Thursday, 6 December 2007
The Vanguard has now moved to another tree. While this tree has served us well, we believe that our new abode is far more comfortable and will thus attract more guests on top of making us more productive.
Please come by for coffee, tea and nuts.
And don't forget to redirect your links.
Wednesday, 5 December 2007
I shouldn't really stress myself so much. I spent the whole of the last week thinking about the constitutional referendum, working out possible scenarios in my head and talking about it with everybody and their dogs. Fuck, I even had dreams about it. The last time I was stressed over a political event that much was just before the Scottish Parliament elections. Both times, anxiety gave way to profound disappointment.
However, having reflected on numbers, results and a series of articles my innate optimism has started crawling back in. This was a serious setback, but we have not been defeated. Chavez has still 5 years left in his term, the opposition barely made any gains relative to the presidential election and the magnitude of the pro SI rallies relative to those organised by the opposition clearly shows that the class balance of power leans heavily to the side of the conscious working class. Certainly, the slight victory of the No vote will give the shattered Venezuelan opposition something to rally around, as the calls for the convening of a Constituent Assembly by former Chavista General Baduel clearly show. However the very fact that the opposition will have to organise centred on a former enemy, around calls for national friendship and unity is clearly a sign of its own weakness suggesting that a well calculated, organised and swift political offensive by the Bolivarians is bound to shatter them. We have to keep in mind that revolutions are not linear processes where one side makes gains against the other until it wins; they unfold dialectically with each victory throwing up new obstacles and dangers and each defeat opening up new roads to success. What where the July Days preceding the great October Revolution if not a decisive defeat, with many good activists dead, leaders arrested and others going underground? The setback suffered by the Bolivarian movement is not even slightly comparable to that.
So what happened? It is evident from the numbers that the defeat of the reforms can be entirely attributed to the inadequate mobilisation of the Bolivarian camp. While the opposition gained a mere 100,000 votes (compared to the last presidential election), the Bolivarians lost some 2.8 million votes to abstention, with turnout reaching a very mellow 56% against approximately 70% last year. A lower turnout, in every situation, necessarily favours the forces of reaction, as the well-fed bourgeois and their satellite strata dutifully turn up to vote every time; it is the impoverished workers and peasants who abstain, for one reason or another. The question is why did they abstain on Sunday, a mere year after they overwhelmingly voted for Chavez routing both the counterrevolutionary and "revolutionary" oppositions?
The answer I believe lies in a combination of factors. First, we have to keep in mind that in any given situation, it is rather unlikely, if not impossible, that the oppressed classes will have achieved full consciousness down to the last person, especially when the situation is still prerevolutionary. For the unconscious masses, it was far easier to grasp the importance of the presidential election, as what was at stake was Chavismo itself; a defeat would have meant a regression back into the quagmire of traditional Washington Consensus neoliberalism. Reports from the ground also suggest that the opposition, with heavy financial backing from the United States, managed to mount a very effective, high intensity campaign of lies and misinformation (and terror), even if their concrete mobilisation was not much too look at. As you have probably already read elsewhere, "the state will take away your children" replaced the now cliche image of the baby eating communist.
This brings us to another, arguably the most important, question. Why did the conscious Bolivarian movement fail to agitate effectively and mobilise the masses to support the constitutional reforms? And also, why did they not effectively respond to the lies and filth propagated by the opposition? I can think of no other reason than the lack of an organised party of the bolivarian movement. In the absence of such, the campaign had to be based on largely ad hoc gatherings organised by the local socialist battalions that will form the basis of the PSUV. While the activist fervour of those should not be underestimated, their effectiveness cannot be compared to that of a integrated apparatus. The lack of a central coordinating organisation meant that the campaign had to be taken up by the state bureaucracy. These people have little in common with the working class and they would have failed to connect with it even if they had actually wanted to. The bureaucrats of the Bolivarian movement want nothing to do with socialism and they will consciously sabotage any attempt to destroy them as mediators of power, including the strengthening of community councils. It is then not really surprising that they made little effort to produce material refuting the outrageous claims of the opposition, basing their campaign on a theme of loyalty to Chavez, despite the fact that Chavez himself had often reiterated that a SI vote was not a vote for himself but a vote for the Revolution. No mention of the 36-hour week, or the community councils!
The entirely reactionary role played by the right wing of Chavismo has been sharply grasped by the radical activist base. The HOV referendum blog reports that on Monday a spontaneous gathering organised through text messages took place outside Miraflores palace in order to express solidarity with Chavez but more importantly raising the demand for a "clearing of the house" and denouncing certain officials as traitors.
The key task facing the socialist movement in Venezuela now is the foundation of the PSUV on an explicitly radical socialist basis. This will require back breaking mobilisation in the very near future (as in from January onwards). For the moment, the organised right wing has done a good job of excluding itself from the formation of the party, but it is certain that the sharper bureaucratic elements will not make the same mistake. Following that, it is imperative that the movement concentrates on a relentless attack against the dual fifth column that fetters is its development. I say dual, for apart from the state bureaucracy and the reformists, a war must be waged against the rererevolutionary ultra left that refuses to join the PSUV, the latter-day WRPs like the Argentinian PO and the neo-Kautskyite democrats who called for a spoiling of ballots at the referendum. Letting them cut themselves out of the working class movement, as they will, is not enough. In such social conditions, the minds of people are open to radical ideas, whether progressive or entirely stupid. Having said that, it must be stressed, despite being entirely obvious, that the prime threat remains the bureaucracy, the enemies within that want Chavez without socialism. They must be removed from the movement and the state at all costs and by any means necessary. Let them join the opposition and expose themselves for the hypocrites that they are. At this stage, without support from the inside, the counterrevolution will never manage to become a serious threat. Bring on the Cheka!
Thursday, 29 November 2007
Venezuelanalysis carries two very important articles today. One is about a CIA plot named Operation Pliers, involving a number of prominent opposition groups, leaders, media outlets and students which came to light after the Venezuelan counterintelligence service intercepted a CIA memorandum, dated November 20th. The memorandum predicts a clear Yes mandate for the constitutional referendum taking place on Sunday and goes on to propose a plan of action for the opposition after the referendum, including challenging its authenticity, inciting unrest and distabilisation with the purpose of throwing the country into a state of ungovernability preparing the way for another attempt to violently overthrow the Bolivarian government; textbook imperialist tactics that is, from Mozambique to Vietnam. Importantly, the memorandum also confirms the large scale clandestine campaign against Bolivarianism that has been conducted by the CIA for some time:
Officer Steere emphasizes the importance and success of the public relations and propaganda campaign that the CIA has been funding with more than $8 million during the past month - funds that the CIA confirms are transfered through the USAID contracted company, Development Alternatives, Inc., which set up operations in June 2002 to run the USAID Office for Transition Initiatives that funds and advises opposition NGOs and political parties in Venezuela. The CIA memo specifically refers to these propaganda initiatives as "psychological operations" (PSYOPS), that include contracting polling companies to create fraudulent polls that show the NO vote with an advantage over the SI vote, which is false. The CIA also confirms in the memo that it is working with international press agencies to distort the data and information about the referendum, and that it coordinates in Venezuela with a team of journalists and media organized and directed by the President of Globovision, Alberto Federico Ravell.
The other article reports on the murder of José Anibal Oliveros Yépez, a Chavez supporter, by a group of anti-reform protesters on Monday. After documenting the entirely unprovoked attack, the article goes on to mention that violence by opposition group is not a collection of isolated incidents but instead, a consistent part of a quasi fascist campaign of bullying that is typical of middle class mobilisation:
National Assembly Deputy Francisco Ameliach and the Mayor of Guacara, José Manuel Flores, who visited the neighborhood to pay their respects to the Oliveros' family, reported that opposition groups in Ciudad Alianza that claim to represent "civil society" have marked the houses of Chavez supporters, or those they believe to be Chavez supporters, with red paint and "have said they are going to kill them."
