Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Eyewitness reports from the Nepal's revolution

By Ben Peterson

[The following are a series first-hand reports from Nepal, by Australian socialist activist Ben Peterson, a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective and the socialist youth organisation Resistance, both affiliated to the Socialist Alliance. They first appeared at Ben's blog, Lal Salam, and were posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with his permission.]

* * *

First impressions and adventures in Nepal

March 6, 2009 -- And here I am. After too long speculating from the sidelines (and sidelines 10,000 kilometres away) I have finally arrived in the land of Mountains and Maoists. On Tuesday night at about 10 pm, I landed in Kathmandu to see with my own eyes the processes unfolding here.

This is less of an in-depth analysis and more of a account of my personal experiences so far, which have been really intense.

I was met at the airport by a political comrade of mine, Narendra Jung Peter. He has been an amazing help so far, and amongst many other things has helped arrange a room to stay, a sim card and introductions to already a mind-boggling amount of people.

So it wasn't until Wednesday that I got to look around Kathmandu a little bit. It's an amazing place, and so unbelievably different to the comforts of the West. To describe it best I think all that really needs to be said that it is loud, chaotic but amazingly open and friendly. I've been lost a few times already, but everywhere I go there are people more than happy to help me out, and have a chat which has been great.

There is a lot of political graffiti and posters on the walls in Kathmandu. Most of it, at least where I am staying, is just residual stuff left over from previous events. There is still a lot of stuff left over from the election, most of it Maoist [United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) -- UCPN (Maoist)]. I have some good photos. Their are also a lot of posters, where I am they are mostly related to the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) UML congress that was held two weeks ago. There was also some I saw in another part of the city advertising a program for the Newari (an ethnic group) National Liberation Front. I am pretty sure this is a Maoist group, but unfortunately it has already taken place, so I couldn't attend. There have also been posters around where I am staying for the local shopkeepers' union, but I have not yet found anyone to translate them for me.

There is some more recent stuff, there was a big slogan on one wall from the Maoists women's group, which is organising something in regards to International Women's Day, which I saw around, but the areas near the schools and universities are saturated with material, due to the ongoing student elections. Hopefully I will be able to make contact with some of these students and get an insight to the student movements, as the struggle here has been fierce, often escalating into confrontations.

The last few days have been amazingly intense. I haven't had time to think, it's been really crazy, but so amazingly rewarding. Again, Comrade Narendra Jung Peter has been an invaluable contact, and I already owe him more than I thought possible.

Yesterday I got up early to go see the Dabur Square. It is an amazing place, it is the central square of Kathmandu and has temples and other architecture dating back literally over a thousand years. It is an amazing mix of Nepali culture and architecture which is so amazingly impressive, with smaller additions and influences taken from other cultures that passed through the valley, as Kathmandu is on what was the traditional trade route between India and Tibet/China.

The exception to this rule of subtle influences is the domination of the beastly building that is sort of tacked onto the side of the old royal palace which is based on the Bank of England building in London. There is nothing subtle about the imposition of this palace extension, and if endemic of the fact that while as a independent nation Nepal was able to resist becoming a part of the British Empire, the cultural (and economic) imperialism wasn't able to be stopped at the border.

After seeing the Darbur Square Narendra called me and invited me to a meeting at the Ministry of Communications and Information on the need to spread responsibility and accountability within the media of Nepal. Present at the meeting where ex-ministers, heads of journalist federations, veteran and respected journos, academics and editors... and me. Needless to say I felt a little out of my depth, especially as I don't speak a word of Nepali, but it was still a good experience that I am very grateful for.

Their are many issues in the media at the moment. Firstly and foremost, there is the issue of the Army integration, which has recently flared up. The (ex-royal) Nepali Army recently went ahead and recruited several thousand new members, despite it being against the interim constitution, the peace agreement, the supreme court and the directions of the government and defence ministries. However only in the last couple of days, in response to this, has the People's Liberation Army also started a process of recruitment. The right-wing media is now starting a shit storm about how the PLA is putting the peace process in jeopardy and the UCPN (M) is at fault. It is a ridiculous argument, and the root cause of a the current issues is that the army is still loyal to the royals and the opposition, and not to the government.

There is also the issue of the load shedding. Kathmandu is without power for up to 16 hours a day, which naturally is causing massive disruption to people's lives and to the economy. While Nepal is a Third World country and it definitely has issues with energy, there has recently (since the Maoists formed government) has been a noticeable increase in the problem. While there no doubt has been chronic underfunding from the government for energy for years, I think that the recent increase in the problem is suspicious to say the least.

I will try and write articles on all the issues and also try and get some interviews done. I also need to go to the countryside and see things a bit better as well and meet the rural people.

On a final note, the comrades I have spoken too here have really enjoyed Green Left Weekly. I highly recommend it, it's a great paper and that will be writing for it.

The PLA recruits -- what is the future of the peace process?

March 8, 2009 -- On March 3, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of Nepal, which fought a ten-year war against what was then the Hindu Kingdom of Nepal started recruiting new soldiers to fill vacancies within this force. This has been hailed by the media and political opposition (both inside and outside of the government) as a major hit to the integration of the armies and has been said to put the peace process in jeopardy.

However to come to these conclusions one has to disregard the facts and the real issues surrounding this recent controversy. This recruitment has been in response to a recruitment by the (ex-Royal) Nepal Army. The recruitment by the army took place against the instructions and orders of the defence ministry, the government, the Supreme Court, yet did not receive the same condemnation from the various political parties in opposition.

The political opposition, lea by the Nepali Congress, has called for this recruitment to be stopped, and has demanded that the United Communist Party (Maoist) halt the recruitment. However the UCPN (M) is not in a position to do so, as the PLA no longer the military wing of that party. It has repeatedly been stressed by both the UCPN (M) and the PLA that the PLA now takes its directions from and is loyal to the civilian government.

The PLA and the UCPN (M) both continue to reconfirm their commitment to the ongoing peace process and the process of creating the new Nepal. It is the Nepal Army, with the political support of the opposition, which is putting the peace process in jeopardy and continues to move against the spirit of the people's movement of 2006 and the mandate given to the Maoist-led government in the constituent assembly elections last year.

