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Satyapal Dang. The CPI stalwart led a political life that was ethical and meaningful. Veteran CPI ...
The popular image of Pakistan is of a failing state with nuclear weapons. Neither the ...

Archive for January, 2013

Jane Austen’s Pride and Joy: ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Turns 200-Paula Byrne

Posted by admin On January - 31 - 2013 Comments Off on Jane Austen’s Pride and Joy: ‘Pride and Prejudice’ Turns 200-Paula Byrne


Did you know Jane Austen loved Pride and Prejudice as her ‘own darling child’ and read it aloud at home? Biographer Paula Byrne, author of The Real Jane Austen, celebrates the bicentennial of the beloved novel.
Pride and Prejudice was published in January 1813, in three volumes by Thomas Egerton, in a print run that was probably 1,500 copies. Five copies were sent to the author, and on January 29 Jane Austen wrote that “I have got my own darling child from London.” She couldn’t have known it at the time, but selling the copyright for £110 of what would be her most popular novel was a mistake. The risk and the profit were all Egerton’s, and the novel was a success
Austen read Pride and Prejudice aloud at home, in an all-female reading circle. On the very day that the books arrived, a local friend, Miss Benn, came to dine, and the family gave a reading to her. The idea was not to tell her that the new novel was by Jane, but Miss Benn seems to have guessed the truth from the general excitement in the household. Austen was especially pleased that “she really does seem to admire Elizabeth. I must confess that I think her as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.” It went so well that Miss Benn was invited back for a second evening. Jane wrote to her elder sister, Cassandra:
I am much obliged to you for all your praise; it came at a right time, for I had had some fits of disgust; our second evening’s reading to Miss Benn had not pleased me so well, but I beleive something must be attributed to my Mother’s too rapid way of getting on—and tho’ she perfectly understands the Characters herself, she cannot speak as they ought.
For Austen, reading her own novels aloud in the correct way—in the manner of a dramatic performance—was a particular skill and a special joy. She was, though, as critical of her own literary performance as she was of her mother’s inferior recitation: “The work is rather too light and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade.” But then, as ever, she turns the self-criticism into a joke at the expense of more pedantic, digressive novels:
It wants to be stretched out here and there with a long Chapter—of sense if it could be had, if not of solemn specious nonsense—about something unconnected with the story; an Essay on Writing, a critique on Walter Scott, or the history of Buonaparte—or anything that would form a contrast and bring the reader with increased delight to the playfulness and Epigrammatism of the general stile.
She was anxious to hear the opinions of those who were in on the secret of her authorship: “Fanny’s praise is very gratifying … Her liking Darcy and Eliz[abeth] is enough. She might hate all the others, if she would.” Fanny’s diary for June 5, 1813, records that “A[un]t Jane spent the morning with me and read P and P to me.” The younger Knight sisters were not allowed to listen. One of them later remembered: “I and the younger ones used to hear peals of laughter through the door, and thought it very hard that we should be shut out from what was so delightful.”
Now that the reviews were out and the book was such a big hit with the family, she didn’t seem to care who knew about it. She even imagined herself becoming a celebrity.
Jane was brimming with pride and confidence about Pride and Prejudice: “Oh! I have more of such sweet flattery from Miss Sharp … I am read and admired in Ireland too.” To her amusement she had heard that she had an obsessive Irish fan: “There is a Mrs Fletcher, the wife of a Judge, an old Lady and very good and very clever, who is all curiosity to know about me—what I am like and so forth. I am not known to her by name however.” She was keen to know whether Mrs. Fletcher had read Sense and Sensibility as well.
Jane herself was relaxed about people discovering that she was an author. She asked Cassandra to let their niece Anna in on the secret: “if you see her and do not dislike the commission, you may tell her for me.” She also told her that the secret was not really a secret in her home of Chawton: “you must be prepared for the Neighbourhood being perhaps already informed of there being such a Work in the World, and in the Chawton World!” Now that the reviews were out and the book was such a big hit with the family, she didn’t seem to care who knew about it. She even imagined herself becoming a celebrity: “I do not despair of having my picture in the Exhibition at last—all white and red, with my Head on one Side.”
By October 1813, Egerton was advertising second editions of both novels. “I have now therefore written myself into £250,” Jane proudly told her brother Frank, who was as usual away at sea, “which only makes me long for more.—I have something in hand.”
That “something in hand” was Mansfield Park.
From the book The Real Jane Austen, by Paula Byrne. Copyright 2013 by Paula Byrne. Reprinted with the permission of HarperCollins.

Paula Byrne is the author of The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead, and Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson

Recognition of violence is a political act: Nazish Brohi -Farooq Sulehria

Posted by admin On January - 31 - 2013 Comments Off on Recognition of violence is a political act: Nazish Brohi -Farooq Sulehria


The demand for Governor’s Rule needs to be contextualized by the desperation and fear of the Hazaras

‘Taliban targeting of Shias occurs the most frequently in parts of Pakistan where Al-Qaeda/Taliban/Sectarian groups nexus at the ground level is the strongest, such as in Quetta, in Parachinar, in Hangu and Kohat, says Nazish Brohi. Activist and researcher, Nazish Brohi has extensively written on women and political issues. In an interview with Viewpoint, she discusses the attacks on Hazaras in Balochistan. Read on:

Why all of a sudden Hazara people have become a target of sectarian outfits? Or is it the case that Hazara killings have been going on for a while but ignored?

The Hazara killings have not suddenly started – they have just now come on the national radar. The first such targeted attacks were in 2003, when a mosque was bombed at Friday prayers and police recruits were taken out of a van and shot dead in 2004, a Hazara Ashura procession was bombed. So it has been over a decade.
There are two points I want to make here – first, that the Hazara attacks are not ethnic killings, in the sense that they are not being singled out because of their ethnicity per se, but more of a sectarian cleansing: they are targeted because they are Shias. It is easier to identify Hazara Shias because they visibly look different, as compared to other Shias for which assailants need to do more work, such as figure out their name, see ID cards etc., so Hazaras are easier targets. While the effect of both lenses is the same, in that Hazaras are dying whether for ethnicity or sect of Islam they follow, it is an important distinction to make. It is important because it puts their killings in continuity with the other target killings of Shias in Pakistan, such as in Karachi, so we can see the broader pattern.

Second, I want to point out that recognition of violence is a political act. At what point do acts of individual violence transfer to broader paradigms? And at what point does the trend of violence gather official and public attention? I am suggesting that we have developed a threshold for violence, and there are certain pivot points at which that threshold is crossed, and part of building tolerance is figuring out what that threshold is and lowering it. Coming back to the ‘suddenness’ of Hazara killings, it is interesting to note the observation of journalist Owais Tohid who has extensively covered the War on Terror. He points out that Taliban targeting of Shias occurs the most frequently in parts of Pakistan where Al-Qaeda/Taliban/Sectarian groups nexus at the ground level is the strongest, such as in Quetta, in Parachinar, in Hangu and Kohat. So while the sectarian groups openly accept responsibility of Shia killings, they are not targeting Shias in areas where sectarian groups work relatively autonomously as in south Punjab.

In a recent essay for the daily Dawn, you speak about your experiences of working with Hazara women. Tell us how have they suffered as a result of anti-Hazara violence?

I don’t specifically work with Hazara women but with groups of women from Balochistan, which includes some who are Hazaras. Many of the well-off educated Hazara families have already left Pakistan, whether as asylum seekers or economic migrants, to Australia, Canada and other places. The working class Hazaras are also as desperate – remember the case of them being shipwrecked and drowned in an effort to be smuggled abroad. Many younger Hazara girls who are educated are counting down to when they leave – they are refusing marriage proposals and learning internationally marketable skills such as learning different languages and IT skills as they wait till paperwork is done to find better jobs once they leave. At the moment, I don’t see them connecting with Hazara politics and push back, the way I see women Baloch women doing.

The demand for Governor’s Rule by Hazara clergy was , for a while seen as a conspiracy, since it coincided with Qadri’s long march and Supreme Court’s ruling regarding Prime Minister’s arrest. Also, don’t you think Hazara demand would pitch them against Baloch nationalists?

The combined effect of the three does seem like an ambush of sorts. But I don’t think we should give in to the ‘doomed democracy’ panic because it self perpetuates. About the timing of the court ruling, I think it can be attributed more to the Supreme Court’s penchant for populism and ‘riding the crest’ rather than premeditated alignment. Qadri was an experiment gone wrong, but the episode raises questions about Pakistan’s pathological countdown to apocalypse. The demand for Governor’s Rule needs to be contextualized by the desperation and fear of the Hazaras. Such moves are inimical to democracy, but then, the prior government in Balochistan was not conducive to democracy either.

That is a mild way of saying it was an absolute disaster. Assembly sessions had no quorum so sessions were barely held, no legislation to speak of, everyone was in the cabinet, and the cabinet fled to Islamabad. Had there been a healthy opposition, there could have been parliamentary inquiries, votes of no confidence, task forces and other democratic correctives introduced before things got to this point. But because the elections were boycotted by the opposition, the opposition was non-existent in parliamentary process.

The Governor’s Rule need not derail the system though. Already there is resistance to it and a push back in Balochistan. In 2009, Punjab managed to get over it smoothly when governor’s rule was announced after the courts disqualified Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif, it was imposed for two months, then there was a parliamentary rescue. Of course, there are bad case scenarios of governor’s rule also, Karachi and earlier, East Pakistan. Political parties need to find a way to make the democratic process functional in Balochistan, and taking the constitutionally legitimate demands of Baloch nationalist parties is a critical step that will make or break it. They keep coming up with redundant things like APCs (All Parties Conference). This was a colonial-era tool that emerged at a time when political parties of the subcontinent did not have an institutionalised mechanism for interaction and were governed through Westminster Parliament. There is a parliament now, you don’t need an APC, you need the parliament to function. So the real threat is the other Hazara demand, of bringing in the army and FC to control Quetta. How do you bring in a force to control something they already control?
Will the Governor’s Rule help calm down Balochistan?

According to the FC inspector general, 50,000 personnel are deployed in Balochistan. Using the 1998 census gives a ratio of one FC jawan for every 131 people in the province. Compare this to the ratio of doctors (1,564 registered doctors as of 2005), which is one doctor for every 4,198 people in the province.

And this demand for further FC deployment puts them head to head in conflict with the Baloch, who blame the security apparatus for the atrocities against them, from missing persons and forced disappearances to bodies found dumped in gunny bags. Some Baloch groups have been using targeted violence against other ethnicities already. That makes the situation extremely serious.

 Farooq Sulehria is currently pursuing his media studies. Previously, he has worked with Stockholm-based Weekly Internationalen. In Pakistan, he has worked with The Nation, The Frontier Post, The News, and the Pakistan. He has MA in Mass Communication from the University of Punjab, Lahore. He also contributes for Znet and various left publications internationally.

Pakistan’s Islamist Militia Ansar Ul-Islam And Its Fight For Influence -Abubakar Siddique

Posted by admin On January - 31 - 2013 Comments Off on Pakistan’s Islamist Militia Ansar Ul-Islam And Its Fight For Influence -Abubakar Siddique


Qazi Mehboob ul-Haq (left), the chief of Ansar ul-Islam, with supporters
A banned Pakistani militia whose formation can be traced to its loyalties to a Sufi cleric is now positioning itself as the last bastion of hope against extremists intent on controlling regions surrounding the historic Khyber Pass.

Ansar ul-Islam, which in recent days has been engaged in bloody skirmishes with the most hard-line and violent Taliban faction in Pakistan, has a history of fighting against fellow militant Islamist groups in the region.

In recent days residents of the Khyber Agency, located in Pakistan’s northwest FATA tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, are crediting Ansar ul-Islam with fiercely resisting the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Since January 25, more than 80 civilians and fighters have died in skirmishes between the two groups in the remote Tirah region of Khyber.

Ansar ul-Islam, like the TTP, is officially banned by the Pakistani government and has been accused of reprisals and killings. Critics claim it aims to control the Afridi tribe, the largest tribe in Khyber Agency, in order to take over the lucrative trade that passes through the district.

‘They Are Not Terrorists’

Latif Afridi, a secular politician from the region, says that Ansar ul-Islam is fighting against a coalition of the TTP, Al-Qaeda, and Lashkar-e-Islam — its hard-line nemesis in Khyber.

Afridi says Ansar ul-Islam is essentially acting as a defense force for the region.
Supporters of Ansar ul-Islam note that the group allows and protects schools in the regions it controls, while they are the targets of attacks by other Pakistani Taliban factions.
“They are not terrorists. They have never been involved in terrorist activities such as suicide bombings,” Afridi says. “They are just fighting for protecting their region. They have always helped the government in its efforts to establish peace in the region.”

Ansar ul-Islam arrived on the scene when followers of an Afghan Sufi preacher, Pir Saifur Rehman, formed the militia in 2004 to counter the Lashkar-e-Islam (Army of Islam) formed by Mufti Munir Shakir, a hard-line Sunni cleric who opposes Sufism.

Rehman and Shakir followed two different sects of Sunni Islam. The former preached Brelvi Islam inspired by Sufism, while the latter advocated puritanical Deobandi Islam.

The two engaged in a propaganda war, branding each other “infidels” through their own illegal FM radio stations.

Pakistani authorities expelled both clerics from Khyber in 2006 and Rehman later died in Lahore, but their followers kept Ansar ul-Islam and Lashkar-e-Islam alive as rival militias.

The group allows and facilitates government officials to make identity papers to tribesmen in Khyber’s Tirah Maidan region.​​The two groups moved their fight from the lowland trading town of Bara into the highlands of Tirah, where clans and families among the Afridi Pashtun tribe supplied their fighters.

Ansar ul-Islam counted on local support and covert government aid, while Lashkar-e-Islam established an alliance with the TTP.

Thousands have died and tens of thousands of families have been displaced by the fighting between the two groups since 2006.

Afridi says that, over the years, Ansar ul-Islam has emerged as a more moderate faction focused on protecting its supporters.

‘Government Needs Such Groups’

Most significantly, it has moved away from preaching sectarian hatred, which wins it more support among the Afridis of Khyber.

​​”In a way, they are good people. Pakistan today needs such people,” Afridi says. “They do not engage in sectarian hatred and are tolerant. You can sit with them and they will even listen to your advice or criticism. The government needs such groups.”

According to Farhad Shinwari, a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Radio Mashaal in Khyber Agency, Ansar ul-Islam helps the local authorities to deliver health care and education in regions it controls.

“They often meet officials and always ask for more development projects,” Shinwari says. “All the schools are open in the regions they control. None of the public schools has been blown up. A large number of students regularly attend these schools. They have also helped in administering successful polio-vaccination campaigns here.”


A tiny minority of Sikhs still live in the regions of Khyber Agency controlled by Ansar ul-Islam.

Afridi says that the current fighting erupted after Ansar ul-Islam resisted a TTP move to expand its control within Khyber Agency. Recently, the TTP began to move eastward into the district’s Maidan region, which is controlled by Ansar ul-Islam.

He says that the TTP forcefully evicted some 1,300 Pashtun families from the western part of Khyber Agency in the summer of 2012 to provide shelter for Al-Qaeda fighters targeted by relentless drone strikes in their North Waziristan base, some 300 kilometers south of Khyber.

Afridi says that a defeat of Ansar ul-Islam would have far-reaching consequences.

A tiny minority of Sikhs still live in the regions of Khyber Agency controlled by Ansar ul-Islam.​​He says that if the TTP and Al-Qaeda were to establish control over Maidan in Tirah, peace in Khyber and the surrounding regions would be severely threatened. A stranglehold over the mountainous region would facilitate their attacks against targets in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province’s capital, Peshawar, which abuts Khyber to the east.

“It will make it very difficult for the displaced Afridi tribesmen to return to their homes and will also stir an even greater displacement crisis,” Afridi says.

In recent weeks, the TTP has intensified its violent campaign. It has staged numerous high-profile attacks in Peshawar, including the assassination of senior government minister Bashir Bilour in late December.

Is Pakistan’s Behavior Changing?-Frederic Grare

Posted by admin On January - 31 - 2013 Comments Off on Is Pakistan’s Behavior Changing?-Frederic Grare


Islamabad has been trying to send signals over the last few months indicating that it is pursuing a new course of action, both internally and externally, that is more in line with international norms. Pakistan has tried to improve its relationship with India. It has also indicated a preference for a negotiated peace in Afghanistan and demonstrated a new attitude toward terrorism.

Of course, claims that Pakistan’s policies are changing in one way or another are not new. And in the past, the status quo ante has almost always prevailed. But this could be different.

The context is different this time. The looming international troop withdrawal from Afghanistan brings considerable risks for the region in general and for Pakistan in particular. Islamabad fears that, come 2014, it will face an unstable Afghanistan and find itself isolated regionally and globally.

For the United States, as new faces enter the Departments of State and Defense, reasonably good relations with Pakistan are a prerequisite for a dignified and safe exit from Afghanistan. Politically, their main challenge will be to work out necessary compromises with Islamabad without risking further deterioration of the regional situation, which could affect Washington’s larger strategic objectives in Asia.

In this context, understanding Pakistan’s new policies and their limits is key. Change in Pakistan’s relations with India and Afghanistan and in its sponsorship of terrorism for political purposes is real but does not yet indicate a fundamental shift in strategic thinking. The shift thus far has been prompted by short-term considerations and reflects Pakistan’s weakness and isolation. However, if the tentative changes lead to improvement in the country’s economy and security, a meaningful shift in Pakistan’s strategic character could take hold.

The Pakistan-India Normalization Process
Relations with India are a good indicator of the reality of any change in Pakistan’s foreign policy. The relationship was notably bad following the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, but it has warmed up since the March 2011 resumption of the so-called composite dialogue on bilateral issues. Later that year, Pakistan announced that it would grant India most-favored-nation trade status by the end of 2012, thus reciprocating India’s gesture of 1996. Interior Ministers Sushil Kumar Shinde and Rehman Malik also agreed on a new visa regime, hailed as another sign of change.

But the most-favored-nation decision has not yet been implemented, and the visa regime agreement was put on hold after clashes began on January 6 along the Line of Control that forms India’s border with Pakistan in Kashmir.

The two countries seem willing to ease tensions and avoid escalation, but questions about the sustainability of the normalization process are legitimate. They can be partly answered through a careful examination of the motivations behind the rapprochement. 

