Thursday, October 30, 2008

Venezuela: New Clashes Between Revolution and Counter-Revolution are Being Prepared

By Patrick Larsen in Venezuela
Thursday, 30 October 2008

Alí Primera, a famous Venezuelan Communist songwriter, once wrote the following: “An early revolution, we must make. Because the more it is delayed, the more difficult it will be”. These are indeed profound words and they sum up brilliantly the main problems that the Venezuelan revolution is facing today.

Hugo Chávez has been in power for ten years – a period that has seen numerous attempts on the part of imperialism and the oligarchy to overthrow him and put a halt to the social reforms he has been promoting. Time and again the masses of workers, youth and urban poor have moved to defend the revolution.

Growing Inflation, Crime Rates and Sabotage on the Part of the Capitalists

Despite the determination revealed by the masses over and over again, after ten years of almost permanent mobilization and conflict between the classes, the government has still not managed to solve the main problems of society. Although living standards and access to social welfare have improved, the majority of Venezuelans still live in poverty, the infrastructure and transport systems in the cities are still highly insufficient, house prices are souring and so on. At the same time, the crime rate has reached record levels. In Caracas, the number of deaths as a result of crime rose from 70 deaths annually per 100,000 citizens in 1998 to a staggering 130 in 2007.

Although the Minister of Planning, Haiman El Troudi, has been constantly denying that the crisis in the world economy will affect Venezuela, the fact is that the country is completely dependent on imports, especially of food products. Thus, inflation has hit Venezuela particularly hard. Inflation of food products has reached 15.3%. In Caracas prices increased by 49.9% between July 2007 and July 2008.

The government has been trying to tackle the problems by making an appeal to the capitalists for investment in the economy but these have continued to speculate and deliberately hold back food products to cause scarcity and give an extra impetus to inflation.

The wild swings in the price of oil-price are also having an effect on Venezuela. Some sources indicate that PDVSA, the national oil company, will make 40% cutbacks in their next annual budget. This will inevitably hit many of the social projects, the misiones, who are partly or wholly financed by oil revenues.

The idea of a “Socialismo petrolero” (i.e. Socialism financed by oil-incomes) which has been promoted particularly by the Reformist sector of the government is thus clashing head-on with reality. These people have tried to use the high oil-incomes as an excuse for not expropriating the capitalists. What they forgot was, that the situation of Venezuela depends wholly on the world market, not just the oil-price but also the prices of aluminium and other raw materials that Venezuela is producing en masse. While the Venezuelan economy is extremely sensitive to swings in these prices, it is also very much dependent on imports of other goods, as already mentioned. This creates a potentially disastrous economic situation for the country. The only remedy to really tackle this would be the implementation of a planned economy, capable of starting production in fields such as agriculture, food, clothing, etc.

Partial Measures

The Venezuelan government has adopted some measures aimed at tackling economic sabotage and to the benefit of the workers and poor, notably the nationalization of the giant steel factory, SIDOR in April. To this we must add other nationalizations such as that of Banco de Venezuela, the milk producer ”Lacteos Los Andes”, the whole of the cement industry, the aluminium factory Rialca and others.

These nationalizations have been met with enthusiasm by many workers and youth, who correctly see them as a step in the right direction. An opinion poll conducted in May revealed a 56% majority in favour of the nationalization of the cement industries with only 33% against, with 53.1% in favour of the nationalization of SIDOR and only 30.9% against. Even more significant was the response to the question, “Would you agree with nationalization of the food chain?” (which hasn't been expropriated yet). 50.1% said they were in favour and only 30.9% against.

Socialists should support these nationalizations enthusiastically. However, nationalizations in and of themselves do not solve the question. Nationalizations must be part of a socialist plan of production, so that the productive chain can begin to run smoothly and satisfy the needs of the population. But in Venezuela, the nationalizations are still limited to particular parts of the economy while vast capitalist enterprises in key areas are left untouched. Partial measures are thus wholly unable to go to the heart of the problem. What is needed is not just expropriation of this or that particular factory but rather the expropriation of the bourgeoisie as a class and the setting up of a national Socialist plan of production, discussed and run democratically by the organized working class.

New Conspiracies Within the Army

Hugo Chávez is without doubt an outstanding figure in world politics. The reason why he is being constantly attacked by the international bourgeois media is that he has had the courage to stand up against imperialism and to promote the idea of socialism as a viable alternative. In spite of Chávez appealing to the capitalists to invest and in spite of the fact that he has not yet moved decisively to destroy the economic power of the ruling class, the oligarchy and imperialism remain hell-bent on getting rid of him. They understand that his mere presence is dangerous.

In the past couple of months, a number of events have confirmed that there are still important sectors of the army that are not loyal to Chávez and are opposed to the revolution. On September 10, a plot of prominent active and retired army generals was uncovered. An audio recording revealed a detailed plan to isolate Chávez, capture him by force and carry out a coup d'etat. On September 23 a number of hidden weapons, including a large-range cannon, were found in Zulia (a state ruled by an opposition governor), apparently to be sued in the planned coup against Chávez. Again on September 27, it was revealed that the Venezuelan authorities had arrested a general of the Airforce who was involved in a conspiracy.

These conspiracies reveal a profound instability within the armed forces. The forces of the counter-revolution are working as an organized fraction within the army. This is the inevitable result of the vacillation on the part of the government that has sought to keep the army out of the revolutionary movement, by banning the PSUV from operating within the armed forces.

The result is clear: if you keep revolutionary politics out of the army, you will give room to counter-revolutionary politics. The only way to avoid future conspiracies and coups is to organise the revolutionaries in the army while at the same time extending the work of arming the masses that has begun with the National Reserve. All workers, peasants and youth should enter the reserve and fight to convert it into a real people’s militia with links to the revolutionary movement locally, regionally and nationally.

The PSUV and the PSUV Youth

The contradictions in Venezuelan society are as sharp as ever. This is perhaps seen most clearly in the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela). After its founding congress in January-February (See Balance Sheet of the PSUV Congress), the party has been going through a process of selection of candidates for the regional and local elections in November. An impressive 2.5 million members participated in the internal elections in June. In some places the left won significant victories (as in Mérida, Vargas and with many local candidates), but in most places the bureaucracy used the apparatus heavily to impose its candidates and the lack of a real left alternative weighed heavily on the final results.

If the PSUV in its first year has been the arena for constant struggles between the reformist right and the revolutionary left, this was even more the case at the founding congress of its new youth organization (See Venezuela: PSUV Youth Congress) held in September in Puerto Ordáz. At this meeting, 1,300 youth from all over Venezuela gathered. There was a tremendously radical, revolutionary mood and a desire to push forward the revolution. This was reflected in the final assembly, where the most popular slogans chanted by the delegates were: “The Youth is Socialist but never Reformist” and ”Open debate – the rank and file has time.”

While an unelected leadership had pushed the idea of statutes that were completely imposed from above and which subsequently tried to stifle any debate, the pressure of the rank and file forced them to make concessions and alter the statutes, giving room for a more democratic structure with elections of the leadership from below.

The PSUV Youth founding congress represented officially 140,000 youth. All over the country these youth are organizing themselves in youth branches and are fighting to radicalise the revolution. The evolution of the PSUV Youth will without a doubt be decisive for the outcome of the Venezuelan revolution as a whole.

Workers Push for Unity and Action

One of the key events that need to be taken into account to understand the present situation of the Venezuelan revolution is the break-up of the congress of the UNT (Union Nacional de los Trabajadores) in May 2006. The UNT represented and still represents in the eyes of millions of Venezuelan workers a potential instrument for the proletariat to act as the main protagonist in the revolution. However, these hopes were cut across in May 2006 when the UNT held its second national congress. While around 4,000 workers assembled in Caracas, a sectarian row broke out between the leaders of the two tendencies grouped around Orlando Chirino and Marcela Máspero. The congress was physically split up, ending in two separate assemblies, while most delegates returned to their homes frustrated.

The fight between the two tendencies was over questions that did not have anything to do with the real burning issues facing the Venezuelan trade union movement. The split however, served to paralyse the UNT for nearly two years. While there have been important workers’ struggles throughout the country (as at Sanitarios Maracay and SIDOR), the UNT has been unable to play a real role as a revolutionary trade union confederation.

The nationalisation of SIDOR in April was a new turning point. The heroic struggle of the SIDOR workers who achieved the re-nationalization of the company, in spite of the attacks of the multinational and the assistance which it received from the reformist sector in the state apparatus, showed that the Venezuelan working class is striving by all its might to advance the revolution.

It was also a clear lesson for the leaders of the different trade union currents who have been discredited by their passivity and complete lack of perspective for the movement. The victory at SIDOR showed the way forward and was a huge inspiration for workers all over Venezuela. It redoubled the pressure from below. Workers began to demand that the UNT be reactivated. Some bureaucratic sectors around the FSBT (Fuerza Socialista de los Trabajadores, a TU tendency around the former Minister of Labour, José Ramon Rivero), tried to explore the mood by proposing a new trade union confederation. However, they had to halt this process and discuss it more in depth, pressurized by their own rank and file.

