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Archive for December, 2015

The Left in Pakistan-A. G. NOORANI

Posted by admin On December - 31 - 2015 Comments Off on The Left in Pakistan-A. G. NOORANI


Author: Kamran Asdar Ali
Publisher: I.B. Tauris, London
Pages: 312
Price: £50
A scholarly book which tells the story of how the Left movement was seeded in Pakistan in the years after independence, the struggle of its early pioneers and how, embroiled in a conspiracy case, it came to a sudden end. By A. G. NOORANI
THIS book fills a void in the literature on Pakistan and does it with stupendous scholarship and insightful comment. It is objective, yet compassionate. The author, Kamran Asdar Ali, is Associate Professor of Anthropology, and Director of the South Asian Institute at the University of Texas, Austin. The sheer range of interviews he has conducted amazes one as much as the sources he has tapped. The genesis of the work lies in his discussions with his friends while he was a politicised student in Karachi. He has travelled far and wide.
In South Asia, archives are not as open as they are in the West, despite the help which the officials concerned generously extend. It is the state which impedes scholarly pursuits. Amazingly, many of our invaluable source materials are stored abroad. Some of the most erudite works on Islam are published in Leiden, in the Netherlands. “This book is based on oral testimonies, ethnographic fieldwork and archival research. In Pakistan, in addition to interviewing Communist Party members, labour activists, government officials and student leaders, I conducted archival research in public and private collections, read newspaper reports and worked with memoirs of activists, literary figures and communist leaders (in English and Urdu). For this purpose, I also did research at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where I looked at the United States State Department dispatches from Pakistan on its labour and communist movement (including some declassified CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] papers) from the 1950s and 1960s. I spent two extended periods in the Netherlands at the International Institute of Social History (IISH) which has a special collection on Pakistan labour politics and its linkage with international labour organisations such as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Other important sources on the Communist Party were the police reports that I miraculously found in a private collection in Pakistan and the political reports sent by British diplomats to the United Kingdom which are housed at the National Archives in London. I also relied on old volumes of Soviet publications, scholarly articles and conference reports (especially pertaining to cultural policies) along with Chinese periodicals that I found through the interlibrary loan system while at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. Finally, again closer to my academic home, I found copies of the Communist Party of India’s English language publication, The Communist, for the years 1940-1948 at the Harry Ranson Centre at the University of Texas, Austin.” This shows the love of scholarship abroad. The book took shape at the International Institute of the Study of Islam in Leiden and was written in Berlin.

“This book brings back the memory of the 1960s protest movement and other radical confrontations with the state by focussing on communist and working-class history from 1947 to 1972. If the late 1940s are considered the founding moment of communism in the country (along with the independence of Pakistan itself), linked as the period was to the international consolidation of communism in Eastern Europe and the victory of Maoism in China, then the 1960s were surely its zenith, as urban-based working-class and student movements destabilised the status quo. Hence, the book begins by critically engaging with the history of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) during its brief period of legal existence (1948-1954) and ends in the early 1970s by discussing the social and historical process that led to the substantive decline of labour and class-based politics and the concurrent forceful emergence of a politics increasingly shaped by issues of ethnic, religious and sectarian differences that mark contemporary Pakistan.”
The book is a moving blend of fond memories, personal recollections and documentation, which remains to be studied. It concentrates on the CPP. Its central figure is Sajjad Zaheer, who founded and built the party, only to ruin it by a foolish adventurist venture which was exposed in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. The CPP never recovered from the blow it had foolishly invited (see the writer’s review of the book The Times and Trial of Rawalpindi Conspiracy 1951 by Hasan Zaheer, Oxford University press, Karachi; The Statesman, January 18, 1998) reprinted in the compilation Islam, South Asia & the Cold War, Tulika Books, 2012). The CPP had a brief legal existence from 1948.

The author traces the CPP’s roots to its parent, the Communist Party of India (CPI), and the Adhikari thesis, which sought to build a bridge with the Muslim League, now committed to Pakistan. Dr Gangadhar Adhikari, a member of the CPI’s Polit Bureau, wrote Pakistan and India National Unity, which was published in London by the Communist Party of Great Britain’s Labour Monthly in 1943. In September 1942, the CPI “held an enlarged plenary meeting of its Central Committee at which a senior member of the party, G.M. Adhikari, insisted on the national character of the various Muslim populations… divided them up according to language groups and territories where they were a demographic majority (for example, the Baluch, Pathan, Sindhis, Punjabis and Bengalis).…

“The CPI leadership, in its engagement with the Muslim question as it emerged in the pre-Independence politics of the 1940s, went back and forth in its desire not to succumb to the formula of religion equals nationality (as the Muslim League argued), yet many times remained within the same conceptualisation and reiterated the terms of the debate that they sought to negate. As such they retained the contradiction between Muslim identity linked to a particular place (language group) and the larger construction of a Muslim moral community connected to a territorially bounded nation state.”
At the Second Congress of the CPI, held in February-March 1948 in Calcutta (now Kolkata), it was decided to split the party. Men of high quality such as Sajjad Zaheer and Sibte Hasan were sent to Pakistan to found the CPP there. A few years earlier, sympathisers such as Mian Iftikharuddin and CPI members such as Danial Latifi were encouraged to join the Muslim League. Danial Latifi drafted the League’s election manifesto for the 1946 elections. After Partition, he came over to India and practised law in the Bombay High Court and, later, in the Supreme Court. There was a fatal flaw, however: “The CPP leadership, generally arrived from India, was not familiar with the cultural and political landscape of the country and most, as will be shown later, belonged to the North Indian ashraf, a highly educated and self-conscious Muslim elite, personally steeped in the comportment, culture and aesthetics of North Indian adab in its many connotations and meanings—as literary genre, concept and personal quality. Yet, these very same people were also dedicated to establishing a future socialist society that was committed to democratic values, distribution of wealth and an end to exploitation of the oppressed.”

The early years

The author’s description of the scene in 1948 cannot be bettered. “We find the aristocratic and aesthetically inclined Syed Sajjad Zaheer, a central figure in this book, leading the CPP in its early years surrounded by comrades who were sent from the CPI central office in Bombay to assist him in his work. We also find him trying his utmost to understand the local realities, creating bonds with the remnants of the working-class politics in Pakistan and working hard to start it anew, sometimes not so successfully. Yet, this beginning made possible a different trajectory of politics among the urban working class, peasants, students, middle-class intellectuals, artists and literary personalities that grew to sometimes challenge the status quo and demand changes in governance structure during Pakistan’s short history.
“Further, it is to Zaheer’s credit that he never used his family’s influence and wealth for personal gain. Even during moments of extreme financial burden that his family, which was in India, faced during Zaheer’s time in Pakistan and after his return to India in the mid-1950s, he seldom received (or asked for) assistance from his more well-off relatives. The case is similar for most of those who worked for the Communist Party during its early years or joined the progressive movement later. In a country where the idea of profiting from power and patronage is now an old story, we seldom find those who worked for the progressive movement living a life of luxury or ending up with immense wealth. In most cases true to their ideals, irrespective of errors in their analysis and the political mistakes they made, they lived simple and economically burdened lives. Whether it was the middle-class leadership that came from India in the late 1940s, or the more working-class trade unionists who became powerful in the late 1960s, most did not acquire worldly possessions, in many cases married late, had difficult personal lives, became burdened with raising children in old age and had severe problems paying for medical bills during their later lives. Hence, whatever their personal and political failings, these were people who at some fundamental level selflessly dedicated their lives to creating a world that would be better for all” (page 15). A.B. Bardhan, the CPI’s general secretary, slept on a bench in the party headquarters. You do not find such people elsewhere.

Sajjad Zaheer (1905-1971) was the first general secretary of the CPP. His father, Sir Syed Wazir Hasan, was once the Chief Justice of Awadh, and his brother Ali Zaheer was the first Indian Ambassador to Indonesia. The family was close to Jawaharlal Nehru.

1948 CPI congress

At the CPI’s congress in 1948, B.T. Ranadive spoke for four and a half hours, tearing into the brilliant General Secretary P.C. Joshi’s line as being “reformist”, not revolutionary. “In the final analysis, the CPI declared war on the post-independence Indian state”, the author fairly concludes. Sajjad Zaheer went to Pakistan with this baggage, but he was not without resources. It is important to note the support which he and his colleagues enjoyed because it reflects the class composition of the leadership of the CPP. “After the creation of Pakistan a number of educated Muslim men from Zaheer’s social background had opted for Pakistan and found themselves in important government jobs. A more detailed study is necessary to show the ways in which class linkages trumped political allegiances (at least in the initial years of Pakistan’s existence) to provide Zaheer (and other communists) the protection he needed in his years in the underground. For example, based on intelligence reports, if we take Zaheer’s first few months in Pakistan, they were spent with friends and relatives who were very much part of the government machinery from which ostensibly he was hiding. In May 1948 Zaheer arrived in Pakistan from India and remained underground until he was arrested in March or early April 1951.”
Dr Z.A. Ahmed is another illustration of this network. A background of numerous trips to Pakistan preceded his career in the CPI. He was protected by his brothers, who were themselves part of the police and judicial services. As the author records: “It is clear that the newly arrived and highly educated immigrants who were either successful businessmen or now held important posts in the Pakistani state machinery valued their friendships and relationships with Zaheer and were willing to take the political risk of giving him shelter in their homes. It may be that they did not completely understand the severity of the situation and it was still a time of much uncertainty in everyone’s lives. A new country had been formed and every day new batches of people were coming to Karachi or Lahore having left their ancestral lands to settle in Pakistan. Giving shelter to an old friend or a relative—much less someone with the family name and reputation of Sajjad Zaheer—was the least they could do based on the cultural norms of ashraf hospitality and generosity.”

This could not last long. It was an ephemeral advantage which a leadership, parachuted into Pakistan momentarily, was blissfully unaware of, and worse, it was unwilling to learn, the realities of the social, economic and political conditions in Pakistan. At the Calcutta congress, only three delegates from Pakistan attended. Mohammed Ata Hussain from the North-Western Frontier Province (NWFP), Jamaluddin Bukhari from Sind and Eric Cyprian from Punjab who was to emerge as the sternest critic of Zaheer. Thirty-two delegates represented East Pakistan. Hindu and Sikh communists had left Pakistan.

Sajjad Zaheer’s role was central in the CPP’s early career, which Kamran Asdar Ali records in a balanced appraisal. “A person of aristocratic lineage who acquired an Oxford degree and had literary accomplishments to his credit, Zaheer was dedicated to working-class politics and the plight of the poor and the downtrodden. He was close to the upper echelons of the All India Congress, having served with Nehru in Allahabad in the late 1930s, and yet he could not resist Ranadive’s most banal and crude interpretations of Marxist politics. It was the same Zaheer who, with the writers Ahmad Ali, Rashid Jahan and Mahmud uz Zafar, published a collection of modern Urdu short stories in the early 1930s which covered provocative topics linked to gender, sexuality and critique of religion. He continued to retain high aesthetic standards and wrote an excellent book on the Persian poet Hafiz while in jail in Pakistan during the 1950s.…

“When Zaheer arrived in Lahore in the summer of 1948, some of his closest associates were the poet Faiz and the progressive Muslim League leader Mian Iftikharuddin, a member of the Constituent Assembly and the publisher of Imroz and Pakistan Times, two prominent left-leaning newspapers.” His closest friends were the great poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Mian Iftikharuddin and Sibte Hasan.
Conditions in Pakistan, as even in the more politically advanced India, were hardly propitious for the kind of struggle that Ranadive had in mind. The masses had not been aroused either. Neither the “subjective” nor the “objective” tests—to use communist jargon—was satisfied. In Pakistan, only 1 per cent of its population was engaged in wage labour. The Ranadive Line was rejected by some in Pakistan as well as in India, notably by Z.A. Ahmed and Dr K.M. Ashraf. Ajoy Kumar Ghosh of the CPI Central Committee went to Pakistan in October 1947 to reorganise the leaderless provincial committees.

Given the crippling handicaps, Zaheer did a good job in welding the CPP into a respectable force. Funds were a big problem. The CPP had no money even to meet the day-to-day expenses. He sold his press for Rs.16,000 and invested Rs.3,000 in a Karachi bookstore. If, within a matter of months, it was in a position to recover its investment, it was because of the brilliant business acumen of its owner Malik Noorani (page 230). A committed communist sympathiser all his life, he founded the Pakistan Law House (PLH) in Karachi; was imprisoned by the Ayub regime but never wavered in his loyalties. He knew Sajjad Zaheer and other CPI leaders from their Bombay days. His wife, Mumtaz, shared his commitment. His son Kamran took the PLH to new heights; the daughter, Hoori, publishes progressive authors and poets. Kamran’s wife, Uzma, is a formidable activist in human rights, gender equality and democratic governance.

It is a rich legacy which this writer’s uncle Malik Chicha left behind. He was an invaluable friend when I was in my teens. Two gifts I remember. One was Julius Fucik’s Notes from the Gallows; the other was History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Bolshevik, which bears his inscription dated February 8, 1948: “By conviction I am a communist yet I cannot read this book, reason: my eyes. Though opposed to the communist viewpoint, I am sure you will read this book with profound interest, your views remaining the same.”

To resume, while he toiled hard to build the CPP, Sajjad Zaheer could not shed the Calcutta baggage. He tried to build it on Stalinist lines, intolerant of the slightest deviation from the party line. He had a hands-on involvement with every function. The CPP grew. So did the trade union movement. The Civil Liberties Union, formed in October 1948, became stronger under the leadership of Mahmud Ali Kasuri. The Pakistan Trade Union Federation had Faiz Ahmed Faiz as its vice-president. But Eric Cyprian was ever critical of Zaheer’s approach.
Sibte Hasan, a close friend, assessed him correctly. “The problem was, according to Sibte Hasan, that Zaheer was totally inexperienced in the party’s political work, with his own personality geared towards art and literature, and he had never engaged with workers and hence was not used to people contact and the rigours of party work. In addition, he was not familiar with the social and economic conditions of what was then West Pakistan. Finally, he had to conduct his work while remaining underground as, from the very beginning, there was a warrant for his arrest. If he had worked in the party office, Sibte Hasan suggests, he would at least have got to meet a range of people and been exposed to various ideas and points of view. In the isolation of his underground addresses, which at times had to change very frequently, only a few people had access to him and information that reached him was through the senior party members with whom he met.”

Conspiracy case

Such progress as there was was abruptly arrested by the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case in 1951 even as the CPI had begun to retract from the ruinous Ranadive Line. The Army officers and civilians arrested in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case of 1951 included the then Chief of General Staff Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan, Air Commodore Mohammad Khan Janjua, Maj. Gen. Nazir Ahmad, Brig. Sadiq Khan, Brig. Latif Khan, Lt Col Ziaud Din, Lt Col Niaz Mohammad Arbat, Capt. Khizar Hayat, Major Hasan Khan, Maj. Ishaq Mohammad, Capt. Zafarullah Poshni, Naseem Akbar Khan (wife of Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan), Editor of Pakistan Times, Lahore, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, members of the Communist Party Syed Sajjad Zaheer and Mohammad Husain Ata, while two approvers of the case were Lt Col Mohammad Mohyuddin Siddiq Raja and Major Khwaja Mohammad Eusoph Sethi.

They were charged with conspiracy to supplant the existing machinery of law in Pakistan and to substitute in its place a government under military dictatorship. It was planned initially by Akbar Khan and the other accused persons joined in later. The beginning of this conspiracy could be traced as far back as the middle of July 1949, when Akbar Khan, who was then Brigadier, 101 Brigade, persuaded several persons who were responsible officers in the armed forces to help him carry through his plan of overthrowing the government established by law in Pakistan.

The coup planning was spread over 20 months from the middle of July 1949 to February 1951, when Askar Ali Shah, Inspector, Criminal Investigation Department (CID), NWFP, reported to his superior, Assistant Inspector General, CID, G.H. Kiani, on February 23, 1951, about the conspiracy after he was summoned and he had met Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan in Rawalpindi.

The Special Tribunal to try the case was headed by Federal Court Judge Justice Abdur Rehman and included Punjab High Court Judge Justice Mohammad Sharif and Dacca High Court Judge Justice Amiruddin as members.
The proceedings started on June 15, 1951, at the Central Jail, Hyderabad, and the judgment was announced on January 5, 1953. Defence counsel included H.S. Suhrawardy, Z.H. Lari, former Muslim Leaguer of Uttar Pradesh, Malik Faiz Mohammad, Khwaja Abdul Rahim, Nawazish Ali, Qazi Aslam and others, while the main lawyer for the prosecution was A.K. Brohi, who acted with great enthusiasm to please his masters. This pillar of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and the International Commission of Jurists served every military dictator with great zeal until his death.

Akbar Khan was sentenced to transportation for a period of 12 years. Air Commodore Mohammad Khan Janjua was sentenced to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.500 and, in default, to undergo further rigorous imprisonment for one year. He was dismissed from the Pakistan Air Force as well. Maj. Gen. Nazir Ahmad got the minimum sentence, along with Mrs. Naseem Akbar; Nazir Ahmad was sentenced to imprisonment until the rising of the court. Brig. Sadiq Khan was sentenced to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment and to pay a fine of Rs.500 and, in default, to undergo further one year rigorous imprisonment. He was dismissed from the Army. Former Brig. Latif Khan and Lt Col Ziaud Din were sentenced to five years’ rigorous imprisonment and to pay a fine of Rs.500 and, in default, to undergo further rigorous imprisonment of one year. Ziaud Din was dismissed from the Army. Lt Col Arbab Mohammad Niaz was sentenced to five years’ rigorous imprisonment and to pay a fine of Rs.250 and, in default, to undergo further imprisonment of six months. He was dismissed from the Army.

Capt. Khizar Hayat, Maj. Ishaq Mohammad, Capt. Zafarullah Poshni and Maj. Hasan Khan were sentenced to four years’ rigorous imprisonment and to pay a fine of Rs.250, failing which they would undergo further rigorous imprisonment for six months. They were dismissed from the Army.

Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Sajjad Zaheer and Mohammad Husain Ata were sentenced to four years’ rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.500, failing which they would undergo further rigorous imprisonment for one year. Lt Col Siddiq Raja and Maj. Eusoph Sethi were not tried since they agreed to become approvers. However, it is interesting to note that none of the coup plotters completed his sentence.

The plot

The conspiracy was leaked by Askar Ali Shah, CID Inspector, whom Justice Mohammad Sharif described as “an old friend and a comrade in arms” of Akbar Khan. He disclosed in his statement to the police that the coup was planned for March 1, 2 and 3, 1951.

There were four meetings of the participants—on December 4 and 21, 1949; October 16, 1950, and February 23, 1951. The plan was to arrest Governor General Ghulam Mohammed, get him to dissolve the Cabinet, and install a military council headed by Akbar Khan. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan was to be sent as High Commissioner to India in this hare-brained project.
But, note the gaps between the meetings. They reflect discord and lack of earnestness. By all accounts, there was no agreement at the last meeting on February 23, 1951—and agreement is the crux of the offence of conspiracy in law (Statute 120A of the Penal Code). The trial was a farce. Hasan Zaheer’s book The Times and Trial of Rawalpindi Conspiracy 1951 is based on daily reports by the Superintendent of Police, Punjab CID, to Ghulam Ahmed, Secretary Interior, later Ambassador to the U.S. They “contained the gist of the evidence” and the legal arguments and their happenings. He did not consult the full record of the trial. On November 22, the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Tribunal (Amendment) Act, 1952, was enacted. It stated: “The Tribunal shall not give a copy of any order, judgment or sentence to any accused person whom it concerns, but shall show him and his lawyer the same and permit him and his lawyer to make such memorandum thereof as he and his lawyer may require in order to draw up a petition seeking the exercise of the powers mentioned in Section 11” (for pardon, not appeal). This is unprecedented and repugnant to all norms of judicial fairness.

The Lahore daily Nation published three articles by Khalid Qayum (November 15-17, 1996) which claimed that “the related documents and judgments have been declassified”. He accepted the prosecution case and shut his eyes to gross illegalities in the trial, probably because he knew no better. The prime witness, Askar Ali Shah, who professed to be in the know of everything, was never produced as a witness. He was a friend of Akbar Khan and had betrayed him to the police on February 23, 1951, obviously with a false gloss on the proceedings.

Even Hasan Zaheer, sympathetic to the prosecution, holds: “It is unbelievable that a formidable secret service outfit, which had combed the Pakistan Army to produce voluminous oral and documentary evidence of conspiracy against two Major Generals, two Brigadiers, two Lieutenant Colonels, one Air Commodore, two Majors, and two Captains, apart from some eminent civilians, felt totally helpless against one of its own subordinates.” Manzur Qadir, one of the defence counsel, contended that Askar Ali Shah had been deliberately kept out of the way so as not to be produced as a witness in this court, and “in all probability, this was done at the instance of the government”.

The government claimed to have known of the conspiracy for at least six months; yet, it acted only on the eve of the elections to the Punjab Assembly. The British High Commissioner’s report to London set out the truth. “As regards proof of any actual criminal conspiracy, we have no evidence except hearsay. Accounts put out by official personages in public and private are somewhat contradictory. On the basis of the above, we are justified in retaining some doubts whether a political movement of potentially subversive character had in fact reached the stage of criminal conspiracy…. It can be assumed that Liaquat and his advisers had strong grounds for suspicion that a plot existed before they carried out the arrests; the timing of the arrests may or may not have been chosen with an eye to the elections.”
Sajjad Zaheer comes out poorly from the proceedings. In his statement before the tribunal, he denied his presence at the February 23 meeting and contended that “to every confirmed communist, the idea of a coup d’etat by the army never finds favour”. This is very true, indeed. But why then did he go through all those meetings? He sinned against the light.

Intriguing question

The author remarks: “The intriguing question is not why the state clamped down on the communists, but why the CPP entered into a dialogue with the military. The discussions with the disaffected military leaders that became the basis of the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case, howsoever tentative, did expose the political stance of the CPP’s leadership, a party position that may have thought of relying on the military to bring about social change from above. These discussions could themselves be interpreted as a move by the CPP to short-circuit a future popular revolution. This change from above model may have been based on the CPP’s analysis of Pakistan’s economic development; at its independence, the country had inherited only 9 per cent of the total industrial establishment of British India.

“Despite this isolation from the public and the real world, the question remains as to why Zaheer or the CPP even contemplated such an adventurist position when the Indian Communist Party, on which it relied for guidance, had already made a major reversal in its policies towards a more moderate line. In a personal interview Tufail Abbas, who became the secretary of the Karachi committee, by then underground party in the late 1950s, offered the opinion that the CPP leadership in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case showed haste. He argued that people were in a hurry to bring about the revolution and could not wait for the party to develop its roots among the masses. Whether this is a serious analysis or not, it does seem that the CPP leadership in the early 1950s had decided to keep open all options for capturing state power.” The CPP did not accept Sajjad Zaheer’s false plea. He came over to India, a much diminished man after his release, never to return.

The lament of Hasan Zaheer, a civil servant, is significant. He wrote: “The decision to involve the Communist Party with the Army officers in planning the coup was very controversial within the leadership. It was taken at the behest of Sajjad Zaheer, who was able to steer it through the central executive of the Communist Party by a majority of a single vote. The party leaders opposing it were not convinced of the bona fides of the conspirators; Eric Cyprian bitterly recalled that Sajjad Zaheer took Stalin’s remark that all roads led to socialism to mean to jump at any adventure.”

In his opinion, “had it not been for its involvement in the Conspiracy the Communist Party might have become a significant element in the mainstream politics in both wings of Pakistan”. The CPP would have fought the fundamentalists. The aftermath is well recorded by Kamran Asdar Ali.
The CPP was vanquished, but the protest movements came to the fore in the 1960s. In Karachi and Lahore, you will find spirited activists against corruption, violation of human rights, and championing gender equality and accountability. They are bound to grow. It is too early to say the funeral rites of the Left. In the aftermath of the case, Akbar Khan studied law; practised in the High Court at Karachi, joined Z.A. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party; joined his government in December 1971 and divorced Naseem. Zafarullah Poshni set up a successful advertising firm. Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote his best poetry in prison.

Reconstructing Marx’s Critique of Political Economy from His London Notebooks-Kohei Saito

Posted by admin On December - 31 - 2015 Comments Off on Reconstructing Marx’s Critique of Political Economy from His London Notebooks-Kohei Saito


Lucia Pradella, Globalization and the Critique of Political Economy: New Insights from Marx’s Writings (London: Routledge, 2015), 218 pages, $160, hardback.
In 2012, the second section of the new historical-critical edition of Marx and Engels’s complete writings, the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), was finally completed, and all the editions and manuscripts of Capital became available in order to trace Marx’s own theoretical development and Engels’s editorial works. The remaining three sections are, however, only halfway completed, and it will likely take at least another twenty years before all the work is finished. Yet even that goal will be difficult to reach, as the main editorial project, based at the Berlin-Brandenburger Akademie der Wissenschaften, is only financed through the end of this year. The team in Berlin is now applying for an extension of the project until 2030, which, though it now seems quite plausible, may not suffice for editing the remaining volumes. What is more, a great number of them are Marx’s journal fragments and excerpts, which have not yet been published in any language. In this sense, the distinct importance of continuing the MEGA project is the further publication of these unknown notebooks, which promise to reveal Marx’s unfinished undertaking, the critique of political economy.

It is therefore no coincidence that a new trend has emerged in the last few years of scholars studying Marx’s notebooks. Works like Kevin Anderson’s Marx at the Margins, Heather Brown’s Marx on Gender, and my own article on Liebig in Monthly Review have shown the underestimated theoretical dimensions of anti-colonialism, gender, and ecology in Marx’s thought.1

A new contribution by Lucia Pradella also illuminates the possibilities of Marx’s excerpts. Yet while previous works have tended to focus on the non-economic notebooks to widen our perspective on Marx’s critique of political economy, Pradella’s new book also deals with his economic writings from the beginning of the 1850s. Pradella’s work provides English-speaking readers with an overview of these journals, the little-known but significant London Notebooks. More importantly, she aims to avoid “succumbing to a now influential trend in MEGA studies in pursuit of a ‘new Marx’” (173). Using both the published and unpublished London Notebooks, Pradella, a lecturer in political economy at King’s College London, reconstructs Marx’s critique of globalization to show the remarkably consistent development of his political and economic views. Pradella also problematizes a widespread view, shared most notably by David Harvey and Samir Amin, that Marx’s Capital only deals with self-enclosed national economies, leaving it unable to analyze the uneven development of capitalism and prone to “Eurocentrism” (2–3). She claims that, on the contrary, the laws of capitalist development elaborated by Marx systematically include an analysis of imperialism and colonialism. Pradella not only helps contextualize Marx’s critique of political economy in the discursive constellations of his time, but also prepares her own theoretical basis for a critique of globalized capitalism today.

In chapter 1, “Globalization: Between Economics and Politics,” Pradella lays a foundation for understanding the singularity and meaning of Marx’s critique of political economy by tracing the main currents of classical economics in the works of Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and others. Notably, Pradella not only criticizes these classics’ naturalization of capitalist social relations and their concealment of class antagonism; she also points to their Eurocentrism, which assumes a linear and teleological conception of history that ascribes certain stages of development to all peoples and regards history itself as a natural civilizing process whose culmination is capitalism. Pradella provides a convincing account of how documents such as François Bernier’s travel report on Indian society had a strong influence on classical political economists, leading them to reproduce the openly colonial approach of their mercantilist predecessors in a new, more sophisticated form.

As Pradella argues in chapter 2, “Hegel, Imperialism and World History,” even Hegel was not able to fully overcome these theoretical limitations of classical political economy. She tells the rather surprising story that Hegel read Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi’s critique of political economy, Nouveaux principes d’économie politique, shortly after its publication and integrated it into his Philosophy of Right in 1819–1820, changing his tone towards civil society significantly (48).2 After reading Sismondi, Hegel was seriously confronted with the contradictions of civil society, and came to understand capitalism as a historically specific system. His concept of the “rabble” in civil society is nothing but the manifestation of these contradictions. According to Pradella, Hegel was, however, still strongly influenced by Eurocentrism, which “led him to adopt an openly colonial point of view in his analysis of pre-capitalist societies” (58).

History needed to wait for Marx for a truly critical analysis of imperialism and colonialism under an ever-expanding system of capitalism. In chapter 3, “Marx’s Critique from the State to Political Economy,” Pradella analyzes Marx’s various notebooks from the Kreuznach, Paris, and Manchester periods. It is here that Pradella calls into question the view that Marx dealt only with closed national economies, thus falling into Eurocentrism. For example, Marx’s draft article on Friedrich List’s The National System of Political Economy, written in March 1845, not only recognizes the problems of international relations and the development of new capitalist states as main components of the laws of the capitalist mode of production, but also takes into account different forms of development on Western Europe, all without imposing a determinist view of history (76–77). Furthermore, The German Ideology shows that Marx and Engels intended to analyze the interaction between various forms of exploitation and social organization, “thus excluding systematically unilinear approaches to history,” even if their focus remained on European historical changes (81). Although Pradella admits that during the revolutionary period of 1848, Marx and Engels did not deal with colonized countries in the Manifesto and described the Slavic people as “without history,” this is not due to Marx’s and Engels’s “Eurocentrism” but rather to “their excessive revolutionary optimism” (88).

In the most original part of the book, Pradella argues that the “real turning point” for Marx’s project is to be found in London (121). Marx overcame the nation-based approach of the classical economists, as he read various critiques of Ricardo’s quantity theory of money and Edward Wakefield’s work, which argued the necessity of colonial policy for securing the spheres of capital investment and migration. Examining important unpublished materials from the London Notebooks, such as Marx’s excerpts from John Millar’s Observations Concerning the Distinction of Ranks in Society and Thomas Stamford Raffles’s History of Java, Pradella also shows that Marx’s interest in non-Western societies led him to question the common notion of the universally patriarchal nature of the family, and to relativize Bernier’s view of Oriental despotism already at the beginning of 1850s. Marx’s deepened understanding of the social structure of Asian countries is reflected in his linking of anti-colonial movements with anti-capitalist struggles in Western Europe: in an 1853 article for the New York Daily Tribune, he exhorted the people of India “to throw off the British yoke altogether” (122).

In the final chapter, “Towards Capital,” Pradella reconstructs how Marx’s critique of political economy developed further through the Grundrisse and the 1861–63 Manuscripts, culminating in the first volume of Capital. She focuses here on Marx’s conceptual change. Marx’s original six-book plan of 1858 intended to treat “capital in general,” abstracted from market competition, and to treat “the state,” “foreign trade,” and “the world market” separately. However, his modification of the category of “capital” allowed him to include some of these other aspects in Capital, whose analysis presupposes the completely globalized system of the capitalist mode of production. One can thus find a more international approach, as Pradella points to the exploitation by the capitalist class in more developed countries. On an international level, capitalists enjoying higher productivity can attain surplus profits from the reduced cost of socially necessary labor, selling products at a higher international average price. The bourgeoisie in less developed countries, on the contrary, are compelled to cover this gap by increasing absolute surplus value through the extension of the working day, even more severely impoverishing the working class and strengthening the structure of exploitation (152). According to Pradella, this presupposition in Capital enables the study of different patterns of uneven and combined development within capitalism under “the absolute law of impoverishment of the working class” (172). She, like Marx, anticipates the emergence of an international working-class movement out of this to establish an alternative to capitalism.

Pradella’s work on Marx’s notebooks also sheds light on the former MEGA editorial group in Halle, East Germany, which is totally neglected today, even among German Marxists. Nonetheless, it is unfortunate that she does not mention Fred E. Schrader’s Restauration und Revolution, one of the most important works on the London Notebooks published in West Germany. This would have allowed for a much more vivid description of how much Marx had to struggle to determine the origin of “profit” in his critique of Wakefield and Ricardo in Notebook VIII, in which he counters their sole focus on the problem of “extra profits” through foreign trade, which presupposes the existence of “profits” as a an objective category. Certainly, Pradella rightly points out that Marx here “distinguished for the first time the value of the wage from the value produced by workers” (100). But as Schrader carefully demonstrates, Marx had great difficulty explaining this idea in Notebook VIII, and his discussions of “extra profits” in Notebook VIII are actually part of a failed attempt to explain the origin of “profits.”3 But Pradella fails to emphasize this point, and treats the category of “extra profit” only in order to show Marx’s consistent interest in international capitalist relations.

Finally, Pradella’s critique that Kevin Anderson “neglects” Marx’s excerpts (7) from the 1850s is not quite accurate, as Anderson’s Marx at the Margins does devote one section to Marx’s notes on Indonesia of 1853, which plays an important role in Anderson’s discussion. Anderson is indeed well aware of the fact that Marx’s London Notebooks paid attention to gender equality in Asian pre-capitalist societies, as well as to various debates on their land property, and he even explains how Marx used these notes in an article to criticize British domination of India.4 Anderson does not insist upon a theoretical “rupture” in favor of a “new Marx” by merely focusing on the later excerpts; his argument is more nuanced. Marx’s enormous number of excerpts document his very difficult endeavor of establishing his own critique of capitalism. Overall, Pradella sometimes seems to underestimate ambivalences in Marx’s writings for the sake of defending the theoretical consistency of his critique of political economy, starting with the London Notebooks.

Despite all this, Pradella’s book gives strong evidence that Marx’s notebooks are essential to understanding his critique of the capitalist mode of production in its totality. Her claims are worth examining in much greater detail, and for that reason it is all the more important to continue the MEGA project, and help guarantee wide access to Marx’s legacy.


Kevin Anderson, Marx at the Margins (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010); Heather Brown, Marx on Gender (Leiden: Brill, 2012); Kohei Saito, “The Emergence of Marx’s Critique of Modern Agriculture,” Monthly Review 66, no. 5 (October 2014): 25–46.
There is apparently no direct reference to Sismondi in Hegel’s texts, and it is doubtful whether Pradella succeeds in grounding her claim. Hegel’s critique of the modern market in his Philosophy of Right seems to show continuation from his earlier critique elaborated in his Jena writings. G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952).
Fred E. Schrader, Restauration und Revolution: Die Vorarbeiten zum “Kapital” von Karl Marx in seinen Studienheften 1850–1858 (Hildesheim: Gerstenberg, 1980), 156.
Anderson, Marx at the Margins, 24–28.

