April , 2020

People Aur Politics

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

what is socialism from below 1). SOCIALISM'S CRISIS TODAY is a crisis in the meaning of ...
Tamás Krausz, Reconstructing Lenin: An Intellectual Biography (Monthly Review Press 2015), 552pp. Chris Nineham reviews 'Reconstructing ...
PART II – Trotsky’s Marxism and the test of events, 1931-1935 1. The Republican-Socialist coalition government, ...
March 27, 2016, The visit of the US president Barak Obama to Cuba this week has ...
Alexandra Kollontai, a leading member of the Bolshevik Party and one its leading theoreticians on ...
For most people, the name "Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf" evokes the image of "Stormin'  Norman," the ...
The Malala backlash -Bina Shah WHY has Malala Yousufzai’s speech at the UN on July 12, ...
In recent decades, postcolonial theory has largely displaced Marxism as the dominant perspective among intellectuals ...
We have a cockeyed national debate on gun violence in which some motivated by political ...
A review of John Riddell (editor and translator), To the Masses: Proceedings of the Third ...
Iranian experts are set to meet their P5+1 counterparts in Istanbul next week to discuss ...

Archive for April, 2019

Secrets held in archives-A.G. NOORANI

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janata is still growing strong. It is published from Bombay. Its editor is Dr G.G. Parikh, a committed socialist and follower of its founder, Jayaprakash Narayan. This volume, like all the others, is superbly edited. It serves as a model for editors of collections of documents.
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Revolution and revolutionary strategy in Latin America-G.LL. Williams  

Posted by admin On April - 1 - 2019 Comments Off on Revolution and revolutionary strategy in Latin America-G.LL. Williams  


February 24, 2019 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — The need for social revolution and socialist revolution is rather obvious in Latin America — a need that stretches from Mexico to Argentina. While this need is different in the various countries of Latin America, the overall nature of the struggle for social revolution and socialist revolution in Latin America is very similar. The history of the revolutionary struggle in Latin America, since the twentieth-century, shows the necessity of such a social revolution and socialist revolution. For the Latin American Left that struggle continues today.

Most socialists in Latin America, and most people on the Left in Latin America, have noted the need for social revolution and socialist revolution in Latin America. Indeed for the past century and a half, every serious socialist and Left thinker has noted the need for social change in Latin America — specifically the need for a socialist revolution. This need for social revolution and socialism in Latin America is what gives the Left its particular power and strength. Yet the Left in Latin America has, so-far, failed to achieve the victory of socialism and socialist revolution. This is, of course, for reasons often outside the power of the Latin American Left itself, specifically the power of capitalism and the capitalist state in Latin America, and the power of U.S. Imperialism. Yet if the Left in Latin America is to ever achieve a continent-wide socialist revolution, then the Left will have to engage with the problems of making revolution and the problems of revolution and revolutionary strategy. As Lenin said: ‘Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement’.[1] There can be no revolution in Latin America without a revolutionary theory; there can be no revolution in Latin America without a revolutionary strategy.

The revolutionary struggle for socialism in Latin America today is the product of both history and politics, at the national and continental level. The distinctive nature of the revolutionary struggle in Latin America today means that any revolutionary strategy has to be both particular and universal. Particular in that it has to be adaptive to a number of different states and societies, from Mexico to Argentina, from Brazil to Venezuela, from Colombia to Peru. Universal in that it has to be a strategy for socialist revolution across the entire continent. Such factors mean that any socialist struggle in Latin America also has to deal with a number of different histories and politics, especially in the case of the political organisation of the Left and socialists in the various states and countries of Latin America. All of these factors combine to make the revolutionary struggle for socialism difficult in Latin America, but also vital for both historical and political reasons.

The struggle in Latin America today, given the history of the nineteenth and twentieth-century, has entered a vital phase since the turn of the century. This vital phase has been shown by the fate and struggle of most of the great socialist revolutions and Left-nationalist revolutions that occurred in Latin America in the past century.

The revolutionary struggle in Latin America has taken many forms over the past century. Today the revolutionary struggle in Latin America is primarily a political struggle and a social struggle because both are needed to achieve socialism in Latin America.

The revolutionary struggle in Latin America is primarily a struggle by the working class of Latin America. If Latin America is to ever achieve a socialist revolution today, it must be led by the working class of Latin America. This basic fact is a constant of any revolutionary strategy for Latin America.

There once was a time when the revolutionary struggle in Latin America relied on guerrilla warfare and guerrilla struggle. Today that is no longer the case. Today only political struggle can achieve a revolutionary struggle in Latin America. Except for a very few cases, that type of guerrilla struggle is no longer possible or useful in Latin America. There is also the reality that except for a few cases, namely the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the guerrilla strategy was a failure and a disaster for socialist revolution in Latin America — one that resulted in counter-revolution and defeat. Che Guevara was a revolutionary hero but his revolutionary strategy of guerrilla struggle was largely a failure for the struggle for socialism. In Latin America today the revolutionary struggle for socialism must rely on political struggles not military struggles. If the revolutionary struggle in Latin America is to succeed it must rely today on political struggles by the working-class of Latin America. The failure of guerrilla struggle, from Colombia to Peru, highlights the need for political struggle instead in Latin America. This does not mean that guerrilla struggle is useless in Latin America: in the right circumstances guerrilla struggle is perhaps natural and necessary, but better forms of social struggle need to be developed. Only political struggle can achieve revolution and socialism in Latin America.

The revolutionary struggle for socialism in Latin America has to engage with the politics and history of Latin America. This has always been true and will continue to be true for the struggle in Latin America. The politics and history of Latin America inform the struggle for socialism in Latin America. The revolutionary struggle in Latin America has a rich tradition and a rich history, going back to the revolutions of the twentieth-century. The Mexican Revolution of 1910, the Cuban Revolution of 1959, the Chilean Revolution of 1970-1973, the Nicaraguan Revolution, the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela, are all examples for the Latin American Left to draw upon and learn from.

The social struggle for socialism in Latin America is more developed in certain places and areas in Latin America than others. This social reality is key to understanding the dynamic of the revolutionary struggle in Latin America; that is, that some areas are more politically advanced than others. In Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador, the struggle for social revolution and socialism exists at a different level than it does in other parts of Latin America, particularly in places like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Colombia. This is because Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador have already undergone some form of social revolution since the twentieth-century. This division of the revolution in Latin America is another legacy of past politics and past struggles in Latin America. For the revolutionary struggle in Latin America today, it is vital to unite the working class struggle in all these countries and to develop them towards socialism. In the case of Venezuela, a key theatre of social revolution and revolutionary struggle in Latin America since the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution in 1998, the social struggle is already beginning to enter a decisive phase. If the struggle for socialism is to advance and develop in Latin America then there must be a struggle in all the countries of Latin America.[2]

The political struggle for revolution in Latin America, however, must relate to the political reality of Latin America today. There cannot be a successful social revolution in Latin America today unless the Left engages with the concrete realities of the struggle in Latin America. Repeating the politics and history of the revolutionary struggles from the past, even from previous successes, is unlikely to achieve revolutionary victories in Latin America. Instead it is vital to develop a revolutionary struggle and a revolutionary strategy for Latin America that acknowledges the realities of politics in Latin America today. These will vary in the different countries of Latin America. They will, though, all share in common the need to develop a working-class struggle and a working-class politics as the heart of the revolutionary struggle for socialism in Latin America.

All revolutionary struggles must deal with counter-revolution and counter-revolutionary struggles. In the case of Latin America the primary opponents of social revolution in Latin America remain the capitalist states of Latin America and the spectre of U.S. imperialism. Any struggle in Latin America will have to deal with these opponents and find ways of overcoming them. The recent reality of counter-revolution in Brazil, since 2016, and the recent difficulties of the revolution in Venezuela, since 2002, shows how powerful the forces of counter-revolution remain in Latin America, at both the political and social level. The history and politics of counter-revolution and coups in Latin America, since the beginning of U.S. imperialism in Latin America, has always been a threat to social progress and social revolution in Latin America, as the history of the twentieth-century in Latin America shows. So long as capitalism remains a force in Latin America, the struggle in Latin America for social revolution and socialist revolution will remain incomplete. Recent and past events show the reality of what occurs when revolution fails in Latin American societies — the reality of capitalist and military dictatorships. The working class of Latin America cannot afford any further revolutionary failures.

U.S. imperialism is the ultimate foe of revolution in Latin America, and the foe of revolution anywhere in the world. U.S. imperialism was and is a factor in any revolutionary strategy in Latin America. It is important to stress that the reality of any revolution or revolutionary strategy in Latin America has to be thought of in relation to the reality of U.S. imperialism in Latin America. U.S. imperialism has always undermined the struggle for socialism in Latin America and across the world. The difficulties of the Cuban Revolution and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela attest to this basic fact. The revolutionary struggle in Latin America must always remember this reality of U.S. imperialism and seek ways to overcome it, either by struggle or by solidarity with the struggle of the working-class in the United States itself. If U.S. imperialism is not confronted head on, then there is no chance for the success of social revolution or socialist revolution in Latin America. [3]

A key area for revolutionary politics and revolutionary strategy in Latin America remains the political divide of Latin America. This divide means that the revolutionary struggle in Latin America still needs to develop a working-class struggle and a working-class politics specifically for political struggle and political development. This aspect of the struggle in Latin America is a hangover from the twentieth-century and a reminder of the social problems and social divides in Latin American society, yet it also shows the importance of having a socialist politics of political development for the Latin American Left. If the Left is to advance in Latin America it will have to develop a social aspect of its socialist politics — one that can appeal to the poor farmers and workers of Latin America. Failure to develop such a politics will only delay a key aspect of the social struggle in Latin America: the unity between the working class and the rural farmers. Without unity between the worker and the farmer there cannot be social revolution or socialist revolution in Latin America. The urban/rural divide in Latin America, too, has always delayed the social struggle in Latin America. It cannot be allowed to delay the social struggle in Latin America today. The urban/rural divide is not unique to Latin America, but it is vital to the success of the revolution and revolutionary strategy in Latin America.

There have been many good writers, from the Left, on revolution in Latin America and revolutionary strategy in Latin America. Indeed some of the best writers and thinkers on socialist revolution have either come from Latin America or have thought about the problems of revolution in Latin America. This is because Latin America, itself, is a key theatre for the socialist revolutionary struggle. The thought of Che Guevara and Régis Debray instantly spring to mind whenever one thinks of the problems and politics of making revolution in Latin America.[4] Such Marxists and socialists have always thought long and hard about finding ways of making the revolution in Latin America. Together they form one of the key sources of socialist thought for revolution in today’s world. If any strategy or politics for revolution in Latin America is to be developed for today then it will probably require some aspect of the thought from the older socialist thinkers of the twentieth-century, and from the Socialist tradition in general. The ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, Guevara and Mariátegui can still help us today in terms of developing a revolutionary politics and a revolutionary strategy for Latin America.

The struggle in Latin America shows the need for both political organisation and for social organisation. The Left in Latin America needs both political organisations and social organisations: socialist parties, socialist trade unions, and socialist organisations. No victory for socialism in Latin America can occur without such political organisation or social organisation. Latin America has a history and a tradition of such socialist parties and socialist organisations. For the Left in Latin America today it is vital that the politics, tactics, and struggles of such parties are resurrected for the struggle today. The socialist revolution cannot be won, anywhere, without a socialist party. [5]

How to achieve the social revolution and the socialist revolution in Latin America is a question of politics and strategy. It is also a question that the Left in Latin America will have to think hard and long upon given the reality of politics today in Latin America and the experience gained from the successes and failures of the revolutions of the twentieth-century. The nature of the revolutionary struggle in Latin America necessitates that the Left in Latin America think about the nature of the struggle – and how it connects to the international struggle for Socialism. Latin America, after all, is just one theatre of an international struggle for socialism and this means that success or defeat there affects the struggle for socialism everywhere else. The nature of U.S. imperialism in Latin America gives the social struggle a further reality and a further political problem. All this means that unity among the Left of Latin America is vital for any future success today or in the near future. In many ways the nature of the struggle for socialism in Latin America remains unchanged from what it was in the nineteenth or twentieth centuries, in that the Left has to struggle against both national and international foes, against both the capitalists of Latin America and the imperialism of the United States. All of this makes the social struggle and political struggle in Latin America difficult — but not impossible. The struggle in Latin America continues today and it will continue until victory and the victory of Socialism.