Since then the pressure for unity and especially for action has been widespread. In July, representatives of the automobile workers met and drew up a resolution demanding unity and a new joint congress of the workers' movement. On September 4 a regional “Congress of Socialist workers” gathered in Zulia, with the participation of 500 people representing 100 trade unions. This congress was called by rank and file trade unions and its concluding resolution called for “a national congress to re-found the Bolivarian trade-union movement”.

Feeling the pressure from below, some initiatives have been taken from the leaders of the movement. On September 20 a national gathering of trade unionists supporting the PSUV was held in Caracas, organized by the PSUV leadership and supported by most of the wings of the UNT. This meeting, which gathered some 300 trade unionists, saw a radical mood and the main point of the final resolution was a demand for the nationalisation of the banks.

Many things indicate that some sort of national congress of the UNT will be held soon. But the decisive question is not just to have unity, but also how to achieve it and for what purpose. The main tendencies in the Venezuelan trade union movement have revealed their incapacity to show a way forward. In fact, they have deliberately maintained the split, which has led to a criminal impasse in the movement.

Unity cannot be built bureaucratically from above. It cannot be ordered by decree. It must be built from below and it must be built around a programme of action democratically discussed and voted by the rank and file of the trade unions. The regional gathering in Zulia indicated the way forward, when it listed a number of demands, such as the implementation of workers’ control and management in factories, nationalisation of the big private enterprises, state monopoly of the foreign trade and the reduction of the working day to 6 hours.

If the UNT were to begin to fight for these demands and take real measures to implement workers’ control in the factories, it would change the balance of forces completely. The bourgeoisie would be seriously threatened and workers in the whole country would move once again to follow the lead of the UNT.

Regional and Local Elections

A new test for the revolution will be the elections for local mayors and regional governors due on November 23. In the previous elections, the opposition only managed to win the governorship of two states (Zulia and Nueva Esparta). But this time, there is a serious danger of losing other important states, such as Carabobo, Táchira, Miranda and Mérida. To this should be added the possible loss of strategic mayors such as Maracaibo (the second biggest city in the country).

The Bolivarian government still enjoys the support of the majority of the masses. But the defeat in the constitutional referendum last December was a clear warning. After 10 years of revolution, the main problems as outlined above, have not been solved. The masses that support Chávez are growing weary of seeing a lack of profound social changes and a lack of a clear perspective to complete the revolution and finish off the power of the oligarchy once and for all. There has not been a real profound change in the leadership and many official PSUV candidates are widely discredited in the population.

That is why the most likely perspective is an electoral setback for the forces that support the revolution. Of course it is difficult to know exactly how big this will be, but the important thing is to seethe general tendency. The revolution is at the crossroads. The enormous contradictions that have accumulated within society – the contradictions between the ruling class and the working class – cannot remain in deadlock forever. They must be resolved one way or the other.

Even a clear victory in these elections would only prepare the way for an even sharper clash with the oligarchy at some point. Already Chávez has stated that if he wins, he will call a new referendum to see if the constitutional reform can pass this time. This would be a step that the oligarchy could not tolerate and it would begin manoeuvring once more.

The fundamental point for Marxists is to understand that all the objective conditions for completing the Socialist Revolution are present in Venezuela. Why then, has this not been done? The reformists blame the masses for a “low level of consciousness”. But if we analyse the past ten years of revolution, we see that it is these very masses that have saved the revolution from defeat in every important clash with the oligarchy. This was the case in 2002 with the coup d'etat and later with the bosses’ lockout. It was also the case in the re-call referendum of 2004 and the presidential elections of 2006.

The problem is not lack of consciousness of the masses, but the fact that the reformist elements in the leadership do not have a clear socialist perspective. The only solution is to expropriate the key levers of the economy (the banks, the land, the food distribution chain and the remaining industries) and put them under the democratic control of the workers and peasants within a Socialist plan of production. This and this alone can solve the urgent problems facing the Venezuelan revolution today.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mexico, the U.S. and the Economic Crisis

By John Peterson
October 24, 2008

"Poor Mexico! So far from God, and so close to the United States!" - Porfirio Diaz

There's an old saying that when the U.S. economy gets a cold, the Mexican economy gets pneumonia. For example, between 2000 and 2001, when the Internet bubble burst and the U.S. economy slowed from 3.7 percent to 0.8 percent, Mexico's economy went from 6.6 percent growth to zero, with devastating effects on the lives of millions of people. So what happens when the U.S. economy itself gets pneumonia? The deepening U.S. financial crisis is already having a violent knock-on effect around the world, and Mexico will be among the hardest hit.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon – considered by millions of Mexicans as illegitimate due to the blatant electoral fraud that brought him to power – has said that Mexico is no longer economically dependent on the U.S. and will therefore not be adversely affected by the crisis. Confronted with rising social instability and falling oil revenues, Calderon needs to put on a brave face and find a way to justify his government's increasing use of repression to maintain itself in power. Social discontent in the country is reaching the boiling point and a further hit to the Mexican economy could unleash an even bigger wave of mobilizations by the masses, with revolutionary implications. Unfortunately for Calderon, the reality is a far cry from his optimistic assessment.

According to Alfredo Coutino, a senior economist for Latin America at Moody's “Mexico is the most exposed economy to the U.S. recession.” And according to George Grayson, an expert on Mexico at the College of William & Mary in Virginia: “I think Calderon is sort of like a deer caught in the headlights of four onrushing tractor trailers.” How could it be otherwise when 80 percent of Mexican exports go to the U.S., and U.S. consumers and companies are cutting back across the board? Already, the U.S. economic crisis is having a devastating effect on millions of Mexicans (and Central Americans) living at home and abroad.

For decades, U.S. corporations shuttered factories and “shipped jobs off to Mexico” in pursuit of higher profits due to the availability of cheaper labor and weaker labor and environmental protections. Now factories in Mexico are being shut down and the jobs are being “shipped off to Asia.” According to the United Nations, from 1970 to 2007, Latin America's share of worldwide domestic product remained more or less unchanged at 5.7 percent, while Asia's share grew from 18 percent to 29 percent. Mexico's share of the world economy has now fallen from a 1980 high of 1.4 percent to just 1.2 percent. In other words, the region has stagnated for nearly 40 years, and even before the recent crisis, Mexico was on a downward spiral.

But these figures do not reveal the entire picture. Over the same period, the amount of wealth concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority has increased astronomically. This has led to the most unimaginable impoverishment of millions of Latin American workers, peasants and urban poor. A recent study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development found that the greatest inequality between rich and poor among OECD countries is precisely in Mexico, where the income of the wealthiest 10 percent of households is more than 25 times greater than the poorest ten percent. The world's third richest person, just behind Bill Gates ($56 billion) and Warren Buffet ($52 billion) is not someone from Germany, Japan, or the Saudi royal family. It's Carlos Slim, a Mexican, with an estimated $49 billion in assets – more than the annual GDP of dozens of small countries put together. Slim made his fortune when the formerly state-owned telecommunications monopoly was sold off and became a privately run monopoly – just as they now hope to privatize the state-owned oil industry.

International currency markets have been in turmoil over the last few weeks, and the Mexican peso has fallen to new lows. The drop is comparable or even greater than the 1994 devaluation of the Mexican currency. For the first time since 1998, the Mexican Central Bank has been forced to sell dollars ($11.2 billion worth) in order to prevent the total implosion of the peso. The official rate is now roughly 14 Mexican pesos per U.S. dollar, although in some parts of the country, especially along the border, it has fallen as low as 17 to 1 on the street. This represents a steep drop in value, especially after several years of relative stability at between 10 and 11 to 1. There was even talk of the “super peso.” This is now finished.

According to reports from the border, retail sales have plunged. In the border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Genaro Alonso Tavera, the former president of the an association of money exchange outlets reported business was down 30 percent. This has also led to a dramatic decrease in traffic from Mexico into the U.S., which is already affecting businesses on the U.S. side who depend on Mexican shoppers to stay open. In addition, consumer prices rose 5.47 percent in September from a year earlier, and are expected to rise further in October and November.

In other words, Mexican workers' purchasing power is being squeezed by both devaluation and inflation. An item – for example a kilo of tortillas – that cost 10 pesos just a few months ago, now costs 15 pesos or more. That's a colossal increase in the cost of living. This alone is a recipe for a surge in the class struggle on an even higher level than in 2006, when the struggle against the electoral fraud, several major strikes and student mobilizations, and the Oaxaca Commune shook the country from top to bottom. Those momentous events are just a hint of what's to come in the coming period. Even more serious confrontations between the classes are being prepared: the backs of the Mexican masses are against the wall and they have no alternative but to struggle.

The two most important sources of income for the Mexican economy are PEMEX, the nationalized oil industry, and remittances from Mexicans living and working in the U.S. However, oil prices have fallen from $147.27 a barrel in July to under $70 in mid-October. This, combined with falling demand and overall production due to crumbling infrastructure, corruption, and mismanagement, means a fiscal disaster is looming. Other export commodity prices are also falling and tourism is expected to drop as well. Calderon is moving might and main to force through the privatization of PEMEX, as a way of injecting cash into the economy – and above all to further enrich the Mexican capitalists and foreign oil companies. From Wall Street to Mexico City, within the limits of capitalism, whether it's nationalization or privatization, it's all about stealing from the poor to give to the rich.

