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Time to Honour the Deal? People on Guard Against the Betrayal


Mihir Bhonsale


Not long ago did Manmohan Singh the Prime Minister of India sign the infamous Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal, amidst a furore from the Indian Left over India’s strategic alliance of the U.S. The truce was sheepishly made ignoring the vast majority of the dissenting voices to the Deal which eventually went un-represented. Madban and Haripur with Koodamcolum and Jadugauda, today, have become metaphors of the betrayal which the Indian state has inflicted on its masses.

Madban, a village on the Western Coast and in Ratnagiri District of Maharashtra on 22nd January 2010 became a site of protest and action against the Jaitapur Power Project of 10,000 MW capacity, a joint-initiative of the French Nuclear Corporation, Areva and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited) NPCIL. Residents of Madban are hell-bent on resisting the project. Pravin Gavankar of the Jaitapur-Madban Anu Urja Virodhi Samiti and a project-affected said, ‘we are betrayed by the state administration’. ‘Our protest against the forcible land acquisition drive of the state administration for the Project, remains un-heeded to. ‘The state administration has deceived us every-time we have registered our resolve to not give up our land for the project.’ According to declared official sources around 938 heactres of land is required for the Jaitapur Nuclear Project. The distribution of cheques of compensation in lieu of the land was to be done on three days, 29th of December 2009, 12th January 2010 and 22nd January 2010. Till now not a single resident of Madban has accepted compensation for land from the State administration. Pravin Gavankar said that ‘on 22nd January, the police brutally lathi-charged us when the residents of Madban, protested against the Jaitapur Nuclear Project with Black Flags, saying “No” to the Nuclear Power Project.’ 1500 villagers had assembled to register their protest against the project.

Rambhau Patil, Acting General Secretary of the National Fishworkers Forum (NFF), noted, ‘the state administration has furthered the project ignoring the Panchayat’s strict refusal to implementation of the project in Madban.’ He also noted that the Fisher-folk of the coastal Maharashtra are with the Madban Anu Urja Virodhi Samiti in detesting the un-democratic crushing of the people’s movement against the Nuclear Power Plant.

The Konkan region where the Madban is located, in the last decade or so has seen a number of development projects which has made the vast majority of local people suffer reflected from the move to form the Kokan Vinashkari Prakalpa Virodhi Samiti, which is a network of individuals and organizations resisting, the implementation of projects adversely affecting the majority people’s interests. Also, Mumbai, Pune and Kolhapur have become centers of civil society demonstrations condemning the state for trying to implement the Nuclear Power Project.   
The Konkan Vinashkari Prakalpa Virodhi Samiti has already begun a march in solidarity of the protesting Madban villagers. The Republican Party of India (Rashtriya Lokshahi Agahadi) will also hold a dharna on the 2nd of February 2010 to protest against the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project. When all heaven is let lose because of the Indian state’s betrayal, it has for the Madbanites, it becomes every citizen’s responsibility to voice themselves to salvage the people out of this man-made disaster named ‘Power’.

The U.S. and its unruly Latin American 'backyard'


Éric Toussaint1

U.S. aggressiveness towards the Venezuelan, Bolivian, and Ecuadorian governments has increased in response to diminishing U.S. influence over the Latin American and Caribbean area, which Washington has been blaming on Hugo Chávez in particular (and also on Cuba, but Cuba is a much older story).

Several examples illustrate the United States’ waning control

During the negotiations that followed Colombia’s attack on Ecuador on 1 March 2008,2 instead of appealing to the Organization of American States (OAS) of which the United States is a member and which is headquartered in Washington, the Latin American presidents held a meeting in Santo Domingo, within the framework of the Rio Group,3 without inviting their great neighbour from the North, and clearly laid the blame on Colombia, a U.S. ally. In 2008, Honduras -- traditionally and wholly subordinated to U.S. policy-- joined Petrocaribe, which was created on the initiative of Venezuela to provide oil to the non-exporting countries in the region at a lower price than that practised on the world market. Honduras also joined the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), another initiative for regional integration launched by Venezuela and Cuba. In December 2008, another important summit took place bringing together most of the Latin American presidents in Salvador de Bahía, with the noteworthy presence of the Cuban Head of State, Raúl Castro, next to whom was seated the Mexican president, Felipe Calderón, who until recently had adopted a hostile attitude towards Cuba, to keep in line with the directives from Washington. A few months later, the OAS decided, in spite of U.S. opposition, to reintegrate Cuba, which had been excluded in 1964. In 2009, Ecuador also joined ALBA, and terminated the U.S. army’s lease of the Manta air base.

Washington has systematically attempted to thwart the shift towards the left

As the following examples illustrate, since the beginning of the 2000s Washington has systematically attempted to thwart the shift towards the left made by the peoples of Latin America: supporting the coup d'Etat against Chávez in April 2002, offering massive financial support to the anti-Chávez opposition movement, supporting the Venezuelan bosses’ strike from December 2002 to January 2003, the active intervention of the U.S. ambassador in Bolivia to prevent the election of Evo Morales, the World Bank's remote control intervention in Ecuador in 2005 to obtain the resignation of Rafael Correa, who was then the Minister of Economy and Finance, the organization of joint military operations in the Southern Cone,4 the resurrection of the Fourth Fleet,5 and a very significant increase in military aid to its Colombian ally, which serves as a bridgehead in the Andean region. In addition, to overcome the failure of the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) in November 2005, Washington has been negotiating and/or signing as many bilateral free trade agreements as possible (with Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica).

Coup d'Etat in Honduras

U.S. aggressiveness towards what it sees as a dangerous “Chavist contagion” in Latin America went up another notch in June-July 2009 with the military coup d'Etat in Honduras, which overthrew the liberal president Manuel Zelaya just as he was calling for a referendum on the election of a constituent assembly by universal suffrage. The Pentagon had resented this shift to the left by a president it thought would behave obediently because Honduras is one of its subordinate countries in the region. If a constituent assembly had been elected by universal suffrage, it would have inevitably had to rule on the demand for agrarian reform, which would have called into question the enormous privileges of the major landowners and foreign agri-business transnationals present in the country. It is mainly for this reason that the local capitalist class, a significant number of whom come from the agrarian sector, supported the coup. It is also important to take account of the fact that this capitalist class is a class of compradors who are completely turned towards import-export business and dependent on good relations with the United States. This explains why it supported the signing of a free trade agreement with Washington and was opposed to ALBA. Zelaya’s order for an increase in the minimum wage is also one of the factors that pushed the bosses to plot his overthrow.6 In addition, we know that Zelaya intended to ask Washington to leave the Soto Cano air base located less than 65 miles from the capital so that it could be converted into a civilian airport. Even imagining – which is highly improbable – that the Honduran generals acted on their own initiative in collaboration with the local capitalist class, it is inconceivable that Roberto Micheletti, the puppet president designated by the military and by corporate and liberal party leaders, could have stayed in power if the U.S. government had vigorously opposed it. The U.S. has been training Honduran generals for decades, and has an important military base in Soto Cano (with 500 American soldiers stationed there on a permanent basis); moreover, as Hillary Clinton admitted after the coup, the U.S. has massively funded the opposition to President Zelaya.7 In addition, U.S. transnational companies, particularly in the agri-business sector, are well-established in this country, which they consider to be a banana republic.

