Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pakistan: The Assassination of Benazir Bhutto

I posted yesterday a post about Niger Delta, the devastating assasination of Benazir Bhutto has to be addressed. I'm looking for a format to have more than one discussion at once.

By Alan Woods
Thursday, 27 December 2007

Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a suicide bomb attack.

The leader of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) had just addressed a rally of PPP supporters in the town of Rawalpindi when the attack took place. First reports talked of at least 100 killed in the attack, but more recent news put the figure at 15.

This murderous onslaught on the PPP came in the middle of an election campaign where, after years of military dictatorship, the masses were striving for a change. There was a wave of support for the PPP, which was sure to win National and provincial assembly elections that were due to be held on 8 January 2008.

The campaign was gathering strength, and the PPP Marxist wing was getting enthusiastic support for its revolutionary socialist message in places as far apart as Karachi and the tribal areas of Waziristan in the far north. These elections would have reflected a big shift to the left in Pakistan. This prospect was causing alarm in the ruling clique. That is what was behind today's atrocity.

This was a crime against the workers and peasants of Pakistan, a bloody provocation intended to cancel the elections that the PPP was sure to win and to provide the excuse for a new clampdown and the possible reintroduction of martial law and dictatorship. It is a counterrevolutionary act that must be condemned without reservation.

Who was responsible? The identity of the murderers is not yet known. But when I asked the comrades in Karachi, the reply was immediate: "it was the mullahs". The dark forces of counterrevolution in countries like Pakistan habitually dress up in the garb of Islamic fundamentalism. There are even rumours in circulation that Benazir was shot from a mosque, although the western media insist that the murder was the result of a suicide bomber.

Whatever the technical details of the assassination, and whoever was the direct agent of this criminal act, the threads of the conspiracy undoubtedly reach high up. The so-called Islamic fundamentalists and jihadis are only the puppets and hired assassins of reactionary forces that ere entrenched in the Pakistani ruling class and the state apparatus, lavishly funded by the Pakistan Intelligence Services (ISI), drug barons with connections with the Taliban, and the Saudi regime, always anxious to support and finance any counterrevolutionary activity in the world.

The war in Afghanistan is having a ruinous effect on Pakistan. The Pakistan ruling class had ambitions of dominating the country after the expulsion of the Russians. The Pakistan army and ISI have been meddling there for decades. They are still mixed up with the Taliban and the drug barons (which is the same thing). Huge fortunes are made from the drugs trade that is poisoning Pakistan and destabilizing its economy, society and politics.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto is just another expression of the sheer rottenness, degeneration and corruption that is gnawing at the vitals of Pakistan. The misery of the masses, the poverty, the injustices, cry out for a solution. The landlords and capitalists have no solution to this. The workers and peasants looked to the PPP for a way out.

Some so-called "lefts" will say: But Benazir's programme could not have provided the way out. The Marxists in the PPP are fighting for the programme of socialism - for the original programme of the PPP. But the masses can only learn which programme and policies are correct through their own experience.

The January elections would have give the masses an opportunity to advance at least one step in the right direction, by inflicting a decisive defeat on the forces of reaction and dictatorship. Then they would have had the possibility of learning about programmes and policies, not in theory but in practice.

Now it seems most likely that they will be denied this opportunity. The purpose of this criminal provocation is quite clear: to cancel the elections. I have not yet seen the response of the Pakistan authorities, but it would be unthinkable that the elections could now take place on 8 January. They will be at least postponed for some time.

What effect will this have upon the masses? I have just spoken on the phone to the comrades of The Struggle in Karachi, where they have been battling the reactionary thugs of the MQM in a fierce election campaign. They tell me that there is a general feeling of shock among the masses. "People are weeping and women are wailing in their houses: I can hear them now," the comrade said.

But the shock is already turning into anger: "There is rioting in the streets of Karachi and other cities. People are blocking the roads and burning tires." That is a warning to the ruling class that the patience of the masses is now exhausted. The movement of the masses cannot be halted by the assassination of one leaser - or by a thousand.

The masses always adhere to their traditional mass organizations. The PPP developed in the heat of the revolutionary movement of 1968-9, when the workers and peasants came close to taking power.

The dictator Zia murdered Benazir's father. That did not prevent the resurrection of the PPP in the 1980s. The forces of state terrorism murdered Benazir's brother, Murtazar. Then they exiled Benazir and installed a new dictatorship. That did not prevent the PPP from experiencing a new resurrection when 2-3 million people came onto the streets to welcome her back.

The masses will recover from the momentary shock and grief. These emotions will be replaced in time by anger and the desire for revenge. But what is needed is not individual revenge, but collective revenge. What is needed is to prepare the masses for a new revolutionary offensive that will tackle the problems of Pakistan by the roots.

The ruling clique may delay the date of the elections, but sooner or later they will have to be called. The reactionaries calculate that the removal of Benazir will weaken the PPP. That is a serious miscalculation! The PPP cannot be reduced to a single individual. If that were true. It would have disappeared after the judicial murder of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

The PPP is not one individual, It is the organized expression of the will of the masses to change society. It is the three million who came on the streets to greet Benazir's return. It is the tens of millions more who were preparing to vote for a change in the January elections. These millions are now mourning. But they will not mourn forever. They will find effective ways of struggle to make their voice heard.

The masses must protest the murder of the PPP leader through a national protest movement: mass rallies, strikes, protest demonstrations, culminating in a general strike. They must raise the banner of democracy. Against dictatorship! No more martial law! Call new elections immediately!

The PPP leadership must not capitulate to any pressure to delay the elections. Call the national and provisional elections! Let the people's voice be heard! Above all, the PPP must return its original programme and principles.

In the PPP's founding programme is inscribed the aim of the socialist transformation of society. It includes the nationalization of the land, banks and industries under workers control, the replacement of the standing army by a workers and peasants militia. These ideas are as correct and relevant today as when they were first written!

There is nothing easier than to take the life of a man or a woman. We humans are frail creatures and easily killed. But you cannot murder an idea whose time has come!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Niger Delta: The Bankruptcy of Individual Terrorism and the Historical Crisis of Capitalism

By Didi Cheeka in Lagos
Thursday, 20 December 2007

At night the skies over the Niger-Delta are lit up - giant tongues of flame shooting their poisonous flares into the night skies, into the creeks and farmlands. At night, in a Port Harcourt prison yard, writer and activist, Saro Wiwa and eight others are executed , amid international condemnation, by the military junta of General Sani Abacha, for having "counselled and procured" the killing of four elders of the Niger-Delta village of Ogoni.

It is night, also, when, from the belly of the night emerge three speed boats packed with armed youths - the children of the slain and brutalized of the Niger Delta. It is a new kind of army, a shadowy militant group out for war. It attacks a Nigerian Navy boat and a vessel leased by Shell. There are no casualties. But the militants, who call themselves Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), kidnap four foreign contractors.

Since then attacks - kidnappings, killings, and even bombings have become the order of the day in the ‘struggle for the emancipation' of the region.

Why did the youths take to arms? What really happened? What went wrong? And what has been solved by these acts of individual terrorism?

Burning and Looting

The creeks and swamps of the Niger Delta lie over one of the world's largest reserves of oil: 34 billion bbl. of black gold, approx.

For an outsider - even one used to the ravages of war and poverty ‑ the villages and creeks of the Niger-Delta, a watery maze of some 50,000 sq km, comes as a shock. Whole villages are without power, health clinics, school or water. A water tanker installed about a decade ago does not work, forcing people to scoop water from a muddy hole; pipelines that scar the earth; oil slicks that shimmer on rivers; flares that blaze bright and loud...

Since the 1950s, when oil was first found, the oil-producing region of the Delta and waters off Nigeria's coast in the Gulf of Guinea have earned the country and major oil companies like Shell, Chevron, Agip, ExxonMobil hundreds of billions of dollars. But, defying the laws of gravity, these billions have not trickled down to the poor peasants of the Delta region - nor, for that matter, the working masses of Nigeria.

According to Odiki Miebi, a local chief of Oporoza in Gbaramatu in whose creeks MEND is said to have its bases, "Poverty is the major problem we are facing here." There are no local jobs, and the only school in the village is empty of furniture. The village, like most of the villages here, is in the grip of poverty.

Yet Nigeria currently earns approximately $3 billion monthly from oil - which roughly accounts for 95% of its export earnings and about 40% of GDP.

It was the military dictatorship of Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo that set the pattern in 1979, transferring ownership of all subsoil resources to the federal government. The revenues accruing were to be ‘fairly' distributed among the federal, state, and local governments.

But there is a problem with what the federal, state, and local governments do with this money. Thanks to high oil prices the oil-producing states of the Niger Delta have seen an increase in federal allocation. So, too, the Federal Government.

The country, therefore, has been perfectly placed to benefit. But, rather than this, a private fiefdom emerged as the various arms of government simply used their revenue to underpin their regimes, enriching family, friends and supporters - and girlfriends, like the President did with a gift of car to his "girlfriend", according to the Vice President. Unfortunately, this benevolence does not extend to the vast majority who continue to wallow in poverty. This has been the trend for decades.

Today Nigeria is the world's sixth largest producer of oil and reserves are said to be in excess of 40 billion barrels, along with trillions of cubic feet of gas. But unlike Venezuela, which is the fifth largest producer of oil in the world, the Nigerian government merely presents the working masses with grandiloquent plans of future benefits and ‘Commissions'.