[1] V.L. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, (1905)
[2] E. Guevara, Message to the Tricontinental, (1967)
[3] Defeating U.S. imperialism will, ultimately, require a socialist revolution in the United States.
[4] Régis Debray, The Revolution in the Revolution, (1967); Régis Debray, Latin America: The Long Revolution (1965)
[5] This point has been demonstrated by the revolutionary struggles of the nineteenth-century and the twentieth-century, where such struggles required some form of socialist party or socialist organisation to succeed. It is likely that this will remain the case for any revolutionary struggle in the present century – the twenty-first century.

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Why Trotskyism?-Jimena Vergara

Posted by admin On April - 1 - 2019 Comments Off on Why Trotskyism?-Jimena Vergara


August 21 was the 78th anniversary of the murder of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. The anniversary took place at a historical moment when there are sufficient objective conditions for a revolution. The capitalist crisis, the inter-imperialist contradictions, the resurgence of right-wing nationalism led by Donald Trump and the growing interest in socialist ideas in imperialist countries like the United States demonstrate that we live in a world ripe for revolution. The question today is, why Trotskyism?

Trotsky’s role in the October Revolution and his revolutionary practice have been slandered and ignored throughout his life and after his death. Stalinism, in its desire to destroy any opposition within the Soviet Union, tried to erase the heritage of Bolshevism, calling the most prominent leaders and militants of the October Revolution “Trotskyists.” Stalinists persecuted, deported, assassinated and silenced all dissent inside and outside the USSR. To remove all the revolutionary edge from Lenin’s legacy, they made Lenin a central figure of the country’s state ideology, erecting statues and celebrating him. Stone and concrete hid the true teachings of the author of the “April Theses.” Trotsky, on the other hand, was erased from history; hundreds of documents were falsified, and Lenin’s last testament was banned in the USSR. And the inaccuracies persist today: just a few years ago, historian Robert Service’s 2009 biography of Trotsky was re-published—a text full of lies, misrepresentations, and gross errors about the head of the Red Army.

Thus, an interest in Trotskyism is not just for those of us who are revolutionaries in the tradition of Trotsky. An accurate account of Trotsky’s role and impact is also about preserving history more generally and enacting historical reparations.

Why were Trotsky and supposed “Trotskyists” persecuted? Why did that persecution reach Mexico City, where Trotsky was murdered? Why did that persecution include the murder of Trotsky’s children?

Leninist Bolsheviks, as they called themselves, embodied the lessons of the October Revolution and set up the only organized political current that proposed an alternative against bureaucratized Soviet Russia and the Communist Party. They did so first through the Left Opposition and later by organizing the movement for the Fourth International.

It was Trotsky who fought tooth and nail against the reactionary theory of socialism in a single country—the ideological cover of bureaucratic conservatism. It was Trotsky who defended a workers’ democracy and a Soviet multiparty system, and promoted international revolution as a safeguard of the Soviet Union itself and as a central task of communism. It was Trotsky who proposed the program of political revolution and the economic and political struggle against the parasitic bureaucracy. Stalinism could lock up the so-called Trotskyists in concentration camps, kill their leaders or put them to death, but in the end, it could not erase the ideas of the heirs of the Soviet revolution.

Although Trotsky’s thought is undeniably relevant today, it is necessary to contextualize his ideas. We cannot re-create Trotsky’s ideas dogmatically because doing so would contradict his own historical materialist method. His way of approaching reality was deeply holistic, flexible, dialectical and intransigent in pursuing the revolutionary objectives of the working class.

Trotsky belonged to the third generation of the classical Marxists. Together with Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg, he was one of the most brilliant and lucid representatives of Marxism. This generation, according to historian Perry Anderson, had an essential characteristic that reflected the thought of the founders of Marxism: the link between theory and practice. Marx and Engels had to theorize and organize at a time when bourgeois revolutions were still possible and the working class was building its first organizations, political ideas and struggles. However, Lenin, Trotsky, and Luxemburg lived in a moment of crises, wars and revolutions. They employed the arsenal provided by their teachers in the historical moment in which they lived, organizing for the proletarian revolution.

Trotsky and Lenin also understood that capitalism in its imperialist phase brought forth deeply convulsive forces, giving rise to a period of great wars, great economic cataclysms and, of course, revolutionary processes. They understood that it was necessary to leave behind the legacy of those obsessed with tactics during times of peace and resort instead to strategy—the art of organizing isolated operations to win the war. And winning the war for the socialists meant destroying capitalism and erecting another form of social organization at the service of the great majorities. With the revolution of 1905 in Russia, when the workers of Petrograd created their own forms of democratic organization (the soviets), it was imperative to think about how the proletariat would take power.

That is why the Marxists of that time introduced the difference between strategies and tactics to Marxist thought, as suggested by Trotsky himself:

“Prior to the war we spoke only of the tactics of the proletarian party; this conception conformed adequately enough to the then prevailing trade union, parliamentary methods which did not transcend the limits of the day-to-day demands and tasks. By the conception of tactics is understood the system of measures that serves a single current task or a single branch of the class struggle.” To Trotsky, Revolutionary strategy, on the contrary, embraces a combined system of actions which by their association, consistency, and growth must lead the proletariat to the conquest of power.”

Political action and Marxist theory make up an indivisible union, characterized by the concrete task of proletarian revolution. Revolutionary Marxism is fundamentally centered around strategy, and Trotsky, without a doubt, is one of its primary thinkers. For us, Marxism is the practical and theoretical synthesis of the experiences of the proletariat over the past 150 years. In its practical and contemporary manifestation, this means struggling to take power and to construct transitional revolutionary states that are democratically organized. These struggles put before us the great tasks of expropriating the capitalists and putting the means of production and the wealth of society in the hands of the people, with the aim of satisfying their social needs.

But for Trotsky, and for the Marxists of today, the objective is not only to take power. The proletarian state is a means for the development of the international socialist revolution. It creates the conditions to build Communism on a global scale, destroying social classes and the state itself.

The next task is to destroy the toxic social relations built by capitalism and to create new ones. Today, 200 monopolies suck up all the wealth that is produced globally. We throw away over 1 billion tons of edible food every year while millions of people struggle with food insecurity and famine around the world. Capitalist narratives scare us into believing that the earth cannot support its growing population when, in reality, these monopolies produce enough food to sustain everyone in the world several times over.

In this imperialist stage of capitalist development, our task is that of preparing for the coming insurrection, the seizure of power and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Thus, it is necessary build the organization that can take up these tasks, an organization built to prepare itself for revolution. On the one hand, the October Revolution was made possible by the Bolshevik party, a revolutionary party rooted in the working class and educated in Marxist theory and class struggle. On the other hand, the absence of a strong communist party in Germany prevented the most powerful proletariat in Europe from following the path of the Russian workers. Today, although Marxism is organizationally weak, the pressing task is to link Marxist thought to the combative youth and the working class, by building revolutionary organizations. Although we still have a long way to go before an insurrection, we should consider every struggle, however small, as a school of war to prepare us for those decisive revolutionary moments.

The party is not separate from the conscious action of the proletariat; it is the workers who move the fundamental strings of the capitalist economy in industry, manufacturing, services, communications, ports and transport. The working class is the key to paralyzing the capitalist state and to breaking its spine. Working-class methods of struggle, such as the strike, are fundamental. Yet it is not enough to fight in working-class struggles. Workers must also fight for political independence, breaking with bourgeois leaders—capitalist and reformist politicians, as well as bureaucratic union leaders who support the capitalists.

Independent working-class struggle is the key to building a new type of power and a new type of society based on workers’ democracy. Soviets, a manifestation of the workers’ United Front, are organs of direct working-class democracy and the foundation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The party has a place in participating in soviets and, in the decisive moment, in pushing the working class to take power, moving the soviets from defending the working class to destroying the capitalist state.

Stalinism immensely degraded Marxism and erased the revolutionary thought of Lenin and Trotsky. Without Trotsky, the revolutionary tradition of Marxism would be totally eclipsed by the horrors of Stalinism. Marxism after World War II lived in the shadow of Stalinism, losing its connection with practice and for many, becoming merely academic thought. During the revolutionary upsurges that shook the world during the late 1960s, Marxist ideas once again become a part of the consciousness of youth and sectors of workers. Yet capitalism managed to emerge from the crisis, becoming stronger after the fall of the Soviet Union and imposing neoliberalism on a global scale.

Neoliberalism created a “common sense” notion, which even convinced most of the left that it was no longer possible to destroy capitalism. The best one can do, according to some leftists today, is humanize it, give it a less aggressive face and temper monopoly power. It is impossible to organize a revolution, and capitalism is supposedly here for good. But we think that to renounce the struggle for a revolution is to renounce the struggle to end human misery and exploitation and fulfill every aspiration of the great majority of society. To renounce organizing for revolution is to act in the service of the profits of a parasitic minority that hoards the great wealth produced by the working class. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the workers’ states of Eastern Europe, the idea that there is no possible alternative has become further entrenched. In Russia, the consequences of the capitalist restoration have been disastrous: did the capitalist restoration bring more democracy for the Russian masses, as pro-capitalist ideologies proclaimed? Absolutely not.

That is why our aim to organize is based on the revolutionary legacy of Trotsky, knowing that the new economic, political and social phenomena will bring about new societal crises.

It is impossible to understand Trotsky if we do not understand that for him, the formation of a revolutionary party implies errors, successes, advances, setbacks and the conquest of positions– from union leadership to legislative seats. All victories, from the triumph of a strike to the seizure of power in a country, are the means to prepare or promote socialist revolution. Therefore, to understand Trotsky is to understand his work in the light of his political practice throughout his life. In Petrograd in 1917, he helped create the first workers state in history, and he advised leaders in Germany in 1923 and in Barcelona in 1937. In both cases he pushed for the seizure of power by the working class, but this was foiled by an inexperienced leadership in Germany and crushed by counterrevolutionary Stalinism in Spain. While hopping from one country to another, seeking exile and safety from both the capitalists and Stalinists, he theorized about and supported the fight against both fascism and Stalinism. Despite the slander against him, he put his energy toward building a revolutionary organization. It is in these historical moments that we can understand the breadth of Trotsky’s revolutionary legacy.

Let’s hope that the growing interest in socialist ideas at the international level, and in particular in the United States, will bring today’s youth—who know that capitalism has nothing to offer—closer to Trotsky’s theory and practice, rejecting the notion that communism means a lack of democracy and the continuation of oppression and economic misery.

As Trotsky wrote in his last days, “I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and, consequently, an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth. Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence and enjoy it to the full.”
—Jimena Vergara
Jimena participated in the year-long strike at the Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM) in 1999-2000, and was thrown in prison because of her role. She is an author of the collection “Mexico en Llamas” and lives and works in New York City.
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We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is only for reading purposes that included information for research and educational purposes. For the original source we are providing “url” of that article which is a ‘fair use’ of anything you find on this web site. However, if you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Iran: Class struggle and neo-liberal capital accumulation-Minna Langeberg  

Posted by admin On April - 1 - 2019 Comments Off on Iran: Class struggle and neo-liberal capital accumulation-Minna Langeberg  


February 25, 2019 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — Recent months have seen protests throughout Iran, by teachers, nurses, labourers, retirees, oil industry workers, bazaar traders and shopkeepers, truck drivers, farmers, the unemployed, students, and many more.

The current wave of protests across the country is a continuation of those of December 2017- January 2018 that were brutally suppressed by the regime. Like the 2017-18 protests, they signal the deep crisis of legitimacy of the regime, as expressed by one of the most enduring slogans that emerged from those protests: ‘Fundamentalists, Reformists, the game is over’. The main slogan of current protests is ‘Bread. Work. Freedom’.

These protests are sporadic, self-organised, fragmented and generally small in size – but more or less continuous. They are grassroots protests against the current situation in Iran, which has reached a boiling point. These are protests of the working class, women, the poor, the unemployed, marginalised, the underclass and the ‘surplus population’ who cannot be absorbed into capitalist wage labour.

