Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Right-Left Crossfire and the Post-Neoliberal Left

By James Petras

The post neo-liberal regimes which flourished in five Latin American countries in the first decade of the 21st century were a product of three inter-related historical processes.

The breakdown of the neo-liberal development model, which in turn ignited mass popular movements for radical political-economic transformations; the incapacity of the mass movements to produce a viable alternative worker-peasant based regime; the beginning of a decade long mega commodity boom which provided a huge influx of revenues which allowed the center-left regimes to finance a capitalist recovery, and secure support from the extractive capitalist sector and finance generous increases in wages, salaries and pensions.
These hybrid, extractive capitalist-national-populist regimes were repeatedly elected until the middle of the second decade of the 21st century

. The capitalist-populist electoral coalition encountered major opposition with the end of the commodity boom. The fall in world-market prices led to demands by the techno-capitalist elites for measures of fiscal constraints aimed at reducing social expenditures. At the same time they insisted the regimes grant fiscal largesse for the agro-mineral elite by lowering capital gains taxes and increase fiscal incentives for investors.
As a result, the end of the commodity boom led to the termination of the center-left brokered “consensus”. In its place the regimes faced a right-left crossfire: rightwing business associations led successful electoral challenges and large scale street mobilizations, and the left-wing trade unions and social movements resisted through strikes in defense of existing social gains. The question raised by this left-right crossfire is whether this spells the end of the post neo-liberal, hybrid regimes and the return of neo-liberal regimes or class based leftist politics?

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Venezuela: Riot in San Felix Highlights Economic War

Santa Elena, August 3, 2015. ( - On Friday morning, residents of San Felix, a city in Venezuela’s southeastern state of Bolivar, overturned a bus and looted various markets, in a mass reaction to rising prices.

San Felix is a working class city across the river from Puerto Ordaz, a wealthy industrial city filled with shopping malls. The neighborhoods of Puerto Ordaz were designed in the 1960s by the American company US Steel to look like quaint US suburbs, with cookie cutter homes and patterned lawns. On the other side, San Felix stretches, chaotic and congested, punctuated with abandoned warehouses and colonial-era buildings in decay.

The latter is also a stronghold of chavista grassroots movements.

Many residents of San Felix rely on buses to take them to work in Puerto Ordaz, often leaving home around 4 or 5 AM.

The routes are serviced by bright red ‘Bolivarian’ buses, imported by the government as part of an initiative to make make public transport more effective and affordable for workers. The companies that drive these buses are supposed to charge only 10 bolivars, but drivers have been known to ask for 50, even 100 bolivar per person.

On July 31st, at 7 AM, a group of passengers became indignant at the speculative fare being charged and took the driver out of the bus by force. They then proceeded to break windows and turn the bus over.

In the midst of this, eye-witnesses said, somebody noticed spaghetti (a scarce food staple) on sale for 600 bolivars at the bachaquero market across the street. Bachaqueros are vendors who purchase staple items at regulated government prices, often cutting deals with distributors and causing the items to go scarce, then selling the goods at outlandish prices.

The heated passengers then began looting the street market in San Felix, as well as the Chinese-run supermarket nearby that is said to supply the market sellers, according to sources.

“They found milk, diapers, butter, oil…EVERYTHING!” emphasized one bystander on Facebook, angry at seeing a hoarded abundance of goods that are so difficult to find.

A truck arriving to unload cereal at the supermarket was also looted as police arrived on the scene. In the chaos that ensued, one young man, Gustavo Patinez, was shot and killed, and 27 people were arrested, and dozens more were injured.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Perry Anderson: the Greek debacle

In calling for a resolute No, and within little more than a week demanding a submissive Yes, Syriza has turned its coat with a speed not seen since war credits were voted by European social-democracy in 1914, even if this time a minority of the party has saved its honour. In the short-run, Alexis Tsipras will no doubt flourish on the ruins of his promises, writes historian and political commentator Perry Anderson, professor at UCLA and former editor of New Left Review.
The Greek crisis has provoked a predictable mixture of indignation and self-satisfaction in Europe, alternatively lamenting the harshness of the settlement imposed on Athens or celebrating the last-minute retention of Greece within the European family, or both at once.  Each is as futile as the other. A realistic analysis has no place for either. That Germany is once again the hegemonic power in the continent is no news in 2015: it has been clear for at least twenty years. Nor is the reduction of France to its handmaid, in a relationship not unlike that of  Britain  to the United States, a political novelty: since De Gaulle, the reflexes of the French political class have reverted to those of the early forties,   not  only in accommodation, but admiration for the superior power of the day, first Washington and then  Berlin.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Dreaming in Technicolour

Phil Hearse

It was inevitable that the final deal struck between the Syriza government and the Eurogroup should be the subject of intense debate and controversy in the international left. Indeed given what the agreement contained it would be alarming if that were not the case.