An Interview with Tan Swie Ling on the 1965 Mass Killings in Indonesia-Intan Suwandi

Posted by admin On December - 31 - 2015 Comments Off on An Interview with Tan Swie Ling on the 1965 Mass Killings in Indonesia-Intan Suwandi


Introduction: The September 30th Movement, 1965

In the early morning of October 1, 1965, self-proclaimed left-wing troops raided the houses of seven top army generals in Jakarta. In the process, six of the generals were killed—three were shot during the kidnapping attempt, while the others were taken to Lubang Buaya, an air force base located in the south of Jakarta, and then killed. The seventh general, Nasution, managed to escape. The perpetrators announced on national radio that they were troops loyal to President Sukarno, and they aimed to protect the president from the danger posed by the right-wing “Council of Generals”—who, they said, were planning to launch a military coup d’état. These troops called themselves the September 30th Movement (abbreviated in Indonesian as the G30S), and named Lieutenant Colonel Untung, a commander of the presidential guard, as their leader.1

This movement was very short-lived. Within one day, it collapsed. Major General Suharto, then the commander of the army’s strategic reserve (KOSTRAD)—who “surprisingly was not captured,” although he was “logically” one of the “prime targets for the strike”—took control of the army during the morning of October 1 and quickly crushed the movement.2 Details of what happened behind the scenes with this movement remain murky, although some interpretations have suggested that the G30S was an internal struggle within the army.3 Nevertheless, one thing is clear: what happened on October 1, 1965 marked the fall of Sukarno and the rise of Suharto, who was soon to rule Indonesia under his military dictatorship for more than three decades. The brutality of Suharto’s New Order is probably not news for people familiar with Indonesia. But there is “an episode the West would prefer to forget,” as journalist John Pilger put it, that accompanied Suharto’s rise to power: the destruction of Communism and the mass killings that followed—a phenomenon claimed by Time magazine in 1966 as “The West’s best news for years in Asia” or, as presented in the title of James Reston’s 1966 column in the New York Times, “A Gleam of Light in Asia.”4

Having taken control of the situation, Suharto declared the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) as the dalang, or “puppet master” behind the G30S—an accusation that was never supported by evidence.5 The following years saw not only the destruction of the PKI—then the “largest nonruling Communist Party in the world”—but also the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Indonesian Communists and those perceived as such.6 From 1965 to 1966, a series of mass killings occurred across the archipelago, especially in Central and East Java, Bali, and North Sumatra.7 In Central and East Java, where some of the worst massacres happened, most of the killings were done by army units, in particular the para-commando unit RPKAD, along with civilian vigilantes associated with anti-Communist groups. One of them was Ansor, the youth movement of the Muslim political organization Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).8 In general, the military had a significant role in providing weapons, training, and encouragement to the vigilantes in various regions in the country. The killings themselves often took place “when anti-Communist army units arrived in a region.”9

No less important is the role played by the United States, along with Britain, which aimed to destroy Indonesian Communism in this period of carnage. U.K. Ambassador Andrew Gilchrist called for “propaganda” and “psywar activity” to ensure the “destruction and putting to flight of the PKI by the Indonesian Army.” The United States aided Suharto’s forces through the “direct involvement of the CIA, the close cooperation of the U.S. Embassy and State Department, and the guidance of the Johnson administration’s National Security Council.” In a November 1965 memo, the CIA suggested that the United States should not be “too hesitant” about “extending assistance provided we can do so covertly.” Thus, when the Indonesian generals asked the United States for weapons needed “to arm Muslim and nationalist youths in Central Java for use against the PKI,” the United States quickly agreed to give covert aid, “dubbed ‘medicines’ to prevent embarrassing revelations.”10 Perhaps Bradley Simpson summarized it best: “The U.S. response to mass murder in Indonesia was enthusiastic”—and we are talking about the very same event that the CIA itself referred to as “one of the worst mass murders of the twentieth century.”11

The atrocities did not stop here. Within a decade, over a million and a half were captured, tortured, and imprisoned, most of them without trial, “on the grounds of their Communist connections.” And for those who escaped death in prisons, their lives remained extremely difficult upon their release. They were continuously subjected to discrimination, both by the state and by their Communist-phobic society.12

Tan Swie Ling, born in Pekalongan, September 12, 1938, was one of these political prisoners.13 He was captured in December 6, 1966, along with Sudisman, a surviving leader of the PKI who was staying with him at that time.14 He was then brought to Markas Operasi Kalong, one of the places where the G30S detainees were “delivered” and interrogated. Tan spent thirteen years in confinement—the first few years of which were in a military prison in Jakarta—before he was released in 1979. He survived severe torture, isolation, starvation, and a life-threatening illness that almost killed him in prison.

What was he guilty of? That is a question that, according to Tan, can only be answered by those who captured him. “To my knowledge, I’m not guilty of anything,” he said. “I just remember that early one morning, somebody knocked on my door. As soon as I opened it, a gun was pointed right at my forehead.” For Tan, the arrest that morning was nothing but an abduction: “Since the moment I was captured until I was released, I did not receive a single warrant or letter explaining the reason I was arrested. And this happened to hundreds of thousands of people who were imprisoned.” In the eyes of those in power, Tan told me, people who were believed to be involved in the G30S were no longer seen as human beings; “We were merely pests, and needed to be exterminated.”

Fifty years after 1965, I met with Tan in Jakarta.15 He shared with me his personal experience as a political prisoner, as well as his political-economic analysis of the G30S and its aftermath, especially in the context of imperialism. These are his thoughts, his story as a survivor.

On Being a Political Prisoner: One-Eighth of an Egg and a Three-Headed Monster

IS: In one of your books,16 you wrote about some gruesome experiences, your own and your fellow prisoners’, having to deal with torture, uncertainties in the length of imprisonment, and being held in an isolation cell. What made you survive and kept you from losing hope?

TSL: The number one factor is, of course, what we choose in life: Do we want to play around or be seriously determined in living our lives? I don’t know why, but then, I chose the latter. Second, as soon as I was sure that I was going to be in prison for a long time, I had to determine what I should do next. When we speak of long-term imprisonments, the main problem is the problem of the stomach, correct? It’s about food. Now the issue is, how do you deal with this problem?

There was a period when people were so afraid of hunger. When some prisoners were sent food [by their families or friends], other prisoners would stare at them, with eyes wide open. If these people were eating a yam, they would peel the yam and make tiny balls out of the skin. Then they would throw them at the others, and these other prisoners would quickly grab and eat them. That’s how bad it was. Why did they do that? Because they were afraid—afraid to die. So how we deal with this type of situation, that’s important. But I also had several friends who never abandoned me. They cared for me. Because of them, I could manage to have clothes that didn’t even have holes in them.

But you see, people can change. When people were first put in prisons, they were so afraid of being hungry. When they’re afraid like that, they became individualistic. If they had food, they ate their food in the middle of the night, hugging the food box tightly to their chest. Eating all of it just by themselves. But as time went by, they changed. They could think, “I’m not hungry. I can share my food.” Up to the point that when someone was sent a boiled egg, he would share that one egg with seven other prisoners. He broke the egg into eight small pieces, and he sincerely accepted that one-eighth share of his. This is why many people who weren’t sent food could survive—including me. So this fear of death could be overcome if our lives were led by good spirits—that is, solidarity, the sincere act of sharing your boiled egg with seven other people—and many lives could be saved. The ones in power wanted us to die slowly through starving us. But when the prisoners understood that food could be shared, nobody died. That was, for me, a very unforgettable experience.

IS: You also mentioned that the prisoners were not allowed to think. The authorities didn’t want political prisoners to have access to materials for intellectual activity. You were only allowed to read the Qur’an, the Bible, or other holy books, while other readings were forbidden. It was even difficult to play chess, since they thought of chess as a game that requires thinking. What did you do to keep your mind occupied and not to “surrender” to what they wanted?

TSL: Well, if you weren’t allowed to obtain the stuff you needed to play chess, you made them. We had a lot of materials then. Old, rotten chairs were plenty. Then I looked for a long nail, and tampered with it until it could serve as a sharp tool to shave the old wood. That’s how I made the chess pieces. The prison guards could take them away from us anytime in a surprise inspection. But no worries, the new ones would be available in no time!

IS: What about the times when you were put in an isolation cell? You wrote about how you would pace back and forth and keep your mind busy.

TSL: That was actually unintentional at first. The goal was to exercise my legs. During one of my early interrogations, an officer knocked me down by hitting the back of my knees with a one-meter-long thick ruler, just like a lumberjack cutting down a big tree. Anybody would fall as a result of that, and I had a problem walking because of it. So when I was put in the isolation cell, I tried my best to heal my legs. The only way was to keep on moving, going back and forth, back and forth. With a room that tiny, I felt like a monkey with his waist tied to a pole, pacing left and right. But after a while, my mind started to wander. The first thing that came to mind was, “What should I do to escape from prison?” But after that, I started to be able to think clearly. I didn’t really have many choices—I tried to remember what I had learned in the past, what was taught to me, the things I learned from the books I had read. When I began to recall all these, my mind worked. I tried to recall [sociopolitical and historical] questions and put effort to answer them. It kept going and going. That saved my mind.

IS: What about your experience after you were released from prison? What were some of the things that an ex-G30S political prisoner had to face after imprisonment, and how did you deal with the hardships?

TSL: One of the hardships is of course regarding life, how to live. Coming back to the “stomach problem.” Many of these ex-political prisoners had difficulties in fulfilling their basic needs, including the need to eat. Many of them tried but most of them failed. There weren’t many who succeeded. I also experienced these difficulties, but I was very lucky because my wife worked extremely hard. She did anything she could, making and selling baked goods, everything.

Another hardship was that, after I came out of prison, many people were afraid of me. For example, before I was imprisoned, when I still lived in Pekalongan, I held an important role in Baperki, which dealt a lot with Chinese Indonesians’ issues.17 People there respected and accepted what I did for the organization, even though I was still very young. But after I came out of prison, people sneered at me. And they showed no sympathy whatsoever.

I was trying to come back to activism after I was released. For Chinese Indonesian (Tionghoa) minorities, the citizenship issue was a central problem then, and I wanted to be a part of the effort in seeking solutions to it. But it was very difficult. One important step, I thought, was to amend the 6th clause in the Indonesian constitution (UUD 1945), and later to abolish the SBKRI [legal proof of citizenship, imposed mostly on Chinese Indonesians]. That was my goal. That clause was the root of racism against the Tionghoa.18 This had been proposed previously by several Chinese Indonesian figures, but we had the right momentum when Megawati [Sukarnoputri] became president. It had to be done. I could not do it by myself, of course. Political work can’t be done merely by individuals, so I asked others to work with me, especially on the SBKRI issue. I went to various Chinese Indonesian organizations, but almost all of them avoided me because of who I was. They refused by saying that this was a “small matter.” I told them, “Yes, it’s a small matter. As a matter of fact, let me correct you, it’s smaller than a small matter. It’s like a mole on your body. But if that mole exists in a certain place on your feet and because of it you’re not able to walk, what would you do?” In the end, only one organization agreed to work with me, and it was the Indonesian Badminton community (KBI). I approached its leader, Tan Yoe Hok, and several badminton champions, and they welcomed my proposal. When we finally succeeded, suddenly there were so many parties that claimed this victory as a result of their own hard work! But I learned from the old Chinese martial arts stories: no need to boast, it is the work that’s important. And how your achievements can actually benefit others.

But that was what happened, the obstacles I had to face. And people were afraid of me. Someone like me…I don’t know, maybe in their eyes, I appeared to be a three-headed monster.

On Imperialist Powers and the Destruction of Communism

IS: Now perhaps we can talk about your analysis of the G30S, which you also wrote extensively about in your book. I’m hoping that you can explain them briefly here—your own accounts of the event, and what you think really happened.

As we know, Suharto’s New Order used the G30S as an excuse to wage their decades-long “war” against Communism. In their version, the PKI was blamed as the mastermind behind the movement. And this led to its destruction and the mass killings that followed, as well as subsequent anti-Communist sentiment. You said that this New Order propaganda was so successful that even some of the captured PKI officials themselves believed that the PKI was to blame (“Because of the PKI, I’m suffering like this” was commonly heard in the prison). But you maintained that—despite their weaknesses and mistakes—the Party, along with its main leaders, was not responsible for the G30S. At its root, the real players behind the scenes were the imperialist powers or nekolim (especially the United States through the CIA), who wanted to destroy Communism in Indonesia and the world. Can you talk about this a little?

TSL: To make a long story short, the U.S. involvement was central due to several reasons. One of them is the extraction of Indonesia’s natural resources—think about the mines that still operate today. If there was no “gold” coming out of all this, the United States wouldn’t even do the things they did. Obviously the main reason was economic, with human beings sacrificed on the altar.

The issue of the United States is not by any means simple, but we can see it this way. The United States can be considered as a “modern” nation. They were established after the American continent was “discovered”—as they call it—by Columbus. A “discovery” followed by genocides against the natives. This “discovery” could not be separated from the whole development of capitalism itself, particularly the need for capital to expand out of Europe. Expansion—”globalization”—since the very beginning has always served as a means for capital to control, oppress, and exploit “backward” societies.

The United States, then, has a “historical mission” (tugas sejarah). What is this mission? It’s none other than protecting and advancing the development of capitalism. In any circumstances, with or without violence, it will do anything, whatever the costs, to defend the interests of capital. That’s how I see it. It can, for example, destroy countries. Look at what happened to the countries in the Middle East, to Iraq. If these countries were not seen as an obstacle to this “mission,” I don’t think they would meet such a horrible fate. But the United States had determined that these countries hindered its goals, and therefore had to be destroyed. That’s the character of an imperialist.

IS: So Indonesia was seen as an obstacle and therefore had to meet the “fate” of the G30S and its devastating aftermath?

TSL: For sure. If we look at the U.S. targets…just see how the United States treated Saddam Hussein. He was stubborn as a mule, therefore he had to die. But how did they treat Ferdinand Marcos? He was certainly not Saddam Hussein, so they let him die happily while enjoying a vacation. Now, what about Suharto? Suharto was no Saddam Hussein either, so the United States let him die in a noble way, à la Javanese aristocrat. He was buried with all the aristocratic glory, and the law could not touch him until the end of his life! Could all that happen without the decisions made by the United States, as one of the imperialist powers? I don’t think so. A person’s life, a nation’s fate, many of them depend on these decisions. This is the role of imperialism in the world.

IS: Still in relation to this idea that Indonesia was an obstacle to the interests and goals of imperialism—you wrote a bit about how the destruction of the PKI was a means to bring down Sukarno. Can you elaborate on that? What was the “sin” of Sukarno and the PKI from the perspective of the imperialist powers?

TSL: Sukarno was, what do you call it, a loudspeaker. He gave fiery speeches everywhere—speeches despised by the United States. People like him “understandably” had to be “taken care of.” The United States initially just wanted to get rid of Sukarno because of his “propaganda,” but it ended up doing more than that. It was because they realized later that they wouldn’t be able to get rid of Sukarno without getting rid of his protector—that is none other than the PKI. They had to attack the PKI first, and the rest followed.

IS: But were there other reasons why Sukarno was seen as “dangerous” by the imperialist powers, besides the fact that he was vocal? What about his important role in the Non-Aligned Movement?19

TSL: Obviously. The United States and the West could not live without sucking the life out of others. And Sukarno always emphasized this point. He was a hardliner when it came to his anti-colonial and anti-imperialist stance, so he was a main target. If Indonesia at that time considered imperialism as the enemy of revolution, then Sukarno was the enemy of imperialism.

The imperialist powers heavily objected to the effort of the oppressed nations in gaining sovereignty. They had to prevent this from happening. Take the Vietnam War for example—something that became the center of attention at that time. What was the point of this war? From the perspective of Vietnam, this was about how they could break free from imperialism. But what was the goal of the United States? It was an effort to keep the anti-imperialist movements from spreading among the oppressed nations. That was the reason they “took care” of Indonesia: we behaved dangerously back then. We hurt the United States with our loud voice. We had the role of striking the anti-imperialist bell, “Toeng, toeng, toeng…Amerika is evil, Amerika is bad!” So, on the one hand, the United States was strongly against the sovereignty of the oppressed nations. On the other hand, Sukarno emphasized the need and the means for these ex-colonies to together free themselves from the imperialist powers. The two don’t really mix together, do they? And then why the PKI as a target? PKI was the fence for Sukarno, and they also borrowed his voice as their loudspeaker to spread their propaganda. So pretty much it was like that.

IS: And how does all this relate to the imperialists’ war against Communism?

TSL: In these ex-colonies, who was really behind their struggles to gain sovereignty? Communist movements. So the United States concluded that the “ungrateful little pricks” were the Communists. And hence they thought that Communism had to be beaten to a pulp. Exterminated from the world.

But speaking of U.S. involvement, it all started a while back [in 1947], when the United States was parading in the name of the Good Offices Committee (Komisi Tiga Negara) to interfere with the negotiation between Indonesia and the Netherlands. Why all of a sudden did the United States want to be involved in a “domestic business” between the two countries? I don’t think there was ever a clear answer to that—and you know what that means: it was for their own interests. And what was one of their main interests? To stop Indonesia from spreading Communism.20

IS: Maybe we can talk about the continuation of such interference in the subsequent years of Indonesian politics. In their effort to exterminate Communism, how exactly did the imperialist powers infiltrate local politics and use their local channels to destroy the PKI? And who were these compradors (kaki-tangan)—the military, the local bourgeoisie, the religious political parties?

TSL: Well, the cooperation between the imperialist powers and the Indonesian military is clear. No question about it. They needed each other. No matter how strong and able a foreign military is in destroying their enemies, they would need the role of “treason” from within the local politics of their targeted countries. Sure thing, the treacherous parties wouldn’t admit what they did was treason. They would even claim that they did a heroic act to their nation. And the United States wouldn’t say blatantly that they were using the local military to advance their own goals. But if that was really the case, we wouldn’t have any problems, would we?

And yes, the political parties—they had their share. When Republik Indonesia was born and we could have political parties, they of course had their own figures. And for sure these figures, these people, would advance the interests of their own parties. If you were a party like the PKI, you would understandably not want to cooperate with the imperialist powers, including the United States. You would be against it. But for most of the other parties, it was indeed in their interests to be close to these powers. During that period, funding was a big issue. And how did you get funding? By living a life of servitude to imperialism.

IS: I want to talk more about the PKI, since you also wrote about it in your book. But before we come to that—how close were Sukarno and the PKI?

TSL: They were indeed close. One evidence of their close relationship was that Sukarno entrusted the writing of his speeches to Njoto, one of the main leaders of the PKI. Every time Sukarno was going to give a speech, including the Independence Day speech, he asked Njoto to write it for him. That was no small matter, especially with the Independence Day speech, since the speech would serve as some kind of a guideline for the following years—a resource for the Indonesian peoples that could inspire their thoughts and their work. Moreover, this trust was well received by the PKI, to the point that they never doubted Sukarno’s sincerity and friendship. As Sukarno said, “the PKI is my sibling as well as my friend.” Unfortunately, this made some PKI officials bigheaded. But from what I myself observed, Sukarno was not all talk. He proved his words. No matter how big the pressure was, Sukarno was never willing to disband the PKI. Until the last moment, he always defended the Party. So yes, the relationship between Sukarno and the PKI was quite close. But we also have to remember that in both parties—within the PKI and especially within Sukarno’s circle—there were “insincere” individuals. We don’t need to look too far; just look at his own daughter, Megawati. Has she ever been loyal to her father’s ideals? But I guess that’s how politics works.