As for the other pillar of the economy, Mexicans living in the U.S. sent home 12 percent less money in August than a year ago, the largest drop since the Bank of Mexico began tracking remittances 12 years ago. This amounted to $1.9 billion as compared to $2.2 billion a year earlier. In the first 8 months of 2008, $15.5 billion was sent home, 4 percent less than the same period in 2007. Some 11 million Mexicans live in the U.S., forced to emigrate here in search of work as whole swathes of the country have become an economic wasteland. Entire families, neighborhoods, and even towns are entirely dependent on these monies for their very survival. Now that source is drying up.

In times of economic crisis, immigrant workers are among the hardest hit. Already badly paid and with few if any labor or legal protections, they are among the first to be laid off, are increasingly swindled out of money owed for work performed, and are being rounded up like animals and deported by the thousands in increasingly aggressive Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. Immigrant workers are being used as scapegoats for the economic crisis, to divert attention away from the real cause of the economic crisis, of the millions of foreclosures and layoffs: the capitalist system itself. They are also being punished for daring to rise up against decades of super-exploitation and discrimination in the “immigrant spring” of 2006.

From Oct. 1, 2007 to Aug. 31, 2008, Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted 1,172 work-site raids across the U.S. Hundreds of raids on homes and neighborhoods are not included in these figures. One raid alone, in Postville, Iowa, resulted in the detention of 389 immigrant workers. This single raid cost more than $5.2 million to prepare and conduct, not including the expenses incurred by the Department of Labor or the federal attorney general (more than $13,300 per detainee). This is nothing less than a campaign of state terror (using workers' tax money) against one of the most vulnerable layers of the working class.

And yet, millions of Mexicans and other Latin Americans have no choice but to emigrate to the U.S. Simply put, the situation facing them at home is even more dire. As the crisis deepens, millions more will be forced to flee the dead end that capitalism has led to in most Latin American countries. The raids, deportations, increased border patrols, layers of walls and checkpoints, and massive detention centers are also a pre-emptive blow against the Latin American revolution, which will not respect the artificial borders drawn up by imperialism. There is nothing the capitalists on both sides of the border fear more than the united international working class.

So while Wall Street panics and the billionaires receive billions in tax-payer dollars to bail them out, millions of working Americans are losing their homes, jobs, and hopes for the future. But for people living just across the border in Mexico, things are even worse. And for the millions of undocumented immigrant workers and their families already living in the U.S., the walls are closing in – literally. The “immigration crisis” and the general economic convulsions are at root part of the same problem: the organic crisis of the capitalist system. All workers' interests are the same, no matter where we were born. In the coming period, the ruling class will do its best to divide the working class along lines of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, etc. The only solution is working class unity and militant organization and mobilization against the real enemy: the capitalists and their system.

With a global economy comes global economic crisis. The U.S. and Mexican economies are tightly interconnected, and what happens in one country has a direct and profound effect on the other. The Mexican working class has been ground down for decades by the death agony of the system. Entire areas of country are out of the government's control and thousands of civilians killed every year in the crossfire between the government and the narco-traffickers – it's often hard to tell which is which. Some bourgeois analysts even warn the country is on the verge of becoming a “failed state” like Afghanistan or Pakistan. This, right on the border of the most powerful country on earth. The choice facing the Mexican masses is truly one between socialism or barbarism.

But there is another side to the story. The epoch of world capitalist crisis is also the epoch of world revolution. The Mexican masses have shown time and again that they have not forgotten the heroic revolutionary traditions of the past. In recent years, millions of Mexican workers, peasants and youth have mobilized to improve their lives, to defend Social Security, to defend public education, against electoral fraud, to stop the privatization of oil, and for better wages and conditions. In the coming historical period, the Mexican working class, along with their U.S. class brothers and sisters, will move again and again to change society. Together, we will succeed in ending the horrors exploitative system of capitalism once and for all.

John Peterson

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bolivia: Decisive Action Needed to Confront the Oligarchy

By Darrall Cozens
Tuesday, 21 October 2008

After the massacre of up to 30 men, women and children on September 11th in the village of El Porvenir, some 20 miles outside the provincial capital city of Cobija in Pando province, a feeling of revulsion and anger swept across all parts of Bolivia.

Those who were murdered formed part of a caravan of about 1000 members of the Amalgamated Federation of Pando Agricultural Workers (FUTCP) and their families. They were supporters of Evo Morales marching on Cobija with the aim of retaking government offices that had been occupied and ransacked by pro-fascist gangs. These gangs were supporters of the oligarchy in the Media Luna (provinces of Pando, Beni, Santa Cruz and Tarija) who were attempting to carry out a coup against the Morales government in La Paz.

The caravan was ambushed at a bridge over the river Tiahuamanu. Some 300 armed thugs, many with submachine guns, attacked the caravan and fired upon those who formed part of the caravan of vehicles. As they fled to escape, some in to the jungle and some attempting to ford the river, they were shot in the back and in the head. Some 100 are still missing apart from those confirmed dead.

When news leaked out across Bolivia, there was a spontaneous mobilisation of the numerous organisations that had always supported Morales – trade unions, peasant and indigenous movements. They marched on the provincial capital in Santa Cruz and put it under siege. The scale and anger of the protestors shocked the oligarchy who up until that moment had assumed that they would be able to establish separate political entities, with their own tax systems, police force and army, in their provinces, thus establishing de facto separate states, resulting in the Balkanisation of Bolivia.

Over the past few days, both government and opposition have been negotiating. On the one hand, the opposition has constantly tried to disrupt the negotiations by breaking them off with demands for the government to release their political representatives who had been arrested after the El Porvenir massacre. One of those arrested was Leopoldo Fernandez, governor of Pando province, who had given orders that MAS supporters on the march had to be stopped at all costs and had organised the fascist gangs which shot at them.

To put pressure on the oligarchy, a march from Caracallo in Cochambamba province to La Paz will arrive in the capital on October 20th. Once again, the mass organisations of workers and peasants and indigenous peoples are showing their strength in support of Evo Morales. On the march are members of CONALCAM (The National Coordinating Committee for Change), CIDOB (The Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia), CONAMAQ (The National Council of Markas and Ayllus of Qullasuya – indigenous peoples organisation), the Coordinating Committee for the Integration of Peasant Economic Organisations of Bolivia representing 775 different organisations and finally the march will be joined by members of COB, the Bolivian Workers Central Organisation. In other words, all of the organisations representing workers’ and peasant movements will be on the march in support of the Evo Morales government.

With such support, which reflects the real balance of forces in Bolivia, one might have thought that Morales would deal firmly with the opposition and stick to his guns in relation to the content of the new CPE (The Political Constitution of the State) and the referendum date of December this year or January 2009 to ratify the CPE. But instead of exercising the Mano Dura (Iron Fist) in his dealings with the opposition, a policy demanded by workers and peasants on many of the marches, Morales has once again taken the road of compromise and conciliation.

The Constituent Assembly which drafted the CPE has set up a special commission to investigate the contents of the CPE and to agree a date for the referendum. This commission (Comision Especial de Concertacion) has 14 members, 4 from MAS (Morales’ movement), 4 from PODEMOS, 3 from MNR and 3 from UN (these latter three represent the rich and powerful in Bolivia). In other words, Morales’ forces have 4 out of 14 seats on this committee, a built-in minority. Yet in the elections for the 255-member Constituent Assembly (CA), that began its deliberations on the CPE in early 2006, MAS had 137 deputies, PODEMOS 60, MNR 18 and UN 8. From having a majority in the CA, a majority that was endorsed in the recall referendum of August this year where Morales took 68% of the popular vote, Morales has let MAS become a minority in this special committee.

What are the objections that the three opposition forces have to the CPE? Among many objections, PODEMOS opposes the clauses in the CPE which deal with control of natural resources (mainly gas and oil) and UN wants the autonomy status of the Media Luna provinces to be constitutionally recognised and maximum land holdings to be 10,000 hectares per person, not 5,000. Having become a minority in the CA after the December 2005 elections and after having lost the battle of the streets in the past few weeks, these political representatives of the oligarchy have had handed to them by Morales a majority on a committee to revise the CPE proposals. This will obviously not be the last word, as that will be had by those who are descending on the capital in support of Morales, the workers and peasants who have provided the backbone to Morales and MAS in their dealings with the oligarchy and their attempted coup. Each time that Morales has held out the olive branch of conciliation, the oligarchy has been emboldened. In addition, each time that the oligarchy has attempted to destabilise and overthrow the Morales’ government, the masses have come to defend their government. Moreover, this will be the case until the three burning issues of poverty, ownership and control of the land and the hydrocarbon industries have been resolved.


