PCS: hold the Socialist Party and Serwotka to account!

February 12, 2015 at 6:57 pm (AWL, democracy, elections, posted by JD, Socialist Party, unions)

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka speaking at the union's 2012 annual conference

Above: Mark Serwotka

By James Marine (at the Workers Liberty website)

The Socialist Party (SP) has defended the PCS civil service union’s decision to “suspend” national and Group elections for up to a year. (Groups are the major sub-parts of the union.)

The SP headlined its article: “PCS: Safeguarding its future in the face of vicious Tory attacks”.

“Faced with a temporary but very sharp drop in income as a result of check-off ending, the PCS National Executive Committee (NEC) has had to make difficult decisions to cut expenditure, including suspending for one year the union’s annual elections”.

This is nonsense. Yes, the PCS is facing a financial tough time but not so bad that it cannot afford elections. (Even Greece can afford to vote).

The elections would cost about £650,000 to run yet the union’s magazine costs £700,000 a year to produce. Instead of putting that publication online for a year, the NEC choose to keep it whilst dumping elections.

Then there are full time officer wages. PCS is being colonised by SP members. If they lived up the SP’s policy of full time officers (FTOs) being paid a workers’ wage, then we could “afford” democracy.

The union is selling its headquarters for £25 million. A big chunk of that will plug the hole in one of the union’s pension schemes. Yet there will be more than enough left over to run several elections, let alone just one this year.

Our affiliation to the TUC costs nearly £650,000. In a choice between members having a vote on who represents them or paying hundreds of thousands to the TUC and subsidising Francis O’Grady’s lifestyle, having a vote wins hands down.

In other words there are plenty of ways to afford democracy but the SP doesn’t want them.

By suspending the elections the SP using a real crisis to avoid being judged by the members. There is a good chance this year that the SP would lose seats on the Executive. That could mean putting a proposed merger with Unite in danger.

The Socialist Party and PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, must be condemned across the labour movement. Their actions are disgraceful. If the right wing did this then there would be howls of indignation from the left; because it is Mark Serwotka [known as a leftist and presently in very poor health – JD], the criticism is muted at best. The SP, and Mark Serwotka, have crossed a fundamental line and must be held to account.

But course the best method of accounting, national elections, has been denied members for the time being. When the time comes, then the SP and Mark Serwotka must be driven out of office.

Addendum: in a further article in The Socialist, John McInally (PCS vice president and Socialist Party member) launches into what can only be described as a near-hysterical rant against Unison and critics on the left. At one point (towards the end of the piece) McInally even compares PCS’s refusal to hold elections with the NUM’s decision not to ballot its members in 1984 – a ludicrous comparison with a union that (rightly or wrongly) took a tactical decision in the heat of a major industrial dispute. It’s bizarre, desperate stuff that may well be a sign that the SP feels under pressure – maybe from some within its own ranks – JD

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Apologies to the heroic Kurdish liberators of Kobane!

January 31, 2015 at 4:40 pm (anti-fascism, democracy, good people, Human rights, islamism, Jim D, kurdistan, liberation, Middle East, misogyny, Syria, terror, war, women)

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YPG fighters celebrate their victory: note the gender of many of them. 

Over at That Place, Gene has noted the lack of coverage on leftist blogs and websites, of the wonderful news of the defeat of the ISIS (aka Daesh) occupiers of the Syrian border town of Kobane, at the hands of heroic Kurdish forces.

Gene mentions That Place’s own coverage (fair enough), and quite correctly gives credit to Tendance Coatesy‘s coverage, which has been exemplary. I found myself nodding along in agreement, hoping that the silence of much of the left is not symptomatic of any residual sympathy with Islamism, “blow-back” nonsense, or a lingering belief in that highly sophisticated Tariq Ali-ish political philosophy “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.”

Then it dawned on me that over here at Shiraz we’ve so far said nothing. So, for the record:

Shiraz Socialist unreservedly apologises to the heroic fighters of the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga, for our delay in celebrating your marvellous victory over the fascists and mass rapists of Daesh / ISIS in Kobane. We can only offer you our assurance that this delay is not the result of any political reservations about the justice of your struggle or the need for all principled leftists to give you unqualified support.

