Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Solidarity with Russian leftists

TODAY, WE, the representatives of Russian leftist organizations, turn to our comrades all over the world with an appeal for solidarity. This call and your response to it are very important to us. Right now, we are facing not just another instance of dubious sentencing by the Russian "justice" system or another case of a human life broken by the encounter with the state's repressive apparatus.

Today, the authorities have launched against us a repressive campaign without precedent in the recent history of Russia, a campaign whose goal is to extinguish the left as an organized political force. The recent arrests, threats, beatings, aggressive media attacks and moves towards declaring leftist groups illegal all point to the new general strategy on the part of the authorities, much more cruel and much less predictable than that of recent years.

The massive protest movement that began in December 2011 radically changed the atmosphere of political and social passivity established during the Putin years. Tens of thousands of young and middle-aged people, office workers and state employees began to appear on the streets and to demand change. On December 10 and 24, 2011, and then on February 4, 2012, Moscow, Petersburg and other large cities became the sites of massive rallies, demonstrating a new level of politicization of a significant part of society.

The "managed democracy" model crafted by the ruling elite over many years went bankrupt in a matter of days. Political manipulations ceased working in the face of real politics, born from below. The movement, whose demands were initially limited to "honest elections," quickly grew into a protest against the whole political system.

After the elections of March 4, 2012, in which Vladimir Putin, using a combination of massive administrative pressure on voters, massive falsifications and mendacious populist rhetoric, assured himself of another term, many thought that the potential for protest mobilization had been exhausted. The naïve hopes of the thousands of opposition volunteers, taking on the role of election observers in the hope of putting an end to voter fraud, were crushed.

The next demonstration, which few believed would succeed, was scheduled for the center of Moscow on May 6, the day before Putin's inauguration. And on this day, despite the skeptical predictions, more than 60,000 people showed up. When the march approached the square where the rally was to take place, the police organized a massive provocation, blocking the marchers' path to the square. All those who attempted to circumvent the police cordon were subjected to beatings and arrests.

The unprecedented police violence produced resistance on the part of some of the protesters, who resisted arrests and refused to leave the square until everyone had been freed. The confrontation on May 6 lasted a few hours. In the end, over 650 people were arrested, some of whom spent the night in jail.

The next day, Putin's motorized procession headed for his inauguration through an empty Moscow. Along with the protesters, the police had cleared the city of all pedestrians.

The new protest movement had demonstrated its power and a new degree of radicalization. The events of May 6 gave rise to the Occupy movement, which brought thousands of young people to the center of Moscow and held strong until the end of May. Leftist groups, until then peripheral to the established liberal spokesman of the protest movement, were progressively playing a larger role.

Read the rest here. Consider it a reminder that nearly a century after Red October, the call for an alternative to capitalism remains loud and clear.

Wonder where the anti-austerity protests are happening?


More details here and here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Quotable: William Blum on Socialism in the 1990s

This is a small book chapter by William Blum, Will humans ever fly? Smashing socialism in the 20th century:
Imagine that the Wright brothers' first experiments with flying machines all failed because the automobile interests sabotaged each and every test flight. And then the good and god-fearing folk of the world looked upon this, took notice of the consequences, nodded their collective heads wisely, and intoned solemnly: Humans shall never fly.

Fact: Virtually every socialist experiment of any significance in the twentieth century has been either overthrown, invaded, or bombed ... corrupted, perverted, or subverted ... sanctioned, embargoed, or destabilized ... or otherwise had life made impossible for it, by the United States. Not one of these socialist governments or movements -- from the Russian Revolution to Fidel Castro in Cuba, from Communist China to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua -- not one was permitted to rise or fall solely on its own merits; not one was left secure enough to drop its guard against the all-powerful enemy abroad and freely and fully relax control at home.

It has become commonplace amongst politicians, economists, industrialists and media that the answer to the question -- Is socialism dead? -- is not only "yes", but is self evidently so. They seem to accept a priori the curious equation that if the Soviet Union is dead, so must socialism be dead, if not all things progressive. And many on the left seem to be buying into this oddity. This equation not only ignores the past described above, but ignores the present reality as well, for since "the end of communism/socialism", communists and socialists have been elected to the highest offices in the land and/or won control of parliament in more than 20 countries, including many in the former Soviet Union and its Eastern European bloc. Consider the following sample:


In May 1994, four years after being voted into near oblivion, Hungary's former Communists swept back into power. Under their new name of the Socialist Party, they won 209 seats in the 386-seat parliament. "The strong showing of the Socialists," said the New York Times, "was attributed to widespread discontent with Hungary's first efforts at a market economy."{1}


In September 1993, the Democratic Left Alliance (DLA) -- composed of the former Communist Party and other socialist groups -- won the parliamentary election and formed a new government.

In March 1995, former Communist Party official Josef Olesky became the Prime Minister.

In November of the same year, Aleksander Kwasniewski of the DLA, and a former minister in the Communist regime, defeated Lech Walesa for the presidency.