None of these Commissions have made any meaningful impact. They have simply come and gone. Meanwhile the problem persists. The latest, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), was set up in 2000 as a means of coordinating development in the Niger Delta. How well has it done this?

The answer came loud and clear in March 2006 with a bomb thrown into the car park of the Commission's Port Harcourt office. Afterwards plastic explosives were smuggled into one of its offices in an apparent attempt to blow up the building.

Jointly funded by the oil companies, which are supposed to give 3% of their local budgets, and the federal government, the Commission has approximately $235 spending money yearly.

But, in the words of Anietie Usen, head of NDDC's corporate affairs, "that is peanuts compared to the problems of the area." (Time, May 22, 2006). Besides, says Anietie, the federal government is usually slow to cough up its share, " makes things difficult."

Last year the federal government unfolded yet one more white elephant project: plans to construct a $1.8 billion dollar highway through the region and create 20,000 new jobs in the military, police and state oil companies to further address the neglect.

Hand-in-hand with these bogus promises is the issue of corruption. This absence of revenue transparency and accountability keeps Nigeria on the bottom rungs in Transparency International's annual World Corruption Index.

In proportion, as the country's oil-based GDP increases, economic underdevelopment and institutionalised corruption increases. Last year an audit of the oil industry revealed discrepancies, running into millions of dollars, between what the oil companies claimed it paid the government and what government said it received.

And what do governments, both at the federal and state levels do with these funds? Take Rivers State. Thanks to high oil prices internationally, the government of this oil-producing state, has seen increased revenues. So much that the government of Peter Odili bought two corporate jets, a move the state Information Commissioner, Magnus Abe defended; "I don't think," he says, "that we can fight poverty by going back to live in caves. We need aircraft for a variety of reasons." (Time, May 22, 2006)

There! Mr. Information Commissioner probably didn't know that most schools in Rivers State are without furniture and in a state of collapse. The roads, too, are crumbling. Indeed, between 2005 and 2006 Rivers State Government House overheads increased from $38.6 million to $81.1 million. By comparison, increases on spending on salaries for state employees barely exceeded the rate of inflation.

Oil Doom

Oil has brought neither prosperity nor tranquillity to Nigeria. In spite of its vast oil resources, Nigeria represents one of the most sordid, corrupt and socially unjust political economies. Enormous wealth is concentrated in very few hands, a tiny oligarchy that indulges in reckless and wanton orgies of consumption. The country is marked by poor economic performance and growing inequality.

The current rise in oil prices has concentrated vast resources in the hands of a tiny political elite. In proportion, as the country's oil wealth increases, the poverty of the teeming mass increases, alongside economic underdevelopment; corruption and political violence have increased in equal measure.

Although Nigeria has earned at least over $400 billion in oil revenues in the last 35 years, a significant proportion of this oil-based revenue has simply ‘disappeared' through massive, institutionalised fraud and corruption.

According to Nuhu Ribadu, the ‘anti-corruption' tsar, 70 percent of the country's oil wealth was stolen or wasted, in 2003; by 2005 it was ‘only' 40 percent. This state of affairs really highlights the extreme rapacity and parasitic nature of the Nigerian ruling class.

While the vast majority wallow in poverty and growing misery, the government, since the 1960s, has developed mechanisms for allocating oil blocs and rents to its cronies. We will deal with this presently.

The Nigerian oil industry is thus no more than a bloated cash cow for a small privileged elite, no more than a private fiefdom of the President.

According to World Bank sources, some 80 percent of Nigeria's oil money is accrued by 1 percent of the population with 70 percent of private wealth held abroad, in foreign banks, while an estimated 70 percent of the country's inhabitants live on roughly $1 per day, or less.

National annual per capita income had remained static between 1960 and 2004, while income distribution had suffered marked deterioration.

The Petroleum Act of 1969 provides ‘the entire ownership and control of all petroleum in, under or upon any land to which this section applies (i.e., land in Nigeria, under the territorial waters of Nigeria or forming part of the continental shelf) shall be vested in the state.'

This was further consolidated in 1978 when the government of then Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo enacted the Land Use Decree, divesting land from the control of local communities and investing ownership in the central government to be held in trust by state governments.

This Act was further extended in 2003 by the inclusion of deepwater offshore oil reserves, with control vested largely through the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

Nowhere are the paradoxes of poverty and squalor in the midst of great wealth, occasioned by increase in oil price, so pervasive as in the Niger Delta, home to the world's third largest mangrove forest and the most extensive freshwater swamp forests in west and central Africa, an area of intense global bio-diversity.

Thus the Delta does not exhaust itself as a source of oil wealth for the Nigerian ruling class; it is also a vital and fragile natural environment being destroyed by capitalism in its period of senile decay.

Despite its economic and ecological importance, the Delta states fall below national average on virtually every measure of social and economic development. The Niger Delta remains poor. Its inhabitants continue to eke out a precarious existence on its ever-diminishing fishing grounds and farmlands.

For the last three decades, farmers and fishermen have had to compete with oil multi-nationals for the limited space available. The human and environmental cost of over four decades of oil exploration in the Niger Delta has been devastating.

The UNDP Niger Delta Development Report released in August 2006 states that ‘vast revenues' have ‘barely touched the Niger Delta's own pervasive poverty'. In oil-rich Bayelsa and Delta states, for instance, there is one doctor for every 150, 000 inhabitants.

Individual Terrorism

About four decades ago, the first insurgency sparked off. In February 1966, Isaac Adaka Boro, a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, formed the Niger Delta Volunteer Service (NDVS), a militia comprising several young and educated Ijaw men, and declared the Ijaw-speaking areas of Nigeria's then ‘Eastern Region' an independent ‘Niger Delta Republic.'

In an eleven-point declaration of independence, Boro stated that "all former agreements as regards the crude oil of the people undertaken by the now defunct ‘Nigerian' government in the territory have been declared invalid," and that "all oil companies are commanded... to stop exploration and renew agreements with the new Republic. Defiance of this order will result in dislocation of the company's exploration and forfeiture of their rights of renewal of such agreements."

The revolt was crushed within a couple of weeks and ‘militants' supported the federal effort in the civil war with the then Eastern Region. Forty-three years since, conditions in the Delta remain, as the UNDP report say, ‘dismal'.

On a night, in a Port Harcourt prison yard, writer and activist, Saro Wiwa and eight others were executed, amid international condemnation, by the military junta of Gen. Sani Abacha, for having "counselled and procured" the killing of four elders of the Niger-Delta village of Ogoni.

The Task Force - drawn from the army, police, navy, and air force - cut a murderous swath, carrying out executions and razing villages, instituting a reign of terror. The frightened villagers fled into the creeks, leaving behind their life's possessions, a ravaged community of torched houses and bloodied corpses of relatives and friends. Fleeing villagers talk of rape, massacres and torched villages.

Sometime in 2002, a large body of Ijaw women occupied Chevron oil refineries near Warri, demanding jobs for local inhabitants, marking a deepening crisis over ‘resource control'. In March 2003, seven oil workers were kidnapped, prompting major shut down of oil facilities and withdrawal of staff, reducing output by more than 750,000 barrels per day (40 percent of national output).

Since late 2005, the situation in the Niger Delta has worsened. Two self-styled ‘freedom fighters', Ateke Tom (Niger Delta Vigilante) and Alhaji Asari Dokubo (Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force), both driven and partially funded by oil monies accrued mostly from bunkering and actively deployed and maintained by top politicians, as political thugs, has further transformed the political landscape of the Delta.

The current campaign of violence in the Delta kicked off on January 11 with an attack on a Naval boat and a vessel leased by Shell by gun-toting men packed in three speedboats. There were no casualties, but the attackers, who called themselves the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), took hostage four foreign contractors.

In late December 2006, the MEND started calling for the international community to evacuate from the Niger Delta by February 12 or ‘face violent attacks'.

Since then there have been a series of attacks on all installations and military personnel guarding them, as well as hostage-taking. Between then and now, oil-related deaths in the Delta region have risen significantly and oil production output has been cut significantly.

In a reprisal move, the outgoing President Obasanjo sent in additional troops to strengthen the Joint Military Task Force in the Delta and, in a recent conflagration, no less than 60 militants were reported killed and another 100 arrested in two days of fighting in Bayelsa State in August 2006.

Trotsky once wrote that: "By its very essence terroristic work demands such concentrated energy for the ‘great moment', such an overestimation of the significance of individual terrorism, and finally, such a ‘hermetic' conspiracy, that-if not logically, then psychologically, it totally excludes agitational and organizational work among the masses."

The shooting and bombing campaign embarked upon by MEND and other similar militant group in the Delta will not achieve the ‘emancipation of the Niger Delta'. It will simply give the regime an excuse to bolster the forces of repression which will be used, not just against the Niger Delta workers, but inevitably against the workers of Nigeria

Indeed, in one instance, the oil workers union, NUPENG and PENGASSAN held a meeting with the regime and threatened they would not go to work until their safety was assured. So, rather than win the workers and people of the Delta to its side, the campaign of bombing and shooting risks lining up the workers behind the regime, in the face of the failure of the NLC leadership to offer a clear and effective lead in the fight against not just sectarianism, but also against the root cause of the pervasive poverty not just in the Niger Delta, but in Nigeria as a whole.