Short-term considerations may have played a part. President Asif Ali Zardari needed to show some political achievement in the face of increasing domestic criticism due to the country’s perceived poor economic performance, while the army seemed to be overstretched and in need of a respite on the eastern front so it could focus on its war against militancy in western Pakistan. This has been particularly true because relations with the United States remain complicated and characterized by deep mistrust on both sides.

Longer-term, structural factors also contributed to Islamabad’s decisions. As observed by well-known Pakistani analyst Ayesha Siddiqa, peace with India remains the dividing line between the political leadership and the armed forces. A successful peace process would inevitably diminish the political weight of the military and reduce its budget. It is therefore something the civilian government would seek to bolster its own standing.

Economic considerations were also important in Pakistan’s decision to change tack. In addition to governance-related problems (widespread blackouts, for example), Chinese goods are now being dumped on the Pakistani market. Small and midsize Pakistani enterprises are struggling to survive. Pakistan can no longer afford the type of triangular trade it has practiced with India in the past, shipping goods through third countries. Such a system costs it several billions of dollars every year. Direct trade with India is becoming a necessity even for basic commodities like electrical power.

Under pressure from industrialists and with its significant corporate holdings suffering, the Pakistani military leadership has also lent its support to the current rapprochement with India. As Pakistan is unlikely to bring its economy back on track in the near future, its eagerness to forge closer trading ties with its old rival is likely to endure for some time.

The recent clashes between Pakistani and Indian forces in Kashmir, irrespective of which side is responsible for the fighting, indicate that tensions exist within the Pakistani security establishment about Islamabad’s India policy. While occasional incidents are perhaps inevitable in the tense Kashmir environment, the alleged mutilation of the bodies of Indian soldiers could be interpreted as a provocation and an indication that the current course of action remains problematic in some quarters.

Moreover, there is no visible sign that the military intends to dismantle militant organizations with a record of attacking India in Kashmir and elsewhere. So long as groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba persist, hostilities could resume, with or without the consent of the military. However, the fact that no major terrorist attack originating within Pakistan has taken place since the 2008 Mumbai attacks may indicate that Pakistan can control some of its most dangerous jihadi organizations, even if that control is not absolute.

The rapprochement with India is therefore fragile. But given the convergence of short- and long-term interests within Pakistan, the normalization could be expected to last. Should it endure, it would also enlarge the political space open to the civilian government, which has always been in favor of better economic relations with India and whose economic interests partly coincide (for once) with those of the military.

And if it lasts long enough, a warmer India-Pakistan dynamic could even alter the security establishment’s perception of India. This may not be sufficient to change Pakistan’s India-centric strategic calculations, but it could create an intermediary situation that would eventually permit a more comprehensive shift. That remains, however, purely speculative at this stage.

Pakistan and Reconciliation in Afghanistan
Pakistan’s position on Afghanistan and its medium-term intentions and capabilities are more difficult to read. For months, the Pakistani leadership has said that its Afghan policy has changed. Military authorities claim that the country is not part of the Afghan conflict and that they favor political reconciliation.

As proof of its goodwill, Islamabad has released several Taliban prisoners, its first gesture toward the Afghan government since 2009, when Afghan President Hamid Karzai initiated a rapprochement with Islamabad to diminish his government’s dependency on Washington. In an even more dramatic move, Pakistani officials say that they will release all Afghan Taliban prisoners, though it is unclear whether the prisoners can really be helpful in the reconciliation process.

There is, however, no doubt that Islamabad’s policies have shifted. The massive release of prisoners itself constitutes a major change. And Pakistan has also reached out to some members of the former Northern Alliance, which fought against the Pashtun-dominated Taliban government before the Afghan war began—an indication that Islamabad does not want to be seen as supporting exclusively the Pashtun elements. Given their large numbers on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, Afghan and Pakistani Taliban, could, if united, make the border areas on both sides totally uncontrollable.

Hedging its bets, Pakistan has insisted that the circle at negotiations be widened beyond the Taliban. It has called for the inclusion of the Haqqani network in any negotiation with the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of the militant political party Hezb-i-Islami. That leaves open the possibility to play one faction against another should the Pashtun question become too salient, despite the fact that Haqqani has sworn allegiance to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, which should de facto make the Taliban the sole representative of the insurgency.

Pakistan’s position can be explained at several levels. There seems to be no doubt that the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan is generating a considerable amount of anxiety in Islamabad because it could affect the entire spectrum of threats Pakistan believes it is already facing.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP), a Pakistani radical movement that targets the Pakistani state, now operates from Afghanistan, which means Islamabad faces the prospect of a durable threat emanating from its neighbor’s territory in much the same way that Western and Afghan forces long suffered the consequences of terrorist sanctuaries on Pakistan’s territory. To date, the presence of Western troops in Afghanistan has kept groups like the TTP in check and limited their prospects for development. But with the upcoming departure of Western forces, Islamabad rightly fears that the TTP or a comparable movement will benefit from the opportunities presented by Afghanistan’s vast territory.

This situation would be further aggravated if relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan were to deteriorate. Given that Pakistan’s conventional military capabilities far exceed Afghanistan’s, Kabul could be tempted to sponsor proxy terrorism against Pakistan, which Islamabad already suspects Kabul is doing. The consequences would be the continuation of terrorism on Pakistan’s territory or a bilateral conflict with its weaker neighbor (or both). Past cross-border exchanges of artillery between the two countries make this scenario highly credible. Either outcome would threaten to radically destabilize Pakistan, especially given the potential impact on the Pashtun populations on both sides of the border. 

Pakistan also fears that the departure of Western troops will open the door to greater Indian influence in Afghanistan. Moreover, India is playing a larger role in training the Afghan armed forces, which Pakistan views with concern. Islamabad is also aware that it cannot hope to match Indian contributions to the Afghan economy and is therefore incapable of buying Afghan goodwill. 

Pakistan may have considered several possible courses of events when developing its current Afghanistan policy. But it is obviously keeping all of its options open.

Islamabad may have based its thinking on the assumption that a military victory by one or several Afghan factions is unlikely in the short term, including after the Western withdrawal. But should this assumption prove incorrect, and should one faction—which could be its Taliban protégés—gain control of Afghanistan, it seems probable that Islamabad understands that it would be impossible for Pakistan to control Kabul, reinforcing the risks Pakistan faces. And Islamabad may have decided to delay taking action in Afghanistan and await or even facilitate the Western withdrawal in order to promote its preferred option later.

None of these scenarios excludes the others. In all three of them, a negotiated solution to the conflict in Afghanistan is a desirable outcome for Pakistan in the short term.

Further supporting this end goal, Pakistan’s security establishment probably expects that better relations with Kabul would promote cooperation on counterterrorism efforts directed against Afghanistan-based groups that target Pakistan. Endorsing negotiations, moreover, would paint Pakistan as a responsible stakeholder in the eyes of the international community, helping rebuild its reputation and denying its regional rivals an argument for excluding the Pakistani stake from Afghanistan’s future. 

But with a slightly longer view, any negotiated agreement is likely to be perceived in Islamabad as a potential threat due to the risk of irredentist Pashtun designs (no longer articulated around traditionally secular Pashtun nationalism but radical ideology) on Pakistani territory. A “successful” negotiation could result in three potential outcomes.

First, the Taliban could participate in the central government, which would gradually consolidate. In that case, the risk for Pakistan would be similar to that of a Taliban victory: the consolidation of the Afghan state, the stoking of nationalism in opposition to Pakistan, and a Kabul government beyond Islamabad’s control.

Second, the Taliban could gain control (alone or with other proxies of Pakistan) of Pashtun-populated provinces along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In the short term, this would constitute a net gain for Pakistan, as it would limit the threat of foreign influence in its immediate vicinity. In the medium term, however, there could be a real risk that the Pashtunistan claim—calls for the reunification of the Pashtun population living on both sides of the border—would reemerge with the support of both the Afghan Taliban and the TTP and its affiliates.

Third, any combination of those scenarios would only increase the risk in the medium and long term.

These risks could be mitigated by various confidence-building measures and a greater degree of cooperation between Islamabad and Kabul, including in the area of counterterrorism. But given the resentment that has accumulated over the years, confidence building is likely to be a very slow process and could easily be disrupted at any stage. 

While a negotiated settlement could help Pakistan in the short term but potentially hurt it in the medium term, a continuation of the conflict in Afghanistan would do the opposite. Though it would be damaging for Pakistan in the short term, the situation would remain manageable and would prevent Pashtun irredentism from becoming a political force.

In the end, Islamabad will push for the agreement most favorable to its own interests. It will likely be one similar to the “Peace Process Roadmap to 2015” presented by the Afghan High Peace Council and reportedly concluded between Afghan and Pakistani officials. But that agreement is very favorable to Islamabad’s interests and is likely to be rejected by the legally sanctioned parties that oppose President Karzai and by the Taliban for that reason. In Afghanistan, it will likely generate negative reactions that would potentially accelerate the trend toward civil war.

Therefore, Pakistan may choose instead to accept the negotiation of an agreement that is more inclusive of all Afghan factions, in which its potential gains would be less substantial but more sustainable.

Counterterrorism: Where and Against Whom?
Signs of change in Pakistani behavior in matters of terrorism emerged with the August 2012 speech of General Pervez Kayani, Pakistan’s highly influential chief of army staff. Kayani condemned extremism and terrorism, which he described as potential triggers of civil war. And he also called for constitutional solutions and the mobilization of the entire nation against terrorism. He said the army’s ultimate success was dependent on that mobilization. Words were turned into action, and the fight against the TTP intensified.

That fight gave credit to Kayani’s alleged determination to eradicate terrorism. As on several occasions before, some observers concluded that Pakistan had finally understood where its real interests were. Pakistan has reasons for concern. More than 45,500 Pakistanis have been killed in terrorist violence in the last ten years, including 4,855 Pakistani security forces.

However, Pakistan’s record in fighting terrorism remains dubious. The military opposes terrorism that is directed at itself or other Pakistani state institutions and objectives. But there are other practitioners of terrorism that direct their efforts against India, Afghanistan, and Baloch that the military does not challenge.

One may argue that the Pakistani armed forces are not capable of fighting all their adversaries at once, and that argument is real. Moreover, efforts to disarm these groups could have a blowback effect on Pakistan.

But Pakistan’s refusal to bring the culprits of the Mumbai attacks to justice reflects, at the least, a very deep ambiguity vis-à-vis terrorism, including toward groups that could directly affect Pakistan’s relations with India. While Kayani described the war against terrorism as the nation’s “just war,” the Pakistani state has been less than willing to combat groups more favorable to its own interests, such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The army also seems to discount terrorist attacks carried out by state-backed proxies, including sectarian ones, in support of its domestic political agenda. Balochistan, where Pakistan’s Frontier Corps is fighting a separatist insurgency with the support of the intelligence agencies, is the most important case of selectivity in abjuring political violence of a terrorist nature.

It is thus premature to say that a fundamental change has occurred in the Pakistani state’s attitudes regarding the use of terrorism in pursuit of political objectives.

Policy Implications for the United States
Bearing in mind 2011, the annus horribilis in the history of U.S.-Pakistani relations, and the months of painful negotiations over supply lines running to Afghanistan through Pakistani territory in 2012, any assessment of Pakistan’s behavior will inevitably involve political considerations as well as the careful and objective analysis of the state’s already-complex behavior.

In such a context, it makes sense to take Pakistan at its own word. It makes sense to encourage whatever initiative can truly help promote stability in the region. But it would be a mistake to once again rescue Pakistan from any negative fallout of its own wrongdoing and concede more than is necessary in dealing with Islamabad.

Changes in Pakistan’s policy often reflect the state’s weaknesses rather than an evolution of its philosophy regarding any specific issue. Encouraging positive trends will therefore require that Pakistan be left to face the consequences of its own policies.

Pakistan’s trade relationship with India will develop on its own. Pakistani policymakers and businesspeople alike understand the fact that economic cooperation with India would make Pakistan better off. It seems rather preferable to let the burgeoning relationship develop within its current bilateral framework in which, for example, the prevention of terrorist incidents between the two countries will define the pace and scope of their rapprochement. The United States should not attempt to provide Pakistan with alternative opportunities by offering preferential trade agreements to compensate for a missing India-Pakistan economic relationship. India is Pakistan’s most natural trading partner.

Recent incidents in Kashmir demonstrate that true normalization will be difficult to achieve, but they also indicate that there is a significant Pakistani constituency that favors peace. This constituency will not be strengthened by outside support but by the requirements of the Pakistani economy.

In Afghanistan, where Pakistan is isolated, the United States should encourage Islamabad to search for broad-based agreements that include all factions rather than favoring deals with a limited set of participants. Negotiations that include the insurgents, the current government, and legal opposition parties would perhaps limit Pakistani influence in Afghanistan’s future, but they would also limit the role of all outside interference. Moreover, they would hardly preclude Pakistan from playing a role in the region and would, therefore, be more likely to lead to a more sustainable peace.

To the extent possible, the question of terrorism should no longer be addressed bilaterally and subject to the vagaries of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship. This approach has so far met with very limited success and has only politicized the issue beyond reasonable levels, especially where questions of Pakistani sovereignty are concerned. Addressing the question of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in multilateral forums, such as the UN Security Council or the UN Human Rights Commission, and in keeping with international norms would shift the debate from sovereignty to responsibility. It would also diminish the impact of the issue on already-difficult U.S.-Pakistani relations.

The depoliticization of the issue would also make it easier for a broader coalition of countries to support whatever course of action the international community might embrace and to bring more unified and effective pressure to bear against Pakistan if need be. This does not necessarily mean sanctions would be imposed on Pakistan, as Islamabad would most likely count on its Chinese allies to veto any threatening text. But it would expose Pakistan’s wrongdoings, inevitably isolating Islamabad internationally and creating incentives to change policy.   

None of these approaches would require a dramatic change of U.S. policy or end all possibility of cooperation with Islamabad. It is well past time for the United States to accept that Pakistan is a sovereign country, to leave it more alone and less entangled in the international context, and to treat it as a rational actor capable of adjusting to the consequences of its own actions.


The End of the Age of Petraeus-Fred Kaplan

Posted by admin On January - 31 - 2013 Comments Off on The End of the Age of Petraeus-Fred Kaplan


Airman John Fitzgerald arm wrestles an Afghan child August 21, 2011. (U.S. Air Force / Flickr)

The downfall of David Petraeus sent such shock waves through the policy establishment when it hit the news in November because the cause was so banal: the most celebrated and controversial military officer of our time compelled to resign from his dream job as CIA director as the result of an extramarital affair. Yet long after the headshaking details are forgotten, Petraeus’ larger significance will remain, as his career traced one of the era’s crucial strategic narratives — the rise and fall of counterinsurgency in U.S. military policy.

As recently as 2006, the country’s top generals were openly scorning counterinsurgency as a concept; the secretary of defense all but banned the term’s utterance. One year later, it was enshrined as army doctrine, promoted at the highest levels of the Pentagon, and declared official U.S. policy by the president. Then, five years after that, a new president and new defense secretary barred the military chiefs from even considering counterinsurgency among the war-fighting scenarios used to calculate the military’s force requirements.

The swerves reflected the changing courses of the wars being fought on the ground. The George W. Bush administration had invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 with a “light footprint” strategy, designed to defeat the enemies and get out quickly to avoid getting bogged down. That approach, however, revealed its limits as Iraq began unraveling soon after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and by mid-2006, the country had slipped into a vicious, chaotic civil war. A desperate Bush decided to gamble on counterinsurgency in a last-ditch effort to head off disaster, and he picked Petraeus, the author of a new army manual on the subject, to lead the effort. The apparent success of the new approach in stanching the bleeding inspired commanders, including Petraeus himself, to apply it to the worsening conflict in Afghanistan as well. But its apparent failure there led President Barack Obama — never a huge fan — to back away from the strategy not only there but in general.

Few U.S. military commanders detected the rise of an insurgency in Iraq; fewer still understood its implications. U.S. troops are now out of Iraq and being drawn down in Afghanistan, but the basic questions about counterinsurgency — or COIN, as it is widely abbreviated — remain. Did it really succeed in Iraq, and if so, how? Why did it not work in Afghanistan? Is it a viable strategy for dealing with contemporary insurgencies, and even if it is, can it be employed by a democracy, such as the United States, with little patience for protracted war?


The revival of COIN in the Age of Petraeus — a brief era, but worthy of the title, so thorough was his influence and the improbable fame he attained — was in part the product of generational politics. In 1974, when Petraeus graduated from West Point, the Vietnam War was approaching its inglorious denouement, and the U.S. Army’s senior leaders were determined never to fight guerrillas again, in the jungle or anyplace else. They turned their gaze instead to the prospect of a major conventional war with the Soviet Union on the wide-open plains of Europe and threw out the books on what they termed “low-intensity conflict.” By the early 1990s, army scribes had come up with a still more dismissive term: “military operations other than war,” abbreviated as MOOTW (pronounced “moot-wah”). And the feeling was, as General John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, once muttered, “Real men don’t do moot-wah.”

Many of today’s officers, however, rose through the ranks fighting precisely these “other-than-war wars” (as some called them), in El Salvador, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans, which didn’t seem so low intensity and certainly felt like wars. Petraeus himself spent the early years of his career as an airborne infantry officer in France and Italy, where he happened upon a shelf-load of books touting what the French call “revolutionary warfare”: Jean Lartéguy’s novel The Centurions, Bernard Fall’s Street Without Joy and Hell in a Very Small Place, and, most influential, David Galula’s Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice. Galula, who had observed and fought in several counterinsurgencies himself, was unlike any author Petraeus had read before. “Revolutionary war,” his book stated, has “special rules, different from those of the conventional war.” It’s like a fight between a lion and a flea: the flea can’t deliver the knockout punch, and the lion can’t fly. The insurgent can sow disorder anywhere, whereas the counterinsurgent — fighting on behalf of the government — has to maintain order everywhere. Defeating fleas requires draining the swamp that sustains them; defeating insurgencies requires protecting, then wooing or co-opting, the population that sustains their cause. As Galula described, a soldier in a COIN campaign must “be prepared to become a propagandist, a social worker, a civil engineer, a schoolteacher, a nurse.” Likewise, “a mimeograph machine may turn out to be more useful than a machine gun,” and “clerks [are] more in demand than riflemen.” These kinds of wars, Galula calculated, quoting Mao, are “20 percent military action and 80 percent political.”

