Monday, April 28, 2008

Bolivia: The Oligarchy Prepares a Major Challenge on May 4th

By Jorge Martin
Monday, 28 April 2008

The oligarchy in Bolivia has launched a major challenge to the Evo Morales government in the form of a referendum on an "Autonomous Statute" in the Eastern Department of Santa Cruz. The Statue, if passed in this unconstitutional referendum, would give Santa Cruz amongst others, the right to pass its own laws, particularly on issues like land reform, control revenues over natural resources located in the region, set its own budget and most important of all, create its own security forces. The plan of the oligarchy, as explained by Santa Cruz's prefect, is that this would be followed by similar referendums in Beni, Pando and Tarija, the other Departments that make up Bolivia's Media Luna Oriental (Eastern Crescent).

In effect, what the coalition of wealthy landowners, capitalist agribusinesses and key sections of the Bolivian ruling class are attempting is a unilateral declaration of independence so that they will not have to implement the laws passed by the MAS government of Evo Morales, particularly in relation to land reform and hydrocarbons. This is a very powerful coalition, that has been described as the "100 clans", which controls large amounts of land (25 million hectares as opposed to 5 million hectares which are in the hands of 2 million poor peasants), meat packing plants, the profitable business of soy bean plantations, the country's main banks and media and the main private industries. They are defending their class interests and they are prepared to go until the end and use any means necessary.

They have used the issue of "autonomy" to mobilise mass support for what in reality is a rebellion of the slaveholders, to use Marx's expression. At the same time they have been arming thousands of young people, recruited from the sons of the wealthy and from lumpen elements, in what can only be described as the fascist gangs of the Union Juvenil Cruceña. With a strong element of racism against the "Highland Indios", people with dark, indigenous, skin have been beaten up, lists of MAS activists pasted on the main square in Santa Cruz, a city where only right-wing political activity is now allowed. Evo Morales himself has been called a "monkey" by leading figures in the Santa Cruz "Civic" Committee.

There are clear indications of involvement of the US embassy in this movement of the upper class. At the beginning of April Evo Morales denounced the fact that the government had discovered an office of the CIA within the presidential palace. This had been set up by a former high-ranking officer of the national police who, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, was passing vital information to the CIA. A government minister also denounced the fact that 93 million dollars of USAID had gone directly to opposition groups and organisations in the last year.

But how did we get to this point? As a by-product of the revolutionary movement of the Bolivian workers and peasants in 2000-05, the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism) of Evo Morales got a resounding victory in the elections in December 2005, with more than 53% of the votes against 28% of his closest rival. Even in Santa Cruz the result was good for the MAS, with 33%, even though it lost to Podemos with 41%.

As we said at the time, "the hundreds of thousands of workers and peasants voted for the MAS with a clear idea in mind, that Morales will deliver on the ‘October Agenda', that is, the demands that led to the October 2003 uprising. These are, mainly, the nationalisation and industrialisation of gas, land reform, reversal of neo-liberal policies and, for some, the calling of a Constituent Assembly."

What policies did the MAS government implement? If one thing has characterised the Morales government over the last two years it has been vacillation. Every step forward taken in the right direction (nationalisation of gas, raising the minimum wage, providing school children with free milk, raising the pensions) was met with fierce opposition from the capitalist class and imperialism. Faced with such opposition the government retreated half a step, called for negotiations and generally conciliated. This only encouraged the oligarchy to step up its campaign, created confusion amongst the supporters of the MAS (the masses of workers and poor peasants from the indigenous majority) and demobilised them. The oligarchy was able to seize the initiative and even win a base of support amongst the masses in the Eastern Crescent.

Even when the MAS leadership attempted to use the mass movement against the right wing, it did so in an indecisive way, avoided a serious confrontation and stayed firmly within the narrow limits of bourgeois legality (at a time when the oligarchy was happy to break their own laws in order to defend their land, interest and profits). This was the case for instance one year ago in Cochabamba. When the prefect of Cochabamba (the area where the MAS was born and had massive support in the 2005 elections) came out in favour of autonomy, the MAS leaders called for massive mobilisations of protest. The prefect used the police against the demonstrators and that was the spark that lit the fire. The enraged masses gathered in a massive cabildo abierto in the main town square voted to expel the prefect from the department and to give themselves a new government. What was the response of vice-president García Linera? He argued that the prefect should be respected because he had been legitimately and democratically elected and that the people should go back to their homes. Such a policy could only have two effects: to disorient and demobilise the workers and peasants and to further encourage the oligarchy.

And so it happened. Earlier this year, after many negotiations, the mediation of the Catholic Church, meetings and talks, etc., both the government and the oligarchy announced the calling of a referendum: the government in order to pass the new Political Constitution of the State (as drafted over many months of legalistic disputes by the Constituent Assembly, but only passed at a session which was boycotted by the opposition), and the Santa Cruz oligarchy in order to pass their own Autonomous Statute in a direct challenge and in contradiction with the Political Constitution of the State (CPE). Then, the National Electoral Court ruled that, because of procedural matters, both referendums were unconstitutional and had to be cancelled. The government probably breathed a sigh of relief; this was a way of avoiding a confrontation that they did not want to face. They accepted the ruling.

However, the oligarchy, emboldened by each concession on the part of the government, felt strong enough to defy the ruling and go ahead with its own referendum on autonomy. Since then there have been constant skirmishes between the central national democratically elected government and the decisive section of the country's ruling class represented by the Santa Cruz Departmental government and the Santa Cruz Civic Committee (led by wealthy landowner and agro-capitalist Branko Marinkovic).

A few months ago there was the incident over who controlled the Santa Cruz airport. After having sent the Army to take it over, the government, once again, backed down and effectively handed it over to the Department.

More recently there was a conflict over the decision of the government to block exports of basic foodstuffs in order to face rising prices and scarcity at home. Marinkovic is one of the country's largest cattle ranchers and soybean producers (for the export market). The oligarchy replied with a bosses' lock-out and threatened a national lock-out of the transport industry. The government eased the blocking of exports.

Then the Santa Cruz Department disconnected the computers dealing with its budget from those of the national government. The national government cut off money transfers to Santa Cruz.

But in all these battles, the only one force than can save the Bolivian revolution and also the MAS government, has been absent: the masses of workers and peasants. The miners' union and several peasant organisations made an appeal to the government to use all means necessary to stop the May 4th referendum in Santa Cruz. They clearly saw it as a threat to all they had fought for. What was the answer of the MAS leaders? When asked about it, Garcia Linera replied that the referendum was "just an opinion poll" and when Evo Morales was asked what he was going to do about it he said literally: "Nothing. I believe in the consciousness of the Bolivian people".

The oligarchy is launching a serious and well-organised challenge to the government of Evo Morales and the government is basically burying its head under the sand. It is not even clear that the aim of the ruling class is to split the country. Why should they do that? So far they have managed to get a stronghold in Santa Cruz, Beni, Pando and Tarija. They also have strong positions in Cochabamba and Sucre, and even the prefect of the capital La Paz has now come out in favour of autonomy for Santa Cruz. There are certainly more extreme sections of the oligarchy (represented by Marinkovic's Civic Committee) that would not hesitate in going all the way towards independence. But others are probably thinking that on the back of this movement they can force the overthrow of the Morales government and put an end to the revolutionary movement of the masses, and then they would not need to split the country.

However, not all is lost in Bolivia. At any time, all these reactionary provocations can lead to a massive movement of workers and peasants. Herein lies the only hope for the future. As in the case of Venezuela, appeals to dialogue, conciliation, the bringing in of mediators, did not prevent the ruling class from organising one attempt after another to overthrow the Chavez government. In each occasion it was only the mass mobilisation of workers and peasants in the streets that defeated the counter-revolutionary attempts. In Bolivia in the last few years the masses have shown over and over again their willingness to sacrifice in the struggle for a better future, they have overthrown three governments, faced the army and the police. In April 1952 the miners single-handedly defeated and crushed the army in what was the beginning of the Bolivian revolution. That feat can be repeated again on condition that a clear lead is given. A massive show of strength can disband the forces of reaction.

The miners of Huanuni, in a statement on April 4th clearly identified the danger: "The wealthy oligarchy, a minority composed of land owners and multinational businessmen... with the massive resources derived from their economic power and the open support of countries aligned with the US have started a serious offensive to recover all the political power they lost during the bloody struggles of 2003 and 2005"

But they add: "The national government of the MAS, is also responsible for this situation for having allowed this small minority of the rich to reorganise and raise its head again. This oligarchic minority is so powerful because they have the economic power they derive from the exploitation of our natural resources, like the hydrocarbons, mining, the land, etc. If the government does not take over these resources for the state, these vampires will continue to be powerful and will ensure the continuation of unemployment, poverty and the misery we have lived in for the last decades."

And they end up with a clear appeal for action: "Only the application of the Agendas of 2003 and 2005 will guarantee the disarming and the defeat of the oligarchy. The Huanuni miners demand that the government takes the boldest measures to disband the fraud of this autonomy referendum, and to apply once and for all real structural changes in the country. The miners, loyal to our tradition of revolutionary struggle, demand that the government gives us the necessary means and resources to smash the "civic" and business cliques which throughout the country, and particularly in the Eastern Crescent, fool the people and want to fill the country with hatred, blood and division".

One lesson must be learnt above all: the last two years of the MAS government prove in a conclusive manner that no middle way is possible, no "Andean capitalism" can be built. Even the timid measures of the Morales government have led directly to this rebellion of the slaveholders. The only way forward is the expropriation of the land, banks and industry under the democratic control of the working people of Bolivia, linking up with the revolutionary movements taking place throughout Latin America.RENEGADE EYE

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Which Way Out of the Zimbabwean Nightmare?

