Monday, June 29, 2009

Defeat the reactionary military coup in Honduras – Mass mobilisation in the streets and general strike!

By Jorge Martin
Monday June 29, 2009

The coup in Honduras highlights once again that even mild reforms within the capitalist system cannot be tolerated by the local oligarchies in Latin America and their imperialist masters. But Venezuela teaches that if the masses mobilise reaction can be stopped. Now is the time to mobilise the full force of the Honduran workers and poor.

Early in the morning on Sunday, June 28, a group of 200 soldiers surrounded the residence of the Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, and after a 20-minute gun battle with his 10-man personal guard he was arrested. He was then taken by plane to neighbouring Costa Rica where he gave a press conference denouncing a military coup by “right-wing oligarchs”, calling on the people to mobilise in the streets and promising to come back to the country.

The immediate origin of this reactionary military coup was the conflict over plans by Zelaya to call a referendum on the need for a Constituent Assembly, which was opposed by the right wing dominated Congress, the high command of the Army, and the tops of the judiciary.

Zelaya, popularly known as Mel, won the presidential elections in 2005 as candidate for the Honduras Liberal Party, narrowly defeating his main opponent from the National Party. Despite being a wealthy landowner, the political polarisation in this small and poor Central American country pushed him to take some measures in favour of the poor, the peasants and the workers, adopting “Bolivarianism” as his model. He soon lost the support of his own centre-right Liberal Party and was forced to ally himself with the organisations of workers and peasants. In an interview with Spain’s El País he describes his political evolution:

“Look, I thought of making changes from within the neoliberal scheme. But the rich do not make any concessions, not even a penny. The rich are not prepared to give up any of their money. They want to keep everything for themselves. Then, obviously, in order to make changes one has to bring the people on board.

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, with over 50% of the population living below the poverty line and with a rate of illiteracy of over 20%. More than one million of its 7.8 million inhabitants have had to emigrate to the US in search of jobs. In these conditions, even the most moderate and reasonable measures in favour of the majority of the population are bound to be met with brutal opposition on the part of the ruling class, capitalists, landowners, the owners of the media, the local oligarchy.

Among the measures taken by his government are a number of progressive reforms, including a national literacy campaign modelled on the examples of Cuba and Venezuela, an attempt to improve healthcare for the poorer sections of society (including access to cheaper drugs, grants for medical students to go to Cuba), a cut in interest rates for small farmers and a significant increase of 60% of the minimum wage.

He also moved to cut some of the most glaring privileges of the Honduran oligarchic ruling class. He broke the monopoly of the multinational companies in the importation of fuel, through an agreement with Venezuelan based Petrocaribe. Zelaya also took measures against the pharmaceutical multinationals which control 80% of all drugs sold in Honduras, all of them imported at high costs for the national health service, by signing an agreement with Venezuela and Cuba to import cheap generic versions of the most commonly used drugs. The president also denounced the monopoly of the oligarchy over the mass media and put an end to government subsidies for the big media groups.

In the international arena Zelaya sided with the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA), the regional alliance promoted by Venezuela which Honduras has now joined.

All these actions contributed to increase his popularity and social base amongst the poorest sections of the population and enraged the oligarchy which has ruled the country in close alliance with US interests for nearly 200 years. Honduras for most of the 20th century was a classic “banana republic”, dominated by United Fruit, which controlled the overwhelming majority of the country’s best agricultural land and ran it like a private fiefdom with no reference to the official government of the country. There were periodic interventions of US marines to remove governments which attempted to curtail the power of United Fruit. The country’s formal “independence” was just a smokescreen, since it was firmly ruled by US imperialism for the United Fruit Company. The US marines landed in Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924, and 1925. In 1911, the new “Honduran” president was directly appointed by a US mediator. In 1930, when United Fruit faced a solid strike in its banana plantations on the Caribbean coast, a United States warship was dispatched to the area to quell it.

In the words of Major General Smedley Darlington Butler of the US Marines:

"I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. (...) I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.(...) I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903"

Honduras also has a long history of Liberal presidents attempting to implement timid reforms and then being overthrown by the military and the oligarchy with the support and direct participation of the US. This was the case of president Vicente Mejía (1929-33), who was replaced by the dictatorship of general Carías Andino, supported by the banana companies which lasted until 1949. The same happened to president Villeda Morales, who attempted a mild agrarian reform and was overthrown by the US-sponsored coup of López Arellano, which ruled the country between 1965 and 1974. And of course, in the 1980s, Honduras became the main base for the operations of the US-organised contras, the counter-revolutionary thugs fighting against the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua.

Faced with the firm opposition of the capitalist class and imperialism, Zelaya thought that he could get around that by calling a referendum for a Constituent Assembly, following the model of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. He proposed that on Sunday June 28 a referendum would be organised to ask the population whether, as part of the November general elections, a referendum would be organised to call a Constituent Assembly. He had collected 400,000 signatures to back his proposal. On Tuesday June 23, the oligarchy, using its majority in the National Congress, passed a law declaring the proposed consultation illegal. The Supreme Court and the High Command of the Army also made similar statements. They were already preparing a military coup, in case the “constitutional coup” should fail. On the same day, left wing mayoral candidate for Tocoa local council suffered an attempt on his life when four hired thugs armed with AK47 assault rifles fired on his car.

On Wednesday 24, president Zelaya met with the High Command of the Armed Forces which refused to offer any logistical support for the consultation. Zelaya removed general Romeo Vasquez from his position as the head of the joint command of the Armed Forces. The other members of the Joint Command also resigned and Zelaya accepted their resignation. The Minister of Defence was also removed. On Thursday 25, troops were out on the streets of Tegucigalpa and the Supreme Court reinstated Romeo Vazquez to the high command of the Armed Forces. Zelaya made and appeal to the people to come out on the streets and thousands of workers and peasants gathered around the presidential palace to protect Zelaya. The troops withdrew.

On Friday, Zelaya, with a large number of supporters went into the military base where the ballots and the ballot boxes were being kept and took them away with no resistance before officials from the judiciary could seize them. Zelaya declared: “All the power of the bourgeois state was used to prevent it [the distribution of ballot boxes]. They used the judges, they used the military, the media groups. They could not prevent it.” And he added:

“We are talking about the bourgeois state. The bourgeois state is made up of the economic elite. The tops of the army, the political parties, the judges, and that bourgeois state feels threatened when I start to propose that the people should have a say.”

This initial resolution of the conflict in favour of the president and the people lured Zelaya into a false sense of security. On Saturday he declared to the Spanish El País that “I think I have control of most of the country… I control the Army... as long as I do not give orders which affect the rich.” He even added that he was confident that the US had intervened to stop the coup. A few hours later he had to jump from his bed when armed soldiers came for him.

The Honduran ruling class has lost no time. A state of emergency and curfew has been declared, Congress has quickly appointed a new president, Roberto Micheletti, who until now was president of the Congress and a wave of arrests of left-wing, worker and peasant activists was unleashed. According to some sources, Cesar Ham, the presidential candidate of the left-wing Democratic Unification Party was killed when he resisted arrest. Congress has ordered the arrest of the following mass movement leaders amongst others: Juan Baraona (Peoples’ Block leader), Carlos H Reyes (Peoples’ Block leader), Andrés Padrón (Human Rights Movement), Luther Castillos (trade union leader), Rafael Alegrón (Via Campesina peasant leader), César Han (Civic Council of Peoples and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras, CCOPIH), Andrés Pavón (CCOPIH), Marvin Ponce (CCOPIH), Salvador Zúñiga (CCOPIH) and Berta Cáceres (CCOPIH).

