Saturday, 30 January 2010

The 2010 Sri Lankan presidential election, and beyond

In this lengthy and detailed article, Brian Senewiratne (pictured right) considers the political background to this weeks’ Sri Lankan presidential election. The article was written just before the election, in which the main contenders were the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the former army commander, General Sarath Fonseka. According to Senewiratne, who wins the election “is irrelevant since it will be by one of two criminals. More relevant is how it will be won.” He writes that General Fonseka was most likely to win, “Unless the current President, Mahinda Rajapakse indulges in massive election fraud, serious intimidation, disappearances of ballot boxes, etc (all of which are possible).” In the event, Mahinda Rajapakse won, and General Fonseka is indeed alleging fraud, and reportedly preparing to flee the country. The 2010 Sri Lankan presidential election, and beyond By Brian Senewiratne 25 January 2010 In the scores of talks, interviews, and meetings, that I have been involved in over the past four decades, on the problems facing the Sri Lankan Tamils (and the Plantation Tamils) in Sri Lanka, I have rarely been asked absurd questions. This has changed. I have been bombarded with one question, “Whom should the Tamils vote for in the up-coming Election – the current President Mahinda Rajapaksa or the former Army Commander, Sarath Fonseka?” That I have been asked to chose between two mass murderers guilty of Genocide of the Tamil people, crimes against Humanity and the Violation of International Law and Sri Lanka’s own Constitution and Laws, is a manifestation of the widespread confusion and despondency among the expatriate Tamil community, which I, as a Sinhalese, find difficult to comprehend. These two men (and their associates) should be on their way to an International Criminal Court, not to the Presidency.
Rajapaksa Fonseka
Keep reading

Friday, 29 January 2010

Left-wing historian Howard Zinn has died

Best known for “A People’s History of the United States” (1980) Zinn was a leading activist since the civil rights movement of the 1950s. In October 2008 Zinn was interviewed about US election, the global economic crisis and his own life by National Radio’s Kathryn Ryan. You can listen to that interview here. This obituary from the Boston Globe gives a brief outline of his life and acheivements. The short video interview below was posted on the Monthly Review Zine. They also have a transcript and another short interview.

The People’s Poet – Robert Burns [1759-1796]

By Colin Fox from Socialist Unity January 25th [was] Burns night, that unique Scottish occasion when poetry finds itself centre stage and the life and work of an ‘Ayrshire ploughman’ is celebrated. And this year with a Westminster General Election pending we might reflect on the progressive message contained in his ‘Ballad of Mr Heron’s Election’ where Burns’ vision of a democratic and truly representative Parliament written more than 200 years ago still resonates Wham will we send to London town 
To Parliament and a’ that? 
Or wha in a’ the country round 
The best deserves to fa that? 
For a’ that and a’ that, 
Here’s Heron yet for a’ that! 
The independent commoner 
The honest man, and a’ that! A beardless boy comes o’er the hill 
Wi’s uncle’s purse and a’ that; 
But we’ll hae one frae amang ourselves 
A man we ken and a’ that 
For a’ that and a’ that 
Here’s Heron yet for a’ that 
We are no tae be bought and sold 
Like nowte and nags, and a that Then let us drink: ‘The Stewartry, 
Kerroughtree’s laird, and a’ that 
Our representative to be: 
For weel he’s worthy a’ that 
For a’ that and a’ that 
Here’s Heron yet for a’ that! 
A House of Commons such as he, 
They wad be blest that saw that.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Socialist Worker's 2010 National Conference, 6-7 February

Socialist Worker-New Zealand is holding its 2010 National Conference on 6-7 February (Waitangi Weekend) in Auckland. The twin themes of the conference are capitalism's collapse tendencies and building a broad left alternative to neo-liberalism.

The conference is open to all members of Socialist Worker. If you are interested in joining Socialist Worker prior to conference, or would like more information, please contact Vaughan Gunson, email svpl(at) or ph/txt 021-0415 082.

You may wish to read Socialist Worker's ten point programme Where We Stand.

Dozen socialist groups in SE Asia & Oceania issue solidarity statement with the people of Haiti

