Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mayday Greetings/Odds and Ends/Open Thread

Happy Mayday!

Rosa Luxemburg the great revolutionary tells us this holiday in the political sense started in 1856 in Australia. It was related to the fight for the 08 hour day:

The happy idea of using a proletarian holiday celebration as a means to attain the eight-hour day was first born in Australia. The workers there decided in 1856 to organize a day of complete stoppage together with meetings and entertainment as a demonstration in favor of the eight-hour day. The day of this celebration was to be April 21. At first, the Australian workers intended this only for the year 1856. But this first celebration had such a strong effect on the proletarian masses of Australia, enlivening them and leading to new agitation, that it was decided to repeat the celebration every year.

She later explains how the holiday moved to May 01st.


Facebook 50 Years Later...



The Carnival of Socialism

I was asked to host at this blog the July 19th Carnival of Socialism. I will be asked to pick the best writing about a socialist related theme, from blogdom.


Open Thread


Monday, April 27, 2009

The 2009 Election Results: Reflecting the State of the Class Struggle in South Africa

By David van Wyk in South Africa
Monday, 27 April 2009

What many consider to have been one of the most historic elections in Post-Apartheid South Africa is finally over. Over the last decade it has become clear that South African politics is still very much defined by a struggle over the issues of race and class. This election demonstrated that fact more than ever.

Even before Mbeki took over the helm from Mandela both the ruling party, the African National Congress and the two main opposition parties at the time, the New National Party and the Democratic Party, pushed for a neo-liberal agenda of structural adjustment and privatization. The first casualty of this shift to the right was many of the ANC’s struggle slogans, including the Freedom Charter promise that “the wealth of the country shall belong to the people”, followed by the social democratic Reconstruction and Development Programme which was replaced by the self-imposed structural adjustment represented by the Growth with Equity and Redistribution Programme (GEAR).

Once in power Mbeki endeared himself to global capitalism by “talking left and walking right” (Patrick Bond, 2004). Mbeki’s Government carried out pro-capitalist policies while at the same time trying to create a layer of a “black bourgeoisie”. From pursuing a presence in the main global financial and economic summits and structures, to appointing an Economic Advisory Council composed of the CEOs of major global multinationals and ‘deploying’ senior ANC people not in government into the fraction of mining billionaires as part of the ANC’s black economic empowerment programme.

Mbeki further pushed the neo-liberal New Economic Partnership for Economic Development (NEPAD) onto the rest of Africa. Opening up the African hinterland to South African and global mining corporations. Mbeki immersed himself so much in ‘international affairs’ that locals soon began to joke that he was the president who most frequently visited South Africa.

Back in South Africa Mbeki began to push his neo-liberal right wing agenda onto the ANC. With his trusted lieutenants Terror Lekota, Alec Erwin, Essop Pahad, Trevor Manuel and Manto Tshabalala Msimang he turned ANC conferences into red bashing and red baiting events. Mbeki was liberally supported by the neo-liberal media in South Africa who cheered his intentions to privatise state enterprises, while aspirant black bourgeois elements licked their lips in anticipation of the tasty morsels coming their way. Of course privatisation meant job-losses through down-sizing, right-sizing and given the current political climate possibly capsizing! These policies led to tensions and divisions within the ANC and between the ANC government and leadership and the other organisations in the Tripartite Alliance, COSATU and the SACP. COSATU called a series of general strikes reflecting the anger of workers and the poor against the capitalist policies of the government they had elected. Within the SACP there was also strong criticism towards the policies of the ANC government but the ANC leadership continued to cling to the discredited two-stage theory of the revolution. This states that first there will be a “National Democratic Revolution” which will overthrow capitalism, and then, later on, once this question is solved then we can raise the question of socialism. The leadership of the SACP insisted that the “deepening of the NDR” would somehow lead to socialism. But as a matter of fact, there was nothing to deepen, since the ANC in government was pursuing openly capitalist policies. To make matters worse, SACP members were sitting in parliament as ANC MPs voting for Mbeki's policies and some were even ministers in his government carrying these policies into practice.

In trying to entrench the shift to the right the Mbeki government allegedly began a process of using the structures of the state such as the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the judiciary, the National Prosecuting Authority and of course the Office of the President to effect a purge against left-wing elements in the Ruling Party and in Government. This took the form of compromising those opposed to Mbeki. Thus an attempt was made to taint the leader of the South African Communist Party, Blade Nzimande by alleging that he corruptly pocketed a SAR500,000 donation from a corrupt businessman meant for the SACP. It now appears that this was a sting in which the businessman was promised a reprieve from charges of corruption if he laid charges of corruption against Nzimande. Then there were the rape charges against Zuma; it is alleged that the unfortunate mentally unstable girl had close ties to the NIA and the National Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils. Finally there was the corrupt arms deal, where Zuma’s lawyer client confidentiality was abused in an Apartheid style raid that targeted both his home and the offices of his lawyers. No one in the media mentions that the architect of the Arms Deal was Mbeki. The deal emanated from his office as Deputy President. All the transactions had to be authorized by the Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel who has a reputation of being a bean counter, while the economic trade offs were the responsibility of Alec Erwin. Despite there being rumours of back-handers involving tens of millions of dollars, only Zuma was ever investigated for allegedly receiving a pay-off of a paltry half a million. The energy in which the Zuma investigation was being pursued by both the NPA and the media clearly demonstrated an agenda other than good governance. This became especially apparent when Mbeki stepped in to protect Jackie Selebi the chief of police who kept rather unsavoury company, and the Deputy President Ngcuka who allegedly took her pals and family members on a spending spree to Dubai.

In the mineral rich provinces the peasantry faced a land grab from mining companies, many of whom have prominent members of the ANC and key civil servants under Mbeki as shareholders. In many cases rural communities who received their land back as part of the land restitution and redistribution programmes of the Department of Land Affairs just as quickly lost their land as the Department of Minerals and Energy issued prospecting and mining licenses to mining companies in bed with senior politicians and civil servants. Anglo Platinum proudly boasts of providing training in “human rights” for the police in platinum rich Limpopo province. To the right is a picture of the face of Sammy Ledwaba an activist from Motlhotlo village after the local police meted out some ‘human rights’ to him for resisting the expansion of an Anglo Platinum mining operation that means the relocation of his house, tilling fields and grazing land.

