Friday, November 30, 2007

Open Venezuela Referendum Thread

The Hands Off Venezuela Blog will have regular constitutional referendum updates this weekend, while Venezuela votes.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Who are the thugs?

By Oil Wars

Two weeks ago when violence broke out at the campus of the Universidad Central de Venezuela the Venezuelan opposition and the international press acted as if the world was coming to the end. Never mind that it later turned out that students opposed to Chavez had initiated much of that violence. Never mind that no one was killed. Despite that supporters of Chavez would portrayed as violent thugs.

Yesterday Venezuela saw who the real thugs were. Anti-Chavez protesters were blocking streets in the central Venezuelan state of Carabobo. Why they felt the need to block streets and attack passersby is beyond me - it seems to me they should express their opinions by voting next Sunday.

Nevertheless, blocking the streets they were. Upon this roadblock came a truck full of workers for the local Petrocasas factories. These were pro-Chavez workers of a Chavez initiated industrial project and they wanted to pass. What exactly happened next is a little confused - some say the truck simply turned around and was leaving others say the passengers got out of the truck and got in an altercation with those manning the barricade.

But one thing is known. The anti-Chavez protesters shot one of the young workers in the back three times killing him instantly. That is right, the supposedly peacefull anti-Chavez protesters, you know the ones the international press tell us go around with their hands peacefully held up in the air, had guns and were willing to use them to shoot people. Here you can see some of the video of the young man's relatives and co-workers discussing this outrageous and murderous event.

Of course, those not in Venezuela can be forgiven if they haven't heard about these events - they barely rate an article in the international press.

So the international press largely ignores it. The opposition controlled press in Venezuela slanders the man saying he was a criminal trying to rob the protesters.

But the bottom line is one more person is dead from political violence in Venezuela. People on both sides of the divide have lost their lives. But unfortunately most people will only ever hear about one set of victims. It seems dark skinned workers from poor backgrounds apparently don't count as much as affluent university students in some peoples minds.

Sad, but true.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Blog Salad Du Jour

Louis Proyect at The Unrepentant Marxist, has a great post about the leftist tradition in Yiddish Theater. It attributes the decline of Yiddish Theater to assimilated Jews, identifying more with Zionism and Hebrew.

The Coen Brothers presented a movie with shades of Tarantino and Terminator, in the desolate Rio Grande. Dave at The Red Mantis has a review of the movie No Country for Old Men. This movie generally received great reviews, and there was the few who hated it. Discussion centers on its ending.

At Troutsky's Thoughtstreaming, I got involved in a heated discussion of Anarchism vs Marxism, which started by him mentioning reading Rudolph Rocker. I was the heel.

I've been reading blogs based in the South Pacific, dealing with the indigenous struggles. I like Whenua, Fenua, Enua, Vanua and IndigenistIntelligenceReview. Maori activists have been facing repression under New Zealand's new anti-terror law.

I enjoyed a new movie I saw at a screening called Juno. The storyline is,"Faced with an unplanned pregnancy, an offbeat young woman makes an unusual and bizarre decision regarding her unborn child." It is great fun. The writer is Minneapolis based Diablo Cody, who has her own blog.

Nation Magazine writer Ian Williams, attacks ex-Trotskyist turned Cold Warrior Irving Howe from the right. I wonder if Williams knows "The Nation," accused Trotsky of faking assasination attempts, that occured in Mexico.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

For Maryam: Persopolis

I saw this trailer at my local art movie house. Who else could I have thought of other than my blog team member Maryam Namazie, who has a biography much like Marjane Satrapi. Maryam shows us everyday that both imperialist intervention and Islamism can be fought simultaneously. This synopsis is from the website Wild About Movies, a source of admission to free movie screenings.

"Persepolis" is the poignant - animated - story of a young girl coming-of-age in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. It is through the eyes of precocious and outspoken nine-year-old Marjane that we see a people's hopes dashed as fundamentalists take power - forcing the veil on women and imprisoning thousands. Clever and fearless, she outsmarts the "social guardians" and discovers punk, ABBA and Iron Maiden. Yet when her uncle is senselessly executed and as bombs fall around Tehran in the Iran/Iraq war the daily fear that permeates life in Iran is palpable.

As she gets older, Marjane's boldness causes her parents to worry over her continued safety. And so, at age fourteen, they make the difficult decision to send her to school in Austria. Vulnerable and alone in a strange land, she endures the typical ordeals of a teenager. In addition, Marjane has to combat being equated with the religious fundamentalism and extremism she fled her country to escape. Over time, she gains acceptance, and even experiences love, but after high school she finds herself alone and horribly homesick.

Though it means putting on the veil and living in a tyrannical society, Marjane decides to return to Iran to be close to her family. After a difficult period of adjustment, she enters art school and marries, all the while continuing to speak out against the hypocrisy she witnesses. At age 24, she realizes that while she is deeply Iranian, she cannot live in Iran. She then makes the heartbreaking decision to leave her homeland for France, optimistic about her future, shaped indelibly by her past.

"Persepolis," the animated French film gets a dubbed United States release Christmas Day, featuring the voices of Sean Penn and Iggy Pop.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Ireland: Basque Marxist speaks at meetings of socialist republicans

By The Plough
Monday, 12 November 2007

Recently three successful meetings were held on the Irish and Basque Peace Processes in Belfast, Strabane and Derry (25-27 October). The meetings were organised by the International Left Solidarity Committee, a group composed of republicans socialists and Marxists, dedicated to looking at issues of international significance for the working classes.

Ibon Artola, Editor of Euskal Herria Sozialista, gave a detailed examination of the current state of the struggle for Basque independence from a Marxist perspective and his analysis of the so-called Basque Peace process. For his Irish audiences Ibon gave a brief history of the Basque struggle.

The Basque Country is made up of seven provinces, Labourd, Basse Navarre, and Soule all located in an area governed by France, and Viscaya, Guipuzcoa, Alava and Navarre all under the control of Spain.