It is worth restating the figures for poverty for they are ample proof of the inability of the capitalist and landlord class that owns and controls Bolivia to raise the standards of living of the masses in Bolivia. The population of the country is some 9.8 millions, the average life expectancy is 47 yet the country sits on hydrocarbon reserves of an estimated $250 billions. The poverty rate is 60% but 38% live in extreme poverty, which means that on a day-to-day basis they have no regular and guaranteed access to the basic necessities to sustain life. Some 28% have no access to safe and clean drinking water and 24% of children under 3 years of age are malnourished. Some 39% of the population work in agriculture and rural poverty is 76%. Indigenous Bolivians have greater levels of poverty, extreme poverty, illiteracy and malnutrition than non-indigenous. Income from work amongst non-indigenous peoples is 2.2 times greater than for indigenous peoples. Schooling for non-indigenous peoples is on average 9.8 years but for indigenous on average 5.9 years. In the province of La Paz, which contains 27% of the population, some 77% are of indigenous origin and the poverty rate is 66%. On the other hand in Santa Cruz, the stronghold of the oligarchy, where some 26% of the total population are concentrated, the indigenous peoples number 37% and the poverty rate is 38%. While it is true that there is a strong correlation between poverty and the majority indigenous population, there is also poverty amongst the mestizo (mixed blood) section of the population and those of “pure” Spanish descent. In Tarija province, for example, where 85% of Bolivia’s natural gas deposits are located, there is only 5% of the population, some 20% of which is indigenous, yet the poverty rate is 50%. In other words, the national question in Bolivia is also a class question.

An attempt was made by Morales back in February this year to meet the needs of one section of the population, those over 60 and retiring. Between 700,000 and 800,000 retired people would get a state pension. Those without a pension would get 200 Bolivianos ($26) per month, and those with another pension, say from work, would get 150 Bs (about $20). The total cost was calculated at $205 millions per year, some 30% of the taxation raised from the exploitation of the hydrocarbon reserves. These pensions will be guaranteed in the new CPE proposals and that is one of the many reasons why the oligarchy opposes the CPE. If the pensioners are to get 30% of the revenue from taxes on the hydrocarbon companies, then that will mean less going to the provinces in the Media Luna area of the country, less going into the pockets of the oligarchy. The ownership and control of the hydrocarbon industry is here a key question, for without Morales having this control there is no way that his programme of social reforms can be carried out.


Between 2004 and 2007, government revenue from this industry increased by £1.3 billions or 10% of GDP. Per capita, it went up from $31 in 2004 to $160 in 2007. This increase was due to three factors; the 2005 Hydrocarbons Law, the May 2006 partial nationalisation of 51% of the industry and the worldwide increase in energy prices. From the total amount collected in taxes, the redistribution has followed the age-old formula in Bolivia of inequality. The government takes 25% of the revenue, the state company YPFB takes 25.2% and the remaining amount is given out to regional governments, municipalities and universities in the provinces. The four provinces in the Media Luna with 3.5million people get 30% of the total revenues and the other five mainly much poorer provinces with 6.3 million people get 19.7% of the total revenues. Even among the Media Luna provinces, there is an unequal distribution. In 2007, Santa Cruz with 26% of the total population got $117.2m., yet Tarija with 5% of the population received $237.7m. La Paz, a MAS stronghold, with nearly 28% of the population, only got $73.3m. In other words, even under the present system of tax revenue distribution, the relatively better off areas of Bolivia are getting the lion’s share of the revenue, and the poor areas a beggar’s share. For the oligarchy however even this is not acceptable. Behind their referendums for autonomy lies the aspiration to own and control the gas and oil reserves of Bolivia for themselves. They have even managed to convince poor people in their areas that if they controlled the hydrocarbon industry, then the poor would also benefit, as everyone in the province would be looked after with such untold wealth in the hands of the oligarchy. In reality, it would mean the rich getting even richer. However it is not only the gas and oil industry that stands behind the oligarchy. The land question is equally important.

The Land

The Revolution of 1952 was meant to have solved the land question. Pre-1952 land ownership in Bolivia was the least efficient and least egalitarian in Latin America. Land was concentrated in a few hands and the overwhelming majority of land workers existed by means of sharecropping and peonaje, free peasant labour to the landlord in exchange for a share of the produce. A semi-feudal social structure existed and only 0.3% of the land was used for agricultural purposes.

In 1950, some 0.7% of the total number of farm units was over 10,000 hectares in size and occupied 49.6% of the land. At the other end, some 59.3% of all the units were smaller than 5 hectares and occupied 0.23% of the land. This was a time when the population was 2.5 million yet 30,000 voters elected presidents.

In 1951 the MNR, a petty bourgeois party with allies on the Left, won elections. There was a military coup to prevent them taking political power. A battle ensued and the miners entered the scene, destroying the bourgeois army and setting up a 100,000-strong armed trade union militia. However this workers’ revolution gave political power to the MNR. In May 1952, Victor Paz Esstensoro becomes president. Under strong pressure from the mass movement, the programme of government was universal suffrage, nationalisation of the tin mines, land reform and the establishment of the state oil company YPFB.

In 1953, the Agrarian reform law was passed in which the state did not recognise latifundismo, large-scale land holdings. This attempt by a capitalist state machine to limit the land holdings of the oligarchy ended in miserable failure. From 1955 to 1967, a period of 12 years, only 200,000 peasant families had received some land. The legal process to confirm redistribution was taking between 2 years and more than 10 years. By 1963, only one tenth of the agricultural workers had benefitted and only 16% of the land that had been redistributed could be cultivated. In Santa Cruz, the power base of the oligarchy today, only 3% of land had been redistributed. In addition, with the meagre share out that did happen, there was no credit, no technical advice and no organisation. The standard of living of the peasant masses did not improve. All kinds of bureaucratic and corrupt practices were employed by those in the state machine to ensure that the 1953 Law was ineffectual.

In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, under various military dictatorships, land was re-concentrated in fewer hands. In 1984, only 3.9% of farm units were over 100 hectares in size, yet they occupied 91% of the land area. Recent statistics from the World Bank and UDAPE have revealed an even greater concentration of land ownership. Some 686 farm units, a total of 0.22% of landowners, had farms that were larger than 5000 hectares in size with some larger than 100,000 hectares, the average being 16,000. Combined with 1300 farm units greater than 2,500 hectares, the number of farm units is only 0.63% of the total number yet they occupy 66.42% of agricultural land. At the other end of the scale, 86% of farm units occupy 2.4% of agricultural land.

In Santa Cruz and Beni provinces, some 14 families of opposition politicians and businessmen have land holding of 313,000 hectares, or roughly 800,000 acres. It is these large landholdings that provide the power base for the oligarchy in the Media Luna and the source of opposition to Morales’ promise, enshrined in the CPE, to limit landholdings to either 5,000 or 10,000 hectares.

State control of the hydrocarbon industry, redistribution of land and an end to poverty cannot be accomplished on the basis of Bolivian capitalism and landlordism. Morales stands at the head of a movement called MAS, the Movement towards Socialism. When on December 16th last year in the Plaza Murillo in La Paz Morales received the draft constitution in a public ceremony watched by tens of thousands including me, he stated that the worst enemy of humankind was capitalism and then went on to call for a “democratic cultural” revolution. The power of the oligarchy cannot be blunted by the setting up of conciliation committees in the Constituent Assembly. It can only be ended by expropriating them through a socialist revolution and the creation of a democratic workers’ and peasants’ state as the first step in the revolution in the Andes of Latin America.

October 10th, 2008


Friday, October 17, 2008

Oliver Stone's W. (2008) **1/2

After eight years of George Bush, Oliver Stone presents two long hours more of Bush43. I liked Josh Brolin's portrayal of GWB, overall I found the movie lacking point of view.

Josh Brolin was able to make you forget he played in No Country for Old Men last year. He gets GWB's gestures and postures down to to a tea. Elizabeth Banks as the to become Laura Bush, comes off as the sanest person in the movie. W.seemed like a look alike convention; Toby Jones as Karl Rove, Richard Dreyfuss as Dick Cheney, Thandie Newton as Condoleezza Rice, Ellen Burston as Barbara Bush, Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell etc. It was like watching impersonators, who learned the superficial parts of the character, not the soul. I don't put Brolin in that category. Thandie Newton played Condi as a Saturday Night Live audition

It wasn't the kick ass Oliver Stone who made Natural Born Killers. It was Stone trying to be objective. It actually is sympathetic to Bush. He is portrayed struggling for his Dad's approval, and rebelling at the same time, drinking, womanizing and not holding on to jobs. Laura is the angel that sets him straight. Under it all, he is principled but as president, over his head. He is caught between his inflexible principles and emotions, against the reality of the world. The actual villain in the movie is Cheney, who wants intelligence to match his conclusions.

I've noticed conservative sources as Pajama Media gave W. a bad review. I don't think the film is liberal or conservative biased. That is the problem to me. Maybe it's too early to have a Bush43 movie?

See Sex Drive instead.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Conference on Political Islam, Sharia Law and Civil Society a success

By Maryam Namazie
October 14, 2008

The Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain's first international conference on Political Islam, Sharia Law and Civil Society held at Conway Hall on October 10 was a resounding success. Nearly 300 people came together to discuss issues ranging from apostasy, the freedom to criticise and renounce religion, Sharia law and civil society and creationism, faith schools and religious education. Held on the International Day against the Death Penalty, the conference was a stark reminder of the many killed or facing execution for apostasy in countries ruled by Islamic laws.