Given the huge boom in mineral commodity prices one would expect communities living in the vicinity of mines and in particular mineworkers to have experienced some improvement in their lot in terms of housing and wages. Yet many mineworkers find themselves in squatter camps; the Orwellian sanitized name used by government and the media is “informal settlements”. These squatter camps are cesspools of substance abuse, sexually transmitted disease, TB and HIV/AIDS. Thabo Mbeki’s denialist attitude further alienated the working class and the poor.

Given this rightwing shift and the prolonged pressure being brought to bear on the working class and the poorest of the poor during Mbeki’s tenure it is not surprising that the rank and file members of the ANC lost patience with the leadership of the organisation under Mbeki. The day of reckoning for the Mbeki clique came at the ANCs Polokwane Conference in December 2007. The resounding defeat of the Mbeki clique at Polokwane and his subsequent recall as president led to the resignation of his entire cabinet. The same clique then formed the Congress of the People (COPE) to great pomp and ceremony in the media and opposition parties who hoped that this ‘split’ would irreparably harm the ANC and the tripartite alliance and destroy the ruling party’s ability to run an effective election campaign. It was hoped that the left-wing populists would be taught a lesson in the 2009 election. After all, Mbeki had received nearly 40% of the votes at the Polokwane conference. By splitting the ANC the ruling class hoped to destroy its electoral domination and maybe form a new coalition government between the newly formed COPE and the DA, or at the very least form a strong opposition which would neutralise any danger of a leftward moving ANC government.

COPE ran a campaign which claimed that they were the true custodians of the Freedom Charter (the definitive script of the liberation struggle); that they were the voice of middle class reason, and that their members were above corruption. This despite the fact that COPE’s president Terror Lekota was Minister of Defence during much of the arms acquisition that became the arms scandal. Lekota was also caught out in 2003 for not declaring business interests to parliament.

Given these publicly known skeletons in Lekota’s cupboard and his reportedly abrasive, dictatorial personality, COPE wisely decided not to make him their presidential candidate for the 2009 elections. Instead they appointed the Reverend Mvume Dandlala, a priest eager to exchange the pulpit for the pillbox. Dandala found another priest in COPE, the Reverend Allan Boesak who spent time in jail for corruption. There are persistent rumours of divisions and leadership struggles in COPE. Apart from Lekota’s ego it is a party of “Chiefs” with very few “Indians”. COPE is funded by amongst others Mbeki loyalist and billionaire Sakkie Macozoma.

Instead of splitting the ANC vote, Cope split the middle class and fundamentalist Christian vote, and while the party fared poorly nationally it has become the official opposition party in four provinces taking support away from parties such as the United Christian Democratic Party (UCDP), the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP), the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) in those provinces with very small white populations. However, Nationally COPE only managed to garner 7.43% of the vote. They failed to get any support from the working class and the poor, reconfirming the defeat of their leadership in the ANC nationally. The workers and the poor, once again, turned out massively to vote for the ANC, but this time an ANC that they saw as representing a change of policies, a shift to the left. As a matter of fact, even though the percentage of the vote for the ANC was slightly down, the actual number of votes went up (despite the split) to 11.6 million (as compared to 10.8 million in 2004 and 10.6 million in 1999, though still short of the historic 12.2 million of 1994).

Bringing us back to the hysterical anti-ANC white vote. The Democratic Alliance (DA) is celebrating a victory on the grounds that they managed to obtain 16.66% of the national vote. They are further celebrating the failure of the ANC to get a two thirds majority, a central tenet of their oppositionist election campaign built around white fears of black government and of the possibility of communist influence on that government. The DA failed to present the populace with an alternative vision to that of the ANC, and most voters will remember their posters which read “Stop Zuma!” and “Prevent an ANC two-thirds majority!” Today Afrikaans newspaper banners proclaimed, “South Africa stopped ANC two-thirds majority!” The ANC won 65.9% of the vote, just less than one percent of a two thirds majority. Given these statistics it would be more accurate to say that South Africans rejected neo-liberalism and religious fundamentalism of all sorts.

The DA did win slightly more than 50% of the vote in the Western Cape Province confirming the combined and uneven nature of issues of race and class in South Africa. The Western Cape is acting like a magnet for white South Africans, a Great Trek in reverse so to speak to the colonial days prior to 1834 when whites started penetrating the interior of South Africa beyond the Ghariep (Orange) river for the first time. Coloured voters in the Western Cape associate with the white population there and the area is still feeling the impact of the old Group Areas Act which made the province a ‘coloured preferential area’ as far as work opportunities and residential status was concerned. Many from the coloured community feel threatened by the increasing numbers of blacks seeking employment there and fear that an ANC provincial government would give preferential treatment to blacks as far as jobs, housing and services are concerned. Apart from the Western cape the ANC won all other provinces resoundingly.

The white electorate are told by opposition parties including the DA in just about every election that the ANC would change the constitution of the country should it win a two thirds majority. This despite the fact that the ANC has never campaigned with a manifesto that calls for any changes to the constitution. Almost all the opposition parties including the DA have campaigned around calls to change the constitution including bringing back the death penalty, criminalizing homosexuality, bringing back corporal punishment, curbing freedom of speech and expression through censorship, revoking labour rights, and changing the manner in which the president is elected. Just about the only part of the constitution that most parties to the right of the ANC do not want changed is the “Property Clause” which protects private property.

Currently the media and opposition parties are brining great pressure to bear on the ANC to exclude left-wingers from the alliance from ministerial positions and to continue with Thabo Mbeki’s neo-liberal policies.

Scarcely hours after the announcement that the ANC, with the help of its alliance partners, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, received an overwhelming mandate from the electorate, 65.9% nationally and 66.31% provincially, the voices of the capitalist class – the various investment agencies and Media – are warning the ANC not to shift policy to the left. Before the election the neo-liberal interests held a gun to the temple of the South African Electorate threatening that a two thirds majority for the ruling party would be bad for investment. Now they are hysterically trying to influence government economic policy away from the election manifesto for which the South African population voted so overwhelmingly. In other words the capitalist class wants to, yet again as with every previous election, steal victory from the working class and the poor by either scaring the leadership of the ANC with the threat of an investment strike, or through buying off that leadership. In the meantime the neo-liberal media are trying their best to demonise and ridicule the left in the ANC Alliance, on SABC one commentator went so far as to say that “there is not a single example on the planet of where communism has succeeded” (SABC3).