Following the overthrow of the Spanish Republic by a military coup led by Franco and supported by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany the ancient and unique Basque language was banned. The Spanish state refused funding for the Basque language and culture, workers were denied their right to use the language and even the graves of Basque martyrs were interfered with to replace the Basque language on tombstones with Spanish inscriptions. Also under the Franco dictatorship Communists, Socialists but also Basques, were executed for their resistance to the regime.

Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or ETA (Basque for "Basque Homeland and Freedom" ) was formed in 1959 originally as a cultural response to the dictatorship's attempts to impose Spanish language and cultural values on the Basque people. From painting slogans on walls and buildings, ETA eventually became an armed Basque nationalist organisation.

Ibon pointed out that at the beginning of the 20th century there were those socialists who claimed that the rise of capitalism would solve the national question. The reality has been different. The Irish national question still has not been resolved. In Belgium national differences are once more coming to the fore. In essence capitalism is incapable of solving the national question. On the contrary Capitalism uses the national question and the existence of minorities to divide and thus weaken all sections of the working class regardless of their nationality. Imperialism wishes to impose itself on small countries and the fight to overcome this was essential.

The fall of the Franco dictatorship did not solve the national question in Spain. After the death of Franco a new constitution gave limited autonomy to three of the Spanish controlled Basque provinces called the Basque Autonomous Community (BAC) while Navarre was not allowed to opt into the BAC but made into a separate autonomous region. By 1983 the BAC had limited autonomous powers including its own elected parliament, its own police force, its own school system and control over taxation. (It is worth noting that all of these except most notably the control over taxation have all been granted to the current Stormont administration.)

Theses changes while accepted and worked by the more conservative nationalists in the PNC Partido Nacionalista Vasco , a Christian-Democrat political party and which has been the dominant power in the BAC, was rejected by the Abertzale Left because it did not satisfy the national aspirations of many Basques, nor did they bring peace to the Basque Country.

Spain still exerts extensive influence over Basque life, some spheres of which, such as harbour authorities, customs, employment, the armed forces and foreign relations, remain entirely under jurisdiction of the central government. The central state apparatus, including politicians, police including the local Basque police, army and prisons, have continued to persecute members and sympathizers of the Abertzale movement and to obstruct Basques' attempts to construct their own political structures and to articulate and defend a national sovereignty project.

The Spanish and the Basque ruling class, in the form of the PNV, showed their reactionary nature by supporting the 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. They also endorsed the electoral fraud perpetrated by the Mexican ruling class aided and abetted by USA Imperialism.

The rise of ETA and a broadening of its support base in the beginning was because of the failure of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) to do anything. It was not in their interests because the Basque bourgeoisie was and still is firmly bound with the Spanish bourgeoisie. This is similar to the way the Irish bourgeoisie despite its so-called formal freedom is intrinsically tied in with the British ruling class and also subservient to USA Imperialism.

Ibon pointed out that 65% of the population of Spain is in favour of a solution to the situation in the Basque country. In March 2006 ETA declared a ceasefire. Hopes were raised for a settlement and not only was there comparisons with the so-called Irish Peace Process but clergy involved in facilitating the IRA ceasefires became involved in delicate negotiations in the Basque Country. Sinn Fein leaders including Gerry Adams also visited the Basque Country encouraging militants to follow the Sinn Fein(P) example.

However, the People's Party (PP) in Spain began arguing that the Spanish ruling class was granting too many concessions to ETA. Its leader Rajoy called on the government to continue, "fighting terrorism" and reject negotiations. Zapatero, the Spanish prime Minister in fact stepped up repression. Despite the calls from left Nationalists for round table talks there was little movement from the Spanish Government. ETA militants were still being harassed and detained and there was no movement on the issue of the prisoners. It is the policy of the Spanish government to imprison political prisoners at least 600 kilometres from their homes and some as far as the Salto del Negro prison in the Canary Islands . So prisoners' families often travel hundreds of kilometres to prisons to visit them, either in Spain or France. This has resulted in a great financial burden being placed on many families. Many have been killed in road accidents travelling the long distances.

Much to the astonishment of his Irish audiences Ibon pointed out that the oppression included political prisoners not being released as planned, with some having their sentences increased. Following the Barajas bombing when ETA attacked an airport the Spanish Government banned the Basque left nationalist youth organisation Segi, declaring it to be a terrorist organisation because both Segi and ETA have the same stated goals of independence and socialism. ETA had bombed the airport in an attempt to put pressure on the Spanish government. This had the adverse effect and resulted in a series of repressive measures by the Spanish ruling class including a widespread propaganda campaign aimed at undermining ETA. Batasuna leader Ortegui summed up the new departure of Batasuna when he said "How can we have a peace process with bombs going off?"

There are some on the left, as Ibon pointed out, who argue that the problem in the Basque Country is "terrorism". They do so from the safety of their well-paid parliamentary jobs without any understanding of national oppression. The Basque problem is the interference of the Spanish government in the affairs of the Basque Country.

Ibon pointed to the example of Russia prior to the 1917 October. There had existed a group called the Narodniks. The Narodniks believed the peasantry was the revolutionary class that would overthrow the monarchy and they regarded the village commune as the embryo of socialism. However, they believed that the peasantry would not achieve revolution on their own, but instead that history could only be made by heroes, outstanding personalities, who would lead an otherwise passive peasantry to revolution. They hoped that their acts of violence would lead to spontaneous uprisings and social upheaval. Despite their assassination of the Tsar, for which Lenin's brother was executed, no such uprisings took place. Instead it was the building of a revolutionary party with mass support that eventually saw off feudal Russia.