Your victory in Kobane is a huge physical and symbolic blow to Daesh’s ambitions.

We celebrate reports that Daesh have lost more than 1,000 fighters since it began its advance on Kobane in September 2014 in an attempt to control the border between Syria and Turkey. At one point the fascist-rapists had taken over most of the city.

Air raids by the US-led coalition undoubtedly helped the anti-fascist struggle, but the credit for this great victory must go the Kurdish forces. The role of women fighters is especially glorious and must be celebrated. As Gene notes:

“One way of countering Islamic State propaganda and recruitment in the West is the widest possible distribution of photos and videos of the female fighters who helped defeat IS– living proof that not only is IS losing, it is losing to women who will fight and die rather than submit to the forced marriage and sexual slavery which IS claims is its right.”

Death to fascism in all its forms! Victory to the Kurds! Victory to democratic, secular socialism!

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Syriza and the Independent Greeks: a Kremlin connection?

January 28, 2015 at 8:36 pm (anti-semitism, capitalist crisis, democracy, elections, Europe, Greece, populism, posted by JD, Russia, strange situations)

Make no mistake: Syriza’s victory is an inspiring moment for the working class of Greece and the left throughout Europe and beyond. Shiraz Socialist is not about to join the bleating chorus of sectarians, Stalinists and other defeatists who have already begun predicting a sell-out by the new government. Some of these people on the UK left are well described here by Comrade Coatesy.

However, it has to be admitted that Syriza’s coalition deal with the far right wing anti-immigrant (and on occasion, antisemitic) Independent Greeks party (ANEL) is disappointing and worrying. The following disturbing article from Anton Shekhovtsov’s blog, offers a possible explanation for this unlikely alliance. We cannot vouch for the accuracy of what the author claims, but his theory certainly makes sense and is at least worthy of serious attention:

Greek left-wing SYRIZA forms a coalition with the pro-Kremlin far right

After a landslide victory in the early parliamentary elections held on 25 January 2015, the Greek Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) that secured 149 seats in the new parliament has surprised the left-wing voters and sympathisers by agreeing to form, already on 26 January, a coalition government with the far right Independent Greeks party (ANEL) that now has 13 seats. Popular support for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn led by currently imprisoned Nikolaos Michaloliakos has slightly decreased: the neo-Nazis have secured 17 seats (one seat less than in 2012), but the Golden Dawn is still the third largest party in Greece.

Both SYRIZA and ANEL are so-called “anti-austerity parties” implying that they oppose reducing budget deficits as a response to the Greek financial crisis, as well as rejecting the austerity package put forth by the EU and the IMF. The “anti-austerity” platform may seem the only agenda that has drawn the two parties they share, but they also share a similar approach to foreign policy issues – an approach that may undermine the EU unity over the Russian threat.

Both parties are overtly pro-Russian, and SYRIZA’s leader Alexis Tsipras denounced the sanctions against Russia imposed by the EU for Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its invasion of Ukraine that has already cost Ukrainians thousands of lives. In May 2014, i.e. already after Russia had started its invasion of Ukraine, Tsipras travelled to Moscow to meet Vladimir Putin’s major allies such as Valentina Matviyenko, chairman of Federation Council of the Russian Federation, and Aleksey Pushkov, chairman of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee. Both Matviyenko and Pushkov are sanctioned by the US, while Matviyenko is also sanctioned by the EU. This did not prevent Tsipras from holding a meeting with her.

Valentina Matviyenko and Alexis Tsipras at a meeting in Moscow, May 2014

According to Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin, writing in 2013,

In Greece, our [i.e. Russia’s] partners could eventually be Leftists from SYRIZA, which refuses Atlanticism, liberalism and the domination of the forces of global finance. As far as I know, SYRIZA is anti-capitalist and it is critical of the global oligarchy that has victimized Greece and Cyprus. The case of SYRIZA is interesting because of its far-Left attitude toward the liberal global system. It is a good sign that such non-conformist forces have appeared on the scene.