An editorial in the London-based Independent was very clear in its “advice” to Zuma:

“He should confirm that now by reappointing the ANC's widely respected finance minister, Trevor Manuel, who has steered the economy through 40 consecutive quarters of growth until the end of last year. He should offer a third term to the governor of its central bank, Tito Mboweni, one of the most respected economic officials in emerging markets. He should keep the former ANC Youth League leader Fikile Mbalula and the Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande, well away from any posts that might unsettle investors. And he should resist all temptation to reach for his infamous machine gun. Government is no place for the songs of opposition.” (Leading article: South Africa's New Beginning)

Given that the South African media is owned and controlled by corporate capitalist interests there is very little room for alternative viewpoints reaching the public. Even the public broadcaster, the SABC, slavishly repeats the mantra of neo-liberalism warning that the ANC will not be able to realize its election manifesto once in power because “the tax base is only 6 million taxpayers strong, while 23 million people registered as voters and the total population equals 50 million” (SABC 3, 24 April 2009). What the public is not told is that every South African pays 14% VAT on any purchases, including basic foodstuffs. Education, water, health, housing have all been commodified, and in order to create “conditions conducive for investment” the government has prostrated itself before corporate interests over the last 10 years, thus corporations pay a fraction of the price that ordinary consumers pay for utilities such as water and electricity, not to speak of a variety of other incentives offered by the Department of Trade and Industry. No wonder that South Africa has one of the biggest gaps between wealth and poverty in the world.

The poor have in fact subsidized the neo-liberal project advanced under the regime of Thabo Mbeki over the last decade. Corporations have shifted the costs of their environmental impact, their social impact and even the costs of exports onto the poor. Thus mineworkers live largely in shacks without potable water and electricity in places such as Rustenburg. Communities who have historically used stream, well and borehole water stream water in Limpopo province can no longer do so as mining operations have poisoned these sources of water. The same mining corporations now purify the water and sell it as a commodity back to the same water users – the water has been turned into a commodity through first poisoning it, then purifying it and selling it as a commodity. The principle of polluter pays has been subverted into the polluter is paid!

Jacob Zuma is trying to reassure capitalist interests, but this, as we have seen in the last 15 years, can only be done by attacking the workers and the poor. This is even more the case as South Africa has entered into recession and the country has its largest budget deficit in a decade. One cannot serve two masters. If the new ANC government wants to please big business it will soon come into collision with the workers and poor which will express themselves through COSATU and the SACP.

The task of Marxists in South Africa is to reach out to the most advanced elements within these organisations and start a serious struggle to put them on a clear socialist programme, one that is based not on some “National Democratic Revolution” but firmly on socialist revolution. If one thing has been clearly demonstrated by the last 15 years of bourgeois democracy and ANC government it is that the problems faced by the masses of workers and poor in South Africa, overwhelmingly Black, not even those related to racial discrimination or access to the land, housing, education and healthcare, cannot be solved within the limits of capitalism. Only the expropriation of the means of production, “the wealth of the land” that the Freedom Charter says should belong to the people, can lay the basis for a democratic plan of production that can start to address the problems of homelessness, poverty and unemployment which millions of South Africans still suffer from.

Patrick Bond (2004) Talk Left Walk Right, South Africa’s Frustrated Global Reforms. University of KwaZul Natal Press: Pieter Maritzburg.

Renegade Eye

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cuba: Freedom of Expression & Socialism

By Ron Ridenour
Tuesday, 21 April 2009

How much freedom of expression and real (active) power the Cuban working class and the population as a whole, possess and exercise is a vital matter for the very survival of socialism and its development, a question that is being addressed by a few hundred university students, professors and professionals in Havana since November 2007.

“It is not a question of luxury, an alternative which one can choose or not: worker democracy is a condition sin qua non for the normal unfolding of a socialist economy.”

Over the last 50 years, the Communist party and government strategy for survival has focused on unity: unity in decision-making, unity around the top leaders, and unity in the media. This strategy has enabled the country to resist the United States and allied efforts to smash it.

However, this approach has prevented leaders and the bureaucracy from believing that it can afford the “luxury” of allowing any significant active participation on the part of the population to discuss and decide what the nation’s politics and economy ought to be. Nor do the media question decisions taken.

When questioned about the wisdom of this control, officials either ignore the question or respond with examples of how the US intelligence apparatuses intervene in other countries´ processes when they are not in what Washington perceives as its interests.

Suffice it here to note the successful interventions in media organs during the Allende government in Chile (1970-73), and in Nicaragua during the first Sandinista government from 1979-1990.

Hunger for More Information

Cuba’s leadership has maintained that broader freedom of expression can place the nation’s very sovereignty in peril. While there is some truth to this historically, strict government control of the media and other channels of information and debate cripple the ability of the common man and woman from acquiring adequate information and ideas necessary for them to become empowered.

The University of Havana (Photo by Maycgx)

This had led a sizeable segment of the population, and especially the younger generations, to be, disbelievers of what they are told by the media. They hunger for more and open information.

Cuban historian and professor of the University of Oriente, Frank Josue Solar, recently wrote:

“It is not a question of luxury, an alternative which one can choose or not: worker democracy is a condition sin qua non for the normal unfolding of a socialist economy. Without this it is deformed, and finally perishes.”

In the past two years or so some leftist voices have begun to hold indoor workshops to discuss these questions. There are also handfuls of students at the University of Havana and the Cujae University who meet to discuss socialism’s future.

This is the first time in decades that the government has allowed such open critique, albeit confined indoors until now.

A group of university students, professors and professionals formed the Bolshevik Workshop to pay homage to the Russian revolution, at the 90th year anniversary in November 2007, and to discuss its trajectory and collapse.

Some 500 people assembled at the University of Havana. One of the workshop organizers, Ariel Dacal Diaz, a professor of law, delivered a paper on the subject. The English translation is available at Cuba, October, Youth and the Future.

Revitalizing Revolutionary Marxism in Cuba

At this assembly, and at a subsequent workshop, participants viewed the need to revitalize revolutionary Marxism, also in Cuba. The dozen coordinators of the original workshop continued writing but did not organize other meetings in 2008 although they did create a lively Spanish language website, They propose to “contribute to the empowerment of persons and groups in their practice as citizen-subjects within the Cuban revolution as a process and with socialism as its project.”

A sizeable segment of the population is hungry for more and open information (Photo by Caridad)

The website has hundreds of essays and articles by readers and past and current theoreticians and leading activists such as: Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, Luxemburg, and Che…

At the end of January this year, the coordinators organized another workshop by the name: “To live the revolution 50 years after the triumph.” They now meet monthly at the Ministry of Culture’s Juan Marinello Center, close to the Plaza of the Revolution.