The seven U.S. military bases in Colombia

In order to further increase the threat against Venezuela and Ecuador, Washington got President Álvaro Uribe to announce in July 2009 that seven Colombian bases would be handed over to the American army, thereby enabling their fighter aircraft to reach all regions of the South American continent (except Cape Horn).8 It is no coincidence that only a short time separated the military coup in Honduras and the Colombian President’s announcement: Washington was clearly indicating that it wanted to immediately halt the extension of ALBA and nip this 21st century socialism in the bud. It would be irresponsible to underestimate Washington’s capacity to do damage, or the continuity characterizing U.S. foreign policy in spite of the election of Barack Obama and a softer rhetoric. While President Manuel Zelaya, who returned to his country secretly on 21 September 2009, was taking refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa and the putschists were violently repressing demonstrations by partisans of the constitutional President, closing down opposition media, and on September 27 declaring a 45-day state of siege, all that Lewis Amselem, n°2 representative of Washington at the OAS, had to say was: “Zelaya’s return is irresponsible and foolish.” Meanwhile, for several days Hillary Clinton failed to condemn the extended curfew imposed by Micheletti to prevent people from gathering in front of the Brazilian embassy. The agreement reached on 30 October under the auspices of Washington between representatives of Manuel Zelaya and those of Roberto Micheletti expressly stipulated that the parties undertake not to call either directly or indirectly for the convocation of a constituent assembly or for any consultation of the people (point 2 of the agreement). In addition, it did not explicitly allow for the return of Manuel Zelaya to the presidency of Honduras in order to finish his term (which is due to end in January 2010). Roberto Micheletti and his partisans then decided not to restore the presidency to Zelaya, who then appealed to the population not to participate in the general elections called for 28 November 2009. The main left-wing candidate for the presidency, Carlos Reyes, together with a hundred or so candidates from different parties (including a sector of the liberal party), withdrew his candidature. On 10 November 2009, an embarrassed Washington announced at a meeting of the OAS that it would recognize the results of the elections of 29 November 2009. On the eve of the elections, human rights organizations had recorded the assassination of more than twenty political opposition activists since the coup d’Etat, 211 people injured during the repression, close to 2,000 cases of illegal detention, two attempted kidnappings and 114 political prisoners accused of sedition. Media opposing the coup were either shut down or harassed. The UN, the OAS, the European Union, UNASUR, the member countries of the Rio Group and ALBA had decided not to send observers. Estimates of the number of citizens who did not vote vary, depending on the source. According to the pro-putschist electoral Supreme Tribunal, the percentage of non-voters was 39%, while several independent organizations advance figures between 53% and 78%. In spite of this, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly considered these illegal and fraudulent elections “a necessary and important step forward.”9 Washington recognized the election to the presidency of Porfirio Lobo of the National Party, a hardline representative of the property barons and the political right who organized the coup d’Etat. The U.S. Ambassador in Tegucigalpa declared that the elections were “a great celebration of democracy” and said the U.S. would work with Porfirio Lobo, whose nickname is Pepe. “Pepe Lobo is a man of great political experience”, Ambassador Llorens told HRN radio. “I wish him luck, and the United States will work with him for the good of both our countries. [...] Our relations will be very strong.” While the Honduran parliament decided on 2 December 2009 not to restore President Zelaya to office up to the end of his term on 27 January 2010, Washington continues to support the process put in motion by the putschist government.10 This creates an extremely serious precedent because Washington has repeatedly stated that the ousting of Zelaya definitely constituted a coup d’Etat.11 Supporting an electoral process stemming from a coup d’Etat and working to promote international recognition of both the authorities that perpetrated the coup and those benefiting from it gives clear encouragement to putschist aspirants who choose to rally to the Washington camp. This clearly applies to a large number of right-wing people in Paraguay.

Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo could be overthrown

In December 2009 the liberal senator Alfredo Luís Jaeggli, chair of the domestic commission and of the budget commission, called President Fernando Lugo to be overthrown, whom he charged with wishing to enforce the Chavist model of 21st century socialism, like Manuel Zelaya. Alfredo Jaeggli, whose party belongs to the current government and represents its main 'support' in parliament, claims that the coup in Honduras was not really a coup. He sees the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya, and what has been done by the de facto regime since, as perfectly legal.12 He would like the Paraguayan parliament to initiate a political trial against Fernando Lugo, so as to remove him from his function and replace him with the Republic's Vice-president, namely the right-wing liberal Federico Franco. Senator Jaeggli's complaint has nothing to do with Lugo's moral behaviour, his attack is focused on his political options. He complains that he does not follow the lead of countries that carried out a successful economic reform, such as Chile under Pinochet and Argentina under Carlos Menem.13 Clearly, Honduras can easily become a dangerous precedent as it opens the door to military coups condoned by some state institutions, such as the parliament or the Supreme Court.

Conclusion

In the light of this experience, we can see that the Obama administration is in no hurry to break with the methods used by its predecessors: witness the massive funding of different opposition movements within the context of its policy to “strengthen democracy”,14 the launching of media campaigns to discredit governments that do not share its political agenda (Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Manuel Zelaya’s Honduras and so on), maintaining the blockade of Cuba, the support for separatist movements in Bolivia (the media luna and the regional capital, Santa Cruz), in Ecuador (the city of Guayaquil and its province), and in Venezuela (the petroleum state of Zulia, the capital of which is Maracaïbo),15 the support for military attacks, like the one perpetrated by Colombia in Ecuador in March 2008, as well as actions by Colombian or other paramilitary forces in Venezuela.

The recent dispatch of 10,000 soldiers to Haiti in the wake of the January 2010 earthquake, as well as the potential support for a constitutional coup d’Etat planned by some sectors of the Paraguayan right to overthrow President Fernando Lugo in 2010, are among other threats posed by the U.S. policy in Latin America and the Caribbean that should be paid attention to in the coming weeks.  