When placed in a position where despite its commitment to the peace process and the government, its opponent in the Nepali Army continues to grow and build its strength, the PLA is left with no option but to follow suit.

The peace process only can be brought to a logical conclusion when the two forces are integrated into a new, democratised national army, loyal only to the new Nepal. Contrary to the opinion of the political opposition, the most pressing need in this matter is not to rehabilitate the PLA into the community, but (as this whole episode shows) to bring the rogue army back under the control of the civilian government, and dissolve both of these forces and then reintegrate them into a new national army for the new Nepal.

This however will be a struggle for the Maoist-led government as those inside and outside the army will fight tooth and nail to preserve it in its current state as insurance for the status quo. It is clear to most observers that while the king may be gone and the constitution is still being written, the shape and form of the new Nepal is anything but certain, and is still to be played out in the future.

Some pictures and thoughts from the Peoples Liberation Army.

March 28, 2009 -- For the last week I have been with the JanaMukti Sena, the Peoples Liberation Army. Mostly with the 3rd Division, Kalyan/Anish Memorial Brigade.

This is the Peoples/Military Hospital. Set up by the Peoples Liberation Army, it now serves both it and the public. It has many facilities, including a pharmacy, an operating room for minor surgeries, a pre- and post-natal care facility and a female ward. It was built by the PLA, and runs at next to no cost for the people of the area. (I also fell ill at the camp, and it cost me 10 rupees, about 20 Australian cents, which included my medication.)

These were two married comrades (please forgive, I only briefly met them and didn't record their names). He was tending to their child while she was studying for her school-leaving certificate. They are representative of many in the camp. Many of the people I spoke to were studying. As many members left school to join the PLA, many of them are now not qualified. Many others just simply didn't have access to any real sort of schooling.The PLA is now like a university -- everywhere people are studying something.

This is also a common scene, men often spend a lot of time tending to the children. In fact in my time there I saw no division of labour based on sex -- women often could be seen with axes and saws in hand going off to cut wood while the men stayed to cook, clean and care for the children.

From left to right, Comrade Rakess, Comrade Sasila, myself and Comrade Agragg. All aged in their early 20s, from the 6th Battalion. Rakess left his wife and family in the village in order to fight. Agragg has recently had his first child with his wife, who is an activist with the All Nepal Women's Organisation (Revolutionary). Sasila came from a relatively wealthy background, but rebelled against it to join the fight against the caste system and injustice in her country.

Their interview of me went for at least as long as my interview with them. Once they found out I was a progressive journalist they were full of questions about Australia, the struggle here, how strong the socialists are, our government, our government's relations with Nepal and with the United States, the nature of imperialism, and what were the conditions for people in Australia. Many journalists come to these camps and hear political talk from people, who were previously peasants, and write it off as ``brainwashing'' by some evil party. These people are often uneducated, but they are not stupid. They know exactly what they are doing and why. They are thinking things through, and they crave information. People who want to write off the "simple" people of Nepal -- do so at your own peril.

Women with guns. Enough said.

This brigade was made up of a little over 20% women, which is below the average for the PLA. But while women were a minority, and are still under represented in the higher ranks, they are in my experience much more serious as a general rule. Some of the male comrades were sometimes a little hazy, but the women were often the most political and well read. Men on guard duty would often talk to me if I asked, while on duty the women would direct me on to someone else.

Left to right are Comrade Sedanta, (comrade's name unknown) and Comrade Krishna. Sedanta was a medic in the rebel army, but was wounded himself. All three are currently studying, the books in the foreground are test papers for the coming exams. The middle comrade is a Bhutanese refugee. Almost 20 years ago Bhutan violently expelled a sixth of its population who were ethnic Nepalis. His dream is that after helping the struggle here in Nepal, he will be able to return to his homeland and help the struggle against the violent and racist monarchy there.

Comrade Sedanta again. He was shot by the Army while tending to wounded. That's his scar.

Comrade Sunil. 23 years old.

Sunil is a vice-battalion commander. He is engaged to be married in a couple of months. He is from a poor farming family in the north of Nepal. His dream is that Nepal will be developed and his family won't be impoverished and everyone will be treated with respect.

The picture behind him is that of his older brother. His brother shared this simple and reasonable hope for something better, and he died for it. He was killed by the military during the war.

This is Sriganna. She is an inspiration. She is the vice-battalion commander, highest ranked woman in the brigade. Her room is packed full of political books and magazines, and is clear on her politics, she can always be seen talking to people around the camp, especially the other women. She lost both a sister and a brother during the war to the repression by the army. Due to a complicated political issue I wont go into at present her husband is in jail. Still she is always smiling.

She and all the people here are just happy with what they have already achieved. They can now be optimistic about what the future of their people has in store.

A week with the people's army

March 29, 2009 -- Chitwan is famous around the world for its national park. In the midst of the jungle there are rare and exciting animals. Rhinos and elephants and tigers, and all a manner of things that every year thousands of Westerners flock to see, for they cannot be seen anywhere else in the world.

And as a very western foreigner I too descended out of the hills and comfort of Kathmandu and into the jungle, but not in search of any of this. The jungles of Chitwan hold something much more important than endangered animals, and something just as rare. It is a force that has been unleashed and fed by the huge discontent in the country and turned upon the people's oppressors with a fury and enthusiasm that has been a major factor in bringing about and continuing the enormous process of change that is ongoing in Nepal.

In the jungles of Chitwan waits the JanaMukti Sena -- the Peoples Liberation Army.

The mainstream media and a wide range of non-government organisations talk of this army as child soldiers and human rights abusers. A dictatorial leadership that has played on the insecurities of the poor, an uneducated peasantry, and forced them into their army. At any rate, the PLA proved themselves to be a formidable fighting force. During the war they repeatedly beat back the Royal Nepalese Army, despite it being funded, armed and trained by international superpowers such as the USA, UK and India.

