Thursday, June 30, 2011

Twenty Years Ago...

... in the NEW WORKER

MAGISTRATES in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, have jailed a 39-year-old widow who was unable to pay a poll tax bill of £95.
There was no question of non-payment for political reasons – she offered to pay at £2-a-week from her weekly income of £57.
Demonstrations have taken place outside Holloway and Pentonville prisons in London, where non-payers have recently been jailed.
Croydon Against the Poll Tax has launched a new petition to save local democracy and restore the rights of communities and councillors.
“We found the collection of signatures much slower than when we started four years ago” campaigner Queenie Knight told the New Worker.
“Although councillors and town hall officials know the inroads on local democracy it has made no impact on the general public.”
“This is not surprising as the Government consultation does not cover the role of local government so the media concentrates on the council tax. “

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TANKS have returned to the centre of Algiers in a new government crack down on the opposition Islamic Salvation Front.
In confrontations with demonstrators at least two youths were killed by police gunfire.
Tension had arisen after the Islamic leader, Abbasi Madani, had threatened a holy war against the FLN government, which has postponed general elections and imposed a state of emergency for four months.
Abbasi Madani and his deputy, Ali Belhadj, have now been arrested and charged with inciting rebellion and the police have seized their Party’s headquarters.
The emergency was imposed at the beginning of June after bloody clashes with Islamic protestors, demonstrating against what they claimed was FLN manipulation of electoral rules.
The appointment of a caretaker government to supervise the deferred elections, under Sid Ahmed Ghozali, had led to a brief respite in the violence and a withdrawal of the army from Islamic Front strongholds in the capital.

Ocalan's prison writings

Review


By Andy Brooks

Prison Writings: The PKK And The Kurdish Question In The 21st Century
by Abdullah Ocalan, London 2011, 174 pp Pluto Press, £17.50.



ABDULLAH Ocalan was the leader of the Kurdish resistance in Turkey that was the focus for all progressive Kurds in the fight for freedom. Kidnapped in Kenya in 1999, Ocalan was tried and condemned to death by the Turkish authorities. Though this was commuted to life imprisonment, Ocalan remains to this day in prison on the island of Imrali. There he has written two books, in extremely difficult circumstances, making the case for the Kurdish people and proposing a new way forward to start the dialogue with Turkey and end the conflict that has claimed so many lives on both sides.
Some say that the Kurds missed the boat at Versailles in 1919 when the victorious Anglo-French imperialists carved up what was left of the Turkish Ottoman Empire after the First World War. The Arabs who had fought for Britain in the belief that they would get independence got promises that were never kept. The Zionists, who had supported the Entente against Germany and its allies, were allowed to settle in the new British “mandate” of Palestine. The Kurds got nothing.
Some lived in Iran, then a satellite of the British Empire. Others found themselves part of the new British “mandate” of Iraq headed by a puppet king imposed on the Iraqis after a nationalist revolt was crushed. Most Kurds remained in what became the Turkish republic, a bourgeois dictatorship led by General Mustafa Kemal, whose “Kemalism” dismissed them as “mountain Turks” and refused to recognise them as a separate nation.
When the Arabs of the Middle East broke the chains of colonialism after the Second World War the feudal Kurdish chiefs in Iraq sought the protection of the Shah of Iran and Anglo-American imperialism to strengthen their claim for independence. But in Turkey militant Kurds founded a revolutionary Marxist party, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and launched a guerrilla war in 1984 that for many years held the Turkish army at bay in a fight for freedom that still goes on today.
Following Ocalan’s arrest, the PKK declared a truce and offered to talk. But despite the virtual end of the uprising, the Turks still refuse to listen or even recognise that a problem exists.
In this second volume of prison writings, Ocalan reviews the entire history of the Kurds from ancient times to the modern era. He frankly talks about the problems and mistakes made by the PKK during the height of the guerrilla war and he appeals for a dialogue with the Turkish authorities to end the oppression of the Kurds, who live largely under Turkish military occupation.
Now no longer a doctrinaire Marxist, Ocalan rejects the old demand for “an independent, united and socialist Kurdistan” as neither a realistic nor practical objective. He calls, instead, for “a democratic country and a free homeland” wherever Kurds live and for his people to campaign for equal rights in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria in tandem with all the other democratic forces in those countries.
In Iraq the feudal Kurdish chiefs run an autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government under American protection. The Iranian Kurds have a regional government and a certain degree of cultural freedom within the Islamic Republic. But in Turkey, where the majority of the Kurdish people live, the Kurds are still denied even basic human rights.
In his prison writings Ocalan calls on the Arab and Iranian leaders and above all the Turkish government and the leading political forces in Turkey to begin the dialogue and resolve the “Kurdish problem” once and for all.
This is an important book that makes a serious contribution to understanding one of the key flash-points in the Middle East. It deserves a wide audience.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Twenty Years Ago...