In the mid-1980s, Petraeus spent a summer as an aide to General John Galvin, head of the U.S. Southern Command. Central America was then blazing with the sorts of insurgencies that Petraeus had previously only read about; in El Salvador, U.S. military aides were devising something close to a counterinsurgency plan. Toward the end of his stay, Petraeus ghostwrote an article for Galvin titled “Uncomfortable Wars: Toward a New Paradigm,” which called on the army to abandon its obsession with big wars and firepower and to recognize the prevalence of new kinds of warfare — subversion, terrorism, guerrilla insurgencies. When he returned to the States, Petraeus elaborated on these points in a Princeton doctoral dissertation on the army’s “myopic” post-Vietnam aversion to such conflict and its need to change its doctrine, tactics, and personnel policies accordingly.

In the mid-1990s, Petraeus served as chief of operations in the U.S.-led multinational peacekeeping force in Haiti, his first experience with full-fledged nation building. A few years later, in 2001, he was deployed to Sarajevo, as NATO’s assistant chief of staff for operations and deputy commander of a clandestine unit called the Joint Interagency Counterterrorism Task Force. A briefing for his campaign plan emphasized the need both to go after the terrorists directly and to address the problem’s root causes, tackling unemployment, the issue of sanctuaries, and a corrupt justice system.

In 2003, the United States went to war in Iraq, and the campaign plan devised by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks, head of the U.S. Central Command, had no use for any of this. It was intended to be a “shock and awe” campaign to topple the regime quickly and then hand over responsibility for the country to somebody, anybody else — American allies, Iraqi exiles, untainted local leaders, whatever. Petraeus commanded the 101st Airborne Division during the brief but fierce drive to Baghdad.

It was after Saddam fell that Petraeus made his mark. Assigned to occupy the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh, including the city of Mosul, he applied all the lessons he had learned during his stints in Central America, Haiti, and Bosnia and from his readings of Galula and the other COIN classics (which he brought with him and consulted frequently). He sought out and worked closely with community leaders, vetted candidates for new local elections, got gas pumps working, reopened the university, even opened the province’s border with Syria. Petraeus was doing all this on his own initiative. Few other commanders detected the rise of an insurgency; fewer still understood its implications. They had not read up on counterinsurgency strategy: it hadn’t been taught at West Point or any of the army’s war colleges recently, and a field manual on the subject had not been published in 20 years.

In 2005, Petraeus returned home to command the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He was determined to get COIN into the army’s official curriculum, to see that it was part of the predeployment training programs for all units, and above all to write a new counterinsurgency field manual. At the same time, under the radar, a new generation of like-minded officers was rising through the service ranks, inspired by similar experiences and imbued with similar insights. Much of the new thinking was coalescing in West Point’s Department of Social Sciences, known as “Sosh,” where Petraeus had taught while finishing his dissertation. Sosh had long been the army’s locus of unconventional thinking, run by professors determined to turn out “very broad-gauged individuals,” not just battalion commanders. For the junior officers who had returned from the mootw wars of the 1980s and 1990s to teach in Sosh and West Point’s history department, the curriculum and discussions reinforced what they had learned on the foggy battlefields in the developing world: that such fights had at least as much to do with politics and economics as with military tactics and that most of their senior officers — still stuck on Cold War precepts stressing large maneuvers and heavy firepower — were ill equipped to command irregular wars.

This group included John Nagl, who would go on to write an influential book on counterinsurgency, Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife; H. R. McMaster, who would command one of the Iraq war’s most successful COIN campaigns, in the city of Tal Afar; Kalev “Gunner” Sepp, who would help set up a COIN academy for all incoming soldiers in Iraq; and others. During the early years of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, as they realized that the war there had morphed into an insurgency that American military and political leaders didn’t recognize or know how to fight, these peculiar officers, along with a few outsiders, wrote articles for army journals, attended workshops and conferences, and formed a nascent community — “the COIN cabal,” or “the Sosh Mafia,” as some called it. By the time Petraeus set out to write a new COIN field manual, this network was already in place for him to draw on — and with Petraeus, it gained a leader with ferocious ambition, talent, and stars on his epaulets.

Petraeus’ counterinsurgency field manual was published to much acclaim, some criticism, and a surprising level of curiosity. FROM FRYING PAN TO FIRE

Meanwhile, all hell was breaking loose in Iraq. The calm that Petraeus had achieved in Mosul quickly eroded when the 101st Airborne Division rotated out and was replaced by a smaller force with a conventional approach. Other parts of the country deteriorated faster and further. During the three years after the fall of Baghdad, an overtaxed U.S. civilian occupation authority, a hapless and underresourced U.S. military command, and Iraq’s own fractious politics combined to produce vicious anarchy. The increasingly authoritarian national government in Baghdad was competing for power not only with insurgents led by disaffected Sunnis and radical jihadists in the west and north but also with separatist Shiites in the south. The capital itself became a killing field, with the conflict throwing up scores of mutilated bodies weekly.

On February 23, 2006 — the same day that Petraeus commenced a workshop on his new COIN manual at Fort Leavenworth — Sunni insurgents blew up the Golden Mosque, a major Shiite shrine in Samarra, sending Iraq to the brink of civil war and giving Petraeus a greater sense of urgency. Pushing the manual through a resistant army bureaucracy and corralling support for COIN among opinion leaders now appeared vital not only to shifting the military’s broader view of warfare but also to avoiding catastrophe in Iraq. Petraeus had heard stirrings that in a year’s time, he might be sent back to Iraq as the new U.S. commander there. To be able to impose his Nineveh strategy across all of Iraq, however, he would need the cover of officially sanctioned doctrine, which the field manual, if accepted, would provide.

General George Casey, then the U.S. commander in Iraq, had signed on to a COIN campaign plan the previous summer, influenced by his two strategic advisers, Sepp and Colonel William Hix, co-founders of the COIN academy. But by the time of the Samarra attack, Sepp, Hix, and their team of advisers — mostly think-tank Ph.D.’s, nicknamed “doctors without orders” — had rotated out. And Casey’s support for COIN had always been shallow. He had served in Bosnia, but unlike Petraeus, he saw it not as a model for future wars but as a trap, in which the locals took advantage of the large and active U.S. presence to shirk their own responsibilities even as their resentment of the outsiders grew. Casey was also an institutional army man, and from that perspective, he saw Iraq draining the army of resources. Finally, he had his orders: Rumsfeld was telling him to lower the U.S. profile and get out of Iraq as quickly as possible.

So Casey responded to the Samarra bombing and the subsequent violence by returning to his pre-COIN position. The war, as Casey saw it, had degenerated into a battle for political and economic power among many ethno-sectarian factions, and with no single insurgency, it made no sense to pursue a counterinsurgency strategy. He reverted to the only alternative he knew, his original plan, written before Hix and Sepp joined his staff, which involved turning over authority to the Iraqi government and withdrawing rapidly.

To the COIN advocates, Casey was defining counterinsurgency too literally. Another phrase for such campaigns, after all, is “stability operations,” and Iraq in the spring of 2006 was the very picture of instability. Handing responsibility to the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government would make things worse rather than better, since the government was itself one of the warring factions. The Interior Ministry’s police weren’t guardians of public order; they were death squads assassinating Sunnis in broad daylight. The Health Ministry’s guards were refusing to treat wounded Sunnis in their emergency wards and, in some cases, were actually murdering them. Scaling back and pulling out would pour oil on the flames and possibly ignite a broader regional conflict.

The alternative put forth by the “COINdinistas” came straight from Galula. The task of a counterinsurgent army, he had written, was to push the bad guys out of one area at a time, and then to stay there, so they wouldn’t come back. Meanwhile, it also had to train the local police and soldiers, so they could secure their country by themselves, and help the local government provide basic services, thus earning the allegiance of the people and drying up, or co-opting, their support for the insurgency. The shorthand term for this strategy (taken from a similar, although brief, effort during the Vietnam War) was “clear, hold, and build”: clear the insurgents, hold the area, and build services and support.

Petraeus’ COIN field manual was published on December 15, 2006, to much acclaim, some criticism, and a surprising level of curiosity. In part because of Petraeus’ fame as the hero of Mosul and his knack for dealing with the press and Congress, 1.5 million people downloaded the manual’s online edition in its first month on U.S. Army Web sites. But army doctrine was one thing, national policy another. Before it could have much effect on the war or the U.S. military at large, four changes would have to take place: there would have to be a new secretary of defense in Washington, a new U.S. commander on the ground in Iraq, more troops to implement the new approach, and a clear example of practical success to light the way forward. As it happened, in the month that the manual was published, the groundwork was laid for all four.


On November 7, 2006, the Republican Party had lost badly in the midterm elections; as Bush noted, the voters had given his administration and party “a thumping.” In the wake of the defeat, Bush fired Rumsfeld, the chief theorist and most passionate advocate of the “light footprint” approach, paving the way for serious consideration of the alternative Iraq strategy that had been gaining ground among dissidents in various quarters.

Petraeus frequently said both publicly and privately that the surge was a means, not an end. The case for what would come to be known as “the surge” grew out of quantitative analysis but spread as a result of bureaucratic networking. During the course of 2006, the Iraq Study Group — a blue-ribbon panel appointed by Congress to give advice on the faltering war effort — held its deliberations about what the government should do next. As the fall progressed, Frederick Kagan, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, worried that the commission would recommend a rapid withdrawal rather than a commitment to stay and win. Kagan had spent the previous decade as a civilian professor of military history at West Point, teaching, among other things, the course on revolutionary warfare, the academy’s one post-Vietnam concession to COIN theory. One of his colleagues during those years, and for a time his officemate, was McMaster, the commander of the COIN campaign in Tal Afar. McMaster was now in Washington, as one of 15 colonels secretly advising the Joint Chiefs of Staff on options for Iraq. (He had been recommended by Petraeus.)

Kagan and McMaster both agreed with Casey’s critics, but Kagan needed some hard evidence to back up his case against the hand-over-and-withdraw plan. McMaster suggested that Kagan call two of his former aides from Tal Afar, Colonel Joel Armstrong and Major Daniel Dwyer, who had done the fine-tuned analysis that made the operation there a success, including crunching the numbers on how many troops were necessary, when, and where. (Both had since retired from the army.) Kagan and a few assistants had already gone through the open-source literature to pinpoint the Iraqi neighborhoods with the most violence, mainly in Baghdad and Anbar Province. Armstrong and Dwyer now called up overhead images of those areas on the Google Earth Web site and calculated how many troops would be needed to secure — to clear and hold — each area. The conclusion: five brigade combat teams and two regimental combat teams, about 24,000 extra troops in all. Dwyer then computed how quickly those units could be mobilized to Iraq, drawing on the army’s “force generation model.” (The model was classified, but Dwyer, to his amazement, found it reprinted on Wikipedia.) It turned out that five brigade combat teams and two regimental combat teams were exactly the number that could be spared for Iraq.

Kagan, Armstrong, and Dwyer prepared a PowerPoint briefing based on their analysis — 55 slides in all — and presented it at a conference in early December. But first, Kagan showed it to Jack Keane, a retired army general who was also growing worried about Iraq. As it happened, Keane had been called to a White House meeting the following week, as one of a handful of experts to discuss Iraq with Bush. Keane brought along a copy of Kagan’s slides and gave them to Vice President Dick Cheney. During the meeting, all the experts urged Bush to fire Casey. Bush asked who should replace him. Keane mentioned Petraeus; others agreed.

Bush had recently appointed Robert Gates, a former CIA director, to be Rumsfeld’s successor, and on his first full day in the position, Gates and a handful of his staff members flew to Iraq. Eric Edelman, then undersecretary of defense, had found out about the briefing by Kagan, who had worked long ago as his intern, asked for a copy of the slides, and showed them to Gates on the flight over. “The president has seen these,” Edelman said. “You should, too.” Meanwhile, Petraeus had been tapping into his own network, including McMaster, several other colonels and generals on the Joint Staff, and, not least, Meghan O’Sullivan, Bush’s special assistant on Iraq, with whom Petraeus had established a back channel: she would use him for a reality check on Casey’s reporting, and he would use her for updates on the state of play in the White House.

By the time Bush met with his senior national security advisers in Crawford, Texas, over Christmas to discuss Iraq, the fix was in place for the surge, a change of strategies, and the appointment of Petraeus as top commander. In a prime-time speech on January 4, 2007, announcing his plans, Bush declared that the situation in Iraq was unacceptable and that “we need to change our strategy.” To facilitate the change, he said, he had decided to send “more than 20,000 additional troops” — five army brigades to Baghdad and another 4,000 marines to Anbar. “In earlier operations,” he noted, “Iraq and American forces cleared many neighborhoods of terrorists and insurgents, but when our forces moved on to other targets, the killers returned. This time we’ll have the force levels we need to hold the areas that have been cleared.” Counterinsurgency was now official policy.


While these maneuverings were playing out on the home front, something was happening in the epicenter of violence in Iraq. Seventy miles west of Baghdad, in the capital of Anbar Province, Ramadi — a city of nearly half a million people where Sunni insurgents ran free and al Qaeda gunmen enjoyed unchecked control — a mere 6,000 U.S. troops were turning the war around through classic COIN techniques, with little direction or even recognition from Baghdad or Washington.

The phenomenon came to be called the Anbar Awakening. It began when local Sunni sheiks concluded that the jihadists in their midst were stepping out of line: forcibly marrying their daughters and killing anyone who resisted, often dumping their bodies in fields rather than giving them proper Muslim burials. Sunni militiamen who had been shooting at the American occupiers a few weeks earlier now started asking them for help against a common — and more dangerous — enemy. Colonel Sean MacFarland, the army brigade commander on the ground, had been a Sosh cadet at West Point, had pored over COIN literature at Fort Leavenworth’s School of Advanced Military Studies, and, more recently, had replaced McMaster as the commander in charge of Tal Afar. McMaster had briefed him fully on what he had done there; MacFarland added his own twists and later decided to apply the same principles when he was reassigned to Ramadi.

Ramadi was a tougher nut to crack. Once McMaster had driven the insurgents out of Tal Afar, for example, he built a fence around the city to keep them out, but in Ramadi, the insurgents were living in the city. So MacFarland had to find potential allies, recruit them into a police force, and hand out money for economic development projects, all while heavy fighting was still going on.

Still, by the time Petraeus returned to Iraq, the clear, hold, build approach was showing results in Anbar, and the new commander decided to extend it throughout the Sunni regions of the country. He called the program the Sons of Iraq, recruiting former militiamen to join the fight against al Qaeda, giving them weapons, and paying them out of his commander’s discretionary fund (a move of borderline legality, but he persuaded his lawyers to approve it under the rubric of “site security”). “Cash is a form of ammunition,” Galula had written, and Petraeus kept it flowing.

The 2007 turnaround in Iraq was remarkable, but it was also oversold. It was not due entirely to the surge or to counterinsurgency or to Petraeus personally. In that first year, as the surge took hold and the strategy evolved, casualties at first rose but then subsided. The cycle of violence — the persistent pattern of Sunni attack sparking Shiite retaliation, provoking Sunni attack, and so on — broke.

The Anbar Awakening had preceded Petraeus and the surge, and it was initiated by Sunnis, not Americans. But it took an officer of MacFarland’s training and disposition to grasp its potential and respond to it shrewdly. Even then, it would have remained a local phenomenon had it not been for the surge and Petraeus. The surge provided the resources to spread the Awakening across the rest of Iraq; Petraeus knew exactly how to spread it.

Petraeus’ success, throughout his career, had stemmed in part from his brazen assertiveness. During the Casey era, U.S. forces often faced attacks from a Shiite militia based in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, but Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki barred Casey from responding, and Casey complied. By contrast, Petraeus simply ordered his troops into Sadr City without telling Maliki ahead of time, then gave him intelligence materials showing that Muqtada al-Sadr, the militia’s leader, was not the reliable friend that Maliki had believed.

The 2007 turnaround in Iraq was remarkable, but it was also oversold. It was not due entirely to the surge or to COIN or to Petraeus personally. There were other factors, which had little to do with anything the Americans had done (apart from invading Iraq and thus ripping its social fabric apart in the first place). Petraeus’ command and the surge came late to the civil war. Many areas of violence had already been cleared through ethnic cleansing and the exile of hundreds of thousands of Sunnis. Moreover, the Sunnis would not have been so eager to split with the jihadists, much less ally with the Americans, had they not realized that they were losing the civil war against the Shiites. Similarly, Maliki consented to U.S. assaults on Shiite militias in part because he had no choice but also because he, too, had come to realize that his erstwhile partner Sadr was at least as much a threat as an ally.

There was also a larger issue. Petraeus frequently said both publicly and privately that the surge was a means, not an end. The idea was to give Iraq’s factions a relatively calm breathing space in which they could work out a durable political settlement, one that reconciled Sunnis and Shiites so as to create truly national institutions, dealt with Kurdish claims of regional autonomy, divided up Iraq’s oil wealth, and resolved property disputes in Kirkuk. Six years later, none of this has happened. The surge and the switch to COIN can be seen, in retrospect, as mere tactical successes at best. At the time, however, they were seen as much more than that, and so they helped shape decisions when it came to the next large-scale escalation.


During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama repeatedly called for sending more troops to Afghanistan. Many thought he was playing politics: Iraq was Bush’s war, therefore bad; Afghanistan was the war Bush had neglected, therefore good. There may have been something to this, but another factor was that one of Obama’s foreign policy advisers was Bruce Riedel. A recently retired CIA analyst with a specialty in South Asia, Riedel possessed a deep knowledge of terrorist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Democratic candidate heeded his briefings on their dangers.

After his election, Obama set about making good on his commitment, putting Riedel in charge of a quick review of policy toward what was now called AfPak. The results of the review were announced at the end of March 2009, enshrining goals for Afghanistan — to “degrade, dismantle, and destroy al Qaeda”; accelerate training of the Afghan military; and build up the Kabul government — and arguing that the best way to accomplish them, at least in the southern part of the country, was through “a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy.” As in Iraq, the new policy was accompanied by a dynamic new commander, General Stanley McChrystal, and some additional troops.