In June 1990, the former Communist Party, renamed the Bulgarian Socialist Party, won control of Parliament and filled the offices of president and prime minister. Before the year was over, the BSP was ousted in what amounted to a coup, engineered and financed by the CIA front, the National Endowment for Democracy.{2} The party then won re-election in December 1994, with a former Communist Party official becoming prime-minister.


March 1991, a Communist government won national elections overwhelmingly, but, as in Bulgaria, a general strike and widespread unrest, financed again by the National Endowment for Democracy, brought on the government's collapse.{3}

The current ruling party, the anti-communist Democratic Party, stays in power and keeps the Socialist Party (the former Communists) out only through elections so fraudulent that even the Clinton administration has been obliged to express its regrets about the "numerous irregularities" which "marred these elections".{4}


In April 1996, a Left-Center coalition, composed of the Democratic Party of the Left (the former Communist Party) and the Communist Refoundation Party, won a majority of seats in both houses of parliament. The Democratic Party of the Left holds the majority of cabinet seats as well.


Ion Iliescu, a former Communist who led Romania since the fall of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, to whom he was a close adviser, has won election to the presidency continuously since 1990.


Vladimir Meciar is the Prime Minister and the head of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, the main party in the ruling coalition. His party won power in 1994 on a strong anti-capitalist platform, winning 34% of the vote, more than three times that of the second place party.


Algirdas-Mykolas Brazauskas, former First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party, was elected President in February 1993. His party, the Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party, the successor to the Communist Party, has won a majority of seats in the parliament.

Czech Republic

The left-wing Czech Social Democratic Party came in a close second in parliamentary elections held May 31/June 1, 1996. The ruling conservatives need the support of the Social Democrats to govern. The parliament elected the leader of the Social Democrats as its new chairman.


In October 1995, The Socialist Party won the general election. The following January, the SP candidate, Jorge Sampaio, won election as President -- the first time both the government and the president have been of the same political party since democracy was restored in 1974.


In November 1994, Imomali Rakhmonov, former Communist, was elected president and is still in office.


In March 1995, the voters decisively ousted the pro-market ruling coalition in favor of a coalition advocating greater commitment to social protection and vowing to rein in "cowboy capitalism". This coalition is still in power, but it has not abided by the voters' mandate, ruling more from a center-right perspective.


Despite numerous highly questionable practices of Boris Yeltsin and his media (plus the best efforts of the United States), the Russian Communist Party, during the period of 1994-96, was the largest single bloc in the lower chamber of parliament. One of its members was the speaker. Former Soviet Communist Party Politburo member, Yegor Stroyer, was chosen chairman of the upper house of parliament. The party's leader, Gennady Zyuganov, came in a close second in national elections in 1996.


In May 1996 parliamentary elections, the Communist Party won 33 percent of the vote, coming in second to the 34.5 percent won by the governing center-right coalition.

Sri Lanka

August 1994: A Socialist alliance (People's Alliance Party) was the top vote getter in parliamentary elections.


A coalition, variously described as leftist and center-left, came to power in May 1996 elections. Leading Communist Party officials were picked to head the powerful Home Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry, the first Communists to be part of an Indian government since independence in 1947.


In November 1994, the King appointed as Prime Minister, Man Mohan Adhikary of the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist, after the party won a plurality of seats.


In July 1996, a populist candidate, with strong support among the poor and disenfranchised, Abdala Bucaram, won the presidency with some 54 percent of the vote. [His regime turned out to be not progressive at all.]


In June 1996, left-wing politician Olafur Ragnar Grimsson was elected president with 41 percent of the vote, to his right-wing opponent's 29 percent.


The electoral trend described above in the former Soviet republics and Eastern European satellites, reflecting broad dissatisfaction with the newly-introduced capitalist way of life, was not permitted by the United States to blossom into progressive social change or simply to go where it might go. Washington intervened in these countries in the many ways Washington is expertly practiced at.
Although these words are a little over 15 years old, they offer a prologue to the present. We are now nearing the probable end of the most recent phase of capitalism (its long demise started late last decade), and are in the midst of a transition away from the US as a hyperpower. We are also in the midst of a revival of anti-capitalist leftism throughout the world.

Some of the nations have changed, and the names have changed, but the song seems pretty similar. These days, we might be discussing a bloc of socialist and center-left nations in South and Central America, or the rise of Syriza in Greece, a revived New Left movement in Latvia, or any of a number of other anti-capitalist movements throughout the US and Europe. As was true in the 1990s in the wake of the collapse of the USSR, parliamentary and extra-parliamentary efforts by socialists have been mixed, but persistent. There has been a revival in interest in Marx and Marxism in the academy since the dawn of the current century, after such research being somewhat moribund since the 1980s. Change is in the air, intellectually, in the parliaments, and on the streets. Suffice it to say, such revivals do not go unchallenged, and if past is any indicator, the global CEO class has plenty of dirty tricks up its sleeve.

All that said, I'd offer a rejoinder: We are not going away, and remain a living reminder that contrary to conventional Villager "wisdom", a new world is truly possible.

Note: The chapter I printed was made available by William Blum on his website, and I am including it in full in the spirit of fair use. I've purchased and read some of his work in the past, and would certainly have no qualms in directing interested readers into exploring more of his work.