The Ministry’s Antonio Gramsci Department and the Superior Art Institute (ISA) are cosponsors. The meeting hall allotted can hold just under 100 persons. It was full at the initial workshop where the theme was: Sentidos y significados de la revolucion en la vida de nosotros. (The significance and meaning of the revolution in our lives).

This lay the basis for the following workshop- “The political system of the revolution: participation, popular subject and citizenship”–which I attended.

In its announcement folder, the coordinators wrote: “This workshop seeks to contribute to the analysis on the place of citizen participation in the political system, its forms of expression concerning sovereignty, the necessity of a political and legal culture consistent with the social protagonism at the moment to create, control, limit and enjoy the political and the law.”

Specific topics were: how does socialism reformulate the concept of citizenship; mechanisms of actual popular participation; how to contribute to empowerment, all within the context of Hagamos nuestra la revolución (Making the revolution ours).

After a brief introduction and a short Cuban film, “The revolution we make,” the filled meeting hall broke into four groups to discuss what experiences we had with active participation and with forced participation, and how we felt as subject-citizens. (My participation was mainly as an observer since I do not currently live and work in Cuba, which I did from 1987 to 1996.)

Frustrations and Impotence

Diverse expressions surfaced regarding active and “obligatory” participation. When people had felt they could participate and, perhaps make a difference they felt positive. The reverse was the case when their experiences were not truly voluntary.

Paulo Freire: “If the structure does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed.” (photo by Distant Camera)

A student said that it was possible “to participate but `they´ make the decisions”. A young woman student spoke enthusiastically about this workshop initiative, which allowed her to feel as an active subject, “hoping it can lead to making a difference for the society.”

A Colombian studying here said he felt more as a subject in Cuba than in Colombia but hoped for greater active participation.

An older woman, who classified herself as an ordinary worker, said she felt isolated. “`They´ don’t give me a chance to participate in any real sense. `They´ don’t take our commentaries seriously, so I feel like a crazy old woman.”

During a break, she said she believed the revolution has stood still since the mid-60s. A couple of older professional men, remembering those activist days when peasants and militia still carried weapons to defend the nation-which they did at the Bay of Pigs invasion and against counter-revolutionary groups infiltrated and financed by the CIA (Operation Mongoose)-believed the revolution died after that.

The walls were covered with handwritten quotations by Bertolt Brecht, Roque Dalton, Silvio Rodriguez and others. On one wall were posted words by Paulo Freire: “If the structure does not permit dialogue the structure must be changed.”

Summaries of each group’s discussion were read during the last plenary session. The experiences and sentiments were similar. Bureaucratic mechanism’s of control were outlined and criticized during the discussion period.

There was ample self-critique as well. We must overcome self-censorship. We must not yield to the fear of losing what we may have or hope to obtain, such as a better position, and thereby remain silent in face of unfairness or wrong decisions.

One young man said each of us should find ways to improve our own behavior. For example, we must stop throwing trash anywhere we feel like it. We should intervene in all our surroundings with a positive spirit that we can make change.

He said we can make “them” listen to us, because we are the producers, the people for whom the political structure serves. An older professor suggested we invite bureaucrats to meet with us, “because they are Cubans too and we could learn from one another”.

A young professor of law, Julio Antonio Fernandez, gave a brief talk, first giving a brushstroke of revolutionary political and legal history. He then defended the constitution of 1976 as a revolutionary one, and one legalizing an active citizenry for socialism, one that establishes popular control of all mechanisms for sovereignty. The audience was so attentive a pin could be heard to drop.

“We do not seek to regress to before the revolution: we must be designers and controllers… What is most important now is a critique of current state organisms and not the possible creation of ideal institutions,” said Fernandez.

He continued by asking: If a dominating regime is necessary how can it act without alienating the people? How can we democratize power?

We have formal rights of control, Fernandez said, but need to actualize them. The law is not that of the state but that of and for the people. Citizenry duty must be restored. He also spoke against continuing discrimination both of race and gender. The individual and the collective must recognize and confront these ills.

“The danger of imperialism is real and we must find forms to act taking this reality into account,” he concluded.

Participation Leads to Solutions

Following his well received analysis, the body was asked for comments, especially concerning the question of how one can participate in a revolutionary manner. One-fourth of the audience-25 people-made comments and offered ideas to further the revolutionary process, and some called for action.

Several people young and old said that the workshop process and its ideas should go public. There must be ways of involving workers, vital producers. Some said that while laws protect the right to associate and to organize associations, and no law prohibits strikes, the reality is something different.

No one dare try to organize strikes, and many who petition for permission to organize associations are ignored or denied their right.

An older lawyer said he was still waiting, now ten years, for a reply from the Ministry of Justice to his several petitions to organize a harmless, social association of descendants of Slavic people in Cuba.

A sociology professor said that while some professions were allowed to form associations, those in sociology-a study prohibited in Cuba for three decades, which the government reinstated in the mid-90s-were not. Yet no reason was given.

A history professor said it was necessary to define what socialism really is and what it should be. Among other things, socialism must be personal as well as collective. One must feel that he/she is a decision-maker. Without that sense, what occurred in Russia and Eastern Europe could well occur in Cuba.

“Participation leads to solutions and that is liberating,” he concluded.

Another person said that Internet is a liberating tool. The Cuban Ministry of Telecommunications has repeatedly said that broader access will be technologically possible when the Venezuelan undersea cable reaches Cuba later this year or next.

One participant raised doubts about whether a dominating state power was any longer a necessity, especially one in which many leaders retain power positions for many years, even decades.

A young female student said she felt stimulated by these workshops and was optimistic that positive changes could be made. Several youths echoed her sentiment. The last speaker, a Brazilian student, said that it was most important that the group not degenerate into sectarianism as do so many left groups around the world.

The next workshop, open to all, will take place on March 27, at 9:30 a.m. at the Centro Juan Marinello. Its theme will be: state property, social property and the socialization of production.

Originally published in the Havana Times, March 12


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Father Tries To Cash in on Daughter's Fame

I hope I don't regret reprinting something from a dirt sheet. Renegade Eye

Mazher Mahmood, 19/04/2009

THE poverty-stricken father of Slumdog Millionaire child star Rubina Ali plans to become a millionaire himself-by SELLING his nine-year-old daughter.

