Friday, 29 June 2007

A British socialist says: "Venezuela not an issue for mass mobilisation"

(reprinted from the blog Through The Scary Door) Venezuela provokes debate. It is not easy to define what Bolivarianism is. Chavez has changed notions a number of time. It would be quite easy to label him a 'bonapartist' or 'left nationalist'. We have not seen anything like the Bolivarian revolution for at least 50 years. It is as novel as Arab nationalism or Guevarism was back in the day. So Venezuela should be discussed, as, apparently, the branch of the IST in New Zealand want to do. I would have some doubts (to say the least) about their analysis of "dual power" in Venezuela. There is no rival state power emerging from the struggle. A lot of the initiative has passed upwards, to Chavez and his immediate allies. The last mass uprising, truly and honestly, was in 2004, with the recall referendum. The missions and the communal groups, welcome though they are, have been devised by the Bolivarians as a way of bypassing the old state. State corruption and mismanagement is a hot topic. But there is a missing part of the equation. The UNT, as we know, is wracked by infighting. Unions are the most basic form of working class organisation. If Venezuela simply represents socialism in action then we are wrong to see the working class as central to the process. Marx and Engles were wrong to describe socialism as the working class organised as the ruling class. As this article describes and, as my very slim contact with actual Venezuelans has confirmed, the government is often ahead of the working class, calling for workers control of production before they are capable of doing it on any kind of mass scale. The experiments in workers control are actually carefully designed instances of co-management. Without knocking it we have to point out co-management has existed and thrived under capitalism before. Which, in a very roundabout way brings me onto my key points: (1) We are not opposed to the Bolivarian revolution, we would like to see it go further. (2) However, it is not an issue for mass mobilisation. We do not have to agitate. We do not have to look to the model of the united front to tackle this issue. Granted, the IS should be sending as many Spanish speakers over there as often as possible, to find contacts and make whatever impact we can buuuut, over here we can approach it from a propaganistic point of view. (3) There are lots of people who'd like to appropriate Venezuela. Ken Livingstone, for example, has brought Chavez over to Britain (even if he did hide him away in Camden Town Hall) to buff up his left credentials. Our polemic not should be with any Bolivarians who, for one thing, are even more aware of the limtations of Venezuelan society than we are. Our polemic is with people/organisations/networks etc with other ideas of social progress. In 1968-74, within the limtied scope for growth between the Labour and Communist parties, the IS was very successful in recruiting students and young shop stewards. A key part of this was the theory of state capitalism, which lays the stress of building socialism back onto working class self-activity. At the time, the British working class was militant, confident and organised. The argument about workers power was being won on the shop floor. It was self-evident. The IS grew from around 400 to around 4000 members because its theory best served and described the times. In Britain today for most people workers power a theoretical argument, at best something latent. Meanwhile, huge numbers of people are breaking with mainstream politics. The best way to sharpen up people who come over to revolutionary socialism is by getting into the arguments around the Bolivarian revolution. When the next working class upsurge happens in Britain, the more activists we have who are clear in their mind about socialism from below, the better our headstart will be.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Venezuela: Stuart Munckton replies to Lenin's Tomb

(slightly edited for clarity - original version posted here) I agree about one thing with Lenin's Tomb: I wouldn't characterise my comments as "brilliant". I don't mean that as false modesty, just that my comments were initial, rushed thoughts on one aspect of the issues thrown up by the discussion. I stand by the general points, but in some ways it would have been better to have a properly prepared contribution to be the first engagement with what is a very important debate. But that is the price I have to pay for taking too long to get that together, although it is coming ASAP and I certainly hope the result will be brilliant... In the meantime: I think "Lenin's Tomb" proves my main point about the differences being over whether or not you see the actually existing revolutionary leadership as a revolutionary leadership or not. He doesn't. For instance, he thinks the key leader of the revolution, Chavez, remains just a "radical reformist". This ties in to the PSUV question and I stand by my comments. Lenin's Tomb may want to go back and read more carefully what Chris Harman said, quoted approvingly by Callinicos, but also what was stated even MORE clearly and bluntly in the Australian ISO contribution. It is clear that the view is that the PSUV CAN NOT be a revolutionary party.
"[The PSUV] cannot provide an answer to the chaos because it will reflect in itself all the contradictory attitudes within the Chávista ranks ... The attempt to combine in a single organisation what are effectively three different parties cannot overcome the chaos." - Chris Harman, quoted in Alex Callinicos's response to the SW-NZ statement
Note: not, "it will find it difficult to overcome", or "it might not be able to overcome". It is plainly stated that it CAN NOT solve the "chaos", that is the very real internal weakness of the Chavista camp — problems which we can all agree require the construction of a mass revolutionary party to overcome. The obvious implication being the PSUV is not going to be such a party, and even that it *cannot* be such a party. In case this isn't clear enough, take the Australian ISO's blunt, black and white assertion:
"Surely the existence of these various—and in some cases politically hostile—currents would suggest that the PSUV cannot in any sense be conceived as a revolutionary party." - Venezuela: A contribution from the Australian ISO
The statement says it plainly: the existence of competing currents suggest the PSUV cannot IN ANY SENSE be conceived as a revolutionary party. Not much ambiguity there. So I think my points were more than fair enough. This then leads to the broader point about relating to the mass revolutionary movement. The mass revolutionary movement in Venezuela is organising itself through the PSUV. There are now 5.7 million members of the PSUV. No doubt such a huge membership is going to bring with it its own problems, but that is the reality of a difficult struggle. What is plainly clear is that THIS is where the mass revolutionary movement in Venezuela can be found. And, Callinicos and the Australian ISO think this course is wrong and "cannot" succeed. So I think it is more than fair to say that the Callinicos/ISO line does counter-pose what they see as "socialism from below" to the mass revolutionary movement that is organised in the PSUV. What this essentially seems to be saying to me is that this mass revolutionary movement needs to be related to for "tactical reasons", but under no circumstances must it be mistaken for a mass revolutionary movement. The ISO statement also says: "In fact, we need to raise the politics of working class self-emancipation — a politics that is quite different from Chavez's..." I don't think the facts bear this out. There is a lot that is contradictory in the development of the revolution, and in the development of Chavez's revolutionary ideology. But I would argue that this concept, of self emancipation of the working class, is at its heart. He has, especially in recent times, repeatedly made this point, and I think through his actions he has attempted to help facilitate it. I think the course of the revolution has pushed in this direction. I think the role of the social missions and associated mobilisation and organisation of the working people has raised the social level, and also the level of consciousness and organisation of working people in a way that lays the ground work for much more significant revolutionary transformations. Transformations that require a revolutionary working class organised and conscious of itself as a class, to carry out. Chavez has put a drive to spread socialist ideology as one of the five motors for the current phase, and this discussion by all accounts is very widespread and explicitly facilitated by Chavez. It is occurring in grass roots groups through the country, as well as through the new education system attempting to be built, as well as through Chavez himself via speech and his TV show. Even more - the government has now passed a decree that all workers in public and private industry will be able to have four hours PAID off their working week each week to organise socialism study groups. That is, the government is making the bosses pay their workers to study how to overthrow them. And in a time where they used to be producing for the boss. I think the process up to this point has pushed in the direction of, and advanced the cause of, the self emancipation of the working class. And that Chavez has, increasingly, consciously attempted to push this forward. Not just that, but the push for the PSUV has been explicitly couched in these terms. That has set the framework for the struggle for the PSUV to be mass revolutionary party. It has been called for by Chavez as a weapon to advance the self emancipation of the working class, and taken up enthusiastically on the ground by an increasingly radicalised working class seeking to use it to that end. Chavez has been clear - it must be built from below with the fullest and widest discussion on ideology and program. It must be a weapon to unite the militants on the ground to overcome the right-wing bureaucracy within the Chavista movement and especially the state. Whether that is what happens is another story altogether, of course. This will be determined by struggle. This is why the PSUV is so important, baring in mind that it faces huge obstacles and forces within it that don't want this to happen. This is why I think it is very wrong to declare in advance that the PSUV cannot be a revolutionary party, or be a weapon to overcome the internal problems of the Chavista camp. Maybe it won't, but that is the sort of party that Chavez has consciously sort to promote and it is this vision that has inspired and driven millions to join it, far exceeding expectations. The initial developments have revealed this dynamic - the most hostile to the new party have been the most consciously organised right-wing of the Chavista movement: Podemos. They have attacked it pretty clearly from the right, and their leadership appears to be heading to the open camp of counterrevolution (as opposed to their previous role as "counterrevolutionaries in red berets"), or at least attempting to carve out a halfway position. This was seen in their response to the RCTV closure when their leaders said the government needed to "listen" to the opposition students, without out explicitly backing the opposition position, and their leaders made a point of holding meetings with them. The likes of right-wing opposition daily El Universal rewarded them by potraying Podemos as the "sensible", democratic, moderate, wing of Chavismo, and opposition parties have publicly welcomed their opposition to the PSUV and defended it against Chavez's stinging criticisms. Chavez has slammed Podemos's opposition to the new party as being in reality opposition to the socialist direction of the revolution, and stated the leaders are in support of capitalism and are social democrats (which is right) and are almost in the camp of counterrevolution (which seems to be being playing out). Chavez has publicly explained the break as opposition to the deepening of the revolution. Other opposition has come from the Homeland for All Party, not seen as so explicitly right-wing but nonetheless being regarded as having their share of opportunists and bureaucrats concerned for their positions, many of which would be seriously threatened by a genuinely democratic party that unites the militants on the ground. Then there is the Venezuelan Communist Party, whose public reasons for opposing it are right-wing ones that raise the old Stalinist "two-stage theory" of revolution in a country oppressed by imperialism. They state that the revolution is only "anti-imperialist", not yet socialist. Therefore what is needed is a broad front to unite all the social classes, including any patriotic bourgeoisie willing to defend the nation, rather than a united socialist party. Evidence of the push for the PSUV "from below" is that these three parties have all lost significant percentages of their membership who have left to join the new party - especially it seems Podemos and PPT, apparently both believed to be down to as little as 30% of their membership before the PSUV push, according to Federico Fuentes when I interviewed him for GLW a few weeks back. There is a lot more to be said on the question of the role of Chavez and whether or not the central leadership is revolutionary. But I agree with Lenin's Tomb that this is pretty much the numb of the debate. It is a very important debate, and again the New Zealand comrades have done the international socialist movement a great service by beginning and hosting it, and I am glad to see it spread.