You can see film footage and photos of the conference on the CEMB's website.

The conference was opened by Fariborz Pooya (head of Iranian Secular Society), the conference's Master of Ceremonies. After a welcome from Giles Enders on behalf of Conway Hall and Zia Zaffar on behalf of CEMB's Executive Committee, the audience watched a clip from Patty Debonitas' film ‘Breaking the taboo.' Maryam Namazie, the CEMB's spokesperson, then gave an opening address, saying that the political Islamic movement used rights and anti-racist language for western consumption so that it could go about its business as usual. She said: ‘While Islamic organisations here talk in PR speak, they, their courts, their schools, their leaders are nothing but extensions of Islamic states.' She went on to say ‘In the end, political Islam matters to people because it affects their lives, their rights, their freedoms. And that's why only a movement that puts people first can mobilise the force needed to stop it.'

This was followed by Plenary 1 entitled ‘Apostasy laws and the Freedom to Renounce and Criticise Religion' chaired by Caspar Melville, editor of the New Humanist. Panellists were Mina Ahadi (head of the Council of ex-Muslims of Germany); AC Grayling (philosopher and author), Ehsan Jami (former head of the Council of Ex-Muslims of the Netherlands), Fariborz Pooya, Hanne Stinson (Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association) and Ibn Warraq (author). The panellists called for the immediate release of all those imprisoned for 'apostasy'; an abolition of the death penalty; and a cancellation of laws wherever they exist that punish the right and freedom to renounce or criticise Islam.

After lunch, comedian Nick Doody entertained the crowd with a routine critical of religion. This was followed by Plenary 2 entitled ‘Sharia Law and Citizenship Rights'. It was chaired by Andrew Copson (Director of Education and Public Affairs of the British Humanist Association); panellists were Mahin Alipour (head of the Scandinavian Councils of Ex-Muslims), Roy Brown (International Humanist and Ethical Union's Representative at the UN Human Rights Council), Johann Hari (journalist), Maryam Namazie and Ibn Warraq. The audience overwhelmingly supported the following resolution at the end of the plenary: The conference calls on the UK and European governments to bring an end to the use and implementation of Sharia law, which is discriminatory against women and children in particular, and to guarantee unconditional equal citizenship rights for all.

The audience then watched a remake of the right wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders' film entitled Fitna Remade by Reza Moradi.

After a break, Richard Dawkins (scientist, author) provided his criticism of Harun Yahya's Atlas of Creation for which his site has been banned in Turkey, which was followed by questions and answers from the audience.

This was followed by Plenary 3 entitled ‘Creationism, Religious Education and Faith Schools,' which was chaired by Keith Porteous Wood (Executive Director of the National Secular Society). Panellists were Richard Dawkins, Terry Sanderson (President of the NSS), Joan Smith (journalist and activist), Bahram Soroush (Labour Solidarity Committee Public Relations Officer), and Hamid Taqvaee (leader of the Worker-communist Party of Iran). The audience showed their unequivocal opposition to faith schools here. Maryam Namazie closed the conference by calling on the participants to mobilise around March 8 - International Women's Day – to step up opposition against Sharia law and political Islam. As she had said earlier: ‘In the end, political Islam matters to people because it affects their lives, their rights, their freedoms. And that's why only a movement that puts people first can mobilise the force needed to stop political Islam. And it must – it will – be stopped.'

Throughout the day, various CEMB representatives spoke with the media, including the BBC, Al Arabiya TV, Italian state TV, The Wall Street Journal, CNS News, The Guardian, etc.

For more information, please contact Maryam Namazie.

Maryam Namazie's Blog

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Magical Realism Of Gabriel García Márquez: One Hundred Years Of Solitude

“A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta's chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano José, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread.

"Holy Mother of God!" Úrsula shouted.”


Blogrolling Hacked

The website was hacked on October 08th, with people finding the homepage with Islamist messages (see picture). Blogrolling is a site that supplies script for saving links, alphabetizing them, and getting notice of updates.

Yesterday it looked like Blogrolling was back up. Instead every link led to a certain Laura's blog, which is down now.

This is the second time Blogrolling was hacked.

For now all my blog links are gone. I used the updated blog feature often to visit and encourage blogs, that don't update often.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Afghanistan: The Unwinnable War

By Alan Woods
Tuesday, 07 October 2008

We can't defeat the Taliban, says the outgoing commander of British forces in Afghanistan. In a statement published in yesterday’s The Times (October 6, 2008), Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, the commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, said that in his opinion, a military victory over the Taliban was “neither feasible nor supportable”. Carleton-Smith says he believes the Taliban will never be defeated.

The Brigadier speaks from experience. The 16 Air Assault Brigade, which will hand over to 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines this month, has suffered severe casualties after six months of hard fighting. Their commander has drawn the most pessimistic conclusions from his experience. He no longer talks of victory. “What we need is sufficient troops to contain the insurgency to a level where it is not a strategic threat to the longevity of the elected Government,” he says.

What do these words mean? They mean that after seven years of bloody fighting, the Coalition troops are further away from victory than ever, and that the puppet government of Karzai is under constant threat from the insurgency. Although the brigadier said that his troops had “taken the sting out of the Taliban” during clashes in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, this had been at a heavy cost. His brigade suffered 32 killed and 170 injured during its six-month tour of duty. The 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment alone lost 11 soldiers, most of them killed by roadside bombs or other explosive devices.

This is forcing both military commanders and politicians to revise their opinions of the situation in Afghanistan. Their conclusions completely confirm what the Marxists wrote seven years ago.

What We Said

When the US-led Coalition army went into Afghanistan, we predicted that their initial success would eventually turn into its opposite. We wrote at the time:

“The swiftness of the collapse of the Taliban's defence, and the ease with which the Northern Alliance entered Kabul, has led many to conclude that the war is over and that the Taliban are finished. This is a serious misreading of the situation. […]

“The main war aims of the USA have not been achieved. Bin Laden is still at liberty. The al Qaeda organization, despite the losses it has undoubtedly suffered, is still intact. Nor is the Taliban destroyed. On the contrary.

“It is true that the fall of Kabul presents the Americans potentially with a more favourable logistical context for pursuing their military operation. It has made the logistics of supplying and maintaining the military campaign far easier. However, the essential problem remains: in order to realize its objective, the US and its allies must send troops into the Pushtoon areas. This cannot be achieved painlessly. The enemy has been driven from the cities but not destroyed. The Taliban, having withdrawn from the cities, will regroup in the mountains and villages of the Pushtoon heartland.”

And we concluded:

“The Taliban have lost their grip on power, but not their potential for making war. They are very used to fighting a guerrilla war in the mountains. They did it before and can do it again. In the north, they were fighting in alien and hostile territory. But in the villages and mountains of the Pushtoon area, they are in their own homeland. The prospect opens up of a protracted guerrilla campaign which can go on for years. The first part of the allied war campaign was the easy bit. The second part will not be so easy. British and American troops will have to go into the Pushtoon areas on search and destroy missions, where they will be sitting targets for the guerrillas. Casualties will be inevitable. At a certain stage this will have an effect on public opinion in Britain and America.

“The Americans had hoped to be able to carry out a quick, surgical strike against bin Laden, relying mainly on air power. Instead, the conflict is becoming ever more complicated and difficult, and the prospect of an end is postponed almost indefinitely. They will have to keep troops stationed not only in Afghanistan but in Pakistan and other countries in order to prop them up. […]

“This is a far worse and more dangerous position than the one in which the Americans found themselves on September 11. Washington will now be compelled to underwrite the bankrupt and unstable regime in Pakistan, as well as all the other "friendly" states in the region, which are being destabilized by its actions. If the aim of this exercise was to combat terrorism, they will find they have achieved the opposite. Before these events, the imperialists could afford to maintain a relatively safe distance from the convulsions and wars of this part of the world, but now they are completely entangled in it. By their actions since September 11, the USA and Britain has got themselves dragged into a quagmire, from which it will be difficult to extricate themselves.”

This was written on November 15, 2001 (Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul: Is the war over?). Seven years later there is no need to change a single word of what we wrote then.

Grim Prognosis

The ablest representatives of the bourgeoisie usually come to the same conclusions as the Marxists. Seven years later the brigadier’s grim prognosis proves what we said long ago to be true. It follows a leaked cable by François Fitou, the deputy French Ambassador in Kabul, claiming that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British Ambassador, had told him the strategy for Afghanistan was “doomed to failure”.

In the cable, Mr Fitou told President Sarkozy that Sir Sherard believed “the security situation is getting worse, so is corruption and the [Karzai] Government has lost all trust”. He said Sir Sherard had told him Britain had no alternative but to support the US, “but we should tell them that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one. The American strategy is doomed to fail.”

For his part, Brigadier Carleton-Smith admitted that it had been “a turbulent summer”. He claimed that the Taliban were “riven with deep fissures and fractures”, but then quickly added: “However, the Taliban, tactically, is reasonably resilient, certainly quite dangerous and seems relatively impervious to losses. Its potency is as a force for influence.” The brigadier said that in the areas where the Government had no control, the Afghan population was “vulnerable to a shifting coalition of Taliban, mad mullahs and marauding militias”. In other areas, however, progress was being made and children were going back to school. “We are trying to deliver sufficient security for a degree of normalization,” he said.