By Fred Weston
Thursday, 24 April 2008

Zimbabwe is gripped by an unprecedented economic, social and political crisis that could even push it towards open civil war. Mugabe's refusal to accept the results of the March 29 elections is an indication of his desperation as he attempts to hold on to power. The country is paralysed as the crisis at the top unravels.

In spite of clearly having lost the elections, Mugabe continues to deny defeat. The Zimbabwean electoral commission refused to accept the results in 22 of the 210 parliamentary constituencies. A recount started on April 19th. The opposition won 109 seats against 97 for ZANU-PF. It would be sufficient for the electoral commission to falsify the results in 9 constituencies to declare Mugabe the winner. The other option would be to produce a result which would force a second ballot.

All the pressure is on for Mugabe to release the election results, but he has a lot at stake, and the clique around him is in the same position. If he succeeds in forcing a second ballot by declaring that no one had a clear-cut majority in the first round, that would give him time to terrorise people into voting for his party and would allow him to prepare better his electoral fraud machine. We will see when and what results they declare in the coming days - and possibly weeks - as Mugabe desperately plays for time.

Most of the governments of the surrounding countries in Southern Africa are concerned that the situation in Zimbabwe could spiral out of control. They too have called on Mugabe to release the election results. The major Western imperialist powers have added their pressure and are calling on Mugabe to recognise that the MDC won the elections.

Amazingly Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's president, recently stated that there is no crisis in Zimbabwe, and has maintained friendly relations with Mugabe. Other leaders in the ANC have somewhat of a clearer idea of what is happening in Zimbabwe and have come out openly disagreeing with Mbeki. Jacob Zuma, who replaced Mbeki as the leader of the ANC last year has expressed concern at what is developing in Zimbabwe.

Solidarity of South African Workers

The workers of South Africa, however, have no doubts as to what is happening in the neighbouring country, as the refusal of the dockers in Durban to allow a Chinese ship, the An Yue Jiang, to unload its 77 tonnes of arms for the Zimbabwean regime, demonstrates.

While the ANC government was prepared to allow the weapons to be transported 1000 miles across South Africa to Zimbabwe, Randall Howard, general secretary of the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) warned that, "As far as we are concerned, the containers will not be offloaded. The ship must return to China. If they, the Mbeki government, bring replacement labour to do the work, our members will not stand and look at them and smile." Even South Africa's police trade union warned Mbeki against using police as "scab" labour.

This is in the best traditions of working class international solidarity. The South African workers know what the weapons would be used for and are prepared to move against their own government to make sure they are not used against their Zimbabwean brothers and sisters.

China's involvement in the Zimbabwean crisis, however, further confirms the nature of the present regime in Beijing, which is solely interested in getting its hands on raw materials to keep its industrial expansion going. It clearly is interested in the minerals of Zimbabwe, particularly platinum, but also other minerals and has no real concern for the suffering of the Zimbabwean masses. This is in line with what China is doing all over the African continent, making deals with anyone in order to exploit the resources of the continent. This is yet another example of localised conflict between China on the one hand and the USA and the EU on the other. China backs Mugabe, while the West backs the MDC; both are merely defending their own greedy interests.

Historical Background

The question we have to ask ourselves is: how did Zimbabwe get into this situation? By looking at past developments we will see that those who are now condemning Mugabe had no problems with him when he was applying their economic policies after he came to power in 1979. In fact the present mess is a direct consequence of those policies. That is why to understand the present situation we need to go back in history.

The situation in Zimbabwe today stems from its colonial past, when it was dominated by British imperialism. Prior to 1923 "Southern Rhodesia", as Zimbabwe was known then, was under the control of the British South Africa Company (BSAC) that had been established by Cecil Rhodes, receiving a royal charter in 1889. It was modelled on the British East India Company that was the basis for colonisation of India. Rhodes, who used it for British colonial expansion in south-central Africa, was a British-born South African capitalist, a mining magnate, and a politician. He founded the De Beers diamond company and was also the founder of Rhodesia (which then included present-day Zambia and Zimbabwe, later known as Northern and Southern Rhodesia).

In 1923 the British government took over Southern Rhodesia from the BSAC. Shortly after that, in the 1930s the "Land Apportionment Act" was passed. This gave 45% of the country's land to white commercial farmers. Thus the roots of the present-day terribly unequal distribution of land go back to British rule. They simply stole the land that belonged to the people.

In 1961, still under British rule, a new constitution was adopted that favoured whites in power, in what was an overwhelmingly black country (to this day the whites are only 1% of the population).

As Britain prepared to pull out, its strategists could see that to maintain some kind of stability would require at least a formal concession of political rights to the majority black population. In 1965 Ian Smith unilaterally declared Rhodesia an independent state in a desperate attempt to hold on to white supremacy. A long guerrilla war ensued, finally leading to free elections in 1979 and the setting up of Zimbabwe as we know it now in 1980. Robert Mugabe, as leader of ZANU-PF, the main force during the guerrilla struggle, became the country's first prime minister, and has governed the country ever since.

ZANU-PF at that time embodied the aspirations of the Zimbabwean masses, who longed for social justice and equality. They had been oppressed for generations, first under British imperial rule and then under the hated racist regime of Smith. Wealth was concentrated in the hands of a minority white elite. Land was hugely concentrated in the hands of white farmers, while the blacks had to eke out an existence on subsistence farming. In fact 6000 white farmers owned 70% of the productive land. This was the basis for the sustained guerrilla war that finally ousted the old regime.

Lancaster House Agreement

The independence of Zimbabwe was achieved by the struggle of the masses, but the leaders of the guerrilla movement entered into an agreement brokered by the British government, known as the Lancaster House Agreement. That agreement included a10- year moratorium on the land issue, which meant that no land was to be expropriated and redistributed for ten years. The British government agreed to provide funding for the "purchase" of land from the white farmers to be distributed to poorer black peasants. They clearly wanted to avoid "expropriation." The same agreement established that the capitalist state and economy should remain intact.

In the 1970s the land situation was at it had always been under British colonial rule: the best agricultural lands belonged to 6000 farmers, while 600,000 black subsistence farming communities had to scrape out a living on poorer quality land. As a result of the Lancaster House Agreement land distribution proved to be painfully slow. By the year 2000 only 50,000 families had received land through this mechanism. 4500 white farmers continued to hold on to 11 million hectares of Zimbabwe's prime agricultural land, with 1.2 million black agricultural workers working for them. Contrast this to the fact that about one million blacks owned 16 million hectares, often land that was much less productive.

Thus one of the main goals of the guerrilla struggle was betrayed. The masses were prepared to tolerate this on the basis that sooner or later the issue would be tackled. The problem was that once the ten years had elapsed the Mugabe government was still doing nothing about land. This was a situation that was frustrating the rural masses.

Mugabe Shifts Right

However, it was not merely a question of not acting on the land question. Once in power Mugabe shifted sharply to the right and adopted openly "free market" policies. Initially there was some economic improvement. There was a degree of reconstruction and there was some re-capitalisation of the local economy as it was reintegrated into the world economy. Similarly to many former colonial countries, the state played a big role in economic development using state assets to invest in infrastructure. There was also a strong degree of protectionism to defend the weak local economy from the more competitive products of the developed countries.

Since the late 1970s however, the policy of the imperialist countries was changing. They were demanding an opening up of the national economies of the less developed countries. They demanded the lowering or elimination of tariff barriers, thus opening up these weak economies that were forced to compete on a "level playing field" with the advanced capitalist countries, something they were not equipped for. Part of this process also involved widespread privatisations.

Thus, in October 1990, the government of Zimbabwe was forced, under pressure from the IMF and World Bank, to implement the five-year Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). This was supposed to be an answer to the economic crisis that began in the 1980s. The measures that were introduced were the following: removal of price controls and wage controls; cuts in government spending; a 40% devaluation of the Zimbabwean dollar; the lifting of state subsidies on basic consumer goods; liberalisation of the foreign currency allocation system; the lifting of protection of "non-productive" import substituting industries and increased profit remittance abroad; and a radical restructuring of the various state-owned companies.

This was followed by the Framework for Economic Reform between 1991 and 1995, which involved further cuts in state subsidies for publicly owned companies and privatisation. In 1998, the government launched its second stage of the Structural Adjustment Programme, known as the Zimbabwe Programme for Economic and Social Transformation (ZIMPREST): the budget deficit was to be reduced to under five per cent of GDP.

Devastating Impact on the Economy

The effects of all this were dramatic. From 1991 onwards the Zimbabwean dollar has been devalued massively. The lifting of protectionist measures opened up the home market to cheaper imports. This resulted in the closing down of many local industries leading to massive redundancies and rising unemployment, which reached 60% by 2003 and now it is estimated that it stands at 80%! Manufacturing productivity fell by 11.9% and in the mining sector by 4% in 2001. In the ten-year period, 1991-2001 GDP declined, ending up with a real decline in GDP of 11.5%.

The collapse of the real economy was accompanied by rampant inflation. In 2001 it went over 100 per cent. Since then inflation went up to 585% in 2005 and last November it stood at 26,000%. These are the official figures; private sector estimates put it at 100,000%!

From a purely capitalist point of view Mugabe exacerbated all this by trying to buy his way out of the crisis, using state handouts and by increasing military spending. He was under pressure from the war veterans who had not risen up in bourgeois society as the ZANU-PF leaders had done. He spent four billion dollars on the former guerrillas and also launched a military adventure in the Democratic Republic of Congo (1998-2002) that cost hundreds of millions of dollars. For him this was a means of "keeping the soldiers busy".

Thus, we saw a dramatic increase in poverty levels in the same period. The government's 1995 Poverty Assessment Study revealed that 62 per cent of the population was living in poverty. Poverty was even higher in the rural areas, where it stood at 72 per cent of households (compared to 46 per cent in the urban areas).

