April , 2019

People Aur Politics

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

Every socialist in the 21st century should try to answer two questions. First, why don’t workers ...
Written as an appendix to Trotsky's projected biography of Lenin, and included in his unfinished ...
The 1960s and 1970s were years of the most intense class struggle in modern Turkish ...
  The international scientific conference on Afghanistan will take place in Bishkek on October 10. The ...
Islamabad has been trying to send signals over the last few months indicating that it ...
December 2, 2018 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal – Although I consider myself a Trotskyist (just ...
The prospect of an Israeli military assault on Iran's nuclear assets is growing. The scale ...
On 23 June the Defence and Military Analysis Programme, in collaboration with the German Ministry ...
The impact of austerity has thrown politics in Britain into turmoil. Both parties of the ...
What are the main social dynamics of the waves of revolt in the Arab world ...

Archive for July, 2015

The Assassination of Trotsky

Posted by admin On July - 24 - 2015 Comments Off on The Assassination of Trotsky

India: The Stormy Revival of an International University-Amartya Sen

Posted by admin On July - 15 - 2015 Comments Off on India: The Stormy Revival of an International University-Amartya Sen


A rendering of the new campus of Nalanda University, to be built in the town of Rajgir, Bihar, India, a few miles away from the original university, which was founded in the early fifth century and destroyed in the 1190s

Classes began in early September last year at a small new international university, called Nalanda, in Bihar in northeast India—one of the most backward parts of the country. Only two faculties—history, and environment and ecology—were holding classes for fewer than twenty students. And yet the opening of Nalanda was the subject of headlines in all the major newspapers in India and received attention across the world. “Ritorno a Nalanda” was the headline in Corriere della Sera.

The new venture is meant to be a revival of Nalanda Mahavihara, the oldest university in the world, which began in the early fifth century. By the time the first European university was established in Bologna in 1088, Nalanda had been providing higher education to thousands of students from Asian countries for more than six hundred years.

The original university at Nalanda was run by a Buddhist foundation in what was then the prosperous region of Bihar—the original center of Buddhist religion, culture, and enlightenment. Its capital was Pataliputra (now called Patna), which also served, beginning in the third century BC, as the capital of the early all-India empires for more than a thousand years. Nalanda drew students not only from all over India, but also from China, Japan, Korea, Sumatra, and other Asian lands with Buddhist connections, and a few from elsewhere, including Turkey. It was the only institution of higher learning outside China to which any Chinese in the ancient world ever went for education.

By the seventh century Nalanda had ten thousand students, receiving instruction not only in Buddhist philosophy and religious practice, but also in a variety of secular subjects, including languages and literatures, astronomy and other sciences, architecture and sculpture, as well as medicine and public health.
As an institution of higher learning, where the entry qualifications were high, Nalanda was supported by a network of other educational organizations that provided information about Nalanda and also helped to prepare students for studying there. Among the Chinese students was the well-known Yi Jing (635–713 AD), who studied in Nalanda for ten years, and wrote what was perhaps the first comparative study of different medical systems, comparing Chinese and Indian medical practices. Before coming to India, he went first to Sumatra (then the base of the Buddhist Srivijaya empire and now a part of Indonesia) to learn Sanskrit. By the seventh century, there were four other universities in Bihar drawing on Buddhism, all largely inspired by Nalanda. They worked in collaboration, though by the tenth century one of them—Vikramshila—emerged as a serious competitor to Nalanda in higher education.

After more than seven hundred years of successful teaching, Nalanda was destroyed in the 1190s by invading armies from West Asia, which also demolished the other universities in Bihar. The first attack, it is widely believed, was led by the ruthless Turkic conqueror Bakhtiyar Khilji, whose armies devastated many cities and settlements in North India. All the teachers and monks in Nalanda were killed and much of the campus was razed to the ground. Special care was taken to demolish the beautiful statues of Buddha and other Buddhist figures that were spread across the campus. The library—a nine-story building containing thousands of manuscripts—is reputed to have burned for three days. The destruction of Nalanda took place between the establishment of Oxford in 1167 and the founding of Cambridge in 1209.


A proposal to revive Nalanda as a modern international university, though originating in India (particularly in Bihar), has been a pan-Asian initiative from the beginning. The idea was endorsed by all of the sixteen governments that attended the so-called East Asia Summit in January 2007, meeting in Cebu in the Philippines. They represented mostly Asian countries, including (in addition to India) China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, but also Australia and New Zealand.
Subir Halder/India Today Group/Getty Images
George Yeo, Singapore’s foreign minister at the time, and Amartya Sen at a meeting about the reestablishment of Nalanda University, New Delhi, August 2010
The aim of the founders of the new Nalanda was not only to have a first-rate university but to encourage cooperation and interchange of ideas across national borders (again, reflecting the traditions of the ancient Nalanda). They endorsed a “vision” of a new university that would be “open to currents of thought and practice from around the globe.”

Following the summit decision, the project to reestablish Nalanda was led by a “mentor group,” formally appointed by India but with members drawn also from other Asian countries. Distinguished intellectuals, serving as members, come from India as well as China (Wang Bangwei), Japan (Susumu Nakanishi), Singapore (Wang Gungwu and George Yeo), and Thailand (Prapod Assavavirulhakam). The university was established by an act of the Indian Parliament in 2010, and following that, the mentor group became the governing board of the revived Nalanda University. I have until recently been serving as chair of the board and chancellor of the new university.

The funds for rebuilding Nalanda have come mostly from the government of India, which made a further financial commitment in January 2014 to meet the basic costs until 2021. However, the citizens and governments of a number of other countries have also made contributions, including China, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, and Laos. All the land for the university has been donated by the government of Bihar, which is also assisting with ground and other facilities.

The reestablished Nalanda University will eventually have its new campus in the ancient town of Rajgir, a few miles away from the old Nalanda. The design and planning of the new campus, by the well-known architectural firm Vastu Shilpa Consultants (chosen by an international competition), are now completed, and the work of construction is about to begin. Since even the first phase of the work will take a few years, Nalanda has started functioning, on a small scale, in rented premises in Rajgir, under the incisive leadership of the vice-chancellor, Dr. Gopa Sabharwal, and the dean of academic planning, Dr. Anjana Sharma.

Most of the first students at Nalanda have come from India, but there are some from other Asian countries as well (Japan and Bhutan in particular), and the teachers have been recruited not just from India, but also from the United States, Germany, and South Korea. In addition to classes now being taught in history, environmental studies, and ecology, plans are being made for teaching economics and development studies, public health, and Buddhist philosophy and comparative religions. Eventually, Nalanda will offer courses in international relations, linguistics, and literature, as well as information science and technology.

In my visits to the campus, I have been impressed by the quality of teaching and discussion among the faculty and students. In view of the deep skepticism that many critics had earlier expressed about the possibility of having a successful international university in a remote and backward part of India, there is something very reassuring about what has been achieved, and about the academic climate that has already become palpable.


“Ritorno a Nalanda” was a remarkable and hopeful moment. But relations have become troubled between the newly elected government of India and the governing board of Nalanda University. The previous coalition government, with the National Congress Party as its dominant partner, initiated the revival of Nalanda University in collaboration with the government of Bihar and the East Asia Summit. When the national government lost the general elections in the spring of 2014, it was replaced by members of a very different political alignment, with a new prime minister, Narendra Modi, of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)— a part of the powerful Hindutva movement, which is dedicated to promoting India’s Hindu traditions, with Modi himself supporting not only Hindutva but also the goals of private business.

At the time of the general elections, I saw it my duty, as a citizen of India, to argue publicly against Modi’s sectarian political leadership, which posed a threat to India’s long-standing commitment to secularism. While critical of some features of the Congress-led coalition government (particularly its growing inefficiency and corruption), I strongly feared that minorities, particularly Muslims as well as Christians, would be insecure under Modi’s rule. This fear was based partly on his long history as a member—and a public advocate (or pracharak)—of the Hindu right-wing movement called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

The fear was also based on the history of communal violence in Gujarat when Modi was chief minister of the state. More than a thousand people, mostly Muslims, perished in the riots there in 2002. Modi had a good reputation as an economic administrator in Gujarat but he failed to take effective action to protect non-Hindus from attack. My worries, I am afraid, have not been dispelled (despite verbal reassurances from Modi). Under the new regime, there have been sporadic occurrences of church burning and the concerted efforts of Hindutva activists to encourage conversion of non-Hindus to Hinduism, called ghar wapsi (“returning home”).

I was, therefore, not entirely surprised to find that the new government opposed my continuing as chancellor of Nalanda University. However, the larger issue concerns the academic independence of institutions of higher learning. The new government and its allies have been active in trying to impose their own views on many academic institutions, and Nalanda’s academic independence has been under considerable threat over the last year. Many of the statutes concerning the governance of Nalanda that were passed by the board (as it was authorized to do) have not been acted on or even presented by the government to the Visitor of the University—the president of India—for endorsement. (All such statutes require formal government approval before they become effective.) The government tried suddenly, without any consultation with the governing board, to make radical changes in the board’s membership—a move that did not work because the proposed changes violated provisions of the Nalanda University Act passed by the Indian Parliament in 2010.

The government has also tried, much more successfully, to remove me as chancellor, overruling the unanimous decision of Nalanda’s governing board that I should continue—a decision arrived at in the board’s meeting in January chaired by George Yeo, the former foreign minister of Singapore. While I appreciated the unanimous support, it soon became clear to me that the tension between the government and the governing board of Nalanda over my continuing as chancellor was proving to be a barrier to the work of rebuilding the school. It also became obvious that the government’s hostility would prevent me from being an effective leader. I told the board that, under the circumstances, I will not accept reappointment when my present term comes to an end in mid-July of this year.

In fact, I strongly believe that it should not be difficult to find a very distinguished candidate who understands the vision that lies behind Nalanda’s revival and appreciates what Nalanda has to offer to contemporary higher education in India and elsewhere. It is, however, extremely important to make sure that the academic independence of Nalanda under the new chancellor is respected. The university must not be subject to partisan political pressure.

The central issue goes well beyond the headline of a well-researched recent report in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica: “Il Nobel e il Premier: Sen contro Modi.” While it is certainly true that the Modi government is not pleased with the political positions I have taken, the confrontation is ultimately not about personalities. It is about the principles governing public institutions, particularly the importance of academic independence.


Unfortunately, the government’s pressures on Nalanda are part of a general pattern of interference in academic leadership across the country. For example, in January of this year, Dr. Sandip Trivedi, a widely respected physicist, was appointed the director of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR)—perhaps the most prestigious scientific institution in India—by a selection committee chaired by one of India’s most well-known scientists, C.N.R. Rao. But the institute was told by the prime minister’s office that Trivedi had to be removed from his post, and Trivedi stepped down. This led to a good deal of public criticism, and the government told the TIFR in June that Trivedi could return as director.

In December, Raghunath Shevgaonkar, the well-known director of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Delhi, also resigned from his position, alleging government interference in the IIT’s decisions. In March, Dr. Anil Kakodkar, one of the leading nuclear scientists of India (and a former chair of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission), who chaired the governing board of the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay, protested against meddling by the government and made it clear that he was unwilling to serve in future activities.

In late February the government asked the famous writer Sethumadhavan to leave his position as chairman of the National Book Trust, which was set up decades ago as “an autonomous body under the Ministry of Education.” The trust has had an excellent record of supporting the publication of worthy books. Following Sethumadhavan’s removal, his position was given to a Hindutva ideologue, Baldev Sharma, a former editor of the journal Panchajanya, which The Times of India described as “the RSS mouthpiece.” More recently, the government has proposed a bill that would give it direct control over India’s thirteen Institutes of Management (IIM), the country’s main institutions for postgraduate education in management. This has been sharply protested by the directors and chairmen of the institutes themselves.

It is hard not to conclude that the government has difficulty in appreciating the distinction between (1) an autonomous institution supported by the government, using state resources, and (2) an institution under the direct command of the government currently in office. For many hundreds of years universities in Europe have been helped to become academically excellent by governments that respect their autonomy. The British protect academic independence with much care in their own country even though the British rulers of colonial India very often violated the independence of public academic institutions. The government of India seems to prefer the colonial model.

This is, of course, not the first time that a ruling Indian government has interfered in academic matters. The record of noninterference of the previous Congress government was far from impeccable. And yet the extent of intervention has become both unprecedented and often politically extreme under the present regime.1

The newly appointed head of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), Yellapragada Sudershan Rao, is perhaps more well known for his Hindutva-oriented opinions than for any historical research he has done. For example, in his paper “Indian Caste System: A Reappraisal,” Rao praises the caste system, which—we are told—is often “misrepresented as an exploitative system.” Rao’s strong links with the group called Akhil Bharatiya Itihas Sankalan Yojana (ABISY), which is known as the “history wing” of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has been a source of concern in the academic community, especially after four ABISY activists were appointed to the council of the ICHR. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya, a leading historian and the chief editor of the official journal of ICHR (the Indian Historical Review), resigned in protest against the transformation of the ICHR.

The new head of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, Dr. Lokesh Chandra, appointed by the Modi government, has informed The Indian Express that “from a practical point of view [Modi] supersedes the Mahatma [Gandhi].” Chandra has also expressed the view that Modi is, in fact, “a reincarnation of God.” Chandra has said he believes that six million Koreans trace their ancestry back to an Indian princess from Ayodhya.

In view of the general record of the Modi government it was not particularly surprising that the government chose to interfere in the governance of Nalanda. But the confrontations between the governing board and the government, and the removal of the chancellor, got unusual public attention, with wide coverage in the press and editorial criticism of the government in several papers. These reactions have certainly helped to have a restraining effect on the government, unlike the case of many other academic institutions. The widespread public attention and questioning have, in effect, helped the minister of external affairs, Sushama Swaraj, to seek a solution that would be publicly defensible—rather than insisting on the unilateral extremism that characterizes many of the academic interventions by the Modi government.

The presence of intellectuals from other Asian countries on the governing board of Nalanda has also helped to protect the university from the government’s sectarian pressures. The board, which I continued to chair until July, decided in early May to name three non-Indian Asian members of the board, putting George Yeo of Singapore at the top of the list, as possible chancellor with Wang Bangwei of China and Susumu Nakanishi of Japan as reserves. Yeo has just accepted the position with the assurance that he will have the independence that will be required for running the university. Given his commitment to the principles of Nalanda, in addition to his vast knowledge of Asian traditions and remarkable intellectual and administrative skills, his appointment is a very good outcome.2 It will remain extremely important, however, for the government to give Yeo the independence he will need to make Nalanda an academic success.


When the old Nalanda began functioning in the fifth century, there was no other university in the world. There are now 687 universities in India—and others are being established. Why do we need one more? What makes Nalanda so special?

The history of education at the old Nalanda, which inspires the teachers and students of the reestablished Nalanda, remains powerfully relevant here. The tradition of Nalanda insisted on high educational standards, which are certainly important in India today where there is a conspicuous lack of official commitment to improving the quality of education. But it is also important now to follow the Nalanda tradition of global cooperation, a systematic attempt to learn across the barriers of regions and countries. What the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore called “the Nalanda trail” in its remarkable exhibition during 2007–2008 (when the proposal to restart Nalanda University was being planned) emphasized the spread of knowledge and understanding from one country to another across Asia, driven by intellectual curiosity and interest rather than the pursuit of material profit.

The pedagogy that prevailed in the old Nalanda is strongly relevant here. The school regularly arranged debates between people—teachers, students, and visitors—who held different points of view. The method of teaching included arguments between teachers and students. Indeed, as one of Nalanda’s most distinguished Chinese students, Xuan Zang (602–664 AD) noted, education in Nalanda was not primarily offered through the “bestowing” of knowledge by lecturers, but through extensive debates—between students and teachers and among the students themselves—on all the subjects that were taught.

I have been impressed to find that the emphasis on debate is already strong in the pedagogy of the new Nalanda, not just on the topics in the syllabus, but also on more general subjects. For example, when I visited Nalanda last October—a month after classes started there—we discussed the respective roles of “the Silk Route” and “the Nalanda trail” in the development of intercountry connections. There has been much historical discussion of the trading links between Asia and Europe, and particularly the Silk Road linking China with regions in the West. Originally established between the third century BC and the third century AD, during the Han dynasty, the Silk Road was of great importance not only for trade and commerce, but also for the intermingling of people and ideas.

A critical question can be asked, however, whether an exaggerated focus on trade of commodities, and related to that, an excessive emphasis on the role of the Silk Road, may result in the neglect of intellectual influences—in religion, science, mathematics, art, and architecture—that were not dependent on trade. If trade is a big influence in getting people to take an interest in one another, as David Hume famously noted, so is the sheer pursuit of human curiosity, as Hume also observed. The “Nalanda trail” is, in this sense, a kind of rival to the Silk Road. The rightly admired exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum during 2012–2013, called “Buddhism Along the Silk Road, 5th–8th Century,” merged the two; but the disparate elements in the two types of routes in that grand history can be usefully distinguished.3

Unlike Yi Jing, who journeyed to Nalanda by sea in the seventh century, Xuan Zang came, in the same century, on the land route, which coincided in some parts with the Silk Road (even though Nalanda is quite far away from that route). But what motivated Xuan Zang—no less than Yi Jing—to undertake that long voyage (and to spend a decade in Nalanda) was his huge curiosity about Buddhism, Buddhist enlightenment, and the subjects taught at Nalanda, in all of which the influence of trade and material pursuit was minimal.

Knowledge of arts, culture, mathematics, science, and engineering, along with religious and ethical reasoning, has moved people across regions for thousands of years. In our divisive world today, the need for nonbusiness and nonconfrontational encounters is extremely strong, and here Nalanda has an important vision to offer.


It is not hard to see how profoundly the intellectual commitment reflected in the pursuit of the Nalanda Trail was inspired by Gautama Buddha’s emphasis on enlightenment without borders—for all people, irrespective of caste, class, and nationality.4 The issue of the spread of knowledge was raised in a conversation in the seventh century when Xuan Zang completed his studies and was considering going back to China. The professors at Nalanda asked Xuan Zang to stay on as a member of the faculty. He turned them down, observing that Buddha had taught the world not to enjoy enlightenment by oneself. If one learns something, it is one’s duty to share it with others, and therefore Xuan Zang believed he must go home to do just that. (He was in fact very warmly welcomed back in China.)

Indeed, it can be argued that the vast sweep of Buddhist enlightenment across China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, and much of East Asia was so successful because it was not just an imposition of foreign ideas, but was mainly based on cultural interests and intellectual engagement.5 Buddha himself was eloquent on that subject, and yet in recent years, some Buddhist groups have been much occupied in fomenting prejudice, for example against Rohingya Muslims in Rakine in Burma. As a result of such persecution, and the violations of human rights by the militarist government, there has been a huge flight of Muslim refugees seeking a new home. Some formally Buddhist institutions badly need to learn from Buddha’s advocacy of reasoning and dialogue instead of confrontation and violence.

The town of Rajgir where the campus of the new Nalanda is being built is exactly where the first “Buddhist Council” met two and half thousand years ago, not long after Buddha’s death, “to resolve differences by discussion,” including divergent views on religious beliefs and social practice. A later Buddhist council, the third, was very large and met in Pataliputra (now Patna) at the invitation of Emperor Ashoka in the third century BC. It was the most famous of these councils, but the approach of resolving difference through discussion had been already established three hundred years earlier in Rajgir.