On 13 January 2010, a 7.3 Richter scale earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti. The earthquake caused great destruction and 200,000 people are thought to be dead. Further, 3 million Haitians have been rendered homeless by the quake, which also damaged many public service buildings, such as hospitals and schools. The quake has caused Haitians, who have struggled under decades of poverty and imperialist intervention and exploitation, even deeper suffering. Approximately 75% of Haitians earned less than US$2 per day and 56% of Haitians – around 4.5 million people – earned less than US$1 per day. Most Haitians live in houses made of adobe and mud. Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. The poverty is caused by the imperialism and neo-liberalism that has been oppressing the nation for centuries. The Haitian people has continuously struggled against this oppression. The 400,000 African slaves on the colonialists’ sugar and coffee plantations were among the first to fight against slavery and, in the early 19th century, won their struggle: Haiti became the first independent Afro populated nation previously colonized by France. However, the newly independent nation was forced to pay 150 millions Francs in “damages” to its former colonial master, France. For decades, the Haitian people suffered under and struggled against US-puppet dictatorships and regimes. In 2004, after eventually winning democratic presidential elections, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in a US-backed coup and then ostracized by the US administration. Neo-liberal policies were enforced on the population: education and health services were privatized and import tariffs on rice were severely cut to pay Haiti’s foreign debt. Under the pretext of helping Haiti to recover from the earthquake, the US is now trying to retake power in Haiti and redesign the political and economic situation to suit international capital. This is not the first time the US has done this: New Orleans, smashed by Hurricane Katrina, and Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand, devastated by the great tsunami in 2004, have faced a similar situation to Haiti. Natural disasters are used to legitimize “aid” that has neo-liberal requirements attached, such as privatization and the selling of public assets. The US has sent 3000 fully armed troops to Haiti. Soon, it will increase that number to around 15,000 troops. This intervention is based on the declaration of an Emergency Situation, which was forced on Haiti by the US when Hillary Clinton visited Haiti on 16 January 2010. Very quickly afterwards, the US took control of the airport: it is now deciding what goes in and out of Haiti. US troops are not mobilized for the sake of humanity. Instead the US military’s mission is to preserve the reactionary social order for US corporations and to protect the wealthy few. This is evident by the failure to use US warships to take care the injured people. The increase in US troops in Haiti is closely related to the US’ economic and political interest in Latin America as a whole, where it is attempting to strengthen its power and is developing military bases. We note the bilateral agreement between the US and Colombia, which gives the US wide access to Colombia’s military bases and increases US forces stationed in Colombia, as the latest example of this. The next stage of the US’ post-disaster program in Haiti is redesigning the country’s economy. This is indicated by the IMF’s announcement of a US$100 million loan to Haiti that requires the implementation of more neo-liberal programs, including increasing electricity tariffs, freezing state workers’ wages and reducing inflation. That loan will greatly increase the burden on Haiti, which already has a debt of US$165 million. Based on this, we, the undersigned, extend our solidarity to the people of Haiti, including humanitarian aid and support for the Haitian people’s struggle for freedom from imperialist exploitation. Furthermore, we demand:
  • The immediate and unconditional cancellation of Haiti’s debt.
  • That government in our country give substantial, untied and unconditional humanitarian aid to the people of Haiti.
  • That the humanitarian aid will support and be used to reconstruct Haiti in a way that will empower the people of Haiti to establish democracy and genuine independence for their nation.
  • We condemn the United States government’s exploitation of the disaster to advance the US’s economic and political interests by making disaster as a relief industry.
  • We are calling all democratic and progressive organizations around the world to unite to build true solidarity with the people of Haiti. This includes helping to end the Haitian people’s oppression by the imperialist states, and full support for the restoration of freedom and sovereignty for the people of Haiti.
SIGNATORIES Committee for a Workers International (Malaysia) Confederation Congress of Indonesia Union Alliance Partido Lakas ng Masa (Philippines) Partido ng Mangganggawa (Philippines) Peoples Democratic Party (Indonesia) Socialist Party of Malaysia Socialist Alliance (Australia) Socialist Alternative (Australia) Socialist Party (Australia) Socialist Worker (New Zealand) Solidarity (Australia) Working Peoples Association (Indonesia)

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Securing disaster in Haiti

By Peter Hallward January 21, 2010 Source: Haiti Analysis Nine days after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, it’s now clear that the initial phase of the US-led relief operation has conformed to the three fundamental tendencies that have shaped the more general course of the island’s recent history.[1] It has adopted military priorities and strategies. It has sidelined Haiti’s own leaders and government, and ignored the needs of the majority of its people. And it has proceeded in ways that reinforce the already harrowing gap between rich and poor. All three tendencies aren’t just connected, they are mutually reinforcing. These same tendencies will continue to govern the imminent reconstruction effort as well, unless determined political action is taken to counteract them.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Reverse Robin Hood from tax working group

By David A report by the Tax Working Group has ignored the popular campaign for GST to be removed from food, calling instead for an across-the-board increase in GST to fund tax cuts for the wealthy. National, various business groups and much of the media have embraced this idea, although they appear less keen on the report’s proposal to tax rental properties. The Tax Working Group was one of several economic “taskforces” established by the National Government soon after the last election. It’s report has been contrasted with the free market fantasy produced by Don Brash’s 2025 Taskforce – which claimed cutting the minimum wage would somehow help wages increase to Australian levels. But praising the tax report as free from “ideological rhetoric” misses the point that many of its proposals are straight out of a neo-liberal economics text book. Cutting taxes on the rich and introducing GST was a core part of Labour and National’s free market reforms in the ’80s and ’90s. In the classic reverse Robin Hood free market style, they made the rich richer, by taxing them less and making everybody else pay more. This time round, the Dominion Post calculates that cutting the top personal tax rate from 38 percent to 33 percent would “put about $20 a week in the pockets of workers on $90,000 a year but give those earning less than $70,000 nothing.” And of course we’d also get hit with a 2.5 percent rise in the cost of everything else, thanks to the rise in GST. Rich rort tax system On top of the worn-out claims that making the rich richer will help us all, a new and bizarre argument is being deployed. The rich aren’t paying their fair share, wage and salary earners are paying too much, therefore (and this is the bizarre bit) we should cut the top tax rate and increase GST. According to the Dominion Post, “an Inland Revenue sample of 100 of the richest New Zealanders showed only about half were paying the highest marginal tax rate on their income.” The solution to this “tax rort”? Close the loopholes and go after the dodgers? No way, just cut the top tax rate. The economic theory behind this approach is that if the rich didn’t have to pay so much tax then they (or their accountants) wouldn’t work so hard to avoid it. In other words change the law to make the problem disappear. I’d love to see this logic applied to the crime. Instead of the new “three strikes” law we’d have something like this ... “In a bold new move to tackle rising violent crime figures the Government has announced they will stop counting assaults.” The funniest thing about the report may well be the claim by Finance Minister Bill English that he found “startling” the reports revelations that many rich people were “able to restructure their affairs” using a “company, trust or special savings vehicle” to avoid tax. Hang on. Wasn’t that pretty much what English himself did in the housing allowance scandal? The next sentence in the the Dominion Post report might be closer to the truth: “That only half of New Zealand’s wealthiest individuals were able to avoid paying the top rate of tax would be ‘astounding to the layman’, he [English] said.” This looks like English is saying that it’s surprising that only half were avoiding tax (surely this is a typo?). We can shift the tax debate In the run up to the last election, National was able to tap into discontent about low wages and rising prices with calls to close the wage gap between New Zealand and Australia. Of course they weren’t talking about a 25 percent increase in wages, instead they managed to focus the debate on tax cuts. Labour made things easy for them, because they opposed big wage rises too. Instead they cut taxes before the election, which not only looked like a pathetic election bribe attempt, but also backed up National’s argument that tax cuts are the solution to poor pay. Both parties were also united in their opposition to calls for GST to be removed from food. Nevertheless, the campaign to make food GST free – initiated by RAM and supported by the Maori Party, Grey Power and others – gained significant public support, with one pre-election poll showing 73 percent in favour. In power, National postponed its tax cuts, because of the recession. Now they are back on the agenda. But with such dodgy arguments being deployed in favour of tax cuts for the wealthy, paid for by a GST rise that will hit low and modest income people hardest, there’s wide open political space for a revival of the GST off food campaign. Another progressive tax reform supported by RAM as a way of funding GST cuts is a transaction tax on the movement of large sums of money. Ten years ago, this idea, some times known as a Tobin Tax, was a major spur to the European mass movement ATTAC, which played a key role in launching the World Social Forums. More recently, this idea has been raised by the Maori Party, Jim Anderton’s Progressives Party and Socialist Worker’s Bad Banks campaign. No doubt there are many other tax reforms that the Left could rally around, and that many people would support. With the next Budget four months away, there is plenty of time to campaign around this issue. But perhaps not enough time to build a campaign big enough to stop National’s reverse Robin Hood reforms. Nonetheless, if we can make a bit of a fuss, we can shift the tax and income debate away from the idea that income tax cuts, rather than wage rises are the way to boost take home pay. We may also be able to pressure Labour and the Greens into supporting taking GST off food, setting this up as a central issue at the next election.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