The pro-Russian sentiments of SYRIZA were manifested, in particular, in its voting behaviour in the European parliament. For example, on 16 September 2014, when the European Parliament ratified the EU-Ukraine Association agreement – an agreement that was one of the reasons of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – all six MEPs of SYRIZA voted against the ratification of this agreement.

If SYRIZA is Russia’s “Trojan horse” in the EU, then ANEL led by Panos Kammenos may be even worse.

ANEL (founded in February 2012) is a far right party that Daphne Halikiopoulou and Sofia Vasilopoulou describe as “highly conservative and nationalistic right-wing”. In its opposition to immigration and multiculturalism, ANEL is similar to, yet is more moderate than, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. ANEL is also prone to conspiracy theories. For example, as argued by Pavlos Zafiropoulos, ANEL and its supporters believe that the Greek government “is spraying the populace from airplanes with mind-controlling substances”. Anti-Semitism is not alien to ANEL either: “Panos Kammenos, speaking on a TV program made the baseless claim that Jewish people in Greece are not taxed in contrast to Christian Orthodox Greeks”.

The driving force behind the pro-Russian approach of ANEL seems to be Gavriil Avramidis, who was elected MP with ANEL in Thessaloniki in 2012. He is also head of the Patriotic Social Movement “Greek-Russian Alliance” founded in 2001 and aimed at widening co-operation between Greece and Russia.

Yet Avramidis may be not the only politician in ANEL who is lobbying Russian interests in Greece. Kammenos visited Moscow in the first half of January 2015. Moreover, an article titled “An Attempt at Reviving the Russian Party” that was published on 22 January in the Greek Russian-language newspaper Afinskiy Kurer (Athens Courier) discussed the pro-Russian approach of ANEL in general.

An article titled “An Attempt at Reviving the Russian Party” published in Afinskiy Kur’er (Athens Courier). Gavriil Avramidis is featured on the central photo

Several questions remain, however. Are pro-Russian sentiments indeed important for ANEL? Will ANEL contribute to the strengthening of SYRIZA’s pro-Russian positions? Will the new coalition government push for lifting the EU sanctions against Russia that is escalating its invasion of Ukraine?

Doubtlessly, Russia will try to capitalise both on the victory of SYRIZA and the formation of the SYRIZA/ANEL coalition government. Putin has already congratulated Tsipras on his party’s victory saying that he is “confident that Russia and Greece will continue to develop their traditionally constructive cooperation in all areas and will work together effectively to resolve current European and global problems”. BBC correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse, currently in Athens, reports that he has seen the Russian ambassador Andrey Maslov entering the SYRIZA main office.

Kammenos’ visit to Moscow was most likely connected to the possibility of the formation of the SYRIZA/ANEL coalition government. At the same time, Avramidis visited the General Consulate of Russia in Thessaloniki on 23 January 2015, i.e. just a few days before the parliamentary elections, to discuss, with Consul General Aleksey Popov, the renewal of the cooperation between Greece and Russia, as well as lifting the sanctions against Russia.

(left to right) Russian Consul General in Thessaloniki Aleksey Popov and MP Gavriil Avramidis, 23 January 2015, Thessaloniki

Since the EU is a consensus-based organisation, imposing or tightening sanctions against Russia requires all the Member States to agree to such moves. Hence, the issue of sanctions may become a negotiating point for the new Greek authorities when they meet with more influential EU players to renegotiate the terms of the bailout programme for Greece. SYRIZA and ANEL are “anti-austerity” parties in the first place, so their pro-Russian sentiments may increase the cost, rather than contribute to lifting or blocking, of the EU sanctions against Russia.

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After the Syriza victory: for a United Front of the left throughout Europe!

January 25, 2015 at 9:24 pm (democracy, Europe, Greece, posted by JD, solidarity)

The epitome of the election campaign for 25 January of Greece’s main right-wing party, New Democracy, is ND
candidate Makis Voridis — former member of a neo-fascist youth organisation and minister of health in the last government, using language from the Greek civil war of the 1940s and asking people to defend the values of “Country, Religion, and Family” against Syriza’s “communist threat”.

ND leader and outgoing prime minister Antonis Samaras escalates this argument with statements in defence of Orthodox Christianity and getting himself photographed next to the fence and barbed wire on the border in Evros (the area of Greece next to the border with Turkey).

