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Archive for October, 2013

Open Marxism and the dilemmas of coherence: Paul Le Blanc’s reflections on the contributions of Michael Löwy

Posted by admin On October - 10 - 2013 Comments Off on Open Marxism and the dilemmas of coherence: Paul Le Blanc’s reflections on the contributions of Michael Löwy


The discovery of a wondrous continent is what it felt like when some of my closest comrades and I connected with Michael Löwy, this remarkable revolutionary Marxist intellectual and activist — himself a blend of Austrian Jew, Brazilian, Parisian, seeming to reach out to the world in all directions, an outstanding modern-day representative of Trotsky’s Fourth International. [1]

The centre of our own universe had been an island of about 2000 people in the United States, which was becoming an increasingly sterile habitat, afflicted by a narrowing “Leninism” as interpreted by a new crop of leaders in our Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the early 1980s. In this universe, Trotskyist “orthodoxy” was being replaced by Castroist “orthodoxy”. This exchange of orthodoxies would presumably connect us with a new revolutionary international, centred in the Caribbean and Central America, destined to lead the world forward to socialism. [2]

In hindsight, this is clearly dubious, but even at the time it seemed so to some of us. Comrades questioning any of this were, however, destined to run afoul of the so-called “Leninist” organisational principles being refashioned by the new SWP leadership to maintain the group’s coherence (under the new leadership’s authority, of course). A darkening shadow was spreading over those of us who were in disagreement, as our expulsions were slowly but surely being prepared. The quality of the SWP’s increasingly closed “Marxism” seemed similar to what Soviet dissident Andrei Sinyavsky had lampooned some years before:

At once, everything fell into place. An iron necessity and a strict hierarchical order harnessed the flow of centuries. The ape stood up on its hind legs and began its triumphant procession toward Communism. The system of primitive communism arose because it was fated to grow into slavery; slavery, to give birth to feudalism; feudalism, to capitalism; and finally, capitalism, to give way to communism. That is all! The magnificent aim is achieved, the pyramid is crowned, history is at an end.[3]

Orthodoxy, if understood as a closed system, is an approximation of death. There had been nothing “orthodox” about Trotsky’s vibrantly dialectical Marxism, nor had this been a quality of the “Fidelista” romantics who had made the Cuban Revolution in 1959. And it was absolutely alien to the fabulous cultural and intellectual convergence that one found in Michael Löwy’s writings, where Lenin and Leon Trotsky were rubbing shoulders with Rosa Luxemburg and Che Guevara, mingling with Georg Lukács and Ernst Bloch, not to mention Antonio Gramsci, José Carlos Mariátegui, Walter Benjamin … and innumerable unorthodox others.

The actuality of Marxism

It may be helpful to step back for a moment to give a sense of this body of thought and practice that Michael Lowy has been associated with. [4]

Karl Marx (1818-1883) and his close co-thinker and comrade Frederick Engels (1820-1895) developed the basic ideas and theoretical approach now associated with what is now called “Marxism”, but which they called scientific socialism. This involved a fusion of what became the separate social science disciplines of economics, sociology, political science, anthropology, and history, undergirded by a philosophical orientation influenced particularly by G.W.F. Hegel and Ludwig Feuerbach, and by perspectives of the Enlightenment and Romanticism. They were no less influenced by the ideas and examples of a wave of democratic revolutions (especially the French Revolution) and the momentous Industrial Revolution, as well as the emergence of the working class and the labour movement. [5]

With a grand philosophical sweep that comprehends reality as an evolving and dynamic interplay of matter and energy, Marxism projects reality as a vibrant totality in which amazing qualities of humanity (creative labour, community, the quest for freedom) have generated technological advances, economic surpluses, and consequent inequalities that — in turn — generate struggles against oppression. This way of seeing history perceived a succession of economic systems nurturing different social structures and cultures. Since the rise of civilization, all the social-economic systems (whether ancient slave civilisations or feudalism or capitalism) have involved powerful minorities enriched by the exploitation of labouring majorities. But sometimes the oppressed labourers fight back and demand a better life — more food, genuine community, freedom — with their exploiters striving to keep them in their place.

While all history has been marked by such class struggles, capitalism is unique, generating technological innovations and spectacular increases in productivity, generating enough wealth — ultimately — to provide a decent life for all people, if only the economy could be made the common property of all. Capitalism’s distinctive economic expansionism naturally transforms a majority of the people into workers, who can make a living only through selling their ability to work (labour power) for payment from the capitalist employer, but whose labour creates the actual wealth that makes society possible and whose life-activity allows for the functioning of society. [6]

Marxists naturally see this working class as being the key to creating a socialist future. The working-class majority must organise to make it so: build large, inclusive trade unions for better wages and working conditions; build powerful social movements to bring changes for the better (reforms); build political power of the working-class majority “to win the battle of democracy” and bring about a transition from capitalism to socialism (which they saw as the extension of “rule by the people” — democracy — over society’s economic life, providing for the dignity and free development of all).

Of course, this way of seeing things, of organising our perceptions of infinitely complex realities, provides a coherence that nonetheless cannot possibly capture the dynamism of all realities. “Theory, my friend, is grey, but evergreen is the Tree of Life”, Lenin had insisted (quoting Goethe). A Marxism that loses this understanding becomes cold and lifeless dogma.

For us, Löwy’s Marxism seemed incredibly warm, multi-faceted and engaged with the complex hues and rhythms of life and revolutionary struggle. It was not a chaos — it had its own coherence, to a large degree supplied by the traditions of classical Marxism that Michael understood and deeply respected. But he was not afraid to challenge and supplement aspects of those traditions, imparting a dynamism and pulsation to those traditions that amazed and delighted us, and gave us strength. This was inseparable, for us, from permanent revolution, whose spirit seemed reflected in Carl Sandburg’s lines in The People, Yes

“Man will never arrive, Man will always be on the way,
He’ll want and want and there’ll be no end to his wanting”.

Permanent revolution

Leon Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution was the target of the SWP leadership’s trashing operation, in 1981, as it sought to transform itself into “a sister party” of the Cuban Communist Party. Fidel Castro and many of his comrades had concluded that survival, in the face of US imperialism, dictated a merger into the world Communist movement, headed by the USSR that had been forged under the dictatorship of Joseph Stalin. To be a proper “sister party” would require a break from the key theoretical perspective of Stalin’s arch-critic. Smuggled into SWP chieftain Jack Barnes’s polemic against permanent revolution, “Their Trotsky and Ours”, were slightly reworded Stalinist theorisations, as rigid and authoritarian as ever. But the SWP’s increasingly anti-democratic version of “democratic centralism” prevented us from openly challenging this even within the confines of our own party.

Little wonder that the book captivating us in 1981 was Löwy’s defence of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution — The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development: The Theory of Permanent Revolution. It was written independently of the SWP’s break from the politics of the Fourth International, but for us it stood as a glowing affirmation of all that Jack Barnes was rejecting. Even the title framed things in an open and liberating manner.

The complex, uneven, swirling patterns of global history created the living context within which the people who constituted the working class and variously oppressed majorities might come together. The essence of the theory was: (1) that in economically backward Russia (where Trotsky developed the theory) only the working class could lead to victory struggles for genuine democracy, which would necessarily bring to power the working class and its allies; (2) that this would open a transitional period leading in the direction of socialism; and (3) that this would necessarily help generate similar revolutionary struggles in other countries — which would be required for the actual realization of socialism in any and all of the countries.

Löwy described the evolution of this perspective in a manner far distant from the dogmatic approach that had become the norm in the SWP:

The idea of permanent revolution only appears in chrysalis in the writings of Marx and Engels: as a series of brilliant and unsystematic intuitions that were largely ignored in the codification of the Marxism of the Second International. It remained for Trotsky in his Results and Prospects to develop the first coherent and operational conceptualization of a permanentist problematic that was rigorously grounded in a sweeping historical theory and socio-economic analysis. Trotsky’s perspective, as we have seen, was a major theoretical and political breakthrough. In particular, it offered a radical alternative to the economistic and vulgar-evolutionist interpretation of Marxism that was hegemonic in the pre-1917 socialist movement, and whose mechanical and pre-dialectical strategic corollary was the theory of stages [i.e., first capitalism must develop fully, only then is a socialist revolution possible — backward counties must restrict themselves to clearing the way only for capitalist development]. This permanentist strategy prevailed … during the revolutionary high-tide of 1917-23 when it informed the practical activities of the Bolshevik Party and the Comintern. [7]

After Lenin’s death, with the failure of revolution outside of Russia, and as the bureaucratic dictatorship crystallised under the leadership of Stalin, Trotsky’s perspective was swept aside. Stalin and his co-thinkers committed themselves to the conception of building “socialism in one country” (which under Russia’s impoverished conditions, with a low level of productivity and not enough necessities to go around, meant the consolidation of bureaucratic power, not socialist democracy). The world Communist movement was converted from a network of liberation into an instrument of Stalin’s foreign policy. In this situation, the various Communist parties were compelled to revert to a theory of stagism — separating the “democratic stage” of the workers’ struggle from the presumably later stage of socialist revolution. For Communists outside Soviet Russia, this meant forming alliances with the capitalists in one’s own country in order to secure some modicum of democracy and social reforms, and (most important) friendly relations with the USSR. Socialist revolution was postponed to an undefined future. “In its consistent and thorough application”, Löwy wrote, “Stalin’s variant of stagism invariably produced tragic defeats for the labor movement; and only those communist parties who in practice went beyond the official limits and pursued an implicitly permanentist line were able to triumph”. [8]

Moving forward to an empirical examination of 20th century revolutions, Löwy was able to offer this sweeping conclusion:

The theory of permanent revolution … was largely able to predict, explain and illuminate the red thread that runs through the twentieth century: the social revolutions in the peripheral capitalist countries. In this sense, it is, in our opinion, a crucial key to the understanding of our epoch. What occurred in Russia, Yugoslavia, China, Vietnam and Cuba correspond closely to Trotsky’s central thesis: the possibility of an uninterrupted and combined (democratic/socialist) revolution in a “backward”, dependent or colonial country. The fact that, by and large, the leaders of the post-October [1917] revolutionary movements did not acknowledge their “permanent” character, or did so only a posteriori and with different terminology, does not alter the unmistakably permanentist character of these revolutions. [9]

Or so it seemed to him, and to many others, in the early 1980s. Three decades after its articulation, what Löwy presented in The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development requires serious re-examination, as will be further indicated below. Here it is sufficient to emphasise the exuberantly unorthodox quality that infuses his defence of Trotsky’s Marxism.

On changing the world

Those of us engaging with Michael’s book on permanent revolution were often inclined to search out and engage with his other writings, particularly English translations appearing in such journals as New Left Review, Telos and Critique. In this period I had the good fortune not only to do this, but also to befriend Michael and to become editor of the “Revolutionary Studies” series for the now-defunct Humanities Press, whose outstanding publisher at that time was Keith Ashfield. One of the first volumes of the series was a collection of 14 essays that I persuaded Michael to pull together, to which he gave the title On Changing the World — which has now been republished, in an expanded edition (four additional essays), by Haymarket Books.

In his preface to this volume, the author tells us that “these essays have only a fragmentary character and do not at all present a systematic picture of this pluralist growth of the Marxist political philosophy or of its dialectical (contradictory) development”. He likens the collection, instead, to revisiting “some high moments of the revolutionary tradition” and also to following “some small mountain roads” within that tradition. He clearly hopes it will be of use for those intent “on changing the world”. [10]

Eight of the essays focus on central aspects of the revolutionary Marxist tradition.