These protests are about starvation wages, slavery-like workers’ conditions, poverty and hunger, unemployment, inflation, currency devaluation, collapsed fraudulent financial schemes that have eaten up retirees’ savings, and systematic corruption at every level of government and society. Contrary to what has often been said, these protests are not merely about economic conditions, but about almost every aspect of life in Iran. And although US sanctions have worsened the economic situation, they are not the cause: the cause is a religious fascist regime that faces a deep crisis of legitimacy.

The crisis, to quote Gramsci, “…consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” Or to put it differently, Iran is in a ‘revolutionary situation’ as described by Lenin, where those ‘above’ cannot continue to rule, and those ‘below’ do not want to be ruled in the old way. The regime, in deep crisis on all fronts — economic, social, political, cultural, international — can neither continue to rule through ‘hegemonic’ consent, nor can it continue to use sheer repression indefinitely. This is a time of monsters.

Let us examine briefly the recent context of these protests.

Neo-liberal capital accumulation

Neo-liberal policies of ‘structural adjustment’ were adopted by various administrations at the end of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) under the auspices of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Adoption of policies of privatisation and deregulation of the labour market in the past three decades have lead to disastrous consequences: unemployment, a huge reserve army of labour, an underclass and the working poor, growth of shanty towns and closures of factories and industrial production. Overall the result has been socialisation of poverty.

Iran’s economy is currently in recession due to deep structural problems that can only be addressed politically.

It is very difficult to show the exact extent of this structural crisis statistically because of the nature of data. The government sees publication of economic and social data as a political act; data is either suppressed and withheld, or highly manipulated for public consumption. What adds to the problem is the existence of parallel government organisations and agencies, which produce their own data conflicting one another and sometimes themselves.

However, we can provide some information. In a November 2018 report, the IMF predicted that Iran’s inflation rate would rise to 40% by end of the year, and that the economic recession would deepen into a 3.6% economic contraction in 2019, partly aided by US sanctions, the devaluation of the currency and falls in oil production and exports. This inflation rate is possibly an underestimation; some economists estimate the inflation rate to be 100%.

The IMF’s inflation rate is very different from the official inflation rate. The official inflation rate is produced by both the Statistical Centre of Iran (SCI) and the Central Bank (CB). According to the latter, the inflation rate was 18% for the 12-month period ending in December 21, 2018. But recent inflation rates produced by the Central Bank contradict the SCI’s rate and are much higher and more accurate – 25% for the 12 month period to Dec 2018. There are reports that the CB has been put under pressure by the government not to publish its data.

There is a system of national minimum wage in Iran, determined by the Supreme Labour Council within the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, composed of the Minister of Labour, employers representatives, workers ‘representatives’ (chosen by the Council itself) and a number of ‘experts’ in economic and social affairs. The national minimum wage is reviewed annually.

Reports indicate this minimum wage is so low, compared to the rate of inflation and cost of living, that it may cover only some 30% of living costs of a worker and her/his family. In other words, labour power can barely reproduce itself. Further, breaches of minimum wage payments are far too common, but the level of unemployment is so high, the size of the reserve army of labour so large, workers’ bargaining power so weak, and corruption so deep that there is no chance of seriously enforcing the law.

There are now plans to dismantle even this extremely low and barely enforced minimum wage. Some of the deregulatory measures proposed so far are the ‘floating’ of the minimum wage, introduction of a ‘multi-layered’ minimum wage, ‘regional’ minimum wage or ‘consensual’ wage, and exclusion of women household heads and rural workers from minimum wage and labour legislation protection altogether, all in the interest of ‘flexibility’, improving capital’s falling rate of profit and reducing the unemployment rate. These proposals have been advocated by various factions of the ruling class, members of the Parliament, Ministry of Labour officials, some ‘charity organisations’ and sham government-controlled ‘Islamic Labour Councils’. Many of the workers, whose terms and conditions are going to be further deregulated, are already on starvation wages.

The official rate of unemployment is over 12%, but in reality it is more than double that, perhaps between 25-30%. In some cities and regions, 60% of the population is unemployed. Realistically if all other categories such as ‘economically inactive population’ of working age, underemployment in the form of part time and precarious work (both very widespread), home-based work and ‘informal economy’ work are taken into account, we would arrive at a much higher unemployment rate. But as no data is collected on these categories, an unemployment rate more than twice the official rate is just an ‘educated’ guess.

Officially, the total labour force is just below 27 million, over 3 million of whom are estimated to be officially unemployed. Between 40- 42 million of the working age population is ‘economically inactive’. Some are students, but a large number are made up of ‘discouraged job seekers’, those with tenuous connection with the labour market, working from home, and absorbed into the informal sector. Officially, informal work is work not protected by the labour law and social insurance provisions. There is no data on the size of the ‘informal economy’ but it has grown massively in the past 10 to 15 years – an almost new phenomenon in Iran – the low official participation rate of about 40% is an indication of a huge reserve army of labour partly absorbed into this sector.

According to some estimates, 6 million people work in the informal economy. Of all the jobs created in 2015, only 30% had social protection and 70% were in the informal economy. Most of these workers are considered as ‘self-employed’, but, in fact, they are ‘wage hunters and gatherer’, engaged in ‘jobs without definition’: street peddlers, itinerant hawkers, fruits and vegetable sellers, taxi drivers and waste pickers. They can be seen everywhere across the cities, on street pavements, parks and subway stations where they sell whatever they can without paying rent or taxes. But, on the whole, the main categories of informal sector workers are street vendors, hawkers, and home-based and rural producers. Wherever there is high unemployment and poverty, there is also growth of the ‘informal sector’. Mostly young people, without any future prospects, and rural-urban migrants, are absorbed into this sector. A growing number of these informal sector workers have university-level education.

A broad sense of the reserve army of labour, therefore, beyond the officially unemployed, would include informal sector workers, those working from home, the ‘self employed’ as a disguised category of unemployed, forced part-time workers or the underemployed, precarious workers, that is, those without ‘permanent’ or clear contract of work such as hourly, daily or seasonal workers, those with ‘blank contracts’ (or ‘zero-hour’ contracts), ‘discouraged’ workers, ‘home-makers’, those categorised in the official data described as ‘not identified’, the sub-proletariat and the underclass. If all these elements and categories are taken into account, they may then amount to between 15 to 20 million of the working age population — an ‘educated’ guess again. If I am correct, then the size of this reserve army of labour, is quite close to the size of the employed population. This is alarming economically and socially. For some, these heterogeneous elements of the dispossessed, as well as the lumpenproletariat, should be theorised as sectors or factions of the working class – but this is a theoretical debate I cannot enter into here.

In Iran, 19 million of the population are slum dwellers and the marginalised. There is an overlap between them and some of the elements of the reserve army of labour described above, but they are not identical. There are also an estimated seven million child labourers, mostly between the ages of 5-10.

Decades of neo-liberal capital accumulation and kleptocracy have resulted in the growth of wageless proletarisation, precarious wage labour, shanty towns and child labour.

In terms of real wages, the fall has been dramatic in the past few years. During the first six months of 2018 estimates are of a 50- 90% fall in real wages, the lower rate being based on official inflation rate. This fall in real wages is partly due to the currency devaluations during that period, but also due to a very high inflation rate, and the government’s active neo-liberal policies of labour market deregulation and privatisations.

Likewise, there is no agreement on the definition of poverty line and thus the proportion of the population below the poverty line cannot be accurately determined.

The poverty line is generally measured in terms of income per month of a family of four. According to 2018 press reports, 33% of the population, or nearly 26 million, is below the absolute poverty line, and 6% of the population, or five millions, are starving: they cannot afford to buy enough food. On the whole, estimates of the population below the poverty line vary between 35-80%. An estimate of some 50% of the population below the poverty line would be a somewhat conservative one.

Iran ranks second in the world in proven natural gas reserves and fourth in proven crude oil reserves.

The drive towards privatisation began in the early 2000s with the 2006 amendment of Article 44 of the Constitution, allowing for the sale of state-owned companies. The Iranian Privatisation Organisation (IPO) was created by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance, and the government declared a large-scale privatisation program in its Fifth Five-Year National Development Plan 2015-2020, aiming at privatising about 20% of the state-owned enterprises each year.

But full-fledge privatisation of the economy, dismantling of the social wage, cuts to social spending and state-subsidies, and thus socialisation of poverty, were implemented during Ahmadinejad’s presidency (2005-2013). The main beneficiaries of these policies were the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and economic institutions under the control of the Supreme Leader Khamenei.

During the first half of 2018, privatisation grew by 100% compared to the same period a year before. Nearly $600 million worth of state-owned shares were transferred to the private sector during this period. In Nov 2018 IPO announced that the sale of some 60% of state-owned shares to the private sector, envisaged in the March 2017- March 2018 budget, had been achieved. The government expected to earn about US $2.5 billion from these sales that year.

Privatisation via IPO led to corruption, nepotism and shady deals. A network of insiders and semi-criminal and corrupt cronies of the regime has grown, who share in the looting of the country with the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his clan. While the number of those living at or below the poverty line and in shanty towns inhabited by the ‘surplus population’ grow, privatisation and neo-liberal policies have created a highly polarized society and an explosive situation.

Labour rights and trade unionism

There is no trade union system in Iran and independent trade unions are banned. Workers lack the power of collective bargaining and are ‘represented’ by state-controlled Islamic Workers’ Councils, which are present in most workplaces and sectors of the economy. These Councils are supervised by the (Islamic) Workers’ House, affiliated with the World Federation of Trade Unions. The Islamic Labour Councils are by no means trade unions; they are tripartite organisations made up of the government, employers and (sham) worker ‘representatives’ who are selected based on their royalty to the regime and commitment to Islamic ideology. One of the tasks of these Labour Councils is workplace spying on militant workers.

The right to strike is not recognised by law in Iran, and labour strikes are brutally suppressed. Labour activist are routinely harassed, arrested, prosecuted and sentenced to long jail terms. Torture, beating and murder have been the modus operandi of the regime from its very inception, and are neither new nor isolated practices.

The International Trade Union Council (ITUC) Global Rights Index 2018 ranks Iran as a country with ‘no guarantee of rights’, that is, a country where ‘legislation may spell out certain rights, but workers have effectively no access to these rights’. The ITUC Report 2018 states that in Iran ”… many labour activists remain arbitrarily imprisoned and in dire detention conditions”.

Reza Shahabi’s case is an example of long prison sentences for labour and civil rights activists, and their mistreatment and torture by the regime. Shahabi, a leading labour activist of the Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburban Bus Company, was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison in 2010, accused of ‘collusion against national security’, a routine charge used by the Revolutionary Islamic Courts. He was also sentenced to one more year imprisonment for ‘spreading propaganda against the state’, fined, and banned from all trade union activities for five years. In March 2018 Shahabi was released from prison.

Esamil Abdi, a school teacher and secretary general of the Coordinating Council of Teachers’ Union, was arrested in 2016 and similarly charged with ‘collusion against national security’ and ‘spreading propaganda against the state’. He is serving a six-year prison sentence.

In May 2018, Mohammad Habibi, a teacher and member of teachers’ union was arrested during a peaceful gathering, and in August that year was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was also banned from political and social activities for two years, and had a travel ban of two years imposed on him along with and 74 lashes.

Activists’ death in prison is common. Death occurs either following injuries received as a result of torture, or illness as a result of mistreatment and appalling prisons conditions and purposeful refusal of the regime to provide medical treatment. There are known recent cases of murder of imprisoned activists where the cause of death has been announced officially as ‘suicide’.

Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company and National Steel Company strikes

Against this background, two simultaneous waves of labour protests stand out, both in the largely-industrial southwest province of Khuzestan: the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company protests, and the National Steel Company protests in Ahvaz, the capital of Khuzestan province, a region of Iran devastated by the Iran-Iraq war, environmental decay, water shortages, poverty, ethnic minority oppression and emigration.

Haft Tappeh is located in the southwest province of Khuzestan, some 15 kilometres from the ancient city of Shush. The sugarcane company was established in 1961, occupies an area of 24 hectares of land and was the largest state-owned employer in the area. In 2015 the company was privatised, which led to 7000 job losses. There is an Haft Tappeh Workers’ Syndicate, that has a long history but in its present form was established in 2008 in the course of a 42-day mass strike over unpaid wages. The trade union is not recognised by the company and government authorities.