The Venezuelan, Cuban and Nicaraguan ambassadors were detained by masked military men while they were visiting foreign affairs minister Patricia Rodas. They were later released, not before having been beaten however. The whole script of the coup follows closely that of the April 2002 coup in Venezuela against Chavez, down to the role of the media, the taking off the air of government TV channel 8, and even details like the appearance of a forged letter from Zelaya resigning as a president! Obviously the same forces are involved in both countries.

It is clear and public knowledge that the US knew that a coup was being organised. They had had conversations with the leaders of Congress in which the coup had been discussed. The advice from the US had been against taking the step of arresting Zelaya. Probably the US administration, faced with the mass mobilisation on Friday and having learnt some lessons from Venezuela, was not very confident in taking what might be seen as an illegal step and were more in favour of continuing with the script of the “constitutional coup”, leaving the removal of Zelaya for another, more favourable, moment.

Obama’s statement on the coup was certainly very mild. He called on “all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic Charter,” and added that the situation "must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.”

We have a situation in which the democratically elected president has been illegally arrested by military forces and taken abroad and Obama calls on “all political and social actors” to respect democratic norms and the rule of law. This clearly leaves the door open to the arguments of the oligarchy that Zelaya was breaking the law by calling the consultation. A few hours later, after strongly worded statements by Chávez and a condemnation on the part of the Organisation of American States, the US administration came out publicly to say that they still recognised Zelaya as the legitimate president of Honduras.

Washington might have had some tactical disagreements with the oligarchy in Honduras, but they both share their opposition to any government that is seen as channelling the aspirations of the masses. We should not forget that the main characters in the coup are all military men trained in the infamous School of the Americas, and that the US still has 500 troops stationed in Honduras.

The same position seems to have been adopted by the Spanish El País, which has become the mouthpiece of Spanish multinational and imperialist interests in Latin America, waging a vitriolic campaign against the Venezuelan and Bolivian revolutions and against all left-wing mass movements on the continent. In a cynical editorial today their line is: We reject the coup, but we support its aims. (La vuelta del golpe, El País). They say that at the end of the day, “the truth is that on Sunday, either the president or the military, one oo the other, were inevitable going to violate legality”! So, while formally rejecting the coup they are blaming Zelaya for “violating legality” for calling “a consultation which is not allowed by the Constitution and which had been opposed by Congress, the electoral authority and the Supreme Court.”

There are two lessons that must be clearly learnt from the events in Honduras. One is that even the most moderate progressive reforms in favour of the workers and peasants cannot be tolerated by the ruling class. The struggle for healthcare, education, land reform, jobs and houses can only be solved as part of the struggle for socialism. The second is that one cannot carry out a genuine revolution while leaving intact the apparatus of the bourgeois state, which will sooner or later be used against the will of the majority of working people.

El País, from the other side of the barricade, clearly identifies what was at stake in Honduras on Sunday: “What was being decided, at the end of the day, was the balance of forces in Latin America. If Zelaya got his way in the re-election consultation, chavismo would have won terrain in Central America.” The opinion of El País is very clear. This had to be stopped; it is just that the method was not of the best.

Venezuelan president Chávez, described the situation correctly when he denounced the military coup: "It is a brutal coup d'etat, one of many that have taken place over 10 years in Latin America. Behind these soldiers are the Honduran bourgeois, the rich who converted Honduras into a Banana Republic, into a political and military base for North American imperialism."

But, as in Venezuela in 2002, thousands of Zelaya supporters have come out onto the streets to fight against the coup and to demand the reinstatement of the president.

The trade union organisations, including the CGT national confederation, have called a general strike for today Monday. This is the way forward. Only through the mass mobilisation of the workers and peasants can the coup be defeated. Such a mass movement must also make an appeal to the rank and file soldiers to refuse to follow orders from their officers. Hugo Chávez posed it thus: “Soldier, empty out your rifle against the oligarchy and not against the people.”

We must give our full support to the workers and peasants of Honduras in their struggle for the reinstatement of the president. We call on the international labour movement and solidarity organisations to demonstrate their opposition to this reactionary coup. A particular role must be played by workers and peasant organisations in the neighbouring countries of Central America and Mexico. Mass demonstrations and pickets of the embassies in these countries would serve as encouragement for the masses in Honduras.

Down with the reactionary coup in Honduras!
Mass mobilisation on the streets and a general strike!
Soldiers, turn your weapons against your officers and join the side of the people!


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Solidarity with the movement of the Iranian masses – Statement of the Revolutionary Marxist Current (Venezuela)

By Revolutionary Marxist Current
Wednesday, 24 June 2009

In response to recent statements by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan Revolutionary Marxist Current has issued this statement. They express their support for the movement of the masses in Iran and explain the differences between the revolutionary movement in Venezuela and the counter-revolutionary regime in Iran.

The Bolivarian Revolution and Iran

In Iran we have a situation in which the opposition denounces electoral fraud, in which this allegation gets support from the imperialist powers and in which there are street demonstrations against the election results. It is understandable that many revolutionaries in Venezuela will draw parallels between what is happening in Iran and situations we have lived through during the Bolivarian revolution. In Venezuela, more than once, the reactionary and oligarchic counter-revolution, with the support of imperialism, has attempted to create a situation of chaos in the streets with the excuse of an alleged “electoral fraud” in order to de-legitimise the election victories of the revolution (during the recall referendum, in the 2006 presidential elections, during the constitutional reform referendum in 2007, etc).

However these parallels do not correspond to reality.

The Islamic Republic – a revolutionary regime?

First of all, the Iranian regime of the Islamic Republic is not a revolutionary regime. The Iranian revolution which was victorious in 1979, was a genuine mass revolution, with the active participation of the working class, the youth, the peasantry, the soldiers, the women, etc. The decisive factor which brought down the hated Shah was the general strike of the oil workers. Millions of workers organised shoras (factory councils) in their factories and took over control and administration of these, in a similar way to what oil workers did in Venezuela during the bosses lock out and sabotage of the economy in December 2002. Millions of peasants occupied the land of the big landowners (as they are doing now in Venezuela). The students occupied their schools and universities and proceeded to democratise them putting an end to the elitism that had dominated them. The soldiers also set up their shoras (councils) and proceeded to purge the army from reactionary officers. The oppressed nationalities (Kurds, Arabs, Azeri, etc) conquered their freedom. The Iranian people as a whole threw away the yoke of imperialism.

However, the current Iranian regime of the Islamic Republic was consolidated, in the period between 1979 and 1983, precisely on the basis of the smashing of this revolution on the part of the fundamentalist Islamic clerics. Over a period of several years all the conquests of the 1979 revolution were destroyed. Land was given back to landowners, expelling the peasants which had taken it. The factory councils were destroyed and replaced by Islamic shoras, leaving the workers with no right to organise or to strike. A particular interpretation of Islam was imposed on the population as a whole, bringing the most ruthless denial of women’s rights and creating an atmosphere of ideological oppression for the majority of the population.