What this goes to show is that the Bolivarian process is one powered by irreconcilable class contradictions within Venezuelan society, rather than merely a national bourgeois project. As the reforms instituted by Chavez increasingly weaken the power of global capital and its domestic crutches, we can only expect an intensification of the struggle as the bourgeoisie tries to overturn the process while it still has some political power left. As the heat rises, class contradictions will be laid in increasingly more stark terms as bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology will be unable to provide a satisfactory explanatory framework for the rapidly developing (and thus changing) circumstances in Venezuela. Chavez himself demonstrated this shift when, addressing a pro-amendment work place representatives' meeting Caracas, he explicitly stated that "the working class has to be the vanguard of the revolutionary process for socialist power.", cautioning against the dangers of bureaucratic degeneration as happened in the Soviet Union. Chavez also went on to speak about the irreconcilable conflict of interests between the working class on the one hand, and capitalism and the bourgeois state on the other. From the IMT website:
The Cuban revolution has lasted a long time due to a deep relationship with the masses. In Nicaragua the road of reformism led to tragic results. You cannot adapt to capitalism. It doesn't work. No to reformism, No to Bureaucracy! [...]He emphasized again and again that the working class is the vanguard but he also castigated many trade unions for not being able to rise above the arena of purely trade union demands. If this does not happen then the political level of the working class won't rise to the level needed to carry out the task of being the motor force of the revolution. This process will determine the timing and direction of the revolution. We should pass onto the offensive as under capitalism we use defensive actions to protect conditions. The only way to guarantee Popular Power is if the working class plays the leading role.
Under the constitutional changes, he continues, the workers councils in the factories will establish relations with peasant, student and community councils [in effect setting up embryonic soviets - DC]. If this happens then what happened in the Soviet Union and Nicaragua won't happen. The aim of all of this is to establish Socialism in the country of Bolivar and - in response to a cry from the audience - in all of the Americas.
Yet the devil is in the detail. On the one hand Chavez sees the councils in different areas as alternative organs of power more closely related to the people and therefore theoretically more responsive. This is also a way to bypass the cumbersome and obstructive State bureaucracy. As he stated, "...workers councils will come into being in the factories, in the workplaces, but they should reach out to the communities and be fused into other councils of popular power: community councils, students councils, etc... What for? To shout slogans? To go around shouting long live Chavez? No!... To change the relationships in the workplace, to plan production, to take over piece by piece the functions of the government and to finish up by destroying the bourgeois state."
The current stage of the class struggle in Venezuela will have to come to a decisive political outcome one way or another sooner than later; this dual-poweresque fragile balance of class powers is not a sustainable social equilibrium. The division and increasing weakness of the bourgeoisie makes it ever more difficult for them to defend against the advancing working class, but it should be kept in mind that the proletariat too does not yet have a unified political leadership with a clear programme, ready to seize power and embark on the construction of socialism. The PSUV might come to play that role, but that will depend upon the programme and the organisational structure that will be adopted by its coming founding conference. We can only hope that the majority of principled socialists in Venezuela have joined the party and have not been carried away by the calls for ideological purity by the WRP clones of this world.
Until the foundation of the PSUV however, it is imperative that the Bolivarian movement takes whatever measures necessary to safeguard itself from reaction. Extreme attention must be paid to the tactics of the opposition and resources of all kinds will have to be mobilised to ensure that Operation Pliers does not come to fruition. This will necessarily include state crackdowns (although I am sure that those who lamented the suppression of RCTV's "democratic" right to support fascist coups will cry "authoritarianism" here as well) but it is of crucial importance that there is also grassroots working class political organisation in the form of demos, counter demos and patrols among other things. As Chavez (and Lenin) said, the workers (to the last cook) must gradually take over the functions of the state.
Tuesday, 27 November 2007
FARC is an organisation about which not many people know a lot or even a bit. It is old enough (it's been almost 40 years since the armed struggle in Colombia started) to have receded from the spotlight, but it is still active and thus cannot be studied in a standard academic historical manner. What is more, its case is quite interesting in that it creates much division amongst the left over whether it should be supported or not with accusations of it being a drug trafficking cartel without any politics left after four decades of guerilla warfare often thrown around. With the opportunity provided by the Colombian government's decision to terminate Venezuela's role as a mediator in hostage exchange negotiations, the Lair republishes the following interview with FARC commander Simón Trinidad, originally published in Columbia Report. It is an interesting read and provides some counterbalance to the First World's narrative about the organisation.
An Interview with FARC Commander Simón Trinidad
by Garry Leech
In January 1999, newly elected Colombian president Andres Pastrana ceded an area of southern Colombia the size of Switzerland to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas as part of an agreement to begin peace talks. Although there is no cease-fire agreement while the talks are being carried out, the Colombian Armed Forces and the National Police have withdrawn all their forces from the region known as the Zona de Despeje (Clearance Zone).
The FARC's headquarters in Los Pozos, a small village located 18 miles from San Vicente del Caguan in the Zona de Despeje, has been host to the peace talks as well as public conferences where all sectors of Colombian society can come to participate in discussions about Colombia's future. On June 14, 2000, I traveled to Los Pozos to interview Simón Trinidad, a FARC commander and a spokesman for the guerrilla organization. Trinidad was a professor of economics and a banker before joining the FARC 16 years ago.
Q. What is the current status of the ongoing peace process?
A. In May 1999, the FARC and the Colombian government established a common agenda consisting of twelve points. This agenda was created with an agreement that both parties would bring their proposals to the negotiating table--things that they considered important in the discussion and in the search for a resolution to the conflict and to make the changes that Colombia needs.
At the moment, they are only discussing one item: unemployment. There have been 13 or 14 public conferences here in Los Pozos about this topic featuring businessmen, workers, university students, teachers and rectors. This Friday there will be a conference with the African-Colombian communities. On June 25 there will be a conference with unemployed women and on June 29 there will be one on illicit crops and the environment. The FARC and the government are discussing all these items that they consider important in the search for a political solution to the social conflict in Colombia.
Q. Why do you think the United States is focusing on the FARC and campesinos that cultivate coca here in southern Colombia instead of the paramilitaries and the narco-traffickers?
A. That's a good question. Because the FARC is the only political organization that is in opposition to the Colombian oligarchy that keeps Colombians in poverty, misery and a state of underdevelopment. We are fighting for a change in the Colombian economic model and for a new state. For a state that has at its center the men and women of Colombia and to provide a better life and social justice for Colombians. With the riches in this country and after 180 years of republic living, Colombians must live better. We'll make better use of the natural resources and provide jobs, healthcare, education and housing so that 40 million Colombians can live well.
Who are those that are opposed to these social, economic and political changes? They are the people who monopolize the riches and resources in Colombia. A small group that monopolizes the banks, the industries, the mines, agriculture and international commerce, including some foreign companies, especially North Americans. For these reasons we are the principal target in the war against narco-traffickers. But we aren't narco-traffickers and the campesinos aren't narco-traffickers, they are using it as an excuse for fighting against us.
If the United States government really intends to combat narco-traffickers, all the people in Colombia know where the narco-traffickers live. They live in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla. Therefore, to seize the narco-traffickers the police have to do certain things. They have to leave their houses and search for them in order to put them in prison. But no, they confront the poor campesino with repression that not only hurts the illicit crops, but also legal crops like yucca, bananas, and chickens and pigs because the fumigation kills everything. It damages the earth, the vegetation, the water and the animals.
Those responsible for making Colombia a producer of narcotics are the people who have become rich from this business: the narco-traffickers, and they are happy. Who else benefits from narco-trafficking? The bankers and those who distribute the drugs in the cities, universities, high schools and discos of North America, Europe and Asia, the greatest consumers of marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Who else benefits? The companies that make the chemicals for processing cocaine and heroin. These companies are German and North American. They are industries in the developed countries. It's a great business for the chemical companies.
The poor campesino has lived in misery for many years and will continue to do so. The war is for them and for us. We are planning a different solution for the problem of narco-trafficking. It consists of providing a better life for the poor campesino through agrarian reform, by giving them good lands, technical assistance and low-interest loans to change from growing illicit crops to legal crops; such as, coffee, yucca, bananas, sugarcane and ranching. An alternative development that facilitates commercialization for these products. But it's a slow process to change them, it´s not just destroying the illicit crops and then telling them to grow different ones. We have to educate the campesinos about how to produce them. Give them tools, credits and time so they can make a living from these crops and become a different kind of campesino.
Q. Last year, FARC spokesman Raul Reyes claimed that the FARC could eradicate coca cultivation in the regions it controls in five years. However, there have been accusations that the FARC is forcing campesinos to grow more coca here in the Zona de Despeje.
A. This is the story of the police, the army and the narco-traffickers. We live in the country, and it is in the country that the coca, marijuana and the poppy have been grown for thirty years. We know that the campesinos grow illicit crops out of necessity. It is specifically a socio-economic situation. They are obligated to cultivate illicit crops because of a government that has neglected them for many years. We have made it clear that we will not take the food out of the mouth of the poor campesino. We will not leave them without jobs. They work with the marijuana and coca leaf because they don't have any other work. This problem is caused by the economic model of the Colombian state, and it is the state that has to fix the problem. We are the state's enemy, not their anti-narcotics police. The state has to offer people employment, honest work, and social justice to improve their lives.
Q. The FARC has introduced its own system of justice in the Zona de Despeje. What are the codes of justice and how are they implemented?