Gordon Brown is offering nothing to the millions who opposed the war in Iraq

by Chris Bambery, editor, Socialist Worker (Britain)

Millions of people in Britain will have been pleased to see the back of Tony Blair as prime minister. Many will have greeted Gordon Brown’s start as premier as an opportunity to put an end to the failed New Labour policies of war and privatisation.

Those who have despaired of the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may hope that Brown will have confidence to stand up to George Bush and bring the troops home.

Many will be hopeful that the new cabinet will act on the funding crisis in the NHS, which has led to the sacking of staff and the closure of hospitals and wards across the country, while private companies get rich by leeching off the health service.

Hundreds of thousands of people who are living in overcrowded, substandard and overpriced accommodation will expect policies to deal with the housing crisis.

Yet in accepting the leadership, Brown made clear his devotion to Blair’s policies – in particular to the “strong relationship” with the US, and to Britain continuing to play a central role in the global “war on terror”.

The closest he came to acknowledging the failure of the war was when he said that Iraq had “been a divisive issue for our party and our country” and that his government would “learn lessons that need to be learned”.

But he then concluded that the war had been “necessary”.

Further evidence of Brown’s commitment to militarism came last week as he stood in the pulpit of a Kirkcaldy church to announce his support for replacing Trident nuclear submarines as a defence against “terrorism”.

Failed approaches

But it is not just on the issue of the war that Brown is proving that he is unable and unwiling to break from Blairism.

Anyone who thought that the influence of the super-rich on the government might end is also going to be disappointed.

Brown has signalled that he has no intention of closing a tax loophole that allows some of the richest people in Britain to avoid paying tax.

This ensures that key rich list Labour donors – including steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen, and multi-millionaires Lord Paul and Sir Gulam Noon – had something to celebrate.

In a sign that previous hints of policy change on the privatisation of housing and health would not amount to anything, the new prime minister also made clear his disapproval of some of the more left wing statements made by the contenders for the deputy leadership.

He promised that there will be no return to the “failed approaches of the left”.

The Blair government spent much of the extra funding it allocated for the NHS on a variety of privatisations and maintaining the increasingly costly internal market in health.

The Private Finance Initiative (PFI) is tying health authorities into expensive long term arrangements that benefit corporations rather than patients.

No wonder an anxious John Cridland, deputy director of the bosses’ CBI organisation, told Brown that “to spurn the PFI now would be a huge step backwards for this country”, and urged him to “continue to resist populist calls for the PFI’s abolition and instead champion it”.

Consensus politics

Commentators regard driving Labour into the centre ground of politics as Blair’s great achievement. His hallmark was junking policies that aimed at a fairer distribution of wealth or limiting the power of the large corporations.

The revelation that Brown has approached the Liberal Democrats about joining his new government, by offering former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown a job as secretary of state for Northern Ireland, is an extension of Blair’s political philosophy.

This doctrine seeks to replace the divisions of “left” and “right” with consensus politics, in which neoliberal economics is king and the only thing that separates the main parties is their style and spin.

As if to show the world just how New Labour Brown is, he has declared that the political influence of the unions in the Labour Party is a major obstacle to creating the new political alignment he seeks.

The unions that nominated Brown for leadership – including Amicus, CWU, GMB, T&G and Unison – now find that he will not be returning the favour.

Instead he plans to limit their influence at the party’s conference, which will see “divisive” votes replaced by “consensus” decision making.

The gap between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown is already looking awfully thin.


"No one since Monica Lewinsky has had as close a relationship to an American President as Tony Blair has."

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Louis Proyect: practice should drive theory