The kidnapping and smashing of the workers’ and peoples’ revolution of 1979 on the part of fundamentalist Islamic clergy was only possible because of the wrong policies of all left wing organisations who thought that they could form a united front with the Muslim clerics led by Ayatollah Khomeini. They paid dearly for their mistakes. Over a period of four years, with increasingly brutal attacks against the left, the power of the Islamic Republic was consolidated over what had been a working class and anti-imperialist revolution. In order to be able to achieve this, the Muslim clerics dressed themselves in anti-imperialist robes, organising the incident of the US embassy and skilfully exploiting the war with Iraq. By 1983, all left wing parties had been banned (despite their support for a united front with Khomeini), and some 30,000 militants of different groups of the reformist, nationalist and revolutionary left had been killed. These are the origins of the present day Islamic Republic of Iran. Not a revolutionary regime, but rather a regime born by smashing a revolution.

Was there electoral fraud?

Some argue that on June 13, 2009 there was no electoral fraud, but there are numerous examples of this. To start with, any candidate standing for election has to be approved by the Guardian Council, an undemocratic 12-person body.

Regarding fraud itself, let’s just give a proven example. Conservative candidate Hoshem Rezaei, who has not called for nor participated in the protests last week, alleged that in 80 to 170 cities, voter turnout had been more than the electoral census. That is, more people had voted than were registered to vote! In all of these cities, Ahmadinejad had won with a large majority, in some cases by 80 or 90%. On June 21, after a week of demonstrations with the participation of millions of people and the death of at least 12 in clashes on Saturday June 20, the Guardian Council was forced to comment on these allegations. On behalf of the Guardian Council, Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei spoke on the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) Channel 2, and said that “statistics provided by the candidates, who claim more than 100% of those eligible have cast their ballot in 80-170 cities are not accurate - the incident has happened in only 50 cities”!! He then went on to explain that a turnout of over 100% was a “normal phenomena because there is no legal limitation for people to vote for the presidential elections in another city or province to which people often travel or commute”. Finally he added that since this “only affected 3 million people” it would not have altered the final results.

Ahmadinejad – a revolutionary?

As the clerics did in 1979, Ahmadinejad has used anti-imperialist and pro-poor rhetoric, in an attempt to win support from the masses. But let’s have a look at what the real conditions of the Iranian people are under his presidency. First of all, in Venezuela, the Bolivarian revolution has unleashed a wave of trade union organisation and militant struggle on part of the workers. President Chávez has called on the workers to occupy abandoned factories and to run them under workers’ control. In Iran the workers have no right to organise or to strike and if they break these laws they face the most brutal repression. In the case of the Tehran bus drivers, when 3,000 of them attempted to organise a union, the company replied with mass sackings, and the police attacked the trade union leaders, including the general secretary Ossalou, whose tounge the police thugs attempted to cut off.

When trade union activists in Sanandaj attempted to organise a May Day celebration in 2007, the police responded with brutal repression. Eleven of the leading activists were condemned to receive 10 lashings and to pay a fine before they were released. When some 2,000 worker activists attempted to organise a May Day celebration in Tehran this year, the police responded with brutal repression and 50 of them were arrested (some are still in jail). Millions of Iranian workers are owed unpaid wages for months. When they try to organise they face brutal police repression.

While in Venezuela the Bolivarian Revolution has put a halt to the process of privatisation of state-owned companies and renationalised many that had been privatised, in Iran, Ahmadinjead has accelerated privatisation of state-owned companies (167 privatisations in 2007/08 and a further 230 in 2008/09), including the privatisation of telecommunications, of the Isfahan Mobarakeh Steel mill, of the Isfahan Petrochemical Company, of the Kurdistan Cement Company, etc. The list of companies to be privatised include the largest petrochemical complex in the country, most large banks, gas and oil companies, the insurance sector, etc.

Even though Ahmadinejad’s government criticises US imperialism in an attempt to divert the masses from their internal problems, it is not even consequent in its struggle against this enemy which it criticises. The US military intervention in Iraq could count on the passivity of the Iranian government and ruling class, which saw the weakening of the rival Iraqi regime as an opportunity to strengthen their power in the region. Instead of favouring a unified revolutionary struggle for national liberation in the neighbouring country, the Iranian regime played a key role in putting a break to this and dividing the struggle on religious lines.

Mousavi, the “reformist” candidate, is not better. He was prime minister in the 1980s, during the massacre of 30,000 left wing activists. Now he has suddenly discovered that, without opposing the principles of the Islamic Republic, it needs to be “reformed”, that is, cosmetics changes from above are need, so that in the end all remains the same and he and his cronies can continue in power. The division between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi is the split between two sections of the reactionary regime: one which wants reforms from above in order to prevent revolution from below, and the other which wants to maintain control from above to prevent revolution from below.

However these divisions at the top have opened the space for a genuine mass movement that has challenged the regime over the past week. If there was any doubt about the revolutionary and peoples’ character of the movement of the Iranian masses, let’s see what the position of working class activists has been. The majority of workers and trade union organisations (illegal under Ahmadinejad) before the elections correctly declared that none of the candidates represented the interests of the workers and that therefore they would not advocate a vote for either of them. However, faced with the mass popular demonstrations of the last week, both the Vahed Syndicate of bus drivers and the workers at Iran Khodro, the largest car factory in the Middle East, expressed their support for the movement, and in the case of Khodro, came out on strike for half an hour in each shift. Now revolutionary activists in Iran are discussing the calling of a general strike against the regime and for democratic freedoms.

Clearly, as revolutionaries, we must oppose any imperialist interference in Iran. President Chávez has correctly supported Iran in international forums in the last few years against imperialist bullying on the part of the US. However, it would be fatal to mix up revolution with counter-revolution. The Bolivarian revolution must be on the side of the Iranian people, the workers, youth and women, who are in the streets of Tehran and the other cities carrying out their own Caracazo, or their own April 13, against the hated counter-revolutionary regime of the Islamic Republic.

On June 18, president Chávez once again congratulated Ahmadinejad on his reelection as a president and added the “solidarity of Venezuela in the face of the attack by world capitalism against the people of that country”. The Revolutionary Marxist Current in Venezuela, disagrees with this position and we would like to contribute to the debate with the above observations.

The images of brutal repression against the youth and workers of Iran and the realisation that in Iran a young student or a worker can go to jail for the simple act of organising a strike, creating a trade union or demonstrating against the state or the bosses, has caused a massive outrage against the Iranian government on the part of workers and youth all over the world. Several counter-revolutionary intellectuals and the mass media at the service of imperialism, conscious of this, are attempting – with the cynicism and demagogy which characterise them – to identify Venezuela with Iran, and an honest anti-imperialist and revolutionary president like Chávez with Ahmadinejad. An example of this is the recent article in Spain’s El País, which quotes Chávez's latest Alo Presidente broadcast.

With this comparison they want to saw confusion amongst workers around the world, weaken the sympathy and support for the Venezuelan revolution and undermine it as a point of reference for millions around the world. It is precisely for this reason that Venezuelan revolutionary workers and youth can only counter this campaign by opening a serious debate about the real character of the Iranian regime, studying its history and the current situation, and showing our solidarity with our Iranian class brothers and sisters in their struggle to conquer, through mass action, the same rights that Venezuelan workers have today. At the same time we must fight and denounce both the government’s repression against our brothers and sisters as well as the demagogy and manoeuvres of imperialism.