The relationship between the French Revolution of 1789-94 and the revolutionary thought of Karl Marx is explored in all its complexity in “’The Poetry of the Past’: Marx and the French Revolution”. The succinct and illuminating “Rosa Luxemburg’s Conception of ‘Socialism or Barbarism’” suggests that one of Luxemburg’s many contributions to Marxist thought involves an emphasis on “the very principle of historical choice, the very principle of ‘open’ history”. [11]

“Workers of all countries unite!” was the most famous slogan of the Communist Manifesto — but how does one harmonise this elemental internationalism with the complex realities of nation-states, ethnicity and nationalism in the modern world? The way that a variety of Marxists wrestled with this is the focal point of the seminal discussion of “Marxists and the National Question”. Yet another seminal essay is “From the ‘Logic’ of Hegel to the Finland Station in Petrograd”. Here we see the shock of the Socialist International’s moral and political collapse of the face of the First World War forcing Lenin to rethink his Marxism — through an engagement with Hegelian dialectics — helping reconceptualise revolutionary possibilities in 1917.

Dovetailing with this are two other essays — “The First Revolution of the Twentieth Century” (reviewing an outstanding study of early 20th-century Russia, The Roots of Otherness, by historian-sociologist Teodor Shanin) and “The Marxism of Results and Prospects” (concisely covering ground explored in The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development). Both deal with the nature of the Russian Revolution, reflecting uneven and combined development and permanent revolution. In the first of these, Löwy appreciatively describes what some Marxists might see as Shanin’s “heretical” discussion of the peasantry as an anti-capitalist and truly revolutionary force, and even Trotsky (far more than Lenin) comes in for criticism here.

To some extent also fitting into the “mainstream” category are the essays “Gramsci and Lukács” and “Revolutionary Dialectics against ‘Tailism’: Lukács’s Answer to Criticisms of History and Class Consciousness”. Both Antonio Gramsci and Georg Lukács are considered foundational figures in what has become known as “Western Marxism”, often portrayed as a philosophically and culturally oriented Marxism divorced from practical politics, particularly the Communist and working-class movements. As Löwy correctly emphasises, however, while each was steeped in Hegelian philosophy, both were Hegelian Leninists, in the leadership of the Communist parties of Italy and Hungary respectively, immersed in the development of working-class struggle. Focusing especially on Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks and on Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness (and secondarily on the recently discovered Tailism and the Dialectic), he argues that both have much in common. While his political respect tilts more towards Gramsci, he shows that both are well worth reading for those interested in changing the world.

The remaining 10 essays in this volume constitute what the author alludes to as “small mountain roads” — byways less travelled within the Marxist tradition. These include presumably “reactionary” romanticism, utopianism, religion and a rejection of progress. Here we find multiple references to figures in the heretical margins of those identifying with Marxism: Ernst Bloch, Herbert Marcuse, Lucien Goldmann, most especially Walter Benjamin, as well as such decidedly non-Marxist figures as Max Weber and Hannah Arendt (intimate critics of Marxism whose insights may open new pathways of Marxist thought). Löwy’s Marxism involves not simply eloquent reaffirmation, but also insistence on critical renewal — pushing against certitudes, against traditional understandings, to find new ways of understanding the basics of Marxism and to apply those revitalised basics in ways enabling us to engage with more of the complexities that swirl around and within us.

Especially revealing is Löwy’s shift regarding the philosophical-cultural current known as Romanticism — which he characterises in an outstanding essay (“Marxism and Revolutionary Romanticism”) as the nostalgia for precapitalist societies and a cultural critique of capitalism (and one might add an emphasis on emotion rather than intellect). He previously viewed this backward-looking orientation as the opposite of “forward-looking” Marxism, which is grounded in the Enlightenment conceptions of reason and progress. But he came to an understanding that Romantic thought was no less essential to Marx’s own orientation, and it has become crucial for Löwy’s as well. The way Marx affirms the democratic culture and polis of ancient Athens, and of “pre-civilised” peoples who he became aware of through the work of early anthropologists, brings an awareness that “from a human viewpoint and compared with communities of the past, industrial capitalist civilization is in some respects a decline”. The notion among Marxists of inevitable progress, shared with pro-capitalist triumphalists, must give way to “the revolutionary-romantic dimension of Marxism”, which means “enriching the socialist perspective of the future with the most heritage of the past, with the previous treasure of communal, cultural, ethical and social qualitative values, submerged since the advent of capitalism in the ‘glacial waters of egotist calculation.’” [12]

Similar challenges are offered in the other “small mountain road” essays, for example this from “Marxism and the Utopian Vision”:

Scientific socialism must once again become utopian by drawing its inspiration from the “Principle of Hope” (Bloch) that resides in the struggles, dreams, and aspirations of millions of oppressed and exploited, “the defeated of history”, from Jan Hus and Thomas Münzer [martyred Christian-communist revolutionaries of fifteenth and sixteenth centuries] up to the soviets of 1917-19 in Europe and the 1936-37 collectives in Barcelona. On this level it is even more indispensable to open the door of Marxist thought wide to the gamut of intuitions about the future, from the utopian socialists of yesterday to the romantic critics of industrial civilization and from the dreams of Fourier to the libertarian ideals of anarchism. [13]

The challenge of coherence

The approach reflected in these essays — which would be anathema to many partisans of “orthodoxy” — was firmly grounded in a mature commitment to the revolutionary Marxist tradition. This grounding helped ensure the coherence of the analytical and political orientation that would be enriched by the openness advocated and practiced in the essays.

Such coherence is by no means an easy thing to achieve and sustain — especially given the truth of Lenin’s Goethe quote, that the realities of life are so much more vast and complex than even the most sophisticated theorisations. Yet without the coherence of such a theoretical-political framework, opening the door wide to such diverse and often divergent elements can result not in comprehension or creativity, but rather in chaos.

Finding the right balance is an achievement realised in Löwy’s work, to a very significant degree. The blend of coherence and openness was established in his classic study of 1970, The Theory of Revolution in the Young Marx, described quite aptly thirty-five years after:

It is basically an attempt at a Marxist interpretation of Marx, that is, a study of his philosophical and political evolution in the historical context of social struggles in Europe during the decisive years of 1840-48, and in particular of his relationship with the experiences of the emerging working class and the early socialist labor movement. It was through an active exchange with this social environment (as well as with the left-Hegelian currents) that the young Marx formulated the seminal kernel of a new worldview, the philosophy of praxis, which provides the theoretical foundation for his conception of revolution as proletarian self-emancipation. [14]

This early work, along with the later Politics of Combined and Uneven Development, provided the theoretical-political framework that ensured a definite coherence in the creative efforts of this author-activist. It should be emphasised that this reflected the theoretical and practical-political orientation not simply of this individual, but of the global political current in which he played an active and prominent role, the international collection of parties and groups associated with the revolutionary Marxism represented by Leon Trotsky, the Fourth International.

This is hardly the place to review the history and fortunes of the Fourth International, although its own coherence is now certainly less than was once the case. As with the rest of the international revolutionary left, the comrades of the Fourth International are engaged in searching process of critical evaluation and self-evaluation as we seek to learn the lessons of recent decades while preparing for the revolutionary challenges facing us in the period we are now entering. And as part of this process, it makes sense to critically evaluate the contributions of Michael Löwy whose work — along with that of the late Ernest Mandel, George Breitman and a handful of others — represents what might be called “the best of Fourth International Marxism”.

Especially given his intellectual integrity, Michael’s self-evaluation is worth consulting. On the one hand, the outlook presented in his 1970 work on Marx’s theory of revolution, he writes, “remains the best compass to find one’s way in the present confused historical panorama”. In regard to the 1981 book on permanent revolution, on the other hand, he comments: “I feel that much of it has become outdated.” Specifically, he notes, “most of the societies that I characterized as ‘post-capitalist’ have simply restored capitalism, without much resistance from the exploited classes”.[15]

The consequent decision to remove all of part II of the original volume from the 2010 reprint of The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development — more than 80 pages — results in the book having far less coherence than seemed to be the case in 1981. Perhaps a deeper challenge to the coherence of Löwy’s book, however, can be found in the inclination (by Löwy, but also within his Fourth International in general) to see the “democratic” component of permanent revolution as being realised when a Communist Party (the Chinese, the Vietnamese, etc.) took control of the country, and basically to see such a one-party dictatorship, ruling in the name of the working class, as a “stand-in” for the working class actually coming to power.

As Löwy’s self-criticism indicates, this damaging substitution — inconsistent with the best aspects of his general approach — failed to produce the durable results posited by his 1981 study. This does not negate the “permanentist” dynamic that he pointed to in his discussions of the revolutions in China, Vietnam, etc. But their overall meaning seems to have added up to something significantly different than what he and his Fourth International co-thinkers (among whom I must include myself) had projected.

This historical lesson, which corresponds to the stronger elements one can find in Löwy’s work, can actually find its way into a reformulation of his perspective in which, if anything, its coherence will be strengthened. There are, however, two new works of scholarship that challenge other significant aspects of The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development, which must be considered as we conclude our reflections on Löwy’s achievement.

Revolutionary scholarship, revolutionary politics

One challenge is to be found in an outstanding collection of documents, Witnesses to Permanent Revolution, edited with a capable introduction by Richard B. Day and Daniel Gaido.[16] What they document is that Leon Trotsky, while certainly the most famous and brilliant proponent of permanent revolution, it very much emerged in a collective context. The collection provides seven essays by Karl Kautsky, five by the young Trotsky, two by Trotsky’s mentor and collaborator Parvus (Alexander Helphand), three by Rosa Luxemburg, two by David Ryazanov and one by Franz Mehring—none of which easily fits into the alleged “economistic and vulgar-evolutionist interpretation of Marxism”.

In various works (his introduction to a later edition of 1905, comments in The New Course, his autobiography), Trotsky commented that his “permanent revolution” conception overlapped with perspectives of Parvus, Luxemburg, Mehring, and Kautsky—and also Lenin. In The Politics of Uneven and Combined Development, Löwy characterised this as an effort to “minimize the originality of his conception” in order to “play down the supposedly ‘heretical’ nature of the theory of permanent revolution”.[17] Witnesses to Permanent Revolution suggests that Trotsky’s comments were grounded not in political expediency but intellectual honesty.

This also suggests a point Löwy himself emphasises: the revolutionary conceptualisations inherent in the analyses and methodology of Marx himself. Theorists and activists seeking to apply such Marxism to the world around them will naturally come up with formulations going in a “permanentist” direction. One might argue that the later degeneration of the Second International caused Löwy to make assumptions about its adherents’ earlier Marxism that are not fully justified. At the same time, there is a difference between “going in a permanentist direction” and developing a full scale conceptualisation as Trotsky did in the wake of Russia’s 1905 revolutionary upsurge. And here it is important to join with Löwy in refusing to blur the distinctive contribution offered by Trotsky.

The other work of scholarship posing a challenge to The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development is the massive and meticulous study How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? by Neil Davidson. In this volume and in a presentation at the International Socialist Organizations’s “Socialism 2013” conference in Chicago, Davidson argues that Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution is of historical interest only, that especially since the age of “bourgeois revolutions” (not adequately understood by most Marxists, he contends) is now passed, the theory itself is irrelevant.[18] This is well worth considering especially given the high quality of Davidson’s work.

Löwy himself has advanced a view that seems to contradict Davidson’s line of argument:

I think that Trotsky’s theory, on the condition that one doesn’t take it as a closed system that has answers to everything, is a very precious tool to understand the “uneven and combined” nature of the system, and the “combined” nature of the possible revolutionary processes in the capitalist periphery. … It still has the great advantage of pointing to the connection between anti-imperialist, agrarian, democratic and anticapitalist struggles: not one of them can triumph if not “combined” with the others. [19]

One might go further: permanent revolution has application in the capitalist heartland, not simply in the periphery. Struggles for genuine democracy, struggles to end militarism and imperialist wars, struggles to defend the environment from the devastation generated by the capital accumulation process, struggles simply to preserve the quality of life for a majority of the people, cannot be secured without the working class coming to power and overturning capitalism. Such struggles in the here-and-now also have a “permanentist” dynamic. Nor can the revolutionary resolution be secured without the spread of such revolutions to other lands.