A. It's not true! We haven't introduced a justice system in the Zona de Despeje. For 36 years we have been working to solve the social problems of the campesinos that have a relationship with us. For many years the state hasn't been present in many regions. There have been no state judges, no justice system and no public administration in many regions of the country. The society has had to resolve their own problems because they don't believe in the ministry of work, they don't believe in Colombian justice, they don't believe in the Colombian army and police. They came to us and we were there for them in the country.
For example, there was a conflict between two people regarding land and cows. The cows belonging to one of them entered the other person's land and destroyed his crops. He came to us looking for a solution to this problem. They don't go looking for a state functionary because they don't come to the country. So we told him to come here tomorrow with his neighbor to talk about the problem. We listened to both versions and we asked them for a solution. If they don't find a solution, we propose some solutions in an attempt to apply justice. We want to see that they can resolve their own problems. We are a witness to their agreements.
Another example is a bad marriage. When the husband drinks all the money, hits the wife and leaves his wife and children. They don't have the money to travel to a city where the family court is located in order to resolve this problem. The process takes one, two or three years before he is told to provide milk for his children. We call the mother and father and tell them that he has to give part of his salary to his wife and children and that he can't drink too much anymore. We come to an agreement.
Workers in factories in the cities that were dismissed from their job without reason and without severance benefits go to the jungle in search of the guerrillas to resolve this problem. We send a note to the administrator, boss or owner telling them they have to come and talk with the guerrillas to resolve the problem. Some don't come, but others do come and we listen to them. We don't always believe the workers, we listen to the businessmen because maybe the worker is lazy, or a drunk, or a liar, or irresponsible. We resolve these kinds of problems for people who live in the country and the cities. We do this in other regions of the country where the guerrillas are.
Here in San Vicente del Caguan, when we created the Zona de Despeje, the campesinos stopped the guerrillas in the street for solutions to their problems. Now, people have to go to the Oficina de quejas y reclamos (Office of Claims and Complaints) and we listen to both sides of the problem. We didn't create this system now in the Zona de Despeje, historically the FARC has done this where the state has lacked a system of justice and where a majority of people don't believe in the Colombian justice system. We are doing it in the Zona de Despeje in an office. The people come and the guerrillas listen to them and find a solution. It is not only about money.
For example, who gets custody of the children when parents get separated? If the mother is a prostitute, doesn't care about her children and consumes drugs, then the care of the children is given to the father. These are the types of problems we resolve. This office also resolves problems concerning guerrillas when they are bad. For example, if they go out and get drunk. Sometimes we make mistakes and we like it when other people tell us where we failed.
Q. What will happen if the United States Congress authorizes increased military aid to the Colombian Armed Forces and they launch an offensive against the FARC here in southern Colombia?
A. I don't want to think about it. I don't want to think about it. We have more faith in a peace process with dialogue. I don't want to think about a war in this region of the country. The war won't resolve Colombia's problems. Colombia has 18 million people living in absolute poverty. These people don't have electricity, water, jobs, land, education and healthcare. Another 18 million Colombians are poor with a salary that doesn't cover all their necessities. They live restricted lives. In many cases the mother, father and one or two sons have to work to provide transport, housing and clothes.
We are 36 million Colombians living poorly out of a total of 40 million Colombians. Of the other four million Colombians, some are rich and others have a good life working in industries, businesses and farms. They have a solution to their problems of healthcare, education, vacation, work and social benefits. Is the war going to resolve these problems?
If this is about the narco-trafficker problem then you know where the narco-traffickers are. For example, the governor of the department of Cesar, Lucas, is a narco-trafficker and he is governor for the second time. His brother is a senator in the National Congress and is in alliance with the president of the Congressional Assembly, Pomanico, who is being investigated for stealing $4.5 million from congress. There is an alliance between narco-traffickers and common politicians, both Liberals and Conservatives. Also, between paramilitaries and the narco-traffickers, everybody knows this.
If you go to Barranquilla the people will tell you where the narco-traffickers are. The police and the commanders of the army battalions and brigades know this. Will the war waged against poor campesinos solve these problems? The war won't resolve the problems for the hungry and unemployed in Colombia.
Q. How will the FARC effectively implement its new political front, the Bolivariano Movement, if its members remain anonymous?
A. The idea of the Bolivariano Movement is not ours, it doesn't come from us. It was born with many Colombians 16 years ago when the members of the Patriotic Union were assassinated. It was a legal movement, a democratic movement that participated in the presidential, congressional and municipal elections. And then they began to get assassinated.
When the armed forces, police and paramilitaries began to kill the members of the Patriotic Union they came to us and said, 'We want to work with you, we like the FARC's policies. But because of this they will kill us.' They wanted to work with us, but alone. But the FARC said, 'No, you can't work alone. You have to work with your father, your mother, your brother, your neighbor, your girlfriend, your wife, your co-workers, and your classmates. You have to organize, because if we are divided we can't win.'
But to work in secret? They are right. At this moment was born the idea for the political movement. A political movement that works to recover Colombian society in secret, a movement that's militant and clandestine. There will be campesinos, students, workers, women and intellectuals who will fight the political confrontation without saying they belong to the Bolivariano Movement. They will not participate in elections because there are no guarantees and conditions that they will not be killed.
First we have to change many customs in this country, like the oligarchy killing political contradictors. This is Colombian history. The world doesn't know of another country where political contradictors are killed like in Colombia. All of them since we gained independence from Spain. They assassinated Sucre, they tried to assassinate Bolivar, and they assassinated many leaders of the nineteenth century in civil wars. They killed Rafael Uribe Uribe. They assassinated Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, Jaime Pardo Leal, and the Liberal guerrillas that laid down their arms under the government of the dictator Rojas Pinilla. They assassinated 4,000 members of the Patriotic Union, cleansed the Patriotic Union with bullets, and they have followed this practice to kill labor leaders, student leaders, campesino leaders, everybody that has opposed this tyrannic regime. For this reason the Bolivariano Movement remains clandestine.
Q. Many international human rights organizations have demanded that the FARC stop recruiting children. Where does the FARC stand on this issue?
A. In our statutes we have decided that we can recruit 15 year-olds and up. In some fronts there may have been some younger, but a short time ago we decided to send them back home. But what is the cost? In the last year a girl arrived at the office in San Vicente, 14 years-old and wanting to join the guerrillas. When the mother found out that she had joined she contacted the guerrillas and cried and said her daughter is only 14 years-old. In March she was sent back home because the FARC's Central Command said they would return to their parents all those younger than fifteen. Two weeks ago I met this girl and asked her what she was doing. She said she was working in a bar from 6pm until sunrise. I asked what she was doing in this bar and she said, 'I attend to the customers.' When I asked in what way does she attend to the customers, she lowered her head and started to cry. She is a whore. She is 14 years old. A child prostitute. She was better in the guerrillas. In the guerrillas we have dignity, respect and we provide them with clothes, food and education.
And there are millions of others like this girl in Colombia that are exploited in the coal mines, the gold mines, the emerald mines, in the coca and poppy fields. They prefer that children work in the coca and poppy fields because they pay them less and they work more. It sounds beautiful when you say that children shouldn't be guerrillas, but the children are in the streets of the cities doing drugs, inhaling gasoline and glue. They are highly exploited.
According to the United Nations: 41% of Colombians are children; 6.5 million children live in conditions of poverty, add to this 1.2 million children living in absolute poverty; 30,000 children live in the streets without mothers, fathers and brothers; 47% of children are abused by their parents; and 2.5 million work in high risk jobs. These children meet the guerrillas and they don't have parents because the military or the paramilitaries killed them and they ask the guerrillas to let them join. We are executing the norm that no children younger than 15 years of age join.
Q. How many women are there in the FARC and what happens when they become pregnant?
A. Aproximately 30% of the guerrillas are women and the number is increasing all the time. The women guerillas are treated the same as the men. Some FARC units have female commandantes and the FARC office in San Vicente is run by a female guerrilla named Nora. Some of the women have relationships with male guerrillas and we provide contraceptives because we do not want pregnant women in the guerrillas. But some do get pregnant and if they don't have an abortion it is necessary that they leave the guerrillas.
Q. What does the government have to do for the FARC to agree to a cease-fire during negotiations?
A. Stop the fighting on both sides. This cease-fire must be established for a specific time: a month or two months. And besides, it must be verified for both sides. This we understand to be a cease-fire. It was tried many times. Seventeen years ago with Belasario Betancur's government, when we signed a cease-fire Manuel Marulanda Velez gave the order to all guerrilla fronts to suspend fighting on May 28, 1984, and the president did the same. But the next day, there was an opposing order from the Commander of the Army, General Vega Uribe, saying they won't comply with the cease-fire order because they have to abide by the Constitution.