At some stage it is not ruled out that the ruling class, troubled by the cut in production brought about by the militants' campaign, will re-introduce military rule. The bombing and shooting campaign in the Delta, rather than stave this off is actually precipitating it. For now, however, due to high oil prices internationally the ruling class will reserve this as a last resort. But this threat is dangling over the head of the Nigerian workers.

The neglect and destruction of the Delta, the grinding poverty, in spite of years of massive profit from oil, is striking confirmation that neither a so-called ‘democratic' government of outgoing President Obasanjo or Umaru Yar' Adua, the new president, nor a military dictatorship can solve the problem of Nigeria, under a regime of capital.

At no other time, has the country made so much money from oil. But at no other time has there been so much poverty, so much lack of faith in government.

The campaign of violence in the Delta will solve nothing. What the situation reveals is nothing but the blind alley of individual terrorism and the dead-end of capitalism. It is striking confirmation of the theory of Permanent Revolution. For backward countries like Nigeria, the road to development does not pass through capitalism, but through Socialist Revolution and a radical reconstitution of social relations.

Redistribute the Wealth

Only a Socialist Revolution can solve the problem in the Delta. Only this can bring about development and lasting peace and guarantee ‘resource control' and the right to self-determination for the people. This is not mere theorizing. It represents unassailable deductions from the entire experience of our recent, and not too recent history.

Years of privatisation have not solved the problem of the working masses. They have not solved the economic problems of Nigeria. The commanding heights of the economy, especially the oil sector, must be nationalized and used as a basis to provide quality healthcare and education for the working masses. Only a working class government can do this - through a party of the working class. Now is the time.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lebanon's Cycle Continues

The obsession between the government and opposition to appear victors in this race has led this country into a stagnant stalemate without any chance of progress. There wasn’t any local, regional, or international initiative to allow both bourgeoisie camp leaders to reach a mutual face save deal, and hence the country is trapped in a time frame while the Proletariat suffer.

Last year, when Pierre Gemayel was assassinated, the emotions of the duality reactionary camps were exploding to the extent riots broke up with Christians belonging to the Pro-Opposition and Pro-Government almost beating each other. One week later, on December 1st, the opposition launched the largest protest in the history of Lebanon, and the government remained standing. By late January of 2007, tension was high, the country almost entered a civil war. Two separate events broke out in January that almost dragged the country to immense bloodshed. The first was when the opposition decided to perform civil disobedience and swore to remain active till the government resigns, and the second would be the Arab University incident whereby one unknown sniper shot students whereby riots broke out (which caused Hassan Nasrallah to issue a direct fatwa telling the Shiites to remain home while Saad Harriri begged his audience the same).

We can consider January 2007 the verge of a civil war which the sect leaders clearly didn’t want to enter, nor their sponsors. The media played a massive role in igniting the masses into sect mobilization against each other (Shiite – Christian versus Durzi – Christian – Sunni coalitions). Yet, the leaders didn’t want a civil war, which I would definitely consider a good thing. However, this deadlock between the government and the opposition didn’t change anything, instead it made things worse for the people.

While the media remained charging the different groups against each other, the leaders remained failing to achieve what they promised their sect herds. A large faction of the people, just as anticipated, has lost hope with the future of their country. This means more and more people see their future outside Lebanon. The government and the opposition has disgusted people more and more just as collisions remain standing. Actually everything that happens, the government and the opposition try to take credit for. When the war with terror broke out at Nahr el Bared, the opposition and government remained accusing each other to the extent each called the other bluntly: “of funding Fatah Islam”.

The cycle became so monotonous that even the political assassinations seized to do any impacts because again people are simply fed up. The crowd for Pierre Gemayel, George Hawwi, and Samir Qassir for example were much larger than Antoine Ghanem, Walid Eido, and General Francois Hajj. The mobilizations in the earlier assassinations were more powerful than this year. This year though, towards the middle of it, witnessed media blackout in different location. Whenever riots broke out between the two camps, media didn’t emphasize on them as they used to in December/January. Now of course, we always have the exceptional comical figures like We’am Wahhab threatening the government with annihilation whenever he wants.

Hence, we reach the political void we all anticipated, the deadlock without a way out. The opposition insisted on having head of the army Imad Suleiman as head of the nation state, only to be rejected by the government since they insisted that anyone is welcomed to be a president as long as he/she are part of the 14th of March coalition. When the Syrian installed president Lahoud declined, and Michel Suleiman refused to comply with the president’s orders of imposing Martial Law in a case of emergency, the next day suddenly the government wanted him as a president. Actually, the opposition switched logic that “since you want a military figure, why don’t you choose Aoun (!)”. Hence, the cycle never stops. When the opposition and the government agreed in general on Michel Suleiman, suddenly Aoun adds more rules, such as he has to decide on key positions on the government. In fact, Aoun still holds the optimism of attaining the presidential chair. Last week, everyone thought that Aoun was abandoned by his allies, when they started to put a mechanism of “flexing” the constitution to elect General Suleiman with the Aounieh not attending (despite the fact that Aoun’s close ally Michel el Murr was there), suddenly people started praying that let it any president be a president, just end this fiasco. Suddenly, Aoun bombs the political arena that the Opposition appointed Aoun to spearhead the negotiations with the government. This makes the talks between Saad Harriri and Nabih Berri as a waste of time, and the people have to wait more for positive results without having a choice in the matter.

The Nahr el Bared Fiasco for example witnessed the Future Movement rushing to the streets with their flags in order to cheer for the army because they dominated Nahr el Bared (despite Hassan Nasrallah saying: Nahr el Bared Khat Ahhmar). When Francois Hajj was assassinated, 14th of March and the Opposition competed whose martyr it is. When the Matn elections occurred, both camps attempted to emerge victorious while in fact both lost drastically: 14th of March’s most powerful candidate lost, but he lost in the face of a coalition that swept Matn two years earlier. And now the presidential void…

The only people who would probably envy Lebanon’s position are our fellow Egyptian comrades who wrote to me: “You mean to tell me, comrade, that in Lebanon, there is no President? Wow, I wish we can switch situations if that is the case!” The face save deals are not appearing because none of the camps want to appear declining to the other what they promised to their followers as “all the way victory.” Hence, 14th of March cant step down because they convinced their people that they will block permanently Iran and Syria from touching Lebanon’s sovereignty, while the opposition convinced its followers that they will stand victorious against Condi’s puppet government. Hence if someone approaches to be a victor in their negotiations, the other will blow out everything. Even though Michel Suleiman did appear as the reconciliation president, he once even visited Hassan Nasrallah, then Samir Jaajaa in the same day: two leaders of two opposing sect parties.

As for General Michel Suleiman, several people I know started speculating that he will be the president following President Shehab’s logic of “the third force” (or non-alignment policy). His name started to appear in the July War when the army sent down 15,000 reservists to the South in the middle of the war with Israel and for the first time since Israel’s Litani operation in the 1970s, took perfect “control” symbolically of the South. Eventually, he remained neutral from all political fiascos. When the Down Town demonstration series broke out, he kept the army neutral. When the Civil Disobediance fiasco broke out, again he emerged as the neutral one. With Nahr el Bared exploding to new dimensions, he became the primary candidate. From one side, he simply obeyed what Elias el Murr (a 14th of Marcher) commanded him through the Ministry of Defense (mainly sending the army to Nahr el Bared to save Prime Minister Seniora’s face, plus disregarding ex-President Lahoud’s final orders). While on the other, he always advocated a resistance policy to Israel and made sure it was part of the Lebanese Army policy, which puts him on a positive side with Hezbullah.

In anyways, the economical situation has gotten worse. The prices of Gas, cheese, and basically a lot of day to day consumption commodities are higher. Taxes on the phone and electricity aren’t helping the middle and lower class either. With every assassination or political instability hitting Lebanon, the economic situation would shrink in size more and more. The only foreign investors interested in Lebanon these days are those foreign politicians and international institutions who want to see this camp or that one gaining an upper hand (or sustain their local allies in the face of the others). The gulf, the US, Iran, the World Bank, France, and others have different financial interests to see Lebanon exploding into raging fire. In any case, this leaves the Proletariat dangling in the open air. The rise of gas for example would decrease the purchasing power of the middle and lower class, which again would cause the overall market system to shrink in size. With the assassination of Francois Hajj prior to the seasons’ greetings, another blow came to the sector of tourism. In any case, the ones who remain visiting Lebanon are the already immigrants who don’t care about the situation and want to catch up with relatives/friends, foreign students, and business men (whenever that requires a visit). The bogus parliamentary meetings to decide when we will have a president also shuts down businesses and hurts those who are still struggling to continue with businesses. The on-going demonstrations in Down Town do not help also as clearly their job to oust a president, but of course they proceed to do a statement to wound the people instead the government.

One thing for sure, once a president is agreed on, several people expect re-alignment between the major political parties. Politicians get greedy, and the poor get poorer.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Open Thread: Do Things Have To Get Worse, Before They Get Better?

This post is an open thread, before big elections in Bolivia, Ecuador and Pakistan that are coming soon.