The Revolutionary Marxist Current stands in support of the revolutionary movement of the Iranian masses against the Islamic Republic, and particularly the movement of Iranian workers for democratic rights and economic demands, while at the same time we reject any imperialist interference.

Venezuela, June 22, 2009


Monday, June 22, 2009

Iranian Revolution: Second Open Thread

Iran: A 1930s Level Crossroads for the International Left

The Iranian Revolution is a turning point, for the Middle East, and for the world. Politically you'll be judged by your stand. This article takes on the myths of both the extreme left and right about Iran. Both want Ahmadinejad to prevail, because of their good and evil bipolar worldview.

The people clash with the state. Jorge Martin argues a general strike is needed.

Later this week, I'll have a post about Chavez's position, offering disagreements with him, without giving comfort to reactionaries.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Iran: The 18th Brumaire of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

By Alan Woods
Monday, 15 June 2009

Two candidates stood in the Iranian “elections”, but the regime had decided who was going to win long before any votes were cast. In spite of the mild, “loyal opposition” of Mousavi, large sections of the Iranian electorate used their vote to express opposition to the regime. Once the “result” was announced violence broke out on the streets, revealing the seething anger and discontent among the masses. This marks a new phase in the development of the Iranian revolution.

The French historian Alexis de Tocqueville once wrote that the most dangerous moment for a bad government is when it tries to reform. But it is even more dangerous when a bad regime refuses to reform.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Photo by Daniella Zalcman.

History knows many examples of a rotten autocracy, which after a long period in power has succumbed to an irreversible process of inner decay. In such a moment, all the internal contradictions that have remained hidden beneath the surface suddenly emerge. There are always two main tendencies: the hard liners and the reformists. The latter say: “we must reform from the top or else we will be overthrown.” The former say: “We must oppose reform because once we start change we will be overthrown.” And both are correct.

What was true in France in 1789 is also true in Iran in 2009. After three decades in power the regime of the mullahs is deeply unpopular. Analysts therefore expected Mousavi, widely regarded as a “reformist”, to do well. A presidential debate between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad roused the nation, and in the last days Mousavi's campaign caught fire, triggering massive street rallies in Tehran. What these rallies showed was a burning desire for change.

Mousavi had been widely expected to beat the controversial incumbent if there was a high turnout ‑ or at least do well enough to trigger a second round. What officials have called an unprecedented voter turnout at the polls Friday had been expected to boost Mousavi's chances of winning the presidency. The voter turnout surpassed 80 percent, at least two officials said on Saturday.

Iran's economic turmoil over the past four years should have undermined Ahmadinejad’s support even in rural areas to some extent. Yet the government announced that Ahmadinejad had not only won the election, but had secured a landslide with 62.63 percent of the vote as compared to Mir Hossein Mousavi’s 33.75 percent. According to the results, which were announced with indecent haste, Mousavi even lost in the area of Teheran where he has his main base. This virtuoso display of vote rigging was so blatant that it shocked even a people for whom such things could be regarded as normal practice.

Rigged Elections

The speed with which the announcement was made was in itself sufficient to indicate a massive fraud. Iran remains a predominantly rural country with an infrastructure that does not permit such a rapid assessment of election results. In a genuine election it would take several days to get all the results in from the provinces and villages and remote areas. Instead, Ahmadinejad immediately announced that he had won by a big majority. "The people of Iran inspired hope for all nations and created a source of pride in the nation and disappointed all the ill wishers," Ahmadinejad said in a nationwide TV address Saturday night. "This election was held at a juncture of history."

.For a despotic regime that holds all the reins of power firmly in its hands, it is not a difficult task to rig an election. After the polls closed – according to reports coming out of Iran ‑ heavily armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps were out on the streets. In one area of north Tehran, a stronghold of opposition challenger and reformist ex-Prime Minister Mousavi, foreign journalists reported a convoy of at least fifteen military vehicles filled with armed guards making their way along the side of the road. The Interior Ministry was also blocked and heavily guarded as the regime feared that Mousavi supporters might gather there to protest against the election count.

Ibrahim Yazdi, a leading Iranian dissident and Iran's foreign minister in the early days of the Islamic Republic, told American journalist Robert Dreyfuss:

“Many of us believe that the election was rigged. Not only Mousavi. We don't have any doubt. And as far as we are concerned, it is not legitimate. There were many, many irregularities. They did not permit the candidates to supervise the election or the counting of the ballots at the polling places. The minister of the interior announced that he would oversee the final count in his office, at the ministry, with only two aides present.

“In previous elections, they announced the results in each district, so people could follow up and make a judgment about the validity of the figures. In 2005, there were problems: in one district there were about 100,000 eligible voters, and they announced a total vote of 150,000. This time they didn't even release information about each particular district.

“In all, there were about 45,000 polling places. There were 14,000 mobile ones, that can move from place to place. Many of us protested that. Originally, these mobile polling places were supposed to be used in hospitals and so on. This time, they were used in police stations, army bases, and various military compounds. When it comes to the military compounds and so on, if even 500 extra votes were put into each of the 14,000 boxes, that is seven million votes.

“Mousavi and Karroubi [the main opposition candidates] had earlier established a joint committee to protect the peoples' votes. Many young people volunteered to work on that committee. But the authorities didn't let it happen. Last night [that is, election night] the security forces closed down that committee. There is no way, independent of the government and the Guardian Council, to verify the results

With a rigged election result in his pocket Ahmadinejad’s insolence knew no bounds. The president said the elections were the "model of democracy" and accused "western oppressors" of criticizing the election process. "On Friday's election, the people of Iran emerged victorious," he declared. "The elections in Iran are really important. Election means consensus of all people's resolve and their crystallization of their demands and their wants, and it's a leap toward high peaks of aspiration and progress. Elections in Iran are [a] totally popular-based move that belongs to the people with a look at the future, aimed at constructing the future."

He indicated progress through consensus, saying economic and infrastructure reforms can be accomplished in Iran through a collective process. "All of us can join forces," he said, as his armed thugs were smashing people’s faces on the streets. Tens of thousands of flag-waving Ahmadinejad supporters gathered in the capital's Valiasr Square for the president's victory speech this evening, as he attempted a show of force he hopes will quell opposition protests.

"The 12 June election was an artistic expression of the nation, which created a new advancement in the history of elections in the country," the ayatollah Khamenei said. "The over 80 percent participation of the people and the 24 million votes cast for the president-elect is a real celebration which with the power of almighty God can guarantee the development, progress, national security, and the joy and excitement of the nation."

Spontaneous Protests

The nation was certainly excited – but not for joy. Reformist candidate Mehdi Karrubi called the declared results of the elections a "joke" and "astonishing." Even while Ahmadinejad praised the result and the huge turnout, Mousavi and supporters in the Tehran streets were crying foul as street clashes broke out. On Saturday afternoon the streets of the capital are generally quiet. But last Saturday spontaneous street demonstrations erupted on the streets of Tehran. This reflected an enormous accumulation of anger, despair, and bitterness within Iranian society that is pregnant with revolutionary implications.

