a peace agreement with Israel as soon as the occupation of the Golan Heights ended, while nothing was said on the Palestinian issue. Rami Makhlouf, Bashar Al Assad’s cousin, went so far as to declare in May 2011 that if there is no stability in Syria, there will be no stability in Israel, adding that no one can guarantee what will occur if something happens to the Syrian regime. As a result, it is not hard to understand Israel’s satisfaction with the status quo under the current Syrian regime.

When Tariq Ali speaks of the tragedy of Palestine, for which he’s right, he nevertheless forget the history of repression of the Assad regime against the Palestinian national movement, as mentioned above, and Palestinians within Syria, especially since the beginning of the uprising.

The Assad regime has actually been targeting Palestinians in Syria since the beginning of the revolution. In the first week of the uprising, Buthaina Shaaban, Bashar al-Assad’s adviser, held responsible Palestinians for the crisis and accused Palestinians in the Deraa and Latakia camps of responsibility for the anti-regime protests and spreading chaos in those towns… [18]

The Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk has been suffering from a strict siege imposed on it from the summer of 2013, with the prohibition of movement of persons and foodstuffs, to the rebel neighbourhoods south of Damascus by the Assad regime and the Palestinian organizations linked to it, especially the Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine- General Command (PFLP-GC), controlled by Ahmad Jibril. [19] There was between 15 000 and 20 000 people in the camp in November 2014, before 2011 Yarmouk had a total population of 250,000 people.

The Assad regime has also killed and imprisoned thousands of Palestinians in Syria, while more than 20,000 are wanted by the security services. [20]

The next statement made by Tariq Ali that needs to be deconstructed is the following:

“Think why they are so desperate to come and bomb European cities”

Firstly, the identity of the two ‘Syrians’ and their active participations in the terrorist attacks in Paris are still be to be confirmed. However, even though their participation would be confirmed and they turned out to indeed be Syrians who came from Syria, we should remember that the far majority of terrorists who perpetrated the Paris attacks were French and Belgian nationals, and did not come from far away. So of course imperialist wars attacking and destroying countries with a majority of the population being Muslim is a reason, but so are the political and socio-economic context in which these groups and individual live. In other words, French and Belgian societies, which are characterised by racism, social inequalities, acts of police brutality are an important factor to include in our analysis of these terrorist attacks. [21]

“The Russians have gone in Syria to fight ISIS, and they are fighting ISIS.”

This statement is also very problematic, and although the last terrorist attacks of Daech in Paris and elsewhere might change this in a near future, this is simply not true.

A report published by the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria has shown that civilian casualties rose to 526 civilians after 45 days from the start of Russian air strikes in Syria, that is, to the date of November 15th, 2015, including 137 children and 71 woman. [22]In addition to this, “almost 80 percent of Russia’s declared targets in Syria have been in areas not held by Islamic State”, a Reuters analysis of Russian Defence Ministry data showed on November 21 2015, undermining Moscow’s assertions that its aim is to defeat the group.” [23]

On November 19, 2015, the bread oven in Atareb, a town roughly 25km west of Aleppo city, which served an estimated 120,000 people in and around an opposition-held western Aleppo town has been completely out of commission after a reported Russian airstrike. [24]

On November 28, 2015, Russian airstrikes in central Idlib province destroyed an aid dispensary containing a bakery that produced over 300,000 pounds of bread per month and a well providing safe-drinking water to an estimated 50,000 people. [25] On the next day, a new massacre was committed by the ‪Russian air forces the city of “Ariha” in the countryside of Idlib.. They bombed a popular market and as a result more than 40 civilians died and 70 wounded.

The objectives of these airstrikes are clear: save and consolidate the political and military power of the Assad regime. [26] In other words, crush all forms of opposition–whether democratic or reactionary– to the Assad regime under the so called “war on terror”. Most targets are civilians and factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) still existing, in addition to Islamic fundamentalist forces such as Jabhat Al Nusra and Ahrar Sham.