IS: Do you think Sukarno and the PKI were “on the right track,” so to speak, in their struggles against imperialism? And would any of the G30S carnage have happened without Washington’s involvement?

TSL: Well now, if there was no such U.S. involvement, I think we would have seen peace [laughs]. As to whether Sukarno and the PKI were on the right track, I would say, probably not. The PKI themselves were not free from bourgeois characteristics. Take this small example. One of the main working guidelines (Tripanji) upheld by the Party was concerning the Indonesian revolution. D. N. Aidit wrote it.21 But later he said that it was really Mao Zedong’s work. Why would he do something like this? This is certainly a concrete example of the petty bourgeois characteristics that were still attached to our leaders. Aidit felt the need to use Mao’s big name because he thought, that way, people would be more likely to believe in his words—”Wong this came from Mao, kok, so how could you refute it?”

So no, I wouldn’t say that they were on the right track. In reality, what existed within the PKI…I doubt that we can see them as the “ideal” Communist thoughts. And with Sukarno, we can’t deny that, in some ways, he did use the PKI as a tool to boost his own fame on the international stage, “Since you don’t mind my using you, why not?” So they “took advantage” of each other.

IS: Since we’re talking about some of the problems within the PKI, what do you think was the PKI’s biggest weakness that made them vulnerable?

TSL: As I said, the Party’s bigwigs were still swimming in the ocean of the bourgeoisie. We couldn’t expect them to recover from this bourgeois disease. And what were the symptoms of this disease? One of them was great “subjectivism.” What I mean is…let’s take Aidit for example. When Fidel Castro succeeded to be the number-one person in Cuba, he was envious! He thought, “How come Fidel could do it, but I couldn’t?” This is purely a bourgeois thought. And it brought Aidit to the land of doom.

IS: If we consider all these weaknesses, can we say that the PKI was really a considerable threat to imperialism? Were they really militant then, or was their focus geared towards securing their power in the parliament, following their perceived success in the 1955 election?

TSL: Now that’s another symptom of the bourgeois disease that the Party carried. They believed that revolution could be won through electoral victories.22 Unlike, say, China, which was committed to the real struggle—”let’s fight even if we bleed!”—the PKI had the illusion the electoral system could lead them to a revolutionary success. So, I’m not sure what it was about them that was particularly threatening.

IS: But as you said, they were still seen as an important target by the imperialist powers.

TSL: Yes, they were. I think one possible reason why the PKI was seen as a threat is because the imperialist powers only compared Indonesia with countries like Laos, Cambodia, and so on. But they mistakenly didn’t compare us [Indonesian Communism] with Vietnam. Now that would have been embarrassing!

IS: What else do you think Indonesians and the rest of the world should know about the G30S—things that are not told by “official accounts” that you know and want to share?

TSL: I just want to say that everything that the New Order told you was a lie. Among the most atrocious was the lie they perpetuated about the Gerwani women—that they were dancing naked and torturing the army generals.23 With all these lies, the New Order bragged about the “sanctity” of Pancasila.24 Little do people know that it was all a trick. A magic trick.

IS: Where do you think we are today in terms of dealing with the consequences of such a sinister magic trick? Is Indonesia ready to admit what really happened, or are we still lulled by the trick?

TSL: Especially recently, there have been lively discussions about human rights and the atrocities that happened after the G30S. There are debates about how to approach this issue. Some people argue that we have to approach it through the legal route, the justice system. This means that we will bring the perpetrators to the court. To what extent we can achieve this, I don’t think anyone has provided a good answer. Others argue that to deal with what is inherited from all these atrocities, we have to “reconcile.” But I think we can’t reconcile without bringing out the real truth—the real account of history.

In my view, we have to take the political route. The violation of human rights that happened amidst the G30S was born out of the political realm, and therefore we have to bring it back to that realm. We can’t ignore the political history that underlies such brutal violations. Don’t forget the seizing of parliamentary (MPRS, or People’s Consultative Assembly) power by the army generals led by General Nasution.25 This is the origin of the banning of certain “isms” in Indonesia, including Communism. This gave justification to the slaughtering of human beings just because they are seen as followers of these “isms.” So before we can do anything meaningful, we must first and foremost lift the ban on those “isms.” Then we can talk about further steps—bringing the perpetrators to trial, wanting to reconcile, or whatever.

I mean, the current government seemed, at first, to start sliding their butts to move towards the better part of the sofa. But up until now, we haven’t seen any progress. People have demanded that our current president, representing the government, apologize for the atrocities that happened.26 I think that would be a notable gesture. But we don’t think an apology alone will be sufficient. What we need is an admission—that all this time we are not told the real account of the event. Admit what really happened. There is no way we can do a real reconciliation without first admitting the truth. So the political move should be prioritized.

IS: It appears that this is also related to the problem of Communist-phobia (komunisto-fobi) that you mentioned in your work. This somehow reminds me, it is not uncommon for commentators or observers—including those from the West—to repeatedly claim that they condemn the post-G30S mass killings and mass imprisonment of those who were accused or alleged Communists. The assumption, it seems, is that it’s okay, or at least less problematic, if the victims really were Communists, because somehow “they deserved it.” What do you think of this?

TSL: That’s why we need to rethink this issue a little—when our friends out there talk about “human rights,” they need to explain where they’re heading. If the intention is to make unclear matters even more blurry, or create further problems, that’s what could happen. But if the intention is to solve problems, then such assumptions should not exist.

So what if we are Communists? What’s wrong with being a Communist? If we recall the process of how the PKI was formed, the process of the development of Communism in Indonesia, we should remember that—for a very, very long time—Communists had always been hunted. But because the one that was hunted never stopped walking forward, it grew. If they had given up, it would have been over. If we only talk about “the law,” or the legal system, just like those people I mentioned previously, we should ask this question: When, legally speaking, have we ever said, “dear Communism, we welcome you with open arms”? Never! Since the beginning—take the peasant rebellions [against the Dutch] in 1926 for example—Communism had been banned. Not only banned, but people who were involved in these rebellions were captured, then exiled to Boven Digul. These were people who had understood the cost of their political choice. But it gave birth to the wrong conception, that these people were horrible criminals. They weren’t criminals! They were people who did so much for this country. They defended the rights of our nation to be sovereign. I think our young comrades have to apprehend this—in this country, Communism has never been granted life by the law. It has been surviving and growing through its own struggles.

On the Question of Sovereignty and the Future of the Left

IS: You emphasized several times in your book that Indonesia, like many other nations in the “third world,” was caught in the middle of foreign politics. We were being sucked into the Cold War current. Indonesians were pitted against each other by the hands of the imperialist superpowers in their efforts to destroy Communism. You argued that this is the reason why sovereignty is extremely important, so that we won’t be forever played like puppets (wayang). Can you talk a little bit more about sovereignty, and in what ways a nation like Indonesia can stand on its own feet and determine its own fate?

TSL: OK, I have to say one thing. Now we hear a lot about Trisakti [economic independence, political sovereignty, and cultural autonomy]—you know, the slogan that the current [Jokowi] regime keeps on boasting.27 Trisakti actually came out of Communism. When did we have this? When the majority of our people had the pride and courage to make a stance: to accept what we should accept, and to reject what must be rejected. For example, about being sovereign (berdikari). What is the key to sovereignty? Our own production. If we can’t produce our own goods for our needs, all the talk about sovereignty is nothing but empty words. And where did we get this wisdom? From the Soviet Union. Sukarno learned how the Soviet Union could win against Germany in the Second World War, and then came to the realization that sovereignty was the key. Only when you’re sovereign you can achieve great things. So berdikari is not merely jargon [as it seems to be used by the current regime].

IS: This talk about sovereignty also reminds me of what you said regarding capital. Quoting Sukarno, you explained that human beings are determined by their material conditions—an idea that, to my knowledge, is held by Marxists. And you argued that human societies would lose their humanity if they keep following the ways of capital. The question is—how can oppressed nations struggle against the forces of capital?

TSL: A nation can have control over its own production if they are free and independent. So to achieve this, what should be done? We need to refer to the principles of the “Revolution Development” (Pembangunan Revolusi). If we can’t achieve that, or worse, can’t understand that, don’t expect to gain sovereignty. And to understand these principles, we need to go back to what I said about a nation’s “historical mission.” What is Indonesia’s mission? To free ourselves from oppression by the imperialist powers.28 And we need to build strong political organizations that can help us achieve this.

IS: Speaking of the struggle to free ourselves from imperialist powers, we just commemorated the sixtieth anniversary of the Asia-Africa (Bandung) Conference. So after sixty years, what do you think—can we, the “third world,” the oppressed nations, continue our struggle against imperialism and form a solid movement based on solidarity?

TSL: Ideally, we can. And we should. But it’s difficult in practice. As long as we haven’t been able to unite the oppressed nations, we can’t achieve that. And that’s the biggest problem—we’re still not united.

IS: In the end, maybe we can talk a little bit about the future, about the next direction based on what we have learned from the past. It’s been fifty years since the G30S happened, and it’s been seventy years since Indonesia declared its independence. As a nation, what are the lessons that we need to learn from all the painful experiences we’ve had? And what messages would you like to convey to the Indonesian left today?

TSL: One of the direst consequences of the G30S and the rise of the New Order was the decapitation of the Indonesian left. We were knocked down, and for fifty years we could do nothing. Imagine—we could not get back up! Even a boxer in the ring can usually get up before the count of ten. But it’s been half a century for us.

When the G30S happened, the defeated Indonesian left could only point their finger at D. N. Aidit. He was blamed for everything. In some ways, yes, it’s understandable that he had to bear the responsibility for what happened as the number-one person in the PKI. We could say it was a failure. But it’s not right if we only hold on to this way of thinking. What came out of it was nothing but blame and arrogance. They all said back then, “If only you people had listened to me, or followed me, this disaster wouldn’t have happened!” This shows arrogance—they basically appointed themselves as the smartest ones, the most righteous of all. So this was what happened after the G30S, this kind of development. And perhaps this can help explain why we could not get back up after being knocked down. I haven’t seen signs of the rise of the left. Maybe it’s caused by a disappointment that was too big. I wonder if this can be healed. If we can go past this, then it will be good. If not, we’ll be carried away by this tsunami forever. It’s not really a cheerful answer, is it?

So yes, the left has been destroyed. But—OK, this may sound like a message from someone who’s waiting for death—don’t give up! Keep on going. Where? Well, to your destination. What is the destination? To build strong political organizations. One thing, though—all this totally depends on the young generation. What about the old one? Don’t count on them. They have plenty of problems, complicated ones.

IS: But there is hope.

TSL: Of course there is! If we don’t even have that belief, let’s just go back to our slumber [laughs].

IS: Last but not least, what lessons might be drawn from the world socialist movement that is now reemerging, sometimes referred to as the Movement Toward Socialism?

TSL: We should not collide against each other. In the 1960s, many times, when the Soviet Union did something, China would disagree, and vice versa. Whenever Yugoslavia did something, the Soviet Union objected. But if we see the reality of what happens in Latin America, I think we need to learn from the concrete things that our comrades there have done. We don’t need to envy them, we must learn from them instead. From this, we’ll gain experience and knowledge from a diversity of nations—we’ll learn from each other and appreciate each other’s achievements. It’s about solidarity among socialists.