We have many times during this presidential period called unilateral cease-fires for Christmas, Easter, elections, many times. The most recent unilateral cease-fire was December 20, 1999 until January 5, 2000. But if we are going to discuss this theme it would be under bilateral proposals with defined times and mechanisms of control and verification. To verify who broke the agreement and why.
This article originally appeared in Colombia Report, an online journal that was published by the Information Network of the Americas (INOTA).
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
The following is a letter to Socialist Worker by SSP National Convenor Colin Fox. As an SSP member, I have extracted many lulz from the SWP's theoretical "analysis" of what's happening in RESPECT, given their behaviour in the SSP during the whole Sheridan debacle. Cheers to Colin for pointing the irony out.
Is it any wonder that anyone watching the tragic unfolding collapse of Respect is confused about the issues when the article ‘What’s behind the crisis in Respect?’
published in Socialist Worker online Tuesday 6th November tries to compare the situation with circumstances in other left parties ‘right across Europe’.
But it is the particular nonsense contained in Alex Callinicos’s pious wishful thinking ‘the Scottish Socialist Party has effectively collapsed since the leadership decided to drive Tommy Sheridan out’ with which I wish to take issue.
Let’s leave aside the fact that the Scottish Socialist Party has in the period since the May elections been on every picket line in the country, first of all supporting the Tesco lorry drivers in Livingston, then the Royal Mail postal workers the length and breadth of Scotland and the Glasgow care workers. Let’s also leave aside the role that I and other SSP members played in defeating Edinburgh City Council’s plans to close 22 primary schools in the city. Lets also set aside our hugely successful party conference held last month in Dundee wherein hundreds of delegates showed their continuing commitment to the party and the confidence that it will survive recent horrific events when those who were keener to split the left have not. And let’s leave aside our presence, as the Scottish SWP at least were forced to recognise at last weekends anti Trident demonstration through Edinburgh.
What cannot be ignored however is the contrast in attitude of the Socialist Worker who today condemn George Galloway for splitting RESPECT, for ignoring the will of the majority, of setting up a rival party and of not staying in the party to argue his position. Because last year Socialist Worker was on the other side of this argument. Indeed, were it not for the SWP, Tommy Sheridan would have been forced to stay in the Scottish Socialist Party, justify his lunatic libel action and try to wrestle back the leadership. He knew of course, just as George Galloway knows now, that he would have lost the vote of party members and he did what all ‘mavericks’ do in such circumstances, he tried to justify, citing high principles, the formation of yet another insignificant wee group on the left.
If anyone drove Tommy Sheridan out of the SSP it was the SWP – you could say they supplied the getaway car!
So when the Socialist Worker gets all pious about internal party democracy, left unity and the crisis in left parties across Europe I suggest members best start by looking at their own record. As they say, ‘people in glass houses…..’
Socialist Worker will convince very few people outside their own party of their case in the disunification of Respect if their explanations of events and their role in them are as flimsy as those they offer up in relation to their actions in Scotland these past two years.
Scottish Socialist Party National Convenor
Monday, 12 November 2007
The backdrop to the talks is the increasing resistance to American imperialism and the lack of a clear socialist alternative to it. This leads - on the part of the Socialist Register, who organised the plenary - to a crisis of agency. It therefore becomes necessary to analyse the new movements that have arisen so as to conceptualise the current conjuncture.
Gilbert Achar - Imperial Uses of Islam
Achar began his talk by examining the 'clash of civilisations' paradigm, one which he described as pervasive on both a conscious and unconscious level. This view basically suggests that Islam and the West are engaged in a clash of civilisation and there can be no middle ground between them. This view is common to both Western Islamophobes and Islamic fundamentalists - who tend to characterise Islam and 'the West' is implacably in conflcit with one and other, and view this conflict as defining our current age.
But Achar notes that this is not the view of Western governments. Western governments tend to differentiate (in their rhetoric) between 'good' Muslims and 'bad' Muslims, they don't view things as a clash with Islam but a clash within Islam. Achar also argues that Huntington himself doesn't hold with the way in which his theory has been interpreted. Achar argued that Huntington is in fact a 'global multiculturalist', insofar as he thinks it's a good thing to have different 'civlisations' existing worldwide, he opposes mutliculturalism nationally because he wants to preserve Western culture in its heartlands. Furthermore, Huntington dismisses universalism as imperialism (in the perjorative sense) and argues that a project of imposing Western values will end in disaster. In other words Huntington appears as a traditional realist.
Achar argued that it is this realist Huntington that has informed US policy towards Islam. His first (and very good) example is the United States' alliance with Saudi Arabia, a state which is in fact the US' oldest ally in the Middle East. It has historically (and still does) served as the cornerstone in the US global stratey, particularly in combatting anti-imperialist nationalism. But of course Saudi Arabia is probably the most 'fundamentalist' state in the whole of the middle-east. In fact the US supported Saudi fundamentalism in Afghanistan. He further notes that plenty of fundamentalists were willing to colloborate with the US invasion of Iraq.
The point for Achar is that the US has used fundamentalism for its own ends and fundamentalism has often been (and is still) willing to colloborate with US imperialism when they had the chance. He then listed the examples of the Muslim Brotherhood and assorted other instances.
Achar's basic point here was that at best we can call Islamic fundamentalism 'anti-Western' but it is only sporadically and inconsistently 'anti-imperialist'. This of course has implications for how Marxists should approach Islamist resistance to US imperialism. At the very least when struggling with them it is necessary to view them with 'distrust' and attempt to spread our own ideas within their ranks.
One person's attempt to critique Achar's approach was based on the argument that notwithstanding our 'subjective' opposition to the domestic policies of the fundamentalists, they might nonetheless be 'objectively' anti-imperialist, since they are fighting imperialism. I wasn't there was the response, but surely Achar's argument is not about the political programme's of Islamists, it's about their record of supporting imperialists when they think it is to their advantage. Such a position of course means that while they may be 'objectively anti-imperialist' in a given instance the question is whether they will consistently hold this position. Achar's analysis seems to suggest they won't (and also that the imperialists won't consistently target them either) so this has to be the position to proceed from.
For my money Abu-Manneh's speech was probably the most interesting of the lot, particulary because he engaged in some interesting theoretical anaylsis. Abu-Manneh's speech was composed of three arguments:
- The Palestinians have been in a state of seige since 1991
- The Palestinian elite has collaborated with the Israeli state
- The above two factors have led to the emergence of a specific form of resistance, one which has entrenched militarisation and depoliticisation
The second thesis is another one which I think is uncontroversial. It seem incontrovertable by now that the Palestinian Authority has collaborated with and legitimated the occupation - corrupting and nearly destroying the Palestinian's national aspirations. Abu-Manneh related an anecdote whereby the PA would always be there to stop attacks on settlers but would be mysteriously absent when there was an Israeli attack in the occupied territory. In line with this Abu-Manneh argued that the PA has consciously undermined any attempts to organise outside of the PA. To top it all off, when the PA did stop collaborating it was attacked by the Israeli authorities.
The combination of the two above factors leads to Abu-Manneh's third argument. The point of these factors is that they have pushed Palestinian strategy towards militarisation. Firstly, this is because any meaningful political resistance seems impossible. The Palestinian's traditional representation - Fatah - has been collaborating since Oslo. Furthermore, it is difficult - if not impossible - to develop political positions and mobilisation when freedom of movement is physically restricted. Furthermore, political action seems so difficult precisely because the Palestinians have lost their faith in their own capability for collective action. This depoliticisation means that solutions based on mass action seem impossible, which naturally seems to lend support to the idea that small acts of military resistance are necessary.
But it is not just the content (military acts) that are shaped by these social conditions, it is also the form. This is because the small military action per se is - in some respects - a collective political act. This would certainly seem to be the case when one considers the links between militants and political parties. The ultimate culmination of the tendency towards atomisation is the emergence of the suicide bomber as a 'weapon' in the struggle against of Israel. This of course makes a lot of sense, because the suicide bomber is the precisely opposite of a collective political struggle. Thus, the tendency towards atomisation and depoliticisation, combined with the concomitant process of militarisation tends to produce the ultimate individualist military act - the suicide bomber. Although, as Abu-Manneh points out, we shouldn't exaggerate the degree to which suicide bombing has become the norm, and ultimately as a tactic it has proved counter-productive, since it tended to fit the Palestianian struggle into the discourse of terror.