About 100,000 civilians have been forced to flee their regions because of Russian bombings. Russian bombings also destroyed dozens of hospitals and doctors and patients were killed in these raids. In areas such as the outskirts of Aleppo, the bombings in some cases even benefited the IS, thanks to a lightning breakthrough against factions of the FSA disoriented by Russian strikes. Moreover, Russian strikes are operated with the direct collaboration of the US and Israel, which Tariq Ali apparently didn’t consider important to condemn.

The Russian intervention in Syria has been and is an imperialist one in order to preserve a regime that is allied to it, which denies Tariq Ali. Accordingly, we should also condemn the massive interventions of the IRI and Hezbollah in Syria alongside the Assad regime to crush the revolution. “There are several wars in Syria…but the idea that there are 70,000 non-jihadist in Syria is a lie, it’s not true.”

The Syrian revolutionaries, including Kurdish forces, have been resisting, whether militarily or through peaceful means, against Daech for more than two years in various areas of Syria. [27]

For instance, just recently, in the eastern Deir e-Zor town of al-Bukamal, Daech has faced resistance from the inhabitants, while in the city of Raqqa, a small band of Syrian resistance fighters are carrying out secret guerrilla operations in IS strongholds. [28] The city of Manbij has also witnessed opposition from within against Daech. [29]

The numbers put forward by Charlie Lister in his article [30] seem quite close to the reality and seem rather convincing in my view. It is rather Tariq Ali’s job to demonstrate the contrary. [31] This does not mean that we should think that their strength is massive or have any illusions of their capacities to face on their own the Assad regime, Russia, IRI, Hezbollah on one side and Daech and Jabhat Al Nusra on the other, but we should not at the same time deny their presence on the ground as Tariq Ali has done.

But then, the issue of knowing how many exact numbers of revolutionaries in Syria fighting both Assad and Daech is really kind of secondary when in the first place you are not totally in support of the uprising and you have tried to dismiss and delegitimize it for years now.


Unfortunately,Tariq Ali’s position regarding the Syrian revolution has been problematic for a while now as he has repeatedly tried to delegitimize the popular revolution in Syria. [32] The Stop the War Movement in the UK has not been different. [33] Moreover, while claiming to crush the roots of Daech, they actually support them by not condemning clearly and completely the Assad authoritarian and criminal regime.

In addition, we have to understand that Russia’s military expansion, in addition to Iranian’s expansion, is a clear offensive to put a complete end to the popular uprising in Syria by wanting to save and consolidate militarily and politically the Assad regime and to crush all forms of opposition. This is done with the passivity and some acceptation of Western powers, which want to stabilize the region at any price and therefore Assad’s resignation is not a pre-condition to a transition period. This situation has been strengthened with the terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere as we can see with French government seeking more collaboration with Russia.

The different world imperialist powers and regional bourgeois regimes, in spite of their rivalry, have a common interest in the defeat of the popular revolutions of the region, and the most obvious example is that of Syria. The multiple peace initiatives on Syria, supported by all the global and regional powers without exception, had the same objectives since the beginning of the revolutionary process in 2011: to reach an agreement between the Assad regime and an opportunistic faction – linked to the Western States, Turkey and the Gulf monarchies – of the opposition coming together in the Syrian Coalition.

The issue is not refusing any kind of solution to an end of the war: the Syrian people have suffered too much and most of them want a form of transitional period towards a democratic Syria, but any kind of “realist solution”, as officials and analysts like to speak, on a mid and long term cannot include Assad and other criminals with blood on their hands of the regime, otherwise we will see a continuation of the military conflict in Syria and the conditions that led to the creations of Daech.

Assad and his various partners in the regime must be held accountable for their crimes, and a similar process could be put in place as well for the crimes of the Islamic fundamentalist forces and other groups as well. In addition to this, we have to understand that to expect any kind of minimum change, not only Assad should be overthrown but the whole team of officials controlling security services, the army and various state apparatus should be dismantled and held accountable. The patrimonial nature of the Syrian regime needs to be included in any understanding for real change.