So in the face of this I really did not know what to expect, however despite all the reports and propaganda, I didn't meet child soldiers, starving and home sick, and I didn't meet indoctrinated and brainwashed drones determined only to follow their party. This was a people's army, and all that was to be found were people.

The people of Nepal have had enough of the grinding poverty in their society. They have had enough of the parasitic monarchy that lives in phenomenal wealth while the people starve. They have had enough of hollow democracy that talks but never provides. They have had enough husbands, sons and fathers being sent overseas for work, of daughters, mothers and wives being left alone to work at home or sold into the sex trade. They have had enough of the indignity and defeat that had been forced upon them, and when a clear path to fight against it was given, they enthusiastically took up the challenge.

The idea that these amazing people are ignorant and being exploited is insulting to the sacrifices they have made. The whole camp is now like a school, people who either left school early to fight or never had the opportunity to study in the first place are now deep into their books, studying at all levels and in all subjects.

They understand why they fought and what they set out to achieve, and their thirst for knowledge is unquenchable. I could barely get questions in for interviews, as the people were always asking about my experiences, my country and its foreign policy, and ideas for development here in Nepal.

There is nothing to prove that the People's Liberation Army is blindly and dogmatically politicised. The PLA is a political people's army, but its political dreams are for development, democracy and equality. All who I talked to said that their dreams were for Nepal to be developed and that their children could study and then work in Nepal, without the crushing poverty, and without the oppression and discrimination against ethnic minorities, women and people of low caste.

But while this is an army of the people, from the people and for the people, there was clearly a massive effort to do away with the many problems that plague Nepali society. People of all castes stood on equal standing. There were inter-caste marriages that would never have been possible before the people's war. While there was officers, there was little distinction between them and the rank and file. Everyone ate and cleaned in common. Importantly women, who were often forced into a cruel existence previously, enjoyed a much higher participation and involvement in society. Men could often be seen caring for the children and cleaning the home while the women used their time to study or go off axe in hand to chop wood.

A week with the PLA was a painfully short time, and I only met a fraction of the people and heard a fraction of the stories available but it is clear to anyone that sees the amazing people of the JanaMukti Sena's almost 30,000 members that they are some of the best sons and daughters of this country -- and if their hard work and sacrifices are allowed to go to developing this nation, then the future of Nepal will one that is radically different.

Socialist Alliance member Brian Senewiratne deported from Malaysia

"An international group "Canadians for Genocide Education" which is an umbrella organisation with some 46 Member Associations annually picks ONE country of greatest concern re Genocide. The country picked in 2008 was Sri Lanka, and I was picked as the "Distinguished Speaker" and given an award... The plaque reads "Canadians for Genocide Education EDUCATORS AWARD 2009 Presented on March 25, 2009 to: Dr Brian Senewiratne In recognition of his dedication to inclusivity and equity in genocide education""

I was invited to come to Canada and receive the award My presentation was titled Peace with Justice in Sri Lanka Genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils. It's Causes & Solution .

It was held in the University of Toronto before a distinguished audience of academics, policy makers etc The hall was packed to capacity The flyer describing me was way over the top (as it usually is)...

The SL Govt coote Bandula Jayasekere, or to use his official title, His Excellency The Hon Bandula, etc, tried their best to block this but failed. Then they got their stooges e.g. Asoka Weerasinghe (patriot) to write scurrilous articles, published in the Mirror ?in Sri Lanka, to the Canadian Foreign Minister asking whether he had taken leave of his senses to allow me into the country.

Unable to block my entry, the next was harassment at Toronto airport ( a 4-hour search of everything, including downloading of every document including my letters to patients and going thru every scrap of paper (hundreds of pages of hand written notes, articles etc, and photocopying them all) It took about 4 hours and I was kept standing (that was after a 23-hour flight economy class which at 78 years is no small problem)

What riled the SL govt even more is action by a bunch (of goats) who are exploring putting my name up for a Nobel Prize for Peace. That is of course a nonsense project but with a one in a million chance, if it materializes, that would be a major blow for Sri Lanka. My very close association with Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu (I think I sent the photo with his arm round my shoulder) added to the concerns of the GoSL

What also of concern was that at the end of my Oration, the whole jolly audience of some 350, rose to their feet (I'll send the recording if/when I get it). This was recorded and sent to the Sri Lankan Ambassador and t the Govt in Colombo. Their blood pressures went thru the ceiling

I was scheduled to deliver the same award winning address in Malaysia (KL and Penang) and in Singapore, some 48 hours after it was delivered in Toronto.

Urgent action was needed. Someone ?Foreign Minister Bogollagama contacted the FM of Malaysia, who contacted the Minister of Home Affairs who contacted the CID who contacted Immigration asking them to prevent me entering the country stating I was a "Security risk"!!!!!

I said that if a 78-year old senile man was security risk for Malaysia, they should urgently review their Security set-up I smiled and asked that arrangements be made for me to get to Singapore. They said "tour ticket os from Penang. You cannot get to Penang because you cannot enter Malaysia, so you will have to buy yourself a ticket (which I did). I was then escorted to the plane by 6 police officers and an Immigration fellow.

While waiting for the flight (for 3 hours) I gave the bunch a lengthy talk on Human Rights abuse in Sri Lanka"!!!

At the end, when the flight was called, I went round to shake each one's hand. One of them, a policeman, grabbed my hand and would not let it go. Struggling to suppress tears which were welling up, he said "Doctor, all of us are deeply concerned at what we have been asked to do. Please don't hold it against us or Malaysia."

I gave him a big hug and said "Of course I will not"

Not prepared to run the risk of a repeat performance in Singapore (where I knew Bogollagam was - having got there to persuade Malaysian Tamils to come to Sri Lanka to invest there!!), I decided to cancel the Singapore meeting and returned to Australia, where the harassment continued at Immigration here in my native Brisbane airport.

This will be raised in the Australian Parliament.

Regards and thanks for you effort which is much appreciated


Five reasons why the ABCC must go...

Via Rights on Site:

Dear Wombo,

Did you know that you are one of nearly 10,000 activists who support Rights on Site?