What I really like about this analysis is the way in which it traces the particular configuration of Palestinian resistance back to the social conditions in which it operates. This is a much better position to take than just 'condemning' particular forms of resistance without understanding why they gain popularity or the opposite but related one of just saying 'it's understandable because they endure so much'. It's therefore good to see someone take a materialist position on this issue. What's also interesting is the degree to which Abu-Manneh's position dovetails with Lukacs in History and Class Consciousness. This is because capitalism itself has a natural tendency towards depoliticisation (reification), alienation and fragmentation, of course these tendencies are often counteracted.
I think invoking Lukacs is useful for another reason. Abu-Manneh's preferred solution to the problem is to replace this strategy of individualised militarisation with one of collective self-mobilisation. Well, this is fine in practice, but the whole point is that the situation Abu-Manneh outlined has already shown precisely why this collective self-moblisation is going to happen, and certainly not spontaneously. This is where Lukacs is especially relevant. Because Lukacs core insight is that the proletariat can't just spontaneously organise against capitalism. What is needed is something that can take the viewpoint of the proletariat but do so in a way that transcends the reifying tendencies of capitalism. That is to say a vanguard party. In the Gramscian analysis this Party is composed of the organic intellectuals who arise from the class in the midst of struggle. And this is what Abu-Manneh's analysis really seems to lack - the need for a conscious organising element of the Palestinian people able to mobilise them against the Israelis. But of course the other problem is that the people who you would expect to be able to fulfil this role in Palestinian society are - as Abu-Manneh argued - completely compromised. This - perhaps - is why he didn't delve into this question, as it is one to which there doesn't seem to be much of an answer.
Unfortunately I missed the last talk because I needed to get home, so I can't comment on that. More stuff will follow over the rest of the week. This will reveal how horribly theory-obsessed I am, however, and no doubt I will be much looked down-upon for it.
I rolled in a bit late on Saturday, so I missed the first session of the day. Not that I would really have listened to it much. The next session I attended was on 'Marxism, Pashukanis and the Law'. In this session I actually 'presented a paper' on Pashukanis, Legal Nihilism and Legal Strategy, which I will probably put up here at some time (once I've cleaned it up a bit - the notes were really only intended for my consumption only). There weren't too many people here (although there were a few), which was kind of predictable, as law is not a particularly glamorous topic for Marxist analysis. There were two other contributors aside from me - Andreas Harms presented a paper on 'Commodity Form and Legal Form' and Bill Bowring presented a paper on 'International Law, Lenin and Self-Determination'. Both of the papers were of high quality and we got some good discussion in as well. It feels kind of weird summarising this session, so I'll leave it for the atendees to do so (hopefully some of them blog).
There weren't any more 'sessions' for the day, as it extended into a 'meet the editors' session and a lunchbreak, I did have some pretty interesting conversation during this period, so it was all to the good.
The next 'session' was a plenary one, featuring some rather big hitters, the talk was on 'Neo-liberalism and Neo-imperialism' and the speakers were Alex Callinicos, Robert Brenner and David McNally.
The central thrust of Brenner's argument was the relationship between the war in Iraq and the US' geopolitical strategy. Brenner argued that the Iraq war was a puzzling phenomenon which represented a real rupture with previous US strategy in content if not form. Brenner argued that during the 2000 election no one would have predicted that the Iraq war would come around in the time that it did. The Republicans seemed to have a fairly low-key foreign policy, certainly not the type of messianism that seemed to characterise them post-9/11. Furthermore, it was argued that the US had fulfilled its three key strategic aims (which it had held since World War 2); these aims were
- To freeze and weaken 'communism', third world statist nationalism and statism more generally so as to allow the free movement of [US] capital throughout the globe.
- Consolidate US hegemony in Japan and Europe - depriving them of their ability to disrupt the framework of international capitalism; key to this aim was depriving them of their military power and compensate them for this by providing them with security.
- As a consequence of the above two aims the US intended to implement a neo-liberal agenda throughout the world, with all the consequences thereof
All of this was encapsulated in the term 'New World Order' as used by Bush et al. This meant that there was a new approach to the international use of force:
- Don't use force unless you can use massive amounts of force
- Other conflicts should just be 'policing' or assymetrical conflict
- Avoid committing ground troops if you can - use cruise missiles, bombs etc.
So US policy in Iraq has to be understood in relation to this. It is therefore necessary to view US policy towards Iraq in this context. What the context what seem to suggest is that no US adminstration would really want regime change in Iraq, as this would be internationally counterproductive - it would be costly, destabilising and could whip up Arab resistance across the Middle East. Futhermore, the Shia could not be trusted to serve as a counterweight to Iran. This is why Saddam was not overthrown following the first Gulf War and a policy of 'containment' was pursued in relation to Iraq.
Against this backdrop the recent war in Iraq does seem to be a break (and to a lesser extent so does Afghanistan). Brenner's next task is to explain how this could happen. Brenner traces the strategic rupture to the ascendence of the neo-conservative movement within the American state apparatus and their huge influence within the State Department. It was only with 9/11 that they were able to gain control over foreign policy.
Brenner then gave an internal examination of this movement. According to Brenner the key theoretical position for the neo-conservatives is the 'fungibility of force'. By this they mean that American military domination can be used to do anything, and the neo-conservatives were interested in 'harvesting the fruits of military dominance'.
It is then necessary to understand how the neo-conservatives gained this power. Brenner roots the neo-conservative movement in the Republican far-right, who had taken over Congress in 1994. They had always had trouble gaining power and were only able to do so by pushing the foreign policy aspect. Once they had gained power they acted as a 'Shadow Cabinet' that pushed Clinton into all sort of things (like passing the Iraq Liberation Act) but they could only achieve limited success and certainly couldn't impose their domestic agenda. But 9/11 changed all of this and gave the neo-conservatives the pre-text they needed to actualise both their domestic and international agenda.
Brenner's analysis was pretty damn interesting (he's also a very good speaker). I quite liked his focus on concrete, 'micro' US politics and the way in which they interact with the global sphere, a Gramsci quote seems particularly relevant here:
Do international relations precede or follow (logically) fundamental social relations? There can be no doubt that they follow. Any organic innovation in the social structure, through its technical-military expressions, modifies organically absolute and relative relations in the international field too. Even the geographical position of a national State does not precede but follows (logically) structural changes, although it also reacts back upon them to a certain extent (to the extent precisely to which superstructures react back upon the structure, politics on economics, etc.). However, international relations react both passively and actively on political relations (of hegemony among the parties). The more the immediate economic life of a nation is subordinated to international relations, the more a particular party will come to represent this situation and to exploit it, with the aim of preventing rival parties gaining the upper hand (recall Nitti's famous speech on the technical impossibility of revolution in Italy).So I actually thought that Brenner's analysis was a niecly dialectical one, similar in the way that Gramsci presented it. I also see nothing a priori wrong with the ascription of such a decisive role to a 'subjective' factors. Especially as these subjective factors are in a dialectical relationship with the objective situation (Lukacs comes immediately to mind on this point). This isn't to say that I think Brenner is entirely right, but I don't think we dismiss his analysis out of hand.
Gramsci, The Modern Prince
Callinicos delivered another pretty awesome speech (you will hear this a lot, because I thought the quality of this session was absolutely stellar, even if the sweltering heat of the lecture theatre left much to be desired!). Alex presented his argument as one diametrically opposed to Brenner's. He argued that Brenner had only given us description, but no analysis - we can't just see Iraq as a random event we need a larger perpective and so must look at the historical connection between liberalism and imperialism.
Callinicos noted that the US has always eschewed formal imperialism - and continuously legitimated itself with reference to this. He looks back to the 'imperialism of the open door' - in which the role of military power was only to enforce the conditions of a liberal world economy, this of course should not - as a rule - involve the use of ground troops. The predecessor of this type of imperialism was the 'imperialism of free trade' practiced by the British Empire in the 19th century and Britain relied heavily on informal empire in Canada and China. The US has a consistent, radical version of this.
Following World War 2 the US dominated the advanced capitalist world and built up a series of institutions, but this liberalism was only ever transnational. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the US was able to convert this transnationalism into global liberalism. This means that for Callinicos there was no fundamental break in the project - and it was one vigorously pursued by the Clinton administration. For Callinicos therefore, Clinton was the true pioneer of the fungibility of military power.
But of course hegemony is always about force and consent, and they are always combined in different ways. The manner in which these methods are combined is what differentiates the neo-cons from Clinton. Thus, for Callinicos this is a matter of quantity not quality there is no rupture. Callinicos further argues that the Bush administration was radicalised post-9/11 and that in this context the neo-cons cannot be considered 'mad'. He argues that in the face of the increasing threat of China's economic power a rational argument could certainly be made out for the US using its only comparative advantage in this conjuncture that of military force. Iraq was therefore important because rising captialist powers were dependent on its oil and the US needed to assert this.