Translated by Charles La Via and Judith Harris

1. Eric Toussaint, president of CADTM Belgium (Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt, www.cadtm.org ). He is the author of Bank of the South. An Alternative to the IMF-World Bank, VAK, Mumbai, India, 2007; The World Bank, A Critical Primer, Pluto Press, Between The Lines, David Philip, London-Toronto-Cape Town 2008; Your Money or Your Life, The Tyranny of Global Finance, Haymarket, Chicago, 2005.
2. The Colombian army bombed and captured FARC rebels in a guerrilla camp in Ecuadorian territory, killing some twenty people, including civilians. It is important to know that although the Colombian army is extremely strong, it has very little presence on the Colombian-Ecuadorian border, a fact that has allowed FARC guerrillas to set up camps there, including one in which Raúl Reyes, one of its main leaders in charge of international relations, was present at the time. Ecuador has regularly criticized Colombia for not providing adequate border control between these two countries.
3. Created in 1986, the Rio Group comprises 19 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, plus, on a rotating basis, one representative of the Caribbean Community (Caricom).
4. Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile
5. A structure created in 1943 to protect ships in the South Atlantic, and abolished in 1950. It officially resumed operations on 1 July 2008.
6. For an in-depth description of the sectors that backed the coup d’Etat, read Decio Machado’s study (in Spanish), which provides a list of the companies and their CEOs that encouraged or actively supported the putschists: “Quiénes apoyan al gobierno ilegítimo de Roberto Micheletti”, http://www.cadtm.org/Quienes-apoyan-al-gobierno
7. Washington had paved the way for a putsch by massively financing the various opposition movements in the context of its policy to “strengthen democracy”. A month before the coup, different organizations, business groups, political parties, high officials of the Catholic church and private media, all opposed to Manuel Zelaya’s policies, grouped together in the coalition called “Democratic Civil Union of Honduras” in order to “reflect on how to put an end to it”.  (www.lefigaro.fr/international/2009/07/07/01003-20090707ARTFIG00310-zelaya-toujours-banni-du-honduras-.php).
The majority of these groups received over US$ 50 million annually from USAID (the US Agency for International Development) and from NED (the National Endowment for Democracy) to “promote democracy” in Honduras. Read “Washington behind the Honduras coup: Here is the evidence”, by Eva Golinger, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=14390
8.  Eva Golinger on the website www.centrodealerta.org published two original documents produced by the U.S. Air Force regarding the agreements on the 7 bases concerned. The first document dates from May 2009 (i.e. before the agreement was publicly announced) and stresses the vital importance of one of the 7 bases, observing that it will, among other things, make possible the “full spectrum operations in a critical sub-region of our hemisphere where security and stability are under constant threat from narcotics-funded terrorist insurgencies, anti-U.S. governments, endemic poverty and recurring natural disasters.” (http://www.centrodealerta.org/documentos_desclasificados/original_in_english_air_for.pdf). Eva Golinger adds the following comment: “It’s not difficult to imagine which governments in South America are considered by Washington to be ‘anti-U.S. governments’. The constant agressive declarations and statements emitted by the State and Defense Departments and the U.S. Congress against Venezuela and Bolivia, and even to some extent Ecuador, are evidence that the ALBA nations are the ones perceived by Washington as a ‘constant threat’. To classify a country as ‘anti-U.S.’ is to consider it an enemy of the United States. In this context, it’s obvious that the military agreement with Colombia is a reaction to a region the U.S. now considers full of ‘enemies’.”   (“Official U.S. Air Force Document Reveals the True Intentions Behind the U.S.-Colombia Military Agreement” http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=15951).
9. Quoted by AFP on 30 November 2009: “a necessary and important step forward” http://www.easybourse.com/bourse/actualite/honduran-elections-necessary-and-important-step-767041
10. The right-wing Latin American governments who are allies of Washington (Colombia, Peru, Panama and Costa Rica) do likewise.
11. See also the press conference given by Arturo Valenzuela, n°2 of the State Department for the Western Hemisphere, on 30 November 2009: “…the election is a significant step in Honduras’s return to the democratic and constitutional order after the 28 June coup…”  “ … these elections are not elections that were planned by a de facto government at the last minute in order to whitewash their actions.”  “We recognize that there are results in Honduras for this election. That’s quite clear. We recognize those results, and we commend Mr. Lobo for having won these elections.”
Arturo Valenzuela nevertheless sounded clearly embarassed when he declared in the same press conference: “The issue is whether the legitimate president of Honduras, who was overthrown in a coup d’Etat, will be returned to office by the congress on December 2nd, as per the San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accord. That was the accord that both sides signed at that time.” http://www.state.gov/p/wha/rls/rm/2009/132777.htm The fact is that 3 days later, the Honduran parliament voted by an overwhelming majority against Zelaya’s return to office, which did not deter Washington from continuing to support the de facto authorities.
12. On 17 December 2009 Alfredo Luís Jaeggli said on the Argentinian public radio: “The Honduran president, assuming the presidency with a liberal model, thereafter betrayed this model and replaced it with the Socialism of the twenty-first century. What happened in Honduras (Jaeggli clearly refers to the 28 June 2009 coup), excuse me, for me it is completely legal. ” An audio  version of the interview can be accessed at http://www.radionacional.com.ar/audios/el-senador-del-partido-liberal-habla-sobre-fernando-lugo-y-los-presuntos-planes-de-derrocamiento-en-paraguay.html
13.  "Paraguay is the only country along with Haiti and Cuba that did not reform in order to modernize. You had your modernization; you know well with the Menem government, what I mean. Brazil also had it, as well as Uruguay, Bolivia, too, but unfortunately they had an involution. Paraguay does not, it is still as if in the 50s ..." "In Chile, (...) do you believe that the socialists in Chile are those who made the economy grow? They have not changed anything, not even the Chilean labour code. The Chilean labour code is still the code implemented by Pinochet!"
14. Eva Golinger explained : “(...) Obama called for an additional $320 million in “democracy promotion” funds for the 2010 budget just for use in Latin America. This is a substantially higher sum than the quantity requested and used in Latin America for “democracy promotion” by the Bush administration in its 8 years of government combined”! http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=14390
15. Because of the failure of the mobilizations in the media luna in Bolivia at the end of 2008 and of the right in Guayaquil, Ecuador, led by the city’s mayor Jaime Nebot in September 2008, Washington has put its support on hold but may reactivate it if the context requires and allows it. The same may be said for the right in the state of Zulia in Venezuela.

 

Pakistan: workers, peasants take lead to revive a political tradition


Abdul Khaliq
Lahore, 2nd February 2010



Despite prevailing fear of everyday explosions and suicide bombings
across Pakistan, over 10,000 power loom workers and peasants braved
their way to Dhobi Ghat ground, Faisalabad on 29th February 2010. Do
doubt a marvelous indicator of their commitment to the working class
cause.

Though much bigger gathering was being expected but under the given
scary circumstances, when masses prefer to stay at home, everyone is
gripped by fear of suicide bombings, including mainstream political
parties, which are evasive to come in the open and organize public
gatherings, workers and peasants opted and dared to come out to
register their demands in a powerful way.

In this apolitical atmosphere, they have revived the much needed
tradition of 1970s and 1980s of big political gatherings, when people
use to attend such gathering in huge numbers and sit for hours to
listen their leaders.

Thus the show was successful by many aspects and achieved, to large
extent, its objectives of getting working classes together and closer
at a united platform in order to forge durable future unity. It
conveyed not only strong message of workers-peasants resistance to the
neo-liberal policies of the rulers, but also renewed the hope of
possibility of collective struggle of the progressive forces in
Pakistan.

The public meeting, jointly organized by Labor Quami (national)
Movement (LQM) and Anjuman Mzareen (Tenant committee) Punjab (AMP) was
attended by a large number of right-based civil society groups,
movements, alliances, networks, trade unions, left parties, women
groups and addressed by their representatives. International delegates
from Fourth International (Pierre Rousset) and Socialist Alliance
Australia (Simon Butler) also spoke on the occasion and voiced their
solidarity with the workers and peasants of Pakistan.

Following resolutions, comprising just demands of the working classes
of Pakistan was presented, widely circulated and adopted with
thundering claps on the occasion:

·        Government should issue social security cards to all the
workers forth worth and fix minimum wages of workers at Rs. 15000.

·        Go away with anti-labor laws, restricting formation of new
trade unions and stop vindictive actions against the labor leaders.

·        Reinstate forthwith all the workers thrown out of the private
enterprises during Musharraf regime and present PPP government.

·        Increase the number of labor courts through effective
pro-workers reforms in order to provide cheap and speedy justice to
the laborers.

·        Effective measures be taken to end electricity load shedding,
which has crippled the power loom industry, rendering thousands of
workers jobless.

·        Financial packages be announced for small power loom units,
end yarn hoarding to sustain running of power looms and livelihoods of
workers.

·        State notification be issued to increase and make wages of
all power loom workers at par across the country.

·        End with contract and daily wages system; regularize all
employees in state and private sector.

·        Labor laws be strictly implemented, a tripartite
(worker-employers-government) conference be called in to devise new
labor policy.

·        End the on-going privatization process of state-owned
enterprises and halt the privatization plan of Pakistan Railways.

·        Women workers be paid equal wages to that of men workers.
Home-based women workers be recognized as workers and counted as
skilled labor force.

·        Legislation be introduced to protect the labor rights of the
informal sector workers, being exploited at the hands of the middlemen
and contractors.

·        Industry status be granted to bangle-making in Hyderabad.

·        Strict implementation of Bonded Labor Act 1992. Bosses be
forced to end advance system, act upon government notification
regarding payment of just wages at brick kiln factories.

·        Stop unlawful cut on pensions of communication pensioners in
Hazara division and ensure repayment of the deductions forthwith.

·        Implement minimum wage law (Rs. 6000) for all the workers
across the country and especially in Hattar industry, Hazara Division.