Louis Proyect The Unrepentant Marxist, has an interesting post about whether economic catastrophe automatically means political change. Is catastrophe around the corner? He argues politics can trump economics. Ultimately, it was the emergence of an oppositional political culture in Cuba that led to a revolutionary onslaught. This brings me to a point that Gindin made in his presentation. He said that the problem today is political more than anything else. He said that if you had told him in 1975 that the U.S. would undergo the loss of good trade union jobs and welfare state social legislation with so little protest over the next 30 years or so, he simply would have not believed it–and neither would have I.

If there is anything that we can learn from Cuba’s socialist revolution, it is that leftists have to learn to break with the two-party system that keeps opposition politics within acceptable, capitalist parameters. For us, the launching of a mass, left of center leftwing party would be equivalent to the launching of Granma in 1956. It would be less dangerous but just as fragile an enterprise given the power and wealth of our class enemies. But no other course makes sense, especially given the ripening of economic conditions that might even result in a catastrophe down the road, for in that eventuality extremism of the right would challenge civilization as we know it.

Sonia has a post about how the mainline feminist groups as National Organization of Woman, don't mention oppression of women under Islamism, as in Saudi Arabia.

Anok tagged me. Instead of accepting the tag, I'll plug her blog. I like her feistiness.

Phil A Very Public Sociologist has a post about socialists and porn. I always hated how feminists misunderstood pornography. Blaming it for sociopathic behavior, has never been proven in a cause and effect model.

It's probably the kiss of death for her. I like Confessions of a Closet Republican a right of center blog. What I like about Incognito, is she is not predictable. She doesn't define herself as anti, as other conservatives. RENEGADE EYE

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bolivia On The Brink

By Darrall Cozens in La Paz, Bolivia
Thursday, 13 December 2007

Today "my people", the pensioners, were on the streets. They blocked one of the major crossroads, Avenida Mariscal Santa Cruz and Calle Ayacucho, near the centre of La Paz. Slogans such as "Por culpa del ministro estamos en la calle" (It is the minister's fault that we are on the streets), rang out as traffic snarled its way down side streets.

Why should about 200 men aged 50 and over block one of the main arteries of the city? Victor Castro, President of the National Committee of Pensioners, an organisation that is active in all geographical departments of Bolivia, explained.

Here in Bolivia men can retire at 55 and women at 50. (Sounds good when compared to the UK but the average life span here is 47.) However, the Social Security Code states that if you want to, men can retire at 50 and women at 45. If this option is chosen then for each year before the official retirement age that you retire, you lose 8% of your pension. So if a man chooses to leave work at 50, he will lose 40% of his pension. The code also states that once you reach the official retirement age, the 8% lost will be restored.

The government says that that interpretation of the code is correct, but has refused to pay back the 8% for each year. In response the pensioners took to the streets in September and October of this year. They then went on a 9-day hunger strike. The Minister of Finance and the MAS deputies in the Constituent Assembly promised talks if the pensioners called off the hunger strike.

The pensioners agreed and talks started but very little progress was made. Eventually the pensioners asked the civil servants they were negotiating with to sign an agreement. The bureaucrats stated that they did not have the power to do so. Eventually the pensioners agreed to meet the Minister of Finance but he kept on postponing the meeting. The pensioners now began to feel as if they were being made a joke of.

So now they are back on the streets and will stay there until Friday. If no progress is made, they will begin the hunger strike again next Monday. Some 21,000 pensioners across Bolivia are affected.

While this protest was going on, just 100 metres down the avenue on Santa Cruz, a group of miners had blocked the entrance to a large building. They had banners and placards saying that they were from the Himalaya pit and had had their work stopped since October. They were there to stay until the minister responsible ensured that they got their jobs back. If that did not happen, they were threatening to take even more drastic action without specifying what it would be.

A few days ago, on Monday, the women stall holders outside San Francisco cathedral had blocked all entrances to the cathedral and were facing up to the riot police in a bid to get their contracts renewed so that they could carry on selling. The same day saw a march up Santa Cruz by about 200 youngsters aged between 9 and 15 carrying banners they were demanding the right to work. The constitution here has clauses that outlaw child labour and guarantee access to education for children. The reality however is that if children do not work, then their families will starve. So children of all ages are on the streets shining shoes, selling everything that you can think of and begging - and being abused in the process.

Whilst all of this is going on the country is falling apart. Last night I was discussing with a MAS deputy from Sucre who has to return to her home this weekend from Las Paz on a 12-hour bus journey, but who has been told that the situation there is very tense and dangerous for anyone connected with MAS. I was told that there is a crisis on three levels: economic, political and social. What is even worse was that in the opinion of this deputy, the Morales government did not have an answer.

The Constituent Assembly (CA) here has just finished ratifying a new constitution that will be put to the electorate in a referendum at some time around April next year. The vote will be in two parts: one vote will be on the statutes in the constitution and the other will be on the government proposal to limit landholdings that are unproductive to 10,000 hectares.

You can imagine the furore that this has created amongst the bourgeoisie. They are trying to prevent a referendum taking place on the basis that the way the CA approved the draft constitution was illegal. If the referendum does take place, and the constitution is approved, the bourgeoisie in the Eastern Crescent regions of Santa Cruz, Pando, Beni and Tarija is threatening to break away and form a new state. They have already held open air parliament meetings (cabildos abiertos) of up to a million people that in the manner of a plebiscite vote have agreed to secede if Morales does not back down. If the referendum is lost, this will encourage the bourgeoisie in different parts of the country to break away, to balkanise Bolivia, so that they can directly control the areas that are rich in natural resources, such as gas and oil.

The oligarchy, with the help of imperialism, have skilfully used issues like the capital city status for Sucre and the question of autonomy to build a basis of support in the Eastern regions of the country. They have backed this up with the organisation of armed fascist gangs (Unión Juvenil Cruceña) to intimidate workers and peasants who support the MAS government. Every concession of the government is interpreted as a sign of weakness by the oligarchy and used by them to increase their demands.

In these conditions the strategy of the Morales government seems to be based on making more concessions (for instance including the issue of autonomy in the proposed constitution) and appeals for negotiation, combined with putting the different issues to a vote in a referendum "in order to gain democratic legitimacy".

The crux however is that at this juncture the opposition could win. There have been no plans drawn up to ensure a MAS victory. Most of the MAS deputies are relying on the personal authority of Morales. Just as in Venezuela, the idea of actually going out to the natural constituents of Morales (the indigenous people, the workers and the peasants) and explaining in a language that they can understand what the practical implications of the new constitution are, has not been thought of.

Furthermore, the oligarchy will not be impressed by any democratic vote in a referendum. In Venezuela the Bolivarian movement has achieved plenty of democratic victories in elections and referenda and this has not stopped the ruling class and imperialism from using extra parliamentary undemocratic means (rioting, sabotage of the economy, a military coup) to try to overthrow the democratically elected government of president Chávez. In Bolivia they have already said that they would not participate nor recognise the validity of any of these referenda.

Let me give a practical example. It gets cold here at night at 3,600 metres and I have summer clothes. Yesterday, I went out to buy a coat in one of the many stalls that are run by indigenous people, mainly Aymara. During the transaction there was obviously a conversation along the lines of who are you, where are you from, what are you doing here, etc. When I explained that I was not here as a tourist but to find out what MAS was doing and what people thought of socialism, the old lady in the corner, one out of 4 women on the stall, asked me point blank, "What is socialism?" I was taken aback because here was a natural supporter of Morales, yet the MAS movement at a grass roots level has done very little to raise the level of political understanding of core supporters, never mind actually carry out policies that would benefit these core supporters and get their children off the streets and into schools.

The lady explained that she and many others could not read nor write, so any kind of political "socialisation" (the term used here to sell the new constitution) would have to take place at a level that people can understand - verbal, pictures, DVD, etc and that would mean that all the grassroots organisations of the MAS would have to be mobilised to go out and win others to the vote. For Morales to win and take the movement forward, his supporters have to be convinced of the benefits of the changed laws so that they will turn out and vote. They cannot be taken for granted. Look at what happened in Venezuela. A defeat for Morales will embolden the bourgeoisie here to take even more drastic measures to throw back the MAS project, the movement towards socialism.

It is said that 8,000 soldiers have been mobilised to move on Sucre should there be any more disturbances there. Previous activities have led to deaths and injuries within the past few weeks. The impression given in private conversations from those at the heart of the MAS project is that the country is slowly falling apart and within the MAS there is no coherent political programme along socialist lines to actually carry out a change in society. Unless serious changes are made within the MAS the likelihood of a defeat is on the cards, that is if the bourgeoisie does not use its economic power to scupper the actual vote. Only a serious campaign of mass mobilisation can safe the Bolivian revolution from a defeat which would have serious consequences. And this is the one thing that has not been organised.

Darrall Cozens in La Paz, Bolivia
12 December 2007


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

News from Argentina

Plan Condor: Crimes without borders in Latin America

Former military dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and 16 other military leaders in Argentina will be prosecuted on charges of conspiring to kidnap and kill political activists in a scheme known as Plan Condor, developed by Henry Kissinger and George Bush Sr., head of the CIA at the time. Dictators in Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina killed opponents in the 1970s and 80s under the plan, also known as Operation Condor. The United States and Latin American military governments developed Operation Condor as a a transnational, state-sponsored terrorist coalition among the militaries of South America. In Argentina alone some 30,000 people were disappeared as result, leaving loved ones to seek justice decades later.