In a bid to escape India's real-life slums, Rafiq Qureshi put angel-faced darling of the Oscars Rubina up for adoption, demanding millions of rupees worth £200,000.

As he offered the shocking deal to the News of the World's undercover fake sheik this week, Rafiq declared: "I have to consider what's best for me, my family and Rubina's future."

Rafiq tried to blame Hollywood bosses for forcing him to put his daughter up for SALE.

As he tried to fix the illegal adoption deal, real-life slum dweller Rafiq declared: "We've got nothing out of this film."

Then, almost embarrassed to speak it out loud, he whispered to an accomplice the price tag he has put on his innocent young daughter: "It's £200,000!"

That was an astonishing FOURFOLD increase on his opening demand. But Rafiq's equally demanding brother Mohiuddin insisted: "The child is special now. This is NOT an ordinary child. This is an Oscar child!"

BUY MY DAUGHTER: Father Rafiq (centre) and uncle Rajan More (left) pose with Rubina and our undercover team
Dad Rafiq is desperate to cash in on their nine-year-old's success in the blockbuster film by selling her to the highest bidder

He sees it as his family's escape route from the notorious Bandra slum sprawl of Mumbai.

Rafiq revealed his scheme to undercover News of the World reporters posing as a wealthy family from Dubai.


We travelled to Mumbai to expose the illegal sale after a tip-off from a concerned close family friend and former neighbour.

Shockingly, this sort of transaction is far from unusual in an impoverished nation where human life comes cheap and children are often treated as a commodity.

Rubina won the hearts of film-lovers around the world playing young Latika in British director Danny Boyle's movie that picked up eight Oscars and a pile of other glittering awards. It tells the rags to riches story of a young man from the slums who wins the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Filmed in Mumbai's seething pauper ghetto it depicts starkly true scenes of poverty and child cruelty, where young orphans are blinded and crippled by Fagin-like thugs and forced to beg on the streets. And with a staggering 11 million children abandoned in India every year, there is no shortage of young prey.

Our informant, now a city tour guide, told us: "Rubina's family are furious that despite the film doing so well and their pretty daughter becoming so famous, they are still living in such rough conditions.

"They were approached by one wealthy Middle Eastern family who saw their plight in an item on Al Jazeera TV. The couple expressed an interest in adopting young Rubina and her parents' eyes lit up.

"Dad Rafiq is streetwise and knows that soon his daughter's success will be forgotten and her moment of fame will be over. He has a family to feed and simply can't afford it. He is keen to find a rich family to bring up Rubina but only if they are willing to help the whole family to get out of the slums.

"The Middle East family were moved to tears by the plight of the young orphans shown in the film and fell in love with Rubina.

"Just as Western stars like Madonna do, they want to adopt children from poor areas and give them a better life.

"This family wanted to take Rubina abroad. They agreed to come to Mumbai to discuss the adoption in May.

"But the approach has made Rafiq very greedy and he has said that he will consider the highest offer for his child. But they realise that the money will soon stop coming in and Rafiq is open to all offers."

Our investigator made contact with Rafiq and said we had heard he was considering having Rubina adopted. He told Rafiq he was acting for a wealthy Arab sheik who wanted to take the youngster to live with him 2,000 miles away in Dubai.

Rafiq replied: "Yes, we are considering Rubina's future.

SECRET SHAME: Rubina Ali is held aloft at Mumbai celebrations by dad now trying to sell her.

"Why don't you speak to my brother-in-law, Rajan, and he will discuss it with you? I will ask him to call you."

After contacting us, Rubina's uncle Rajan More - who speaks good English - confirmed: "Yes, we are interested in securing our girl's future.

"Rubina's life is miserable and she lives here with her stepmother. Most of the time she stays with me because she is not happy at her parents' home.

"Obviously if you wanted to adopt we could discuss this, but her parents would also expect some proper compensation in return. We are talking of around £50,000 for this to happen." In another phone call, father Rafiq coolly confirmed: "Whatever you have discussed with Rajan, I agree with. Whatever money is agreed by Rajan, I will accept.

"We can discuss everything about this deal when we meet. There's a lot of interest in Rubina, she's become very famous."

Without querying the background, intentions, or even the names of Rubina's prospective new parents, Rafiq arranged to meet us.


And as soon as we said the wealthy family lived in the United Arab Emirates Rafiq suggested: "We would love to come there.

"I have never been there but I have seen it in Indian films. It looks a great place."

Trafficking of poor Indian children to the Middle East, where they are forced to risk their lives as camel jockeys or subjected to sexual abuse, is common in the Mumbai slums. But that did not deter Rafiq.

His first plan was to bring Rubina plus other relatives to visit us in Dubai to discuss the deal. But he had to scrap the idea because he could not get a passport. He is disqualified because he is facing police charges over a knife attack.

That is why he did not accompany Rubina to the Oscars ceremony and her Uncle Mohiuddin went instead.

Rafiq tried to shrug off the problem, claiming: "There is a case against me but it's nothing. I'm trying to get it sorted now. In India you can buy anything if you have money!"

His Plan B was the meeting in Mumbai fixed for Thursday evening. But he arrived late with his little daughter at the luxurious Leela Kempinski hotel at 11.35pm, when most children her age would be in bed.
Also tagging along were trusted sidekick Rajan More, Rafiq's brother Mohiuddin, a friend called Dinesh Dubey and two young nephews. "They were all keen to see what the hotel looks like inside," explained Rajan as he entered the £480-a-night suite.

Smiling broadly, Rubina, who was wearing a torn orange and white Indian dress, looked around the room in amazement. She was proudly clutching her new Nokia mobile phone, a gift from a well-wisher.

She said: "My house is as big as the toilet you have here. We live in Gharib Nagar (Poor Man's Colony)."

As the young VIP ordered strawberry milk shake and ice-cream, dad Rafiq proudly told how his daughter clinched the part in the international blockbuster film.


"One of our neighbours where we live took her to the audition," he said. "Around 1,500 kids turned up and my daughter passed. The film took over a year to make and she worked on it for a month."

Slumdog has been a roaring success, raking in a staggering £185 million at box offices around the world.

But Rafiq, 36, again complained: "They haven't looked after us. They gave some money at the start but they gave us nothing afterwards. They gave us around 150,000 rupees (£2,040). They've been talking about giving us a house, but all they do is talk." Rubina chipped in: "But I did get toys. When we were filming in Juhu beach I got some crayons."