Any kind of serious movement opposing foreign interventions in Syria cannot only oppose Western interventions, but should as well oppose the interventions of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and various Iraqi Shi’a fundamentalist groups, which have only caused more deaths and destructions in Syria, in addition of crushing a popular uprising. In the same time, we also oppose the interventions of Gulf monarchies and Turkey in the past, which were for their own self-interests and to change the nature of the revolution into a sectarian war and they supported Islamic fundamentalist groups that attacked, and continue to do so in many regions, revolutionaries, civilians and soldiers from the FSA.

No lesser evil should be chosen, because this is the road to defeat. No to Assad and no to Daech, no to Jabhat Al Nusra. No to the USA and no to Russia. No to Teheran and no to Riyad, no to Doha, no to Istanbul. Yes to the people in struggle for democracy, social justice and equality. This is our political compass.

In my opinion, we must also support the delivery of arms and weapons with no political conditions attached from the West to democratic sections of the FSA and of the Kurdish forces to increase their possibilities for self-determination and fight and struggle against the Assad regime and Islamic fundamentalist forces.

But most importantly, any kind of movement claiming to be internationalists should support the pockets of hope that still exist and resist in Syria composed of various democratic and progressive groups and movements opposing all sides of the counter-revolutions, the Assad regime and Islamic fundamentalist groups. They are the ones still maintaining the dreams of the beginning of the revolution and its objectives: democracy, social justice, equality and no to sectarianism. [34]

When Karl Liebernecht said in 1915 that the main enemy is at home, he also added that this must be done by “cooperating with the proletariat of other countries whose struggle is against their own imperialists”. [35] Well in some ways, the cooperation with the popular masses in Syria has not been on the agenda Tariq Ali and Stop the War, neither actually really opposing the policies of their states and others to crush the revolution. In this perspective this section of the left, including Tariq Ali, has not been different in their speeches to various imperialist powers in the world.

The cooperation with the international proletariat means that we must support Syrian revolutionaries against the various international and regional imperialists forces and against the Assad regime, all trying to put an end to a popular revolution for freedom and dignity. And not denying the struggle and sacrifices of the popular masses in Syria and elsewhere.

As written on a placard of a revolutionary in Syria in a demonstration in November 27, 2015, “”History will remember that the scribbles of the children of Deraa moved the fleets of the world”. We could add against the Syrian revolution.

November 30, 2015





[3] Regarding the crimes of the US- British occupation and of the Maliki government, I have written extensively about it see for more details:https://syriafreedomforever.wordpre...




[7] International Crisis Group (ICG) (2014), “Lebanon’s Hizbollah Turns Eastward to Syria”, (pdf.). Available at: [-.http://www.crisisgroup.org/ /media/...]





[12] Islamic Revival and the promotion of moderate Islam, Lina Khatib, 2012 in State and Islam in Bathist Syria, confrontation or cooptation.

[13] For more information see ; https://syriafreedomforever.wordpre...


[15] see http://www.internationalviewpoint.o...;https://syriafreedomforever.wordpre...;https://syriafreedomforever.wordpre.... Other examples can be found on syriafreedomforever.wordpresscom

[16http://www.c-span.org/video/?c45570... ]


[18] Buthayina Sha’aban: Palestinians Spread the Chaos in Latakie,” al-Watan News, March 27, 2011 (in Arabic),“http://www.watnnews.net/NewsDetail...








[26] For more info on this issue see https://syriafreedomforever.wordpre...


[28] See more at: http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/fe...



[31] Much information can be found on these different groups: – • the Army of Revolutionaries (Jaish al-Thuwar), a new Free Syrian Army coalition was established On May 3, 2015, aiming to fight both the Syrian regime and ISIS. Today the Army of Revolutionaries exists as one of the Arab components in the Kurdish YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) (For more info seehttps://hasanmustafas.wordpress.com... • Southern Front, which includes various factions, in the region of Deraa and elsewhere in the area that oppose Assad and Daech and Jabhat Al Nusra https://syriafreedomforever.wordpre...

