Sunday, 30 November 2008

Socialist Alliance leaflet for Dec 2 rallies against the ABCC available for download

Download this Socialist Alliance leaflet for printing/distribution

Socialist Party councilor re-elected in Yarra

From the Socialist Party website, 30 November

Best result for a socialist in more than 50 years!
Australia’s only socialist councillor Stephen Jolly has been re-elected in the City of Yarra. Preliminary results are showing that Socialist Party member Stephen Jolly has in fact beat the Labor Party candidate in their traditional heartland of inner city Melbourne.

Jolly, who has been a councillor since 2004, has won approximately 28 per cent of the vote in the Langridge Ward of Yarra City Council. This is by far the best result for any socialist candidate in more than 50 years!

In the other wards of Yarra Socialist Party members have also achieved decent results. Anthony Main won about 5 per cent of the vote in the Nicholls Ward and Denise Dudley won about 2 per cent of the vote in the Melba ward. (All figures are based on preliminary results from the VEC)

Jolly said today “this result sends a wakeup call to both Labor and the Greens. This shows that socialist ideas do get an echo if explained in the right way.”

In light of this important victory the Melbourne Branch of SP will be holding a meeting to discuss the Victorian council election results and which way forward for socialists and community campaigners.

The details are: 7pm Thursday December 4th @ Trades Hall, corner of Lygon & Victoria Streets Carlton South. All welcome!

The wombats also strongly advise anyone interested in further left unity and discussing strategies for socialists in Australia today to get along to the Socialist Alliance national conference this weekend (Dec 5-7) in Geelong. More details here.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Mass graves near US prison camp discovered in Vietnam

The Earth Times, November 25, 2008
Hanoi - After seeking help from psychics, Vietnamese authorities have uncovered mass graves containing the remains of at least 600 Vietnamese soldiers near a prison camp used by the US military during the war, authorities said Tuesday. "We found two mass graves thanks to the help of people with telepathic powers," said Pham Vu Hong, the chairman of the People's Committee of Kien Giang province on the island of Phu Quoc, where the graves were found. "These prisoners were killed during the war.

"The remains were located 5 to 8 metres deep and not far from a large prison built by the French colonial power just before World War II. It was taken over by the Americans at the beginning of the war with North Vietnam in the mid-1960s, to house prisoners captured in the fighting.

Today, the tropical island of Phu Quoc, just off the southern tip of Vietnam, is best known as a tourist destination and will soon be home for several new luxury resorts. But it once was one of the largest prisoner-of-war camps in South Vietnam.

Living conditions in the camp were horrific, survivors say, with 60 people to a cell and often no food for days. International Red Cross observers reported systematic abuses at the camp, where US advisers were stationed.

Torture was common. But the worst, says one survivor, was waking to hear people in the nearby cells being led away in the middle of the night.

"We knew that they were being taken away to be killed," said Nguyen Duc Gan, who was released from the camp in 1973 and now lives in Hanoi. "There were so many people in the prison, they killed them to make room for new ones.

"As the mass graves were being excavated, a groundbreaking ceremony for the island's new international airport was being held not far away. On Sunday, construction began on the 1-billion-dollar project, which is intended to accommodate the growing number of foreign tourists who flock to Phu Quoc for its pristine beaches.

The remains recovered from the mass graves are being moved to earthen pots for burial. Burials for all 600 will not be completed, however, until authorities finish documenting the sites.

Psychics say there are more bodies buried.

"We think there are still more mass graves around the prison camps and we will continue excavating," said Lieutenant Colonel Huynh Tan Phuong, a commanding officer in the Phu Quoc army unit, which works to locate soldiers missing-in-action.

The Vietnamese government and families have long used psychics in efforts to locate more than a million Vietnamese soldiers whose fates are unknown 33 years after the war between Vietnam and the United States ended.

Thailand: PAD thugs close Bangkok airport

Anti-democratic mob blockade Bangkok Airport.

By Giles Ji Ungpakorn

November 26, 2008 -- Bangkok International Airport has now been closed by fascist thugs from the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The PAD is demanding that the elected government of Thailand resigns. This is despite the fact that the government has the backing of the majority of the Thai population and even the majority of Bangkok citizens. This backing has been proven by repeated elections. The PAD want a dictatorship to replace democracy because it deems the majority of the Thai electorate to be too ignorant to deserve the right to vote.

How did the PAD thugs manage to seize Bangkok International airport? Airports are supposed to be high-security areas. Thai airports are controlled by the Thai military. It is obvious that the Thai military, which staged an illegal coup in 2006, has quietly supported the actions of the PAD. It is obvious that the military is unwilling to provide basic security to air travellers and air crews. But they are happy to rake in huge salaries associated with their control of the Airports Authority. Foreign governments and airlines should reconsider whether the authorities in Thailand are willing to provide international standards of safety and security.

Back in early October, PAD thugs surrounded parliament to prevent the prime minister from making a policy speech. When the police used tear gas to try to disperse the PAD, the police were roundly condemned by the Thai media and most middle-class intellectuals. It is no secret that the PAD are armed with guns, bombs, knives and wooden batons. They constantly break the law with impunity. Earlier on November 26, PAD thugs were filmed by PBS ThaiTV shooting at taxi drivers who were trying to defend their pro-democracy community radio station. The PAD thugs were holding up pictures of the King. Yesterday the PAD kicked and punched a senior policeman. The police are powerless to act.

The PAD is a royalist fascist mob which has powerful backing. Apart from the army, it is supported by the Queen, the so-called Democrat Party, the courts, the mainstream media and most university academics. What these people have in common is a total contempt for the Thai electorate who are poor. They are angry that the Thai people voted for a government that gave the poor universal health care and other benefits. They want to turn the clock back to a dictatorship which they call “the New Order”. They are hoping that the courts will now dissolve the ruling party and that an authoritarian “National Government” will be set up.

It is clear that the PAD, the military, the Democrat Party and the conservative establishment would rather see total chaos in Thailand rather than allow democracy to function. This is despite the fact that we face a serious economic crisis. Interestingly, the anti-government groups are extreme neoliberals with little grasp of how to deal with the economic crisis or how to stimulate the economy. Apart from opposing welfare, they have attacked Keynesian policies of the previous government of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Where is the King in all this? Throughout the three-year political crisis, the King has never attempted to diffuse the problem. Many Thais believe he supports the PAD, but it is more likely that the monarch has always been too weak to intervene in any crisis.

Those who support democracy and social justice in Thailand must condemn the PAD and those advocating a dictatorship. We must be with the pro-democracy Red Shirts, while refusing to support ex-PM Thaksin, who has a record of human rights abuses. I hope that all those friends of Thailand abroad will support all our efforts to defend Thai democracy and to defend those of us who may face arrest in the future.

[Giles Ji Ungpakorn is an activist with Turn Left (formerly Workers Democracy) and an associate professor in the faculty of political science, hulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.]

Russel Wards "The Australian Legend" turns fifty

Still in print after five decades, Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend has survived its critics, writes David Andrew Roberts

Inside Story, 27 November 2008

IN 1938, the extreme nationalist and Anglophobe, Percy Reginald Stephensen, yearned for someone “who can project Australian history on to an Australian plane.” “[U]nless Australians learn to be self-respecting, by devising a legend, or an illusion, of their own history,” he wrote, “then this community is doomed and doubly damned to colonialism and inertia forever.”

Twenty years later, amid the political and intellectual tumult of the height of the Cold War, and during a great but contested awakening of national cultural consciousness in Australia, a group of historians and literary scholars set out to articulate what was most distinctive and formative about this land and its people. Among these, arguably the most important and influential was Russel Braddock Ward, whose landmark work, The Australian Legend, this year celebrates its golden jubilee.