In fact Danny Boyle and producer Christian Colson have set up a trust to ensure Rubina gets a proper education, is well housed and receives support dealing with media attention.

It was reported that Rafiq had spent some of his daughter's film fees on medical treatment to a leg he broke while working as a carpenter. He also used her cash to buy a new mobile phone for himself so agents can contact him to discuss work offers for his daughter. Rafiq has two other children - Sana, aged 13 and six-year-old Abbass - as well as another baby on the way by Rubina's stepmum Munni. Street-kid Rubina is one of only a handful of youngsters who attend school in her neighbourhood.

Rafiq added: "What they showed in the film is exactly how life is here. The government doesn't help us. We get nothing.

"We live in one room, seven of us sleep on the floor. I earn £2 to £3 a day. I have to consider what's best for me, my family and Rubina's future."

A fortnight ago Rubina and fellow child actor Azharuddin Ismail were each given a £12,000 luxury apartment by Slumdog sound engineer Rasul Pookutty. The property in Kerala, south India, was awarded to Rasul - who himself escaped poverty - by the local council in honour of his Oscar achievement.

But Rafiq dismissed the gesture, complaining: "We haven't got anything yet, it's all supposed to come later. It's all talk. It's being built, it'll take a year to be finished."


And Rafiq insisted he had no intention of moving to Kerala, even when the apartment is complete.

"I won't move," he said. "I can never leave Mumbai. My childhood was here, everything I know is here in Mumbai."

As Rafiq spoke, Rubina excitedly looked around the suite, giggling and pointing out a large plasma TV on the wall to her 13-year-old cousin Mohsin.

Then she spoke about her new-found stardom. "I like being famous," she said. "Everyone where I live knows me and likes me now. Some people who I don't even know shout my name wherever I go - 'Rubina, Rubina'!"

She proudly told us how she had worked with the stars on Slumdog and with "Uncle Danny (Boyle)".


Indian police say there is no evidence the father was selling Slumdog Kid.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Marxism and Religion in America

Written by Josh Lucker
Friday, 10 April 2009

A recent survey shows that the United States may be becoming both less religious generally and less Christian specifically. This may come as a shock to some, as over the past decade, the Religious Right has for many people come to represent the public face of the country. This has been spurred on and encouraged by the cries coming from many liberals over the past few years of an impending “theocracy.” However, the facts on the ground are quite different, as the American Religious Identification Survey, performed by Trinity College in Hartford, CT, recently proved.

The study finds that the percentage of Americans who self-describe themselves as “Christian” has fallen by over 10 percent over the past 18 years, from 86 percent to 75 percent. Even more surprising is that “the fallen” are not making their way to other religions, but rather, are almost all entering the ranks of the “non-religious,” a category which has doubled since 1990 to 15 percent. Over 25 percent of participants said that they do not even expect a religious funeral. As ABC News points out, “Americans with no religious preference are now larger than all other major religious groups except Catholics and Baptists.” In fact, the trend toward non-religiosity is the only national trend found in the survey.

Over recent decades, the ideology of capitalist society, i.e. its morality, culture, etc., have been thrown into crisis. The old ideas, a key linchpin of the system, no longer carry the weight they once did. However, this crisis of ideas is merely a reflection or by product of a corresponding crisis of the capitalist system itself, which finds itself at an impasse.

The period of decline of socio-economic systems, such as the Roman Empire, saw their own “crises of morality,” their own “crises of faith,” and their own “apocalyptic yearnings” (the rise of Christianity itself being a prime example).

In fact, apocalyptic visions of the “end of the world” are merely the spiritual reflections of social systems which have outlived their historical usefulness. They reflect the semi-conscious realization of “prophets” that the world as it exists, or rather social relations as they exist, cannot continue as they have in the past. We have seen no shortage of these harbingers of doom in recent years, typified by the popularity of the Left Behind book series.

However, despite the attention given to the “non-religious” findings of the survey, another finding shows that the trend is not one-sided and linear, but rather, complex and contradictory. While the “non-religious” have increased and the mainstream Christian denominations have decreased, evangelical or “born-again” Christians have also increased.

This expresses a trend which we, as Marxists, would expect, but which the mainstream media seems completely unable to explain. The reason is that the crisis of the capitalist system finds expression in a crisis of ideas, a polarization both to the right and to the left, not simply a progressive, linear rejection of religion.

As the crisis continues, this will intensify further. Tony Perkins, of the Family Research Council, is somewhat correct, albeit one-sided, when he tells CNN that, “As the economy goes downward, I think people are going to be driven to religion.” Many others will turn away from religion altogether, but the crisis will continue to push a certain layer into the arms of the fundamentalists, further exacerbating the polarization.

Marxism as a philosophy is atheistic, but our ideas in relation to religion are far more complex than the caricature of “Godless communists” usually portrayed in the media. If people know anything about Marx’s ideas on religion, chances are they know that he said that religion was “the opium of the masses.” He did in fact say this, but what he actually meant goes far beyond an isolated quote.

The quote is from Marx’s Introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, written in 1844. In it, he takes up the German critics of religion, a trend led by Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer and others, who focused their attacks, not on existing social relations, but on religion itself.

He points out that: “Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again… This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world… The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion… Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people…

“The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

As Marx explains, the 19th Century German critics of religion had the whole thing turned upside-down. Religion is merely the reflection of suffering in this world, inequality in this world, injustice in this world. So long as these conditions exist, religion cannot simply be “abolished,” because it has a material base. It is, as he put it, the “sigh of the oppressed creature.”

Today there are many people, such as the so-called “New Atheists” or “antitheists,” who continue on the path of the German critics. Representatives of this trend include Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. While the popularity of this trend, particularly among the youth, can be seen as a generally positive development, as it is “in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo,” it does not and cannot offer a solution to the “real suffering” of millions of people living under capitalism.

In other words, religion cannot simply be abolished or criticized out of existence. As Marxists, we believe that if you eliminate the conditions of misery that most of humanity lives under, that is, if we create conditions for “real happiness,” then over time, the need for “illusory happiness” will disappear on its own. If you do not agree, that is perfectly fine with us. In the future we can debate all we want about life after death, but in the meantime, we should work together to create the conditions for a life before death.

Mikhail Bakunin, a 19th Century Russian anarchist, proposed a Program of the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy, which included as its first point: “The Alliance declares itself atheist; it wants abolition of cults, substitution of science for faith and human justice for divine justice.” In the margins of his copy of this document, Marx wrote: “As if one could declare by royal decree the abolition of faith!” This shows that those who believe that Marxism argues for a restriction of religious rights are misinformed.