Cuts in public spending led to the introduction of school fees and payment for healthcare, denying access especially to the poorer layers, who were by now the overwhelming majority of the population. Add to all this the fall in real wages, due to rising inflation, and one can see how dramatic the situation was becoming.

Responsibility of Imperialism

All this was not the result of Mugabe's present crazy policies. It was the direct result of policies imposed on Zimbabwe by the IMF, World Bank and major imperialist powers. We did not here any of the western governments complaining about Mugabe then. They were happy to see him open up the country and impose such draconian measures on the already impoverished Zimbabwean masses.

The degree to which Mugabe's western backers, including the IMF and the World Bank - these hypocrites who have suddenly discovered the need for democracy in Zimbabwe - would go was seen when the army's 5th Brigade was unleashed on the Ndebele people in January 1983.

The 3500 men of the 5th Brigade, composed entirely of Shona, the ethnic group that Mugabe belongs to, were responsible for the massacre of 20,000 villagers. They also tortured and assaulted many others. The imperialists conveniently turned a blind eye as the Ndebele people were massacred.

While the imperialists and local white elite profited from Mugabe's policies, for the masses gone were the days of hope that the new ZANU-PF regime would bring with it social justice, equality and a genuine improvement in living conditions. Disillusionment with the present regime set in. This was especially the case in the urban areas, where ZANU-PF started to lose support significantly.

Up until this period there had been what some describe as a "honeymoon period" between the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and the government. There was a natural historical link between the two, as ZANU-PF was seen as a progressive, anti-imperialist force. This gave the ZANU-PF leaders huge authority among the workers and peasants of the country. But as the government moved further and further to the right, that period came to an end around 1990, the same period in which the Structural Adjustment Plans were launched.

Prior to coming to power, the leaders of the guerrilla movement had lived in modest conditions and were much closer to the masses they represented. Once in power they had become well-to-do politicians living in luxury, living on fat salaries. Their outlook thus changed. This was determined by their real position of wealth, many of them having becoming bourgeois, owning farms and companies directly.

Thus workers started to comment that the leaders preached socialism by day but practiced capitalism by night. Having acquired a privileged position these leaders had become incapable of making a break with capitalism. Rather than becoming an instrument for the emancipation of the Zimbabwean workers and peasants, they had been corrupted and transformed into tools of capitalist interests. With this went rampant corruption and nepotism.

A Revolution Betrayed

An interesting article appeared in The Times of Zimbabwe, under the title "Bitter Taste of a Revolution Betrayed", published on April 13 of this year. It describes how Mugabe is trying to exploit the heroic past of ZANU-PF when it led the guerrilla struggle in order to muster support today. It explains how ZANU-PF "is struggling to reclaim its revolutionary credentials in the face of massive electoral losses to an opposition party [the MDC] - many of whose members are drawn from the ranks of the former liberation movement."

The article goes back to a historical figure of the liberation struggle, Josiah Magama Tongogara, Mugabe's main rival for power in the exiled liberation movement. Tongogara was the commander of the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army, Zanu's military wing and was a major figure in Zimbabwe's independence movement. Now many are comparing him to how Mugabe has evolved and they say that he would have been incensed at the state the country is in today.

"He would not have allowed things to degenerate to this," said a former soldier at Heroes Acre this week. "He was not a power-hungry person. He fought for equality and justice, and wanted to see all Zimbabweans enjoying the same constitutional rights. He was our favourite leader here in Zimbabwe. He had balls and was not afraid of Mugabe or of speaking truth to power. If you check our post-independence history, you will see that Mugabe has always tried to erase his contribution in the liberation struggle. Is it because he was a threat to him?"

The same article quotes Bina Dube, vice-president of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, who said that if the likes of Tongorara and Chitepo were alive today, they would see that what they had fought for had been abandoned and added that:

"They believed in the idea that one day Zimbabwe would be free. That's what they fought for. The ideas that they fought for are now being suppressed. If they were here today, maybe they would even go into another war. We really have the Animal Farm situation, where all animals are meant to be equal but in reality some animals are more equal than others. What was promised to the people has not been delivered."

Lucia Matibenga, first vice-president of the ZCTU and a former ZANU-PF activist is also quoted. Her husband, Saviour, had been a ZANU-PF member of parliament in the early 1980s. She is now an MP for the MDC. She recalls the discussions she had with her husband when he was in Parliament:

"He would say to me: ‘My friend, I see the party changing. People are busy here with estates, with farms, with huge places at Borrowdale. People are taking the party to the right'."

How these leaders would have evolved were they still around today no one can say. But the fact that many people look back to them is an indication of how they see the whole process. They respect the old tradition of ZANU-PF and feel that its present leaders have betrayed the original ideals and this explains also the falling support for Mugabe.

Why Did ZANU-PF Move Right?

In the post-war period the balance of power on a world scale was shared between two mighty superpowers, the Soviet Union and the USA. The Soviet Union had developed in a few decades from being a relatively backward economy to an advanced industrial power, with a generalised increase in living standards. This began to slow done in the 1960s and came to a halt in the 1970s. In 1949 the Chinese Revolution freed millions of people from the yoke of capitalism and landlordism. The Cuban revolution in 1959 had similar effects for the people living on the island.

Thus we saw how many of the guerrilla movements in the colonial countries were attracted to the Russian or Chinese models. They saw in these countries how the planned economy, albeit of a deformed character, had managed to develop the productive forces where capitalism had failed. Thus we saw the guerrilla movements in Angola and Mozambique take on a "socialist" outlook, i.e. they based themselves on the idea of state ownership of the means of production and centralised planning. Developments in Ethiopia and Somalia were similarly influenced.

ZANU-PF was influenced by all this, as was the ANC in Africa. In the eyes of the masses these were "socialist" organisations. But its leaders were never real genuine Marxists. They reacted empirically to events. The weakening of the Soviet Union, its eventual collapse, and the shift towards capitalism on the part of the Chinese bureaucracy, all had an effect on their thinking. They concluded that "socialism" was no longer possible. This affected the direction that the leaders of the ANC were to take. It also affected Angola and Mozambique, and of course the ZANU-PF leadership as well.

The clearest example of all was the evolution of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. They took power, expropriated the Somoza clique, ending up with 60% of the economy in state hands, but advised by the Soviet bureaucracy they pulled back from completing the process, and since then have swung over to the right and undone all the past gains.

Thus, once in power the ZANU-PF leaders had no socialist perspective and no understanding of the role of the working class in the revolution. Their only alternative was therefore to try and manage capitalism in Zimbabwe. Once they had taken this path, all the subsequent Structural Adjustment Plans, cuts in welfare and a general attack on all the gains of the Zimbabwean masses, became perfectly logical.

Across the border, in neighbouring South Africa, the leadership of the ANC followed a similar path. They too adopted economic policies in line with the interests of capitalism. Imperialism and the white South African bourgeoisie understood that they could not keep the Apartheid regime on its feet any longer. The pressure from the overwhelmingly black working class and peasantry was too great for this to continue. So they turned to the leaders of the ANC who they consciously groomed and corrupted. Thus the aspirations of the South African masses were also betrayed.

South Africa is by far the dominant power in Southern Africa, and the most developed industrial power on the continent. The South African working class therefore has a decisive role in the whole region. Once the class struggle had receded in this key country this would inevitably influence developments in the surrounding countries, not least in Zimbabwe.

It is within this historical and regional context that one has to understand the direction the ZANU-PF leadership took. They had never been Marxists, and were therefore pushed in one direction and then another, depending on the dominant forces worldwide. This is what led them to eventually betray the Zimbabwean masses.

Emergence of the MDC

All this process led to the setting up of the MDC, Movement for Democratic Change. The main force behind the MDC was the ZCTU, the Zimbabwean Congress of Trade Unions. Here was a clear-cut example of a workers' party being formed out of the unions, attempting to give expression to the Zimbabwean workers. The formation of the party raised the hopes of many.

Unfortunately, its leaders declared themselves to be social democrats and aimed to work within the confines of capitalism. Instead of adopting genuine socialist policies, they looked to Tony Blair as a model! Here we see a major contradiction between how the masses saw the party and what its leaders actually stood for. For instance, while growing support for the MDC was due to mass opposition to the IMF imposed Structural Adjustment Programmes, the leaders of the MDC declared these same policies as "necessary but insufficient", i.e. they wanted to go further!

The MDC was also lacking in its agrarian policy. It refused to back the expropriation of the big white farmers, thus placing itself on the side of imperialism on this question. That explains why it gained a lot of support in the cities but struggled to make gains in the rural areas, something which Mugabe has been able to exploit to his advantage.

In spite of all this, the emergence of the MDC demonstrated that it is possible to create a mass workers' party out of the trade unions, and that such a party can be successful. The party was born out of the real struggles of the Zimbabwean working class. The general strike of December 1997 against tax increases was a major turning point. This was followed by the mass protests in 1998 against rising inflation and the government's IMF-imposed austerity measures.

At its founding rally held in Harare on September 11, 1999 20,000 workers and youth took part. The speeches promised much, a "continuation of the ages-old struggle of the working people." The party promised free primary and secondary education, free healthcare and a massive house-building programme.

Very quickly, however the leadership moved to the right. That is not surprising, seeing that its model was Tony Blair. They discovered the advantages of a "social market economy", which would involve cuts in government spending, a programme of privatisation of all state-owned companies and the elimination of all price subsidies. These are precisely the policies the MDC was built to fight against!