Nalanda has thus been revived near the site of the very first attempt at what John Stuart Mill and Walter Bagehot would celebrate in the nineteenth century as “government by discussion.” The powerful vision behind Nalanda is important for India, for Asia, and for the rest of the world. It must be free of authoritarian and sectarian pressures.

The interferences have sometimes been accompanied by the planting of false reports, typically through public statements by Hindutva leaders (or by journalists friendly to Hindutva). An example of the crudeness of the attack can be seen in the much-publicized public statement of a prominent BJP leader that the Nalanda chancellor is “paid an annual salary of Rs. 50 lakhs” ($80,000) rather than no salary at all, or that “so far about Rs. 3000 crores,” or about $484 million, have already been spent by Nalanda University. In fact, rather less than 2 percent of that sum (Rs. 46 crores, or $7.42 million) has been expended altogether, including construction costs, from the beginning of the university until the end of the last fiscal year (2014–2015). ↩

O n misinformation put out to the media by the government itself, see the news interview with Professor Sugata Bose, a member of the Nalanda governing board (and also a member of Indian Parliament), published in The Telegraph, Kolkata, April 1, 2015. ↩

For Yeo’s analysis of the things that bind Asia together and give us such strong reasons to be hopeful about its future, see George Yeo on Bonsai, Banyan and the Tao, with a foreword by Amartya Sen (World Scientific Publishing, 2015). ↩

See William Dalrymple, “The Great and Beautiful Lost Kingdoms,” The New York Review, May 21, 2015. ↩

I have tried to discuss related issues in my essay “The Contemporary Relevance of Buddha,” Ethics and International Affairs, Vol. 28, No. 1 (2014). ↩

On this subject, see also Dalrymple, “The Great and Beautiful Lost Kingdoms.” ↩

China up-close-STANLY JOHNY

Posted by admin On July - 15 - 2015 Comments Off on China up-close-STANLY JOHNY


The book deals at great length with the author’s business engagements with China, the thrust of which was Sino-U.S. trade and economic cooperation. By STANLY JOHNY
In April 2006, Henry M. Paulson, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Goldman Sachs, was invited for the lunch at the White House given in honour of the visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao. Paulson had already been approached by the White House to become Treasury Secretary and he had decided not to accept the offer. At the dinner, Paulson met Zhou Xiaochuan, China’s Central Bank chief, whom he had known from his years of dealing with China as the Goldman Sachs CEO. Zhou asked him if he was going to take up the job of Treasury Secretary. Paulson told him that he had declined the offer and was not sure how he could be effective in the last two years of an “unpopular administration”. “It’s a great honour to serve your country,” Zhou told him. “More important, you never know what opportunity you may have to make a difference.”

In his book Dealing With China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower, Paulson writes that Zhou’s words struck him, and “I returned to them again and again over the next month or so as I began to second-guess my decision after some soul-searching and conversation with close friends.” It is amusing to know that a Treasury Secretary of the United States had taken the advice of a Chinese Central Bank Governor to take up a job at a time when there were serious disagreements between the two countries over trade practices. But Paulson’s relations with China cannot be seen through the prism of volatile Sino-U.S. bilateral ties. They run deeper.

As the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Paulson had played a key role in overhauling China’s state-run enterprises in the 1990s, including China Telecom. The Chinese government was so happy with the initial public offering (IPO) of China Telecom that Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji told Paulson that if he had 10 people like Mike Evans (Paulson’s colleague at Goldman who oversaw the China Telecom reform), “I would turn around all of the state enterprises”.

China many not have “turned around” all of its public enterprises, but Goldman Sachs, under the leadership of Paulson, continued to play a vital role in Beijing’s implementation of the “opening up” policy. It had helped the IPO of China’s National Petroleum Corporation, prepared the blueprint for the overhaul of Guangdong Enterprises Holdings and laid out the path for banking reforms. When Paulson became the Treasury Secretary, these business-to-business ties paved the way for government-to-government cooperation, but China never ceased to amuse him. In Dealing with China, Paulson reconstructs his years of association with China and its top leaders, including Jian Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping.

Paulson divides the book into three sections: “Banking on Reform” (about working with China while at Goldman); “Breaking New Ground” (on his Treasury years); and “Building Bridges” (on his time running the Paulson Institute).

He says the book is the perspective of “a businessman who brings a first-hand financial knowledge of China and its corporate and political leaders. I have gleaned this over more than 100 visits to the country and nearly 25 years of dealing with Chinese officials on commercial matters while at Goldman Sachs, on affairs of state and macroeconomic policy as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and, nowadays as head of the Paulson Institute, which promotes sustainable economic growth and a cleaner environment through greater cooperation between the U.S. and China.”

What makes his approach different from other Western writers on China is that he is less preachy on “universal moral values” and his focus is on international cooperation and building business and economic links with Beijing. “I am not saying that China, which is such a different country, with such a different history and culture from ours, must have the same political system that we do. The U.S. after all has evolved in a great many ways since our founding. Just so, change will come for the Chinese,” he writes.

A middle path

Paulson is trying to tread a middle path between lauding the Chinese political system and demonising it. His focus is rather on the need to cooperate and compete with China in both economic and strategic spheres. Americans should root for China to succeed, he argues, because it is in the U.S.’ “self-interest” to do so. The U.S. needs Chinese support to deal with most of the world’s pressing issues, from environmental and economic issues to food security and nuclear proliferation.

How would this cooperation become possible? Paulson puts forward an eight-point agenda for the U.S.’ China policy, this includes the U.S.’ traditional policy of supporting movements within China for greater transparency, adhering to international standards, emphasising “speak with one voice” with official Chinese interlocutors, and finding China “a better seat at the table”. By “better seat at the table”, he means the U.S. should support China’s leadership roles in international groups such as the World Trade Organisation.

The book’s greatest strength is Paulson’s business engagements with China. Even as Treasury Secretary, the thrust of his engagement with Beijing was trade and economic cooperation. While the author gives extensive details about China’s economic reforms, the political process in the country is hardly discussed in the 430-page book. Paulson tries to balance this out in a chapter titled “The Party Line”.

But the chapter does not offer anything that is not in the public sphere. He says the Communist Party has “essentially made a deal with the people to provide prosperity in return for continued political power”. This is a sweeping statement, made without understanding the nuances of China’s political system that is deeply rooted both in the Communist Party’s revolutionary past and the Chinese nationalism it nurtures.

Sino-U.S. relations

Another problem is his overemphasis on cooperation between the two countries. Paulson sounds unrealistically optimistic about Sino-U.S. relations. He goes back several times to the rapprochement in Sino-U.S. ties brought about by President Richard Nixon’s China visit in 1972 to make the point that the once-acrimonious relations turned around for good. “President Nixon and his then National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, deftly took advantage of China’s even greater mistrust of a common foe, the Soviet Union, to build a strategic relationship.”

While his assessment on the rapprochement is precise, what it fails to take into account is the emerging complexities of the new world. The common foe called Soviet Union is no longer there. There is no Cold War antagonism between Russia and China. More important, there is increasing cooperation between the two countries in international fora against the U.S.’ foreign policy. Although the U.S. and China have, over the years, built economic and strategic mechanisms to strengthen their ties, there is a deep strategic mistrust between the two. One is a declining superpower and the other is a rising power. The Barack Obama administration has already said that it is shifting its focus from elsewhere to Asia.

Of late, there has been a heated war of words between the U.S. and China over the latter’s “encroachments” into international waters. Paulson, however, does not acknowledge this rift. While writing about the South China Sea dispute, he says: “I support U.S. policy, which is not to choose sides on the underlying merits of competing claims of sovereignty but to stand firm on such long-standing principles as freedom of navigation.”

Here, Paulson is using the U.S. establishment’s diplomatic language. In real terms, the coinage of “freedom of navigation in the South China Sea” is often used (it has appeared even in the latest Indo-U.S. joint statements) to refer to China’s claims on the sea, and the U.S., make no mistake, has taken a clear side against China in these disputes. But Paulson has a pragmatic sense of foreign policy. He writes about the threat an enhancing Sino-Russian cooperation at the global scale would pose to U.S. interests, something which many wonks in Capitol Hill will still not understand. “We certainly wouldn’t want to face a united China-Russia strategic front that could frustrate American interests.” Despite this, he does not think “four decades of goodwill and close cooperation between the U.S. and China are about to be tossed on the ash heap of history”.

The book is written in lucid prose and the style of writing is fascinating. Even a lay reader will enjoy reading Paulson’s experiences in China. The book is filled with anecdotes and stories that not many people may know about China. For example, he says Zhou Xiaochuan was sent to a farm in Heilongjiang, a northern province, for four years. In the brutal winters in Heilongjiang that last from October to May, Zhou kept up his spirits with a five-foot-tall stack of classical music records.

“During the Cultural Revolution, they tried to stop people from listening to classical music but in the countryside, no one cared!” Paulson quotes the Governor as telling him. Zhou is now steering the monetary policy of the world’s second largest economy. That says a lot about the rise of China.

Yahya Assiri: The Saudi Regime Must Change or It Must Go-ELLIOT FRIEDLAND

Posted by admin On July - 15 - 2015 Comments Off on Yahya Assiri: The Saudi Regime Must Change or It Must Go-ELLIOT FRIEDLAND


Yahya Assiri, head of ALQST. (Photo: Supplied)

Yahya Assiri is a former Saudi air force officer, now the head of ALQST, which fights for human rights and a written constitution in Saudi Arabia.
Yahya Assiri was once a wealthy air force officer in Saudi Arabia, he now lives as a political refugee in the United Kingdom. He runs ALQST, his own human rights group through an underground network of activists back at home.

He spent years living a double life in Saudi Arabia. By day he would work on international arms deals for the Saudi military, but by night he would be in online forums discussing problems of poverty, unemployment and repression.

Yahya was born in 1980 in Asir province, a region in south-west Saudi Arabia where indigenous tribes fiercely resisted the 20th century unification of Saudi Arabia under the Wahhabi-allied al-Saud family.

As well as heading ALQST, he currently works as a volunteer in the Middle East and North Africa division of Amnesty International, while studying for his Masters in Human Rights and Political Communications at Kingston University, London.

He graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project Research Fellow Elliot Friedland about human rights in Saudi Arabia and his tireless work in support of that cause.

Clarion Project: Walk us through a day in the life of ALQST (as far as you are able)?

Yahya Assiri: The days begin early. It begins with checking emails, reply to them and dealing with any urgent issues. We check the status of situations in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and follow up on it with our on-the-ground volunteers. We publish reports as and when needed.


Saudi Arabia’s notorious morality police. (Photo: Reuters)

This often involves using one of our translators to translate it from Arabic to English and then it is sent off to our researchers to verify and correct. We do a lot of interviews with the media and this is great because the situation in KSA is simply deteriorating.

So the more publicity we have, the better. We plan our next move, for example which campaigns we will focus on. Every day is different; you never know what will happen.
A protest against beheading in Saudi Arabia. (Photo: Reuters)


Clarion: What do you hope to achieve through Al-Qst?

Assiri: Our aim at ALQST is to make a significant impact on the deteriorating human rights situation in KSA, which ultimately has a ripple effect on the rest of the Middle East.

Our aim is to curb government violations of human rights, which it perpetrates against its own citizens, and to spread the values of human rights in society.

We seek to advocate for human worth and dignity, to stand up for all basic human rights and fundamental freedoms, by using all legitimate and non-violent means. ALQST stands up for victims of injustice regardless of their race, gender, opinions or any other considerations.
Saudi Arabia’s notorious morality police. (Photo: Reuters)


Clarion: Can you tell us about the name you chose? What does it mean? Why did you choose it?

Assiri: AL-QST in arabic translate to ‘justice’ in english and it is written in the Quran several times.

This is to show the Saudi people that human rights do not contradict Islamic teachings, as the government erroneously likes to  claim.
U.S. President Barack Obama with the former King of Saudi Arabia Abdullah. The flag of the Kingdom, pictured, is emblazoned with the <a data-cke-saved-href=


Clarion: What in your eyes is the biggest obstacle to human rights in Saudi Arabia?

Assiri: Lots of things, but the main one has to be the regime. It is an absolute monarchy which does not allow its citizens to participate in the way their own country is run.

They use Islam as an excuse to exploit its own people. This is in contradiction to fundamental Islamic teachings.
King Salman of Saudi Arabia. (Photo: Reuters)


Clarion: Do you think that human rights can be achieved while still keeping the monarchy and the regime in place?

Assiri: Only if the regime and the monarchy are willing to make reforms immediately and without conditions, including having a written constitution.
Without these basic changes, it is near enough impossible to envision keeping the monarchy in place.

Manoeuvres from above, movements from below: Greece under Tsipras-Gareth Jenkins and Despina Karayianni

Posted by admin On July - 15 - 2015 Comments Off on Manoeuvres from above, movements from below: Greece under Tsipras-Gareth Jenkins and Despina Karayianni


Syriza’s electoral victory on 25 January 2015 was historic. It was the first time a party with its roots in the Communist tradition had succeeded in coming to office. It was a victory for the working class movement, which had fought with great determination and courage against the austerity programme that the Pasok government had signed up to in 2010 and that the technocratic Papademos and New Democracy governments had continued to implement. The great hope was that the new left government would cancel the Memorandum of Understanding imposing austerity and lift the crippling burden of debt.

One hundred days on, and what is the picture? The government has, of course, been under tremendous pressure from the international bodies it negotiates with not to break with the politics of austerity. But the government’s record has been one of unnecessary retreat and compromise—a long drawn out process of surrender to the demands of the creditors punctuated by assertions of resistance and threats of default (this is the overall picture at the time of writing at the end of May). Fighting and losing is one thing—but conceding before any real struggle is another. And force majeure cannot excuse the retreat elsewhere, in foreign policy, for example. Nothing compelled Alexis Tsipras to establish friendly relations with the reactionary Egyptian regime and shake hands with the butcher of the revolution Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi as he did at a counter-terrorism summit in April this year.

This article will locate the reason for retreat in the logic of the strategy adopted by the Syriza leadership. They gambled that a “compromise with capital” would enable them to deliver on their promises.1 But the compromise has led them in the opposite direction. Only an alternative strategy can put a stop to that.

But where is that alternative to be rooted? Is it a matter primarily of who wins inside Syriza, the leadership or the left? Or is it a matter of rooting an alternative strategy in the movement that brought Syriza to victory? The answer depends, in part, on how one assesses the current state of the movement: does it show a capacity to develop forms of struggle that can break the limitations of the leadership strategy? In other words, is a politics independent of Syriza, with real clout in the movement, possible? This article argues yes to both.

Climb-down in Brussels

Within days of taking office Syriza was quickly disabused of the idea that the Eurogroup—the eurozone finance ministers—might be persuaded to drop the neoliberal “solution” to the debt crisis. It patently didn’t work (the more austerity was imposed to ensure Greece would pay its debt, the more the ratio of debt to GDP rose, instead of falling, as it was meant to do). The argument was not about “rational” economic solutions. It was about “politics”. No precedent of debt forgiveness was to be set that might encourage other debt-laden countries to vote the wrong way.

Given that Syriza was committed to solving the debt problem only within the framework of negotiations with its European “partners”, the negotiating team had its hands tied behind its back. All finance minister Yanis Varoufakis could do was spin out the talks before accepting a deal four weeks into the new government. It was a retreat—and a major one at that, despite attempts by the leadership to depict it as a comparatively minor setback in an ongoing war. The deal recognised the legitimacy of the debt (and so Greece’s “responsibility” to pay up) and committed the government not to take measures that would affect the budget or financial stability, unless these were approved. This was a continuation of the Memorandum by the back door, including supervision by the Troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund), coyly rebranded as the “Institutions”. The effect was to cast doubt on whether the new government could implement the limited—but welcome—measures to tackle the “humanitarian crisis” it had announced almost immediately on taking office: raising the minimum wage, lowering the income tax burden for the poorest and ending the property taxes that threatened people with homelessness.

The deal provoked enormous anger inside Syriza. You cannot, thundered veteran anti-fascist and Syriza MEP Manolis Glezos (using a Greek expression), baptise meat as fish by rebranding the Troika: “There can be no compromise” between oppressor and oppressed.2 Tsipras did not dare use parliament to obtain ratification for fear of exposing the divisions inside his party and having to rely for support on opposition MPs, such was the scale of the revolt. When Syriza’s central committee met, 41 percent, led by veteran left winger and minister Panayiotis Lafazanis, rejected both the agreement and the list of neoliberal “reforms” that came with it.3

Nevertheless, the deal stood and the process of negotiation continued, driven by pressure to settle before the money to pay off the creditors ran out. The government still managed to find funds despite declining tax receipts. One involved the ingenious solution of taking money from an emergency IMF account—“Athens in effect borrowed IMF assets to repay the Fund”.4 A second way involved something altogether riskier, politically speaking. The government ordered local authorities (and some other public institutions) to transfer their reserves to the central bank in what it called an “internal loan”. This gave ammunition to the pro-austerity parties and the right, who retain their bastions in local government, to present Syriza as playing fast and loose with precious local resources.

The moment of truth could not, it seemed, be put off much longer. A deal that would involve paying off all the debt appeared inevitable. Varoufakis, the man who would save capitalism from itself, could say in early May: “Of course we want to pay the IMF. We intend to pay every creditor”.5 Yet the government continued to hold out, insisting that it would not sign a deal that crossed red lines protecting labour, wages and pensions. And to the intense irritation of the creditors, the government promised to rehire some 30,000 public sector employees, victims of the Memorandum, and to re-establish a state broadcasting system (ERT), which had been sacrificed on the altar of privatisation. Again this reflected the pressure of the movement—as shown, in particular, by the long lasting and determined campaigns by women cleaners of the Ministry of Finance’s tax offices, by school guards protesting against job losses, by the occupying ERT workers and by many others.

The government’s red lines might not have been crossed but it showed its readiness to compromise elsewhere. Euclid Tsakalotos, effectively replacing Varoufakis in the negotiations with the Eurogroup, signalled that “while Athens will not cross ‘red lines’ it has laid down in talks, it was still ready to be flexible elsewhere. When you have a political plan, you can find solutions and make some compromises”.6 This involved abandoning the promise to stop privatisation. Initially Syriza had halted the takeover of the port of Piraeus by the Chinese company Cosco. Now it will let privatisation go ahead. Since inevitably this will involve an assault on wages and conditions, inevitably the “red lines” will be breached. Only resistance by the workers themselves—and the port workers have taken action—will stop that.

Compromise is at work elsewhere. The rise in the minimum wage to €751 and raising the tax threshold to €12,000 have been postponed. Abolishing the property tax has been deferred. Such measures put pressure on wages, whatever the government says about “red lines”.

The logic of reformism

The core problem is not individual betrayal but the logic of Syriza’s strategy. Change is not to be brought about through workers’ self-activity. Rather, trust is placed in what “their” party can do to carry out reform through holding office (so workers play, at most, a secondary, supporting role). But the orientation on parliament entails anticipating the limits that this mode of operation imposes—and adapting to it. It is the built-in contradiction in this process that explains what has gone wrong.