John Pilger on Palestine solidarity

Recent protests against an Israeli tennis player competing in New Zealand’s top tennis tournament has bought the issue of Palestine to public attention once again. Like the struggle against South African apartheid the campaign has already provoked controversy over the links between politics and sport, the right to protest and police attempts to suppress it. In the following article, John Pilger looks at the international campaign for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel and in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for freedom.
Photo from Aotearoa Indymedia
For Israel, a reckoning By John Pilger The farce of the climate change summit in Copenhagen affirmed a world war waged by the rich against most of humanity. It also illuminated a resistance growing perhaps as never before: an internationalism linking justice for the planet earth with universal human rights, and criminal justice for those who invade and dispossess with impunity. And the best news comes from Palestine. Palestinian resistance to the theft of their country reached a critical moment in 2001 when Israel was identified as an apartheid state at a United Nations conference on racism in Durban, South Africa. To Nelson Mandela, justice for the Palestinians is “the greatest moral issue of our time”. The Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS), was issued on 9 July 2005, effectively reconvening the great non-violent movement that swept the world and brought the scaffolding of African apartheid crashing down. “Through decades of occupation and dispossession,” wrote Mustafa Barghouti, a wise voice of Palestinian politics, “90 per cent of the Palestinian struggle has been non-violent... A new generation of Palestinian leaders [now speaks] to the world precisely as Martin Luther King did. The same world that rejects all use of Palestinian violence, even clear self-defence, surely ought not begrudge us the non-violence employed by men such as King and Gandhi.”

Saturday, 23 January 2010

PUBLIC MEETING: Is Capitalism on a Path to Collapse?


Is Capitalism on a Path to Collapse? 

A quintet of contradictions are besetting global capitalism: the profitability crisis, resource crisis, ecological crisis, imperial crisis and legitimacy crisis. As a result of these interconnected crises, could capitalism collapse within a historically short time span? What will replace it? Join us at the Socialist Centre to debate these questions.

8pm Friday 5 February 2010

Socialist Centre, 86 Princes St, Onehunga, Auckland

Organised by Socialist Worker. 

  • GRANT MORGAN, International secretary of Socialist Worker.
  • JOHN ROBINSON, global trends researcher, author of The Limits to Growth and Excess Capital.
  • ROB GEORGE, eco-activist & union organiser.
Each speaker will talk for a maximum of 30 minutes, followed by open discussion and questions from the floor.

The speakers have submitted these summaries of what they'll be talking about on the night:

GRANT MORGAN:  A perfect storm is beginning to engulf global capitalism for the first time since its birth 500 years ago. The main elements are existential crises of profitability, ecology, resources, imperialism and legitimacy. This quintet of contradictions looks set to trigger world system collapse within a historically short time span. Increasingly the strategic problem confronting socialists will be how to lead society out of the chaos, conflict and carnage of looming collapse. That will become a life-and-death struggle as we face global warming, resource scarcity and imperial strife. Using the principles of asymmetric warfare, our starting point should be a broad left offensive for immediate rollbacks of neoliberalism.

JOHN ROBINSON:  It has long been known that a global catastrophe is coming as overpopulation and ecological destruction reach a crisis point. We head into a perfect storm in 2030, because all of these things are operating on the same time frame.  Capitalism is an unstable hybrid, centrally controlled by the military-industrial complex.  Its ongoing crisis is described in John’s 1989 Excess Capital.  The next stage will be a deepening of fascism, a demand for strong leadership in a collapsing world.  There is an alternative, lazy socialism, but there is no blueprint for action as ‘green’ organisations snuggle up to the status quo.

