April , 2020

People Aur Politics

A liberation zone for democratic rights, multiculturalism, international brotherhood and peace.

what is socialism from below 1). SOCIALISM'S CRISIS TODAY is a crisis in the meaning of ...
The election victory of Syriza (the Coalition of the Radical Left) in Greece has galvanised ...
Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Zero Books, Ropley, Hampshire, 2009. 92pp., £7.99 pb Reviewed by Steven ...
The Future of Feminism Polity Press, Cambridge, 2011. 224pp., £15.99 pb Reviewed by Ben Kenofer   Ben Kenofer is ...
Lenin for Today By John Molyneux Bookmarks, 2017 289 pages £12.99; $44.01 Paperback The first chapter of John Molyneux’s newest book, ...
With ISAF to leave Afghanistan in 2014, the Taliban exercising control over large portions of ...
The state of press freedom in Turkey is a stain on Ankara’s democratic reputation, economic ...
Partial results reverse directorysuggest Sandinista leader set to keep his job as president ...
The Russian Revolution of 1917 clearly reveals the complexities of Bolshevism – Lenin’s party – ...
Recent research into the evolution of Marx’s manuscripts in connection with the production of the ...

Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

The Forgotten Democratic Socialist Republic of Georgia-Dan Gallin

Posted by admin On March - 14 - 2020 Comments Off on The Forgotten Democratic Socialist Republic of Georgia-Dan Gallin

A delegation of the Second International meets with leaders of the Democratic Republic of Georgia in the small town of Dusheti, 1920. Courtesy of Eric Lee.
The Experiment: Georgia’s Forgotten Revolution, 1918-1921
by Eric Lee
(Zed Books, 2017, 259 pp).
At the end of the First World War a revolutionary wave swept over Europe. In many countries people revolted against the senseless slaughter of the war. Many hoped to overthrow their ruling classes by revolutions which, had they happened by 1914, as the Socialist International had sought, would have prevented the war.
The Russian revolutions of 1917 inspired these movements, but their origins were rooted in their own experience, and their fate ultimately depended on the circumstances they encountered in their own countries. In Austria (1917) and in Italy (1918–1920) the challenge to the established order remained inconclusive and did not survive the reactionary backlash of fascism. The German social-democratic revolution (1918–1919) was suppressed by a social-democratic government resorting to the use of proto-fascist militias out of the demobilized German military. German army units also intervened in Finland in 1918 to tilt the balance of power in the civil war to the Whites. They were not successful in the Baltic countries, where nationalist and socialist militias, with British, French, and Finnish aid, established three independent states, which lasted until the Stalin-Hitler pact in 1939. Hungary’s revolution (1918–1920) was defeated by the Romanian army, acting as the body guard of Entente capitalism. And then there was Georgia.
The Georgian revolution was unlike any other. It was led by a social-democratic party, the Georgian Mensheviks, with overwhelming popular support. The Bolshevik split was insignificant. There was no civil war. The Georgian Mensheviks established a democratic republic, with a free press, free trade unions, and several parties represented in parliament, and enacted social and economic measures creating in effect a socialist society. It lasted three years (1918–1921). The counterrevolution that crushed it was a military invasion by Soviet Russia.
Eric Lee has written a remarkable book, The Experiment, which tells the history of the First Georgian Republic. (Lee is a longtime friend and comrade of mine from the labor movement.) It does, however, do more than that. By placing the Georgian experiment in its historical and international context, it gives us important insights into the nature of nation-building, socialism, Stalinism, and even contemporary Russia. Let us examine these in order.
Nation-building: Social democracy had established itself as the representative liberation movement of the Georgian people decades before the revolution. It was, in effect, an anticolonial movement. It is easily forgotten that Tsarist Russia and, after it, the USSR, were colonial empires. The difference with the other great European colonial empires, except perhaps the Ottoman one, was that colonizers and colonized shared the same land mass, which created the illusion of a very large multiethnic single country. In reality, Russia had surrounded itself with a periphery of colonized peoples who took every opportunity to break free as soon as the central power had become too weak to enforce its rule. This is what happened in 1917 and again in 1990.
When Putin today deplores the dissolution of the USSR as the “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [twentieth] century,” this is what he means. He is mourning the demise of the Russian colonial empire and he intends to reestablish it if he can.
In Georgia, social democrats led the secession from the former Tsarist empire and went on to build the Georgian democratic state. They were not alone. The other two Transcaucasian countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan, also broke away. Armenia was also led by a socialist party, the Dashnaks, and Azerbaijan by the Musavat, but both with a nationalist, not a socialist, priority. The Georgian social democrats, on the other hand, were an orthodox Marxist party and regarded national liberation as an opportunity to start building a democratic socialist society.
Socialism: In Georgia, the social democrats proved that another revolution in Russia could have been possible. But they also proved that social democrats could be socialists. They had not forgotten the original purpose of the exercise, and they were serious about establishing a society based on freedom and justice. Eric Lee’s book documents how they went about it.
Today’s social democrats, so often at a loss, bereft of courage and imagination, unable to conceive of their movement as an alternative to contemporary capitalism, might benefit from meditating on the Georgian example.
At the time, the Socialist International recognized the importance of the experiment. A delegation had visited Georgia in 1920 and Karl Kautsky, who was part of the delegation, wrote a book supporting it. Trotsky, in a very bad book (Between Red and White), took issue with it; he later said it was based on incomplete information. The Georgian party in exile remained a member of the Socialist International until it dissolved in 1940.

Stalinism: Perhaps surprisingly, a Stalin museum still exists near Tbilisi, celebrating his high deeds. Some Georgians, not many, regard him as a national hero. In fact, the invasion and occupation of Georgia in 1921 was organized by Stalin, without the knowledge of Lenin nor of Trotsky, then commander of the Red Army (which did not prevent him from trying to justify the invasion after the fact).
The pretext for the invasion was a nonexistent pro-Soviet uprising in a Georgian border province, which, according to Soviet propaganda, had requested the intervention of the Red Army to rescue them from the Menshevik yoke. Not unlike the pleas of a handful of Stalinist functionaries for fraternal aid to protect Czechoslovakia from the counterrevolutionary government of Alexander Dubček—which triggered the invasion by the Warsaw Pact armies in 1968—or the recent creation of a fictional Ukrainian “civil war” requiring Russia to occupy Crimea and to massively support the separatist “republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk to save them from the Ukrainian fascists. The methods of subversion, from Stalin to Putin, have not changed.
A final popular rebellion against the Soviet occupation took place in 1924, and was violently repressed, with thousands of deaths, at the time and over the next few years. Noe Ramishvili, first prime minister of the Georgian Democratic Republic and later its minister of interior, was assassinated by the NKVD in Paris, where he was living in exile, in 1930.
After the occupation of Georgia, its government in exile sought help from France and Poland for continued training of its military cadres. Poland responded, and several hundred Georgian army cadres and cadets studied at Polish military schools after 1922. They later served in the Polish army, many as officers. When Germany and Russia invaded Poland in 1939 a number became prisoners in Russia and were among the 22,000 Polish army officers murdered by the NKVD in the Katyn forest and in other locations. Some of the survivors joined the Polish resistance.
In 1991 Georgia secured its independence for the second time in modern history, and the Second Republic was established amid political confusion and civil strife. At first, the Menshevik constitution of 1921 was reinstated, together with the red flag of the First Republic. But by 1995, the governing center-left party pushed through a new constitution, strengthening the power of the presidency and opening the door to rampant corruption. After the Rose Revolution of 2003, forces allergic to any form of socialism came to power, and the flag is now white, with lots of crosses.
When I first visited Georgia, about sixteen years ago, it was to lecture at a seminar for the leadership of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation. I took the opportunity to say a few words about the Menshevik republic and the historical role of Georgian social democracy. I urged the trade unionists to recover their own past and to use it to strengthen their identity as a movement. There was no response. I felt I had touched on a sensitive subject, both embarrassing and perhaps dangerous.
Today the situation has changed completely. I revisited Tbilisi in September, to participate in the launch of Eric’s book, and I also attended the congress of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation. I was delighted to see that Eric had been invited to address the congress. The Stalinist thought police had finally been defeated. The Georgian labor movement was re-appropriating its history.
The importance of this history cannot be overstated. History creates identity, and is therefore not about the past but about the future. In George Orwell’s novel 1984 the agent of the totalitarian State, O’Brien, explains how those who control the past control the future. In Georgia, and not only there, that is what Stalinism tried to do for nearly seventy years. Eric Lee’s The Experiment, soon to be translated into Georgian, is a major contribution to the fight for freedom—theirs and ours.
Dan Gallin has been active on the left and in the labor movement for more than sixty years. He is currently chair of the Global Labour Institute (GLI), a labor-service organization established in 1997 with a secretariat in Geneva.

The Outcast as Witness: Victor Serge and the Russian Revolution-Anjan Basu

Posted by admin On November - 17 - 2019 Comments Off on The Outcast as Witness: Victor Serge and the Russian Revolution-Anjan Basu


In Serge, the spirit of the Revolution found its perfect embodiment. But in the end, the same Revolution disowned and very nearly destroyed him.

Only a few hours before he died in Mexico City on November 17, 1947, Victor Serge wrote what were to be his last few lines, a poem meditating on ‘a Renaissance terracotta of a pair of hands, old and with knotted veins’:

What astonishing contact, old man, your hands establish with our own!
How vain the centuries of death before your hands…
The artist, nameless like you, surprised them in the act of grasping
…who knows if the gesture still vibrates or has just ended?

To Serge, those rough hands symbolised centuries of human suffering, but also of human resistance. The knots on them looked so like the veins that stood out on his own two shrunken hands. There were tears in his eyes as he read the lines aloud to his wife.

Serge had meant to bring the poem to his son, who lived not far from the father. But Vladimir was not at home. Serge then walked down to the Central Post Office and mailed the poem to Vlady from there. A little later he was dead, on the road in a taxi which he had hailed but which didn’t know his destination. The body was taken to a police station where Vlady found it later that day.

Serge’s upturned shoes had holes in them; his clothes were threadbare. There was a plaster death mask over his face, and Vlady was unable to draw a portrait of his dead father. “I limited myself to drawing his hands, which were beautiful,” Vlady was to recall later. “A few days later I received his poem ‘The Hand”.
Also read: Sergei Esenin and Vladimir Mayakovsky: Parallel Lives, United in Death

The first chapter of Victor Serge’s autobiography, Memoirs of A Revolutionary, is captioned World without Possible Escape. One imagines Serge should really have given that title to the last chapter, just as Leon Trotsky had called the last chapter of his autobiography The Planet without A Visa.

For when Serge sought refuge in Mexico in 1940-41, all five continents had barred their doors, firmly and irremediably. The Soviet Union had cancelled his passport, so he was stateless. But since he remained an unrepentant Marxist revolutionary, he was an enemy of every state of liberal democracy (not to mention the Fascist/Nazi regimes) – while his opposition to Stalin made him an enemy of all the communist parties of Europe and elsewhere.

Finally, as the US and the USSR were now war-time allies, Serge had transitioned overnight from being a highly-regarded author and columnist to  persona non grata in even the world’s oldest democracy.

His relief in finding his feet on Mexican soil was palpable:

“In the Mexican street, I taste a singular sensation. I am no longer an outlaw, no longer a hunted man, due any minute to be interned or to disappear. Only I am told now: ‘There are certain revolvers you must beware of…’ That goes without saying. I have lived too long to live anywhere but in the immediate present. For me, the gracious lights of Mexico are superimposed over the prospect of distant cities, restless, devastated, and plunged into blackout, and in these I see men walking, the most hunted men in the world, whom I have left behind me.”

But even Mexico’s gracious lights began to soon enough to dim on this penniless fugitive from tyranny. The Mexican Communist Party identified Serge as another hostile alien (after Trotsky, who had already been assassinated) in their midst and spared no effort to make life – and writing – impossible for this bruised veteran of many battles. Journals carrying Serge’s articles were coerced into shedding him, and a particularly stubborn publishing group was bought out with Russian money, whereupon its new management promptly cold-shouldered Serge. His public engagements became increasingly difficult to handle.

At a meeting where Serge was due to speak, armed thugs laid about them with such determination that one of his comrades was wounded grievously, while Serge himself escaped death by the skin of his teeth. Often, the family didn’t have enough money to buy food. Serge’s heart condition from his sojourn in France in 1936-40 must have gotten a lot worse during these years. Though the end came suddenly, it did not really surprise anyone who had known him.

Victor Serge was born Victor Lvovich Kibalchich on December 30, 1890 in Brussels to anti-Tsarist Russian exiles who were obliged to live peripatetic, permanently impoverished lives. A cousin of Serge’s father had been executed for his involvement with the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 and Serge’s father Lev, himself member of a Narodnik group, fled Russia soon thereafter.

Serge dropped out of school early, was politically active since his early teens, belonged as an adolescent to the left wing of the Belgian Workers’ Party, from which he was expelled for his opposition to Belgium’s annexation of the Congo. In 1909, he moved to Paris, where he became a confirmed anarchist, writing for and eventually editing L’anarchie, the main journal of French anarchism, and earned his bread by working at sundry minor jobs. He was arrested in 1912 as an associate of a militant anarchist group which had been embroiled in some violent incidents (in which Serge had had no part).

Serge was sentenced to five years in jail, much of it in solitary confinement, and was expelled from France upon completion of his sentence. He travelled to Spain, where he was active in revolutionary syndicalist circles for close to a year. During this period, he  veered away from anarchism towards organised mass action of the dispossessed.

The revolution in Russia – a country he had never set foot on but of which he was a national by birth – exercised his imagination powerfully and he returned clandestinely to France so as to try and travel to Russia and be part of the young revolution. Instead, he was arrested again for defying his expulsion and held in detention till the end of 1918 when in a fortuitous exchange of prisoners between Russia and France, he was released and deported to his ’original’ homeland.
Serge’s Memoirs in Spanish.
In Russia in January 1919, Serge joined the Bolsheviks and worked initially as an inspector of schools. His experience in many countries on the continent, proficiency in several European languages, and felicity with the written word earned him a position in the Communist International, and soon he was helping Grigory Zinoviev, then the Comintern’s Predident, as a translator, editor and pamphleteer.

He plunged into his many duties with characteristic energy and passion, making his mark quickly and establishing friendships with a wide cross-section of Russian and European activists and intellectuals. He was deputed to work in Germany and in Austria, helping further the Comintern’s agenda in both countries.

Meanwhile, the civil war was raging furiously in Russia, hunger and chaos were rife, and the besieged revolutionary government felt obliged to stamp out counter-revolution with increasing vehemence, in the process often growing paranoid about, and coming down hard on, all manner of dissent, including that from within the revolution.
The Cheka, the political police, was stepping up hard on terror and was soon to become a formidable new locus of political power, steadily undermining the revolution’s first principles of democracy and openness. Serge was a strident critic of bureaucratic and other excesses.

As Stalin began to consolidate his hold on the party and the government after Lenin’s death, Serge aligned himself with the oppositionists and spoke out freely against increasing centralisation and the consequent loss of democratic values. As Stalin went about ruthlessly putting down all dissent within the Soviet system, Serge felt increasingly alienated, but unlike many leading oppositionists (like Grigory Zinoviev), he never capitulated.

In 1928, he was expelled from the party, arrested and detained for two months without being charged, released under pressure from international communist groups, and barred from any work anywhere in the country. Arrested again in 1933, he was sent out on internal exile to Orenburg in the Urals, where he and his young son grappled with poverty and police surveillance to eke out a miserable existence.

By 1936, international pressure (notably from Andre Gide and Romain Rolland) forced a reluctant Stalin to allow Serge to travel to Europe, though the dictator robbed the revolutionary of his Russian citizenship soon thereafter. However, this move certainly saved Serge’s life, for Stalin began the horrendous show trials of veteran revolutionaries – in which virtually the whole first generation of Bolsheviks was wiped out – soon after Serge had left Russia.

Also read: World War Two Poetry: Songs From the Other Side of Mankind

Shuttling between Paris and Brussels in search of a residence permit, Serge re-established contact with some old friends, though many others had begun to disown him on account of his falling-out with Stalin.

Living a life perched precariously on uncertainty, Serge was forced out of Paris as Hitler invaded France in 1940. By now, Serge was ‘stateless’, and no country in Europe was willing to open its borders to him. Through desperate efforts of some American and Spanish comrades, Serge and Vlady left by the last ship out of Marseille bound for Mexico, then considered a safe haven for dissidents. On the way, however, the Serges were forced to disembark at Martinique and were arrested again. Detention followed again in the Dominican Republic and finally they arrived in Mexico City in early 1941. He was to die here six years later.

Death was hardly more kind to him than life:  ‘stateless’ at death, no Mexican cemetery was willing to receive his body, obliging his fellow Spanish exiles to bury him in the French cemetery as a Spanish émigré; seven years after his death, the term of his burial plot having expired, he was disinterred and buried in a common grave. One of the most complete internationalists in history seemed to have fallen irredeemably foul of every nation state on earth.

Stalin’s wrath was visited on most of Serge’s next-of-kin. His sister, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and two brothers-in-law all died in Soviet prisons, while his father-in-law lost his job, was deported and died as an exile. His (first) wife Lyuba was driven by years of unnatural stress and anxiety to insanity, being confined to mental institutions since the late 1920s.
The 1929 book Year One of the Russian Revolution.
Serge was a prolific writer of both prose and poetry, and his oeuvre includes fiction, history, essays, reminiscences and poetry – not mentioning pamphlets  and other political literature of which there understandably exists a large corpus. A great majority of his writing is in French, the language of his first, most impressionable years.

He was a competent propagandist and persuasive political polemicist, but it is in his creative writing that he comes into his own – as a highly imaginative chronicler of dystopia, and with his incandescently beautiful reminiscences and deeply sensitive poetry.

His fictional narratives of the Stalinist apocalypse, of the great purges and the Moscow trials are unsurpassed in their intensity and their well-rounded characterisation. Every line that he wrote is shot through with an irreducible light of authenticity, as consider this sentence from the Memoirs:

“I must confess that the feeling of having so many dead men at my back, many of them my betters in energy, talent, and historical character, has often overwhelmed me, and this feeling has been for me the source of a certain courage, if that is the right word for it.”

Or his musings on Trotsky’s last home, where the assassin’s hatchet had split open the great man’s skull:

“The garden is opulent with vegetation, cactus and palm trees surrounding a little monument in gray concrete: monument bearing the hammer and sickle  – and flagstaff. The rabbit hutches with which the Old Man occupied himself are empty and neglected. Sunlight, sunlight everywhere, butterflies in flight, a heat crackle in the calmness, the silence…”
Also read: Two Poets Baptised by the Fire of History’s Greatest War

Much of what Serge wrote was not published till years after his passing for he was ostracised so completely that willing publishers were impossible to come by in his later years. He knew that everything that he wrote in Mexico, including the last great novels Unforgiving Years and The Case of Comrade Tulayev, besides Memoirs, was meant “only for the desk-drawer”, and wondered

“past age fifty, facing an uncertain future, not to mention the hypothesis that the tyrannies will last longer than I have left to live, what would be the result?”

“We have conquered everything, and everything has slipped out of our grasp,” says a character in Serge’s Conquered City. He captures the same thought in these luminous lines:

If we roused the peoples and made the continents quake,
…began to make everything anew with these dirty old stones,
These tired hands, and the meagre souls that were left us,
it was not in order to haggle with you now,
sad revolution, our mother, our child, our flesh,
our decapitated dawn, our night with its stars askew…

Serge’s writing harks back to the ‘decapitated dawn’ often enough, leading some commentators to the view that the Victor Serge of the later years had moved decisively away from Marxism, even Socialism. Such views can only be put down to personal biases, for a close reading of everything that he wrote shows that, for all his disillusionment with ‘Stalinist socialism’, Serge remained wedded to the hope of  a socialist future for mankind. For the last word on where he was headed as a socialist thinker, we can scarcely do better than turn to Serge himself.

This is how, in From Lenin to Stalin, he approaches the question of the decline of the Russian Revolution:

“It is often said that ‘the germ of Stalinism was in Bolshevism at its very beginning’. Well, I have no objection. Only, Bolshevism also contained many other germs, a mass of other germs, and those who lived through the enthusiasm of the first years of the first victorious socialist revolution ought not to forget it. To judge the living man by the death germs which the autopsy reveals in the corpse – and which he may have carried in him since his birth – is that very sensible?”