"The Saturday after the election should always be a day of affection and patience," he said. "Both the supporters of the elected candidate and the supporters of other respectable candidates should refrain from making any provocative and doubtful behaviour. The respectable president-elect is the president of all the people of Iran and everybody, including yesterday's rivals, should protect and help him." These words from the Supreme Leader showed the regime’s fear of public disturbances. They were not wrong to have such fear.

Demonstrators chanted, "the president is committing a crime and the supreme leader is supporting him", highly inflammatory language in a regime where the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is considered irreproachable. Shops, government offices and businesses closed early as tension mounted. Crowds also gathered outside Mousavi's headquarters but there was no sign of Ahmadinejad's chief political rival. Supporters waved their fists and chanted anti-Ahmadinejad slogans.

Protesters set fire to rubbish bins and tyres, creating pillars of black smoke among the apartment blocks and office buildings in central Tehran. An empty bus was engulfed in flames on a side road. Police fought back with clubs, including mobile squads on motorcycles swinging truncheons, as protesters hurled stones and bottles at officers, shouting "Mousavi, give us our votes back" and "the election was full of lies".

More than 100 reformists, including Mohammad Reza Khatami, the brother of former president Mohammad Khatami, were arrested, according to leading reformist Mohammad Ali Abtahi. He told Reuters they were members of Iran's leading reformist party, Mosharekat. A judiciary spokesman denied they had been arrested but said they were summoned and "warned not to increase tension" before being released. The state imprisons and tortures trade unionists and beats up students, but bourgeois politicians get off with just a slap on the wrist.

.People leaned out of windows and balconies to watch the throngs of protesters march, many of whom were Mousavi supporters and conducted largely noisy but peaceful demonstrations. Later in the evening, an agitated and angry crowd emerged in Tehran's Moseni Square, with people breaking into shops, starting fires and tearing down signs. Two groups of people faced off against each other in the square, throwing rocks and bottles and shouting angrily. Observers believe the two sides could be supporters of Ahmadinejad on the one hand, and Mousavi on the other.

The protests, which were clearly spontaneous, were not limited to Teheran. They also broke out in other cities, including Tabriz, Orumieh, Hamedan and Rasht. It is clear that nobody organized these protests, and least of all the reformist leaders. The new technology has been a key tactic in politically mobilizing young people in Iran, but text messaging has not been working in Iran over recent days and Facebook was closed down. However, the old fashioned method of word of mouth still functions and Iranian protesters still arrived en masse at meeting places around Tehran on Saturday.

On Sunday the rioting continued. "There was this cat-and-mouse game between the rioters and the police," said Samson Desta, a CNN reporter, who was hit by a police baton. "For the time being, it seems like police have things under control. But we spoke to a lot of students and they're saying, ‘This is not going to go away. They may stop us now but we will come back and make sure our voices will be heard’."

This was the second day of protests in Tehran. On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators shouting "Death to the dictatorship" and "We want freedom" burned police motorcycles, tossed rocks through store windows, and set trash cans on fire.

On Sunday night a tense calm settled on the streets of Tehran, but the BBC's Jon Leyne, in the city, reported that clashes broke out by the office of Irna, Iran's official news agency, and also in at least one suburb. There were also new reports of a clampdown on independent media. The offices of the Saudi-funded Arabic TV station al-Arabiya were shut down for "unknown reasons", the channel said. Mobile phone service was restored but there were reports that text messaging remained restricted and curbs continued on access to popular internet sites, including the BBC. These actions do not show confidence but an extreme nervousness on the part of the regime.

Hypocrisy of Imperialists

Reaction emerged across the world, as countries such as the United States and Canada voiced concern over claims of voter irregularities. But the western governments who have been so outspoken in their criticism of the lack of human rights in Iran have been remarkably circumspect about the blatant electoral fraud and violence in Iran.

According to a CNN report, US military commanders in the Middle East were sent a message reminding American forces to maintain discipline and prudence if they encounter any Iranian military forces during potential unrest surrounding Iran's presidential election. US military concerns are taking into account "heightened Iranian sensitivity and maybe even fear for potential internal and external security threats," one official said.

Criticism in Washington has been unusually muted. Hilary Clinton has kept her mouth shut, leaving it to “the invisible man”, US vice-president, Joe Biden, to express his “doubts” about "the way they're suppressing crowds, the way in which people are being treated", although, using guarded language, he said the US had to accept "for the time being" Tehran's claim that Ahmadinejad won a resounding re-election. "There's an awful lot of questions about how this election was run," said Biden. "We don't have enough facts to make a firm judgment."

The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said that his government was worried about the situation and criticized "the somewhat brutal reaction" by authorities in response to demonstrations. The EU said in a statement it was "concerned about alleged irregularities" during Friday's vote.

This polite reticence of the imperialists is no accident. They are terrified of a revolution in Iran that will act like an earthquake throughout the Middle East and Asia. Moreover, Washington is hoping to re-establish good relations with the Teheran government, whose assistance they need to ensure an orderly retreat from Iraq and provide a guaranteed route for supplies to Afghanistan. It also needs Iranian support for its latest “peace initiative” over the Palestinian question. At least it would like assurances that Teheran will not sabotage it – although Netanyahu is already making a good job of that by insisting that any Palestinian state must be disarmed and renounce the right of return for the Palestinian Diaspora.

It is these factors that determine Obama’s conciliatory policy to the Islamic Republic, which we predicted in advance [see The invasion of Gaza: what does it mean?]. A week into his presidency, Obama extended an olive branch to Tehran, asking the regime to “unclench its fist”. Two months later, Obama broadcast a message to Iran, for the first time recognizing the ayatollahs as the legitimate representatives of the Iranian people. Last month, Obama acknowledged the Islamic Republic's right to enrich uranium and, in Cairo, he admitted CIA involvement in the overthrow of the Mossadegh government more than a half-century ago.

The people of Iran have long memories and know enough about imperialism to hate it with all their heart. When Prime Minister Mossadegh was ousted in the 1953 coup organized by the CIA and British intelligence the so-called western democracies replaced Iranian democracy with the monstrous dictatorship Shah. His bloody and corrupt rule was based on a reign of mass terror in which the notorious Savak secret police carried on a systematic campaign of murder and torture. The so-called western democracies supported this despotic puppet of imperialism and had nothing to say about the wholesale violation of human rights in Iran then. That is why Iranians have no reason to trust the good will of imperialism or listen to its hypocritical sermons on “democracy” today!

Splits in Regime

After the election Teheran was buzzing with rumours of a coup d’etat. But in reality this is not necessary. Ahmadinejad has already gathered so much power in his hands that he has already established a dictatorship in fact, if not legally. In addition to the regular forces of the state, he controls the Revolutionary Guard, which he used to brutally crush the demonstrations last weekend. Ahmadinejad controls the ministry of the interior, the ministry of information, the ministry of intelligence.

After the elections the security forces occupied the offices of many newspapers, to make sure that their reporting on the election was favourable. They changed headlines of many papers. This is an excellent way of ensuring good election coverage! The Guards are taking over everything, including many economic institutions. The ministry of the interior is tightening its control in all the provinces.