Thousands of you responded to our survey with ideas for how to win the campaign

You told us you wanted to write blogs and send letters to politicians by email and snail mail, and take to the streets to demonstrate at big rallies all around the country.

But you also told us you need to know more about the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

So we've made a video about the five reasons why the ABCC must go. You can watch the video here.

You can arm yourself with the facts about the Australian Building and Construction Commission and tell your mates, write blogs and send letters to pollies.

It's going to be a big year for the Rights on Site campaign and we are going to have lots of ways for you to stay connected with the campaign and let the pollies know it's time to get rid of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

Click here and start by hearing academics and construction workers giving 5 reasons why the ABCC must go.

As electrician Brett Walker says, "Five reasons, do you want to stop there?"

We're not going to stop there.

You can write to us as info@rightsonsite.org.au and tell us why you think the ABCC must go.

At the next Rights on Site rally we'll get up on stage and tell the crowd your reasons why the ABCC must go. Send me your reason to get rid of the ABCC at info@rightsonsite.org.au


Dave Noonan and the Rights on Site Campaign Team.

P.S The Rights on Site campaign survey is still open. If you have 30 seconds in your day to help us, you can tell us your ideas about how we can campaign to get rid of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Take the survey here
for Rights on Site.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Int'l Speakers at "World At A Crossroads" conference

Below are just some of the international speakers at the forthcoming World At A Crossroads socialist conference, to be held this Easter at Sydney Girls High School. Visit http://www.worldatacrossroads.org for more information or to register...

Michael Lebowitz, Venezuela & Canada

Michael Lebowitz, Venezuela & Canada
* Centro Internacional Miranda, Caracas
* Renowned Marxist economist
* Director of the program "Transformative Practice and Human Development" at the Centro Internacional Miranda, Caracas, Venezuela
* Author of "Build it Now: 21st Century Socialism" and "Beyond Capital: Marx's Political Economy of the Working Class", winner of the Isaac Deutscher memorial prize (2004)
* Professor Emeritus of economics, Simon Fraser University, Canada
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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Another left is possible: The protests in France and the New Anti-Capitalist Party

Workers protest in Marseille during France's second national strike in two months, on March 19, 2009, to demand a boost to wages and greater protection form the crisis. Photo: AFP.

By Nathan Rao (Via Links)

March 23, 2009 -- It would be wrong to see the massively successful protest actions in France on March 19 as distant and exotic, of no particular relevance to us here in Canada. With the economic meltdown heralding a new political era, and with most of the country's left and social movements still stunned and disoriented following their embrace of the misguided and failed Liberal Party-led coalition plan, the French experience is instructive and inspiring.

France has just gone through another day of mass strikes and protests against the hard-right government of president Nicolas Sarkozy. The protest action is hugely popular in opinion polls and comes on the heels of another successful but smaller day of action on January 29, a victorious six-week general strike on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe that spread to other overseas colonial territories and the proliferation of radical protest actions among students and in a number of workplaces -- all in the context of growing job losses and a deepening financial and economic crisis.

'France's Thatcher' on the defensive

Not long ago, Sarkozy was widely hailed in Anglo-American circles, from the Blairite "centre left" across to the neo-conservative right, as the French Thatcher -- the man that would usher in the "normalisation" of French society by at long last breaking resistance to growing inequality, job insecurity, privatisation and cutbacks. And yet, a mere 18 months into his mandate the swaggering and obnoxious Sarkozy is now stumbling in the face of the resilience and scale of popular resistance.

Though still very far from being defeated, Sarkozy and the neoliberal project more generally are on the defensive in France, a country at the heart of the global capitalist and imperial order. This has not failed to raise a few eyebrows in other European and Western capitals, where the fear is that developments in France will serve as an example for workers and young people in their own countries.

Further stoking these fears is the fact that Olivier Besancenot -- the 34-year-old postal worker and spokesperson of the newly created New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) -- has consolidated his position as by far the most popular opposition figure in the country. For several months now, polls have ranked him well ahead of the leader of the nominally social-democratic Socialist Party (PS) Martine Aubry -- and even further ahead of the PS candidate in the 2007 presidential elections Ségolène Royal and centre-right leader François Bayrou. Besancenot recently even earned the unusual distinction of being the only left-wing and working-class figure to be named to the Financial Times' list of 50 people "who will frame the debate on the future of capitalism."

New party, new politics for France's left

As its name suggests, the NPA has an explicitly anti-capitalist profile and its program calls for a revolutionary transformation of the country's political institutions and property relations. It is an activist party, with a growing base of more than 10,000 members across the country involved in local organising efforts and broad activist campaigns and the internal work and debates of the NPA itself.

The party brings together former members of the largest surviving (and now "self-dissolved") organisation of the 1968-era far-left (the "Trotskyist" Revolutionary Communist League, LCR), a wide array of experienced and previously non-party affiliated trade union and social movement activists, a new generation of radicalised students and youth and a significant layer of people of all ages for whom the party is their first political experience ever. It is quite easily -- certainly within the industrialised world at any rate -- the most dynamic and radical example of attempts at fashioning a left-wing alternative to the increasingly discredited policies and institutions of neoliberalism and capitalism.

Relevant to Canada's left?

This is all very heady stuff. So heady, in fact, that it is tempting to see these developments in France as distant and exotic, of no particular relevance to our own work and debates here in Canada. That would be unfortunate.

To be sure, there are important differences between the context and relationship of forces in the two countries. For one thing, today's protest movements are at least in part an extension of those that have shaken France since late 1995; and the initiative to found the NPA was taken only after a long, complicated and occasionally rancorous debate between the various political and social-movement forces involved in these movements in one way or another. It will certainly take time and a significant upsurge of protest and resistance in Canada before these kinds of debates get any kind of traction beyond the margins of political life here.

Fundamentally, however, the strategic lay of the land in the two countries is not so dramatically different. Whatever the fate of Sarkozy's cabinet in the face of the present protest movement or of Sarkozy himself in the 2012 presidential elections, the NPA are under no illusions that there will be a serious breakthrough for anti-capitalists in the short term. Even in France, the relationship of forces and rules of the institutional game are firmly stacked against such an outcome.