There are also some militant youth who have launched attacks against the offices of Spanish trade unions. Ibon pointed out the importance of winning over the Spanish and French working classes to support and solidarity with the Basque people and therefore it is wrong to antagonise them by attacks on the organisations that the workers regard as theirs. It is of the greatest importance that these young people are won over to genuine Marxist politics. As revolutionaries we cannot turn our backs on the militant youth.

Ibon then went on to point out something that should be a salutary lesson for Irish republicans. Every September there is a demonstration in favour of the prisoners. This year it was banned with little explanation. Basque policemen were sent to deal with the demonstration and over 100 people were injured. Having Basques in the police force ‑ or Catholics in the PSNI ‑ is no victory when these same forces are used to protect the status quo.

The PNV defend their own interests which are the interests of the ruling Class. They may talk about independence but the bottom line is that the PNV in the Basque Country, have no interest in independence for the Basque country. They share the same interests as the Spanish ruling classes have. Only the working class can solve the national questions, whether it's in the Basque country, Ireland, the Balkans or anywhere else.

During the Russian revolution the Bolsheviks managed to overthrow the old order, despite Russia being a country with dozens of different nationalities.

When Ibon Artola had finished his presentation in all three venues there were discussions and questions and answer sessions. Naturally some of these questions focussed on the issue of prisoners, their actual conditions in jail and if they had any input into the Basque Peace Process. Other questions included if the prisoners or their organisations had tried to use the denial of human rights and torture used by the Spanish government to take Spain to European courts. It was pointed out that those who tried to see comparisons between the peace processes in Ireland and the Basque Country failed to see that the Republican struggle in Ireland had been defeated and that in accepting both the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews Agreement republicans settled for less than the Basque Country had achieved years ago.

A prominent feature of the meeting was that unlike many other meetings on international issues organised by other groups the audience at these meetings were overwhelmingly working class and had an instinctive grasp of the class issues thrown up by the struggle in the Basque Country.

[Originally published in The Plough, E-mail newsletter of the Irish Republican Socialist Party.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cuba: "One day of the blockade is equal to 139 urban buses."

By Darrall Cozens
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
The large sign on the wall says it all: "One day of the blockade is equal to 139 urban buses."

There is no doubt that Cuba has suffered at the hands of the USA since the blockade was imposed. Yet despite being starved of essential resources the Cuban people have demonstrated a remarkable resilience and inventiveness. As they say here: "Todo se resuelve." Everything will be solved.

When you walk around the streets of the capital, you can see examples everywhere of this creativity in the face of adversity. Buses are often made from tin boxes put together and then placed on the back of a lorry. Children make scooters from old bike parts. Old cars from pre-1958 trundle along on a wing and a prayer. Yet these old models and lorries belch out choking thick black smoke that pollutes the streets.
It is, however, in the area of medicine and health that the blockade takes its greatest toll. Children suffering from kidney problems are denied basic life saving help in drug treatment. This is only one example. In the early 1990s after the collapse of the subsidies from the Soviet Union in exchange for Cuban sugar, some people suffered from blindness resulting from a vitamin deficiency. This was cured from scarce resources.

Cuba's ability to get by whilst at the same time help others has to be admired and it is an indication that the Cuban revolution is still alive despite all the difficulties it faces. Despite being isolated at the behest of the USA, Cuba has a patient doctor ratio that is the envy of even so-called advanced countries. And while Cuba takes care of its own in terms of health care, it also exports its skills and personnel to other countries.
The Granma newspaper of October 28th reported just one example. The retired Bolivian officer Mario Teran, who fired the fatal shot that killed Che Guevara, was cured of blindness in Bolivia under Operacion Milagro staffed by Cuban doctors. Since 1963 Cuba has sent medical teams to help others even more unfortunate than itself. Some 42,000 Cuban medical staff are active in 102 countries around the world and 53,000 young people are being trained in medicine both in Cuba and in their own countries. 60 million people world wide are benefiting from this medical help and since the programmes began some 300 million have been treated. In Nicaragua alone since Daniel Ortega was elected back in January some 10,000 have received eye treatment and for many it is the first time that they have been able to see. The whole of Misión Barrio Adentro which provides basic primary health care in the poor communities in Venezuela would not have been possible without the 20,000 Cuban doctors and nurses who participate in it.

The vote therefore at the United Nations to call on the USA to end its blockade of the island was welcomed in Cuba. 184 countries voted against the USA blockade and only four in favour of it. The USA was able to muster voting allies in favour of its policy from Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau. Yet the question that has to be asked is why the blockade has not ended already, since the UN has voted by majority since 1992 against it. On the one hand it is clear that the UN's decisions can be vetoed by powerful members and therefore it is an instrument of the status quo on a world scale, used as a fig leaf when it suits the interests of imperialism, discarded when it goes against them. On the other hand the need is raised for an international campaign based on workers organisations that can truly defend the gains of the Cuban revolution.

Despite the heroic attempts by the Cuban people to carry on under extremely harsh conditions, problems remain. In the capital Havana many buildings are in a state of collapse yet provide homes to many Cubans. Roads are full of potholes and when it rains, they fill up with water that lies stagnant, a breeding ground for mosquitoes. There are regular disinfestations of commercial premises using smoke machines.
The blockade of Cuba has also meant that many traditional industries like sugar have reached the stage of collapse. However, unlike in capitalist countries, all workers from the sugar industry have been either re-employed elsewhere or been given access to full time education.

The sugar workers of Cuba were like the miners in the UK. Thatcher set out deliberately to destroy the mining industry in order to destroy the NUM. The sugar industry here has collapsed due to a combination of the end of subsidised purchases from the Soviet bloc and the collapse of prices in the world market, with the result that the most militant section of the working class has been dispersed.

There are two currencies working side by side; the official national currency and convertible pesos which are exchanged on par with the US dollar at a rate of 1:1. The local currency will pay for newspapers, public transport and is used in some food and clothes shops. Even if you are working and getting paid in the national currency, most find it very hard to make ends meet. If you want shoes or many items of clothing, you need convertible pesos. How do ordinary Cubans get them?