Anjan Basu writes on a range of issues. He can be reached at basuanjan52@gmail.com
Fair Use Notice
This web site may contain copyrighted material the use of which we are making only for educational purposes. This is a non -profit web site and does not accept any type of advertisement, paid or otherwise. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance the understanding of humanity’s problems and hopefully to help find solutions for those problems.

We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is only for reading purposes that included information for research and educational purposes. For the original source we are providing “url” of that article which is a ‘fair use’ of anything you find on this web site. However, if you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Iran Is China’s Secret Weapon for Killing off the US Dollar’s Global Reserve Status-Federico PIERACCINI

Posted by admin On October - 6 - 2019 Comments Off on Iran Is China’s Secret Weapon for Killing off the US Dollar’s Global Reserve Status-Federico PIERACCINI


There is a strong current of change affecting the international political arena. It is the beginning of a revolution brought on by the transition from a unipolar to multipolar world order. In practice, we are faced with the combination of several factors, including the application of US tariffs on Chinese exports, Washington’s sanctions on Iran, US energy self-sufficiency, the vulnerability of Saudi industrial facilities, and Iranian capabilities for resisting US attacks, as well as its exportation of large quantities of gas and oil to China. Everything converges on one factor, namely, the looming decline of the US dollar as the global reserve currency

We have recently been witnessing events of considerable importance in the Middle East, almost on a daily basis. The tensions between Washington and Tehran are fueled above all by the Trump administration’s need to placate most of the US deep state, wedded to neoconservativism, who march in lockstep with Trump’s financiers from Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and Israel.

The aggressive policy towards Tehran, consisting of provocations and false-flags, has recently resulted in the type of public-relations disaster for the US military-industrial that I have anticipated for years would happen.

The attack by Yemen’s Houthis struck two major oil installations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, exposing the shortcomings of the very expensive American Patriot air-defense systems.

This attack shocked policy-makers around the world by demonstrating how low-cost, asymmetric means of warfare can be effective beyond all expectations, able to inflict billions of dollars worth of damage with an outlay of just a few thousand dollars. The real extent of damage caused by the Houthi attack remains unknown, with Aramco struggling to provide official information.

More than 50% of the oil production was interrupted by the attack, with unconfirmed reports suggesting Riyadh may need to import considerable quantities of oil from Iraq.

As if this scenario were not enough to complicate Saudi survival plans, Israel and the neoconservatives are pushing for an armed response against Tehran that would see Saudi Arabia bearing most of the cost. The Al Saud family, aware of Iranian military capabilities, seems to have softened their belligerent tone against Iran.

In this already volatile Middle Eastern situation that risks uncontrollable conflagration, the risks for the Saudis are quite clear, and perhaps also all too well known to them. The Saudi kingdom exists in a precarious condition, held up by the welfare it extends to the population. If a war were to result in death, destruction and impoverishment, then how long could the House of Saud last before being overthrown in an Arab Spring-type insurrection guided by Washington? Saudi Arabia’s importance, it must be realized, lies not so much on who governs it but on its ability to control OPEC and impose the sale of oil in US dollars, thereby ensuring Washington’s centrality to the global economy thanks to the concept of the global reserve currency.

Beijing’s recent decision to grant a credit line of between 280 and 400 billion US dollars to the Islamic Republic of Iran is part of a broad-spectrum strategy that looks to the distant and not just immediate future.

Certainly Iran will benefit from this economic aid that will compensate for the lack of earnings from the sale of oil due to US secondary sanctions. Beijing intends to enter the Iranian gas and oil market, helping Iranian state-owned companies to develop fields, plants, logistics, ports and energy hubs, thereby ensuring a future supply of oil and gas for a country experiencing strong economic and demographic growth.

If we expand on the reasoning behind China’s intentions, and relate it to Middle Eastern and US interests, an interesting picture emerges, one that needs to be carefully evaluated.

We know that Washington boasts of having achieved energy self-sufficiency through fracking and shale gas, turning it into a net exporter. While there are doubts about the durability of the wells in question, the current situation seems to confirm that the US is much less dependent on Saudi and Middle Eastern oil to satisfy domestic demand.

Accordingly, many policy makers, including Generals Dunford and Mattis, interviewed recently by the CFR, explained how the change in the National Defense Strategy confirms how focus has moved from the well-known 4+1 framework (China, Russia, Iran, DPRK + Islamic terrorism) to a better-balanced 2+3 one (China, Russia + DPRK, Iran and Terrorism), in recognition of the return of great-power politics.

In geographical terms, this implies a future shift of military forces away from the Persian Gulf, Middle East and North Africa to the Far East. This is for the purposes of containing and surrounding (militarily, economically and technologically) Washington’s primary peer competitor, namely China

Beijing, in response to this encirclement, has a card up its sleeve. It can seek to replace the reserve-currency status of the US dollar by not only coming to Iran’s aid, which is fundamental to its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but also, at a later stage, seeking to woo Saudi Arabia (and OPEC) away from selling oil exclusively in US dollars. Moscow, with the development of OPEC+, can help its Chinese ally, shaping the LNG market with prices quoted in currencies other than the US dollar. Currently, Beijing and Moscow are trading in hydrocarbons by completely bypassing both the SWIFT payment system as well as the US dollar.

The Chinese have a well-planned operation in mind that could change the entire economic landscape of the world. China will firstly help Iran develop its exports while at the same time guaranteeing future supplies for itself, allowing both countries to shield themselves from American economic terrorism. Naturally, Iran’s sale of oil to China takes place outside of the SWIFT system, and therefore outside the purview of the US petrodollar combine.

With this move, Beijing seeks to secure the future sale of hydrocarbons for its enormously growing economy, ensuring the country’s continuing development, complementing the investments already made in North Africa (minerals and raw materials) and in the east of Russia (agriculture).

The real danger for US economic hegemony posed by China lies in Saudi Arabia. If Washington continues to rely less and less on the Saudis for oil imports, shifting its attention to Southeast Asia, then there will be less and less reason for the US to offer an impediment to Iran’s rise as a regional hegemon. Riyadh will therefore be forced to start looking around and reassess its place on the regional map.

Riyadh’s nightmare is that of a Shia arc stretching from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, with China as its primary trading partner and Russia as its military partner. All of this without its US ally offering a balancing counterweight in the region!

China’s strategy with regard to Iran is to pressure Saudi Arabia to consider selling oil in currencies other than the US dollar. As things stand now, Beijing imports substantial amounts of crude oil from Saudi Arabia. This could change if China transfers its oil imports to Iran, paying for this oil in currencies other than the dollar, or maybe even simply in renminbi.

Should this contagion spread to Qatar (an Iranian economic partner of fundamental importance to the development of the South Pars/North Dome gas field) and other Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia would see its status as a gas- and oil-exporting economic power threatened, with such hopeful schemes as the Saudi Vision 2030 offering little in terms of compensation.

Beijing would be more favorable to importing primary goods, including gas and oil, in a currency other than the dollar, perhaps through a basket of currencies that better represents the multipolar context in which we live. It could be a basket modeled on that of the IMF, but with a smaller share of US dollars (or maybe none at all), so as to limit the influence of the Fed on foreign markets and the private finances of individual countries.

Beijing’s strategy seems to be designed to progress in phases, modulating according to the reaction of the US, whether aggressive or mild; a kind of capoeira dance where one never actually hits one’s opponent even when one can. Nevertheless, the long-term objective of this dance is to undermine the primary source of income and power of the United States: to wit, the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency.

The first phase of this strategy focuses on Iran and the precarious economic situation the country finds itself in, primarily as a result of US sanctions. In this first phase, Beijing’s credit line will serve to keep Iran afloat as it fends off American economic terrorism. A second phase will likely involve some kind of Iranian legislative change to allow Chinese state-owned companies to work alongside Iranian ones in the oil and gas fields. A third phase will probably see the involvement of Qatar in the development of the largest gas field in the world, shared between Doha and Tehran. Meanwhile, the BRI will continue to expand, moving to the outskirts of the Persian country and involving many Southeast Asian countries along the way, thereby expanding trade between different parts of the globe.

Confirming how this strategy is already in play, China is also seeking to safeguard its sea lines of communication in the event of any war. Beijing realizes how having strong naval capabilities is imperative, and has accordingly invested heavily towards this end.

In such a geopolitical context, it is difficult to imagine Saudi Arabia continuing to be so unquestioningly accommodating of American interests — selling oil exclusively in US dollars, while not receiving sufficient military protection or economic benefits in return. Washington has seriously miscalculated if it believes it can keep the US dollar alive as a global reserve while continuing to destabilize the world economically, continuing to disregard the military protection of its regional allies, and all this in spite of the rising Sino-Iranian-Russian alternative for all to see.

Between Obama and Trump there have been the Arab Spring, wars threatened and carried out, economic destabilization, financial terrorism, threats to allies, the sale of obsolete military hardware, and a change in strategy (“Pivot to Asia”) occasioned by the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar order. In such a changing world, the US dollar will inevitably be replaced with a basket of currencies, which will in turn wipe out the unlimited spending power that enabled Washington to become the superpower it is today.

Beijing understood this mechanism years ago, and now sees Iran as the catalyst for effecting epochal change. Iran is useful not only because the BRI transits through its territory, but because it also offers the economic checkmate to America’s petrodollar hegemon, offering itself as a stalking horse for approaching Saudi Arabia and bringing this kingdom into the multipolar fold.

Beijing’s economic and moral overtures to Riyadh will encounter problems, and the US, in recognition of Saudi Arabia’s importance in sustaining its petrodollar hegemony, will naturally resist this. Russia is contributing to this geopolitical transition by offering to sell defensive weapons to the Kingdom.

Obama and Trump’s efforts to undermine Beijing’s rise, by hook or by crook, have only ended up undermining Washington’s ability to maintain the US dollar as the global reserve currency — only kicking off the denouement of this privileged and unnatural arrangement.

Fair Use Notice
This web site may contain copyrighted material the use of which we are making only for educational purposes. This is a non -profit web site and does not accept any type of advertisement, paid or otherwise. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance the understanding of humanity’s problems and hopefully to help find solutions for those problems.

We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is only for reading purposes that included information for research and educational purposes. For the original source we are providing “url” of that article which is a ‘fair use’ of anything you find on this web site. However, if you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Bhagat Singh Is Not the Man the Right Wants You to Think He Is-Christophe Jaffrelot

Posted by admin On September - 28 - 2019 Comments Off on Bhagat Singh Is Not the Man the Right Wants You to Think He Is-Christophe Jaffrelot


An excerpt from Revolutionary Passions shows that Bhagat Singh – who the Hindu Right tends to project as an antidote to the Congress and Gandhi – not only had close relations with Congress leaders, but was also critical of Hinduism
In the mid 1920s, the Kakori Conspiracy Case left the revolutionary movement headless, as all its front-ranking leaders were arrested and sent to the gallows or to jail. The following generation of militants – who were to revive the movement – was of a different kind. The strongest personality in this group, Bhagat Singh, is proof of this. Born in Lyallpur, Punjab, to a Sikh family that came under the influence of the Arya Samaj and the Ghadr Party – his uncle Ajit Singh had been deported to Mandalay along with Lajpat Rai when he was a child – Bhagat Singh was trained at the National College of Lahore. He was particularly shocked by the Jallianwallah Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919, where General Dyer killed hundreds of people. He then took part in the non-cooperation movement and like many others, joined the revolutionary movement after Mahatma Gandhi suspended the non-cooperation struggle. In 1926, he started the Naujawan Bharat Sabha and tried to draw the youth from the province into its fold, in order to develop a socialist and non-religious organisation. If the British were naturally the chosen target of Bhagat Singh, he also put the blame on his compatriots, paralysed by superstitions:

“A branch of peepal tree is cut and religious feelings of the Hindus are injured. A corner of a paper idol, tazia of the idol-breaker Mohammedans is broken, and ‘Allah’ gets enraged, who cannot be satisfied with anything less than the blood of the infidel Hindus. Man should receive more attention than the beasts and yet, in India, people break their heads in the name of ‘sacred beasts’.”

The combination of socialism, humanism and nationalism that was the trademark of Bhagat Singh was going to become even stronger after the launch of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HRSA) in September 1928. While Bhagat Singh remained the key figure of the HSRA, among its leaders were other outstanding men, including Sukhdev, a great admirer of communism, Vijay Kumar Sinha, an avid reader, Shiv Verma and Chandrashekhar Azad, who was in charge of the Association’s “military” operations. These men formed a Central Committee, which included two representatives of each province where the movement was well established – Punjab, the United Provinces and Bihar. The organisation was immediately divided into two branches, the ideological and the military. Bhagat Singh was at the helm of the former but took part in the latter too. Indeed, he was directly involved in the assassination of J.P. Saunders, a policeman who had been mistaken for the police chief J. A. Scott, whom Bhagat Singh held responsible for the death of Lala Lajpat Rai. An Arya Samaji and a Congress leader, Lajpat Rai had been killed after a lathi charge while he and others demonstrated against the Simon Commission’s Lahore visit. Like terrorists of the 19th century, the HRSA thought – expressed in an “official” communiqué – that by killing Saunders, it could  “let the world know that India still lives; that the blood of youths has not been totally cooled down and that they can still risk their lives if the honour of their nation is at stake”.
(Hamit Bozarslan, Gilles Bataillon, Christophe Jaffrelot
Revolutionary Passions: Latin America, Middle East and India
Social Science Press, 2017)
But Bhagat Singh transitioned from terrorism to revolution. In his last piece of writing – drafted in February 1931 – he refers to his past action in a very telling manner:

“Apparently I have acted as a terrorist. But I am not a terrorist. I am a revolutionary who has got such definite ideas of a lengthy programme (…) Let me announce with all the strength at my command, that I am not a terrorist and never was, (except) perhaps at the beginning of my revolutionary career.”

Bhagat Singh’s worldview had been reshaped in the meantime by some rare readings. The list of authors in his library shows many books by various Western authors. One finds there Marx, Engels, Trotsky, Thomas Paine, Upton Sinclair, Morris Hillquit, Jack London,  Victor Hugo, Dostoevsky, Spinoza, Bertrand Russell, John Stuart Mill, Thomas Jefferson, Kautsky, Bukharin, Burke, Lenin, Thomas d’Aquin, Danton, Omar Khayyam, Tagore, N.A. Morozov, Herbert Spencer, Henry Maine and Rousseau.

These books, that Bhagat Singh read in jail as much as before being arrested, contributed to making him a rationalist and a socialist. He was the first revolutionary to express clearly his rejection of religion in Why I am an atheist, written in prison – just when he was condemned to death. In this text, Bhagat Singh states lucidly how he awaits death without hoping for a life beyond:

“A God-believing Hindu might be expecting to be reborn as a king, a Muslim or a Christian, might dream of the luxuries to be enjoyed in paradise and the reward he is to get for his sufferings and sacrifices. But what am I to expect? I know the moment the rope is fitted round my neck and rafters removed, from under my feet. That will be the final moment – that will be the last moment. I, or to be more precise, my soul, as interpreted in the metaphysical terminology, shall all be finished there. Nothing further. A short life of struggle with no such magnificent end, shall in itself be the reward if I have the courage to take it in that light. That is all. With no selfish motive, or desire to be awarded here or hereafter, quite disinterestedly have I devoted my life to the cause of independence, because I could not do otherwise. The day we find a great number of men and women with this psychology who cannot devote themselves to anything else than the service of mankind and emancipation of the suffering humanity; that day shall inaugurate the era of liberty.”

Bhagat Singh’s rejection of religion, which alienates the masses, complemented his socialist criticism of two systems of oppression – capitalism and casteism. Before that, Indian revolutionaries had only targeted capitalism and colonialism.

In February 1931, Bhagat Singh, inviting the youth to embrace Marxism, pointed out that “Revolution means the complete overthrow of the existing social order and its replacement with the socialist order. For that purpose our immediate aim is the achievement of power. As a matter of fact, the state, the government machinery is just a weapon in the hands of the ruling class to further safeguard its interest. We want to snatch and handle it to utilise it for the consummation of our ideal, i.e., social reconstruction on new, i. e. Marxist basis.”
Christophe Jaffrelot. Credit: Twitter
In fact, Bhagat Singh is a Janus-like figure, combining different sources of inspiration, some of them Marxist, others harking back to the anarchists’ “propaganda by action”. This is evident from his last deed. On April 8, 1929, along with B.K. Dutt, he threw two bombs in the Central Legislative Assembly “to make the deaf hear”, as written on the tracts they distributed in the assembly after their lightening coup. This formula was borrowed from Auguste Vaillant, a French anarchist. But Bhagat Singh also presented this action as being part of a larger game plan. First, it was aimed at dissuading the assembly from voting for a law – the Public Safety and Trade Disputes Bill – whose implementation would have penalised Indian workers.  Second, it was also meant to denounce the manner in which this so-called Indian parliament projected itself – as an accomplice of the British. Finally, it aimed at avenging the death of Lajpat Rai. All these explanations relate this act as much to the anarchist as to the socialist agenda. The latter side of the coin shows that Bhagat Singh did not valorise violence. To get a proper understanding of his political philosophy, one must read till the end the leaflet that Bhagat Singh and Dutt threw in the assembly after hurling their bombs. Its concluding words are remarkable:

“We are sorry to admit that we who attach so great a sanctity to human life, who dream of a glorious future, when man will be enjoying perfect peace and full liberty, have been forced to shed human blood.”

These words reveal a denial of violence, a denial that would take a more systematic form in the declaration of Singh and Dutt made before the judges. There, they would emphasise that the two bombs had been thrown at the unoccupied rows and that their composition – the details of which they provide, like great chemists – made them inoffensive: had they been loaded with some other high explosive, with destructive pellets or darts, they could have wiped out a majority of the members of the legislative assembly.

Singh and Dutt even defended themselves against their recourse to violence – they merely speak of “force”:
“We are next to none in our love for humanity. Far from having any malice against any individual, we hold human life sacred beyond words (…) Our sole purpose was ‘to make the deaf hear’ and to give the heedless a timely warning (…) Force when aggressively applied is ‘violence’ and is therefore, morally unjustifiable, but when it is used in the furtherance of a legitimate cause, it has its moral justification.”

Interestingly, Bhagat Singh regarded Jesus Christ as one of his role models, like Gandhi: “If we set aside motive, then Jesus Christ will appear a man responsible for breaking peace and preaching revolt, and a dangerous personality in the language of the law. But we worship him. He commands great respect and a place in our hearts; the sight of his image fills us with spiritual energy”.

Not only did Bhagat Singh, a truly exceptional revolutionary, never pay allegiance to Hinduism, but he also actually valued non-violence.
Christophe Jaffrelot is Senior Research Fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris.
–Note: This article was first published on September 13, 2017 and is being republished on September 28, 2019, Bhagat Singh’s birth anniversary.
Fair Use Notice
This web site may contain copyrighted material the use of which we are making only for educational purposes. This is a non -profit web site and does not accept any type of advertisement, paid or otherwise. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance the understanding of humanity’s problems and hopefully to help find solutions for those problems.

We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is only for reading purposes that included information for research and educational purposes. For the original source we are providing “url” of that article which is a ‘fair use’ of anything you find on this web site. However, if you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Timir Basu on labor in India-interviewed by Farooque Chowdhury

Posted by admin On May - 3 - 2019 Comments Off on Timir Basu on labor in India-interviewed by Farooque Chowdhury


‘Unions must provide political education or labor will find itself more powerless than ever before’—Timir Basu on labor in India

Posted Apr 30, 2019 by Farooque Chowdhury and Timir Basu
Topics: Labor , StrategyPlaces: India
Labor around the world is facing a hostile situation to the extent and intensity unprecedented in labor’s history. At the same time, labor in the Global South and Global North is theoretically, organizationally and politically unarmed. In this interview conducted in April 2019 by Farooque Chowdhury, Timir Basu focuses on labor in India, a large economy in the Global South. Basu, once a revolutionary who organized among the poor peasantry, spent years in prison, during which time he focused on organizing prison labor. He has been an editor of Frontier, the radical weekly published out of Kolkata, ever since.

Farooque Chowdhury: You were actively involved with organizing the poor peasantry along revolutionary line. That was days of organizing armed struggle, years ago. Then, after getting out of prison, you actively got involved with organizing unions. You were simultaneously writing on labor and unions/labor movement in two famous weeklies—Economic and Political Weekly and Frontier. Later, over the years, as editor of Frontier, you keenly observe the labor and labor movement in India. What’s the present condition of (a) the labor, and (b) the labor movement in this south Asian country?