Published by Oxford University Press in 1958, The Australian Legend was a polished and provocative examination of Australian national identity. It charted the origins and evolution of those traits that are popularly assumed to define the “typical Australian” and the manners and mores that characterise the “Australian ethos” or “mystique.”

That “typical Australian,” in Ward’s oft-quoted view, was “a practical man, rough and ready in his manners.” He (the legendary Australian was characteristically masculine) was pragmatic, stoic, “taciturn rather than talkative,” and sceptical of pretension and authority. He was a restless, drinking, swearing, irreligious gambler, capable of great energy and resourcefulness but habitually inclined to laxity. And though hospitable by nature, he was implacably distrustful of outsiders and “new chums.”

Ward located the embryo of this “ethos” in the convicts, Celts and “Currency lads” of the early colonial period, specifically those who faced the peculiar privations of the Australian bush in the service of Australia’s great pastoral industry. It was there, “up-country,” that environmental and economic conditions moulded a particular “old-hand-outback tradition” among a largely itinerant workforce. Life beyond the Great Dividing Range demanded ingenuity, versatility and endurance, and it encouraged an interdependence that was manifested, most famously, in a cult of bush hospitality and mateship.

This outback culture survived the mid-nineteenth century influx of gold-seeking immigrants, because they, facing the same need to acclimatise, adopted the manners and survival methods of the “old hands” (though it was also infused from this time with a “crude racism,” mostly in response to the presence of the Chinese on the gold-fields). The Bushman’s ethos “came of age” later in the century, but grew somewhat more nostalgic as the nature of rural life and labour began to change. And as the bush became less remote, rural traditions came increasingly to the attention of city-dwellers.

But the ethos reached its “apotheosis” during the 1890s – the heyday of Australian nationalism – when it pervaded the culture of a militant trade union movement, and perhaps more significantly, became idealised and popularised in the prose and verse of nationalist literati such as Paterson, Lawson and Furphy, especially via that “Bushman’s Bible,” the Bulletin. Thus codified and packaged in writing for a national audience, the archetypical Bushman became the symbol of an emerging nation, a “culture-hero on whose supposed characteristics many Australian tend, consciously or unconsciously, to model their attitude to life.”

So according to Ward, the true Australian ethos was essentially the product of a frontier/rural experience – of an encounter between man and nature on the fringes of settlement, where Europeans became Australians – which came to have a disproportionate impact on what was, and had always been, a largely urbanised society. The result was to forge a quintessentially collectivist, egalitarian and democratic nation whose most distinctive home-grown values were born of, and belonged to, the lower and coarser elements of Australian society rather than the Anglo-Australian elite.

Russel Ward’s The Australian Legend thus sits within a long tradition of Australian radical-nationalism. He expressed and embraced those particular and perhaps special features of our culture and historical experience which perceivably made us unique and auspicious, and he championed Australian literature and history as a primary means of generating self-understanding and self-respect. Furthermore, Ward aimed to define and demonstrate how Australianess had evolved in a sometimes uncertain contradistinction to our British heritage. In the contemporary Cold War politics of Menzies’s Australia, it set him in the opposing camp to conservative intellectuals like James McAuley, who railed against “Australianity” and “the ugly nineteenth-century vice of cultural nationalism.”

Ward’s was one of a number of works in the 1950s which endeavoured to rediscover and recast the Australian experience in order to describe and interpret those idiosyncratic traditions and ideals that defined Australianess. Others working with similar ideas included the literary critic Arthur Phillips, Vance Palmer (author of the 1956 book, The Legend of the Nineties), and Professor R. M. Crawford of the University of Melbourne, who first coined the term “Australian Legend” in his 1952 work Australia and later examined Ward’s PhD thesis.

But a number of things set Ward apart and above his contemporaries. His work was conspicuously original, for example, in its masterful exploration of Australian bush ballads and folklore, and in the way it mined the lives and labours of the ordinary people or common folk. Certainly Ward’s interests contrasted with the preponderance of political and economic themes in the work of his Australian colleagues, including the doyens of the radical-nationalist persuasion such as Brian Fitzpatrick. In fact, The Australian Legend was, in a way, an accomplished exposition of “history from below,” long before the term and practice were popularised by Anglo-French historians in the 1960s. Some of Europe’s leading social historians, like E. P. Thompson and Asa Briggs, would acknowledge Ward in their own groundbreaking works of the 1960s and 1970s.

Moreover, The Australian Legend contained some important comparative, transnational elements, contrasting with the insularity of the work of many of Ward’s contemporaries (and successors). This was evident, in some measure, in his understanding of Imperial or “British-world” history and his sensitivity to the nuances of the Anglo-Australian relationship.

It was even more evident in Ward’s use of the early-twentieth century writing of Frederick Jackson Turner. In the final chapter of The Australian Legend, Ward drew on the American “frontier theory” to explain the “underlining forces” that have caused new settler societies to eulogise and embrace the imagined values of their “noble frontiersmen.” Like Turner’s American West, the Australian Bush was, for Ward, a wellspring of distinctive national values. But to Ward, Turner’s thesis provided not just an explanation, but an example of how national cultural-heroes become romanticised and ennobled. Although Ward’s account of Australian history may today seem glossy and overly-celebratory, he was not an entirely uncritical advocate or apologist for the stereotypical Australian.

RUSSEL WARD WAS in some ways an unlikely author for a work championing Australian rural and working-class culture. He was born in 1914 into a solidly Protestant, middle-class heritage. In his autobiography, dramatically titled A Radical Life, he described himself as “a person of incurably respectable bourgeois manners.” He was the son of a teacher (later headmaster) of Adelaide’s prestigious Prince Alfred College, where he himself was educated, emerging, in own recollection, as a sound scholar and fine sportsman. He moved around with his family, to Charter’s Towers in northern Queensland and Perth, then back to South Australia where gained Honours in English Literature at the University of Adelaide in 1936. Thereafter he wondered and worked around the Northern Territory, before accepting teaching positions at Geelong Grammar and Sydney Grammar, all the while reading, conversing and thinking. It was a phase of his life that exposed him to both “frontier life” and urban radical politics, guiding him on what he later termed his “pilgrimage to the Left.”

It was to the great chagrin of his family that, in 1941, Ward joined the Australian Communist Party, at a time when the party was an acceptable magnet for young, progressive, idealists with international visions of peace and justice. He formally quit it in 1949, apparently to soothe the anxieties of his wife, who was prone to imagining she was being spied on by secret policemen. Ward remained committed to the Left, however, and while The Australian Legend contained little of the conventional concerns or methods of Marxist history, it was nonetheless an attempt to promote and praise Australia’s “pastoral proletariat” as the true possessors of Australian values and identity.

The second world war provided Ward with “the most inglorious military career in Australian history” (second only, he quipped, to that of Robert Menzies). He served on the home front as a censor in military intelligence, and then with what he called “the psycho-service” or “the giggle house,” assessing soldiers for the Australian Army Psychological Unit. He was later told that his army file marked him as a “Dangerous Communist: never to be sent to an operational area.”

Ward returned to teaching in NSW state secondary schools after the war, a means, he said, “of earning an honest living while snobbishly looking for more prestigious work such as journalism or writing.” He returned to the University of Adelaide to complete a Masters thesis on the “Social, Political and Historical Content” of modern English poetry (accepted on the second submission, after the first version was rejected for containing absolutely no footnotes). In 1952 he published his first book, Man Makes History, intended as a textbook for high school history students.