Against this line of thought Davidson complains:

To refer to permanent revolution in the context of the United States or any other advanced capitalist country is … to deprive it of any specificity, since there is virtually no country in the world where some precapitalist social form or predemocratic political institutions cannot be found.

While acknowledging this, Löwy (making specific reference to a consistent defence of the environment necessarily spilling over into a transition to socialism) commented: “This is not ‘permanent revolution’ as Trotsky formulated it, but it is a sort of analogous argument”.[20]

Rather than arguing that permanent revolution is irrelevant, then, one could argue that the dynamics underlying Trotsky’s theory are more generally relevant today than ever before. Rule by the people (and all related democratic demands) can only be consistently fought for, and ultimately won, by the working class majority, which must take political power to make it so. The implications of working-class political power necessarily go in the direction of a socialist transition. This struggle must cross borders if it is not to be defeated, and it must triumph worldwide if socialism is to become a reality.

And for any of this to be possible, revolutionary activists must be animated by the creative, critical-minded, outward-reaching, life-affirming approach infusing the essays in On Changing the World.

[1] For information and links, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michae… (accessed July 26, 2013). The conception of “open Marxism” appears to have become contested terrain. A Wikipedia entry on “Open Marxism” has narrowly identified it as “a ‘school’ of Marxism which draws on critiques of Party communism”, having strong “intellectual affinities with Autonomist Marxism” but which is also opposed to “Hegelian Marxism” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_Marxism accessed September 13, 2013). The way it is utilized in the present essay is broader – influenced by Carl Marzani’s The Open Marxism of Antonio Gramsci (New York: Cameron Associates, 1957) and the three-volume collection put out in 1992 entitledOpen Marxism, which its publisher Pluto Press described more simply as involving “a rejection of the determinism and positivism which characterise so much of contemporary left-wing thought.”

[2] Some of the background on this is offered in Paul Le Blanc, “USA: Revolutionary Redemption, lessons for activists — On the history of the Socialist Workers Party”and Paul Le Blanc, “The US SWP in the 1960s – Two reviews”.

[3] Sinyavsky writing as Abram Tertz, ‘On Socialist Realism”, in The Trial Begins and On Socialist Realism (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982), 155.

[4] In the four paragraphs that follow, I draw on a summary developed in Paul Le Blanc and Michael Yates, A Freedom Budget for All Americans: Recapturing the Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in the Struggle for Economic Justice Today (New York” Monthly Review Press, 2013), 48-49.

[5] Biographical information on Marx and Engels, with useful examination of their historical context, can be found in David Riazanov, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, An Introduction ot Their Lives and Work (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973), available on-line at http://www.marxists.org/archive/ria…, and Mary Gabriel, Love and Capital: Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution (New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2011) — both classics, one from 1927, the other a much more recent and incredibly rich contribution.

[6] For discussions of Marxism consistent with what is presented here, see: Phil Gasper, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto: A Roadmap to History’s Most Important Political Document (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005); Paul Le Blanc, From Marx to Gramsci (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 1996); August Nimtz, Marx and Engels: Their Contribution to the Democratic Breakthrough (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000); and Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011).

[7] Michael Löwy, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development: The Theory of Permanent Revolution (London: Verso, 1981), 189.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 198.

[10] Michael Löwy, On Changing the World: Essays in Political Philosophy, from Karl Marx to Walter Benjamin (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2013), xiv.

[11] Löwy, On Changing the World, 95.

[12] Ibid., 1, 6, 11. Löwy’s quote is taken from the Communist Manifesto, more commonly translated into English as “the icy waters of egotistical calculation”.

[13] Ibid., 20.

[14] Michael Löwy, The Theory of Revolution in the Young Marx (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005), vi.

[15] Ibid., vii; “Interview of Michael Löwy by Phil Gasper, 2010”, in Michael Löwy, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development: The Theory of Permanent Revolution, abridged (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2010), 146.

[16] Richard B. Day and Daniel Gaido, eds., Witnesses to Permanent Revolution, The Documentary Record (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2010). Daniel Gaido has unfortunately asserted that I attack this excellent book as “anti-Leninist”, which is definitely not my position — see the review in question: Paul LeBlanc, “Revisiting Permanent Revolution”, International Socialist Review #82, http://isreview.org/issue/82/revisi….

[17] Löwy, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development (1981), 40.

[18] Neil Davidson, How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions? (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012), 621-627; Neil Davidson, “The Irrelevance of Permanent Revolution”, accessed July 26, 2013, at the We Are Many website, http://wearemany.org/a/2013/06/irre….

[19] Löwy, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development (2010), 154.

[20] Davidson, How Revolutionary Were the Bourgeois Revolutions?, 304; Löwy, The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development (2010), 154.


The RSS :The forgotten promise of 1949-Vidya Subrahmaniam

Posted by admin On October - 8 - 2013 Comments Off on The RSS :The forgotten promise of 1949-Vidya Subrahmaniam


The RSS wrote a non-political role for itself as part of an undertaking it gave Sardar Patel. The overt political role it has assumed in 2013 is a breach of that agreement and its own constitution
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s constitution explicitly states that it will stay clear of politics. The constitution itself was written, in 1949, because Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel would have it no other way.

The events of 2013 have comprehensively erased that part of India’s history. The RSS has taken full control of the Bharatiya Janata Party. It has overridden internal opposition to name the party’s prime ministerial candidate. No act can be politically more overt than this.

A mentor

The RSS has always been to the BJP, earlier the Jan Sangh, a mentor the latter could not disobey — because the Jan Sangh was seeded by the RSS whose top pracharaks (propagandists) formed the new party’s intellectual and political capital. In its constitution, the RSS abjures a political role for itself but permits individual swayamsevaks to join any political party.

The RSS has used this caveat to place its representatives in the JS/BJP. From Lal Krishna Advani to Narendra Modi, every BJP leader of consequence has been from the Sangh’s deep bosom and each has had to mandatorily follow a curriculum involving pilgrimages to the Sangh offices in Delhi and Nagpur and deferring to the patriarch’s wisdom.

The unstated part of the BJP-RSS relationship was that the Sangh chief, Sarsanghchalak in RSS parlance, himself would not show his hand. The behind-the-scenes role for the minder was necessitated both by the 1949 undertaking to Patel and to overcome the strong political opposition to Hindutva. The governments of 1977-1979 and 1998-2004 became possible only because the RSS agreed to keep out of sight.

The events of 2013 are remarkable for the reason that the BJP’s need for allies has not translated into the Sangh taking a backseat. Instead, today more than ever before, the mentor is in a frontal, commanding role.

A look at recent history will show that the Sangh’s takeover bid started in real earnest in 2005, following Mr. Advani’s visit to Pakistan and his apocalyptical praise of Mohammad Ali Jinnah delivered straight from the latter’s mausoleum in Karachi. So livid was the Sangh at the transgression that it ordered Mr. Advani removed from the presidentship of the BJP. And though Mr. Advani did become the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in 2009, his unique place in the Sangh was lost forever. The marginalisation of the ideologue started at that point and has ended today in his complete isolation.

The epic clash of 2005, and Mr. Advani’s barely controlled anger at his public sacking by the minder, are best captured in Mr. Advani’s own words. Addressing the concluding session of the party’s September 2005 Chennai national executive, Mr. Advani said an “impression had gained ground” that his party could take “no decision” without the consent of the RSS : “This perception, we hold, will do no good either to the Party or to the RSS. The RSS must be concerned that such a perception will dwarf its greater mission of man making and nation-building. Both the RSS and the BJP must consciously exert to dispel this impression.”

Lesser players had clashed with the Sangh earlier, and paid the price too, but Mr. Advani was beloved of the Sangh, and among the early pracharaks sent to the Jan Sangh. The BJP veteran was blunt when he called the RSS a busybody; in truth, it had always been so. What was unprecedented was the Sangh divesting a leader of Mr. Advani’s stature and vintage of his presidency.

Seven years on, the Sangh has issued another decree — this time to give a leader a double promotion executed in two stages. Narendra Modi’s June 2013 elevation to the BJP’s campaign committee chief, since relinquished by him, was followed in September 2013 by his appointment as the party’s prime ministerial candidate. In 2005, the RSS’s role was inferred, with the evidence coming from Mr. Advani. In 2013, the fig leaf has been cast away.

Mr. Advani, who had resigned from key party posts protesting Mr. Modi’s June 2013 elevation to campaign panel chief, climbed down on the Sangh’s orders — a fact acknowledged in writing by BJP chief Rajnath Singh. This was a first in RSS-BJP history. Mr. Singh’s June 11, 2013 statement to the media said, “Shri Mohan Bhagwat (current Sarsanghchalak) spoke to Shri Advani and asked him to respect the BJP Parliamentary Board (PB) decision and continue to guide the party in national interest.” The BJP’s PB did indeed make a request to Mr. Advani but from Mr. Bhagwat it was a command. The words were gentle but the message was not.

Thus, the takeover bid which started in 2005 was full and final with Mr. Modi’s projection as Prime Minister in September 2013. In June 2013, Mr. Advani wanted that Mr. Modi should not head the campaign panel. That has happened today, proving that the first-stage elevation was a ploy aimed at wearing down internal opposition to Mr. Modi.

‘No politics’

Cut to 1949 and the RSS’s undertaking to Patel to write a constitution, which, among other things, would specify that the Sangh had “no politics” and would remain “devoted purely to cultural work” (Article 4(b) of the RSS constitution; D.R. Goyal, 1979). The written constitution was Patel’s pre-condition for lifting the ban imposed on the RSS in the wake of Mahatma Gandhi’s January 30, 1948 assassination.

Then Sarsanghchalak Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar pleaded not guilty and Patel himself was clear that the RSS was not involved in the assassination. He said this in his February 27, 1948 letter to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and reiterated it later too. However, Patel was strong in the belief that the Sangh’s “violent” ways contributed to the climate in which Gandhiji was killed. Golwalkar’s telegrams to Nehru and Patel expressing shock at the murder did not mitigate the situation.

The government’s ban notification, dated February 4, 1948, did not implicate the RSS in Gandhiji’s murder; it in fact made no mention of the murder. The charge in the text was of violent subversion: “… in practice members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have not adhered to their professed ideals (fostering feelings of brotherhood, love and service among Hindus). Undesirable and even dangerous activities have been carried on by members of the Sangh … individual members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity and murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunition. They have been found circulating leaflets exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect firearms, to create disaffection against the government and suborn the police and the military. These activities have been carried on under a cloak of secrecy …”

On November 14, 1948, the Home Ministry held by Patel issued a press note which said Golwalkar wanted the ban lifted without agreeing to the government’s demand that the RSS reform itself. Further, the note quoted information received from the provincial governments, which showed “that the activities carried on in various forms and ways by the people associated with the RSS tend to be anti-national and often subversive and violent and that persistent attempts are being made by the RSS to revive an atmosphere in the country which was productive of such disastrous consequences in the past…”

Two letters

Prior to this, Patel wrote two significant letters. On July 18, 1948, he wrote to Shyama Prasad Mookherjee, rejecting his defence of the RSS: “The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of the Government and State … as time has marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities … in an increasing measure…”

The letter of September 11, 1948, was to Golwalkar himself. In this Patel lauded the RSS for its service to Hindu society even as he outlined the “objectionable part” which “arose when they, burning with revenge, began attacking Mussalmaans …” Further, “As a final result of the (communal) poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the invaluable life of Gandhiji …” Patel said people’s opposition to the RSS grew when “the RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death.”