Haft Tappeh workers have been struggling for a number of years over a host of issues: four months of unpaid wages and benefits; corrupt and incompetent management; casualisation of work; formation of independent workers’ councils; and nationalisation of the company.

It has become fairly common in Iran for workers not to be paid, for five, six or even 12 months or more. Non-payment of wages is an indication of the deep structural crisis of the state and the economy. For reasons we cannot go into here, during the past three decades, capital’s profitability in Iran’s industrial and manufacturing sectors has fallen and financialisation of capital has grown exponentially, with finance capital being a particularly corrupt sector of the Iranian economy.

Strikes in Haft Tappeh started about November 2 and continued for over a month, bringing production to a standstill. It was especially during these protests that Esmail Bakhshi emerged as a prominent labour rights activist. In his speeches, he has repeatedly denounced kleptocracy, systematic corruption and mismanagement under the disguise of privatisation, attacked workers exploitation and argued for the nationalisation of the company and the formation of independent workers council.

On November 16, workers occupied the site of the Friday prayer in Shush, chanting angry slogans against the clergy and government authorities. Friday prayers are state-organised religious-political affairs, and Friday Prayer leaders are chosen under the direct supervision of the Supreme Leader Khamenei. In post-revolutionary Iran they have become one of the main ideological apparatuses of the state and are a means of communicating official state policies and ideologies. They combine religion, politics and popular agitation. Invading and occupying these avenues is a serious step to take.

On Nov 18 the regime sent its anti-riot squads to Shush to flex its muscles, although fearing escalation, they acted cautiously and tried to avoid direct confrontation. The exercise was a warning signal on the part of the regime.

Bakhshi was arrested that day by security forces in Shush, together with civil activist Sepideh Gholian and 18 other workers. Other workers were released later, but Bakhshi and Gholian remained in jail. The latter was released on December 18 on bail.

Bakhshi was arrested on sham charges of endangering ‘national security’. During his 25 days in detention, there was a veil of silence on Bakhshi’s whereabouts and condition, except for the news on one occasion, that as a result of beatings, he had been taken to a local hospital with internal bleedings and a swollen face.

Bakhshi was released on bail on December 12. On January 4 he posted a letter on Instagram. In the letter Bakhshi revealed that during his 25 days in detention he had been subjected to torture, abuse and beating, and challenged the Intelligence Minister to a live televised debate on this issue.

In the open letter Bakhshi writes: “During the first few days, without reason or any conversation, they tortured me and beat me with their fists and kicked me until I was going to die. They beat me so much I couldn’t move in my cell for 72 hours. I was feeling so much pain that I couldn’t even sleep without suffering…Today almost two months after those difficult days. I still feel pain in my broken ribs, kidneys, left ear and testicles. But worse than the physical torture was the psychological torture. I don’t know what they did to me but I turned into a washed-up rat. My hands are still trembling. I used to walk with my feet firmly on the ground but I was humiliated into a different person. I still get severe panic attacks despite taking anxiety medication.”

Article 38 of Iran’s post-revolutionary Constitution states: “All forms of torture for the purpose of extracting confession or acquiring information are forbidden”. Article 7 of United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party, states: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

But there is no Rechtsstaat (law-abiding constitutional state) in Iran. The system is arbitrary, brutal and violent. There are laws, but the state and its apparatuses, by routinely breaching them and violating the Constitution, have spread a general culture of lawlessness. No one feels obligated to abide by the law, especially the powerful and the rich.

Bakhshi’s torture by agents of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry has caused much uproar and outcry in the mainstream media and social networks because he is seen not as an ordinary activist, but a brave and outspoken labour activist representing over-exploited workers and the underclass.

After the publication of his post, several sources, including Bakhshi’s lawyer Farzaneh Zilabi stated that Bakhshi had been under pressure by intelligence agents to deny his claims, and received threatening telephone calls almost every day.

Given the extent of public reaction to Bakhshi’s post in Instagram, Islamic Republic authorities felt they had to react. There was a myriad of authorities commenting on the issue.

On January 7, the head of Judiciary Sadegh Larijani, in response to Bakhshi’s letter and under pressure from public opinion, said he had ordered an investigation into the matter, but reminded Bakhshi that a prison is a prison and not a ‘hotel’.

On January 8, Iran’s Prosecutor General Office announced that an independent ‘expert committee’ had been formed and sent to Khuzestan Province to investigate the allegations of torture. He tried to side step the matter by alluding to the possibility that a single security officer’s conduct should not be generalised to the whole system and warned against the appropriation of the matter by ‘enemy and hostile media’. At the same time, Hesamaldin Ashena, President Rouhani’s advisor, announced the president’s order for ‘quick and accurate’ investigation into allegations of torture.

Yet, on the same day, Heshmat Falahat-Pisheh, the head of the National Security Committee of the Parliament announced that Ministry of Intelligence had denied torturing Bakhshi, and that, after investigations, the Committee had reached the conclusion that no torture had ever taken place. Rather, Bakhshi had been involved in scuffles with the security forces during his arrest. He further claimed Bakhshi was connected to the ‘Workers Communist Party’, an Iranian political party in European exile. He added that ‘foreign media’ had created the uproar over this matter and Bakhshi’s case before the Committee was closed.

On January 9, President’s Bureau Chief Mahmoud Vaezi repeated the Ministry of Intelligence’s denial of Bakhshi’s torture, and threatened that the Intelligence Ministry had the right to prosecute Bakhshi for allegations of torture.

The next day, Asghar Karimi, head of the Executive Committee of the Workers Communist Party of Iran in European exile stated in a press interview that Bakhshi had never been a member of the Party nor had he ever applied for membership.

On January 14, Mohammad-Jafar Montazeri, Iran’s Prosecutor General went further and announced that Bakhshi’s claims have been lies and ‘politically motivated’. He added Bakhshi was ‘no ordinary person’ and due to his connections with ‘certain places’ (that is, communist parties overseas), he has spread these rumours as a cover up for political purposes. He threatened that ‘if Bakhshi has committed a crime, he will be dealt with according to the law’.

On January 16, Mohammad Reza Tabesh, the vice-president of the ‘reformist’ faction Omid (Hope) in the Parliament repeated the Ministry of Intelligence’s denial of Bakhshi’s torture. He added that according to documents and confessions, Bakhshi has ‘been in contact with communist parties overseas’.

Earlier January 8, Bakhshi and his lawyer had managed to meet with some members of the reformist faction of the Parliament, who later announced that Bakhshi had somehow revised his story and had claimed he had only been beaten up by security forces.

Therefore, in the course of less than two weeks a myriad of authorities — the Minister of Intelligence, the Public Prosecutor, the Judiciary and the Parliamentary Committee on National Security — have denied Bakhshi’s torture, and reduced the case to ‘scuffles’ with security forces at the time of arrest. Moreover, they have turned the table, and changed Bakhshi’s position, from a complainant to that of a potential ‘accused’ with threats of legal prosecution hanging over his head. In addition to the usual ambiguous charges of ‘spreading propaganda against the state’ and ‘disturbing public order’, Bakhshi has now been accused of links with Iranian ‘communists’ overseas.

Both Bakhshi and his lawyer have responded to these threats, but they in a disadvantageous position vis-a-vis the experienced and organised brutal repressive apparatuses of the state. On January 16, Bakhshi’s lawyer defended Bakhshi’s claims to torture and asked authorities not to comment on cases still before the courts. The Islamic Revolutionary Court in Shush is still investigating Bakhshi’s case.

There were also other major arrests during the last two months of 2018. Ali Nejati, a retired Haft Tappeh worker and labour activist was arrested at his home in Shush on November 29 when the Haft Tappeh workers’ strikes were taking place. According to his lawyer, Farzaneh Zilabi, he was violently beaten by the security agents when he asked for an arrest warrant, despite his age and serious heart condition. Nejati had been arrested before in 2015 for his labour rights activities. In mid-December 2018, his lawyer Ms Zilabi announced he had been arrested in relation to previous records and participation in the Haft Tappeh strikes, but that he had also been charged with ‘endangering national security’, ‘spreading propaganda against the state’, and ‘disrupting public order’. Nejati remains in prison.

On December 17 and 18, the government arrested 40 leading steelworkers and strike organisers from the National Steel Company in Ahvaz. The steelworks complex came under close surveillance by security and intelligence forces. The plan is to create an Islamic Labour Council there. The arrested workers were gradually released, the last two of them on January 19.

The latest developments, at the time of writing, has been the broadcast of a program on national television on January 19, in which both Bakhshi and Sepideh Gholian are placed before the cameras and deliver forced ‘confessions’ about their real subversive agenda of overthrowing the regime and their connections with Iranian ‘communist’ parties and groupings abroad. A day after the broadcast of this program, security forces attacked Gholian’s home, taking her and her brother away. According to the Haft Tappeh Workers’ Syndicate, security forces attacked Bakhshi’s home and took him away around midnight on January 20. The Syndicate has demanded the release of Bakhshi, Nejati and other imprisoned workers.

The new managing director and creation of ‘Islamic Workers’ Councils’

Given the extent of the success of labour strikes in attracting public support, and fearing an escalation in the situation, the government paid some of the workers’ unpaid wages and, on December 1, appointed a new managing director for the company.

In mid November, the Judiciary announced that the previous managing director of the company had fled the country, after stealing $800 million. Other reports in December claimed he was still in the country. It is still not possible to confirm his whereabouts, given the Mafia-like connections amongst the state authorities and their cronies. The state in Iran is run like an organised crime syndicate.

The formation of Islamic Labour Councils is a major means of breaking workers’ strikes and creating divisions among workers. On December 31, intelligence forces and the Minister of Labour hastily set up sham elections for membership into the Haft Tappeh Islamic Labour Councils. The very existence of the Islamic Labour Councils is a cause of bitter divisions among workers and, under threats and intimidations, some of the striking workers joined the Council. Some 800 of Haft Tappeh workers took part in these elections and eight workers were elected as members of the Islamic Labour Council of the Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company.

On January 6, the Haft Tappeh Workers’ Syndicate, the true workers’ representative recognised by the workers but not the government, published an announcement in which it rejected the Islamic Labour Council as a bogus anti-labour formation.

The announcement says: ”Physical violence and force is only one way of enforcing anti-labour policies, another means of suppression is through formation of Islamic Labour Councils…Workers are aware and know that the Islamic Labour Councils are neither labour councils nor do they represent workers’ interests; rather, their real task is to act as informers for government intelligence forces…The real nature of the Islamic Labour Councils is defending and protecting the interests of the state; they are anti-labour organisations….To those who yielded to intimidation and threats by intelligence forces, we say it is not late yet, and you can still return to the fold; to those who resisted and defended their honour and reputation, we say thank you and well done! ”

There have been numerous other protests by wage and salary earners in Iran during 2018, notably:

* Truck Drivers — Between May and December, truck drivers were sporadically on strike, including for 10 days in May and 17 days in October. These strikes, organised by the Free Truckers Union, were against high inflation, low fares, insurance costs, and spare parts costs. Truck drivers also demanded the removal of brokers from terminals, increasing pensions and punishing corrupt officials. These strikes spread to more than 300 towns and cities across the country and lasted several weeks. In October 2018, the regime cracked down, arresting hundreds of drivers, charging them with acting ‘against national security’, and threatening them with death penalty. Several international trade union federations, including the US, Italian and Danish transport trade union federations, declared their support for the Iranian truck drivers. On October 12, the International Transport Workers Federation condemned the death penalty charges against drivers.

* Teachers — In October 2018, thousands of teachers went on a two-day national strike in which they went to school but did not hold classes. The Coordinating Council of Teachers Union (CCTU) called the strike. Teachers condemned high inflation, low pay, privatisation of the education system and poor working conditions, and demanded the release of arrested teachers and trade union activists.

Teachers are one of the lowest paid professionals in Iran; they often live below the poverty line and have to resort to a second job in the ‘informal economy’, such as driving taxis, to make ends meet. At least two teachers were arrested during this strike. Later, a 65-year-old retired teacher and union leader, who had written materials critical of the regime, was abducted by Islamic Revolutionary Guards officers and involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital. He was later released.