Fight against forced disappearances

The practice of forced disappearances was systematized in the Southern Cone by military governments in the 1970’s with U.S. financial support and trainings. It is estimated that 90,000 people in Latin America have been disappeared since the 1950’s. And the practice continues today in places like Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and Argentina.

Buy a DVD and support Grupo Alavío!

Grupo Alavío would like to send a special holiday greeting and give a special fund raising appeal. Keep the group’s video production and website Ágora TV up and running by purchasing a DVD. We are completely viewer-funded and volunteer based: your contributions help us to produce ground breaking videos from the Third World. Ágora TV provides a radical space for cutting edge video activists all over Latin America.

Ágora TV is a community television production collective that currently broadcasts over the internet. The project reaches a global audience of grassroots activists and citizens tired of status quo media. We work on issues including Argentina’s recovered factory movement, labor conflicts,social movements, indigenous struggles, and gender equality. The Buenos Aires-based video collective Grupo Alavío built the website ( in 2006 as an organizing tool and alternative media space for groups that would not otherwise have access to the airwaves.

For more than 15 years, Grupo Alavío has participated in working-class struggles and dedicated efforts to supporting them with social and political documentaries. Making technologies and skills accessible and available to exploited sectors by democratizing audiovisual production is a priority of Grupo Alavío. Through Ágora TV, Grupo Alavío is radically changing how media is created, managed, and distributed.

All films have English subtitles and are in U.S. DVD format. Shipped from the US.

Cost: $15 plus shipping for individuals, $30 plus shipping for universities

Contact: Marie Trigona

FILMS available for purchase:

1. Chilavert Recovered, 38 minutes, 2004 Newly released withENGLISH SUBTITLES

Chilavert is a leading member of the 'recovered factories' movement which developed during the collapse in 2001 when many factories in Argentina were taken over by the workers. As the owner of a printing plant began to shut it down and turn it over to his creditors, the workers seized control and formed the Chilavert Cooperative. The documentary gives a realistic overview of the recuperation movement and workers’ self-management.

2. Obreras en lucha (The struggle of Brukman workers).Spanish with ENGLISH SUBTITLES

This documentary tells the story of the' recuperation' of Brukman textile factory in Buenos Aires by its workers, after its owners decided to close it down in December 2001. Workers (most of them women) decided to occupy the plant on December 18, 2001to protest their reducing and delayed salaries. Only two days after, the economic and political crisis exploded in Argentina.This documentary contains impressive images of the expulsion of the workers from the factory by the police in 2003, the massive popular protests which followed and the brutal repression with which Duhalde's government replied. it contains as well interviews with workers and images from the assemblies at the factory.

3. Hotel BAUEN: Workers’ Cooperative

20min, 2004 Spanish with ENGLISH SUBTITLES

The Hotel BAUEN was an emblematic symbol of neoliberalism in Argentina.The hotel was constructed in 1978, in the glory of the military dictatorship, with government loans and subsidies. In the height of Argentina’s economic meltdown, the owners ransacked the hotel and closed the hotel’s doors,leaving the workers in the streets. In March 21, 2003the workers decided to occupy the hotel. The workers cleaned up the hotel and slowly began to rent out services. With over 150workersemployed at the hotel, BAUEN hotel has become a symbol for the working class.

4. Zanon (Constructing resistance)

18min, 2003, Spanish with ENGLISH SUBTITLES

Argentina’sPatagonian province of Neuquén,is home of the Zanon ceramics factory.In 2001 Zanon’s owner fired the workers and abandoned the factory forgreener pastures. After resisting outside the plant, the group ofworkers decide collectively to recuperate and put the plant to produce.Since 2001, the workers at Zanon have occupied and managed the plant,which is Latin America’s largest ceramics factory. In the film, Zanonceramists narrate their day-to-day work, struggles and hopes tocontinue production under worker control.

5. La Foresta belongs to the workers

52min, 2005 Spanish with ENGLISH SUBTITLES

The film tells the story of a group of workers who are fighting to recuperate La Foresta meatpacking plant in La Matanza, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires city. Most of the factory’s employees have worked their for decades, through the good times and bad times. In 1999, the plant went bust, a series of businessmen rented the facilities, making quick profits and then abandoning the factory for greener pastures. Grupo Alavío’s film follows the 70 workers who’ve put up a legal fight to keep their factory and start up production without a boss or owner,under worker-self management.

6. Music in Solidarity with Zanon,

90min, 2005 Spanish with ENGLISH SUBTITLES

This film was produced as part of a video work shop for the workers. Musicin solidarity with Zanon: musicians León Gieco, Rally Barrionuevo, Ciro(Ataque 77) and other artists performed a concert in December, 2004. The workers organized the super event, with more than 10,000 supporters from the community of Neuquén.

7. Argentina:30 years after the military dictatorship (compilation of short films)

Letter to the Military Junta, 6min, 1996

Rodolfo Walsh wrote the “Open Letter to the Military Junta”on the first anniversary of the military coup in 1977 reporting the tortures,mass killings, and thousands of disappearances. The political writer was disappeared just one day after the letter was distributed. This 6minute video essay reconstructs Walsh’s powerful report, imagery from the bloody dictatorship and the writer’s disappearance.

Escrache a Videla, 12min, 2006

Events to mark the 30 years since Argentina's military junta kicked off with an escrache or “exposure” protest against the coup's first dictator,Jorge Rafael Videla. Over 10,000 people participated in the protest in front of Videla's home, where he is under house arrest in connection with numerous charges of human rights abuse. Human rights group H.I.J.O.S. brought a crane and gave the ending remarks directly in front of Videla's fifth floor apartment.

Memories of Struggle and Resistance: Rio Santiago Ship Yard, 10min, 2006

The dictatorship attempted wiped out an entire generation of working-class resistance, which the nation decades later is still recovering.This year for the first time, over 1,500 workers from the Rio Santiago ShipYard in Buenos Aires commemorated the ship yard's 48 disappeared.

8. Compañeras

45min, 2005, Spanish with ENGLISH SUBTITLES

Compañeras brings together four working women who give testimony of their lives and daily struggles. MAGDALENA,works on a small farm in the province of San Juan. KARINA is a train conductor. REGINA lives n VillaFiorito, she collects cardboard from the streets, classifies and then sells it. NINA is a militant from the 70’s, during which she exiled from Argentina to Nicaragua and participated in the Sandanista revolution. Stories that mix with other history, women who revindicate their identity as workers, but without easing to be mothers, without giving up the struggle, continuing to be compañeras.

9. The Face of Dignity, Memories of MTD Solano

58 minutes, 2002, Spanish with ENGLISH SUBTITLES

In the shambles of an economically ruined Argentina,a new practice of protest emerged, blockading roads. Since 1997, what is now known as the unemployed workers movement has taken root. Without access to the factory and utility of tools for liberation—strike,sabotage, and occupying the factory, unemployed workers sought out new practices for struggle. Unemployed confronted globalization by fighting for jobs. One of the most important experiences that emerged in these years was Unemployed Workers Movement-MTD (Movimiento de Trabajadores Desocupados) in Solano (inside Quilmes, a city in the province of Buenos Aires). MTD's formation was based on the principles of horizontalism, direct democracy, autonomy from the state and power, and the integral political formation among members. Work, popular education, democratic debate of ideas, sharing life in the struggle for work, dignity and social change are some of this memory's content.

10. For a 6 hour workday

20min, 2004, Spanish with ENGLISH SUBTITLES

Reducing the workday to six hours with a salary increase for all workers would create jobs for more than 3 million unemployed and lift many out o poverty. Subway workers who have been organizing wildcat strikes for salary increases have spearheaded Argentina's movement for a six-hour workday. In 2003, subway workers (in all sectors from ticket office to train drivers) won a six-hour workday.Since this victory,subway workers, other labor conflicts, economists and unemployed workers organizations have formed a movement for a6-hour workday for all workers, with increased salaries.

11. Organizing Resistance (Chronicles of Freedom, Martin,Recuperating Our Work) Spanish with ENGLISH SUBTITLES

Chronicles of Freedom (organizing resistance) , 45min, 2002

June26, 2002two activists Darío Santillán-22 and Maximiliano Kosteki-25from Argentina’s unemployed workers’ movement were killed during a road blockade of Pueyrredón Bridge in police repression. The repression was part of a known and announced government plan to control growing social protest. 33 were wounded from lead bullets, 160detained and hundreds injured from rubber bullets. Unquestionably,the deaths and repression have left an unforgettable mark on the movement—generating internal debates and self-criticisms. Chronicles of Freedom includes interviews on the right to identity, self-defense and organizing to confront state repression.

Martín, 2002, 7 minutes

Synopsis: Martín, 27 years old, Argentine, brother, compañero from the barrio Floridai n Solano was killed during a fight with a neighbor. The experimental narration explores inner-violence and questions the absurdity of the system’s violence that is imposed on us.

Recuperando nuestro trabajo, 2003, 18min

Argentina's worker occupied factory movement has been an example of resistance for workers all over the world. In response to the process of deindustrialization and flexible labor markets, thousands of workers have said enough to exploitation of the working class by bosses and owners.