See John Roosa, Pretext for Mass Murder (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006); Robert Cribb, “Genocide in Indonesia, 1965–1966,” Journal of Genocide Research 3, no. 2 (2001): 219­­–39; Saskia Eleonora Wieringa, “Sexual Slander and the 1965/66 Mass Killings in Indonesia,” Journal of Contemporary Asia 41, no. 4 (November 2011): 544–65.
Wieringa, “Sexual Slander and the 1965/66 Mass Killings in Indonesia,” 548; The Editors, “September 30, 1965,” Preface to Benedict Anderson, “Petrus Dadi Ratu,” New Left Review 3 (May–June 2000): 5.
In Pretext for Mass Murder, Roosa describes Sudisman’s (a PKI leader) speech before his 1967 military tribunal. Sudisman claimed that the PKI “considered the movement as ‘an internal Army matter.’” This means that the Party, as an institution, “knew nothing” about the movement. Moreover, Sudisman stated that “a group of progressive military officers acted on their own initiative, and certain members of the Party, acting as individuals and without informing or coordinating with formal Party organizations, provided assistance to those officers” (74). Drawing on the U.S. Embassy’s and the CIA’s reports, Gabriel Kolko states that “the most probable explanation [of the event] is that it was primarily an internal military struggle with which both Aidit (the PKI chairman) and Sukarno maintained a cautious but essentially opportunistic relationship.” Gabriel Kolko, Confronting the Third World (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988), 178.
John Pilger’s quote was taken from his documentary on Indonesia and globalization, The New Rulers of the World, 2001, http://johnpilger.com. Reston’s column includes the story of the rise of Suharto as a part of a report on “the more helpful political developments elsewhere [besides Vietnam] in Asia”; James Reston, “A Gleam of Light in Asia,” New York Times, June 19, 1966. The quote from Time magazine was taken from “Vengeance with a Smile,” Time, July 15, 1966, 22–26. It favorably reports the rise of Suharto’s regime that marked the end of Sukarno—whose “hatred for the West made the Kremlin seem a neutralist”—after two decades of “egotistical misrule.” Then it continues to nonchalantly report the killings in East Java, where the heads of decapitated “suspected Communists” were “impaled on poles outside their front doors for widows and children to see.” But “there was little remorse anywhere,” the article assures, and it ends with a cheerful conclusion—”Indonesia’s dramatic new stance needs no additional push to make it more than what it is: the West’s best news for years in Asia.”
Scholars who argued that this accusation was unsupported by evidence include Benedict Anderson, Ruth McVey, and Harold Crouch; see Roosa, Pretext for Mass Murder, 73.
Rex Mortimer, Indonesian Communism under Sukarno (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974), 19. The PKI was officially born in May 23, 1920, as a “synthesis of Marxism and the Indonesian workers’ movement”; D.N. Aidit, Kibarkan Tinggi Panji Revolusi! (Jakarta: Yayasan Pembaruan, 1964), 9. However, the Party’s development could be traced back to shortly before the First World War broke out, when it began as a Marxist socialist organization founded in the Netherlands Indies. As Ruth McVey writes, “it can claim to be the oldest major Indonesian party and the first Communist movement to be established in Asia beyond the borders of the former Russian Empire”; The Rise of Indonesian Communism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1965), xi. Within a few decades, failed revolutionary attempts—especially the 1926 rebellion against the imperialist Dutch, who then outlawed the Party—forced the PKI to go underground and see many of its leaders and cadres executed or exiled, before it “was allowed to surface again” not long after the Madiun affair in 1948. In 1951, D.N. Aidit and his young colleagues took the leadership of the Party, and under this leadership, it grew rapidly. In August 1965, the Party claimed approximately three million members, along with millions more members in their affiliated organizations; see Mortimer, Indonesian Communism Under Sukarno, 41–42, 366.
The term “1965” is often used by the public to address the G30S and its aftermath. Scholars usually apply the 1965–1966 timeframe in their discussion of the mass killings, referring to the most intense period of the massacre. But “occasional flare-ups” continued in different parts of the archipelago until 1969. Many have suggested different numbers for the massacre victims—the common estimate ranges from approximately 500,000 to around a million; Robert Cribb, “Introduction: Problems in the Historiography of the Killings in Indonesia,” in Robert Cribb, ed., The Indonesian Killings, 1965–1966 (Clayton, Australia: Centre of Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University, 1990), 3, 12. Sarwo Edhie, the commander of the RPKAD, an army unit that held a major role in the mass killings, claimed that the number reached three million. But as Roosa notes, all these numbers are largely guesses: “No careful, comprehensive investigations have been conducted”; Pretext for Mass Murder, 261.
See Cribb, “Introduction,” 26; Wieringa, “Sexual Slander and the 1965/66 Mass Killings in Indonesia,” 545, 552. Wieringa also mentions a confession by members of Ansor in a meeting that was set up locally by Syarikat Islam (SI/Islamic Union) in 2003 as a “reconciliation effort.” They declared in tears that they slaughtered the PKI members because “they thought they had been doing the right thing” by “‘cleansing’ society from the perceived Communist evil.” Moreover, “in any case, they said, they had little choice as they had acted under threat of the military.”
Cribb, “Genocide in Indonesia, 1965–1966,” 235.
Bradley Simpson, “International Dimensions of the 1965–68 Violence in Indonesia,” in Douglas Kammen and Katherine McGreggor, eds., The Contours of Mass Violence in Indonesia (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012), 58, 62–63; The Editors, “Notes from the Editors,” Monthly Review 67, no. 5 (October 2015): c2; Kolko, Confronting the Third World, 181.
Simpson, “International Dimensions of the 1965–68 Violence in Indonesia,” 62; The CIA quote was cited in Jonah Weiner, “The Weird Genius of ‘The Act of Killing,’” New Yorker, July 15, 2013. http://newyorker.com.
Cribb, “Genocide in Indonesia, 1965–1966,” 236. Cribb’s estimate for the number of people in detention was also used by Roosa in Pretext for Mass Murder.
About Tan Swie Ling: Raised in poverty, Tan could not enjoy the privilege of receiving “proper” education. But even in his early youth, he was active in organizations, and activism has been an intimate part of his life since then. He moved to Jakarta in 1964 and acted as secretary general of Permusyawaratan Pemuda Indonesia (PPI/The Consultative Association of Indonesian Youth). PPI is an independent youth organization but often regarded as an affiliate of Baperki (see note 17). Since the fall of Suharto in 1998, Tan has been active in an organization built and run by him and his colleagues, which focuses mostly on the sociopolitical issues that relate to the Chinese Indonesian community, including racism against them. The organization used to publish magazines titled Sinergi Warga Bangsa and Sinergi Indonesia. Since 2003, the organization became known as LKSI (Lembaga Kajian Sinergi Indonesia or “the Institution for the Study of Indonesian Synergy”), in which he is a chair. Tan has also written several books, among them are G30S 1965, Perang Dingin, dan Kehancuran Nasionalisme: Pemikiran Cina Jelata Korban Orba [The September 30th Movement 1965, the Cold War, and the Destruction of Nationalism: Thoughts of a Chinese Plebeian, a Victim of the New Order] (Jakarta: Komunitas Bambu, 2010), and Masa Gelap Pancasila: Wajah Nasionalisme Indonesia [The Dark Period of Pancasila: The Face of Indonesian Nationalism] (Depok: Ruas, 2014).
Sudisman was a member of the PKI Politburo’s Dewan Harian (Working Committee), the center of the Party leadership. He also served as the Party’s secretary general throughout Sukarno’s Guided Democracy. Along with four other colleagues—D. N. Aidit, M. H. Lukman, Njoto, and Sakirman—Sudisman had taken over the leadership of the Party in 1951. Aidit, Lukman, and Njoto were “secretly executed by the military” in late 1965; Rossa, Pretext for Mass Murder, 74, 140. In his “dignified and moving speech” to the court, Sudisman “refused to plead for his life, aligning himself instead with the fate of his fallen colleagues” (he specified that “all four are dead,” including Sakirman). Sudisman himself was sentenced to death by the military tribunal in 1967; Mortimer, Indonesian Communism Under Sukarno, 12–13. The moment before Sudisman was moved from the military prison (RTM) to be executed, Tan managed to say an impromptu goodbye to his beloved friend by singing a PKI hymn, “Ode to the Party”—amidst the guards with guns who surrounded them. He writes, “I will always remember Sudisman, a Communist leader whom I admire and respect”; Tan, G30S 1965, Perang Dingin, dan Kehancuran Nasionalisme, 275.
The interview took place on August 30, 2015. It was done in Bahasa Indonesia. All translations are mine. I am indebted to several individuals who offered their kind help and friendship. They made this interview possible.
Tan, G30S 1965, Perang Dingin, dan Kehancuran Nasionalisme. This is the book that I referred to in my questions throughout the interview. The interview can serve, among other things, as a brief version of what Tan explains in this book.
Baperki stands for Badan Permusyawaratan Kewarganegaraan Indonesia (“The Consultative Body for Indonesian Citizenship”), an organization founded in 1954 by Indonesians of Chinese descent. After the G30S, the New Order banned the organization. Baperki’s university in Jakarta, Res Publica, was burned, and many of its leaders and members became victims of the G30S aftermath, because the organization was seen as closely tied with the PKI; see for example Joseph Saunders, Academic Freedom in Indonesia (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1998).
Chinese minorities in Indonesia have been subjected to “discrimination, harassment and occasional pogroms for the last 250 years.” Due to their vulnerable position, they often became the “scapegoats sacrificed in times of social unrest”; Cribb, “Genocide in Indonesia, 1965–1966,” 235; Dan La Botz, Made in Indonesia (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2001), 62. Discriminatory practices inherited from the long history of colonization continued to serve as a “master’s tool” in the New Order’s racist politics. As an activist, Tan played a significant role in several political achievements in fighting these practices, although his role has been largely underestimated. These achievements include the amendment of the 6th and 26th clauses of UUD45—that previously served as a means to discriminate against “non-pribumi” (“non-natives”) through the use of term “Indonesia asli” (“native Indonesian”) to determine political rights and citizenship. Tan coordinated a team to propose the amendment to the parliament in 2000. The proposal was accepted. Another achievement was the successful effort to abolish SBKRI—a legal note required to prove one’s citizenship, a burden placed mostly on Chinese Indonesians. Due to this, many were prevented from gaining basic rights as citizens. The success was marked by the issuance of a new citizenship regulation in 2006; see Tan, G30S 1965, Perang Dingin, dan Kehancuran Nasionalisme, 409–14, 464, 469–81.
The Non-Aligned Movement—consisting of a group of mostly newly independent countries—was established in Belgrade in 1961. But the initiative came from “the first major conference of developing countries of Africa and Asia” in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955. The conference was attended by twenty-nine states, with Indonesia as one of the five sponsoring countries. They gathered to discuss “ways and means by which their peoples could achieve fuller economic, cultural and political cooperation” as sovereign nations in the polarized world of the Cold War. Moreover, the states aimed at “formulating their own independent positions” that reflected their interests as developing countries; see Odette Jankowitsch and Karl P. Sauvant, “Introduction: The Non-Aligned Countries,” in Jankowitsch and Sauvant, eds., The Third World without Superpowers, vol. 1 (Dobbs Ferry: Oceana Publications, 1978), xxxi–xxxii.
Tan (G30S 1965, Perang Dingin, dan Kehancuran Nasionalisme, 113–15) explains that the United States took advantage of its position as the head of UN-formed Good Offices Committee (KTN) in the Renville Agreement in 1947. Their aim was to take control of the conflict resolution between Indonesia and the Netherlands, in line with U.S. interests of preventing the spread of Communism—the fundamental basis of U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War era, following the end of the Second World War.
Dipa Nusantara Aidit (referred to as D.N. Aidit) was the chairman of the PKI Central Committee (see also notes 6 and 14). He joined the illegal PKI in 1943, and was elected to the PKI Central Committee in 1947. In early September 1948, he became a full member of the Politburo; Mortimer, Indonesian Communism Under Sukarno, 35–38.
By 1965, the PKI was a major player among the three contending forces within nationalist movements in Indonesia. These three were labeled developmentalist (nationalist), Islamic (religion), and Communist; see Cribb, “Genocide in Indonesia, 1965–1966,” 226. After the devastating Madiun affair in 1948—a PKI-supported land reform movement that was “ruthlessly suppressed” by the military—the PKI acted cautiously in politics and loyally endorsed Sukarno “as a counterbalance to the power of the military.” It had relied on peaceful means and focused on securing parliamentary power. Thus, when attacked in the G30S aftermath, the PKI could not resist “because it had long since ceased to be revolutionary”; Kolko, Confronting the Third World, 174, 179–80. In his book, Tan argues that—despite the Party’s repetitious talk about the need to defend oneself against attacks—it became too entrenched in their “parliamentary dance.” The Party “failed to understand the concrete form of imperialism, how it worked and how powerful it was.” As a result, Tan writes, the PKI underestimated its enemy and lost the “class survival” ability required in a revolutionary struggle; Tan, G30S 1965, Perang Dingin, dan Kehancuran Nasionalisme, 185.
Gerwani stands for Gerakan Wanita Indonesia (Indonesian Women’s Movement), a socialist, feminist organization closely affiliated with the PKI. One of the myths of the Gerwani women perpetuated by the New Order includes how they severed the abducted army generals’ genitals and gouged their eyes, as well as danced erotically while naked, during the G30S event in Lubang Buaya; see Wieringa, “Sexual Slander and the 1965/66 Mass Killings in Indonesia,” 551.
Pancasila is the “five principles” that serve as the foundations of the Republic’s state philosophy. It was enunciated by Sukarno in 1945—the year Indonesia won its independence—with the hope of uniting, among others, the various ethnic communities and “separate currents of nationalism” that existed within the archipelago. The PKI announced that they adhered to Pancasila in 1954; see Mortimer, Indonesian Communism under Sukarno, 66–67; J.D. Legge, Sukarno: A Political Biography (New York: Praeger, 1972), 184–85. Suharto’s New Order framed the G30S event as the PKI’s betrayal of Pancasila and, from then onwards, October 1 has been designated as the national day to commemorate the “sanctity” of (kesaktian) Pancasila and the defeat of the “Communist traitors.”
General A. H. Nasution was the army chief of staff under Sukarno. Nasution’s profound belief in the military’s mandate in helping run the nation led Sukarno to replace him in mid-1962 with “a slightly less dangerous new chief”; Kolko, Confronting the Third World, 176. Nasution was serving as the defense minister when the G30S happened. Having managed to escape from the kidnapping attempt, he later approached U.S. Ambassador Marshall Green through his aide, “to request portable communications equipment for use by the Army high command”; Bradley Simpson, “International Dimensions of the 1965–68 Violence in Indonesia,” 58. In the 1950s and ’60s, due to his internationally published book, Fundamentals of Guerilla War, Nasution was “widely presented as a man who could use guerilla tactics against left-wing insurgencies”; Robert Cribb, “Military Strategy in the Indonesian Revolution,” War and Society 19, no.2 (October 2001): 143. In 1966, Nasution became the head of the Indonesian parliament (MPRS), the institution that named Suharto as the acting president in 1967 and inaugurated him in 1968.
It turned out that Jokowi refused to give an apology. He delivered his statement of refusal to the reporters after the commemoration of kesaktian Pancasila in Lubang Buaya on October 1. He stated, “I have no thoughts about apologizing, up until this moment I have had no such thought”; Ina Parlina and Fedina S. Sundaryani, “Jokowi rejects apology, promotes stability,” Jakarta Post, October 2, 2015, 1.
The slogan is: “Being independent economically, being sovereign in politics, and having a character in culture”; see Sukarno, Dibawah Bendera Revolusi, Vol. 2 (Jakarta: Panitia Penerbit Dibawah Bendera Revolusi, 1965), 587.
The discussion of tugas sejarah in Tan’s analysis is closely related to his concepts of kebangsaan (which can be translated as “nation and character building”—a concept that was also popular during the Sukarno era) and what he calls “nationalism.” In the interview, Tan said that his work is by no means final, but he came to the conclusion that these issues must be understood within a Marxist perspective, a historical-materialist approach. In his view, countries like Indonesia, as opposed to countries like the United States or those in Western Europe, have different “missions.” Indonesia was born out of the oppression by the imperialist powers. And this should have led to the awareness of its peoples to rise, to unite together to fight imperialist exploitation and oppression. The point is that Indonesia, as a nation, was shaped out of the struggle of a colonized nation against its oppressors; see Tan, Masa Gelap Pancasila, 23–29.

Chavism Loses a Battle — Can It Recover and Rectify?-Chris Gilbert

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Chavism received a serious blow in the parliamentary elections this last Sunday, December 6. The strength of the blow is such that the movement is still reeling. The Venezuelan opposition, loosely organized in an electoral bloc called the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), achieved not just a majority of seats in the National Assembly but also the qualified majorities needed to call for referendums, initiate constitutional reform, and reorganize the judicial branch. The long-term consequences of this setback, which are likely grave and possibly disastrous, will depend on the Chavist movement’s capacity to both maintain internal order and also renovate itself.

Faced with these electoral results, President Nicolás Maduro has been among the first to call for self-critique and renovation in Chavism. This is something the late leader Hugo Chávez tried to launch with the “3Rs” campaign (Revision, Rectification, Re-impulsing) some five years ago. Yet serious self-criticism has always eluded the Bolivarian movement. More than an ethical issue, it is a problem of organization: who will critique whom and with what force? History has shown the difficulty in balancing democracy and centralism within the left’s universally subscribed framework of democratic centralism. Effective critique usually comes only when a new internal force emerges, such as the Chinese Red Guards of the mid-1960s, typically supported by some fraction of the old guard. No such thing has ever happenned in Chavism.

Self-criticism also has to face facts and interpret them without prejudice. The key fact is that Sunday’s well-attended election’s saw two million more voters opting for the opposition bloc than for Chavism. Is this because, as President Maduro has said, there is an “economic war” against Venezuela and against his government? At best the explanation is partial. An economic war, such as the ones carried out against Salvador Allende’s Chile or Revolutionary Cuba, is not necessarily successful. If Cuba has resisted more than 50 years and with fewer resources, then the Venezuelan government’s conduct facing its own economic war must be erroneous. The key factor is surely that, despite the government’s constant alerts about economic aggressions, it has never proposed a coherent strategy to defeat them. That would mean clearly defining the enemy, locating its headquarters, and then organizing actions to attain a strategic victory.

The fact that Maduro has proposed no such strategy is likely the main reason that so many working-class voters, including those in historically Chavist sectors such as the famed 23 Enero barrio of Caracas, voted against Chavism last Sunday. The Venezuelan people have shown their resilience and loyalty in situations that were far more grueling such as the Oil Stoppage of 2002-3, but when there is no end in sight because the leadership lacks a strategic plan, then it is almost impossible for leaders to preserve credibility and followers to maintain faith.

During the upcoming year, Venezuela’s serious economic problems, which are structural and have much to do with the global economic crisis, will continue, despite the Democratic Roundtable’s false promises that voting in their favor would lead to a rapid resolution. This means that 2016 will be marked by a discursive battle over who is responsible — in a split-power situation — for the persistence of the economic difficulties. Here Chavism will start out with a disadvantage, since as the recent voting result indicates, it is presently held responsible. Yet as the opposition’s false promises come to light — along with its internal division and incoherence, to say nothing of its profoundly fascist and genocidal tendencies — it will come under greater scrutiny and criticism by the masses.

Chavism will have to look to preserve its most treasured advances and legacies. These include the social programs and expanded democracy, which will all come under attack. Yet just as important are the ideas and the political example. These must not be allowed to be buried under the detritus of a hundred compromises and retreats, if the Chavist legacy is to continue inspiring people worldwide. The recent campaign saw Chavism engaging in miserable clientist practices (giving away phones and cars) and a fear campaign (“The right-wing will take your house and your computer”) that paradoxically resembled the opposition’s anticommunist propaganda against Chávez in 2006-7. It should be remembered that the opposition and imperialism want not only to defeat Chavism on the ground but also to erase its legacy. The latter is best achieved through an involution of the movement, as happened when European socialist movements became first “social-democractic” and then neither socialist nor democratic. For that reason, Chavists should work to resist such degeneration, even at the risk of losing state power.

Chris Gilbert is professor of Political Science at the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela.

Sri Lanka: Celebrating the LSSP’s 80th anniversary-FONSEKA Carlo

Posted by admin On December - 20 - 2015 Comments Off on Sri Lanka: Celebrating the LSSP’s 80th anniversary-FONSEKA Carlo


To mark the 80th Anniversary of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party — on the 18th of December 2015 — the Leader of the LSSP, Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy Tissa Vitharana, former Professor in the Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, offers a prescriptive publication to save Sri Lanka. The publication – pamphlet rather than book — embodying the lifesaving formula is deceptively slight in appearance. It brings to mind the document of 23 pages entitled the Manifesto of the Communist Party (more generally known as the Communist Manifesto) which hit the streets in February 1848, the year which saw the outbreak of revolutions in many overcrowded European cities. The resounding conclusion of the Communist Manifesto is memorable and worth recalling: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

Historical Sketch

As it happened, the authors of the Communist Manifesto — Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – were less than 30 years old when the first copies of their inflammatory manifesto were run off a London press in 1848. Their Party, the League of the Communists, was struggling to be born at that time. Tissa Vitharana’s publication adumbrates a programme of 18 specific policies designed to save Sri Lanka in the context of a world plagued by no less than five major crises. Three of them, the food crisis, the fuel crisis and the financial crisis are acute; the other two, namely the development crisis and climate crisis are chronic. The policies proposed by the LSSP for dealing with these crises are revolutionary in their character. The means of implementing them, however, do not require forcible overthrow of existing social conditions. In other words, although the Party’s political ends are revolutionary, its means of achieving them are constitutional.

Road to Socialism

The Founding Father of the LSSP Dr. N.M. Perera settled once and for all the theoretical question of Sri Lanka’s road to socialism. His vision of the Good Society was one that was rationally planned in accordance with modern knowledge, in which people of all communities live peacefully, sharing worldly goods in community with fairness and dignity. For him the road to the Good Society was through parliament. He never doubted the feasibility, efficacy and even inevitability of the parliamentary road in the context of Sri Lanka. He adopted such a stance at a time when conventional Marxist wisdom was that there is not, and there cannot be such a thing as a peaceful parliamentary road to socialism. He persuaded orthodox radical politicians in the country that the mass of the people in Sri Lanka would and therefore should be encouraged to use universal suffrage as the decisive instrument (if not the only one) to acquire legitimately the power necessary to change the world in the envisioned direction. In fact his political Guru at the London School of Economics, the world famous political scientist Harold J. Laski contended that the British Labour Government of 1945, which was put in power by popular vote and did what the people wanted, was nearer the Marxist ideal than the regimes established by bloody revolutions in France in 1789 and in Russia in 1917.

Transitional Programme

The transitional programme of the LSSP proposals at the current stage of our social evolution highlights the following as prerequisites for saving the country from impending doom.

* Sri Lanka should remain an independent sovereign state.

* Sri Lanka should pursue a strictly non-aligned foreign policy of friendship with all nations.

* Sri Lanka should establish unity in its rich cultural diversity with a true national Sri Lankan identity and the country should exist as a unitary state.

* Sri Lanka should be at all times as democratic as possible.

* Sri Lanka should pursue sustainable socio-economic development through a mixed economy.

* Sri Lanka should retain ownership of the land it presently holds while giving long term leases or smallholder tilling rights in perpetuo for generations. State intervention should ensure a fair price for producers and consumers with regard to essential goods.

* Sri Lanka’s economy while being regulated to safeguard national interests should encourage national planning and promote private/public partnerships and cooperatives.

* Sri Lanka should harness Science, Technology and Innovation to promote agricultural manufacturing and service industries in order that the country may achieve full development.

* Sri Lanka should invest heavily in education increasing the investment to at least 6% of GDP.

* Sri Lanka’s hitherto cost-effective health service should be further strengthened to improve its efficacy, safety and quality.

* Sri Lanka’s social safety network must be deployed to protect specially the poorer sections of our population.

* Sri Lanka should ensure the independence of the judiciary and expedite the dispensation of justice.

* Sri Lanka should maintain its enviable record of promoting all aspects of the welfare of the working class.

* Sri Lanka should restore its past glory as a prosperous agricultural society by practicing safe, sustainable, traditional methods of agriculture.

* Sri Lanka should ensure the security of every citizen by implementing the rule of law without discrimination.