ROB GEORGE:  The growth logic of capitalism suggests quite strongly that the present capitalist project, even with a greener face, will meet ecological limits. This growth logic points toward a potential ecotastrophy. Under such a scenario, those people who are presently in a tenuous position will suffer most. Their particular stories will be part of the narrative of capitalism’s growth logic acting on the human population. Human agency and struggle will partially determine how bleak or optimistic this narrative is. Ecotastrophy need not be inevitable - it can be a matter of choice.

At the conclusion of the meeting there will be a social with snacks and drinks provided.

For more information, contact:

Vaughan Gunson
National chair of Socialist Worker
021-0415 082

Friday, 22 January 2010

Haiti, a very brief history

By David
Here’s the briefest summary of Haiti’s inspiring and tragic history I can manage. For more details, check out the links in the previous posts. Inspired by the French Revolution’s proclamation of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” black slaves in the French colony of Haiti rose up and fought for their freedom. The British tried to take advantage of the chaos, and invaded with 90,000 troops, the former slaves defeated them. Napoleon – who had conqured Europe – tried to re-impose slavery, his army was beaten too. And in 1804 Haiti was free. Haitian freedom fighters had fought with the American revolutionaries against the British. But the USA’s slave-owning elite didn’t return the favour, instead they ganged up with the French and British to impose trade and investment embargoes. Eventually the Haitians were forced to agree to pay the French “compensation” for the “property” they had lost when the slaves freed themselves. Since then Haiti (like so many other poor countries) has been in debt to European and US banks. Haiti was invaded and occupied by the US in 1915 and 1934, and suffered under a succession of brutal, US-backed dictators. The current government is part of this pattern. During the latest coup in 2004, the elected president, the hugely popular left-winger Jean-Bertrand Aristide was kidnapped by US troops and left stranded in Africa. UN “peacekeepers” backed the new regime and shot Aristide’s protesting supporters. Although the current government won elections, they were neither free nor fair. Not only was Aristide in exile, but his party – which still has the support of most Haitians – was banned from standing. Now there are fears that the government and its US bakers will exploit the tragedy to impose a “disaster capitalism” programme of free market reforms and political repression.

Haiti Links from GPJA

For those wanting to look more in depth at what is happening in Haiti, and the background to the current disaster, the latest Global Peace & Justice Auckland newsletter has an extensive summary of on-line articles. The West’s role in Haiti's plight Haiti Disaster Capitalism Alert: Stop Them Before They Shock Again Greg Palast: History of a Haitian Holocaust Haiti – The Price of Freedom By Carolyn Cooper – The US refused to recognisethe new Haitian republic and imposed an embargo that lasted until 1862. In1915, the US invaded Haiti to protect its economic interests and remained inoccupation until 1934 Haiti: A natural and human-made catastrophe combine Disaster Imperialism in Haiti by Shirley Pate Patrick Cockburn: The US is failing Haiti – again A must watch from Al-Jazeera: “Most Haitians here have seen little humanitairian aid so far. What they have seen is guns, and plenty of them... It looks more like the Green Zone in Baghdad than a centre for aid distribution.” He ended years of brutal regime. Now an exiled ex-president wants to be the saviour again. By Andrew Buncombe. Is the Haiti Rescue Effort Failing? By Danny Schechter, AlterNet. Haiti Smashed, Diaspora Shaken, Deportations Frozen By Michelle Chen Haitians plead: `Where is the help?' Haiti – a kinder gentler imperialism CNN: A working hospital in Haiti: “Cuban medical personnel are giving medical attention ... six to seven hundred patients a day, several dozen surgeries a day...” Relief Efforts in the Shadow of Past “Help”: Moving from crimes-as-charity to actual support for Haiti by Dan Freeman-Maloy Cruise ships still find a Haitian berth – Luxury liners are still docking at private beaches near Haiti's devastated earthquake zone US Corporations, Private Mercenaries and the IMF Rush in to Profit fromHaiti's Crisis Haiti earthquake: US ships blockade coast to thwart exodus to America Haitian Earthquake: Why the Blood Is on Our Hands By Ted Rall US accused of ‘occupying’ Haiti as troops flood in: France accused the US of “occupying” Haiti on Monday as thousands of American troops flooded into thecountry to take charge of aid efforts and security. Haiti, Again? Phyllis Bennis – The marginalisation of the UN and the militarisation of the US aid effort in Haiti reflect how the humanitarian needstake a back seat to the Pentagon's priorities. Debt is Haiti’s real curse – Eric Toussaint and Sophie Perchellet of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM) explain how Haiti wasforced into a debt trap from its founding.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

GPJA Forum: ‘Is the Global Financial Crisis the beginning of the end of global capitalism?’

Jane Kelsey is to speak at first GPJA Forum for 2010. Her topic is"Is the Global Financial Crisis the beginning of the end of global capitalism?" This forum will be at 7.30pm, Monday 1 February at the Auckland Trades Hall, 147 Great North Rd, Grey Lynn. See also the public meeting organised by Socialist Worker on Friday 5 February at 8pm, Is Capitalism on the path to collapse?

Maori Party - Take the GST off healthy food

Rahui Katene, Finance Spokesperson
20 January 2010

Maori Party finance spokesperson, Rahui Katene, has welcomed the Government’s statement this afternoon that any changes to the tax system would have to meet tests of equity and fairness, alongside delivering benefits for households and the economy.

“In that context, the recommendation from Bob Buckle’s Tax Working Group that GST should be raised to 15% clearly doesn’t make sense”.

“If we want to do anything to achieve equity and fairness it would be to remove goods and services tax from healthy food”.

“I have a private members bill all ready to go, which will address rising food prices and the impact this has on the ability of those in low income households to purchase healthy food by exempting this food from goods and services tax” said Mrs Katene.