Other protests were by bazaar shop keepers and traders in June 2018, and taxi drivers, hospital employees, office workers, petrochemical workers, municipality workers, farmers and students throughout 2018.

There have also been protests by retirees and those who live off interests on their savings. In 2017, corrupt financialisation of the economy led to the collapse of large private banks and the disappearance of millions of Iranians’ savings. Private banks and financial institutions have been allowed to operate since 2000 and proliferated without Central Bank’s supervision. There were protests against the government and these institutions throughout the country and they continue to this day, but many people have been able to recover their savings.


Within Iran, teachers unions, bus drivers syndicates, the Union of Metalworkers & Mechanics of Iran, truck drivers unions, petrochemical workers, students and others have expressed their solidarity with Haft Tappeh and Ahvaz Steel Industry workers.

On January 9, the five major workers’ organisations — Workers of South Pars Projects, Petrochemical Workers of Mahshahr District and Imam Port City, Workers’ activists in Shush and Andimshek, and Workers of Tehran-Karaj Mehvar — published a statement in support of the Haft Tappeh and Ahvaz National Steel Industry workers.

IndustriALL Global Union and the International Trade Union Council Congress in Copenhagen have issued statements and passed resolutions in support of striking and protesting workers and have called for an end to the repression by the Iranian government. Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers Worldwide (IUF), to which the Haft Tappeh Workers Syndicate is affiliated, also issued a statement in November in support of Haft Tappeh workers.

In early December, more than 80 foreign trade unions and workers organisations wrote an open letter to the Supreme Leader Khamenei expressing their solidarity with striking Iranian workers and asked for the release of Bakhshi and others. Trade unions and labour federations from France, Italy, Brazil, Spain, Indonesia, Senegal, Egypt, Paraguay and a number of other countries signed the letter. French, British, German, Swedish, Danish and Canadian trade unions and labour federations have expressed their support and solidarity.


The Haft Tappeh Sugarcane Company and the National Steel Workers protests are significant because they show the extent of working class consciousness and growing solidarity among sectors of workers in Iran, in the face of the common enemy that they correctly identify as capitalism and theocratic rule.

These protestors are also significant in the history of Iranian working class movement because of the nature of their demands: independent workers’ council, job security and an end to privatisation and casualisation of work. These are the common demands of the entire working class in Iran.

These protests are highly representative of the extent of anger among not only the working class but also the unemployed, the excluded and the marginalised — the social rejects and ‘surplus population’ of capitalism — against the regime and its pro-capital policies.

In both cases, protests that had started with demands over unpaid wages and working conditions have turned into protests against capitalism, neo-liberal privatisation and the deregulation of the labour market.

To keep them under control, the state met some of the lesser demands, such as the partial payment of wages, and beginning to deal with the re-classification of occupations, job security and casualisation of work, but the bigger demands of nationalisation of industries and formation of independent workers’ councils have not been addressed.

Iran’s state is a failed state that survives through sheer repressive control of the society. Its structural crisis is deep and intractable; there are parallel centres of power, some hidden and informal, others in bitter rivalry with one another, all equally corrupt and beyond any possibility of reform.

The situation is tense, but the struggle continues. This is by no means the end of the story.

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Dealing with Pakistan Needs a Grand Strategy-Zorawar Daulet Singh

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


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

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

A Comprehensive Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leveraging the Global Situation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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


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


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

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

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

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

John Smith on imperialism (part 1),(Part-2),( Part-3), (Part-4)

Posted by admin On April - 1 - 2019 Comments Off on John Smith on imperialism (part 1),(Part-2),( Part-3), (Part-4)

Dispossessed workers, farmers, small producers still await their day of liberation
Posted Mar 19, 2019 by John Smith and Farooque Chowdhury

This is part one of a four-part interview of John Smith by Farooque Chowdhury. Click here to see all parts of the interview, which will be published in next several days. The interview begins by addressing how imperialism is defined. —Eds

Today, it is impossible to ignore the question of imperialism in any discussion concerning people as imperialism is distorting and destroying all aspects and areas of life. Ignoring the question of imperialism is synonymous to betrayal of people’s cause. John Smith, former oil rig worker, bus driver, telecommunications engineer, longtime activist in the anti-war and Latin American solidarity movements, and author of Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis (Monthly Review Press, January 2016), discusses the question of imperialism in the following interview taken by Farooque Chowdhury during July 2018-February 2019.

The analyses, interpretations and observations made, the narratives presented, the terms used, and the way persons, politics, ideologies and trends characterized in the interview are completely of John Smith, and, those don’t always correspond to the interviewer’s opinion, interpretation, etc.

How do you define imperialism?

John Smith: The most succinct and concrete definition of imperialism that I can come up with is the subjugation of the entire world to the interests of the capitalist ruling classes of a handful of oppressor nations. This contains both the economic and political dimensions of imperialism—‘subjugation’ denotes the political subjection of governments, states and peoples to imperialist rule, while ‘interests of the capitalist ruling classes’ refers to their economic interests, essentially their appropriation of the lion’s share of the surplus value generated by the workers and farmers of the world, not just by those resident in their own countries. The summary definition also speaks of the ‘ruling classes of a handful of oppressor nations’, rejecting the influential view (which exists in many variants and whose most prominent exponents are Leslie Sklair and William Robinson) that these ruling classes have merged into a ‘transnational capitalist class’, and it therefore implies that the interests of these ruling classes may not coincide, that inter-imperialist rivalries persist. Furthermore, the definition advanced above can be developed to take account of ‘sub-imperialism’, that is, when the capitalist rulers of a subject nation in turn subject other, even weaker, nations and peoples to their political and economic domination.

What is/are the difference/s between the definition you are using and other definitions?

JS: The definition provided above is concrete in that it applies to now, as opposed to a generic definition applicable to all manifestations of imperialism throughout the ages. In the above definition, ‘imperialism’ is an analytical category that can be developed into a theoretical concept. In contrast, trans-historical, generic definitions of imperialism can only ever be descriptive, highlighting superficial features which different manifestations of imperialism in different periods of human history appear to have in common. As Lenin pointed out in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, “Colonial policy and imperialism existed before the latest stage of capitalism, and even before capitalism. Rome, founded on slavery, pursued a colonial policy and practiced imperialism. But ‘general’ disquisitions on imperialism, which ignore, or put into the background, the fundamental difference between socio-economic formations, inevitably turn into the most vapid banality.” The essence of contemporary imperialism is to be found in the contradictory social relations specific to capitalism, not in “human nature “or any other ahistorical abstraction.

That’s not to say that generic uses of the term are useless, or that the noun “imperialism” (and even more so the adjective “imperialist”) cannot be used to describe diverse forms of chauvinistic behavior and mentality—but unless we are conscious of the difference between imperialism as a descriptive term and as an analytical category, we will inevitably fall into the ‘vapid banality’ that Lenin warns against.

What’s really involved here is the need to go beyond the sterile formal logic so characteristic of bourgeois social science and learn how to think dialectically. If imperialism predated capitalism, pedants ask, how can it be intrinsic to capitalism? How can it be true that its essence must be found in capitalist social relations and not human society in general? To answer this question I like to use the analogy of patriarchy. It, too, predates capitalism—indeed, as Frederick Engels explained in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, what he called “the world-historic downfall of the female sex” coincided with the transition from fiercely egalitarian hunter-gatherer era to the earliest class-divided society. Not only did patriarchy predate capitalism, like imperialism, it was a necessary precondition for the rise of capitalism. Upon its arrival, and as part of the process of establishing its supremacy, this higher form of social organisation discarded elements of the pre-existing feudal or communal society which were inimical to its own nature—and internalized, made into its own, whatever was favorable to its further development. Both imperialism and patriarchy fall into the second category, which is why it is possible to say that both of these phenomena preceded capitalism but have long since become inherent qualities of capitalism. There are many people in subject nations (not least, their capitalist elites) who oppose imperialism but do not oppose capitalism, just as there are many feminists who oppose the oppression of women but do not acknowledge that this oppression is rooted in capitalist social relations. So it is that bourgeois nationalism, just like bourgeois feminism, is inherently conflicted and cannot provide a path towards liberation.

What aspects/factors have you taken into account while defining imperialism?

JS: Well, I think it is necessary to take everything into account! No single aspect of reality, especially not one as qualitatively important as imperialism, can be understood unless we have at least a working concept of the total system of interaction of which it is a part. This is an unavoidable difficulty which bourgeois social science attempts to evade by artificially dividing social science into mutually-exclusive “disciplines”, e.g. “politics”, “economics”, “sociology”, “anthropology” etc., each offering rival explanations of social phenomena, using incompatible methodologies, and expressing themselves in terminologies which are mutually unintelligible. The fatal limitations of such pseudo-science have become impossible to ignore, and so “multi-disciplinary” approaches have become more popular—but without the rigorous application of dialectical logic, this inevitably involves arbitrary or prejudiced selection of facts and results in eclecticism and indeterminacy. The one exception to this is the pseudo-science known as “economics—its high priests resist the contamination of its mathematical abstractions with concepts borrowed from politics, sociology, history etc. Their arrogance knows no bounds, and they sense they would not survive a serious encounter with other disciplines.

So, I have consciously attempted to apply everything that I have learned about human evolution over the past several centuries, especially about the evolution of global political economy since World War II, and most especially about its evolution since the 1970s, the dawn of the so-called neoliberal era. Of course, “taking everything into account” doesn’t get us very far, it is nothing more than a condition for our arrival at the beginning of the road to wisdom; further progress requires sifting, ordering, arranging and analyzing the mass of data, testing concepts against facts and using concepts to penetrate through the surface appearance of facts, searching for what Evald Ilyenkov called the “cardinal points of interaction “of the system being investigated.

To this end, I zeroed in on what analysis of facts soon revealed itself to be the most dynamic and significant transformation of the neoliberal era, namely the large-scale shift of production processes to low-wage countries, a development which was and is touted by capitalism’s apologists—and by far too many who call themselves Marxists—as definitive proof that, thanks to capitalist development, the imperialist North-South divide was fading into history. Instead, as I showed in Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, this development signifies the culmination of capitalism’s imperialist evolution, a qualitatively new stage in capitalism’s internalization of imperialism, in which the plunder of nature and super-exploitation of living labor now takes place primarily within the bounds of the capital-labor relation rather than through so-called primitive accumulation, territorial conquest and other forms of naked plunder, which capitalists inherited and enthusiastically adopted from the past and which they have far from abandoned.

What are the limitations of/problems with other definitions of imperialism?

JS: The liberal/mainstream notion of imperialism that permeates academia and bourgeois political opinion (and which, as I argue in Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, contaminates much of what in Europe and North America presents itself as Marxist political economy) proceeds from the elementary observation that the various empires that have existed during the past three millennia share one obvious characteristic, namely territorial conquest accomplished through military force. This is seized upon as the defining characteristic of imperialism, and the dismantlement of the territorial empires and granting of formal sovereignty is then taken as proof that imperialism belongs to the past, not the present. Such an approach rests on a complete divorce between politics and economics—imperialism is defined exclusively by political domination and the application of military force; the motive for such behavior might be economic, i.e. plunder of resources etc., but it might just as easily be geopolitics, megalomania, divine right or anything else.

The Marxist concept of imperialism is diametrically opposed to this. Capitalism’s imperialist impulse is rooted in the contradictions of the capitalist value relation. As Marx explained, increasing productivity of labor (through the substitution of living labor by dead labor, i.e. machinery) and falling rate of profit are two sides of the same coin; and as Lenin explained, capitalists in developed capitalist nations are obliged by the class struggle to purchase social peace by using some of their profits to bribe privileged layers of the working class. As a result, these capitalist ruling classes are compelled to augment the surplus value they extract from workers and farmers at home with ever-increasing flows of wealth from abroad. Both of the trends pushing in this direction became pronounced in the closing decades of the 19thcentury, provoking intensified empire-building and setting these rival ruling classes on collision course with each other, leading to the first imperialist world war.

Is there any fundamental difference between the way you define imperialism and the way Lenin or Marxist-Leninists defined imperialism?