...in the NEW WORKER



WORKERS at Severn Trent Water are furious with their employers.
On the very day they gave an overwhelming “thumbs down” to an 8.75 per cent pay offer with strings, Severn Trent announced 15 per cent boost in profits to £249 million and increased dividends to shareholders by 18 per cent.
Those profits are at least 30 per cent above the level agreed with the Government on privatisation. Yet Severn Trent may raise its charges another 15 per cent.
Many water company executives gave themselves pay rises in excess of 50 per cent last year and company chairpersons are raking in pay packets between £110,000 and £150,000 a year.
“Severn Trent’s pay offer would have left 700 employees receiving less than the European low pay threshold whilst top executives have been getting rises of over £30,000”, Nalgo regional water officer Richard Burden said on behalf of the joint unions.

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SEVEN Mongolian workers have gone on hunger strike in protest at the Government’s sell-off plans.
Employed by the public television repair company, in the capital Ulan Bator, the seven hunger strikers are demanding that workers should be given the option of buying their own company before it is sold.
Last year the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party followed Gorbachov’s road and paved the way for the restoration of capitalism in what had been the world’s second socialist state.
Now in coalition with non-communist parties set up by the reform leadership, the party is spearheading the drive to dismantle the socialist system.
Seventy per cent of the public sector is to be sold, including the vast herds of Mongolian cattle, which will be sold to private ranchers.
Once a major meat exporter Mongolia now faces food rationing and shortages of all kinds.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Lenin Museum in Finland







The Lenin Museum in Tampere, Finland is the best known Finnish museum abroad. Within the first decade of the 21st century, over 136,000 people found their way to the Lenin Museum.
The Lenin Museum in Tampere, founded in 1946, is the oldest remaining Lenin museum of the world (another can be found in Vyborg, Russia). The Museum is housed in the historic Tampere Workers’ Hall, where the Russian Bolsheviks under the guidance of V I Lenin held their conferences in 1905 and in 1906. Lenin and the former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin also met for the first time in this Workers’ Hall in 1905. The Lenin Museum is owned by the Finland-Russia Friendship Association.
Though most visitors are Finns, the museum is increasingly attracting a large number of visitors from abroad interested in the life and times of the Bolshevik leader. In 2010 10,868 guests from 78 countries made their way to the Lenin Museum ,from all continents, and even as far as Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
The Lenin Museum now provides guide booklets and websites in Chinese language because of the increased number of Chinese visitors (218 last year) and a member of staff is now learning Chinese to help provide a better service for Chinese guests in the future.
The museum has its own shop which sells books and souvenirs, including works of Lenin and other ideological thinkers of the revolutionary movement, Soviet posters, badges, busts and Russian art works.
The Lenin Museum has two permanent exhibitions; Lenin’s Biography and Lenin and Finland. The first one colourfully depicts the life of V I Lenin from his childhood to his last days as the revolutionary leader of Soviet Russia. The other describes the numerous connections between the Finnish people and Lenin.
Together with the permanent displays a number of special exhibitions were held in 2010 including Lenin’s footsteps, Socialist realism in Finland in the 21st century and Photographs from revolutionary Cuba.
The website of the
Lenin Museum is another popular service, largely in Finnish but including information in English, Russian and Chinese.
The Lenin Museum is the member of the International Association of Labour History Institutions (IALHI). In 2010 it cooperated with several institutions including the Lenin Museum in Vyborg in Russia as well as with the governmental museums in St Petersburg, Moscow and Krasnoyarsk.