This is clear from the Thessaloniki programme Syriza adopted in September 2014. “Dropping the debt” was translated into demanding the “write-off [of] the greater part of public debt’s nominal value so that it becomes sustainable in the context of a ‘European Debt Conference’”, and through letting the economy grow so as “to pay off the remaining debt from the creation of new wealth and not from primary surpluses, which deprive society of income”.7 Repudiation of the debt, on the grounds that the popular classes were not responsible for the crisis impoverishing their lives and so not responsible for repaying the debt, became instead acceptance that debt repayment was legitimate and the Greek people would have to pay much of it.

The adaptation to accepting partial responsibility for the debt was related to Tsipras’s commitment that there would be no challenge to capitalism as such, only to its neoliberal version. “Balancing the government’s budget”, he declared, “does not automatically require austerity. A Syriza government will respect Greece’s obligation, as a eurozone member, to maintain a balanced budget, and will commit to quantitative targets.” Nor, he went on, is austerity “part of the European treaties; democracy and the principle of popular sovereignty are. If the Greek people entrust us with their votes, implementing our economic programme will not be a ‘unilateral’ act, but a democratic obligation”.8 He thus indicated in the commitment to Europe, to the euro, and to a “balanced budget” (wrapped up in an appeal to “democracy”) that Syriza would not stray beyond the limits of the system.

The gamble was that the new government, armed with a popular mandate, could negotiate its way out of austerity. Once, however, the Eurogroup made it clear that there was no alternative to neoliberal austerity, whatever the wishes of the Greek people, the government was hamstrung by its commitment to sticking by the system. Sweet reason proved impotent. Only a break with its strategy would have avoided the retreat.

The alternative was and remains unilateral action of the sort Tsipras had ruled out in advance. But if “saving our economic programme” cannot be achieved without defaulting on the debt, then default it would have to be, and all that that implies about breaking with the euro. But, inevitably, this option raised (and continues to raise) the question of whether there is an alternative way to fight austerity. Reliance on beating the other side through negotiations does not require the masses to intervene on their own behalf; beating the other side independently of negotiations is a different matter.

The Syriza leadership has argued that it has no popular mandate for “unilateral” action and therefore must continue to negotiate for the best deal it can get. The opinion polls appear to confirm this. Reuters reported on 29 April 2015:

The survey by pollster GPO for Mega TV showed that 75.6 percent believe the government, elected after promising to challenge budget cuts, must strike a deal at any cost with its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund to stay in the euro. Only 22.8 percent disagreed. The poll showed that 58.3 percent supported the strategy followed by prime minister Alexis Tsipras in negotiations with lenders while 39.8 percent disapproved.9

A poll in mid-May painted a similar picture with 65.9 percent wanting the government to come to an agreement with international creditors and 30.7 percent wanting a rift with the lenders. But this second poll showed that a shift away from support for the government strategy had been taking place: “Trust of Greeks in the way the government handles negotiations is waning, with 54.2 percent saying that the Syriza government follows the right strategy when the percentage in February was 81.5. Also, 43.3 percent believe that the negotiation strategy is wrong.” However, the poll also indicated that it would be wrong to read this waning trust as a shift to the right. On the contrary, it indicated a growing mood among the majority for more determined resistance: “56.7 percent answered that the government should stick to the ‘red lines’ (13th pension [instalment at the end of the year], minimum wage increase, collective bargaining, etc) and not back down, even if that was a deal breaker.” Only a minority (admittedly a big minority—39.3 percent) “said that the government must cross the red lines if that would secure an agreement”.10

A poll in Kathimerini (10 May) suggested that while overall a majority wanted to stick with the euro, the minority of those willing to return to the drachma was greater among Syriza supporters than in the population at large—39 percent as against 27 percent. When asked to choose between a new memorandum with the euro and economic independence with the drachma, a majority of Syriza supporters (58 percent) were in favour, as opposed to 35 percent in the general population.11 Polling at the end of May confirmed that trend: “58 percent of Syriza supporters would prefer to return to the drachma rather than continue implementing Troika austerity measures”.12

What does this tell us? First and foremost, the fact that the workers’ movement continues to identify with Syriza is more a vote of confidence in itself than any blanket endorsement for the government’s strategy. If anything, there is a shift to the left. That can only mean that the direction of the movement is not towards acceptance (reluctant or otherwise) of a deal but towards a fight against making further sacrifices. That is good news for the left. But how the left responds is the big test. It is clear, as we have seen, that the left inside Syriza is fighting hard to stop the retreat by the leadership, which is only to be welcomed. But the struggle to stop austerity cannot rest on whether there is a change of direction by Syriza. The question is whether the left as a whole has a strategy to build a united fight that does not depend on what happens inside Syriza but looks to workers’ struggle irrespective of whether or not a deal is signed. The polls suggest there are shifts going on in workers’ consciousness that make this a real possibility.

Options for Grexit

Before turning to the state of the struggle on the ground we need to see how such considerations bear on “Grexit”—Greek departure from the eurozone. There are different forms of Grexit and different ways in which it might happen—by accident or intentionally. The question here for us is how it might be seen from a class viewpoint.

The first thing to note is that bourgeois commentators do not rule out Grexit as incompatible with the continuing health of the capitalist system. Some even see it as helping the system to recover. Austerity has patently failed, they argue, to grow the Greek economy. So, instead of hoping that a repeat of the same policy will work (the definition of madness), let the government repudiate the debt, exit the euro and rebuild its economy. Thus Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times:

For Greece, leaving the euro would open up new economic and political possibilities. It would allow the country to default on some of its gigantic debts (or further restructure them, if you want to be polite about it). It would also enable Greece to devalue its currency and escape the fixed-exchange rate system that has helped to devastate Greek competitiveness.

Of course, there would also be ugly short-term economic effects. The experience of countries such as Argentina suggests there would be bank-runs and the imposition of capital controls, for a while. The prices of key imports, such as food and energy, would also go up.13

Wolfgang Münchau, also of the Financial Times, has long made a similar case.14

What about Grexit from the viewpoint of the working class? The left inside Syriza has linked the break with the euro to the need to take anti-capitalist measures. Thus, in mid-May rebels, including members of the political bureau and central committee, and Yiannis Milios, former economic adviser to the prime minister, issued a public challenge to the leadership:

We have to choose between signing what is obviously an austerity agreement and making a break with lenders… Syriza can’t become a party of austerity and this government cannot implement a memorandum… Our only choice is a rupture with the creditors—suspending loan repayments, [imposing] measures to restrict free movement of capital, putting banks under state control, taxing capital and the wealthy to finance measures to support ordinary people…and even a break with the euro.15

Another leading left economist and Syriza MP, Costas Lapavitsas, has forcefully and consistently argued for Grexit. He was reported (in mid-May) as saying: “If it comes to the crunch, Greece must default and go its way. There is no point raiding pension funds to buy time. We just exhaust ourselves for no purpose”.16 In an interview at the end of April he put forward a more detailed case for what a left government should do. Assuming a “negotiated, consensual, orderly exit”, there would be a “recovery of domestic demand” based on reactivating small and medium enterprises (a huge untapped resource) but, since domestic demand could not in itself bring sustainable growth, Greece would need a long-term industrial policy to “restructure its productive base, to integrate itself in the world economy on a different basis”.17 Greece could become competitive through devaluation and wages could then gradually rise again (the implication being that they could not do so before then).

The Marxist economist Michael Roberts has objected to Lapavitsas’s contention that Keynesianism is of more immediate practical use for solving the Greek crisis than is Marxism, which has to do with the transition from capitalism to socialism. Roberts asks:

So Keynes is realistic and relevant to policy and Marxist economics is not? Now is this right? Is Marxist economics just an analytical tool or a long-term strategy for socialism but irrelevant or at least less relevant to the immediate tasks of government trying to repair a broken economy than the Keynesian categories of devaluation, public spending and monetary policy?

I find that surprising coming from a Marxist. The Syriza government now has the opportunity to campaign among the Greek people and implement socialist measures to replace Greek “big capital” with a domestic economy controlled by the common weal. Instead, it seems both the wings of Syriza want to adopt Keynesian solutions (only); except one wing wants to do it within the euro (Tsipras/Varoufakis), while the other says that is impossible and wants to do it outside the euro (Left Platform).

Now I’m not opposed to using Keynesian prescriptions as part of any socialist measures for Greece: eg progressive taxation, government spending, labour rights, minimum wage (not sure the latter are even Keynesian). But such measures must be part of a programme to replace capitalism, not try to make it work—in or out of the euro.18

Roberts surely has a point here. The ambiguity in Lapavitsas’s position is its assumption that a solution for the Greek economy can be one that, at least temporarily, suspends class conflict (for example, wage demands would have to yield to the need to keep a post-Euro Greece competitive). Keynesianism in the here and now, and relegating Marxism to the future is a way of saying that the working class must wait its turn. Yet unless the working class can actively shape Grexit there is no guarantee that it will be able to bring about the socialist future Lapavitsas desires. Hence the significance of the demand (by the anti-capitalist left) that the banks should not only be put under state control but that they should be under workers’ control. To emphasise working class self-activity as the agent of change is to make Marxism actual in the debate about Grexit.19 A challenge, even a partial one, to the priorities of the system, like a left government nationalising the banks to restrict the flows of capital, will only be effective if there is control from below that can ensure that Grexit is ultimately in the interests of the working class, rather than the Greek ruling class.

The Keynesian form of Grexit we see here ducks the question of conflict between classes and looks to a solution via the existing nation state. The danger here is of nation trumping class—a real problem when we take into account the role played by the Independent Greeks (Anel) and other “independents” in shaping the politics of the coalition government (particularly around the inter-related issues of foreign policy, immigration, racism and fascism.

Nationalist continuities

Why did a party of the radical left form a coalition with Anel? Anel is a right wing split from New Democracy. Its leader, Panos Kammenos, is “a nationalistic, right wing, archconservative, with strong anti-immigrant views and a deep antipathy to Germany”; he “doesn’t accept the separation of church and state in Greece and opposes civil unions for homosexual couples”. Kammenos also “opposes giving Greek citizenship to non-Greeks—including children born on Greek soil—and wants to see taxes on the rich lowered as a way to stimulate investment”.20

The justification given for the coalition was that, in the absence of an outright parliamentary majority, Syriza had no option but to form an alliance with the one anti-austerity party that would support it (the Communist Party—KKE—had ruled itself out). But parliamentary arithmetic doesn’t explain why Tsipras offered a New Democracy politician the post of presidency of the republic—nor why he offered important ministerial posts to non-party “independents”, almost entirely on the right, some of them not even MPs. As Panos Garganas explained in the previous issue of International Socialism, by putting Kammenos in charge of defence, Nikos Kotzias (an “independent”) in charge of foreign policy, and Yiannis Panousis (another “independent”) in charge of the police (“citizen protection”), Tsipras was sending a message that Syriza would not interfere in key areas of the state. This is part of the strategy of “compromise with capital”.21

The consequences of this have become clear. At the end of January Kammenos sought to ramp up nationalism by flying a helicopter over uninhabited islands contested between Greece and Turkey—“to show his patriotism and to honour those who died there”, an Anel spokesperson said.22 He even threatened in early March: “If Europe leaves us in the crisis, we will flood it with migrants, and it will be even worse for Berlin if in that wave of millions of economic migrants there will be some jihadists of the Islamic State too”.23

This sinister buffoonery was repudiated by the government but Kammenos, by pushing for the establishment of a new NATO base on Karpathos, on the edge of the Aegean sea, and purchasing new long-range missiles to support its aged (Russian-built) anti-aircraft system,24 has led the way for Tsipras to prove he can be trusted in matters of foreign policy. Tsipras’s aforementioned handshake with el-Sisi came at the conclusion of a political and economic deal with Cyprus and Egypt, designed to show that Greece could play a major role in the imperialist set-up in the region.

The negotiations with Russia provoked speculation that Greece was breaking from the West (due to a shared heritage, communist or religious, with Russia). The more likely explanation (apart from having to buy the missiles from Russia) is that a show of national independence would be a useful bargaining chip in the negotiations with the Eurogroup.25

As with foreign policy, so with domestic affairs, particularly around issues of violence, terrorism and immigration. Panousis has used his position as alternate minister of citizen protection to push a reactionary agenda. His reaction to the awful case of a Bulgarian man accused of killing, mutilating and cooking his daughter was to say that the prison code would ensure the man would soon “die” in prison (in other words, that he would rightly expect a death penalty that no longer exists in Greece).26 His reaction to direct action (including an invasion of the courtyard of parliament) by anarchists in support of hunger strikers was to lash out at government critics. “A left-wing government”, he wrote in the newspaper Ta Nea, “does not mean that the country and the cities should be left defenceless.” He also criticised the minister of justice for wanting to enter discussions with protesters and “hooded youths”: “Democracy does not speak with those who have no face”.27 Though none of this went unchallenged inside Syriza, Panoussis remains minister.

On immigration the progressive line the government initially took has slipped. In February, the alternate minister for immigration policy, Tasia Christodoulopoulou, a lawyer and activist very much respected on the left, promised immediate closure of the immigrant detention centres. She was genuinely shocked at the horrific conditions in which migrants were living (“These camps are incompatible with humanitarianism, the rule of law, and any sense of reason”28). But since then the government has retreated under pressure from the right wing argument that releasing immigrants would increase crime. “Two months into the new government only 500 detainees have been released—barely 10 percent of the total”.29 Panoussis said that police sweeps for illegal immigrants would restart in the centre of Athens. As Antarsya councillor Petros Constantinou says: “Those who don’t have papers will be arrested—and no migrants have been given papers for years”.30

Respecting parliamentary niceties

The strategy of compromise hopes that by letting the government’s junior partners run sensitive ministries the bourgeois state’s hostility to radical demands can be “contained”. The bargain Syriza proposes is that, in exchange for abiding by parliamentary norms, the other side will too—everyone will respect “democracy”. But far from protecting a government of the left from its enemies, such respect can be a noose around its neck. Nowhere is this clearer than with the deadliest enemy of the workers’ movement, the fascist Golden Dawn. Its reactionary ideology may not be unique, but what distinguishes it from the parliamentary right is its systematic use of often murderous violence for political ends (control of neighbourhoods, terrorising of minorities and the left). It seeks thereby to convince the ruling class that if respect for “democracy” can no longer safeguard the rule of capital, there exists a force that has already proved it can physically liquidate any resistance. That is why Golden Dawn is not just a party like any other (if much nastier) and why it cannot be allowed “democratic” space like any other.

Yet parliamentary speaker and Syriza MP Zoi Konstantopoulou chose to do precisely that. On 24 February she created uproar when she postponed a vote on lifting the immunity of New Democracy MP Adonis Georgiades on the grounds that imprisoned Golden Dawn MPs had been prevented from attending the vote. On 5 March she argued that parliament had been operating illegally over the previous few months because the imprisoned MPs were absent. On the same day she was reported as telling ERT Open in an interview that criminal behaviour by some did not mean that “Golden Dawn is politically an unacceptable party. That there are indications of Nazi ideas doesn’t mean we can impose discounts on democracy”.31

Konstantopoulou is a human rights lawyer, who favours suspending repayment of the debt for a year. Her hostility to racism and fascism is not in doubt. So the line she has taken towards Golden Dawn MPs can only be described as a surrender to the illusion that the rules of “democracy” have to be respected even with deadly opponents. The dangerous consequence has been a breach in the cordon sanitaire around the fascists that others have since widened. Included in the invitation to participate in a National Council of Foreign Policy meeting, on Greek-Turkish relations and the Cyprus issue, was Golden Dawn—who have publicly called on the Greek army to invade Istanbul!32 Kotzias, who chaired the meeting, justified the presence of Golden Dawn on the grounds that he was following the practice laid down by the parliamentary president, Zoi Konstantopoulou.

As the anti-racist and anti-fascist organisation, Keerfa, noted, in condemning this challenge to our collective freedoms: “the invitation is a mighty stab in the back of the anti-fascist movement battling to put the criminal Nazi organisation on trial and sentence the murderers of the assault battalions of the Golden Dawn”.33

The anti-capitalist left

This is where the strategy of the Syriza leadership can go. The revolt by the left started, as we noted, in February and has gained momentum as the retreat has worsened. At the central committee meeting on 24 May the Left Platform, which claims to constitute a third of the party’s membership, put forward a text calling for default, which only narrowly lost (by 75 to 95).34 The Left Platform has between 25 and 32 MPs and several ministers, the most important of whom is its leader, Panayiotis Lafazanis. This gives the Left Platform real influence. Given that a significant number of other MPs may prove reluctant to vote for an unacceptable deal, the chances of Tsipras, with his narrow parliamentary majority, avoiding a crisis are uncertain.35 What this might mean for the future of the government and the party (fresh elections, a split in Syriza?) is equally uncertain—though there is much speculation.36

This revolt poses an immense challenge for the Syriza left. Lafazanis has argued that the left can succeed but that, if it cannot, staying true to principle is more important than staying in office: “There is nothing more repulsive or alien to me than the idea of power for power’s sake… If we cannot succeed, the best thing we can do is hand over the baton. But we can, and will, succeed by showing determination, courage and dedication to our principles”.37 This recognition of the limits of electoralism is important. But it raises even more acutely the question of whether the left should confine itself to struggling for dominance within a party that has proved to be shaped by electoralism. This is where the politics of the anti-capitalist left, outside Syriza, deserves something other than dismissal as marginal.

On the face of it, however, this assessment of the anti-capitalist left grouped in Antarsya (the Front of the Anticapitalist Left) seems the obvious one. Antarsya won 0.64 percent of the vote in the January national election, proof, apparently, that an independent left is doomed, like the truly sectarian Communist Party (with 5.5 percent of the vote), to passive denunciation of Syriza from the sidelines.38 It would, of course, be extremely foolish to ignore electoral reality (or pretend that the danger of sectarianism does not exist). But this does not tell anything like the whole story. Even on the difficult terrain of electoral politics Antarsya has had some success on the local and regional level (25 local councillors and nine regional councillors—very small numbers, of course, compared with Syriza). Closer examination of the January national vote shows something else. In the “B Athens” district, which includes working class areas, Antarsya got 0.88 percent of the vote and the left as a whole around 45 percent of the vote (with Syriza on 37.09 percent and the KKE on 6.93 percent).39 In the Peristeri working class area of “B Athens”, Antarsya got 1.17 percent and the left won an absolute majority (with Syriza on 43.37 percent and the KKE on 8.81 percent).40 The point is not to big up the vote for the anti-capitalist left. What these better than average results for the revolutionary left do suggest, however, is that a minority of workers who might otherwise have voted for Syriza (as the best way to beat the right) opted for the anti-capitalist left.

On the terrain of struggle itself the picture is much more favourable to the anti-capitalist left. On the executive committee of the confederation of public sector unions (ADEDY), which includes teachers, nurses and municipal workers, Antarsya has two seats out of a total of 17—ie roughly 12 percent.41 And on the ground, among such workers, the influence of Antarsya is widely recognised. Thus Antarsya’s social weight is much greater than its electoral score indicates. As far as students are concerned, here again the anti-capitalist left shows its strength. In the student union elections in early May, when 65,000 students voted across Greece in one day, EAAK (the United Independent Left Movement—supported by Antarsya) got 13.7 percent of the vote.42 In other words, there is not a wall between the anti-capitalist left and those who, in one way or another, look to Syriza.