[32see https://syriafreedomforever.wor...


[34] You can find many examples on my blog Syria Freedom Forever https://syriafreedomforever.wordpre... of popular resistance.



From International Viewpoint



The 13 November attacks in Paris: the terror of the Islamic State, the state of emergency in France, our responsibilities


Friday 27 November 2015, by François SabadoPierre Rousset

November 13 represents a change in the national and international political situation. The Islamic State (IS, Daesh) has struck again; and even more strongly. In January, the targets were the journalists of Charlie Hebdo, police and Jews. This time, it was the youth of the country that was the target. They did not kill just anyone, just anywhere: they attacked young people, young people in all their colours, whatever their origins, their religion (if they had one), their political beliefs. At least 130 dead, over 350 wounded - at the very least a thousand direct witnesses of the carnage. Many of us have relatives among the victims and, if not, we have friends who have. The shock wave, the emotion, is profound.

There is no mystery about the objective pursued by the commandos of the Islamic State: to fracture society through terror. To create a situation where war against one another is imposed; where fear draws up impassable barriers between citizens according to their origins, religions, lifestyles, identities – to dig a ditch filled with blood within the Muslim religion itself, forcing believers to choose sides. Whoever is not with us in our inhuman acts is against us, and becomes a "legitimate" target.

The attacks in Paris were among the bloodiest acts in the world perpetrated by the Islamic State and other similar movements which serve the same destructive logic. Our solidarity is international, it is directed especially towards those who, in other countries are fighting them at the risk of their lives: in Syria and Iraq, in Lebanon and in Bamako, in Pakistan and in Turkey... We must first affirm our compassion, our identification, our brotherhood with the victims and with their families.

At such a time, we of course continue the class struggle, to support the struggle of all the oppressed; but beyond that, we defend humanity against barbarism. The humanist dimension of revolutionary commitment remains our guiding light. Any progressive politics begins with indignation, with emotion. It is not of course limited to that, but that is its starting point. Let us not counter-pose thinking and weeping! Let us not waffle in jargon, let us not write with a pen of ice! Here and now, let us help the victims and their families, take part in mourning, respect minutes of silence, take part in solidarity events. We are part of this movement - and it is from here that we can explain our positions.

Whatever the role of imperialism, the Islamic State is responsible for its actions

Revolutionaries must clearly and definitely reject fundamentalist barbarism. It must be fought - by our methods, according to our orientation and not that of our leaders - but it must be actively defeated.

Under the impact of events, left organizations, associations and unions have caved in to the call for national unity; others, in a reaction against this, have so much emphasized the very real political and historical responsibilities of Western imperialism that the denunciation of the Islamic State has become inaudible. As the days have passed, the positions have often been clarified. So much the better. But we can still read plenty of articles which consider that although the attacks "had no excuse" it was necessary above all to take into account "the context" – since the analysis of that context is essentially reduced to the enumeration of imperialist misdeeds one could conclude that the fundamentalist movements are merely reacting to the actions of the great powers and we should somehow grant them extenuating circumstances. It is necessary to remove any ambiguity on this question.

Strangely enough, many writers on the left vigorously denounce the fundamentalist attacks, but refuse to condemn by name, explicitly, the movements that commit them. Stranger still, many organizations do not hesitate to do so (naming the guilty, explaining their reactionary character), but do not draw any practical consequence from that. When it comes down to tasks, the fight against terrorism and against these fundamentalisms is no longer mentioned; which, by the way, leaves our rulers with a monopoly of specific responses. We are generally in agreement to attack imperialism and its wars, destructive capitalist globalization, inequality and discrimination, the ideology of the clash of civilizations, racism - including Islamophobia - the legacies of the colonial past, security policies and states of emergency, appeals for national unity and social peace... To attack, therefore, some of the causes and the consequences of the dramatic events that we are living through.