Timir Basu: Labor has been on the defensive everywhere since the 1990s, more precisely since the beginning of ruthless aggression of neo-liberalism. And, the South Asian region is no exception.

As for India, labor here is doubly disadvantaged because of a backward manufacturing process inherited from the British colonial rulers. Indian big business houses never tried to modernize their industry despite tremendous advance in technological up-gradation in manufacturing in Europe and America. Indian business tycoons are industrialists with feudal mindset. Also, they never tried to explore and expand market beyond a certain point. Unlike the Chinese capitalists who are latecomer in the race, they remained satisfied with captive market. They were always apprehensive of losing control over their family business empires in case of expansion. But with rapid march of globalization, technological up-gradation became the buzzword in new corporate culture dominated by Ambanis and Adanis, in place of old Tatas and Birlas. They began to automate their production lines with the sole purpose of cutting labor cost, not the improvement in quality of products. This is the main reason why Indian goods are not competitive in international market despite the advantage of cheap labor. Indian economy is not immune to global recession. Despite pompous claim of high growth rate and fairy tale of GDP, joblessness remains the perennial headache of all governments irrespective of color. Barring services sector the much-touted organized sector has been witnessing systematic killing of jobs.

Trade Union movement in general even in the organized sector finds it increasingly difficult to arrest the falling membership and boost the sagging morale of workers who are in constant threat of losing job. They work under the state of fear-psychosis, always encountering uncertainty and insecurity. The old way of placing charter of demands with major thrust on wage revision and compensatory allowance in proportion to rise or fall in consumer price index no longer works. Labor offensive in the form of strike in isolation here and there, quite often fails due to lack of solidarity support.

The phenomenal growth of services sector has created a new generation of employees who are essentially footloose, and May Day has very little meaning to them unless they are politically motivated. They are not interested in the past but what they fail to grasp is they cannot protect their future without knowing their past. Labor in the era of digital economy looks more fragmented and the “cybertariat” is yet to stand on its own feet.

What’s the major hindrance—theoretically or politically or organizationally or assault by capital/opponent classes—the labor movement in India is facing now?

For the decline of labor movement what is theoretically valid for workers in the West is equally valid for workers in India. The collapse of Soviet Russia gave employers, more precisely corporate employers, extra leverage to curb their bargaining power. The model of’ socialist societies’ where workers used to enjoy better living standards and social security was no longer there. Socialism itself became a dirty word. The post-Soviet situation also helped right-wing forces organize trade unions under their banner of reactionary and backward ideology. Reversal in China gave them extra teeth to coerce labor and brakes on trade union rights.

Tragically, most workers in the organized sector came under the sway of political right while the left continued to wander in ideological wilderness. In truth, they are still in search of an appropriate strategy in the changed context. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) controlled Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and [Indian National] Congress controlled INTUC together control most organized membership of unions and don’t allow workers to go on strike even in case of gross violation of workers’ rights.

Which class dominates the labor movement in India?

The middle class as a whole dominates Indian labor movement. It doesn’t matter whether unions are left controlled or rightist led, leadership always comes with middle class background. Communist and socialist outfits deploy whole-timers to organize trade unions. Rightwing forces too do the same. This tradition has been continuing since beginning of trade union movement in the 1920s. For economically sound big unions, trade union bureaucracy is a nightmare to ordinary workers. The trade union bureaucracy is part of the management now. In the name of maintaining industrial peace, this leadership sometimes openly works against the interests of workers. It’s not that leaders from the working community are rare. But in course of time, they too acquire the status of middle class. Once P C Joshi, the secretary of undivided Communist Party of India, made a unique observation—“workers being promoted to leadership become babus”, the well-off Indian middle class. Declassed in reverse order!

The system of “recognized unions” is a nice device to corrupt TU leaders who do nothing in workplace, but provide consultancy to management. Their sole job is to keep vigil on aggrieved workers on behalf of management and pacify workers at the time of unrest.

Divisive/sectarian politics by factions of the dominating capital is a crucial issue in this big economy. This divisive/sectarian politics of the dominating capital produces an equal and opposite reaction—concentrating on issues in the way, which is also essentially divisive/sectarian, and increasingly confining into another form of divisive/sectarian slogans. Both of these are acting as a tool in the hands of the dominating capital, and harming unity of the working classes, the wage-slaves, the exploited. Do you find slogans—program/demand/movement—from the labor that stand against all forms and colors of divisive/sectarian politics irrespective of appearance and sound, and stand on class line?

It is the basic weakness of labor movement in India that even the far-left, not to speak of official left, does raise the question of class. Nor do they educate wage laborers on class line. Frankly speaking, they consciously keep trade unions free from politics. As a result, it is no problem for capital to divide workers by manipulating divisive and sectarian issues through their paid agents when it is necessary. When the ruling parties spread war hysteria, no protest emerges from workers’ platform as if workers are not affected by such propaganda.

In India one major problem affecting workers and workplaces is caste. Despite toiling for decades side by side in an establishment workers remain vulnerable to caste and religious prejudices. They remain immune to progressive ideas—no change in their outlook. They come with prejudice and they go back with prejudice. Management encourages prejudice and obnoxious religious practice as Marwari businessmen would patronize in building up Hanumana, the monkey-chief who was an ally of Ramchandra during Rama’s Lanka expedition, temple inside factory premises so that their workers could worship there.

Despite encounter with modern urban life, workers assiduously nurse feudal values. Once a permanent worker in Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation’s mains department summed up the situation nicely: “the parcel that came from Bihar went back to Bihar after retirement without being opened”.

Should the labor with a heroic history of trampling divisive/sectarian politics tolerate and give space to a seemingly pro-people, but fundamentally divisive/sectarian politics as an answer to the divisive/sectarian politics of the dominating capital/factions of the ruling classes in this economy with many competing components/regions/sections?

As workers are not politically trained, they sometimes get swayed by divisive maneuvering of capital. Workers talk politics not at factory gate. No doubt, they discuss elections but they do it as common people, not as workers. So the working class perspective is totally missing in their discourse in roadside teashops or shanties where they live.

The country with its geo-strategically important position and vying for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council is a hot bed for meddling/cajoling/pressure by imperialism. What impact is this making on the labor?

Labor being apolitical they do hardly bother about India’s quest to get a permanent seat in UN Security Council. For one thing, they definitely take interest in Pakistan-bashing. Jingoism is a time-tested tactic to divert public attention. Again, leftists don’t counter it from their workers’ platform.

Do you find the so-called NGOs, which are, in essence, longer and informal arms for implementing parts of foreign policy of a number of powerful states, influencing/intervening/organizing unions?

Yes, NGOs are operating throughout the country. Most people, not to speak of workers separately, do hardly question NGO’s source of funds and NGOs’ action program. But their influence among workers, particularly in TU movement is negligible. It’s basically a middle class enterprise trying to have their presence felt among rural people and marginalized communities.

How the radical unions are reacting to the imperialists’ moves at different levels of life in India including the areas of manufacturing and trade?

Radical Unions’ response to global capital’s anti-national activities and naked interference in some cases is too inadequate to be taken seriously. One area that is totally neglected by radical unions and their rightist counterparts as well is ecology and climate. Imperial capital means unlimited plunder of natural and human resources, and in the process, they destroy ecological balance, inviting climatic catastrophe and engendering future generations. Tragically enough, radical unions don’t consider destruction of ecology as a serious threat to humanity. They talk about it very casually. It’s not on the agenda of their party. Nor is it on their TU agenda. In this area, some NGOs work in their own way and highlight climate change and its adverse impact on society and economy. But their target audience is educated middle class. So workers in Vedanta’s aluminum smelting plant are least bothered about the disaster brought about by their company in indiscriminate mining of alumina bearing hills. However, these mining activities are displacing thousands of tribal inhabitants and killing small rivulets and streams, which sustain life in the hilly region.

Suffering of the farmers chained to credit capital, and their protests in India are now widely known. Bollywood, it should be Mullywood, has produced at least one feature film on this suffering. How the labor in the industrial part of the economy is reacting to these suffering and protests, i.e., expressing solidarity, joining the marches, etc. or having a position of onlooker, indifferent, no move to build up an alliance, etc.?

Communist parties have been propagating the concept of worker-peasant alliance since their inception. But in practice they do precious little. It’s just a theoretical proposition to be discussed in party congresses and conferences. Jute workers struggle against retrenchment and arbitrary shutdown, but plight of jute growers is not their headache.

The idea of worker-peasant alliance cannot grow in isolation. Political parties and unions they control, never try to develop any common program, so they can be work jointly. Workers at best are onlookers, rather passive onlookers even when farmers march in thousands in scorching sun. Communists formulate this worker-peasant alliance strategy by borrowing from classical Marxist literature, but what they practice in the field will never succeed in building worker-peasant alliance. In the recent farmers’ long march to Mumbai, many middle class people showed sympathy to marchers—but no central TU came forward with a clear-cut strategy to support their cause. That TUs are asking workers to withdraw labor even for a day to protest farm suicides is unthinkable.

What are the major (a) successes, and (b) failures of the main part and radical part, if identified in this way, of the labor movement in this country?

Some labor welfare schemes have been incorporated in some labor acts. These are successes. But the present dispensation is trying to take away these hard-earned rights under the garb of “labor reforms”. And here unions of all shades, including unions owning allegiance to the ruling parties, are protesting rather half-heartedly. Here they fail miserably to put up a united fight without which workers are going to face medieval tyranny.

The development of an ever more technological complex manufacturing process is root cause of re-skilling of labor force. What they call fourth industrial revolution is all about maximization of automation. Maybe, automation has reached its limits after massive introduction of robots, negating physical presence of labor that was unthinkable at the beginning of the 20th century. Trade unions yet have no answer to automation beyond a certain point. They cannot oppose technological up-gradation. Nor can they resist the advent of labor-eating process even in areas where labor-organizing could have made decisive impact on the broader aspect of bargaining.

Do you like to suggest/propose any step—ideological question, political struggle, relation between unions and radical political party of labor, leadership, inner-union democracy, political education of union members, literature—to the radical part of the labor movement in India?

Well, in the organized sector, TU bureaucracy must be fought out. Even radical unions are not free from this virus. It acts as a brake on labor movement. TUs must raise political issues frequently at workers’ meet, even at plant level, instead of agitating to achieve sectarian goals. Unless TUs educate workers on political lines, this apolitical approach will lead to a more complex situation in which labor will find itself more powerless than ever before.

Capital is global. But now, labor’s resistance is strictly localized, failing to cross the national boundary and make solidarity a reality even at the regional level. Thus, unions become powerless despite prolonged strikes in some work facilities. Gone are the days of international federations and regional or industry-wise groupings. So May 1 is one more ritual, having no lasting impact on the wretched of the earth. Internationally, both left-wing and right-wing labor consolidations hardly make any news these days; they are in limbo. Only revival of socialist outlook internationally can give boost to rebuilding international labor federations without which corporations cannot be confronted effectively.

Thank you for the interview discussing issues related to the labor in India.

Thanks. I like to express my hope that the spirit of May 1 will mend many loose ends that stand in the way of building up powerful labor solidarity across the world.

About Farooque Chowdhury
Farooque Chowdhury is a freelance writer based in Dhaka. His books in English include Micro Credit, Myth Manufactured (ed.), The Age of Crisis, and The Great Financial Crisis, What Next?: Interviews with John Bellamy Foster (ed.), Dhakha: Books (2012), 190 pp.
Fair Use Notice
This web site may contain copyrighted material the use of which we are making only for educational purposes. This is a non -profit web site and does not accept any type of advertisement, paid or otherwise. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance the understanding of humanity’s problems and hopefully to help find solutions for those problems.

We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is only for reading purposes that included information for research and educational purposes. For the original source we are providing “url” of that article which is a ‘fair use’ of anything you find on this web site. However, if you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Secrets held in archives-A.G. NOORANI

Posted by admin On April - 19 - 2019 Comments Off on Secrets held in archives-A.G. NOORANI


A collection of documents that throw light on how Indian leaders contrived to keep Kashmir in India.
India’s archival policy is an outrageous mess. The authorities in the National Archives of India are extremely helpful. But files are not released speedily to them by the government for perusal by scholars. Our academics seem uninterested; otherwise, they would have waged a sustained, spirited campaign for access to records, which are open in every democratic society—except in India. An Indian scholar who wants to study the Simla Convention of 1914 and the drawing of the McMahon Line has to go to the British Library in London. In India, access is barred to records after 1913, though there are nearly a dozen books, Indian and foreign, which have drawn on the records in London. The doyen of scholars on the India-China boundary dispute, Professor Parshottam L. Mehra, had to consult British archives to write his excellent book on the McMahon Line.

The 30-year rule is on paper. Records of border areas are closed from January 1, 1914, while those relating to Jammu and Kashmir are open only up to December 31, 1924. The Indian Historical Records Commission should bestir itself.

For more than 10 years, the editor of the volume under review, Lionel Carter, was a member of the team that produced the British government’s series Documents on the Transfer of Power to India, 1942-47. From 1980 until 1999, he served as Secretary and Librarian of the Centre of South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge. Apart from this work, Carter has published 15 volumes with Manohar: Chronicles of British Business in Asia, 1850-1960 (2002); Mountbatten’s Report on the Last

Viceroyalty (2003); five volumes of Punjab Governors’ Reports (2004-2007); three volumes of United Provinces Governors’ Reports covering 1936 to 1939 (2008-10); two volumes entitled Partition Observed, which relate to the months August to December in 1947 (2011); two volumes called Weakened States Seeking Renewal (2013) which document South Asia from January to April, 1948; and, most recently, Completing the First Year of Independence: British Official Reports from South Asia, 1 May-17 September 1948 (2016).

Sadly, he has not decided to produce a similar volume on the Kashmir dispute from, say, 1946 to 1953, on the basis of British records, to wit, reports, until 1947, of British Residents in the State, from members of the British High Commission and Deputy High Commission in India and Pakistan, and, not least, from the Reports of Lord Mountbatten, Governor-General of India. He freely and most improperly shared with the British High Commissioner in New Delhi, Sir Archibald Nye, former Governor of Madras Presidency, the secret deliberations of the Nehru Cabinet. So did the Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Roy Bucher. His predecessor, General Sir Robert Lockhart, was unceremoniously sacked because he did not reveal to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru information of a tribal raid into Kashmir which he had acquired from his Pakistani counterpart, Sir Frank Messervey. It is more than likely that if the information had been transmitted to his bosses, the raid would have been aborted and there might have been no Pakistan Administered Kashmir (Major K.C. Praval, Indian Army After Independence, Lancer, page 49).

Archival research is indispensable in the pursuit of historical truth. Public figures show one face in public and another in private. From 1947 to 1953, Nehru beat his breast publicly in affirmation of his pledge to hold a plebiscite in Kashmir. In private, he ruled it out at the very outset, notably, when he met Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in Paris on October 30, 1948. The British High Commissioner in Pakistan, Sir Lawrence Grafftey-Smith, conveyed to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, Philip Noel-Baker, on November 11 a message by Liaquat Ali Khan to the British Prime Minister Clement Attlee: “He (Nehru) put forward the proposition that either Pakistan should accept the U.N. Commission’s resolution of 13th August without any proviso regarding conditions for a free and impartial plebiscite, or should accept the existing line of division between Azad Kashmir and the rest of the State as permanent. These two alternatives really mean the same thing since if the Commission’s resolution is accepted without any qualification regarding a free and impartial plebiscite, the existing line of division will in fact become permanent.” Nehru repeated this publicly at a rally in New Delhi on April 13, 1956.

Archives also reveal interesting and unsuspected bits of information. On November 15, Sikkim’s ruler told a British official in Calcutta (now Kolkata): “The Chinese have made no further move to contact Sikkim although the Maharaj Kumar confirms that Bhutan hinted to Nehru that if he did not give them satisfactory terms in their Treaty, they might look for better terms from China.”

Kashmiris and their leader, Sheikh Abdullah, were systematically cheated by Nehru. The volume establishes that there was not the slightest possibility of Kashmir’s independence at any time, which is understandable, or of a plebiscite, which is indefensible. Nehru had set his face against a plebiscite from the very outset. The United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP), which was supposed to hold one, was a house divided. Its members reported to the British and the Americans in secret. It had no enthusiasm for a plebiscite, either. Note these steps.

1. The Deputy High Commissioner in Karachi reported to London on September 22, 1948: “Dr Lozano of the Kashmir Commission told a member of my staff yesterday evening that Commission was thinking more and more in terms of partition as the only feasible solution and hinted that this would be recommended to Security Council in report which Commission proposes to prepare in Geneva. He did not indicate the lines of partition.”

2. The Deputy High Commissioner in New Delhi, Alexander Symon, reported on September 24: “India would probably argue that the predominantly Dogra areas must form part of the Indian Union. She would also press her claims for the Vale of Kashmir and Ladakh, though she perhaps might agree to their future being decided by a plebiscite. India would also lay emphasis on her strategic requirements; the need for a natural and easily defensible frontier.

“Pakistan would presumably lay claim to a much larger part of the State (a) on grounds of religious affinity and (b) because of her long-term strategic and economic needs. It seems certain that she would inter alia take the line that the canal system of the West Punjab is vital to the very existence of Western Pakistan and therefore that (1) the territory in which the various headworks are located—in some cases they are in Kashmir—must form an integral part of the Dominion of Pakistan and (2) where the headworks are in the West Punjab but are fed from rivers flowing through the Indian Union, India must give a guarantee (perhaps to be filed with the U.N.) that there will be no diversion or shutting off of water as happened earlier this year in the case of the Sutlej. In addition Pakistan would probably lay claim to the mineral deposits of the Kashmir State (e.g. coal in the Riasi District).”

3. Karachi was Pakistan’s capital then. The High Commissioner in Pakistan, Grafftey-Smith, wrote to Sir Paul Patrick, Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO), on November 13: “To us here, the only feasible line seems to be the Chenab River. The fact that there exist, as the sketch attached to your letter of 27th October shows, two small areas south of the Chenab in which there may be a small Muslim majority and one area north of the river in which, according to the 1931 census, Hindus predominate, does not make it impossible to adopt this as the best possible boundary between Pakistan and India. The transfer, for example, of the Hindu population north of the Chenab to those parts of Riasi and Udhampur south of the river, in which there is a possible Muslim majority, and vice versa, is not a matter of such difficulty as to make adoption of the river as a boundary an impossibility. The Ladakh Tahsil, in which there is a large Buddhist majority, would, of course, be entirely cut off from India if the river Chenab became the boundary between India and Pakistan; but it is in any case so isolated that I do not think the question of its future should affect the partition issue. It would be out of the question to hold a plebiscite in Ladakh as part of the combined scheme of partition-cum-plebiscite, because it can only be readily approached through the Kashmir Valley, and a decision in the Kashmir Valley in favour of Pakistan would make it impossible to implement a vote in favour of India by the Buddhists of Ladakh and vice versa. I fear that the last sentence in paragraph 5 of your letter of 27 October may encourage over-optimistic thinking. Reliable reports suggest that Muslim majority areas have already been converted into non-Muslim majority areas by persecution and mass migration.”

4. Opponents of plebiscite were no wiser than the proponents of a plebiscite. It was a facile knee-jerk reaction. Frederick Mainprice, formerly of the Indian Political Service, told an official in the High Commission in Karachi on December 15, 1948. that he was opposed to a plebiscite. But read this: “Mr. Mainprice rules out the possibility of partition altogether. He was not impressed by the argument that the original Hindu areas of Jammu (roughly speaking, the area south of the Chenab River) should revert to India, bringing forward geographical, economic and strategic arguments against any portion of Jammu, except possibly a small strip along the south-east border of Kathua district, being ceded to India. The geographical and economic argument is that the Chenab Valley and communications to the south of it in the Jammu Vale all lead down toward Gujarat and Sialkot in the West Punjab. Jammu’s normal economic outlet is by the railway and road leading out direct to Sialkot. The strategic argument is that partition along the Chenab would give India control of a further lengthy dangerous salient into Pakistan; it would, furthermore, put India in complete control of the Ravi headworks at Madhopur and possibly enable her to interfere with the Chenab.”