Firstly, there are remittances sent to families by Cubans abroad. Secondly, you work in the growing tourist industry and get tips from foreigners. Thirdly, you hustle. It is called "jineterismo". You are approached all the time by mainly young men, but often young women, who start by asking the time. If you respond, the play continues until you are hooked. And this is a problem. How do you know if a Cuban wants to speak to you because they are interested in what you think or wants to find out where you are from? You don't until gradually the motives become clear. On my second day here 6 young men tried to hustle me. Initially I engaged in conversation and it soon became clear what the main gripe was.

People also get by selling sandwiches on street stalls or by directly begging, especially the old.

The worst aspect of all of this is that on almost every street corner in the tourist centre of Havana there are pimps and prostitutes, while on opposite corners there are one or two police, some with dogs and some without, stopping and checking the IDs of anyone they want to stop. Yet prostitution is illegal and severely punished.

There is also a growing problem of street thefts using physical violence, something that previously did not exist. But people have to survive by any means possible.

On every street corner and in every doorway there are groups of young people, especially men, with nothing to do. Some of them might be receiving money from relatives abroad so they can live without working. Poverty is evident in terms of diet and clothing. Sections of society have become marginalised and therefore many seek a solution to their problems not in collective action but as individuals against the system

Almost every building has one or two guards in case someone tries to steal something. I walked past a very small organic garden in the old part of the city and there was a guard with a dog. He explained that it was his job to ensure that no plants were stolen!

This fear of theft reflects a growing unease and malaise. People have to survive and will find any and every method in order to do so.

While these problems exist in Cuba, they are nothing compared with the situation of poverty, destitution and crime one finds in any Latin American country and by comparison living standards (in terms of health care, access to education, living expectancy, etc) are still much higher in Cuba.

The other thing that strikes you is the growing level of disbelief between government pronouncements and the reality at street level. The papers are full of targets that have been met in different areas of the economy, but many basic needs remain unmet at street level. Even the TV voices occasional criticisms where for example a theatre has been closed for 6 months for minor repairs that should only have taken a few weeks, yet when wood was needed to effect the repairs it was not available.

People in the street realise that many of the shortages are due to the blockade, yet they are also beginning to realise that the way society is organised also has a lot to do with it.

On the one hand the planned and state owned economy has enabled Cuba to enjoy free education, free health care, very cheap housing and public transport that is so cheap it is practically free. Yet on the other hand there is almost no opportunity for ordinary Cubans to participate in the running of society. Socialism needs the oxygen of a workers' democracy with all citizens having the right to decide on policy at all levels.

The growing discussion here is therefore, where is Cuba going and what part can everyone play in that discussion? What you don't often hear is a desire to emulate the model of capitalist development that took place in the old Soviet bloc countries, but China is growing in influence here with 3 TV stations that all Cubans can access. Is this a sign that certain sections of the bureaucracy are looking at the Chinese model of capitalist development controlled by a "Communist Party" as a way out of the impasse?

In this context the recent visit of Hugo Chavez provoked some very interesting reactions. In his speech that was televised live he declared that he was a Trotskyist. When the speech was retransmitted that part was edited out and the press also said nothing of it. Yet millions heard it. It was just like the old photo of Lenin on a wooden podium with Trotsky standing on the steps that was airbrushed under Stalinism.
The effect here was electric. On the one hand those who are looking for a revolutionary Marxist way out of the crisis based on defence of the planned economy but seeing the need to extend the revolution to other countries as well as fighting for a genuine workers democracy were emboldened. Those who had perhaps only heard of Trotsky but knew nothing of him were then asking how they could get hold of his writings. Chavez is a hero here, so if he is a Trotskyist then they should be too! Even elements within the military are reading Leon Trotsky in their search for a solution.

There is an opening. Fidel released a speech that was published in Granma, official organ of the Cuban CP, on October 27th. The occasion was the 48th anniversary of the death of a leading revolutionary, Camilo Cienfuegos. Fidel quoted the famous words of Abraham Lincoln: "You can fool some of the people all of the time, or all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." The words were directed at the USA but could equally be directed at sections of the bureaucracy here, which have been criticised by Fidel in the past.

What epitomised what is happening was a meeting that I went to on October 31st. It had been billed as a discussion on October 1917. The actual title was the influence of different socialist ideas on the Cuban CP up to 1953. Out of the three speakers on the platform, two of them mentioned the importance of Leon Trotsky and his writings, with one specifically saying that the development of the Cuban Communist Party cannot be understood without people having read the ideas of Leon Trotsky. There were about 70 people at the meeting.

These are early days here. There has been a small opening that is pushed wider by events, such as the visit of Chavez. There is a thirst for ideas at all levels of society. Ideas that will defend the gains of the Cuban revolution, will not mean a return to capitalism, but will mean a growing influence of the ideas of Trotsky. The concept of Socialism in one country has proved to be a fallacy as has the theory of the two stage revolution. Only the idea of the permanent revolution of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky will provide the answer to the Cuban revolution.

November 1st 2007

Friday, November 09, 2007

Opposition violence at Venezuelan university - What really happened at the UCV

By Rodrigo Trompiz and Jorge Martin (with eyewitness information from Caracas)

Thursday, 08 November 2007

Violent opposition students outside the School of Social Work (ABN)

According to eyewitness reports from Hands Off Venezuela members, violence broke out yesterday in Caracas when opposition students arrived back from a peaceful demonstration against the proposed constitutional reforms. Apparently frustrated by the lack of violence, a group of about 250 of the opposition students (many from other universities) went straight to the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) to the School of Social Work which is a stronghold of revolutionary students inside UCV.

There, a group of revolutionary students was campaigning for a yes vote in the referendum. They had an assembly for students/teachers/non-teaching staff in the morning and were putting up posters and giving out leaflets.