But we must also combat the influence of Daesh (among others) in our own societies and concretely express our solidarity with popular resistance in developing countries torn by religious fanaticism - an internationalist duty if ever there was one! On this, there is a "blind spot" in much of the radical left, even the left that does not sink into a deleterious “campism”. That is why we accord importance to this question in our contribution.

The Islamic State and other similar movements do not just react; they act according to their own agenda. They are political actors pursuing specific objectives. There is little doubt that Daesh is actually responsible for the attacks in Paris. This organization has built a proto-state on a territory equivalent to that of Britain. It runs an administration; it has accumulated immense wealth (estimated at nearly $1.8 billion); it organizes the smuggling of oil and cotton. It conducts military operations on multiple fronts, it has recruited IT specialists of the highest level ... It is not a puppet! It is responsible for its acts –totally responsible for the attacks committed in so many places.

Its own responsibility does not disappear because of the responsibilities of imperialism, however enormous they may be – and have been for a long time: from the Sykes-Picot agreements of the early twentieth century to the current interventions of the great powers. It is often said that without the US intervention in Iraq in 2003 (which destabilized the region and dislocated states), Daesh would not exist. This is only true with regard to a specific sequence that led to the founding of the Islamic State as we know it. Otherwise, it is false. The emergence of jihadist forces does not flow automatically from imperialist domination; it is the combined product of many factors ranging from the bankruptcy of Arab (and European) left forces to the determination of the bourgeoisie in the region to have new counter-revolutionary forces to support their regional ambitions and combat the revolutionary upsurge in the Arab world. This is also true concerning the rise of religious fundamentalisms in other parts of the world, including in countries that have experienced nothing comparable to the 2003 war, such as India (the Hindu far right), Burma (the Buddhist far right) or the United States (the Christian far right - powerful well before 2001 and very close to Bush).

Once again on the "clash of barbarisms"

There is a Western imperialist responsibility, as there was after the 1914-18 war (with the Treaty of Versailles) in the rise of Nazism in Germany. The antifascists of the time did not fail to recall it systematically. However, once it took off, the Nazi Party was denounced and combated as such. Daesh has taken off...

We must continue to explain the context, but the Islamic State must be seen for what it is, not as a mere shadow of the West. Contemporary imperialism, neo-liberal policies, capitalist globalization, enterprises of colonization, endless wars, are tearing the social fabric of a growing number of countries, releasing all sorts of barbarism. But religious fundamentalisms too are formidable agents of the disintegration of whole societies. There is not in fact a "major barbarism" (the West) that we should be fighting today and a "secondary barbarism" (Daesh and consorts) that we should be concerned about in the indefinite future. The reverse is also true: we should not condone imperialist barbarity and that of “allied” dictatorships under the pretext of fighting fundamentalist barbarism. There is no hierarchy of horror. We must actively and without waiting defend all the victims of these twin barbarisms, which feed on each other, otherwise we will fail in our political and humanitarian duties.

Religious fundamentalisms were often initially supported by Washington in the name of the struggle against the Soviet Union (in Afghanistan, Pakistan…), before asserting their autonomy and even turning against their sponsors. These deeply reactionary movements have nothing progressive about them. There is no "reactionary anti-imperialism"! They want to impose a model of society that is both capitalist and backward-looking, totalitarian in the strong sense of the term. Of course, France is being hit because of its Middle East policy and its colonial and post-colonial history. But when Daesh slaughters Yezidis because they are Yezidis, reduces populations to slavery, sells women, destabilizes Lebanon, pushes sectarian violence to the extreme, (particularly against Shiites), what is the relationship to a supposed anti-imperialism?

All fundamentalist movements do not have the same bases, the same strategy. Are some of them, such as the Islamic State, fascists? They do not maintain the same (complex) relations with sectors of the imperialist bourgeoisies as in Europe in the 1930s, but they reproduce them with sectors of the bourgeoisie of "regional powers", such as, in the Middle East, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey ... They attract the "human dust" of decaying societies as well as elements of the "middle classes", of a "petty bourgeoisie", of educated workers. They use terror "from below" to impose their order. They dehumanize those who are different and make scapegoats of them, as yesterday the Nazis did with Jews, Gypsies or homosexuals. They eradicate all forms of democracy and of progressive people’s organizations. Religious exaltation occupies the same function as national exaltation in the interwar period and enables them, in addition, to deploy internationally.