So, the charge that led to the ban was not that the RSS was involved in Gandhiji’s murder. The charge was of violence and subversion. (The Sangh was later formally cleared of any connection in the murder). This is what led to Patel’s pre-condition that the RSS write a constitution specifying, among other things, its respect for the Indian flag (the Sangh swears by the Bhagwa flag), its commitment both to function as an open and peaceful organisation and to stay clear of politics. It was a prolonged battle. Golwalkar resisted writing the constitution but Patel won out and the ban was lifted on July 11, 1949.

The RSS has gone back on the promise to keep off politics.


Afghanistan and its Future (I)-Nikolai BOBKIN

Posted by admin On October - 7 - 2013 Comments Off on Afghanistan and its Future (I)-Nikolai BOBKIN



The international scientific conference on Afghanistan will take place in Bishkek on October 10. The invitation list includes ministers, general secretaries and special representatives of the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the Commonwealth of Independent States, special Afghanistan envoys and ambassadors to Kyrgyzstan.

* * *

The President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai has decided to suspend the security agreements talks with the United States giving rise to exasperation on the part of Washington. Barack Obama threatens him with the «zero option» meaning no US soldier will be left on the Afghan soil by the end of 2014. The Kabul’s decision to refuse a direct dialogue with the Taliban which envisions the role of intermediary for the United States causes frustration that could expedite the withdrawal of NATO-led coalition. The US military top brass suggest the pull out should take place before the yearly fighting season, leaving the country to its fate as they have already done in Iraq.

There is a real possibility the Afghan government forces will be left face to face with the Taliban in 5-6 months. The events may unfold according to Syrian scenario. As it is forecast in Moscow, terrorism may «spill over» from one country to another… The question is will the United States withdraw fully and simultaneously, or it’ll be a phased and gradual process with about 9-10 thousand men left behind.

The 100 thousand strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghanistan military are responsible for stability today; the latter is urgently expanding to about 260000 active personnel strength by 2015. With the current strength of 150000 the Afghan military seems to be a formidable force but it lacks professional skills. The US trainers admit the recruits get less combat training to increase their numbers. According to ISAF, the yearly loss is 34, 8% due to desertion, combat casualties, wound retirement and poor retainment rate.

Some areas and military facilities gradually get under Afghan forces control. By March 2014 the Afghan forces have to take over full responsibility for security, though the fighting against the Taliban never ceases. 2013 was the bloodiest year since the coalition forces moved to the country. The Taliban is becoming more active, the coalition forces shy away from combat leaving it to the Afghans who are unprepared to fight the enemy alone. Let’s have a look at the casualties. It was 13-27 per month since fighting resumed in the spring of 2013 for the coalition, while the figure was over 100 dead and around 300 wounded for the Afghan national army, national police and local self-defense units. The Afghan armed forces death toll exceeds three times the losses of coalition in 2010 and 2011, when the US casualty rate was the highest. Kabul stopped to inform about the military losses to avoid undermining morale. The ISAF military think the Afghan forces cannot hold out for long suffering the casualties at present rate.

The Afghan leadership has no confidence in the armed forces too, there is no guarantee the military will not change sides and join the Taliban. Let’s not forget there is a civil war going on, the outside aid failed to address a lot of problems. The majority of experts believe peace and stability are impossible without the Taliban becoming part of the political process. The government thinks the direct talks between Washington and the Taliban (without its participation) is a threat to the country’s sovereignty. The United States believes the direct talks are the best way to put an end to violence. It’s possible the Taliban will take part in the upcoming presidential election in April 2014. The incumbent President cannot run for the third term according to the Constitution and there is no visible successor, and, perhaps, a viable candidate may come from the Taliban ranks, you never know.

Karzai is a Pashtun and a Sunni Muslim; he does not exclude a direct (without the US participation) dialogue with the Taliban, whose members are also Pashtun and Sunni. The presence of NATO was an obstacle on the way of talks but it made him a two-term president. Now the situation is changed, Karzai is leaving in a year at the time ISAF is slated to pull out. Obama is sure a security agreement is to be reached by October, but Karzai is in no hurry to take on clearly defined responsibility till the presidential election is over. This attitude is clearly seen when he says that if the document is agreed on during his tenure, then it’ll be O.K. If not – the new leadership will step in and make the decision. Washington continues to insist the decision should be taken before the election but to no avail. As an oriental man, Karzai is not prone for hasty decisions, besides he has his own calculations. Americans need to know how many servicemen are to stay after the withdrawal but Karzai wants to know what award he is going to get for his presidential approval in case the security agreement is reached. Probably it is to be measured by billions of dollars.

Until now the American war expenditure was up to $12 million. Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald E. Neumann believes the sum will be defined by the size of the remaining force to go up to at least $5 billion a year aside from the embassy’s expenditure. The next year the United States and its allies will have to spend $7, 7 billion to cover up the Afghan military costs while the Kabul’s share will not exceed $2 billion.

The Karzai’s government keeps on plunging into the quagmire of corruption and squandering. According to UN report issued this February in 2012 Afghan people paid $3, 9 in bribes to Afghan state officials. Even Western companies, making their contribution into the country’s restoration process, had to give over $1 billion to grease the palm in order to win contracts. In Washington it is widely believed the expenditure was a waste. The fact that Karzai admits the graft problem makes even stronger the criticism Obama comes under. The US spent over $1 trillion for Iraq and Afghanistan operations, US taxpayers paid totally around 11million dollars an hour to finance the military operations since 2001. It’s impossible to get the American logic, so many human lives lost, so many billions of dollars wasted just to kill one terrorist! Other missions are unaccomplished. It raises questions with the Pentagon and the administration.

The further support of the Afghan government makes no sense for Washington, but it cannot stop spending. The forces pull out will probably be the most costly and complex endeavor in the history of US armed forces. The British have already called the withdrawal the most unique operation in the century though they will have to get only 9 thousand troops out of the country in comparison with the US contingent of over 60 thousand along with weapons systems and logistics. It’s much more complicated than it was in Iraq.

Afghanistan has no access to sea. There are a few alternative routes: the road to Karachi, the railroad going to Russia across Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the air route for cargo aircraft flying to the Persian Gulf. The US Defense Department plans to spend around $80 billion in 2014 for the purpose. The figure is mentioned in the request for additional expenditure submitted to Congress. The 2013 fiscal year was over on September 30, the expenditure was $37 billion. It means the next year’s «zero option» may exceed the present spending twice making expedient the withdrawal postponement. But this scenario will most certainly be opposed by Afghan government and its neighbors, who look forward with fear awaiting the surge of instability in the country.


Bonfire of Illusions: The Twin Crises of the Liberal World-Alex Callinicos

Posted by admin On October - 4 - 2013 Comments Off on Bonfire of Illusions: The Twin Crises of the Liberal World-Alex Callinicos


Bonfire of Illusions: The Twin Crises of the Liberal World
Polity Press, Cambridge, 2010, 179pp, £14.99 pb

Reviewed by Daniel Whittall


Daniel Whittall is studying for a PhD in historical and political geography at Royal Holloway, University of London.

ReviewWith Bonfire of Illusions, Alex Callinicos adds to the ever-burgeoning literature seeking to explore and explain the present crisis of capitalism. Unlike many other volumes on the economic crisis, however, Callinicos emphasises the need to move beyond purely economic explanations both of how the crisis came about, and of what its eventual outcomes might be. Instead, he urges that readers must acknowledge ‘the perplexities of a world in dramatic flux both economically and geopolitically’ (18). On the whole, the book offers a valuable introduction for readers seeking to grapple with these perplexities.

Central to Callinicos’s account is an insistence on the connections between the economic and the geopolitical spheres. The book is structured into two main sections, bookended by an Introduction and Conclusion. In his Introduction, Callinicos makes the case for the connections between the economic and the geopolitical, insisting that the Russian war on Georgia in August 2008 and the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September that same year need to be understood as part of the same historical process. Whilst he casually theorises this period as representing an ‘epochal event,’ courtesy of an all-too-easy reference to the work of Alain Badiou, it is clear that Callinicos understands this fusion of geopolitics with economics as standing for ‘the end of the post-Cold War era,’ represented at its height by Francis Fukuyama’s notion of ‘the end of history’ (1-2). Both the Russian war on Georgia and the collapse of Lehman Brothers are emblematic, in Callinicos’s account, of ‘the apparent weakening or even demise of US hegemony’ (5).

The first, and most substantial, element of Callinicos’s argument is presented in section one, ‘Finance Humbled’. It is customary to begin analyses of the recent economic strife with a focus on finance, and in particular on the various processes of ‘financialization’ through which that sector came to dominate advanced market economies. Callinicos does not stray from this model, but he does produce an account of financialization which is as good as any other I’ve read. He departs from mainstream understanding by explaining that the process of financialization hinges on at least three different meanings of that term. The first is the notion that finance has become the dominant force economically. The second is the idea that finance has become increasingly autonomous from the rest of the economy, and that this has enabled the proliferation of different financial actors, including hedge funds and other elements within the ‘shadow banking sector.’ And thirdly, financialization also means ‘the integration of a wider range of agents in financial markets,’ including banks themselves, the shadow bankers, various capitalist enterprises, and even working class households, none of which are expected to get by any longer without reliance on finance in one form or another.

This tripartite definition of financialization is significant, allowing us to understand better the complex role which financialization plays in the global economy. Indeed, as Callinicos points out, these multiple and unstable definitions of financialization illustrate that ‘[t]he greater the weight of finance, the more then would it destabilize [sic] the economy as a whole’ (34-5). In order to examine the instabilities of finance capitalism, Callinicos evaluates the theoretical resources offered by the work of Hyman Minsky, F.A. von Hayek, and David Harvey. From Minsky, Callinicos draws his insights into the inherent instability of financial markets, whilst criticising Minsky’s failure to interrogate the relationship between finance and the broader capitalist economy. From Hayek Callinicos, focusing on the earliest work by that renowned theorist of neoliberalism, gleans the insight that credit-driven economic expansion becomes unsustainable over time, producing ‘destabilizing [sic] booms’ (44), though he inevitably criticises Hayek’s rejection of state intervention to prevent any subsequent bust. And from Harvey, as well as from Marx, Callinicos derives the insight that such economic crises as we presently inhabit are not extreme events, but are in fact inherent to the functioning of the capitalist system. This last insight allows Callinicos to insist that the current crisis, whilst manifesting itself in the financial sector, did not necessarily begin there, and that instead it ‘exposes the depths of the contradictions that have been at work in the entire process of capital accumulation and not merely, as Keynes and Minsky would contend, the dysfunctions of markets’ (50). From this, Callinicos argues that the present crisis represents the results of three parallel processes – a long-term crisis of overaccumulation and profitability; a chronically unstable financial system; and an increased reliance on credit bubbles as drivers of economic expansion.

The discussion here is detailed, and the arguments persuasive, except perhaps Callinicos’ deployment of Michael Kidron’s ‘permanent arms economy’ thesis – that Cold War arms spending kept profitability in this period artificially high – to explain the lack of any serious recession between 1949-73 (52). There are strengths and weaknesses to Kidron’s analysis, but Callinicos presents it as though the case were already settled, with no discussion of the drawbacks to Kidron’s thesis, nor the fact that Kidron himself would later distance himself from it. Aside from this point, Callinicos offers a solid theorisation of the ways in which the present economic crisis exposed ‘the systemic contradictions with which global capitalism has been struggling for decades’ (94).

The second part of Callinicos’s book, ‘Empire Confined’, develops his emphasis on the importance of the Russian war with Georgia within the context of the present crisis. The argument here is that the economic crisis and subsequent government bailouts undermine arguments about the irrelevance of the state in the neoliberal world, and that the Russia-Georgia war was emblematic of this ‘return of the state’. Callinicos charts the ways in which the financial crisis undermined the authority of supposedly international organisations, such as the EU, whilst nation-states pursued their own agendas and initiatives. Callinicos sees in this process ‘a shift in the balance of power between the state and capital’ (102), with the latter forced to acknowledge its reliance on the former. However, whilst this may have been the case in the immediate aftermath of the Lehman Brothers collapse, the return to business-as-usual since then might lead us to question Callinicos’s assumption that this shift was in any way permanent. One only has to think of the excessive significance attributed to the need to ‘stabilise the markets’ through ‘strong government’ following the recent British election and subsequent hung Parliament to recognise that the market still holds a considerable degree of influence over state powers.