By his own admission, Riedel knew nothing about COIN beforehand and was influenced on this point by one of the members of the interagency group that worked on the review: Petraeus, now commander of Central Command. Most of Obama’s senior advisers backed the idea, again under Petraeus’ influence, but there were two major dissenters. Vice President Joseph Biden favored a “counterterrorism-plus” strategy — just going after the insurgents (using drones strikes and Special Forces raids) and training the Afghan army — on the grounds that COIN would take too long and exhaust the public’s patience. The other skeptic was Gates, who had stayed on as defense secretary. He had been deputy director of the CIA when the Soviets crashed and burned on Afghanistan’s forbidding terrain, and he worried that if the U.S. footprint got too large and intrusive, history might repeat itself.

By late summer, two things had changed Gates’ mind. The first was an article in The Weekly Standard called “We’re Not the Soviets in Afghanistan,” by Kagan (who had made the case for the surge in Iraq), which noted that the Soviets had rolled in with brute force, that their arsenals contained no precision weapons, and that their soldiers had had no experience with COIN. The United States would do things differently. The second was a 66-page secret report by McChrystal, who had conducted his own policy review, with his own team of COINdinistas, after arriving on the scene.

McChrystal embraced counterinsurgency with a rigid literalism, weighing down his officers with incapacitating rules of engagement. The report was leaked to The Washington Post in September, just as the White House was in the midst of another review of its policy on Afghanistan. Obama’s top aides were infuriated, seeing the leak as additional pressure from the generals to jump into a full-scale COIN campaign. At the end of the year, Obama announced a compromise decision: McChrystal would get his Afghan surge (33,000 U.S. troops plus 7,000 more from NATO allies), but they would have a brief window in which to operate; withdrawal would begin in mid-2011.

The new commander was not a newcomer to COIN theory, as some believed at the time. At West Point, where McChrystal was two years behind Petraeus, his favorite course had been the one on revolutionary warfare. But his recent experience lay in the kill-and-capture realm, which he had revolutionized during the Iraq war as head of the Joint Special Operations Command. When reintroduced to COIN as he took command in Afghanistan, he embraced it with the zeal of a convert.

McChrystal’s tenure was not a success. He embraced COIN with a rigid literalism. Galula had defined counterinsurgencies as 80 percent political and 20 percent military action; McChrystal, in his official “COIN Guidance,” put the split at 95/5, weighing down his officers with incapacitating rules of engagement. His intention was to put an end to the free-fire zones and strafing that his predecessor had encouraged. But he had an oddly mechanical view of the strategy’s workings. Planning his first offensive, in Marja in early 2010, he thought the fighting would be over in a week or so, and then, as he told Dexter Filkins of The New York Times, “We’ve got a government in a box, ready to roll in.” Nothing was so simple. The fighting persisted; the “government in a box” was illusory.

That summer, McChrystal resigned after Rolling Stone published an article quoting him and his staff making crude comments about senior U.S. officials. Obama appointed Petraeus to take his place. If anyone could make COIN work in Afghanistan, it was the general who had seemed to make it work in Iraq.

The problem was that no one could make it work in Afghanistan. Sometimes, Petraeus himself seemed to understand this. One chapter of Galula’s book (which he continued to consult) is titled “The Prerequisites for a Successful Insurgency.” The conditions it describes include a weak or corrupt government; a neighboring country that offers safe havens; a predominantly rural, illiterate population; and a primitive economy — precisely the traits that marked Hamid Karzai’s Afghanistan. In the PowerPoint briefing that Petraeus delivered to countless delegations visiting his Kabul headquarters, he titled one slide “Storm Clouds,” listing all these factors as ill omens for the war’s outcome.

But Petraeus’ optimism burst through all too persistently. Petraeus recognized the obstacles, but surmounting obstacles was his specialty; it was what he did, most recently, and remarkably, in Iraq. Intellectually, he understood that the two wars and the two countries were very different; his PowerPoint briefing included a slide that read, “Afghanistan Is Not Iraq.” But Iraq was what he knew best, so it was natural for him to view Afghan problems through an Iraqi prism. His instinctive reaction to each new challenge was to seek a parallel from his years in Iraq (We solved that this way in Mosul. . . . We did this when that happened in Anbar. . . . I said this when Maliki threatened to do that). Once he drew a comparison between Kabul and Baghdad during a conversation with Karzai himself. Afterward, one of his aides, who had worked in both countries, told him bluntly, “Don’t talk about Iraq so much,” adding, “It might be a great mental exercise for you to try not thinking about Iraq at all.” Petraeus nodded and said, “I’m working on it.”

The fact was that there were no parallels to what had facilitated COIN in Iraq: the sectarian and tribal divides were more complex; there was no foundation for, say, a Pashtun Awakening; the main enemy, the Taliban, was homegrown, not foreign. The problem wasn’t Petraeus or McChrystal or even Karzai; it was that Afghanistan was not susceptible to COIN. Eventually, Obama recognized this. He had endorsed a surge and COIN in Afghanistan provisionally, giving the policy 18 months to produce results. The generals assured him, with more hope than analysis, that this was feasible. When it proved otherwise, he pulled out the surge troops and scaled back COIN to Biden’s counterterrorism-plus. Meanwhile, he had killed Osama bin Laden and decimated al Qaeda’s ranks, so he could do all this while declaring victory.

Back in February 2006, at the workshop that Petraeus held at Fort Leavenworth to discuss the COIN field manual, some attendees had questioned the whole enterprise. Were the historical precedents for COINCIA — mainly, colonial wars against Maoist insurgents — relevant against messianic jihadists in failed but sovereign states? If the main goal of a COIN strategy is to help the local government attain legitimacy, what does legitimacy mean and how can it be promoted? And is the necessarily protracted nature of a true counterinsurgency campaign plausible given the U.S. political system’s demand for quick results? Petraeus had written in his dissertation that “Vietnam was an extremely painful reminder that when it comes to intervention, time and patience are not American virtues in abundant supply.” Were he to update his thesis, he might note that Iraq and Afghanistan are now such reminders as well.


As the Age of Petraeus comes to a close, what lessons can be learned? A COIN approach did help produce stunning results in parts of Iraq and Afghanistan, most notably Mosul, Tal Afar, and Anbar Province, whose Awakening then spread to many other Sunni districts. The distinctive thing, however, was that in these areas, the Americans and the local authorities — the mayor, the provincial council, or tribal elders — shared common interests or at least common enemies. But in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the central governments, which COIN was ultimately supposed to strengthen, were another matter. If the identity and interests of a government obstruct the regime’s willingness or ability to govern its people with legitimacy, and if the intervening power has little leverage to alter this fact, then a counterinsurgency campaign may be futile.

The hubbub over Petraeus and his COIN field manual was always overblown. Counterinsurgency is a technique, not a grand strategy. Field manuals are guides for officers preparing to fight in specific settings, and in that sense, a COIN field manual isn’t so different from a field manual for mountain warfare, amphibious operations, or armored combat. If the setting is appropriate and the conditions are favorable, a good field manual can provide a road map for success. But if a mountain is too steep to climb, or a beach is too turbulent to storm, or a field is too cluttered for tanks to maneuver across, then even the best manual won’t help much — and it is a commander’s responsibility to say so.

In assessing the prospects for a COIN campaign, if the insurgents are out of reach, or if the government being challenged is too corrupt to reform, or if the war is likely to take longer and cost more than a president or a nation is willing to commit, then here, too, it is the commander’s responsibility to say so. Few U.S. presidents have plunged into a counterinsurgency on purpose, yet it still tends to happen, one way or another, every generation or so — at intervals just long enough for the lessons of the last such war to be forgotten. It would be good, then, for this generation’s officers, and politicians, to set down the lessons of these COIN wars, so that next time around, the United States might not only fight them more effectively but, more important, calculate more wisely whether to intervene in the first place.


A New Energy Partner for Europe-Alexandros Petersen

Posted by admin On January - 31 - 2013 Comments Off on A New Energy Partner for Europe-Alexandros Petersen


The energy security of America’s European allies is set to receive a boost by an agreement made thousands of kilometers away in the Caspian.

The Shah Deniz consortium, responsible for one of the world’s largest natural gas fields in Azerbaijan, will soon announce that its partners, including BP, Statoil and Total, are buying into the main Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) planned to bring gas to the European Union through Turkey. This non-Russian gas, not flowing through dispute-prone Ukraine, will ensure diversification of routes and supply. The direct beneficiaries will be consumers in southern and central Europe who suffered the most during Russian gas cut-offs in winters past.

Why is this particular agreement so important? It ensures that the gas will get to consumers. For more than a decade, gas distributors in central and southern Europe knew that immense gas reserves were to be found in Azerbaijan that could offset the market-dominance held by Moscow’s Gazprom. The problem was how to bring the gas to market. Who would pay for the transit infrastructure? What companies would be willing to contend with Turkey as a transit country that wanted much of the gas for itself? Who would dare take on Russia, which sought to undermine any projects that threatened its stranglehold on captive European markets?

The plan on the table for more than a decade was Nabucco. Named after a grand Verdi opera, the equally grand pipeline project was supposed to bring 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year to Austria’s Baumgarten natural gas terminal. But Shah Deniz in Azerbaijan did not anticipate ever having that much gas to spare, and Nabucco as proposed was impossibly expensive and included a number of pygmy investors that could never realistically fund the project. Thus, the gas in Azerbaijan stayed put, and distributors in Europe focused on the temporary stopgap of building interconnector pipelines amongst themselves to mitigate against Russian gas cut-offs.

Finally, Azerbaijan itself came up with a solution. Instead of waiting for European companies to build an export route, Azerbaijan’s state energy company, SOCAR, decided it would finance and operate its own pipeline through Turkey to southeastern Europe. The Trans-Anatolian Pipeline proposal was much more realistic. At 16 bcm a year, it aligned with Shah Deniz production estimates and crucially did not break the bank. It is now well on its way to beginning construction, with a commissioning date announced for 2018. This is farther than Nabucco ever got in over ten years.

The upcoming announcement of BP, Statoil and Total buying into TANAP together with SOCAR and Turkish state companies BOTAS and TPAO will signal that there is no turning back on the project. TANAP may still partner with the Nabucco team in connecting with a smaller version called Nabucco West in central Europe. But, the days of European consumers waiting for a connection to Azerbaijan are over.

The holders of the gas are now set to bring it to market as well, an extraordinary, if not entirely unexpected, breakthrough for the region. This is just one aspect of SOCAR’s blooming as a major energy player, with plans for refineries in Turkey and maybe Italy, retail operations in Western Europe and international offices as far flung as Washington, DC. In fact, Azerbaijan was best placed to realize the connection between its gas and the people who need it in Europe. Speaking the same language and with much history of collaboration, Azerbaijani decision makers turned out to be much more savvy negotiators with Turkey than European companies. The transit deal between the two countries includes concessions of which even supermajors like BP could only dream. SOCAR will control 51 percent of the dedicated transit pipeline within Turkey, with Turkish companies at a combined 20 percent or less.

Some feared Russian interference. But Moscow has very little leverage over Azerbaijan. As a gas producer, it is subjected to offers of money from Gazprom, not threats of cut-offs. In fact, as TANAP is underway, Russia will be leaving its only military facility on Azerbaijani territory: the radar station at Gabala. Moscow’s own competing pipeline proposal, Southstream, is quickly losing steam amongst European investors and EU transit states.

Sometimes European energy security is best left to those outside of the EU who not only have the gas to provide diversification, but the money and political will to make it happen. TANAP also highlights that in Azerbaijan, Europe now has a new strategic energy partner, not just a source of resources.

Dr. Alexandros Petersen is Advisor to the European Energy Security Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington DC and author of The World Island: Eurasian Geopolitics and the Fate of the West.


The BJP and Nathuram Godse -A.G. NOORANI

Posted by admin On January - 30 - 2013 Comments Off on The BJP and Nathuram Godse -A.G. NOORANI


The trial of the persons accused of participation and complicity in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination opened in the Special Court in Red Fort, Delhi, on May 27, 1948. (Front row, from left) Nathuram Vinayak Godse, Narayan Dattatraya Apte and Vishnu Ramkrishna Karkare.

The Bharatiya Janata Party and its ancestor, the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, have always felt embarrassed and uneasy about Nathuram Godse. They very well knew that Gandhi’s assassin had strong links to their parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). As Gandhi’s Boswell, Pyarelal, records in his memoirs, “members of the RSS at some places had been instructed beforehand to tune in their radio sets on the fateful Friday for the ‘good news’, and sweets were distributed by the members at many places” ( Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase; page 750).

There was another reason besides. V.D. Savarkar’s acquittal notwithstanding, many were convinced that he was privy to the murder; most notably Bombay’s Home Minister Morarji Desai (vide the writer’s article “Savarkar and Gandhi’s murder”, Frontline, October 5, 2012). But Savarkar was also the BJP’s ideologue. He was the one who coined the term Hindutva and distinguished his theme of hate elaborately from the ancient and noble faith of Hinduism.

L.K. Advani began his bid for the Prime Minister’s office in 1990 with the cry of Hindutva which he developed in speech after speech. Fate willed otherwise, not least because of his opportunism, tactical blunders caused by an excess of zeal and, of course, an obscene exhibition of ambition which the country does not like. Advani has fallen by the wayside. To his dismay, a protégé has emerged to lay claim to that very office and on that very plank of Hindutva—Narendra Modi.

Advani’s palpably false denials in his autobiography, My Country, My Life, reflected the embarrassment. Two, in particular, need to be nailed to the counter: One is that “the RSS had some differences with Gandhiji regarding his approach to securing India’s freedom. But these were minor, which never detracted from the high regard the Sangh had for the Mahatma.”

The RSS’s bible is Bunch of Thoughts (1966), written by its longest-serving supremo, M.S. Golwalkar. He pours out his contempt for Gandhi and the Congress in shrill denunciations of both. Advani could not possibly have been unaware of the book. Here are those passages. There were, Golwalkar wrote, in the main “two types of movements against the British rule in our country”. One was the armed revolution by the revolutionaries.

“The other movement led by the Congress has had more disastrous and degrading effects on the country. Most of the tragedies and evils that have overtaken our country during the last few decades and are even today corroding our national life are its direct outcome.” That was the Congress led by Gandhi. A few pages later the reference becomes more pointed even though the name is avoided for tactical reasons. The references are to Gandhi’s plank of Hindu-Muslim unity and to his advocacy of non-violence: “Those who declared ‘No Swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity’ have perpetrated the greatest treason on our society.” So much for Advani’s claim of “the high regard the Sangh had for the Mahatma”.

Imagined and ancient wrongs


The attack on Gandhi becomes stronger when Golwalkar turns to non-violence. “They have committed the most heinous sin of killing the life-spirit of a great and ancient people. To preach impotency [sic] to a society which gave rise to a Shivaji who, in the words of the great historian Jadunath Sarkar, ‘proved to the whole world that the Hindu has drunk the elixir of immortality’, and to break the self-confident and proud spirit of such a great and virile society has no parallel in the history of the world for sheer magnitude of its betrayal. …here, we had leaders who were, as if, pledged to sap all manliness from their own people. However, this is not a mere accident of history. This leadership only came as a bitter climax of the despicable tribe of so many of our ancestors who during the past twelve hundred years sold their national honour and freedom to foreigners, and joined hands with the inveterate enemies of our country and our religion in cutting the throats of their own kith and kin to gratify their personal egoism, selfishness and rivalry. No wonder nemesis overtook such a people in the form of such a self-destructive leadership.” The Sangh Parivar is haunted by imagined and ancient wrongs which it is sworn to correct by attacking Muslims and Christians.

What is meant by self-destruction? Two decades after the assassination, the RSS mouthpiece (Organiser), then edited by K.R. Malkani, could remember Gandhi, on January 11, 1970, only in these terms in its editorial: “It was in support of Nehru’s pro-Pakistan stand that Gandhiji went on fast and, in the process, turned the people’s wrath on himself.” So, Nathuram Godse represented “the people” and he perpetrated the murder as an expression of “the people’s wrath”.

In 1961, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya said: “With all respect for Gandhiji, let us cease to call him ‘Father of the Nation’. If we understand the old basis of nationalism, then it will be clear that it is nothing but Hinduism.”

The Times of India editorially noted on October 17, 1989: “Mr Advani, while holding forth on ‘Bharat Mata’, now goes so far as to deny that Mahatma Gandhi was the Father of the Nation.”

On October 5, 1997, Organiser published an advertisement by a Delhi publisher for six “Readable Attractive New Books”, two of them by Gopal Godse: Qutub Minar is Vishnu Dhwaja and Gandhiji’s Murder and After. The third book advertised was May it Please Your Honour, the assassin’s statement in court. Another was by the judge who ordered the locks of the gate to the Babri Masjid opened on February 1, 1986, in flagrant breach of the law. Organiser is hardly likely to accept advertisements for books critical of the RSS.

On Nathuram Godse, Advani asserts that Godse had “severed links with RSS in 1933… had begun to bitterly criticise the RSS”. This was flatly contradicted by none other than Godse’s brother Gopal, who was also an accused at the trial for conspiracy to murder. He published his book Why I Assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in December 1993. Speaking in New Delhi on the occasion of the release of his book, Gopal Godse revealed what many had suspected—they had both been active members of the RSS ( The Statesman; December 24, 1993).

Soon thereafter, in an interview to Frontline (January 28, 1994), he provided the details and angrily scotched Advani’s attempts to disown them: “All the brothers were in the RSS. Nathuram, Dattatreya, myself and Govind. You can say we grew up in the RSS rather than in our home. It was like a family to us. Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah [intellectual worker] in the RSS. He has said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS.”

Asked about Advani’s claim that Nathuram had nothing to do with the RSS, Gopal Godse replied: “I have countered him, saying it is cowardice to say that. You can say that RSS did not pass a resolution, saying, ‘go and assassinate Gandhi’. But you do not disown him [Nathuram]. The Hindu Mahasabha did not disown him. In 1944, Nathuram started doing Hindu Mahasabha work when he had been a baudhik karyavah in the RSS.”