Marie Trigona

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Reconstruction Party: A New Political Development

With election fever approaching as we get closer in the US to pick the next president, I plan occasional discussions, as people search for political alternatives. This was published in Socialist Appeal.

Written by Bill Leumer
Friday, 12 October 2007

There is a new political party on the horizon that is attempting to offer working class Blacks, working people in general, and the poor an alternative to the two capitalist parties, the Democrats and the Republicans. Stunned by how little has been done by either capitalist party for anyone who was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans – other than the rich and powerful – the Reconstruction Party was officially launched on September 2 of this year. As a first step, the Party is running Malcolm Suber for City Council in New Orleans. Suber is a former textile worker and auto worker and member of the UAW, and has been active in labor struggles since moving to New Orleans, especially around union organizing. He was a founding member and national organizer of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition, a broad coalition of grassroots groups organized around the demand for the reconstruction of New Orleans under community control.

In part, this movement is a response to the ruthless policies implemented by the ruling class in New Orleans. Taking full advantage of the helpless situation of many working people, especially the Black majority of New Orleans, the capitalists have pressed to privatize everything, including schools, health care, and prisons, while at the same time preventing the vast majority of those who were forced to leave from returning to their homes.

In a statement announcing his candidacy, Suber proclaimed: "We want to win this seat so working class and poor Black folk have some representation at City Hall and to move forward towards building the Reconstruction Party." He argued: "If we want real justice and equity, we'll have to do it ourselves. Certainly the Democrats and the Republicans make empty promises to the people; they only give awards to those who are politically connected."

In another statement, Suber emphatically promised, "In the struggle of labor against the bosses I have and will always stand with the working class. I have always stood for the unionization of workers and the repeal of the anti-union 'right to work' laws."

The Reconstruction Party was conceived about a year ago by the victims of the hurricane who were abandoned by the capitalists and their political parties. Several predominantly Black organizations, including the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition, which calls for the right of return, as well as the broader Reconstruction Movement, took the lead in raising the idea of a new independent, working class party. The platform of the Reconstruction Party focuses on issues fundamental to working people. It calls for genuine democracy for the majority, the re-opening of public housing, rent control, compensation for home owners affected by the hurricane, health clinics at public schools, the creation of jobs at a living wage aimed at reconstruction, and support for public education.

Those involved in the Reconstruction Party are already reaching out to people across the country in the hope of establishing a national basis for the party with this call: "We're calling upon our friends and supporters from around the country to support the formation of the Reconstruction Party, which is needed to address the myriad problems of institutional racism, class domination and historical poverty and sexism which plagues working people in the cities throughout the country." The response has been positive. Cynthia McKinney, former Democratic Party member of Congress for the people of Georgia, has declared her support for Suber's campaign, adding: "The facts on the ground clearly demonstrate that we cannot rely on failed politicians and failing political parties which are complicit in the lack of preparation, the failure to rescue, and the continued refusal to advance the right to return for hundreds of thousands of people who continue to be displaced."

Al Rojas, National Coordinator of the Frente de Mexicanos en el Exterior in Sacramento, CA, sent this support: "We in the Frente de Mexicanos en el Exterior ... have followed with great interest your initiative to launch a new and independent Reconstruction Party in the United States ... We cannot allow them [the U.S. government and the corporations] to divide us. We must build a united movement of Black and Latino workers that demands the right of return for the Black majority and that also demands amnesty and full legalization for all Latino workers in the Gulf Coast and across the United States. A massive public works program could be instituted in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region to put everyone, Blacks and Latinos, to work on a true Reconstruction Program."

Donna Dewitt, President of the South Carolina AFL-CIO and National Co-Chairperson of the Labor Party, has also voiced support: "I hope you will join me in saying 'Enough is enough!' Beginning with this special election in New Orleans, give governance to the real people. Malcolm Suber will speak for them and ignite a flame that will speak for working people throughout our nation."

We in the Workers International League view the Reconstruction Party as a positive first step for workers to break from the capitalist political parties and fight for own interests, which stand in stark contradiction to those of the capitalists. We endorse the Suber campaign. As this party evolves, it will have to play a leading role in the antiwar movement because of the vast amount of money being directed to U.S. imperialist adventures aimed at profits, not real human needs. Capitalism aims above all at making the rich ever richer. It lives by the creed of taking from the poor in order to give to the rich. Only by creating our own political party will we be in a position to unite all of capitalism's victims – working people, particularly Blacks, immigrants, etc. – and then we will be in a position to put up a real fight for our interests and build a just society.

Friday, December 07, 2007

In the face of the threat of an attack on Iran, support the people of Iran!

Renegade Eye Note: This was written by Alan Woods : However, it would appear that the prospects of an air strike against Iran have receded - at least for the present. This does not suit Ahmadinejad at all. His support is rapidly eroding inside Iran, and his only hope was to keep beating the drum about the danger of US aggression in order to divert the masses' attention away from their most pressing problems and thus save his regime. He has made a public statement to the effect that the new revelations expose Bush as a liar (which they do) and completely justify the policies of his regime (which they do not).

This will make it easier for the development of a widespread movement of opposition by the Iranian workers and students, which has already begun and is destined to transform the whole political life of the region in the coming period. The Iranian Revolution will cut across the stagnant and unbreathable atmosphere of reaction that hangs over the region. It will cast off the yoke of religious fundamentalism and resolutely take the road of socialism and workers' power.
I think Allen's words compliment Maryam's.

In the face of the threat of an attack on Iran, support the people of Iran!
Maryam Namazie

The threat of a US attack and the devastating consequences of economic sanctions are looming over the people of Iran. US’s war with the Islamic Republic is not the war of the people. People of Iran and their interests are not represented in this conflict. They want neither the Islamic Republic, nor a military attack, nor economic sanctions. For years, they have been fighting the Islamic Republic and the unbearable conditions that this ultra-reactionary regime has imposed on society.

Iran is a society where people sing the Internationale anthem in their protest gatherings and chant “One earth, one humanity” and “One race, the human race”. It is a society where the slogan “Freedom, equality, human identity” has adorned the banner of its struggles. A society where the International Day of the Child is celebrated in large gatherings in scores of cities, and where its manifesto in defence of the rights of homeless children and child workers declares: “for children to be free, this inverted world must be changed”. It is a society where prisoners on death row, from deep inside the jails, call on the people of the world to fight for the universal abolition of the death penalty. Iranian people in their numerous demonstrations have repeatedly stated that they want neither war, nor a nuclear programme, nor the Islamic Republic.

People of the world!

To end the threat of a military attack on Iran, support the struggle of the people of Iran! The overthrow of the Islamic Republic by the will and power of the people is the only human and civilised way to end the threat of war and the deadly race that Islamic terrorism and US militarism and state terrorism are waging in Iran, the Middle East and globally. The Islamic Republic does not represent the people of Iran. This regime is their enemy, not their representative! This is a regime that has been able to survive only by executing tens of thousands of people and carrying out the most ghastly medieval tortures and punishments such as stoning to death, flogging and amputating. The Islamic Republic must be rejected and isolated internationally. The world must treat this regime of sexual Apartheid like it treated the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa. Demand that the world’s states and international bodies not to recognise the Islamic Republic as the government of Iran. Demand that they cut off their diplomatic ties with this medieval regime.

In the fight against the US government’s warlike, inhuman and brutal policies, the Iranian people are on your side; they are asking you to be on their side in the fight against the Islamic Republic! To defeat the American government’s and its allies’ bullying and militarism, to defeat the reactionary and terrorist political Islamic movement and to overthrow the Islamic Republic, support the struggle of the people of Iran.

Hamid Taqvaee
Secretary of WPI Central Committee
30 November 2007
Maryam Namazie

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

All Souls: The Frida Kahlo Cult

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907–1954), the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, in association with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), will present a major exhibition of the artist’s paintings spanning her career. Curated by art historian and world-renowned Kahlo biographer Hayden Herrera and Walker Associate Curator Elizabeth Carpenter, Frida Kahlo premieres at the Walker October 27, 2007–January 20, 2008, before traveling to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and SFMOMA.

All Souls: The Frieda Kahlo Cult
by Peter Schjeldahl
November 05, 2007

There are so many ways to be interested in Frida Kahlo, who was born a hundred years ago an died forty-seven years later, in 1954, that simply to look at and judge her paintings, as paintings may seem narrow-minded. No one need appreciate art to justify being Kahlo fan or even a Kahlo cultist (Why not? The world will have cults, and who better merits one? In Mexico, Kahlo’s ubiquitous image has become the counter-Guadalupe, complementing th numinous Virgin as a deathless icon of Mexicanidad. Kahlo’s ascension since the late nineteen-seventies, to feminist sainthood is ineluctable though a mite strained. (Kahl struggled not in common cause with women but, single-handedly, fo herself.) And her pansexual charisma, shadowed by tales of ghastly physical and emotional suffering, makes her an avatar of liberty and guts. However, Kahlo’s eminence wobbles unless her work holds up. A retrospective at th Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis proves that it does, and then some. She made some iffy symbological pictures an a few perfectly awful ones—forgivably, given their service to her alway imperilled morale—but her self-portraits cannot be overpraised. They are sui generis in art while collegial with great portraiture of every age. Kahlo is among the winnowed elect of twentieth-century painters who will never be absent for long from the mental museums of future artists

Read the rest of the article here



Monday, December 03, 2007

Venezuela: The referendum defeat - What does it mean?