They were then attacked by the opposition students who surrounded the School. Molotov cocktails and stones were thrown, the toilets were destroyed, the door of the Students Centre (Bolivarian dominated) was burned down, and around 150 people (students, teachers and non-teaching staff) were trapped inside the building for several hours, with the violent opposition students trying to force their way into the building to lynch them.

Some of the students inside the Faculty are nationally known Bolivarian student leaders (including Andreina Taranzon who spoke in the debate with opposition students at the National Assembly earlier this year at the time of the RCTV protests). They managed to call the state TV and reported live on what was happening.

The police are not allowed to enter University premises owing to a law on University autonomy. The Mayor of Caracas offered the possibility of the Metropolitan Police going in to contain violence and allow people in the School to come out, but the rector of the University, a member of the opposition, refused the offer. The University authorities are responsible for security on their own premises and did nothing to prevent violence from escalating.

Violent oppositon supporters at the UCV- picture Reuters

Meanwhile, opposition TV stations were full of reports that masked Chavista supporters had fired on opposition students and that one person had been killed (this was then proven to be false, nine students were injured, most of them from inhaling fumes from the fires started by opposition students).

Finally, the head of emergency and fire-fighting services was allowed by the rector to go into the university and negotiate the safe exit of the people who were trapped inside the School of Social Work by a violent mob of opposition students.

The School of Social Work trashed by opposition students (ABN)

The international media has been "reporting" about these clashes as if "armed Chavista gunmen" had fired on peaceful opposition students. A member of Hands Off Venezuela was present at the University when the violence broke out. He reports that the gunmen who originally opened fire stopped him on his way through the UCV to the Bolivarian University nearby. He reports that the two gunmen on the motorbike did not look like students, but were more likely thugs hired for the occasion and that they were shouting anti-Chavez slogans and boasting of having shot at Chavistas.

Even news agencies now are reporting that Bolivarian armed men arrived at the UCV after the opposition students had sieged 150 people inside the building of the School of Social Work to help those sieged gain safe passage out:

Later, armed men riding motorcycles arrived, scaring off students and standing at the doorway - one of them firing a handgun in the air - as people fled the building.(The Guardian)

What Hands Off Venezuela eyewitness report is that, faced with the inaction of the University authorities, hundreds of students, University workers and people from nearby neighbourhoods finally went into the University to help the people at the School of Social Work escape from the violent mob of opposition students. Some of them were carrying guns, which was only normal considering the extremely violent nature of the situation.

Bolivarian students, teachers and non-teaching staff have now held a joint meeting at the UCV and called for a demonstration against fascist aggressions to take place in the UCV on November 15.

Videos of the violent attack by opposition students can be seen here: RENEGADE EYE

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Venezuela: counter-revolutionary provocations in the run up to the constitutional referendum

By Jorge Martin
Tuesday, 06 November 2007

On Monday, November 5th, the campaign for the constitutional reform referendum in Venezuela was stepped up with the call by retired general Baduel for a NO vote. General Baduel was a close collaborator of Chávez and remained loyal to him during the April 2002 military coup which briefly ousted him. In July of this year he resigned from his position as Defence Minister and retired from active military office. His attacks on the constitutional reform are part of a concerted campaign by the ruling class to prevent it from being approved in a referendum which will take place on December 2nd.

The amendments to the 1999 Venezuelan revolution were announced by Chávez after his election victory in December 2006 with the stated aim of bringing the Constitution into line with "Socialism of the 21st century". They were then formally proposed by Chávez in July, discussed throughout the country and passed with a whole series of modifications and additions by the National Assembly on November 2nd.

Amongst the most significant of the amendments are those dealing with the new power structure, in which legal status is given to the Communal Powers in an attempt to do away with the current structures of the capitalist state. In the field of property of the means of production there are a whole number of articles which have been attacked by the opposition as being an attack on private property rights while at the same time enshrining new forms of collective and social property.

Even though the proposed amendments are limited in their character, in the context of the class struggle taking place in Venezuela they have become the rallying cry for a new clash between the classes, on the one hand the oligarchy and imperialism, on the other hand the overwhelming majority of workers and peasants.

The ruling class is well aware that whatever the actual text of the constitutional reform (and this is certainly an advanced and very progressive proposal which includes the 6-hour working day and a 36-hour week), the proposals are seen by the masses as a step forward towards socialism. And for this reason they have, once again, tried to mobilise all their forces to stop it.

In the last two weeks, a series of small demonstrations by opposition students have been taking place in Caracas and other cities which have often been the scene of violent clashes with the police. There are clearly organised fascist elements present at these demonstrations intent on causing clashes which can then be used as an excuse to paint Chavez's government as dictatorial and repressive.

This has been accompanied by calls for a stoppage of public transport, an incendiary call by the Episcopal Conference to oppose the constitutional reform, articles in the media calling for a military intervention to prevent the referendum from taking place, etc. This, incidentally, confirms what we said after the presidential election in December 2006. At that time some argued that we now had a "democratic opposition" in Venezuela, since Rosales and his supporters had accepted their defeat in the election. We responded that this was just a question of opportunity. At that time they did not have the necessary forces and points of support inside the army to launch a coup, so they were forced by the action of the masses on the streets to accept the results.

Now the talk of a coup and the intervention of the army is again on the agenda. So in his column in El Nacional on November 2, Pablo Medina, one of the main leaders of the opposition and participant in the 2002 coup, made an open appeal: "gentlemen of the National Armed Forces, lets overthrow the reform".

In a move reminiscent of the coup in April 2002 and the lock out in December of the same year, the leaders of business organisations Fedecamaras and Consecomercio have appeared on TV appealing to the people to oppose the reform and the referendum.