It would be strange if the convulsions caused by capitalist globalization did not give rise to new forms of fascism, just as it would be surprising if they resembled feature for feature those of the previous century. There is a difference with European fascism: it resides in the overlapping between this totalitarian fundamentalist reaction and the crisis of disintegration of states and of the imperialist economic and military relations of domination that enmesh the region.

The fight against terrorism must be waged by the peoples of the region, and not by a coalition of Western powers. A new military intervention of the imperialist powers and Russia, supported on each of its flanks by the Gulf States and the Syrian dictatorship, can weaken Daesh militarily, but it can only provoke a backlash from all the Sunni peoples of the region.

The crisis of society in France

The attacks of November 13 were primarily committed by French or Franco-Belgians - France and Belgium being two of the countries from which most of the departures for Syria take place. There is no single profile of people who align themselves with the Islamic State. They may be from families of believers, secular Muslims or not Muslims: recent converts, non-Arab, are quite numerous. Similarly, they can come from very precarious or stable backgrounds, have a criminal past or not. In some cases, the "radicalization" of an individual is the culmination of a long process; for others it is a brutal swing. As might be expected, most of the men who have committed attacks in France come from particularly disadvantaged backgrounds, have been in prison and were gang members - but not all.

Faced with this plurality of profiles, we cannot settle for simple explanations, only sociological (casualization, racialization of social relations ...) or only historical (the postcolonial dimension).

Unlike previous waves of radicalization of youth, this one is very minor and is not inspired by the same humanist aspirations. The Islamic State presents itself in the crudest way possible: "Come with us and cut off heads." The French army practised torture on a massive scale, especially during the Battle of Algiers, but the government and the General Staff fiercely denied their crimes: there were no appeals proclaiming "Join your Grand Army, come and torture with us"! Daesh has an explicit discourse of hatred and exclusion of those who are different (as do the most extreme elements of the far right). There is no possible analogy between those who go to Syria today and the creation of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War - or the radicalization of the 1960s.

There is nothing banal in all this, nor in the use of mass terror. To pretend that terrorism is the "natural" weapon of the oppressed in "asymmetrical" wars is to ignore the lessons of the great battles for liberation of the last century, of revolutionary wars. In the struggles for independence and against imperialism in Indochina and Latin America, terrorist attacks were rare at that time and the movements concerned generally realized rapidly that the political cost of such operations was too high - and posed many ethical problems. In Algeria, the FLN, which had ventured onto this terrain, quickly backtracked under pressure from some of its sectors or from movements in solidarity with Algerian independence.

We are suffering the ultimate consequences of the "crisis of politics", of the desocialisation that is inherent in our neoliberal societies and their growing injustice, of the defeat suffered by our generations (the radicals of the 1960s and 70s), of the inability of the left forces in our countries to offer any radical perspective and to act within the populations who lead a precarious existence. We are in fact touching on areas that most of us do not really understand: psycho-sociology, the relationship between fragile individual identities and the decay of the social fabric, adolescent searchings. The Islamic State provides an armour, with an identity and with power: the power of representation, the power of arms, power over women, the power of life and death... Much more than a supposed anti-imperialism, that is what makes it attractive.

These are questions that we need to take on board more than we have done up until now; and we can already draw some implications. The anti-racist struggle, as important as it is, is not enough. Faced with neoliberal individualism and its anonymity (Who knows their neighbours?) we need to promote and rebuild places where people can socialize, mix, where they can "live together" - and reintroduce fundamental reflection on ethics, commitment and struggle.