A War That Cannot Be Won

The Economist recently wrote:

“The British army, leading the NATO effort in Helmand, has lost 115 soldiers there since 2006, compared with perhaps 5,000 dead Taliban. Yet Qari Yusuf Ahmadi, a senior Taliban spokesman, is relentlessly upbeat: ‘We struggle for almighty Allah and we are sure we are winning.’ The outgoing British commander, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, credits the Taliban with being ‘still tactically quite resilient and certainly quite dangerous’. But he says the British are ‘minimising the objective damage’ they are able to inflict.

“Given the military stalemate, the British strategy now focuses on developing Afghan forces and government structures with a view to an eventual political solution. Brigadier Carleton-Smith estimates Britain can start withdrawing troops in three to five years. But Afghan political maturity could take ‘decades or generations’.”

In the past year the Taliban have lost territory, notably the towns of Garmser and Musa Qala, the only two places in Afghanistan where they defended fixed positions. But these victories of the Coalition forces are more apparent than real. The Taliban have merely abandoned their attempt to defend fixed positions, where they are weak, in order to step up guerrilla tactics, where they are strong.

The Taliban have plenty of arms and money, thanks to their accommodation with drug-farmers and smugglers. This autumn Taliban commanders have promised to defend the poppy fields in the previously pro-government districts of Nad Ali and Marja. The Koran’s prohibition of drug use takes second place to the need to win the hearts and minds of Afghan farmers and hard cash for guns! They indignantly deny that they receive drug money. However, the Taliban accepts zakat (alms) from the local poppy-farmers, which is much the same thing. With this money they can buy large quantities of arms and ammunition from corrupt Afghan police and soldiers, and there is a never-ending flow of volunteers from Pakistan. This means that the war can go on indefinitely. The conclusion is clear. The Coalition forces cannot win this war.

The Problem of the State

Sooner or later the American and British will be compelled to leave Afghanistan, following in the ignominious footsteps of every other foreign army that tried to subdue this turbulent country, from Alexander the Great onwards. In order to do this, they will have to try to create some kind of state. And, as Engels explained long ago, the state is essentially groups of armed men.

Brigadier Carleton-Smith said that there had been a government vacuum for 30 years, and even now the central Government in Kabul did not view Helmand as a key province. He said that in some areas the Afghan people were now beginning to shift their allegiance towards traditional power structures “rather than the shadowy and illegal structures” of the Taliban and the warlords. He said that more foreign trainers were needed to help to build up the competence of the Afghan National Army. He kindly suggested that the Americans would provide them.

However, the chances of creating anything like a stable central government in Kabul are not great. The mood in Kabul has been a gloomy one of late. There is no sign that NATO forces are any closer to winning the war against the Taliban. On the other hand, there is equally little sign that the Taliban are winning the war in Helmand either. This is a strong argument in favour of reaching a deal.

The British have a long and bitter experience of wars in Afghanistan. They suffered the humiliation of seeing a British army cut to bits by Afghan tribesmen. In the end, the British Empire was compelled to pay bribes to the tribal chiefs to keep the North West Frontier quiet. Now history is repeating itself. The Brigadier indicated that the only way forward was to find a political solution that would include the Taliban. Let us recall that a few months ago two foreign diplomats (one of them was British) were expelled from Afghanistan for allegedly negotiating with the Taliban. We have no doubt whatsoever that such negotiations are secretly going on all the time.

President Karzai does not like this. He sees it (quite correctly) as a threat to his position. Nevertheless, under pressure from his foreign “allies” his government has launched a “reconciliation programme”. But he has a small problem: the hard core of Taliban commanders are implacably opposed to any compromise. Efforts are therefore being focused on the so-called “tier-two” and “tier-three” Taliban, who are perceived to be less ideologically intransigent. The Coalition calculates that sufficiently large amounts of dollars will weigh more heavily with some of the chiefs than verses from the Koran.

In the end the Coalition forces will be compelled to abandon the attempt to occupy Afghanistan. They will leave behind them a trail of death and destruction and a legacy of hatred and bitterness that will last for decades. We do not know which of the rival gangs will dominate the next government in Kabul. What we do know is that, as always, the heaviest price will be paid by the ordinary people, the workers and peasants, the poor, the old, the sick, the women and children.

The terrible fate of the people of Afghanistan is yet another of the innumerable crimes of US imperialism and its allies. The infamous “war on terror”, far from achieving its objectives, has had the opposite result. By its actions the imperialists have provided a powerful impetus to terrorism. They have poured fuel on the flames of fanaticism and thus acted as the main recruiting sergeant for al Qaeda and the Taliban. They have completely wrecked Afghanistan and in the process they have destabilized Pakistan. In the immortal and often quoted words of the Roman historian Tacitus: “And when they have created a wilderness, they call it Peace.”

London, 7 October 2008

Other News October 09, 2008: Blogrolling has been hacked and is down now. Stay tuned. All my blog links are there.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Who is Bill Ayers?

By Louis Proyect
April 18, 2008

If you listen to rightwing talk radio, you’ve probably heard Bill Ayers’s name before. WABC AM, a prime outlet for Limbaugh and company, has been burning up the dial recently over this ex-Weatherman who is supposedly in bed with Barack Obama. The Ayers quote that they keep using over and over again comes from a September 11, 2001 NY Times profile that begins:

“I don’t regret setting bombs,” Bill Ayers said. “I feel we didn’t do enough.”

They keep harping on the September 11 date as if Ayers was in cahoots with Mohammad Atta. Any fool would know that the first newspaper reports on September 11 appeared the day after. It was just a coincidence that Ayers’s profile appeared the same day as the 9/11 attacks. They also make a big thing about Ayers stating that “we didn’t do enough”, when in fact he was almost certainly referring to their failure to end the war.

Ayers tries to explain what he really meant on his blog:

Regrets. I’m often quoted saying that I have “no regrets.” This is not true. For anyone paying attention-and I try to stay wide-awake to the world around me all/ways-life brings misgivings, doubts, uncertainty, loss, regret. I’m sometimes asked if I regret anything I did to oppose the war in Viet Nam, and I say “no, I don’t regret anything I did to try to stop the slaughter of millions of human beings by my own government.” Sometimes I add, “I don’t think I did enough.” This is then elided: he has no regrets for setting bombs and thinks there should be more bombings.

Obama told the idiot George Stephanopolous that he was only 8 years old when the Weathermen were setting off bombs. For the benefit of many of my readers, who were not even a gleam in their father’s eye back in the early 70s, a word or two of introduction is in order.

The Weathermen started out as a faction of SDS. At the 1969 convention, there was a 3 way split. The “Worker-Student Alliance” (WSA) was led by the Maoist Progressive Labor Party (PLP) and basically promoted a kind of “serve the people” missionary-like strategy which involved students getting jobs in factories and preaching to the workers. The WSA was opposed by the Revolutionary Youth Movement, which was divided into RYM1 and RYM2. RYM1 was led by Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd, Bernadine Dohrn and other SDS leaders who had become deeply frustrated by the inability of the student movement to end the war.

After RYM1 morphed into the Weathermen, the 200 or so members adopted a neo-Narodnik strategy and went underground. Unlike the original Narodniks, the Weathermen never assassinated government officials. They only set off bombs at government buildings. When they weren’t setting off bombs, they were imbibing huge amounts of psychedelic drugs and having orgies. Generally speaking, the Weathermen not only reflected the excesses of the 1960s but strove to embody them.

Like the WSA, RYM2 adopted Maoist politics, but supported Black and Latino nationalism, which PLP regarded as “dividing the working class” in the style of the CPUSA–a party that its leaders had emerged from in the 1950s. RYM2 was a genuine “New Left” tendency as opposed to PLP/WSA’s ambitions to resurrect “Third Period” Stalinism.

RYM2 eventually spawned a number of “Marxist-Leninist” formations whose history was documented by Max Elbaum in “Revolution in the Air“. All of the groups that originated in RYM2 are now defunct, except for the Revolutionary Communist Party, a sect-cult around Bob Avakian who was a RYM2 leader.

While everybody should repudiate the “violence baiting” of Barack Obama, there is a separate question of more direct concern to the radical movement and that involves the legacy of the Weathermen. It would be a big mistake to romanticize them since their politics did a lot to undermine the radical movement in the 1970s. The capitalist class can always replace the bricks that a Weathermen bomb destroyed, but it had a much harder job dislodging radical ideas from a student or young worker. By making an amalgam between the radical movement and the Weathermen, it sought to drive a wedge between us and ordinary American workers who had the social power to end the war and the capitalist system itself eventually.

In today’s Counterpunch, there’s an article by Dave Lindorff that gets the Weathermen wrong. He writes:

While many in the anti-war movement condemned the actions of the Weather Underground, I would argue that they, like the militant Black Panthers, performed an invaluable role by sending a loud, clear message to the nation’s ruling elite that if they continued the war, things would get worse at home.