Ward’s entry into the formal study of Australian history began in 1953 when he obtained a scholarship at the fledgling Australian National University in Canberra, which at that stage had no English Department. Supervised by the stirring and talkative L. F. Fitzhardinge, and inspired by his good friend, Vance Palmer, Ward began examining Australian folksongs, then turned to study the lives of those old-time Australians who wrote and sang them. Canberra afforded a stimulating environment for forty-year old student. He had access to a small but vibrant community of young scholars and poets and a hub of talented history students and fellows including Bob Gollan, Bernard Smith, Allan Martin, Eric Fry and Margaret Kiddle. On many nights he revelled late in the company of his neighbours, Bert and Alice Evatt. In 1956 he completed his imposing 160,000 doctoral thesis on “The Ethos and Influence of the Australian Pastoral Workers.”

But Ward’s communist associations then came to haunt him. He was blackballed by the State Public Service Board and denied a post at Wagga Wagga Teachers’ College (now Charles Sturt University), and was controversially refused an appointment to the University of Technology (now University of New South Wales) after the unanimous recommendation of a selection committee was vetoed by the vice-chancellor. Although the reasons for this were never explicated, the federal government was secretly informed that Ward’s character and reputation were such “that no Australian university would possibly employ him.”

It was therefore seemingly incongruous that Ward was finally accepted to a position in the Department of History at the University of New England in Armidale – the blue-ribbon heartland of Country Party Australia. At least there his “incurably respectable bourgeois manners” served him well. But in the distinct and propitious New England region he found a wealth of matters and materials to suit his abiding enthusiasm for the study of regional/rural identity and folklore. Ward spent the remainder of his academic career at the UNE, writing several more books, serving as head of the Department of History between 1966–74 and rising eventually to the post of deputy chancellor. He died in Armidale in 1995, and was buried to the strains of The Wild Colonial Boy.

IT WAS IN THE FIRST YEAR of his appointment at the UNE that Ward set about pruning his 700-page thesis (reputedly through some sixteen versions) into the form which was published by OUP as The Australian Legend in 1958. For a book that has had such a profound and lasting impact on Australian scholarship, its initial reception was surprisingly flat. Non-academic reviewers thought it turgid, dull and laden with jargon; “indigestibly over-referenced,” wrote one, and it was “essentially an academic work,” according to another. Ward’s academic contemporaries pointed to other apparent flaws, such as his underestimation of the importance of urban influences on Australian identity, or his overly romanticised view of convicts and bushrangers. It was a predictably mixed response to a book that sought to reach both an academic and a popular audience.

Ward’s work, however, grew in stature and importance in the 1960s and 1970s. But alongside this recognition came the beginnings of a virulent attack from a young generation of radical, New Left revisionists. Most notable of these was Humphrey McQueen, whose A New Britannia (1970) countered Ward’s sentimental and positive take on the Australian identity by arguing that Australian working-class traditions were in fact inherently individualistic, avaricious, militaristic and racist. McQueen’s aggressive, confrontational criticism of the Old Left, especially of Ward and The Australian Legend, spilled over into the pages of leading Australian journals such as Labour History and Overland. Ward was deeply offended by McQueen’s rancour, and sincerely unsettled by what he saw as an unconscionable breach of the normally polite etiquettes of scholarly debate.

Subsequent critics, usually with more politeness, found in Ward’s work a surprising array of faults and frailties, honing in on whatever his Legend had omitted or marginalised – namely the role and experiences of women, Aborigines, ethic migrant minorities, the landed elite and urban dwellers. Henry Reynolds, for example, though “deeply influenced by Ward’s book,” wondered how such “a fine, creative historian” could have overlooked “the pistols nonchalantly thrust through the belt of his noble frontiersman.” Reynolds subsequently built a career on illuminating the extent and nature of interracial violence in Australian history, such that Ward’s handling of the Aboriginal experience must now and forever be seen as inept and incomplete.

Similarly, Ward’s UNE colleague, Miriam Dixon, was highly critical of Ward’s failure to appreciate the role of women in Australian history. At UNE in 1976 she established one of the country’s first courses in women’s history (in the face of Ward’s vigorous opposition) and in the same year published The Real Matilda (1976), in which she re-characterised Ward’s Australian Legend as “misogynist to the core.”

Indeed, The Australian Legend provided a point of departure for some of the best scholarship produced in this country over the last fifty years. If at times it seemed more-or-less obligatory for young scholars to launch their careers by tearing it apart, then such debate and disagreement is only testimony to its importance and influence. In any event The Australian Legend has enjoyed one of the most remarkable publication records of any work of Australian history. It had been re-issued and republished continuously over fifty years, an astonishing achievement for a work based on a PhD thesis.

The Australian Legend has survived its critics in the sense that it remains a vital point of reference for the study of Australian historiography and intellectual history. Yet it remains relevant too, because the set of assumptions and self-images it describes are still identifiable to many Australians. Ward’s “typical Australian” continues in some measure to define how Australians see themselves, and how we choose to be seen by others. Baz Luhrman’s new epic, Australia, will undoubtedly provide further proof of this, if any were needed. Indeed, so deep are resonances of this national mystique that political conservatives, thanks to John Howard’s elevation of the battler and the bush, have now successfully appropriated what was once the preserve of the Labor Party and the Left.

Its survival and relevance seems assured in other ways as well. Russel Ward popularised Australian history and made it accessible. Now, fifty years later, we see Australian history returning to the forefront of public attention and debate, and practicing historians must answer the call of an audience yearning for grand narrative and an instructive, recognisable national story. Ward was radical enough to attract the suspicion of a government that was excessively apprehensive of his potential to sway the minds of impressionable youths. Now, half-a-century later, we work again in a highly politicised atmosphere, where critical history and the integrity of its practitioners are subjected to sustained scrutiny and attack.

All this points to the book’s status as a true Australian classic. Percy Stephensen implored Australians to develop “a legend, or an illusion, of their own history.” Ward agreed. A people “cannot feel really at home in any environment,” he wrote, “until they have transformed the natural shapes around them by infusing them with myths.” Such myths were required to bring people together, a challenge particularly pertinent in such a large, sparsely populated land as ours. Ward’s own role in fulfilling this quest is itself legendary. •

David Andrew Roberts is a senior lecturer in history at the University of New England. He recently co-edited, with Frank Bongiorno, a special edition of the Journal of Australian Colonial History titled Russel Ward: Reflections on the Legend.

Germany: Red November 1918

Ninety years ago, the destiny of the world revolution lay in the hands of the German working class. Ben Lewis describes the tumultuous events and draws some lessons for today [Weekly Worker, Thursday, November 27, 2008]

“Without the revolution in Germany, we are doomed.”1 Vladimir Ilych Lenin’s words of January 1918 underline how the world revolution, initiated and set into motion by Russia, relied on spreading the flame to Germany. Germany was the leading industrial power in continental Europe and its working class was highly organised with a deeply entrenched political consciousness.

Without the Germans acting, Lenin feared that the young Soviet republic would be condemned to isolation and inevitable defeat, surrounded as it was by a sea of hostile imperialist powers and subject to the overarching economic dictates of the world division of labour.

Little wonder then that Lenin and the Bolsheviks were so enthused when news arrived from Germany in September 1918. The kaiser’s empire was cracking under the weight of military defeat and mass discontent, while a deep-seated desire for radical change was manifesting itself in strikes and demonstrations: “The decisive hour is at hand.”2 Lenin looked to his German comrades around the Spartacist Group headed by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht to follow the example set by Russia a year earlier.

The Russian masses were enthused too - at last there would be an end to their suffering and grinding poverty. The names of Luxemburg and Liebknecht were on every lip. Events in Germany were followed closely and every advance was celebrated. The gamble that the Bolsheviks took in October 1917 seemed to be paying off. The Austro-Hungarian empire was also collapsing under pressure from below and workers’ councils were spreading across Europe. Nothing less than the future course of humanity was at stake.