The annotated version of the agreement provided by Yanis Varoufakis (1) makes it clear that this is much more than a ‘bad deal’ or an ‘unfortunate but necessary’ retreat.
In fact it amounts to an acceptance of endless and vicious austerity targeting workers, pensioners and the poor; the abolition of national sovereignty; a severe restriction of  labour rights and collective bargaining; huge rises in indirect taxes affecting ordinary people; mass sackings of public and private sector workers; supervision of all legislation by the Troika and a repudiation of all the legislation and progressive measures taken by Syriza in power.

These measures, far from staving off a social and economic catastrophe for the Greek people, absolutely guarantee it in perpetuity. In principle it is impossible for consistent fighters for working people and democratic rights – socialists - to vote for this kind of ‘agreement’.

According to Eric Toussaint, key figure in the Campaign for the Abolition of the Third World Debt (CADTM):

“This agreement forces Syriza to abandon essential commitments made during the 25 January 2015 election campaign, which led to its historically significant victory. Syriza has binding responsibilities towards the Greek people and it is tragic that they were not respected, especially since the people very clearly showed their support both on 25 January [the election] and 5 July 2015 [ie in the referendum].” (2))

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Godfrey Webster

Godfrey Webster was a union shop steward and an active member of the Labour party for many years

My younger brother, Godfrey Webster, who has died aged 68 after suffering from a heart condition, was a respected civil engineer and a tireless worker for socialist causes in Birmingham.

He grew up in Wateringbury, Kent, the youngest of four children of Neil Webster, a civil servant with the Central Office of Information who had been a wartime Bletchley codebreaker, and his wife, Elizabeth, a writer and musician. Godfrey was keen on politics from his early teens, joining the Aldermaston marches and protests against the Vietnam war in London in the late 1960s.

He studied engineering at Cambridge with a scholarship from Guest, Keen & Nettlefolds, which involved spending some time at the Scunthorpe steelworks, a period in his life that probably led to his commitment to revolutionary socialism.

He met his future wife, Lynn, in 1970 and they continued to work together for socialist causes while bringing up their three sons and a daughter in Warley, West Midlands.

Godfrey worked for GKN and then for the Amey infrastructure group, where his understanding of structural mechanics gave his colleagues the confidence to be innovative in their designs.
He was an expert on the construction of bridges and recently helped those involved in the complex analysis needed to avoid pedestrian-caused vibrations on the Jane Coston cycle bridge, in Milton, near Cambridge. He also found cost-effective solutions to cure the teething problems of the Millennium Bridge, in central London. He was an inspiration to the upcoming generation of engineers who worked with him.

A union shop steward and active member of the Labour party, he reluctantly left when the party moved to the right under Tony Blair. Godfrey continued his political activities despite his increasingly fragile health (he was diagnosed with the heart condition hypertrophic cardiomyopathy), attending meetings and conferences, organising protests and helping to co-ordinate campaigns.

He was the vice-chair of Birmingham TUC, an active member of his union, Unite, and a member of Left Unity. His last big contribution was supporting the activist group Birmingham Against the Cuts.

Godfrey is survived by Lynn, their children, Michael, Johnny, Alex and Ruth, our sister, Jocelyn, and by me, and his grandson, Rufus.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Syriza - defiance or surrender?

Six months after Syriza’s victory in Greece, Tariq talks to Stathis Kouvelakis, a leading intellectual on Syriza, about the options now facing the new Government. Will they default on the existing debt, or face surrender to the EU?

Marx was Right

By Chris Hedges (TruthDig)

On Saturday 7 June at the Left Forum in New York City, Chris Hedges joined professors Richard Wolffand Gail Dines to discuss why Karl Marx is essential at a time when global capitalism is collapsing. These are the remarks Hedges made to open the discussion.

Karl Marx exposed the peculiar dynamics of capitalism, or what he called “the bourgeois mode of production.” He foresaw that capitalism had built within it the seeds of its own destruction. He knew that reigning ideologies—think neoliberalism—were created to serve the interests of the elites and in particular the economic elites, since “the class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production” and “the ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships … the relationships which make one class the ruling one.” 