* Sri Lanka should protect its unique, salubrious environment by the proper management of its natural resources and disposal of waste and by preventing the pollution of its soil, air and water.

* Sri Lanka should confer on every citizen the effective connectivity made possible in the modern electronic age.

* Sri Lanka should resist the move to uncontrolled urbanization because urbanization is the deadly and relentless destroyer of the natural environment.

Concluding Remarks

Party Leader Tissa Vitharana is acutely conscious of the fact that he happens to be the living embodiment of the legacy bequeathed to posterity by the Founding Fathers of the original LSSP which included N.M. Perera, Colvin R de Silva, Philip Gunawardena, S.A. Wickramasighe, and Leslie Goonawardene. As the present leader with a genetic relationship to Dr. N.M. Perera he is bound to feel the oppressive burden of ensuring the continued purposeful existence of the Party to which we belong. We recall with great satisfaction the fact that 80 years ago the Founding Fathers of the LSSP set themselves political goals which at that time seemed to be beyond “the art of the possible”. Concerning this matter this is what Dr. N.M Perera said on 22 May 1972 when he seconded the resolution in the National State Assembly which transformed Sri Lanka with an unbroken history of some 2,500 years of monarchical rule into a republic: “Little did we as students in London meeting in dingy digs dream, when we inaugurated a movement that blossomed later to be the Lanka Sama Samaja Party that we would in our lifetime be the proud participants of this historic day. We affirmed as our first principle on that distant day in 1930, the achievement of full national independence. It is the fulfillment of this affirmation that gives us unending pride and pleasure.” As it happened, it was none other than the first and only President of the LSSP Dr. Colvin R de Silva who as a Minister in the United Front Government of the SLFP/LSSP/CP in 1972 drafted the Constitution which transformed Sri Lanka into a Republic. The second principle the visionaries affirmed in 1930 is the socialist transformation of Sri Lanka. It is the road to this hitherto incompletely realized goal that the current leader of the LSSP is concerned to define in the present global context. He has endeavored to integrate the programme of the Party with the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. He articulates a mortal fear that if “the revolutionary reconstitution of society” the programme he adumbrates with much erudition is not achieved, humanity may insensibly and inexorably sink into barbarism and even suffer extinction. Significantly, this “barbarism scenario” is in consonance with the highest Marxist tradition. In the Communist Manifesto an optimistic Karl Marx envisaged that the sequential outcome of capitalist development would be “a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large”. If it failed, a pessimistic Karl Marx foresaw “the common ruin of the contending classes”. This “common ruin of the contending classes” is what the LSSP Leader and theoretician Tissa Vitharana, following Friedrich Engels co-author of the Communist Manifesto, once called “barbarism”. The choice before us therefore is stark: Socialism or Barbarism?

Carlo Fonseka



Nationalism: How social theorist Benedict Anderson’s influenced a generation of scholars-PINTO Rochelle

Posted by admin On December - 20 - 2015 Comments Off on Nationalism: How social theorist Benedict Anderson’s influenced a generation of scholars-PINTO Rochelle


The author of the seminal ’Imagined Communities’, who died on December 13, changed the way nationalism is studied.

Like most of my ilk, I first heard about Benedict Anderson in a classroom. A teacher in my Master’s programme was trying to get us to kick a habit that hooks tenaciously into our mental scaffolding ‒ that of seeing Europe as the origin of all modern thought and form (seeing India as the origin of all ancient thought is only a corollary of this). On the day after we were supposed to read Anderson’s canonical text of 1983, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, she asked where the first movements for national independence had occurred, and though we knew about North America, and had speed-read through Anderson, we automatically but uncertainly murmured, Europe, knowing somehow it was the wrong answer. Her exasperation made us realise how hard it was, contrary to popular belief, to absorb a plain fact when it went against a well-entrenched idea.

Benedict Anderson’s writing was one possible route through which students of literature, politics and history and numerous other disciplines would unlearn the idea that the expression and movement for national political independence was a European invention. While Anderson highlighted the primacy of movements in North America, Haiti and other colonies of Spain and France, he also emphasised that national feeling was not a naturally occurring emotion. By the late 1990s in post-Babri India, even the most privileged and protected among us knew that, even though those from other quarters of life had known it for a while.

It is one thing however, to know something, and another to learn to think with it and Anderson’s Imagined Communities had arrived in our classroom to help us do that. He drew attention to the universality of monuments to the unknown soldier and asked how people could be drawn to die for an abstract idea, evoking both sympathy for those who would fall to enemy fire without their names ever being known, while drawing attention to militarisation as a corollary of nation formation. By the time we were introduced to his work, it had made enough of an impact to be challenged by theorists of Indian nationalism. But the reason he impressed himself so indelibly on the humanities was in the way he traced how the newspaper, which placed news of one part of a region cheek by jowl with another, an image from a neighbourhood store alongside one of a film star, would unselfconsciously link different moments in time and space, allowing us to sew the lives of disparate kinds of people together. A single sentence in a novel that linked an event of the past to a place in the present, he said, could do the same, allowing the nation to emerge almost as a natural being, letting the reader into the experience of belonging to the new formation that was offered.

Key concepts

Even as he dislodged Europe, Anderson did not offer a celebratory idea of nation ‒ there were no simplistic formulations on offer. If the Americas were the earliest to articulate the concept of an independent nation, they did not as yet offer that possibility to the slaves. Imagined Communities also combined words in new ways, offering theoretical formulations for us to try out: words such as print-capitalism, the product of the convergence of technology, capitalism and what he called the “fatal diversity of human language”, or “homogenous, empty time”, which he had drawn from the social theorist Walter Benjamin, a time unmoored from its scriptural meanings.

When Anderson dislodged the novel from its place in literary history, he placed it next to the newspaper which he called an “extreme form” of the book, and discussed it, as English Marxists had done before him, as a commodity in the market. The difference was that he also juxtaposed to it, a theoretical history of varieties of nation formation, and if that were not enough, a political theory about how modern languages had emerged, all of which would now be necessary if we were to historicise novels we were familiar with. He overturned assumed truths, some of which we had unlearned from literary critics, others that we still assumed were universal.

Imagined Communities was a necessary port of call for books on print. In time his portmanteau terms would be questioned, the sweep of his formulations challenged, a certain sign that the book and the author had shaped their field. I had a chance to hear him speak at a packed auditorium in London, and found that his other work had another life altogether in South-East Asia. The audience discussed the circumstances that banned him from entering Indonesia revealing a commitment to the place of study and an engagement with its political life that had little to do with professional success. It was a revelation of the real trajectory of his thought. It was his familiarity with the cultural worlds of the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia that enabled the re-location of Europe. Indonesia, where he died last Sunday, on one of his annual visits ever since the ban was lifted, is being seen as his appropriate place of rest. The field of print studies and that of nationalism has proliferated, and if eventually Anderson’s work is no longer referenced, it is because the structure of his argument has so imprinted our thinking, we no longer realise that it is his ideas that we use.

Rochelle Pinto


* http://scroll.in/article/775971/how-social-theorist-benedict-andersons-influenced-a-generation-of-scholars

* Rochelle Pinto is the author of Between Empires: Print and Politics in Goa (OUP).

Four stages of Hamza Alavi-NADEEM F. PARACHA

Posted by admin On December - 13 - 2015 Comments Off on Four stages of Hamza Alavi-NADEEM F. PARACHA


Hamza Alavi -Photo provided by the writer
In 1965 a lengthy paper titled, ‘Peasants and Revolution,’ caused a considerable storm in the international academic circles associated with the left. The paper was authored by Pakistani social scientist and historian, Hamza Alavi.

The paper was published during a period when China’s Communist set up was about to implode in the shape of Mao Tse-Tung’s ‘Cultural Revolution;’ and when Mao’s thesis (through which he had constructed China’s 1949 revolution), had begun to inspire peasant-based revolutionary movements in various developing countries.

Mao’s thesis (aka ‘Maoism’) had attempted to include peasants as the main forces of a communist revolution in countries that did not meet the conditions set by classic Marxism. The condition required that such countries must first have a developed bourgeoisie (middle-class) and an equally developed urban proletariat (working class). The economic conflict between the two was predicted by Marx to produce a revolution that would lead to a dynamic state of perpetual communism.

Alavi, a Marxist intellectual as well as a vehement Pakistani nationalist, argued that in agricultural economies and developing countries (especially Pakistan and India), the ‘middle peasantry’ should be treated as the main militant element of a socialist movement. He suggested that it was this section of the peasant class who were natural allies of the urban working classes, as opposed to the poorer peasants.

Another reiteration that Jinnah had envisaged a different Pakistan than what it has become
Mao, who had largely used poor peasants as his foot soldiers during the 1949 communist revolution in China, did not agree with Alavi.

Mao critiqued Alavi’s proposition by observing that the middle peasantry had a lot to lose from indulging in a make-or-break revolutionary movement, whereas the poor peasants do not because they were less burdened by economic interests and ties, and, thus, were freer to play a more assertive role in a revolution.

Alavi propagated the flip side. In his paper he suggested that just like men from urban working classes who can always find employment and were thus not afraid to lose a job due to their involvement in a revolutionary movement, this is the same aspect that makes the middle peasantry an important revolutionary player. This was because unlike the poor peasants, the middle peasants can survive the onslaught of opposing forces (because they were more resourceful), whereas the poor peasants, for fear of losing whatever little they had, prefer to remain subdued during a movement.

Alavi’s paper was widely debated by scholars and contemporary theorists of the left around the world. The paper propelled Alavi’s status in the international arena of scholarly Marxism.

In Pakistan, the armed peasant movement initiated by the Mazdoor Kisaan Party (MKP) in Charsadda (between 1968 and 1974) was partially based on Alavi’s observations.

Alavi was born into a well-to-do business family in Karachi. He got an economics degree from a university in Poona (in pre-partition India), before returning to Karachi after the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

He was a passionate supporter of Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and played a key role in helping the government set up the State Bank of Pakistan. He was still in his 20s when, instead of continuing his high profile career in the bank, he opted to accompany his wife to East Africa where both set up a farm.

It was here that Alavi began to study the political and economic dynamics of the peasants. In the late ‘50s he moved to the UK to study at the London School of Economics.

Alavi returned to Pakistan in 1960 as editor of the left-leaning Pakistan Times. But he quit and flew back to the UK after the newspaper was taken over by the military regime of Ayub Khan.

After establishing his scholarly credentials with his vastly influential paper on the middle peasantry’s role in revolution, Alavi delivered his second most important thesis in 1972: ‘The State in Post-Colonial Societies.’

This paper too highlights his highly original thinking. In addressing the reasons behind the frequent occurrence of military coups in post-colonial countries in Asia, Africa and South America, Alavi suggested that most post-colonial countries (such as Pakistan) already had an ‘overdeveloped military’ even at the time of their inception.

According to Alavi, though at the time of their creation, the new countries lacked economic resources and political institutions, they inherited established militaries from the receding colonial powers.

Thus, when such countries struggled to develop civilian political institutions, their militaries were the only organised state entities to resolve issues triggered by political conflicts between underdeveloped civilian bodies. This singularity politicized the military and retarted the process needed to make civilian institutions reach maturity.

Alavi settled in the UK, becoming a professor of sociology, first at Leeds University and then at the Manchester University. He wrote scathing critiques of the reactionary dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq (1977-88) in various academic journals. By then, along with Iqbal Ahmad, Alavi had become one of the most cited Pakistani scholars in the West.

In 1987, two years after deadly ethnic riots erupted in Karachi, Alavi emerged with his third most significant paper Nationhood and Nationalities in Pakistan.

To get to the bottom of ethnic turmoil in Pakistan, Alavi observed that the movement to create Pakistan had a larger economic motive rather than a purely religious one. Alavi noted that bulk of the movement was driven by India’s Muslim ‘salaried classes’ who were competing for government jobs against their Hindu counterparts from the same class.

He informs that the salaried Muslims believed that this overwhelming competition will be eliminated with the creation of Pakistan. However, he continues by suggesting that this sense of severe competition was not resolved with the creation of Pakistan. Instead it was carried over and took the shape of competition between the salaried classes of different ethnic groups. This, according to Alavi, created ethnic tensions and turmoil in Pakistan.

In 1997, Alavi turned his attention on the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan. In his fourth most significant thesis, The Contradictions of the Khilafat Movement, Alavi analysed the Khilafat Movement (1919-1926) in depth. He suggested that it was the emergence of this movement that enhanced the political role of the Muslim clergy in South Asia.

Alavi writes that though the movement pretended to be an anti-imperialist entity, its main aim was to promote a communalist understanding of politics among Indian Muslims. He adds that, ‘it was no small irony that the Khilafat Movement was supported by Gandhi and opposed by Jinnah …’

Until his demise in 2003, Alavi continued to insist that Jinnah had envisaged a very different Pakistan from what it eventually became after his death. On being a Marxist, he once told renowned historian, Dr Mubarak Ali, that Marxism works best as a tool to analyse history, economics and politics, but does not hold quite so well as a political ideology.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 13th, 2015

Interview with Afghan President Ghani: ‘I Have To Hold Our Country Together’

Posted by admin On December - 7 - 2015 Comments Off on Interview with Afghan President Ghani: ‘I Have To Hold Our Country Together’
A portrait of Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan; photographed at "The Arg" or Presidental Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan on Nov. 16, 2015

A portrait of Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, the president of Afghanistan; photographed at “The Arg” or Presidental Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan on Nov. 16, 2015

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani stands in front of the Presidential Palace in Kabul: “If al-Qaida was version 2.0 of terror, then the Islamic State is version 5.0.”
Interview Conducted by Susanne Koelbl in Kabul, Afghanistan
For over a year now, Ashraf Ghani, 66, has served as Afghanistan’s president. Allegations by rival candidate Abdullah Abdullah of election falsification overshadowed Ghani’s victory in September 2014. Ghani studied anthropology in the United States and also spent time living abroad. He worked stints at the World Bank and also as chancellor of the University of Kabul. In addition, he served as Afghan finance minister from 2002 to 2004 under former President Hamid Karzai.
SPIEGEL recently sat down with Ghani for an interview at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, in the same office where Hamid Karzai governed for 12 years. The furniture may still be the same, but the spirit is an altogether different one. Whereas Karzai was considered to be a man of the people, Ghani is viewed as more reserved, almost shy. During his interview, he ran the pearls of his prayer beads through his hands. He also interrupted our discussion in order to conduct his prayers.
SPIEGEL: Mr. President, the attacks in Paris show that militant fundamentalists also intend to turn Europe into a battlefield. Your country has been fighting against Taliban terror for more than a decade. What can we learn from Afghanistan?
Ghani: Terrorism attacks peoples’ trust in the system of their state. There is protection, but only if there is collective action and collective understanding about how to really deal with this phenomenon.

SPIEGEL: What does that mean in concrete terms?

Ghani: We are organized by territories, whereas terrorists are organized into networks. States are very slow and terrorists are extremely fast. Intelligence sharing needs to expand beyond the regional and become global and not country-focused. We need to acquire speed and agility. The bureaucratic culture that we have inherited is an obstacle. Hierarchies may be extremely efficient for dealing with certain events, but they are not quick in responding to global, flexible networks.

SPIEGEL: Is this the beginning of the end of our civil liberties?

Ghani: The commitment to civil liberty is going to be reasserted strongly. But the concept of liberty is under attack, and our definition of insecurity, security and threats will change fundamentally. The depth of the attack on liberty will be felt painfully. People are easily shocked when their routine is disrupted and their ease of travel is restricted. We are dealing with a complete new face of terrorism — killing for the sake of killing. When I first raised the issue of the so-called Islamic State at the Munich Security Conference in February, speaking about its economy, its flexibility and pathology, people thought I was trying to scare them. But now we have experienced just that. If al-Qaida was version 2.0 of terror, then the Islamic State is version 5.0.

SPIEGEL: Islamic State is a global movement, whereas the Afghan Taliban pursues primarily local objectives. Do you believe there are similarities between the two?

Ghani: What is common among all of these groups is the intent to destroy. The majority of terrorists who come to Afghanistan are from China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or North Africa. They were expelled from their countries and pushed to ours — this is their battlefield — and all of them, be it the Taliban or others, are interlinked with the criminal economy. None these organizations could continue operating without the narcotics networks, human-trafficking and oil smuggling. Addressing it requires a truly creative global response similar to that used to stand up against Germany’s aggression in World War II.

SPIEGEL: But the problems your country faces aren’t simply the product of global terrorism, they are also the consequence of the failure of your government and army. On Sept. 28, Afghan forces failed to defend Kunduz against a few hundred Taliban fighters. The Taliban burned down the buildings of almost all the institutions that had been built up carefully over many years. How could this have happened?

Ghani: It happened because intelligence, leadership and police failures made it possible.

SPIEGEL: How was it possible for 700 or 800 Taliban to take by surprise a well-equipped security force of about 7,000 troops in the area?

Ghani: How can a few individuals bring the French government to a standstill?

SPIEGEL: The French government is far from being paralyzed! People in Kunduz say that the intelligence service had planned a comprehensive operation against the Taliban, but that the government didn’t allow it to be carried out.

Ghani: This is not accurate. We were in the process of cleaning up the government when these attacks happened in the north — not only in Kunduz, but also in other provinces. Our special forces are limited — we cannot be everywhere at the same time and we had to defend every district regardless of how insignificant it might be, because of the very social and political makeup of this country. We sent a new commander for the northern region who first informed us of the depth of the problem. We are constantly dealing with situations in which we must ensure that provinces or major cities do not fall into enemy hands. People need to understand that we don’t have an air force and the forces that we do have used to get air support from NATO, which is no longer available. Our pilots have done wonders, but they are stretched thin. We are dealing with resources that have been spread thin.

SPIEGEL: This year, you spent six months negotiating with Pakistan, the Taliban’s closest ally, even as Pakistan’s ISI secret service reportedly was simultaneously planning a series of attacks in Kabul and the military campaign against Kunduz. Do you feel deceived?