In such a situation, all forms of racism constitute a mortal danger, including of course state racism, but not only that. Let us fight against anything that can fuel community tensions, oppose oppressed people to one another, whether we are dealing with anti-Arab racism or Negrophobia, anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, discrimination against Roma ... - and to do that, let us create a culture of living together, of respect for the rights of everyone.

Our internationalist tasks

Recent events (November 13, the blowing up of a Russian airliner over Sinai...), have precipitated a shift in alliances that could already be remarked before, with the formation of a grand coalition: the bringing in of Russia, the abandonment by France of its pretensions to independence, concerns raised even in Saudi Arabia about the deployment of the Islamic State... In counterpart, the Assad regime has been strengthened, whereas it is at the origin of the Syrian crisis and guilty of the crimes that we know about. Will this be enough to promote a temporary agreement among regional powers belonging to the so-called “blocs”, Sunni and Shiite?

It is still early to assess the full implications of this turning point in the international situation. For the moment, let us stress the following points:

The compromises between the West and Turkey or the Assad regime will be made to the detriment of the forces on the ground that most deserve our support: the Kurds, the Yezidis, the progressive and non-confessionalist components of the resistance to the regime. We must give them our political and material solidarity and demand that they receive adequate weapons, of which the progressive components of FSA have never benefited (and yet they resist!) and of which the Kurds could be deprived, particularly on the Syrian front. We must recognize that we have never done in France, in this field, what we should have done.

The intensification of bombing by the coalition, with the exorbitant price paid by civilians, is likely to reinforce the audience of Daesh among other Islamist elements operating in Syria. The net result of this policy would then be to strengthen both the Assad regime and the fundamentalist organizations (starting with the Islamic State)! To avoid this trap, we must break with the logic of the great powers: help the popular forces in Syria and Iraq to continue their fight instead of trying to substitute for them or marginalizing them even more.

So we must fight against the war policy of our rulers, but also understand the specific nature of this conflict, very different from the wars in Indochina or Algeria: the withdrawal of French or American troops then meant the end of the main foreign interference and created the conditions for a victory. This is not the case today in the Middle East: there would remain Turkey, Iran (and the Hezbollah), Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Algeria, Egypt... In such a complex geopolitical configuration we need to listen to the movements that we support in order to take into account what they need, materially and politically. It is the peoples who should decide, not the imperialist coalitions. But, and this is a particular dimension of this war, the Kurds and the Syrian democrats have asked and continue to ask for medical and military aid, including from Western governments. They must be given it. There can be no substitute for the decision-making and self-determination of the Syrian and Kurdish democratic forces, but no hesitation in helping them and pressuring our governments to respond to the appeals they make.

On the international level, the hypocrisy of the Western forces must be denounced: on the one hand, they claim to be fighting terrorism and on the other they support regimes such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

The coalition that is being constituted is in no sense a "democratic" alliance against a totalitarian threat. In addition to our “classic” imperialisms, it includes Putin’s Russia, Saudi Arabia, whose regime is very close to the model of society advocated by Daesh, Qatar, the Iranian theocracy, Erdogan’s Turkey... Whatever the nature of the Islamic State, any analogy with an "anti-fascist democratic front" is invalid. We are neither with the coalition, nor with Daesh, nor with Assad. We are for the right to self-determination of peoples - including the Palestinian people - against all forms of barbarism.

A turning point in the national situation

As in January after the massacre of the journalists of Charlie Hebdo, the deaths of police personnel, the attack on the Hypercacher supermarket, emotion has overwhelmed the country - which of course is perfectly normal. [1] Islamophobic acts have multiplied, but they are actually committed by only a fringe of the population. Acts of solidarity and friendship have also multiplied: a big smile when you pass a North African in the subway, conspicuous (even if outdated) gallantry when you step aside to let a veiled woman pass, reoccupation of places where people have parties and mix together, rejection of amalgams [between terrorists and ordinary Muslims] ... Unfortunately, all these gestures are not counted and are not included in the statistics.