It is also worth noting in passing that to dismiss the KKE just because of its sectarianism would be foolish. It retains real influence in key struggles (like the Coca Cola strike and boycott), among dockers and in the private sector, as well as the public sector.

The second justification for those who say that the only real home for the left is Syriza is based on an assessment of the political capacity of the workers’ movement. The argument here is that in 2012 workers realised that purely economic action (strikes, demonstrations, etc) could not stop the implementation of austerity and that a political solution was now needed. The decline in the number of general strikes was, it is sometimes said, a reflection of the turn of the struggle from the economic to the political, and a turn by the movement to support for Syriza as the party that, through taking governmental power, would implement what the movement, despite sustained and heroic struggle, had not been able to deliver for itself—that is, to cancel the debt.

But though most workers will have drawn the political conclusion that the road out of austerity ran through electing Syriza, it is a mistake, as we have seen from an analysis of the polls, that majority consciousness is fixed and stable. Struggle can shift it forward—and the state of the movement since 2012 is very far from being one of overall “exhaustion” or “pause”. To see the workers’ movement in these terms can serve as cover for the strategy of compromise—there is no alternative to a deal, much as one might like to hold out—which is to blame the workers for one’s own backsliding. It can also serve as justification for seeing the terrain of political struggle as largely confined to what happens inside Syriza—with the fight for an alternative strategy being something that is done on behalf of a movement with little voice of its own.

The state of the workers’ movement

So what has been the state of the movement since 2012 and what political conclusions might be drawn?

The first thing to note is that the workers’ movement remains mobilised ever since destroying the parties that formed the political backbone of parliamentary rule (Pasok and New Democracy). These parties have enjoyed no political recovery despite Syriza’s move to the right. This represents a truly significant achievement by the movement when we consider what happened under François Mitterrand in France after 1981, when disillusion with the Socialist Party government’s austerity measures resulted in a growth of right wing forces, including an electoral breakthrough by the fascist Front National. This is how we should interpret Syriza’s continuing popularity in the polls—as a vote of confidence by the movement in itself.

Concretely, we see this continued mobilisation in the way in which the struggles that took off between 2012 and 2014 have remained strong and determined. One striking case has been that of the women cleaners, who kept their protest camp outside the Ministry of Finance even after Syriza was elected. They did not, in other words, demobilise because they trusted in Syriza to give them their jobs back. They kept up the pressure to ensure that Syriza would. The same determination is true of the school guards and of the ERT occupation, and the associated networks of solidarity.

This mobilisation has not simply been an “economic” one (against the Memorandum) as workplaces rallied in support of the international day of action against racism on 21 March showed. And (even more importantly) the public sector trade union confederation, ADEDY, called for a four-hour stoppage on the day the Golden Dawn trial opened on 20 April. Support for immigrants, demands for the closure of the “concentration camp” for migrants on the Greek island of Amygdaleza, and resistance to racism and fascism show the workers’ movement taking seriously its role as tribune of the oppressed.

The wave of radicalisation to the left has brought to the fore new forces as the composition of the working class has changed. Women’s participation in the struggle has markedly increased (the most visible symbol of this being the cleaners). Migrants, far from being marginal victims, have joined the movement through their own self-organisation. For example, the Manolada strawberry pickers in Peloponnese responded to the bosses’ horrific violence by forming their own union. Other immigrant workers have done the same.

These developments are a challenge to prevailing ideas of sexism and racism. Thus the cleaners and the school guards were at the forefront of celebrating International Women’s Day on 8 March and welcoming the Pride demonstration against homophobia. Shifts like this in political consciousness, broadening the workers’ movement against the Memorandum to take on oppression, are immensely important in resisting the ruling class attempts to divide and weaken the class.43

The continuing level of mobilisation has seen not only a continuation of strikes and struggles that started in the period before Syriza’s victory (at Coca Cola, for example) but a new wave of industrial action since. Workers in the mobile telephone industry (Wind, Vodafone and Forthnet) have fought for a new collective agreement; a metro workers’ strike over conditions took place on 19 March; dockers have fought privatisation; civil aviation staff have taken action; and, crucially, hospital workers have gone on strike over the staffing crisis caused by austerity. ADEDY has called a demonstration demanding that the debt be cancelled.

The health workers’ strike is the biggest so far under Syriza. It shows that workers are prepared to take action for themselves to fight austerity, rather than wait. But, disturbingly, the Syriza health trade union, META, has argued that the strike is being driven by trade unionists hostile to Syriza in order to legitimate pro-Memorandum political interests.44 This shows where the logic of compromise with capital can lead—to workers in struggle being attacked by their “own” party, effectively on the grounds that “excessive” action will only suit the class enemy. At the moment, however, this doesn’t seem to be holding back those sections of the movement who want to continue the fight against austerity from below.

The development of the ERT occupation movement is a good example of action from below and workers’ control versus that of the bosses. The state broadcasting network ERT was closed without warning by the Tory government of Antonis Samaras in 2013 in a move designed to show its determination to implement the Troika-demanded privatisation programme, which had not at that point enjoyed overwhelming success in opening up the Greek economy to neoliberalism. Targeting the state broadcaster was, therefore, of enormous political significance—intended, at the same time, as a decisive blow against resistance to authority. But the closure backfired spectacularly. Far from being cowed, the workers moved into occupation and used their occupation as a rallying call to the rest of the movement to resist. Though the police managed to evict the workers in the Athens ERT, the occupation continued, most notably in Greece’s second city, Thessaloniki. Though prevented from broadcasting in the old way, the new workers’ TV station continued with an online service.

This occupation45 was highly political. It was not just about saving jobs; it was about saving a public service and running it in the interests of the working class as a whole. To the politics of neoliberalism the occupation opposed a politics of workers’ power—a new way in which society could run its affairs. They recreated public broadcasting as a genuine community service, open to working class and popular interests (and a lot livelier than its rather dull forebear). The occupation acted as a centre of struggle and solidarity for disputes like those of the women cleaners and school guards, as well as the long-running environmental campaign, involving whole communities, to end gold mining at Skouries in Halkidiki in northern Greece. What started as resistance to the old government has become, with Syriza’s victory, a demand that re-establishing a state broadcaster (as the government has promised) must not be an occasion to re-establish old management structures.

The Syriza victory did not mean an end to the occupation. Rather it used Syriza’s promise to re-establish a state broadcaster to insist that a new ERT would not be managed in the old way. The workers had tasted freedom from the bosses and were not going to sacrifice that freedom. Stelios Nikitopoulos, one of the leading figures in the Thessaloniki occupation, interviewed in early April, spoke of the political significance of this:

What we won during this struggle we must maintain in the future. When ERT is relaunched, it must have as its principles, freedom of expression, self-regulation, be a voice for the weak and be a voice for the movement fighting for a better life.

The proposed legislation does not include self-regulation, which sustained us the whole time we’ve been occupying and running ERT. In addition it left out all the staff that were in fixed term contracts; it included only permanent staff. Further, there is the issue of the volunteers who offered us solidarity and worked ensuring we ran the programmes. For example, here at ERT 3 in Thessaloniki, these volunteers are responsible for half the workload producing the programmes we ran.

We expect a more radical change for us, to reflect the political change in Greece. We want to become a counter-voice… ERT is no longer simply a broadcasting organisation; we are a movement together with other movements united with those out fighting. We united with those fighting to get their jobs back, school caretakers, finance ministry women cleaners; with the strikers at the Coca Cola factory and the workers of the cement factory in Halkida, fighting for their factories to reopen; with workers at the Viome factory abandoned by management and operating for the last two years with just the workers running it. We united with the residents of Halkidiki fighting against proposed mining for gold that would destroy their land, fighting for clean air and water, health and freedom. These are the people who after the closure of ERT, while on a demonstration in Thessaloniki, changed the route of the demo and came here at ERT 3, with the slogan “From Skouries to ERT 3, struggle for land and freedom”.46

This gives us a magnificent sense of how workers’ power and solidarity have developed and continue to develop.

It has, inevitably, meant conflict with the government over the way a reconstituted public broadcasting service should be run. The government has honoured its pledge to re-open ERT (which is entirely to be welcomed). But its strategy of compromise continues at this level too. The new CEO appointed by the government, Lambis Tagmatarchis, is a former top manager of ERT, very much part of the media establishment, who served as director under the Pasok government.47 This led to protests within Syriza and opposition from the unions, whose president is being pointedly excluded from the new board, on which he previously sat. Furthermore, the employees who chose to work for the slimmed-down replacement set up by Samaras after closing down ERT (a scab operation, effectively) will also get their jobs back.48 So the plan is for a return to business as usual, with the position of management reinforced.

Whatever the outcome, a leading group of workers are not prepared to accept re-establishment of the state broadcaster on terms that reflect the priorities of capital. Many of these workers undoubtedly define themselves as Syriza supporters. But, through their own struggles, they are finding their way to a different kind of politics from electoral politics, one based on the potentiality of workers to run society for themselves and on their own self-managed forms of organisation. It is this that the left inside Syriza should look to in its struggle against the leadership. If it fails to understand that the workers’ movement has not halted it will find itself disarmed and at a disadvantage in respect of the leadership.49

It should be noted that the right has attempted to find a point of entry into the workers’ movement. It “supported” a demonstration mounted by the gold miners’ union against the campaign to stop gold mining in Halkidiki on the grounds that its members’ jobs were threatened—as if lining up behind the company was not an even bigger threat to the livelihoods of everyone in the area.50

Confronting the fascists

It is not just the ERT occupation that was politically important in this period of apparent “lull”. Of equal importance was the breakthrough by the anti-racist and anti-fascist struggle under the leadership of Keerfa, following the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September 2013. Already the demonstration in January of that year had seen a major shift when thousands of protesters, headed by Pakistani migrants and led by Javed Aslam, president of the Pakistani community of Greece, gathered to mourn the brutal murder of a young Pakistani worker, Shehzad Luqman. The march symbolised the real possibility of unity between “native” and “immigrant”—a unity that would inspire immigrants to see themselves as organising alongside Greek workers and that could begin to break down divisions. Though Syriza members attended, they largely did so as individuals. It was the anti-capitalist left that had taken the lead and gave the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement real strength—in particular to sink roots the better to challenge Golden Dawn in every locality. The necessity of this was only too evident given the offensive by the New Democracy government and the police (in cahoots with the fascists) to intimidate migrants, trade unionists and the left.

The explosion of anger triggered by Fyssas’s murder later that year forced the government to reverse course and start arresting leading fascist MPs. It’s difficult to believe they would have done so if they had not (rightly) realised the danger of the mass anti-racist and anti-fascist movement fusing with the struggle against austerity. Hundreds of thousands of public sector workers walked out on strike. On 26 September, a week after the murder, 50,000 demonstrators filled central Athens. As Katerina Thoidou of Keerfa put it: “People didn’t just want to dissolve the Golden Dawn, but to bring down the government. They are so angry at the government, the courts and the police that spent so long trying not to notice the Golden Dawn and all its attacks”.51 The authority won by the anti-capitalist left was shown by the fact that only around 1,000 people stayed behind for the concert organised by Syriza. The vast majority of the demonstration marched with Keerfa to the headquarters of Golden Dawn. The politics of mass, direct action proved to have more appeal. Syriza was, one can assume, keen not to take responsibility for a clash with the forces of law and order that might question its commitment to “democratic” forms of protest—the same commitment that led Zoi Konstantopoulou to allow the fascist MPs parliamentary rights.

The mobilisation around the Golden Dawn trial is about more than ensuring that a few fascist criminals are imprisoned. It has a broader remit. Kevin Ovenden has well explained what is at stake:

Three major criminal cases are themselves a core part of the wider proceedings. They are the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, the near fatal attack on a group of Egyptian fishermen in the Perama area of Piraeus, the port of Athens, and a similarly ferocious attack in the same area on Communist-organised trade unionists of the PAME inter-union front.

In addition to reaching verdicts on these three crimes, the court will hear evidence about others where there have already been convictions. The prosecution will then seek to show that all of these crimes, committed by Golden Dawn members, are not incidental to their perpetrators’ membership of the organisation, but in fact flow from it.

The gist of the fascists’ defence is that the organisation cannot be held responsible for the criminal activity of its members. But Golden Dawn (GD) is not a chess club, where it would be unreasonable to hold the secretary responsible for the driving offences of one of its players.

The anti-fascist case is that the actual organisation of GD, its core around which all the trappings of a political party are merely a carapace, is a hierarchical, violent gang with a command structure organised on the national-socialist fuehrerprinzip—ie strongman rule from top to bottom.52

The KKE’s involvement in the case has led it, if not to unity with the anti-racist and anti-fascist movement, into a cautious alignment with it. The final point to make here is the obvious one, that the process of justice through the bourgeois law courts will not be sufficient to end the threat from Golden Dawn. The fascist defendants have many more resources, in lawyers alone, than the prosecuting team and its legal supporters can muster—except in the one resource that can really do for the fascists, a mobilised anti-fascist movement. This is vital if the struggle to end austerity is not able to destroy a force that will stick at nothing to divide and demoralise those fighting back.


There exists, then, a strategy for beating austerity rooted in the way the working class movement has developed, whatever the outcome of the negotiations. The reason for stressing this is to counter the danger of believing that once a deal is signed all possibilities of resistance will be exhausted. This is the flip side of identifying the political hopes of the movement as identical to what Syriza stands for—and so seeing the battle over an alternative strategy as defined by the battle between the leadership and the left inside Syriza. Optimism is replaced by pessimism. No doubt signing the deal will have a negative effect on people’s hopes in Syriza. But that should not determine the strategy of the left.

The point of this article is not simply to condemn Syriza and all its works. Denunciation (of the contemplative sort) carries its own dangers of passivity. The point is to welcome the Syriza left’s condemnation of the leadership’s backslidings but to ask the question, what is to be done? And a sign of the shortcomings of the left inside Syriza is that it is very weak in this respect. This should come as no surprise as it tends to concentrate its efforts on whether it can command a majority in the party to force the leadership to change. But here the Syriza left faces an overwhelming obstacle. For all its claims to be a different kind of party, Syriza is locked into an electoralist strategy and this is what gives the leadership, under Tsipras, the whip hand. Even assuming that the left could overturn Tsipras (or, indeed, would be united enough to carry its opposition to such lengths, let alone succeed in forcing the dismissal of right wing, reactionary ministers), what would it then do? It would face the same dilemma and would be in charge of a party not equipped, because of its fundamental orientation towards working within the state, to resolve the dilemma in the interests of the working class.

But that does not mean that the divisions within Syriza are unimportant. The left may not have the power it thinks it has (indeed, such power as it has to contest the leadership is derivative of the power of the movement) but many of those fighting the bosses, fighting the state and fighting racism or fascism, support the Syriza left. The revolutionary left’s capacity to grow depends, first and foremost, on its political independence. But that independence is sterile unless it finds ways to work with much broader forces. If, of course, it fails (in a kind of mirror image to the illusions of the Syriza left) to understand the contradictory consciousness of the working class (a consciousness pulled between hope in a left government and confidence in its own struggles, a consciousness that is uneven in individual heads and between sections of the class), then it cannot understand the centrality of the united front strategy. An example of where the united front works is with the anti-racist and anti-fascist struggle—and we saw the importance of pulling Syriza into this struggle in what happened in the mass demonstration that marched on the Golden Dawn headquarters.

Another example is that of the anti-capitalist left’s programme of demands. The anti-capitalist left is not, as it is sometimes accused of, “demanding revolution” (as a maximalist point of differentiation in order to prove that Syriza will always “betray” the cause). That is to misunderstand the meaning of revolutionary politics. To be a revolutionary is certainly to believe that only revolution can ultimately solve the crisis of the system. But that doesn’t just mean propagandising for revolution. It means putting forward partial demands, demands for reform, to mobilise the working class and make actual in the consciousness of workers the need for revolution. This is the basis of the anti-capitalist left’s programme: its demands “fit” the objective needs of the situation and begin to “fit” what workers feel they can fight for. In the process of realising these demands workers will lead a broader challenge to the system.

These demands—dropping the debt, exit from the euro and control over capital—relate to the objective needs of the situation and are, as we have seen, shared by the left more broadly. They also bring to the fore the question of agency—workers’ control, when it comes to the state taking over the banks, and working class unity, in the fight against racism and fascism and in defence of migrants, both of which are paramount in the struggle against capital. The point here is that the question of workers’ control and of workers’ unity is not one sucked out of the thumb of the anti-capitalist left—these demands are “realistic” because the workers’ movement as it exists has made steps towards their realisation (the ERT occupation and solidarity network, on the one hand, and the anti-racist and anti-fascist movements, on the other).

The Syriza left is at a crossroads. For all the belief that Syriza is a different kind of party, one that transcends the division between reform and revolution and therefore should be the home for the entire left, its left faces exactly the same problem as the reformist left in social democracy—the trap of impotence. This article is written in the spirit of offering an alternative, around which the left as a whole can unite.


1: Garganas, 2015, p20.

2: Go to www.balkaneu.com/glezos-apologise-people-baptised-meat-fish

3: Kouvelakis, 2015a.

4: Hope, 2015a.

5: Spiegel, 2015.

6: Ekathimerini, 2015a.

7: Go to www.syriza.gr/article/SYRIZA—THE-THESSALONIKI-PROGRAMME.html#.VVXLfGB7A7Q

8: Tsipras, 2015.

9: Reuters, 2015a.

10: Chrysopoulos, 2015, our emphasis.

11: Marantzidis and Siakis, 2015.

12: Khan, 2015.

13: Rachman, 2015.

14: See, for example, Münchau, 2015.

15: Hope, 2015b. Milios is not part of the Left Platform group within Syriza headed by Lafazanis, though in resigning from the Syriza Economic Policy Department in mid-March he was breaking with the leadership majority.

16: Evans-Pritchard, 2015.

17: Lapavitsas, 2015.

18: Roberts, 2015.

19: Lapavitsas attacks the revolutionary left for displaying what he calls a “profound fear of power” (Budgen and Lapavitsas, 2015). Revolutionaries are not afraid of power. They want to develop the one power that can challenge and overthrow capital: workers’ power. What they reject is the illusion of power that comes with holding parliamentary office. To deny the relevance of Marxism in the present is, in effect, to run the risk of repeating the mistake of Second International Marxism and separate socialism as a long-term goal from the day to day business of “practical” politics (ie reformism).

20: Bouras and Granitsas, 2015.

21: Garganas, 2015.

22: Reuters, 2015b.

23: Withnall, 2015.

24: Ekathimerini, 2015b.

25: The Eurosceptic Daily Telegraph writer Ambrose Evans-Pritchard suggests that Vladimir Putin may have offered Greece financial inducements over a gas pipeline that would have allowed Greece to meet IMF payments and then default. But he admits that this would not solve any of Greece’s problems. And it is unlikely that Russia, with enough difficulties of its own, would be willing to underwrite Greek debt-Evans-Pritchard, 2015.

26: Ekathimerini, 2015c.

27: Reported in To Vima, 2015.

28: Ekathimerini, 2015d.

29: Constantinou, 2015.

30: Constantinou, 2015.

31: In Defense of Greek Workers, 2015.

32: Human Rights First, 2015.