(originally posted here) As many of you are aware, there is a debate taking place in the International Socialist Tendency (IST), the state capitalist formation led by the Socialist Workers Party in Great Britain. The New Zealand Socialist Workers Party, an affiliate, has begun to push for a much more positive attitude toward Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution:
Socialists worldwide should be enthusiastic about the Bolivarian Revolution. Socialists worldwide need to engage with the revolution’s leaders, who will be in the PSUV, so there can be a reciprocity of ideas that promotes the global struggle for grassroots self-emancipation. Thus Socialist Worker-New Zealand is looking to forge practical links with our PSUV comrades in a land where socialism is well on the way to becoming a determining force.
In his response to the New Zealanders, Alex Callinicos of the British SWP tries to stake out a position somewhere in-between the New Zealander’s enthusiasm and the kind of hostility expressed in a Chris Harman article from 5 years ago:
Chavez has described the attempts of the upper classes to get rid of him as a “class struggle”. But his response to these attempts has only partially relied on the backing of the country’s poor. After the attempted coup in April he repeatedly called for “national conciliation” between the rich and the poor. Although the US had given some backing to the coup, he declared he was prepared to work to ensure the US government got its oil supplies. And while Chavez denounced neo-liberalism in words, his government’s budget accepted the neo-liberal principle of cuts in government services. The result is that the poor have continued to get poorer. Meanwhile, public sector workers have been faced with job cuts and cancellation of bonuses to which they are entitled.
Although Callinicos et al do not use the term “Bonapartist” to describe Chavez, it is not too difficult to glean this from his response to the New Zealanders:
But exciting though such remarks [a reference to Chavez’s salute to some of Trotsky’s writings] may be for Trotskyists confined to the political margins for two generations, it doesn’t alter the fact that he presides over a bureaucratic state machine that continues to sustain capitalist social relations against the mass movements on which any real revolutionary breakthrough depends. Hence the constant balancing act [ie, Bonapartist] between the state and the mass movements that he is constantly forced into.
Clearly, what’s at work here is the “socialism from below” mindset that I do not find very useful, particularly in Venezuela. While Chavez superficially might be regarded as “from above” because of his military background, there is clear evidence of his close bonds to revolutionary organizations operating at the grass roots level. If I were the IST, I’d pay a little less attention to orthodox Trotskyist figures like the oddly named Stalin Perez and more to the men and women who were members of Causa R and now form the backbone of the Bolivarist movement. They were the first to understand the importance of Chavez’s initiatives and have helped keep the revolution on track, even if they haven’t gotten the kind of attention they deserve. Callinicos tells the New Zealanders that they should be careful and not make the mistakes of the American SWP and the Australian DSP, who were formerly political allies in the Fourth International. The first group has evolved into a grotesque sect-cult while the Australians are doing a good job building a socialist propaganda group under difficult circumstances. Some time ago, Peter Camejo urged them to study the Causa R but they unfortunately seem to prefer the Zinovievist methodology of James P. Cannon, the founder of the American SWP. Callinicos writes:
One reason for adding these notes of caution is to avoid the mistakes that the far left have made over past revolutions in Latin America. For example, in the mid-1980s the Socialist Workers Party (US) and the organization now calling itself the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP) in Australia abandoned the theory of permanent revolution and broke with the Fourth International on the grounds that the 1979 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua had thrown up a ‘new revolutionary leadership’ that rendered the Trotskyist tradition obsolete. This political shift led both organizations in what can be best described as a left Stalinist direction that, for example, led the DSP to try to resurrect the bankrupt formula of the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ in respect of the Indonesian Revolution of 1998. We believe that there is a qualitative difference between the cases of Nicaragua and other Central American struggles in the 1980s and Bolivia and Venezuela today. The geopolitical context has changed dramatically – then the Second Cold War made the Sandinistas and the FMLN in El Salvador key targets in the Reagan administration’s counter-revolutionary strategy, now, as we have noted, Latin American movements confront a weakened and distracted American imperialism. More important still, the Venezuelan and Bolivian struggles are driven by politically diverse popular movements employing the weapons of mass action, and not by national liberation fronts specializing in guerrilla warfare and therefore necessarily distanced from the urban masses that dominated the Central American left a generation ago. All the same, we should learn from the mistakes made by the SWP (US) and the DSP and not to be too quick to proclaim that we are on the verge of ‘a mass socialist international’ centred on Caracas. This doesn’t mean that we should avoid the ‘engagement with the Bolivarian Revolution’ that you advocate. On the contrary, as indicated above, we have made some attempts to do so, and will continue with this. The basis on which this should be, in the first place, solidarity with Chávez and the Venezuelan masses in their clashes with both US imperialism and the Venezuelan oligarchy. Following from that we need to develop closer links between trade unions and the like in our own countries and mass organizations in Venezuela (we have taken some steps in this direction here in Britain, but undeniably a lot more could and should be done). Finally, we should, to the best of our abilities as organizations in countries mostly a long way away from Latin America, pursue dialogue with the different elements of the radical and revolutionary left in Venezuela.
There’s a lot of analysis (most of it incorrect) that is packed into the preceding three paragraphs. Let me try to sort things out as they say in British gangster movies. To begin with, I think it is necessary to avoid thinking in categories such as “permanent revolution” or “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” when it comes to a living revolution. In my own writings on Nicaragua, I have tried to describe the social and economic processes without resorting to formulae that arose from the Russian revolution. When Trotsky developed the theory of the permanent revolution, it was part and parcel of trying to understand what was unique to the struggle against Czarism. But the theory was driven by the data and not the other way around. In general, I find that Trotskyist groups are always trying to shoehorn reality into their pet theories. A much better way to proceed is to study the history of the country in question and develop an analysis that engages with that history and not some other country’s history. While it is easy to take potshots at the transformed FSLN of today, there was every reason to acknowledge their breakthrough in 1970s and 80s. This was the first revolutionary movement to have won the backing of the overwhelming majority of workers and peasants since 1959. It was incumbent on all revolutionaries to study what had worked in Nicaragua, especially the ability of the FSLN to craft a program that was rooted in the Nicaraguan experience. Their ability to raise slogans that connected with the experience of poor peasants and workers was much more critical than where they stood on “permanent revolution”. There is also some confusion on Callinicos’s part about the role of mass action in the Central American revolutions of the 1970s and 80s, which he unfortunately sees in terms of Regis Debray’s foquismo theory:
More important still, the Venezuelan and Bolivian struggles are driven by politically diverse popular movements employing the weapons of mass action, and not by national liberation fronts specializing in guerrilla warfare and therefore necessarily distanced from the urban masses that dominated the Central American left a generation ago.
Actually, the guerrilla warfare in El Salvador only took place after a prolonged series of powerful mass actions were finally drowned in blood by the government. Even after the movement was forced to go underground, the urban masses were deeply involved in the struggle. It would appear that Callinicos is making the same mistake that his comrade Mike Gonzalez has made about the Cuban revolution. Rather than seeing it exclusively in terms of rural guerrilla warfare, it is better to trace the deeper historical roots in the left-nationalist parties such as the Ortodoxos and much earlier institutions and personalities such as José Marti. From this perspective, there is much more in common between the “urban” Venezuela and the “rural” Cuba than seen at first blush. Finally, it would appear that there are certain built-in limits to Callinicos’s goal:
Finally, we should, to the best of our abilities as organizations in countries mostly a long way away from Latin America, pursue dialogue with the different elements of the radical and revolutionary left in Venezuela.
That dialog will be difficult to sustain in the face of IST hostility to the Cuban revolution. Unfortunately for the comrades, there is the obvious political affinity between the Venezuelan, Ecuadorian, and Bolivian heads of state and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. Even the Grant-Woods tendency has been forced to backtrack on its assessment of Cuba, a sea change in the kind of ortho-Trotskyist politics they represent. It continues to astonish me how detached from reality these otherwise sensible comrades are in the face of Fidel Castro’s recent communiqués. Most revolutionaries would greet his words, drafted from his sickbed, as astonishing in their insight and commitment to class politics. Two months ago, Castro wrote an article titled “Where Have All the Bees Gone” that is imbued with the ecosocialist politics of most of his recent articles. He writes:
On our poor and anything but consumerist island, one would be unable to find enough workers to endure the rigors of the harvest and to care for the sugarcane plantations in the ever more intense heat, rains or droughts. When hurricanes lash the island, not even the best machines can harvest the bent-over and twisted canes. For centuries, the practice of burning sugarcane was unknown and no soil was compacted under the weight of complex machines and enormous trucks. Nitrogen, potassium and phosphate fertilizers, today extremely expensive, did not yet even exist, and the dry and wet months succeeded each other regularly. In modern agriculture, no high yields are possible without crop rotation methods. On Sunday, April 1, the French Press Agency (AFP) published disquieting reports on the subject of climate change, which experts gathered by the United Nations already consider an inevitable phenomenon that will spell serious repercussions for the world in the coming decades. According to a UN report to be approved next week in Brussels, climate change will have a significant impact on the American continent, generating more violent storms and heat waves and causing droughts, the extinction of some species and even hunger in Latin America. The AFP report indicates that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forewarned that at the end of this century, every hemisphere will endure water-related problems and, if governments take no measures in this connection, rising temperatures could increase the risks of mortality, contamination, natural catastrophes and infectious diseases. In Latin America, global warming is already melting glaciers in the Andes and threatening the Amazon forest, whose perimeter may slowly be turned into a savannah, the cable goes on to report. Because a great part of its population lives near the coast, the United States is also vulnerable to extreme natural phenomena, as hurricane Katrina demonstrated in 2005. According to AFP, this is the second of three IPCC reports which began to be published last February, following an initial scientific forecast which established the certainty of climate change.
Instead of publishing the sad, sectarian musings of an obscure college professor like Sam Farber, the IST comrades should wake up to reality and publish these twilight thoughts of Fidel Castro that are sure to be studied one hundred years from now as the best that 21st century socialism had to offer.

Venezuela: Lenin's Tomb responds to Stuart Munckton

(This host of this British socialist blog responds to a comment previously posted here. This response was originally posted to the Marxmail mailing list - we have made slight edits for clarity.)

It is not clear that Stuart Munckton is engaging with what Alex Callinicos wrote in the letter that the UNITYblog has reproduced. For example:

1) Nowhere in Callinicos' original letter is it stated, so far as I can see, that 'socialism from below' can be counterposed to the 'mass revolutionary movement' in Venezuela. Quite the contrary, it describes attempts to make links with that movement, and urges further moves in this direction. It simply calls for a recognition of the current limitations, and positive engagement with those very much in mind and understood.

2) Harman's point, quoted in the original, is very clear: there is a certain amount of careerism, backbiting etc among the three main tendencies of Chavismo, and the new party which is being formed doesn't solve that problem. It doesn't say that the party can't work, or that these problems can't be resolved in a positive way. It does mention concerns raised by activists in Venezuela about top-down pressures involved in the party's construction.

In the linked piece, Stuart Munckton says: "The Callinicos/ISO position says, we support the gains and the advances, BUT the most important thing is all the problems and contradictions." I don't see how this can be supported by the original letter: at no point does it say so, for instance. He says: "Callinicos treats it as though the issue is already resolved against the revolution simply because there are contradictory forces at work. It may be a nice idea, but it won't work, therefore maybe revolutionaries should join it "for tactical reasons" but don't have any illusions."

But Callinicos doesn't say that it won't work, or that the issue is resolved against the revolution in the PSUV. He doesn't say either that revolutionaries should "maybe" take part in the PSUV for "tactical reasons", but indicates that this is what has in fact happened, and that the wisdom of this can be a matter of legitimate dispute. Munckton adds: "the Callinicos line doesn't recognise the existing revolutionary leadership as a revolutionary leadership". But Callinicos is entirely correct to point out that so far, Chavez remains a radical reformist. What else could he be? Is it sectarian to say so?

Munckton hopes for "the creation of a revolutionary leadership through" the formation of the PSUV, which he maintains will eradicate the bureaucratic roadblocks experienced by the growing grassroots movement. It is not clear how this will take place simply by unifying the trinity. Yet, for all that, it isn't maintained in Callinicos' letter, so far as I see, that this can't happen, as Munckton avers it is. Callinicos' letter also appears to agree with Munckton that "you relate to this struggle with open arms, and seek to collaborate with and learn from the comrades who are leading it".