The NPA understand that they are just now entering a long period of rebuilding working-class and anti-systemic movements and of developing a new vision and strategy for enduring radical change. This is something the party's program describes as "21st century socialism", tipping its hat to the Bolivarian revolutionary process underway in Venezuela and other Latin American countries.

Collective action possible in face of economic crisis

What are the broad lessons we can take away from the French experience?

For one thing, the protests and strikes, and the organising that made them possible, show that resignation, panic and "everyone for themself" are not the only possible responses to the onset of economic hard times. While people will often respond in a conservative and individualist manner at the onset of a crisis, there comes a time when they realise that systemic issues are at play and that only broad, collective action and political alternatives will do.

For another, the party and trade union organisations of the traditional left are too weakened and compromised by years of adaptation to neoliberalism and dependence on positions in parliament and the state to respond to the challenges thrown up by the hard right and the economic crisis. While rightly associated with a range of measures of socioeconomic progress, the post-war mediations between the organised working classes, their party, trade union and social movement representation and the state itself were never ideal; but after 25 years of neoliberalism they have ceased even to be operative for some time now.

In France, repeated waves of mass protest and organising over the past 13 years have failed to halt the traditional left's drift towards the Blairite "centre left". As the right and ruling elites toy with various ineffective solutions to the crisis, the forces of the "centre left" will be quick to latch on to the handful of "stimulus" and ersatz "Keynesian" measures that are thrown into the mix to artfully declare a major breach in the neoliberal fortress. So the crisis is just as likely to deepen the rightward trend of the traditional left and "centre left" as it is to push these forces in a more radical and combative direction.

The new days of action in France provide further confirmation of this analysis. While they could not have occurred without trade union unity at the top, this unity "from above" came about in response to pressure "from below" and simultaneously acts as a trammel on the further development of the current movement. The pressure "from below" has itself been the result of a surprising and noteworthy development -- the confluence of a substantial segment of public opinion with radical sectors scattered across traditional and new trade union groupings, local workplace and activist campaigns, the student and international solidarity movements and the relatively small party-political organisations of the radical left.

How a 'radical left' can get a wide hearing

And this brings us to the particular significance of the NPA. It is as much a product of this surprising confluence of forces as it is a vital ingredient in ensuring that the present unity and momentum are not lost in the face of hard-right intransigence and "centre-left" weakness and perfidy.

In other words, the debate on political strategy and organisation now occupies centre stage; and the main lesson of the NPA's undeniable success is that a radical-left political project can both receive a sympathetic hearing and play this strategically essential unifying and galvanising role, on condition that:

  • Its message consistently targets the systemic origins of the crisis and identifies those responsible for bringing us to the brink of economic and ecological calamity.
  • It contains an iron-clad commitment to the broadest unity "in the streets" of all forces willing to oppose the right-wing agenda, overall and on an issue-by-issue basis.
  • It confidently enters the electoral, institutional and media fray but strikes a position of defiance and strict independence on the question of electoral and governmental agreements and alliances with the forces of the traditional "left" and "centre left" (not to mention centre right forces such as those around François Bayrou in France and the Liberal Party here in Canada). These forces are beyond redemption as any kind of credible vehicle for popular aspirations and seek to govern at all costs -- in practice along lines that vary only slightly from those of the right and hard right.
  • It prioritises work among those sectors of the population and country ignored or abandoned by the traditional institutions of the "left" and "centre left". The NPA has, for example, made a priority of organising in the working-class and immigrant areas that have been hit hard by neoliberal structuring and were the backdrop of the banlieues revolt of late 2005. This is why the topics of racism and the precarious work imposed on young people figure prominently in the NPA's internal discussions.
  • It aims to be a grassroots force, rooted in the actual struggles and debates of workers and young people, eschewing any kind of elitist, rigid and hyper-activist model of organising and transformation, throwing its doors wide open to seasoned activists and interested newcomers alike, while creating a democratic and transparent framework for collective discussion, decision-making, action and the drawing of balance-sheets.
  • It takes a long-term approach to its project of social and political transformation and understands that we are in an extended period of resistance and development of alternatives to capitalism and imperialism. While history and politics always have surprises in store, especially in a period of deep crisis such as now, the relationship of forces is too unfavourable, and the vision of an alternative too weak, to expect major breakthroughs on an institutional level in the near term. Better to understand this and get down to the serious work of organising and rethinking than to feed technocratic and armchair illusions about quick fixes and imminent elite-level "paradigm shifts".

A new generation's 'new left'

Finally, the protest movements in France and the birth of the NPA inaugurate a new chapter in the life of the international radical left, especially when viewed in tandem with the developments of recent years in Latin America. The fact that the main figure associated with events in France was born in the mid-1970s also signals the emergence of a new generation of radicals.

We had a whiff of this trend during the wave of anti-globalisation protests ushered in by the Battle of Seattle in 1999. But now it appears to be asserting itself much more forcefully, with a larger and more receptive audience than the one that existed just a short time ago. This, too, is a tremendously important and encouraging development.

[This article first appeared at the progressive Canadian web site rabble.ca and has been posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission. Nathan Rao attended the founding convention of the NPA in Paris earlier this year. He lives in Toronto and is a supporter of the Socialist Project. He welcomes comments at natrao99[at]gmail[dot]com.]

Sydney rally against the genocide of the Tamils in Sri Lanka

From Sydney Tamil Youth

Dear All,

Sydney Tamil Youth have organised a demonstration in Sydney on Saturday the 28th of March. The demonstration will begin at MARTIN PLACE. We urge all Australian Tamil's to attend MARCH FOR FREEDOM as we unite as one to have our voices heard.

As the blood of thousands continues to lubricate the gears of state-sponsored genocide, the fate of the Tamil people tethers on the brink of extermination at the hands of Sri Lankan armed forces.

In these darkest of hours, we call upon the people of Australia to join us on Saturday 28th March as we protest the carnage of ethnic cleansing & voice our aspirations for self-determination.

Please take the time to attend this event and to pass this on to every person you know, urging them to take part as well.