Nevertheless, Callinicos’s argument that the Russian war on Georgia was a response to US efforts to expand NATO influence into Eastern and Central Europe is persuasive, as is his argument that this moment stood for the fight-back of state capitalism – in the form of Russian military strength – against the globalizing forces of international Capital represented in militarised form through NATO. Unfortunately, Callinicos spends far too little time discussing the Russia-Georgia war, or its wider geopolitical implications, for his argument to have the weight which it ought to. Indeed, the war and its geopolitical implications take up a mere 11 pages (106-116), after which Callinicos shifts to a discussion of the threat to US hegemony offered by China. Whilst there is little to quibble with in Callinicos’s discussion of this confrontation, and indeed much to praise in his examination of the challenges which are likely to face both the US and China, the fact that these are affected very little by the specific events of the Russia-Georgia war only serves to detract from the central significance placed on this conflict by Callinicos at the start of his book. Whilst Callinicos acknowledges that the financial crash and Russia-Georgia war are of unequal weight in significance, the fact that the latter is given such a short discussion, and that it serves primarily as a springboard for a discussion of the longer processes underwriting US hegemony and its relationship to China, only undermines Callinicos’s assertion that the events of 2008 were of central geopolitical, as well as economic, importance.

In his conclusion, Callinicos argues for ‘system change’ in response to the crises in the ‘Liberal World.’ He focuses in particular on the argument for ‘democratic planning’ of the economy, an important idea in the push towards greater economic democracy and a direct challenge to the work of autonomist thinkers such as Hardt and Negri and John Holloway. Again, however, he spends too little time on important and complex problems for them to be developed in a fully persuasive manner. This drawback is most evident in his discussion of the system of ‘universal direct income’ payable to all citizens as a challenge to the power of the capitalist labour market. Treating such a complex system in one paragraph, with no discussion of the complexities of coordinating international action nor of the challenges and opposition which such a system would come up against, leaves it feeling lightweight to say the least.

Despite these criticisms, Bonfire of Illusions is an important book for anybody wanting an introduction to how Marxist political economy can help to understand the times in which we live. It draws on the work of a diverse array of thinkers, engaging fully and constructively with a wide variety of non-Marxists. Whilst it ultimately fails to fully live up to its promise of linking the economic and the geopolitical strands of analysis, that is not to say that the effort to do so was not itself worthwhile.


Saudis Stung by Obama Iran Initiative-David Andrew Weinberg

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2013 Comments Off on Saudis Stung by Obama Iran Initiative-David Andrew Weinberg


President Obama’s Friday telephone call with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani—the first at such a level in over three decades—has exacerbated existing problems between the United States and its Saudi ally. Now we learn that Saudi Arabia cancelled its address at the United Nations, evidently in protest at recent shifts in U.S. policy.

The Saudi royal family has seen Iran as a threat to their survival ever since 1979, when Iranian leaders began encouraging Shi’ite communities in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province to rebel. Subsequently, the Kingdom has been engaged in a regional battle for influence with Iran, and the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq removed a traditional counterweight to Iranian power. Sunni rulers now fear a Shi’ite crescent stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean—and possibly south into the Arab Gulf states.

Fearing Iranian advances, the Kingdom spearheaded a 2011 military intervention by the Gulf Cooperation Council that was designed to rescue the minority Sunni regime in Bahrain from its Shi’ite opposition. But of late, Syria has been the biggest regional source of conflict between Riyadh and Tehran. Saudi officials insist that Syria’s Assad regime is guilty of genocide, and they see Iran’s efforts to rescue Assad as aiding and abetting this slaughter.

The Saudis were therefore incensed when the U.S. backed away from launching a military strike against the regime in Damascus. President Obama’s telephone diplomacy, part of a broader effort to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

Although Israeli sources said that PM Netanyahu would singlehandedly “spoil the party” on Iran at the United Nations, his concerns are actually shared by America’s Arab allies, especially in the Gulf. While Oman facilitated the recent contact between Washington and Iran, the administration has privately received warnings or complaints on this issue from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan and Egypt.

Like Israel, these countries fear that drawn-out negotiations or even an agreement could allow Iran to achieve a nuclear breakout capacity. Regardless, they oppose sanctions relief so long as Iran continues to threaten them with terrorism or political subversion. The Saudi reaction—cancelling an opportunity to address the world community—may be the most blunt articulation of those concerns to date, perhaps trumping even Netanyahu’s tough UN speech.

Of course, the U.S. should not predicate its foreign policy on trying to keep the government of Saudi Arabia happy. However, it is important to recognize that the current diplomatic effort to engage Iran may come at the expense of our relations with the Saudis.

There are several ways the Saudis could respond to this latest challenge. One possibility is to grumble but ultimately give in, recognizing at the end of the day that they depend upon us for regime survival. However, cancelling their address to the UNGA is probably a sign Riyadh is not prepared to let the latest dispute blow over.

Another possibility is for Saudi Arabia to decrease its dependence on the U.S. alliance, either in a fit of anger or as a cold-blooded strategic calculation. The Saudis might turn to Europe or Asia for future military sales or energy transactions. They may also revisit their posture on Syria, arming more extreme rebel groups and sending weapons that the U.S. opposes such as MANPADS.

But paradoxically, a third possibility is for the Kingdom to cut its own limited deal with Tehran. Although the Saudis’ enmity toward Iran runs deep—and involves a prominent sectarian dimension—they have responded this way before when U.S. overtures toward Iran left them feeling exposed.

For instance, when the Clinton administration reached out to Iran’s Khatami government in late 1990s, the Saudis signed their own cooperation agreement with the Iranians and obstructed an FBI investigation into the Khobar bombings because its results would implicate Tehran. During the George W. Bush administration, Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. had trouble engaging Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies on regional cooperation at two key moments: when the U.S. decided to talk with Iran over the future of Iraq, and after the release of the controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that let Iran’s nuclear program off the hook. Following the 2007 NIE, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah invited Ahmadinejad to visit the Kingdom for Hajj, even while privately browbeating U.S. officials to bomb Iran’s reactors.

However far-fetched such a scenario may currently seem, it is not out of the question. Rouhani played a personal role in negotiating the 1998 Iranian-Saudi agreement to expand economic cooperation, including in the energy sector. Since coming to power, he has also described rapprochement with Saudi Arabia as a top priority since coming to power. Although Iranian officials on Tuesday ruled out the possibility, there had even been speculation that Rouhani would be visiting Mecca for the Hajj this month.

In short, the Saudis are deeply unsettled by America’s recent policy shifts on Syria and Iran. In the wake of President Obama’s historic phone call with Rouhani, White House officials worked over the weekend to reassure Arab allies that their interests will factor into any potential diplomacy with Iran. Evidently, more reassurance will be needed if we want to keep the Saudis onboard.

David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He previously served as a Democratic Professional Staff Member at the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.


The Ultimate Nightmare: American Default-John Quiggin

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2013 Comments Off on The Ultimate Nightmare: American Default-John Quiggin


For the first time in seventeen years, the U.S. government has shut down over a budgetary dispute. Not surprisingly, with both sides refusing to move from irreconcilable positions, metaphors of trench warfare are being used freely. But this dispute is more reminiscent of the ‘Phoney War’ of 1939 and 1940. The real conflict will come on or a little before October 17, when the U.S. government runs out of expedients to avoid issuing new debt. At this point, it will be necessary either to raise the ceiling on government debt or to risk unknown and potentially catastrophic consequences.

But why is the debt ceiling much more important than a shutdown of the government?

The shutdown is damaging, to be sure, but it is confined to ‘nonessential’ functions, with the term ‘essential’ being defined fairly broadly. If a shutdown were sustained for a month or more, the consequences would be severe, but the arrival of the debt deadline will render this question moot (unless, the Republicans decide to raise the debt ceiling but persist with their demands on the continuing funding resolution).

The risks associated with a failure to raise the debt ceiling may be seen by considering the worst-case scenario: a formal default on U.S. government debt. This is highly unlikely. Until recently, however, it was inconceivable. The near-miss on the debt ceiling vote in 2011 led Standard & Poor’s to downgrade U.S. government debt from AAA to AA+, saying in effect that default was a possibility. A failure to raise the ceiling, even for a few days, would almost certainly lead to further downgrades from S&P. The other ratings agencies, Moody’s and Fitch, would need to do likewise.

If default is possible, what would it entail?

Even a short-lived default would throw global financial markets into chaos. Most directly, it would mean that the defaulted securities could not be delivered as collateral for financial transactions. Although, presumably, the default would apply only to Treasury securities with payments falling due in October, markets aren’t set up to distinguish between good and bad Treasuries, so they would be thrown into chaos. In addition, Credit Default Swaps on U.S. bonds would be triggered, with unpredictable consequences. Current estimates suggest that the U.S. CDS markets is relatively small: ‘only’ around $23 billion, but with other financial markets facing a rush for liquidity, that could be enough to bring down financial institutions on the wrong side of these trades.

To sum up, in the words of Cardiff Garcia of the Financial Times “an actual debt ceiling breach is essentially Armageddon.” If the deadline for a debt-ceiling increase is passed, such a possibility becomes real.

And, every time the possibility arises, the likelihood of the real thing becomes larger. Any resolution of the current crisis that leaves the way open for similar standoffs in future will ensure further downgrades of U.S. government debt and undermine financial systems based on the assumption that Treasury bonds are riskless assets.

Since a default on U.S. government debt would be utterly disastrous, it seems unlikely that it would actually happen, at least this time. Once the current expedients are exhausted, President Obama would have two options available.

The first would be to repudiate other legal obligations, such as Social Security payments, in order to provide funds to service debt. This would almost certainly cause severe economic damage, as well as a potential legal and constitutional crisis. Given a decision not to make legally obligatory payments, the President would be operating outside the law and therefore effectively unconstrained in choosing which payments to withhold. He could, for example, stop payments to districts with Republican representatives.

The second possibility is to disregard the debt ceiling, most likely by declaring the relevant sections of the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921 to be unconstitutional (an alternative scheme involves directing the Treasury to mint a platinum coin of arbitrary value, but this seems too ridiculous to be considered seriously). Such a declaration would certainly be subject to legal challenge, but the courts might well decide to steer clear. More importantly, it would be open to the Republican House to go back to the option of refusing to pass a budget or continuing resolution.

Even with all these risks, Obama seems likely to stand his ground. Any concession, even the smallest, will legitimate the idea that the threat of default is a legitimate weapon of party politics, to be used in support of any strongly held policy objective. Sooner or later, this idea will lead to disaster.

The potential benefits of an outright win for the President are huge, and not merely in partisan political terms. If the default risk represented by the debt ceiling is removed once and for all, confidence in U.S. assets will increase substantially. The underlying budgetary position of the United States is much better than is commonly supposed and could be improved further in the event of a return to the regular budget process that has been in limbo for the past fifteen years.

There are plenty of reasons for the Republicans to back down. Thanks to the continuing sequester, they have achieved much of what they set out to do in cutting public expenditure, while conceding hardly anything in increased revenues. The big risk they face is that their intransigence may cost them control of the House of Representatives in 2014 or, more plausibly, in 2016.

John Quiggin is a professor of economics at the University of Queensland, Australia and an adjunct professor in agricultural and resource economics at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Image: Flickr/Sh4rp_i. CC BY 2.0.