In hindsight we know that the German revolution was cruelly betrayed by the ‘socialists’, Soviet Russia was left high and dry and our class internationally drifted towards a whole series of defeats. We are still feeling the effects. A critical examination of the events of November 1918 will allow us to understand how and why the German working class was able to come within inches of taking state power, but also how, in the absence of a tried and tested revolutionary party, the rightwing Social Democrats were able to manoeuvre, confuse and save the day for capitalism.

Let us start by putting the revolutionary crisis of 1918 into context, so that we can grasp the social dynamics underpinning it.

The Prussian state and SPD

Karl Marx once quipped that the Prussian state was “nothing but a police-guarded military despotism, embellished with parliamentary forms, alloyed with feudal admixture”.3 This situation could, of course, be traced back to the failure of the bourgeoisie to unite Germany in the 1848 revolution. Instead it was reactionary Prussia which remade Germany in 1871. That meant Prussian landowners - the Junker class, with the kaiser at its head - dominating the officer corps and the state bureaucracy of the united Germany, with the capitalist class expected to quietly get on with the business of making money as privileged subordinates.

The Reichstag, or parliament, elected by the highly undemocratic three-tier voting system, had no more than formal powers in being able to veto government bills. Not only did the kaiser choose the government himself: he could recall parliament at any time, and together with the Oberste Heeresleitung (supreme command), he controlled the Prussian-German army.

Yet growing within this contradictory framework was a force pointing to the future - the workers’ movement, centred on the Social Democracy Party, which constantly pushed against the boundaries of the old order. Three and a half decades of rapid capitalist development saw it grow into a state within a state. By 1912 it had become Germany’s biggest party with 110 Reichstag seats and over 28% of the popular vote. The SPD had around a million members, and a slick party apparatus producing almost a hundred daily newspapers and running numerous sports clubs, women’s associations, youth clubs, etc.

As Clara Zetkin put it, the SPD really was “a way of life”. It was a party in the true sense of the word - a genuine part of the working class - and was officially guided by Marxism. It was no sect: ie, it was not a Socialist Workers ‘Party’ or a Communist ‘Party’ of Britain. Nor was the SDP a Labour Party, as Socialist ‘Party’ leader Peter Taaffe seems to imply.4

Capitalist expansion had, however, also planted the seeds of revisionism and opportunism - a gulf opened up between theory and practice. Party trade union leaders and functionaries saw no further than higher wages and better conditions. Reichstag deputies aimed for minor reforms and parliamentary deals. High politics and the goal of socialism were increasingly relegated to Sunday speeches and party congresses. In other words the politics of the labour bureaucracy were gaining ground and found theoretical expression in the writings of Eduard Bernstein. Luxemburg polemically savaged him. But it was Karl Kautsky who spoke for the majority.

And here was another problem. Although Kautsky opposed Bernstein, he in effect was himself gutting Marxism of its revolutionary content. Kautsky talked about simply taking over the bureaucratic-coercive apparatus of the German state. Above all, however, he was resolutely committed to maintaining the unity of the SDP. That increasingly meant subordination in deed if not word to the labour bureaucracy and the SDP’s right wing.

The war

World War I, which caused the death of at least two million Germans, was to push both the SPD and the Prussian state to breaking point.

The true extent of the SPD’s transformation became painfully clear on August 4 1914, when its parliamentary fraction voted to approve the proposed war credits. This scab act, combined with a deal the trade union bureaucracy had made just a day earlier promising to avoid strikes and social unrest, cleared the way for the army to mobilise and cast the German working class into the mincing machine of war - “the insatiate Moloch into whose bloody jaws are thrown millions upon millions of fresh human sacrifices” (Karl Liebknecht).

Yet even Liebknecht submitted himself to bureaucratic discipline on that fateful day. But never again. Recognising his error, he was soon to join the Spartacist Group, along with Luxemburg, just a few days later in issuing an illegal anti-war statement. His punishment was to serve time both in prison and at the front.

However, the patriotic wave that had allowed union leaders to promise class peace was gradually replaced by a burgeoning anti-war sentiment. Shortages, repression and the horrific reality of the carnage altered perceptions. The longer the war continued, the more examples there were of workers taking action. Inspired by the events in Russia, strikes against bread rationing in April 1917 saw 300,000 munitions workers flood the streets. The Obleute, the movement of leftwing, pro-Bolshevik shop stewards, gained in strength. By now there were secret groups in the navy, such as the League of Soldiers and Sailors, organising meetings and strikes and looking for political leadership. Some were court-marshalled. Lenin heralded these actions as showing the underlying drive to revolution and the necessity of defeatism - “turning the imperialist war into a civil war”.

The developing revolutionary situation highlighted the contradictions within the German workers’ movement - particularly on the nature of the capitalist state. Future battle lines were becoming clear between the different factions of the workers’ movement - factions that until a year beforehand had been active in the same organisation. 1917 saw a huge split, with the formation of the Independent Social Democrats (USPD) after the expulsion of leading SPD comrades for refusing to vote for further war credits.

As developments were later to underline though, the USPD was far from clear on the Russian Revolution, and it was precisely this question that distinguished its revolutionary elements from its centrists. Those around Luxemburg and Liebknecht viewed the revolution as the “vanguard of humanity and peace”, whilst others were convinced that it would end in “social and political discomposition, in chaos”5 (Kautsky, Bernstein, Hugo Haase).

The Prussian state was descending into chaos. The Allied counterattack of August 1918 hit hard, forcing the German army into retreat with inevitable consequences at home. The military apparatus was crumbling and quickly losing legitimacy. Army loyalty was more and more called into question. Many demanded its democratisation and the abolition of military privilege.

Anti-war agitation, particularly in Berlin and key industrial centres such as Bremen and Hamburg, made a big impact in terms of mass consciousness.

A revolutionary crisis was developing, but, as historian Pierre Broue notes, “Whilst Lenin spoke of the ‘eve of the world revolution’, the approaching tragedy in Germany was summed up … in the contrast between the readiness of the young workers to act and the impotence of leaders crushed by responsibilities, and convinced that the future of humanity could be settled in terms of subscriptions, local branches and speeches in parliamentary assemblies.”

‘Revolution from above’

By September 28 Germany’s inevitable defeat was obvious to the military leaders, the emperor and leading industrialists alike. They were now discussing how they could best bring the war to an end. The highly discredited general von Ludendorff was pressing for urgent action. He was quite clear: it was necessary to broaden the government to include the SPD in order to head off revolution. Military dictatorship was not an option in view of the disarray in the army, so if a situation along the lines of a “Russian October” were to be avoided what was demanded was, in the words of admiral von Hintze, a “revolution from above” - that is, a new government and an armistice.

The SPD was thrown into confusion. Initially hesitant, the leadership eventually decided to join the new administration, following acceptance of SPD demands that were far less than the minimum conditions outlined in the Erfurt programme of 1891 - failing which socialists would not even consider entering into government. They were bought off with the promise of an equal franchise in Prussia, and the restoration of the Belgian state, which would receive reparations.

It was on October 4 1918 that the SPD joined the coalition of Progressives, National Liberals and the Centre. These bourgeois parties held the key ministries - the foreign office, war ministry and ministry of the interior. Phillip Scheidemann and Gustav Bauer were the SPD representatives in the new government.

Yet resolving the crisis would take more than a few token reforms and adjustments. Although the chancellor was now accountable to the Reichstag, which could make key decisions on war and peace, Count Hertling was replaced by Prince Max von Baden! The Junkers still held sway, with echoes of Prince Lvov’s provisional government in Russia the previous year. Some of the key names in the new government were despised for the way they had dealt with working class resistance to the effects of the war. General von Linsingen’s name, for example, was synonymous with the prohibition of meetings, arrests and censorship.