DATE: Saturday 28th March

TIME: 11 am to 1 pm


Through the power of our voice, let us open the eyes of the world, break the shackles of our oppression, and forge the foundations of liberty and equality.

CANADA: Over 150,000 Tamils attended...

SWITZERLAND: Over 50,000 Tamils attended...

BELGIUM: Over 40,000 Tamils attended...

Our time is now.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Reminder: World At A Crossroads conference this Easter

World At A Crossroads: Fighting for socialism in the 21st Century
Easter 2009, April 10-12, Sydney

Venue: Sydney Girls High School

World At A Crossroads is a conference that brings together hundreds of socialists, progressive activists and Marxist thinkers from around Australia, Latin America, Asia-Pacific and North America in dozens of panel presentations and workshops dealing with the urgent questions that confront us all: war, imperialism, food security, racism, workers' rights, sexism, the media and culture. Feature sessions and streams will include:

* The capitalist economic crisis: Putting people and planet before corporate profits
* Stopping global warming: Social change, not climate change
* Emerging alternatives to capitalism and war: The Venezuelan revolution and anti-imperialist rebellion in Latin America
* Organising to fight for a better world: Building mass movements, alliances and left parties

Most of all, however, this conference will be about creating solutions. The rising revolutionary movements in Latin America, which are posing the most serious challenge to global capitalist destruction for decades, are full of inspiration and lessons for people fighting for justice everywhere. Those struggles, and the alternative social systems they are creating, will be a big feature of this conference with the participation of guest speakers from Latin America.

The many struggles of the people in the Asia-Pacific region against imperialist exploitation and state repression, and for genuine democracy and social justice will be addressed by guest speakers from left parties, trade unions and social movements in the Philippines, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, Indonesia and Timor Leste, amongst others.

For more info, email dsp@dsp.org.au or sydney.resistance@gmail.com, or phone (02) 9690 1230. Alternatively, you can just sign up now!

Organised by the Democratic Socialist Perspective and Resistance.

Sponsored by Green Left Weekly.



9.30am Feature session
Capitalism's crises and our solutions
Reihana Mohideen, feminist and labour activist in the Philippines, leader of the newly formed Party of Labouring Masses
David Spratt, co-author of Climate Code Red
Michael Lebowitz, Centro Internacional Miranda, Venezuela, and author of Build it now: Socialism For the 21st Century

11am – Workshops

Sexism and the system: A rebel’s guide to women's oppression - Reihana Mohideen, feminist activist from the Philippines; Kavita Krishnan, national secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association; and Jay Fletcher, Resistance activist

Challenges of building a climate change movement - David Spratt, co-author of Climate Code Red; Simon Butler, Green Left Weekly journalist on environmental issues and People for a Safe Climate activist

South Korea: A view from the left – South Korean socialist Youngsu Won

Iraq and Afghanistan: The US' unwinnable wars for oil – Alex Bainbridge, DSP; and Ammar Ali Jan, Labour Party Pakistan

Working-class responses to the economic crisis - Jody Betzien, activist in the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union; Roger Annis, activist in the International Association of Machinists in Vancouver, Canada, and delegate to the 2008 Canadian Labour Congress convention

Marx and Engels and Darwin: Evolution and Historical Materialism - Ian Angus, author of forthcoming book on Darwin and materialism

Understanding Marxist economic theory – Graham Matthews, DSP national executive member and Green Left Weekly journalist on economic issues

1pm – Lunch

2pm – Feature session
Obama, US imperialism and the “war on terror”
Salim Vally, spokesperson for Palestine Solidarity Committee (South Africa)
Ammar Ali Jan, anti-war activist from the Labour Party of Pakistan
Rob Stary, civil liberties lawyer
Introduced by Pip Hinman, DSP national executive member and activist in Stop the War Coalition

3.30pm – Workshops

Public ownership and workers’ control – Dave Kerin, heading up initiative to establish worker-run cooperatives to build solar panels; and Michael Lebowitz on the experiences and lessons of self-management in Yugoslavia and Venezuela

The Politics of Che Guevara – Resistance activist Duncan Meerding

Evo Morales and Bolivia's Indigenous revolutionFederico Fuentes, editor of Bolivia Rising and co-author of "MAS-IPSP: a political instrument which emerged from the social movements"

Boycott Israel campaign – Discussion hosted by Salim Vally, involved in the recent actions by South African dockworkers to boycott Israeli ships, with activists in the BDS campaign against Israel

Political struggle in Timor Leste: The global, regional and local context – Tomas Freitas, socialist activist involved in Timor’s clandestine movement against Indonesian occupation and a founding member of Luta Hamutuk (Fight Together), a research and advocacy institute focussing on economic issues

Understanding the economic crisis: why stable capitalism is not possible - Jamie Doughney, senior researcher at the Work and Economic Policy Research Unit at Victoria University of Technology

Why be a Marxist today? – Resistance activist Mel Barnes and Brianna Pike, DSP Sydney organiser

5.30pm – Feature session
Confronting the climate change crisis: an ecosocialist perspective
Ian Angus, founder of the Ecosocialist International Network, editor of Climate and Capitalism and associate editor of Socialist Voice (Canada)
Dick Nichols, author of Environment, Capitalism and Socialism, Socialist Alliance national co-convenor
Introduced by Stuart Rosewarne, co-editor of Capitalism, Nature, Socialism

7.30pm Dinner with music, poetry and film footage from struggles around the world



9.30am Feature session
The specter of 21st century socialism
Michael Lebowitz, Centro Internacional Miranda, Caracas, author of Build it Now: Socialism For the 21st Century and Beyond Capital: Marx's Political Economy of the Working Class, winner of the Isaac Deutscher memorial prize (2004)

11am – Workshops

Marxism, Islam and national liberation – Ammar Ali Jan, Labour Party Pakistan, M. Saraswathy, founding member and deputy chairperson of the Socialist Party of Malaysia; and Tony Iltis, DSP activist

The struggle for human rights in Guatemala - Raul Molina Mejia, long time Guatemalan human rights defender, Adjunct Associate Professor of History at Long Island University