His alternative was absurd: “Since Mr. Mainprice had thus ruled out both plebiscite and partition, I asked him what political solution he had to offer. He suggested that the future of the State as a whole should be decided by a U.N. Fact Finding Commission. It would be necessary for the Commission to be briefed in detail regarding the nature of the enquiries it was to make and the basis on which it was to form its judgment and, of course, for both parties to the dispute to agree in advance to abide by its findings—a procedure very similar to the partition of India and not, therefore, particularly likely to commend itself to either side. The principal factors on which the Commission should base its findings were, in Mr. Mainprice’s view, in their order of importance: (i) Geography, (ii) Economics, (iii) Strategy, (iv) The will of the people, and the Commission must be careful to enquire into the position as on 15th August. It was Mr. Mainprice’s idea that the Commission’s brief would have to be laid down authoritatively by the Security Council itself, and India’s and Pakistan’s agreement to accept the Commission’s findings, if necessary forced on them by the Council.” The absurdity of this approach is evident.

5. Dr Alfredo Lozano of the U.N. Commission was a particularly active and slippery character. He met Nehru on December 20, 1948, and reported to the British High Commissioner, Archibald Nye, who in turn, reported all that to London. “He (Nehru) pointed out that the previous proposals provided for both a plebiscite and for direct negotiation between the two governments and these suggestions had been placed side by side as more or less alternative plans, whereas in the new proposals the plebiscite was given priority and he did not like this. Lozano pointed out to him that the new proposals did not exclude the possibility of an agreement between the two governments if the arrangements for the plebiscite failed; it merely placed the different methods of solution in an order of priority.”

Why then did Nehru accept the UNCIP’s resolution of January 5, 1949, on plebiscite which laid down all the details of a plebiscite? The next day he told Sheikh Abdullah that a plebiscite would not be held but that he should keep this to himself. Given this incontrovertible historical record, are you surprised that Kashmiris are in revolt today?

Sheikh Abdullah’s regret
There is incontrovertible evidence that Abdullah bitterly regretted accession to India within days of the event. In Nehru’s presence, he suggested accession to both countries to a British Minister, Patrick Gordon-Walker, on February 21, 1948. At the U.N. Security Council in January-February 1948, he approached Pakistan’s delegates but was snubbed. He complained about this to President Ayub Khan in May 1964. This volume confirms that he was a committed Kashmiri to the marrow of his bones.

In this, as on much else, Pakistan sinned against the light, hubris prevailing over sense. Robert Burnett, the Deputy H.C. in Karachi, informed Noel-Baker on September 18: “The Pakistan government had good reasons to believe that Abdullah was anxious to come to terms with Azad leaders and would do so if the Indian government would countenance a settlement. Could not H.M.G. intervene and persuade India now to make a gesture which would bring peace to the subcontinent and allow both governments to devote their energies to the many very urgent matters requiring their attention.”

Abdullah was always for a pact with Chaudhury Ghulam Abbas, leader of the rival Muslim Conference. Brigadier J.F. Walker, Military Adviser to the High Commissioner in Pakistan, gave to Major-General H. Redman, Director of Military Operations at the British War Office, a detailed assessment, on September 24, 1948, in which he revealed: “I asked the D.M.O. if he knew anything about the reported approach by Abdullah to Ibrahim. Sher Khan told me that the approach had been made through him (he did not say how). Apparently what Abdullah suggested was an Independent Kashmir with Ghulam Abbas and Ibrahim at the head and Abdullah holding some post in the Government. This was NOT Pakistan’s or Azad’s idea of a settlement, but it proves that Abdullah has been working behind the scenes.”

UNCIP’s role
The UNCIP comes out very poorly, indeed. The United States State Department freely sent instruction to its American member, Jerome Klahr Huddle. One “instructed the American delegate to make sure that the Commission reported on the plebiscite question as the main issue and did not indulge in dangerous legal speculations. It may perhaps be relevant to refer to a dispatch dated 3 October from the New York Times Geneva Correspondent which appeared in the Lahore English papers on 8 October. The American journalist stated that U.N.C.I.P. had no useful suggestions to make for the future settlement of the Kashmir dispute, but that its report to the Security Council ‘would probably contain no condemnation of either India or Pakistan’.”

The United Kingdom’s High Commissioner in New Delhi told Noel-Baker on November 29: “General Bucher indiscreetly admitted to my Military Adviser on 26 November that all the papers of the Kashmir Commission when they were in Srinagar had been borrowed without the Commission’s knowledge and copied for the Indian government. Those filed included General Gracey’s own confidential and detailed appreciation for the Pakistan Army’s role in Kashmir hostilities, prepared for the Commission’s information and guidance.”

One man who emerges with great credit in all published documents is V.P. Menon, Secretary in the Ministry of States and Vallabhbhai Patel’s right-hand man. He was close to Mountbatten and succeeded in helping him to avert India’s attack on Pakistan in September 1947—on, of all places, Junagadh. He dined with Alexander Symon, Acting High Commissioner, on October 6. Menon said: “As regards Kashmir, we have had a series of high-level discussions, and have considered our alternatives: (1) Kashmir to remain independent; (2) Kashmir to decide the issue of accession to one Dominion or the other by an overall plebiscite; (3) The issue to be decided by independent arbitration; (4) Division of the State between Pakistan and India.

“After discussion, the first three alternatives were rejected. I may mention that on the question of a plebiscite I put forward in discussion that we could not settle the issue on this basis before the end of 1949. This leaves the sore open for another year, and I deprecate this with all the emphasis of my command. The only practical alternative therefore is division. Departing from the proposal I put forward to you, namely that the predominantly Muslim areas in Poonch, Mirpur and Muzaffarabad to go to Pakistan, and the rest of Jammu to go to India, with a plebiscite under neutral agency in the Vale, I now propose very strongly that we should divide on the basis of the territories at present occupied or controlled by Pakistan or India as the case may be. In these discussions both Panditji and Sheikh Abdullah were present. What I was anxious to obtain in these discussions was a natural boundary between India and Pakistan. If agreement on this basis is reached, the military authorities on both sides should, I feel sure, be able to delimitate [sic] a boundary which will take into account the defensive and strategic requirements of both sides. I may mention for your own information that what Pakistan is most anxious to get is a portion of the forest on the northern side of the Kishanganga river. It does not matter to me whether Muzaffarabad town is given to Pakistan or not.”

Nehru’s breach of faith
None cared a bit for the people’s views. If it were not for Nehru’s pledges, Kashmir would not have come to India. It is a part of India only because he backed out of his pledges. He was no idealist but a ruthless hardliner—on Kashmir as well as the boundary. India has reaped and still reaps the fruits of Nehru’s breach of faith, while Kashmiris refuse to reconcile themselves to their fate. That is the root of “the Kashmir problem”.

There are some 30-odd pledges on plebiscite by Nehru from 1947 to 1953. Patel concurred publicly. Here is a sample of five pledges:

1. “Our assurance that we shall withdraw our troops from Kashmir as soon as peace and order are restored and leave the decision about the future of the State to the people of the State is not merely a pledge to your government but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world.” White Paper on Kashmir, page 51.

2. Vallabhbhai Patel said in a speech at a public meeting in Bombay on October 30, 1948: “Some people consider that a Muslim-majority area must necessarily belong to Pakistan. They wonder why we are in Kashmir. The answer is plain and simple. We are in Kashmir because the people of Kashmir want us to be there. The moment we realise that the people of Kashmir do not want us to be here, we shall not be there even for a minute.”

3. Nehru said in a speech at Calcutta on January 1, 1952: “There is no doubt about it that he is the leader of the people of Kashmir, a very great leader. If tomorrow Sheikh Abdullah wanted Kashmir to join Pakistan, neither I nor all the forces of India would be able to stop it because if the leader decides, it will happen…. Since the matter has been referred to the U.N., we have given our word of honour that we shall abide by their decision. India’s pledge is no small matter and we shall stick by it in the eyes of the world (Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Volume 17, pages 76-78).

4. Nehru said in Parliament on June 26, 1952: “And I say with all respect to our Constitution that it just does not matter what your Constitution says, if the people of Kashmir do not want it, it will not go there.”

5. Nehru said in Parliament on August 7, 1952: “… ultimately—I say with all deference to this Parliament—the decision will be made in the hearts and minds of the men and women of Kashmir, neither in this Parliament, nor in the United Nations, nor by anybody else.”

Nye, the British High Commissioner in India, informed Noel-Baker on November 5, shortly before the ceasefire on January 1, 1949, for which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) still attacks Nehru: “In confidential conversation today General Bucher told me that before Nehru left for United Kingdom he asked Commander-in-Chief to prepare a military appreciation to show the possibility of Indian forces being able to clear Kashmir of Pakistan troops and tribesmen by offensive military action. Result of this appreciation, which has been communicated to Sardar Patel, is that it will not, repeat not, be possible for Indian forces successfully to clear Kashmir either during winter or later when the weather improves. In the opinion of the Commander-in-Chief, whilst certain minor offensive operations may successfully be undertaken, from a broader point of view they are confronted with a military stalemate. I think it follows from this that the possibility of war between the two dominions breaking out as a result of successful military operations in Kashmir penetrating into Pakistan, is improbable.

“Commander-in-Chief informed Sardar Patel that the only effective military steps which could be taken to deal with the Pakistan troops in Kashmir was by attacking their bases in Pakistan itself, a course which would lead to unrestricted warfare with all its dire consequences and one which could not therefore be contemplated. With this view Sardar Patel agreed.” The BJP’s hero was privy to the ceasefire.

In the first week of November 1948, addressing a special convocation of the Nagpur University, the Sardar declared that after the creation of a separate State for Muslims, those who remained in the Indian Union were all Indians, irrespective of caste or creed; it was “sheer narrow-mindedness”, he said, for Hindus to suppose that the present government was partial towards Muslims and that Hindu culture was in danger. There was at present, he continued, a “vacancy” for the leadership of Asia, and if India made herself strong that leadership would naturally devolve on her. The dream persists still.

Deputy High Commissioner Alexander Symor wrote to Noel-Baker on October 5: “This week’s Janata, the official Socialist organ, has an article on this subject by one of their leaders Achyut Patwardhan.”

Janata is still growing strong. It is published from Bombay. Its editor is Dr G.G. Parikh, a committed socialist and follower of its founder, Jayaprakash Narayan. This volume, like all the others, is superbly edited. It serves as a model for editors of collections of documents.
Fair Use Notice
This web site may contain copyrighted material the use of which we are making only for educational purposes. This is a non -profit web site and does not accept any type of advertisement, paid or otherwise. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance the understanding of humanity’s problems and hopefully to help find solutions for those problems.

We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is only for reading purposes that included information for research and educational purposes. For the original source we are providing “url” of that article which is a ‘fair use’ of anything you find on this web site. However, if you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Dealing with Pakistan Needs a Grand Strategy-Zorawar Daulet Singh

Posted by admin On April - 1 - 2019 Comments Off on Dealing with Pakistan Needs a Grand Strategy-Zorawar Daulet Singh


Zorawar Daulet Singh (zorawar.dauletsingh@gmail.com) is a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research and the author of Power and Diplomacy: India’s Foreign Policies during the Cold War.
For the past few decades, India has adopted a lopsided Pakistan policy with engagement as the only means to reorient Pakistan’s foreign policy. India must transition to a realpolitik approach backed by a range of power instruments, along with creatively leveraging the international environment. India should pursue cultural and commercial ties with liberal constituencies inside Pakistan, and remain open to dialogue with political forces that are reconsidering Pakistan’s role in the region.
The February 2019 Pulwama attack against Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir and the Indian government’s willingness to take fight to the Pakistani heartland is a clear departure from the policy of strategic restraint. Even if the main impetus for this strategic shift was an impending national election in India, the geostrategic consequences will outlast this phase.

Stripped to its core, India’s emerging approach can be described as a counter-coercive strategy, since it aims to deter Pakistan from engaging in coercion through targeted terrorism in Kashmir. The next challenge before the Indian leaders is to incorporate this approach as part of a grand strategy. What could be the principal elements of this broader strategy? What goals should India seek? What are the possibilities for reorienting domestic political incentives inside Pakistan? How do other pieces of the geopolitical puzzle in terms of Pakistan’s patrons and allies fit into India’s aims and interests?

A Comprehensive Approach

India’s strategy has been shaped by goals that have sought to alter the situation on three interrelated levels. First, changing Pakistani behaviour so it ceases or decelerates cross-border terrorism. Second, changing Pakistan’s internal structure and its imbalanced civil–military relations that perpetuate a structural confrontation with India. Third, changing how the international community, particularly the United States (US) and China, perceive India’s predicament and are willing and able in their self-interests to restrain Pakistan’s proxy war. And then, what are the instruments or means that have been envisaged to pursue these three goals?

Until a few years ago, it was the primacy of a diplomatic instrument that stood out in the Indian toolkit. Dialogue with an elected civilian leadership has usually been presented as part of strengthening the process of the embryonic and fragile democracy in Pakistan that over time would rectify the domestic imbalance and weaken the security establishment’s near total control over Pakistan’s foreign policies. There is also a deterrent component, which includes maintaining a conventional posture backed by a credible capacity to inflict costs on Pakistan in the scenario of a Kargil-style adventurist intrusion into Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), or in other theatres. Finally, there are interested third parties—the US given its long-standing alliance with Pakistan, and China with its renewed involvement in Pakistan over the past five years—who are very influential behind-the-scenes players in the India–Pakistan relationship and with whom India seeks to further its counter-terrorism goals.

It should be apparent that India’s approach has essentially been a persuasion-based one to advance the twin goals of changing Pakistan’s external behaviour and its domestic politics. The military instrument has so far been visualised either as a passive defence instrument—that is, fighting the incoming proxies on Indian soil—or as a broader deterrence instrument to deal with audacious conventional surprises. Yet, to be effective in this case and instil confidence to the civilian side of the Pakistani equation in its aspiration for democracy, persuasion actually requires parallel counter-coercive instruments in India’s toolkit. Aside from India’s restrained military defence posture to hold firm on the frontiers and the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K, there has been little so far in India’s repertoire to alter the Pakistan Army’s irredentist behaviour. There has been no known cost imposition strategy to reshape the incentives of Rawalpindi. The 26 February air strikes were, therefore, a first step in exploring options that impose costs before they occur (India’s casus belli presented the move as a “pre-emptive” one) and, equally importantly, a signal to the adversary that Indian restraint is no longer a taken-for-granted assumption when the Pakistani deep state is plotting plans to stir trouble in Kashmir. Put another way, by its recent actions, India has introduced an element of ambiguity and uncertainty in the Pakistan Army’s calculus, which, henceforth, cannot count on strategic restraint from the other side.

At some stage after the 2019 national elections, a new Indian government would explore diplomacy with an elected regime in Islamabad. Let us assume that the Indian overture is reciprocated. Such engagement would be sustainable only if it were accompanied by a parallel strategy to blunt and weaken the Pakistani deep state and its military. This dual game, somewhat ironically, would become even more imperative if India’s engagement with the civilian regime develops apace since the Pakistan Army will in all likelihood employ sub-conventional tools at its disposal to ratchet up terror strikes in India to disrupt or modulate the détente process according to its own preferences. And, this pattern will continue to repeat until the missing link in India’s toolkit is addressed.

If we assume that the civil and military groups in state and society have diverging goals and visions for Pakistan (the degree of these differences is a question of legitimate debate and disagreements in the strategic community)—and India would like to provide an impetus to the civilian side via diplomacy and a predictable dialogue process—the parallel side of anticipating and blunting the lashing out by the security establishment in Pakistan cannot be ignored. For, how can we expect Pakistan’s civilian leadership and civil society to place its confidence in a modus vivendi with India if it finds the Pakistan Army can slap it down at home on foreign policy issues and continue to bleed India at will? There have been numerous instances of this in the past: the Vajpayee–Nawaz Sharif engagement before the Kargil war, the engagement process prior to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, and the brief Modi–Nawaz Sharif bonhomie that was dramatically cut short by the 2016 Pathankot attack on an Indian air base. Any rational Indian leadership sensitive to domestic public opinion cannot but abandon the engagement process after a violent backlash from the Pakistani deep state.

Historically then, India has placed far too much burden on the civilian side in Pakistan to change the domestic structural dynamic, without, in any meaningful way, also sharing responsibility of changing the incentives of institutions such as the Pakistan Army which thrive on controlled confrontation with India. Most debates on India’s coercive options treat it as a mutually exclusive process—a false choice between engagement and containment—rather than as a vital component of a grand strategy. If India seeks more than fleeting success, it needs to develop a policy strategy that is logical and consistent with the two mutually inclusive goals that have shaped Indian thinking for decades: the transformation of Pakistan’s regional behaviour and its internal power structure.

At whatever levels it is pursued, civilian engagement must be supplemented by a strategy to impose costs and undermine the prestige of the Pakistan Army. This would involve a more robust internal security framework, including the introduction of more advanced counter-terror capabilities that seek to substantially minimise Indian military casualties in operations in J&K (since 2008, over 740 security forces personnel have lost their lives1), developing covert proxy capabilities that impose reciprocal costs on Pakistani security institutions, and a more sophisticated conventional military posture that can offer the political leadership a variety of highly limited and targeted options to degrade the flow of terrorist networks while also presenting the Pakistan Army with a costly choice to escalate to a bigger conventional clash.

Leveraging the Global Situation

As early as 1947, South Asia had become entangled in a wider geopolitical setting. In the ensuing decades, major powers acquired enduring stakes in the strategic interactions between India and Pakistan. The subcontinent’s nuclearisation has merely reinforced international interest in strategic stability and impelled external powers to strike a fine balance between the vital interests of both countries.

Getting the international situation right is important for two reasons. Pakistan’s incentives to alter course would be closely linked with its expectations of international support. And, any moves by India to raise the stakes in its quest for legitimate security would only succeed if Pakistan’s benefactors do not obstruct or constrain Delhi’s policy. The recent crisis showed that both Washington and Beijing did not necessarily play a negative role and increased their involvement to defuse the stand-off when events appeared poised for a costly regional escalation. Tellingly, US rhetoric even endorsed the idea of India’s right to defend itself in a proactive fashion from cross-border terrorist attacks.

If we step back and evaluate the India–Pakistan equation over the past five years, what stands out is that both sides proceeded from a perception that each holds an advantageous position. India’s confidence emanated from Modi’s 2014 victory that yielded a strong central government and expectations of stable ties with all the major powers. Mostly overlooked in India, Pakistani analysts and former officials too have displayed confidence that the international environment was moving in a direction that opened options for Pakistan that were unavailable in the previous decade. This included the renewed patterns of Pakistan’s ties with the US and China, and the latter providing their reassurances to Pakistan and most importantly to the army on their respective strategic commitments and bilateral partnerships. In Washington’s case, this appears to have been undertaken somewhat discreetly to avoid ruffling Delhi’s feathers, with the result that the enduring aspects of US–Pakistan ties remain obscure, but still very real. That Pakistan has symbolically managed to also advance its public diplomacy with Moscow is seen as further proof of its geopolitical relevance. Much of Pakistan’s leverage can of course be traced to the ongoing phase of the Afghan conflict. It fended off the most dangerous phase when US policy might have shifted in an adversarial direction, or instability in the tribal frontier areas might have completely exploded. Thus, the Pakistan Army probably perceives itself in a position of reasonable strength where Washington, Beijing, and Moscow have recognised Pakistan’s role in a future settlement on the conflict in Afghanistan.

So, both India and Pakistan perceive themselves to be in a comfortable strategic position. At any rate, the evolving roles and interests of third parties are becoming significant again, and how Delhi leverages the international environment will determine the success of its grand strategy.

Both Washington and Beijing have overlapping interests in regional stability and avoidance of a major subcontinental conflict. While each maintains deep ties with Pakistan for different reasons, it is unclear to what extent their longer-term interests coincide with India, which seeks a structural transformation in Pakistan’s domestic politics and external behaviour. The US and China appear content with, or probably prefer, a Pakistan with a strong Rawalpindi, along with competent civilian governance structures and an elite with a wider world view. A Pakistan that looks beyond South Asia could be a useful potential partner in burden sharing, ironically for both the US and China. For Washington, the Pakistan Army is an insurance card for persisting security challenges such as regime survival for US client states in West Asia as well as for the containment of Iran. For China, a stable Pakistan can be a partner in the Belt and Road connectivity projects and future continental industrial and energy corridors. As Andrew Small (2015: 200) underlines, Beijing’s large economic investments “come with some clear expectations about the choices that Pakistan’s political and military leadership make about their country’s future.” Pakistan “will not have the free hand that it used to enjoy.”