JS: No, I don’t believe so, but what is different is the world of the 21stcentury compared to the world as it was 100 years ago. When Lenin, Zinoviev, Bukharin and other Bolshevik leaders developed the Marxist theory of imperialism, the relation between the handful of oppressor nations and the great majority of oppressed nations was a relation between countries and continents where capitalist social relations were fully established and where they were still embryonic, and the techniques of imperialist plunder that were available to the oppressors were largely those they had inherited from the past—brute force, usury, etc. Also embryonic was the rebellion of the colonized and enslaved peoples; this subsequently became vastly more powerful, forcing the imperialists to modify the forms of their domination by handing formal political sovereignty to venal and corrupt elites while negating any meaningful economic sovereignty. So, there has been substantial change in the external forms of continued imperialist domination, and the spread of capitalist social relations in the dominated countries has opened up new ways for imperialists to siphon wealth from these countries, but the essential nature of the imperialist relation has not fundamentally changed since Lenin’s time. On the contrary, capitalists in North America, imperialist Europe and Japan are today vastly more reliant on flows of surplus value from so-called developing nations than they were 100 years ago; in other words, they are even more parasitic than ever they were; and the world is as divided as ever it was between, in Lenin’s words, “a handful of oppressor nations and the great majority of oppressed nations,” with the significant change that the hard-fought struggle by the peoples have emancipated the national bourgeoisies of the oppressed nations, in other words a place has been found for their snouts in the trough, while the impoverished and dispossessed workers, farmers and small producers still await their day of liberation.

“Marxist-Leninist” refers to the ideology espoused by the bureaucratic rulers of the former Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China and all those around the world who look to them for leadership, but in my opinion, there is no Marxism or Leninism in so-called “Marxism-Leninism”. We cannot get anywhere until we call things by their true names, so I insist on describing both the Moscow or Beijing varieties of these ideologies as Stalinist. This might upset some people or be misinterpreted as factional name-calling, but the alternative is to perpetuate an extremely harmful falsehood—one which is energetically promoted by bourgeois politicians and opinion-formers of all types, from the liberal left to the far right, all of whom are aware of how much damage they can do to the revolutionary workers’ movement by identifying socialism, communism and the liberatory ideas of Marx and Lenin with the disgusting brutality and corruption of the bureaucratic castes which once ruled the Soviet Union and which continue to rule over China (indeed, the capitalist ruling class presently in power in Russia is almost entirely composed of former “Marxist-Leninists”).

“Marxism-Leninism” served the rulers of the USSR and PRC not as a guide to action, but as a cloak of deception, a means of legitimizing their rule. They claimed allegiance to the same theories and philosophies as do I, but their doctrine of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism stands in the clearest possible contradiction with everything that Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin stood for.

About John Smith
John Smith received his PhD from the University of Sheffield and is currently self-employed as a researcher and writer. He has been an oil rig worker, bus driver, and telecommunications engineer, and is a longtime activist in the anti-war and Latin American solidarity movements. He is author of the Monthly Review Press book, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, winner of the Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy Memorial Prize.
About Farooque Chowdhury
Farooque Chowdhury is a freelance writer based in Dhaka. His books in English include Micro Credit, Myth Manufactured (ed.), The Age of Crisis, and The Great Financial Crisis, What Next?: Interviews with John Bellamy Foster (ed.), Dhakha: Books (2012), 190 pp.
John Smith on imperialism (part 2)

Imperialism is revealing its character: increasing parasitism
Posted Mar 22, 2019 by John Smith and Farooque Chowdhury
Topics: ImperialismPlaces: Global
This is part two of a four-part interview of John Smith by Farooque Chowdhury. Click here to see all parts of the interview, which will be published in next several days. Part 2 of the interview is concerned the broad tendencies of imperialism. —Eds

Today, it is impossible to ignore the question of imperialism in any discussion concerning people as imperialism is distorting and destroying all aspects and areas of life. Ignoring the question of imperialism is synonymous to betrayal of people’s cause. John Smith, former oil rig worker, bus driver, telecommunications engineer, longtime activist in the anti-war and Latin American solidarity movements, and author of Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis (Monthly Review Press, January 2016), discusses the question of imperialism in the following interview taken by Farooque Chowdhury during July 2018-February 2019.

The analyses, interpretations and observations made, the narratives presented, the terms used, and the way persons, politics, ideologies and trends characterized in the interview are completely of John Smith, and, those don’t always correspond to the interviewer’s opinion, interpretation, etc.

Is there any difference between the way imperialism functioned during the Cold War and the way it is behaving now? And, what is/are the reason/s if there’s any difference?

John Smith: An almost impenetrable thicket of myths and falsehoods surrounds the so-called Cold War, which was anything but cold for the billions of people who live in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The dominant narrative is that the war was between the “West”, led by the United States, which was trying to spread capitalism and democracy, and the “East” led by the Soviet Union, which was trying to spread socialism and communism. It is absurd to claim that the installation by the USA and its allies of countless bloodthirsty dictators from the Shah to Saddam to Somoza had anything to do with “spreading democracy”, but the first part of the dominant narrative is correct: the USA and its imperialist allies were indeed fighting a war to spread capitalism and crush any resistance to it. What is false is that the Soviet Union was trying to spread socialism and communism. On the contrary, time and again the fake revolutionaries who ruled the USSR provided crucial assistance to the imperialists. The Stalinist “stages” theory of history held that anti-capitalist revolutions were impossible in nations oppressed by imperialism — because the working class was too small and weak and because the task of the day was to abolish feudal and other pre-capitalist obstacles to the spread of capitalism — and its proponents argued that a protracted period of capitalist development was necessary before class contradictions in these nations could come to approximate those in the imperialist nations, and only then could the struggle for socialism could be put on the agenda. So, instead of leading struggles to bring revolutionary governments of workers and farmers to power, Moscow instructed the communist parties under its control to become junior partners in alliances with the supposedly progressive wing of the national bourgeoisie, leading to countless catastrophic defeats, Iran in 1953 and Indonesia in 1965 being two major examples. As Che Guevara said, “the indigenous bourgeoisies have lost all capacity to oppose imperialism — if they ever had any…. There are no other alternatives. Either a socialist revolution or a caricature of a revolution.”

It is notable that the only revolutionary victories during the so-called Cold War occurred under the leadership of communist parties that had broken at least partially from subservience to Moscow (Yugoslavia, China, Korea, Vietnam), or of revolutionary movements and parties that had never been in Moscow’s orbit in the first place (e.g. Cuba, Nicaragua, Algeria). Perhaps the most instructive example is that of Vietnam. At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, the victors — Truman, Churchill (assisted by Labour Party leader Clement Attlee, whose election as Prime Minister of Britain was confirmed mid-conference) and Stalin, met to share out the spoils of victory. Hoping to continue the USSR’s wartime alliance with the supposed to be the antifascist, progressive wing of imperialism, Stalin agreed that France’s Indochinese colonies should be returned to their rightful owner, namely France.

In defiance of this, on September 2 1945, before half a million people gathered in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed an independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam — but nothing was done to prepare an appropriate welcome for imperialist troops (including 20,000 soldiers of the 20th Indian Division, part of the Indian army under Britain’s colonial command) sent to enforce the nefarious decision taken at Potsdam. Instead, acting under Moscow’s orders, the ICP leadership greeted the first contingents of British troops to arrive (on 12-13 September) with welcome banners and attempted to shake hands with their commander, General Gracey, but were contemptuously brushed aside. Gracey seized government buildings, declared martial law, freed Japanese prisoners of war, armed them and used them as a temporary police force until French military forces arrived to reinstate their colonial rule. Following this utterly avoidable disaster, the Vietnamese liberation forces resumed their struggle and pledged to never again subordinate their interests to the foreign policy of another power.

Vietnam in 1945 was far from the only time that Stalin acted as an accomplice to imperialism’s crimes. Vietnam’s history has similarities with Korea’s, which Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt agreed should be also divided and placed under military occupation (at their notorious February 1945 meeting in Yalta) — leading to the Korean War, in which the US dropped more bombs than had been used by both sides in the Pacific theatre of World War II. By 1953, two and half million Koreans lay dead, but even this did not crush their resistance to imperialist occupation. Aided by some 300,000 soldiers from China (whose social revolution triumphed in 1949), Korea’s working people, led by Kim Il-Sung and the Korean Workers Party, inflicted the first ever military defeat upon the United States, for which they have never been forgiven and for which they continue to be cruelly punished.

Moscow’s official policy throughout the Cold War was “peaceful coexistence”, code for class collaboration, and can be understood as the continuation of its post-war betrayal of the Korean and Vietnamese outlined above (there are many other nations and peoples on this list, not least the Jews of Europe and the people of Palestine, both of whom were betrayed by Moscow’s anti-Semitism and by its connivance with the establishment of Israel in 1948).

These facts are not widely known, not even among left-wing and progressive forces, because neither liberal nor conservative opinion-formers have any interest in reminding us of these facts, and neither do those left-wing movements who have their origins in the Stalin-led ‘communist movement’.

The dominant mainstream narrative on the Cold War has yet to be seriously challenged; on the contrary, the truth is buried under more and more layers of rubbish. Yet only a moment’s thought is needed to see its absurdity and its deeply reactionary nature. The “East” in the East-West confrontation was Moscow, yet Moscow is, geographically speaking, part of the West, the eastern edge of white Europe. The real East is invisible in this risible, incredibly Eurocentric narrative, and the same fate of invisibility befalls the entire South: the North-South conflict, i.e. the struggle between imperialism and its colonies and neo-colonies, is entirely collapsed into the so-called East-West conflict. Liberation struggles and revolutionary movements from Asia to Africa to Latin America are regarded as mere pawns of Moscow, without grievances of their own, without any agency of their own — this is not only absurd, it is also transparently racist.

Only by exposing the lies that are contained in the term “Cold War” can I answer the question about whether there has been any change in imperialist behavior since it ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Just as the very notion of the Cold War is premised on falsehood, it is also false that the West won the Cold War. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the partial eclipse of the political forces that looked to Moscow for leadership has severely weakened an important prop of the imperialist world order. Far from inaugurating a unipolar world in which the USA and its imperialist allies could exercise untrammeled power, the post-Cold War world has seen accelerating chaos and disorder. The imperialists convinced themselves that they had won a great victory and celebrated by launching a series of wars in the Middle East and Central Asia, beginning with George Bush senior’s war on Iraq in 1991 in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Berlin wall. But their hubris led to overconfidence, and each and every military adventure they have undertaken since the end of the Cold War has led them into a quagmire of death, division and recrimination, with nothing resembling a victory in sight. Unfortunately, if the imperialists cannot be said to have won the Cold War, neither can it be said that victory belongs to their adversaries, the working class and oppressed peoples of the world. Victory never falls into our lap, it must be fought for. What’s lacking are revolutionary leaders of the caliber of Lenin, Che, Fidel, Grenada’s Maurice Bishop, Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso and others, and political movements inspired by them, able to take advantage of the imperialists’ growing weakness and disarray.

Financialization and imperialism
Have monopoly finance capital and financialization impacted imperialism? And, how, if there’s any impact?

JS: We need some clarity about what these two terms mean. To take the first of them: as Lenin explained in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, monopoly finance capital is the result of two parallel processes that mark the transition to the imperialist stage of development: the process of concentration and centralization of capital, and the separation of ownership from management. The question, therefore, needs to be reformulated, because it suggests that monopoly finance capital is something external to imperialism, and exerts an impact on it from the outside. All of this underlines an essential point—when we talk about imperialism, we are not talking about imperialism in general, as it has existed throughout the ages, we are talking specifically about capitalist imperialism, the imperialist stage of capitalist development. Monopoly finance capital didn’t exist when Sargon the Great built the Akkadian empire in Mesopotamia 4,300 years ago, or 500 years ago when the Mughal kings unified the Indian subcontinent!

Financialization can be defined in different ways, but at its most basic it refers, in the words of John Bellamy Foster, to “the shift in gravity of economic activity from production (and even from much of the growing service sector) to finance” (see John Bellamy Foster, “The Financialization of Capitalism,” [Monthly Review 58: 11, April 2007] where you will also see an excellent discussion of the origin of this term). So, financialization pertains to the sphere of circulation, where titles of ownership are exchanged but where nothing is produced. Yet the “shift in the gravity of economic activity” that John Bellamy Foster talks about is manifested in the fact that banking, insurance and other financial activities make up an ever-growing portion of the GDP of imperialist countries — which just goes to show that what bourgeois economists call “gross domestic product” has less and less connection with what is actually produced within a domestic economy.