It was a foolish attempt by Advani to whitewash a sordid record. A similar attempt was made by Ram Jethmalani, on April 13, 1981, at Kochi. Godse and Gandhi “shared the same political philosophy [sic] of a United India” ( The Times of India; April 14, 1981). He was then vice-president of the BJP. Not surprisingly, he is now a staunch supporter of Narendra Modi’s ambition to become Prime Minister.

Whitewashing a sordid record

Now, a stronger attempt has been mounted by that very Delhi publisher who specialises in books by this tribe (Gandhi and Godse by Koenraad Elst; Voice of India; 183 pages, Rs.250). The back cover lists books by Elst and others attacking Islam and Christianity. The book’s aim is not concealed. Gautam Sen’s foreword makes it clear beyond doubt. Gandhi’s assassination was a “ political offence” committed in justified indignation by a thoughtful man. “Godse’s lengthy speech to the court highlights the profoundly political nature of his murder of Gandhi. Nathuram Godse surveys the history of India’s independence struggle and the role of Mahatma Gandhi and judges it an unmitigated disaster in order to justify Gandhi’s assassination. …The impressive achievement of Dr Elst’s elegant monograph is to highlight the actual ideological and political cleavages that prompted Mahatma Gandhi’s tragic murder by Godse. A refusal to understand its political rationale lends unsustainable credence to the idea that his assassin was motivated by religious fanaticism and little else besides. On the contrary, Nathuram Godse was a secular nationalist, sharing many of the convictions and prejudices of the dominant independence movement, led by the Congress party. He was steadfastly opposed to religious obscurantism and caste privilege and sought social and political equality for all Indians in the mould advocated by his mentor, Veer Savarkar.”

Sen adds: “Quite clearly, Gandhi’s assassin was not the raving Hindu lunatic popularly depicted in India, but a thoughtful and intelligent man who was prepared to commit murder.”

Elst laments the consequences of Godse’s deed: “The enormous harm done to the Hindutva movement itself and to larger Hindu interests”. His book seeks to mitigate the damage by whitewashing the foul crime.

Elst nails his colour to the mast in the very first paragraph of his preface. “One of our findings is that while Godse’s act was by definition extremist [ sic], his criticism of Gandhi was in fact shared by many.” Use of the word “extremist” to characterise a dastardly murder reveals Elst’s stripes. He goes on to add: “This way Godse exacted ‘punishment’ for Gandhi’s alleged pro-Muslim policies…. The next morning, the very last issue of the Hindu Rasthra (a Pune-based Marathi daily edited by Godse) carried the news of Gandhiji’s death on the cover in jubilant language.”

Elst has no patience with Advani’s cant, whether on the links with the RSS or with Savarkar:

“The Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS, National Volunteer Corps, or simply ‘the Sangh’), of which Godse had been a member, was banned and forced to comply with government demands, especially the drafting of a written Constitution to remove the impression of its being a secret society. Only after complying was it unbanned and its leadership released from prison. The subsequent RSS habit of paying insistent lip service to the dominant ideologies and institutions is partly due to this humiliating episode, which invested the organisation with a permanent inferiority complex vis-a-vis the dominant secularists in the mould of the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

“The total lack of support from politicians in other parties during this ordeal convinced the RSS rank and file of the need to start a party of their own. This way, Gandhi’s death was a factor in the foundation of the Jan Sangh (1951-77), later refounded as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian People’s Party, 1980), that ruled India in 1998-2004.”

Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Savarkar’s acolyte, founded the Jan Sangh to revive the defeated movement and thus overcome the setback caused by the assassination of Gandhi.

Detailed defence

The book is essentially a detailed defence, para wise, of the points made by Godse in his statement at the trial on November 8, 1948.

“Nathuram Godse keeps on emphasising the democratic and reasonable character of his own political position.” With friends like Elst, the Sangh Parivar needs no enemies. He lets loose some candid admissions: “During Partition, some Sangh workers were active in taking revenge on Muslims inside India (as eyewitnesses have told me), doing some bullying of their own. That similar martial RSS feats took place in the far more dangerous circumstances of the territory allotted to Pakistan has been disputed by the movement’s habitual critics.” Thus, the RSS also performed inside Pakistan.

Quoting approvingly from Godse’s statement, Elst explains that Godse “thought that Gandhi had become an obstacle to the well-being of the nation to which both of them were devoted. In that case, the interests of the nation had to be put before the lives of its servants.”

On Godse’s disassociation with the RSS, we are told “Nathuram contrived to create the impression that the RSS had little to do with him, simply to avoid creating more trouble for the RSS in the difficult post-assassination months”. Gopal explains: “He has said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS.”

There is really no controversy here. Nathuram Godse never rejected the RSS, but he was not functioning within the RSS structure in the years before the murder. He had chosen to do political work, whereas the RSS scrupulously stayed out of party politics. Ideologically, he still was an RSS man.

As for Savarkar, “Godse was an ardent follower” of his. After a thorough probe a former judge of the Supreme Court, Justice J.L. Kapur, held that “all these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group”.

The Sessions Court did not hear the testimony of Savarkar’s bodyguard Appa Ramachandra Kasar and his secretary Gajanan Vishnu Damle in the trial proceedings in 1948-49. The omission is inexplicable. Both, however, testified after Savarkar’s death to the Kapur Commission in 1965-66; crucially on Godse and [Narayan] Apte’s visit to Savarkar on January 23, 1948. Ambiguity on their earlier visits on January 14 and 17 led to Savarkar’s acquittal. Both “sat with him in the garden” and he had blessed them on January 17, “ Yashasvi houn ya” (Be successful and come).

On February 26, 2003, the BJP regime had Savarkar’s portrait installed in Parliament House where Gandhi’s portrait had stood for years. It was out to redefine India’s polity. Whitewashing Savarkar and Godse is part of that sordid game. Would you shake hands with an assassin of any of your kin who is acquitted by the court in circumstances like these? Would the leaders of the BJP or the RSS? Yet they want the nation to accept him as a hero because he articulated their credo of communal hate. This represents their true character, their false apologies notwithstanding.


* * *
Savarkar’s unparalleled record!

Gruesome murders

“The zealot whose unseen hard hands had controlled the flow of at least three political assassinations.” – Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre.

1. 1909: Col. Sir William Curzon Wyllie, an India House official, executed through Madanlal Dhingra.

2. 1909: A.M.T. Jackson, District Collector of Nasik, through Anant Kanhere.

3. 1931: Sir Ernest Hotson, acting Governor of Bombay, through V.G. Gagate.

4. January 30, 1948: Gandhiji, through N.V. Godse & Co.

Abject apologies

1. Lodged in Cellular Jail at the Andamans on July 4, 1911. Within six months Savarkar petitioned for mercy.

2. November 23, 1913: A Note by Home Member Sir Reginald Craddock recording Savarkar’s plea for mercy when he met him in prison in October 1913.

3. November 14, 1913: A second mercy petition within a year. “I am ready to serve the government in any capacity they like….”

4. March 22, 1920: The Home Member of Bombay, Sir William Vincent, revealed in the legislature two more mercy petitions in 1914 and 1917.

5. March 30, 1920: Savarkar promises to abide by the Government of India Act, 1919 (For text see Frontline, April 8, 2005).

6. A 1924 apology (published in Frontline, April 7, 1995).

7. February 22, 1948: An undertaking to abjure politics tendered to the Commissioner of Police, Bombay.

8. July 13, 1950: A similar undertaking in the High Court to Chief Justice M.C. Chagla and Justice P.B. Gajendragadkar.

In the entire history of freedom movements all over the world since the dawn of time, is there any other figure with such a remarkable record on either count? Savarkar holds the record on both. The Sangh Parivar and Savarkar deserve each other.

A.G. Noorani

The enemy’s enemy: Disraeli and working class leadership-Ian Birchall

Posted by admin On January - 30 - 2013 Comments Off on The enemy’s enemy: Disraeli and working class leadership-Ian Birchall


At the most recent Labour Party conference party leader Ed Miliband caused a certain amount of consternation by praising Benjamin Disraeli (Tory prime minister 1868 and 1874-80), and repeatedly using Disraeli’s most famous phrase “One Nation”.1 Just to make sure nobody had missed the point, he repeated the words 46 times.2

In invoking the Disraeli tradition Miliband was seeking to occupy territory that recent Tories have apparently abandoned. Margaret Thatcher preferred Friedrich Hayek and scorned “one nation” conservatism;3 John Major preferred Anthony Trollope.

In his early years David Cameron was widely compared to Disraeli4 and firmly identified himself with the Disraelian tradition of conservatism.5 But Disraeli was most relevant to Cameron in his early years as leader, when he was creating a new image and promoting vacuous rhetoric about the “Big Society”. The Disraeli tradition may seem less important now he faces a profound crisis and is under pressure from his party’s right.

But Tories in trouble tend to go back to Disraeli.6 This is not too surprising. Conservative theoreticians are quite thin on the ground, and there is not a wealth of choice of intellectual forbears. Perhaps Miliband hopes to forestall any such move by claiming “One Nation” for himself. Whatever his motives, it is testimony to the enduring memory of Disraeli—as well as to the poverty of thinking in today’s Labour Party.

But what exactly is Disraeli’s contribution to conservatism? Clearly he is a role model for ambitious young politicians. A second-generation immigrant, who attended neither a public school nor a university, he became a highly successful politician, twice prime minister. He was a master of parliamentary manoeuvre and manipulation. His biographer Robert Blake described him as “a politician of genius, a superb improviser, a parliamentarian of unrivalled skill”7—all qualities designed to make him a hero to Tories on the make. He wrote and spoke copiously, and left quotations to serve all purposes; even Thatcher quoted him on occasion.

But in the end the essence of Disraeli is summed up in a single phrase, the sound bite “one nation conservatism”. As is the case with so many famous “quotations” Disraeli did not in fact use the term—it is extrapolated from a famous passage in his 1845 novel Sybil.8

Here Stephen Morley encounters Egremont, the novel’s aristocratic hero, and declares that Queen Victoria reigns over two nations:

“Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.”

“You speak of—” said Egremont, hesitatingly.


There follows a bit of cheap melodrama, featuring sunset and the evening hymn to the Virgin, designed to impress on the reader the importance of this passage, in case she had missed the fact that the novel had the alternative title of “The Two Nations”.9 Even this was not original; ten years earlier Alexis Tocqueville, whom Disraeli knew, had written of “two rival nations”, the rich and the poor.10 In fact this passage is much more problematic than is often assumed. But there is no doubt that it is widely known and represents a current of conservative thinking.

Sybil sold around 3,000 copies at a guinea and a half;11 since this would be several weeks’ wages for most working people, we can assume it was addressed exclusively to a readership of the rich and not the poor. But despite some tedious stretches and a number of obvious absurdities, it remains worth reading as a founding text of British conservatism for those who want to know the enemy better.12

Miliband is not the first on the left to have tried to appropriate Disraeli. Former Labour leader Michael Foot greatly admired Disraeli and wrote an essay on him entitled “The Good Tory”13—something of a provocation to those of us who think that the only good Tory is a dead Tory—in which he stressed Disraeli’s sympathies with the Chartists. This was wishful thinking of the worst order. Veteran Stalinist critic Arnold Kettle likewise commended Disraeli as “extraordinarily intelligent”, arguing that he supplied what Thomas Carlyle had called for, “articulate inquiry into the Condition of England Question”.14 Kettle clearly thought such “articulate inquiry” must come from outside, and, like Carlyle,15 seemed to have had no confidence in the ability of the working class to articulate its own problems.

Frederick Engels was a rather more astute judge. Writing to August Bebel in 1892, he observed: “The Tories, because they are asses, can be induced by some outstanding personality, like Disraeli, to strike out boldly from time to time, which the Liberals are incapable of doing. But when no outstanding personality is available they fall under the sway of asses, as is the case just now”.16 Engels recognised Disraeli’s ability and intelligence, but had no illusions as to which side he was on.

Disraeli was a highly class conscious Tory. Despite—or more likely because of—his origins he identified with the class interests of the aristocracy, and it was fitting that in his last years he was incorporated into this class that he admired so much. But Disraeli also believed that the British ruling class in general, and the Tory party in particular, was failing to face up to the realities of 19th century society, and by so doing was not only neglecting its social and moral obligations, but, more seriously, was putting its own continuing hegemony at risk.17

Thus he could be devastating about the role of the Tory party. As a character in Coningsby put it:

I observe indeed a party in the state whose role it is to consent to no change, until it is clamorously called for, and then instantly to yield; but those are concessionary, not Conservative principles. This party treats institutions as we do our pheasants, they preserve only to destroy them. But is there a statesman among these Conservatives who offers us a dogma for a guide, or defines any great political truth which we should aspire to establish? It seems to me a barren thing, this Conservatism, an unhappy cross-breed: the mule of politics that engenders nothing.18

And he recognised with an acuteness that retains all its relevance today that the Chartists were right to see no real difference between the main parties:

They had long ceased to distinguish between the two parties who then and now contend for power. And they were right. Between the noble lord who goes out and the right honourable gentleman who comes in, where is the distinctive principle? A shadowy difference may be simulated in opposition, to serve a cry and stimulate the hustings; but the mask is not even worn in Downing Street; and the conscientious conservative seeks in the pigeon-holes of a whig bureau for the measures against which for ten years he has been sanctioning by the speaking silence of an approving nod, a general wail of frenzied alarm.19

In particular Disraeli was concerned at the ignorance of the ruling class about the condition of the working class in Britain. As he put it in some unpublished notes:

Imperfect education of the “English Gentleman”—ignorance of the economical sciences—and their power of useful activity circumscribed by their obvious unacquaintance with the wants, feelings and difficulties of the working classes—an ignorance arising out of the exclusive habits of the upper classes. The whole moral and intellectual development of the upper classes must be advanced before the condition of the working classes can be essentially improved.20

He satirises the appalling smug ignorance of Lord Marney, who boasts that he has never seen a factory and does not want to see one.21 Egremont, the novel’s hero, adopts a false name in order to frequent working class circles and find out more about the conditions of the poor.

Disraeli claimed of Sybil that “there is not a trait in this work for which [the author] has not the authority of his own observation, or the authentic evidence which has been received by Royal Commissions and Parliamentary Committees”.22 In fact, there was nothing particularly new as far as factual material was concerned. Like Karl Marx, Disraeli spent a great deal of time studying the Blue Books (reports of parliamentary commissions set up to examine social conditions), and according to one scholar it was his “frequent practice to transcribe phrases, sentences and even short passages, with very little alteration from his sources”. (A less kind critic might have used the word plagiarism.) Some of his sources were rather dubious; thus he drew on the writings of William Dodd who had been hired by Lord Ashley to investigate industrial conditions; in fact it had been revealed that Dodd “had threatened to report adversely…on certain industrialists unless they paid him blackmail”.23 The description of Wodgate is based on Willenhall, but Disraeli deliberately exaggerated the filth and irreligion.24

Hence Sybil is not particularly valuable as a source of information about the working class; if we want that it would be better to go direct to the Blue Books. What is interesting in Disraeli’s novel is what he tells us about the attitude of an intelligent Tory to the working class.

Disraeli’s argument was that the aristocracy was the natural ally of the working class. As one of the young working class women in Sybil puts it: “If we can’t have our own man, I am all for the nobs against the middle class”.25 He saw it as the duty of the Conservative Party to espouse the cause of the common people and to seek to remedy the ills it suffered from.

As a result Disraeli is quite radical in his account of working class oppression. He tells us a good deal about wages and working conditions, about female and child labour, about the squalor and misery of working class housing. He clearly believes that change is necessary, although his solution—of levelling up—lacks plausibility; in Egremont’s words: “The future principle of English politics will not be a levelling principle; not a principle adverse to privileges, but favourable to their extension. It will seek to ensure equality, not by levelling the few but by elevating the many”.26 Any expropriation of the rich was thus ruled out.

Disraeli also recognises quite clearly that the oppression of the working class can lead to violence. Early in the book there are references to rick-burning, and later there is widespread rioting. Disraeli seems to have recognised well before Quintin Hogg that “if you do not give the people reform, they are going to give you revolution”.27 As he put it in a speech in 1848: “The palace is not safe when the cottage is not happy”.28 Disraeli was honest and intelligent enough to know that a ruling class must be able to understand the various forms of rebellion issuing from the oppressed classes. If it cannot understand how they occur, it will be impotent to deal with them. Unlike more timid politicians he was not afraid that explanation might be misinterpreted as justification.29

But that was as far as it went. What Disraeli could not admit into his picture was that the working class was capable of self-activity and self-organisation, that it could produce its own leaders. For to admit that would be to recognise that the working class was capable of developing into an alternative ruling class, thus making the aristocracy and its hangers-on quite unnecessary. As Carlyle summed it up: “If something be not done, something will do itself one day, and in a fashion that will please nobody”.30

As early as 1834 Disraeli wrote: “I deny that a people can govern itself. Self-government is a contradiction in terms. Whatever form a government assumes, power must be exercised by a minority of numbers”.31 Hence Egremont’s insistence to Sybil that the working class are incapable of developing their own leaders: “The people are not strong: the people never can be strong. Their attempts at self-vindication will end only in their suffering and confusion.” Hence their only hope is with the aristocracy: “They are the natural leaders of the people, Sybil; believe me they are the only ones”.32 True, Sybil responds by insisting, with some plausibility, that “the conquerors will never rescue the conquered”. But this is merely to reinforce her previous statement that she is without hope; there is no suggestion that the conquered might rescue themselves.33

Indeed, when she becomes involved in the Chartist agitation, Sybil is fairly rapidly disillusioned. She comes to suspect that “the world was a more complicated system than she had preconceived” (a classic conservative argument—the world is complex, so any attempt to change things will make them worse), and she is particularly shocked by the fact that there are disagreements among her own side: “The People she found was not that pure embodiment of unity of feeling, of interest, and of purpose, which she had pictured in her abstractions. The people had enemies among the people”.34 That such disagreements might be an inevitable consequence of working people thinking for themselves and trying to plan their own future does not seem to have crossed her innocent mind. All she can do is wait for salvation from an implausible dénouement.

Disraeli in some ways admired the Chartists. In a speech of 1839 he declared that “although we do not approve of the remedy suggested by the Chartists, it does not follow we should not attempt to cure the disease complained of”. He recognised that Chartism had a real social base and was not simply whipped up by the seditious, as some of his fellow MPs believed:

I cannot believe that a petition signed by considerably upwards of 1,000,000 of our fellow-citizens can have been brought about by those ordinary means which are always in existence, and which five, ten or 15 years ago were equally powerful in themselves without producing any equal results.