Ghani: As the leader of a country, you are not free to enjoy the luxury of such feelings. The Afghan people want peace, which requires persistence. We are determined to defend our country, and the whole region and the entire world understands the justice of our cause and the principled way in which we have engaged in it.

SPIEGEL: Your predecessor Hamid Karzai tried to do the same, but without yielding any results. Your critics say it would have been better for you to invest your time in improving your government.

Ghani: You need to understand the reality. It is extraordinarily easy to judge us from the outside. Please do understand what we have inherited. All German forces are very familiar with Kunduz. You should ask them how they judge the capabilities and resources of our armed forces.

SPIEGEL: What do you need in order to prevent another defeat like the one experienced in the provincial capital of Kunduz?

Ghani: I assigned an independent commission of inquiry to determine the key lessons. Now we need to make sure those lessons are translated into action. What we need is air support. The Americans made the decision out of principle to buy Russian equipment for us because our pilots and mechanics were trained on Russian aircraft. But, then, as a result of the Ukraine crisis, the US Congress imposed sanctions on Russia and the equipment could no longer be delivered to us. I am proud of our security and defense forces. We have sacrificed and we have endured extreme hardship, but we have maintained the key goal — we have denied the enemy its main objective of creating two political geographies in this country through the all-out war which has been unleashed against us. If we had a first-rate air force, the nature of the conflict would be completely different.

SPIEGEL: It is an open secret that the national unity government is anything but united, particularly when it comes to the allocation of influential posts. Why is it so difficult for you to work together with Abdullah Abdullah?

Ghani: First of all, it’s not difficult. The national unity government is a necessity in this country and I am happy to serve it. We have negotiated for months to create a government, but Belgium also went for a year without one. Abdullah and I have much to debate and to convince each other of, but we have also managed more than one significant crisis together. We are coming out of a very tough year, one of the most difficult in the last four decades.

SPIEGEL: Many Afghans are afraid the government will not survive the next year because there is an agreement in the coalition contract stipulating that a constitutional loya jirga must be convened before Sept. 21. The traditional grand council, a gathering of tribal representatives and elected district councilors, is expected to decide on the future role of Abduallah Abdullah and whether his position as “executive prime minister” will be made permanent.

Ghani: Don’t worry, the loya jirga will take place as scheduled.

SPIEGEL: Hamid Karzai governed Afghanistan from the period after the US invasion until 2014. What kind of country did you inherit from him?

Ghani: I inherited one of the most difficult economic situations on earth and, on top of it, a war that intensified. The war had previously largely been confined to the south and the east, but now it is an all-out war. NATO’s ISAF force, with more than 140,000 European and American troops in the country, was not only decisive for security — it was also the largest economic actor. When they left, the country went into a deep depression. The international community didn’t anticipate the severity of the economic impact.

SPIEGEL: What kind of effects has this crisis had?

Ghani: Hundreds of thousands of people lost their jobs as a result of the troop withdrawals. In the transport sector alone, which constituted roughly 22 percent of GDP, at least 100,000 jobs were lost. Construction of the military facilities was a major driver, with the service sector connected with it comprising an amazing 40 percent of gross domestic product. In addition, the large sum of funds that were provided in annual assistance did little to alleviate poverty, because the government did not focus on the poor. Today, 70 percent of the population still live on less than $1.75 a day.

SPIEGEL: You just announced a short-term labor program that aims to put 100,000 Afghans to work for a few months cleaning up cities, building roads and setting up irrigation systems for agriculture. Can that stop people from leaving the country en masse?

Ghani: There won’t be some overnight miracle cure. But the measures I take will be sustainable. Our goal is to cease food imports within four years. This will create a minimum of 2 million jobs in agriculture. Yesterday, I reviewed 17 small dam projects. One of these dams alone would increase the irrigated land in a province by 80,000 hectares. In addition, groundbreaking is going to take place on the Tapi pipeline project in December, which will transport natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. The first byproduct will be a railway. Both will fundamentally change our economic interaction with Central Asia. And next year alone, we will produce more electricity than we did in all of the past 40 years taken together.

SPIEGEL: You have stated in the past that you wanted to do everything differently from your predecessor Karzai, that you wanted to fight corruption and adhere to the standards of good governance. But then you made Abdul Rashid Dostum your vice president, even though he is considered by many to be a war criminal. You also appointed a former finance minister suspected of corruption as an advisor.

Ghani: I want to highlight the fact that Dostum issued a letter of apology to the victims and the people for his possible role in the conflict before joining my ticket in the election. Besides, did Germany prosecute its Nazis after World War II? No, you hired them. You should take a look at your own history before pointing the finger. What do you expect of a country that is still in conflict? I have to hold our country together, and the imperatives of what we are sacrificing in order to create hope and stability need to be viewed in this context.

SPIEGEL: On Thursday, you are scheduled to visit Chancellor Angela Merkel. How will you answer when she asks why, after 14 years of international military deployment in Afghanistan, there is such an exodus of Afghans to Germany?

Ghani: First, let me express a big thank you. Germany and Afghanistan just celebrated 100 years of friendship. This means something to me in particular, because my grandfather was the first ambassador to Germany. In addition, Germany, like US President Barack Obama, just made a commitment to remain at our side. This has been of great importance to us. Ms. Merkel and I will talk about creative ways to solve the regional problem and that of growth in Afghanistan.
SPIEGEL: During this reconstruction, will you not miss all the highly educated Afghans who have left the country as part of the massive brain drain?
Ghani: We live in an interconnected world, and you cannot prevent people from leaving. What you need to do is to create opportunities. At the same time, people are also coming back. Just take the remarkable example of Mohammad Qayoumi, who was president of San Jose State University in California. He stepped down and became my national advisor for infrastructure and technology. He returned in order to serve his country. Migration is a global phenomenon, and it goes in both directions. We will do our part; and Germany, I’m sure, will also do its part.

SPIEGEL: Mr. President, we thank you for this interview.

Inequality and
 social crisis in Europe-Roland Pfefferkorn

Posted by admin On December - 7 - 2015 Comments Off on Inequality and
 social crisis in Europe-Roland Pfefferkorn


The following was a presentation by Roland Pfefferkorn, a professor at the University of Strasbourg whose primary research focus is social and gender inequality in contemporary France. It was delivered at an international forum called “Late Capitalism: Its Socio-political Aspects in the Twenty-First Century,” held in memory of Ernest Mandel (1923–1995) at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. The presentation was delivered on May 21, 2015, in a workshop titled, “Companies in Europe under the Impact of a Prolonged Crisis.” Translated by Tom Gagné.
The conclusion no one denies: Three decades of rising inequality
Since the 2008 crisis, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD),1 the European Commission,2 the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies,3 along with other statistics institutions within the European Trade Union Confederation,4 have all agreed on this fact5: In recent decades, social inequalities have increased significantly across Europe. And not only in Greece or Spain; the situation is the same in Sweden and Germany. In the past twenty-five years Swedish society has experienced a considerable growth in inequality6; according to the OECD, between 1985 and 2008 the country recorded the highest growth of income poverty among industrialized countries.7 In Germany one in six is ​​now at risk of poverty.8 NGO Caritas Europe denounces the increase in poverty and inequality across Europe, especially in the seven most affected countries—Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Cyprus, and Romania.9 In six years, from 2009 to 2014, 800,000 people have left Spain. Last year, there were still 125,000 set to leave. In Greece, one third of the people has no health insurance and no access to health care. In France, the central intelligence of the interior minister, that is, the police and gendarmerie, is now worried about the situation within hospitals and the tensions surrounding hospital emergencies.10 In their latest report, Benchmarking Working Europe 2014, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and its center of expertise, the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), came out against the “increasing social inequality, the weakening of national solidarity mechanisms, and dismantling of national social models.”

In recent years, the OECD—the European economic institution most favorable to neoliberal policies—has also turned up the alarm on inequality. Michael Förster, social policy analyst for the institution and coordinator of the 2012 report on the evolution of income inequality in rich countries,11 has already noted the unambiguous progression in income inequality in the majority of wealthy countries since the mid-1980s. The theme of inequality emerged even in January 2014 at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, an event bringing together political and business leaders. In May 2015, the secretary general of the OECD, Angel Gurría, expressed alarm over the unprecedented increase in inequality in the preamble to the latest report:

We have reached a critical point. Inequality in the OECD countries has never been higher than we now measure it. Figures show that growing inequalities impede growth. The topic for political action is as much social as it is economic. By not addressing the problem of inequality, governments destroy their social model and affect long-term growth.12

This is a radical change in doctrine within the OECD, which has long argued that the increased inequality was the ransom for greater efficiency of the economy under a supposed “trickle-down theory” claiming that the wealth of some—even a very small number—would eventually trickle down to all. The report states, “Income inequalities have reached record levels in most OECD countries and remain at higher levels even in many emerging economies. Today in the OECD area, the top 10 percent of the population earning 9.6 times the income of the poorest 10 percent, compared to 7.1 percent in the 1980s and 9.1 percent in the 2000s.” This increase concerns countries known for their high level of inequality, such as the United Kingdom, but also the Scandinavian countries of Europe traditionally considered to be more egalitarian.13
When inequality rises there are losers, quite a lot of losers, but there are also winners. Specialized business publications like Forbes, Manager Magazine, and Challenges have made lists identifying billionaire upon billionaire, and the billionaires have never been so rich.14 For example, according to Challenges, in France the 500 largest fortunes have increased fivefold since 1996 and the top ten sevenfold.15 The study on large fortunes published in autumn 2014 by Credit Suisse16 confirms an earlier report released by NGO Oxfam17: the concentration of wealth has reached unprecedented levels since the 1920s. The richest 1 percent owns 48 percent of global wealth. In short, the social distance between the oligarchies and the rest of the population has not stopped growing.

Rising inequality is the result of neoliberal policies
The growing social inequality in Europe is the result of the implementation of a systematic policy of disruption of previous “compromise balances” developed in Western Europe and the United States in the aftermath of World War II. Before the turn to neoliberal policies in the late 1970s, as explained by Alain Bihr,18 the reproduction of class relations under late capitalism was characterized by the establishment and maintenance of a “compromise” between capital and labor. The famous Fordist compromise was based on a sharing of productivity gains between growth in real wages (direct and indirect) and a growth in profit made possible by the generalization of scientific management (or Taylorism) and the mechanization of the labor process. This compromise was supervised and guaranteed by the states.

What were the various institutions and procedures that contributed to it? The institutionalization and the animation of a permanent dialogue between the different social classes (more precisely between their representative organizations: professional organizations, trade unions, political parties, and so on) and the development of structures for the purpose of negotiation between the so-called social partners (the term refers to the pacification of class struggle in the Fordist compromise). The period between 1945–1970 was also marked by the establishment, or expansion, of a set of public utilities (electricity, water, postal system, health, schools) throughout national territories.

The neoliberal turn took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s in Europe. The regressive evolution was noticeable early on, along with measurable public statistics appearing as early as the 1990s.19 The first empirical studies that highlighted growing social inequalities were for a long time ignored by the mainstream media or outright denied. This is not the case anymore. Some—among supporters of the capitalist order—even fear now that the scale of inequalities feeds a movement that calls into question this order.

These same neoliberal policies have produced more contradictory effects in Southern Europe. The collapse of the command economies of the states of Central and Eastern Europe resulted in the forced adoption of the market economy—under the influence of shock therapy advocated by the infamous Chicago Boys. Even in these states there are economic and social inequalities, but also uneveness in terms of the development between integrated regions or countries in a subordinate position, the dynamics of capitalist sectors dominating the European Union, and those irreversibly marginalized. But with the fall of the command economies, the European continent was reunited under the law of a more liberalized capitalism.

The liberalization of the movement of capital and commodities has played an essential role in the development of inequality. First, the increased labor competition exerted a downward pressure on the share of wages in total wealth, a process exacerbated by relocations, deregulation of labor markets, the downward revision in the standards of social protection, and the gradual reduction in the scope of intervention by governments and public authorities. This took place against the backdrop of a strong and persistent structural unemployment, a growing precariousness of employment, and a weakening of the fighting capacity of salaried workers.20

The role of European institutions
This picture would be incomplete without a word concerning the policies pursued by the European Union (EU). In the article devoted to this question appearing in the Dictionary of Inequalities, Pierre Concialdi presents three principal means of action: the EU budget, the standards set by the EU, through directives or regulations, and finally, all recommendations or processes that fall under the so-called soft law, which are, in fact, not binding for member states of the EU.21

Regarding the European budget, we should first underline its weakness: in 2015 it amounted to just over €140 billion, forty-five times less than the member states’ overall national budgets.22 This budget represents less than 1 percent of the EU’s GDP. Consequently, the policies of the EU are much more limited in scope than those that can be taken at the state level. They mainly concern two areas: the so-called social cohesion policy designed to help the regions and the poorer countries to catch up and integrate into the single market, and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Since 2004 the European Union has added thirteen new member states.23 The budget for these funds was reduced so that these incoming countries, which were among those whose economic backwardness was larger compared to other EU member countries,24 found that the share allocated to them was much smaller than received by other earlier “latecomer” countries such as Ireland, Greece, Spain, and Portugal. The impact of these funds on reducing regional inequalities will thus be considerably weaker. When we see the economic and social situation of these four countries, we can wonder what will be the long-term effects of the allocation of these funds.

Guidelines and regulations form the second-lever actions of European policies; these are laws that are binding on states. The legislative and regulatory activity of the EU operate in two areas of competence that have an impact on inequality: the free movement of workers, and equal pay for women and men. The main benefit of these measures is that they can combat certain forms of discrimination, and therefore certain situational inequalities, while seeking to make the labor market as competitive as possible. Their main limitation is that they do not directly reduce many forms of inequality (income, access to health care, and overall health, for example) that are not the product of discrimination.
The third lever is part of what is called the soft law; it is realized mainly through the open method of coordination, which applies to areas that remain essentially the responsibility of states. This is notably the case for social protection, which constitutes a major tool for the redistribution and reduction of inequality. Through this open method of coordination, states set nonbinding targets and provide tools to assess their achievement (good conduct guidelines, sharing of best practices, peer review, “benchmarking”). In social protection, it is significant to observe that “the reduction of inequalities is never mentioned as a possible purpose of a social protection system,” and barely “as one of its effects.”25

However, the EU is implementing many other policies that, in effect, have a countervailing impact on inequality. In this regard, we must mention the role of the Broad Economic Policy Guidelines, which have a very structuring character and limit the action of member states in the policies they can carry out at the state level to act on inequality—including social inequalities. These guidelines are the main instruments for coordinating economic policies. They also define strict deficit targets and in public indebtedness, according to first criteria set by the Maastricht Treaty (1992), specified by the Stability and Growth Pact (1997), and now confirmed and hardened by the Treaty on Stability, Coordination, and Governance, which came into force on January 1, 2013. Throughout this process, the pressure on member states to respect the deficit and debt criteria have become stronger and stronger.

To the extent that the European Commission usually considers higher tariffs, however desireable, to be a hindrance on the development of market mechanisms, the commission’s recommendations cover the reduction in public spending—most of which consists of social expenses. This can only weaken the impact of social policies designed for the redistribution of income and reduction of inequality. In general, the policies conducted and driven at the EU level are the central axis in the promotion of “free and undistorted competition” and give a key role to market mechanisms. In this trend there is a growing commodification and privatization of social protection, a development of the flexibility and precariousness of the labor market, and the privatization of public services—some of the many phenomena that are the sources of growing inequality.

Austerity in wages and deteriorating living standards
The essential result of the implementation of neoliberal policies has ultimately been wage austerity—stronger or weaker according to the regions or countries concerned, and depending on the effective implementation of policies and workers’ resistance. Thus, these policies have helped to reverse the dynamics that reduced social inequalities in these states since the mid-1970s; and what numerous statistical data and socioeconomic studies have confirmed since then26—even despite how the social sciences were relatively disinterested in the study of social inequality and its aggravation during the same period.27

The decline in the wage share in total wealth, observed since the early 1980s, was accompanied by an increase in the share of profits and a recovery in the rate of profit. The share of profits devoted to taxes has remained roughly constant, the one devoted to interests declined due to a global reduction in corporate debt. The investment rate remained almost stable. The most significant development was the increasing share of profits going to shareholders as dividends. This lead to an increase in social inequality, favored the production of luxury consumer goods, the swelling of the financial and real estate bubble, and ultimately caused the 2008 crisis.

Moreover, for wage earners, especially for the working class, working conditions have deteriorated in recent decades.28 According to the results of the fifth survey (conducted in 2010) by the European Foundation on Living and Working Conditions in Dublin, the proportion of workers exposed to physical and chemical hazards at work has increased since 1991. Similarly, repetitive labor under difficult pressure and deadlines is increasing. That also goes for psychological risks linked to pathogenic forms of workplace organization that can lead to suicide. Low-skilled employees in the service industry (call centers, supermarkets, and so on) are hardly spared, and broadly share in the overall global deterioration in working conditions, as do also larger sections of the civil service sector since the introduction of new forms of public management.

The use of outsourcing and temporary work, fixed-term contracts, partime jobs, and so on, has spurred the increase in precariousness. These processes accentuate the gap between permanent workers, whose jobs are still relatively protected, and those of precarious workers involved in outsourcing or in particularly dangerous work (handling, maintenance, cleaning, waste management).

Figures about exposure to carcinogens exist mainly for the more dangerous of these types of jobs. A worker in France is ten times more likely to die of cancer before age sixty-five than a senior manager. Occupational cancers remain largely unknown, however, because of what Annie Thébaud-Mony has called triple invisibility: toxic ignorance, or the lack of knowledge concerning the toxicity of thousands of chemicals that are introduced into production; physical invisibility, or the imperceptible nature of carcinogens, coupled with the lack of information for workers exposed to these risks; and social invisibility, the very low recognition of these cancers in occupational disease analyses. Finally, we should highlight the massive relocation of pathogenic work environments to impoverished areas in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.29

The neoliberal period has also seen the gradual dismantling of public services, leading to the closure of facilities in certain regions.30 Therefore, for suburban inhabitants or residents in rural areas, the constraints of geographical mobility (deficiency of public transport networks, cost of transporation, and so on) reinforce their economic precarity. These two types of spaces are the site for the expression of a specific type of inequality. Unemployment and precarious employment are suburban facts, and the inactivity of women is an important marker in many rural areas. A low level of qualification and training are markers of the popular classes in rural areas, while the new migrant populations arrive in cities.