In sum, both the US and China seek a strong, stable, and secure Pakistan that controls its destabilising behaviour because that undermines their wider regional interests. For the US, a revisionist Pakistan pulls India inward and away from potential cooperation on Asian geopolitics. For China, it undermines its industrial and connectivity projects in Pakistan, while negatively impacting India–China ties. Hence, evolving interests of the great powers in South Asia might not necessarily portend an adverse geopolitical setting for India in the medium term. This is even more plausible if the widening comprehensive national power gap between India and Pakistan make the latter’s traditional role as a balancer or spoiler unattractive in the eyes of the great powers. As Pakistani scholar Hussain Haqqani predicts, “You can try to leverage your strategic location as much as you like, but there will come a time … when strategic concerns change” (Lammon 2019).

So, while it is reasonable to forecast that both the US and China benefit from a more normalised Pakistan, Indian policymakers should also remain clear-eyed that neither country would be willing to expend much strategic capital in an ambitious policy to reorder the domestic scene or civil–military relations in Pakistan. Not yet, at least. In any case, Indian agency is essential to reorient perceptions of the great powers. Maintaining that India has the right and the capacity to adopt an active defence posture—that is, blocking the flow of cross-border terror by proactive operations on the LoC along with reserving the option for more ambitious punitive strikes in response to major terrorist attacks on Indian military targets—would play an important part in shaping how third parties view Indian interests and thereby assume constructive roles in managing Pakistani behaviour.

In Conclusion

India’s future Pakistan policy must strive to cultivate deterrence and change the calculus of the Pakistani security elite in their use of proxy terror as an instrument of statecraft. To this end, India’s posture must remain unswerving even as the tactics remain flexible. India should also creatively leverage its growing bilateral stakes with the US and China to adapt their Pakistan policies, and together contemplate a vision of Pakistan that is in consonance with their main geopolitical interests and concerns. Finally, India must take the longue durée and remain sensitive to the prospect of change inside Pakistan—however modest and incremental—to develop societal, cultural and commercial ties with liberal constituencies, and engage in dialogue with political forces that are reconsidering Pakistan’s role in the region. A sophisticated grand strategy backed by a range of power instruments and nimble enough to adapt to changing circumstances would not only enable India to reduce cross-border terror, it could open unforeseen windows to a more stable subcontinent. The surrounding politics of the recent crisis must not distract Indian strategists from moving the needle in new directions.


1 South Asia Terrorism Portal, https://www.satp.org/.


Lammon, Adam (2019): “Pakistan and India Can’t Escape the Conflict Cycle,” National Interest, 18 March, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/pakistan-and-india-cant-escape-conflict-cycle-47972.

Small, Andrew (2015): The China–Pakistan Axis: Asia’s New Geopolitics, Gurgaon: Penguin Random House.

Fair Use Notice
This web site may contain copyrighted material the use of which we are making only for educational purposes. This is a non -profit web site and does not accept any type of advertisement, paid or otherwise. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance the understanding of humanity’s problems and hopefully to help find solutions for those problems.

We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is only for reading purposes that included information for research and educational purposes. For the original source we are providing “url” of that article which is a ‘fair use’ of anything you find on this web site. However, if you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

The Left and the Democratic Party :The Experience of Almost a Century-Dan La Botz

Posted by admin On March - 19 - 2019 Comments Off on The Left and the Democratic Party :The Experience of Almost a Century-Dan La Botz


What can socialists today learn from the experience of the left in the past as it grappled with the issue of electoral politics? Over the last 50 years, American leftists have in general adopted two alternative strategies for dealing with the question of electoral politics. On the one hand, some attempted to build a movement to reform or even to take over the Democratic Party, while others chose instead to work toward an independent political party to the left of the Democrats. Each of these strategic approaches has encountered tremendous difficulties in making headway in the American political system. Today, with Donald J. Trump as president, with the Republicans controlling Congress and most state governments, and after Bernie Sanders’ remarkable campaign for president and the astonishing growth of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), debate over political strategies is more intense than it has been for decades. So we turn here to look at the first of these strategic approaches, the attempt to reform the Democratic Party, to influence it, or simply to use its ballot line.

The idea that the left should work to reform the Democratic Party in order to defend democratic rights and the standard of living and social benefits of the working class, as well as to prepare the ground for a struggle for socialism, actually has a long history that goes back to the 1930s. The Communist Party (CP), which had been founded in 1919 and been illegal and underground until 1921, finally emerged in the mid-1920s with a legal organization prepared to engage in political campaigns. Communist candidates in the 1920s received only a tiny number of votes in those elections.1 In 1922 and 1923, the CP attempted to take over the Farmer-Labor  Party movement, but ended up driving out other labor groups.2 With the stock market crash of 1929, followed by the beginning of the Great Depression, Communist strategy began to change.

The Communists ran William Z. Foster, one of the country’s leading labor union strategists and organizers, as their candidate for the presidency of the United States (his third campaign) in 1932. Foster strongly opposed Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt that year and also opposed the first New Deal; following the ostensibly revolutionary line of the Communist International at that moment, American Communists warned that FDR could become a fascist.3 Their slogan was, “Fight for Socialism, or the Blue Eagle [symbol of the New Deal’s National Recovery Act] Will Wear a Brown Shirt.” But after Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party took power in Germany in 1933, virtually unopposed because of the disastrously sectarian stance of the German Communist Party as well as the passivity of the German Social Democrats, Joseph Stalin, who had become the leader of the Soviet Union, changed the Communist International’s line. In 1935, the Communist International adopted the Popular Front strategy, arguing that the Communists should form a bloc with all other anti-fascist parties, including capitalist parties, to oppose fascism and to pressure their governments to strengthen their military forces and form alliances with the Soviet Union.

The Communist Party of America had some difficulty for a few years attempting to figure out what this new Popular Front policy meant for the United States, where neither a parliamentary system nor political coalitions existed, and where two capitalist parties, Republicans and Democrats, dominated. In the mid-1930s, the Communists once again worked with other leftists in an attempt to form a Farmer-Labor Party, but in 1936 they also ran Earl Browder as a Communist candidate for president and unofficially and tentatively began to support the Democratic Party.4 When a group of Socialist Party (SP) members broke away and created the American Labor Party to support Roosevelt, many Communists in New York State voted for Roosevelt on the ALP line.

Led by Browder, the Communists decided by 1937 that Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition was the “specific form of the Popular Front in the United States.”5 The Communists argued that their role in the Democratic Party was to strengthen the New Deal wing of the party against more conservative Democrats and to push for a foreign policy of “collective security” against the Axis powers. Then, when Stalin signed the Nonaggression Pact with Hitler in 1939, collective security was abandoned, and Roosevelt was suddenly denounced as a warmonger. After Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June of 1941, however, the Communists, principally to support the USSR, became fervent supporters not only of Roosevelt and the Democratic Party but also of the U.S. government and its war effort. Support for the war led the Communists to work to suppress workers’ strikes and to oppose  black civil rights protests or demands that might weaken support for the U.S. government, disrupt war production, or undermine the fight against the Axis powers.6

The Communists’ commitment to the Democrats in the late 1930s also made them opponents of building any party to the left. As Browder explained to the CP’s tenth convention, held in 1938, the Democratic Front was not fighting for a socialist program, but,

If we cannot have socialism now, and obviously we can’t until the people change their minds, then in our opinion, while the present capitalist system exists, it is a thousand times better to have a liberal and progressive New Deal, with our democratic rights, than to have a new Hoover, who would inevitably take our country onto the black and sorrowful road of fascism and war.7

This argument, calling for support for the Democratic Party as the lesser evil, together with the view that the Republican Party was ultimately the party of war and fascism, has been the CP’s fundamental position from the 1930s until today. And even when, in the 1930s and again in the 1970s, the Communists ran their own candidates for president and vice president, the party and its members often actually worked in the Democratic Party and supported its candidates. From the view that the Democrats were the lesser evil flowed the Communists’ opposition to the creation of a labor party or any other left party. In the later 1930s, the Communists opposed “launching artificial third parties, which can only split the people’s ranks.”8

The CP ran no candidate in 1944, unwilling to challenge Roosevelt even symbolically while he led the United States, which was allied with the Soviet Union during World War II. When, as the war was ending, Roosevelt died and the more conservative Harry Truman succeeded him, Congress began to turn to the right and the Cold War began. The Communists suddenly rediscovered independent political action. Particularly motivated by the change in the U.S. government’s hostility toward the Soviet Union, the Communists supported the presidential bid of Henry Wallace, Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture. Communists played a very large role in the new Progressive Party created to be the vehicle of Wallace’s campaign, which had a platform calling for national health insurance, an expanded social welfare system, nationalization of the energy industry, and, most important for the CP, a friendly posture toward the Soviet Union. The Communists became the principal organizers of Wallace’s campaign, though many of the party’s union leaders refused to go along, arguing that it would lead to greater division in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). In the end, Wallace won only 1,156,000 votes out of about 49 million votes cast, a demoralizing defeat for him and the CP.9

The Wallace campaign, however, represented an aberration; the Communists soon returned to support for the Democratic Party. The Communists’ consistent if sometimes critical support for the Democratic Party and its presidential and congressional candidates through all of the vicissitudes of the Democrats’ history meant that, even if it preferred progressives, it usually ended up in the general election backing the Democrats’ regular capitalist candidates, virtually all of whom were defenders of American militarism and imperialism abroad and of exploitation and racism at home.

The political efficacy of the Communists’ strategy, beyond the occasional election here or there of a more progressive congressional representative, mayor, or city councilperson—such as Vito Marcantonio10—is extremely difficult to measure, but certainly it has not been significant. During the Cold War of the 1950s and 1960s, the period of the McCarthyite persecution of the Communists—as well as of the Soviet Union’s crushing of the Hungarian Revolution and Nikita Khrushchev’s revelations of Stalin’s crimes at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union—the party, reduced in size and influence, had virtually no political impact. From 1968 to 1984 the CP once again ran its own presidential candidates, though as before the party simultaneously continued to support Democrats. Their support for Democrats had no impact on the rightward movement of the Democratic Party from the 1940s to today. Yet, the CP continues to have a strategy of working within the Democratic Party with the goal of pushing it to the left and strengthening the progressive forces within it.11

The Socialist Party and
Independent Politics

Let’s turn further back now to look at the experience of the Socialist Party of America. The SP actually had a long history of independent political action dating back to its early years. As the party’s most popular leader and perennial presidential candidate, Eugene V. Debs, said himself, “It is for me to say to the thinking workingman that he has no choice between these two capitalist parties, that they are both pledged to the same system and that whether the one or the other succeeds, he will still remain the wage-working slave he is today.”12

Debs was the SP’s presidential candidate in every election from 1900 to 1924. In 1912 he received over 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the total, a record never equaled again by himself or any other leftist candidate in a U.S. presidential election. Presbyterian minister and SP leader Norman Thomas picked up the mantel in 1928, but received only 267,000 votes that year. After the stock market crash and the Great Depression, in 1932 voters turned against Republican Herbert Hoover and elected Franklin D. Roosevelt by an overwhelming 22.8 to 15.7 million votes. Thomas’s vote total in that election reached 884,000, nearly as large as Debs’ vote in 1912, but with a much larger population and many more voters, it represented a far smaller percentage than Debs had achieved.

The SP declined throughout the 1930s, principally as a result of the attraction of Roosevelt and the New Deal, but to a lesser extent because of the loss of part of the organization—all of the California Socialist Party—to the Trotskyists who had entered the party and ran away with a significant piece of it.13 The SP’s “Old Guard” split away, and its most prominent labor leaders, Sidney Hillman and David Dubinsky, and labor attorney Louis Walman created the American Labor Party in 1936. Their plan was to make support for Roosevelt palatable to socialists who didn’t want to vote for him on the “bourgeois” Democratic Party line.14 That year of Roosevelt’s greatest victory, Thomas received only 188,000 votes. As Thomas’s biographer writes, “The Socialist Party lay in ruins.”15

During the rest of the Norman Thomas era, the SP became ever smaller and weaker. Thomas’s vote declined to only 98,560 in 1940. Thomas did worse in 1944 and a little better in 1948 with about 160,000 votes, but by the mid-twentieth century, the SP seemed unlikely to break out of its marginal position. After the outbreak of the Cold War, Darlington Hoopes stood as the party’s candidate in 1952 but received only 20,000 votes, and the SP put forth no presidential candidate in the period from 1956 through the 1960s. With the SP out of the picture, the old Socialist Labor Party and the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party ran candidates, but their candidates received a miniscule number of votes.

The Realignment Strategy

What then, after such a debacle, should be socialists’ political strategy? In 1958 Max Shachtman and a group of his comrades from the Independent Socialist League (ISL) entered the SP bringing with them a new political strategy.16 Shachtman, a former Trotskyist and leader of the ISL, soon became one of the dominant figures in the SP and offered the party a way out of the political doldrums in which it had been stalled for more than twenty years. His theory was that the SP could play a key role in transforming the Democratic Party into a progressive force for social change.

In the postwar period, Shachtman, a former revolutionary socialist, had begun to rethink his politics. He came to believe, for example, that the Labour Party government in Britain “had demonstrated the possibility of expropriating the bourgeoisie by parliamentary means.”17 He had begun moving toward the Democratic Party in the late 1940s and early 1950s.18 By 1961, Shachtman for the first time actually advocated that Socialists support a Democratic Party candidate, and soon he was suggesting that his followers work in the Democratic Party reform clubs, a message he carried into the civil rights movement as well just a few years later.19

Shachtman now developed a broad political strategy, which came to be called “realignment.” His realignment strategy was based on the idea that the SP could be the catalyst of an alliance between the labor unions and the civil rights movement within the Democratic Party. As part of that strategy, Bayard Rustin, a member of Shachtman’s organization, worked with Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to organize the March on Washington, which was supported by Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers and the progressive labor leaders and their unions. In the mid-1960s, Shachtman’s strategy seemed to have legs.

Shachtman and his followers actively pursued this strategy while also modifying it. Initially oriented toward the progressive, formerly CIO unions, by the late 1960s he and his followers became supporters of the conservative union leader George Meany, head of the AFL-CIO, as well as of the more moderate wing of the  black movement led by Bayard Rustin and A. Philip Randolph. Most important, Shachtman and his group, breaking with the socialist tradition of opposition to imperialism, became supporters of the U.S. war in Vietnam.20 They did so not only because of their belief that Stalinist Communism (in the Soviet Union, China, and other Communist states) was a system more reactionary than capitalism, but also because of their affinity with the Johnson administration and the AFL-CIO bureaucracy. In the 1972 presidential election, this view led Shachtman to first support candidate Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson, a hawk. Then when Jackson was eliminated in the primaries, Shachtman rejected George McGovern’s anti-war campaign and backed the liberal Hubert Humphrey, who had the endorsement of the AFL-CIO.

Michael Harrington, a protégé of Shachtman and a supporter of his Democratic Party realignment strategy, had long been disturbed by his mentor’s rightward drift and finally broke with Shachtman in 1972 over the Vietnam War, calling for a negotiated peace—but not, like the anti-war movement, for immediate withdrawal. Harrington and his supporters opted to back the liberal anti-war candidate George McGovern for president. The split between Shachtman and Harrington effectively destroyed what remained of the old SP, and Harrington went off to form a new organization in 1973, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, which later merged with the New American Movement to create DSA in 1982.21

Harrington, however, continued to believe leftists should be, as he often said, “the left wing of the possible,” which meant in practice the left wing of the Democratic Party. Harrington had become close to Democratic Party leaders in the 1960s as a result of his journalism. His book about poverty in the United States, The Other America (1962) was an enormous success and gave him personal entrée to the highest echelons of the Democratic Party. He came to work with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s aides Sargent Shriver and Frank Mankiewicz and had opportunities to meet with Cabinet members. As Harrington wrote, “It was all very heady and exciting to be arguing with Cabinet officers and indirectly presenting memos to the president.”22 All of this led him to turn right. “By 1960 I had begun to understand how wrong I had been to accept the simple, revolutionary scenario of the young Marx. The change began when I first made real contact with workers and  blacks and realized, among other things, that the Reutherites were the genuine, and utterly sincere and militant, left wing of American society.”23

In his book Socialism, published in 1970, Harrington argued that under the impact of the labor upheaval of the 1930s, Franklin Roosevelt’s Democratic Party had been transformed into a social democratic party. Subsequently, during the postwar period, Harrington argued, the unions had built “a political apparatus which is a party in everything but name. … Then in the elections of 1968, special circumstances revealed the extent to which the unionists had become a political party in their own right.” And, he added, “As a result the unions were the decisive element in the Humphrey campaign in a way that had not been true in the Kennedy and Johnson races of 1960 and 1964.”24 Harrington recruited to his new group, the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, not only many United Auto Workers officials, but also other labor leaders such as Jerry Wurf, head of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, and William Winpisinger, top official of the International Association of Machinists.

Harrington’s central political realignment strategy remained fundamentally that of Shachtman, but now with a new twist: Socialists could be the catalyst that would fuse not only labor and the  black civil rights movement, but also anti-war liberals, and could make the Democratic Party a labor party capable of bringing socialism—by which Harrington now meant social democracy—to America. Economic and political developments, however, did not go as Harrington had foreseen.

The Democratic Party:
Crisis and Reaction

The Democratic Party that emerged from the New Deal era of the 1930s and existed until the early 1960s was, as it had always been, firmly under corporate domination. But it also included a congeries of interest groups: wealthy capitalists, professional politicians, leaders of the corrupt big-city machines, southern white racists, labor union officials, and northern  black leaders. The decisions about the party’s candidates and its platform were made in the famous “smoke-filled rooms,” where a handful of white men struggled to advance their groups’ interests. Though some states held party caucuses and a few others held primary elections—in the South they were “white primaries” that excluded  black voters—nevertheless, the choices of candidates and rulings on policy were made by a handful of power brokers and generally confirmed at the national convention by delegates who were professional politicians and loyalists.

The enormous social upheaval of the 1960s—the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement, together with the ghetto rebellions that burned cities across the country as well as the emergence of the women’s movement—began to challenge the Democratic Party leadership as well as the old structures and policies. Before 1972, though  blacks represented 12 percent of the U.S. population, they had only about 2 percent of delegates at the Democratic Party’s National Conventions. In Mississippi, where  black people were routinely denied the right to vote, civil rights activists organized a rival state party convention in 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). They elected delegates and sent 64 representatives, led by  black activist Fannie Lou Hamer, to the Democratic Party National Convention. The Democratic Party Convention, however, refused to seat the MFDP delegates, so liberal Senator Hubert Humphrey and party leader Walter Mondale arranged a “compromise” to seat two MFDP delegates alongside the all-white regular delegation. The MFDP refused the insulting offer. This enormously increased the pressure on the Democratic Party. Lyndon Johnson’s support for the civil rights acts of the mid-1960s drove many southern whites out of the Democratic Party and attracted the newly enfranchised southern  black voters. They wanted a voice and vote in party decisions. And  blacks were not the only ones demanding greater representation; so too did the party’s anti-war activists and the newly organized feminists, as well as increasingly active young people.

In 1968, after incumbent Lyndon Johnson—facing tremendous opposition because of the Vietnam War—had withdrawn from the race, Hubert Humphrey won the Democratic Party’s nomination, defeating peace candidate Eugene McCarthy despite the fact that Humphrey had not won a single primary in his own name. His victory at the convention took place as Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley’s police department beat and arrested left-wing protestors outside in what a U.S. government report called a “police riot.”25 The scandal of Humphrey’s nomination led the Democratic National Committee to create a special commission—the McGovern-Fraser Commission—to rewrite the rules of the party. The commission’s new party rules did three principal things. First, they reduced the role of state party officials as delegates to no more than 10 percent and restricted the number of political office holders. Second, they relaxed the rules for choosing delegates, eliminating literacy tests and residency requirements used particularly in the South to exclude  black voters. Third, they established criteria for affirmative action to insure the inclusion of racial minorities, of women, and of young people proportional to the population. These rules were accompanied by an expansion of the political primary system to more states, 40 out of 50 (the others using party caucuses).26 These rules had a dramatic effect on the 1972 Democratic Party Convention, which was effectively taken over by the party’s left wing—with disastrous results for both the party and the party’s left.

In 1972, at the peak of the anti-war movement, the liberals—using the new rules—succeeded in winning a majority of the delegates to the Democratic Party National Convention and chose the liberal, anti-war South Dakota Senator George McGovern as the party’s candidate. Faced with the insurgent rebellion, the party leadership, which remained deeply committed to the war in Vietnam and largely opposed to a greater role for  blacks, rebelled. The Solid South’s politicians and white voters accelerated their exit from the party, migrating en masse over the following years into the Republican Party. The big-city machines abandoned McGovern, who had betrayed them by throwing Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley out of the convention and replacing him with a delegation led by the  black leader Reverend Jesse Jackson. Under the leadership of George Meany, the AFL-CIO for the first time in its history did not endorse the Democratic Party candidate, taking an official position of neutrality in the contest between McGovern and Nixon—while Meany, who refused to meet with McGovern, went golfing with President Nixon and his Cabinet,27 thus making his preference clear.