The Spartacists and the left wing of the USPD reacted to this development with a conference on October 7. they demanded the immediate release of political prisoners, an end to the state of siege, cancellation of compulsory labour, expropriation of the entire banking capital and all large and middle-sized estates, plus the establishment of a minimum wage. On October 16, a demonstration demanded the release of the still incarcerated Karl Liebknecht under the slogan “Down with the government, long live Liebknecht!”


Confidence was high. On November 1 the Obleute assembled to decide on the day of the insurrection and to begin preparations. A very close vote of 21-19 set the date for November 11. However, Liebknecht, now released, and Willhelm Pieck of the Spartacists disagreed with the decision, rightly insisting that more time was necessary to win mass working class support for the taking of power. However, things were moving so quickly that by November 11 the revolution was well underway - it had taken even the most advanced elements by surprise.

If war is the locomotive of revolution, then it was the mutinous German sailors who drove that locomotive. Discontented with the meagre food rations and their treatment by arrogant and overbearing military officers, they were less than keen to throw themselves into a last battle for German ‘honour’ when it was known an armistice was imminent. Thanks to the brave efforts of comrades illegally organising in the navy, the sailors were highly politically conscious and more than up to speed with developments on the German left.

Over 800 were imprisoned for mutiny after refusing orders to move against the British fleet off the coast of Flanders. There were mass demonstrations of sailors, even though assemblies were still banned. As one sailor recalled: “At five o’clock in the afternoon of November 3, approximately ten thousand marines and some thousand workers gathered, thereafter moved to the Waldwiese and freed men who were imprisoned there; a considerable number armed themselves”.6

The workers in Kiel called a general strike in solidarity. Strengthened by arriving squadrons, they quickly proceeded to seize power locally. So profound was the crisis in the Prussian state apparatus that next to no resistance was offered. Leadership and inspiration were needed to channel the spontaneous energy of a reinvigorated working class into a direct challenge for state power. Yet it was precisely this decisive factor that was missing.

The SPD now faced a dilemma. It was flatly opposed to the new mass movement and had already made this explicitly clear to its allies in the government. On November 4 the SPD executive committee announced that the kaiser’s abdication was under discussion, and called on its supporters in the working class “not to frustrate these negotiations through reckless intervention” and to reject the calls to action of an “irresponsible minority”.7 Reichstag deputy Gustav Noske, well known amongst the sailors in particular for his expertise in military affairs, was sent to Kiel to sort things out, together with the Liberal secretary of state, Conrad Haussmann, and Hugo Haase of the USPD.

Noske paid lip service to the workers’ demands and declared himself on their side, despite their calls for the abdication of the Hohenzollern.8 He was then elected as chair of the Kiel council. At that point, few doubted his intentions The soldiers greeted him enthusiastically: “Noske was trusted and given a free hand. People saw him as a socialist comrade and nobody thought at that time he would be prepared to order workers to be shot” - a reference to the counterrevolutionary slaughter he would later unleash on the German working class.

The ramifications of Kiel were felt right across the reich. Bavaria was the first state to become a republic, declared by USPD member Kurt Eisner following a demonstration on November 7. King Ludwig III abdicated and the process of sweeping away the power of numerous petty princes and fiefs began. By November 8, Dresden, Leipzig, Chemnitz, Magdeburg, Brunswick, Frankfurt, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Hanover, Nuremberg and Stuttgart had all fallen into the hands of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils.

The contradictions latent within the state burst open and the revolution spread like wildfire. In Cologne, 45,000 soldiers swelled its ranks, almost without a shot being fired. The soldiers and now unemployed veterans in particular moved remarkably quickly: “Across the compact mass of the moving crowd big military lorries urged their way, full to overflowing with soldiers and sailors who waved red flags and uttered ferocious cries … These cars, crowded with young fellows in uniform or in mufti, carrying loaded rifles or little red flags, seemed to me characteristic. These young men constantly left their places to force officers or soldiers to tear off their badges of rank.”9

Berlin and the Kaiser

On November 9 the empire was finally brought to its knees. The revolution had infected Berlin. A meeting of the USPD the night before had planned a general strike and, although the Jägerbatallion was sent in by prince von Baden to suppress it, the soldiers could not bring themselves to move against the throng. Officers across the empire were complaining that their soldiers were no longer willing to accept orders.

Von Baden hoped that the empire could be salvaged if he personally appointed Friedrich Ebert, secretary general of the SPD, as chancellor. Ebert told him: “If the kaiser does not abdicate, then social revolution is unavoidable. But I do not want it; no, I hate it like sin.”

By midday on November 9 Ebert was chancellor. Meanwhile, leading SPD member Phillip Scheidemann had found out that Liebknecht was about to proclaim the socialist republic. He decided to act. Against Ebert’s wishes, Scheidemann declared the dawn of the republic and that von Baden had given his office over to “our friend Ebert”, who would “form a government which all socialist parties will belong to”.

Almost at the same time, Liebknecht was indeed proclaiming the socialist republic. The Obleute and their supporters, with the memory of Ebert’s and Scheidemann’s betrayals of August 1914 still in their minds, were clear that the revolution had to deepen and widen in order to sweep power from beneath Ebert’s feet. At 8pm around a hundred of them stormed and occupied parliament. Their plan was quite simple - tomorrow elections had to take place in every factory and every regiment in order to form a revolutionary government from the two workers’ parties.

Circus Busch and dual power

The SPD was unsure whether the workers’ councils would cooperate with the government declared by Scheidemann or would themselves become an alternative centre of power. It had to quell the mass movement and hijack the councils. Its next step would be to push for the USPD to join it in forming a provisional government.

Distrust between members of the USPD and the SPD ran deep, but the comrades knew each other’s politics inside out and the SPD was confident that there was a softer layer of USPD leaders who could be won over to stem the movement from below and prevent a descent into “Bolshevik chaos”. They were split on the question of the war, but many leading USPD members were later to rejoin the SPD - their politics had become increasingly indistinguishable from the Eberts and Scheidemanns. Ebert even implied, hypocritically, that he wanted Liebknecht on board - just hours earlier he had been absolutely committed to a parliamentary monarchy in coalition with the Liberals and the Progressives.

There was huge pressure on the USPD. Liebknecht insisted that government participation should be made contingent on all power being vested in the councils, following the signing of an armistice. This was rejected by the SPD leaders, who claimed that a “class dictatorship” of the workers would be undemocratic. The people could only decide on their government following properly organised elections - an impossibility, as they well knew. Their idea was to win time to strengthen their hand against the far left.

A second attempt at negotiations - this time without Liebknecht’s presence in the USPD delegation - proved far more fruitful. The USPD later accepted the invitation on condition that any bourgeois politicians would be mere “technical assistants” who would be directly recallable and accountable to the people. The other condition was that the constituent assembly should not meet until “the gains of the revolution had been consolidated”. This vague concession had counterrevolutionary implications.

Liebknecht was clear that he would not join the proposed government with Ebert, who had smuggled himself into the revolution to further his own reactionary aims. So the new government was set up without Liebknecht - it consisted of three representatives from each group: Ebert, Scheidemann and Otto Landsberg for the SPD; and Hugo Haase, Willhelm Dittmann and Emil Barth for the USPD.

But the SPD also had to deal with the Obleute proposal for elections to the Vollzugsrat, which was to act as an executive council of a revolutionary government. In order to be able to keep control, the SPD leadership mobilised in every factory and regiment it possibly could in order to get its supporters onto the Vollzugsrat. The 3,000-strong meeting on November 10 at Circus Busch in Berlin was dominated by SPD-loyal soldiers whose insistence on an unconditional “Unity!” made for a highly charged atmosphere. Numerous fist-fights broke out. At one point during his speech, Liebknecht actually feared that he might be shot. His prescient warning about how the revolution’s “enemies surround us” and condemnation of the “insidious” exploitation of the soldiers by those enemies certainly did not go down well with the majority of those present.