Climate refugees and the “overpopulation” debate – Kamala Emanuel, DSP national committee member

Philippines: Developments on the leftReihana Mohideen, long-term activist in the women's and labour movements in the Philippines, involved in the recent formation of the Party of the Labouring Masses, and formerly vice-chair for international affairs of the socialist labour centre, Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (Solidarity of Filipino Workers)

Haiti today: five years of UN military occupationRoger Annis, Canada Haiti Action Network, visited Haiti on a human rights fact-finding mission in 2007

Production and consumption as a source of global warming: Beyond capitalism and toward a democratic ecosocialism - Hans Baer, Development Studies Program and Centre for Health and Society at the University of Melbourne, author of Global Warming and the Political Economy of Health

Understanding the economic crisis: peculiarities of the 2008-09 crisis – Dick Bryan, Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney

1pm – Lunch

2pm – Feature session
Building a worker-green-community alliance for sustainability
Tim Gooden, secretary of Geelong and Regions Trades and Labour Council
Dave Kerin, convenor of Union Solidarity and heading up initiative to establish worker-run cooperatives to build solar panels
Mel Barnes, Resistance activist in the Stop the Pull Mill campaign in Tasmania

3.30pm – Workshops

From Invasion to Intervention: Indigenous resistance in Australia – Sam Watson, Aboriginal leader from Brisbane and Socialist Alliance national spokesperson on Indigenous rights; and Mitch, inspiring Arrernte/Luritja woman, author, poet and artist, who is fighting the federal radioactive waste dump proposed for her country.

The struggle for transgender and same sex marriage rights in Australia – Ben Cooperactive in Community Action Against Homophobia and in defense of queer refugee rights; Ryan Radclyffe Hall, involved in A Gender Agenda, a gender rights organisation from the ACT, was active in the Campaign for Civil Unions in the ACT, and since then has been concentrating on trans rights, attempting to unite the trans community of Canberra; and Farida Iqbal, from the Democratic Socialist Perspective and Resistance, active in the group Campaign for Civil Unions in Canberra, and former national queer officer for the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations.

The left in MalaysiaM. Saraswathy, founding member and deputy chairperson of the Socialist Party of Malaysia, and long-term organiser of plantation workers, urban settlers and women workers in Malaysia

Crisis and resistance in AfricaSalim Vally, long time anti-aparthied campaigner in South Africa; and Soubhi Iskander, Sudanese Communist Party

Experiences of left unity: the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France and Socialist Alliance in Australia – Sam Wainwright, international observer at the NPA founding congress; and Sue Bolton, Victorian Socialist Alliance and DSP Melbourne secretary.

El Salvador after the elections: the struggle continues – Aristides González, Ismael Alvarado and Rafael Pacheco, activists from the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front in Australia

History of Resistance and the DSP – Resistance activist Mel Barnes and Stuart Munckton, DSP national executive

5.30pm – Feature session
Latin America: revolt, revolution and socialism in the 21st century
Abelardo Curbelo, veteran of the Cuban revolution, central committee member of the Cuban Communist Party, currently Cuban ambassador to Australia
Nelson Davila, founding member of Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement (MBR-200), currently head of Venezuela's diplomatic mission to Australia
Luis Bilbao, long-time socialist activist on the Latin American left, participant in the construction of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and in the formation of the Union of South American Nations
Introduced by Lisa Macdonald, Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network national co-convener

7.30 pm Conference Dinner and Fiesta
Celebrating revolution: 50 years of Cuban Revolution, 10 years of Venezuelan Revolution
With toasts by Cuba’s ambassador to Australia, Abelardo Curbelo, and Venezuela’s charge d’affaires, Nelson Davila



9.30am Feature session
Neoliberalism and resistance in Asia
Kavita Krishnan, Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist), editor of Liberation, the CPI-ML’s magazine in English, and national secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association
Youngsu Won, socialist activist from South Korea

11am – Workshops

Cultural dissent: the politics of art and resistance - Ian Angus on Racism, resistance and the blues; Jill Hickson from Actively Radical TV; and Phil Monsour, progressive folk singer

Capitalism, agribusiness and sustainable agriculture – DSP members Trish Corcoran, Kate Stockdale and Nick Soudakoff

Has racism always existed? – Resistance activist Dom Hale

The Great Depression, the ALP and communist organising: Lessons for today – DSP national executive member Dave Holmes

Understanding the economic crisis: what now? – Dick Nichols, Socialist Alliance national co-convenor; Dick Bryan; and Jamie Doughney

The Cuban economy and Latin American integration – Tim Anderson, lecturer in political economy at Sydney University just returned from Cuba, and producer/director of The Doctors of Tomorrow

1pm – Lunch

2pm – Feature session
Revolution in Venezuela - communal councils, the workers’ movement and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela
Luis Bilbao, participant in the construction of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and in the formation of the Union of South American Nations, founding editor of the Latin America-wide monthly magazine América XXI, and author of 16 books, most recently Venezuela in Revolution: the Rebirth of Socialism

3.30pm – Workshops

Young socialists fighting backKavita Krishnan, former president of the All India Students' Association (1999-2006); Resistance national co-organiser Jess Moore and high-school activist Felix Donovan

Sustainable cities: the transition to public transport, accessible housing and liveability – Ben Courtice, DSP environment movement activist; and John Rice, Adelaide Ecosocialist Network

Israel, Hamas, Hezbollah and the right of Palestine to exist – Issac Shuisha, Israeli-born Palestine solidarity activist; and DSP member Rupen Savoulian

Argentina: the key to the region - Luis Bilbao, Union of Militants for Socialism, Argentina, author of recently published Argentina as the key to the region

Imperialism, nationalism and financial collapse: the Canadian experienceRoger Annis, associate editor of Socialist Voice, Canada

The Tamil struggle for self-determination - Brian Senewiratne, Sinhalese activist involved for more than four decades in exposing the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government and Sinhalese militias; author of various books on the Tamil struggle that have been banned in Sri Lanka

Building a revolutionary alternative in Australia today – Resistance activist Mel Barnes and Ruth Ratcliffe, DSP Adelaide organiser

5.30pm – Feature session
Revolutionary organising and internationalism in the 21st century
Peter Boyle, Democratic Socialist Perspective national secretary
M. Saraswathy, deputy chairperson of the Socialist Party of Malaysia
Daphne Lawless, Socialist Worker (New Zealand) central committee member and editor of Unity journal

7pm Resistance gig with beats from Dhopec and others

India needs a genuine Third Front, not an opportunist alliance

By the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation (via LINKS)

[CPI (ML) Liberation representative Kavita Krishnan will be a featured guest at the World at a Crossroads conference, to be held in Sydney, Australia, on April 10-12, 2009, organised by the Democratic Socialist Perspective, Resistance and Green Left Weekly. Visit http://www.worldATACrossroads.org for full agenda and to book your tickets.]