The only actual disagreement that I detect here is essentially that the letter from Callinicos doesn't accept that Chavez is currently leading a socialist revolution. Yet Munckton maintains that if you *construe* what is taking place as a socialist revolution with an attempt through the PSUV to create a revolutionary party and with Chavez heading a revolutionary leadership, then you are challenging the capitalist system in Venezuela. This really places too much faith in the power of ideas, even those elaborated by the excellent comrades in New Zealand.

It is possible that the PSUV will eventually become a revolutionary party, and that would involve subordinating the powerful reformist elements within it to the currently less powerful revolutionary current, or even forcing a split: but it is by no means clear that this is the trend. Further, if the reports from Venezuelan activists are accurate in indicating top-down bureaucratic pressures toward the construction of the PSUV, it may not be - I say *may* not be - that the revolutionary grassroots movement, incomplete as it currently is, will be able to take control of the situation.

Quite why Munckton slings his shots at mirages in this critique is unclear. Perhaps there are some things he has left unsaid about the upshot of relating to the struggle with open arms, which is a rather vague formulation. Perhaps he has simply misunderstood the position. Whatever the reason is, it is not a fruitful way of proceeding.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

New contribution on Venezuela from Socialist Voice (Canada)

Venezuela and the International Struggle for Socialism

By Roger Annis and John Riddell

Roger Annis and John Riddell are the editors of Socialist Voice ( The following article appears in issue #128 of this Web periodical.

The dramatic advances of the Venezuelan revolution, and the alliances it has forged with other insurgent peoples and governments resisting imperialism, are creating an historic opportunity to strengthen international anti-imperialist collaboration and rebuild the revolutionary socialist movement worldwide.

Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution is still in its early stages. Yet as it moves forward, it will—like the Russian revolution of 1917 and other great revolutions of the 20th century—become a test for all tendencies in the workers movement, dividing those who identify with and defend real-world revolutions from those who remain in sectarian isolation.

Venezuela's presidential elections in December 2006 delivered a solid mandate for the country's advance toward socialism, in the form of a 63% majority for President Hugo Chávez. A mass movement of workers and farmers has set the goal of socialism and is using governmental power to take decisive steps in that direction. This is creating the most favourable conditions in several decades for socialist advance on a world scale. Socialist Voice aims to link up with other forces internationally to support this development and learn from it.

During the past year, the Venezuelan people and government have moved on many fronts to secure democratic rights and national sovereignty. They have nationalized basic utilities and energy resources that were privatized under preceding regimes. They have implemented measures that enable small farmers to gain secure access to the land. They have created new popular institutions, including "Communal Councils," projected as the first step toward a new state structure based on popular and working-class movements. On the directly political level, the United Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV) is being formed with the goal of enabling rank-and-file activists to take part in controlling and directing the struggle for socialism on a national level. Millions have responded to the call of this new party to join it, and they are pressing to make this party their own.

Venezuela's revolution has been internationalist to its very core, devoting great energy and resources to reinforcing movements for sovereignty in the entire Global South, while winning the acclaim of tens of millions across Latin America. It has allied with socialist Cuba. It has moved energetically to aid and defend the indigenous-based government in Bolivia. It has brought urgently needed aid to the Haitian and Nicaraguan peoples. And it has extended its solidarity with countries in the Mideast that are victims of imperialist war and occupation.

The Bolivarian movement in Venezuela explicitly counterposes its concept of socialism, based on grassroots initiatives and leadership, to the bureaucratic system that led to the downfall of the Soviet Union.

A breakthrough in anti-imperialist leadership

It is important not to exaggerate the gains of the Venezuelan process or to project onto it our own hopes and goals. The revolution is now unfolding within the framework of a struggle against imperialism and for national sovereignty and democratic rights. Capitalism still dominates the Venezuelan economy, shaping the daily existence of working people. Capitalism is now balanced against the growing power of working people, and this uneasy coexistence could continue for some time.

The decisive battleground in the world democratic and anti-imperialist struggle remains the Middle East. The imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan intertwine with the confrontation with Iran, the escalating war against the Palestinian people, and the increasingly explosive conflicts in Lebanon. The imperialists feel growing pressure either to carry out retreats they can ill afford or to undertake new military adventures that could be ruinous for them as well as humanity. Opposition to the war against Mideast peoples is the most urgent task of world solidarity. The course of this great battle will largely determine how far Venezuela's working people can advance before they must confront decisive conflicts with imperialism.

In many regions of the world, including in parts of the Mideast, we see encouraging progress toward new or stronger anti-imperialist organizations and leadership. By far the most important gains in this respect have been registered in Venezuela. It is therefore no surprise that Venezuela's bold stand against the Empire and neoliberalism won acclaim from anti-imperialist activists in the Mideast who were gathered at the March 2007 antiwar and anti-imperialist conference in Cairo, Egypt. (See Socialist Voice #122) Venezuela, in alliance with Cuba, is providing leadership to the world struggle against imperialism and reawakening hopes for socialism among the world's oppressed.

Reshaping the socialist movement

The initial steps toward formation of the new party, the PSUV, have provoked a heated debate among socialists in Venezuela. Divisions have appeared in every major political current in the Bolivarian movement, separating those who favor support for the new party and those who wish to abstain from it. The founding of the new party offers revolutionary forces the possibility to unite against bureaucratic and patronage-ridden political machines and against left sectarianism. It is a creative process that deserves support. The advance in Venezuela will put socialist currents internationally to the test in similar fashion.

Venezuela is an economically dependent and relatively poor country. It has not yet achieved a political and economic transformation in favour of workers and farmers as fundamental as what was achieved by the Russian and Cuban revolutions of the last century. Yet the Venezuelan process is marked by high vision and solid achievement. And its impact is magnified by the fact that it reverses a long downturn of struggles and follows the shattering of Stalinism on a world scale.

For many years, working-class and progressive movements internationally have been on the defensive. The movement in Venezuela provides an opportunity to link up with the power of a living revolution and to win a new generation of fighters inspired by its example. It confirms the need for movements of working people and the oppressed to struggle for political power.

The example of Venezuela, combined with the rise of struggles in other regions dominated by imperialism and the emergence of new anti-imperialist leadership forces across Latin America, the Middle East, and elsewhere, provides an impetus for anti-imperialist unity everywhere. New forces inspired by Venezuela will move into action, both in defense of the Bolivarian revolution and in heightening anti-capitalist resistance in their countries. Currents that are able to learn from Venezuela will find that they share a broadening area of agreement as well as an effective banner for recruitment.

Socialist forces internationally, now divided into many weak and isolated currents, will have a chance to gain new energy and find new areas of agreement with each other and with forces from broader resistance movements. Those that identify with the advancing revolution will find a basis for growing collaboration and fraternal ties.

The role of Socialist Voice

When Socialist Voice was launched in 2004, its editors sought to provide a vehicle for "Marxists and other working-class fighters to forge new links across longstanding organizational barriers and rediscuss their tasks in a dynamic and changing context." We quickly defined a focus: solidarity with the resistance in the Middle East and with the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutions. Socialist Voice supporters have sought to expand our understanding through sharing in responsibility to build these and other solidarity movements.

In the present process of anti-capitalist discussion and regroupment, Socialist Voice is guided by three central ideas:

1. The example of Cuba and Venezuela

Revolutionary socialist politics today rests on a body of working-class experience going back to the time of Marx and Engels and including, as its central element, the Russian Revolution and the early Soviet republic. Today we are witness to two revolutions that demonstrate what working people can achieve through the exercise of political power: Cuba and Venezuela. These two peoples, acting in concert, are now the vanguard of a popular upsurge across much of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Cuban socialist revolution, now half a century old and struggling to recover from the blows of Soviet collapse and the U.S. blockade, continues as an outpost of militant opposition to imperialism and of solidarity with the world's oppressed peoples. The Cuban communists provide Marxist leadership for the world struggle for liberation and human survival. Socialists have an elementary duty to defend Cuba—actively and militantly—against the ongoing U.S.-led blockade and subversion. This entails defending the institutional framework that has enabled Cuba to survive—including its government, armed forces, and instruments of state economic control and planning.

It is no accident that the Cuban communists were the first to perceive the potential of the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela and offer it effective support. Many socialists elsewhere responded skeptically, emphasizing the ways in which this movement deviated from traditional models. Among socialists, fraternal criticism is always in order. But the leadership around Hugo Chávez has so far shown more wisdom than its left critics internationally. Revolutionary socialists, like all anti-capitalist fighters, must study and learn from the lessons of the Venezuelan experience and the experience of Cuba with which Venezuela is so closely allied..

2. Mass action—the only road forward

In imperialist countries such as the U.S., UK, and Canada, the last 25 years have been a period of retreat for most working-class and social movements. Capitalism still appears buoyant and revolution seems a distant prospect. Conditions are far removed from the type of acute social crisis that led to the Bolivarian upsurge in Venezuela.