As we pointed out in a previous article, (Building a workers' party? Lessons of the MDC experience for Nigeria)

"How could such a sharp change in direction have taken place? Patrick Bond (an expert on Zimbabwe and author of the book, Uneven Zimbabwe: A Study of Finance, Development and Underdevelopment) recently wrote the following revealing comment: ‘ it not the case, as of February, that the MDC began to receive generous funding by (white) domestic and foreign capitalists, including white farmers? At that stage, didn't Zimbabwe's skewed land relations and abominable property rights simply drop off the MDC's campaign agenda? Wasn't a representative of big business put in charge of its economics desk, and wasn't his first major speech a firm endorsement of the International Monetary Fund and wholesale privatisation for post-election Zimbabwe?' In fact, the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries strategist Eddie Cross was appointed as the party's economics policy secretary!

"Thus a party, which was created by the workers of Zimbabwe through the trade unions, is now seen by the capitalist class as a possible instrument for carrying out the same discredited policies of Mugabe's government! The capitalists in Zimbabwe do not have their own party so they corrupt the workers' party and try to use it to their advantage. About a third of the MDC's national executive is made up of trade union leaders and activists and only nine of the MDC's elected MPs come from a trade-union background. The rest are middle-class academics, lawyers, some business people and one or two farmers. And this non-working class layer is playing an increasingly dominant role in deciding the policies of the party."

So long as Mugabe was applying policies that allowed the white elite to continue to enrich itself they tolerated him. When their interests and those of the clique around Mugabe came into conflict, the white bourgeois elite began to look for a political alternative. The problem the minority of white capitalists and landowners faced was that of building a social base upon which to build a political expression of their own interests. Alone, they could not do this. They are seen as the heirs of the old British colonial exploitative system, and thus can have no appeal for the mass of Zimbabwean workers, peasants and urban poor. It is ironic that they have partially solved this problem by basing themselves on the tops of the Trade Unions and the MDC!

As we explained above, by not taking up seriously the question of land redistribution, the MDC leaders limited the appeal they could have among the rural population. Here we had some of the poorest layers of Zimbabwean society. Landless peasants began to demonstrate their rage and started to occupy some farms - well before Mugabe adopted the policy. Among them were war veterans who were growing impatient after nearly 15 years of waiting. Having lost support in the cities, with the trade unions against him and with growing support for the MDC, Mugabe was starting to feel the pressure.

Many were asking themselves where the gains of independence had gone. Fighters who had given everything in the guerrilla struggle found themselves victims of the Structural Adjustment policies. In 1995 the lowest 10% of the population consumed only 2% of the wealth, while the top 10% consumed a staggering figure of 40.4%. At the same time they could see that the wealthy white farmers were able to continue making big money, and on top of that were able to keep much more foreign currency than they had ever been allowed to do in the past.

Mugabe Comes into Conflict with Imperialism

As political tensions rose and the country reached a political impasse, Mugabe could see that by simply applying IMF imposed economic policies he was not going to hold on to his social base. The MDC was growing in the urban areas and at the same time there were also cracks appearing within ZANU-PF itself, as some layers within its leadership could see that they could no longer hold the rural masses back.

Thus, by 1999 Mugabe was coming into conflict with his imperialist masters. He slowed down the pace of so-called "reform", i.e. the pro-capitalist policies he had been following up till then, and imposed price controls, in a desperate attempt to get inflation under control. He ignored the fact that in a "market economy" - where the state has no direct control over the productive process - price controls merely lead to a black market without any real alleviation of the burden on the masses.

That is why he demagogically rediscovered the land question. Official figures showed that in 1996 66% of the labour force still worked on the land, whereas only 10% worked in industry and 24% in services. The rural population is still a very big constituency in Zimbabwe.

In order not to lose support he was forced to lean on the war veterans and landless peasants. That is where the land expropriations took off in a big way. Today there is a lot of talk about the white farmers "producing the food" but it is a fact that a section of these were not utilising all the land, and many of them were absentee farmers. This is typical of many big landowners in the former colonial countries. Some of the white farms were utilised for game ranching, not exactly a productive activity as far as the impoverished masses were concerned. It is true that tobacco, the major export, was produced by the large white-owned farms, but the small farmers were actually producing 70 per cent of the food of the country. This situation allowed Mugabe to point the finger at the big white farmers. The fact that many of them had supported the old racist Smith regime and some had actively fought the guerrillas made them a very easy target.

Now the western media is full of propaganda about "land-grabbing" and they have turned against Mugabe. We are presented with a picture of Mugabe using the mob to consolidate his own base of political power. All this ignores the fact that the land question had remained unresolved under Mugabe for years. The same people who today are protesting about "expropriation" were very happy to make deals with Mugabe when this suited their interests.

Mugabe had in reality betrayed the poor black masses on the backs of whom he had come to power and had moved closer to the wealthy white elite. In the process a minority of blacks were integrated into the wealthy elite and a black bourgeoisie was created side by side with its white counterpart. In fact many of the elite around Mugabe went to live in the same wealthy neighbourhoods as the rich white and started to have the same class outlook.

Frankenstein's Monster

Now Mugabe is like Frankenstein's monster. He is a creature of the bourgeoisie, but now the imperialists and white elite in Zimbabwe no longer have any control over him; he holds the levers of state power firmly in his hands. He has his own agenda, which is that of holding on to power at all costs. In the process he is devastating the economy even further.

An important fact that we have to take into consideration is that the expropriation of the land has often been to the advantage of Mugabe's cronies rather than poor peasant families. Even according to official figures provided by the Zimbabwean government itself, of the over one million black farm workers only about 10% became landowners, the rest falling into desperate poverty.

This grossly unequal redistribution of land is part of Mugabe's attempt to create a privileged elite loyal to him personally. Many top people in the military and state bureaucracy have benefited form this process. But many of these new "farmers" have little knowledge of farming and have often allowed the land to go fallow.

The country has suffered from drought in recent years but the way agricultural reform has been handled has not helped. Irrigation systems have been allowed to go into disrepair, resulting over the past two years in a drop of two-thirds in the production of cereals. The amount of land planted with maize, soya and tobacco has also fallen significantly and it is estimated that as a result half of Zimbabwe's 12 million population needs food aid to survive.

Marxists support the expropriation of the big farms, but expropriation in and of itself is not enough. The big farms were productive because they were mechanised. Large-scale mechanised farming is far more productive than small-scale subsistence farming. One example is that of a farm south of Harare, where a commercial farm has been broken up into 35 smaller plots. Now the land is farmed by poor peasants, who without investment, machinery, irrigation and fertilisers, or finance to buy seed, only manage to eke out a meagre subsistence level of farming. The commercial farm used to employ 100 farm workers.

Socialist Expropriation

On the basis of genuine socialist expropriation such a commercial farm would not have been broken up. It would have been collectivised, maintaining the high level of mechanisation, under the control of the farm workers themselves. In this way the land would be far more productive and would be to the benefit of those who till it and of the wider population who desperately needs the food it can produce.

Thus we can see how Mugabe has carried out the policy of land expropriation in a demagogic manner, without actually offering a genuine improvement to the lives of the farm workers and the population in general. This is because he does not have in mind a socialist transformation of society, far from it. He has married capitalist values completely, and is only applying this policy in a desperate attempt to hold onto power.

This, combined with all the other elements we have outlined, means that Zimbabwe's economy is now on the brink of total collapse. The IMF "Structural Adjustment" devastated the economy. This was followed by Mugabe's zig-zag policy, including the chaotic manner in which the land was taken over. Commercial farming, the traditional source of exports and foreign exchange and the provider of 400,000 jobs, has been severely damaged, turning Zimbabwe into a net importer of food products. Now there are widespread shortages of basic commodities.

GDP fell by an estimated 6% in 2007. The population living below the poverty line now stands at close to 70%. Zimbabwe has become one of the most unequal societies in the world, with a Gini index, the distribution of family income, standing at 50.1 in 2006. It is generally accepted by bourgeois analysts that when the Gini coefficient in any given country rises above 40 then the situation cab become extremely unstable. Life expectancy has plummeted to an average of 39.73 years, whereas it used to be 60 in 1990. The health service is in a state of collapse, while AIDS has hit nearly a fifth of the population. The public debt has skyrocketed to 189.9% of GDP and the external debt has reached $4.876 billion (2007 estimated figures).

In May 2005, the Zimbabwean government added to the terrible suffering of the masses with its infamous "Operation Murambatsvina" (Restore Order). It initially targeted high-density shanty towns involving forced evictions and demolitions resulting in the internal displacement of an estimated 570,000 people, many of whom are now living in rudimentary camps. These people are urban poor who have been supporting the MDC. It seems Mugabe has given up on the urban working class and poor and is prepared to ride rough-shod over them.

So bad is the situation that the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) has estimated that around 3.4million Zimbabweans have left the country, most of them emigrating to South Africa. The South African government has placed military personnel on the border in an attempt to stop this sea of impoverished humanity.

Faced with such a devastating economic situation Zimbabwe could be dragged into the pits of hell, into utter barbarism. Unless an alternative is found civil war could be its future. Also, the national question could be whipped up again. 98% of the population is Black African, but this is divided mainly between the 82% Shona and the 14% Ndebele.

In fact to this day in Matabeleland, ever since the 1983-85 massacres, there is bitter resentment among the local Ndebele towards Mugabe and ZANU PF. The people in the region have reached the limit of what they can take. If Mugabe holds on to power for much longer, the area could erupt into violent conflict. The barbaric scenes that we have seen in other African countries could come to haunt Zimbabwe once again, as they did in 1983.

Imperialism is terrified by such a prospect as it would destabilise the whole region, and would have an important impact on neighbouring South Africa. In this situation Mugabe could continue for a further period but losing more and more support as time goes on. His regime is at risk of being overthrown at some point. The fact that divisions have opened up within ZANU-PF are an indication that even his own cronies are now looking for a way out of the impasse.