Youth and migrant workers bear the brunt of difficult working conditions and low wages. Women are more concentrated than men in sectors where work is arduous (shift work, heavy lifting, repetitive work under severe time constraints, sexual harassment, and toxic dangers). They are also disproportionately present in the growing sector of personal services (domestic workers, child care, elder care)—between self-employment and wage labor. These jobs are often painful and humiliating. Finally, it is women who, overwhelmingly, ensure that family and domestic work is met—the “double burden of domestic labor.” Moreover, despite thirty years of feminist demands, differential labor conditions between men and women are still some of the strongest manifestations of gender inequality.

Slow progress toward gender equality hindered
Since the 1960s and 1970s, the increase in enrollment in education for girls, the development of professional activity of women, and control over their own reproduction have contributed to a structural transformation in the relationship between men and women. The second wave of the feminist movement, between 1970 and 1976, was a product of this transformation and it in turn was strengthened by enabling advances concerning the right of women to control their own bodies.

However, despite undeniable progress, inequalities persist in as many areas of the domestic sphere as in public spaces, or in professional life, largely because women bear the brunt of the neoliberal turn, especially in the undermining of public services and the welfare state, in three main ways. As workers in these sectors, they face a deterioration in their working conditions, or even the complete disappearance of their jobs as a result of privatization, downsizing, or outsourcing. Furthermore, women are disproportionately affected as beneficiaries of social programs whose disappearance or deterioration will be accentuated with the replacement of welfare with workfare in several countries, the disappearance of certain services for mothers of young children in the countries of Eastern Europe, and so on. As substitutes for failing public services, women must take on an increasing share of the care of dependents (children, elderly, handicapped, or sick people). Women who are assigned to this work, when it is socialized, are also migrants who often come from poorer countries. We must therefore take into account, in the analysis of these changes, the “international chains of care,” resulting in the influx of women working in this immense sector coming from across the Maghreb, of sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey, Eastern Europe, Latin America, or Southeast Asia, including the Philippines.

Since the 1970s, the analysis of class inequality has been progressively enriched and made more complex, but also partly obscured, by the inclusion of other inequalities: between men and women, between age groups and generations, between native-born and immigrants, between groups based on race, and so on. These changes are due not only to the development of specific struggles (women, youth, immigrant populations in Western metropolises, antiracist struggles, struggles against social and residential segregation, and so on), but also to ideological debates and theoretical developments that have accompanied them. This has allowed us to raise to the level of scientific objects hitherto neglected or even ignored aspects of social reality (for example, domestic work, the color line, the effects of neighborhoods, and so on), and have led to the development of new concepts: gender and gender relations, sexual division of labor, social relations by generation, spatialization of social inequality, and so on. They thus tasked the social sciences with the difficult problem concerning the relationship between these different types of inequalities, taking account of the phenomena of power (domination or oppression) and social relations that engender them, for example, that for which the concept of intersectionally attemps to account.

The complexity of these analyses must not lead us to lose sight of the renewal of inegalitarian discourse. Equality was subjected to an important right-wing attack during the 1980s under the guise of a criticism of egalitarianism. The defense of inequality over the last thirty years has been established by various ideological currents: Not surprisingly by mainstream sectors, also by left-wing governments. A whole series of adjectives (modern, new, efficient, clear, and even liberal) characterize these so-called left governments. For example, the French prime minister Manuel Valls wanted to “end the nostalgic left, the one which limits itself to a bygone era and nostalgic past, haunted by the Marxist superego and the memory of the postwar boom. The only valid question is how to steer modernity to accelerate the empowerment of individuals.”31 A few months later he would specify that “the Left also has a duty to clarity and truth,” to justify the continuation of neoliberal policies.32 The anti-equality platitudes are now defended by the most conservative members of this “left” government, who no longer hesitate to openly extol the virtues of inequality—each of them bringing something to the table. In January 2015 economic minister Emmanuel Macron did not hesitate to take the side of Guizot: “We need young French people who want to become billionaires.” He added that he preferred that “people who have talent and who take risks are highly paid, rather than having an economy of fading recipients of annuities.”33

These antiegalitarian platitudes are articulated around three well-known themes: Equality is above all synonymous with uniformity; inequality is then defended in the name of the right to difference. The argument is based on a double conflation of equality and identity, on the one hand, and of inequality and difference on the other. Moreover, the argument goes, equality creates inefficiency. Guaranteeing everyone an equal social status demotivates people and ruins the foundations of rivalry and competition, and is therefore counterproductive both for the individual and for the community. Inequalities ultimately benefit everyone, both the “losers” and “winners.” The inegalitarian discourse rests mainly on this third argument: equality would mean constraint, alienation of liberty, up to and including the limitations on a “free functioning of the market.” It would inevitably open the way to the worst of totalitarian hells.

However, while equality does imply identity (or uniformity), inequality does not guarantee difference. Equality of social conditions can open multiple opportunities for action and existence, which are more favorable to the affirmation of singularities. Market-generated inequalities lead to mass unemployment and ecological disaster. Finally, inequality oppresses. What is freedom for the unemployed, the stressed part-time worker, the illiterate, or those whose lives are shortened by overwork? The only freedom that guarantees inequality is the right of a minority to accrue material benefits and privileges, both institutional and symbolic, at the expense of the majority.34

See Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising (Paris: OECD, December 2011), http://www.oecd.org/els/soc/dividedwesta… In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All (Paris: OECD, May 21, 2015), http://www.oecd.org/social/in-it-togethe….
See European Commission (2012), Employment and social developments in Europe 2011, Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catI….
Magali Beffy, Marie-Émilie Clerc, and Céline Thévenot, Inégalités, pauvreté et protection sociale en Europe: état des lieux et impact de la crise, Report – Inégalités, pauvreté et protection sociale en Europe, Paris: INSEE (National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies [France]), 2014).
See the report, Benchmarking Working Europe 2014 (Brussels: European Trade Union Institute, 2014), http://www.etui.org/Publications2/Books/….
This is shown by the “overall statistics on living conditions and income inequality,” Sandrine Levasseur tells us in “Pauvreté et exclusion sociale en Europe: où en est-on?,” February 23, 2015, OFCE blog, http://www.ofce.sciences-po.fr/blog/tag/sandrine-levasseur/.
Wojtek Kalinowski, “Le modèle suédois se fissure.” Alternatives économiques, hors-série, n° 103, décembre 2014 ; Cyril Coulet, “Le modèle suédois à l’épreuve,” Questions internationales, n° 71, January–February 2015. In Sweden, the Gini coefficient rose from 0.21 to 0.26 between 1985 and 2008. To the different ways of measuring inequality see the Dictionnaire des inégalités, under the direction of Alain Bihr and Roland Pfefferkorn (Paris: Armand Colin, 2014). See the entries: Indicateurs d’inégalité; Indicateurs de genre; Indice de Gini; Indice de développement humain; Indice de santé sociale; Revenu (mesure des inégalités de); Courbe de Lorenz, and so on.
Divided We Stand; Employment and Social Developments in Europe 2011 (Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2012).
Federal Office of German Statistics, 2013.
Caritas Europa’s Crisis Monitoring Report, Poverty and Inequalities on the Rise: Just Social Systems Needed as the Solution, 2015, http://www.caritas.eu/news/crisis-report….
Le Parisien, March 10, 2015.
Toujours plus d’inégalité : Pourquoi les écarts de revenus se creusent, http://www.oecd.org/els/social/negalite….
In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All.
Cédric Rio, Compte rendu de colloque : “Les inégalités et la crise en Europe.” Colloque international organisé le 6 avril 2012 à l’université Paris 8 Vincennes – Saint-Denis, Politiques sociales et familiales, n° 111 – mars 2013, 77–81.
See for example, the Forbes regularly updated list, “The World’s Billionaires,” http://www.forbes.com/billionaires/list/.
Challenges, July 11, 2014.
Crédit Suisse, Global Wealth Report, October 2014, https://publications.credit-suisse.com/t….
Oxfam, En finir avec les inégalités extrêmes. Confiscation politique et inégalités économiques, January 20, 2014.
Alain Bihr, “Actualiser et complexifier l’approche marxiste de l’Etat,” Conference at the International Symposium “Le troisième âge du capitalisme, sa physionomie socio-politique à l’orée du XXIe siècle,” May 20–22, 2015 Lausanne.
See Anthony B. Atkinson, The Economic Consequences of Rolling Back the Welfare State (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999); or for France see our own work, Alain Bihr and Roland Pfefferkorn, Déchiffrer les inégalités, 2nd ed. (Paris: Syros, 1999).
For more than twenty years we have been making the same observation: “This reversal in trends . . . was the work of increasingly neoliberal polices in the management of the economic crisis . . . recessive policies, based on the idea that the crisis is due largely to a shortage of supply, higher wages; they have the following objectives: the development of unemployment, precariousness and the flexibility of employment, declining real wages, a dismantling of social protection for public systems in reduction of financial cost; but they have also led to a change in the distribution of added value more favorable to capital, a surge in real interest rates, incredible speculative profits, gradual or sudden deregulation of markets conducive to this ‘greater’ flourishing of liberty, which is offset by the increased subjugation of the ‘lowest ones.’” Alain Bihr and Roland Pfefferkorn, Déchiffrer les inégalités, 14–15.
Pierre Concialdi, entry “ Union européenne,” in Dictionnaire des inégalités, under the direction of Alain Bihr and Roland Pfefferkorn (Paris: Armand Colin, 2014), 409–11. We summarize here the essence of our case.
The 2015 budget foresees 145.32 billion euros in commitments and 141.21 billion euros in payments.
Recall the first expansion: the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark (1973); the second expansion: Greece (1981); the third: Spain and Portugal (1986); the fourth: Austria, Sweden, and Finland (1995); the fifth and sixth: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania (2004 and 2007); and the seventh: Croatia (2013).
Math Antoine, Viprey Mouna, “Quelle intégration économique et sociale pour les pays entrants?” Chronique Internationale de l’IRES, n° 88, May 2004.
Math Antoine, “Protection sociale et inégalités: les débats européens,” in Réduire les inégalités. Quel rôle pour la protection sociale ? (Paris: Drees-Mire, 2000), 59–70.
Cf. on France, our own works: Alain Bihr et Roland Pfefferkorn, Déchiffrer les inégalités.
Cf. Roland Pfefferkorn, Inégalités et rapports sociaux. Rapports de classe, rapports de sexe (Paris: La Dispute, 2007).
Cf. two entries “Conditions de travail » d’Annie Thébaud-Mony,” in Dictionnaire des inégalités.
But environmental inequalities also reinforce class inequality in the wealthier countries. Cf. Razmig Keucheyan, La nature est un champ de bataille (Paris: Editions Zones-La découverte, 2014).
Cf. the entry “Ville/campagne” de Julian Mischi and Nicolas Renahy, in Dictionnaire des inégalités.
Manuel Valls, interview given in L’Obs, October 23, 2014.
Libération, December 11, 2014.
Emmanuel Macron, interview given to the newspaper Les Echos, January 7, 2015.
This line of argument was developed in particular by Tony Andréani and Marc Feray, Discours sur l’égalité parmi les homes (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1993), chapters 1 and 3; you will find a synthesis of this argument in Déchiffrer les inégalités, 14–17.

The making and remaking of class-Jacqui Freeman

Posted by admin On December - 7 - 2015 Comments Off on The making and remaking of class-Jacqui Freeman


Leo Panitch and Greg Albo (eds), Socialist Register 2015: Transforming Classes (Merlin Press, 2014), £16.95

The 2015 edition of Socialist Register discusses class formation, class politics and class strategies today in relation to questions of gender and oppression. It is a welcome continuation of themes developed in the 2014 volume with contributions from academics alongside labour and social movement activists. The editors define class on a Marxist basis as a social relation to the means of production and a “social process, made and remade in class struggle”. An impressive geographical scope is offered with essays ranging from the EU to India, China, South Africa, Turkey, the US, Mexico and Brazil. Given the increase in the size of the global working class from 1.5 to 2 billion in 1980 to over 3 billion today, the importance of this discussion is clear.

In a convincingly argued essay Ricardo Antunes shows how a shared experience of exploitation between workers of different ages, ethnic background and gender across the manufacturing and service sectors in Brazil offers the potential for future unified struggles and the development of working class consciousness.

The opening essay by Susan Ferguson and David McNally adopts a Marxist-feminist approach to analysing class and gender within what they call “hierarchically and racially differentiated global labour markets”. They equate the conditions for migrants in the United States guest-worker programme with those of the largely female workforce in Mexico’s maquiladoras (low wage factories manufacturing for export) as “zones of precarity”. Workplaces and households in the two countries are connected by wage remittances sent home by migrant workers in the US. This represented 3 percent of Mexican GDP by 2008. Ferguson and McNally argue that these flows of Mexican workers to the US and wages sent home to Mexico are changing relations of gender, childhood, kinship and social reproduction as increasing numbers of women, particularly young women, migrate and work in the US predominantly in low-paid and non-unionised jobs. They state that women tend to send more money home than men but do not provide any figures to substantiate this.

The benefits to US capital of this process are two-fold: a relatively cheap source of labour is provided and the reproduction of the next generation of workers in Mexico (at a lower cost) takes place, without US capital having to contribute to any public services used by this next generation. This is where the authors emphasise the importance of adopting social reproduction theory to explain working class formation today. Social reproduction theory agrees with Marxism that it is labour power that produces value but focuses on how this labour power is produced and reproduced outside of capitalist production within the “kin based” site called the family. For Ferguson and McNally this privileging of social reproduction means that community campaigns are as strategically important as workplace struggles.

In contrast, Antunes’s essay emphasises the tendency towards a strong homogenisation between different sectors of the working class in Brazil on the basis of a shared experience of insecurity and over-exploitation to extract more surplus value. He describes situations of pressure to produce more in less time and for less money common to industrial workers in Brazil’s car plants, rural workers in agribusiness and the large service sector including the telemarketing industry and call centres created by privatisation since the 1990s. For Antunes it is among these different wage earners that new social struggles will develop.

In their article on the US left Mark Dudzic and Adolph Reed Jr are highly critical of a subjective identity-based approach, as it “dissolves working people’s interests as working people into populations defined by ascription or affinity rather than by location in the system of capitalist reproduction”. They liken this to NGOs who view the people they work with as “helpless victims” or “abstract groups without any real agency’’.

Hugo Radice views social reproduction as “the institutions, ideas and practices that constitute together the distinct ways in which humanity structures its relationship to nature”. He confusingly views the work of social reproduction in households, leisure activities and voluntary associations as both examples of creative, collective and universal forms of work and alienated forms of subordination. Radice wants to construct a politics “against” class and says we need clearly to set out an aim of a post-capitalist society. However, Radice also looks to work within the existing organisations of trade unions, parties and social movements as “bridges to socialism within capitalism”.

One of the most interesting articles is by Sam Ashman and Nicolas Pons-Vignon on the project by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) to create a new working class party. With the backdrop of the 2012 Marikana massacre and subsequent mass strikes by miners and workers’ disillusionment with the ­tripartite alliance (the ANC, the South African Communist Party and Cosatu), this represents an exciting but challenging form of political regroupment. The authors argue that the project of setting up a new party requires challenging the idea of the working class as solely industrial or unionised or sub-divided between a proletariat and a precariat and rebuilding an inclusive approach to the working class.

An article on Egypt details the central role of workers in the revolutionary movement that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, the establishment of independent trade unions and how workers have continued to resist under Muhamed Mursi and now Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi. Building anti-neoliberal and socialist movements in difficult conditions is also addressed in an essay on the victory of the BJP in India.

Andreas Bieler and Roland Erne outline the extent to which transnational solidarity in Europe was established after the 2008 crisis. Focusing on Germany, they contrast the highly criticised nationalist approach of the German Industrial Union of Metalworkers, who blamed Spanish trade unions for the economic crisis, and concrete efforts by another large German union, Ver.di, to build solidarity with Amazon workers and Deutsche Post DHL strikes in Istanbul. There is a brief description of the general strikes in Spain and Greece plus the development of the 15 May movement and Syriza but it would have been good to have a separate essay on these two countries.

The last part of the book is devoted to the prospects for a new left in the US. Kim Moody and Charles Post show how the US working class has continued to grow despite a fall in the number of manufacturing workers and an increase in temporary work: 90 percent of people work in a traditional employee-employer arrangement. Importantly they note the vulnerability of capital to industrial action by logistics workers in geographically concentrated “hub” centres. There has been a reshaping rather than decline of the American working class with an expansion of the service sector which has one of the fastest rates of workers joining a union, many of them Latino, African American, young and female. Their low pay gives them a good reason to join a union and they can win, as demonstrated by the recent strikes of fast food workers.

An interesting essay by Jane McAlevey details significant gains in pay and conditions and union organisation won by hospital workers in Las Vegas organised on a cross-sector basis in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Dudzic and Reed Jr dismiss this “new unionism” approach and argue for “social unionism” based on campaigns for public good, as exemplified by the Chicago teachers. While they are right to state that a key element of building public sector unions and winning struggles is having a wider vision of a non-profit based education system (or health, housing, transport system, etc) as the Chicago teachers put forward, their dismissal of the SEIU seems too hasty.

Reading the journal during the summer of 2015 I found it informative and apt. The racist scapegoating of migrants in Calais and Kos, strikes by tube workers, the all-out strike by National Gallery workers and the excitement of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for Labour Party leader all illustrate both the need for a clear strategy and the potential to build a progressive ­movement that shifts the balance of forces firmly in favour of labour and the oppressed.

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