Yet world capitalist development is marked by increasing political and economic instability and growing class antagonisms, thus hastening conditions for working-class upsurge in imperialist countries. The main lessons of the Venezuelan process are fully applicable to workers' struggles in imperialist countries:

* As Venezuela and Bolivia have shown, electoral victories based on deep-going popular upsurges can advance a revolutionary process. However, lasting political and social change happens only when massive mobilizations of the exploited and oppressed are the driving force.

* Fundamental social change cannot be enacted by capitalist state bureaucracies. Popular movements themselves must take the lead in their implementation. The struggle must uplift all sectors of the oppressed and strengthen their capacity to participate and lead.

* The advance of the anti-capitalist movement requires not just a national strategy but international solidarity and collaboration, support for national liberation struggles, and support for the liberation struggles of indigenous peoples at home and abroad.

* Far-reaching challenges to capitalist power will invariably lead the ruling-class minority to use force, to subvert democratic rights, and to use such abhorrent practices as torture to maintain its control. This can only be parried by the concerted power of mass movements.

* A rising anti-capitalist mass movement will require the building of unified revolutionary parties in each country to lead the struggle to establish and defend a workers' and farmers' government.

3. For inclusive, non-sectarian action

The long period of downturn in working-class struggles in Canada, the U.S., and UK has strengthened tendencies among many socialist currents to give their narrow organizational needs priority over the needs of common struggle. Attempts are often made to impose on united fronts an "advanced" program that would in fact narrow their political breadth. Too often, solidarity committees become limited to the group exercising control and its immediate friends.

Against this trend, the socialist principle of united front requires that all currents that support a progressive goal unite around the common interests of the broader struggle.

Such movements can not only strengthen progressive social struggles; they can also give leadership in their field of activity to the working-class movement as a whole and help clear the road to revolutionary unity.

Socialist Voice argues for labour unity in militant action. Socialist Voice supports all movements through which working people begin to assert their existence as a social class independent of the bourgeoisie and imperialism. Based on this common activity, Socialist Voice seeks to expand fraternal discussion and collaboration with other currents in the resistance, with the ultimate goal of a unification of revolutionary socialist forces.

Tasks and objectives

The goals outlined here are not unique to Socialist Voice — they are shared in whole or in part by other currents and activists in Canada and elsewhere. By placing these goals at the centre of its activity, Socialist Voice seeks to help lay the basis for unification of forces that are marching down this road and for the building of an effective and broadly based revolutionary organization.

Socialist Voice views other anti-capitalist currents not as opponents but as allies, real or potential, which can contribute materially to building a revolutionary socialist movement. Socialist Voice seeks to take advantage of the unifying logic of Venezuela's revolution to build bridges to currents from which we are divided by differences in political history, practice, culture, and theory, and to join forces with the many activists in labour and anti-imperialist movements inspired by Venezuela's example of popular revolution.

We invite those who agree with the concepts outlined here to join us in the discussions and preparation and circulation of publications that make up Socialist Voice.

Stuart Munckton: much common ground on Venezuela

(an edited version of remarks made by Australian socialist Stuart Munckton on the ongoing debate about the Bolivarian Revolution. Original version available here.) The position defended by Alex Calinicos and the Australian ISO is not the same as, for instance, the much more extreme sectarianism of the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), who have a clearer stance of opposition towards the Chavez government. There is much about how the IST has related to Venezuela that is positive - they haven't simply slammed it or refused to offer support against the attacks from imperialism. It is easy to get carried away and fail to recognise this. This is a discussion among comrades who have taken a positive approach to the gains, and see the need to defend the both the gains and the government, although the differences over our approach remain real and very significant - hence the debate. There is much that can, and should be, be said about what is wrong with the analysis put forward by the ISO and Callinicos, but at its essence it represents a sectarian stance towards the actual motion of the class struggle. And whatever else is right or wrong about the position put forward by NZ Socialist Worker (and it isn't exactly the same as the analysis of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, which I belong to) it is ultimately THIS that they are challenging. The NZ comrades have put forward a position that recognises and seeks to proceed from reality as it exists, not an abstract conception of how reality SHOULD exist, which becomes the benchmark by which to judge reality. The Callinicos/ISO position says, we support the gains and the advances, BUT the most important thing is all the problems and contradictions. The NZ comrades have turned this on its head and said, we recognise the limitations and contradictions BUT the most important thing is the advances for the class struggle, that we recognise, support and seek to relate to this. This is regardless of another, although important, discussion which is how far the revolutionary movement has gone in Venezuela in terms of overthrowing the capitalist state and taking concrete anti-capitalist moves. This is important, and there are real differences over this, but it doesn't alter the fundamental orientation needed towards the revolutionary movement. From what I can see, the NZ Socialist Worker has sought to proceed from the reality of the socialist revolution in Venezuela, not from an abstract measurement of a socialist revolution that demands any revolution has to score enough points on a scorecard to be recognised. Sectarianism is not simply saying you don't like those people over there. AWL does that with Chavez, they are quite clear that they don't like or his government much at all. However, the Callinicos position doesn't. The official take of the IST has been to say, yes they DO like Chavez, he is an inspiring figure, and the pro-people policies of his government should be supported. But the position put forward by Calinicos and the ISO are still at heart sectarian, because sectarianism means setting yourself against the movement of the class. The IST position still seeks to counter what it sees as its unique position, called "socialism from below", and counterposes it to the mass revolutionary movement in Venezuela, as it actually exists with all of its existing limitations and contradictions. To me this is the key difference. The Callinicos line raises very real problems and contradictions, ones that are widely recognised in Venezuela including by Chavez, but then sets the process as it currently exists in stone. It is assumed these contradictions can not be resolved in a positive way. So Callinicos quotes Chris Harman saying the reason why the new party won't work is because it has three contradictory currents in it. This suggests that the new party will suffer instability and a struggle will occur over its nature. Why is this going to automatically resolve itself in the negative? Won't this be the product of struggle? And shouldn't we throw ourselves in to this struggle by relating in a positive fashion to it? From what I can see, this is what the NZ comrades are trying to do. They are not standing on the sidelines pointing out why this process is bound to fail, they recognise the problems and dangers but put upfront that socialists understand the significance of this battle and are in solidarity with it. Yes, the bureaucrats might end up in control of the PSUV, but anyone with two eyes can see that there is enormous enthusiasm from the ranks for this party. Five million members shows how keen the rank and file of the revolutionary movement - that is the radicalising working class, as it actually exists - see this new party as a weapon to advance the revolution. This gives an enormous impetus to the struggle to make the PSUV a genuinely revolutionary party. It gives great hope that the contradictions within the party can be resolved in favour of the working class and the revolution. But Callinicos treats it as though the issue is already resolved against the revolution simply because there are contradictory forces at work. It may be a nice idea, but it won't work, therefore maybe revolutionaries should join it "for tactical reasons" but don't have any illusions. This position sets you up AGAINST the actual struggle within the revolutionary process, leaving those who joined this doomed struggle for tactical reasons at the very best going through the motions of a struggle you know you will lose in order not to be completely isolated from the class. For all the talk of "socialism from below" it actually reflects a very negative view of the ability of working people "from below" to win this struggle. The new party seems tainted by its contradictions, and most of all tainted because Chavez has called for it. The role of Chavez is another factor predetermined. It seems it is impossible for him to play an important leadership role in making the socialist revolution. This seems to come down to a moral judgement of Chavez. He is disqualified from helping lead a socialist revolution by the very fact he was elected president overseeing a capitalist state and a capitalist economy. He is ruled ineligible from playing a positive leadership role in advancing the socialist revolution and struggle for workers power. Here we face the same problem of taking a contradiction that leads to a struggle, and in advance assuming it must be resolved in the negative. To have a president at the head of a mass movement pushing ever more in an anti-capitalist direction, that is in the midst of struggle to create a revolutionary state and destroying the old state (leaving aside the discussion about how far this has gone) and urging working people on towards socialism. Essentially, through the struggle, you have had a government arise that is independent of the bourgeois forces that dominate the economy and still a fair part of the state apparatus. This is not sustainable, but is it really ruled out in advance that it this contradiction about the role of Chavez and the government he leads can only be resolved in the negative, with Chavez either turning on the working class or else being overthrown by counterrevolution? In fact both the Comintern in 1922 and Leon Trotsky in the Transitional Program (which Chavez urged Venezuelan people to go and read recently on his nationally televised program) raised the concept of a "workers and farmers government", that is a government independent of the bourgeoisie but which still rests on a capitalist state. Different forms of such a government were conceived of, including one based directly on communist leadership. Obviously, such a situation is not stable and can only be transitional to a workers state the reestablishment of bourgeois control over the government. Such a government has to move to work to dismantle the bourgeoisie state and replace it with a revolutionary one. Such a thing can only be achieved by the working people themselves - the role of such a government is to encourage and help lead this process. There is a fair chunk of evidence that this is the course Chavez is on at the moment and important gains are being made, but lets leave that aside and ask whether such a thing is even possible according to the approach taken by Callinicos/ISO? Such a course of action appears to be written out as not applicable. So yes, the struggle has to be "from below", that is it can not be decreed by Chavez or anyone else but must be made on the ground by the working people themselves. But we all acknowledge that leadership is important and here we get to the nub of the question. Chavez appears to be ruled ineligible from being a central part of that leadership. He is "stained" by having gotten himself elected into the office of president. It would be much cleaner, of course, if the Venezuelan revolution has not gone through and made use of the bourgeois electoralism at all. If the workers had simply risen up, formed soviets and smashed the bourgeois state in one fell swoop back in 1999. But they didn't. The struggle to resolve the needs of the working people and their allies placed Hugo Chavez in Miraflores palace on a platform to achieve change. The subsequent struggle against the implementation of the platform has created a massive class struggl. This has radicalised both the impoverished mass and Chavez, pushed the process forward, made some important gains both social and political and placed the question of socialist revolution immediately on the cards. That is the reality of the Venezuelan revolution. The revolution has reached this point through a course determined by the Venezuelan reality, regardless of whether or not this was the most ideal way for it to go. The real question is not about "socialism from below" at all. This is really a tautology anyway. Socialism involves the fundamental transformation of social relations on a massive scale - it can only be made by the working class. You cannot create socialism except "from below" (ie: made by the working class). It is actually about the fact that we all recognise that revolutions require revolutionary leadership and the Callinicos line doesn't recognise the existing revolutionary leadership as a revolutionary leadership. Of course, this revolutionary leadership is very much a work in progress. There is the leadership on a national level centred in the figure of Chavez. That so much authority is vested in one individual is a weakness, but again there is no point complaining because reality is not perfect. There is also the emerging revolutionary grass roots leaderships in communities and workplaces. Both are seeking to push the process forward and have been blocked to varying degrees by bureaucracy that controls much of the state apparatus. The new party is an attempt to overcome this problem, to deepen and strengthen the grass roots leadership that is arising to break down the road blocks. Whether this can happen, whether the broad based mass revolutionary leadership required to decisively take the revolution forward will be created or not, will be the product of struggle. The problem seems to be that the Callinicos position rules out in advance the possibility of the creation of a revolutionary leadership through such a process, and deny the important gains already made along this line. It isn’t how the IST have always said it should happen, so rather than conclude maybe there is a need to broaden the IST's understanding of how the possible ways a revolution can occur and the different roads to solve the problem of revolutionary leadership the class struggle might throw up, the problem is concluded to be with the Venezuelan revolution. Chavez simply can't be a revolutionary leader, and the revolution simply can't occur in such a way. This is why you can have generally positive attitude to the gains of the revolution, as the IST does. You can defend it against attack, as the UK SWP did in the pages of their press against the media onslaught over the RCTV decision, an article that is hard to fault. But if you acknowledge that there is a socialist revolution and that Chavez is attempting to lead it, and if you support the struggle for a revolutionary party to take it forward that is underway — as the NZ comrades have done — then you challenge something much more fundamental. This is obvious from the way the discussion has explicitly raised the question of IST organisation. The New Zealand comrades have pointed out the obvious, which is when discussing how socialists should relate to each other internationally, you must take into account and seek to relate those currently leading a socialist revolution. They take this approach despite acknowledging the unfinished nature of the struggle for power, and despite the weaknesses, such as in the organised workers movement. The Callinicos line, on the other hand, seeks to use these things as an excuse not to proceed from such a position. It doesn't mean, as Callinicos implies, that this means creating a new "international centre" in Caracas. It doesn't mean denying the steps still to be taken and the potential for the process to be derailed. It means that you relate to this struggle with open arms, and seek to collaborate with and learn from the comrades who are leading it, many of whom come from a wide variety of traditions and reflect, within the revolutionary process, various positions. June 20, 2007