Yet while believing that the roots of the movement were in “an apprehension on the part of the public that their civil rights are invaded”, he remained quite unable to believe that the working class was capable of elaborating its own political programme:

I admit also on the other hand that this movement is not occasioned by any desire of political rights. Political rights have so much of an abstract character, their consequences act so slightly on the multitude, that I do not believe they could ever be the origin of any great popular movement.35

Disraeli did make a certain effort to understand Chartist ideas. While researching Sybil he obtained through his friend the Radical MP Thomas Duncombe the correspondence of Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor, which he perused.36 Just after completing Sybil he met, and tried to find a publisher for, Thomas Cooper, the Chartist poet who had just been released from jail. Disraeli was impressed by him as “a man of great talents, and extensive knowledge”, adding rather ambiguously: “In appearance, Morley to the life!”37

Unlike Carlyle, Disraeli was well aware that Chartism was an expression of powerful proletarian articulacy, with its orators, mass meetings and numerous publications. The description of the torch-lit meeting is quite sympathetic.38 Trade unionism is a rather different matter. The account of Dandy Mick’s initiation into a trade union is presented in terms of heavy parody and would not be out of place in the Daily Mail. It was true enough that trade union organisation in the early 19th century involved a certain amount of clandestinity and oath-swearing. But Disraeli omits to tell his readers the basic reason for this—that trade unions had been illegal organisations. In the absence of this information the rituals can only seem to be a mixture of the sinister and the ridiculous.39

Disraeli takes a relatively relaxed view of working class violence. He sees it as an inevitable product of poverty and oppression, and mocks the aristocratic landlord who insists that rick-burning “originated in purely accidental circumstances; at least nothing to do with wages”.40 Certainly he shows working class violence as alarming, but at the same time it is clear that the state has ample means to control the violence. Disraeli claims a familiarity with mass violence not based on any extensive experience. Thus he writes of “one of those violent undulations usual in mobs”,41 which seems to mean very little but presents Disraeli as a connoisseur of such scenes, which he undoubtedly was not.42

Of the individuals involved in the Chartist movement, the one most sympathetically presented is Walter Gerard, father of the saintly and virginal Sybil. (Sybil herself, though she describes herself as “one of the lower order”,43 is not employed, and aspires to be a nun.) He is shown as a cultured and thoughtful man, sincerely committed to the interests of working people, and as a popular and effective orator. The paradox is that he is not really a worker at all, but an overlooker and hence part of the management structure, in what is rather implausibly presented as a humane and well-managed factory.44

He earns two pounds a week—five times as much as we are told an agricultural labourer receives,45 and nearly seven times as much as my own mother’s starting wage almost 100 years later. As the dénouement shows, he is actually of aristocratic descent—he is a member of the labour aristocracy in more than one sense. He disagrees with Stephen Morley about physical force—Morley is shown as a advocate of moral force. We get the impression that while Disraeli deplores working class violence, he also feels there is something a bit unmanly about moral force Chartism.46 Gerard is provoked into violent resistance at the end of the novel and is promptly killed; his action reflects his courage and spirit of rebellion rather than his good sense.

Bishop Hatton, leader of the riotous Hell-cats in the final section of the novel, is presented as the exact opposite, as the worst type of working class leadership. Yet he too is not a worker at all, having been described by one of the workers of Wodgate as “the governor here over all of us”.47 He is shown as being totally ignorant of the movement he is taking advantage of, not knowing even the five points of the Charter. He degenerates into crude parody when he declares himself an opponent of washing—”I was always against washing: it takes the marrow out of a man”.48

The problem is to explain how he wins support, how indeed he becomes followed more eagerly than the most intelligent and serious leaders. Again Disraeli is underlining his point that the working class is unable to select and recognise its own leaders, and thus constantly falls prey to agitators of the worst type. This is a frequent theme in the novels of the period. In Dickens’s nasty little anti trade union tract Hard Times, he presents the “agitator” Slackbridge:

Strange as it always is to consider any assembly in the act of submissively resigning itself to the dreariness of some complacent person, lord or commoner, whom three fourths of it could, by no human means, raise out of the slough of inanity to their own intellectual level, it was particularly strange, and it was even particularly affecting, to see this crowd of earnest faces, whose honesty in the main no competent observer free from bias could doubt, so agitated by such a leader.49

In other words, Dickens is telling us that he does not believe his own narrative, that the workers in the crowd were too intelligent to be taken in by such an agitator. Something similar is happening with Hatton. The decent and intelligent workers whom Disraeli has introduced us to are scarcely likely to be taken in by such an obvious charlatan.

But the depiction of violence has a clear ideological role. To show the working class as subject to excesses of irrational rage and violence is a very convenient myth. On the one hand it alarms the reader, convincing her of the gravity of the problem. Yet at the same time it confirms that the working class is not fit to rule; it does not have the intellectual or emotional capacity to do so. For Disraeli’s readers that was a profoundly consoling conclusion.

The most complex character is Stephen Morley. He is presented as a man of considerable culture, surrounded by books and immersed in political ideas. He too is not a worker, but a full-time journalist. He is also, it appears, some sort of socialist, although Disraeli does not use the word. In the run-up to the Two Nations speech, Morley tells us: “There is no community in England; there is aggregation, but aggregation under circumstances which make it rather a dissociating than an uniting principle”.50

“Community” is one of those words that mean so many things that they scarcely have any precise meaning at all. It is as difficult to be against community as it is to be for sin. But it seems clear that Morley is in fact some sort of Utopian socialist, probably a follower of Robert Owen.51 This is shown in the passage where he advocates the abolition of the family:

The domestic principle has fulfilled its purpose. The irresistible law of progress demands that another should be developed… Home is a barbarous idea; the method of a rude age; home is isolation; therefore anti-social. What we want is community.

To this the more common-sense Walter Gerard simply responds: “I like stretching my feet on my own hearth”.52 But it would doubtless surprise many “one nation” Tories to know that the roots of their philosophy are in a character who advocated abolition of the family.

As the novel develops we become more and more aware that Morley is a nasty piece of work. He is in love with Sybil, who rejects him. First, despite his attachment to moral force, he physically assaults Egremont; later he tries to seduce Sybil by threatening not to enable her father to escape arrest and imprisonment unless she will submit to him. In short, the “two nations” theme has a very tainted source, reflecting Disraeli’s own ambiguities about the possibility of social reconciliation.

It is always dangerous to attribute the views expressed by a character in a work of fiction to the author himself; Shakespeare would find himself lumbered with a very odd collection of opinions. But it is interesting to ask why Disraeli has made Morley the bearer of the idea of the Two Nations. In her conversations with Egremont, Sybil Gerard several times insists that the gulf between the two nations is “impassable”.53 A “one nation” Tory would have to reject this position. But the only character Disraeli can find to argue the possibility of overcoming the gulf is a social revolutionary who believes in a total transformation of the social order, thus leaving an unresolved paradox at the heart of the novel.54

Like any political novelist Disraeli had the problem of inserting what Irving Howe called “the hard and perhaps insoluble pellets of modern ideology”55 into the course of his story-telling, of achieving a balance between narrative and political advocacy. Disraeli had no compunction about using his narrative voice, and Sybil contains a number of long—and sometimes virtually unreadable—passages where Disraeli sets out his own view of English history. But the absolutely crucial Two Nations speech is put into the very ambiguous mouth of Stephen Morley.

The only reason can be that Disraeli is much more concerned to point to the dangers implicit in the Two Nations than to offer any possible “one nation” solution. So Disraeli can wholeheartedly endorse the socialist critique of society—and Morley (as yet unnamed—perhaps because Disraeli sees there was a problem in reconciling the Two Nations speech with Morley’s later development) is allowed to chill his readers’ blood with the threats inherent in a class-divided society. But Disraeli cannot begin to attribute any legitimacy to Morley’s socialist solution, and so Morley is transformed from hero to villain.

The only working class characters who survive and come out of the story reasonably well are Dandy Mick Radley and Devilsdust. They enter enthusiastically into the rioting, but then abandon their ideals in order to become capitalists, and Disraeli predicts that their descendants will eventually be incorporated into the aristocracy. This, of course, reflects a typical meritocratic myth—that the most talented members of the working class can rise out of it. Of course, Disraeli’s belief in the hereditary principle is compatible with this. Devilsdust is the child of a single mother; his father is unknown. So it is always possible that he originated from a drop of aristocratic sperm.

Disraeli is less sure of himself when dealing with the women characters. Apart from Sybil herself, who is implausibly pure and profoundly serious in her ideas, the other female characters are shown as rather frivolous and light-minded. Barbara Taylor’s Eve and the New Jerusalem shows that there were some very articulate working class feminist socialists around in this period.56 Disraeli in fact met one of these women, Anna Wheeler, but his recorded comments show that he failed to take her seriously: “not so pleasant, something between Jeremy Bentham and Meg Merrilies, very clever, but awfully revolutionary”.57

The dénouement is one of the least satisfactory parts of the novel. (For those who have not yet read the book I should add “spoiler alert” at this point.) It seems Disraeli has grown tired of his political purpose and has decided to resolve the novel in purely personal terms. As the lefty lecturer in David Lodge’s Nice Work points out: “All the Victorian novelist could offer as a solution to the problems of industrial capitalism were: a legacy, a marriage, emigration or death”.58

All four solutions, in one form or another, are used in Sybil. Egremont, elevated to the House of Lords by his elder brother’s death, seems to feel that his parliamentary duties are no longer necessary. Sybil discovers her noble ancestry, enabling her to bridge the impassable gulf and marry Egremont, forsaking the poor who had depended on her charitable gifts. Egremont and his bride go for a year-long honeymoon in Italy.59

For Disraeli it is ignorance and misunderstanding which lie at the root of social conflict.60 Sybil herself, becoming disillusioned with the factionalism of the Chartist leaders, inclines to this view:

She would ascribe rather the want of sympathy that unquestionably exists between wealth and work in England, to mutual ignorance between the classes which possess these two great elements of national prosperity; and though the source of that ignorance was to be sought in antecedent circumstances of violence and oppression, the consequences perhaps had outlived the causes, as customs survive opinions.61

Here Disraeli was undoubtedly wrong. A century and a half on, the ruling class employs thousands of sociologists to poll the opinions of the working class and examine their lifestyles and consumption patterns; while the poor have television screens on which they can inspect the most intimate details of the lives of the rich and celebrated. Yet class struggle continues.

Disraeli took Chartism and the rise of the working class very seriously. But because of his belief that the working class could not produce its own leadership, he seems to have been largely indifferent to the development of socialism on an international scale. The Young England group, in which Disraeli was a leading figure, did have some links with continental socialists; Disraeli’s associate George Smythe was a friend of the French socialist Louis Blanc.62

Disraeli himself dined with Louis Blanc in Paris in 1846, but his recorded comments merely noted that Blanc was small in stature with a “boyish face” and was “agreeable and unaffected”; he seems to have been utterly uninterested in Blanc’s ideas.63 When the 1848 Revolution took place in France, Blanc was one of the two first socialists ever to enter a national government. Disraeli merely noted that “Smythe has gone off to Paris to see his friend Louis Blanc, and some other successful blackguards”.64

Disraeli was initially deeply alarmed by events in France, though he seems to have had little idea about the causes and motivations of the events. On 29 February 1848 he wrote: “The catastrophe of Paris is so vast, so sudden, so inexplicable, so astounding, that I have not yet recovered from the intelligence of yesterday afternoon”.65

But by 13 March he was reassured:

Lionel Rothschild has just returned from Paris, and in much better spirits. He says the Communists have no power whatr [sic], and the only real trouble are the unemployed workmen, but that there are remarkable opportunities at present to occupy them.66

He was particularly concerned, however, with the threat of nationalisation, writing on 10 May:

They will also confiscate the Great Northern Railroad for certain, the workmen having announced yesterday that they will have 1 france [sic] a day increase of wages and half the profit of the line—and if they don’t give up to the workmen, the state will seize all.67

On the advice of the Rothschilds, Disraeli had invested heavily in the French railways, and this clearly preoccupied him more than the ferment of ideas issuing from the Parisian workers.

Disraeli went on writing novels, on and off, for the rest of his life. But he never returned to any extensive treatment of the working class, preferring to portray social groups he was more familiar with. In Lothair (1870) there are references to Fenians and French republican secret societies, but nothing specifically proletarian.68 In his last completed novel, Endymion (1880), there is an intriguing glimpse of a character called Enoch Craggs (once again an overlooker!) who advocates “CO-OPERATION”, and insists that workmen “make the capital … and if they make the capital, is it not strange that they should not be able to contrive some means to keep the capital?”69 But Craggs does not reappear and the theme is not followed up. It is as though Disraeli is aware that the working class is posing some unanswered questions.

That there were such questions is confirmed by a rather strange three-hour meeting that Disraeli had just a few weeks before his death with the eccentric “Marxist” Henry Hyndman. Hyndman bizarrely announced that he was considering doing entry work in the Conservative Party. Disraeli said he did not wish to discourage him, but very realistically reminded Hyndman that if he attempted to advocate “collective control and ownership” in the Conservative Party, he would come up against “a phalanx of the great families who would thwart you at every turn: they and their women”. We have only Hyndman’s account of the meeting, and it is impossible to say whether Disraeli’s remarks reflected mere politeness, or whether he was genuinely interested in the emergent socialist movement.70

Hence the Tory appropriation of Disraeli, inasmuch as it is anything more than superficial rhetoric, is not as simple as it seems. Sybil is a complex and contradictory text; its great merit is that it shows a powerful and class-conscious awareness of the fact that society is profoundly and dangerously divided—that there are indeed two nations. From there to one-nation conservatism is quite a jump—Disraeli had a shrewd grasp of the problem, but little idea of the solution. As a review in the Spectator noted, “philosophical young England can only imagine two models of amalgamating the two nations—killing off the poor, or making them rich”.71

The Young England group was scorned by Marx as embodying “feudal socialism”.72 Robert Blake, from a very different standpoint, came to a similar judgment, seeing it as “the reaction of a defeated class to a sense of its own defeat—a sort of nostalgic escape from the disagreeable present to the agreeable but imaginary past”.73 John Manners, one of Disraeli’s close associates, summed up the group’s vision of an organic utopia in the lines:

Each knew his place—king, peasant, peer, or priest—

The greater owned connexion with the least;

From rank to rank the generous feeling ran

And linked society as man to man.74

This appalling doggerel carried the equally appalling message: “We’re all in it together.”

Disraeli was not a Tory Utopian but a practical politician—and a careerist, if the two are not the same thing. He had no idea how to reconcile the two nations, so he moved on to other things. As Nigel Harris has pointed out, he redefined the argument so that it became a question of uniting two wings of the ruling class, the landowners and the industrialists: “The two nations became one by characteristic verbal sleight of hand, for the two nations had been rich and poor, but they became land and the millocracy”.75

It would be unnecessarily harsh to argue that Disraeli’s sympathy with working class suffering was entirely insincere. But he did not let it get out of hand. Thus in 1850 he spoke and voted against a bill proposing inspection of coal mines because of his connections with the mine owner Lord Londonderry.76

Disraeli played a key role in the passing of the 1867 Reform Bill, which substantially extended the franchise, and went much further than Disraeli’s own original intentions, because of the need to respond to extra-parliamentary agitation.77 Though he may have deplored it,78 Disraeli could doubtless see that further expansion of the franchise was now inevitable. If he maintained an interest in the working class, it was certainly not because he thought it should play an active role in shaping society, but because he realised that the Tory party would need working class supporters. As he wrote to the members of a workingmen’s club: “None are so interested in maintaining the institutions of the country as the working classes. The rich and powerful will not find much difficulty under any circumstances in maintaining their rights, but the privileges of the people can only be defended and secured by popular institutions”.79 If his government introduced legislation that gave certain rights to trade unions, it was doubtless because he recognised that any government would have to come to some sort of accommodation with the emerging labour movement; as he boasted, the new laws would “gain and retain for the Conservatives the lasting affection of the working classes”.80

There was a strong element of pragmatism in Disraeli’s politics; his attitude to public ownership was far removed from that of modern Tories. If Thatcher privatised British Telecom, it was Disraeli who nationalised it in the first place.81

But for the theorist of the Two Nations the question of the nation was ever more important; it was the nation that could reconcile opposing interests.82 Hence in his later years Disraeli’s continuing insistence on the importance of the nation and in particular on the role of the Empire. In a celebrated speech at Crystal Palace in 1872 he insisted that the working classes are “proud of belonging to an imperial country, and are resolved to maintain, if they can, their empire”.83

This preoccupation with nation drew Disraeli towards a fascination with race.84 Heredity and breeding are central themes in Sybil. As one of my students pointed out, even Sybil’s dog Harold is described as having an “air of proud high-bred gentleness”.85 And despite his stress on Englishness, Disraeli never quite forgot his Jewish roots, so that he also stressed the historical role of Judaism, notably in that strange and semi-mystical novel Tancred. It is as though he thought he could belong to two master races at the same time.86

Disraeli was an acute social observer—far more acute in his day than any of our contemporary Tories. But because he denied the working class’s capacity to organise itself and to develop its own leadership, he ended up with a range of contradictory and often reactionary positions. The rhetoric of “one nation” does not lead to any coherent practical policies. Whether deployed by Tories or by Labour, it offers no solutions for our present ills.


1: Version of a paper given to the London Socialist Historians Group conference, “Making the Tories History”, on 26 February 2011.

2: For the full text of the speech see Miliband, 2012.

3: “I am not sure what is meant by those who say that the party should return to something called ‘One Nation Conservatism’. As far as I can tell by their views on European federalism, such people’s creed would be better described as ‘No Nation Conservatism’”-Thatcher, 1996.

4: Oborne, 2010.

5: Cook, 2009.

6: A point I recall Nigel Harris making to the Executive of the International Socialists many years ago.

7: Blake, 1969, p477.

8: Disraeli, 1980. All page references to this edition given in the text. One may, of course, wonder how many present-day Tories have actually read Sybil, just as one may wonder how many of those who applauded Michael Gove’s speech at the 2010 Tory conference on reforming the English literature syllabus had actually read Dryden.