Samaras and his party and their media parrots present Syriza as the carrier of seven plagues which will take us out the euro and into an “Asia Minor catastrophe”; lead to a flight of bank deposits and a stock market crash; make farmers will lose their European subsidies; destroy pensions; demolish the barrier in Evros and flood us with immigrants; disarm the police so that criminals and terrorists will invade our homes and kidnap our kids…

The ruling class-memorandum system, having long lost the ability to convince the people and achieve the general consensus that the interests of the bourgeoisie represents the general social interest, has reversed its strategy: it identifies Syriza with the general social disaster!

While Samaras intensifies his strategy of fear, the European chancelleries and IMF leaders have already ceased to be unanimous, with a sizeable proportion of conservative leaders saying that they will respect the verdict of the Greek people. Ruling-class voices are asking for respect for the verdict of the Greek people and of the right for Syriza to demand measures to stimulate growth and to write off the non-viable debt.

The US administration is tired of the way the EU has handled the financial crisis from 2009; fears that slowing global growth will have a negative effect for the US economy; and wants change in economic policy both from the “strong” Eurozone countries and from the ECB itself.

Two Reactions

Mainstream economist Willem Buiter says: “It would be a huge disaster if Greece abandoned the Eurozone .The markets would begin to ask what country would be the next candidate for withdrawal…

“The German government knows that if Greece is out of the euro the whole Eurozone will be exposed “.”If Germany continues to insist on maintaining the existing monetary and financial policy in the euro zone, the euro cannot survive politically. The situation is extremely serious. Never before was I as worried as I am today”.

The chief economist of Citigroup says: “The faster the ECB announces the purchase of bonds, the better. There may be a special meeting of the ECB immediately after the Greek elections”.

The mainstream German weekly Die Zeit reports (7 January) that: “In Berlin and Brussels discussions are going on about how a possible compromise with Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras might look… for example… extending the maturity of the outstanding loans” [i.e. postponing when they have to be repaid].

There are different reactions within Syriza and within the left. Some express an untenable confidence that the eurozone will almost definitely tolerate the write-off of the debt and the reversal of the austerity in Greece. This assessment sees only one side of reality: the crisis of the system that makes it vulnerable and insecure.

In contrast, much of the left outside Syriza declares that the Syriza government is condemned to surrender to the austerity agenda and there is no scope for manoeuvre. This underestimates the depth of the crisis of the system and the Eurozone and the potential to break the weak links within it.

The Greek bourgeoisie wants to “encircle” and undermine and suppress mutiny against memoranda and austerity, even this relatively timid electoral mutiny. At the same time, because of its own crisis and the destruction of many political reserves, the Greek bourgeoisie cannot have a single strategy and a centre to implement this strategy.

The only thing definite is conflict and confrontation. The outcome of the conflict is not fixed in advance. Austerity will not be reversed without confronting the system, but this will be a confrontation against a capitalist system and a eurozone in deep crisis, which makes them non-omnipotent.

It will be objectively impossible, however, in the not-so-long term, for Syriza to reconcile both sides, the markets and the radical left.

The leaders of Syriza so far base everything on the belief that the EU leaders will backtrack when they start negotiations. They have so far presented no Plan B in the case that the negotiations are unsuccessful. They perceive the threats of the lenders that they will cut off any financial aid to any government that refuses to extend their austerity policies as a bluff.

However, one leader of the majority, John Dragasakis, admitted in a recent debate that if by July no solution has been found, then Greece will not be able to pay the €6 billion due to the ECB then.

The Syriza leaders’ optimistic perspective is not shared by everyone in the party, and especially by the Left Platform, who argue that there will be conflict, but under certain conditions the government of the Left.

The ruling-class side is definitely preparing. It would be tragic for our side not to prepare with the corresponding seriousness and determination, and to cultivate illusions that everything can be done with a tough but still civilised “dialogue”.

We should have four axes

First of all the strict application of Syriza’s “Thessaloniki programme” and its conference decisions: repealing the Memoranda and austerity, restoring workers’ rights, wages and conditions, and removing most of the debt.