Quite the opposite. We believe that there should be, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, a “wall of separation between church and state.” But we also believe that religion is a personal matter, between each person and his or her own conscience, not something to be banned or encouraged by the government.

In the struggle for a better world, we have far more in common, in terms of our goals and class outlook, with a liberation theologist in Latin America or a religious working class family in Ohio, than we do with some of the leaders of the “New Atheists,” such as Christopher Hitchens, a vocal supporter of the Iraq War.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You Are Being Lied to About Pirates

Johann Hari
Columnist, London Independent
Posted April 13, 2009 | 10:05 AM (EST)

Who imagined that in 2009, the world's governments would be declaring a new War on Pirates? As you read this, the British Royal Navy - backed by the ships of more than two dozen nations, from the US to China - is sailing into Somalian waters to take on men we still picture as parrot-on-the-shoulder pantomime villains. They will soon be fighting Somalian ships and even chasing the pirates onto land, into one of the most broken countries on earth. But behind the arrr-me-hearties oddness of this tale, there is an untold scandal. The people our governments are labeling as "one of the great menace of our times" have an extraordinary story to tell -- and some justice on their side.

Pirates have never been quite who we think they are. In the "golden age of piracy" - from 1650 to 1730 - the idea of the pirate as the senseless, savage thief that lingers today was created by the British government in a great propaganda-heave. Many ordinary people believed it was false: pirates were often rescued from the gallows by supportive crowds. Why? What did they see that we can't? In his book Villains of All nations, the historian Marcus Rediker pores through the evidence to find out. If you became a merchant or navy sailor then - plucked from the docks of London's East End, young and hungry - you ended up in a floating wooden Hell. You worked all hours on a cramped, half-starved ship, and if you slacked off for a second, the all-powerful captain would whip you with the Cat O' Nine Tails. If you slacked consistently, you could be thrown overboard. And at the end of months or years of this, you were often cheated of your wages.

Pirates were the first people to rebel against this world. They mutinied against their tyrannical captains - and created a different way of working on the seas. Once they had a ship, the pirates elected their captains, and made all their decisions collectively. They shared their bounty out in what Rediker calls "one of the most egalitarian plans for the disposition of resources to be found anywhere in the eighteenth century." They even took in escaped African slaves and lived with them as equals. The pirates showed "quite clearly - and subversively - that ships did not have to be run in the brutal and oppressive ways of the merchant service and the Royal navy." This is why they were popular, despite being unproductive thieves.

The words of one pirate from that lost age - a young British man called William Scott - should echo into this new age of piracy. Just before he was hanged in Charleston, South Carolina, he said: "What I did was to keep me from perishing. I was forced to go a-pirating to live." In 1991, the government of Somalia - in the Horn of Africa - collapsed. Its nine million people have been teetering on starvation ever since - and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country's food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: "Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury - you name it." Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to "dispose" of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: "Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention."

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia's seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish-stocks by over-exploitation - and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea-life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia's unprotected seas. The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: "If nothing is done, there soon won't be much fish left in our coastal waters."

This is the context in which the men we are calling "pirates" have emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a 'tax' on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia - and it's not hard to see why. In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was "to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters... We don't consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas." William Scott would understand those words.

No, this doesn't make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters - especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies. But the "pirates" have the overwhelming support of the local population for a reason. The independent Somalian news-site WardherNews conducted the best research we have into what ordinary Somalis are thinking - and it found 70 percent "strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence of the country's territorial waters." During the revolutionary war in America, George Washington and America's founding fathers paid pirates to protect America's territorial waters, because they had no navy or coastguard of their own. Most Americans supported them. Is this so different?

Did we expect starving Somalians to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our nuclear waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We didn't act on those crimes - but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 percent of the world's oil supply, we begin to shriek about "evil." If we really want to deal with piracy, we need to stop its root cause - our crimes - before we send in the gun-boats to root out Somalia's criminals.

The story of the 2009 war on piracy was best summarised by another pirate, who lived and died in the fourth century BC. He was captured and brought to Alexander the Great, who demanded to know "what he meant by keeping possession of the sea." The pirate smiled, and responded: "What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor." Once again, our great imperial fleets sail in today - but who is the robber?

Johann Hari is a writer for the Independent newspaper. To read more of his articles, click here. or here.

POSTSCRIPT: Some commenters seem bemused by the fact that both toxic dumping and the theft of fish are happening in the same place - wouldn't this make the fish contaminated? In fact, Somalia's coastline is vast, stretching to 3300km. Imagine how easy it would be - without any coastguard or army - to steal fish from Florida and dump nuclear waste on California, and you get the idea. These events are happening in different places - but with the same horrible effect: death for the locals, and stirred-up piracy. There's no contradiction.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Surprising Poll Finds Only Half of Americans Believe Capitalism is Better Than Socialism ... Or?

Posted by Joshua Holland, AlterNet.
at 4:00 PM on April 9, 2009

Do They Understand the Words?

The results of a new Rasmussen poll are an eye-opener in some ways...

Only 53% of American adults believe capitalism is better than socialism.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 20% disagree and say socialism is better. Twenty-seven percent (27%) are not sure which is better.

Adults under 30 are essentially evenly divided: 37% prefer capitalism, 33% socialism, and 30% are undecided. Thirty-somethings are a bit more supportive of the free-enterprise approach with 49% for capitalism and 26% for socialism. Adults over 40 strongly favor capitalism, and just 13% of those older Americans believe socialism is better.

Investors by a 5-to-1 margin choose capitalism. As for those who do not invest, 40% say capitalism is better while 25% prefer socialism.

It's certainly a fascinating finding, especially when compared with that of an earlier survey in which 70% of Americans prefered a free-market economy. Rasmussen also notes, "the fact that a 'free-market economy' attracts substantially more support than 'capitalism' may suggest some skepticism about whether capitalism in the United States today relies on free markets." Which just means we're not as dumb as we look.

But I take these findings with a significant grain of salt...

I doubt the terms "socialism" and "capitalism" are fully understood by most respondents, and Rasmussen didn't explain them (when asked which is better, 27 percent said 'whuh?'). Remember, according to the most recent (1997) Household Survey of Adult Civic Participation, less than a third of American adults read a newspaper or news magazine "almost every day." Almost a third couldn't tell you what "job or political office" Al Gore had held after he had been Vice President for five years, around a third didn't know which party held the majority in Congress and, stunningly, 49 percent of Americans surveyed didn't know "which party is more conservative at the national level."