Their actions made the peaceful mass protests against the Indochina War far more potent, because they forced the ruling elite in the US to have to ponder what would happen if those masses turned to the same kind of violent measures against them.

There is no evidence that the “ruling elite” feared the spread of Weathermen tactics. They knew that the frustrated young radicals had almost no support on the college campuses or high schools. Furthermore, people who demonstrated against the war were not likely to risk prison sentences. Indeed, examination of the historical record will show that the SDS’ers who became Weathermen had turned their back on antiwar organizing by 1967 at least. It was their retreat from mass demonstrations in fact that prepared the way for Narodnik tactics. Political isolation from the mass movement almost guarantees that you will be looking for short-cuts, like setting off bombs.

The late Fred Halstead, who led the SWP’s antiwar activity, once characterized the Weathermen as young people who never lost their ties to the bourgeoisie no matter how outrageous they behaved. If you think of them as children throwing a tantrum, it makes perfect sense. Instead of holding their breath until they turn blue, they set off bombs instead. If daddy didn’t stop bombing the Vietnamese, they’d drive him nuts. That was the real logic of Weathermen bomb-throwing, not socialist revolution.

If your goal is to pressure daddy into changing his ways, then it is likely that you will think up ways to persuade him that you are a good boy or girl when tantrums don’t work. Becoming a good boy or girl in the U.S. of course means becoming a pillar of your community and becoming active in the Democratic Party. Despite Ayers’s claims on his blog that he still “against imperialism”, he has found a home in the party that is totally committed to ruling the world on behalf of American corporations.

The NY Times reported that in 1995 State Senator Alice Palmer “introduced her chosen successor, Barack Obama, to a few of the district’s influential liberals at the home of two well known figures on the local left: William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.” In other words, Ayers and Dohrn were involved with the Democratic Party at a fairly high level. Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago, served as an adviser to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, the son of the former Mayor who unleashed the cops on peaceful demonstrators in 1968.

Dr. Quentin Young, a prominent Chicago physician, told the NY Times about his initial encounter with Obama at Ayers and Dohrn’s home:

“When I first met Barack Obama, he was giving a standard, innocuous little talk in the living room of those two legends-in-their-own-minds, Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn,” Warren [Maria Warren, another liberal] wrote on her blog in 2005. “They were launching him - introducing him to the Hyde Park community as the best thing since sliced bread.”

Warren’s blog entry apparently was what led to rightwing efforts to link Obama to the notorious “bomb thrower” when in fact Warren considered Obama and the former Weathermen as too tame by even her own liberal standards. Such is the grotesque character of American politics that an utterly conventional tête-à-tête among utterly conventional middle-class liberals can become transformed into the second coming of the Smolny Institute.
Louis Proyect


Saturday, October 04, 2008

Healthcare in China - A Victim of Capitalist Restoration

By Vincent Wallace
Thursday, 02 October 2008

Universally accessible, socialized medial care is normally viewed as one of the first measures which socialists try to achieve for the benefit of the people. In many countries today, even in the United States of America many still go without healthcare, or become indebted for life because of illness. Not only does socialized medical care save lives, but it is a basic necessity for creating social and economic equality.

One of the first steps of the Chinese revolution, right from 1949, was to establish a medical system that could reach people throughout the country and be accessible to all. The early steps taken during the Maoist era, while not without mistakes, was a testament to what can be achieved during a revolution in a short period of time and with very little resources. Unfortunately, due to the market orientated policies taken up by the Chinese Communist Party leadership from Deng Xiaoping onwards, the Chinese health service has suffered severely and what was once a great success story has become one of the most unequal health care systems in the world.

During the 1950s, a great effort was made in order to expand healthcare to rural peasants, and far reaching areas which previously had no access to medical personnel. The so called barefoot doctors' initiative is still cited by international medical professionals as being a great success in increasing the health and life expectancy of China's large and dispersed population. From a life expectancy of 32 years in 1950, it had already reached 69 by 1985. Funding for medical treatment was carried out in part through a kind of grass roots insurance system administered through local communes while investment in the healthcare system itself was carried out by the government and state owned enterprises.

The system was not of the highest quality, and was not without its problems, but it allowed the vast majority of the people in China, 80-90% of the population, access to healthcare. Unfortunately, due to the absence of workers' democracy (the dictatorship of the proletariat, as opposed to the dictatorship of the bureaucracy over the proletariat), and the complete domination of the bureaucracy, instead of being expanded and advanced, this system was torn out by its roots, in particular in the latter half of the 1980s with the dismantling of the commune system.

Today we find a very different situation in Chinese health care, more resembling that of a laissez faire model than one of a so called socialist nation. As of 2007, total GDP spent on healthcare was 5.55%. While the health expenditure share of GDP on average across OECD countries remained unchanged in 2006 compared with 2005, at 8.9%. Therefore spending on healthcare in China, as a percentage of GDP, is below the average for the main advanced capitalist countries. More appalling is the fact that even though the government of China now has much more revenue then it did in the past, its share in total health care spending has gone from 36% in 1980 to 17% in 2004. There has been talk recently about increasing the level of funding by the government, but it is always accompanied together with the appeal that it is not the government's responsibility to assure healthcare to all, but the responsibility of individuals. Again, from 1980 to 2004, the percentage of healthcare costs paid by families rose from 21.6% to 53.6%. The government has recently started to discuss changing laws in order to encourage private health insurance, something which is not widely available as yet.

Health coverage is provided through a state health plan to employees of the state owned companies, bureaucrats, and officials. This same programme also partially covers the health expenses of family members. However, this programme only encompasses a small and decreasing part of the population. In 2003, 45% of residents in urban and 80% in rural areas were not covered by any government health plan. Without government or even private sector insurance, these workers and peasants must borrow money from relatives and pay their life savings to doctors that they do not even know if they can trust. In 2005, the government created a basic insurance programme for people living in rural areas, but the coverage, which covers 70-80% for small health issues, which can be dealt with in small clinics, rapidly decreases to 30% for seeing specialists or having to go to city hospitals.

The health service is severely under-regulated. Since hospitals get almost all their funding from the fees which patients pay, there is a built-in incentive for corruption and abuse. There are many complaints about doctors overcharging, performing unnecessary procedures, and prescribing unneeded medications, all to make more money and keep patients coming back. Some of these cases have even led to protests by the communities affected. The government's response so far has been to punish individuals found guilty of such acts instead of trying to deal with the underlying problem which flows from the system that allows these kinds of things to go on in the first place.

Many workers and peasants, including their entire families, go broke in order to pay hospital bills for family members when they become seriously ill. It has become such a problem that some cases have even surfaced of elderly people in rural areas being caught trying to be cremated alive in order to save their families' money. What is the government's proposed solution to this crisis in healthcare? Even more privatisation!

The government now is acknowledging the problem of healthcare, if for no other reason than it is a looming black cloud over their so-called "harmonious [often omitted] socialist society". In 2006, a case of a toddler dying for lack of money caused thousands in southwest Sichuan province to ransack the hospital and battle with police. Hu Jintao, who has been playing the card of social reform in order to avoid social upheaval has been promising to heal the gaping social wounds, but has provided only children's band-aids as a solution! The 2005 insurance plan for covering peasants is completely inadequate for dealing with any serious medical conditions which involve the big expenses anyhow. The government has been licensing private insurance and seems content to go with the market road and let them sort it all out, while the workers and peasants pay more and more on health expenses every year. Since it is the only option for most people not working in state enterprises, private health insurance is growing rapidly.

It is obvious that these are not the policies of a "socialist government", which must as a precondition put the interests of workers and peasants at the forefront of decisions. Most Chinese workers understand what has taken place in the country, that the "capitalist-roaders" have taken over and the economy and society is now oriented along capitalist lines. Hu Jintao, though surely talking more left-wing than his predecessors, has provided no fundamental change for the status of working people in China. Labour conditions are just as bad; abuse by foreign and national companies alike continues the same. The new rich continue to increase their wealth and the workers and poor struggle on through enormous inflation in food prices and basic goods.

Chinese Marxists must again pick up the struggle for socialism, learning from the mistakes of the past in order to build a genuine workers' democracy where industry is state owned, but managed by the workers, not by corrupt bureaucrats. A real socialist government, which Marx and Lenin envisaged, would be one where the workers actually have power by managing their own workplaces, the right to elect and recall all representatives, and where no official or bureaucrat earns more than the average worker. Using the massive wealth and technology China has accumulated, the workers could transform the country in a matter of years. Universal healthcare for all would easily become a reality once the colossal forces of production and human labour power that China possesses are directed for the social good instead of the enrichment of a few bureaucrats and national and international capitalists.


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Stratfor: Al Qaeda and the Tale of Two Battlespaces

Al Qaeda is talked about in a metaphysical manner. Stratfor presents an assessment that can be used, no matter what your viewpoint, to atleast talk on the subject, with reality.

By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
October 01, 2008

Over the last year or so, a lot of debate has arisen over the physical strength of al Qaeda. Some experts and government officials believe that the al Qaeda organization is now stronger than at any time since the 9/11 attacks, while others believe the core organization has lost much of its leadership and operational capability over the past seven years. The wide disparity between these two assessments may appear somewhat confusing, but a significant amount of the difference between the two can be found in the fundamental way in which al Qaeda is defined as an entity.