March 17, 2009 -- On the eve of the Lok Sabha (national lower house of parliament) polls, which will be held in five phases between April 16 and May 13, the launch of a ``Third Front'' spearheaded by the efforts of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and CPI (M) (the Communist Party of India-Marxist) has been announced. The front, it is claimed, is a non-Congress party, non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) front committed to ``alternate policies''.

Most of the non-Left Front* partners -- regional and small parties such as All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), Telugu Desam Party (TDP), Telengana Rashtra Samity (TRS), Janata Dal (Secular) -- have at one point or the other been partners of either the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) or the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) or both. Some parties -- such as Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) -- have maintained a cautious pre-poll distance from the Third Front but are being touted as post-poll partners.

[*The Left Front is the CPI (M)-led alliance that rules the state governments of West Bengal and Tripura. A similar alliance also operates in Kerala.]

The establishment of coalition governments as the norm in India for over a decade reflects the eroded credibility of the main ruling-class formations –- the Congress and BJP -– and the rise of a range of third forces. There is unmistakeable frustration and anger at successive NDA and UPA governments and their anti-poor, pro-imperialist policy orientation. Clearly, there is an objective need for a credible Third Front. The question is: can a rag-tag coalition ever constitute a meaningful Third Front? Isn't a vibrant left movement and a powerful democratic consolidation around a powerful left course a necessary foundation for any viable, serious and durable Third Front?

The ``Third Front'' as it stands today is a highly amorphous formation riddled with paradoxes. It is neither a full-fledged pre-poll alliance nor a well-defined programmatic coalition. Partners like the TDP have been enthusiastic proponents of disastrous neoliberal policies; as for the track record of partners like TDP, AIADMK or Janata Dal (Secular) on secularism and democracy, the less said the better. Potential post-poll partners like the BJD and BSP have an equally dubious and tainted record on both neoliberal policies and secularism (the BJD was the party in power in the state of Orissa, that, leading the state govt in alliance with BJP, has presided over the massacre of Christians at Kandhamal and over the repression and killing of tribal protesters against massive corporate land grab at Kalinganagar, and many other places; while the BSP has the distinction of being the only party without a declared economic policy).

More importantly, the current arrangement ignores the fact that there is a distinct and crucial difference between ``Third Front government'' (or non-NDA, non-UPA government) and a ``Third Front''.

A Third Front in its true sense can be nothing but a left and democratic front that is a powerful voice of a third alternative -– in policies, in vision, in people’s movements -– but which may not necessarily be in a position to form government. Only such a Third Front can be in any way durable, sustainable and credible. What is being called a ``Third Front'' at this juncture is very different: it is merely a potential power-sharing that might emerge in view of the possibility that neither the UPA nor NDA achieve a majority in the impending parliamentary polls -– an eventuality that is difficult to predict with any degree of certainty. Surely a genuine Third Front cannot be a mere exercise in government formation?

The role of the left parties, the CPI and CPI (M), in such a coalition is yet another paradox. On the one hand these parties face major setbacks in their strongholds of Kerala and West Bengal. On the other, CPI (M) leaders have spoken of the possibility of joining a Third Front government at the centre! Answering questions from the press at the release of the party manifesto, CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat indicated that the question of joining a Third Front government at the centre is very much open. The CPI (M), since its ``historic blunder'' of 1996, has systematically removed all the programmatic roadblocks to being part of a government at the centre -– it is now free to join any central government which it claims to be in a position to ``influence''.

The CPI (ML) Liberation has made it clear that a role in government formation is not on its agenda or priorities. The party is contesting this election with the agenda of asserting a fighting left opposition within parliament. The seat adjustment [agreement] forged by the CPI (ML) Liberation in Bihar with the CPI and the CPI (M) is quite distinct from any ongoing ``Third Front'' efforts of those parties. This adjustment is based on the CPI (ML)'s consistent efforts in the direction of joint activities and electoral adjustments with left formations. While there has been no let-up in our firm and sustained struggle against the CPI-CPI (M)'s opportunist tactics on the whole and anti-people policies and measures in Left Front-ruled states, the latter have, in the objective conditions of Bihar at this particular juncture (the closing of doors on an alliance with the UPA partners and the impact among left ranks in the state of CPI (ML)'s practice of independent left assertion) responded positively to our appeal for an adjustment in the Lok Sabha polls in Bihar.

We hold that a meaningful Third Front can only be forged on a left basis. The ongoing adjustment achieved by the CPI (ML), CPI and CPI (M) in Bihar is certainly linked in a strategic sense to the efforts and experiments in the direction of such a genuine Third Front -– efforts and experiments marked by a consistent and principled element of struggle as well as of unity of purpose.

The ruling-class design to subject the polity to a duopoly of the UPA and NDA must be frustrated. But a rag-tag ``Third Front'' that offers no policy alternative and is crowded by forces with dubious track records cannot face this challenge. Only a powerful left and democratic camp drawing its strength from the struggles and aspirations of the Indian people for a better tomorrow can be the most effective bulwark against the ruling class's attempt to regiment the polity, and can be the basis for a principled and consistent third alternative and Third Front.

[This article first appeared in the CPI (ML) Update, vol. 12, no. 12, March 17-23, 2009.]