Looking at other data as well, I think that there's widespread disilussionment with the American model of capitalism, and the response to Rasmussen's question is colored by the fact that most believe it to be the only one. The poll notes that just "fifteen percent of Americans say they prefer a government-managed economy ... 14% believe the federal government would do a better job running auto companies, and even fewer believe government would do a better job running financial firms." Given that, it's hard to see more than one in five opting for a system in which the state owns the means of production.

I'd be interested to see a poll that offered respondents a little information about what these terms mean, and also included "social democracy" as an option -- I've always seen a mostly free-market system with a far better safety net as the best of both worlds myself.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet.

I don't agree it's relevant that people know exactly what is meant by socialism, what is relevant is that about 30% of the US population isn't put off by socialism. Explaining socialism is my job.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Venezuela Expropriates Cargill Plant

Written by Patrick Larsen
Friday, 03 April 2009

Throughout 2007 and 2008, scarcity of basic food products has been part of everyday life for millions of Venezuelans. Sometimes it has been coffee, other times sugar, milk, rice, cooking oil or beans that were unavailable on the shelves of super-markets and shops. This has created a potentially dangerous situation which could undermine support for the Bolivarian government.

The inability of the Venezuelan government to solve this problem played a key role in the defeat in the referendum on Constitutional reform in December 2007, where three million Chavez supporters abstained from voting. That explains why, at the beginning of 2008, a campaign was launched on the direct initiative of Chavez to solve the problem. This involved the use of the National Guard to confiscate hidden reserves of food and stop the smuggling of food into Colombia, where speculators can sell the food products at much more favorable prices.

The campaign demonstrated that food scarcity was the result of hoarding, speculation and smuggling on a massive scale. However, no effective measures were taken to deal with the root of the problem at that time. Private property of the food-producing sector was left untouched. As we warned at the time: “The seizure of food stocks by the National Guard and other bodies can temporarily ease the problem, but cannot solve it in the long term. Relying on the institutions of a state apparatus which is still a capitalist state to solve the problems of working people is like putting a fox in charge of guarding hens.”

In February, the government conducted a number of investigations of private companies in the food sector. In a rice processing plant in Guarico state, owned by the country’s largest food producer, Polar, it was revealed that the plant was only working at half capacity. Furthermore, the plant was adding artificial flavoring to 90 percent of its rice in order to get around the price controls decreed by he government, which only apply to essential, unenhanced food items.

On Saturday, February 28, Chavez decreed state intervention at the rice processing plant in Guárico, which is to run for 90 days. The workers at the plant have supported this measure with great enthusiasm and have begun to produce 100 percent unmodified rice. This shows that it is entirely possible to mass produce cheap rice as long as it is done under the control of the working class.

Having discovered this deliberate sabotage, Chavez emphasized that this was only the tip of the iceberg. On his TV program, Aló Presidente, on March 1, he threatened the capitalists in the food sector. If the sabotage continues, he said, “we will expropriate all of their plants, and convert them from private property into social property.”

Then on Wednesday, March 3, Chavez announced the expropriation of the rice plants of Cargill, a U.S.owned multinational food company. It was revealed that this rice-processing plant in Portuguesa was adding artificial flavoring to all of its rice to get round the price controls. Apart from that, INDEPABIS found approximately 18,000 tons of non-modified rice stored in the plant’s warehouse.

Chavez signed the official decree of expropriation of Cargill’s rice plants on March 6. In the same speech he stated that in the past, the oligarchy had been making the laws but that this era had now ended and “Now Venezuela has a government that only abides by the constitution and the people”. On Sunday, March 7, during his weekly Alo Presidente programme, Chavez replied to the criticisms on the part of Polar group owner Lorenzo Mendoza, and warned, “my hand will not shake when it comes to expropriating the whole of the Polar group if they are found to be breaking the law. Let this be a warning to the bourgeoisie as a whole: my hand will not shake,” adding, “And I would have the full support of the people.”

In what was a very radical speech, president Chavez also dismissed those who advocate the need to conciliate with the ruling class. “Some are trying to tell a tale that we have a technical draw, that we are neck and neck [with the opposition], this is completely false” and added, “with this story they want the revolution to surrender and that I should put my foot the brake and say: we cannot go forward, we need to reach agreements.” To these ideas he replied: “The revolution must charge ahead. There cannot be any agreement with the oligarchy or agreements at the top with anybody; I will make sure that we put our foot down on the accelerator of the Revolution.”

He continued: “We have an absolute majority” in the National Assembly, he said. It is now time to “dismantle the old bourgeois state, before it dismantles us.” This is completely correct, but it is also the responsibility of the workers’ movement and its leadership to take the initiative. Many opportunities have been wasted in the past. It is time to take decisive action.

The most striking feature of the recent developments in the struggle against food scarcity is the movement of the workers. Once the ice was broken with the state intervention in the rice-plant in Guárico, workers from the food industry all over Venezuela began to organize and call for action against the sabotage of the capitalists.

More than ever before, the Venezuelan revolution is clashing head-on with private property of the means of production. Private property is an obstacle to national sovereignty in the field of food production. In order to accomplish the basic tasks of the national-democratic revolution, the working class – leading the peasantry behind it – must put itself at the head of the revolution and smash the remnants of private property and the old bourgeois state apparatus. Only in this way can an effective agrarian reform and industrialization of agriculture be introduced, which would give a huge impetus to domestic food production. And in so doing, the national-democratic revolution will grow over into the Socialist revolution. In that sense the Venezuelan revolution will become “permanent”. This is the real lesson of the present dispute over the rice fields.


Friday, April 03, 2009

Helmut Newton (1920-2004)

Most fashion photography is forgetable. This post is about an artist; Helmut Newton.

He brought sex and theater into fashion photography. A German-Jew who fled Nazism in Germany, with his family in 1938. His homage to the Berlin cabaret life, continued in his work for periodicals as Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, and Playboy.

The Newton tie to cinema, is through the movie The Blue Angel (1931), with Emil Jannings and sultry Marlene Dieterich, the Wiemar masterpiece. His photography subjects were often charactures of that movie. The Amazon women and the repressed men was often a theme in his pictures.

Newton died in 2004, after driving a car into a wall at his West Los Angeles base at Chateau Marmott, after an apparent heart attack.