33: Zafiropoulos, 2015.

34: Kouvelakis, 2015b.

35: Crash magazine online, 2015.

36: Khan, 2015.

37: Zikakou, 2015.

38: Nationally Syriza won 36.3 percent of the vote.

39: See the official figures at http://ekloges.ypes.gr/current/v/public/index.html

40: See the official figures at http://ekloges.ypes.gr/current/v/public/index.html

41: See http://adedy.gr/dioikisi/

42: I Avgi, 2015.

43: See Styllou, 2015.

44: Michaelides, 2015.

45: Not the first in the media: the newspaper Eleftherotypia had seen a long occupation by journalists starting in late 2011 when closed by its owners.

46: Interview by Despina Karayianni, 1 April 2015, at ERT occupation, Thessaloniki. (Thanks to Dimitris Hadjidimitriou for help in translation.)

47: Kouvelakis, 2015b.

48: Enikos.gr, 2015.

49: Stathis Kouvelakis, in an otherwise interesting discussion about the history, evolution and composition of Syriza, limits discussion of the movement to a throwaway comment about “an atmosphere of relative demoralisation and passivity-despite, of course, important sectoral struggles” since 2012, to which he revealingly adds that “the line of Syriza from that perspective is more one of an adaptation to the dominant trend”-Budgen and Kouvelakis, 2015. A leading Trotskyist inside Syriza, Antonis Ntavellanos, interviewed by the New Anticapitalist Party (in France), is astonishingly pessimistic: “We were hoping that the political victory of Syriza would lead to an explosion of struggles, of demands and claims. This was not the case. A state of passivity has settled in Greece today while people wait for the outcome of the negotiations”-NPA, 2015.

50: Dascalopoulos, 2015.

51: Sewell, 2013.

52: Ovenden, 2015.


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Marantzidis, Nick, and George Siakis, 2015, Kathimerini (10 May), www.kathimerini.gr/814702/article/epikairothta/politikh/oi-yhfoforoi-toy-syriza-h-paramonth-sto-eyro-kai-ta-metra

Michaelides, Stelios, 2015, Ergatiki (27 May), http://ergatiki.gr/article.php?issue=1175&id=11836

Münchau, Wolfgang, 2015, “The Simple Core of the Grexit and Brexit Conundrum”, Financial Times (18 May), www.afr.com/news/world/the-simple-core-of-the-grexit-and-brexit-conundrum-20150518-gh3vbf

NPA, 2015, “Grèce: Les dirigeants européens veulent isoler le ‘virus’ Syriza-Podemos avant qu’il ne se propage en Europe” (22 May), www.npa2009.org/idees/grece-les-dirigeants-europeens-veulent-isoler-le-virus-syriza-podemos-avant-quil-ne-se-propage

Ovenden, Kevin, 2015, “The Time Has Come To Halt Fascist Barbarism”, Morning Star (18 May), www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-9493-The-time-has-come-to-halt-fascist-barbarism

Rachman, Gideon, 2015, “Grexit May be the Best End for a Bad Marriage”, Financial Times (5 May), www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5330b2a8-f00e-11e4-bb88-00144feab7de.html#axzz3bVV70zMS

Reuters, 2015a, “Most Greeks want Deal with EU/IMF Lenders and no Referendum: Poll” (29 April), www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/29/us-eurozone-greece-poll-idUSKBN0NK2EG20150429

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Spiegel, Peter, 2015, “Greece bailout talks near ‘drop dead’ moment”, Financial Times (7 May), www.ft.com/cms/s/2/7f31597a-f4cd-11e4-abb5-00144feab7de.html#axzz3bVV70zMS

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Trotsky and the POUM-Andy Durgan

Posted by admin On July - 15 - 2015 Comments Off on Trotsky and the POUM-Andy Durgan


A review of Alan Sennett, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain, 1930-1937 (Brill, 2014/Haymarket, 2015), £98/£18


Historical debate about the outcome of the Spanish Revolution (1936-37) has often centred on the dissident communist Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM). For the Trotskyist movement the POUM was responsible for the revolution’s defeat.1 So given there is little in English on the POUM, the publication of Alan Sennett’s book, a revised version of his 1992 doctoral thesis, is to be welcomed.2

Sennett sets out to evaluate the influence of Trotsky’s theory of ­permanent revolution on the politics of the POUM, and its forerunners the Trotskyist Communist Left (Izquierda Comunista de España, ICE) and the Workers and Peasants’ Bloc (BOC), and their respective leaders Andreu Nin and Joaquín Maurín. He completes this task admirably and shows how the future POUM leaders’ analysis was clearly influenced by Leon Trotsky’s thought. But Sennett’s account runs into serious difficulties when dealing with the broader questions relating to the history of the Spanish dissident communists—something which takes up about half of the book.

Despite the claims of both the author and his editors that the book “draws heavily upon Spanish sources”, most of the texts cited were republished nearly 40 years ago. Although these texts include much relevant material, Sennett’s limited engagement with the bibliography, in relation to both the POUM and the Civil War in general, let alone primary sources, limits his understanding of the subject and has also resulted in the text containing numerous factual errors.3 He also leans too heavily on the opinions of former POUM members Víctor Alba and Ignacio Iglesias, both of who rejected Leninism in later years and concluded that Bolshevism led to Stalinism.4 Work by these authors needs at least to have been contrasted with the writings of POUM members who remained revolutionaries.

The book is further weakened by the author’s changing analysis of the Spanish Revolution. Without having abandoned his defence of Trotsky’s criticism of the POUM, in the revised text Sennett accepts the position taken by historians favourable to the Popular Front.5 But Trotsky’s critique only makes sense if one shares his basic premise that a revolutionary victory was a real possibility. The end result is a narrative which is ­equivocal, if not contradictory.

Trotsky’s writings on Spain cover such vital questions as the relation between war and revolution, the united and popular fronts and the role of the revolutionary party. However, between 1933 and early 1937 Trotsky wrote relatively little on Spain, both due to his attentions being elsewhere and to the constraints imposed on him in exile. This is not a secondary question. The gaps in Trotsky’s analysis of events in Spain, let alone the limited nature of the information he was receiving, necessitate a more nuanced reading of his writings.6


In the early 1930s the social democratic party, the PSOE, still argued that the bourgeois revolution had not taken place in Spain and, as a consequence, the immediate task of the working class (or more precisely its representatives) was to support such a revolution and not take power. This erroneous theory was resuscitated by the Communist Party during the Civil War. In contrast, both Nin and Maurín coincided with Trotsky’s view that the bourgeois revolution had already taken place in Spain. As in Russia prior to 1917, the “democratic revolution”, which would include the emancipation of women, giving land to the peasants, self-determination for the national minorities and the destruction of the power of the church, remained to be carried through. Only the working class could lead such a process and open the road to socialism given the bourgeoisie’s subordination to a deeply conservative oligarchy represented by the major landowners, the church and the army.

Nin, not surprisingly as a leading member of the International Left Opposition, applied Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution unequivocally to the situation in Spain. Trotsky and his followers would characterise Maurín and the BOC as “Bukharinists” and, many years later, Maurín, having turned his back on revolutionary politics, appears to accept this description.7 However, at the time, at least by 1933, the BOC’s position in relation to the international communist movement differed little from Trotsky’s.8

Confusion arises about Maurín’s politics due to his characterisation of the coming revolution, after the events of October 1934, as “democratic socialist”.9 Trotsky dismissed this as separating the democratic and socialist stages. While this can be deduced from Maurín’s 1931 formulation of the “democratic revolution”, writing in May 1936, comparing his position with Lenin and Trotsky in 1917, he explained that: “the seizure of power by the working class [in Spain] will entail the realisation of the democratic revolution that the bourgeoisie will not make…and at the same time it will initiate the socialist revolution, nationalising the land, transport, mines, heavy industry and the banks”. The coming revolution in Spain would: “not be bourgeois-democratic but socialist-democratic, or to be precise, socialist”.10

The convergence of Nin’s and Maurín’s analysis of the Spanish Revolution opened the way to organisational unity. In particular, the refusal by the ICE’s rank and file to enter the Socialist Party, as both its leadership and Trotsky recommended, cleared the way for its unification with the far larger BOC in September 1935. For Trotsky this “treachery” left the mass of militant youth in the Socialist ranks in the hands of the Stalinists. This was a line that orthodox Trotskyists have sustained ever since.11 Sennett clearly agrees with Trotsky on this question; although he now provides a caveat when stating: “it might be objected that such a view resides within the realms of ‘if only’ school of history that often marks historical and political writing”.12

There were two basic problems with the entryist option in Spain in 1934: the weakness of the Socialist Party in Catalonia, where the great majority of the future POUM’s membership were based, and the need to attract the rank and file of the mass anarcho-syndicalist union, the CNT. The ICE’s members were also sceptical about the possibilities of carrying out factional work in the Socialist Party; the failure of the tactic in France would confirm their doubts. In turn, by 1935 the BOC agreed with them on all major questions with the exception of the immediate founding of a new International.13

Where there seemed to be a divergence was over the national question. Sennett claims that the question of Catalan nationalism was central to the BOC’s political programme and that the BOC found themselves closer to the petty bourgeois ERC (Catalan Republican Left) than the socialists or the CNT on this issue.14 This overlooks the centrality of the national (not “nationalist”) question in Catalonia at the time and the reactionary position sustained by social democrats and anarchists alike in not defending self-determination. Moreover, as Sennett himself recognises, there was “considerable support” for Catalan “nationalism” (that is Catalan national rights) among the rank and file of the CNT.

While the ICE initially berated the BOC for its supposed capitulation to “petty bourgeois nationalism”, the evolution of both organisations led them to a similar position. The BOC moved away from its defence of “separatism” as early as 1932 while the ICE had, by 1934, taken up support for self-determination for the Basques; a demand it had previously rejected as bourgeois. Nin shared the BOC’s contempt for both the Spanish centralism of the main workers’ organisations and for the treacherous role of the ERC leadership. In fact, Trotsky himself went a lot further than the ICE when, in 1934, he defended the demand for a Catalan republic.15

Another common error is to portray Maurín as somehow not really a communist. Sennett appears to agree with this view when he claims Maurín “never completely abandoned his somewhat eclectic approach to politics in favour of an orthodox Leninist position” and that he “believed the revolution would adopt a national character and that there could be no question of trying to construct either a Bolshevik-style party or dual power organisations in the image of the soviets”.16 In fact the new party’s programme, written by Maurín, speaks of the POUM as the “Bolshevik party that the [Spanish] Revolution needs” and of the necessity of the working class taking power and establishing the “dictatorship of the proletariat” based on organs of power that guarantee “the broadest and most complete workers’ democracy”.17

Whether the POUM could fulfil its aim to be the leadership of the working class would soon be put to the test. For Trotsky, the POUM’s decision to sign the Popular Front pact in early 1936 was the definitive proof of the party’s political bankruptcy. According to Sennett, the POUM supported “an electoral strategy that was designed to secure another bourgeois republican government [something which] directly contradicted their conception of democratic socialist revolution” and “underestimated the extent to which the revolutionary process had progressed since 1933”.18 Yet Sennett admits the POUM never defended the Popular Front programme and used the elections as a platform to argue for revolution warning “against supporting any government that might result from the pact”. Contradicting himself further, Sennett concludes that “Maurín’s and Nin’s analysis of the political situation in the spring and early summer of 1936 seems a pretty accurate one”.19 What is really at stake is whether the POUM undermined its relationship with the most radicalised sectors of the working class by actually signing the pact. While it can be argued that this was not the case, its participation, however critical, could not have helped clarify the options open to the working class on the eve of revolution.20

War and revolution

With the outbreak of war and revolution, Trotsky’s criticism of the POUM centred on its participation in the Catalan government and the question of power. Trotsky was writing in extremely difficult conditions and with a limited amount of direct information. His observations and analysis have to be viewed in this context to be of any use to those wanting to understand the revolution and the options available for the contending forces. Unfortunately, Trotsky has been ill-served by many of his would-be followers who have converted his work into a shibboleth. Sennett’s account of the POUM in the war, apart from adding little to what is already available in English, vacillates between repeating Trotsky’s withering critique of the party and dismissing the revolution as a viable alternative.

The POUM entered the Catalan government in late September 1936 once the CNT had agreed on the dissolution of the Central Committee of Anti-fascist Militias (CCMA). Publicly the party justified its participation because the workers’ organisations formed a majority in the new government and it had a socialist economic programme, written by Nin. However, the underlying reason was fear of political isolation, particularly from the CNT. Some POUM leaders would later accept that their participation had served no purpose other than to provide a cover for the dissolution of the local anti-fascist committees.21

Rather than simply “bourgeois”, as Trotsky repeatedly refers to it, the united government was a coalition between sections of the petty bourgeoisie and the workers’ organisations. The bourgeoisie, as Trotsky would eventually recognise, was represented by its “shadow”.

The POUM never saw the united government as any sort of solution for the problems facing the revolution. Instead the working class needed to take power through a Constituent Assembly of representatives of workers’, peasants’ and fighters’ committees to form a workers’ government. When the POUM spoke of “workers’, peasants’ and fighters’ committees” they did not think in terms of top-down united fronts, but committees elected by the masses and equivalent to “soviets”. In the absence of such committees the party defended the immediate creation of a government based on the workers’ organisations.

Sennett fails to mention the only time that Nin, shortly before his murder by Stalinists in June 1937, publicly refuted Trotsky’s attacks on his party; particularly in relation to the question of dual power.22 According to Nin: “nothing is more anti-Marxist than to apply to all events and all revolutionary situations, a schema prepared beforehand and valid for all cases and for all latitudes”, as was the case during the Third Period and was now also the case of the Trotskyists. Trotsky and his followers were mechanically applying the lessons of the Russian Revolution to Spain. Unlike in Russia, the workers’ movement in Spain already had mass organisations, the unions, which had a great prestige. This explains why, Nin claimed, the workers had not created new organs of power. Nor was it the role of the revolutionary party to create such organs, as Trotsky called on the POUM to do. This had not been the case in Russia.

The Anti-fascist Committees created in the first weeks of the revolution were not strictly proletarian bodies, but Popular Front ones, and therefore could not play the roles of soviets. Even the CCMA, based on anti-fascist unity, was, Nin pointed out, “a type of broadened version” of the Catalan regional government and not an organ of proletarian power. So dual power had not existed in Catalonia in the summer of 1936 but two analogous bodies, both with a similar make-up, had held power.

Nin argued that it was perfectly possible to have proletarian power without the previous existence of organs of power: “after a victorious insurrection” a government might be constituted “made up of representatives of the revolutionary organisations that had led the insurrection”. “Wouldn’t this government be a revolutionary workers’ government?” he asked. If such a “perfectly feasible hypothesis became fact the question of creating adequate organs of power would be posed as a problem after the conquest [of power] by the proletariat”. He concluded:

We realise…that [our position] will not satisfy [those] who solve all problems with the help of a wisely elaborated recipe, which is good for all cases. But Marxism, which is not a dogma but a method for action, rejects formulas to act in relation to a living and mutating reality. What is fundamental is revolutionary strategy; as for tactics—they must be adapted to reality.23

Nin’s observations need to be taken into account. However, in answering Trotsky and defending his party he goes too far, denying what in reality was a de facto situation of dual power in the summer of 1936.24

The central problem facing the POUM in the revolution and one that Trotsky only turned to at the end of 1937 was the party’s relations with the CNT. Sennett, once more following Trotsky, claims the POUM “was unable and perhaps unwilling to challenge the hold of…anarcho-syndicalism over the masses” and describes as “fruitless” the POUM’s “strategy of lobbying the CNT on behalf of a revolutionary Marxist conception of the need to take political power”.25 In fact, Sennett, in the revised version of his text, describes Trotsky’s belief that a revolutionary party would attract anarcho-syndicalists as “wishful thinking”, referring to Ignacio Iglesias who claims that the CNT “connected better” to Spanish reality.26

The fact that the POUM moderated its criticism of the CNT once the revolution began was a reflection of how the role of the anarcho-syndicalists had changed. The CNT was now an indispensable ally in any successful outcome to the revolution and war. It is thus understandable in these circumstances that the POUM’s arguments and propaganda would change; whether this change became a capitulation is another question.

Events in early 1937 suggest that the POUM was making headway in its relationship with the anarcho-syndicalists. In February 1937 the POUM and Libertarian Youth established the Revolutionary Youth Front (FJR). Sennett seems oblivious to this crucial development. The FJR mobilised thousands of young workers in defence of the revolution in Catalonia, set up a network of local committees and began to form joint militia columns. Although the CNT leadership ordered its youth organisation to withdraw in late May, this was not the end of direct collaboration with the anarcho-syndicalist base.


Sennett recognises that Stalin coincided with the Popular Front government by favouring “ending non-intervention, re-establishing central control and ‘order’ and building the Republican army” in Spain.27 However, recent historiography stresses the inefficient and contradictory nature of the USSR’s intervention in the Civil War, the conclusion being that Stalin had far less influence over events in Spain than has been claimed, both at the time and since, by revolutionary Marxists and anarchists.28 Instead the struggle inside the Republican zone was more a consequence of local politics than of Soviet interference. Sennett, in the revised version of his text, echoes this line of argument. Thus Trotsky’s writings are not useful to understand Stalin’s motivations, as he “often overestimated” the Soviet dictator’s ability to influence events. Sennett even now accepts the argument that the Spanish Communists “were not mere ciphers for the transmission of the Moscow line”; despite adding later that it is “impossible to ignore the resonance of Soviet political advice, especially after May 1937”.29

This is a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. While previous divisions inside the workers’ movement, particularly in Catalonia, fed into the wartime divisions in the Republican zone, they are not the only cause. The triumph of Stalinism in the USSR underscored the ­counter-revolution in Spain. Soviet intervention converged with and radicalised existing divisions, particularly the virulent campaign against “Trotsky fascism” which provided the backdrop for the assault on the revolution in general and the POUM in particular. While the mass of new information from Soviet archives suggests this intervention was neither coherent nor efficient, rather than indicate a lack of intent it reflects the difficulty an authoritarian regime had in getting its operatives to provide any consistent advice or information.30 Even historian Daniel Kowalsky, who Sennett also cites as backing up his line of argument, concludes that Soviet diplomats, advisers and NKVD agents had a “decisive role in the design of the Republic’s politics”.31

Sennett also accepts recent accounts of the street fighting between revolutionaries and Stalinist backed forces in Barcelona in May 1937 as essentially a question of law and order, with the police taking the side of the Communists.32 The POUM, understanding this as a struggle to defend the gains of the revolution, called for the creation of Committees for the Defence of the Revolution in the neighbourhoods and workplaces and the creation of a Revolutionary Workers’ Front with the anarchist organisations. At the same time it reiterated its call for a government of workers’ organisations in order to both save the revolution and push it forward. The refusal of the CNT leadership to contemplate any initiative that might break “anti-fascist unity”, let alone build an alternative state power, meant the POUM was on its own. More than ever the May events highlighted that the central problem for the party was its inability to break the hold of anarchism over the most militant sections of the working class.