Bolshevik Revolution

While preoccupied elsewhere, I realized that the date of the 95th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution just recently passed. To think, barring a some catastrophe, I shall be alive for the 100th anniversary in a few short years. So much has changed in that intervening period. The USSR has come and gone. And yet the ideas espoused by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and others continue to be discussed, acted upon, and lived. The struggle continues...


I noticed this post over at The Crow's Eye a few weeks back. I don't know if it is Jack Crow who is sick, or a loved one. In any case, since I cannot leave a post over at his blog, I'll offer some good vibes from here instead, in the hopes that it gets read by the intended recipient. By all means, "ride well for as long as you can."

Ian Welsh is optimistic

After reading his postmortem of the Indecision 2012, I have to say that the future's so bright I need to wear shades. This bit in particular:
The Republican party are reactionaries, who want to repeal the 20th century.  The Democrats are conservatives.  There is no major left wing party in the US.  Since avowed left-wingers won’t even vote for third parties in states where Democrats will win for sure, like New York, third parties can be written off for the time being, especially on the left.  If there is a third party which will rise, it will be on the right.
We have two major parties - one that is essentially fascist (and I don't use the term lightly), as I don't know how else to characterize a party that is fundamentally nationalist, corporatist, and wed to religious fundamentalism. The other is akin to the UK's Tories. I have plenty of liberal/progressive friends and acquaintances who would take offense at that characterization. But given the last 20 years especially, I really don't know how else to characterize a major party that has bought into neoliberal capitalism hook, line, and sinker. There is no organized left wing in the US. We have sporadic spontaneous movements (in the sense that Lenin might use the term), but nothing that is really sustained. That is, to make a huge understatement, a problem. I've said for a long time that those of us who are anticapitalists need to realize we have a lot more in common, put aside sectarian differences, and march together (both literally and metaphorically). The time to do so is now.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Indecision! Indecision! Indecision! Postmortem! Postmortem! Postmortem!

I noticed that from a more liberal (what we used to say back in my day) or progressive (what is the current terminology) perspective, Avedon Carol offered her own postmortem, and links to even more lib/prog postmortems.

Indecision 2012 postmortem mania!

Another by Lenin's Tomb:
But there is still a profound problem. For all that there was a healthy debate in parts of the Left, none of the third party challengers had much to show for their efforts. The Green Party, as the most likely challenger from the left of the Democrats, got a fraction of a percent. There was no serious momentum for the Greens or any other left candidate, although some long established activists like Joanne Landy backed the campaign. Most left liberals, people like Michael Moore, rallied behind Obama rather than risking a repeat of 2000 and the ensuing Bush presidency. Lesser-evilism won the day. This means that much of the left's energy has gone into producing this result rather than organising to force a popular agenda on the White House whoever its inhabitant might be. This means that the Democrats' political control of the working class isn't going to be challenged in the near future. This means that the dominance of the 1% isn't going to be challenged in electoral terms. This means that the reconstruction of the US empire continues, with Obama's supporters thus far largely not taking to the streets. And it's a vicious circle. The longer the Democrats' monopoly on the left-of-centre vote continues, the more the idea is perpetuated that any attempt to break this monopoly is a pointless indulgence, a propagandistic idea that will at best waste time and at worst let the Republicans in.

The rational kernel in this harangue is that a third party alternative can't just be declared; the election results show this. Electoral realignment is invariably a product of a profound politicisation in the base of society, generalising from a number of concrete struggles and antagonisms, whereby people learn in practice that they need to break from their dominant party. There have been several high profile struggles in the US in recent years, but these have either tended to reinforce the dominance of the Democratic Party in the working class, or they have been defeated (often both, as in Wisconsin). So, absent the outbreak of a series of unpredictable social conflicts, popular fights over repossessions, racism, reconstruction after Sandy, jobs, public sector 'reform' and so on, any third party challenge is unlikely to get very far. This rational kernel is, of course, what gives a respectable sheen to what is otherwise reflex loyalty and bullying.

One can only hope that the customary election and post-election interval, during which the majority of the US Left shuts down its activities and campaigns in order to get Democrats elected, will be mercifully brief on this occasion.

Indecision 2012 postmortem

One of the better summaries can be found here: The capitalist crisis, Obama's re-election and the US Left. It's a useful reminder that lesser-evilism can only take us so far. American politics is clearly very dysfunctional. On the one hand, we have a right-wing that is so out of touch with reality that its base can be convinced that billionaire NYC mayor Bloomberg is representative of an anti-capitalist hard left. If you can believe that, you need your meds adjusted. Just sayin'. At the same time, it is clear that although there are some legitimate lefitst stirrings here in the US (see for example the Occupy movement that sprang into existence in the fall of 2011), we really don't have a truly organized left with a coherent theoretical orientation capable of making any meaningful changes - either in a parliamentary or extra-parliamentary sense. We only know that we as a nation rejected a more bitter form of neoliberal capitalism (combined with radical authoritarian nationalism) for a softer neoliberal capitalism with some semblance of social tolerance. Not exactly change we can believe in.

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