“While all consumers will benefit from the removal of GST from healthy food, those on lower incomes spend a greater proportion of their income on food and will receive a significant benefit as a result. Research conducted both here and overseas shows that lowering the price of healthy food, including via the removal of taxes similar to GST, leads to a significant increase in the purchase of healthy food”.

"Increases for the staples of a nutritious diet – such as fruit, vegetables and milk – have been particularly high. It is increasingly important that healthy food be affordable".

“If Mr English is really keen to help families to get ahead, he will be ringing the Maori Party to place my Bill on the Government’s Order Paper” said Mrs Katene.

“What’s so positive about my Bill is that it not only seeks to exempt healthy food from goods and services tax but it is also about encouraging the purchase of healthy food” said Mrs Katene.

“That’s benefits for households, the economy and the health of the nation all in one clean sweep”.

What’s happening in Haiti?

One of best sources of on-the-ground interviews and reports I’ve seen are coming from US internet radio and TV network Democracy Now, which has several reporters in Haiti.

Speaking to Democracy Now, Dr Evan Lyon – currently working at the Port-au-Prince General Hospital – contradicts mainstream media reports that violence from Hatian people themselves is holding up the relief effort:
One thing that I think is really important for people to understand is that misinformation and rumors and, I think at the bottom of the issue, racism has slowed the recovery efforts of this hospital... And there are no security issues... And there’s also no violence. There is no insecurity.

Also from Democracy Now, reporter Sharif Abdel Kouddous, describes why why some Haitians are getting angry at the way they are being treated by US and UN military and some aid agencies:
Yesterday, when we were in Léogâne, we were—we came to an area where a helicopter from a Mormon charity had landed. It was on the ground, and there was Haitians all around, young and old, waiting for food to be handed out. This helicopter took off, off the ground, and began throwing the food down at the Haitians. It did not distribute it when it was on the ground. They threw the food from the air. These were packets of bread that they were throwing.

It ignited just fury and indignation on the ground by the people there. They began screaming. One man started crying. He said, “We are a proud people. We are not dogs for you to throw bones at.”

It was a scene that I will never forget. And it really illustrates the problem with aid distribution here and the relief efforts here, that they are—they are not seen as people. As Haitians keep saying, they say, “This can happen to anybody. How would you like to be treated in this way?”

Writing in UK Times, author and aid specialist Linda Polman sites similar examples and argues ‘Fear of the poor is hampering Haiti rescue’. [Hat tip to].

British blog Lenin’s Tomb has also taken up this issue in a series of posts, here and here.

Eyewitness to a Revolution in Nepal

NZ speaking tour by Ben Peterson
21-26 March 2010

Ben Peterson is a young Australian socialist who spent one year in Nepal in close association with the revolutionary forces who recently overthrew feudalism and are today confronting capitalism and imperialism. Ben is crossing the Tasman for a speaking tour of New Zealand from 21-26 March. His visit will be a great opportunity to learn more about the exciting events in Nepal.

Ben has this to say about the struggle:
"In 2006, a Peoples’ Movement overthrew Nepal’s ruling monarchy. They’re fighting to build a new Nepal free of poverty, oppression and discrimination by sex, caste or race.

When I was in Nepal I met amazing people, peasant farmers, workers, students, youth, and the elderly, all fighting for a democratic future. Everywhere I went there was a common desire for something better.

Leading the struggle is the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), who built on support earned during the Peoples’ War (1996-2006) to win a majority of votes in democratic elections, enabling them to form a revolutionary government. That government was undermined by forces hostile to the Peoples’ Movement.

Today, the struggle continues at all levels of Nepalese society. It’s not over, but the people of Nepal are experiencing more control over their lands and communities. And if this 21st century revolution continues it will impact on the lives of many more.”

To find out more about Ben's experiences and the Nepal Revolution go to Ben's blog: 
Activists from the Workers Party and Socialist Worker are organising the tour, with meetings planned in Auckland, Hamilton, Rotorua, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

We're inviting other interested groups and individuals to support and promote Ben's tour. If you would like to help out, contact these regional and national coordinators:

Auckland - Daphna Whitmore, wpnz(at)
Hamilton - Jared Philips, jared(at), 029-4949 863.
Rotorua - Bernie Hornfeck, bernieh(at), (07)345 9853.
Wellington - Alastair Reith, alastair.reith(at), 027-711 9591.
Christchurch - Phil Ferguson, philp.ferguson(at), 021-443 948.
Dunedin - Andrew Tait, andrewmtait(at), 027-606 9549.
National coordination/publicity - Vaughan Gunson, svpl(at), 021-0415 082.

As meeting details are finalised a full tour itinerary will be circulated.

You can join the Facebook group: Ben Peterson NZ Speaking Tour. More information and links will be posted there.