·         Reinstate all the sacked workers of Mardan Takhtby Sugar mills.

·        Effective, meaningful, radical and doable national level
agriculture reforms be introduced to end feudal system in the country.
All the state owned lands be distributed among landless, local
tenants, small peasants and Haris.  Women be given priority in this
process.

·        Agriculture lands and their occupation be restored to the
tenants of Alipur Chattaha, all illegal cases registered against them
be abolished.

·        Tenants tilling state agriculture lands of military farms and
military welfare trust farms, since decades be given land ownership
rights.

·        Seventh wage Board award for journalists be implemented forthwith.

·        Big city allowance for Faisalabad be announced and High Court
Bench in City should be established.

·        Free and quality Education from primary to University level
for all, be announced and at least 10 percent of GDP be fixed for
education sector.

·        Class-based education system be abolished, uniform syllabus
be introduced across the country for all Educational institutes.
Technical and scientific education be declared compulsory.

·        Maximum budget for health, free heath facilities for poor and
housing for the low income groups be announced.

·        A debt audit commission be formed to investigate into all
loan contracts, made with IFIs, sine 1947. Refuse to repay all
illegitimate external debts.

·        Military budget be cut and the amount saved thus be spent on
social sector.

·        Government should announce at least Rs. 10,000 as
unemployment allowance for the unemployed youth.

·        All relevant rules be also introduced for teachers in workers
welfare schools and all employees of workers welfare schools be
considered as employees of welfare board.  Social security scheme and
Old Age Benefits be declared for teachers of these schools

·        Second shift for students be introduced in all the workers
welfare schools, upgrading these schools to the status of higher
secondary schools.

·        US Drone attacks be halt forthwith, massacres of local
innocent population, women and children in the name of war on
terrorism be stopped.

·        Provincial autonomy be ensured per 1973 Constitution and
appropriate measures be taken to end sense of deprivation among
smaller provinces.

·        All out priority-based steps be taken to end discriminatory
laws against women and abolish all sorts of violence against women.
Exchange marriages, karo-kari and other patriarchal traditions be
announced illegal.

·        Rights of Religious minorities, indigenous communities be
strictly protected   and all discriminatory laws, including blasphemy
laws be abolished.

·        Women be given due representation according to their
population in legislative bodies and other institutions at all levels.

·        Local bodies elections be announced forthwith and be held
under the supervision of Election Commission of Pakistan.

·        Emergency measures be taken to arrest price-hike, prices of
petroleum products and daily items be lowered by restoring state
subsidy on the necessary items.

Obituary: Daniel Bensaid


Francois Sabado

Daniel left us today, Tuesday the 12th of January 2010. Born in 1946 he gave his life to the cause of defending revolutionary Marxist ideas right to the end.

 

He was one of the founders of the Jeunesse Communiste Révolutionnaire (JCR - Revolutionary Communist Youth) and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR - Revolutionary Communist League, French section of the Fourth International)

A leader of the May 68 movement, he was one of those people with a very sure feeling for political initiative. He had been one of the leaders of the 22nd March Movement. Grasping the dynamic of social movements, in particular the link between the student movement and workers’ general strike, he was also one of those who understood the necessity of building a political organisation, of accumulating the forces for building a revolutionary party.

The quality of Daniel’s intelligence was to combine theory and practice, intuition and political understanding, ideas and organisation. He could, at the same time, lead a stewarding force and write a theoretical text.

He was one of those who inspired a fight which combined principles and political boundaries with openness and a rejection of sectarianism. Daniel, his own political convictions deeply rooted in him, was always the first to want to discuss, to try to convince, to exchange opinions, and to renew his own thinking.

As a member of the daily leadership of the LCR from the end of the 1960s to the beginning of the 1990s, he played a decisive role in building a project, an orientation which combined daily activity with a revolutionary outlook. A good part of his theoretical and political work was focused on questions of strategy, and the lessons of the main historical revolutionary experiences.

Daniel was profoundly internationalist. He played a key role in the building of the LCR in the Spanish state in the Franco period. In those years he played a major role within the Fourth International, in particular following closely developments in Latin America and Brazil. He contributed largely to renewing our vision of the world and to preparing us for the upheavals of the end of the 1980s.

From the 1990s until the end, while continuing his political fight he concentrated on theoretical work: the history of political ideas; Marx’s Capital; the balance sheet of the twentieth century and its revolutions, first of all the Russian revolution; ecology; feminism; identities and the Jewish question; developing new policies for the revolutionary left faced with capitalist globalisation. He regularly attended and followed the Social Forum and the global justice movement.

Daniel ensured the historical continuity of open, non-dogmatic, revolutionary Marxism and adaptation to the changes of the new era, with the perspective of revolutionary transformation of society always in his sights.

Although seriously ill he overcame it for years, thinking, writing, working on his ideas, never refusing to travel, to speak at rallies or attend simple meetings. Daniel set himself the task of checking the solidity of our foundations and passing them on to the young generation. He put his heart and all his strength into it. His contributions, at the International Institute in Amsterdam, in the summer universities of the LCR and then of the NPA, at the Fourth International youth camp, made an impact on thousands of comrades. Transmitting the experience of the LCR to the NPA, Daniel decided to accompany the foundation of our new organisation with a relaunch of the reviewContretemps and forming the “Louise Michel” society as a place for discussion and reflection of radical thought.

Daniel was all that. And in addition he was warm and convivial. He loved life.

Although many “68ers” turned their coats and abandoned the ideals of their youth, Daniel abandoned none of them; he didn’t change. He is still with us.

Translated by Penelope Duggan

 

France A page has been turned (the formation of the NPA)


Daniel Bensaid

We never saw the reference to Trotskyism as a way to shut ourselves off from others. For us, it was more like a polemical challenge. We accepted the Trotskyist tag in our conflict with the Stalinists — but without building a neurotic identity out of it or, conversely, downplaying the importance of this heritage.
 

 

We always rejected the simplification that generally accompanies labelling of this sort. We were opposed to reductionist orthodoxies; while we always held Trotsky’s contributions in the highest regard, our political education always sought to nurture the pluralist memory and culture of the working-class movement – by including Luxemburg, Gramsci, Mariategui and Blanqui, but also Labriola, Sorel and the entirety of what Ernst Bloch called the “warm stream of Marxism”. Of course, Trotskyism holds a special place within this heritage that lacks both heirs and an instruction manual. Thanks to the struggle of the Left Opposition and then of the Fourth International against the Stalinist reaction – which cost Trotsky, Nin, Pietro Tresso and many others their lives – the communist project could not be entirely usurped by its bureaucratic impostor.

There are those who seek to put the history of the working-class movement behind us. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, has Trotskyism been deprived of its negative pole and therefore lost its very raison d’être? It is certainly true that present-day divisions within emancipatory movements cannot be conjugated in the past tense.

Controversies that raged until quite recently – such as the one surrounding the precise character of the Soviet Union – are no longer of any practical consequence. In this sense, a page has indeed been turned. It would be reckless, however, to argue that Stalinism has been definitively relegated to the past. Stalinism was a particular historical form of the danger of state bureaucratization that threatens emancipatory movements. Contrary to the hasty claims of some, this danger is not the natural product of “the party form” but rather of the social division of labour in modern societies – and this is something infinitely more serious. This threat will loom large for all forms of organization – whether trade-union, social-movement or party-political – as long as this social division of labour endures.