Trotsky, in turn, believed that power could have been taken in May. The actual balance of forces at the time suggests that Trotsky was wrong on this question and that the working class, as the POUM argued, was placed on the defensive.33 Sennett, however, once more follows Trotsky’s line of argument claiming that “when the moment that might have provided an opportunity to take power in Barcelona presented itself, the erstwhile students of the Bolshevik action in Petrograd did not attempt to reprise Lenin and Trotsky’s leading role”. The latter appears particularly gratuitous, as Sennett states elsewhere there was no “realistic prospect” of seizing power in the city and claims that any attempt to have done so could only have harmed the Republican war effort.34

The most immediate outcome of the May events was a new government headed by the moderate Socialist Juan Negrín, whose aims coincided even more closely with Stalin’s and which in June proceeded to illegalise the POUM. Recent studies suggest the POUM’s own actions provoked its demise.35 Sennett appears to accept this line of argument, despite commenting that “while the POUM and the CNT…can be criticised for adopting positions that at times detracted from the war effort, it often seemed that the Communists were waging their own internal war in the Republican zone.36

Before the May events Andreu Nin argued that it was still possible for the working class to take power peacefully, given the strength of its organisations and the fact that it remained armed. Trotsky, probably correctly, dismissed such a possibility. Sennett, believing that Nin is making such claims after the May fighting, is particularly scathing.37 But Nin speaking in early April warned that “if the working class let pass the opportunity to take power peacefully, in the future we will have to turn to a violent struggle to finish with the bourgeoisie and reformism”.38 More specifically, the document Sennett cites to back up his argument that Nin still believed in the possibility of a peaceful seizure of power after the May events was actually written in late March.39 Neither Nin nor the POUM leadership spoke of such a possibility after the May fighting.

Trotsky’s direct collaboration with the POUM was a real possibility at the beginning of the revolution. Not only was the party influenced by Trotsky’s conception of revolution and opposition to Stalinism, but in the first weeks of the war there were contacts between Nin and other former ICE leaders and the Trotskyist representative in Barcelona, Jean Rous. A letter by Trotsky on 16 August 1936 urging reconciliation with the POUM was intercepted by Benito Mussolini’s secret police. Such contact ended when the French Trotskyists published an internal document by Trotsky warning against any reconciliation with “the vainglorious centrists” of the POUM. The sectarian behaviour of his followers in Spain did the rest.40

The nature of Trotsky’s late writings and political method need to be taken into account when evaluating his analysis of events in Spain and the role of the POUM.41 As Sennett points out:

Trotsky’s criticism of Nin and the POUM can only be understood from an appreciation of his absolute belief in the capacity to influence events…the conviction that, however minuscule the initial nucleus of revolutionaries may be, with the correct theory, leadership and programme, this tiny grouping could be transformed into a revolutionary party with mass support at a time of revolutionary crisis.42

But for Trotsky, writing in December 1937, “contrary to its own intentions the POUM proved to be in the final analysis the chief obstacle on the road to the creation of a revolutionary party”.43 In the new edition of his text Sennett steps back from what was possibly the “harshest and least justified” of Trotsky’s condemnations of the POUM. According to Sennett, Trotsky:

Failed to appreciate, on the one hand, the hegemony of the Socialists and anarcho-syndicalists over the Spanish labour movement, and, on the other, the rapid expansion in membership and power of the [communists] after July 1936. There was little room for a new political force. It is remarkable that the POUM, which was largely confined to Catalonia, achieved as many adherents and wielded as much influence as it did.44

Having thus pointed to an underlying problem with Trotsky’s writings on the POUM, Sennett then later criticises the POUM for not—in May—being “a vanguard party” that was able to shape events. But he offers no alternative strategy. We are left with the conclusion that neither a revolutionary nor a Popular Front victory was possible.45 However, such fatalism does not lead to a better understanding of what was at stake and what options were available for the revolutionary left in Spain in 1936. Instead we are left with a confusing and incomplete narrative of events and their consequences.


1: Most importantly: Trotsky, 1973, and Morrow, 1974.

2: The only general history of the POUM available in English is Alba and Schwartz, 1988, first published in Spanish in 1973.

3: Although important works such as Pagès, 2011, and Tosstorff, 2009, are included in the bibliography, these have no visible bearing on the text. Other relevant studies, for example Durgan, 2006, Guillamón, 1996, Pagès, 2007, Riottot, 2004, and Solano, 1999, or the expanded edition of Nin’s writings (Nin, 2008) are not even mentioned.

4: Alba, 1973; Iglesias, 1977.

5: Especially Graham, 2002.

6: Durgan, 2006.

7: Maurín, 1966, p3.

8: Durgan, 1996, pp97-102; Durgan, 2006, pp32-33.

9: In October 1934 there was a revolutionary general strike in opposition to the hard-right CEDA entering the government.

10: La Nueva Era, May 1936.

11: Sennett, 2014, pp119, 188, 219, 220, 268, 285.

12: Sennett, 2014, p188.

13: Pagès, 1977, p285.

14: Sennett, 2014, p189.

15: Trotsky, 1984.

16: Sennett, 2014, pp123-124 and 274. In contrast, elsewhere he states the POUM’s “final actions [in 1937] demonstrate that it was a revolutionary Marxist party” and “despite its intentions [my emphasis], the POUM was ultimately a Leninist party rather than a qualitatively new form of revolutionary organisation”—Sennett, 2014, pp268, 284.

17: Durgan, 2011a, pp135-136. In late 1935 the POUM leadership declared it was the “true Communist Party of Catalonia and of Spain”—Durgan, 1996, p526.

18: Sennett, 2014, pp271, 283. Elsewhere, once more contradicting himself, he states that “the failure of the October rising delivered a severe blow to those who advocated proletarian revolution”–Sennett, 2014, p209.

19: Sennett, 2014, pp97, 219, 221, 223, 283. Sennett is right to comment that suggestions by some historians that: “The POUM supported the Popular Front alliance after the February elections” were incorrect—Sennett, 2014, p223; moreover, the military uprising of 17 July: “Appeared to confirm the POUM’s predictions of the imminent collapse of the republic amidst revolutionary crisis”.

20: For a discussion of this see Durgan, 2006, pp35-38.

21: Durgan, 2006, p44.

22: See Nin “Le problème des organes du pouvoir dans la Révolution espagnole”, Julliet number 1, Paris-Barcelona, June 1937. It was first published in Spanish in Balance number 2, June 1995, and is also reproduced in Nin, 2008.

23: Also from “Le problème des organes du pouvoir dans la Révolution espagnole”—Nin, 2008.

24: For a discussion of the nature of revolutionary power in the Spanish Revolution see Durgan, 2011b.

25: Sennett, 2014, pp282, 273.

26: Sennett, 2014, p87.

27: Sennett, 2014, p286.

28: In particular Graham, 2002; Kowalsky, 2004; Viñas, 2007; Hernández Sanchez, 2010.

29: Sennett, 2014, pp120, 230, 265, 266, 286.

30: After giving an inordinate amount of space to the very mixed collection of documents in Radosh, Habeck and Sevostianov, 2001, Sennett admits it is poorly edited and subject to a highly contentious contextualisation and concludes it is “not clear that [the book] yields any new information”—Sennett, 2014, p249.

31: Kowalsky, 2004, p6.

32: Sennett, 2014, p254-256, 266; following Graham, 2002, pp254-315.

33: See Durgan, 2007.

34: Sennett, 2014, pp257, 260, 268.

35: Especially Graham, 2002; Viñas, 2007; and Hernández Sanchez, 2010.

36: Sennett, 2014, pp240-241, 262, 264-265. Sennett, once more following Helen Graham, justifies the POUM’s exclusion from the Madrid Defence Junta because as a small party this was “a simple and uncontroversial matter”—Sennett, 2014 p238; but he fails to mention that on the eve of the fascists’ assault on the capital in October 1936 the POUM youth headquarters was assaulted by the Communist Youth, the party press suppressed and its radio station closed down.

37: Sennett, 2014, pp260, 284.

38: Nin cited in Tosstorff, 2009, p100.

39: Boletín Interior. Órgano de información y discusión del Comité Ejecutivo del Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista, 5 April 1937.

40: Durgan, 2006, pp54-61; strangely, given the task he sets himself, Sennett hardly mentions the Spanish Bolshevik-Leninist group.

41: On the “almost millenarian and messianic element” in Trotsky’s politics at the time see Molyneux, 1981, p185, and Hallas, 1979, pp103-104.

42: Sennett, 2014, p62; also see Durgan, 2006, pp61-65, which covers the same argument.

43: Trotsky, 1973, p318.

44: Sennett, 2014, p108.

45: Sennett, 2014, pp268, 273. He concludes: “in believing that by presenting a moderate, democratic and distinctly non-revolutionary Spanish Republic they were likely to persuade the governments of Britain and France to abandon their ‘malevolent neutrality’, both Negrín and Stalin proved equally deluded”—Sennett, 2014, p286.


Alba, Victor, 1973, El Marxismo en España (B Costa-Amic).

Alba, Victor, and Stephen Schwartz, 1988, Spanish Marxism versus Soviet Communism: A History of the POUM (Transaction Books).

Durgan, Andy, 1996, BOC El Bloque Obrero y Campesino 1930-1936 (Laertes).

Durgan, Andy, 2006, “Marxism, War and Revolution: Trotsky and the POUM”, Revolutionary History, volume 9, number 2, http://fundanin.org/durgan10.htm

Durgan, Andy, 2007, “Trotsky, el POUM y los hechos de mayo”, Viento Sur, number 93, www.vientosur.info/articulosabiertos/VIENTOSUR-numero93-09-AndyDurgan-Trostky-POUMylos%20hechosdemayo.pdf

Durgan, Andy (ed), 2011a, Introducción y selección de textos: ¿Socialismo o fascismo? Joaquín Maurín y la revolución española 1934-1936 (Gobierno de Aragón).

Durgan, Andy, 2011b, “Workers’ Democracy in the Spanish Revolution, 1936-1937” in Immanuel Ness, and Dario Azzellini (eds), Ours to Master and to Own: Workers’ Control from the Commune to the Present (Haymarket Books).

Graham, Helen, 2002, The Spanish Republic at War 1936-1939 (Cambridge University Press).

Guillamón, Agustín (ed), 1996, Documentación histórica del trosquismo español (1936-1948) (Ediciones de la Torre).

Hallas, Duncan, 1979, Trotsky’s Marxism (Pluto Press), www.marxists.org/archive/hallas/works/1979/trotsky/

Hernández Sánchez, Fernando, 2010, Guerra o Revolución. El Partido Comunista de España en la guerra civil (Crítica).

Iglesias, Ignacio, 1977, León Trotski y España 1930-1939 (Ediciones Júcar).

Kowalsky, Daniel, 2004, La Unión Soviética y la Guerra Civil Española (Crítica).

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Molyneux, John, 1981, Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Revolution (Harvester).

Morrow, Felix, 1974 [1938], Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Spain (Pathfinder), www.marxists.org/archive/morrow-felix/1938/revolution-spain/

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Pagès, Pelai, 1977, El movimiento trotskista en España (1930-1935) (Ediciones península).

Pagès, Pelai, 2007, Cataluña en guerra y en revolución (1936-1939) (Espuela de Plata).

Pagès, Pelai, 2011, Andreu Nin: Una vida al servicio de la clase obrera Barcelona (Laertes).

Radosh, Ronald, Mary Habeck, and Grigory Sevostianov (eds), 2001, Spain Betrayed: The Soviet Union in the Spanish Civil War (Yale University Press).

Riottot, Yveline, 2004, Joaquín Maurín o La utopía desarmada (Gobierno de Aragón).

Sennett, Alan, 2014, Revolutionary Marxism in Spain 1930-1937 (Brill).

Solano, Wilebaldo, 1999, El POUM en la historia: Andreu Nin y la revolución española (Los Libros de la Catarata).

Tosstorff, Reiner, 2009, El POUM en la revolució espanyola (Editorial Base).

Trotsky, Leon, 1973, The Spanish Revolution (1931-1939) (Pathfinder).

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Glory to the Lucid Courage of the Greek People, Facing the European Crisis-

Posted by admin On July - 15 - 2015 Comments Off on Glory to the Lucid Courage of the Greek People, Facing the European Crisis-


Ts31768he Greek People are an example to Europe and the world.

With courage and lucidity the Greek people have rejected the ignoble diktat of European and international finance.  They have won a first victory by affirming that democracy cannot exist unless it knows how to put itself at the service of social progress.  They have unmasked the farce of democracy that accepts submission to the degradation of social conditions demanded by the dictatorship of finance.

Social progress is illegal in Europe.

Europe has been constructed systematically to reduce “the danger of democracy” to zero.  Since the end of the Second World War, the United States, Jean Monet, and Robert Schuman (two Vichyites) have initiated the preparation to restore the legitimacy of the political forces that were compromised through Europe’s collaboration with the Nazis.  The construction of the European Communities, and later the forced adoption of a constitution, despite being rejected among others by the French referendum (an unparalleled denial of democracy), has enabled the rise of a dictatorship of finance capital.  Deceived by the systematic brainwashing by media pundits in the service of the financial oligarchy, the European peoples fed on the illusions that still remain powerful enough to destroy their capacity to respond to the challenge.  They must “save Europe and the euro from the debacle,” they still largely believe (now a little less so in Greece and Spain).  Europe as it is — and it cannot be other than what it is so long as it is imprisoned within the fetters of its institutions — has declared illegal any attempt to question the odious established order.  The Greek people, by their choice, became outlaws.

The euro is not viable.

The subsystem of the euro violates the elementary rules of a sane and feasible management of the currency.  It imposes common rules of so-called “competitiveness” on economies too unequal to bear the consequences of them.  The euro has made it possible to wipe out the progress made earlier within the context of the emergence of productive systems composed largely of small and medium enterprises in order to open up a restricted market to raids by financial monopolies.  Spain is a tragic example.  Others — Finland and even France — in turn are victims of it.  The euro is now only the tool for a rerun of the German Europe.

The crisis is not that of the Greek debt, but actually that of Europe and the euro.

Shame on the European governments.

Shame on all those who have accepted the idea that the “troika” represents the European peoples.  Shame on the governments that have installed in the presidency of “their Europe” a Luxembourgian functionary in the service of a tax haven; installed in the management of “their central bank” a character who made a career at Goldman Sachs, the bank associated with all the financial villainies of the century; installed at the head of the IMF a good pupil incapable of understanding anything other than what she was taught.  It’s not a case of men and women of politics, of whatever side they may be, but just a case of contemptible characters.

Europe presents itself to Greece in the figure of those nostalgic of fascism.

The heroic Greece liberated itself from Italian fascists and German Nazis.  “Europe” then intervened in Greece, in the uniforms of British (and then US) officers to massacre the children of the Resistance and restore the power of fascist collaborators.  The reconquest of democracy by PASOK’s electoral victory in 1981 permitted some incontestable social achievements; but it also opened the path to “Europeanist” illusions; the Greek people now find themselves once again vis-à-vis the real Europe dominated by the financial oligarchies.  So they are rediscovering the memory of their past and the debt that Germany, the inheritor of the Nazi debt, still owes them.  Shame on Mrs. Merkel, whose government refuses to recognize that the Greek people have a right to reparations.

The Greek state must be reformed in a democratic spirit.

Yes, the Greek state suffers from serious defects, which result, among other things, in tax evasion.  But who can undertake the necessary reforms?  Certainly not “the friends of Europe.”  Those are the very same who lied about the Greek debt upon Greece’s accession to the euro, with the active complicity of Goldman Sachs, whose servant is none other than the president of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt.  The Greek ship owners?  The cheats who have always benefited from attentive care of international banks and the IMF.  SYRIZA is the only Greek government capable of reforming the Greek state in a democratic spirit and making the rich pay.  A nightmare for the Europe that cannot tolerate this choice — only the poor must pay!

The struggle continues.

The Europe of billionaires of finance does not intend to renounce its objective: slaughter the Greek people to teach a lesion and prevent a contagion of democracy.  Let us not forget that if the ruling classes of western and central Europe (still) do not need fascism at home, they do not hesitate to solicit the help of fascists elsewhere, as we can see in Ukraine.

The European peoples must take the measure of their responsibilities.  With PODEMOS, the Spanish people have issued another wake-up call.  It now falls to the French, the Germans, the British, and other peoples of the European continent to understand that the Greek people’s struggle is theirs as well.

The alternative is now clear and visible, for Greece and for all those, in Europe and the rest of the world, who are inspired by the same social and democratic aspirations.  Defy the so-called European “constitution”; dismantle the euro and replace it by negotiated management of a snake of national currencies; send Draghi back to his masters in New York pending the closure of the fake central bank in Frankfurt; derail the IMF by firming up financial arrangements beyond its reach, as the Shanghai Group and the ALBA have taken the initiative in doing so.

With whom to wage these battles?  The range of political forces who are beginning to understand that austerity (for workers, not for oligarchs) and regressive stagnation that inevitably accompanies it no longer have a future is widening day by day, to the point of now including politicians of all stripes, like François Fillon in France.  Great Britain has lost confidence in this Europe mired in mediocrity, even though England remains neoliberal, more Atlanticist and less European than ever.  Of course, the apparent rallying of certain far-right formations remains, for me, suspect.  Fascists are lying demagogues par excellence.

In this situation it is incumbent upon the forces of the potentially radical left to take back the initiative, with SYRIZA and PODEMOS who have primed the movement for it.  Failing that, Europe will not be able to avoid implosion and will be engulfed in chaos.

6 July 2015

Samir Amin is director of the Third World Forum in Dakar, Senegal.  His books published by Monthly Review Press include The Liberal Virus, The World We Wish to See, The Law of Worldwide Value, The Implosion of Contemporary Capitalism, and Three Essays on Marx’s Value Theory.  En français; em português.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.

Middle East: Redrawing the Map-Dmitry MININ

Posted by admin On July - 15 - 2015 Comments Off on Middle East: Redrawing the Map-Dmitry MININ


The recent history of Middle East has been fraught with conflict. More information has started to surface recently. It gives a clue on what drives the tumultuous events. Separate leaks lead to conclusion there were covert plans harbored in Western capitals to reshape the boundaries of the region. Now the issue has started to come into the open becoming part of international agenda.

Michael Hayden, a retired United States Air Force four-star general and former Director of the National Security Agency, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told French Le Figaro that it was time to tell the truth and admit that Iraq and Syria do not exist anymore while Lebanon and Libya are on the verge of collapse. The 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement on the spheres of influence and control in the Middle East never corresponded to reality. The General said he does not know how the events will unfold. He is sure that the policy aimed at restoration of these countries is doomed. According to Hayden, Iraq and Syria still maintain representation in the United Nations but in reality these states have disappeared as entities.

Michael Hayden endorses Jeb Bush in the presidential race and may be offered an influential position in the foreign policy team in case the Republican wins in 2016. Democrats have prepared the ground for Republicans to act in case they win the White House. Hayden does not elaborate on the future plans, but some of the things he writes give a clue. For instance, he says the Kurds should become a leading US ally in the region. The General views Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as an alternative to radical Islam. Hayden believes it is expedient to restore full-fledged cooperation with Cairo.