By Alan Woods
Monday, 03 December 2007

At about 1am, after a long delay, the Venezuelan National Electoral Commission announced the results of the referendum on constitutional reform. The proposals for constitutional change were defeated by the narrowest of margins, with 4,504,354 votes against, (50.70%) and 4,379,392, (49.29%) for the YES. Soon afterwards, president Chávez was on the television accepting the results. He said that the proposed reforms had not been approved "for now", but that he would continue to struggle to build socialism.

The result, as could be expected, was greeted with jubilation by the right wing opposition and all the reactionary forces. For the first time in almost a decade they have secured a victory. There were scenes of jubilation in the well-off middle class areas of Caracas. "At last we have shown that Chavez can be defeated! At last the slide towards communism has been stopped! At last we have given the rabble a lesson!"

The joy of the reactionaries is both premature and exaggerated. A glance at the results shows that the voting strength of the opposition has barely increased. If you compare these results (after 88% of the votes had been counted) with the 2006 presidential elections, the opposition has only increased about 100,000 votes, but Chávez lost 2.8 million. These votes did not go to the opposition but rather to abstention. This means that support for the counter-revolution has not significantly increased from its highest point one year ago.

How the bourgeoisie "informs" public opinion

A whole number of factors contributed to this result. The bourgeoisie have in their hands powerful instruments for shaping public opinion. They organised a full mobilisation of the reactionary media in a hysterical campaign of lies and slander against Chavez, the Revolution and socialism. This scare-mongering campaign of the reactionary opposition undoubtedly had an effect on the more backward sections of the population.

The pressure was relentless. The Catholic Church, led by the reactionary Episcopal Conference, preached from the pulpits against Chavez and "godless communism". There was a two-page paid advertisement in Ultimas Noticias, one of the most widely read papers in Venezuela and the one that most Bolivarians read, amongst other things, claimed that the State would take your children away from you and they would belong to the State and that freedom of religion would be abolished.

In Carabobo, the regional newspaper Notitarde published a polling day front page headline that said, "Today you decide and it will be a decision forever" and just below a picture of an empty butcher's shop with a Cuban flag and a picture of Castro with the headline "this is how socialist Cuba looks today".

All this exposes the mendacious hypocrisy of the campaign in the international media to the effect that "there is no press freedom in Venezuela today". This noisy campaign reached a crescendo a few months ago when the government decided not to renew the license of RCTV, a right wing television station that was a notorious nest of counterrevolutionary conspirators who played a key role in the coup of April 2002.

The problem is not that the Revolution has limited the democratic rights of the opposition and trampled on "press freedom". The problem is that the Revolution has been far too generous with its opponents, far too tolerant, far too patient, far too gentlemanly. It has left too much power in the hands of the oligarchy and its agents. It has placed a weapon in their hands which they are using very effectively to sabotage the revolution, halt it in its tracks and ultimately destroy it.


All this is true but it does not answer the question of why the "no" vote won. The main element in the equation was abstention: a large number of Chavistas did not bother to vote. The question must be asked: why did they not vote? The bureaucrats and middle class cynics will blame the masses for their alleged apathy. That is completely false. The masses have consistently voted for Chavez in every election and referendum. They voted massively last December. But now there are signs of tiredness. Why?

After all the talk about socialism, the oligarchy is still firmly entrenched and uses its wealth and power to sabotage and undermine the Revolution. The golpistas of 2002 are still at liberty. The right wing media are free to spew out lies and slanders against the Revolution. Peasant activists are murdered and nothing is done about it.

Despite the reforms of the government, which have undoubtedly helped the poor and disadvantaged, the majority still live in poverty. The problem of homelessness remains unsolved. The sabotage of the landlords and capitalist is causing shortages of basic products. All this has an effect on the morale of the masses.

The overwhelming majority of the masses still support Chavez and the Revolution, but there are clear symptoms of tiredness. After nine years of upheaval the masses are tired of words and speeches, parades and demonstrations, also of endless elections and referendums. They want less words and more decisive action: action against the landlords and capitalists, action against the corrupt governors and officials.

Above all, they want action against the Fifth Column of right wing Chavistas who wear red shirts and talk of socialism of the XXI century but are opposed to real socialism and are sabotaging the revolution from within. Unless the Bolivarian Movement and the PSUV is purged of these reformist bureaucrats and careerists, nothing can be done.

The Fifth Column

The bureaucrats once again showed their complete inability to organize a serious mass campaign. They failed to answer the lies of the opposition. They failed to explain the many points in the reformed constitution that would have benefited the working class, such as the 36 hour week. How could they, when they themselves are opposed to such socialist measures? This sabotage by the Fifth Column is well known to the rank and file of the Movement - and also to its enemies. Time magazine sneered:

"Even some of Chávez's allies want to put the brakes on the President's radical train. Many reform proposals, they argue, are less about empowering the people than about concentrating power in the hands of Chávez. Among the initiatives: eliminating presidential term limits; putting the now autonomous Central Bank under the President's control; and the creation of regional vice presidents. Provincial leaders like Ramón Martínez, Governor of eastern Sucre state and himself a socialist, consider the latter idea a lavish centralization of federal authority, as well as a betrayal of Chávez's Bolivarian Revolution (named for South America's 19th-century independence hero, Simon Bolivar). "This revolution was supposed to create more pluralism in Venezuela," says Martinez. "We don't want a megastate like the Soviet Union."

Anyone who reads these lines will immediately understand why there was no serious campaign. Ramón Martínez is not a socialist but a leader of Podemos, those renegades who split from the Bolivarian Movement on the eve of the referendum campaign in order to wage a violent campaign for the "no" vote. His conduct should surprise nobody. But it was not an isolated case. In Apure the governor did nothing to organize the campaign and many others behaved in a similar fashion. The bureaucrats merely repeated the same disastrous and empty campaign they organized one year ago in the Presidential election.

A comrade in Mérida described it in this way: "It was a stupid campaign in which the posters only said that if you voted for Chávez it was out of "love", while the campaign of the right wing was vicious. They said that everything would be taken away from people, that if you had two houses one was going to be taken away, if you had two cars, one was going to be taken away, that new-born children were going to be taken away by the "socialist" state".

After the result was announced there was a live phone-in show on RNV, one of the state radio stations, and most of the callers blamed the bureaucracy for the lack of campaigning for the YES. Many mentioned the attitude of "Chavista" governors and mayors who not only did not organise any campaign, but actively sabotaged it. These bureaucrats feared the passing of these reforms as much as the opposition did. They correctly saw that the masses would view this referendum as part of a long overdue settling of accounts not only with the ruling class, but also against the reformist and bureaucratic elements within the leadership of the Bolivarian movement.

Baduel's tactics

The declarations of the opposition after the result was announced were highly significant. The first speaker was one of the leaders of the reactionary students. In third place was Rosales, the opposition candidate for President who lost heavily to Chavez last December. But the second speaker was none other than General Baduel, the former Minister of Defence of whom we have written recently.

What did Baduel say? He spoke of national reconciliation and offered to negotiate with Chavez. He renounced all intentions to organize a coup. In short he offered a smiling face and the hand of friendship. This is quite a clever tactic and confirms our impression of Baduel that he is a clever counterrevolutionary. This new tactic of the opposition also reflects the real balance of forces, which is, despite the referendum result, is still very unfavourable to the counterrevolutionaries.

The Revolution should place no trust whatsoever in the smiling face of the Counterrevolution. Remember the words of Shakespeare: "there are daggers in men's smiles"! The offer of reconciliation is a trap. There can be no reconciliation between Revolution and Counterrevolution because there can be no reconciliation between rich and poor, exploiters and exploited.

The only reason for this change of tactic is that the opposition cannot defeat Chávez by direct action. They are too weak and they know it. The more stupid elements among the opposition are now drunk with success. But after a night of drunken euphoria will come a morning with a bad headache. The "victory" was won by the narrowest margin. The greatest exertions of the opposition only succeeded in mobilizing about 100,000 more votes. Moreover, this struggle cannot be won with votes alone.

The pot-bellied bourgeois and his wife and children, the small shopkeeper, the student "spoilt brats of the rich", the government clerks, resentful of the advances of the "rabble", the pensioners nostalgic of the "good old days" of the Fourth Republic, the speculators, thieves and swindlers, the devout old ladies of both sexes manipulated by the reactionary hierarchy of the Church, the solid middle class citizens tired of "anarchy": all these elements appear as a formidable force in electoral terms, but in the class struggle their weight is practically zero.

The class balance of forces

The real balance of class forces was shown by the rallies at the end of the referendum campaign. As in December 2006, the opposition moved heaven and earth to mobilize its mass base and succeeded in assembling a large crowd. However, the next day the streets of central Caracas were flooded by a sea of red shirts and banners. The two rallies revealed that the active base of the Chavistas is five or eight times bigger than that of the opposition.

The picture is even clearer when it comes to the youth. The right wing students are the storm troops of the opposition. They have been the main force organizing violent provocations against the Chavistas. They got 50,000 at their biggest rally, on the most optimistic estimate. But the Chavista students had 200,000 or 300,000 on their rally. In this decisive area of struggle - the youth - the active forces of the Revolution greatly outnumber those of the Counterrevolution.