A PDF publicity flyer can be downloaded here


Mike Ely, Eyes on the Maobadi: Four Reasons Nepal’s Revolution Matters.
Introductory PDF pamphlet - A Revolution at the Brink: Stand with Nepal.
More in depth PDF pamphlet - Kasama Articles: On the Maobadi and the Crisis in Nepal.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Cooperation among socialists & allies on the refugee issue

By Grant Morgan The refugee issue is almost certain to rise from near invisibility in New Zealand politics to become a strategic battleground. Waves of refugees will be thrown up by the poverty, strife and ecotastrophes of global capitalism’s end times. The Right & Centre & much of the Left in New Zealand politics will seek to portray these waves of refugees as threats to “our way of life”. This could open the way towards authoritarian nationalism which jackboots the NZ working class as well as offshore refugees. NZ socialists and our allies must show that offshore refugees are a resource, not a threat, to the majority of Kiwis under the thumb of corporate bosses and politicians. Refugees are a resource for our side because they are fleeing the poverty, wars and other calamities caused by the same world system which kicks most Kiwis around. They are our natural allies against the unnatural forces of global capitalism. In addition to our duty of solidarity with victims of a hateful system, socialists have a duty of foresight to see the near inevitability of the refugee issue becoming a strategic battleground in Aotearoa. So it was very good to see different socialist groups (Socialist Worker, Workers Party, Communist League) represented at the Auckland protest on 18 January in solidarity with Tamil refugees. These refugees are being held hostage by Indonesian state forces in collaboration with the Australian and New Zealand governments. (See media release by protest organiser Priyaksha Pathmanathan below.) Cooperation among NZ socialist groups on the refugee issue is a positive sign for the future. And so too is the international cooperation among socialists and other activists around the Tamil refugee issue. The Auckland protest was just one small event in a seven-country campaign which embraces Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, United States and England as well as New Zealand. This is a real step forward for practical solidarity among various socialist groups in both the global South and the global North.

Protest report: Respect the rights of Tamil refugees

By Priyaksha Pathmanathan On Monday 18th January, 30 Aucklanders representing half-a-dozen organisations protested outside the Australian consulate as part of a seven-country international campaign. They were demanding that the Australian Government take responsibility for 254 Tamil asylum seekers sailing for Australia who were turned back to Indonesia after the Australian prime minister asked the Indonesian Navy to intercept their boat. Similar protests took place in Indonesia, Australia, Canada, United States, England and Malaysia on the same day. Organisations supporting the Auckland protest included the Indonesian Human Rights Committee, Socialist Worker-New Zealand, Human Rights Network and the Workers Party. Local protest organizer Priyaksha Pathmanathan said “This was an important first step in making this issue visible in New Zealand and I hope that more could be done by countries to address the root causes of the many conflicts that are causing people to get into dangerous situations in their desperate need to seek freedom” As part of the Australian Government's ‘Indonesian Solution’, Kevin Rudd personally requested that the Indonesian Navy intercept and stop a boat carrying 254 Tamil asylum seekers from entering Australian waters. Monday marked 100 days since the Tamil asylum seekers refused to leave the boat for fear of being locked up in an Indonesian detention centre or being deported back to Sri Lanka. This fear was confirmed when Gunasekaram Sujendran voluntarily stepped off the boat to visit his sick mother in Sri Lanka and was imprisoned without charge upon arrival in Colombo Airport. A repeat of the event occurred when eight asylum seekers left the boat on a promise by Indonesian officials to have UNHCR access; However these eight men were thrown in Indonesian detention cells where they were interrogated by the Sri Lankan Navy and officials. Health and Hygiene on this boat is poor, with more than 200 people sharing one toilet. Many on this boat are sick from diarrehea and other preventable diseases. There are 31 Children on board, including a little baby who was born in the bunker in the last stages of the war in Sri Lanka in 2009 and who has just turned 1 on the boat. There are 27 Women without basic needs, one of which a woman who is 7 months pregnant on this boat. Without access given to UNHCR to process applications, media or family members, the protest comes amid the escalating human rights abuses that are occurring on the boat. One which caused uproar was the preventable death of George Jacob Samuel Christin who died due medical negligence by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) and the Indonesian Navy. The Auckland protesters stood outside the Australian Consulate at Viaduct Harbour Basin with placards, urging the Australian Government to respect the rights of refugees as a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. They also requested the New Zealand Government to uphold its duty as a signatory to the Refugee Convention. Protesters chanted “In the jail or on the sea – Respect the rights of the refugee” Addressing the crowd, Maire Leadbeater from Indonesian Human Rights Committee “There can be no doubt that Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka have reason to fear persecution as most have had their lives disrupted by extreme violence and internal displacement. International law enshrines the principle of ‘non-refoulement’, explicitly prohibiting the forced return of refugees to areas where their lives are potentially in danger” she concluded by saying “I am happy to be part of this important contribution to what’s being an international human rights issue to what’s becoming one of a desperate humanitarian crisis. New Zealand should also be aware that it has a region responsibility to assist with the plight of genuine asylum seekers” “We are public witnesses for Tamil asylum seekers fleeing civil strife who are trapped on a boat in Indonesia and cannot speak for themselves," said Grant Morgan from Socialist Worker. “It is legal to seek asylum in any country, but this international law is being violated by the governments of Australia and Indonesia, with covert backing from the New Zealand government. The actions of these governments is not only immoral but also illegal.” Green MP Keith Locke, who was out of the Auckland and could not make it to the protest, sent this message: “I congratulate those present on this vigil today for highlighting the tragic plight of the Tamil asylum seekers on the boat off Merak. They are suffering terribly. On behalf of the Green Party I have been pushing for New Zealand to take some of these asylum seekers, along with Australia. This is the only just response New Zealand can make to the crisis caused by the persecution of Tamil people in Sri Lanka, which has led to so many people fleeing on boats. I will continue to push our government on this matter.” See also: Protest illegal actions against Tamil asylum seekers And, background information at the end of this post

Monday, 18 January 2010

Protest illegal actions against Tamil asylum seekers

Socialist Worker-New Zealand

Over 250 Tamils fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka’s bloody ethnic conflict are being detained at gunpoint on a small boat in the Indonesian port of Merak. They have been held against their will in Merak since 11 October 2009.

31 children, 30 women and 193 men must take turns sleeping on the boat’s deck because of the cramped conditions. They lack adequate food, water and medicines. Their human plight is desperate.