Splits at the Top

The fact that Mugabe's former Finance Minister, Simba Makoni, broke from ZANU-PF and stood in the recent elections basing himself on a splinter group from the MDC is an indication of what may happen later: an important section of the clique around Mugabe may turn on its master. A complete collapse of the economy would also seriously affect them and they would want to act before it is too late.

In the past we have seen in other African countries examples of despots being removed when they no longer represented the interests of the ruling elite. The example of Nigeria comes to mind, when the military tops moved against Abacha and started a process towards civilian rule and the coming to power of a regime more in line with the interests of imperialism. Abacha also was in conflict with imperialism, having his own personal agenda. Having clearly outlived his usefulness, he was removed... with the help of a poisoned apple!

A recent article that appeared in The Economist (Feb 28th 2008) pointed out that:

"Mr Makoni claims that most of ZANU-PF's leadership supports him. None of the ruling party's heavyweights publicly admits to backing him; they will almost certainly hedge their bets until the election. But few have criticised him or tried to block his candidacy (...)

"The army, police and much-feared Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) may no longer be united behind the 84-year-old president. His party has fractured, thanks to the intervention six weeks ago, as a challenger from within, of Simba Makoni, a former finance minister whom many of Zimbabwe's black and shrinking white professional middle class see as the decent and competent face of ZANU-PF (...)

"But it is pretty clear that the president's popularity, such as it is, has been waning, even among his old guard. Even if he somehow hangs on, and lots of seasoned watchers think he will, the mantra in Harare is that ‘something big has changed', thanks to Mr Makoni's challenge. Many of the ruling party's vultures clearly sense it is time to eye fresh pickings."

No doubt the imperialists would be prepared to collaborate with these "vultures" if they considered them useful tools in pushing forward their agenda in Zimbabwe. As they cooperated with Mugabe in the past, so would they work with these gangsters.

To what degree these divisions at the top have reached the point where an open split becomes imminent we cannot say. But it does seem to indicate that there are important divisions within the leading group of ZANU-PF, and that at some stage these could lead to moves against Mugabe. Either this or Mugabe will hold on desperately for some while longer, merely making matters worse.

At some point Mugabe will be pushed out and the MDC will be brought on board. A section of ZANU-PF could even break away and offer to form a coalition government with the MDC. After all, as we have seen, apart from the question of land expropriation, on all other questions they have very similar policies. It would suit the interests of imperialism to see such a government come into office. They fear destabilisation and would prefer a "smooth" handing over of power. A coalition would seem the best option.

The idea of some form of coalition has also been raised in recent days in the Zimbabwean press, notoriously controlled by the regime. But there is a difference: they are calling for a coalition with Mugabe still at the head of government. That seems practically impossible in the present scenario, but some form of coalition that would allow Mugabe to withdraw without any of his privileges being touched, without him facing any consequences, is a concrete possibility.

The policies of such a government would be dictated by the IMF, the World Bank, and the major imperialist powers. In the present context of a slowdown in the advanced capitalist countries, the weaker economies will be affected. What the masses desire - land, jobs, decent wages - will not be forthcoming. If the imperialist powers manage to bring to power a government more in tune with its present interests we will see a continuation of the same old austerity measures. They will demand severe cuts in public spending and an even greater opening up of the economy.

They would have to tackle the land question, which is a burning one. But they would not grant the millions of landless peasants their wishes. The MDC has raised the idea of compensation for the white farmers (where would the government get the money?) while others have raised the idea of an audit. In order to maintain some kind of stability they may have to accept some of the expropriations but they would attempt to unravel much of what has been done.

Thus, while the MDC says it will cut public spending it will seek money for the white farmers. We can be sure that the cuts would be in healthcare, education and other public services. Some of the more urgent problems may be tackled in the short run, such as food distribution. To help stabilise the situation and consolidate imperialism's grip over the country, food aid would be forthcoming and could lead to a temporary alleviation of the suffering of the masses.

This would be done in an attempt to stabilise the situation, only to allow for capitalist economic policies to be imposed. No fundamental problem would be solved. Thus if and when the MDC comes to power, it would enjoy a brief honeymoon period. Many hopes would be raised, but eventually it would be exposed for what it has become, another bourgeois party.

Need for a Socialist Alternative

Neither ZANU-PF nor the MDC, or any splits from both, are capable of offering a real solution to the Zimbabwean workers and peasants. So long as capitalism dominates there is no way out for the masses. Especially under the present world conditions, the economic prospects are dire.

What is required is a socialist programme, based on socialist expropriation of the land and industry. Many former activists of ZANU-PF and also many of those who initially looked to the MDC must be asking themselves what went wrong. The Marxists are the only ones who can explain how all this happened and what is the way out.

Marxists in Zimbabwe also need to base themselves on an internationalist perspective. On its own Zimbabwe cannot build socialism. However, a socialist Zimbabwe would have a huge impact on the South African working class. In the same way that Lenin saw the Russian revolution as the spark that could ignite the European revolution, the Zimbabwean revolution could set in motion the South African proletariat and that of the whole region. Socialism in one country is not possible, as the experience of all the former Stalinist regimes amply demonstrates.

A key role will be played by the mighty South African working class. The refusal of the Durban dockworkers to unload the Chinese shipment of arms destined for Zimbabwe graphically highlights how the fate of the Zimbabwean workers and peasants is tightly linked to the movement of their South African brothers. As any serious move of the Zimbabwean workers would immediately impact on the South African workers, would the movement of the South African working class have a decisive impact on developments in Zimbabwe.

The South African workers have been to the ANC School of reformism. Last year we saw a massive strike against the ANC government and we will see more of this. The class struggle is rising everywhere, including Africa. The recent upheavals in Egypt and last year's powerful general strike in Nigeria are an indication of what is to come.

The task of Marxists in Zimbabwe is to "patiently explain" all this to the advanced layers among the workers and youth, working inside the trade unions and youth organisations. An internationalist perspective, combined with the patient build up of the forces of Marxism is the only long term solution to the plight of the Zimbabwean masses today.RENEGADE EYE

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Victory of Nepalese Maoists in Elections – Where to Now?

By Fred Weston and Pablo Sanchez
Thursday, 17 April 2008

As we write these lines the votes cast in the recent Nepalese elections are still being counted, but with most of the first-past-the-post seats declared and more than 4.5 million votes checked, the Maoists have achieved an outstanding result, a clear indication that the masses desire a radical change.

For the first time in eight years the Nepali people have been able to express their views in an election, and there is no doubt what those views are! These were the first elections since the October movement that had led to the Maoists being brought back into "legality" and also into a coalition government with the mainstream political forces.

There were months of negotiations about which electoral system should be adopted, which also saw the army in parliament, and this was then followed by a bloody electoral campaign. In fact the celebration of the elections on the terms demanded by the Nepali Congress terms, i.e. before the declaration of a Republic, is an indication of how much the Maoists have been willing to concede.

They have in fact come a long way since the days of their guerrilla campaign, which saw them control a large part of the country. From that position, they have given up the armed struggle, agreed to integrate their armed groups into the official army and even agreed to join a government with bourgeois parties. This is all in line with a classical Maoist outlook, which states that because Nepal is so underdeveloped the immediate perspective is not one of a struggle for socialism, but some form of bourgeois democracy, i.e. the "first stage" of the two-stage theory.

However, the way the masses have voted would indicate that they are very much intent on leaping over the first stage and move towards socialism. The fact that they voted so massively for a party that is called Communist and up until very recently was attempting to come to power through the armed struggle, would confirm that. So far, the Maoists have won 116 seats out of the 218 declared in the first-past-the-post part of the election, out of a total of 240.

The great losers in these elections are the Nepali Congress, that gained only 32 seats. This reduces it to the same level as the other, more "moderate" Communist Party, the CPN-UML, which has gained 31 seats. The CPN-UML had in fact pulled out of the government becoming the main opposition party, due to its bad electoral result. The regionalist Madhesi parties won around 30 seats, and they are the only real force that remains that can defend the keeping of the monarchy.

One of the ironies of this situation is that the Maoist leaders were so pessimistic about their own prospects that they feared a majority first-past-the-post electoral system. That explains in part why the electoral system adopted has been a mix, a hybrid, between seats elected on a proportional representation (PR) basis and a section of first-past-the-post seats. In the end the PR section is going to save the face of the bourgeois parties, especially the Nepali Congress, who would have been completely smashed if all the MPs had been elected on the basis of a majority system.

In the complicated system they have adopted, the two votes, PR and first-past-the-post, were not linked to each other. In any case, the results so far would indicate that the Maoists will get around 30% overall, while both the Congress and CPN-UML stand at around 20%, and the regionalists will score less than 10%.

The new Parliament is made up of 601 MPs, of which 335 will be elected by the PR system, 240 by the majority system and 26 are to be appointed by the government. This will very probably mean the Maoists will be by far the biggest force, but possibly short of getting an absolute majority. This would allow them to form an alliance of the left forces (the five communist organisations with electoral representation in the Chamber) which would have a clear majority in parliament.

Here again, we see the massive shift to the left: the combined vote of the two main Communist parties stands at about 50%! Thus rather than seeking any alliances with the parties that represent the weak Nepalese bourgeoisie, the two main Communist parties should be thinking in terms of a United Front without bourgeois parties and leading the masses in the struggle for socialism. Unfortunately, it is unclear what parliamentary tactic the Maoists will adopt.

They have two options now. The first is to refuse any alliance with bourgeois parties, unite all the Communist forces, and by mobilising the masses outside parliament lead them in the struggle for a socialist Nepal. The other option is to enter into negotiations with forces such as the Nepali Congress on the basis that this is the so-called "democratic stage" of the revolution. This would also involve holding back the masses and explaining to them that it is necessary to join forces with the so-called "progressive wing of the bourgeoisie."