Workers’ rights under attack:Is Egypt heading for an anti-labour constitution- Faiza Rady

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2013 Comments Off on Workers’ rights under attack:Is Egypt heading for an anti-labour constitution- Faiza Rady

“As far as workers’ rights are concerned the proposed draft of amendments to the Muslim Brotherhood’s 2012 constitution is anti-labour,” says Kamal Abbas, Coordinator of the Centre for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) and a member of the National Council for Human Rights. Abbas was addressing a roundtable debate on social and economic rights and trade union freedoms in the constitutional draft, held on Sunday, 29 September at the Journalists’ Syndicate.

A committee of 50, representing many sectors of Egyptian society, is currently preparing the draft constitution that will eventually be placed before the public in a referendum.

But, writes historian of Egyptian labour Joel Beinin,“the committee of 50 doesn’t include representatives of the newly formed free trade unions”.

“Delegates from the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions (EFITU), the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress (EDLC) and the Permanent Congress of Alexandria Workers (PCAW) are all absent from the committee; its sole labour representative is a member of the ill-reputed, government-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF).”

The Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) was established in 1957 by Gamal Abdel-Nasser as an arm of the state. Its function was to control the workers’ movement.

“Its leadership has always been firmly in the hands of the ruling party, whatever its ideology or name,” writes Beinin. Official figures put Egypt’s labour force at 27 million. Four million are public sector workers affiliated with ETUF. The workers have no choice in the matter. Their membership is part of their employment package. Dues are automatically deducted from their wages. ETUF blatantly contravenes the provisions of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention No. 87 regarding workers’ fundamental right to form and join organisations of their choice, even if these are outside the existing trade union structure.

“The anachronistic survival of the ETUF continues to deny four million public sector and government workers the right to freely organise, while domestic service workers are by law prohibited from organising,” El-Sayed Habib a veteran workers’ rights activist from the Gazl al-Mahalla textile mill, told Al-Ahram Weekly. These provisions constitute yet another violation of ILO Convention No.87, article two of which stipulates that freedom of association is an unalienable workers’ right “without distinction whatsoever”.

Throughout its history ETUF has opposed labour strikes.

“ETUF opposed all but one of the strikes that occurred during the past 15 years,” says Beinin, a significant record given that between 2006 and 2012 an estimated three million workers participated in some three thousand strikes.

“For the working class the constitutional draft is like taking a step forward and a step backward, which takes us nowhere,” says Abbas. “It may constitute an improvement over the Brotherhood’s constitution by guaranteeing public freedoms,civil rights and the effective separation of powers but the same cannot be said of articles addressing industrial action, freedom of association and economic and social rights. Take article 14, which is catastrophic. The article starts out by stating that ‘peaceful industrial actions like strikes and sit-ins are inherent labour rights’, which is all well and good, but then it empowers legislators to regulate such action. In essence article 14 replicates the Brotherhood’s article on the subject, granting legislators the authority to define the margins of industrial action.”

Labour Law No. 12/2013 purported to address revolutionary demands: in fact its text criminalises strikes under the cover of “attempts to delay production”.It denies workers’ the right to strike that is guaranteed under international ILO conventions to which Egypt is a signatory.

“If it gets tiresome to reiterate the same things it is nonetheless crucial,” says Ahmed El-Naggar, director of economic studies at Al-Ahram’s Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. “The aforementioned ILO conventions did not somehow descend on us from Mars. They were signed by various Egyptian governments. To prevent violations it is imperative that the text of the constitution display clear and unambiguous commitment to enforcing the articles of each and every international convention signed by an Egyptian government. These should in practice supersede any standing labour legislation. This would put an end to the historic strategy of referring the article to legislators who have historically served state interests.”

“Aside from its non-reference to binding international labour conventions, the constitutional draft is in many ways more deficient than its predecessor. Characterised by fluid and elastic language, its text appearsformulated to create ambiguity.Take the right to work, which is presumably based on the state’s vision of job-creating economic programme. Article 23 says that ‘the Egyptian economy is based on promoting the growth of economic activity and encouraging investment’. Yet nowhere does the text define the state’s economic role and responsibility to create and/or promote jobs that provide work to the unemployed. Flowery language notwithstanding, the right to work is absent from the draft.”

The same applies to articles addressing social security and welfare benefits, pensions and public health and education programmes: all are rich in rhetoric, all shirk spelling out tangible state commitments, says El-Naggar. The constitutional draft fails to link social security benefits to the minimum wage or state programmes to inflation. Instead, the open-ended text leaves the provision of fundamental rights to discretionary and flexible state budgets and the political will of whatever government is in power.

“In terms of workers’ gains the constitutional draft couldn’t be worse,” says Habib. “There is a false perception among the public that the draft privileges the working class because it keeps the obligatory 50 per cent parliamentary representation of workers and peasants from earlier constitutions. What they don’t realise is that we make up at least 70 per cent of Egypt’s people. In real terms the 50 per cent falls short of representing us.”

Yet workers remain upbeat. “The roundtable provided a fertile forum for discussion,” says Abbas. “We’ll formulate a proposal based on workers’ input and present it to the committee of 50. It is our duty to continue the struggle, not least for the sake of the hundreds of workers who were martyred during the revolution.”

After Gezi Park: Where is Erdogan’s Turkey heading? An activist speaks out-Umuth Turk interviewed by Alexander Damiano Ricci

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2013 Comments Off on After Gezi Park: Where is Erdogan’s Turkey heading? An activist speaks out-Umuth Turk interviewed by Alexander Damiano Ricci


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Freedom, equality of opportunities, defense of collective goods: eventually Turkey found its ideals. With one strike, the country lying in between the western and eastern world experienced its own “Occupy” movement and “Spring” turmoil. Erdogan and ten years of controversial governance were at the core of the protest which put Istanbul and the whole country on fire. In the streets there was a whole generation: some call it generation “Y”. Umuth Turk, Turkish, 26 years old, just graduated from the University of Milan, Italy, and went back to his country to join the protest. He has lived in Italy for four years, between Milan and Pisa. He developed his own critical view about his country of origin, but also with respect to the neo-liberal policies born in the western world. We conducted an interview with him in order to better understand which political forces triggered the mobilization, the social context of Turkey and which goals have been achieved so far by the protest.

What is the main goal you think you have achieved so far?

There is one important thing that these protests in all over Turkey have achieved: from now on, people will react! They’ve realized the political power a mass movement can put into action. People have tasted the pleasure of using a relatively new democratic instrument: oppositions from outside institutions, down in the streets and in the squares.

What are the principal associations and parties involved in the protest?

Football fans, socialist groups, political parties, workers’ unions, LGBT movements, students associations from universities as well as the main opposition party in parliament.

What is the average age of protesters?

Actually this is the main subject of research in these days. Generally speaking, protesters have been called generation “Y” born between 1989-1999.

What is the conceptual core of the protest? The defense of public goods, or individual freedom?

Both of these two reasons and more. The ecological sensitivity triggered the protests in the first place but the force which actually drove thousands to streets was people’s disapproval to government’s actions during the last ten years. The political mobilization dealt with principles such as individual freedom, freedom of speech and press, conservation of public goods… However it is difficult to observe a unique address of the protests. People involved in the mobilization come from different social and economical backgrounds. My personal opinion is that part of the movement and the political opposition are struggling against government’s neo-liberal policies, but I can’t point out a clear tendency which holds for the whole protest. The majority of the people down in the streets were autonomous and they are simply reacting to everyday events, for example: new policies on alcohol consumption and production, issues of free press and speech (in this case there are several cases of journalists which are still held in prison), governments arbitrary decisions about how to change the education system, or the tendency to destroy socially and historically significant places (Cinema EMEK).

Why do you think it can be stated as a protest against neo-liberalism?

Because the government applies neo liberal policies to whatever domain. Concretely it means the exploitation of human and natural resources in order to create or maintain the market: Taksim Gezi Parki is the best example, not the only one. In this sense, the protest can be compared to the protests showing up during G8 meetings and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Can the events in Turkey be comprehended in the so called “Arab Spring” phenomenon?

The comparison between the events in Turkey and the Arab Spring may deserve attention, but it is too early nowadays to clearly state their relation.

How did the Turkish television behave towards the protest?

In the first days Turkish media have been totally mute towards the incidents in Taksim Gezi Parki. To give an idea, Cnn-turk broadcasted a documentary about Penguins the whole night. People could hear about police violence and injured people through social media principally. Thus, especially in the first days, social media were the only source of good information. The government had to face thousands of individual broadcasters and reporters working thanks to their phones, computers: protesters became journalists themselves.

Did you have the chance to monitor how the mass media system of the Western world monitored the protest in Turkey?

Yes. In the first days international media were the healthiest source of information. For example, CNN broadcasted hours of news about Turkey. Similarly Italian media made a good job following closely the protest.

Do you think that the concerns of the protest were reported in a transparent way by western media?

Reports have been transparent and did support the aims of the people occupying Taksim Gezi Parki. Most importantly they also criticized Turkish media. Their support was particularly significant for the success of the manifestations. Indeed their work triggered a certain tension between western world governments and Erdogan.

A tension which was not there before …

Yes. Indeed, it must be said that western media, intellectuals as well as governments ever supported Erdogan since he took office as president. It was only when Erdogan’s aggressive attitude toward the mobilization became evident, when he deployed police power against thousands of citizens in all over Turkey, that they had to reconsider they relationship with the Turkish government.

What is the ideal model of society you would like to see realized in Turkey?

No single person involved in the protest can answer this question with one conclusive statement since it is not a movement against the system itself. I think it is important to say that nowadays, in Turkey, everybody feels individually or collectively considered as part of “the others” by the government: on the one hand there is the tendency to discriminate because of sexual orientation and more generally because of any personal life style choice which is not conformist. On the other hand, there is also a class-conflict dynamic at work in Turkish society where equality of opportunities is at stake. So in a very general sense we ask for real democracy which entails freedom at large and equal opportunities as well.

Against Imperialism and Colonization: Six Strategies for Soverreignty, Dignity and the Life of the People-Collective

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2013 Comments Off on Against Imperialism and Colonization: Six Strategies for Soverreignty, Dignity and the Life of the People-Collective


Translation, done by Richard Fidler [1], of large extracts of the resolutions adopted August 2 in Cochabamba (Bolivia) [2].


An Anti-Imperialist and Anticolonialist Summit of the Peoples of Latin America and the world has been held in Bolivia at a time of imperial counter-offensive aimed at silencing the voice of rebelliousness of the people struggling for another possible world in which we will have achieved the emancipation of human beings and Mother Earth.

Therefore, assembled in Cochabamba from July 31 to August 2, 2013, we declare as follows:

The current crisis of capitalism is a crisis of multiple dimensions: a crisis of finance, production, the climate, food, energy, politics and ideology. In short, a crisis of civilization that threatens the life of capitalism as such, but also of humanity and the planet . However, faced with this crisis, and in desperate attempts to revive and strengthen this system, pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist governments are promoting further privatizations, the pillage of Mother Earth, the destruction of social rights, and the plunder of natural resources.

Amidst this crisis, the wars and coups promoted by the Empire are aimed at installing puppet governments and capturing strategic natural resources. Invasions of countries and sabotage of processes of change are the Empire’s responses to the crisis of the capitalist system.

The imperial counter-offensive began with the NATO intervention in the dismemberment of many of the countries of the socialist camp and the former Yugoslavia, where it launched a territorial fragmentation strategy that imperialism has since been trying to use in Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador.

The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were another aspect of this historical period as the Empire sought to seize their natural resources and deploy a range of geopolitical strategies aimed at maintaining the pattern of North-South relations and preventing reinforcement of South-South relations.

Likewise, starting after 2008 with the administration of Barack Obama, imperialism has taken the path of a major military offensive aimed at overcoming the crisis of capitalism. Libya became the first victim and now the focus is on Syria and Iran with the complicity of the United Nations, whose Security Council has been virtually kidnapped by the United States, England and France.