The question Callinicos thinks we need to ask is 'what are the interests of US imperialism'? When we do this we understand that the US ruling class is complex and the best strategy is always a contested question - we have to look at te question of the imposition of ideology on a world scale, and the geo-political is central to this.
All well and good - but I think Brenner responded pretty well by saying 'we don't really disagree on much'. I think this is probably the case - all they really disagree is whether there is a qualitative or quantitiative difference between Clinton and Bush (which sounds big but - meh - scales). Brenner just helps us to understand why it is that one side won the argument. But I'd actually go further than this. Callinicos seems to argue two contradictory things. On the one hand he argues that there is no rupture between Clinton and Bush, but on the other hand he seems to argue that China posed a qualitatively new threat to the US. Because of course post-WW2 there has been no capitalist power that posed a threat to the US in the way China has (although I guess the state-cap people would argue the USSR was a rival capitalist power, so maybe change the reference to post-1989?), since every other 'threat' was pretty damn friendly to the US, and were happy to allow the US maintain Pax Americana. So, on this reading, Alex seems to be arguing that the emergence of China has disrupted the 'radical-Kautskyism' of the US, since it doesn't accept the US' managerial role. But surely this would indicate a rupture, in line with Brenner.
Although I really liked the first two talks David McNally's was far and away my favourite (I think much of the audience agreed with this too). In contradistinction to the first two McNally's position was to start from a general theoretical analysis and proceed from there. So for McNally the central point of depature was that of Marxist value theory. We need to begin from this perspective - so McNally argues - because we live in a world of alienated social relations and theory must de-fetishise them.
McNally's talk revolved around 5 arguments:
- Neo-liberalism involves radically extending and intensifying the commodity form
- This is achieved through 'monetarising' more and more aspects of human life
- This involves the extension of primitive accumulation
- This occurs on a variety of levels and entails imperialism
- World money becomes decisive
Dispossession is also fundamental to this (hence the importance of primitive accumulation) because land has to be converted into capital. But since this land is occupied by other people, they have to be turfed off. For this reason there is a nexus of land, violence and dispossession - which gives rise to new enclosures and modalities of class struggle arise against this. Furthermore, ecological disaster is incorporated into this, so disasters which displace people are taken advantage off (Hurricane Mitch was used to get rid of the Honduran indigenous population).
McNally further linked this process to militarisation - war is of course central in 'clearing out' areas of land, be that through death or fleeing. All of this has also led to a great rise in the industrial reserve army, which has grown massively as people have been forced out of their land in the process of dispossession.
McNally went on to criticise the approaches of David Harvey and Rosa Luxemborg, who he thinks failed to properly elaborate the 'laws' of this economic process - meaning they cannot properly theorise it. Instead they often remain at the level of (very powerful) description. [He also made a really interesting point about dialectics and subjects positing their own presuppositions - but I'll ignore that]. Further, his problem with Rosa's approach is that she assumes this form of imperialism requires permanent occupation, which is clearly not the case, as the discipline of money suffices to compel national elites to implement dispossesion.
McNally then went on to focus heavily on what he called 'world money'. By this he means the currency which serves as the 'global' medium for exchange. He argues that there has beeen an intensification of unequal currecny exchange, with the global South losing out on this. But the concept has been under theorised, and it is important, because the state that issues 'world money' will get the surplus on exchange, and so can appropriate value. This means that different nation states struggle over who is to issue world money.
McNally argues that this can be illustrated by the Euro project in the European Union, where the states of the European Union have tried to create a currency with all the characteristics of world money. McNally describes this as a form of inter-imperialist rivalry and denies that such rivalry need be militarised.
McNally ended with the argument that we need to emphasise anti-neo-liberalism and anti-imperialism highlight the need for a de-commodification of labour - that is to say the socialist revolution (which earnt him a rousing cheer).
What I really liked about McNally's talk was the way that he was able to articulate linkages between his theoretical paradigm and our practical trajectory. His analysis does explain rather well a lot of contemporary phenomena in a basic theoretical way, and I think this is to be welcomed.
Ultimately, I think all of these talks worked well, and frankly if we could have combined them all into one big talk it would have been awesome. So David sets the economic-theoretical scene for us, Alex embedded it in a broader historical context and Bob examined the specific way in which ruling classes responded to the broader need for the expansion of value. Each therefore had the merit of contributing to a totalising perspective, and with a little work we could trace the analysis of value directly into Alex's and Bob's talk. Of course this is the inherent weakness of the short talk format, but nonetheless I was impressed by this session.
OK, I've clearly gone on long enough, so I'll stop now, and do something else. Tomorrow (maybe?) I want to at least outline the talk on 'Global Flashpoints' that was also on Saturday, particualrly as I felt it offered a really interesting perspective on the Palestinian resistance.
Thursday, 25 October 2007
The first thing that Straw was keen to stress (and something that is quite telling about his attitude towards the Human Rights Act (HRA)) was that historically and culturally Britain is a country that has been at the heart of the human rights project. He rightly pointed out that British lawyers were at the heart of developing the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Further, he put forward the position that 'human rights' are a tradition that has been rooted in British life since the Magna Carta. Whilst I agree with the latter point as far as it goes I'm pretty sceptical about it. Although it seems clear that Britain's rights tradition does coincide with the content of the ECHR it certainly does not have a content of positively enumerating rights and then 'balancing' these rights with exceptions. Rather, the British tradition of 'liberty' is of one where one can do whatever is not forbidden. However, the effort to 'domesticate' human rights is one that speaks volumes about Straw's position, clearly Straw is attempted to combat the typical accusations of the press the the HRA and the ECHR are alien impositions foisted on Britain by an ever-expanding Europe.
However, as was rather predictable, Straw begins to move to our present 'context'. For Straw the post-Cold War situation has been marked with the growth of an 'enabling state' and the spread of democracy to most of Europe. But simultaneously with this there still remain a number of authoritarian states and (dum dum dum) the growth of an international terrorist movement that operates outsides the bounds of ethics and leality. He further noted that this terrorism was qualitatively different from previous forms of terrorism because:
- It is truly international, with non-national terrorists operating from foreign states with foreign backing
- The terrorists have access to large and powerful weapons (biological, chemical, nuclear etc.)
- The aims and scope of the terrorists are very different from preceding forms of terrorism
Straw proceeded at this point to utterly demolish the Tory analysis of the Human Rights Act, this was awesome and very little needs to be said on it. The most interesting part of Straw's lecture came in his amateur sociological examination of modern capitalism. Basically, Straw argued that there has been much deeper structural changes than just 9/11 which influence Britain's culture of rights; basically he pinpoints two key features:
- There has been an increase in the heterogenousness of the British population and he links this to the problem of communities 'separating' out etc., obviously this would lead to a decline in a national/collective/public life
- Globalisation has made people much less deferential, independent and empowered; but this has also turned people into 'consumers' peoples' primary identity therefore is not as the citizen but consumer
Whilst this is all very interesting I really don't see why we need to tie it in with globalisation. The critique that Straw advanced is one that has been advanced countless times pre-'globalisation', in fact here is a rather famous analysis which bears remarkable ressemblence to Straw's:
It is puzzling enough that a people which is just beginning toAnd who made this critique? Why it was Karl Marx in his On the Jewish Question. The basic structure of this critique has been voiced by conservatives, liberals etc. What I would argue here is that the vision Straw presents to us - of civil society as a collection of egoistic individuals whose main form of contact is through clashing rights - is one which is constantly reproduced by capitalist society. The whole point is that this can't really be overcome by simply cementing new political forms over it, since these forms don't tend to touch the social relations which produce certain forms of social life and since - as Marx notes - politics is conceived only as a means of guaranteeing or affecting one's private, egostic sphere.
liberate itself, to tear down all the barriers between its various sections,
and to establish a political community, that such a people solemnly proclaims
(Declaration of 1791) the rights of egoistic man separated from his fellow
men and from the community, and that indeed it repeats this proclamation
at a moment when only the most heroic devotion can save the nation, and
is therefore imperatively called for, at a moment when the sacrifice of
all the interest of civil society must be the order of the day, and egoism
must be punished as a crime. (Declaration of the Rights of Man, etc., of
1793.) This fact becomes still more puzzling when we see that the political
emancipators go so far as to reduce citizenship, and the political community,
to a mere means for maintaining these so-called rights of man, that, therefore,
the citoyen is declared to be the servant of egotistic homme, that the sphere
in which man acts as a communal being is degraded to a level below the
sphere in which he acts as a partial being, and that, finally, it is not
man as citoyen, but man as private individual [bourgeois] who is considered
to be the essential and true man.