Yaakov Amidror, who is now the Anne and Greg Rosshandler Senior Fellow at the BESA Center, is an important analyst, since he is the immediate past national security adviser to Prime Minister Netanyahu and previously served as chief of the Research and Analysis Division of Military Intelligence in the IDF (Israel Defense Force). He has recently published an open report calledPerfect Storm: The Implications of Middle East Chaos. In this major monograph Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yaakov Amidror studies the storms convulsing the Arab Middle East. He looks at the long-term implications of Middle East chaos. Amidror sees civilizational shifts of historical proportions underway, and he argues that there is no way of knowing how long the upheavals will continue or how they will end.

The troubles go all the way back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire, he writes, and to the revolution in Iran, the consequent rise of radical Islam, the attacks of 9/11 on the U.S., the conquest of Iraq as a response to these, and to the Arab Spring. «To this we must add the weakness manifested by the international system, especially the U.S.-led Western alliance; the total worthlessness of global organizations; and the ruinous activities of local forces unique to each state», as he puts it. Amidror’s conclusion is that anyone from the outside trying to influence these regional upheavals in a positive direction will find the task very difficult. According to him, the states artificially created by British and French a century ago are on the brink of collapse today.

In many regions of the Middle East tribes and clans are more important for self-identification that statehood. Amidror sees drastic changes with uncertain outcome taking place in the region. «We are witnessing a wide and deep struggle over the character and future of the Arab nation, and perhaps of Islam as a whole», the author points out. For Israel, Amidror writes, the best strategy is to identify the greatest threats looming in its vicinity, and concentrate its efforts narrowly in dealing with these specific threats.

Amidror believes that the West is prone to short-term strategic planning in the given circumstances. It’s a serious weak point as the fighters for Islamic caliphate are ready for incessant and long-term war to reach their goals. The United States provoked the Arab Spring. Now it is doing its best to avoid the responsibility for the implications. It would like to influence the events at the distance resorting to different manipulations. But it’s not enough for reaching the desired goals.

Many regional leaders are frustrated with the US. It explains the Saudi Arabia’s aspiration to spur the buddingrapprochement with Russia. Radical Islamists may become the dominant force in the Muslim world. The Israeli expert believes that some regimes (especially conservative monarchies) face existential threats and are urgently seeking ways to maintain stability in the region. To prevent collapse they may build alliances with Israel to strengthen its position as a result.

Many Israeli experts believe it’s not enough. They stand for more drastic changes. For instance, Zvi Hauser who currently serves as special counsel at Goldfrab Seligman & Co. in Tel Aviv, was Israel’s Cabinet Secretary from 2009-2013. He was also appointed Chairman of the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council in 1997. Hauser also serves as a board member for several public institutions. In his article A Historic Opportunity for Israel in the Golan Heights published by Israeli Haaretz on July 3 he writes that «The virtuoso use of military technology to destroy pinpointed targets allowed Israel’s strategic-diplomatic leadership to fail to grasp the importance of the opportunity, refraining from adopting a broad, David Ben Gurion-esque historical vision. Consequently, it ignored the first real opportunity in nearly 50 years to conduct a constructive dialogue with the international community over a change in Middle Eastern borders and recognition of Israeli rule on the Golan Heights, as part of the global interest in stabilizing the region.» According to him, the Golan Heights should be defended from the Islamic caliphate and Jabhat al Nusra. But whose interests are met by the activities of these organizations? Besides, according to his vision, the Golan Heights moving under the Israeli rule could be seen as some kind of compensation for Israel’s approval of the Iran nuclear deal now in works.

The military of Turkey and Jordan are not making a secret of their intention to enter the territory of Syria. The mission is to create large buffer zones keeping away the Islamic State. How long will the military hold the positions in the zones? Will it not be an actual annexation of the other state’s territory? There are no definite answers to these questions. According to Israeli sources, air forces of Israel, United States and other NATO countries are ready to offer air cover in case of such intervention. This is the endgame. First, the West and the Syrian neighbors created the Islamic threat, now they are preparing for final partition of the country under the pretext of defending the country from it. At that the key actors pursue different goals. Turkey is very cautious when it comes to the issue of Kurdish statehood. It shies away from US plans to bolster the Kurdish movement.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey will never allow the establishment of a Kurdish state in Syria after major gains by Kurdish fighters. In a strong-worded warning on June 26, Erdogan accused the Kurds of ethnically cleansing other communities from land they have taken after pushing back Islamic State forces from the Turkish border. “I say to the international community that whatever price must be paid, we will never allow the establishment of a new state on our southern frontier in the north of Syria,” Erdogan was quoted by Turkish media as telling guests at a dinner to break the Ramadan fast. He accused Kurdish forces of «changing the demographic structure» of several areas close to the Turkish border, which also have Arab and Turkmen populations.

Ankara gives priority to its global Pan-Turkish plans, no matter it lacks resources to implement them. To counter the implementation of «Kurdish Project» Turkey put forward the idea of uniting all Turkic peoples, including those who come from Central Asia, making up the population of Syria. Turkey is trying to form a separate Syrian Turkmen army in Syria on the basis of Ankara-supported Free Syrian Army. 10 thousand strong it will fight the Islamic State and Syrian Kurds. Incited by Turkey Syrian «Turkmen fighting groups in Syria have taken the decision to offer greater support to each other and work to create a Turkmen army if conditions permit», Syrian Turkmen Assembly chief Abdel Rahman Mustafa told Turkish Anadolu news on July 6. The Turkmen officials’ comments came as the Syrian Turkmen Assembly held a meeting in southern Turkey’s Gaziantep that brought together Turkmen representatives from Aleppo, Tal Abyad, Jarabulus, Latakia, Idlib, Raqqa and the Golan.

The Turkmen military and civilian officials decided to form a military council which reports to the Syrian Turkmen Assembly, a pro-opposition group with ties to the Turkish government. The decision to form the council comes after calls emerged from Turkmen military formations to fight both the Islamic State and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party. Turkmen leaders claim they number 3.0 million. According to official statistics, the number is 100 thousand in comparison to 2 million Kurds residing in Syria. Probably, the figures are twisted to substantiate territorial claims to be put forward when the time is right.

Iraq is a failed state and a headache. According to the plans, its Sunni-populated areas will become part of Jordan, the US staunch Arab ally. On Tuesday, July 7, 2015, the House considered H.R. 907, the United States-Jordan Defense Cooperation Act of 2015, as amended, under suspension of the rules. H.R. 907 was introduced on February 12, 2015, by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, which ordered the bill reported, as amended, by unanimous consent on April 23, 2015. H.R. 907 extends to Jordan expedited congressional review of proposed U.S. arms transfers that is otherwise reserved for NATO members and other close allies.

Specifically, the bill states that U.S. policy should be to: support Jordan in its response to the Syrian refugee crisis; provide necessary assistance to alleviate the domestic burden to provide for basic needs for assimilated Syrian refugees; cooperate with Jordan to combat the terrorist threat from the Islamic State or other terrorist organizations; and, help secure the border between Jordan, Syria, and Iraq. In 1996, the United States granted Jordan major non-NATO ally status, which makes non-NATO countries, who are exceptionally close allies of the United States, eligible for certain military assistance in the same manner as other NATO allies. Besides Jordan, the list of US major non – NATO (MNNA) allies includes Israel, Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.

It’s hard to say if the abovementioned plans are feasible. Their implementation is in full swing to undermine the stability of the Middle East. The BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization have just held their summits in Ufa. It was stated there that the Eurasian space should not become a testing ground for geopolitical schemes. Until now the North-Western part of Eurasia has been protected from chaos and manipulations staged by those who see it as «strategic chess board». Its south-western part, or the Middle East, is going through major reshaping. The chess grand master starts with e2-e4 move. The offensive could be held back only if the two parts get united on the way of economic and political rapprochement. The meetings in Ufa offered a pattern to be used as a plan before the process is launched. This is a bumpy road with multiple hindrances to overcome. But it is imperative to go to the very end in order to bring stability to the continent.

Modern India sans the Impact of Capitalism-Prabhat Patnaik

Posted by admin On July - 5 - 2015 Comments Off on Modern India sans the Impact of Capitalism-Prabhat Patnaik