Monday, 25 June 2007

Angela Davis

Moira Nolan looks at Angela Davis, who has campaigned against racism and injustice for over 35 years

In October 2004, the Not In My Name US anti-war coalition took out a full page advert in the New York Times condemning the war in Iraq.

Among the high profile academics and Hollywood stars uniting to oppose George Bush’s war was Angela Davis — a key figure of the black liberation movement in the 1970s.

Davis was catapulted to international renown in 1970 when the FBI put her on its Most Wanted list and issued an “Armed and Dangerous” poster of her — in those days an invitation to any racist cop in the US to gun her down in cold blood.

Yet for millions of black Americans Davis was a symbol of the movement to end the institutionalised racism of the US—and especially its prison system.

As a child in the 1940s Davis grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, in an area known as Dynamite Hill because of the vast number of black American houses firebombed by the Ku Klux Klan.

The 1960s civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war campaigns were springboards for radical change and brought Davis into struggle.

By the late 1960s the mass non-violent campaigns that led to desegregation across much of the South, led by Martin Luther King, had impacted across the whole country.

Black communities were involved in struggles against discrimination in jobs and housing, especially in northern cities such as Chicago and Detroit.

A minority began to see that real liberation for black people could only come about with economic justice and linked individual battles to a wider struggle against the entire capitalist system.

The more radical elements of the black liberation movement began to reject non-violence in the face of the increasing brutal response of the US government.

Organisations such as the Black Panther Party argued for the carrying of arms to use in self defence in the ghettos.

Davis was a Black Panther and a member of the US Communist Party. She argued, “The only true path of liberation for black people is the one that leads towards a complete and total overthrow of the capitalist class in this country.”

Her key campaigning focus was the justice system in the US — she railed, and continues to do so, against the way that the law is used to perpetrate great injustice against black people in the US.

The case of George Jackson was an example of this. He was arrested at 18 for stealing $70 from a petrol station and ended up serving over ten years in jail — seven years in solitary confinement. In 1971 he was killed in a prison riot in the notorious Soledad jail.

From her “respectable” position as a lecturer in philosophy at the University of California, Davis had played a key role in the Soledad Brothers Defence Committee to “Free George Jackson”.

Her uncompromising stance led to an attempt to sack her from her post in 1969.

Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, spearheaded a witch-hunt to get Davis sacked. This met massive resistance across campus and beyond — more than 1,500 students now attended her lectures.

Reagan succeeded when the US state found an excuse to carry his persecution of Davis onto a higher level.

As the movement for black liberation dissipated, the government carried out widespread repression of the Black Panthers.

Some 20 leading members were killed in 18 months and leading figures such as Huey Newton and Bobby Seale unsuccessfully framed for murder.

Davis was accused of supplying guns to Jonathan Jackson, George’s brother. He invaded a California courthouse and took hostages in an attempt to free two black Soledad inmates on trial.

The subsequent FBI manhunt for Davis could easily have led to her death.

After her arrest in New York, Davis was detained for 18 months and became the subject of the kind of campaign for justice she had led for others. She was receiving up to 400 letters a day from around the world.

Her writing from this period is passionate and polemical, and often contains a sharp analysis of race and class.

Women, Race and Class, Davis’s most widely read book, attempts to understand the dynamic between oppression and exploitation in capitalist society.

Her analysis sharply differs from the dominant ideas of many leaders of liberation movements in seeing the struggles for women or blacks as ones that need to engage wider sections of society.

Davis’s engagement with the modern anti-war movement is a testament to her belief that, collectively, we have the power to order the world anew.

Also in the Revolutionary women series:
» Constance Markievicz
» Alexandra Kollontai

Friday, 22 June 2007

George Galloway MP- A social revolution is taking place in Venezuela.