Many analysts supportive of the view that al Qaeda has strengthened tend to lump the entire jihadist world into one monolithic, hierarchical organization. Others, like Stratfor, who claim al Qaeda’s abilities have been degraded over the years, define the group as a small vanguard organization and only one piece of the larger jihadist pie. From Stratfor’s point of view, al Qaeda has evolved into three different — and distinct — entities. These different faces of al Qaeda include:

The core vanguard group: Often referred to by Stratfor as the al Qaeda core, al Qaeda prime or the al Qaeda apex leadership, this group is composed of Osama bin Laden and his close trusted associates. These are highly skilled, professional practitioners of propaganda, militant training and terrorism operations. This is the group behind the 9/11 attacks.
Al Qaeda franchises: These include such groups as al Qaeda in Iraq and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Although professing allegiance to bin Laden, they are independent militant groups that remain separate from the core and, as we saw in the 2005 letter from al Qaeda core leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, there can be a great deal of tension and disagreement between them and the al Qaeda core. These regional franchises vary in size, level of professionalism and operational capability.

The broader grassroots jihadist movement: This group includes individuals and small cells inspired by al Qaeda but who, in most cases, have no contact with the core leadership.

Stratfor’s Current Assessment of al Qaeda

We believe, as we did last summer, that the core al Qaeda group has weakened and no longer poses the strategic threat to the U.S. homeland that it did prior to 9/11. However, this does not mean it is incapable of re-emerging under less pressured circumstances.

On the franchise level, some groups — such as AQIM, the Yemen franchises and the franchises in Pakistan and Afghanistan — have gained momentum over the past few years. Others — such as those in Iraq, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, the Sinai Peninsula and Morocco — have lost steam. In our estimation, this ebb and flow has resulted in a constant threat on the franchise level, though the severity has migrated geographically as groups wax and wane in specific regions. The franchises have done little to expand their operations outside of their regions of interest and to conduct attacks against the “far enemy” — that is, attacks in the United States or Europe.

At the grassroots level, homegrown jihadists have posed a fairly consistent, though lower-level, threat. In the past, we have said that these jihadists think globally, but act locally. While there are far more grassroots jihadists than there are militants in the al Qaeda franchises and vastly more than in the small al Qaeda core, the grassroots jihadists tend to be highly motivated, but poorly equipped to conduct sophisticated terror attacks.

Beyond the Physical Battlefield

We believe that any realistic analysis of al Qaeda’s strength must assess more than a basic head count of militants willing and able to conduct attacks. As we have noted previously, there are two battlespaces in the war against jihadism: the physical and the ideological. Although the campaign against al Qaeda has caused the core group to become essentially marginalized in the physical battlespace, the core has undertaken great effort to remain engaged in the ideological battlespace.

In many ways, the ideological battlespace is more important than the physical battlespace in the war against jihadism, and in the jihadists’ war against the rest of the world. It is far easier to kill people than it is to kill ideologies. We have recently seen this in the resurgence of Bolivarian Revolution ideology in South America, despite the fact that Simon Bolivar, Karl Marx and Ernesto “Che” Guevara are long dead and buried. Ideology is the decisive factor that allows jihadists to recruit new fighters and gather funding for militant and propaganda operations. As long as the jihadists can recruit new militants, they can compensate for the losses they suffer on the physical battlefield. When they lose that ability, their struggle dies on the vine. Because of this, al Qaeda fears fatwas more than weapons. Weapons can kill people — but fatwas can kill the ideology that motivates people to fight and finance.

We are not the only ones who believe the ideological battlespace is critical. A video released earlier this month by al Qaeda mouthpiece As-Sahab entitled “The Word is the Word of Swords,” one of al Qaeda’s leading religious authorities, Abu Yahya al-Libi emphasized this point from within the network.

In the video, al-Libi said the jihadist battle “is not waged solely at the military and economic level, but is waged first and foremost at the level of doctrine.” He also said that his followers are in a war against an enemy that “targets all strongholds of Islam and invades the minds and ideas in the same way it invades lands and dares to destroy beliefs and meddle with the sacred things in the same way it dares to spill blood.”

Interestingly, although the video recording is dedicated to detailing the preparations for the attack on the Danish Embassy in Islamabad, the bulk of the 64-minute video addresses the ideological war against al Qaeda and how “true Islam” has been undermined by leaders such as King Abdullah and the Saudi religious establishment.

In an ironic twist, the progress of the combatants is easier to assess in the ideological rather than physical battlespace — largely because most militants plotting terror attacks attempt to stay invisible until they launch their operations, while the ideological battle is for the most part conducted in plain sight.

One such visible indication on the ideological battlefield was a book written by al Qaeda’s number two man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, which was released in March. The book — known as “The Exoneration” — is a long response to a book written by Sayyed Imam al-Sharif. Also known as Dr. Fadl, al-Sharif is an imprisoned Egyptian radical and a founder (with al-Zawahiri) of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

Published in 2007, al-Sharif’s book, “Rationalizing Jihadist Action in Egypt and the World,” provides theological arguments that counter many of the core jihadist teachings. Included among those teachings is the concept of takfir, or the practice of declaring a Muslim to be an unbeliever in order to justify an attack against him. Al-Sharif also spoke out against killing non-Muslims in Muslim countries and attacking members of other Muslim sects.

Al-Sharif was a significant player in the development of the jihadist theology that shaped the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) and eventually, through al-Zawahiri and other EIJ members who became influential members of al Qaeda, al-Sharif’s concepts became instrumental in shaping the ideology of jihadism as promulgated by al Qaeda. One of his books, “The Essentials of Making Ready for Jihad,” was reportedly required reading for all new jihadist recruits at al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The renunciation of jihadist ideology by such a pivotal figure was a significant threat — one serious enough to spur al-Zawahiri’s refutation.

The Saudi ulema or Muslim scholars and former jihadist ideologues are not the only people assailing the ideology of jihadism. Of course, Western figures, such as Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders have been highly critical of jihadism. But these outsiders have little ability to sway Muslim opinion on the street — a critical objective in fighting the ideological battle. In recent years, however, we have seen more Muslim figures speak out against jihadism, which they believe is a perversion of Islam. However, criticism is not without danger. Figures such as Egyptian political analyst Diaa Rashwan have been threatened with death because of their criticism of al Qaeda and jihadist ideology.

In addition to the previously discussed video, As-Sahab has released two other lengthy videos this month. The first, to commemorate the 9/11 anniversary, was called “The Harvest of Seven Years of Crusades.” The second, called “True Imam,” was released Sept. 29. Essentially, it was a tirade against the government of Pakistan and a tribute to Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who was killed in the July 2007 storming of the Red Mosque in Islamabad by the Pakistani military.


Sometimes, things that emerge in the ideological battlespace can provide indications of important developments in the physical battlespace.

For example, one of the As-Sahab videos featured clips of Mustafa abu al-Yazid (aka Sheikh Said al-Masri). An Egyptian al Qaeda military commander, al-Yazid had reportedly been killed in an Aug. 8 operation in Bajaur. But since al-Yazid makes reference in the video to the Aug. 18 resignation of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, he obviously was not killed 10 days earlier.

Two others noticeably absent from these three videos were Osama bin Laden and Adam Gadahn. Bin Laden, who has not been heard from since a May 18 audio message, is once again rumored to be dead. Gadahn may also be dead, according to rumors that he was killed in a January airstrike in Pakistan’s North Waziristan agency in which senior al Qaeda military commander Abu Laith al-Libi was killed. Gadahn, who has appeared in several al Qaeda video messages since emerging on the scene in 2004, has been conspicuously absent from the organization’s propaganda since the January strike.

Typically, al Qaeda has been fairly forthcoming in “declaring the martyrdom” of fallen commanders like al-Libi. The death of a central figure such as bin Laden, however, could be seen as severely detrimental to the jihadist world’s morale. Therefore, the group could be motivated to conceal his death. If bin Laden is still alive, however, we anticipate a message from him by the U.S. presidential elections Nov. 4, given his appearance before the 2004 presidential elections.

It would be somewhat out of character, however, for al Qaeda to avoid publicizing the death of a lesser figure such as Gadahn. With all the rumors circulating about jihadists seeking to use European-looking operatives in attacks against the West, one wonders if the silence regarding the American-born jihadist’s fate is designed to keep U.S. authorities in suspense — or if it is a real indication that Gadahn is alive and has left his post in the ideological battlespace in order to go operational on the physical battlefield.

Of course, the fate of these individuals, even a central figure such as bin Laden, is not nearly as important as the fate of the ideology. And we will continue to focus on the ideological battlefield for significant developments there.

One place that needs to be watched carefully is Pakistan, where events like the Red Mosque operation and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto have potentially sown the seeds for a ripe ideological harvest for both sides. It will be important to watch and see if the Marriott bombing will, as some claimed, prove to be a watershed event that marks a change in public opinion capable of rallying popular support against the jihadist ideology in Pakistan.