There are also rumours that Ahmadinejad is thinking about changing the Constitution to allow the president to serve more than two terms, to make his presidency more or less permanent. He is re-enacting the coup of Louis Bonaparte, who combined fraudulent elections and parliamentary intrigues with a reign of terror on the streets conducted by the notorious Society of 10 December, composed of thugs, criminals and lumpenproletarians. His social base is also similar: the backward peasantry, which can be used against the more advanced cities and towns.

In theory the situation looks hopeless. But this is only on the surface. Ahmadinejad and his followers have been kept in office, but the election has left Iran's capital steeped in bitterness and anger. The new government will be faced with serious problems at all levels, particularly the economy. The last remaining illusions of the peasantry will be shattered by the hardships imposed by the economic crisis.

In the last period, Ahmadinejad was kept in power partly on the basis of repression and anti-American demagogy but mainly by using Iran’s oil wealth for populist measures. This ensured him a certain base of support in the population, especially among the peasantry. But now the economic crisis and the falling price of oil will reduce his room for manoeuvre on this front. On the other hand, the “anti-imperialist” demagogy is wearing thin. People cannot eat nuclear warheads!

The history of dictatorial and autocratic regimes shows that it is impossible to maintain such a regime on the basis of repression alone. Once the masses start to move, no state apparatus, no matter how powerful or ferocious, can stop them. That is the lesson of France in 1789, of tsarist Russia in 1917 and of the Shah of Iran in 1979. Louis Bonaparte took power in a coup and stayed in power for two decades. But in the end his rule ended in the Paris Commune. Ahmadinejad will not be in power for so long for the reasons we have explained, and the longer he clings to power, the more explosive the situation will become and the sharper will be the internal contradictions in the regime.

Despite the show of strength, the inner cracks that are splitting the regime are deepening. There are voices in the establishment that are challenging Ahmadinejad. And it is not clear that he and the Sepah (the Revolutionary Guard) will be strong enough to overcome them. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is playing the Bonaparte, balancing between the factions. There will be clashes and splits between different factions that reflect a deep crisis of the regime itself.

In the interview we have already mentioned, Ibrahim Yazdi refers to the splits in the regime:

After the last election [2005], after Ahmadinejad was first elected, there were many questions raised about Ahmadinejad's effort to isolate the Leader. We talked openly about this. This time, in preparation for the vote, they isolated him even further. For instance, in years past [former President] Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani was influential, perhaps even more influential than the leader. Now, with the slogans being used at Ahmadinejad's rallies, things like 'Death to Hashemi!', they have created a deep rift. Khamenei has also lost the support of many high-ranking members of the clergy.”

Cowardice of Reformers

The liberal reformers in Iran and abroad are sunk in the depths of despair. Mousavi has pledged to fight the verdict, using words like "tyranny" and adding, "I will not surrender to this dangerous charade." Even before the vote count ended, Mousavi issued a sharply worded letter urging the counting to stop because of "blatant violations" and lashed out at what he indicated was an unfair process.

The opposition leader said the results from "untrustworthy monitors" reflects "the weakening of the pillars that constitute the sacred system" of Iran and "the rule of authoritarianism and tyranny." Independent vote monitors were banned from polling places. "The results announced for the 10th presidential elections are astonishing. People who stood in long lines and knew well who they voted for were utterly surprised by the magicians working at the television and radio broadcasting," Mousavi said in his statement.

Mousavi's newspaper, Kalemeh Sabz, or the Green Word, did not appear on newsstands today. An editor speaking anonymously said authorities had been upset with Mousavi's statements. The paper's website reported that more than 10million votes in Friday's election were missing national identification numbers, which made the votes "untraceable".

As his supporters took to the streets of the capital again to face the batons and tear gas, Hossein Mousavi has launched a formal appeal against the election result. He has appealed to the ruling Council of Guardians to overturn the result, and urged his supporters to continue protests "in a peaceful and legal way”. “We have asked officials to let us hold a nationwide rally to let people display their rejection of the election process and its results," said Mousavi. The Council of Guardians is a constitutionally mandated body of six clerics and six jurists, which functions as Iran's electoral authority and has other powers. But Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the Supreme Leader and he has already stated that the election had been conducted fairly and ordered the three defeated candidates and their supporters to avoid "provocative" behaviour.

The mass demonstration planned by the opposition to protest electoral fraud has been banned. Therefore, the road to redress by legal and constitutional means is blocked. The only way to conquer democratic rights in Iran is by taking the revolutionary road. Iran, says Mousavi, "belongs to the people and not cheaters." There is even talk of his calling a general strike. But words are cheap, and the Iranian bourgeois reformist leaders would be more afraid of a movement of the masses than Khamenei himself.

Role of the Working Class

Like the Russian Cadets, the liberal reformers in Iran are terrified of revolution. Ibrahim Yazdi told his American interviewer: “Certainly, we are concerned about spontaneous reactions. Iran's youth has been engaged and mobilized. Around the country, there have already been some violent clashes. We do not agree with violence, because violence will only give the Right an excuse to suppress the opposition.” And again: “We are nor after subversion. We do not want to change the Constitution. We do want to create a viable political force that can exert its influence.” These words indicate the real psychology of the bourgeois reformers in Iran. They could have been copied from any newspaper of the Russian Liberals in February 1917.

The real historical analogy, however, is not Russia in 1917 but rather 1905, or even before that. Like the Russian Revolution before 1905, the Iranian Revolution is still in its infancy. It has a long way to run, and this is not a bad thing from the standpoint of the Iranian Marxists who need time to build their forces. Like the Russian workers before 1905, the Iranian working class is mainly young and inexperienced. The old generation of worker activists, who were mainly formed in the school of Stalinism, has largely disappeared, decimated by repression and disoriented by the false policies of their leaders.

It will require time and the experiences, both of victories and defeats, before the Iranian working class comes to the conclusion of the need to take power. Let us recall that in January 1905 the young Russian proletariat first came on the scene of history in a peaceful demonstration led by a priest, with religious icons in their hands, carrying a petition to the tsar. But one bloody clash was sufficient to impel them on the road to revolution in the space of 24 hours. We can expect similar sudden and sharp changes in Iran.

The campaign of Mousavi aroused the hopes of many people, especially the middle class youth and the women (he promised more rights for women). Now these hopes have been dashed. The police and “revolutionary guards” have given the youth an excellent lesson in the value of Iranian democracy with truncheons, fists and boots. The situation remains explosive. But in the absence of a clear programme, perspective and leadership, aimless street protests and rioting leads nowhere. Therefore probably the present wave of unrest will die down for a while. But it will come back with even greater violence at a later stage.

The reformers are weeping and wailing about the election defeat, but in reality these elections have solved nothing for the Iranian people, the working class or the regime itself. This decrepit regime is like the Old Man of the Sea who climbed onto the shoulders of Sinbad and refused to dismount. These elections are just one more lesson in the hard school of life, which will eventually convince the workers and youth that in order to shake the Old Man of the Sea from off their backs very radical measures will be necessary.

The real weakness of the movement for democracy is that the powerful Iranian proletariat has not yet moved in a decisive way as it did in 1979. After long years of repression during which the workers movement was effectively beheaded, the working class needs time to find its feet. Like an athlete who has been inactive for a long time, the Iranian workers need to stretch their muscles and engage in exercise before moving decisively into action. There have already been many strikes on economic issues. The pressure from below is building up. This pressure finds its reflection even in the Labour House, the organization set up by the regime to control the workers. In the recent period the official journal of the Labour House even published an article by Lenin. How times are changing!