Secondly, the awareness of the asymmetry of the correlation of forces. Even after a Syriza election victory, the main centres of powers, economically, socially, and within the state, will be controlled by the enemy. The re-invigoration of Syriza’s rank and file and a new wave of radicalisation are the only way to confront the enemy.

Thirdly, persisting in our argument for a United Front of the Left, despite the refusal of the leadership of the KKE (Communist Party) to promise support for Syriza against the right. We should not forget that there is a decisive difference between electoral power and links with the organised labour movement, and in the organised labour movement, outside-Syriza left forces retain a big role.

Fourthly, the weapon of Syriza and the Greek working class is going to be working class internationalism and solidarity. The prospect of a Syriza victory has generated a wave of solidarity and hope for all the political and social forces that are suffocating within the present neoliberal framework in Europe and all over the world.

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Greece: the prospect of a Syriza victory

January 21, 2015 at 2:30 pm (capitalist crisis, democracy, economics, Europe, Greece, left, posted by JD, solidarity)


The people tried to overthrow the memoranda between 2010-13, but they couldn’t overcome the state’s reaction, the brutality of the police and legal system, the betrayals or lack of planning from their own trade union leaders. It was natural that they started moving away from their political and trade union leaders (from the neo-liberal parties) and place their hopes on Syriza. Their interest was elevated towards the question of power, even in a “distorted” parliamentary way, as a next means of tackling the crisis.

Increasingly, since 2012, it has been up to Syriza to direct the people’s attention towards a reconstruction of the movement on a higher basis, with a friendly government on its side. A Syriza victory and the implementation of some of its urgent measures, could encourage the workers to fight for all they have been deprived of.

There are struggles still going on, such as the laid-off public servants (teachers, janitors, school guardians [caretakers]). Nevertheless demonstrations and strikes have weakened and people in struggle are also are waiting for the elections, at least temporarily. Yet all these struggles (and the recent victorious one, against the lay-offs in the public sector, against the “redeployment” process) have created a mood of public exasperation. That hindered the next memorandum planned by the former government and forced them to resign in the hope that a “left-break” would be short-lived.

If Syriza wins the urgent measures for the first 100 days will, as set out in the Thessaloniki declaration, consist of some measures that we, as DEA, find useful or critical to give confidence to the labour movement. These are:

• Restoration of the minimum wage (up to 751 euros, a 30% raise),

• Restorarion of all the labour laws and the collective labour contracts

• A €12, 000 tax-threshold

• Free health care for all the uninsured

• Abolition of socially unjust taxing

• Free electricity for 300,000 households

• A programme for 300,000 new jobs in the public and private sector.

Not every issue is fully addressed. The question of unemployment and even more urgently that of the evaporated pension funds need more immediate and determined attention. We hope that the movement will push for the most radical solutions, the ones Syriza’s majority faction try to overlook or postpone. But the overall programme of priorities is very promising. Many people hope for half of it to be realised as fast as is being promised. Read the rest of this entry »

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The new Charlie cover

January 13, 2015 at 6:18 pm (anti-fascism, Civil liberties, democracy, France, Free Speech, islamism, media, posted by JD, religion, satire, solidarity, terror)

Mahomet en une du «Charlie Hebdo» de mercredi

Comrade Coatesy writes:

Zineb El Rhazoui, a surviving columnist at Charlie Hebdo magazine who worked on the new issue, said the cover was a call to forgive the terrorists who murdered her colleagues last week, saying she did not feel hate towards Chérif and Saïd Kouachi despite their deadly attack on the magazine, and urged Muslims to accept humour.

“We don’t feel any hate to them. We know that the struggle is not with them as people, but the struggle is with an ideology,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The whole magazine, here

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French leftist writes ‘A letter to my British friends’

January 12, 2015 at 6:40 pm (anti-fascism, democracy, Europe, France, Free Speech, left, posted by JD, republicanism, satire, secularism, solidarity, terror)

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From Mediapart, 11 January 2015:

By Olivier Tonneau.

Dear Friends,

Three days ago, a horrid assault was perpetrated against the French weekly Charlie Hebdo, who had published caricatures of Mohamed, by men who screamed that they had “avenged the prophet”.