With the notable exception of the Monthly Review school, recent studies of this phenomenon by avowedly Marxist and left-Keynesian economists attempt to theorize financialization in isolation from the transformations that have taken place in the sphere of production, especially the globalization of production processes and their large-scale relocation to low-wage countries. This is a serious flaw, but not so surprising, since these same schools of thought deny the centrality or even existence of imperialism. Nevertheless, many of these studies do shed light on the complex processes that make up this important phenomenon, especially the financiers’ ingenuity in converting hypothetical future income streams into present-day wealth, thereby generating vast quantities of what Karl Marx called fictitious capital, that is, financial assets whose value is disconnected from the actual productive activity (if any) they give title to.

Debt is the principal tool used to accomplish this. As Martin Wolf said shortly after the beginning of the financial crisis (Financial Times, April 1, 2008), “Between its low in the first quarter of 1982 and its high in the second quarter of 2007, the share of the financial sector’s profits in US gross domestic product rose more than six-fold. Behind this boom was an economy-wide rise in leverage [debt-financed investment]. Leverage was the philosopher’s stone that turned economic lead into financial gold. Attempts to reduce it now risk turning the gold back into lead again.” Yet the attempts to reduce debt that Wolf speaks of have been feeble, to say the least — according to the International Institute of Finance, aggregate debt (that is, sovereign, corporate and domestic debt) now stands at 320% of global GDP, compared to 270% on the eve of the global financial crisis in 2007. What’s more, some especially risky categories of debt are growing much faster, in particular, debt owed by private non-financial corporations in so-called “emerging economies”, who have been tempted by historically low interest rates. We can be certain that the next financial crisis — and there surely is one waiting for us around the corner — will wreak its havoc far beyond Europe and North America, where its effects were concentrated post-2007.

So, to answer your question, once again it’s not a matter of financialization impacting upon imperialism, but of imperialism revealing its own essential character — its increasing parasitism, i.e. the ever-greater importance of monopoly rents of all kinds and of rent-seeking behavior versus unmediated profit-making from productive activities.

Is it possible to differentiate monopoly finance capital and imperialist capital? Or, is there any need/requirement to make the differentiation for studying imperialism?

JS: I think it follows from my answers to earlier questions that “monopoly finance capital” and “imperialist capital” are synonymous. More important than the labels themselves are the meanings we attach to them, this depends on the context in which they are used, on what else we say. Technical terms and the names of theoretical concepts can all too easily be used to mystify rather than to clarify, to impress rather than to express.

About John Smith
John Smith received his PhD from the University of Sheffield and is currently self-employed as a researcher and writer. He has been an oil rig worker, bus driver, and telecommunications engineer, and is a longtime activist in the anti-war and Latin American solidarity movements. He is author of the Monthly Review Press book, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, winner of the Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy Memorial Prize.
About Farooque Chowdhury
Farooque Chowdhury is a freelance writer based in Dhaka. His books in English include Micro Credit, Myth Manufactured (ed.), The Age of Crisis, and The Great Financial Crisis, What Next?: Interviews with John Bellamy Foster (ed.), Dhakha: Books (2012), 190 pp.
John Smith on imperialism (part 3)

Imperialist capitalism is heading towards a cataclysmic crisis
Posted Mar 23, 2019 by John Smith and Farooque Chowdhury
Topics: ImperialismPlaces: Global
This is part three of a four-part interview of John Smith by Farooque Chowdhury. Click here to see all parts of the interview. Part 3 of the interview is concerned the crises generated by the process of imperialism. —Eds

Today, it is impossible to ignore the question of imperialism in any discussion concerning people as imperialism is distorting and destroying all aspects and areas of life. Ignoring the question of imperialism is synonymous to betrayal of people’s cause. John Smith, former oil rig worker, bus driver, telecommunications engineer, longtime activist in the anti-war and Latin American solidarity movements, and author of Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis (Monthly Review Press, January 2016), discusses the question of imperialism in the following interview taken by Farooque Chowdhury during July 2018-February 2019.

The analyses, interpretations and observations made, the narratives presented, the terms used, and the way persons, politics, ideologies and trends characterized in the interview are completely of John Smith, and, those don’t always correspond to the interviewer’s opinion, interpretation, etc.

Constraints of imperialism
What constraints is imperialism facing today?

JS: Just six words, but you could not ask a bigger question! The financialization phenomenon discussed in preceding answer, and the immense over-accumulation of capital, which it has fostered, is the surest sign that imperialist capitalism is heading towards a cataclysmic crisis, since the financiers’ ability to use debt to amplify profit streams and inflate asset values is finite. Their ability to resume this peculiar form of “wealth generation” despite the temporary interruption of the global financial crisis, has crucially depended on the zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) implemented by the central banks of the imperialist nations—the USA’s Federal Reserve has raised its interest rate nine times since November 2015, each time by 0.25%, but once inflation of around 2% is subtracted from its current level of 2.5%, the real interest rate in the USA is barely above zero. Central banks in the UK, Europe and Japan are yet to follow the Fed in moving away from ZIRP, their real interest rates are strongly negative.

Official interest rates (sometimes called the “base rate”) reflect the cost of money to private banks, large corporations and wealthy investors, and are much lower than those charged on loans to households and small businesses. It should not be thought that power over interest rates allows governments and central banks to dictate market conditions—rather, it is the markets, i.e. the owners of finance capital, who exercised dictatorship over governments and central banks. The official interest rate reflects the so-called “natural rate of interest”, determined by the supply of and demand for investment funds. The supply is vast, yet it is faced with a dearth of productive investment opportunities—there is plenty that needs doing, but capitalists calculate that expected profits are insufficient to balance risks.

Why is this so important? Unless capitalists think they will make more money by investing their cash in the production of goods and services than what they’d earn in interest if they left it in the bank, they will not invest. By pushing interest rates down towards zero or even into negative territory, central banks hope that capitalists will be stimulated to invest their cash and not just stash it in the bank. Ultra-low interest rates are therefore a sign of deep crisis—signifying that capitalists are exceedingly reluctant to invest, either because of a dearth of profitable investment opportunities, or because they perceive the risk of losing their money to be too high, or both. Given that real interest rates are lower than at any time in the history of capitalism, for the rate of investment to be so low (whether this is measured as a proportion of GDP or as a fraction of available funds for investment) in the imperialist economies and in much of the rest the world, is truly astonishing.

There are lots of complications which could be explored and qualifications which could be made about all of this, but I now want to move to a slightly different subject: given that ultra-low interest rates are a sign of deep malaise, how could they also be a means to support and further inflate the value of all manner of financial assets, from stocks and shares to bonds to real estate? Simply, because ultra-low interest on cash deposits in banks encourage the owners of this cash to purchase stocks and shares, residential or commercial property, bonds—anything which gives them title to a stream of profits or of rents or of interest payments that include a risk premium. Not only that, ultra-low interest rates encourage banks, large corporations and very rich people to borrow money in order to purchase even more financial assets, leading one Morgan Stanley banker to describe zero-interest-rate policy as “crack cocaine for the financial markets”. And, so it is that the extreme monetary policies pursued by central banks since 2008 (and indeed in the decade before the financial crisis!) have created money-making opportunities for the super-rich on a scale never seen before in human history. An indication of this can be gleaned from Cap Gemini’s annual World Wealth Reports, which report that the total wealth in the hands of the world’s “high net worth individuals” (that is, people who own more than $1 million in investable assets), more than doubled in the 10 years following the beginning of the global crisis, growing from $32.8 trillion in 2008 to $70.2 trillion in 2017—an increase of 114% in just 10 years, yet during the same period global GDP increased by only 27% (adjusted for inflation, these figures translate to 100% growth in HNWI wealth compared to a 24% growth in global GDP).

The final detail to be added to this picture concerns the consequences of these extreme monetary policies. Ultra-low interest rates have encouraged capitalists to borrow money to finance investments; but instead of investing in new means of production, the bulk of it has financed speculation in markets, inflating asset bubbles that are reflected in ballooning HNWI wealth discussed above; or in so-called intellectual property (IP), which generates monopoly rents for its owners but does not increase social wealth (and in many cases reduces it); or to finance share buy-backs, which increase the wealth of shareholders but which, again, do not result in any increase in the production of goods and services. Governments and central bankers are aware that all of this is storing up immense problems for the future, yet the capitalists they serve have become addicted to this “crack cocaine”, and so far only the USA has taken timid steps to restore interest rates to what they call “normal” levels.

The great fear is that, if ultra-low interest rates have stimulated asset inflation, higher interest rates will result in asset deflation, in other words another financial crash. And if they leave interest rates where they are, not only will asset bubbles, debt mountains and other pathological disorders continue to get worse, central banks will be deprived of the chief tool they need to prevent the next cyclical recession from rapidly gaining momentum and provoking another financial crash. Recall that, in the last three recessions in the United States, the Federal Reserve has slashed interest rates by an average of 5%, but this option is unavailable right now (because the Fed’s “policy rate” is currently 2.5%, or 0.5% when inflation is taken into account); and still less is it available to central banks in the UK, Europe and Japan where real interest rates are currently well into negative territory.

“Global yields lowest in 500 years of recorded history. $10 trillion of negative rate bonds. This is a supernova that will explode one day,” in the words of leading bond trader Bill Gross. The metaphor is apt—a supernova occurs when the energy fueling a star’s expansion becomes balanced by the gravitational force pulling it towards the centre. It may take eons to arrive at this moment, but when it does the star collapses on itself in seconds, and then explodes, scattering debris throughout its galaxy.

So, to get back to the question, the chief constraints confronting imperialism are those that arise from capitalism’s own internal contradictions, and these manifest themselves in the systemic crisis briefly described above. Their fundamental root lies in the nature of capital, which can be defined as self-expanding wealth, that is wealth which appears to grow magically by itself, a goose which lays golden eggs, but whose growth, as Karl Marx proved in Capital, depends on unpaid wealth generated by exploited workers, which Marxists call surplus value; augmented by wealth captured from working people employed in non-capitalist sectors of the economy, so-called accumulation by dispossession. As briefly described above, the financial system has allowed capitalism to turbo-charge capital accumulation, through the generation of vast quantities of fictitious capital, but in the end every single one of the $70 trillion in the hands of HNWIs can only become capital and remain as capital thanks to surplus value extracted from living labor. Thus, the fundamental constraint is the extreme and growing disproportion between the total mass of wealth in the hands of capitalists, on the one hand, and the quantity of surplus value it is capable of extracting from living labor in order to convert this wealth into capital on the other. And as Lenin explained, it is precisely this disproportion, which impels capitalism onto its imperialist trajectory.

Is it different from the days Lenin defined imperialism?

JS: Fundamentally, it is no different. What is different is that these contradictions are many magnitudes deeper and are also far more extensive. When Lenin wrote his famous book on imperialism in the middle of World War I, capitalism had yet to fully impose its social relations on the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America; the relation between imperialist nations and subject nations was a relation between capitalism and pre-capitalist social formations. This is one reason why I believe that capitalism’s contradictions are immeasurably deeper now than they were in the period that led to World War I and to the Russian revolution.

How is imperialism trying to overcome the constraints it is facing today?

JS: By escalating its assault on workers and poor people, by fighting to reverse the expensive concessions it has made to pacify the working class in imperialist countries, by intensifying its rape of mother Earth, by increasingly resorting to “beggar-thy-neighbor” policies, as manifested in currency manipulation, trade wars and the disintegration of multilateral institutions.

Imperialist Rivalry
Has imperialist rivalry taken on greater importance in recent years? It appears that a new anti-free trade faction has been developing, favoring protectionist policies in contrast to the longstanding goal of “free trade.” Fights among imperialist powers are also going on in the World Trade Organization. Is there any significance of these developments?