The specific historical form of Stalinism has died, but the lessons to be drawn from this experience are actually more relevant than ever. It is a matter of ensuring the development of socialist democracy at all levels. These lessons are no longer the exclusive property of organizations from the Trotskyist or council-communist libertarian tradition. They have a much wider base, and this is not something to complain about. When what I have called the “baggage of exodus” becomes a collective asset of the new anti-capitalist Left, it is a kind of posthumous victory for those so badly defeated by the Stalinist counter-revolution. The “short twentieth century” has ended and a new cycle of class struggles is just beginning. Crucial new questions are being raised, beginning with the ecological challenge. It was essential for the LCR to break from routine and take the risk of reaching beyond itself without renouncing its history. The NPA will not define itself as a Trotskyist organization. It will aim to bring together a range of experiences and currents on the basis of the events and tasks of the new period. To go the distance, though, it will need history and memory.

This article originally appeared in the February 5-11, 2009 issue of Politis and can be found on the ESSF website at http://tinyurl.com/yc39nuc.

Translation from French: Nathan Rao

Bolshevism and revolutionary democracy


Paul LeBlanc


* Simon Pirani, The Russian Revolution in Retreat, 1920-24: Soviet Workers and the New Communist Elite (London/New York: Routledge, 2008), 289 pages. $160.
* Soma Marik, Reinterrogating the Classical Marxist Discourses of Revolutionary Democracy (Delhi: Aakar Books, 2008), 537 pages. $55.
[Note: In India, Marik's book is avaiable at Rs. 425 from Aakar Books -- Administrator, Radical Socialist] 

Given the complexities and crises of our time, we may see increasing numbers of thoughtful people and rising layers of young activists once again asking, “What is socialism and how can it be achieved?” Impacting on the answers to this question are the questions wrestled with in the books under review, which give attention to the fact that, as Simon Pirani puts it, “the Russian revolution of 1917 was a defining event, maybe the defining event, of the twentieth century,” and that “the retreat from, or failure of, the revolution’s aims . . . have, no less than its achievements, been a central problem for all those concerned with progressive social change.” [1]

Back in 1917, when the workers and peasants upsurge in Russia culminated in the triumph of the revolutionary-democratic councils known as soviets, Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik party (soon renamed “Communist Party”) at the head of the upsurge, declared: “Comrades, workers, soldiers, peasants and all working people! Take all power into the hands of your soviets. … Gradually, with the consent and approval of the majority of the peasants, in keeping with their practical experience and that of the workers, we shall go forward firmly and unswervingly to the victory of socialism – a victory that will be sealed by the advanced workers of the many civilized countries, bring the peoples lasting peace and liberate them from all oppression and exploitation.” As John Reed reported in his eyewitness account Ten Days That Shook the World(corroborated by much serious scholarship since then), “the only reason for Bolshevik success lay in their accomplishing the vast and simple desires of the most profound strata of the people, calling them to the work of tearing down and destroying the old, and afterward, in smoke of the falling ruins, cooperating with them to erect the framework of the new.” [2]

Yet within a decade the bureaucratic and murderous dictatorship under Joseph Stalin was – in the name of Lenin and Bolshevism – consolidating its hold over the Soviet Republic. In fact, as Pirani argues, “within months of the October [1917] uprising, the revolution was in retreat from the aims of social liberation it had proclaimed. It was confounded by circumstances, and pushed back by the state.” [3]

Pirani adds that “the retreat, like the revolution, was not uniform or unidimensional. Workers, communists and others kept trying to push the revolution forward.” Many historians would agree with the assertion of Moshe Lewin, in his 2005 summation The Soviet Century, that “the year 1924 marks the end of ‘Bolshevism’” – with the new bureaucratic layer led by Stalin defeating, one after the other, a succession of Communists still animated by the ideals of 1917. [4] Many had earlier contributed to their own defeat. Soma Marik asserts – in terms that Pirani would certainly endorse – that “all too often, in place of admitting that acute crises were causing departures from workers’ democracy, the Bolsheviks justified those departures as developments superior to bourgeois democracy. This caused a severe retreat in the theoretical field and ultimately affected their political practice seriously.” She goes on to insist (with a perspective similar to Lewin’s – but perhaps not Pirani’s): “Nonetheless, the process of bureaucratization and the rise of Stalinism meant a decisive break with the Bolshevik legacy, rather than an essential continuity.” [5]

In most cases, such questions are not adequately explored by scholars whose primary experience happens to be outside of the labor and socialist movements. More helpful is an immersion not only in the literature and historical material of Marxism, socialism, and communism, but also an intimacy with the practicalities of left-wing organizations and with the interplay of such organizations with the larger working class. It helps especially if a person with such experience has been shaken into a critical-mindedness. Such people are more inclined to know which questions to ask, and where to look for the answers to such questions.

It is fortunate that in our own time there is a flow of important work from such people, two of whom are under review here. British scholar Simon Pirani was once a prominent activist in the Workers Revolutionary Party, now obviously disillusioned with the orthodoxies of that now-imploded super-Trotskyist sect. He has produced an extremely important piece of research – The Russian Revolution in Retreat, 1920-24. Soma Marik is an Indian scholar. Her adherence to the Fourth International of Trotskyist origin, perhaps tempered by difficulties in building a revolutionary organization in her native land, has certainly been impacted by a commitment to feminist perspectives. Her book is as awkwardly named as it is rich with information and insight – Reinterrogating the Classical Marxist Discourses of Revolutionary Democracy.

What Marik does – aptly explained in the laudatory foreword by prominent Marx scholar David McLellan – is to explore “the revolutionary and democratic core of Marxism” and to offer “a careful dissection of the ways in which Marx and the Bolsheviks united theory and practice.” What Pirani does – aptly noted in the blurb by Diane Koenker, herself a pioneer in the study of the Russian working class – is to take “a close look at the relationship between the Bolshevik party and the democratic aspirations of rank-and-file workers in Moscow in the crucial early years of the Russian revolution.” [6]

Primarily a work of intellectual history, Marik’s study is thorough – combing through the mass of primary and secondary sources related to her subject, not least of which is a splendid utilization of Hal Draper’s rich body of work (which also informs Pirani’s study). As do Draper and a number of other prominent scholars (David McLellan, Richard N. Hunt, Michael Löwy, August Nimtz, etc.), Marik produces a clear, coherent, fully documented, and stimulating discussion of classical Marxism informed by the notion that, as she puts it, “central to Marx’s concept of workers’ democracy was the principles of working-class self-emancipation.” While this is ground well covered by others, whose contributions she capably summarizes and synthesizes, Marik’s effort contains two additional components: (1) almost every chapter of the book contains material critically examining how questions of gender and issues of feminism relate to, and shed light on, the “larger issues” under discussion; (2) there is an exploration of the interrelationship between Marx and Bolshevism.

Pirani’s book is – in some ways – much narrower in scope. A work of social history, it focuses on realities in Moscow in a five-year period. Its publication coincides with the appearance of two other important volumes wrestling with similar issues – Alexander Rabinowtich’s The Bolsheviks in Power: The First Year of Soviet Rule in Petrograd(2007) and Kevin Murphy’s splendid Revolution and Counter-Revolution: Class Struggle in a Moscow Metal Factory (2005), which looks at a single workplace from roughly 1900 to 1932.

These three books are part of a much larger stream of scholarship, which suggests an important limitation (yet also a strength) of Pirani’s work: far from having the finality of a synthesis, it is a contribution to a much larger collective work-in-progress. The weaknesses in Pirani’s book, it seems to me, arise when he strains against the limitations of his study, reaching for generalizations that distort rather than shed light on the valuable new information that he is sharing with us.