The transnational military arm of the United States is called NATO. Its new strategic concept has made the planet a global theatre for its operations. Latin America now finds itself threatened by Colombia’s request to become a co-operative partner of NATO.

Another manifestation of the global counter-offensive of imperialism is the violation of the international conventions and treaties that emerged after World War II. Since the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. and its European partners in NATO have made it more than clear that their geopolitical interests in commandeering the world’s natural resources prevail over the international order.

One of the latest violations of that international order is the kidnapping of President Evo Morales last July 2, when four European countries denied him the right to refuel and the use of airspace, putting his life in jeopardy. Clearly there is a before and after since July 2, 2013. Nor is it accidental that the only country that allowed the landing was Austria, which is not a member of NATO.

The world capitalist counteroffensive is expressed in Latin America with the opening of more military bases on our continent: the implementation of Plan Colombia, the Mérida Initiative, [3] the Andean Initiative [4] and the Caribbean Basin Initiative [5]; the failed and defeated coups against Chávez in Venezuela (2002), Morales in Bolivia (2008) and Rafael Correa in Ecuador (2010); the military coup against Manuel Zelaya in Honduras (2009), and the activation of the Fourth Fleet (to control the ocean through the possibility of rapid deployment).

Following the defeat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) at Mar del Plata in 2005, imperialism has rearmed politically and economically, promoting the Pacific Alliance as a bloc of pro-free trade countries that is intended to counter politically, economically and ideologically the integration processes in the region; it is aimed especially at reconfiguring the geopolitical balance of forces and acting as a counterweight to the growing influence of ALBA, which relies instead on strengthening UNASUR and CELAC. The Pacific Alliance represents an attempt to replicate the neocolonial model of the FTAA.

Imperialism and colonialism are using the media as the most appropriate instruments to disorient our peoples and to undermine social support for our progressive governments. They are also developing sophisticated technological networks as part of the intrusion and interference of U.S. imperialism in our countries.

To confront this very difficult context, the movements and peoples of the world gathered in Cochabamba have agreed to oppose imperialism and colonialism by implementing six strategies for sovereignty and the dignity and life of our peoples.

[From here on, I summarize the contents of this lengthy document. – Richard Fidler (RF)]



The introduction to this section recounts the formation of NATO in 1949 as the primary imperialist alliance during the Cold War, and its use since the fall of the Soviet Union as an instrument to uphold the worldwide geopolitical and economic interests of the US and other imperialist powers and to keep the world safe for capitalism.

The document calls on the peoples and countries of the South to mobilize in opposition to NATO and related imperialist alliances and to oppose invasions of sovereign countries and the plunder of natural resources. “Without nationalization of natural resources there is no sovereignty,” it says. And it calls for the creation of an “Observatory of the Neo-coupism and Military Interventionism of the United States and its Armed Wing, NATO.”

Among the efforts it recommends to free the peoples of the world from colonialism it calls for sustained campaigning against the US blockade of Cuba and its revolution, “a revolution of all the world’s peoples,” and for the return of the Malvinas (a.k.a. the Falkland Islands) to Argentina. And it calls for international mobilization to modify the composition of the UN Security Council and to “democratize” it by increasing the representation of the “developing countries” on the Council.

The workshop on this topic adopted a number of proposals that were not included in the final text. Among these:

• Establish July 2 as an International Day Against Imperialism, to represent emancipation of peoples and especially of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, in rejection of the attack on President Evo Morales;

• Hold the second Anti-imperialist, Anticapitalist and Anticolonialist Summit for the Sovereignty of the Peoples and Security of Human Rights in Venezuela on March 5, 2014, in homage to the memory of Hugo Chávez; and

• Participate in the World Youth and Student Festival in Quito, Ecuador, December 7-13, 2013.



This section singles out the Pacific Alliance as an instrument for the restoration of privatization of services and natural resource development based on so-called free trade and investment agreements, an attempt to recreate the frustrated Free Trade Area of the Americas and to counter the efforts toward unification and political unity in Latin America through such alliances as ALBA, MERCOSUR, UNASUR and CELAC.

Among the specific actions it proposes are “the promotion and recognition of development models defined in sovereignty by the peoples of the world based on solidarity, complementarity, vivir bien, and harmony with Mother Earth….” It calls for “alternative economic projects that recognize, respect and strengthen the communitarian, indigenous and ancestral structures of our peoples, and that promote socialism, the economy of vivir bien distinct from capitalism.”

The capitalist model, it says, should be countered by building along socialist lines, “based on socially-owned enterprises and recognition of the plural, state and communitarian social economy.” This entails “state support for a productive sector based on associated small and micro enterprises, communitarian social associations, and a solidaristic and cooperative social economy” – all of which, it says, are major job creators – along with “state enterprises committed to the sovereignty and dignity of the peoples and the democratization of wealth.”

To fight “consumerism and commercialization [mercantilismo],” it is fundamental to “consume our own products, our own safe and healthy foods.”

Technological sovereignty, the statement says, involves developing knowledge and innovation in a framework of a dialogue between ancient communal indigenous and peasant knowledges and modern learning and technologies.

It urges support for the people of Bolivia in that landlocked country’s fight to regain the access to the Pacific that it lost to Chile in the War of the Pacific in the 1870s. This can best be achieved, it says, through creation of a Trinational Coordinating Committee of the Peoples between Bolivia, Peru and Chile that can secure this demand in a context of justice and solidarity.

Finally, the statement calls for building “an instrument of political action of the social movements to discuss actions in defence of those governments advancing progressive options for Latin America, and in support of the struggles of other progressive revolutionary processes.”

The workshop on this topic adopted a number of proposals not included in the final declaration. Among these:

• To solve the problem of the land and to recognize the right of the indigenous peasants to administer their own lands, the development of comprehensive agrarian reform processes is key to guaranteeing food sovereignty. Sale of land must be prohibited, and the economic function of the land must be recognized.

• Monetary sovereignty. Colonization also proceeds through monetary policy, hence the imposition of the dollar. Rescue the Sucre as our regional currency and move toward monetary integration, making the Sucre currency of common use.

• Strengthen the Bank of the South (Banco del Sur) so that it can finance undertakings to achieve food sovereignty, freeing us from transgenic seeds and preventing Monsanto from invading our territories.

•· Create an ALBA parliament.

• Create a continental coordination of the peoples between Peru, Chile and Bolivia to help achieve Bolivian access to the sea.



“It is not possible to speak of national liberation and to recover economic and political sovereignty,” states the preamble to this section, “without posing the need to build an alternative vision to unfettered, extractivist and plundering capitalism.” This involves “strengthening our diversity and interculturalism to achieve a sovereignty of thinking and consciousness, recovering the ancestral knowledges of our peoples.”

Among the specific steps proposed in order to promote decolonization and anti-imperialism are:

• the greater involvement of anticapitalist and anti-imperialist social movements within formal and informal international alliances and councils;

• the establishment of Constituent Assemblies in all Latin American countries as well as on other continents in order to found Plurinational States, the models here obviously being Bolivia and Ecuador;

• creating social movement media on a Latin American scale, with headquarters in Bolivia, to report on the various experiences in their struggles;

• holding annual International Anti-imperialist and Anticolonial Summits, preferably on July 28 to commemorate the birth date of Hugo Chávez; and

• the creation of a University of the Peoples of ALBA to “decolonize educational, institutional and mental structures and develop our own Latin American projects and programs capable of developing the region with its sovereignty, dignity, equity and identity.”

This section also calls for demanding that imperialism pay its ecological debt; supporting the peace process in Colombia, and supporting Puerto Rico’s independence. The workshop (mesa) on this topic added a call for the withdrawal of Minustah [6] from Haiti.



“Human rights from imperialism’s perspective,” says the preamble to this section, “are a means of consolidating a model of society that is individualistic, privatized, hierarchical and in which the market has control and domination over our peoples.” This is the outlook that has been incubated in the OAS’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and in other international bodies. “But the international actions taken recently against Evo Morales are not only an infringement of international law by the states involved, they also demonstrate the decadence of the European societies.”

The new vision of human rights must reflect the thinking of the social movements, and states must be accountable to those movements for their exercise of these rights. Human rights must be based on anti-imperialist criteria and respect our cultures and our indigenous and Afro-descendant identities. The new vision of human rights has to be based on three pillars: universal recognition of the rights of Mother Earth; effective recognition of the individual and collective rights of the peoples; and full enforcement of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.

In terms of specific actions, the statement calls for discussion of a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, recovering the cosmovision of our aboriginal rights as the basis of the civilizing horizon of Vivir Bien; creation of an intercontinental organ of social movements parallel to the United Nations; promotion and strengthening of basic services as a human right; and “highlighting the importance of the human rights of women and the need to struggle to eradicate femicide in our region.”

And it calls for the immediate and unconditional end to the inhuman economic, commercial and financial blockade of Cuba and for its exclusion from the list of state sponsors of international terrorism; the freeing of the four Cuban heroes unjustly imprisoned in the United States; and the definitive closure of the centres of violation of human rights installed in Latin America by the United States, such as the Guantánamo prison.

The workshop on this topic added a call for independence of Puerto Rico.



The introduction to this section analogizes the US counteroffensive in Latin America to “low-intensity warfare.” In addition to the “international espionage” of the CIA, well-documented in many countries, the recent revelations of Edward Snowden have shed light on the extensive global network of digital spying “in violation of the privacy and sovereignty of the progressive countries.”

To combat this imperialist espionage, the declaration recommends the following actions, among others, to strengthen popular and state sovereignty:

• the prompt creation of an ALBA communications infrastructure to serve as an alternative and independent internet network, linking the Latin American and Caribbean countries through fibre optics technology;

• the construction of a Latin American civilian and military intelligence and counter-intelligence centre, as part of the ALBA Defence Doctrine, that can “train revolutionaries to confront the imperialist espionage”; and

• the achievement of computer sovereignty by nationalizing and developing state-controlled national telecommunications firms and developing continental computer technology networks using their own free software.

The workshop on this topic also call for monitoring foreign NGOs in countries of the South, to ensure that they do not service imperialism in their activities.



Most of the private media in Latin America, notes the preamble, are hostile to the anti-imperialist, anticolonialist and anticapitalist positions of the progressive governments. They work constantly to create social unrest. Examples cited are the “media coup d’état perpetrated in Venezuela against Hugo Chávez in 2002, the systematic media campaign in Bolivia in opposition to the process of change led by Evo Morales…, and the political and media opposition in Ecuador to Rafael Correa,” who has initiated legislation to undermine the private media dictatorship in that country.

There is a great need, the declaration says, to promote a system of independent communications spaces through the establishment of alternative community media, using networks of popular communications. Among the steps that can be taken, it adds, are:

• extending the TeleSUR and Radio del Sur broadcasting networks throughout Latin America and the Caribbean;

• establishing and strengthening popular communications networks (radio, television, social media networks) in collaboration with the social movements and the communications media that already exist; and

• establishing access to a state and community media satellite network that “integrates radio and television stations of the various social movements in our countries, broadcasts content related to the liberation struggles of our peoples, and promotes the design of communications content in native languages.”

The workshop on this topic proposed in addition that strategic proposals along these lines be taken to the Second World Summit on Indigenous Communications, to be held October 13-17 in Oaxaca, Mexico.


This final section notes “the legacy of the Cuban revolution,” which “opened the way” to all of today’s “people’s governments and defenders of the social majorities.” And it recognizes “the legacy of Chavismo, which allowed the development of a political project of Latin American integration with socialism as its horizon,” adding that this is a communitarian socialism born from our own peoples – indigenous and workers – whose long memory and wisdom reaffirms for us not only the need but the real possibility to construct a social order outside of the logics of capital.”