A wave of compassion followed but apparently died shortly afterward and all sorts of criticism started pouring down the web against Charlie Hebdo, who was described as islamophobic, racist and even sexist. Countless other comments stated that Muslims were being ostracized and finger-pointed. In the background lurked a view of France founded upon the “myth” of laïcité, defined as the strict restriction of religion to the private sphere, but rampantly islamophobic – with passing reference to the law banning the integral veil. One friend even mentioned a division of the French left on a presumed “Muslim question”.

As a Frenchman and a radical left militant at home and here in UK, I was puzzled and even shocked by these comments and would like, therefore, to give you a clear exposition of what my left-wing French position is on these matters.

Firstly, a few words on Charlie Hebdo, which was often “analyzed” in the British press on the sole basis, apparently, of a few selected cartoons. It might be worth knowing that the main target of Charlie Hebdo was the Front National and the Le Pen family. Next came crooks of all sorts, including bosses and politicians (incidentally, one of the victims of the shooting was an economist who ran a weekly column on the disasters caused by austerity policies in Greece).  Finally, Charlie Hebdo was an opponent of all forms of organized religions, in the old-school anarchist sense: Ni Dieu, ni maître! They ridiculed the pope, orthodox Jews and Muslims in equal measure and with the same biting tone. They took ferocious stances against the bombings of Gaza.

Even if their sense of humour was apparently inacceptable to English minds, please take my word for it: it fell well within the French tradition of satire – and after all was only intended for a French audience. It is only by reading or seeing it out of context that some cartoons appear as racist or islamophobic.

Charlie Hebdo also continuously denounced the pledge of minorities and campaigned relentlessly for all illegal immigrants to be given permanent right of stay. I hope this helps you understand that if you belong to the radical left, you have lost precious friends and allies.

This being clear, the attack becomes all the more tragic and absurd: two young French Muslims of Arab descent have not assaulted the numerous extreme-right wing newspapers that exist in France (Minute, Valeurs Actuelles) who ceaselessly amalgamate Arabs, Muslims and fundamentalists, but the very newspaper that did the most to fight racism. And to me, the one question that this specific event raises is: how could these youth ever come to this level of confusion and madness? What feeds into fundamentalist fury? How can we fight it? Read the rest of this entry »

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PCS leadership suspends democracy

January 6, 2015 at 6:05 pm (democracy, elections, posted by JD, Socialist Party, unions, workers)

The following (20 December) article comes from the website of the PCS activist network Independent Left. See the IL website for numerous other articles and updates on the crisis in PCS, and also the new PCS – Democracy Deferred blog. More on the campaign against this attack on trade union democracy soon.

PCS LEADERSHIP ATTACK OUR UNION’S DEMOCRACY!

In an unprecedented attack on the democracy of our union the rudderless leadership of PCS has announced the suspension of National and Group elections for possibly up to 12 months.

The NEC decision – by the controlling group which risibly calls itself the Democracy Alliance – was on the basis of:

• a mere 15-3 vote (there are 35 members and officers of the NEC);
• without the pretence of consultation with members;
• secrecy – there was not even a prior warning to Branches that an emergency NEC had been called to take this decision.

This profoundly anti-democratic move has been spun by a failed, self deluding, leadership as a necessary defence against the Tories rather than explained for what it is – an attempt to avoid an election while they try and cope with the financial and organisational crumbling of the Union in the face of Government attacks.

Only the self-deluding would-be spinmeisters of the PCS leadership could begin the report of their decision to suspend NEC and GEC elections, i.e. to “re-elect” themselves without the bother of a membership vote, with the statement: “Bold financial decisions are being taken by the NEC to ensure the union’s stability”!

The dedicated PCS member has to read approximately another 90 more words before finally learning that one of these “bold financial decisions” is a fundamental breach of the Union’s democracy; a move which is designed to keep the ruling group in unchallenged power. The explanations are weak, short of detail, and fly in the face of what we have previously been told.