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Defeat of the CPI(Marxist) in West Bengal

THE RIGHT-wing swept the Left Front out of West Bengal in India’s legislative assembly elections in May. West Bengal, India’s fourth largest state in terms of population, with 90 million people, had been administered by the CPI(M)-led Left Front since 1977 without a break.

By Kumar Sarkar

The defeat of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was expected, but not quite to the same extent as it actually happened. From my limited, though very recent, knowledge of present day West Bengal's urban and rural life, the opposition to the Left Front, stemming from frustrations in the urban areas, was massive, due primarily to extensive unemployment. The discontent in the rural areas has been a recent phenomenon, after the bureaucratic handling by the Left Front government of land acquisition to promote industrialisation. Otherwise, the support for the CPI(M) amongst the rural poor had been extensive after the “Operation Barga” (the code name for land distribution amongst the landless peasants). But, after that, the CPI(M) ran out of steam and did not do anything significant to weaken the semi-feudal rural life. “Panchayat” or the local level village administration was, of course, a big achievement, but this was not used with any vision for the future.
The socio-economic development of Indian society reflects uneven regional development. In this, West Bengal, Kerala, Andhra and Tamilnadu have a rich history of peasant struggles. The situation in Tamilnadu changed, for which I do not have good knowledge. Most of the Andhra communist leadership went to the side of various Naxalite groups and Andhra had been, until recently, a stronghold of the Maoists. Kerala and West Bengal have been the two bastions of the CPI(M).
In Kerala, the CPI(M) has a largely agrarian base of many radical peasant struggles. West Bengal is unique in many ways because of its early pre-colonial industrial development and consequent development of a significant middle class of “bhadraloks”, who control the self-styled revolutionary parties. They are comparable with Western petit-bourgeoisie, but remaining half-feudal in their socio-political outlook. They can be divided into two sub-classes: comprador and progressive or democratic. It is the latter sub-class that has been the backbone of the CPI(M) in West Bengal, which is the most democratic part of India.
Failing to grasp the essence of the uneven developments, the character of the semi-feudal and comprador bourgeois Indian society, and encouraged by understandable electoral successes in democratically advanced West Bengal, the CPI(M) has been gradually transformed into a reformist party, not comparable even with the Western Social Democracy. It has developed an all-India electoral strategy in which Bengal is attributed an "exemplary" role, which is supposed to attract the rest of India to follow suit!! And after 34 years, even the adjoining states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odishi and Assam still live in the predominantly feudal times and have not seen many red flags except in Bihar and the tribal areas. And, of course, the decimation of the CPI(M) now is in the heartland itself!
With the abovementioned all-India strategy, the CPI(M) became a full-fledged party of “parliamentary cretinism”. With seven successive terms of electoral victories for the West Bengal Legislative Assembly over 34 years, achieved mainly by rural land distribution and to some extent by coercive practices in the urban areas and with a massive and largely disciplined membership, winning elections became the sole objective.
Within the narrow boundaries of a regional administration, in a fake federal system with member states having no real fiscal powers, soon it became impossible to satisfy the demands of the unemployed in the urban areas without initiating large scale industrialisation, which, again, could only be provided by the compradors! The problem was made worse by acquiring lands, paradoxically from those who had earlier been given lands, forcibly and using an archaic colonial act!!
With the class-consciousness emanating from 34 years of Left Front rule, the peasants firmly and militantly resisted such acquisition, led by the very forces, wearing the mask of populism, which had been cornered for three decades. An incredible irony indeed! The initially declared objective of using the Left Front government as an ”instrument of class struggle”, soon became, inevitably, an instrument of class collaboration!
To this can be added the antithesis of 34 years of continuous rule, the personal behaviour and high handedness and arrogance of thousands of cadres, and large-scale corruption of leaders, many of who have no ideological interests in the communist movement.
The electoral battle was fought almost entirely within the limits permitted by the ruling classes, represented by the regional Trinamul (Grassroots) Congress and the all-India Congress party. While the Trinamul wore the mask of populism, conveniently, to counter the leftwing signboards of the governing combine, the issues raised were naturally confined to good governance, law and order, corruption, education and jobs for sons and daughters of the bhadraloks and place of West Bengal in the all-India league table of capitalist exploitation.
Alongside this there was also the issue of the land acquisition policy for industrialisation to pacify the rural voters. Unashamedly the CPI(M) treated the issue of tribal struggle, led by Maoists in the western parts of the state, as a central issue of terrorism and law and order and asked for help from the Centre to crush it. Under these circumstances, the bourgeois media was highly successful in sending out waves of skilfully designed “news” item against the Left Front, and became instrumental in befooling even the most faithful that a “change” would be in their best interests, at least for one term.
The “electorate” chose the direct representatives of the bourgeois-semi feudal forces rather than their indirect bhadralok apologists. And, surprise, surprise, the bhadraloks have already promised, “to play the role of a responsible and constructive opposition” to feudal and comprador forces!!
The defeat of the CPI(M) creates an unforeseen political crisis. Tactics, which appear to be inappropriate, at least from outside, have prevented revolutionary communists from using, appropriately and positively, the heightened class consciousness in the countryside, originating from the Left rule, and accommodating this into an all-India strategy that has three inter-related components:

(a) Regions with land reforms completed;
(b) Regions with almost unchanged feudalism and;
(c) Tribal areas where production relations are older than feudalism.

The revolutionary process that has unfolded in the tribal areas is likely to resonate eventually in the areas of (b), creating its own dynamics. As for the areas of (a), the process may require some skilful initial use of electoral politics, with West Bengal being an appropriate component.
But to do so systematically, the issue of the democratic revolution as characterised by the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920 needs to be re-opened in the 21st century. The concept of democratic revolution in post-colonial and semi-feudal countries, with a big comprador bourgeoisie as distinct from its original anti-feudal European “counterpart”, and as a prelude to socialist revolution, remains a relatively undeveloped area in Marxism. The example of India elucidates this problem.
In India, an ex-colonial country of semi-feudalism and comprador bourgeoisie, there is still no “proletarian” working class of the Western type. As per official statistics, 43.9 per cent are self-employed (mostly agricultural, followed by wholesale and retail sales), 39.3 per cent are casual labour (mostly agricultural, followed by construction work) and 16.8 per cent are waged/salaried (mostly manufacturing, followed by community services). As per fields of work, 46 – 52 per cent of the working population is agricultural, 34 per cent is in the service sector and 14 per cent is in the industry, dominated by textiles; 65.8 per cent work in enterprises having fewer than 10 workers. 43.6 per cent are employed in seasonal or ad hoc type of enterprises [35.9 per cent of the total population is available for work, 63.5 per cent of the 15 – 59 age category; 9.4 per cent of those who are available for work are unemployed, 4.9 per cent in the 15 – 59 age group] (Source: Government of India, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Labour Bureau, October 2010). A large number of people are engaged in pre-capitalist mode of productions. All categories of workers have a dual character with a constant “backward” link with their peasant roots.
Of course this makes the worker-peasant alliance very convenient. In my last visit about two months ago to a Bengali village, about 20 miles from the large town of Howrah with its extensive small scale industries, I came across a growing trend of young members of peasant families daily commuting to Howrah to work in a sheet metal manufacturing factory. Some of these probably work sometimes as agricultural wage labourers.