The Black Political Convention of 1972 also failed to endorse McGovern. Utterly abandoned by the Democratic Party—with the exception of California and Washington, DC—McGovern went down to defeat, winning only 37.5 percent of the vote to Richard Nixon’s 60.7 percent, while the Electoral College vote was an astounding 520 for Nixon and 17 for McGovern, the 17 being the votes from the state of Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. The lesson of 1972 was clear: If the Democratic Party’s left wing succeeds in taking control of the convention, the party organization and the unions will walk away, preferring to see a Republican victory than to yield control to a left-wing insurgency. Harrington’s realignment strategy had been given a practical test and had failed.

The result of the disastrous 1972 election was that in less than a year the Democratic Party repealed some of the McGovern-Fraser reforms and went on, over the next several years, to reinforce the power of the party’s central leadership. In 1981 the report of the Hunt Commission, chaired by North Carolina Governor James Hunt, led the Democratic Party to create the so-called “superdelegates,” and so by 1982, the party leadership was firmly back in control. The superdelegates were described in 2016 as “the embodiment of the institutional Democratic Party—everyone from former presidents, congressional leaders, and big-money fundraisers to mayors, labor leaders, and longtime local party functionaries. Nearly six-in-ten are men, close to two-thirds are white, and their average age (as best we could tell) is around 60.”28 The superdelegates, who were pledged to no particular candidate, made up almost 15 percent of the Democratic Party National Convention that year; there were 4,765 delegates of whom 714 were superdelegates. Democratic Party reform had been crushed. Was reform still possible at all?

Things had not developed as Harrington had projected. His plan did call for driving out the southern racists, but it did not work out as expected. Following Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, most of the Solid South’s white voters gradually left the Democratic Party, which in some areas became a party of the  black minority. Almost the entire region became Republican. At the same time, the Democratic and Republican parties both turned to television advertising, diminishing if not eliminating the significance of the big-city machines. As for the radicals and liberal activists, by 1975 the anti-war movement and the civil rights movement were both practically dead, and those forces largely evaporated.

The labor movement, on which Harrington put the entire weight of his strategy, had begun to come under attack in the late 1960s, a process that continued relentlessly and mercilessly into the 1980s and beyond. By the late 1970s, employers were closing plants and moving production to the South or overseas, demanding contract concessions, opening new non-union workplaces, and wherever possible eliminating unions altogether. The unions’ leaders, including those aligned with DSA, provided no vision, no strategy, and most important, no action to defend the working class.

The premises of realignment strategy had completely disappeared. Nevertheless, DSA continued to pursue its orientation to the Democratic Party, though without any real strategy or clear goals. Harrington’s biographer writes that in 1976, “Harrington was prepared to support virtually any candidate the Democrats nominated that year, except for [the Southern racist George] Wallace.” Harrington would work to influence the platform.29 During the period from the 1980s to the 2000s, DSA’s position on American elections differed little from that of the Communist Party. It worked to support liberals in the primaries, but then backed virtually any Democrat against the Republicans while the entire Democratic Party slid to the right.

The Inside-outside Strategy

The Maoists developed another strategy, or at least a variant of an old one. When in the early 1960s the Soviet Union and China fell out, Mao accusing Nikita Khrushchev and his successors of having followed the “capitalist road,” the world Communist movement also divided. The pro-Soviet Communist parties split, as the Maoist factions went off to found their own communist parties that flourished between 1960 and about 1980. Initially extremely sectarian and ultra-left, some Maoists became interested in electoral politics by the 1980s. As descendants of Stalinist Communism, even if some were critical of that experience, the Maoist groups—and there were many—tended, once they became interested in electoral politics, to pursue the old pro-Soviet Communist Party’s Popular Front approach of working in the Democratic Party.

The campaign of the  black Representative Harold Washington for the mayoralty of Chicago in 1982-1983 was a turning point for the Maoists. Washington—a longtime member of the Chicago machine, never a civil rights activist, an opponent of abortion rights, and not even a liberal—was running as a Democrat against both the Republicans and the racist Democratic Party political machine of which he had been a part.30 The Maoists rallied to his campaign as a struggle against racism, which it absolutely was, providing operatives and foot soldiers. After his hard-fought victory, Washington chose some of the Maoists to serve in the new city government.

So, with the Washington experience under their belt, in 1984 when Jesse Jackson ran for the presidential nomination in the Democratic Party on a progressive platform, the Maoist organizations quickly moved to support him. This was the old Communist Popular Front, but with a difference. Some of the Maoists also worked to build Jackson’s campaign organization, the Rainbow Coalition, as an independent organization or social movement.31 Jackson put forward a very progressive platform, and he and the Rainbow Coalition appeared at the sites of struggles against racism and at labor union picket lines around the country. That year he won 3.2 million votes, 18 percent of the total, carried two states, and sent 358 delegates to the convention—a quite significant showing, though some on the left viewed Jackson as a protest politician whose authority derived not from the  black working class, but from recognition by the business and political elites.32 Jackson and his supporters went on that year to back the Democratic candidates in the general election.

Jackson ran again in the 1988 primary campaign involving five candidates, which was won by Michael Dukakis with ten million votes (42 percent), while Jackson came in second with nearly seven million votes (29.4 percent). Jackson’s supporters on the left hoped that with such a spectacular showing he would run as an independent candidate, but he went to the Democratic Party Convention and made his famous speech, the heart of which was this passage:

Common ground. That’s the challenge of our party tonight—left wing, right wing.

Progress will not come through boundless liberalism nor static conservatism, but at the critical mass of mutual survival. It takes two wings to fly. Whether you’re a hawk or a dove, you’re just a bird living in the same environment, in the same world.33

Jackson had made it absolutely clear in this abject capitulation to the party’s establishment that he wanted his followers to remain in the Democratic Party, to back its candidate—the neoliberal Dukakis. A part of the left, among them many Maoists, had kept the Rainbow Coalition alive from 1984 to 1988, but when Jackson returned to the Democratic Party, the Rainbow disappeared, and shortly afterwards so too did most of the Maoist parties. Now much smaller, Maoist groups continued into the 2000s to support Democratic Party candidates while also building independent social movements outside the party, but without any general strategy for changing the Democratic Party itself.

In the 1984 Democratic primaries, DSA declined to support Walter Mondale and also failed to support Jesse Jackson, though many DSA members worked on the Jackson campaign. Only after Mondale won the nomination did DSA endorse him. In 1988, DSA endorsed and worked hard for Jackson in the primaries. The two Jackson campaigns briefly revived the old hopes of realignment among some DSA members, though by the 1990s the left’s influence had declined dramatically and the neoliberal Bill Clinton’s star was rising. At present, no left group appears to believe, or at least no group takes an official or public position, that it or some coalition it might lead could take over the Democratic Party.

In practice, by the 1990s, there was little difference between the strategies of Communists, Maoists, and DSA. All backed Democratic Party progressive candidates in the primaries and called for voting for the Democrat against the Republican in the general election. Those with better connections in the labor,  black, or women’s organizations attempted to influence the platform, for what that was worth. Most worked to build social movements outside of the party, though when Election Day arrived, they often attempted to turn those movements out to vote for Democrats. Yet, while most of the small American left was working to push the Democrats to the left, the party now led by Clinton’s Democratic Leadership Council continued to move, apparently inexorably, to the right. Interestingly, in 2000 the DSA membership was torn between Democrat Al Gore and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader and consequently failed to endorse anyone.

Socialist Candidates
in the Democratic Party

The Bernie Sanders Democratic presidential campaign of 2016 suddenly offered another possible model for the left. Sanders ran as a self-declared “democratic socialist” candidate in the Democratic Party. His campaign had an enormous impact on the country and especially on the broad left, leading thousands to join DSA. Furious at the Democratic Party for its treatment of Sanders, frightened by Trump, and inspired by the Sanders campaign, some DSA activists now propose to run openly socialist candidates within the Democratic Party with the goal of building from these experiences a future independent socialist party. So far, DSA has endorsed only a few such candidates, so this strategy remains untested. And other DSA members have remained committed to the old strategy of supporting progressive Democrats.

What Are the Chances of
Changing the Democratic Party?

Some still believe the Democratic Party can be reformed, but socialist Kim Moody argues that “the Democratic Party appears even more impregnable” than it did in the past. It is ever more centralized, and, as he writes,

The party has become a well-funded, professionalized, multi-tiered hierarchy capable of intervening in elections at just about every level. It selects candidates, provides funding, furnishes endorsements, offers media relations, and supplies computer and digital campaign and get-out-the-vote services. In Congress and most state legislatures, its leaders impose a high level of party discipline, such that for the last two decades 90 percent of floor votes in both houses have been along strict party lines.34

In the first half of the twentieth century, the Democratic Party’s precinct work was done by armies of labor union and community volunteers who staffed phone banks and went door-to-door campaigning and then getting out the vote. Today things are quite different. By the 1960s, radio and television ad campaigns had begun in many areas to carry the burden of campaigning. Today, “paid consultants, mass mailings, pollsters, computer experts, media gurus, and services from profit-making outfits specializing in campaign wizardry have replaced the old clubhouse (or reform club), union, or county foot soldiers.”35

With the growth of economic inequality, Democratic Party donors, flush with hundreds of millions of dollars, exert enormous influence on the three major committees that disperse their money: the Democratic Party National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Large corporations such as Microsoft, Pritzker, Time Warner, and Blackstone Group, and wealthy individual donors, contribute far more money to these committees than do the labor unions. Crowdfunding, managed by groups such as ActBlue, is supposed to have democratized political fundraising. But it becomes another source of money from business and the wealthy because of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allows corporations, labor unions, and individuals to give as much money as they wish to Super PACs, which can advocate for or against candidates. As Moody writes, “All of this adds up to a party that, even more than in the past, is both highly undemocratic and structurally tied to the business PACs and wealthy donors that fund their committees and preferred candidates.”36

As Moody suggests, few challenges to incumbent Democrats are successful: “Since World War II, only between 1 and 2 percent of congressional incumbents have lost a primary challenge, with the rate of incumbency hovering above 90 percent.” Bernie Sanders’ campaign confirmed the Democratic Party leadership’s commitment to the organization and opposition to challenges from the left. Moody points out that of 712 superdelegate votes, Sanders won only 44 and a half, just over 1 percent. Of the 232 Democrats in both houses of Congress, only ten endorsed Sanders, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, with 75 members, gave Sanders only one endorsement. Finally, “of the 3,170 Democratic Party state legislators, Sanders won the endorsement of just 91, less than 3 percent.”37

The Problem of the Democrats’ Influence on the Left

Beyond the issues raised by Moody about the virtual impossibility of having an impact on the Democratic Party, there is the question of the Democratic Party’s influence on those leftists who attempt to work in it. Given the Democratic Party’s organization, its fundraising capacity, its size, and its influence, it would be naïve to think that one could work in that party without being seriously affected by it. After all, when one enters an organization, one becomes subject to its rules, to one degree or another accepts its program, forms relationships with its leaders and members, becomes involved in its activities, and may become dependent upon its organizational and financial resources.

Consider the Democratic Party principle that all primary candidates are expected to endorse and work for the winner of the primary, who becomes the candidate in the general election. A progressive Democratic candidate opposing a regular Democrat with the usual problems—neoliberal politics, belief in austerity, support for militarism and imperialism—must now endorse and work for that same person. Of course, one can on principle refuse to do so, but that will certainly make that person an enemy of the party, which will in the future be on guard and take revenge. The party platform, almost surely full of fine phrases about equal opportunity and a better life for all, also often contains commitments to balanced budgets, a strong military, and defending America’s interests abroad. What does one do?

Take the case of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a DSA member whose victory in a Democratic Party congressional primary in New York in June 2018 stunned the country and thrilled DSA members. Just a few weeks later, she came out for all Democrats, which included Andrew Cuomo and all Democrats. The New York City DSA leadership criticized Ocasio-Cortez for her endorsement of Cuomo and other Democrats, writing, “We reject the illusion that the Democratic Party is, or will become, an institution serving the interests of the U.S. working class.”38 Nevertheless, the candidate that DSA had endorsed turned to support a devious and conservative Democratic Party governor.

Leftists thus sometimes find themselves backing candidates whose principles and programs they oppose, providing a left cover for the candidate while discrediting themselves.

There is another problem as well. As leftists in the Democratic Party form relationships, they will be exposed to the blandishments and perquisites of power, the easy availability of money, equipment, cars, and other resources, as well as further access to even more influential people with more to offer. The temptations are many, and while not all succumb, the Democratic Party can exert a powerful negative force on left groups and individuals.

Today the Democratic Party liberals are doing everything they can to keep the Resistance from becoming an independent movement. The Democratic Alliance, a foundation made up of liberal donors that wishes to move the Democratic Party to the left, is giving millions of dollars to groups such as Indivisible, which now has a staff of 40 and 6,000 volunteers. Billionaire George Soros is giving large donations to progressive groups such as the Center for Community Change, Color of Change, and Local Progress. The clear if unstated goal is to keep Resistance activists voting for liberal Democrats, rather than setting out in an independent direction.39

We have more than a hundred years of socialist electoral experience in the United States, and some 80 years of leftists attempting to influence or reform the Democratic Party. The history suggests that there is little if any chance of ever doing so. The history of the nineteenth century suggests that only a genuine national crisis, accompanied by a massive national movement—in that period a movement for the abolition of slavery—can lead to a realignment of the political parties. And the experience of the twentieth century suggests that only in periods of tremendous mass upheaval do we see even the beginnings of independent political action, a subject that we will turn to in a future article.



The Communists ran William Z. Foster and Benjamin Gitlow for president and vice president in 1924 and again in 1928; out of about 30 million votes cast in 1924, the Communists received 36,396, and in 1928 with about 36.5 million votes cast, the Communist candidates received 48,770 votes. (See the Encyclopedia Britannica accounts of the elections available online.)
Theodore Draper, American Communism and Soviet Russia: The Formative Period (Random House, 1986 [1960]), 29-51.
In 1932, Foster won about 100,000 votes out of approximately 38 million votes cast. (See the Encyclopedia Britannica online for accounts of the elections with votes cast for each candidate.)
Irving Howe and Lewis Coser, The American Communist Party: A Critical History (Frederick A. Praeger Publishers, 1957), 332. In the 1936 election, Browder won just over 80,000 votes out of 63 million votes cast.
Cited in Fraser M. Ottanelli, The Communist Party of the United States: From the Depression to World War II (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1991), 115.
Charlie Post, “The Popular Front: Rethinking CPUSA History,” Against the Current, July-August, 1996.
Cited in Harvey Klehr, The Heyday of American Communism: The Depression Decade (Basic Books, 1984), 210.
Cited in Howe and Coser, 332.
Howe and Coser, 470-78; James Barrett, William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1999), 232-35. The Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party candidate Farrell Dobbs got only 13,613 votes that same year.
Alan Schaffer, Vito Marcantonio: Radical in Congress (Syracuse University Press, 1966), 52. Earl Browder first insisted that the Communists back Marcantonio.
John Bachtell, “A radical third party? I agree!” People’s World, January 22, 2015. Despite the title, Bachtel, Chair of the Communist Party USA since 2014, argues for working politically through the Democratic Party.
Eugene V. Debs, “Outlook for Socialism in the United States,” International Socialist Review,September, 1900.
David A. Shannon, The Socialist Party: A History (The Macmillan Company, 1955), 253-54.
Robert J. Fitrakis, The Idea of Democratic Socialism in America and the Decline of the Socialist Party (Garland, 1993), 185.
S.A. Swanberg, Norman Thomas: The Last Idealist (Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1976), 206.
Peter Drucker, Max Shachtman and His Left: A Socialist’s Odyssey Through the “American Century” (Amherst, New York: Humanity Books, 1994), 262, 271-77.
Max Shachtman, “Aspects of the British Labor Government,” New International (17, January-February 1951), 12; Labor Action, July 23, 1951, cited in Maurice Isserman, If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left (Basic Books, 1987), 56.
Drucker, 242-43.
Drucker, 270-71.
Drucker, 288-89.
Maurice Isserman, The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington (Public Affairs, 2000), 256-302.
Michael Harrington, Fragments of the Century (E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1973), 175.
Harrington, Fragments, 178-79.
Michael Harrington, Socialism (Bantam Books, 1973), 306, 324-25.
The Walker Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, summary here.
Judith A. Center, “1972 Democratic Convention Reforms and Party Democracy,” Political Science Quarterly (Vol. 89, No. 2, June 1974), 325-350.
Bruce Miroff, The Liberal’s Moment: The McGovern Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2009), 184-89.
Drew Desilver, “Who Are the Democratic Superdelegates?” Pew Research Center.
Isserman, The Other American, 330.
Florence Hamlish Levinsohn, Harold Washington: A Political Biography (Chicago Review Press, 1983), passim. Hamlish Levisohn makes it clear that Washington was not only not a radical, he was not even very liberal. Gary Rivlin, Fire on the Prairie: Chicago’s Harold Washington and the Politics of Race (Henry Holt and Company, 1992), passim.
Max Elbaum, Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (Verso, 2002), 275-78.
Adolph L. Reed Jr., The Jesse Jackson Phenomenon (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 123-26.
Jesse Jackson, Democratic Party National Convention Address, 1988.
Kim Moody, “From Realignment to Reinforcement,” Jacobin, January 26, 2017.
“NYC-DSA Statement on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Endorsement of Andrew Cuomo and ‘All Democratic Nominees,’” www.socialists.nyc/statements/ocasio-cuomo/.
Kenneth P. Vogel, “The ‘Resistance,’ Raising Big Money, Upends Liberal Politics,” New York Times, Oct. 7, 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/10/07/us/politics/democrats-resistance-fundraising.html.
Posted Electoral Politics, Left Politics, United States
About Author
DAN LA BOTZ is a co-editor of New Politics. This article is based on a chapter in his book Le nouveau populisme Americain: Résistances et alternatives à Trump (Paris: Syllepse, 2018).
Fair Use Notice
This web site may contain copyrighted material the use of which we are making only for educational purposes. This is a non -profit web site and does not accept any type of advertisement, paid or otherwise. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance the understanding of humanity’s problems and hopefully to help find solutions for those problems.

We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is only for reading purposes that included information for research and educational purposes. For the original source we are providing “url” of that article which is a ‘fair use’ of anything you find on this web site. However, if you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

The state of the Palestinian struggle :25 years since Oslo—Toufic Haddad interviewed by Phil Gasper

Posted by admin On March - 19 - 2019 Comments Off on The state of the Palestinian struggle :25 years since Oslo—Toufic Haddad interviewed by Phil Gasper


Last year marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Oslo accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. ISR editorial board member Phil Gasper spoke to Toufic Haddad about what has happened since then and the current state of the Palestinian struggle. Haddad is the author of Palestine Ltd: Neoliberalism and Nationalism in the Occupied Territory (I. B. Tauris), released in paperback in 2018.
It’s twenty-five years since the Declaration of Principles (DOP) was signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Looking back now, this agreement, [which was the first of several reached between the two sides, and which are commonly referred to as the “Oslo Accords”] is totally in tatters from the point of view of the Palestinians and the aspiration to set up any kind of independent Palestinian state. Can you give us some of the history of where Oslo came from, how things have developed in the last twenty-five years, and how we got to the situation today?

There’s a lot to address in that question but I will start by debunking the impression that surrounded—and continues to surround—the accords, and that propagates the notion that they represented a bona fide peace agreement between the Israeli government and the PLO. Not only does the track record of what happened belie this, but twenty-five years on we have a lot more evidence indicating that what was happening was anything but a form of historical reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinian people that was intended to lead towards peace or Palestinian statehood. On the contrary, a “peace process” mythology was deliberately cultivated to obfuscate clear shortcomings of the accords themselves, the context in which they were reached and implemented, and the ends toward which these agreements were employed. Analysis of these dimensions ultimately discloses far more problematic—in fact, sinister—agendas, not only of Israel and the US, but the entire Western bloc of states that politically and financially backed, and continue to back, the “peace process.”