Double standards

If a ‘right-wing’ leadership of PCS had “suspended” the NEC elections, the present office holders would howl with outrage and would have seen through the excuses. The fact that they actually control PCS and in the main consider themselves “Marxists” does not make their actions more but in fact less acceptable: they have higher standards to meet than the old charlatans. Read the rest of this entry »

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Samuel Farber: The Alternative in Cuba

December 28, 2014 at 6:47 pm (democracy, Latin America, posted by JD, socialism, stalinism, United States)

Greta Gabaglio / Shutterstock

By Samuel Farber at the excellent US Jacobin magazine and website.

(Farber was born and raised in Cuba. He is the author of Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959: A Critical Assessment).

*******************************************************************************************************

The Alternative in Cuba

The resumption of US – Cuban relations is a real victory. But Cuban workers face renewed economic liberalization with little political opening.

On December 17, 2014, Washington and Havana agreed to a pathbreaking change in a relationship that, for more than fifty years, was characterized by the United States’ efforts to overthrow the Cuban government, including the sponsorship of invasions, naval blockades, economic sabotage, assassination attempts, and terrorist attacks.

The new accord set free the remaining three members of the “Cuban Five” group held in US prisons since 1998 and, in exchange, Cuba freed the American Alan Gross and Rolando Sarraf Trujillo, a previously unknown US intelligence agent imprisoned on the island for almost twenty years, in addition to over fifty Cuban political prisoners. Far more consequential are the resumption of official diplomatic relations and the significant relaxation of travel restrictions and remittances to Cuba.

The agreement covers the political normalization but not the full economic normalization of relations: that would require Congress repealing the Helms-Burton Act, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996.

Past failures

There were previous efforts to resume political and economic relations between the two countries since the United States broke ties in early 1961. The most important was undertaken by the Carter administration, which in pursuing an initiative originally undertaken by Nixon, renewed secret negotiations with the Cuban government in 1977, when the Cuban exile right-wing in South Florida was still a negligible political force.

The two countries made mutual concessions that included the establishment of diplomatic “interest sections” in Washington and Havana and the lifting of the ban on tourist travel to the island, a restriction later reinstated by Reagan in 1982. In the wake of the Carter-Castro negotiations, the Cuban leader released most political prisoners, of which about 1,000 left for the United States, and in 1979, Cuban-Americans were, for the first time, allowed to visit their relatives on the island.

Yet the reconciliation process came to a halt. While the presence of US troops throughout the world was taken for granted by Washington as an imperial entitlement, the deployment of Cuban forces in Africa became an obstacle to the normalization of relations. Many in the US blamed Castro’s foreign involvement as the decisive reason for the collapse of the talks both under Nixon and Carter. But there were other more important factors at work.

For one thing, the Carter administration was itself divided on the question. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance supported the resumption of normal relations with Cuba, while Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter’s powerful national security adviser, opposed the move. But it was domestic political developments in the US unrelated to Cuba, that ultimately stopped the process.

The American right was becoming agitated over the negotiations concerning the transfer of the Panama Canal back to the Panamanians. In September 1977, Carter suspended negotiations with Cuba until after the Canal treaties were ratified by the Senate.

The suspension turned out to be indefinite. Faced with attack over Panama, the Carter administration decided to shore up its right flank by adopting a tougher posture on Cuba, a stance that was shortly after reinforced by the victory of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, and by the political weakening of the Carter administration as a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis.

American capitalists approve                      

Why did Obama succeed where previous US administrations failed? More than anything else, the end of the Cold War, the departure of Cuban troops from Africa, and the less militant stance of Cuba in Latin America have, through the years, qualitatively downgraded the importance of Cuba in American foreign policy, as witnessed by the fact that practically all US government strategic studies in the last two decades don’t even mention the island. Read the rest of this entry »

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Watch this and then tell us a Labour victory doesn’t matter

November 17, 2014 at 6:21 pm (democracy, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism)

Pete Radcliff writes:

Those who argue that there would be no difference between a Tory or Labour election victory, watch this. If there are any socialists who don’t think they can connect with an election campaign run on these views – if they don’t think our movement will have their hopes raised by such a victory – I would like to know why.
Of course, hope and abstract promises don’t change the world – we would need to organise vigorously to make Labour in power do as much as we can of what we need.
If you don’t think this is the case, let me know. Go for it – I have the day off work (Pete wrote this earlier today-JD)

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