A proposal from Barth sought the election of an executive council which would have supreme legislative power, and to which the people’s commissars would be responsible. But it also sanctioned the SPD-USPD provisional government, unwittingly becoming a source of support for those who had been opposed to the revolution from the very start.

With the SPD enjoying the support of the majority of the meeting, the principle of parity between the two groups was only partly enforced: the SPD and USPD each had seven worker members elected, but the 14 soldiers on the Vollzugsrat were overwhelmingly supporters of or sympathetic to the SPD. The conference also confirmed the provisional government as the basis of the revolution.

Although initially unhappy with the Circus Busch result, Ebert was actually now in a stronger position. Setting up a cabinet with the USPD was crucial and control over the Vollzugsrat also allowed him to prevent the formation of a counterweight to the provisional government and its state apparatus. Moreover, although bourgeois politicians formally operated only as “technical advisors”, they essentially carried on with many of the functions of the old order.

Business as usual

The situation was highly contradictory. The SPD was schizophrenically portrayed as both the heir of the old regime and the head of a revolutionary cabinet approved by the popular will of the workers’ and soldiers’ councils. Yet SPD intentions were clear - the priority was not to arm the people, not to expropriate and socialise industry, but to use its influence within the remnants of the old order to prevent the workers from exercising control of the workplace, localities or media, while itself claiming to represent both the “community of labour” and “national interests”.

Right from the outset the SPD-USPD government sought to undermine the executive council. Whilst the latter had voted through a motion declaring that Germany was now a “socialist republic”, where power lay in the “workers’ and soldiers’ councils”, this was not even mentioned in the SPD-controlled press. When the executive sought to form red guards, Ebert and Barth worked with the military commander of Berlin, Otto Wels, in order to form a ‘republican defence force’ to defend the government, consisting of around 15,000 volunteers. There could be no question of arming the people. Unsurprisingly, funding for the republican defence force poured in from numerous bourgeois sources.10

Crucial was the deal struck between the officer corps and the SPD apparatus. General Groener - successor to Ludendorff as quartermaster general - later wrote: “The officer corps could only cooperate with a government which undertook the struggle against Bolshevism … Ebert had made his mind up on this … We made an alliance against Bolshevism … There existed no other party which had enough influence upon the masses to enable the re-establishment of a governmental power with the help of the army.”11

The Hohenzollern bureaucracy, most significantly at the level of the military apparatus, remained in place. For Rosa Luxemburg this meant “leaving the administrative organs of the state intact from top to bottom, in the hands of yesterday’s pillars of Hohenzollern absolutism and tomorrow’s tools of the counterrevolution”.12

A cabinet meeting on November 12 showed just how far things had gone. It confirmed that the officers’ power of command was to remain and military discipline was to be upheld. This made things uncomfortable for the USPD, which had gained so much support from soldiers and sailors precisely as a reaction to the military hierarchy’s bullying. But the SPD won the day by using the pretext of the Versailles treaty and the demand to retreat “in good order” to the east bank of the Rhine. It also introduced measures like the right to vote from the age of 20, an end to censorship and to the state of siege.

Meanwhile, the councils were thrown into a state of confusion. Largely products of spontaneity, their make-up had always differed across the country. Bremen and Hamburg, for example, were always extremely militant. They had abolished the local administration and taken over its affairs, in Bremen forming Red Guards to replace the standing army and police. In other areas like Cologne and Duisburg, the SPD was able to win the inclusion of bourgeois forces. Other councils were simply organisationally ineffective or even totally corrupt. The strength of the SPD lay in the fact that it was able to rely on political backwardness amongst the newly politicised and on connections with the old state. In addition since the Circus Busch the USPD was committed to parity between the two parties even when it was in a distinct majority.

Whereas radical councils like Dresden and Leipzig would produce programmes proclaiming working class power and calling for socialisation to begin immediately, they were the exception rather than the rule. Many of the councils simply left many functions like the police and judicial system in the hands of the old state machinery.

Luxemburg was quite clear that what had happened was not the equivalent of October 1917. The task of the working class was to consolidate its gains and prepare for further advances. “Above all”, she wrote, November 9 was a “political revolution”, reflecting to “a very small extent the victory of a new principle; it was little more than a collapse of the extant system of imperialism.”

November 15 saw an agreement between SPD trade union leader Carl Legien of the SPD and big capitalists Hugo Stinnes and Carl Friedrich von Siemens. It promised to end strikes, roll back the influence of the councils and stymie workers’ control of production. Although gestures were made by the new Council of People’s Commissars through the appointment of a commission to investigate which industries were suitable for socialisation, this more or less did nothing until April 1919.

The foreign policy pursued by the new government spoke volumes. Ever since the outbreak of the revolution, the Bolsheviks had made offers to help to overcome the scarcity of food in Germany. But the new government refused to accept Russian grain, despite the best diplomatic efforts of German-speaking Bolsheviks like Karl Radek. Then it issued a statement on the deal reached with US president Woodrow Wilson, which laid down that food supplies to address the desperate shortages would be considered “only on condition that public order in Germany is genuinely re-established and maintained and a just distribution of food supplies guaranteed”.

It was claimed that this had been enforced by Wilson himself. but the French daily Le Temps13 The intention was clear. Instead of establishing the German working class as a key battalion in the international proletariat, the SPD aim was to join in the campaign to strangle the Russian Revolution. The government used the threat of starvation and appealed for national unity in the face of the Allies’ demands. later revealed that this extra clause had been insisted upon by Ebert, not Wilson.

The counterrevolution was thus painted in ‘socialist’ colours. And it was of a national and international nature. While claiming that law and order was essential for a return to normality, the SPD was preparing to join forces with rightwing militias such as the Freikorps at home, while supporting direct military collusion with the Entente imperialist states to keep German troops in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia and hold back the Russian Revolution. Supporting the ‘free press’, the SPD was complicit in the dissemination of anti-Jewish and anti-Bolshevik propaganda. This, combined with the killing of Luxemburg and Liebknecht in 1919 and the failed attempt to stabilise capitalism would eventually culminate in the counterrevolutionary horror of Hitler.

Revolutionary alternative

The success of the Russian Revolution confirmed the necessity of a deeply rooted revolutionary party. The German Spartacists, although operating independently and at least as a ‘proto-party’ formation since the launch of the International Group in January 1916, were not sufficiently demarcated from the USPD. The Spartacist publication Die Rote Fahne was established too late in the day.

Ninety years on from one of the greatest and most inspiring events in working class history, it is incumbent upon us to strive to understand why the German revolution was defeated. The foundation of the German Communist Party under the leadership of Luxemburg and Liebknecht did not take place until the end of 1918 and at the outbreak of crisis months earlier the Spartacists had only 50 comrades in Berlin. Their bravery, determination and enthusiasm ensured that their numbers grew quickly, but they were not an established political party like the Bolsheviks in Russia when crisis broke.

If there is one thing we can learn from the events of November 1918, it is that it is never too early to fight for a party openly committed to working class power. Delay can only serve to strengthen the labour bureaucracy and their acolytes - the future Eberts, Noskes, and Scheidemanns.