At the very beginning of his book is a summary of Pirani’s thesis: “The working class was politically expropriated by the Bolshevik party, as democratic bodies such as soviets and factory committees were deprived of decision-making power [as] the Soviet ruling class began to take shape. … Some worker activists concluded that the principles of 1917 had been betrayed, while others accepted a social contract, under which workers were assured of improvements in living standards in exchange for increased labor discipline and productivity, and a surrender of political power to the party.” [7]

It is difficult to convey in a short review how valuable is the new material that Pirani presents in this compelling study. The essential outlines of what he offers will hardly be news to those who have engaged with, for example, Paul Avrich’s fine old accountKronstadt 1921 or the narratives, memoirs, and novels of Victor Serge, Robert V. Daniels’ substantial 1960 work The Conscience of the Revolution: Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia, or Samuel Farber’s more recent Before Stalinism, The Rise and Fall of Soviet Democracy. But Pirani utilizes new materials (including contemporary reports, speeches, articles, and interventions by dozens of Bolshevik and non-Bolshevik workplace activists, factory managers, dissidents and bureaucrats – culled from minutes of various soviet, trade union, and party meetings, from newspapers of the time, as well as from detailed reports of the Cheka, not to mention a considerable body of Russian-language post-Soviet scholarship). Pirani accepts the conception of the Bolshevik-led 1917 revolution as a profoundly democratic and promising reality, and he seems to accept the need to have postponed that glowing promise in 1918-1920, in the face of foreign invasion and brutal civil war. But once the Bolsheviks won the civil war, he asks, what explains the reason for the promise not simply being deferred but abandoned?

Some scholars have drawn on Lenin’s own partial explanation: “an industrial proletariat … in our country, owing to the war and the desperate poverty and ruin, has become declassed, i.e., dislodged from its class groove, and has ceased to be a proletariat. … Since large-scale capitalist industry has been destroyed, since the factories and works are still at a standstill, the proletariat has disappeared.” Lenin’s view was that only the Communist Party, largely composed of those who had been workers, and committed to a revolutionary working-class program, could hold the new Soviet Republic together. Isaac Deutscher made this a central component of his own influential account of Russia’s post-revolutionary realities. More recent historians such as Diane Koenker have effectively challenged this as exaggerated, though Koenker’s own data indicates elements of truth in Lenin’s formulation: dramatic socio-economic disruptions, combined with revolutionary workers being drawn into the Red army and state apparatus, obviously impacted on the vitality and political cohesion of the Russian workers’ movement. Pirani observes, however, that “the working class was far from non-existent, and when in 1921, it began to resuscitate soviet democracy,” responses from powerful elements in the Communist Party worked not for its revival but its limitation and even elimination. [8] Tensions and conflicts sharpened with implantation of the New Economic Policy (NEP), beginning in 1921, reviving the devastated economy with market mechanisms but also fostering inequality and corruption.

Vibrant details emerge from this – connected with specific tensions and conflicts, passions and personalities – which provide patches of color, motion, and flavor that help us understand in new ways what is going on in the five eventful years that Pirani examines. At times, the complex swirl of what he unearths and presents is almost overwhelming – and at times, it seems to me, he tries to pull it all into a more coherent package than is justified by the more jumbled and fluid realities. But essential elements of the Bolshevik and Soviet tragedy do emerge, nonetheless, and with uncommon freshness and poignancy.

One Communist militant remembered of the revolutionary years: “We all lived in a state of revolutionary romanticism: weary and exhausted but happy, festive; unkempt, unwashed, long-haired and unshaven, but clear and clean of thought and heart.” A Communist returning from the civil war wrote to Lenin that “in the heart of every conscious comrade from the front, who at the front has become used to almost complete equality, who has broken from every kind of servility, debauchery and luxury – with which our very best party comrades now surround themselves – there boils hatred and disbelief.” A disillusioned party member explained in a letter of resignation: “I cannot be that sort of idealist communist who believes in the new God That They Call the State, bows down before the bureaucracy that is so far from the working people, and waits for communism from the hands of pen-pushers and officials as though it was the kingdom of heaven.” In 1920, a leader of the Democratic Centralist faction in the Communist Party snapped: “Why talk about the proletarian dictatorship or workers’ self-activity? There’s no self-activity here!” [9] A 1923 manifesto from the dissident Workers Group asserted:

“What are we being told? ‘You sit quietly, go out and demonstrate when you’re invited, sing the Internationale – when required – and the rest will be done without you, by first-class people who are almost the same sort of workers as you, only cleverer.’ … But what we need is a practice based on the self-activity of the working class, not on the party’s fear of it.” [10]

Among the early working-class oppositional groups in and around the Russian Communist Party, the best known is the Workers Opposition led by Alexander Shlyapnikov and Alexandra Kollontai. While they figure in Pirani’s account, he gives much more attention to other (and in some ways more interesting) formations – the Democratic Centralists led by Timofei Sapronov and Valerian Osinskii, Workers Truth whose activists included such female militants as Polina Lass-Kozlova and Fania Shutskyever, and the Workers Group whose leading personality was the tough, thoughtful worker-Bolshevik militant Gavriil Miasnikov. It is one of the great tragedies of Bolshevism that such oppositional currents were crushed by 1923, and that aspects of their perspectives, rooted deeply in the Bolshevism that culminated in the 1917 triumph and initially enjoying significant working-class support, were not allowed the space to challenge the ominous and ultimately murderous bureaucratization. Beginning with Lenin himself, and then Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and others (all of whom had “pragmatically” yet myopically worked to eliminate these early currents), the bureaucratic-authoritarian onslaught dealt them defeat after defeat after defeat.

Marik sees the decisive moment occurring at the Tenth Party Congress of the Communist Party in March 1921, when a ban on organized opposition was codified both inside and outside of the Communist Party. “Yet, in 1921, it seemed to be only another temporary measure,” she writes. “Lenin pleaded for time, thereby creating the impression that eventually, in one or two years, matters would change. But the effect of the changes of 1921 was devastating. The danger of bureaucratization had been ever present from the early days of the revolution. Once workers’ democracy was throttled, this bureaucratization could proceed unhindered.” [11] It is worth reflecting, however, on Trotsky’s classic essay of 1937, “Stalinism and Bolshevism”:

“As far as the prohibition of te other Soviet parties is concerned, it did not flow from any “theory” of Bolshevism but was a measure of defense of the dictatorship [of the proletariat, i.e., the workers’ state] in a backward and devastated country, surrounded by enemies. For the Bolsheviks it was clear from the beginning that this measure, later completed by the prohibition of factions inside the governing party itself, signaled a tremendous danger. However, the root of the danger lay not in the doctrine or in the tactics but in the material weakness of the dictatorship, in the difficulties of its internal and international situation. If the revolution had triumphed, even if only in Germany, the need to prohibit the other Soviet parties would immediately have fallen away.” [12]

Marik identifies a key problem embedded in Leninist theory, whose negative effects crop up over and over in Pirani’s account. “The lack of discussion about the role of political parties in The State and Revolution remains a significant flaw,” she writes. “Lenin’s account of representative democracy can be criticized for being silent on the question of plurality, rival programs within the workers’ state, and on the distinction between counter-revolution and opposition.” [13] She and Pirani document the fact that Lenin, Trotsky, and other leading Bolsheviks idealized the Communist Party under their leadership as the only legitimate political expression of Russia’s revolutionary working-class.