Maoists send a soothing message to bourgeois

As could be expected, Prachanda and other Maoists leaders have been very quick to issue statements calming down anyone who might think that the former guerrilla leaders may go "too radical". Prachanda in talks with the Indian Foreign Minister, Pranab Mukherjee and EU foreign affairs officials said that, "he avowed his commitment towards the peace process, multiparty democracy and economic development". (Nepal, April 17, 2008). This is in line with the policies of the Maoists leaders of rejecting any move towards socialism, sticking to their programme of "social development" of Nepal within the confines of capitalism, while abolishing the monarchy.

The Nepalese masses will be expecting serious change from this new parliament. In fact the Maoists will now come under enormous pressure to deliver the goods. But they will also come under huge pressure from the bourgeois forces both in Nepal and internationally. These will put in motion their machinery to make sure that the Maoists resist the pressure from below and do not go too far in their social and economic policies. Meanwhile the Terai and Madhesi regionalist movements will be used to continue their campaign against the democratically elected government.

It is clear that the Nepali ruling class is deeply divided between a staunchly monarchist wing on the one hand and those that see Gyanendra as a dead weight, who because of his stupidity and stubbornness was responsible for the Maoist victory. This king took the crown after the dramatic events in 2001, when ten members of the royal family were massacred by the crown prince, including the king and queen, who then took his own life.

The following year in October the new king, Gyanendra, dismissed the prime minister and his cabinet. He accused them of "incompetence" after they had dissolved parliament and had proven incapable of holding elections due to the ongoing insurgency. The king thought that the insurgency was merely a question of incompetence of the ministers. He was completely out of touch with the real situation on the ground.

In June 2004 although he did not re-establish parliament, he reinstated the most recently elected prime minister who formed a four-party coalition government. But then again blaming it for its inability to tackle the Maoist insurgency he dissolved the government in February 2005 and declared a state of emergency, imprisoning party leaders, and assuming power directly. The state of emergency was brought to an end in May 2005, but the king held on to absolute power until April 2006.

That was when three weeks of mass protests forced the king to reconvene parliament. Reality was beating the king on the head repeatedly, but he seemed incapable of really understanding what was happening, believing he could dictate as in the past. In spite of the king, in November 2006 a deal, a peace accord, between the government and the Maoists, allowed for an interim constitution to be promulgated. It was on this basis that the Maoists were allowed to enter parliament in January 2007.

That same accord entailed a new Constituent Assembly whose task it would be to draw up a new constitution. The recent elections are part of that process. All this has been done in spite of the king, not thanks to him. The more serious and far-sighted bourgeois leaders, clearly receiving advice from imperialism, understood that in the face of such mass opposition they could not continue to rule in the old way. As they had done previously in South Africa with the ANC, in Palestine with the PLO, and even in the North of Ireland with Sinn Fein, they understood that the only way of stabilising the situation was to open negotiations with the recognised leaders of the masses. In this case that was the leadership of the Maoist guerrillas.

By making "democratic" concessions to these leaders, who were already inclined to accept the market economy, i.e. capitalism, as the base upon which all political developments should be based, they hoped to use them to hold the masses back from overthrowing the system s a whole.

A recent statement by the President of the Federation of Nepalese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), Kush Kumar Joshi, is an indication of this. He has said that the incoming Maoist-led government should adopt a "liberal" economic policy. We can expect much more of this kind of "advice" both from the bourgeois commentators inside Nepal and internationally. It is rather unfortunate that the Maoist leaders seem to give more credence to the opinions of these people rather than to those of the millions of workers and poor who have elected them.

What will happen to the king is not totally clear, although it does seem that on this question at least a move towards a republic is inevitable. The king himself is an unpredictable figure, but his personal position is not the unimportant issue here. The bourgeois can easily accept that he must go, if in exchange they can get the Maoists to accept a moderate stance.

One thing is clear: this electoral victory is proof of the power of the Nepali masses and it also is a vote of confidence in those who led the guerrilla struggle for over a decade. It clearly shows the willingness of the masses to transform society, and it would be criminal not capitalise on all this support. There is the danger that by accepting a bourgeois parliamentary "stage" the Maoists will be sucked into spending a lot of time in committees and elections. The new Assembly now has the task of voting on a new Constitution, probably holding a referendum, which would then be followed by new elections. This is the terrain that the bourgeois politicians prefer. They are experts in dragging out processes, delving into the detailed minutiae of each legal change. In the meantime the masses will be expecting alleviation from the miserable conditions they live in.

The population of Nepal stands at around 30 million, and a few figures give an idea of the level of underdevelopment of this country. It is among the poorest countries in the world. Three quarters of the population still makes a living from agriculture. GDP per capita stands at only US$1,100 per year. Almost one-third of its population lives below the official poverty line, unemployment stands at the staggering level of 42% and more than half the population is illiterate. Inflation officially stands at around 9% but is obviously much higher, especially in the recent months with massive food price hikes.

The Maoists therefore now have a big responsibility on their shoulders. They will not be able to tackle the serious economic problems if they form an alliance with any of the bourgeois parties and if they spend most of their time discussing constitutional change. The masses have voted not for talks but concrete action against poverty

The bourgeois are preparing a trap for the Maoists. In fact Koirala, the current President, has already called for a coalition government and all the pressure will be on the Maoists to go as slow as possible. If they do this it will only strengthen the right wing and the bourgeoisie. A clear indication of the tactics the ruling class are adopting comes from the chairman of the country's chamber of commerce who has praised the Maoist leaders for their promise to "listen to the private sector" when working out economic policy. By this it seems the Maoist leaders are preparing to "manage capitalism". In line with this are declarations by Prachanda in favour of a "mixed economy".

The Royal Army is also falling into line with the needs of the moment. It has expressed its commitment to work under the direction of an elected government, and carry on the discussions concerning the integration of the guerrillas into the national army under UN control. The only demand of the military leaders is that the army should not be "politicised". By this they mean the Communists should not meddle in the affairs of the army. They conveniently ignore their own "political" role in a decade of struggle against a communist orientated guerrilla movement. The Maoists are now pushing for the full integration of its former guerrillas into the army.

The Maoists will undoubtedly continue to have genuine mass support for some time. They have only just been elected and the masses will have a degree of patience. Thus they will have some breathing space, but so will the bourgeois and the imperialists, who are manoeuvring behind the scenes. As part of this process, the Maoists will most likely push for the abolition of the monarchy and for the introduction of other democratic measures, all things that the Marxists would support. Senior Maoist leaders have in fact "urged the country's beleaguered King Gyanendra to step down ‘gracefully'," according to BBC News, (April 16, 2008). However, the fact that they "urge" the king to go, rather than mobilise a mass movement behind this demand, is an indication of their approach.

The mass of workers, peasants and poor in general will be waiting for the proposals any new government will make concerning their real concrete living conditions.

What government now?

Prachanda has said that they are for an economy in which capitalists can make profit. He also excluded any "dictatorship of the proletariat". In his address to the business leaders in Kathmandu after the election the Maoist Chairman announced that power will not be used tyrannically, but for the welfare of the people and the country. (Kantipur online, April 16, 2008). Here the "people and the country" clearly means all the classes put together. The problem is that under capitalism you can either defend the interests of the working people or that of the capitalists (and landlords); you cannot satisfy both!

The Maoist Chairman has said that his government will adopt a "new transitional economic system" for economic growth, and he also added that political development is intertwined with the economy. In their manifesto for the Constituent Assembly, the former rebels envisaged a new "transitional economic policy" with medium level development over the next 10 years, high level growth in 20 years and ultra-high level development in the country in 40 years' time. This is perfectly in line with the traditional thinking of the Maoists: first there has to be economic development and only much later can we envisage any form of socialism. The difference here is that there is no mention of socialism, only "ultra-high" levels of economic development, under capitalism!

All this is posed in a completely abstract manner. The most powerful economy in the world, that of the USA, is clearly already in recession. The economy in the EU countries is slowing down. This will inevitably have a knock-on effect around the world and little Nepal cannot escape from the same process. Capitalist growth in China has clearly influenced the leadership of the Nepalese Maoists. They now seem to be "Dengists" rather than Maoists!

They have swallowed the whole idea of capitalist-type development. Following on from the industrialists' and businessmen's demands for better security, the Maoist Chairman remarked that an industrial security force will be formed during the process of army integration. He further stressed on the need for a new policy for taxation.

The Maoist second-in-command Dr Babu Ram Bhattarai has also assured that the government led by the Maoists will move ahead with the Public Private Partnership (PPP) theory. This is a very dangerous turn after more than a decade of struggle and sacrifice. Convincing the capitalists and imperialists to contribute to improving the conditions of the masses is going to be a very difficult task indeed. The Maoists are trying to please the masses and the capitalists at the same time; this is not going to be possible.

Dr Bhattarai, in a recent interview, in fact said:

"China eliminated the feudal system during Mao's regime. It established a solid foundation for economic growth. We could have thought of making rapid economic progress had the country been liberated from the age-old feudal system. When you inject new technology after the foundation for economic growth has been established, you can achieve such development. We don't have such a foundation now. Once we restructure the state and involve the private sector, it will be possible to achieve rapid economic growth. We would implement a transitional economic policy during such an interim period which involves public and private partnership.

"We can't think of developing this country in the absence of domestic and foreign investments. Technological inputs are of equal importance. So, we will follow the policy of attracting domestic and foreign investments. For that to happen, we have to put an end to political instability."

No doubt the imperialists will be delighted to hear these words. Here are the former leaders of a powerful guerrilla army, adopting a completely pro-market position. The Nepali Maoists are attempting to apply Deng's line to their little, underdeveloped country. But there are some important differences: Nepal has not had a period of 30 years of planned economy that built up the basic infrastructure of China, followed by more than 20 years of industrialization based on capitalist methods. Nepal is too weak, its material base is too limited, for this kind of "modern capitalism" to emerge. At best, under capitalism, Nepal will simply be the victim of this or that imperialist power. In the present context it will be a point of conflict between Indian capitalism and China.