JS: The process by which economic contradictions translate into political rivalry and military confrontation is extremely complex and depends on many things—including contingencies such as the emergence onto the stage of history of mavericks like Donald Trump or the outcome of a finely-balanced referendum such as the one that led Britain to decide to withdraw from the European Union. It is not possible to predict with any degree of certainty how the post-WWII US-led imperialist world order will break up, just that it will break up. Will the Franco-German alliance survive the next stage of the European Union death agony? Will the USA maintain its close embrace of Japan, the country it nuked in 1945? Will China forge its own sphere of influence and take the next steps towards becoming an imperialist power?

Only by discussing the past and the present can we get a glimpse of the future. All I can say for sure is that there is a massive storm coming, and that the only way out is for workers to cease their reliance on any wing of the bourgeoisie and do what Russia’s workers and farmers did in 1917 and what Cuban workers and farmers did in 1959—to take power into their own hands, to carry out a socialist revolution.

About John Smith
John Smith received his PhD from the University of Sheffield and is currently self-employed as a researcher and writer. He has been an oil rig worker, bus driver, and telecommunications engineer, and is a longtime activist in the anti-war and Latin American solidarity movements. He is author of the Monthly Review Press book, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, winner of the Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy Memorial Prize.
About Farooque Chowdhury
Farooque Chowdhury is a freelance writer based in Dhaka. His books in English include Micro Credit, Myth Manufactured (ed.), The Age of Crisis, and The Great Financial Crisis, What Next?: Interviews with John Bellamy Foster (ed.), Dhakha: Books (2012), 190 pp.

John Smith on imperialism (part 4)

Climate crisis poses a major political challenge to imperialism
Posted Mar 23, 2019 by John Smith and Farooque Chowdhury
Topics: ImperialismPlaces: Global
This is part fourth and final part of a four-part interview of John Smith by Farooque Chowdhury. Click here to see all parts of the interview. Part 4 of the interview begins with the relation of imperialism to ecological degradation and concludes with tips for new comrades interesting in studying the process of imperialism —Eds

Today, it is impossible to ignore the question of imperialism in any discussion concerning people as imperialism is distorting and destroying all aspects and areas of life. Ignoring the question of imperialism is synonymous to betrayal of people’s cause. John Smith, former oil rig worker, bus driver, telecommunications engineer, longtime activist in the anti-war and Latin American solidarity movements, and author of Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis (Monthly Review Press, January 2016), discusses the question of imperialism in the following interview taken by Farooque Chowdhury during July 2018-February 2019.

The analyses, interpretations and observations made, the narratives presented, the terms used, and the way persons, politics, ideologies and trends characterized in the interview are completely of John Smith, and, those don’t always correspond to the interviewer’s opinion, interpretation, etc.

Climate crisis and imperialism
How is climate crisis impacting imperialism?

JS: “Climate crisis” is a euphemism for the capitalist destruction of nature, and is an extremely dramatic and terrifying manifestation of capitalism’s destructive and imperialistic nature. So, imperialism is certainly impacting the climate crisis! How, and in what sense, is the climate crisis impacting upon imperialism? Capitalism/imperialism is extremely proficient at externalizing the costs of its destructiveness, making other peoples and future generations suffer the consequences of its marauding nature, as the people of Bangladesh know only too well. Yet it is not immune from “blow-back” effects, such as when overfishing and run-off from intensive farming causes blooms of jellyfish that destroyed tourism and clog the water-cooling inlets of power stations, or the droughts and heat waves causing forest fires and the collapse of farming in large tracts of Australia and the United States. The climate crisis also poses a major political challenge to imperialism—they are working very hard to prevent public opinion and the world’s scientific community from coming to the conclusion that system change is necessary if we are to avert climate change.

Benefits and resource flow
Is there any benefit from imperialism?

JS: Yes—to the imperialists. And yes—to the middle class and the elites of the subject nations, who are given a place for their snouts in the trough that is filled by the world’s workers and farmers. And yes—to the workers in the imperialist countries, whose rulers divert some of the proceeds of imperialist exploitation to bribe privileged layers and purchase social peace. But these benefits are temporary and the price that workers in the imperialist countries are paying for being led into an alliance with the enemies of humanity is already high and will grow without limit. Which imperialist country will be the first to see a fascist movement come to power—France, the UK, Italy, USA…?

Has there been any change in the direction of flow of resources and benefits in imperialist system? How do you define the claim that resources flow to neo-colonies/countries being exploited by imperialism as a result of imperialism?

JS: No. I define the claim as complete and utter nonsense. (The following is drawn from my response to claims by David Harvey that the flow of resources from imperialist to developing countries has changed direction.)

In 2015, researchers based in Brazil, India, Nigeria, Norway and the USA published Financial flows and tax havens: combining to limit the lives of billions of people, which they fairly claim to be “the most comprehensive analysis of global financial flows impacting developing countries compiled to date.” Their report calculates “net resource transfers” (NRT) between developed and developing countries, combining licit and illicit inflows and outflows—from development aid and remittances of wages to net trade receipts, debt servicing, new loans, FDI and portfolio investment and repatriated profits, along with capital flight and other forms of financial chicanery and outright theft. They found that in 2012, the most recent year for which they could obtain data, what they call “developing and emerging countries” (which of course includes China) lost $2.0 trillion in net transfers to rich countries, equivalent to 8% of emerging nations’ GDP in that year—four times larger than the average of $504 billion in NRT transferred annually from poor to rich countries during the first half of the 2000s. When informed estimates are included of under-invoicing and other forms of rip-off and criminality that leave no statistical trace, NRT from poor countries to imperialist countries in 2012 exceeded $3 trillion, around 12% of poor nations’ GDP.

More generally, they report, “both recorded and unrecorded transfers of licit and illicit funds from developing countries have tended to increase over the period 1980-2011”. As for Sub-Saharan Africa, they report, NRT from this continent to imperialist countries (or tax havens licensed by them) between 1980 to 2012 totalled $792bn, that illicit transfers from Africa to imperialist countries as a proportion of GDP are higher than from any other region, and that capital flight from SSA is growing by more than 20 percent per annum, faster than anywhere else in the world.

In what they called “an ironic twist to the development narrative” the researchers concluded that “since the early 1980s, NRT for all developing countries have been mostly large and negative, indicating sustained and significant outflows from the developing world… resulting in a chronic net drain of resources from the developing world over extended periods of time”.

Where does China fit into this broader picture? Using sophisticated methodologies and on the basis of conservative assumptions, the researchers calculate that China accounts for no less than two-thirds of the total recorded resource transfer deficit of all “emerging nations” between 1980 and 2012, $1.9 trillion in all; the explanation for this high proportion being “China’s large current account surpluses and associated capital and reserve asset outflows,” and it accounted for 21%, or $2.8 trillion, of the total of $13.4 trillion in capital flight drained from all “emerging countries” to rich nations during these three decades.

Progressives and imperialist intervention
Are progressives and grassroots groups who face autocratic/despotic/anti-democratic rulers ever justified in lending support to—or inviting—imperialist intervention? What are the most common confusions/misunderstandings about imperialism associated with these sections of the left?

JS: No. But it is easy to make glib denunciations of peoples who are in an extremely painful and difficult situation—I think, for instance, of the Kurdish people, who have no state of their own because of the crimes of British, French and American imperialism, and also because of the chauvinism and extreme brutality of the Arab and Iranian capitalist rulers; and I also think of Jewish people who are confronted by virulent anti-Semitism, which, as history and contemporary politics shows, becomes inflamed at times of systemic capitalist crisis, when gentile capitalists seek to deflect popular resentment onto scapegoats. So, I’d like to avoid making generic statements and consider each specific example individually, and state that before we as socialists, as communists, as workers, criticize other peoples we have to demonstrate in deeds as well as words, that we, not hypocritical imperialists, are their most reliable allies.

What are the problems in studying imperialism today?

JS: To study capitalism is to study imperialism, and vice versa. And the only way that can be done, unfortunately, is by starting with the total system and the entire history leading up to it. Whether we like it or not, we cannot form a theoretical concept of any part of the total system of interaction unless we have at least a working concept of this total system. This is what Karl Marx meant when he said there is no “royal road to wisdom”, there are no shortcuts. So, we should not pretend that the task is easier than it actually is—but neither should we underestimate our own capacity to make progress, to stand on the shoulders of others, to rejoice in the fact that the hard work of those who have gone before us enormously amplifies the fruits that we can reap through our own efforts. Most important of all is honesty, integrity and hard work.

What are the confusions in the study of imperialism today?

JS: The most fundamental confusion is the one discussed in my answer to the second and eighth questions above. To repeat this extremely important point, but in a different way, we could say that there are two ways to approach the question “what is imperialism?” One would be to make a list of all of the different types of imperialism that have existed in known history, list the features they have in common, and generalize a theory out of this. The other is to study the actually existing socio-economic system, i.e. capitalism, and ask “what is it about capitalism that caused it to evolve into a new form of imperialism?”

The first approach, which at first glance seems perfectly reasonable, deals exclusively with forms of appearance and can only result in a description rather than a theoretical concept. A theory can only be generated from this approach by the addition of other premises, e.g. something about human nature—or about the nature of men, since the vast majority of emperors and imperialists have been male. This is, in my opinion, a bourgeois, positivist, pseudo-scientific approach that either ends up justifying imperialism (“it’s just human nature”), or denying it, since modern, 21st-century capitalist imperialism does not include one feature that is common to all other forms of imperialism, namely territorial occupation and domination.

The second approach is the one that is recommended by dialectical materialism and followed by Marx and Marxists. Capitalism must be studied both empirically and theoretically, including what makes this social system different from others that have existed in history and that have developed their own forms of imperialism. We then discover that the transition to capitalist imperialism was necessitated by the centralization and concentration of capital (i.e. monopoly capitalism), over-accumulation, or what could be called the hypertrophy of capital (when the mass of capital expands far beyond that which can be valorized solely by surplus value extracted from workers “at home”), and, connected to this, the long-term tendency of the rate of profit to fall that results from the replacement of living labor (the sole source of value) with dead labor, i.e. machinery. Imperialism—or rather, a historically new and very distinctive form of it—is then revealed as an increasingly important way to counter the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, a tendency which distills the very essence of the contradictions of capitalist social relations.

As for the “human nature” which plays such a role in bourgeois pseudo-scientific theories of imperialism, we can say that human nature combines many qualities and potentialities—e.g. for selfishness and for solidarity, for love and for hate—which of these potentialities become realized is profoundly influenced by the socio-economic system you live in and your place within it.

Another major source of confusion results from the artificial separation of economics from politics; imperialism is then seen as a relation of domination and subordination rather than as a relation between exploiters and exploited. This is quite typical of the bourgeois approach, since apologists for capitalism have great difficulty acknowledging exploitation of any type, or that a great part of the wealth currently being accumulated by capitalists in London, Paris and New York was extracted from Africa, Asia and Latin America. Unfortunately (to say the least!), many avowed Marxists resident in imperialist countries deny this reality, I explain in my critique of David Harvey (see John Smith, “Imperialist realities vs. the myths of David Harvey,” March 22, 2018). In other words, students of imperialism should cast an extremely critical eye on everything they read on this subject, especially the opinions of people who claim to be Marxists (and I invite you, indeed I urge you, to cast an extremely critical eye on everything I say in this interview!).

What aspects of imperialism should a newer comrades look into? Where should they begin?

JS: Whichever aspects you find most interesting, whichever seem to you to be most important, whichever seem to be most puzzling and in relation to which existing answers seem insufficient. There really are a million different points of departure, but there is only one mountain peak!

We should begin with what is happening today, we should begin by opening our eyes to the world around us and formulating questions about everything we see that we don’t understand.

Thank you, John, for helping understand aspects of imperialism.

Thank you, Farooque, for asking such interesting questions. I look forward to hearing opinions of readers on the issues covered in this interview.


About John Smith
John Smith received his PhD from the University of Sheffield and is currently self-employed as a researcher and writer. He has been an oil rig worker, bus driver, and telecommunications engineer, and is a longtime activist in the anti-war and Latin American solidarity movements. He is author of the Monthly Review Press book, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, winner of the Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy Memorial Prize.
About Farooque Chowdhury
Farooque Chowdhury is a freelance writer based in Dhaka. His books in English include Micro Credit, Myth Manufactured (ed.), The Age of Crisis, and The Great Financial Crisis, What Next?: Interviews with John Bellamy Foster (ed.), Dhakha: Books (2012), 190 pp.
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