1. C Harman The lost revolution London 1982, p11.
2. Quoted in P Broue The German revolution Chicago 2006, p131.
3. J Riddell (ed) The German revolution and the debate on soviet power Atlanta 1986, p21.
4. The Socialist November 4. Taaffe claims the bureaucratisation, growth of revisionism and gradualism within the SPD is “something similar” to what has occurred in the Labour Party over the past few decades. A desperate attempt to excuse his group’s past auto-Labourism, and provide cover for the call to set up a Labour Party mark two. Bizarrely, he goes on to lambast the USPD for having a “halfway house political position, sometimes using very radical, ‘revolutionary’ phraseology”, and for being “passive in deeds, refusing to go the whole way in the struggle against capitalism”. In reality the USPD was way to the left of Taaffe and his Socialist Party.
5. Kautsky, one of the leading theoreticians of the centrist tendency, was virulently anti-Bolshevik. Quoted in P Broue The German revolution Chicago 2006, p101.
7. J Riddell (ed) The German revolution and the debate on soviet power Atlanta 1986, p38.
9. C Harman The lost revolution London 1982, p53.
10. P Broue The German revolution Chicago 2006, p177.
11. Ibid p169.
12. Rosa Luxemburg The beginning:
13. J Riddell (ed) The German revolution and the debate on soviet power Atlanta 1986, p66.

The Assault on Mumbai

India's leaders need to look closer to home

By TARIQ ALI. First published in Counterpunch, November 27, 2008

The terrorist assault on Mumbai’s five-star hotels was well planned, but did not require a great deal of logistic intelligence: all the targets were soft. The aim was to create mayhem by shining the spotlight on India and its problems and in that the terrorists were successful. The identity of the black-hooded group remains a mystery.

The Deccan Mujahedeen, which claimed the outrage in an e-mail press release, is certainly a new name probably chosen for this single act. But speculation is rife. A senior Indian naval officer has claimed that the attackers (who arrived in a ship, the M V Alpha) were linked to Somali pirates, implying that this was a revenge attack for the Indian Navy’s successful if bloody action against pirates in the Arabian Gulf that led to heavy casualties some weeks ago.

The Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has insisted that the terrorists were based outside the country. The Indian media has echoed this line of argument with Pakistan (via the Lashkar-e-Taiba) and al-Qaeda listed as the usual suspects.

But this is a meditated edifice of official India’s political imagination. Its function is to deny that the terrorists could be a homegrown variety, a product of the radicalization of young Indian Muslims who have finally given up on the indigenous political system. To accept this view would imply that the country’s political physicians need to heal themselves.

Al Qaeda, as the CIA recently made clear, is a group on the decline. It has never come close to repeating anything vaguely resembling the hits of 9/11.

Its principal leader Osama bin Laden may well be dead (he certainly did not make his trademark video intervention in this year’s Presidential election in the United States) and his deputy has fallen back on threats and bravado.

What of Pakistan? The country’s military is heavily involved in actions on its Northwest frontier where the spillage from the Afghan war has destabilized the region. The politicians currently in power are making repeated overtures to India. The Lashkar-e-Taiba, not usually shy of claiming its hits, has strongly denied any involvement with the Mumbai attacks.

Why should it be such a surprise if the perpetrators are themselves Indian Muslims? Its hardly a secret that there has been much anger within the poorest sections of the Muslim community against the systematic discrimination and acts of violence carried out against them of which the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in shining Gujarat was only the most blatant and the most investigated episode, supported by the Chief Minister of the State and the local state apparatuses.

Add to this the continuing sore of Kashmir which has for decades been treated as a colony by Indian troops with random arrests, torture and rape of Kashmiris an everyday occurrence. Conditions have been much worse than in Tibet, but have aroused little sympathy in the West where the defense of human rights is heavily instrumentalised.

Indian intelligence outfits are well aware of all this and they should not encourage the fantasies of their political leaders. Its best to come out and accept that there are severe problems inside the country. A billion Indians: 80 percent Hindus and 14 percent Muslims. A very large minority that cannot be ethnically cleansed without provoking a wider conflict.

None of this justifies terrorism, but it should, at the very least, force India’s rulers to direct their gaze on their own country and the conditions that prevail. Economic disparities are profound. The absurd notion that the trickle-down effects of global capitalism would solve most problems can now be seen for what it always was: a fig leaf to conceal new modes of exploitation.

Tariq Ali’s latest book, ‘The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power’ is published by Scribner.

What is really happening in Pakistan? Can American arms win in Afghanistan? Activist/historian Tariq Ali launches new book and updates the Afghan war, and the daily struggle of Pakistan in the age of corruption.

Venezuela: After the regional elections, the workers propose a clean out and more revolution

Stalin Perez Borges

By Stalin Perez Borges, translated by Kiraz Janicke and Federico Fuentes for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

November 25, 2008 -- I want to give some preliminary and personal impressions, in the heat of the moment, where many comrades are very preoccupied by the significance of the [Chavista movement’s] loss of the Mayor of Greater Caracas and of some important or key governorships in the country.

It’s time to calm down and sit down together in order to evaluate in depth with the comrades. There are various points that we should analyse in order to draw conclusions that truly reflect reality. It is necessary to open a profound debate within the party [United Socialist Party of Venezuela – PSUV], to reflect and proceed with self-criticism, as President Chavez indicated on Sunday night.

First, I think it is necessary to stress the increase of votes for Chavismo across the entire country compared to last December 2 [the constitutional reform referendum]. At the same time the opposition has demonstrated once again that there is a ceiling of votes that it cannot overcome, even if abstention levels are much lower. Nevertheless, it managed to reach a level of support that allowed it to obtain political victories in important cities.

Second, I think it is necessary to stress that having gone into these elections divided in many states, as is the case of Carabobo, the candidates of Chavez carried out a very good election campaign although some of them did not win.

Third, I think that the warning that we gave from Marea Socialista [Socialist Tide] about some of the candidates, and above all the indication that they are leaders that express something that the revolutionary people profoundly reject, such as is the case of the endogenous right-wing, had a very important weight in fundamental districts such as the governorship of Miranda and others, for example Tachira. The action of previous governments is what explains the defeat in Greater Caracas. This is one of the most serious political problems that confronts the revolutionary process.

But there is a problem that is graver still. That is the dynamic within the PSUV itself. It is necessary to transform the party into a truly revolutionary party. We cannot continue with the method of an electoral machine where the base only participates in an irregular manner, in limited primaries, that in general are controlled by the power of the endogenous right-wing.

The party demonstrates that it could be a great party, but it is necessary to stimulate the participation of the workers, of the popular sectors that are the fundamental base of the revolution. And this stimulation should be political. The fact is the party has taken little account of its trade union movement. These electoral results, although they are positive, leave open the necessity of knowing that what is lacking is more democracy and more participation. The militants must feel it is their party, not the party of the leaders, otherwise it will run the risk of converting itself into just one more party, just like the other ones.

Nevertheless, it is not enough to simply announce that there should be self-criticism. The revolutionary people across the whole country must participate. We, on our part, believe that the moment has arrived to clean out the government and the party. A cleaning out and more revolution is what we need in order to ensure that working people govern in this revolution.

[Stalin Perez Borges is a national coordinator of the National Union of Workers (UNT), a militant of the PSUV and a national leader of Marea Socialista.]

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Hessians and Mercenaries in German Politics

Political Affairs Magazine

BERLIN – In George Washington’s day, “Hessians” was a synonym for mercenaries – German soldiers bought and sold by King George III to defeat the American Revolution. In today’s West German state of Hesse, where those soldiers came from, the word “mercenaries” is currently being applied to just four people, not foot soldiers but delegates to the state legislature. Were they bought and sold? By whom? The question is still open. What is known is that they betrayed their party, the Social Democrats, stymieing hopes to oust the local tyrant, minister president Ronald Koch. Their betrayal has consequences – not only for the six million people of Hesse. It is of symbolic importance.

Last January, after nine years in office, Koch, 50, campaigned for a third term for his so-called Christian Democrats (CDU) and their equally far-right ally, the Free Democrats. Correctly fearing that more and more Hessians were sick of them, he stooped to the nastiest of attacks against “young immigrant thugs” and “criminal foreigners.” His posters played on the foreign-sounding names of the leaders of both Social Democrats and Greens, and on the attempts of the new party, the Left, to get into the legislature: “Stop Ypsilanti, El-Wazir and the Communists”. His Free Democrat allies resorted to the worn old “Freedom or Socialism” slogan.