I would further argue in this vein that actually the whole idea of rights-based politics and rights-culture presupposes this state of affairs. This is where Straw really screws up in my view, the idea of rights being 'commoditised' (arrrgh!!!!) really seems to miss the point that the very right-form is grounded in the notion of an egoistic, individual man with an inviolable area of space, that is to say that the right-form is bound up with the commodity form:
None of the so-called rights of man, therefore, go beyond egoisticAll of this means that Straw's solution - reminding people that rights also entail duties towards others - is kind of lame. I mean, he makes a really interesting critique (or at least I read him as doing so) but simply can't go beyond the right's based framework. But the point is that unless you go beyond the rights-based framework you can't possibly transcend the notion of man as a 'consumer' as the defining characteristic of life. Inga Markovits traces this quite well in her examination of the differnce between 'bourgeois' and 'socialist' rights, as she first argues:
man, beyond man as a member of civil society – that is, an individual
withdrawn into himself, into the confines of his private interests and
private caprice, and separated from the community. In the rights of man,
he is far from being conceived as a species-being; on the contrary, species-like
itself, society, appears as a framework external to the individuals, as
a restriction of their original independence. The sole bond holding them
together it natural necessity, need and private interest, the preservation
of their property and their egoistic selves.
As individual entitlements, bourgeois rights conferShe then fleshes out this conception arguing that it results in a focus on dispute, precision and individualism. This critique dovetails nicely with Marx's, and seems a hammer in the coffin for Straw's analysis.
autonomy in a limited area, which then can be exercised at the discretion of
the rightholder. In a way, all bourgeois rights are modelled after property
rights: they map out territory, set up fences against prospective intruders,
or, to quote Marx, they delineate the elbow room of the individual capitalist.
(Socialist vs. Bourgeois Rights: An East-West Comparison; (1978) 45 University of Chicago Law Review 612-636 at 614)
So, ultimately, my real issue with this bit of Straw's speech was that he tried to present this phenomenon as something 'new', whereas it is one which he plagued capitalism since its outset. Further, his proposed solution is uniformly rubbish, and in facts would result in no change whatsover. Though actually this is something Straw seems to love to do. As a lawyer he oftens realises what the law is but then proposes some change to the law which is not a change at all.
Ok, I've written way too much, and it's all got rather rambling, but on the plus side, at least it's not about RESPECT!
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Monday, 15 October 2007
The few, but very esteemed, readers of this blog will have probably already noticed the discussion that's going on over at Socialst Unity on the 3 relatively high profile expulsions from the SWP. It would be entirely inappropriate for the Squirrel Vanguard and especially myself, a member of an organisation so adversely affected by its association with our not particularly dear swips, not to comment on the unfolding events.
As you probably know -if you don't, shame on you- the Great Proletarian Hero Gorgeous George Galloway sent a letter to RESPECT's National Council containing sharp criticism of various RESPECT practices, regarding internal democracy and organisational efficiency. Of course, coming from Galloway, there was a sense of irony about the whole thing. However, the points raised were quite common-sense arguments that had been raised by serious socialist organisations within RESPECT like Socialist Resistance on various occasions in the past.
The letter came obviously as quite a shock to the SWP
Immediately, the SWP leadership tried to make this look like a political battle between the left (them, socialists) and right (Galloway's group, communalists) wings of the party. In short, the SWP started attacking RESPECT using all the criticisms that have been leveled against it by the rest of the radical left since its foundation -aye, the same criticisms the swips have been rejecting as ultra leftist and whathaveyou. This was expectable as, like your average Bureaucratic Centralist organisation, the SWP cannot afford to have its One True Line criticised with legitimate arguments that might get their members thinking "hey, this is actually a valid point". The whole existence of a Bureaucratic Centralist formation rests on the legitimacy of the Central Leadership and its ability to withhold information (of all kinds) from the rank and file, allowing to perpetuate itself by preventing any political challenges.
What came as quite a surprise to me however was the expulsion of three relatively high ranking members of the SWP, two of them working for Galloway and the other one nominated for the position of National Organiser (one of the Gorgeous one's suggestions) which was supposed to complement that of the National Secretary, the post held by the Almighty Dear Swip Leader, John Rees. Said Swips were expelled for refusing to give up their posts and decline the nomination respectively. One would have thought that if the SWP cherished their control of RESPECT, they would not oppose the filling of yet another central administrative post by one of their own. Having mulled over it a bit while munching some nuts, it seems to me fairly obvious that the SWP could not be seen to accept the validity of Galloway's proposals by allowing Nick Wrack (that's his name right?) to become National Organiser, as that would in essence be an acceptance of the fact that the Light-giving Central Committee can actually be wrong, fatally compromising its prestige.
Another function served by the expulsions is that they serve as a tactic of burning bridges. The fact that the now expelled members did not submit to party discipline, refusing to give up their places indicates that a good section of the SWP rank and file might have gone native, so to speak, in RESPECT. By removing the most high profile of those from the party, the cult leadership minimises the chances of a mass defection in the event that the SWP loses the internal battle and decides to abandon RESPECT. That there is going to be a battle is of course not debatable. In fact, the SWP has already initiated operations on the ground.
It is imperative that socialists in RESPECT that do wish to see the project continue and evolve into something useful for the working class movement engage the SWP rank and file (those of them that are principled and approachable that is) in their branches and persuade them not to follow their leadership, if it chooses to abandon RESPECT. It should be clear to everyone by now that the swip leadership is not interested in building socialist unity not under its rigid and direct control. The destruction of Socialist Alliance and the split in the Scottish Socialist Party have been evidence enough of the incapability of the SWP to commit themselves to anything that is not their pet project. Whatever strategy the SWP follows if it leaves RESPECT it is bound to degenerate into nothing more than a Trot sect. Another unity project (especially one initiated by the swips, whom by now, nobody trusts) is bound to never get off the ground while an ultra left turn of going it alone and building "the Party" will lead in them meeting the fate of the WRP. In any case, it is important that the better, healthier elements within the SWP are neither allowed to be swept along by the CC, nor fall to apathy and drop out of politics altogether.
Finally, it must be said that it would be rather unfortunate for RESPECT to be rid by the SWP and then fall to Gallowayism, becoming an identity-less left opposition to Labourism, without a clear working class coordination. Any alliances socialists in RESPECT make with the filthy opportunist that is Galloway must be tactical and temporal and they should be prepared to organise themselves in a unified pole to counter any future swing to the right, whether on abortion, LGBT issues, or socialism itself.
These are my two nutshells. So long, humans.
Saturday, 13 October 2007
Apparently, one of the google searches that led people to my blog was about.....
"i fucked my brothers arse stories"
Do you know where it led them?
Reckon the gods of the Internet are trying to tell us something?
Friday, 12 October 2007
The contradiction between the overall increase of wealth and the simultaneous increase in poverty is of course a fundamental characteristic of capitalism as Marxists have been pointing out for decades. With the neo-liberal hegemony having displaced the formerly commonly accepted Keynesian economics, this contradiction becomes of course even more sharp. The political weakness of the working class after a series of defeats, from the failure of the Miners' Strike to the catastrophic fall of the Soviet, which have resulted in the collapse more or less of the socialist movement as a strong antagonist to the bourgeoisie, has only strengthened the latter and facilitated its offensives against the workers of the world.
The richest one percent of Americans earned a postwar record of 21.2 percent of all income in 2005, up from 19 percent a year earlier, reflecting a widening income disparity among different classes in the nation, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing new Internal Revenue Service data.
The data showed that the fortunes of the bottom 50 percent of Americans are worsening, with that group earning 12.8 percent of all income in 2005, down from 13.4 percent the year before, the paper said.
It said that while the IRS data goes back only to 1986, academic research suggests that the last time wealthy Americans had such a high percentage of the national income pie was in the 1920s.
The article cited an interview with President Bush, who attributed income inequality to "skills gaps" among various classes. It said the IRS didn't identify the source of rising income for the affluent, but said a boom on Wall Street has likely played a part.
Of course the increasing brutality of our most absurd mode of production makes it easier for the exploited masses to see it for what it really is, a crime against human progress, and thus provides more opportunities for the building of class consciousness. On the downside (as if there weren't enough already) it seems rather improbable to me that the working classes of imperialist metropolises will develop this consciousness before a large scale collapse of global imperialism.
Sunday, 7 October 2007
Hugo Chavez: Social-Democrat or Revolutionary?
Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolution, led by socialist President Hugo Chavez, has captured the imagination of people around the world and sparked widespread commentary on the nature of the process of social change under way in the oil-rich South American nation.