“Latin America is experiencing one of the most extraordinary cycles in its entire history,” the declaration says.

“The peoples of Abya Yala, [7] in terms of both their position as a class and their position as originary campesino indigenous peoples, have risen up and are moving toward their final and full independence. This possibility of achieving emancipation, more than 500 years after the European invasion and 200 years after achieving state independence, has never before been presented with the force that it now has in the present conditions: a rise in the degree of organization and consciousness of the peoples, revolutionary and progressive governments, leaders with a great historical dimension, and the emergence of initiatives of Latin American unity and integration.”

But added to the structural problems, which are simply the unpleasant residues of the old colonialism, are other challenges in confronting the problems of the new colonialism. One is the need to recover popular control over natural resources. Another is the need to further “relations of collaboration, cooperation, solidarity and complementarity between peoples and states.” And still another is to “develop technology to change our productive matrix without affecting Mother Earth.”

To strengthen the emancipatory potential of our peoples, the statement says, there must be a permanent solidarity among them, expressed in concrete actions aimed against all forms of oppression and domination; respect for the self-determination of the peoples, national and popular sovereignty, etc., to build a society that is more inclusive, more participatory, more democratic, more complementary and solidaristic – one that allows us to live in harmony with Mother Earth.

Notes[1] See on ESSF (article 29871), Bolivia’s cogent responses to recent provocations from the Empire.

[2] See Documento final de la Cumbre Antiimperialista y Anticolonial de los Pueblos de América Latina y el mundo: http://enclavesur.blogspot.fr/2013/… and http://www.noticiaspia.org/cerca-de

[3] The Mérida Initiative (also called Plan Mexico by critics) is a security cooperation agreement between the United States and the government of Mexico and the countries of Central America, with the declared aim of combating the threats of drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and money laundering. The assistance includes training, equipment and intelligence. (Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%A…)

[4] The Andean Counterdrug Initiative (ACI) is a program operated within the US State Department that is responsible for supporting anti-drug initiatives in Colombia and other South American countries. ACI grew out of a controversial legislation, Plan Colombia, which supported various drug wars in South America. The program seeks to eradicate coca and induce local farmers to plant alternative crops. But for all the money that has been spent towards stemming the flow of illegal drugs into the United States from South America, little progress has been made in reaching this goal. (http://tinyurl.com/ks6qb6nhttp://ti… )

[5] The Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) was a unilateral and temporary United States program initiated by the 1983 “Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act” (CBERA). The CBI came into effect on January 1, 1984 and aimed to provide several tariff and trade benefits to many Central American and Caribbean countries. It arose in the context of a U.S. desire to respond with aid and trade to leftist movements that were active in some countries of the region, such as the guerrillas in El Salvador and the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Provisions in the CBERA prevented the U.S. from extending preferences to CBI countries that it judged to be under the influence of Communists or that had expropriated American property. (Wikipedia, http://tinyurl.com/k6h58ez)

[6] The United Nations Stabilisation Mission In Haiti (MINUSTAH) is a United Nations “peacekeeping” mission (actually occupation force) in Haiti that has been in operation since 2004, following the overthrow by France, the US and Canada of the elected government headed by Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The mission’s military component is led by the Brazilian Army and the force commander is Brazilian. The force is composed of 8,940 military personnel (including a small contingent from Bolivia) and 3,711 police.

[7] Abya Yala is the name used by many indigenous peoples to refer to the American continent since before the arrival of Columbus.

* http://lifeonleft.blogspot.fr/2013/


The «heroic flexibility» of Iran’s New Diplomacy-Nikolai BOBKIN

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2013 Comments Off on The «heroic flexibility» of Iran’s New Diplomacy-Nikolai BOBKIN


The Iranian government, preparing for Hassan Rouhani’s première at the UN, see the new president’s involvement in the 68th session of the General Assembly as a crucial moment in the 35-year history of Iranian diplomacy following the Islamic revolution. Rouhani has already taken stronger diplomatic steps in the past few months than his predecessor took during the whole two terms of his presidency. For the time being, he is successfully managing to play a pioneering role in advancing Tehran’s new foreign-policy initiatives. Iran is showing the world a new diplomacy that has received the blessing of the head of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, for its «heroic flexibility», particularly with regard to the United States…

The question of to what extent the Iranian president can afford to be «heroically flexible», and how far he can go towards making concessions to Washington, so far remains unanswered. The presidents did not have a face-to-face meeting at the session of the General Assembly. Rouhani himself allegedly refused to take part in this type of dialogue, considering it to be a premature and flippant step, although the idea of a fleeting and informal meeting had originally come from Iran. America had been slow to respond but then agreed and was eventually refused by Iran, after which came Tehran’s next initiative – a telephone conversation. Rather than corridor diplomacy, Iran has deployed telephone diplomacy.

At the request of Iran, Obama was still the one to call Rouhani, although at exactly the moment when the Iranian president was on his way to the airport to return home from New York. Following 35 years of silence, the presidents attempted to use the 15-minute telephone conversation to give impetus to working together. The telephone conversation immediately made headlines all over the world and became a sensation in political and intelligence circles.

Commenting on the conversation, Obama hinted at a potential settlement of Iran’s nuclear issue, although he noted that there would be quite a few obstacles along the way.

One of the obstacles, and the biggest problem for Rouhani, is not the international community but his opponents within Iran itself. For those who keep in mind that the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran is not the most important but the second most important person in government, official Tehran has confirmed that Rouhani and his government have authority from spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to conduct negotiations on any issues affecting the security of Iran. This reminder was more addressed to Rouhani’s political opponents in his own country, however, who on the eve of his trip to New York warned that it was only reformists seeking to live out the rest of their days in America who wanted to settle differences between Iran and the US. Although Iranian soldiers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps do not have any intention as yet of interfering in Rouhani’s diplomacy, neither are they hiding their own negative attitude towards Iran’s overhasty diplomatic steps with regard to Washington.

It is a case of two opposing positions within Iran’s political elite. Anti-American tendencies with the arrival of the new government were overshadowed by the open foreign policy, and the world witnessed Tehran’s new diplomacy with a clear focus on normalising relations with the United States and leading countries in the European Union. It is becoming a leitmotif of Iranian diplomacy, which is aimed at bringing about a speedy withdrawal of Western sanctions in exchange for concessions. The search for compromises and mutually-acceptable solutions for Iran is not promising to be easy, however: America still sees sanctions as an irreplaceable attribute of American influence.

Assessing Iran’s latest diplomatic initiatives, the majority of American senators believe them to be nothing but pretty words. In their opinion: «Iran is not a friend whose word can be taken as a promise». While waiting for the meeting that never took place between Obama and Rouhani, the American president was reminded of the rigidity of Congress’ position which was outlined in a letter dated 2 August and signed by 76 senators. The document specifies four strategic requirements of US policy with regard to Iran: maintaining and strengthening sanctions, demonstrating a credible threat of the use of force, a commitment to the public’s position on the inadmissibility of Tehran possessing nuclear weapons, and an expression of openness to negotiations. Amongst those who signed the letter is Senator John McCain, who is advising Obama that on no account should the pressure on Iran by way of sanctions be reduced just at the time when the Iranian government has become seriously aware of their paralysing effect on its economy.

Summarising the position of Congress, it should be noted that at the current time, an absolute majority of congressmen believe that withdrawing or weakening sanctions against Iran is an «extremely counterproductive» decision. In addition, official Washington has also not forgotten about the claims that remain in the wings of Iran’s nuclear issue. This refers to the observance of human rights and violations of society’s political freedoms, Hezbollah’s all-out support in opposing Israel, and the military cooperation with Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian conflict.

Until recently, Iran and Syria were fighting the US from the same trench, but now the West wants Tehran to give up attempts to keep Assad in power. In response, Rouhani is demonstrating an interest in settling the Syrian crisis, putting an end to the civil war and guaranteeing the right of the Syrian people to self-determination. Iran believes that the war in Syria is not a war between the opposition and Assad’s troops, but a war between the Syrian government and terrorists who have come to Syria from abroad, from where they are receiving support and arms.

At the session of the General Assembly, Iran backed the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution on Syria in support of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ plan aimed at destroying Syria’s chemical arsenal. Incidentally, it was Iran that inserted the point in the OPCW’s decision calling on all countries to join the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical weapons, and the US supported it. Moreover, Tehran is planning on cooperating with Moscow in the Syrian settlement and is willing to accept an invite to the international Geneva-2 conference to discuss the Syrian issue, as long as there are not going to be any preconditions. But there are.

The West wants Iran to agree that change is needed in Syria, and that the country will never return to the old rule of the Alawites. This is exactly what French president François Hollande was trying to achieve during his meeting with Rouhani in New York when he spoke of Iran’s contribution to settling the Syrian crisis through political means. These talks were the first time in eight years that the presidents had had a face-to-face meeting. The fact that the meeting took place is highly valued in Tehran, the event fits in completely with Iran’s new diplomacy and with reference to it, one can talk about the first step towards reestablishing relations with Europe, but the condition put forward immediately brought the emerging future to a standstill. Allowing such an alteration to the balance of power in Syria would not be a concession for Tehran, but a defeat. Iran is not prepared to «exchange» its most loyal and its only ally in the Arab world for involvement in Geneva-2. To be more precise, for Rouhani to agree to this kind of suggestion from the West would equate to political suicide. After all, it is no secret that members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have always concerned themselves with Iranian policy in Syria and Lebanon. In this regard, the «heroic flexibility» of the new diplomacy will not be overlooked. Which is why Tehran is also opposing any preconditions for its involvement in Geneva-2. It is quite possible that Russia will be the only country supporting this position.

While on the subject of Russia’s place in Iran’s new diplomacy, it is impossible not to notice that Tehran has become somewhat shy of talking about its partnership with Moscow aloud. One could even get the impression that the new faces in Iran’s government are embarrassed to publicly acknowledge the progress of its joint measures with Russia in preventing America’s military aggression against Syria. At the margins of the UN General Assembly, Russia defended Iran’s right to a peaceful atom, advancing Russia’s initiative to ease the sanctions regime. At a meeting in New York between the six mediators on Iran’s nuclear issue, Lavrov and Zarif held the first face-to-face meeting at which ministers «quickly found a common language» and their talks were «rather encouraging». Against this background, there are voices coming out of Tehran about the fact that in recent years, Russia has repeatedly played the «Iranian card» in its dealings with Americans in order to obtain concessions from the West, which seems to be extremely unjust. There is also speculation to the effect that during the years of the toughest sanctions imposed on Iran by the West, Moscow allegedly derived a fair amount of economic benefit – and that is with a 40-45 percent fall in sales volume in 2012 which barely reached 2.4 billion dollars. The essence of views like these is the desire to present Russia as a brake to the as yet still stationary Iran-America locomotive.

So who exactly are Iran’s allies in the «heroic flexibility» of its new diplomacy? It turns out that it is those countries whose access to the Iranian market was blocked by US sanctions. To begin with, these include countries in the European Union who announced an oil embargo on Iran last year and then, just to be sure, announced another similar full-scale blockade of the gas sector. According to some opinions in Iran, EU countries are now doing «everything they can to try and mediate in the establishment of links between America and Iran in order to ease their own way out of the economic crisis».

Tehran’s new diplomatic initiatives hold strategic significance for Iran. One could talk about their focus on changing the entire geopolitical architecture of the Middle East. However, the likelihood of an Iranian-American rapprochement, even within the framework of Iran’s «heroic flexibility», is relatively low. From Washington’s point of view, there is currently no chance of fundamentally improving relations with Iran without upsetting its balance of cooperation with Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as other countries in the Gulf region. In order to tread the road to the White House, Tehran is still going to have to normalise its relations with these countries. As far as Israel is concerned, however, this kind of opportunity for Iran’s new diplomacy so far remains beyond the reach of what is acceptable.

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