Marik notes that this was related to the fact that initially “most non-Bolshevik parties, who were chosen by the workers, peasants and soldiers to represent them in the Soviets, decided to turn their backs on the Soviets and even to join hands with a bourgeois-aristocratic counter-revolution.” But she also insists (drawing on the work of another Indian scholar, Kunal Chattopadhyay’s The Marxism of Leon Trotsky [2006]) that the multi-party socialism Trotsky had insisted on as early as 1904 – which he had abandoned when the other socialist parties turned against the Russian Revolution, but returned to by the 1930s – was the key to avoiding the disaster that befell Soviet Russia. [14]

There were others, however, who were insisting on the same point at the very moment when Lenin and Trotsky were inadvertently helping to engineer the revolution’s defeat. Pirani draws our attention to a 1922 declaration of the Workers’ Group, calling for “the resurrection of workers’ democracy in the form of workplace-based soviets,” that seems to hit the nail on the head:

“It argued that, whereas during the civil war the emphasis had been on suppressing the exploiters, NEP required rebuilding such soviets as the ‘basic cells’ of soviet power. There could be no free speech for those who oppose revolution, ‘from monarchists to SRs,’ and curtailing democracy during the civil war had been an unavoidable necessity. But under NEP ‘a new approach’ was needed, including free speech for all workers: ‘there is no such thing in Russia as a communist working class, there is just the working class, with Bolsheviks, anarchists, SRs and Mensheviks in its ranks,’ among whom ‘not compulsion, but persuasion’ had to be used. … The manifesto lambasted the use of ‘bureaucratic appointments that brush aside the direct participation of the working class’ to run industry. …” [15]

One of the most serious problems with Pirani’s account is a tendency to accuse the Bolsheviks (or Communists) as a whole, and Lenin in particular, of authoritarian ideological inclinations and goals which, at best, serious oversimplify the realities. According to his own account many Bolsheviks opposed and fought against manifestations of what he presents as “the Bolshevik position.” The label “anti-worker” is applied very freely, sometimes to corrupted and tyrannical officials, to be sure, but also to some Bolsheviks who had been workers for most of their lives and who saw themselves as attempting to defend the medium-term and long-term interests of the working class in the face of understandable but problematical short-term discontents.

Certain conceptions are pushed further than the facts will bear. Here are two examples.

1. Pirani writes that Marx “asserted that the abolition of bureaucratic hierarchy and the introduction of officials paid a skilled workman’s wages . . . would be integral to ‘the political form of . . . social emancipation,” and then announces: “In Bolshevism, this aspect of Marx’s thought was almost completely obliterated.” There are a number of first-hand accounts that contradict this. For example, in the remarkable memoir of a Communist survivor of the gulag, Joseph Berger’s Nothing But the Truth (also published under the title Shipwreck of a Generation): “In the early years of the regime the ascetic tradition of the revolutionaries was maintained. One of its outward manifestations was the ‘party maximum’ – the ceiling imposed on the earnings of Party members. At first this was very low – an official was paid scarcely more than a manual worker, though certain advantages went with a responsible job. Lenin set the tone by refusing an extra kopeck or slice of bread. . . .” There were certainly exceptions to this — Trotsky records with distaste the case of his own brother-in-law, Lev Kamenev, who threw little parties during the stark civil war period, supplied with “bottles and dainties” supplied by the somewhat corrupt but affable Abel Yenukidze. [16] With the New Economic Policy, as many (including Pirani) have been able to show, immense inequalities became far more common. But our understanding is not enhanced by denying the realities that Berger and others attest to.

2. Pirani tells us: “The most influential socialist analysis of the USSR, Trotsky’s, . . . relied heavily on the Bolsheviks’ old discourse about ‘alien class elements,’ and excluded from examination the party’s political expropriation of the working class,” Pirani writes. This is not true. From exile, Trotsky wrote: “On the foundation of the dictatorship of the proletariat – in a backward country, surrounded by capitalists – for the first time a powerful bureaucratic apparatus has been created from among the upper layers of the workers, that is raised above the masses, that lays down the law to them, that has at its disposal colossal resources, that is bound together by an inner mutual responsibility, and that intrudes into the policies of a workers’ government its own interests, methods, and regulations.” Trotsky was merciless in describing the ex-working-class functionary: “He eats and guzzles and procreates and grows himself a respectable potbelly. He lays down the law with a sonorous voice, handpicks from below people faithful to him, remains faithful to his superiors, prohibits others from criticizing himself, and sees in all of this the gist of the general line.” [17]

Pirani (perhaps understandably) turns on Lenin. The wonderful quality of Lenin’s Marxism for most of his life, and especially in 1915-1917, was the unity of the revolutionary strategy and the revolutionary goal, each permeated by a vibrant, uncompromising working-class militancy, insurgent spirit, and radical democracy. The culmination of this in the 1917 revolution was Lenin’s triumph. His tragedy was that it broke down in 1918 – not simply because of the immense violence for foreign invasion and civil war, not to mention the earlier devastation of World War I, but because the simple solution of “workers’ democracy” became problematical when the abstract visions were brought down to the level of concrete realities. Workers’ committees and councils in the factories and neighborhoods did not have enough information and knowledge to form practical decisions nor enough skill and practical experience to carry out decisions for the purpose of running a national economy, developing adequate social services throughout the country, formulating a coherent foreign policy, or even running a factory that would be interconnected with a larger economic system. [18]

This was especially so in the horrendous context in which revolutionary Russia found itself by 1921. The unexpected reality that the Bolshevik Revolution did not succeed in sparking international revolution, in the wake of global radicalization fostered by the imperialist slaughter of World War I, was a key factor in the tragic equation – the Soviet Republic’s isolation in a hostile capitalist world. There were thus no socialist regimes in more advanced industrial economies of Germany and other European countries to help in the development of revolutionary Russia, as had been expected in 1917.

Pirani makes much of a fragment of Lenin’s 1922 speech which he interprets as defining the Russian working class out of existence. The speech actually contains various good, bad, and contradictory formulations as Lenin grapples with the kinds of problems alluded to above, which tend to be avoided in Pirani’s narrative. He could just as well have drawn our attention to the words of Leon Trotsky. “Under the form of the ‘struggle against despotic centralism’ and against ‘stifling’ discipline, a fight takes place for the self-preservation of various groups and subgroupings of the working class, with their petty ward leaders and their local oracles,” Trotsky wrote in 1921. “The entire working class, while preserving its cultural originality and its political nuances, can act methodically and firmly without remaining in the tow of events and directing each time its mortal blows against the weak sectors of its enemies, on the condition that at its head, above the wards, the districts, the groups, there is an apparatus which is centralized and bound together by an iron discipline.” [19]

Although Pirani does not put this quotation in his book, this could also be seen as a rationale for “the new ruling class.” While there may be truth to Pirani’s analysis, however, there may also be elements of truth in Trotsky’s comments – reflecting the tragic dilemma facing Bolshevism in the early 1920s. And the fact remains that a number of apparent representatives of this “new ruling class” had spent most of their lives fighting for workers’ democracy and socialism and would soon end their lives in continuing to wage that struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy. The realities seem far more contradictory and fluid than Pirani will allow.

Nonetheless, Bolshevism failed to sustain its own revolutionary democracy, and what Bolsheviks did and failed to do are part of the equation. While this defeat resulted from factors beyond their control, fateful choices by Lenin and his comrades were also among the negative factors. Those who seek to do what they tried to do, but to do it better, should reflect over these works by Pirani and Marik.

By Paul Le Blanc



 

The Period and the Party


Duncan Chapel


War declared on the John Rees-Lindsey German faction: impending split in the British SWP?

December 28th, 2009

The faction fight in the SWP, which pits the majority led by Alex Callinicos and Martin Smith against the Left Platform led by John Rees and Lindsey German, is utterly depressing, for several reasons. First it is a reflection of the generally depressed and demoralised state of the whole of the British left, although of course with its own specific characteristics.

Second, whatever the ultra-factional vultures on the fringes of the far left may think, it is also depressing that the main organisation of the revolutionary left finds itself in such factional disarray. That is bad news for everyone; the very poor turn out for the recent Stop the War Coalition demonstration testifies to that.