9: Disraeli, 1980, p96.

10: From Tocqueville’s Memoir on Pauperism (1835), cited in Himmelfarb, 2006, p80.

11: Blake, 1969, p192.

12: For comrades who don’t have the time there is quite a useful abbreviated version at www.btinternet.com/~glynhughes/squashed/sybil.htm

13: Foot, 1980, pp42-76.

14: Kettle, 1982, p172.

15: For Carlyle the working class were “these wild, inarticulate souls, struggling there, with inarticulate uproar, like dumb creatures in pain, unable to speak what is in them!”-Carlyle, 1840, p6. Given the flood of oratory and journalism produced by the Chartist movement, one can only conclude that Carlyle was very stupid and very ignorant.

16: Engels, letter of 5 July 1892, in Marx and Engels, 1975-2005, volume 49, p459.

17: Disraeli recognised a wide gap between the frivolity, self-indulgence and ignorance of the actual 19th century British aristocracy, and the historical role he envisaged for that class. There is perhaps a parallel with the way that Georg Lukács distinguished between the empirical consciousness of particular workers and the potential consciousness which can be historically imputed to the proletariat. See Lukács, 1971, p51.

18: Disraeli, 1844, volume I, pp309-310.

19: Disraeli, 1980, p331.

20: Cited Braun, 1981, p86.

21: Disraeli, 1980, p161.

22: Disraeli, 1980, p24.

23: Fido, 1977, p270.

24: Disraeli, 1980, p202ff; Flint, 1987, pp98-99.

25: Disraeli, 1980, p452.

26: Disraeli, 1980, p354.

27: Hogg, 1943.

28: Blake, 1969, p556.

29: Compare the rather less intelligent and more vote-oriented John Major: “Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less”-Major, 1993.

30: Carlyle, 1840, p1. P J Keating argues that this is a common feature of all the novelists of working class life in this period: “It was his [the industrial worker’s] suffering to which novelists drew attention, but his potential power that was their true concern. The possibility that the workers might have ideas of their own about the uses to which this power could be put was discountenanced by the novelists”-Keating, 1971, pp223-224.

31: The Spirit of Whiggism, cited Edwards, 1937, p115.

32: Disraeli, 1980, p334.

33: Disraeli, 1980, p354.

34: Disraeli, 1980, p349.

35: Speech in Parliament, 12 July 1839; cited in Edwards, 1937, pp189-190.

36: Disraeli, 1877, pxiii.

37: Disraeli, 1989, pp168, 170.

38: Disraeli, 1980, p265.

39: Disraeli, 1980, pp267-271.

40: Disraeli, 1980, p143.

41: Disraeli, 1980, p485.

42: Orwell pulls a similar trick in Burmese Days: “Next day the town was quieter than a cathedral city on Monday morning. It is usually the case after a riot”-Orwell, 1935, p283. On exactly how many riots was Orwell’s assertion based?

43: Disraeli, 1980, p234.

44: In many factories it was common practice for overlookers to use gross brutality in disciplining child labour. See the testimonies at www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/IRpunishments.htm There is, of course, no suggestion that anything of the sort occurred at the mill where Gerard worked, but presumably if he was employed as an overlooker, it was in order to discipline labour.

45: Disraeli, 1980, pp153, 143.

46: I would therefore not go along with Paul Foot’s view that: “The central theme of the novel is the distinction between ‘moral force’ Chartism, espoused by the unblemished heroine, Sybil, and ‘physical force’ Chartism, described with obvious distaste”-Foot, 2005, p103.
A similar position is argued by Basketter, 2012.

47: Disraeli, 1980, p207.

48: Disraeli, 1980, p467.

49: Dickens, 1987, pp141-142.

50: Disraeli, 1980, p194.

51: For Owenite advocacy of the abolition of the family, see Taylor, 1983, pp32-48.

52: Disraeli, 1980, p238.

53: Disraeli, 1980, p337.

54: Several critics have noted that there is a problem with Morley. Gertrude Himmelfarb reminds us that “it is Stephen Morley, the Chartist radical, speaking, not Disraeli, the Tory radical” (Himmelfarb, 2006, p81), and Thom Braun considers that “Morley is generally portrayed by Disraeli with a certain amount of irony, if not sarcasm”, which might mean that the whole question of the two nations is a “mere point of rhetoric in terms of the world of the novel” (Braun 1981, pp107, 110). But they do not explore the political implications of this.

55: Howe, 1992, p20.

56: Taylor, 1983, pp57-82.

57: Taylor, 1983, p61. Meg Merrilies was a gypsy described in a poem by Keats.

58: Lodge, 1988, p52.

59: A couple of years later revolution would spread across northern Italy; a republic was declared in Venice in 1848 and an emergent working class began to make its presence felt. See Ginsborg, 1979.

60: Compare Marx’s mockery of Lamartine, who in 1848 argued that the Second Republic would get rid of the “terrible misunderstanding” between classes-Marx, The Class Struggles in France, in Marx & Engels 1975-2005, volume 10, p58.

61: Disraeli, 1980, p350.

62: Millar, 2006, pp231, 234.

63: Disraeli, 1989, p212.

64: Disraeli 1993, p18.

65: Disraeli 1993, p13. Emphasis added.

66: Disraeli 1993, p19.

67: Disraeli, 1993, p26.

68: Disraeli, 1877.

69: Disraeli, 1881.

70: Hyndman, 1911, pp237-245.

71: Spectator, 17 May 1845, cited Braun, 1981, p89.

72: Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, in Marx and Engels, 1975-2005, volume 6, pp507-508.

73: Blake, 1969, p171.

74: Schwarz, 1979, p82.

75: Harris, 1968, p113.

76: Blake, 1969, p296.

77: For a detailed account of Disraeli’s role in this period, see Foot, 2005, pp151-158; also Blake, 1969, pp456-67.

78: As he said on 18 March 1867: “We do not live-and I trust it will never be the fate of this country to live-under a democracy”-cited in Foot 2005, p152.

79: Cited in Briggs, 1970, p294.

80: Blake, 1969, p555.

81: Under Disraeli’s government in 1868 “the first measure of nationalisation was carried when the government passed a bill empowering the Post Office to buy up all the telegraph companies”-Blake, 1969, p495.

82: Robert Blake rather bizarrely claims that Disraeli “simply did not understand nationalism”. As he makes clear, Disraeli understood the nationalism of oppressor nations only too well; it was the nationalism of the oppressed for which he had no sympathy. He even caused great offence to what he referred to as “the Scotch” by refusing to use the term “British” and always preferring “English”-Blake, 1969, pp405, 481.

83: Blake, 1969, p. 523.

84: As Nigel Harris points out, for some conservatives leadership is linked directly to blood and biology since the “magical powers of leaders” are “transmitted through the blood”-Harris 1972, p8.

85: Disraeli, 1980, p244.

86: See, for example, the claim by Sidonia in Coningsby: “The fact is you cannot destroy a pure race of the Caucasian organisation… No penal laws, no physical tortures, can effect that a superior race should be absorbed in an inferior, or be destroyed by it. The mixed persecuting races disappear; the pure persecuted race remains. And at this moment, in spite of centuries, of tens of centuries, of degradation, the Jewish mind exercises a vast influence on the affairs of Europe”-Disraeli, 1844, volume 2, pp200-201.


Basketter, Simon, 2012, “Disraeli: the ‘One Nation’ Tory that Ed Miliband learned to love”, Socialist Worker (13 October), www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=29739

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Braun, Thom, 1981, Disraeli the Novelist (George Allen & Unwin).

Briggs, Asa, 1970, Victorian People (University of Chicago).

Carlyle, Thomas, 1840, Chartism (James Fraser).

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Dickens, Charles, 1987 [1854], Hard Times (Methuen).

Disraeli, Benjamin, 1844, Coningsby (Henry Colburn) (three volumes).

Disraeli, Benjamin, 1980 [1845], Sybil (Penguin).

Disraeli, Benjamin, 1877, Lothair (Longmans, Green and Co).

Disraeli, Benjamin, 1881, Endymion (Longmans, Green and Co).

Disraeli, Benjamin, 1989, Letters Volume IV, 1842-1847 (University of Toronto).

Disraeli, Benjamin, 1993, Letters Volume V, 1848-1851 (University of Toronto).

Edwards, HWJ (ed), 1937, The Radical Tory (Jonathan Cape).

Fido, Martin, 1977, “’From his own Observation’; Sources of Working Class Passages in Disraeli’s ‘Sybil’”, The Modern Language Review, volume 72, number 2.

Flint, Kate (ed), 1987, The Victorian Novelist (Croom Helm).

Foot, Michael, 1980, Debts of Honour (Davis Poynter).

Foot, Paul, 2005, The Vote (Viking).

Ginsborg, Paul, 1979, Daniele Manin and the Venetian Revolution of 1848-49 (Cambridge UP).

Harris, Nigel, 1968, Beliefs in Society (CA Watts).

Harris, Nigel, 1972, Competition and the Corporate Society (Methuen).

Himmelfarb, Gertrude, 2006, The Moral Imagination (Ivan R Dee).

Hogg, Quintin, 1943, speech in the House of Commons, 17 February.

Howe, Irving, 1992, Politics and the Novel (Columbia UP).

Hyndman, Henry, 1911, The Record of an Adventurous Life (Macmillan & Co).

Keating, P J, 1971, The Working Classes in Victorian Fiction (Routledge & Kegan Paul).

Kettle, Arnold, 1982, “The Early Victorian Social-Problem Novel”, in Boris Ford (ed), From Dickens to Hardy (Penguin).

Lodge, David, 1988, Nice Work (Secker & Warburg).

Lukács, Georg, 1971, History and Class Consciousness (Merlin).

Major, John, 1993, interview in Mail on Sunday (21 February).

Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels, 1975-2005, Collected Works (Lawrence & Wishart).

Miliband, Ed 2012, “Conference Speech”, http://labourlist.org/2012/10/ed-milibands-conference-speech-the-transcript/

Millar, Mary S, 2006, Disraeli’s Disciple: The Scandalous Life of George Smythe (University of Toronto Press).

Oborne, Peter, 2010, “Cameron is our Disraeli”, Spectator, 6 January.

Orwell, George, 1935, Burmese Days (Victor Gollancz).

Schwarz, Daniel R, 1979, Disraeli’s Fiction (Macmillan).

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Thatcher, Margaret, 1996, “Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture”, in Robin Harris (ed), The Collected Speeches of Margaret Thatcher (Harper Collins).




All articles copyright © International Socialism unless otherwise stated

Cuba’s future: an assessment-SAM FARBER

Posted by admin On January - 30 - 2013 Comments Off on Cuba’s future: an assessment-SAM FARBER


Samuel Farber is the author of many articles and several books on Cuba. His most recent is Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment, published by Haymarket Books in 2011. This article is based on a talk delivered at the Bildner Center of the CUNY Graduate Center, in New York City, on December 8, 2011. It was transcribed by Matt Korn and adapted by Sam Farber for publication.


I CANNOT really present a synthesis of my book in 20-25 minutes. What I think I can do is present some major themes discussed there that I believe are important. In any case, you should buy the book and find out the rest. The themes I want to concentrate on are the economy, politics, and the issues of racial and gender oppression.

For the last several years, and especially since the Sixth Communist Party Congress in April 2011, there have been many changes, and some reforms—which are not the same thing—in Cuba which the US press has to some extent covered. However, it’s striking to me that one element of what was approved at the Sixth Party Congress that I consider absolutely critical has not been talked about at all. It is a section of the Program adopted at that Congress that is crucial to the development of the Sino-Vietnamese model in Cuba, a model that combines political authoritarianism with openings to private enterprise and capitalism, with the state retaining a very strong role in the economy.

I am referring to the section on enterprise autonomy that was approved at the Sixth Party Congress. These specific changes have not yet been carried out, but are part of the Party Program that is supposed to be implemented over a period of five years. According to this program, state enterprise managers will get a much freer hand in handling those enterprises than has been the case until now. The section on enterprise autonomy also states, among other things, that there will be no more state subsidies for enterprises. This is a perennial feature of enterprises in Cuba: they go to the state for more money because they cannot cover their expenses. The Party Program also created the possibility of bankruptcy for state enterprises, something that happened in China quite a few years after Deng’s reforms began in 1978. That is already being announced in Cuba. Once the enterprises go bankrupt they will be transferred to the non-state sector, which means either privatization or perhaps becoming some kind of cooperative. Last but not least, this section of the Party Program promised the decentralization of some of the prices of the products of state enterprises. This will open the road to competition among state enterprises and between state enterprises and the private sector.

Even though this appears in black and white in the program adopted by the Congress, there is virtually no discussion of that either in the US press or among academic Cuba watchers. Why do I pick up on that particular theme? Because that part of the program fits perfectly well with the interests of a very important cadre of technocrats and administrators in the Cuban economy involved in joint ventures with foreign capital and in the army’s economic enterprises. There is a gigantic entity called GAESA (Grupo de Administración Empresarial, S.A.) that incorporates all the economic enterprises of the Cuban army. GAESA is currently run by Major Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Callejas, who happens to be a son-in-law of Raúl Castro, and who was recently promoted to the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party at the Congress that took place last April. I should add that it is Army officers, either in active duty or retired, who through GAESA or other venues control over half of the Cuban economy.

The combination of this managerial/technical cadre with the party program, opening the road to enterprise autonomy, points to the transformation of the Cuban economy into the Sino-Vietnamese model, with elements of the Russian model of nomenklatura privatization—that is, the members of the bureaucracy individually appropriating enterprises. The Cuban political scientist Esteban Morales Domínguez got into a lot of trouble when he wrote an article pointing to that danger.

From the point of view of the Cuban rulers, there is no alternative to the measures adopted at the Party Congress. This is due to the severe crisis of the Cuban economy: high debt, unfavorable trade balance, very low productivity, and especially capital loss—in short, the economy using up its own capital base. The problem becomes particularly acute with the absence of a USSR to bail the country out, and with Venezuela being unreliable for all sorts of reasons that I cannot go into here.

Why is the Cuban economy in such a mess? Many people, especially the spokespersons for the Cuban government, have historically pointed to the criminal economic blockade that the United States that has been conducting against Cuba for fifty years, which has to be rejected absolutely, both on the principle of national self-determination as well as on pragmatic grounds. It just has to go. Period. Unfortunately, this is not about to happen. But it is absolutely inadmissible. The other side of that coin, which is not discussed by the Cuban authorities, is the disastrous bureaucratic economic system that is devoid of any real incentives. The old saying of East European workers—“they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work”—completely applies to the Cuban economy. It is also an economy of unbelievable waste. There is plenty of waste under capitalism, as we know, but in the Cuban bureaucratic economy there is a different kind of waste.

There are some things that the Cuban system does rather well, however. In most things, in my opinion, the system does a lousy job, but some things they do rather well. The question is: how do you explain that? How do you explain both: the few things that the Cuban economy does well, and the many more things that it does so badly? In my book, I try to take a stab at this question. I don’t pretend to have presented a grand theory, but I do make an attempt to explain it. I borrow from Charles Lindblom’s concept of “strong thumbs and no fingers,” which he discusses in his book Politics and Markets. An economy that has only “strong thumbs” is able to do homogeneous, repetitive activities rather effectively. But when it comes to the discrimination and adaptation for which the fingers of the hand are necessary, it is a total failure. Strong thumbs, no fingers.

Strong thumbs allow that society to line up thousands of children to be vaccinated in a mass vaccination campaign. This is a homogeneous task which is obviously important and which that society can do very effectively. Strong thumbs allow that system, in advance of a hurricane, to prepare and implement a systematic five-step evacuation plan, in sharp contrast with the criminal neglect that we saw in New Orleans in 2005. Those are the sorts of things that it does rather well.

But when it comes to any kind of innovation, discrimination, or adaptation to local conditions, that thumb’s economy is a disaster. That is why it has done so poorly when it comes to agriculture. Not surprisingly, the Achilles heel of the old East European Communist economies was also agriculture. Cuba is also a disaster when it comes to consumer goods. I finished my manuscript in May 2011 (about six months before the book actually came out), and that summer several reports appeared about a crisis with school uniforms involving a shortage of small sizes. That is a classic problem of an economy without fingers. It cannot get it right when it comes to the discrimination, the variety, and the adaptation required for many consumer goods.

So, yes, the economic blockade has hurt the Cuban economy, especially during the first years of the revolution. There is no doubt that removing the blockade—a goal to fight for—will considerably improve the Cuban economy. But to just talk about the blockade is highly misleading. (By the way, Raúl Castro himself has made fun of the notion that everything is to be blamed on the economic blockade.) Clearly, the nature of the bureaucratic economic system is at least as important as the blockade in creating the mess they are now trying to get out of—not by appealing to workers’ control and workers’ management of the economy, thus motivating the workers to give a damn about what they do, but instead by designing another method to keep a state-dominated economy going.

When looking at the Cuban economy and the Cuban polity as a whole, going back to the nineties, but especially in the last few years, we can see that there has been a process of liberalization, but not of democratization. By liberalization I mean the withdrawal of the state, the pulling back of the Cuban Leviathan state, which is what it is, withdrawing from some of the activities that this undemocratic Leviathan used to carry out.

Politically, this limited withdrawal has meant the creation of a certain space for certain elite groups in society, such as academics, intellectuals, and artists, to have a little more freedom to express themselves than was the case before. As a result, there are some good journals of limited circulation in Cuba —Temas for example—where you find excellent articles about problems of inequality, for example by Mayra Espina Prieto, an excellent social scientist, or about racial inequality in Cuba. But when it comes to drawing political conclusions that are problematic, Temas becomes very shy. When it comes to assessing the responsibility of the political leaders, then forget it. That is not going to be discussed in an article in Temas. Nonetheless, it is very good that Temas exists, and I look forward to reading it, notwithstanding its severe limitations. (I don’t look forward to reading Granma, Juventud Rebelde, or Trabajadores, which are continually a pain in the neck.)