One would expect, at the very minimum, that a bona fide peace process would work to at least nominally address and amend the historical sources of conflict between the parties, ending the atrocious human rights situation the Palestinian people have lived in since 1948 within historical Palestine and beyond, with the majority of the population displaced from their land and homes, and those within Palestine existing under conditions of military occupation and hardship since 1948, denied the right to self-determination, etc. But the DOP does not even mention the word “occupation” let alone indicate that a Palestinian state is to be its end game. These suspicious elisions should be read in parallel with the failure to adequately address political critiques of the accords themselves, which were voiced most eloquently at the time by prominent Palestinian intellectual Edward Said. In fact, whole strata of Palestinian intellectuals and elites from most political factions, including some within Fatah, were against the accords, and understood very well that they were taking place within a context of gross power asymmetry. It was also well known that the PLO was politically and financially cornered at the time. The movement’s main international allies —the Eastern bloc and the nonaligned movement—had collapsed by the time of their signing, which was the height of a unipolar world under US hegemony. In this regard, the Oslo process was very much a move on behalf of US imperialism to consolidate an arrangement in its favor, to take advantage of the historical opportunities that had arisen, especially after the 1990-91 Gulf War, when the main Arab funders of the PLO stopped supporting the movement, blaming it for having sided with Iraq—a characterization that wasn’t entirely accurate but one the Arab states used to rid themselves of the Palestinian issue, which they had long sought to do.

If you read the biographies of the main negotiators, it’s very clear that the PLO was also financially bankrupt. Abu Alaa (Ahmed Qurei), for example, who was a negotiator and in charge of the PLO’s finances, recounts in his biography that the organization had less than two months’ funding before it was penniless at the time Oslo was signed. The PLO had already cut 70 percent of its budget for its “state in exile,” and was teetering on the verge of collapse. This financial pressure would also come on the backdrop of a larger historical decline of the movement whereby the PLO had transitioned from a more emancipatory political agenda in its earlier days, towards a “pragmatic” alignment within the “international consensus” by the late 1980s, including accepting the two-state solution and UN resolutions—even though institutions like the UN were gravely implicated in the creation of the Palestinian problem to begin with. So, this sort of rightward shift in Palestinian politics starting in the early 1970s reaches its apex around the time of Oslo, where the PLO was desperate for options that could ensure the movement’s survival. Here, the non-democratic practices that had been institutionalized in the PLO over the years of the movement’s rightward shift, would severely impair Palestinian strategic positioning, insofar as the survival of the personage of Arafat and the rule of the Fatah party over the PLO was equated with the survival of the  movement overall.

Keep in mind that in the early 1990s, the US, through the Madrid Process and the Washington Process, had a formal peace process going, but still considered the PLO a “terrorist entity” that was not recognized by Israel or the US. Independent Palestinian representation in negotiations was thus denied, and still only formally took place through Jordan, which had its own designs on Palestine. Knowing that the PLO was cornered financially and politically—not just from the West, but now from its backers—the US and Israel “put the squeeze on”. Acting through Norwegian diplomacy, the US allowed for the creation of a back door “escape” path for Arafat, through the Oslo channel, where the surrender on important political positions could take place away from public scrutiny or democratic oversight. Through this back channel, the PLO would de facto concede on two significant positions that continue to haunt the movement today. First, it accepted the concept of self-rule in the occupied territories without a full end to the Israeli occupation or guarantees that this was the final outcome of the process. This functionally meant that it was the groundwork for eventually creating an autonomy scenario, with no assurances that the process would lead to statehood or sovereignty. It’s important to underscore here that this was a long-standing aim of the US and Israel, as their own solution to the Palestinian issue. Second, the PLO also accepted through Oslo an agreement that contained no solid guarantees that settlement construction or expansion would end. This too would prove catastrophic as it allowed Israel to build settlements while negotiations continued, changing the strategic map that supposedly was being negotiated.

Did the PLO raise this at all in the talks?

In the case of accepting the principle of autonomy, this was fundamental to the accords and could not be avoided. Either the Palestinians accepted it, or there would have been no accords. From the Palestinian perspective, acceptance of the principle of autonomy was interpreted as accepting a state that was only temporary, without considering if temporariness became permanence. As to the issue of settlements, the PLO believed its ability to obtain a clause within the accords that stressed the agreement of both sides to “not prejudice final status negotiations”—one of which was settlements—meant that they were protected from Israeli settler expansionism. But Israel simply claimed its settlement expansion was due to the “natural growth” of the settler population, because settlers have “large families,” and it was unreasonable to prevent it. Irrespective, while the PLO was aware to varying degrees of the dangers of the agreement and its loose wording that was reliant upon “good intention,” it certainly did not anticipate how Israel would interpret and implement the accords, nor Washington’s wholesale backing of this interpretation/implementation. Perhaps more importantly to stress, though, is the fact that the PLO had very little leverage to change the conditions on offer. The leadership’s very survival and return to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) from exile, was thus seen as the best the movement could achieve under the circumstances, and Oslo allowed for this. So they went with it.

This brief and general description of how some aspects of the accord came about sheds light on how the entire character of the negotiations between the parties resembled a situation whereby Israel was the party which actual held all power, and was internally deciding what it was conceding on and what not, rather than actually negotiating things with the Palestinians. In fact, there is a quote from Shimon Peres in 1994, who said when they were negotiating the economic accords that “we are negotiating with ourselves”—because the Palestinians had zero leverage to influence this internal Israeli debate.

Here we need to shed light on Israeli and US interests as well. We know the Palestinians wanted an end to occupation and their larger demands around national self-determination realized. But Israel and the US always ideologically and strategically rejected Palestinian national self-determination because it represents a strategic competitor to the Zionist narrative and project and was considered part of the “radical Arab national” camp tied to an anticolonial, anti-imperial agenda. Israel and the US were concerned instead with how best to manage the large Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza that Israel “governed” (through military occupation), and which had become increasingly rebellious during the First Intifada,1 and represented a long-term challenge to the principle of the “Jewish democratic state.” The historically dominant political faction in Israel (the Labour Party) that led the Oslo process thus had envisioned “autonomy” for Palestinians as the best way to manage their “Palestinian problem,” at least in the near term, and saw the Oslo process as an avenue for realizing this. Autonomy differed from sovereignty, as it retained Israeli power over the autonomous zones and created a scenario whereby Palestinian affairs could be managed indirectly through a leadership willing to administer autonomy. In other words, it was the logic of subcontracting and leveraging the autonomy leadership to address Israeli security, political, and economic goals, while allowing for Israel to continue its settlement impetus. This was to allow Israel to continue its long-standing policy of attempting to unite the conquests of 1948 with the conquests of 1967. Autonomy allowed for Israel to nominally get the Palestinians off the Israeli “books,” and if the Palestinians didn’t like it, they could simply leave, or might be encouraged to do so, through some means or another.

But it’s important to recognize here that there’s a contradiction in Israeli policy and even in American policy insofar as, on the one hand, Israel and the Americans want the Palestinians off the Israeli books and out of their direct control, financially, demographically, and security-wise, etc., but, on the other hand, they can’t entirely let go of the Palestinians, because doing so creates the basis for the nucleus of a national project and its organizing and strengthening. So US, Israel, and Western donor approaches to Palestine have constantly been structured by this tension of “separation and control.” This has had repercussions on the nature of the entity created through the accords, the Palestinian Authority (PA). It has meant that the PA has been shaped by contradictory forces. It is designed to provide a singular body to cater to Israeli subcontracted needs vis-à-vis the five hundred villages and cities of the West Bank, and the two million people in Gaza. But allowing this singular body to have too much power creates problems for Israel and the US, insofar as it can serve, in theory at least, as the basis of continued Palestinian national aspirations and organizing.

It should also be emphasized of course that the Oslo accords contained no guarantees that the whole process was to be run according to international law or UN resolutions, which were, and are, important cards the Palestinian movement holds, at least morally and legally. But not only was the process not being governed by these principles, but the accords themselves created no forms of independent arbitration within them. If any disagreements arose between the parties during negotiations, the only arbiter Palestinians could defer to was the US, or a committee that Israel also had to agree to. This created a self-referential system, where the Palestinians had no effective leverage to have somebody adjudicate differences independently, according to international legal norms. In this respect, the entire process reproduced all the power asymmetries of the situation on the ground around the negotiations table, and we see that in all aspects of the agreement that came about: in terms of security, economically, politically, etc.

On top of all this, was the mythology built around the Oslo process, which attempted to characterize the process as a bona fide peace process. This came in the form of the historic handshake on the White House lawn, and the provision of Nobel Peace Prizes to Peres, Rabin, and Arafat, which all aided in mystifying this process.2

The real benefit of this, from Israel’s perspective of course, was that Israel was able to pocket the concessions of the Palestinians from the get-go, while the Palestinians were forced to accept an arrangement whereby their national claims could, in theory, one day be addressed in “final status negotiations,” albeit without any guarantees that this would take place in accordance with their legal rights and historical claims. Among the key achievements Israel was able to pocket were: the PLO’s recognition of the state of Israel, and all that meant in terms of “security”; Israel’s realization of an autonomy scenario through the creation of a Palestinian Authority with delimited self-governing powers, with no requirements to turn this into anything bigger; and, just as important, the ending of the international boycott of Israel, which at the time, was much more powerful than the BDS movement today. Consider for a moment that the PLO had more international recognition than Israel before the peace process. This effectively ended with the accords, allowing Israel to integrate into world capital with access to markets in India, China, and beyond. Israel thus pocketed all these important economic, political, and security achievements, and the Palestinians were left hanging on to a process that was toothless to realize their national liberation aspirations. In fact it was designed to abort it. The “separation and control” model that Israel was able to achieve through Oslo effectively laid the cornerstone of implementing apartheid, though the world characterized this as a step towards peace.

It’s also worth highlighting that once Israel pocketed its achievements through Oslo, it had an interest to freeze the process overall, lest it lead to pressure to address Palestinian claims, as the latter hoped. My research has shown that Israel instigated events that created a security pretext, allowing it to freeze the political process with the Palestinians and, moreover, to implement “closure” over Palestinian towns and cities. Closure was not the only answer to Israel’s security dilemmas, but also was a convenient way in which Israel could separate and control Palestinians behind a security pretext, while building settlements in areas from which Palestinians were prevented from now accessing thanks to the accords’ Orwellian division of the territorial map—dividing the OPT into Areas A, B, and C, H1, H2, etc. The Palestinian suicide bombings of the mid-1990s enabled Israel to say, “You know, Israel has to have its security, before it can have peace.” But the suicide campaigns were part of ongoing conflict dynamics on the ground, where far more Palestinians than Israelis were being killed daily during the 1990s. More significantly though, Israel dramatically escalated tensions in the middle of the peace process––assassinating top Palestinian political and grass-roots figures. Some of these assassinations were even against members of Fatah, and thus sent clear messages that Israel intended to do what it wanted on the ground irrespective of the accords and the nominal “peace” it was pursuing. When some Palestinian factions responded to these provocations and attacks, it allowed Israel to put the brakes on the peace process overall, beneath the guise of security, and with the Western states backing them in this freeze. This, of course, generated even more explosive conditions on the Palestinian side, because there were already large doubts amongst the factions and elites regarding the extent to which Oslo could work. Alternatively, Israel’s security pretexts led to scenarios whereby it now sought to negotiate new agreements to implement already existing agreements. The political return for Palestinians was getting less and less, while Israeli leverage over the Palestinians only increased institutionally, and was backed by the Western donor community who were now bankrolling the Palestinians leadership.

When things finally came to a head in the summer of 2000 at the Camp David summit, Arafat was effectively presented with a fait accompli by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and US President Clinton, who pressured him to accept the parameters of a final solution that negated all of the main Palestinian demands—statehood, return, Jerusalem, the end of settlements, etc. When the Palestinian leadership rejected this, Israel and the US effectively reverted to their pre-Oslo approach to the Palestinians, boxing them in and smearing them as “not a partner to peace.”

Then, the Israeli government allowed one of Israel’s biggest war criminals—Ariel Sharon, architect of some of the worst massacres in Palestinian history—to enter the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, in yet another major provocation. It is this act—together with sending thousands of police the next day to the compound during Friday prayers, killing seven worshippers—that ignited the Second “Al Aqsa” Intifada. It is this context that allowed Israel to further entrench the system it created through Oslo, and eventually to get rid of the pretense of negotiating with the Palestinians at all.

Here it is worthwhile noting the cunningness of what took place when seen in a historical perspective: beneath the guise of a peace process Israel and the Western donor community, led by the US, facilitated Arafat to build the Palestinian Authority under extremely politically sensitive conditions for the Palestinians, based upon vague notions that it could lead to the achievement of Palestinian rights. In his weakness, Arafat accepted the role of going down this path, even though the principle of “self-governance under occupation” had been rejected by the PLO since the 1970s, and was seen as treasonous. The creation of the Palestinian Authority, however, was not designed to lead toward a Palestinian state, but toward its prevention and that of other Palestinian rights. Only Arafat had the ability to build the PA under these sensitive conditions, and he was to be exploited by donors and Israel toward that end. Arafat’s personal charisma and historical legitimacy supposedly insulated the process from being accused of conceding on Palestinian rights and being a collaborator government. However, once he rejected the political diktats of Camp David, he no longer was considered a “partner to peace,” but became an “accomplice to terror.” Moreover, Israel used the Second Intifada to pull out the guns, and basically eradicate any institutional, political, or military resistance to their aims—on the popular level, and within the PLO, as well as within the leadership, including ultimately Arafat himself.

This is where the World Bank and Western donors come in, because in the early period—1993 to 2000—the donors funneled billions of dollars into the Authority, some on-budget and some off-budget, so that Arafat could create the PA and “buy-in” from sufficient sectors of the population, and particularly local Fatah organs, into the Authority to be the governing party. He needed this money to carry out the controversial task of constructing an authority under such sensitive conditions. Once he became a political enemy of the Israelis however, donors stopped funding him, and the World Bank and the IMF came in and accused Arafat of corruption and lack of “good governance.” In truth, it was the donors themselves who actually facilitated the “corruption,” because it was they who facilitated off-budget accounting and “buy-ins.”

Arafat thus became politically expedient after his rejection of the Camp David diktats and after he constructed the PA, the main apparatus implementing autonomy. After that he was killed—first politically as “not a partner of peace,” then institutionally by the World Bank and IMF, who forced institutional reforms on the PA which marginalized him from the apparatus of the authority. While his final physical elimination is still shrouded in mystery, focusing on his actual death overlooks the significance of the elimination of Arafat historically, politically, and institutionally.3 Death through assassination simply ensured that this was permanent.

It is worth underscoring how the World Bank and IMF used neoliberal theories around good governance to push reforms of the PA from 2000 to 2004 that marginalized Arafat from the structure that only he could have created. These supposed reforms entailed the creation of the position of prime minister (which was then filled by Mahmoud Abbas—also known as Abu Mazen) and the redirection of all funds to an IMF-audited Ministry of Finance account, away from the powers of the President (Arafat). The World Bank and the IMF pressured Arafat to agree to all these “reforms,” which he did, believing they would ensure his political survival. In truth, they laid the grounds for his elimination, while clarifying the line of succession for who would follow him.

During my research I came across classified documents from 1993, just around when the Oslo process was taking place, which reveal that the US government used a kind of “game theory” to analyze who would be the winners and losers of the Oslo process under different potential scenarios. Here the US backed scenarios that, according to their own analysis in these documents, would lead to Israel and Jordan becoming the institutional winners of the Oslo process. This means that not only was peace, statehood, or justice never in the cards for the Palestinians, but that the US never really changed its position vis-à-vis the movement, and believed in scenarios that ultimately saw Israel and Jordan being the real mediators and governors of Palestinian claims, indirectly leveraged through the PA. These powers never cared for Palestinian nationalism, a Palestinian state, or a genuine independent Palestinian leadership. The process overall was not supposed to lead to statehood; it was supposed to allow Israel to continue to dominate the West Bank and Gaza, while facilitating the management of the “Palestine problem” through some form of Jordanian-Palestinian mix of powers locally on the ground. In practice, the accords have indeed led to Israel “winning” institutionally, while the role of Jordan has also become increasingly important. In fact, the Trump administration has begun to actively float the idea of reviving a Jordanian suzerainty over the Palestinians.

So, this whole process, with Arafat’s marginalization, accelerated the transformation of the Palestinian leadership, which came to play a different role. Maybe you can talk a little about that, as well as what it reveals about the class divisions in Palestinian society.

It’s important to emphasize that donors wanted the Fatah party to be the only viable political entity that could play the role of administering the self-governing areas within the Palestinian Authority-Oslo arrangement. Fatah was seen as a secular nationalist party, very much aligned with the regional order of “moderate Arab states.” Donors identified Arafat as politically controllable, because Fatah’s ideology did not believe in interference in internal Arab affairs and did not hold to larger ideological socialist, communist, or Islamist ideology. It was very much a pragmatic movement. So, Fatah was identified by both the Arab regional order and the West as the party to take charge. Oslo facilitated this Fatah domination of the Palestinian Authority structure. Moreover, Arafat always attempted to run the PLO within a neo-patrimonial logic—namely, with himself as the charismatic leader at the top, personifying everything within his person and his brilliance (or non-brilliance!) and avoiding the creation of institutions with democratic controls. This ensured his maneuverability on top. His methods of rule also crucially relied upon control over finance, with his personal signing of checks used to pay a layer of various Fatah elites who could control the show on the local level for him. Donor financing of Arafat allowed donors to get in on this game as well. Occupying the commanding financial heights over the PA donors essentially gave Arafat political and financial “rope” to construct the PA as a crucial apparatus necessary for managing Israel’s “Palestinian problem.” When these powers moved against him, taking away that rope, it was crucial to save the baby from the bath water. Eliminating Arafat however was necessary since his continued survival meant that he might radicalize, once he was boxed out.

Abu Mazen had his own political differences with Arafat, particularly because he believed Arafat was an opportunist. Indeed, that Arafat spoke out of both sides of his mouth. On one hand, he was not naive to Israeli and US intentions, and this is important to say, because part of his legacy is that people say Arafat was a collaborator and did all of these things for the Israelis. Fair enough: there was security coordination with Israel and he did agree to Oslo, etc. But on the other hand, when the Second Intifada happened, partly out of fear of losing the “streets,” Arafat did not attempt to crush the uprising in rivers of blood, as he was requested to do by Israel and the Western powers. Instead, he actually covertly allowed for a military dynamic to develop within parts of Fatah, with that task basically taken up by Marwan Barghouti, who at the time was Secretary General of Fatah in the West Bank. Although it was never Arafat’s intention to engage in an open military campaign, and it had more to do with him not wanting to lose the street, and looking to making tactical gains to improve the Palestinian strategic position in negotiations, it is important to acknowledge that Arafat was mercurial and not under anyone’s thumb, particularly. Ultimately, Israel launched a massive military campaign that went after the entire nationalist camp engaged in the Intifada and attempted to crush it, with moderate success. The reconstruction of the post-Arafat PA thereafter was to be much more strictly controlled by donors and Israel, with World Bank and IMF reforms facilitating that. But the point to emphasize is that Arafat tried to play both sides, attempting to survive on both the international stage and on the local stage, under impossible conditions.

Abu Mazen felt Arafat’s approach was flawed, and a strategic mistake. He didn’t feel that armed struggle had any enduring political relevance for the Palestinians after it had played its historical role during the movement’s early years. Instead, he felt that the movement needed to invest strategically in nonmilitary means, because, in his logic—and there is a basis to it—Israel would love to destroy the Palestinian movement and wipe it out. Military struggle, in the context of such gross power asymmetries and the war-on-terror logic that was prevalent at the time (and which preceded it as well), would give the basis for Israel to use its overwhelming power to crush the Palestinian movement. So, Mazen was strategically against militarism. This of course was popular with donors, plus he was no less a neo-patrimonial leader than Arafat. He too needed funds and could be allotted political and financial “rope” of his own to perform the task of administering the autonomy scenario. But his ability to take control and perform this task effectively in the context of the denouement of the Intifada was complicated.

The international community’s attempts to consolidate a new post-Arafat era by supporting elections in 2006 resulted in the massive victory of Hamas in the Legislative Council elections. This was a catastrophic failure for donors, who correctly understood it as a threat to the entire Oslo project. Their only way to deal with it was to back Israel’s moves to isolate and crush Hamas, preventing it from taking power. All the high-toned theory used to justify good governance, elections, and democracy so as to marginalize Arafat, was now thrown out of the window by the donors. They reverted to directly financing the presidency (under Abu Mazen’s control) rather than the institution of the prime minister (which they pushed to create) and the ministry of finance, because both were expected to be under Hamas control after elections. Let’s not forget that the CIA also got involved and tried to instigate a coup against Hamas, ultimately leading to the division of the West Bank and Gaza under different Palestinian leaderships. Donors then began to pour finance into the West Bank, while cutting off Gaza and backing Israel’s aggressive siege and military maneuvers there.