One man, aged 29, died after being refused proper hospital treatment on shore. Four others, leaving the boat to seek medicines and supplies, were arrested. Another, who upon hearing of his mother’s serious illness returned to Sri Lanka, was thrown into jail over there.

The Tamils were sailing to Australia to ask for asylum when Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd personally requested the Indonesian Navy to intercept the boat in international waters.

The Australian government is pursuing the “Indonesian solution”: pay hundreds of millions of dollars to the state of Indonesia to intercept asylum seekers before they reach Australian territorial waters.

Behind the scenes, the New Zealand government is playing along with the Australian state’s “Indonesian solution”.

In the face of the human plight of the Tamil asylum seekers, the governments of Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand are acting in a way that is not only immoral but also illegal.

Under the United Nations Refugee Convention, it is lawful to claim asylum in any country.Yet this international law is being flouted by the Indonesian and Australian governments, with covert backing from the New Zealand government.

Grassroots coalitions in Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, United States, England and New Zealand are protesting the shameful and unlawful treatment of these Tamil asylum seekers.

These coalitions are calling for:
  • Legal representation for asylum seekers in Indonesia.
  • Access to the UN High Commission for Refugees.
  • Guarantee against arbitrary detention.
  • Support for basic needs while being processed.
  • Guarantee of non-return to danger for asylum seekers.
This statement is issued by Socialist Worker. Email: Phone the Socialist Centre: (09) 6343 984. Mail: PO Box 13-685, Auckland, New Zealand.

Video: Socialist Alliance conference in Australia

An excellent video of the 7th National Conference of the Australian Socialist Alliance, which features short interviews with participants, including Peter Hughes from Socialist Worker-New Zealand. Bronwen Beechey (SW-NZ) and Mike Treen, National Director of Unite, also attended the conference.

The conference marked the formal merger of the Democratic Socialist Perspective (DSP) into the Socialist Alliance. The DSP was one of the initiators of the Socialist Alliance in 2001. See It's time for the DSP to merge into the Socialist Alliance by Peter Boyle.

The idea of bringing socialists from different backgrounds and traditions into one organisation is something that we should be considering in New Zealand. A New Zealand Socialist Alliance perhaps? Such a coming together would greatly improve the capacity of the socialist left in this country to give leadership at such a crucial time in history.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Fact Sheet: Tamil’s Asylum Seekers in Indonesia

from Working People’s Association, Malaysia

Some 255 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka since 11 October 2009 still live in a wooden boat leaning on Harbor Indah Kiat, Merak, Banten. Merak in Banten Province is a small city 120 km or about 3 hours drive from Jakarta. The wooden boat they use is about 100 feet2 (30.48m2). On the ship they share a place among 195 men, 29 women, one of them is 5 month pregnant, and 31 children. They are Tamil who came from some areas in Sri Lanka such as Jaffna, Batticaloa, Mullaittivu and Colombo. They left their home country, Sri Lanka, a result from prolonged conflict between the government and LTTE armed groups. There are six main reasons why they left Sri Lanka: Racial Discrimination, oppression by LTTE to join them, genocide, persecution, kidnapping and murder. Now in Sri Lanka over 250,000 people are suffering in so-called refugee camps, which are in fact torture camps. In all parts of Sri Lanka Tamil-speaking people have been arrested and killed.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Tamil solidarity protest, Auckland, Monday 18 January

Refugees, after fleeing appalling atrocities in Sri Lanka, are being forcibly detained on a boat in Indonesia while the Australian and New Zealand play diplomatic games with their lives.

The Tamil solidarity protest in Auckland starts at 4pm this coming Monday, 18 January, and is part of an international protest on the same day. Meet at the Australian Consulate, 186-194 Quay St, central city (opposite the Price Waterhouse Coopers Tower). The protest will be followed by a (footpath) March up Queen Street, starting at 5pm.

With the certainty of continuing refugees coming from Sri Lanka, this protest is strategically important. More details of the protest below:

If you stand for freedom, equality, and human rights then







Auckland Protest

Date: Monday 18th January

Start Venue:
Australian Consulate, Opposite Price Waterhouse Coopers Tower, 186-194 Quay St, Auckland

Start Time: 4pm

The protest will be followed by a (footpath) March up Queen Street

March Time: 5pm

Venue Completion Venue: Opposite Aotea Square (360 Queen Street)

Facebook Page/Facebook Invite (NZ)

These people have lost their freedom, their home, their loved ones - Don't let them lose hope! Please come to the protest. We encourage the children to show their creative talents by making posters and bringing them to the protest

Background Information about the boat:

The boat left Malaysia on 1 October 2009 carrying 254 Tamil asylum seekers fleeing the persecution in Sri Lanka. Some have been in Malaysia, Thailand and other countries for some time, whilst others had arrived only a few days before the voyage. As the boat had engine problems, it was at sea for some days before sailing towards Australia. The Australian Prime Minister personally made a phone call to the Indonesian President to intercept the vessel within Indonesian waters. Indonesia has not signed the UN Convention in relation to the status of refugees and therefore does not provide refuge to asylum seekers but holds them in detention pending a resettlement country accepting them. New Zealand and Australia are signatories to the UN Refugee Convention and therefore, they are obligated to take in refugees seeking Asylum.

1.0 Sujendran's voluntary return and forced imprisonment

Gunasekaram Sujendran (aged 25) voluntarily got off the boat and returned back to Sri Lanka after hearing of his mother’s sickness. Upon his return to be at his mother’s beside, he was arrested at Colombo airport and not been heard from until 7 December when his family members were permitted to visit him. Sujenran has not been charged but has been told that he will be kept in jail for three months.