So there has been a liberalization in the economic realm and, to some extent, in the political and intellectual realms. But not a democratization of a state that continues to run, and will continue to run, like in China, most of the life of the society—a state that is not subject to popular democratic control and that bans the organizational framework necessary for having popular democratic control. The mass media continues unreformed—run, as always, by the Ideology Department of the Cuban Communist Party, led by a man named Rolando Alfonso Borges, the head ideologue of the Cuban Communist Party. He gives “orientations” to the mass media, the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, and the newspapers, and they peddle the party line. Thus, Juventud Rebelde favorably covered the demonstrations that the Syrian government organized some ten days ago [November 29, 2011]. What the Cuban mass media has reported in the case of the Arab Spring and in the case of Syria is disgraceful—that is the only word for it. I find their disgraceful coverage and support for the regime in Syria, quite frankly, disgusting in this day and age.

The Cuban one-party state continues unreformed. In my book, I discuss in great detail why the so-called popular power is not at all democratic, and why preparations for the Congress were more akin to the suggestion boxes that capitalist managers use in capitalist economies, where workers put in suggestions and the managers pick up on some of them. That is exactly what happened at the recent Party Congress.

I want to make clear that when I object to the one-party state, I object to its political and legal monopoly. I don’t do it from the perspective of a political scientist who might ask, “Now, what would be the ideal party system in a socialist society?” I don’t get into that. Not that it might not be a worthwhile discussion, but that is not my purpose. What I do get into is a reasoned but drastic critique of that party’s monopoly on political organization, and not just of that party, whose monopoly is enshrined in the Cuban constitution, but also of the monopoly of the mass organizations, which have been the transmission belts of that party; the monopoly of a single official trade union; of a single official women’s organization, all of which also have constitutional backing. Let the actual social life of the society, the actual social conflicts within society, determine the number of popular defense organizations and parties.

Let me say something briefly on the issues of racial discrimination and homophobia in Cuba. Traditionally, and even to this day, the Cuban government defines the problems of racism and sexism as leftovers of the Spanish colonial past and of capitalism. I take on that argument in my book. I try to explain that in terms of racism, for example, although the government carried out important reforms, it did not revolutionize race relations on the island. Continuing institutional realities in the media, in housing, and in the correctional system have perpetuated institutional racism. Cuba is one of the top countries in terms of the number of common prisoners (as opposed to political prisoners) per capita. You can find the data in my book: it ranks fifth1—the United States, of course, being number one. Black Cubans are very disproportionately represented among the population of common prisoners on the island.

These phenomena are manifestations of the continuation of institutional racism. Some aspects of Cuba’s institutional racism were changed after the revolution, but the rest was left untouched. Since 1962, and until very recently, the Cuban government maintained that the problem of racism in the island had been solved, and therefore the issue was seldom discussed. This racial silence has a long history, the roots of which I believe are to be found in the 1912 race war in Cuba, which was in fact not a war but a massacre of Black people. The lack of a systematic program of affirmative action, of an authentic multiculturalism, and most of all, the absence of independent political organization of Black people (as in the case of women and workers) have allowed institutional racism to continue on the island.

Similarly, with respect to gays: it is not true that homophobia is simply a leftover of the past. As a matter of fact, a few years after the revolutionary victory, homophobia in Cuba was taken out of the closet of civil society, where it had existed for centuries, and was politicized in order not to liberate but to persecute gays. It became an important element of the creation of a militarized, monolithic culture in Cuba. That was the whole point of it. It is simply false, notwithstanding Fidel Castro’s claims, that his responsibility for the rise of homophobia during the Revolution was limited to his lack of attention to the issue because of the urgency of other, more pressing matters. That is an absolute falsehood: he personally agitated against gays. In his speech on March 13, 1963, on the sixth anniversary of the failed attack on the Presidential Palace, he stated that young gay people had to be prevented from being gay. The old ones, there was nothing you could do about them, he said, but the young ones should be prevented from becoming like them. In that speech he also noted that the countryside did not “produce” gays. Homosexuality was a question of urban degeneracy and decay. He didn’t use those exact terms, but the clear implication was that the decayed, degenerate city produces homosexuality. These ideas were contained in various speeches; the one he delivered on March 13, 1963 was the most important on this matter. So it is simply not the case that he was merely negligent, as he has recently claimed.

It is undeniable that since the nineties, CENESEX (National Center for Sex Education), led by Mariela Castro Espín (a daughter of Raúl Castro), has done good work in this area. But that good work does not solve the problem of the need for gays (as well as women, workers, and Black people) to be able to organize independently of the state to defend their interests. That is the central issue, and not their mobilizing and even protesting when the government says that they can do so. Even though CENESEX has a much more liberal line than the rest of the government, it nonetheless depends on the government’s say-so over what it can do, so in the last analysis and the not-so-last analysis, it is controlled by the government.

Cuban women continue to have the double burden of laboring at the workplace as well as at home. In addition, they are at the center of a very serious issue that is being talked about in Cuba today: domestic violence against women. Women are not allowed to organize independently to deal with that issue. And that is the crucial issue here: the necessary development of independent organizations that will, if necessary, confront the government and its so-called mass organizations.

What is the way forward? It would be presumptuous of me, comfortably living in New York, to preach a program to people in Cuba. All I can say is that for Cuba to go forward, number one, its prospects depend on the total and unconditional rejection of the criminal blockade of the United States. That is a must. There is in addition, the nascent left wing. This developing left should be encouraged and supported, for example by collaborating with havanatimes.com, although unfortunately most people don’t have access to the Internet in Cuba.

I have no illusions that this developing left in Cuba can be a contender for power when a transition comes after Raúl Castro’s demise. But I think that this left can be essential to the development of a progressive opposition to whatever comes about in Cuba: an opposition that unites workers, blacks, women, gays, and others rather than pitting them against each other; that unites the workers, especially those in the winning sectors of the economy, such as tourism, with the workers in the losing sectors, such as “uncompetitive” manufacturing and most of the agricultural sector. In that context, a developing left can play a very important role. But most important of all is that Cubans decide what happens to them, not the people here, and especially not the government here.

1 On Christmas Eve of 2011, the Cuban government pardoned close to three thousand common prisoners, approximately 5 percent of the total number of common prisoners. This may marginally affect Cuba’s world ranking, discussed above. “Nota Oficial,” Diario Granma, Havana, Cuba, December 24, 2011. Vol. 15, no. 358.  Available at http://www.granma.co.cu/2011/12/24/nacional/artic09.html.

International Socialists in the 1960s – Alex Snowdon

Posted by admin On January - 30 - 2013 Comments Off on International Socialists in the 1960s – Alex Snowdon


To mark the 10th anniversary of Tony Cliff’s death in April 2000 Alex Snowdon analyses the development of the radical Marxist’s trailblazing organisation, the International Socialists.
The 1960s was a decade of huge growth for the International Socialists, the predecessors of the Socialist Workers Party in the UK. A thousand members by the end of the tumultuous year of 1968 may not seem special, but the organisation was tiny – around 60 members – at the start of the decade. To grow from 60 to 1000 in less than ten years is extraordinary. It is interesting to survey this period of growth and identify some crucial factors and turning points.

IS entered the 1960s as the Socialist Review Group, founded in 1950 due to a split from the main Trotskyist organisation in the country, the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). It barely grew up to 1960, but then things changed. By 1964 there were at least 200 IS members (the name had changed in December 1962) and by the start of 1968 this had doubled to 400. During the course of 1968 a sharp orientation on radicalised students and the anti-war movement helped enable a surge in membership.

The organisation was theoretically distinctive mainly because of its theory of state capitalism, which understood the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe as a particular form of capitalism – this distinguished the group even from other Trotskyists. The core idea was summed up by the line ‘Neither Washington nor Moscow but international socialism’, whereas most Trotskyists (never mind the broader left) viewed the Soviet Union as at least a degenerated form of workers’ state. The group’s theorising was primarily associated with Tony Cliff.

But just as important as the theory and political analysis was an orientation on interventions (however small) in the outside world, unlike far-left sects that tended to bicker with each other and pay little attention to what lay beyond. This reflected a deep concern with recovering the real tradition of revolutionary Marxism – the red thread of authentic socialism from below – and commitment to embodying and applying that ida rather than seeking ideological purity. Theoretical clarity and an external orientation were vital in pushing the small group forward in a climate dominated by much larger forces like the Communist Party.

CND’s activities in the early 60s proved a useful milieu for SR group members, but it was involvement in the newly-launched Labour Party Young Socialists that drove membership and levels of activity forward in the early 1960s. Ian Birchall, historian of IS/SWP (his biography of Cliff is forthcoming), writes:

“It is against the background of the growth of the CND that the decision by the Labour Party, in February 1960, to launch a new national youth movement, the Young Socialists, must be seen. The Labour leaders were deeply distressed by a decade out of office, a continuing inability to attract young voters, and the sight of thousands of energetic young potential canvassers wasting their time on anti-Bomb marches. They had no affection for youth movements, which were traditionally inclined to be well to the left of the Party.

So the bureaucrats gritted their teeth and launched the Young Socialists-and moreover gave it a relatively liberal constitution. In the short term it paid off – by the Spring of 1961 Transport House was claiming 726 YS branches, and the first national conference had over three hundred delegates. There was a large new spool of fresh fish, and every Trotskyist grouping in existence was getting its fishing rod ready.”

The SR group launched a new paper called Young Guard, in September 1961, to relate to this phenomenon. It wasn’t exclusively the group’s preserve, but SR group members were central to it. This publication and the network around it were somewhat unconventional, at the same time as remaining faithful to Marxist politics:

“It was part of the success of Young Guard that it was able to break out of the traditional milieu of revolutionary politics. The cultural atmosphere around Young Guard – characterised mainly by beer-drinking and folk-singing – may not have met the approval of revolutionary purists or puritans, but it enabled a new generation of young workers to move towards the traditions of Marxist Politics.”

One of the interesting things about this period is how different elements – Marxist ideas, class struggle, movement work – related to each other. According to Birchall:

“The young people who were turning to socialism in this period were mainly workers – manual or white-collar – but they had no traditions of trade union organisation. The typical political evolution of a young comrade at this time was as follows: first get involved in CND demonstrations, then join the Young Socialists, and, via Young Guard, come into IS. It was probably only after this that the comrade was persuaded of the importance of going to his union branch meeting.”

It is interesting to note that young workers constituted a high proportion of new members and periphery, but they weren’t from traditional union backgrounds (and this was at a time when unions were stronger, with deeper traditions of shop stewards organisation, than today). Relating systematically to a wider movement – CND, in this case – was evidently vital for SRG/IS connecting with these young workers. It is also obvious from this account that the publication, Young Guard, was vital in forging those links.

Birchall also indicates the centrality of ideas – of a high political level and theoretical clarity – in strengthening the fledgling organisation:

“Recruits were being made on the basis of ideas rather than activity. Indeed, IS did not have activity of its own, distinct from participating in the activities of the Young Socialists and CND. And the process was not, in strict terms, a radicalisation inside the Labour Party. Those who came to IS at this time, were not longstanding Labour Party members, but young people who had come in around the CND mobilisation.”

It was Marxist ideas that allowed the group to recruit and grow rapidly, despite not having its own independent activity. Immersion in broader campaigns and forums – with a highly flexible approach – combined with political clarity and distinctiveness took the group from 60 to 200 members in just a few years. By 1964 problems of sectarianism in YS, together with the Labour Party’s animosity towards it, meant it was no longer a productive milieu for IS – and consequently tactics and orientation changed.

Of the mid-60s, Birchall writes: “It was during this time that the political and organisational style which was to characterise IS began to develop. This had two main features. The first was a sense of proportion, of the relative insignificance of IS as an organisation. When IS had two hundred members, and the SLL, at best, twice that many, the question at stake was not the ‘crisis of leadership’, the struggle for control between groups of which 98 per tent of workers had never heard. It was the much more modest task of educating those who were around to listen and of striking roots in the class in a small way where this was possible.

The second feature was an awareness that the revolutionary organisation had to be built inside the working class and not in isolation from it. The question was one of involving and developing comrades, not of building walls to preserve the purity of the embryonic party. Hence the flexible attitude to membership taken by the IS group. New comrades were involved in activity, participated in meetings and – somewhat unsystematically – were introduced to the group’s political positions. This was important in that the comrades, while being aware that they were in a tiny minority, felt themselves part of a broader movement – CND or Labour Party left – and thus never had the sense of isolation from reality so easily generated by sectarian politics.”

I quote this at length because, it seems to me, both those aspects are vitally important. The orientation on wider movements and struggles prevented a sense of isolation while keeping members in constant contact with reality. It encouraged an open, non-sectarian attitude. Part of this was a series of attempts to relate to workplace resistance, in however modest a way. A paper, Industrial Worker (renamed Labour Worker shortly after), was launched in 1961 and included articles written by industrial militants. Birchall writes:

“By 1964 Labour Worker had achieved a circulation of over 2,000, and in April 1964 the first Labour Worker conference was held in London, attracting about 150 people. This put the main stress on the coming Labour government and the threat of incomes policy. Steps were being taken to prepare for the struggles to come.”

Building the organisation
In 1964 Harold Wilson led Labour back into government after 13 years of Tory rule. Around this time the small International Socialists (IS) organisation, with around 200 members, abandoned working in Labour Party’s Young Socialists, which had in any case only ever been a temporary tactical orientation.

Having grown from just 60 members a few years earlier, IS was a young group in both senses: still a fairly new organisation, at least for most members, young recruits comprised a high proportion of members. It was during 1960-64 that Paul Foot and Chris Harman had both joined IS, as did Ian Birchall whose history of IS provides valuable material (as does Tony Cliff’s memoir, A World to Win). They were part of a generation of recruits who went on to build an organisation that by the end of 1968 would have 1000 members and a weekly newspaper (the weekly Socialist Worker was launched in September 1968).

CND’s Ban the Bomb march from Aldermaston, 1 March 1963

A crucial feature of the mid-1960s for IS was an increased orientation on the workplaces. Shop stewards organisation in the trade unions was strong at this time: rank and file militancy often won concessions from employers, without the union bureaucracy having much of a role. IS sought to relate its politics to these grassroots workplace militants. There were successes and failures but there were enough successes to help IS increase its membership to over 400 by the start of 1968.

The most important single initative was a pamphlet called ‘Incomes policy, legislation and shop stewards’, written by IS members Tony Cliff and Colin Barker. Despite IS only numbering in the hundreds, an estimated 10,000 copies were sold. Shop stewards themselves constituted a high proportion of those buying and reading this pamphlet, which articulated a distinctively socialist analysis of current government polices and advocated resistance through the power of organised workers.

The pamphlet was more than just a recruiting tool – it was evidently very useful in winning respect for IS from a layer of left-wing workplace reps. It helped give the organisation, which had few members in union positions, a sharper orientation on the rank and file of the trade union movement. Birchall recalls: ‘The Incomes Policy book was an important step forward for IS. It was sold systematically by a process of visiting any discoverable contact in the labour movement. It was widely read and appreciated by militants and enabled IS to be recognised as part of a real movement, rather than as a group of talented but isolated theoreticians.’

The IS newspaper Labour Worker reflected the group’s orientation, as indicated by the title, and served as an agitational tool. There was some success in involving workers in writing for the paper, which had a circulation of about 2000 in the middle of the decade (remarkably impressive for an organisation of that size). Together with the Incomes Policy pamphlet, the paper was clearly crucial in applying IS politics concretely and enabling a modest group to reach a much wider audience.

The more theoretical publication, International Socialism, played a central part in giving IS distinctive theoretical and political positions. Its theoretical edge was an important part of why socialists didn’t just join IS but became actively involved and remained members in the long term. Birchall writes: ‘By the end of 1967 the membership had increased slowly but significantly over 400 as against 200-odd when Labour came to power. More important, it was a membership geared, not simply to arguing the line, but to making interventions, albeit usually very low-level ones and to servicing the ongoing struggle. Without the base, and even more importantly the orientation established in this period, the break-through of 1968 could not have taken place.’

1968 was indeed the big breakthrough: membership more than doubled in less than a year. Just as importantly, IS members were actively involved in a mass movement – the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign mobilised tens of thousands in demonstrations. Opposition to the US war in Vietnam reached its peak, against the backdrop of political upheavals internationally that fed a radical political atmosphere amongst a layer of British youth.

In this climate IS was able to take decisive initiatives like launching a weekly newspaper, as well as intervening in anti-war protests, playing a leading role in student direct action and recruting students in large numbers. The weekly Socialist Worker launched in September was only 4 pages and had modest circulation. But by 1972 it had grown to 16 pages and circulation increased enormously.

There was nothing inevitable about IS building successfully out of the events of 1968. It required a sharp turn to organising in the colleges and thorough, non-sectarian involvement in the Vietnam solidarity movement. Tony Cliff records in his memoir that he personally spent several weeks visiting the London School of Econmoics (LSE) every day and debating with students in the canteen. Intervening in the big anti-war demonstrations meant enthusiastic particpation but also a willingness to engage in serious arguments. Simply repeating anti-war slogans wasn’t enough to win increasingly radical students and young workers to revolutionary Marxism.

Some IS old-timers – which in that context meant those who had been members for 5 years or so – were unsettled by the influx of new members, worrying about the politics being liquidated. There were serious tensions, as a consequence of rapid growth combined with the heady atmosphere of 1968 creating such upheaval in the organisation. But IS survived the debates and intense factional disputes.

The majority of the leadership, around Tony Cliff, argued successfully for greater centralism and cohesion. For example, the new Socialist Worker needed to carry a clear editorial line on issues of the day. This required an elected national leadership providing political direction, with a small team of journalists accountable to the organisation.

Democracy at every level was essential. Local groups of IS members had to discuss and plan local activity in a nationally-agreed framework. Free, open discussion and debate were vital. At the same time it couldn’t be feasible for every headline in the newspaper to be subject to votes at members’ meetings! A democratic centralist combination of free discussion and cohesive action and organisation was required.

The organisation of 1000 grew to over 3000 by 1974. During those years Socialist Worker’s circulation rose to a peak of up to 40,000. IS developed, in these years of upturn for working class struggle, a significant implantation in grassroots union organisation; at one stage there were as many as 40 factory-based branches.

The early 1970s were far more favourable times for revolutionary socialists than most of the previous decade, largely due to high levels of industrial militancy and strikes which had cohered to challenge the Tory government’s authority. It was possible for a revolutionary organisation to take leaps forward. However, it was only in a position to do so because of the persistent work in the 1960s, transforming a tiny group of 60 into a credible organisation of 1000 by the close of 1968.

First published in two parts by Luna17


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