Third, this whole sorry mess, which has included the sidelining of the Socialist Alliance in the early part of the decade, and the split in Respect and its fallout inside the SWP, was utterly avoidable.

If the SWP leadership in particular, but also the Socialist Party leadership, had been less rigid in their political conceptions, if they had shown more openness to political pluralism as demonstrated by international developments like the NPA in France and the Left Bloc in Portugal, the Red Green Alliance in Denmark and the Freedom and Solidarity Party (ÖDP) in Turkey, it could have turned out very different. Indeed, the SWP also had the opportunity to learn from the Revolutionary Communist League (LCR) in France, which the SWP’s organisation in France (SPEB) was part of. Not only did the League allow the right of minority tendencies but also the right of women and LGBT members to self-organise, in addition to an autonomous youth organisation. It is also very important to consider the respectful commitment to political debate that LCR showed to smaller organisations like SPEB not by “recruiting” them but merging with them. Several years ago there was a rather different discussion when the International Socialist Group in Britain was invited to join the SWP. It didn’t join because tendencies in the SWP wouldn’t have the same rights as SPEB enjoyed in the LCR.

Below we explain why, but first to some of the all-too-familiar the specifics of what’s currently going on inside the SWP.

Bureaucratic repression

From the contributions in the internal discussion bulletin number 2, it’s clear that the majority are doing everything possible to organisationally harass the minority. First, the accusations of factionalism based on intercepted emails.

The SWP does not allow factions outside of the 3-month discussion period; anyone having discussions about the possibility of forming a faction inside the 3-month period it open to accusations of breeching the constitution. So the Rees-German minority is accused of disloyal factionalism by sending emails to one another!

At this point though we have to say something that the Left Platform have to think about : John Rees and Lindsay German are the victims of an internal regime and an external policy that they were the upholders of when they were indeed in the majority, in fact the two central leaders, themselves. For example, the exclusion of John Rees from the Central Committee at the time of the 2009 conference was indeed an utter scandal. But it stems from the policy of excluding minorities from the CC that Rees and German of course defended in 2007 when it was a question of whether John Molyneux could be on the CC.

Members of the minority have been told to close down their websites. Most of all the majority leadership is doing everything possible to minimise the representation of the Left Platform, by for example branches and districts refusing to allocate any delegates to the minority, CC member standing as ordinary delegates to exclude minority representation etc etc. This is all documented in the article by Lindsey German in preconference discussion bulletin no 2.

The aim of minimising the representation of the minority at the national conference is very familiar to anyone who knows anything about the recent history of the sectarian left internationally. In a normally functioning democratic centralist organisation it would be elementary to allow the Left Platform adequate representation to express themselves fully, to represent their strength (or lack of it) inside the party, and to go into the debates in adequate detail. This is not what the Callinicos-Smith leadership have in mind. They intend to try to crush and humiliate the minority, to try to demoralise its supporters, and probably to expel the leadership of the Left Platform. This is absolutely typical of the way in which sectarian ‘Trotskyist’ groups have behaved through Gerry Healy, Jack Barnes, Pierre Lambert and all their ilk. Alex Callinicos finds himself in bad company.

Something else that the Left Platform leadership should think about is this: an organisation that has an informal policy of suggesting to members who have differences that they might like to take a six-month leave of absence, in the hope they will leave, is not really preparing a democratic internal life and a healthy attitude to discussion and differences.

The political debate

All the merit in the political debate is entirely with the Left Platform. The main documents of the platform accuse the leadership of retreating from the more open that the SWP tried to develop at the star of the decade, when it made its turn to the STWC, the Socialist Alliance and Globalise Resistance. The platform says that the majority leadership want to downgrade united front work like the STWC and instead replace it with a narrowly conceived ‘Right to Work’ campaign, of the type which those active in the 1970s will remember. Most of all the Platform’s documents make very apposite points on the question of the united front, pointing out that Trotsky never limited the united front to being a mere ‘tactic’, but explained it was a ‘policy’ with strategic significance. These explanations by the Platform are all correct.

But in the formal terms of the debate do not in themselves explain very much, for two reasons. Neither side deals with the fact that for many SWP rank-and-file members, as well as a section of the leadership around Chris Harman, the ‘open’ turn to the Socialist Alliance was very unpopular. And the Platform stops short of dealing with the real strategic question that is staring them in the face, and which the experience of the NPA in France and the Left Bloc in Portugal demonstrates: the importance of trying to create a broad socialist/left alternative at a national political level, using the ‘united fronts’ like the STWC as bases of support for a global political alternative. The Socialist Alliance and Respect both failed because the SWP refused to take the step of fighting for a real pluralistic national political alternative, and instead, when the chips were down, tried to channel everything through the SWP – especially during the height of the anti-war movement in 2003-4.

In effect the SWP adopted a half-way policy of building the Socialist Alliance and Respect as ‘united fronts of a special type’. But they were not. They were political blocs, with global socialist policies. They could not work if the attempt was made control them by the SWP, or at least to subject them to SWP veto.

The proof of the pudding is in the Scottish eating. At first the SWP abstained from the Scottish Socialist Party, but then went into it as a minority faction almost from day 1. By the middle of 2002 the atmosphere between the SWP faction and the SSP majority was icy, with the SWP trying to pick every conceivable little thing to create differences. Then the SWP made the utterly opportunistic and disastrous decision to back Sheridan’s break away Scottish Socialist Solidarity, which of course is now in the process of disappearing.

It is not even clear if the extent of the factionalism by the SWP in the SSP was decided in London, or whether – like the scorpion that stings the frog that is carrying him across the water – it was just in the nature of the rank and file militants who couldn’t help themselves. The decision to back Sheridan’s breakaway was of course decided in London and an act of cynical folly.

In this period it is impossible for Marxist organisations to proceed on the basis of a ‘no risk’, defence of existing acquisitions, policy. Building a broad socialist formation like the New Anticapitalist Party in France, or the Left Bloc in Portugal – or indeed participating in Die Linke in Germany – involves major risks. That arises from the nature of the period. But attempting to avoid the risks inherent in creating broad political alternatives to the left, in defence of the working class and the planet, is full of risks itself.

The period and the party

The left in Britain – even more than elsewhere – seems completely at a loss in the face of the massive economic crisis that has hit Western and especially Anglo-Saxon capitalism. This is obviously combining with a gigantic world environmental crisis, so that the issue is not now stopping climate change, but limiting it and deciding who will pay the cost of adaption. In this situation the right, and even the far right, has the initiative, especially at the electoral level.

Britain faces the biggest attack on working class living standards, the welfare state and democratic rights since the 1970s. To try to respond to that with a few more paper sales and a few more recruits is idiotic.

The tasks facing Marxists is that of building a political force to the left of social democracy that seems like a realistic alternative to millions. This cannot and will not be done by the SWP on its own or by the Socialist Party on its own. These frameworks are too politically narrow.

At the same time it is abstentionist to say that broader political alternatives are impossible without a rise in the level of the class struggle. Such devices are excuses that enable factional leaderships to get on with day-to-day propaganda routine: sell the paper, hold forums, recruit. In the case of the Callinicos-Smith leadership it’s a matter of ‘back to the bunker’, just as it was in 1994 for Peter Taaffe when Arthur Scargill vetoed the attempt by Militant Labour to join the SLP.

On the question of building a broad socialist alternative the SWP leadership now talks out of both sides of its mouth. Fulsome in its praise for ‘our comrades’ in the French NPA or the Portuguese Left Bloc, policies inspired by the same political methods in Britain fall foul of Alex Callinicos’ contemptuous ex-cathedra dismissal. A leadership content in its ability to issue tactical advice to anyone worldwide will have no difficulty erecting sectarian schemas in Britain.

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