turkey syria kobane
Perry Anderson is among the most
outstanding Marxist thinkers of
our time. When he writes on
India, that is cause for excitement. The
present book, however, based on his
three pieces published earlier in The
London Review of Books, makes one feel
short-changed, notwithstanding the fact
that it is, as one would expect, lucidly
written and eminently readable.
The title, adapted from Marx’s famous
work, refers to a set of ideas propagated by
a group of distinguished Indian writers,
notably, Amartya Sen, Meghnad Desai,
Ramachandra Guha, Sunil Khilnani and
Pratap Bhanu Mehta, which celebrate the
contemporary realisation of the “idea of
India”, marked by “four tropes”: “antiquitycontinuity,
diversity-unity, massivity-democracy,
multi- confes sionality-secularity”.
Like a ‘Drain Inspector’s Report’
Against this celebration, Anderson postulates:
fi rst, that India being a nation
united since antiquity is a myth; second,
that the Congress Party which led the
struggle for freedom from colonialism,
even though it imagined itself as representative
of the nation as a whole, was
essentially a Hindu outfi t, only 3% of
whose members at best were Muslims,
and whose leaders like Gandhi and Nehru
continued to remain, in varying degrees,
trapped within the constraints of a Hindu
mindset; third, that this assimilation
of the “nation” into itself by a predominantly
Hindu Congress Party was responsible
not only for its intransigence that
resulted in the country’s partition, but
also for the armed occupation till date,
at great human cost, of Kashmir and the
north-east, which makes the claim of
the “unity of the nation” being based on
a shared feeling of oneness, a hollow
one; that Indian democracy rests upon
a combination of repression and caste
manipulation; and that underlying the
“secularity” of India is an abysmal state of
continuing impoverishment of its largest
religious minority.
The question of whether the writers
he is criticising can be legitimately accused
of upholding a celebratory “Indian
ideology” with the specifi c features attributed
to it, or can even be lumped together
as constituting one single set, is something
I shall not take up in this review. I
shall focus only on Anderson’s argument
that the religious underpinning of the
struggle for independence not only engendered,
in a manner comparable to Israel
and Ireland, a more rabid representation
of itself, in the form of the Hindutva
forces, but also distorted the purported
achievements of the republic that are
usually so cheerfully celebrated, namely,
“unity”, “democracy” and “secularity”.
As an antidote to the gloating that one
often comes across about “ours being the
largest democracy”, and as an account of
the horrendous repression upon which
this “democracy” rests (in which the
massacre of 40,000 innocent people by
the Indian army when it marched into
Hyderabad is one of the lesser-known
episodes), this book is certainly valuable.
Its relentless exposures, some may feel,
make it read like a “drain inspector’s report”,
to borrow Gandhi’s phrase; but if
the drain happens to be running through
the house, and is wide and full of putrid
matter, then the drain inspector’s report
becomes a must-read for all. Indeed in
some respects things are even worse
than Anderson presents: in several parts
of India at present, most notably UP,
large numbers of innocent young Muslim
men are arrested and kept in jail for
years without trial, under the Unlawful
Activities (Prevention) Act; and lawyers
are threatened, even beaten up, if they
dare to defend such persons who are
branded as “terrorists” because of the
mere fact of their arrest.
The problem arises however with
Anderson’s argument. Let us accept his
argument and ask the question: where
does India go from here? Since “the poor
remain divided among themselves” (because
of the caste system), the “workers
are scattered and ill-organised” (making
the Left ineffective), and the intelligentsia,
notwithstanding its quality and
excellence, remains trapped within the
celebratory “idea of India”, Anderson
effectively sees no prospects of transcendence
of the current Indian situation.
He ends his book by suggesting that
the exit of the Congress from the “scene
would be the best single gift Indian democracy
could give itself”, but, no matter
whether one agrees with him on the
consequences of such an exit, this is not
something that can simply be wished
into being. The continuing existence of
the Congress Party after all is socially
conditioned, whence it must follow according
to him that India has no future
that is any different from its recent past.
Hegel, basing himself on a colonial
document of 1812 that talked of the unchanging
“village communities”, had
famously said that India had no history,
only a change of dynasties.1
book says in effect that India will have
no history, only a change of governments
in a repressive parliamentary democracy
that is simultaneously sustained and
“debauched” by the caste system.
Marx, while holding a similar view as
Hegel’s regarding India’s precolonial
past, had seen in colonialism a revolutionary
agent of change. This was not
just an empirical observation, but based
on the theoretical position that once a
society, no matter what its past, got
drawn into the orbit of capitalism, it
could no longer remain changeless. We cannot in other words talk of India’s
future, and colonial and postcolonial past,
without reference to its relationship with
capitalism. And to me the greatest problem
with Anderson’s book is that capitalism
does not fi gure in it. Trapped within a
paradigm where Hinduism is elevated to
the role of an explanatory factor, without
any reference to the capitalist system
that is characterised by an immanent
logic of its own to which India is inextricably
tied, Anderson, not surprisingly,
sees no dynamics in its evolution. He examines
neither how capitalism impinges
on this society, nor how Hinduism itself
changes through the impact of capitalism.
Once we bring capitalism into the
picture, the narrative will change; and
what is more, many things attributed by
Anderson to the infl uence of Hinduism
will appear to be explicable otherwise.
Anti-Imperialist Nationalism
The ignoring of the impact of capitalism
vitiates his analysis of the anti-colonial
struggle itself. In my village primary
school in the 1950s we were taught that
independence, and all the benefi ts it
brought, came to India because of the
sagacity of the leaders. Anderson’s analysis
seems to me a mirror image of it:
Independence and all the sufferings that
accompanied it, and the travails that
have subsequently ensued, came to
India because of the limitations of the
leaders, their Hindu outlook and the
conceit embodied in it that it represented
the “nation”. The people, what made
them act, the circumstances in which
they acted, do not fi gure in either of
these narratives.
Peasant societies typically look up to
leaders with a streak of renunciation.
This has nothing to do with Hinduism.
The renunciatory streak one fi nds in
Gandhi for instance, enmeshed no doubt
in his own personal philosophy into
which Hinduism was an input, is paralleled
by what one fi nds in Ho Chi Minh
or Muzaffar Ahmed or P Sundarayya.
But the credibility of a leader associated
with a renunciatory streak is not enough
in itself to mobilise the peasantry. It is
a necessary not a suffi cient condition,
for which the material conditions must
in addition be conducive. The specifi c
additional factor that roused the peasantry
in India and made it swell the
ranks of the anti-colonial struggle was
the impact of the Great Depression. (The
agricultural crisis that was a principal
component of it began, it must be remembered,
in 1926 itself.)
To make this mobilisation possible,
the Congress placed before the people
a blueprint of what the future India
would look like, through a resolution
adopted at its Karachi session in 1931,
which envisaged inter alia universal
adult franchise; a minimum standard of
living for every Indian; free and compulsory
primary education; equality
before the law irrespective of caste, religion
or gender; and a separation of religion
from the State. Women’s suffrage,
it may be recalled, had come to Britain
in 1928; the fact that within three years
of it, universal adult suffrage was
sought to be introduced in India is not
to be belittled. True, as Anderson points
out, Ceylon too introduced universal
adult suffrage in 1931; but the idea of
universal adult suffrage in a society
characterised by “untouchability” and
even “unseeability” (as in Kerala) was
astoundingly revolutionary. I have seen
with my own eyes the intense anger among
the powerful upper caste landlords in my
village when the dalits exercised their
franchise in the 1952 general elections.
The Karachi resolution (which had even
advocated abolition of the death penalty)
did not, paradoxically, have “land redistribution”
on its agenda, but this was
rectifi ed to an extent during the Congress
Party’s campaign for the 1937 elections.
The Karachi resolution, however, does
not fi gure in Anderson’s account of the
freedom struggle.
The peasantry in the 1930s wanted
above all its economic demands to be
met, which is why in Punjab it was not
the Muslim League but the Unionist Party
of Sikandar Hayat Khan, Fazli Husain
and Chhotu Ram that won the elections.
Chhotu Ram, as revenue minister, brought
in legislation to provide debt relief to
the peasantry and is remembered to this
day by the Jat peasantry of the region.
(I have seen his statues dotting almost
every mofussil town I have visited in the
region of the erstwhile Punjab which
came to India.) The appeal of the Congress
in short can scarcely be said
to have been based on religion, since
the appeal of religion itself was rather
limited prior to the communalisation
that came later. (Indeed, the Unionist
Party which prided itself upon being
multi-religious, would not have got
elected in Muslim-majority Punjab if
religion was the deciding factor.)
The Congress did, in short, try to provide
a charter of citizenship transcending
religion and caste, and had some justifi
cation in claiming that it was speaking
for the “nation” as a whole. This
claim cannot simply be brushed aside as
the mere pretension of a Hindu elite that
dominated the Congress. (The latter
could no doubt have been a subsidiary
factor, but that is not pertinent).
Of course, when Independence came,
not all the pledges of Karachi were
redeemed. In particular, while some of
the political elements of the Karachi resolution
were implemented, no matter
how imperfectly, the socio-economic
elements were not, a possibility anticipated
by Ambedkar in his closing remarks
to the Constituent Assembly, remarks
that Anderson fi nds fault with. But the
reneging on the socio-economic elements
of the Karachi Resolution was not
because the Congress was trapped within
Hinduism but because it was committed
to capitalism.
The capitalism it developed after
independence however was itself sui
generis. It was a national capitalism,
developed in relative autonomy from
imperialism, by using the public sector as
a bulwark against metropolitan capital,
and the State (with the assistance of the
Soviet Union) as an active promoter of
the project. It was, in short, a capitalism
sought to be developed on the soil of the
anti-colonial national movement, by
carrying over the anti-colonial legacy
of the movement, to a policy of nonalignment,
and of escape from the
economic embrace of post-war imperialism
dominated by the US. India was
not the only country where this was
tried; on the contrary, virtually the
entire third world adopted such a
regime which Michal Kalecki (1972) has
called an “Intermediate Regime”, an apt description, though somewhat misleading,
at least in the case of India, in its connotation
with regard to the class nature
of the State (which Kalecki himself
cautiously admits).
To understand this trajectory one
must note that, even leaving aside the
Muslim League, there were two quite
distinct strands of “nationalism” in preIndependence
India. One was an anticolonial
overarching nationalism that
sought to mobilise people on the basis of
a charter of demands which treated
them as citizens; the other was a specifi –
cally Hindu nationalism, that was not so
much anti-colonial as anti-Muslim and
that aimed to establish a Hindu Rashtra
without any clear agenda of what it
would mean even for the Hindu citizens
of this future Rashtra. (I am loath to use
the word “nationalism” for the latter, but
do so only for convenience, out of deference
to existing usage.) No matter how
Hindu and upper caste the individual
leaders of the Congress might have been,
no matter what rituals they practised in
their homes or even at offi cial venues,
the Congress on the whole stood for the
fi rst kind of nationalism; the Rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh and others for
the second.
This has an important implication.
The nature of a movement is not assessed
by merely aggregating a set of empirical
beliefs that its leading participants
may happen to hold at a certain
point of time. On the contrary, these empirical
beliefs, apart from being shaped
and modifi ed, are also overlaid by the
purpose for which the movement stands.
The leading participants of any living
movement, in other words, rise above
their empirical selves in constituting the
movement, whence it follows that major
events in the course of the movement,
such as the Poona Pact or the Partition
of the country, cannot just be explained
in terms of these empirical beliefs of
the leaders, having to do with their
Hindu mindset.
The point here is not to endorse the
Poona Pact or to absolve the Congress
leadership from responsibility for the
Partition, but to suggest that in examining
the motives behind these decisions, explanations
that spring from the overall
nature of the movement must have precedence
if they exist. And in the present
case they evidently do (such as, for instance,
the view that the Congress leadership’s
objection to “identitarian” politics
or “balkanisation” sprang from the
perception that it amounted to a violation
of anti-imperialist nationalism).2
At any rate, the general point remains:
notwithstanding every single remark of
Gandhi and Nehru that Anderson quotes,
showing them to be trapped within a
Hindu mindset, they remained committed
to the fi rst kind of nationalism, i e, an
overarching anti-imperialist nationalism.
And it is this which made it so diffi cult
for the Left to establish its centrality in
the anti-colonial struggle.
The fact that the Congress leadership
under Gandhi deliberately prevented the
anti-colonial struggle from becoming so
militant that the central infl uence in it
could pass on to more radical elements is
underscored by Anderson while discussing
Gandhi’s withdrawal of the noncooperation
movement after Chauri
Chaura. This has been the standard
understanding of the Left, the stuff, as it were, of Party classes. I have myself heard
B T Ranadive expound it on several occasions.
But this way of insulating the
anti-colonial struggle from the infl uence
of more radical elements would not have
worked if the Congress leadership itself
had been suspect on its anti-colonialism,
if it had not been a votary of the fi rst
kind of nationalism that transcended the
confi nes of its own upper caste Hinduness,
within which Anderson accuses
it of being trapped. B T Ranadive was
recognising precisely this when he said
that one of the reasons for the lack of
success of the communists in India was
that they had to contend with leaders
like Gandhi and Nehru, who, by inference,
were not merely the narrow
personalities that Anderson portrays
them to be.3 (B T Ranadive also thought
that the achievement of the Indian
communists lay in the fact that despite
having to confront leaders like Gandhi
and Nehru, they held their ground and
emerged as a signifi cant, even though
not central, force.)4
Sharp Discontinuities
The basic difference between then and
now is that the Congress Party has now
abandoned all allegiance to an antiimperialist
nationalism. It has done so
not because of its Hindu mindset but because
of the nature of evolution of world
capitalism that has led to the globalisation
of capital, especially of fi nance. This
has brought in its train a number of
developments: the unviability from the
point of view of the Indian bourgeoisie
of the earlier trajectory of capitalist development,
within a dirigiste regime, in
relative autonomy from imperialism;5
consequent progressive integration with
globalised capital and, towards this end,
the adoption of a neo-liberal regime; a
change in the nature of the State, paralleling
this change in economic regime,
which has entailed its closer enmeshing
with big capital and international fi n ance,
and its withdrawal of support and protection
from petty producers and the
peasantry; the precipitation, as a result,
of a crisis in petty production, in particular
an agrarian crisis that has led to
large-scale peasant suicides (which curiously
do not fi nd a mention in Anderson);
the unleashing with much greater fury
than before of a process of primitive accumulation
of capital; a vast increase in
inequalities in income and wealth; and,
during the years of bubble-sustained
boom in metropolitan capitalism, a high
growth rate in the Indian economy that
has brought palpable economic benefi ts
to wide sections of the urban middle
class who have thereby become votaries
of neo-liberalism (a situation that, in
consequence of the world capitalist
crisis, is already changing in economic
terms and is likely to change in political
terms as well).
Thus instead of the continuity fl owing
from the Hindu character of the Congress
leadership of the national movement,
which is what Anderson suggests, we
actually have sharp discontinuities fl owing
from the changing nature of world
capitalism, which also portend not a
future like the past, but major changes
in India as well. The growth of communalism
then has to be located not as the
inevitable further development of the
Hinduism already latent in the freedom
struggle, but in the weakening of the
overarching anti-imperialist nationalism,
the “Karachi tendency”, that provided such
a strong counterpoint to Hindu communalism
all these years. (This weakening
had already occurred before the 1991
“reforms” were introduced, and provided
the setting for their introduction.)
Of course there have been other contributing
factors: the Islamophobia in
the metropolitan countries, especially in
the US, to which the newly-fl ourishing
middle class looks up; the fact that this
middle class is unmoved by any antiimperialism
(it is on the contrary enamoured
of capitalist globalisation); and
the fact that, being predominantly
Hindu, it combines the traditional upper
caste Hindu contempt for the lower
castes, including the Muslims, with the
contempt of the nouveau riche for the
poor that one typically encounters under
capitalism. All these however have to be
seen as part of the new development,
following from the changing nature of
world capitalism, and not as a mere fallout
of the earlier national movement.
With the Congress abandoning antiimperialist
nationalism, and the BJP
abandoning for tactical reasons after
an initial thrust (when it even set up a
commission to amend the Constitution)
any overt moves towards a Hindu Rashtra,
the difference between the two parties
has narrowed; and neo-liberalism is where
they all converge. (Modi’s emergence as
potential prime minister may be adduced
as being contrary to such a reading; but
it signifi es less an aggressive move
towards Hindu Rashtra, and more an attempt
at direct corporate control over
the State.)
This discontinuity between then and
now, arising from the changing nature
of world capitalism, permeates every
phenomenon. Even the coercion deplo yed
against people in particular regions in
India has to be broken up into different
constituents. The insistence through
armed intervention upon the territorial
integrity of an India inherited from
the “colonial masters” has, contrary to
what Anderson suggests, little to do
with Hinduism. Third world nationalism
everywhere has been highly “territorial”.
This is so in China whose treatment of
Tibet and Xinjiang is symptomatic of this
“territoriality”, in Vietnam which even
fought a war with China arising from a
terri torial dispute, and in Indonesia
which made it a point to occupy West
Irian and also had a confl ict with Malaysia
(though in the latter case, because of
the presence of British imperialism, establishing
“territoriality” as the cause of
the dispute becomes diffi cult). India
falls into this pattern, and the Hinduism
of its leadership during the freedom
struggle is not germane to the issue as
an explanatory factor.
But over and above this form of “territoriality”,
there is an additional recent
factor, namely, the encroachment on the
lands and habitats of the tribal population
of central India which is a fallout
of neo-liberalism, of the neo-liberal
Indian state’s determination to open up
the area, rich in minerals, for corporate
capital, both Indian and foreign. To
lump these different instances of aggrandisement
as the consequence of
upper caste Hindu domination over the
national movement, with no reference
either to the “territoriality” of all third
world nationalisms or to the nature of REVIEW ARTICLE
34 SEPTEMBER 7, 2013 vol xlviii no 36 EPW Economic & Political Weekly
contemporary capitalism, does not
stand scrutiny.
One particular aspect of this discontinuity
is often glossed over. Offi cial
spokespersons in India justify neo-liberalism
with the argument that the high
growth rate it has produced has brought
down the extent of poverty. Many who
do not accept this argue nonetheless
that capitalist development being capitalist
development, it matters little
whether it is of the “dirigiste” or the
“neo-liberal” variety. Neither of these arguments
however is valid. The most basic
and reliable index of well-being, far
more reliable than what the defl ation of
consumption expenditure by some price
index can ever give, is the amount of
foodgrains that is directly and indirectly
consumed (for people whose consumption
lies below a certain threshold).6 If
we look at macro-level data for India,
where the consumption of the bulk of
the people certainly falls below this
threshold, then we fi nd that per capita
availability of foodgrains (which is the
closest approximation we have to total
direct consumption, household and nonhousehold)
was around 200 kilograms
per year in “British India” at the beginning
of the 20th century; it fell drastically
to 136.8 in 1945-46, just on the eve
of Independence. It increased during the
dirigiste period reaching roughly 180
kilograms for the Indian Union as a
whole by the end of the 1980s, i e, just
prior to the “reforms”. It then plateaued
for a while in the neo-liberal period
before falling drastically once again to
reach 160 kilograms for the triennium
ending 2008-09 (since then it is likely to
have fallen further).7
Neo-liberalism has
on this elementary criterion affected the
well-being of the people adversely, while
the dirigiste period had an opposite
effect. True, we know little about the
distribution of this total foodgrains
availability across the population; but
this, if anything is likely to strengthen
these conclusions further. And poverty
estimates arrived at on the basis of the
offi cial calorie “norms” using offi cial
data show a marked increase in the proportion
of people falling below these
“norms” both in urban and in rural India
in the neo-liberal period.8 The discontinuity
has thus extended to people’s wellbeing
as well, which is an important reason
why it must not be ignored through
an analysis, such as Anderson’s, that
abstracts from the contours of India’s
capitalist development.
Anti-Imperialist Nationalism
Anderson’s suggestion to the Left is
not to get hegemonised by the “Indian
ideology” but to develop a degree of
“insolence”. In fact, the Indian Left
has been remarkably “insolent” in this
respect throughout its history, to the
point of saying “yeh azadi jhoothi hai”
(this freedom is bogus) at the time of
independence. His assertion that “all
shades of political opinion in India, from
RSS to CPM, unite in formal reverence to
a national icon” (Gandhi), is simply
wrong for the Communist Party of India
(Marxist) if the term “reverence” is
meant to cover theoretical assessment as
well. I have talked of B T Ranadive’s
position earlier; E M S Namboodiripad’s The Mahatma and the Ism (recently republished)
takes a broadly similar position.
Some intellectuals with the party
no doubt have suggested that the party
should have a more favourable assessment
of Gandhi, but its erstwhile General
Secretary Harkishen Singh Surjeet had
reje cted this suggestion and restated the
party’s earlier position on Gandhi in its
weekly People’s Democracy.
There is however an issue with the
Left’s assessment of Gandhi that needs
discussion, though Anderson may not
appreciate it since his work is not anchored
in any perspective on world capitalism.
The Left, if it is to remain true to
its class position, must fi ght the hegemony
of international capital and the
neo-liberal economic regime through
which this hegemony is exercised. For
this it has to put forward an alternative
agenda before the people and mobilise
them for a common struggle around it.
Since the struggles of the working class
across countries are not coordinated,
and of the peasantry even less so, the
forging of a worker-peasant alliance
against the neo-liberal agenda will necessarily
have to be at the level of the
country rather than at the global level;
and its progress will necessarily have to
depend upon a transitional programme
that entails a “delinking” from the
current capitalist globalisation. The
agenda, in short, will necessarily have
to be a national agenda that resuscitates
anti-imperialist nationalism which the
Congress earlier professed but no
longer does, and which will have to be
championed in the new situation by
the Left.
The European Left, for historical reasons
(the experience of two world wars), has
a hostility towards any form of “nationalism”
which is one reason in my view
for its current theoretical cul-de-sac. It
cannot put before the people of any
country a credible alternative economic
agenda opposed to that of fi nance capital,
since any such alternative, unless implemented
simultaneously at a pan-European
level (which is not feasible) must entail a
delinking of the country in question from
the European Union, which its aversion
to “nationalism” cannot countenance.
There is also a genuine problem it faces,
namely, the European countries are
individually too small for any such
national agenda (or even any pan-national
agenda confi ned only to a few countries)
to be either a viable or a credible one.
In India, however, the size of the
country, the diversity of its resource base
(with the exception of oil, for which,
however, it can always make arrangements
that allow it to escape imperialist
arm-twisting), and the long experience of
dirigiste development, make the formulation
of a national agenda, which is
necessary for effecting a worker-peasant
alliance against the current neo-liberal
dispensation, a viable option as well. To
be sure such an agenda will be opposed
by big capital, but that is precisely why it
can provide a means for transition towards
an order transcending capitalism.
If the Left is to propose such an antiimperialist
national agenda, then it must
relate itself, howsoever critically, to the
anti-imperialist nationalism of the earlier,
colonial, period, of which in any case it
was itself an integral component,9 and
claim a certain continuity with it. Being
“insolent” in the manner suggested by
Anderson is scarcely the way to recover
that element of continuity.
Prabhat Patnaik (prabhatptnk@yahoo.co.in) is
Professor Emeritus at the Centre for Economic
Studies and Planning, Jawaharlal Nehru
University, New Delhi.
He thanks Sashi Kumar, Rajendra Prasad,
Utsa Patnaik and Akeel Bilgrami for comments
on an earlier draft of this review.
1 The colonial document was: Fifth Report of the
Select Committee on the Affairs of the East India
Company, 1812; and Hegel’s exact words were:
“The Hindoos Have No History” (Hegel 1956: 163),
quoted in Habib (1995). For a discussion of
Hegel’s and Marx’s ideas on Indian history,
see Irfan Habib “Marx’s Perception of India” in
Habib (1995).
2 See in this context S Gopal’s discussion of
Nehru’s rejection of Mountbatten’s “Plan
Balkan” in Gopal (1975: 346-51).
3 B T Ranadive’s remarks, in answer to a question
by Bipan Chandra, are quoted in Irfan
Habib’s interview to Parvathi Menon, “A Historian’s
Task” in Patnaik (2011, p 335).
4 Many historians, including Anderson, note the
haste with which the British government
“Transferred Power” to an independent Indian
government, but one possible reason for it has
remained largely unexplored, namely, the
desire to restrict the spread to India of the
Communist-led post-war revolutionary upsurge
that was occurring elsewhere in east and
south-east Asia. The Telangana and Tebhaga
movements portended such a spread, which
the colonial state at that time lacked the
strength to confront. Its weakness inter alia
was exposed by the Naval Mutiny of 1946.
5 The collapse of the Soviet Union of course has
been an important contributory factor to this
unviability, but this collapse itself is not unrelated
to the emergence of globalised fi nance.
6 See Krishna Ram (2013).
7 All fi gures other than the last one are from
Utsa Patnaik’s essay “The Republic of Hunger”
which is contained in U Patnaik (2007). The
last fi gure is from U Patnaik (2013). Since animal
feed is deducted in calculating net availability,
these fi gures do not cover indirect consumption
of foodgrains via animal products.
But since this deduction is just a fi xed percentage,
one can infer a decline in total, i e, direct
plus indirect, consumption.
8 U Patnaik (2013).
9 See Irfan Habib’s “The Left and the National
Movement” in Habib (2011).
Gopal, S (1975): Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography,
Volume One: 1889-1947 (New Delhi: Oxford
University Press).
Habib, I (1995): Essays in Indian History (New
Delhi: Tulika Books).
– (2011): The National Movement: Studies in
Ideology and History (New Delhi: Tulika
Hegel, G W F (1956): The Philosophy of History,
translated by J Sibree, New York.
Kalecki, M (1972): Essays on the Economic Growth
of the Socialist and the Mixed Economy
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
Krishna, Ram (2013): “Cereal Consumption as a
Proxy for Real Income”, Economic & Political
Weekly, 20 July.
Patnaik, P, ed. (2011): Excursus in History: Essays
on Some Ideas of Irfan Habib (New Delhi:
Tulika Books).
Patnaik, U (2007): The Republic of Hunger and Other
Essays (Gurgaon: Three Essays Collective).
– (2013): “Poverty Trends in India 1993-94 to
2009-10”, unpublished paper.

Workshop Report: Perspectives on Hybrid Warfare-Dr Bastian Giegerich

Posted by admin On July - 5 - 2015 Comments Off on Workshop Report: Perspectives on Hybrid Warfare-Dr Bastian Giegerich

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On 23 June the Defence and Military Analysis Programme, in collaboration with the German Ministry of Defence, held a high-level workshop in Berlin to discuss and analyse questions regarding hybrid warfare and the changing character of conflict. The event brought together more than 80 leading international and German policymakers and experts, including German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, in support of the drafting process for the new German White Paper on Security Policy and the Future of the Armed Forces.

During his keynote address General Knud Bartels, Chairman of the Military Committee, NATO, explored the role of the military in national and multinational responses to hybrid threats. Hybrid warfare was designed to corrode state power, he explained, with the intent of a hybrid aggressor being to remain under the radar of a response threshold. This, he argued, is a strategy for a weaker adversary. Bartels notes that the West was currently confronted by two different hybrid models: the Russian model, in which military capabilities serve as a backdrop, and the IS model, which had created instability on the southern border of the Alliance. He stressed that other hybrid models were entirely possible, adding that the military contribution to countering hybrid threats had to focus on strong intelligence, capable command and control and large reserves and formations like the NATO Response Force.

The workshop’s first panel discussed the changing character of war in the context of hybrid threats. Speakers pointed out that while many different labels could be used alongside hybrid warfare to describe current conflicts, the concept provides decision-makers and analysts with a lexicon to understand contemporary conflicts in Europe’s eastern and southern neighbourhoods. They argues that Western states were not well equipped to distinguish between aggressive foreign policy and hybrid warfare and should develop a clearer understanding of when peace blends into war. While in the case of the Ukraine crisis it can be questioned whether Russia had actually developed a coherent operational concept of hybrid warfare, Russia managed to effectively combine all elements of state power and thereby challenged the fundamentals of Europe’s security order.

The second session built on the foundational discussions of the first panel by exploring case studies of the impact of hybrid warfare on NATO, the OSCE and Middle Eastern states. Regarding NATO, the announced measures of the Readiness Action Plan were put in context by the need for a new strategic framework within which these measures can be employed, with accelerated decision-making and better situational awareness. With respect to the Middle East, the audience was reminded that hybrid warfare has been closer to the norm than the exception in recent decades, both for state and non-state actors. This is reflective in part of the parallel hybridisation of both politics and military forces in many countries, and in part the combination of weak, delegitimised governments in possession of strong conventional militaries.  In both cases the importance of understanding the political context in which hybrid warfare occurs, and the aims of those actors employing a hybrid approach, was emphasised. The experiences of the OSCE in Eastern Ukraine outlined how existing security structures and organisations can play a role in this, but also the limitations of restricted mandates and relatively small budgets.

The third panel focused on the issue of strategic communication, which forms an important part of the responses available to Western nations confronted with hybrid challenges. Amid continued denials from Moscow of overt involvement in Eastern Ukraine, and assertions that Russia, Western policymakers have looked to use strategic communications tools as part of their response. It was generally agreed that information warfare was being conducted, and not just by Russia: the group also highlighted the information-based activities of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). In light of this, participants discussed what sort of information response there should be to such activities, and what body should deliver it.

The final panel also determined that effective strategic communications required a narrative, and that telling the truth in this context was highly important. This, participants concluded, gave the West a comparative advantage and could help it deconstruct an opponent’s narrative. They wondered, however, whether Western understanding of ‘truth’ was always the same as that of an adversary. They noted that any strategic communications response had to be nested within a strategy, and military means should not be at the centre of the corresponding narrative. A rapid analytical and response capability was important, but so was the ability to understand adversaries and their approaches to strategic communications. They noted, for example, that few full understood exactly how Russia’s ongoing disinformation activities worked.

The IISS delegation, led by François Heisbourg, Chairman of the IISS, involved experts from several research programmes, with Dr Bastian Giegerich, Director of Defence and Military Analysis; Nigel Inkster, Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk; Dr Samuel Charap, Senior Fellow for Russia and Eurasia; James Hackett, Editor of The Military Balance and Senior Fellow for Defence and Military Analysis; Alexander Nicoll, Senior Fellow for Geo-economics and Defence, Editor of Strategic Survey and of Strategic Comments; and Henry Boyd, Research Associate for Defence and Military Analysis, travelling to Berlin.
—Dr Bastian Giegerich, Director, Defence and Military Analysis Programme

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