Iran is an overwhelmingly young country. Its population has a median age of 27. These people cannot remember a time when the mullahs were not in power. Long ago the mullahs were considered to be incorruptible, in contrast to the degenerate pro-western monarchy. But that was long ago. After decades in power the mullahs have been exposed as corrupt and the regime is losing the authority it used to have. Ahmadinejad had to bus in supporters from the villages in order to stage his mass rally. His real base is the Revolutionary Guards, but even they no longer inspire the kind of terror they did in the past. The most significant thing about the riots this weekend was not that they were suppressed, but that so many people were prepared to come onto the streets to defy the state and its repressive forces. This means that the days of the regime are numbered.

In the end it will result in a crisis. This will be a government of crisis, which will probably not last its full term. The political and social divisions inside Iran will be widened. The militancy of the workers will grow and express itself first in economic strikes for better wages and conditions, as we have already seen in the past few years, and later as political strikes and demonstrations. The most urgent need now is to organize the workers and provide the movement with a coherent programme, policy and banner. This can only be the red banner of socialism.

It is quite natural that the students are playing a key role at this stage in the revolution. It is very similar to the situation in Russia in 1901-3, or in Spain in 1930-31, just before the fall of the monarchy. Trotsky wrote at that time:

When the bourgeoisie consciously and stubbornly refuses to take upon itself the solution of the tasks flowing from the crisis in bourgeois society; when the proletariat appears to be still unprepared to undertake the solution of these tasks itself, then the proscenium is often occupied by the students ... The revolutionary or semi-revolutionary activities of the students mean that bourgeois society is passing through a deep crisis...

“The Spanish workers displayed an entirely correct revolutionary instinct when they lent their support to the manifestations of the students. It is understood that they must do it under their own banner and under the leadership of their own proletarian organization. This must be guaranteed by Spanish Communism, and for that it needs a correct policy.

“This road pre-supposes on the part of the Communists a decisive, bold and energetic struggle for democratic slogans. Not to understand this would be the greatest mistake of sectarianism… If the revolutionary crisis is transformed into a revolution it will inevitably exceed the bourgeois boundaries, and in the event of victory, will have to transfer the power to the proletariat.” (Trotsky, Problems of the Spanish Revolution, May 1930)

The forces of the Iranian Marxists are small but they are growing by the day. By skilfully combining democratic demands with transitional demands linking the day to day struggles with the idea of socialist revolution, they will connect with an increasingly broad layer of workers and students who are looking for a fundamental change in society. The future of Iran lies on the revolutionary road, and the Iranian revolution is destined to shake the world

London, June 15, 2009



Thursday, June 11, 2009

Charlie abandoned his factory: Arrufat chocolate without a boss

We all know the childhood tale of Charley and the Chocolate Factory best
emulated in the psychedelic inspired 1971 film. Charley a poor, well intentioned boy wins the Willy Wonka chocolate factory in a stroke of good fortune - every child's fantasy and utopia. But would what happen if Charley grew older and greedy against the advice of Willy Wonka? If he ran the chocolate factory into ruins, throwing out the workers and closing up shop? And what if the oompa loompas would take over the plant to demand their unpaid salaries and severance pay? What if they would decide to start up production without Charley, collectively running the plant and relating to other worker occupied factories? Well, this alternate version of the childhood story is becoming a reality for workers in Argentina.

In Argentina, Charley did abandon his factory. But in this case, Charley is Diana Arrufat, heiress to the Arrufat chocolate factory in Buenos Aires. She closed the factory's doors on January 5, 2009. The workers, who are not the imagined oompa
loompa refugees in the film, but real workers decided to occupy the plant. And now the workers are producing deliciously sweet delicacies without the supervision and exploitive practices of Charley.

Factory closure

On January 5, the workers got the news that they were fired. Diana Arrufat left a poster on the gate of the factory to inform the workers they no longer had jobs. The 50 workers still employed hadn't been paid their salaries for much of 2008. "They fired us without having to look at our faces. They abandoned us," says Alberto Cavrico a worker who has worked at the plant for more than 20 years. That they same day they to open the factory gate and remain inside the factory.

Within hours owner went to the police accusing the workers for "usurpation" and trespassing of the plant. Meanwhile, she has been unwilling to meet with the workers and labor ministry to discuss how to normalize the situation.

Arrufat, founded in 1931 had been a national leader in chocolate. The family run business was finally inherited by the original owner's granddaughter, Diana Arrufat in the late 90's. Since she took over the company, the factory took a turn for the worse. Workers describe how the owner would cut corners sacrificing product quality - using hydrogenated oil instead of cocoa butter and imitation cocoa instead of the real beans imported from Ecuador or Brazil. In its heyday, when the company produced high quality chocolate, it employed more than 300 workers. By 2008, the chocolate manufacturer only had 66 employees.

Throughout 2008, the owner was not paying workers their full salary, with the promise that they would be paid at a later date. The workers sent a report to the labor ministry in May 2008 that the owner owed them nearly 6 months in back salaries, was emptying out the plant and hadn't paid the workers' retirement funds for 10 years. By the end of 2008, on Christmas Day the owners gave the workers 50 pesos (less than 20 dollars) and then five days before firing them paid them 50 pesos again on New Year's.

Many of the workers had heard about factory occupations but never thought that they would face a factory closure. "I never thought that I'd have to sleep inside the factory on top of a machine to defend my job post," says Marta Laurino, a stead fast woman with over 30 years working at the plant. Concluding that the owners weren't coming back, at least to open up shop again - the workers decided in an assembly to continue to occupy the plant and form a cooperative.

Chocolate without a boss

Just 30 days after occupying the plant, the workers of Arrufat had already formed a cooperative and sought out the advice from other occupied factories operating since the 2001 financial crisis. They have successfully begun producing, although sporadically because the electricity in the plant has been turned off since Diana Arrufat ran up a $15,000 dollar debt with the privatized electric company Edesur. And the electric company won't turn the lights back on until the debt is paid.

Meanwhile, the workers have invented alternatives in order to produce. For Easter, the cooperative produced more than 10,000 chocolate Easter eggs. They got a loan of $5,000 dollars from the NGO La Base that provides low interest loans to occupied factories and worker cooperatives. They used this money to rent an industrial generator and buy raw materials - cocoa beans, cocoa butter, liquor and sugar needed to make high-quality chocolate. They decided to re-open the store front on the side of the factory. The day that they started producing the government health inspector came to the plant, the same inspector's office which hadn't visited the factory in probably 20 years according to the workers. The police also came because the workers opened the store front.

All of the eggs were sold out of the factory's store front before the end of the Easter season. The workers were able to pay back the loan within a week, sell the entire stock of Easter eggs and each take home around $1,000, no small feat after not getting a full salary for more than a year. With the remaining capital, rented a generator and bought more raw materials.

During much of the occupation before getting the loan and afterward, the workers were producing small quantities of chocolate by hand, unable to use the machinery because the electricity was shut off. A neighbor, a niece of Diana Arrufat, let the workers connect an electric line that way they would at least have lights and a refrigerator in the factory. And in a small space, with a domestic freezer, the workers began producing small batches of bonbons, chocolate bars and chocolate covered delicacies.