Any discussion on this process of change inevitably centres on the role of Chavez, the revolution’s central leader. A common analysis of the politics of Chavez, the government he leads, and, in some cases, the broader revolutionary movement based on the impoverished, working people, is that they can be understood as “social democratic”. Social-democratic politics tend to be understood as seeking to implement reforms that alleviate some of the worst aspects of the profit-driven capitalist system, to the benefit of ordinary people, without breaking with capitalism itself.
Certainly, the Chavez government has implemented a wide number of reforms that in and of themselves don’t do away with capitalism — a system based on private ownership and control over the economy, run for profit and based on the exploitation of working people — but have still benefited the poor majority.
However, describing the process as social democratic misses the profoundly revolutionary nature of the struggle being led by Chavez (who in almost every speech he gives calls for the need to construct socialism and describes himself as the “subversive within Miraflores”, the presidential palace).
The line of march for the Bolivarian revolution pushed by Chavez, who elaborates on revolutionary strategy in many speeches, especially on his weekly television program Alo Presidente (when not singing folk songs), is not for the process of change to stop with reforms to Venezuela’s existing power structures. He has used reforms to weaken the political and economic power of Venezuela’s capitalist class, while at the same time strengthening the confidence and organisation of the oppressed (the workers, urban poor, campesinos, women and indigenous people) in order to replace the structures of the old society with new ones based on the oppressed themselves.
This is a very difficult struggle, with many weaknesses and internal contradictions. It involves the ongoing creation and organisation of a revolutionary movement involving millions of people, who through their mass, coordinated action are capable of creating a completely new social system. Socialism — a society based on a democratically planned economy run according to people’s needs — cannot be decreed from above by a president, nor by simply elaborating a well-written program, as it involves the transformation of social relations for millions of people.
Much analysis, especially in the corporate media but unfortunately among much of the international left as well, focuses almost exclusively on the role of Chavez as an individual. However the correct way to analyse his role is in relation to the masses that have been drawn into political motion, and ask whether Chavez and his government’s policies work to advance the organisation of the oppressed in order to break the political and economic power of the capitalist class, or whether the policies hold this back.
In some cases, claims that Chavez is a social democrat are used to attack him by sections of the revolutionary socialist movement internationally. These arguments go further than suggesting simply that the revolution hasn’t gone far enough, something Chavez himself repeatedly emphasises — for instance, while announcing a series of radical measures aimed at creating a “new revolutionary state” and that nationalisation of “strategic industries” following his re-election on an explicitly socialist platform in December, Chavez insisted the revolution had “barely begun”. Left critics suggest that Chavez and his government either have no desire for significantly more radical measures, or falsely believe that the government's approach is to implement more radical measures over the heads of the masses, which they rightly point out would be bound to fail.
However an analysis of Chavez as social democratic has also come from some outspoken in their support for the Chavez government and the process of change under way, such as the left-wing writers Tariq Ali, John Pilger and Stephen Lendman, all of whom play invaluable roles in promoting and defending the Bolivarian revolution.
While for those revolutionary socialists who wish to label Chavez a “social democrat” it is intended to highlight the perceived limitations of his politics (and by implication the mass movement that supports him), for many people the concept of genuinely social-democratic politics, based on state provision of welfare, health care and education and at least a degree of respect for people’s rights, seems a very good thing in this age of savage neoliberalism.
However understanding why the Bolivarian revolution is not simply a case of Chavez taking up a banner dropped by social-democratic parties, like the ALP and the British Labour Party, rushing to implement brutal anti-worker policies, is crucial to understanding why such parties have moved so dramatically to the right during the past few decades.
In his book Build it Now: Socialism for the 21st Century (which Chavez strongly praised on Alo Presidente and urged Venezuelans to read), Canadian Marxist Michael Lebowitz uses his experience as a policy advisor to a social-democratic New Democratic Party state government in Canada in the ’70s to show that for social democrats, the interests of the capitalist system have always come first — and if advancing the interests of working people conflicts with the needs of the system, then it is the former that gets dropped.
In the First World the post-war economic boom allowed for the creation of a welfare state and other measures that improved the lot of working people, but since the boom ended in the mid-’70s, the capitalists have attempted to wrest all of these gains back. Social-democratic parties across the board have proven willing to implement neoliberal austerity measures to this end.
In Venezuela, the advent of Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution have amounted to a break with the class-collaborationist politics of social democracy that seek to subordinate struggles by workers to the interests of capital by promoting the idea of common interests between two fundamentally irreconcilable social forces — working people and capitalists.
Within Venezuela, these politics were expressed by Accion Democratica, a political party that alternated in power with the conservative COPEI party and controlled the unions, and today is part of Venezuela’s counter-revolutionary opposition.
Although the program Chavez initially sought to implement after his election did not break with capitalism, the mild reforms aroused strident opposition from the capitalists, outraged at even minor encroachments on their privileges. The capitalist class was defeated in its attempts to overthrow Chavez when working people took the streets in April 2002 during a US-backed coup and during a lockout by bosses in December that year. This lad Chavez to conclude that the changes Venezuela desperately needed were impossible within the framework of capitalism.
However, many commentators point out that, even with the pro-people, anti-capitalist measures implemented so far, capitalism is far from abolished in Venezuela. These reforms have included the government wresting control of the oil industry; forcing foreign oil companies into joint ventures that give the Venezuelan government majority control; increasing nationalisation of “strategic industries”; a program of land reform to break up large agribusiness for the benefit of campesino cooperatives; the promotion of a “social economy” based on a massive expansion in cooperatives; and a series of measures that restrict the ability of capitalists in Venezuela to put their profits above the needs of the people — price controls, heavy restrictions on their ability to sack workers and increasing workers’ rights. In fact, despite these reforms, corporate profits have grown with the economic boom.
The key question in Venezuela is not merely the subjective intentions of Chavez, who has sparked a mass discussion on socialism in Venezuela, but the willingness and capacity of the millions of oppressed to take political and economic control out of the hands of the capitalists. Through the political battles over the last few years, this has continually increased, opening the way for increasingly radical measure. The key to the revolutionary process can be found in a book that Chavez urged Venezuelans to read during his Alo Presidente program on April 22 — The Transitional Program by Leon Trotsky, a leader of the Russian Revolution and an opponent of its Stalinist degeneration.
Written in 1938, the book is an argument for how a program of struggle for increasingly deep-going reforms that, without abolishing capitalism, make deep inroads into the capitalist system, can raise the level of consciousness and organisation of the working people and open the road to socialism.
Transitional measures aim to proceed from the mass of people’s existing level of consciousness and, by pushing measures that solve the needs of the working people while undermining capitalism, lay the groundwork for much deeper measures towards a socialist economy. Such transitional measures — such as nationalising key areas of the economy, introducing elements of workers’ control and shortening the working week with no loss of pay — can act as a bridge between the existing capitalist system and an increasingly socialist economy under the control of the working people and run according to their needs.
The transitional approach seeks to find ways to draw masses of people into political activity and increasingly radicalise the broadest layers so they are willing and able to fight for even more radical measures. This explains why, at the same time as Chavez promotes policies increasingly attacking capitalist interests, he continues in his speeches to urge the capitalist class to join the revolutionary project. Some revolutionary socialists, who already understand that the capitalists will never accept the measures implemented by Chavez, see this as evidence of social-democratic politics. However, Chavez is not speaking to those already convinced of socialist revolution, but to the millions of people in Venezuela, including the more than 4 million who voted for the opposition — the overwhelming majority of whom are not capitalists but middle and working class people misled into backing the pro-capitalist opposition.
An example of this came on June 2, when Chavez addressed hundreds of thousands of supporters in a demonstration to defend his government from attacks by the US-backed, right-wing opposition. Claiming his government had no plans to “eliminate” the Venezuelan capitalist class, Chavez added: “If the Venezuelan bourgeoisie continues to desperately attack us, utilising the refuges it has left, then the Venezuelan bourgeoisie will continue to lose these refuges one by one!
“This message is for the Venezuelan bourgeois class. We respect you as Venezuelans, you should respect Venezuela, you should respect the homeland, you should respect our constitution, you should respect our laws. If you don’t do this … we will make you obey the Venezuelan laws!”
Presenting the struggle in such a way aims to ensure it is the actions of Venezuela’s capitalists themselves that expose them and provide the justification in the eyes of millions of people for more radical measures that aim to overturn capitalism completely.
This mass action-based approach is the essence of a genuinely revolutionary strategy, one that applies in all countries, although according to national conditions. It is necessary to understand that while the revolution is a work in progress, its aim and trajectory are not simply tinkering with the system along social-democratic lines, but its abolition and replacement with socialism.
[Stuart Munckton is a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist tendency in Australia’s Socialist Alliance. Visit http://www.dsp.org.au for more information.]
From: International News, Green Left Weekly issue #727 10 October 2007.