He saw that there would come a day when capitalism would exhaust its potential and collapse. He did not know when that day would come. Marx, as Meghnad Desai wrote, was “an astronomer of history, not an astrologer.” Marx was keenly aware of capitalism’s ability to innovate and adapt. But he also knew that capitalist expansion was not eternally sustainable. And as we witness the denouement of capitalism and the disintegration of globalism, Karl Marx is vindicated as capitalism’s most prescient and important critic.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

“Arab Spring has now turned into a winter”


Wednesday 24 December 2014,
“It began on December 18, 2010, as a popular uprising triggered by the self–immolation of Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, protesting against the country’s corrupt and autocratic regime. What it eventually led to was a chain of revolutionary uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), toppling dictatorial governments in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. Popularly known as the “Arab Spring”, the movement has since descended into chaos, with Islamic fundamentalist forces gaining in power.”[The Hindu intrrview with Gilbert Achcar.]

Since the 2010-11 uprisings, except in Tunisia, the model of liberal democracy has not taken off in MENA (Middle East, North African) countries. Is there still hope or do you even see liberal “electoral” democracy as an answer to the ongoing crisis in the region? We saw, for instance, how despite elections in June this year the dictator Bashar al-Assad of the Ba’ath Party remained in power in Syria...…
The question of democracy in the MENA region cannot be reduced to one of liberal democracy as it presently prevails in the West. Even if you take liberalism in the political meaning alone, Arab countries are far from implementing it, and this applies to Tunisia too where a formally democratic government is now in place. The MENA region is suffering from a very deep social and economic crisis, which is at the root of the general turmoil and upheaval. In order to solve the ongoing crisis, there must be a shift away from the neoliberal socio-economic model in the region, which led to the crisis. The real stumbling block is the combination of a heavily repressive and corrupt “deep state” with crony capitalism of the worst type. This combination has not been dismantled in any of the region’s states, including Tunisia. In Syria, where the Ba’ath dictatorship is entrenched in power since half a century, the elections lacked any democratic legitimacy. To achieve real democratisation, what is needed is a radical dismantling of the “deep state” that continues to uphold the existing social-political order in the region.

SYRIA; Damascus Stifled Voice from the Left

The story of Syrian Revolutionary Youth: the rise and fall of a grassroots movement offering a third alternative beyond the regime/Islamists binary, whose clear, principled stance made it the target of extreme regime persecution.
The Syrian Revolutionary Youth symbol graffitied on a Damascene wall.The Syrian Revolutionary Youth symbol graffitied on a Damascene wall.It has been over a year and a half since the last organized anti-regime protest in Damascus. The protest, which you can watch through this link, was held on June 12, 2013 in the Damascene neighbourhood of Rukneddine in solidarity with besieged Homs. It featured wedding-style revolutionary chants and singing. It was a typically brave evening protest by the Syrian Revolutionary Youth, a self-avowed leftist and civic collective, despite heavy security presence and tight regime control of the area.
From the beginning of the Syrian revolution and well into 2013, the Syrian Revolutionary Youth injected a breath of fresh air into the lungs of an uprising that was being increasingly suffocated by the Syrian regime and counter-revolutionary forces. Established by a group of activists from Rukneddine, the collective embodied a clear political vision that was not restricted to vague demands for a democratic, civil state. At a time when such ambiguous yet sweeping calls were being made by liberal and moderate Islamist opposition groups, the Syrian Revolutionary Youth advanced a more clear-cut vision of social justice where free education, free health care, gender equality, the liberation of the occupied Golan Heights, and liberation of Palestine, were central to their demands.

Greece: The New Programme of Syriza – “A victory for Syriza at the coming elections has the potential to change the atmosphere in the whole of Europe”

27 December 2015. First published at ESSF. NB this article was written before the announcement of the date o9f the Greek general election

On Monday the Greek Parliament will vote for the next President. If the Government’s nominee fails to gain the minimum 180 votes there will be a general election which will be held in the following six weeks

In such a situation, the opinion polls put Syriza, Greece’s new left-wing party, as the likely winner of the elections which could put the first anti-austerity party in power in the Eurozone. In the light of this, it is important for us to analyse Syriza’s new policy platform that was announced recently. Here, an active member of the left-wing of Syriza outlines the new policy and explains why it is not enough.

A Limited Programme
This programme was announced by the president of SYRIZA, Alexis Tsipras, during the International Exibition of Thessaloniki in September [1]. It was not a result of a discussion through the bodies of the Party but the work of a group of people around him. It is a limited programme which the leadership wants to present to the people as the final programme of SYRIZA.

It is a programme of course for a positive direction in order to relieve the poorest social layers. It promises:
• A serious negotiation on the National Debt and a “haircut” of the biggest part of this
Higher taxation of the rich
• Higher salaries for some low paid employees
• The abolition of ENFIA (the latest property tax)
• More money for the municipalities and the local authorities
• 300,000 new jobs
• Restoration of public radio and television closed down by the current government
The establishment of a new National Development Bank
• The restoration of the minimum wage at 751 Euros