Production has helped the workers transform their subjectivity, seeing that they have more power to fight against the owner, judges, private companies and police constantly throwing monkey wrenches at their dreams. "The worker occupied factories insisted that we get back to work giving us the advice that we won't gain anything by sitting around. They're right producing without a boss does change your outlook and ability to believe in yourself," said Marta Laurino.

Now the cooperative hopes that they can gain enough momentum in the market to continue production with regularity. But they are fighting an eviction notice, criminal charges and bureaucratic offices preventing them from accessing a tax number for their cooperative, which they consequentially need to get an account with the electric company. Looking at the business model other worker recuperated enterprises have established, the workers at Arrufat make all their decisions collectively in a weekly assembly. All workers are paid the same wage. And they want to continue to reinvent social relations inside the plant.

New wave of occupations

Arrufat isn't the only factory that has been occupied since the global recession crept up. Since late 2008 there have been several new factory takeovers in Argentina. For example, the owners of Indugraf printing press shut down operations in a similar manner to Arrufat in November 2008. The printing house workers in Buenos Aires occupied their plant on December 5, the same week that workers in Chicago decided to occupy the Republic and Windows Doors Plant - to demand severance pay and benefits after being abruptly fired. Currently, they are fighting to form a cooperative and start up production without a boss. Other occupations include Disco de Oro, a plant producing the pastry dough to make empanadas, a meat filled pastry common in Argentina. Febatex, a textile plant producing thread and Lidercar, a meat packing plant are two more examples of recent worker occupations. These workers have had to collectively fight violent eviction threats and are still struggling to start up production as worker cooperatives.

Many workers from the newly occupied factories say that their bosses saw the crisis as the perfect opportunity to clear their debts by closing up shop, fraudulently liquidate assets, fire workers and later re-start production under a new firm. This was the case in Arrufat, and seems to be a global trend with many companies hoping for a bailout plan to re-open shop.

All of these newly formed cooperatives have said that they were influenced and inspired by the previous experiences of worker self-management in the nation. "The other worker occupied factories bring us hope that we can win this fight," says Mirta Solis, a long time chocolatier. Essentially, the worker run BAUEN Hotel in downtown Buenos Aires, has become the landing place or you could say launch pad for many of these factory takeovers. Workers, who decided to take over their plant, come to the BAUEN Hotel occupied since 2003 to get legal advice and political support.

FACTA or the Federation of Worker Self-managed Cooperatives has played an important role in supporting the cooperatives. FACTA, founded in 2007, is made up of more than 70 worker self-managed coops, many worker occupied others worker owned inspired by the recuperated enterprise phenomenon. FACTA's objective is to group cooperatives together so they can collectively negotiate institutional, political, legal and market challenges together; the idea being that 70 cooperative united can better negotiate with state representatives, institutional offices and other businesses. FACTA also brings identity. For Adrian Cerrano, from Arrufat FACTA's work has helped the new occupied factories to organize legally and as cooperatives. "We were occupying not knowing what to do and workers from the BAUEN, which forms part of FACTA and provided a lot of support. We decided to ask FACTA's lawyer to represent us legally."

Utopia tale

Arrufat is not yet a utopia, but at least workers are fulfilling the dream of fighting for their rights. "I worked at this factory for 25 years. I lost part of my body inside this factory because I lost my hand while working in this plant. This is what makes me make the sacrifices and work towards forming the cooperative and produce." They are setting an example for workers all around the world that through direct action and occupations they can prevent companies from using the crisis as an excuse to further exploit workers and make unnecessary cut-backs in hopes of getting a bailout plan. The government should support these experiences of worker-self-management, provide them with the same benefits and subsidies that capitalist business receive.

And if Charley, or any other boss, wants to leave his or her factory, let them! But the workers have the right to continue their work with dignity. "Maybe one day our story will be included in a chapter on the working class history that a group of workers occupy a plant and begin producing," said Adrian after lamenting the loss of his hand in the factory under capitalist supervision. And the occupied factories in Argentina are doing just that; writing a new chapter in working class history sending the message that workers can do what capitalists aren't interested in doing creating jobs and dignity for workers.

Marie Trigona is a writer, radio producer and filmmaker based in Argentina. She is currently writing a book on Worker Self-Management in Latin America forthcoming by AK Press. She can be reached at


Monday, June 08, 2009

Little Ashes (2008)***: Federico Garcia Lorca and Salvador Dali Were An Item

A romantic story about the young life and loves of artist Salvador Dali, filmmaker Luis Buñuel and writer Federico Garcia Lorca. In 1922, Madrid is wavering on the edge of change as traditional values are challenged by the dangerous new influences of Jazz, Freud and the avant-garde. Salvador Dali arrives at the university, 18 years old and determined to become a great artist. His bizarre blend of shyness and rampant exhibitionism attracts the attention of two of the university's social elite - Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Buñuel. Salvador is absorbed into their decadent group and for a time Salvador, Luis and Federico become a formidable trio, the most ultra-modern group in Madrid. However as time passes, Salvador feels an increasingly strong pull towards the charismatic Federico - who is himself oblivious of the attentions he is getting from his beautiful writer friend, Margarita. Finally, in the face of his friends' preoccupations - and Federico's growing renown as a poet - Luis sets off for Paris in search of his own artistic success. Federico and Salvador spend the holiday in the sea-side town of Cadaques. Both the idyllic surroundings and the warmth of the Dali family sweep Federico off his feet. Salvador and he draw closer, sharing their deepest beliefs, inspirations and secrets, convinced that they have found a kind of friendship undreamt of by others. It is more that a meeting of the minds; it is a fusion of souls. And then one night, in the phosphorescent water, it becomes something else. --© Regent Releasing

The Faithless Wife By Federico Garcia Lorca

So I took her to the river
believing she was a maiden,
but she already had a husband.
It was on St. James night
and almost as if I was obliged to.
The lanterns went out
and the crickets lighted up.
In the farthest street corners
I touched her sleeping breasts
and they opened to me suddenly
like spikes of hyacinth.
The starch of her petticoat
sounded in my ears
like a piece of silk
rent by ten knives.
Without silver light on their foliage
the trees had grown larger
and a horizon of dogs
barked very far from the river.

Past the blackberries,
the reeds and the hawthorne
underneath her cluster of hair
I made a hollow in the earth
I took off my tie,
she too off her dress.
I, my belt with the revolver,
She, her four bodices.
Nor nard nor mother-o’-pearl
have skin so fine,
nor does glass with silver
shine with such brilliance.
Her thighs slipped away from me
like startled fish,
half full of fire,
half full of cold.
That night I ran
on the best of roads
mounted on a nacre mare
without bridle stirrups.

As a man, I won’t repeat
the things she said to me.
The light of understanding
has made me more discreet.
Smeared with sand and kisses
I took her away from the river.
The swords of the lilies
battled with the air.

I behaved like what I am,
like a proper gypsy.
I gave her a large sewing basket,
of straw-colored satin,
but I did not fall in love
for although she had a husband
she told me she was a maiden
when I took her to the river.

Autosomodization By Salvador Dali

I thought it was an interesting, although trite movie, considering the background is the early days of the Spanish Civil War. Robert Pattinson (Twilight) was excellent as Dali, despite what critics say. ***