At the same time, the opposition is not in a position of strength. The student demonstrations of the last few days have been violent but small. The balance of forces remains enormously favourable to the revolution as was graphically shown by the two demonstrations last weekend. The first, on Saturday, called by the opposition gathered just a few thousand people. The second, on Sunday, called by Chávez, gathered hundreds of thousands, marching through Caracas and filling, yet again, the whole of Bolivar Avenue and the adjacent streets.

At this rally Chávez delivered a very militant speech in which he appealed for the referendum campaign to be organised from the rank and file through the Socialist Batallions, the basic units of the new United Socialist Party. Talking to revolutionary activists from "23 de Enero" and Vargas districts, they agreed in emphasising the fact that the mobilisation for Sunday's demo had been carried out by the rank and file activists rather than the apparatuses of the Bolivarian parties.

The radicalisation of the Bolivarian revolution after the December 3rd presidential elections has also pushed the more right-wing sections of the Bolivarian leadership into the camp of the opposition. "Podemos", the social-democratic party which until recently was part of the government coalition, has now officially joined the opposition. All this is to be welcomed, since it helps to clarify where they really stand.

Baduel's statements have to be seen against this background. As we have explained before on a number of occasions, the situation inside the Army is far from being under control. It remains a capitalist army and if it is not smashed and replaced by the people in arms, it will eventually be used against the revolutionary masses. This is how we described the situation a few months ago:

"It is clear that the most reactionary military officers purged themselves out of the Army in 2002 by participating in the coup in April and the attempted coup in December (when they declared themselves "in rebellion" at the Altamira Square). Of those who remained the majority are probably loyal to Chavez in one way or another, but the reasons why they are loyal to Chavez are varied. Some of them are loyal simply because Chavez represents the official government of the day, others reflect the corrupt nature of the bourgeois state and plead loyalty simply because they are making a lot of money through legal and illegal businesses they have access to by being in the Army, and many of them probably feel uneasy about all this talk about socialism. It is clear that if the situation came to a decisive turning point of taking over the means of production and destroying the capitalist state most of them would be on the side of reaction." (See: The challenges facing the Venezuelan Revolution)

It was already clear from Baduel's parting speech when he resigned as Minister of Defence in July that he was very uneasy with the direction the movement was taking. All the talk about socialism made him very nervous. If what was meant was social democracy, then that was OK, but any talk of nationalising the means of production he could not accept. "The wholesale abolition of private property and the brutal socialisation of the means of production always have a negative effect in the production of goods and services and provoke general discontent amongst the population", he declared.

These are the ideas of the reformists in Venezuela within the Bolivarian movement. "Socialism of the 21st century" yes, as long as what is meant is not genuine socialism, but social democracy. It is significant to note that Baduel wrote an introduction to Heinz Dieterich's book on "socialism of the 21st century" and was the main figure involved in the launch of that book in Venezuela. Clearly the ideas of Dieterich (basically advocating "socialism" without changes in the property of the means of production) provide a "theoretical" cover for the reformists in Venezuela, who, as the revolution becomes more radical, reveal themselves in their true nature as agents of the counter-revolution.

Baduel's statement yesterday, delivered to a press conference to which only opposition media were invited, was only the next logical step. Using the same terms as Pablo Medina and other opposition leaders, he described the proposed constitutional reform as a "coup d'Etat", amongst other reasons because "with the excuse of distributing wealth amongst the people, the Executive does away with private property". He said that what was being discussed were not minor reforms but a "transformation of the state and a completely different model of country".

In what sounded like an appeal for an uprising against the Bolivarian revolution, he added that the constitutional reform should be agreed through "a social pact of broad consensus", otherwise "a wide majority would not accept it, would always try to change it, even if it has to resort to violent means to do it"!

He ended with an appeal not to "underestimate the capacity of Venezuelan military men to analyse and think", in what was a clear appeal to the armed forces to come out against the reform and the referendum. As in previous occasions the ruling class and imperialism are trying to gauge what forces they can count upon. First they will try to discredit and prevent the referendum from going ahead, though they might be forced to participate in it in the end.

In any case, the reaction of the Bolivarian revolution to these statements and counter-revolutionary provocations can only be to go on the offensive. As has been repeatedly demonstrated, the balance of forces is extremely favourable to the revolution, but this strength must be put into action in an organized manner. The mobilisation for the December 2nd constitutional reform referendum should not be seen as merely an electoral issue. A widespread revolutionary mobilisation must be mounted, not only to win the referendum but also to implement the measures contained in the proposed reform.

Any companies that participate in sabotage of the economy, particularly transportation and the food distribution chain, should be immediately occupied by its workers and expropriated by the government using the laws that already exist. A serious campaign of political agitation should be launched inside the army with the setting up of Socialist Battalions of the new United Socialist Party composed of revolutionary soldiers and trusted revolutionary officers. This should be accompanied by the setting up of units of the territorial guard in all factories and working class neighbourhoods and for these to be given military training and equipment.

These measures should be seen as the first steps towards taking out of the hands of the ruling class the levers of economic power it still has and is using against the democratic will of the majority. These should be put under workers' control and democratically managed to the benefit of the majority. On the other hand, the structures of the old capitalist state must be smashed once and for all and replaced by a network of Communal and Factory Councils with spokespersons elected and recallable at any time which should cover the whole of the country's territory.

Win a massive "Yes" vote in the referendum, move decisively towards socialism! RENEGADE EYE

Monday, November 05, 2007

Pakistan: The 18th Brumaire of Pervez Musharraf

By Alan Woods
Sunday, 04 November 2007

On Saturday November 3 President Pervez Musharraf declared virtual martial law, imposing a state of emergency throughout Pakistan, suspending the Constitution and replacing superior courts. This amounts to his second coup d'etat after he seized power in October 12, 1999. It is a desperate move that underlines the extremely unstable nature of the regime, which is losing support by the day.

In the proclamation of emergency, the general blamed growing violence by militants and a judiciary which he said was working at "cross purposes" with his government and the legislature. It is a gambler's throw that could plunge the country's political future into chaos.