(Galloway on Venezuela starts at 81 minutes into this radio show)

These orchestrated attacks on Chávez are a travesty

A social revolution is taking place in Venezuela. No wonder the neocons and their friends are determined to discredit it George Galloway Wednesday February 28, 2007 The Guardian

The chilling Oliver Stone film Salvador got a rare airing on television this week. It was a reminder of a time when, for those on the left, little victories were increasingly dwarfed by big defeats - not least in a Latin America which became synonymous with death squads and juntas. How different things seem now. Yesterday US Vice-President Dick Cheney came uncomfortably close to the reality of Afghan resistance to foreign occupation. On the same day Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez delivered a mightier blow to the neocon dream of US domination, announcing an extension of public ownership of his country's oil fields - the richest outside the Middle East.
Much more is at stake than London mayor Ken Livingstone's welcome oil deal with Chávez, which will see London bus fares halved while Venezuela gets expertise from city hall and a bridgehead in the capital of the US's viceroy in Europe. Washington's biggest oil supplier is now firmly in the grip of a social revolution. This month I watched with Chávez as thousands of soldiers, French and British tanks, Russian helicopters and brand new Mirage and Sukhoi fighter bombers passed by: the soldiers chanting "patria, socialismo o muerte" - enough to make any US president blanch. Chávez answered the salute with the words: "the Bolivarian revolution is a peaceful revolution but it is not unarmed".
The music played throughout the event was the hymn of Salvador Allende's 1970s Chilean government, declaring that the people united will never be defeated. But Chávez's socialism is a good deal more red than Allende's - and its enemies seem no less determined than those who bathed Chile in blood in 1973. Despite complete control of Venezuela's national assembly - the opposition boycotted the last elections after being defeated in seven electoral tests in a row - Chávez has been given enabling powers for 18 months to ensure he can pilot his reforms through entrenched opposition from the civil service, big business, the previously all-powerful oligarchy, their vast media interests and their friends in Washington. Among those friends we must include our own prime minister, who only last year declared Venezuela to be in breach of international democratic norms - though when I pressed him in parliament he was unable to list them.
The atmosphere in Caracas is fervid. The vast shanty towns draping the hillside around the cosmopolitan centre bustle with workers' cooperatives, trade union meetings, marches and debates. The $18bn fund for social welfare set up by Chávez is already bearing fruit. Education, food distribution and primary healthcare programmes now cover the majority for the first time. Queues form outside medical centres filled with thousands of Cuban doctors dispensing care to a population whose health was of no value to those who sat atop Venezuela's immense wealth in the past.
Chávez, who regularly pops over to Havana to check on the health of Fidel Castro, is at the centre of a new Latin America which is determined to be nobody's backyard. Reliable US allies are now limited to death squad ridden Colombia, Peru and Mexico - and latterly then only by recourse to rigged elections. But Chávez's international ambitions are not confined to the Americas. He became a hero in the Arab world after withdrawing his ambassador from Tel Aviv in protest at the bombardment of Lebanon by US-armed Israeli forces last summer, and has pledged privately to halt oil exports to the US in the event of aggression against Iran. This all represents a challenge to US power which, if Bush was not sunk in the morass of Iraq, would be at the top of his action list.
Not that his supporters are marking time. The mendacious propaganda that Chávez is a dictator and human rights abuser is being spread with increasing urgency by the Atlanticist right and their fellow travellers, such as leftie-turned-neocon Nick Cohen who told his London newspaper audience last week that Livingstone's relationship with Chávez was making him think of voting Tory. Chávez's decision not to renew an expired licence for an opposition television station involved in a coup attempt - there are plenty of others - is being portrayed as the beginning of the death of democracy. It's as if Country Life's diatribes against the fox hunting ban were taken as irrefutable proof of totalitarianism in Britain.
The so-called "dictator" Chávez is nothing of the kind. He has won election after election, validating his radical course. Still the fear of a coup - such as in 2002 when Chávez was removed and imprisoned for three days before millions descended to the presidential palace to reinstate him - is everywhere. One Englishman abroad who welcomed the 2002 coup as the "overthrow of a demagogue" was the foreign office minister Denis MacShane - a humiliating correction had to be issued following Chávez's restoration. That tale underscores the importance of the links being forged between revolutionary Caracas and anti-war London. Chávez is well aware that the people were defeated in Chile, the fascists allowed to pass in Republican Spain. Just as in Venezuela, the defence against counter-revolution lies with the poor and the working people who are shaping the world they want; so too must all those internationally who want to see this ferment reach its potential rally to Venezuela's side.
· George Galloway is the Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow and presents a radio show three times a week on TalkSport

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Hamas’s victory in Gaza is a blow to Bush’s plans

by Simon Assaf

The stunning military victory by the Palestinian Hamas movement over the rival Fatah organisation in the Gaza Strip last week was a strike against imperialism in the Middle East.

The US and its allies have described the Islamist group Hamas’s driving out of Fatah from Gaza as a “military coup” aimed at creating a “mini Taliban state”.

It is nothing of the sort. Hamas is the democratically elected Palestinian government. Its victory last week stopped an attempted military takeover sponsored by the US and its Israeli and Egyptian allies.

George Bush rushed to embrace the “Fatah moderates” in “the battle with extremism”.

Yet it is Bush who has worked hardest to strip Fatah of any credibility among the Palestinians by failing to deliver even the smallest concession in return for its recognition of Israel.

The showdown came last week after the attempted assassination of Hamas prime minister Ismail Hanaiya.

Angry Hamas fighters moved to crush what they considered to be the beginning of an Egyptian-inspired coup. Abandoned by its supporters, Fatah crumbled.

Hundreds of its fighters surrendered or walked away from the battle. Others fled across the border into Egypt.


The speed of Hamas’s victory stunned the US. Israel and its Arab allies rallied around the Palestinian president, Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas.

The day after Abbas’s security services were driven out of the Gaza Strip, Bush promised that the Israelis would “ease the siege” of the West Bank to “prove that life under Fatah was better than under Hamas”.

Bush’s comments were followed swiftly by the Israelis promising that they would finally hand over some of the Palestinian tax revenues worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

For Abbas and his Palestinian Authority it was too little too late.

Abbas has announced a new government headed by Salam Fayyad, a US-educated technocrat who was the International Monetary Fund’s representative to Palestine until 2001.

This final humiliation must be painful for the generations of Fatah fighters and their supporters.

Fatah has been transformed from an organisation that fought against Zionism and imperialism into an organisation that polices its own people in their service.


Fatah, first under Yasser Arafat and now under Mahmoud Abbas, agreed to control the Palestinians in return for being allowed to run the virtually powerless Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Despite its concessions, it suffered numerous humiliations from the US and Israel.

The US demanded that Abbas crush any resistance before setting out any details of the “roadmap for peace”. Then in 2005 the Israelis unveiled a new wave of settlements for the West Bank.

Israel has built an Apartheid Wall that snakes across the Occupied Territories.

When the wall is complete it will annex 47 percent of the West Bank, isolating Palestinian communities into ghettoes and closed military zones.

Around 12 percent of Palestinians will be trapped inside the wall’s boundaries, including 200,000 residents of East Jerusalem.

These relentless land grabs have left Palestinians living on 12 percent of their historic homeland.

As the Israelis grabbed more of the West Bank, Israeli settlers abandoned the Gaza Strip in what was widely credited as a victory for resistance.

Buoyed by the Israeli withdrawal, Hamas made its boldest move. In January 2006 it stood in the legislative elections and won because of the deep discontent with Fatah.

The US and its allies organised an international boycott of the Palestinians. Israel laid siege to Gaza and arrested Hamas MPs and ministers.

The US, Israel and their Arab allies in Egypt attempted to crush Hamas as the international boycott punished ordinary Palestinians for their democratic choice of government.


Far from the boycott and sanctions isolating and weakening Hamas, it gutted Fatah.

With its strategy of isolating Hamas in tatters, Egypt and the US insisted that Abbas stage a coup against the Hamas government.

In April, Israel announced it was transferring a million rounds of ammunition to Palestinian Authority troops, while 500 highly trained Fatah fighters crossed from Egypt into Gaza.

There were growing fears that it was only a matter of time before Fatah launched a coup against Hamas.

Yet, despite the Hamas victory, the Gaza Strip remains isolated and surrounded by hostile forces. Hamas cannot militarily defeat Israel, nor can it shift the Egyptian blockade on its southern border.

Reliant for power and water from Israel, and food and medicine from Egypt, the only way out could be the well trodden path to the Arab rulers.

As Fatah learned before, their support always comes at the price of toning down revolutionary policies.

Israel, humiliated by its defeat by the radical Islamist Hizbollah group in Lebanon last year, is threatening to launch a new war on the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians are trapped between a hostile Egyptian dictatorship and a hateful Israeli state. There is a huge responsibility on the growing movement in Egypt to topple its dictator, Hosni Mubarak.

That would be a major defeat for imperialism and the beginning of the process that could lead to the liberation of the Palestinian people.