As in January, too, security policies are acclaimed and the forces of order are applauded. Now, even more than in January, the government has seized the opportunity to take Draconian measures. This was the case yesterday with the law on intelligence that gives excessive powers to the secret services. It is now the case with the establishment of the state of emergency, made harsher by Parliament, the appeal of the French government for the EU to follow on, in particular by keeping files on all airline passengers, and the announcement by Hollande of constitutional reform.

France is already equipped with two sets of emergency measures, established in particular during the Algerian War: the state of emergency (a semi-martial law that frees the police and army from judicial control and limits freedoms) and the state of siege (complete martial law, giving full powers to the army). Why is this not enough for our leaders? Because the use of the state of emergency, for example, is limited in time and requires a parliamentary vote – which as it happened was almost unanimously in favour: it was supported by the vast majority of the Socialists, the Greens and the Communist deputies. The constitutional reform would allow the government (or the President?) to take exceptional measures more freely - and ultimately make the exception the rule: intervention by the army in policing, arbitrary searches, "preventive" detentions, banning of demonstrations and strikes, press censorship, etc. The exact content of the law that Hollande will draft is not yet known, but its intentions are clear. The regime will become increasingly authoritarian, the militarization of society will surge forward.

Many people are worried about what would happen if Marine Le Pen and the National Front won the elections (a scenario that is not political fiction), but they do not ask what Hollande, Valls, Sarkozy or others will do. It is therefore very important to remember what "republican" governments have done in the past - including torture in Algeria and the adoption of an amnesty law that prohibited the indictment of the perpetrators (you can only be accused of condoning torture if, afterwards, you defend its use), the media blackout of the massacre of Algerians in Paris on October 17, 1961( a case of state terrorism if ever there was one), the putsch by the generals in Algiers, the multiple dirty tricks of the secret services, the attack against the Rainbow Warrior of Greenpeace (one person dead, state terrorism again), the assassination of Kanak leaders, etc. In fact, the whole panoply of security laws adopted in recent years and of the surveillance measures put in place can enable any government to conduct a creeping civil war whenever they want. Finally, over and above the march towards a society dominated by security measures, there is a political calculation. Hollande and Valls are relying on the state of emergency to use once again the Bonapartist arsenal and raise themselves, in a certain way, above parties and institutions.

The operation is aimed at neutralizing the abysmal record of governments since 2012 and promising better election results for the Socialist Party. Hollande and Valls are taking a very risky gamble: they can play the security card, supported by the institutions of the Fifth Republic, but in the present political situation, where bad winds are blowing on the right and the far right, those are the forces that are likely to benefit from this manoeuvre.

Resistance to the extension of the state of emergency has been very weak in the parliamentary left, but more significant among the rank and file (within the French Communist Party, for example, against the vote of its representatives) and in the social and trade union movement: Solidarity, but also the CGT.

The present political moment is fraught with very great dangers. Political democracy has been emptied of its content, elected assemblies no longer having control over the main decisions (which are taken by the European Union, the World Trade Organization, intergovernmental treaties...). Now it is civil liberties, already under attack, which may become an empty shell. The government wants to put society under house arrest. But the population is not conscious of it.

The key is to link together the terrains of resistance, to show our solidarity with the victims of terrorism, to give the peoples fighting for their freedom the material, political and military means to survive and win, to support the progressive and non-confessionalist forces fighting on the ground, at the same time against the bloody, terrorist obscurantism of Daesh and that of the Assad regime that it has so much favoured. It is to stop engaging in wars and bombings, stop supporting absolutist regimes and promoting social and political injustices in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The state of the progressive forces in France is quite disastrous, but at this key moment, points of support for resistance exist: in the shared feelings of solidarity within the population, in the reaction of young people, in the refusal by many associations and unions to accept Draconian measures, a permanent state of emergency. There is the basis to build a united front in defence of freedom at home and abroad, of living together, of solidarity.

This article was written for the site Viento Sur “El terror del Estado Islámico, el estado de excepción en Francia, nuestras responsabilidades”.


[1] We refer you to the article we wrote at the time Charlie Hebdo – And now what? The events, their impact and the issues at play..