On the side of the Revolution stand the overwhelming majority of the workers and peasants. This is the decisive question! Not a light bulb shines, not a wheel turns, not a telephone rings without the permission of the working class. This is a colossal force once it is organized and mobilized for the socialist transformation of society.

And the army? What about the army? Reformists like Heinz Dieterich are always harping on this theme like a repeating groove on an old gramophone record. Yes, the army is a decisive question. But the army always reflects the tendencies within society. The Venezuelan army has lived through almost a decade of revolutionary storm and stress. This has left its mark!

There can be no doubt that the overwhelming majority of the ordinary soldiers, sons of workers and peasants, are loyal to Chavez and the Revolution. The same will be true of most of the sergeants and other non-commissioned officers and the junior officers. But the higher we go in the upper echelons the more unclear the situation becomes. In the last few weeks there were rumours of conspiracies and some officers were arrested. This is a serious warning!

Among the officers, many will be loyal to Chavez; others will be sympathetic to the opposition or secret counterrevolutionaries. Most will probably be apolitical career soldiers, whose sympathies can incline one way or another depending on the general climate in society.

The fact that General Baduel has decided to adopt a cautious and conciliatory tone shows that there is no serious base for a coup at the present time. The serious counterrevolutionaries (including their CIA advisers) realise that the time is not yet ripe for an operation like that of April 2002. Why not? Because any attempt to launch a coup at this stage would bring the masses onto the streets ready to fight and die if necessary to defend the Revolution.

Under such circumstances the Venezuelan army as it is at present would be a most unreliable instrument for a coup. It would lead to a civil war which the counterrevolutionaries would not be confident of winning. And who can doubt that this time a defeat of the counterrevolution in open struggle would mean the immediate liquidation of capitalism in Venezuela.

It is for these practical considerations that Baduel is taking the position that he is taking. In effect he is playing for time, hoping that the objective conditions will change to the advantage of the counterrevolution and the disadvantage of the revolution. One must admit that these calculations are correct. Time is not on the side of the revolution!

Pernicious role of sects

Baduel is now arguing for the convening of a constituent assembly. This is, ironically, the very same demand that is being put forward by the Argentinean PO and other ultra left sectarians. The ultra-lefts already found themselves agitating in the company of the Counterrevolution in the referendum campaign, so this should not be a great surprise.

The role of Orlando Chirino and other so-called "Trotskyists" who called on people to spoil the ballot papers was absolutely pernicious. These ladies and gentlemen are so blinded by their hatred of Chavez that they are no longer capable of understanding the difference between revolution and counterrevolution. This writes them off entirely as a progressive force, let alone a revolutionary one. But let the dead bury their dead.

The counterrevolutionaries and imperialists understand the situation far more clearly than the sectarian clowns and half-wits. The masses have been aroused to political life by Chavez and are fiercely loyal to him. The bourgeoisie have tried everything to remove Chavez but have failed. Each counterrevolutionary attempt has been shattered on the rock of the mass movement.

They have therefore decided to arm themselves with patience and play a waiting game. Chavez has been elected for six years and therefore has five more years to run. The first step of the bourgeoisie was to ensure that he cannot stand for election after that. That was the importance of this referendum from their point of view. They calculate that if they can get rid of Chavez one way or the other the Movement will split in pieces and disintegrate, allowing them to take power back into their hands.

The opposition is cautious because it is aware of its weakness. It knows it is not strong enough to go on the offensive. But on the basis of "national accord", it is trying to get Chavez to water down his programme. If they succeed in this it will demoralise the Chavista rank and file, while the reformists and bureaucrats will feel strengthened

It is an intelligent tactic, but there is a problem. Despite the referendum result, they are stuck with Chavez till 2012-13 and no other important elections are on the horizon. In a situation like Venezuela many things can happen in five years. That is why they want a constituent assembly. If they can win another referendum they will change the constitution to permit early elections which they hope they can win - probably with Baduel as their candidate.

Why are they so confident they can win? Because the Revolution has not been carried out to the end: because important economic levers have been left in the hands of the bitterest enemies of the Revolution, and also because there is a limit to how much the masses can tolerate without falling into moods of apathy and despair.

Decisive measures needed!

Some years ago, in May 2004, I wrote an article called Theses on Revolution and counter-revolution in Venezuela in which I wrote the following:

"To rely exclusively on the willingness of the masses to make sacrifices is a mistake. The masses can sacrifice their today for their tomorrow only up to a certain point. This must always be kept in mind. Ultimately, the economic question is decisive."

These observation today retain their full force. In his article dated Tuesday, 27 November 2007, Erik Demeester quoted figures from a recent report from Datanalisis (1) [the Venezuelan statistical service], which revealed what already many people knew: scarcity of basic foodstuffs is becoming intolerable. This study established that milk, beef and sugar have become very difficult to find. Other products like chicken, cooking oil, cheese, sardines and black beans are also very scarce. The analysts who compiled the report interviewed 800 people in some 60 different shops, supermarkets and markets, both in the private sector and the public distribution network, Mercal. 73.3% of the places visited had no milk powder for sale. 51.7% no longer had refined sugar, 40% had no cooking oil, and 26.7% no black beans, a basic staple in Venezuela.

Two thirds of the shoppers declared that they experienced food scarcity to one degree or another in the shops where they usually buy. Queues of a few hours, sometimes up to four hours, to buy some milk are no longer the exception. As comrade Demeester points out, this is reminiscent of the situation in Chile when wholesale economic sabotage was used against the left-wing Popular Unity government of the 1970s.

For the masses the question of socialism and revolution is not an abstract question but is very concrete indeed. The workers and peasants of Venezuela have been extraordinarily loyal to the Revolution. They have shown a high degree of revolutionary maturity and willingness to fight and make sacrifices. But if the situation drags on for too long without a decisive break, the masses will start to tire. Beginning with the most backward and most inert layers, a mood of apathy and scepticism will set in.

If there is no clear end in sight, they will begin to say: we have heard all these speeches before, but nothing fundamental has changed. What is the point in demonstrating? What is the point in voting, if we live much the same as before? This is the biggest danger for the Revolution. When the reactionaries see that the revolutionary tide is ebbing they will pass over to the counteroffensive. The advanced elements of the workers will find themselves isolated. The masses will no longer respond to their appeals. When that moment arrives the counterrevolution will strike.

Those who argue that the Revolution has gone too far too fast, that it is necessary to call a halt to the expropriations and reach a compromise with Baduel to save the Revolution are completely mistaken. The reason why a section of the masses are becoming disillusioned is not because the Revolution has gone too far too fast, but because it is too slow and has not gone far enough.

The growing scarcity of basic products and inflation, affects mainly the working class areas, which are the basis of Chavismo. It is this that is undermining the Revolution, and not "going too far". You cannot make half a revolution. If we accept the advice of reformists of the Heinz Dieterich school, we will surely destroy the Revolution. We would be acting like a man sitting on the branch of a tree and sawing the branch on which he is sitting.

Elections and the class struggle

Marxists do not refuse to participate in elections. That is the position of anarchism, not Marxism. In general, the working class must utilise every democratic opening that is available to assemble its forces, to conquer one position after another from the class enemy and to prepare for the conquest of power.

The electoral struggle has played an important role in Venezuela in uniting, organizing and mobilising the masses. But it has its limits. The class struggle cannot be reduced to abstract statistics or electoral arithmetic. Nor is the fate of a revolution determined by laws or constitutions. Revolutions are won or lost not in lawyer's chambers or in parliamentary debates but on the streets, in the factories, in the villages and poor districts, in the schools and army barracks. We ignore this fact at our peril.

The reformists believe that the working class must always observe the legal niceties. But long ago Cicero said: Salus populi suprema est lex ("The good of the People is the Supreme Law". We might add: the Good of the Revolution is the Supreme Law. The counterrevolutionaries showed absolutely no respect for the law or the Constitution in 2002 and if they had succeeded they would have abolished the 1999 Constitution immediately. Yet now they are all shouting about the defence of that very same Constitution.

Even after the defeat in the referendum, Chavez has enough powers to carry out the expropriation of the landlords, bankers and capitalists. He has control of the National Assembly and the support of the decisive sections of Venezuelan society. An enabling act to expropriate the land, banks and big private enterprises would provoke enthusiastic support among the masses.

The level of abstentions that handed this narrow victory to the opposition is a warning. The masses are demanding decisive action not words! It may be that this defeat will have the opposite effect. It can rouse the masses to new levels of revolutionary struggle. Marx said the revolution needs the whip of counterrevolution. We have seen this more than once in the last nine years in Venezuela.

You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs and you cannot win a fight with one arm tied behind your back. A revolution is not a game of chess with clearly defined rules. It is a fight between mutually antagonistic and irreconcilable class interests. Decisive measures are necessary to defend the Revolution and disarm the Counterrevolution.

The victory of the "no" in the referendum will act as a salutary shock. The Chavistas rank and file is furious and blame the bureaucracy, which they rightly blame for the setback. They are demanding action to purge the right wing from the Movement. That is absolutely necessary! Our slogans must be:

No retreat! No deals with the opposition!

Carry the Revolution forward!

Kick out the bureaucrats and careerists!

Expropriate the oligarchy!

Arm the working people to fight against reaction!

Long live Socialism!

London, December 3, 2007