It does not suit the interests of US imperialism, for which Pakistan now has a key strategic importance because of the war in neighbouring Afghanistan. Washington has been putting pressure on Musharraf to crack down on the pro-Taliban forces that have been crossing the frontier to fight the coalition forces in southern Afghanistan.

This pressure has undermined Musharraf. His army has suffered severe losses in the tribal areas where they have tried unsuccessfully to uproot the militants. There is still a powerful wing of the army and above all the Intelligence Services (ISI) that supports the Taliban and al Qaeda and is protecting them.

Musharraf is powerless to do anything about this. The army is his only basis of support, and that is very shaky. Therefore, the strategists of US imperialism have come to the conclusion that Musharraf is no longer any use to them and is disposable. They were looking to Benazir Bhutto to take over instead.

Benazir has lost no opportunity to pose as a pro-western "moderate". But behind Benazir and the PPP stand the masses who yearn for a change. They are loyal to the original socialist aspirations of the PPP and are demanding Roti, kapra aur makan (bread, clothing and shelter). The attitude of the masses was shown when Benazir returned to Pakistan: at least two million people came onto the streets: the overwhelming majority were workers, peasants and poor people.

In order to avoid any upsets and dampen the expectations of the masses, they were pushing the general to do a deal with Benazir. But this is easier to say than to do. The general is reluctant to resign as head of the armed forces and stand for election as a civilian politician. If he were to put aside his army uniform as the "democratic" opposition is demanding, it would be like placing his head in the hangman's noose.

The personal fate of Musharraf is of no concern to Washington, but it is of considerable interest to the general, who, like most people, would like to die of old age. He has repeatedly stated that his army uniform was "like a second skin" to him. More correctly, by continuing to wear it, he hopes to save his skin. But this is by no means certain.

Pakistan has had a stormy history since it attained formal independence, together with India, in 1947. Since then the weak Pakistan bourgeoisie has shown itself completely unable to take this huge country forward. It remains plunged into poverty and feudal backwardness. The economy is in a mess and the country is going backwards not forwards.

The weakness of Pakistan capitalism has been manifested in extreme political instability. Weak "democratic" regimes have been succeeded at regular intervals by military dictatorships of one kind or another. The last dictator, Zia al Huq was murdered (probably by the CIA). Musharraf fears the same fate, and is clinging to power. But power is slipping through his fingers.

This coup came only 12 days before the expiration of General Musharraf's presidency and the present assemblies and while an 11-judge bench of the Supreme Court was in a weekend recess in its hearing of challenges to his election for another five-year presidential term mainly on grounds of his army office.

In the recent period there were signs of disintegration of the state itself. Splits are opening up at every level. The clearest manifestation of this was the rebellion of the judiciary, which is now suspended. Its latest act was to rule the President's actions unconstitutional. But the class struggle cannot be determined by constitutional jiggery-pokery. The general responded by suspending the Constitution and laws of the country.

The Provisional Constitutional Order has put the Constitution in "abeyance". It tries to sweeten the pill by saying the country will be "governed, as nearly as may be, in accordance with the Constitution". This means - as far as it suits the convenience of the General. Seven of its articles relating to fundamental rights will remain suspended, and the president is empowered to amend the document "as is deemed expedient" - expedient, that is, for Musharraf.

But Musharraf is running out of options. In this latest gamble, he has put aside not only the Constitution but also his own powers as president, which were already considerable. Instead, he has preferred to act as Chief of the Army Staff. Instead of a dictatorship under the fig-leaf of a constitutional Presidency, we have the open dictatorship of the army: rule by the sword.

However, as Trotsky explained, the army and police are never sufficient to rule society. A regime without a base in society must be an unstable regime - a regime of crisis. In all probability it will not last long. In reality, the Musharraf dictatorship was always weak. Its main strength consisted in the weakness of the opposition.

The actions of the general were "greeted with immediate condemnation at home by opposition parties, lawyers and human rights groups and concern from ‘war on terror' allies like the United States and Britain" says the Dawn. But all this is just so much hot air. The so-called "democratic" opposition has revealed itself as impotent and toothless, utterly incapable of conducting a serious struggle against the dictatorship.

As for the complaints of "democratic" United States and Britain, they carry no weight whatsoever. London and Washington have turned a blind eye to the Musharraf dictatorship as long as it suited their interests.

The emergency proclamation said a situation had arisen where the "government of the country cannot be carried out in accordance with the Constitution" and "the Constitution provides no solution for this situation". As a matter of fact, this is correct. The contradictions of Pakistan society are too deep and irreconcilable to be mediated by lawyers and constitutions. By suspending the Constitution Musharraf is only admitting this fact. He is acknowledging the fact that the class struggle is reaching an unbearable point where it can no longer be contained by formal rules.

The emergency proclamation was immediately followed by change of command at the Supreme Court as well as changes in provincial high courts, crushing any semblance of independence of the judiciary. The fundamental rights suspended by the PCO related to security of persons (article 9) safeguard as to arrest and detention (article 10), freedom of movement (article 15), freedom of assembly, (article 16) freedom of association (article 17), freedom of speech (article 19), and equality of citizens (article 25).

It said the Supreme Court or a high court or any other court "shall not have the power to make any order against the president or the prime minister or any persons exercising powers or jurisdiction under their authority".

Even in the moment of truth, however, the general's hand has wavered. He has not abolished the present federal and provincial governments, and both houses of parliament and the provincial assemblies were kept intact. This is hardly the actions of a man who is sure of the ground upon which he is treading.

In justifying his actions, the general referred to the "visible ascendancy in the activities of extremists and incidents of terrorist attacks". His proclamation also contained a long charge-sheet against the superior judiciary some of whose members, it said, "are working at cross purposes with the executive and legislature in the fight against terrorism and extremism, thereby weakening the government and the nation's resolve and diluting the efficacy of its actions to control this menace".