Nepal is at a historic turning point: if the Maoists put forward a bold economic programme of socialist transformation, along with the abolition of the monarchy, they would have the overwhelming support of the masses. The bourgeois, the right-wing forces and the imperialists are very weak in Nepal. In fact they can only hold the situation if the Maoist leaders accept the role the imperialists have reserved for them. If the Maoists go down this road it will be a huge mistake that will be paid for dearly by the masses in the years to come.

The Maoists leaders need to understand that in the current stage of capitalism (and in a situation where the world is heading towards a major economic crisis) there is no room for any stable economic development over a decade, let alone over 40 years!

The masses of the Indian subcontinent are on the move. We saw this clearly when up to three million people turned up to welcome Benazir Bhutto on her return to Pakistan. In India we have seen powerful strikes and even an 80 million strong general strike a couple of years ago. The future is one of growing instability, economic crisis and social turmoil, not one of stability and economic growth. The Bhutanese Maoists have launched a guerrilla war, further confirming this point.

The problem of the Nepalese Maoists is that they have a narrow national outlook. They cannot see the growing class conflict all around the world. They cannot understand the severity of the economic crisis that is developing. The future in the whole region is one of intensified class struggle. This is the perspective they should base themselves on. Although Nepal is too small and underdeveloped to build socialism on its own, it can become the spark that sets the whole subcontinent ablaze.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Charlton Heston and Postwar American Filmmaking

By Joanne Laurier and David Walsh
World Socialist Website
18 April 2008

American film actor Charlton Heston died April 5 in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 84. In 2002, he announced publicly that he had been diagnosed with symptoms “consistent with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Heston was best known for roles he played in some cases half a century ago—Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s spectacular The Ten Commandments (1956), Ben-Hur in the film of the same name (1959) and Michelangelo in The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965).

Given the generally repellent nature of the political stances he took in the last decades of his life, Heston’s name may arouse strongly negative opinions and feelings.

His evolution was not an attractive one. The actor prominently and no doubt sincerely identified himself both with the civil rights movement in the early 1960s and, through the film roles he played only a decade or so after the fall of the Nazi regime, with the struggle against anti-Jewish prejudice.

By 1996, however, Heston had reached the point where he could pose for a photo with the founder of the Council of Conservative Citizens, the descendant of the White Citizens Council—the more respectable ally of the ferociously racist and anti-Semitic Ku Klux Klan. He later served as president of the ultra-right National Rifle Association. Whether or not he was mentally deteriorating by that time or not, his end was undoubtedly ignominious.

A certain superficial “leftist” will simply make life easy for him or herself by arguing that Heston was always “essentially” a right-winger and there is nothing to be gained by looking at his life and career. Such people never learn anything. The more challenging task is to look at the evolution of individuals like Heston as the product of objective historical and social processes. One has to make an effort to explain the kind of artistic and social environment the given figure encountered and worked within, the options that were open to him or her, and the ones that were closed. People are responsible, in the end, for what they do, but that responsibility is historically conditioned and shaped.

Heston was born in 1923 (some obituaries have 1924, but 1923 is apparently correct) in Evanston, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, and grew up in St. Helen, Michigan, a small town in the north-central part of the state, where his father ran a lumber mill. He eventually moved back to Illinois with his mother and stepfather, and attended Northwestern University.

After three years in the military and a failed first attempt at an acting career in New York, Heston and his wife returned to the city in 1947 where he got a significant role in a Broadway production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, with the legendary Katherine Cornell. He subsequently appeared on television and made his film debut in 1950 in Dark City, directed by William Dieterle, opposite Lizabeth Scott. His first major role came in Cecil B. DeMille’s circus extravaganza, The Greatest Show on Earth, in 1952, in which he gave a forceful characterization as a hardnosed circus manager.

The years are significant. Heston broke into film just as the anti-communist witch-hunts were wreaking their greatest havoc in Hollywood, in the form of the various hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (1947 and 1951) and the blacklist, and the reactionary spasm known as McCarthyism was gripping the US.

The Greatest Show on Earth was released as the studios were fully consolidating the blacklist. At that time, Heston believed that “actors, on any subject other than their own work, should keep quiet.” Not admirable, but not an entirely surprising attitude for an up-and-coming actor given the repressive atmosphere in the film capital.

Heston later wrote that he deplored the witch-hunts, and there is no reason to doubt his word, but he was nonetheless shaped by the atmosphere and circumstances then emerging in the film industry. From this time onward, certain kinds of criticism of “American democracy” simply could not be uttered or implied in studio films. Heston, there is every reason to believe, genuinely held such an uncritical attitude.

McCarthyism was a response by the American ruling elite to its crisis in the postwar period. As the US became the dominant capitalist power and embarked on the militaristic and belligerent course of “containing Communism,” the witch-hunts at home from 1947 to 1954 served as an adjunct to this effort. At the same time, unable to openly assault the conditions of the American working class, which emerged with considerable confidence from the war, official anti-communism reinforced the grip of the AFL and CIO union bureaucracies and helped keep the labor movement under the thumb of bourgeois politics.

The purge of left-wing elements in Hollywood had immense consequences. American filmmaking did not instantly wither. Major figures untouched by the blacklist, such as John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Mann, Vincente Minnelli, Otto Preminger, Raoul Walsh, George Stevens, George Cukor and Douglas Sirk continued to direct and, in some cases, did their most important work in the 1950s.

Screenwriting suffered more deeply in the short term, as a considerable number of the ablest writers in Hollywood were left-wingers. The “average” film of the mid-1950s unquestionably possesses less texture and depth than its counterpart from the late 1940s, and not simply because the social and psychological area that could be treated was far more circumscribed.

Moreover, Hollywood essentially lost its next generation of film directors. Some of the most talented individuals in their thirties were either driven out, intimidated, demoralized or, perhaps worst of all, turned into informers. The last group largely nullified themselves as artists who could tell the truth about the most important matters. After 1960, as the older generation of classical directors began to fade away, Hollywood suffered a precipitous collapse. Critic Andrew Sarris, who has tended to play down the significance of the purges, no doubt was unaware of the implications of his comment in 1968 about Orson Welles (born in 1915) being “the youngest indisputably great American director.”

None of this was Heston’s fault. He entered a field that was undergoing enormous trauma. It is useful to consider this problem from the point of view of the shifting opportunities open to different generations of performers in the postwar period.

Taken as a whole, for example, it would be hard to dispute that the film roles available to Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, John Garfield, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan and others in the aftermath of World War II were considerably more substantive than those presented to Charlton Heston and his contemporaries (Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson) in the early 1950s.

Lancaster began his career dynamically with Robert Siodmak’s The Killers (1946) and Jules Dassin’s Brute Force (1947). Douglas started off strongly as well, with Lewis Milestone’s The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) and that “annihilating melodrama,” Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past (1947). Mitchum had made films during the war, but came into own after 1945 with films directed by Vincente Minnelli, John Brahm, Raoul Walsh, Edward Dmytryk and Tourneur.

Both Garfield and Ryan (whose film careers were launched on the eve of the war) also had a number of remarkable credits within a few years of the war’s end—the former starring in The Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett, 1946), Humoresque (Jean Negulesco, 1946), Body and Soul (Robert Rossen, 1947) and Force of Evil (Abraham Polonsky, 1948); and the latter in Jean Renoir’s The Woman on the Beach (1947), Dmytryk’s Crossfire, Joseph Losey’s The Boy with Green Hair (1948), Fred Zinnemann’s Act of Violence (1948) and Max Ophuls’s Caught (1949).

By and large, such opportunities did not offer themselves to Heston. It was not entirely a barren landscape in which he operated, but a far more uneven one, with gaping holes. Collectively, his first films never reached anywhere near the cosmopolitan heights of that group including works by Renoir, Ophuls, Tourneur, Siodmak and Zinnemann, all European-born filmmakers, nor did they retain the left-wing perspectives of Dassin, Losey, Milestone, Rossen and Dmytryk (before the latter two turned informer), not to mention screenwriters like Polonsky (Body and Soul).

There are interesting moments and scenes in King Vidor’s Ruby Gentry (1952), Henry Levin’s The President’s Lady (1953) and some of the other mostly Westerns Heston made in the first half of the 1950s, but there is also a good deal of stagnant or routine material. Naked Jungle (1954), directed by Byron Haskin, with Eleanor Parker, stands out from the crowd here. Heston and Parker are owners of a South American plantation threatened by a vast column of army ants in this tense, action-packed melodrama.

The Ten Commandments ushered in a period of some two decades during which Heston played leading roles in studio films. DeMille’s film is spectacular, lavish, absurd, anachronistic and sometimes quite moving. The most nuanced performance perhaps is given by Anne Baxter, as Queen Nefretiri. The film is not so much a throwback to the previous decade as to another epoch. Can one imagine such a Biblical epic striking a chord in the late 1940s or even the 1930s? At the same time, there is enough obvious genuine feeling about the Holocaust, slavery and assorted social tragedies to provide the drama with a burst of energy.

Heston was never an extraordinarily expressive or subtle actor, but it would be a mistake to dismiss him. Even in later, more tired films of the 1970s and 1980s, he lent considerable weight to the roles. He tends to represent something more quantitative, so to speak, than qualitative. He is physically impressive, more so than anyone in the previous generation. The bulk and muscles seem to say something about America in the 1950s, for better or worse.