The following should be read alongside this article:

» Fatah’s journey from resistance fighters to tool of Israel and the West

Monday, 18 June 2007

Venezuela: a contribution from the Australian ISO

RESPONSE TO SOCIALIST WORKER-NEW ZEALAND FROM NATIONAL EXECUTIVE INTERNATIONAL SOCIALIST ORGANISATION AUSTRALIA Dear Comrades, We are writing in response to the May Day statement issued by Socialist Worker-New Zealand. We are pleased to take the opportunity for discussion with comrades in NZ and have some proposals below for continuing this discussion face-to-face in July at our national educational weekend and in joint work at the anti-APEC mobilisation in September. The Chavez government in Venezuela has been a welcome counter to the US and other western imperialists. The resurgence of popular movements in Latin America has been identified by socialists in the IST as one of three key foci for anti-capitalist resistance along with the struggles associated with the ‘war on terror’ (especially in the Middle East) and the difficulties of European capitalism. The achievements of the Chavez and (in Bolivia) Morales governments have created a renewed hope in an alternative to neo-liberalism. In this sense Chavez’s actions have global significance. Even more impressive are the actions of the poor which have driven the revolutionary process forward, especially in forcing back the coup attempt of 2002 in Venezuela. Given the obvious IST support for the revolutionary process happening in South America and also the enthusiastic participation of a number of IST comrades in the recent Social Forum, etc, we were astonished to see the content of your criticism of the IST and of the SWP in particular. Alex Callinicos has responded to a number of your concerns about this, and we would like to add our own comments and reopen the dialogue we once had with your organisation. The Revolutionary Process As you state, the revolutionary process is not complete in Venezuela. Hopefully all IST groups would continue to defend the Venezuelan government and contribute to the development of strategy and tactics through comradely debate. On this note, we agree with your assessment that a “huge proportion of Venezuela’s population are actively involved in the revolutionary process”. You also state that this process is leading to a crucial debate, raising questions such as “can the existing capitalist state be bent to a new popular will? Or must new organs of grassroots power be created to confront the pro-capitalist bureaucracy and the economic power of the capitalist class?” Again, we agree with this assessment. But we have a problem with your argument that Venezuela is in a political situation resembling “dual power”. Making this claim creates, in our view, a certain amount of confusion. In the Marxist tradition, dual power refers to a situation in which independent organs of mass working class democracy co-exist with the organs of bourgeois rule. The classic model is, of course, the Soviets during Russian Revolution between February and October 1917. As we know, workers’ councils with similar characteristics have emerged since then. In Hungary 1956 Peter Fryer, a young British Communist journalist, wrote this about the workers councils against Stalinism: “They were at once organs of insurrection—the coming together of delegates elected by the factories and universities, mines and army units—and organs of popular self-government, which the armed people trusted.” The workers’ council, in this sense, simultaneously represents a radical form of mass democracy, including instantly recallable delegates paid the average workers’ wage, a peak forum for the re-organisation of production and distribution, as well as the means by which the working class can overthrow the capitalist state. As we understand it, dual power refers to a situation in which such institutions exist. To what extent does the current Venezuelan context reflect this? You recognise that the communal councils are “not the same as the workers’ soviets of 1917 Russia”. If this is correct—and we agree that it is—why would you then claim that the communal councils have “every chance of displacing capitalism’s organs of political power”? To clarify our point, it is quite possible that the masses within the communal councils can develop the institutional forms necessary to challenge capitalist social relations and, ultimately, state power. Indeed, we hope this will happen and we believe that revolutionary socialists across the world must offer solidarity with any and every shift towards working class self-emancipation. But the truth is that Venezuela has not yet arrived at this point. Of course, the communal councils are able to play a role in this process. They are organs of democracy, with a few similar characteristics to the popular assemblies that arose in Argentina in 2001 or, more recently, in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. But, like these two examples, the arrival of a dual power situation would require a further radical development in the political process. We agree that the situation in Venezuela is on a knife-edge. So why confuse matters by attributing factors to the unfolding movement that it has yet to acquire? Surely one of the roles of revolutionary socialists is to point out what needs to happen for the process to move forward, to point to the social agents capable of leading it, and, crucially, to take the right sides in the unfolding debate about what to do. What sort of party? It is in this context that your position on the PSUV is mistaken. The formation of the PSUV is, in fact, presupposed by a huge debate about the next step for the revolution and the organisational form needed to achieve it. There are a range of political currents in Venezuela, including parliamentarians and officials who want more conciliation with big business and the right, reformist socialists, supporters of an anti-democratic Cuban-style “command and control” economy, revolutionaries associated with the active workers in the UNT (influenced by Trotskyism), and autonomists looking to organise the poor, peasants and indigenous groups. You say it “would be utopian to think that the PSUV could be an instantly homogenous party of revolutionaries”. Surely the existence of these various—and in some cases politically hostile—currents would suggest that the PSUV cannot in any sense be conceived as a revolutionary party. Whether or not Venezuelan activists should actually join the PSUV is of course an important tactical question. For example, the UNT union federation has joined the PSUV, even though there is considerable disagreement with Chavez’s conception of the party and a stress by many leading UNT activists on the need for independent organization among workers. We would draw your attention to the interview with Orlando Chirino (pictured), a leading activist within the UNT (, which details some of these debates. Interestingly, Chirino argues:
What is most worrying is that president ended up by doing exactly what he criticised; he criticised the political cannibalism that characterises the organisations of the left, but then he went on to say that anyone who does not share his views is a counter-revolutionary. I think this is a serious mistake, because far from encouraging debate it closes it down and encourages the sectarianism that the president has said he is anxious to fight.
Whether or not activists actually join the PSUV, there should be no doubt that burying ideological differences in a false organisational unity will do little to encourage the self-activity of ordinary workers and poor people, which is crucial to drive the revolution to greater achievements. In this context, you seem to be uncritically supportive of Chavez. In fact, we need to raise the politics of working class self-emancipation—a politics that is quite different from Chavez’s—at the same time as defending the government from the forces of reaction. In many ways, the unfolding debate is about the best strategy for defending the government. It is a mistake to uncritically support Chavez’s confused and eclectic strategy, especially in a situation in which some of his government’s supporters are increasingly critical of it. Socialism from below One of most important lessons we can learn from two centuries of working class struggle is the need for sharp intellectual clarity on questions such as the revolutionary role of the working class, reform or revolution, the role of capitalist state, and the need for a revolutionary party. Your May Day statement obfuscates these critical issues. Our starting point needs to be socialism from below—the revolutionary activity of the working class and the application of Marxist ideas to aid that struggle. Unfortunately, and no matter what Chavez himself may say or do, his government remains held back by capitalist relations both economically and politically. The only way out of this impasse is for the further development of mass struggle from below, with a crucial role for the working class in developing democratic organs capable of challenging state power. One role of socialists is to prioritise the development of such a strategy in comradely collaboration with all supporters of revolution in Latin America. Unfortunately your document does not mention such an orientation. Relations with the IS Tendency While we welcome the opportunity to debate these questions, we need to be honest and express our disappointment with your conduct. In our opinion, the SW-NZ Central Committee has been reluctant to discuss anything at all with us since mid-2005. This attitude seems to be totally unjustified. In mid-2005 we agreed that our two organisations had effectively ignored each other for too long and that we both had a duty to develop closer collaborative relations. In this context, we agreed to collaborate more closely over our national Marxism event in Sydney in order to organise a stronger NZ contingent to the event. We arranged a speaking tour in NZ with one of our national leaders. But shortly after reaching this agreement, you unilaterally cancelled your involvement in Marxism and the speaking tour. It is not as though this act was preceded by a raging argument. In fact our discussion, while identifying some possible points of difference, was marked by a sense of cooperation and comradeship from both sides. Most recently, Grant Morgan travelled to Australia to participate in events organised by the Socialist Alliance. We were not contacted about this visit and, indeed, did not know about until Grant’s arrival. So, while you talk of wide-ranging international collaboration (including rather grandiose talk of a new Socialist International), you have not been prepared to extend the most elementary courtesies with your Trans-Tasman comrades in the IST! There is a need to clarify some important issues. You say that the IST needs to “be focussed on relating to forces outside the IST”. Perhaps you had not noticed the collaboration and discussion between the IST comrades in Europe and various important formations should as the French LCR, Denmark’s Red-Green Alliance, or the Portuguese Left Bloc. In Australia, we are certainly not opposed to collaborating with non-IST revolutionary groups and, as you know, we have done this in recent years. Of course, we are sure you have questions about our involvement and subsequent withdrawal from the Socialist Alliance. We attach our recent resignation letter, which explains the reasons for this and, crucially, why we believe left realignment, in concert with the re-building of vibrant social movements, will be an important factor in the near-future. Of course, we would be more than happy to engage SW-NZ in this ongoing discussion. You might disagree with some of what we have to say—but that is no reason not to resume a long-neglected dialogue. Our proposals There are two events in Australia which might allow us to resume such discussions: 1.The ISO is holding a Marxist educational weekend on the weekend of July 14-15. We would hope that you could send representatives to this discussion (agenda attached). This would provide a good atmosphere to discuss through some of the more theoretical points underlying the events not only in Latin America but also on a broader world stage, including the role of the US in the Middle East, the ongoing anti-imperialist struggle there, and the question of building a renewed left in our part of the world. 2.ISO comrades are building towards the protest against the APEC summit on September 8. We are mainly focussed on building it through the anti-war movement. We hope that SW-NZ will consider participating in this event and can use the opportunity to re-develop links with the ISO. We also, by the way, have one National Executive comrade, Wade McDonald, attending the SWP’s Marxism event in London this year. If you intend to send representatives to this event, Wade would be only too pleased to meet with you and discuss some of these important issues. We eagerly await your response. Fraternally, Judy McVey and Tom Barnes for the ISO National Executive