"... (T)here has been increasing interference by some members of the judiciary in government policy, adversely affecting economic growth, in particular," it said, adding that there was "constant interference in executive functions."

It also blamed the judiciary's interference for having "weakened the writ of the government, the police force ... been completely demoralised and ... fast losing its efficacy to fight terrorism, and intelligence agencies ... thwarted in their activities and prevented from pursuing terrorists."

While "some hard core militants, extremists, terrorists and suicide bombers, who were arrested and being investigated were ordered to be released," it said and added: "The persons so released have subsequently been involved in heinous terrorist activities, resulting in loss of human life and property. Militants across the country have, thus, been encouraged while law enforcement agencies (were) subdued."

The most significant part of this declaration is the open admission that sections of the state are "completely demoralised". It reveals the inner weakness of the state itself - including the armed forces, police and security forces. The real reason for this is that the Pakistan state is split from top to bottom and has been for some time. Musharraf is trying to conceal the split by placing his army boots on the table. But he is leaning on a broken reed.

Lenin explained long ago that every revolution begins at the top, with splits in the old regime. That first condition already exists in Pakistan. The second condition is that the middle class should be in a ferment and wavering between revolution and counterrevolution. In Pakistan the middle class is completely alienated from the ruling clique. This is partly reflected in the protests of the lawyers, although the movement contains contradictory elements.

The other factor is that the working class should be ready to fight and to make the greatest sacrifices to change society. In recent years there has been an upsurge of the class struggle in Pakistan, with major strikes like that of the telecommunications workers and Pakistan Steel. In the last few days there was a national strike of PIA (Pakistan Airways). These strikes have hardly been mentioned by the media outside Pakistan but they are of great symptomatic importance. They show the reawakening of the mighty Pakistan proletariat.

The final and most important condition is the existence of a revolutionary organization and leadership. Does this exist in Pakistan? Yes, it does! The Pakistan Marxists represented by The Struggle have grown in strength and influence in recent years. They have conquered one position after another and have succeeded in uniting the overwhelming majority of the militant youth and working class activists around them. They have a strong and growing presence in every region, every nationality and every important city.

In the struggles of the workers, they have played an outstanding role. Together with the PTUDC (Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign) - the most important militant trade union organization in Pakistan, they have scored significant victories like the defeat of the attempt to privatize Pakistan Steel. In Kashmir they have won over the majority of the students to Marxism and in Karachi and Pukhtunhua (the North West Frontier) they have won many adherents from the former Communist Party.

As readers of will know that the comrades played an active role in the mass demonstrations when millions of workers and peasants demonstrated their support for the PPP on the return of Benazir Bhutto. We were the only ones on the Left to understand the role of the PPP and the only ones to predict how the masses would respond. The Pakistan comrades intervened on these demonstrations, distributing revolutionary literature. They were enthusiastically received by the workers and peasants who want the same things that we want.

The destiny of Pakistan will not be decided by paper constitutions or lawyers' tricks, by hypocritical declarations about "freedom" and "democracy" by people who have no real interest in these things. Neither will it be determined by intrigues and manoeuvres by the bourgeois politicians and imperialists. Only the workers and peasants have a serious interest in conquering a genuine democracy.

The working class will naturally fight for democracy. But the workers will fight for democracy with their own methods, with their own slogans and under their own banners. Only in this way can the movement succeed in its objectives. Only the mass revolutionary movement of the Pakistan workers and peasants can fight the dictatorship and establish a genuine democracy, which can only end in the overthrow of the dictatorships of the corrupt Pakistan landlords and capitalists.

Musharraf's coup is just another act in the drama of Pakistan. It will not be the last act! We are confident that the working class will react to this offensive of the ruling clique as they have done in the past: by stepping up the class struggle on all fronts.

We appeal to all members of the international labour movement to come to the aid of our Pakistan comrades. Move resolutions of protest in the trade unions and workers' parties! Send messages of support to the PTUDC! Raise collections for the PTUDC and send them urgently so that we can express our support not just in words but in deeds!

Please act now!

Workers of the World Unite!

London, 4th November 2007RENEGADE EYE

UPDATE Nov. 06, 2007

PTUDC members arrested in struggle against the imposition of emergency rule by Musharraf
By PTUDC - Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign
Tuesday, 06 November 2007
The Musharraf regime is brutally attacking lawyers and political activists to curb any voice against the declaration of emergency. In this situation a major attack has been made on the PTUDC (Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign) when the younger brother of Comrade Manzoor Ahmed (Member National Assembly & President of the PTUDC) Chaudhary Munir Ahmed was arrested. Due to the suspension of the constitution and basic human rights no complaint can be filed anywhere and protests of all kinds are also banned.

Munir Ahmed is the president of the Kasur District Bar Association (Lawyers' Association) and he is also a member of the PTUDC. His arrest is part of an attack on the cause of the working class of Pakistan.

The following have also been arrested:

Aitzaz Ahsan, Member National Assembly and President of the Supreme Court Bar Association (Lawyers' Association);
Ahsan Bhoon, President Lahore High Court Bar Association (Lawyers' Association);
Liaqat Sahi, General Secretary (CBA) State Bank of Pakistan and PTUDC;
Farid Awan, Famous labour leader of Karachi and PTUDC
Comrade Irshad Shar, Executive Member Malir District Bar Association (Karachi) and the Office Bearer of People's Lawyers Forum ( Lawyers' wing of the PPP) and PTUDC.

We appeal to all comrades and lawyers in all countries to send solidarity messages for these lawyers who are leading the lawyers and activists against the Musharraf regime and the dictatorial rule of the Army.

Send solidarity messages directly to:

Chaudhary Munir:
Aitzaz Ahsan:
Ahsan Bhoon:

We also appeal for letters and resolutions of solidarity with the Pakistani workers that can be sent to the PTUDC. Fill in the form here.