Not stupid or inarticulate, Heston seemed, however, not to possess a deeply reflective or self-critical nature. This quality made it possible for him to play big figures—Moses, John the Baptist, Ben-Hur, Michelangelo, El Cid, Andrew Jackson (twice), William Clark (of Lewis & Clark), Gen. Charles Gordon (“Gordon of Khartoum”), “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Abraham Lincoln (voice), Cardinal Richelieu, Henry VIII and God, in addition to numerous commanding (in both senses of the words) officers in the military and police—without apparent qualms or self-doubts.

Again through no fault of his own, but due rather to the difficulties of the times, when he worked with major directors, it tended to be in works of their declining or more turgid phases: William Wyler (Ben-Hur—interestingly, Lancaster reportedly turned down the role because he was an atheist), Anthony Mann (El Cid), Nicholas Ray (55 Days at Peking) and Carol Reed (The Agony and the Ecstasy).

The stiffness in Heston’s performances (with a few exceptions) speaks to the limitation of his abilities, the roles he chose or was assigned, and the historical circumstances. Texture, ambiguity, the questioning of authority, flexibility—these qualities were dealt serious blows by the purges. “Democratic” America of the 1950s saw itself as a strong, confident and bullying country. By and large, film star status did not go to men and women who bore the imprint of failure, defeat and other life difficulties.

Heston, due to both his physical size and his relatively unreflective nature, was vulnerable to being picked up and made into American cinema’s “larger than life” personality.

The great exception to all this, which jumps out at the observer, is Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958). According to an interview done in the 1990s, Heston recognized Welles as the greatest artist whom he ever encountered, but considered the film to be nothing more than an exotic “B” picture. He was all too attracted, unfortunately, to the pompous and bombastic.

In Touch of Evil, Heston plays a Mexican narcotics cop embroiled in an investigation in a seedy US border town. For once, he appears in a film that shows something of the corruption, violence and outright criminality of postwar American society, and treats all of it, including the villains in the piece, with ambiguity and complexity. And Heston performs well. His relatively relaxed performance in Ben-Hur, or at least the more restrained parts of it, may have resulted from the salutary influence of Welles as a director and performer.

Marlon Brando, almost an exact contemporary, might be considered the anti-Heston: intensely thoughtful, sensitive, flexible, politically subversive. In the end, like two of the other greatest figures in American filmmaking, Charles Chaplin and Orson Welles, Brando found Hollywood an impossible place in which to work. In between Heston and Brando, Newman, Lemmon, Curtis, Hudson and others navigated the increasingly shallow waters of the film studio system until it dried up in a spectacular manner.

Shift to the right
It is worth briefly considering Heston’s political trajectory on its own.

As noted, his first political resolution as a young, ambitious actor in Hollywood, at the time of the witch-hunts, was to keep his mouth shut.

But as his fame grew exponentially after The Ten Commandments in 1956, and with a shifting mood in Hollywood, Heston broke his silence and campaigned that year for Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson; and he campaigned for John F. Kennedy in 1960 (the year the blacklist officially ended). In 1961, he joined a picket line outside a segregated Oklahoma movie theater that was premiering Ben-Hur in the face of strong disapproval from the studio heads. Heston had already won an Oscar for the film.

He went on, famously, to participate in the 1963 March on Washington, after Martin Luther King, Jr., persuaded Hollywood craft guilds to open their ranks to black workers. In response, a committee calling itself the Arts Group was formed at Brando’s home. Heston, who referred to King as “a 20th Century Moses for his people,” was elected its chair.

The original group numbered only 10 artists, including Heston, Brando, Curtis, Lancaster and Mel Ferrer, but quickly attracted such leading actors as Shirley MacLaine, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, Gene Kelly, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Debbie Reynolds, Sidney Poitier, Kirk Douglas and Judy Garland.

The Washington event would be Heston’s last civil rights march, although he considered joining King for the culmination of the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965, but was prevented by schedule constraints. The actor would for the rest of his life claim a role in the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

While Heston was involved in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, he admitted in his later years to having been attracted as early as 1964 to the right-wing Republican senator from Arizona, Barry Goldwater, despite Goldwater’s opposition to the civil rights bill.

Heston’s choice of roles—Moses, Ben-Hur, El-Cid—and the way he rendered them, personified his twin nostrums of self-reliance and personal responsibility. “I think the most important thing a man must learn is to fulfill his responsibilities, and that he is responsible for whatever happens to him. He cannot blame others for what happens to him. That’s the easy way out,” he once told a journalist.

In 1960, Heston filled a vacancy in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) leadership and moved up the ranks to its presidency in 1965, maintaining the conservative inner circle that had developed under the leadership of former SAG chief Ronald Reagan.

In From My Cold, Dead Hands: Charlton Heston and American Politics (2006), author Emilie Raymond compares Heston’s political shift in the 1960s to the right to that of the neoconservatives, particularly Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Martin Peretz and Gertrude Himmelfarb. (The book’s title comes from a Heston speech at a 2000 National Rifle Association convention, paraphrasing an NRA bumper sticker: “I’ll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hand.”)

Contrary to Heston’s autobiography in which he claims to have opposed the Vietnam War, Raymond writes that the actor, whom she labels a “visceral neoconservative,” was an early proponent of the war after having traveled to South Vietnam in 1966. She asserts that Heston became alienated from the civil rights movement with King’s opposition to the war and his participation in antiwar marches in 1967. In general, it seems the increasing radicalization of the antiwar and civil rights movements, with the accompanying inevitable clashes with police and authorities, disturbed and appalled Heston.

In 1968, following the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, Heston supported gun control—by the 1980s, he was opposing affirmative action from the right and defending gun ownership as some fundamental social principle. He voted for Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential elections (although he later denounced Nixon in his autobiography), shunning the Democratic nominee, George McGovern and saying he was “sick to death of the doom-watchers and the naysayers. This is a good country.”

Between 1966 and 1976, Heston’s roles were no longer in epic films, which featured larger-than-life, heroic characters. On the contrary, Hollywood was making a different type of movie, such as the acclaimed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, Milos Forman), in which the vulnerable anti-hero (played by Jack Nicholson in that film) takes center stage. Heston hated the “counterculture” or any real or imagined challenge to bourgeois American values. His ire was especially directed at films like Cuckoo’s Nest that depicted society’s “crazies” as being more rational and legitimate than officially sanctioned authority.

According to Raymond: “The movie roles that he accepted and rejected during the 1960s and 1970s reflected his dissatisfaction with the political and cultural radicalism that seemed to be gaining infinite momentum. By retaining the trademark characteristics of masculinity, individuality, and responsibility that he had presented to the public in the 1950s, Heston demonstrated that he still preferred traditional values. Even in the futuristic Planet of the Apes (1968), in which he launched himself as a modern-day action hero, he displayed this conventionalism.”

This is no doubt true from the point of view of Heston’s wishes; however, he or at least his films did not go untouched by the changed mood in America in the late 1960s and early 1970s, even as he was politically hostile to the radicalization. Cracks in America’s apparent invincibility emerged, and Heston’s characters inevitably showed signs of the process. Considerable anxiety and even apocalyptic sentiments find expression in Planet of the Apes (1968, Franklin Schaffner) and its sequel (Beneath the Planet of the Apes, 1970, Ted Post), The Omega Man (1971, Boris Sagal), Skyjacked (1972, John Guillermin), Soylent Green (1973, Richard Fleischer), Earthquake (1974, Mark Robson) and Two-Minute Warning (1976, Larry Peerce).

All was not well in the US, after all. But this did not apparently make Heston think more critically about American society. On the contrary, he was well on his way toward the right.

In 1976, he made The Battle of Midway, a patriotic war film celebrating the American victory over the Japanese at the Battle of Midway, playing the most valiant—and the only fictional—character in the movie.

Near the end of Heston’s reign at SAG in 1971, a group of actors organized to shift the union to the left in an effort dubbed the Revolution of ’73. Heston resigned from the union’s board in 1975, reasoning that it had “changed radically recently, and I’ve become a surly curmudgeon, bitching about policies they go ahead and vote for anyway.”

As Heston’s connection with the Reagan administration deepened, his relationship with the SAG leadership became increasingly strained. Heston took particular offense at Ed Asner, the Guild’s president at the time and a vocal opponent of the administration. Asner had picketed on behalf of the air traffic controllers, a strike provoked by Reagan and a seminal conflict whose defeat ushered in a period of union-busting.

When Asner set out to merge the actors’ union with the Screen Extras Guild—in light of recent mergers such as the one between the Coca-Cola Company and Columbia Pictures—he had a public confrontation with Heston, whom he called a Reagan “stooge.”

It was Asner’s opposition to Reagan for aiding the El Salvador government in suppressing the country’s guerilla movement that intensified the feud between the two actors. Heston founded Actors Working for an Actors Guild (AWAG) to attempt to block the merger proposal between SAG and the Screen Extras Guild, an action that proved successful. In 1986, several thousand Guild members voted to censure Heston for his “antiunion” activities.

During the 1980s, Heston worked with various religious and right-wing groups, as well as large corporations. When Anheuser-Bush Brewery hired him as a spokesperson, Heston absurdly told television viewers that beer has “figured prominently throughout our nation’s history,” from its presence on the Mayflower to its swilling by the nation’s founding fathers.

Heston opposed abortion and delivered the introduction to a 1987 “pro-life” documentary called Eclipse of Reason that focuses on late-term abortions. He was honored by both Bush administrations and supported the first Gulf War in 1991, as well as the invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. At the end of his life, he was a largely discredited and pitiable individual, as evidenced in Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine.

A significant figure in American filmmaking for two decades, Heston made a certain mark, but not the most illuminating or enduring. Artists have the obligation not only to be conscientious, but to think about their world and society and bring that to bear on their artistic efforts. There is too much in Heston that is labored, unthought through and contrived. He attached himself far too thoroughly and uncritically to a society riven by contradictions. Heston thought, like many others, that American society was a great success story that would go on forever. The truth helped prove his undoing. World Socialist Website