When we thus talk about the larger question of the transformation of political leadership of the Palestinian movement, what we essentially see is Fatah and Abu Mazen fighting for their political survival, and being kept afloat by donor aid and the cronyistic arrangements they were able to erect locally.  But because they are tied to the Oslo process and tied to its financial lines, Palestinians can see little return from backing it politically any more, if ever they did so in the first place. (Let’s recall, Oslo never had a local referendum, let alone a national one). This political bankruptcy led inevitably to the emergence of new political actors on the scene, attempting to fill the political and leadership vacuum. Hamas played this historical role, given its  headstart as the most viable political alternative to Fatah at the time, that already had an anti-Oslo agenda, that had independent financial lines, and that also developed a military potential during the Second Intifada. Moral and political legitimacy increasingly shifted towards Hamas, which filled the massive hole in Palestinian politics created by the failure of Fatah and its bet on the Oslo process to fulfill Palestinian rights, not to mention the weakness of Palestinian left forces, which is another discussion.

One should bear in mind that the Hamas/Fatah division is actually of great benefit for Israel, because it essentially lets it off the hook for engaging in negotiations. Moreover, Israel actually has different strategic interests in the West Bank and Gaza, and has historically approached each territory differently: the West Bank is much more important to Israel ideologically and strategically, while as far as Israel is concerned, Gaza can “sink into the sea,” as Rabin once said. The division, and Israeli and donor fostering of it, has important implications in turn for the Palestinian leadership, and particularly for Abu Mazen, because one of the main cards he has in his hands is that the PLO represents the “sole legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people.” Donors feared Abu Mazen’s weakness and lost political ground to Hamas, and hence ended up more than doubling the amount of aid they give to the PA, even though it was “half” the political territory (without Gaza). This pretty much explains the existing scenario, whereby donors maintain the buoyancy of Fatah and the PA in the West Bank, while Gaza is this territory that is to be contained and beaten, with the “lawn mowed” there every few years so as to prevent the contagion of this model spreading to the West Bank.

The heavy pumping of money into the West Bank entrenched a sclerotic Abbas/Fatah regime, with the expected class dimensions this entails. Moreover, because Fatah is the only power allowed to really operate there, and because the neo-patrimonial logic of Fatah rule is even worse under Abu Mazen, we witness the bloating and degeneration of Fatah. Functionally, governance of the West Bank became a fight between different branches of Fatah over which parts of the movement would enjoy the pie, given that no external party was really going to challenge them. In one village I went to, Fatah had splintered into six different clusters all vying for control over the local municipality. This speaks to the decadent political and financial culture that has been fostered in the West Bank under Abu Mazen and donor backing of him.

Initially under the peace process, there was this mythology that the donors would fund viable economic projects within the logic of a “Marshall Plan” (their words), and which could anchor and nourish political peacemaking. Of course, no Marshall Plan ever materialized. What happened instead was donor support for Fatah elites and its cronyistic system designed to ensure the movement’s survival and administration of autonomy. The only capitalist investment to take place was politically determined (namely filtered through Israeli and donor political and economic interests) and then further filtered by the neo-patrimonial interests of competing Fatah subordinates. Capital was directed toward the most speculative, lazy, and predatory endeavors, given that no “rational” capitalist would invest in a place like the OPT given its political uncertainty, and Israel would not allow any competitive industries to emerge, consistent with its longer historical efforts to “de-develop” the OPT.  This also explains why we see today the evolution of the Authority taking on more and more repressive qualities locally in its control of the West Bank, because it very much sees the West Bank as its last bastion. From the PLO-Fatah-Abu Mazen perspective, they used to control the diaspora and the whole PLO movement, but today don’t control Gaza, and see the West Bank as their last stronghold.

We’re basically at time, so perhaps you could wrap up on where things are going. The strength of the Palestinian movement has always depended on support from other parts of the Arab world, but the Arab uprisings have been pushed back and much of the Middle East is in chaos. So where does that leave the next steps for the Palestinian movement?

The Palestinian movement used to be the flagship movement of the Middle East and of the Arabs—supposedly—but since the Arab revolutionary process in 2010, it has been significantly marginalized, even in nominal terms. The onset of strong regional counterrevolutionary forces, together with the internal political divisions, have also led to an extreme deterioration of the situation. Certainly, Gaza is on the front end of this, in terms of the three military campaigns, getting clobbered in the siege, leading to explosive humanitarian conditions that are the worst in fifty years of occupation without question. So, this explains why Gaza is exploding right now, because there’s no political horizon and the situation on the ground is desperate. Gaza is a poisoned environment: it’s the world’s largest concentration camp, the water is not drinkable, 80 percent of the people are food dependent, and unemployment levels are the highest in the world. The West Bank, though marginally better off economically, is also a churning volcano that is equally unstable, but has no organized political actor to harness these dynamics. This is why the West Bank continues to witness upheavals that fail to gain traction and sustainability towards clear political ends. These efforts are aborted by Israel first, and Fatah second. These dynamics of course are exacerbated by the policies of the Trump administration, and the acceleration of Israeli settler colonial designs on the West Bank, empowered by the former.

The Palestinian movement overall is thus in a moment of genuine political crisis without a clear path forward. The Oslo “bet” failed, while the militarization of the Intifada also failed. Now we see political actors in Gaza experimenting with popular demonstrations and forms of nonviolent protest and struggle that try to reassert the Palestinian movement, and put it back on the political stage. While these struggles are inspirational, and show significant transformations in popular organizing, they have a long way to go, because the movement has so many external enemies and remains divided internally as well. Fatah, in particular, is resisting Hamas gaining political fruit from these actions and seeks to squeeze the movement financially by cutting finances of public sector employees it was still paying in Gaza, for the past decade. Israel and the donors aren’t making any major political concessions on the question of Gaza, either, and simply want to avoid a situation at this stage that spills over to Israel or the West Bank. The main thing we can say at this stage is that we see new shifts in the Palestinian movement to think outside the box of the preexisting structures, and to try and see what is possible by, in part, asserting a new kind of politics, while waiting to see what happens with the revolutionary dynamics in the Middle East.

At this stage, the region’s revolutionary processes are in retreat and are not in a position to support the Palestinians. I find it fascinating that Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh4 gives speeches now in front of political billboards that have Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela on them. This is because Hamas is forced to actively think outside the military model it had relied upon, to try and reassert the human dimension to the Palestinian cause. Here Hamas is not leading, but following the popular grass-roots efforts to rethink Palestinian national activity and its tactics and strategies, with dynamics in Gaza at the forefront.

A significant factor in the success of these efforts will be determined by the extent to which solidarity can be built around this activity internationally and particularly in the West. Here I believe a new periphery of allies can be won to the Palestinian cause, embedded in the new social movements emerging to challenge the Trump agenda and the broader right-wing populist swing we witness globally. It’s helpful to keep in mind that Palestinians are still on their land, still demanding their rights, and still demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice for it. Toward this end, they seek and need political allies that can help them in their effort to reorient their struggle to meet the challenges before them. Without this solidarity, it will be difficult to make significant gains and sustain the momentum of struggle, with its heavy losses. In this regard, building the BDS movement in the West, and educating a new periphery of political actors will be important. Part of doing this will entail making the connection between Israel as a reactionary, pro-US satellite in the Middle East and the role that Israel plays globally, and even in Western capitalism, in terms of the influence in the war on terror, on securitized politics, on domestic policing, etc. We see the Harvey Weinstein case, for instance, and the use of Black Cube, an Israeli consulting firm used by Weinstein to conduct investigations against women who made accusations against him. Cambridge Analytica was also using Black Cube and another Israeli consulting firm, all of which are run by ex-Israeli Mossad and Shin-Bet personnel. All of these technologies and techniques of repression, which are used in typical military engagement theaters, are now being applied in civilian matters to address the concerns of powerful capitalists in the US, together with local government and big government. They have been used against the Palestinians for years, but their migration to the West is bringing the war home, so to speak. Building a movement against this kind of politics will entail building a critique against this logic, in which Israel plays a large part. I think these are some of the important avenues where we can make connections, in addition to the very clear and direct fact that US tax dollars are being used to support Israel, to the tune of more than three billion dollars a year. Since 1948, Israel has received more than 250 billion dollars from Washington, which obviously could have been used toward much better ends domestically.

These are the connections we need to be making in an era characterized by the collapse of the political center, and economic stagnation post-2007. The world economic crisis has created potential to build new movements, and reeducate people, because the traditional structures, narratives, and political constellations that used to run the show are collapsing, delegitimized, and weak. It’s also clear that there is new movement happening at the base. The politics of Palestine needs to be part of these new movements and this new process of reeducation, if we really want to build an alternative to US capitalism, US imperialism in the Middle East, and to finally see an end to this bloodshed, which is to the benefit of Israelis and Palestinians and all the people of the Middle East. Right now, we have a system that’s just aligned around militarism, domination, and colonialism, which is veering domestically towards fascistic, or increasingly nationalistic kinds of politics. It is very scary. So, this is the political challenge before us. Palestine has a lot to offer those movements. It hasn’t left. It’s still there, and it continues to provide an inspiration to become engaged politically and struggle for what you believe. We need to take advantage of the new tools that exist to rebuild our movements, and make success possible. Palestine, and world survival, may depend on it.

Thanks to Adam Fendos for transcribing this interview.

An uprising by Palestinians in the Occupied Territories which began in December 1987.
Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin were respectively the Israeli Foreign Minister and Prime Minister at the time of the Oslo negotiations. Together with Yasser Arafat they were awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize.
For the last two years of his life, Arafat was prevented from leaving his Ramallah compound by the Israeli army. In late 2004 he became seriously ill and was allowed to travel to Paris for medical treatment. He died there in November 2004. There has been persistent speculation that he may have been poisoned.
Haniyeh has been the political leader of Hamas since May 2017.
Fair Use Notice
This web site may contain copyrighted material the use of which we are making only for educational purposes. This is a non -profit web site and does not accept any type of advertisement, paid or otherwise. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance the understanding of humanity’s problems and hopefully to help find solutions for those problems.

We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is only for reading purposes that included information for research and educational purposes. For the original source we are providing “url” of that article which is a ‘fair use’ of anything you find on this web site. However, if you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

The legacy of Maoism in India-Review by Samantha Agarwal

Posted by admin On March - 19 - 2019 Comments Off on The legacy of Maoism in India-Review by Samantha Agarwal


India After Naxalbari:
Unfinished History
By Bernard D’Mello
Monthly Review, 2018 · 384 pages · $27.00

The success of a counter-hegemonic challenge to Hindu authoritarian rule in India will require a critical assessment of the successes and failures of the nation’s left forces, including the Maoist movement. The release of Bernard D’Mello’s India After Naxalbari could not be better timed. D’Mello’s tour de force is both a history of modern India and its “rotten liberal democracy,” including the left’s challenge to it, and a fine-grained look at India’s Maoist movement. It combines a sharp historical account with critical analysis, along with some original theoretical insights.

The legacy of princely rule and colonialism following independence left the Indian countryside highly stratified along caste and class lines. D’Mello’s account begins with the post-World War II peasant uprisings that he views as the “precursors” to Maoism in India. In their short lifespan these struggles posed a significant challenge to the power of the former landlord class, along with overturning some of the most pernicious practices of the caste system (such as vetti, the caste-based system of bonded labor in Telangana). The Communist Party of India (CPI) played a leading role in some of these struggles, most notably those of Telangana (1946–51) and Tebhaga (1946–47).

While the armed uprisings of this period had already engendered significant internal divisions within the communist movement, it was not until the following decades that these contradictions became irreconcilable. While D’Mello does not go far into the history of the 1964 split, which resulted in the creation of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), we know that the dominant current in the party was in favor of a parliamentary path to power (“national democratic revolution”) through an alliance with the progressive sections of the Congress Party. By contrast, party dissidents eschewed the parliamentary path in favor of a “peoples’ democratic revolution” through mass work led by the workers and peasantry.

The radical rhetoric of the CPI-M was quickly put to the test—once again by the self-activity of the masses. In March 1967, in the village of Naxalbari (in West Bengal) a revolutionary Krishak Samiti (peasant organization) within the CPI-M undertook a political program to abolish landlordism, including the burning of land records, the looting of food grains, and the seizing of promissory notes and other legal records related to the debt peasants had incurred over the years. Armed with bows, arrows, and spears they formed defense squads and peasant committees, in which women played a prominent role, in several villages. The movement awakened Indian society to the “intolerable conditions of economic oppression and social humiliation” of the poor and landless peasantry (Banerjee).

Meanwhile, the CPI-M, which had for the first time assumed control of the West Bengal state government through a United Front coalition, quickly turned against the revolutionary movement and launched a counterinsurgency. The nascent struggle was no match for the repressive apparatus of the state. Seventeen people were killed, and hundreds more were arrested. The leaders of the Naxalbari uprising and many of its supporters were summarily expelled from the party.

Undeterred, the party rebels went on to form the CPI-ML in 1969 under the leadership of Charu Mazumdar. What was to follow were a series of “Naxalbaris” from roughly 1969 to 1975, which, as D’Mello points out, were fairly heterogenous, including in their level of adherence to the “annihilation of class enemies” line. Perhaps the most controversial of these political eruptions was that of Kolkata 1970–71, where party leaders incited urban youth to destroy all symbols of bourgeois education, including monuments and statues of nationalist writers and poets, and relocate to the countryside to join the class war.

It is in his discussion of the CPI-ML (People’s War), formed in 1980 in the state of Andhra Pradesh as an outgrowth of CPI-ML, that D’Mello provides the clearest exegesis of the theoretical and strategic considerations of the early Maoist movement. The People’s War group, following the ideas of the Chinese Revolution—as formulated by Lin Biao in his 1965 pamphlet—believed that revolution could only be won through a “protracted peoples’ war” (PPW). The PPW would begin with a “new Democratic stage led by the workers in a worker-peasant alliance and could only transition to socialism after taking power at the national level.” This would tactically be built through the formation of revolutionary bases in the countryside from which they “can go forward to final victory.”

As it played out, Maoist praxis looked very different from its theory—and in the first phase of the movement it faced staggering defeat. D’Mello provides a laundry list of reasons for defeat including the “neglect of long, hard and patient underground work that should have preceded the launch of armed struggle,” the neglect of military requirements, the failure to pursue the “mass line” or to build organization among the urban proletariat, and the lack of a democratic process in the movement. But D’Mello seems to understand these outcomes as the result of a failure to adhere closely enough to the principles of the Chinese Communist Party, rather than an inherent contradiction in the strategy itself—a major weakness in D’Mello’s analysis, to which I will return.

During the second “phase” of the Naxalite movement (roughly 1977–2003), D’Mello suggests that the “mass struggle” line—missing from the first period—gained greater purchase. As the Emergency was lifted in 1977, mass organizations affiliated with various offshoots of the Indian Maoist movement including CPI-ML (PW) in AP and CPI-ML (Liberation) and CPI-ML (Peoples Unity) in Bihar began to thrive. Notably, SIKASA, whose base consisted of workers and peasants around the coalfields of Singareni in Northern Telangana, organized not just on issues of the workplace, but also on those of the “hearth” (against-slum demolition) and “bread.” Similarly, MKSSS, part of the CPI-ML (PU), organized Dalit landless laborers against caste-based exploitation, mostly in the Jehanabad subdivision of Gaya District.

Yet the promising mass-based activity of this period quickly degenerated as state reaction and repression intensified. According to D’Mello the “mass organizations were, in effect . . .  driven underground.” Importantly, during the mass activity phase, underground activities—namely the building of a guerilla base in the border areas of Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, and Orissa continued apace. The tactical retreat to these guerilla areas beginning in the 1990s intensified during the “third phase,” taking us up to the present moment. After the 2003 merger of the two largest Maoist outfits (CPI-PW and MCC) under the umbrella of CPI-Maoist, the movement was characterized by episodic guerilla attacks and raids met with heavy state violence. D’Mello displays impressive knowledge of this period of state repression—which has afflicted not only the Maoists and their supporters, but also many more civilians who are unaffiliated with the Maoists—undoubtedly in part thanks to his longstanding participation in India’s civil liberties and democratic rights movements.

Does D’Mello draw the correct conclusions from the history of the Maoist movement? In part, yes. On the question of strategy, he rightly criticizes the Maoists’ overemphasis on armed struggle to the neglect of mass work. But D’Mello does not go far enough in dealing with the difficult question of armed struggle. Although he does not state it clearly in his final chapter “Reimagining New Democracy,” one can gather that the author is of the view that the armed struggle must continue alongside the development of democratic activity. Herein lies his weakness: building up strong, democratic mass movements in any modern society—where the state has an indisputable monopoly of violence—necessitates open political activity. This is particularly true of India where the state has for many years been acting with complete impunity against its “greatest internal security threat”—the Maoists—and mowing down anyone who comes in its way. The embrace of violence prior to the construction of a mass base has foreclosed in many parts of India the possibility of mass-based revolutionary activity. And, as argued by Kunal Chattopadhyay in his excellent article “The Path of Naxalbari” (2010), it paves the way for what Trotsky called “substitutionism”—where the party substitutes itself for the self-activity of the masses.

D’Mello’s other main critique of the Maoists is also accurate. The Maoists completely failed to build up the “workers” part of its peasant-worker unity—in other words, it has no meaningful base among workers in the urban core. Yet, D’Mello could have gone further and considered how this might be accomplished in the future. He recognizes that the Indian labor movement is plagued by the “peculiar differentiation” of the Indian working class along lines of status (regular/casual), caste, religion, ethnic origins, and gender, and also by the ever-expanding reserve army of labor. But how might the Maoists go about bringing together these heterogeneous sections of the Indian proletariat that often display contradictory interests? Clearly this would be a central part of climbing out of the current impasse.

Finally, while the author correctly argues that the future of the Maoist movement must pay more attention to gender, caste, nationality, and religion, he curiously avoids historicizing the Naxalites’ failure to systematically take up these “special oppressions.” Here, one would have to turn to the work of others, such as Krishna Bandyopadhyay (former member of CPI-ML) who contends that the party never took a stand on gender liberation, nor did it develop an adequate mechanism to deal with gender oppression within the party. Rather it peddled the line—common to almost every left party in India— that “women will automatically become free when society is liberated.” Likewise, Sujatha Gidla’s recent book, Ants Among Elephants, illustrates how the Maoists prevented local Dalit leaderships from taking up the mantle of caste annihilation, and how both casteism and sexism were deeply engrained in the internal culture and norms of the party. Grappling with these past blunders is an essential part of building a new and vibrant left.

These omissions aside, India After Naxalbari is required reading not only for those with an interest in Maoism, but also for anyone invested in building a counterforce against India’s neoliberal order and the growing menace of Hindu authoritarianism.
Fair Use Notice
This web site may contain copyrighted material the use of which we are making only for educational purposes. This is a non -profit web site and does not accept any type of advertisement, paid or otherwise. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance the understanding of humanity’s problems and hopefully to help find solutions for those problems.

We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is only for reading purposes that included information for research and educational purposes. For the original source we are providing “url” of that article which is a ‘fair use’ of anything you find on this web site. However, if you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Ahmed Shawki: Perspectives for the Left - Socialism 2013 Tsar To Lenin Tariq Ali & Oliver Stone "Untold History of the US" (May, 2013) Marx's Early Writings: Once More Unto the Breach: Video 2 of 2 Marx's Early Writings: Once More Unto the Breach: Video 1 of 2 Marxism & the Legacy of Subaltern Studies Tariq Ali: the crisis in Syria - questions and answers Scotland: Tariq Ali on independence;Dismantling the British State: Strategy, Tactics and Ideology Luxemburg, Lenin, Levi: Rethinking revolutionary history The power of the people Anti Stalin Left . How should socialists organise? Paul Le Blanc, Gilbert Achcar discuss Leninism, left unity, revolutionary parties Is religion good or evil? Michael Lebowitz: Primitive accumulation versus contested reproduction Adam Hanieh: A strategic overview of the struggles in the Middle East Relevance of Marxism Today The future of the Bolivarian Revolution after Hugo Chavez Enter the video embed code here. Remember to change the size to 310 x 250 in the embed code.