This time it didn’t work. Koch’s CDU got only 36.8 percent of the vote, a loss of more than 12 percentage points and its worst defeat in years. Andrea Ypsilanti, a dynamic, competent, pleasant-looking new figure on the political scene, whose program was more socially-conscious than that of her fellow Social Democrats on the national level, made big gains and achieved 36.7 percent. This was sensational – but still one tenth of a point behind Koch.

That is where the new party, The Left, came in. In its very first try, it had won 5.1 percent, slipping over the 5 percent hurdle and getting 6 seats in the state legislature. Unhappily, in response to heavy-handed pressure from the national Social Democratic party during the election campaign, Ypsilanti had promised not to form any coalition with The Left, the pariah of almost all German media. But the addition of a fifth party meant that no combination of only two parties could attain a majority. A third one was required. None seemed available.

Therefore Andrea Ypsilanti, twisting her promise a tiny bit, worked out a deal whereby the SPD and the Greens would form a minority government which could stay in power as long as the six deputies from the Left agreed not to join it but to support it with their votes. The media raged, but The Left, after a referendum of its members in Hesse, agreed to this, with reservations on certain issues (like refusing to back further extension of the immense international airport at Frankfurt, Hesse’s largest city). The Greens also agreed and the deal seemed shaky but certain - until one Social Democratic deputy suddenly found that she had abhorred the East German Democratic Republic far too strongly to support any agreement with the Left, which had most of its roots there, although almost none of the Left deputies came from East Germany. Thus, at the last moment the deal floundered.

For months the state remained in limbo, with Koch staying in office on a care-taker basis, but without having the votes to really rule. The three parties opposing him, Social Democrats, Greens and the Left, combining their wafer-thin majority, forced through some decisions, most importantly the reversal of a law requiring students at state-owned colleges to pay tuition charges.

Meanwhile Andrea Ypsilanti kept trying to work out an agreement to “topple the tyrant.” Again ignoring her earlier promise to reject support from the Left, she visited and checked out county organizations of her party all over Hesse and found them all willing to stay together and make another bid. Even with that one delegate sticking to her refusal, they could just manage to oust Koch after all by a single vote. The Greens and The Left were still willing and the vote was scheduled for November 4th. That was Election Day in the USA; it was probably felt that this might keep the result out of the day’s main headlines, which would meet it with cold hatred or violent fury.

Instead, the media triumphed! Just one day before the vote the fan got hit in Hesse! At a hasty press conference not just one but four Social Democrats announced that they had suddenly discovered their anti-Communist consciences. Despite solemn promises to Ypsilanti, without even consulting her, in fact, they refused to support any coalition dependent on votes from that terrible Left. This “Gang of Four,” as they were immediately called, were all right-wing party members; their leader had been passed over in his wishes for a top ministerial position with Ypsilanti. After brief statements to the delighted press they rushed off to a secret location, where they waited until the worst of the anger and disappointment had eased. There were demands that they give up their seats in the legislature, since they had defied the wishes of nearly all Social Democrats. Of course they refused. They were expelled from the Social Democratic caucus and will hardly be nominated again. But they will probably find no lack in job offers.

Why did they opt out at the very last moment? Several theories emerged. What occurs first is that Koch and his team bribed them. A variant: various economic interests in Hesse bribed them – most plausibly those eager to enlarge the Frankfurt airport, regardless of opposition from environmentalists, the surrounding countryside, the Greens and the Left. Another possibility is certainly that the top leadership of the Social Democrats, still engaged in a coalition with Christian Democrats on the national level, feared any leftward trend in their party, and above all acceptance or cooperation with the growing Left party in any form, especially with national elections due next September. The national chairman of the Social Democrats, Kurt Beck, was almost literally chased from office ten weeks ago because he had wavered in this absolute taboo and even mildly supported Ypsilanti, telling her she could act as she and the party in Hesse saw fit. His replacement, Franz Muentefering, looks principally rightward and rules the party with an iron hand, despite catastrophic losses in popular support in recent years. Men like Muentefering, and his local supporters in Hesse, often with ties to business circles, prefer almost anything to a leftward trend. The leader of the “Gang of Four”, though obviously motivated in part by personal jealousy of Ypsilanti and ambitions of moving upward himself, has openly stated his preference for a coalition with Koch and his Christian Democrats to any kind of agreement with the Left.

On November 19th the Hessian parliament finally ended the month-long stalemate, officially dissolved itself and voted to hold new elections on January 18th. Andrea Ypsilanti remains party leader but gave up her attempt to become the only female minister president of a German state (the second in history). The man chosen to replace her as candidate for that job is a virtually unknown man with a less than charismatic face and name, Thorsten Schaefer-Guembel. He faces a tough uphill battle. Many voters are tired of the internal quarrels among Social Democrats and the media now predict a victory for Koch and his allies. Of course, they also predict that the Left will no longer take the five percent hurdle. Perhaps this is all their wishful thinking. But an election campaign during the Christmas season is always a difficult thing.

Once again, as so often in history, the powers-that-be, including those running the Social Democratic Party, prefer turning to the right to turning to the left, no matter what the consequences. Anyone challenging this often fateful tradition faces the constant danger of being thrown to the wolves – or at least thrown out of leadership.

And meanwhile, rumbling menacingly in the background, the giant automobile manufacturer Opel, a subsidiary of General Motors, is threatened with bankruptcy. While the legislators in Wiesbaden, the capital of Hesse, worry about seats in the next legislature, thousands if not tens of thousands of working people in Opel’s huge central offices and main plant in Russelsheim, a bare 15 miles away, or in many supplier plants, are worrying about their jobs, their homes and families. More years with Koch, more likely again, would probably be the worst possible solution. What would be the best one?

The Flame, November 2008 - Green Left Weekly's Arabic supplement

Via Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

According to the 2006 census, the most commonly spoken language in Sydney households, after English, is Arabic. In Australia as a whole, Arabic is the fifth most commonly spoken language. The Arabic-speaking community includes Lebanese, Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis, Palestinians, Jordanians and Sudanese. Many other ethnic groups also speak Arabic in addition to their language because they have lived in Arabic-speaking countries. These include Armenians, Kurds, Assyrians, Mandaeens and many more.

With the help of Socialist Alliance members in the growing Sudanese community in Australia, Green Left Weekly -- Australia's leading socialist newspaper -- is publishing a regular Arabic language supplement. The Flame will cover news from the Arabic-speaking world as well as news and issues from within Australia. The editor-in-chief will be Soubhi Iskander, a comrade who has endured years of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the repressive government in Sudan.

“There are Arabic newspapers in Australia, but still all reflect the views of their editors and there is a great need to establish a progressive Arabic-language press which can frankly discuss the squalid condition of the Arab world due to submission and subservience to neo-colonialism”, Iskander explains. “At the same time, the Arabic-speaking communities in Australia need to read articles relating to the Australian government policy internally — articles which will unmask the pitfalls of these policies, and will expose the violation and the lies of the capitalist parties. The Flame, we hope, will be a powerful addition to Green Left Weekly.”

Iskander and his team are working to involve progressive activists from other Arabic-speaking communities in the Flame project. They are promoting GLW subscriptions to interested members of the Arabic-speaking communities. GLW is proud to be taking this major step to broaden the audience for progressive ideas and news of the movements for radical political, economic and environmental change. We know we will not achieve radical change without bringing together all sections of the oppressed and exploited in a common struggle.

Below is the fifth edition of the Flame, published on November 26, 2008.

The Flame, November 2008 -- Green Left Weekly's Arabic-language supplement