2.0 Preventable death of Mr George Jacob Samuel Christin

On 23 December 2009, Mr George Jacob Samuel Christin (aged 29) died due to lack of medical attention. On 22 December, Jacob started to vomit blood and food however how denied medical attention by the International Organisation for Migration. Through the night, Jacob kept vomiting but was still denied medical attention. As Jacob started to lose his eye sight, an ambulance was called by naval personnel, which arrived 4 hours later. After medical checks Jacob was discharged from the hospital with medication as IOM was unwilling to pay his medical expenses to remain in hospital.

At 6pm on 23 December, Jacob started to vomit blood and unidentified body parts. With his loss of sight reoccurring and temperature fluctuating, IOM still refused to admit Jacob to the hospital which resulted in Jacob entering an epileptic seizure and dying.

The Asylum Seekers wished that a priest would be allowed on the boat to perform rituals for the deceased, however he was denied access. He was also denied access on Christmas.

3.0 Asylum Seekers Interrogated

Three Sri Lankan Navy officers have been allowed access to Sri Lankan Tamil refugees currently in Immigration Detention in Jakarta in Indonesia.

The asylum seekers have fled persecution by the Sri Lankan government, yet Captain Kapil from the Sri Lankan Embassy along with two other Sri Lankan Navy officers were brought into the Indonesian detention facility by Indonesian Immigration Officials today. While the other two Navy officers stayed outside, Capt Kapil held discussions with 8 Tamil asylum seekers who had completed Indonesian immigration forms two days prior. These 8 asylum seekers had disembarked from the boat currently moored at Merak in Indonesia several weeks ago. Captain Kapil threatned the refugees and said that Sri Lanka would deport and jail other people from the Merak boat

4.0 Asylum Seekers held in detention

Twelve asylum seekers who left the boat have been held in a 15 metre square cell for 24 hours daily. Seven of them have been held for over two months in the cell without UNHCR access. These Asylum Seekers were left the boat because they were promised that UNHCR access and that they would be held in a hostel. They get only two meals per day and fruit only once a week.

Along with human rights abuses, the asylum seekers are faced poor conditions on the boat:

§ Food provided is unhygienic

§ Medical services are severely restricted and delayed;

§ No education or social activity available to the children;

§ Only one toilet is available for 250 asylum seekers;

§ Water supply is limited and further results in poor sanitation;

§ is not provided so unless private arrangements are made by donors, electricity on the boat from its generators cuts out and water pumps for showers and taps can’t operate and the recharging of mobile phones for medical emergencies is prevented.

§ The boat has no anchor and only 18 adult life jackets. During a prior storm, its mooring was torn, resulting in danger of the boat drifting off to sea;

§ Tarpaulins covering the boat are torn, resulting in no protection from the rain; and

§ Family and friends are not permitted visits.

§ IOM services were withdrawn from the vicinity of the boat in November and subsequent

§ medical attention is delayed. Medical services have been restricted to reduce cost.

§ Cramped conditions in the boat with no additional shelter in the vicinity of the boat

§ No Access to humanitarian and welfare NGOs, UNHCR or independent monitors and media.

Current Situation:

Indonesian Officials have announced that they will force the Tamil asylum-seekers into immigration detention by the end of next week, at gunpoint if necessary.

Current Situation in Sri Lanka:

Latest news about the boat:

The West’s role in Haiti's plight

 Residents survey destroyed buildings after the earthquake that hit the capital Port-au-Prince on January 13, 2010. 
Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Barria.

by Peter Hallward
from LINKS - International Journal of Socialist Renewal
[earlier version first published in the British Guardian]
14 January 2009

Any large city in the world would have suffered extensive damage from an earthquake on the scale of the one that ravaged Haiti's capital city on the afternoon of January 13, but it's no accident that so much of Port-au-Prince now looks like a war zone. Much of the devastation wreaked by this latest and most calamitous disaster to befall Haiti is best understood as another thoroughly manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence.

The country has faced more than its fair share of catastrophes. Hundreds died in Port-au-Prince in an earthquake back in June 1770, and the huge earthquake of May 7, 1842, may have killed 10,000 in the northern city of Cap Haitien alone. Hurricanes batter the island on a regular basis, most recently in 2004 and again in 2008; the storms of September 2008 flooded the town of Gonaïves and swept away much of its flimsy infrastructure, killing more than a thousand people and destroying many thousands of homes. The full scale of the destruction resulting from this earthquake may not become clear for several weeks. Even minimal repairs will take years to complete, and the long-term impact is incalculable.

Colonial exploitation

What is already all too clear, however, is the fact that this impact will be the result of an even longer-term history of deliberate impoverishment and disempowerment. Haiti is routinely described as the "poorest country in the western hemisphere". This poverty is the direct legacy of perhaps the most brutal system of colonial exploitation in world history, compounded by decades of systematic postcolonial oppression.

The noble "international community" which is currently scrambling to send its "humanitarian aid" to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti's people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's phrase) "from absolute misery to a dignified poverty" has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.
Aristide's own government (elected by some 75% of the electorate) was the latest victim of such interference, when it was overthrown by an internationally sponsored coup in 2004 that killed several thousand people and left much of the population smouldering in resentment. The UN has subsequently maintained a large and enormously expensive stabilisation and pacification force in the country.


Haiti is now a country where, according to the best available study, around 75% of the population "lives on less than [US]$2 per day, and 56% – four and a half million people – live on less than $1 per day". Decades of neoliberal "adjustment" and neo-imperial intervention have robbed its government of any significant capacity to invest in its people or to regulate its economy. Punitive international trade and financial arrangements ensure that such destitution and impotence will remain a structural fact of Haitian life for the foreseeable future.

It is this poverty and powerlessness that account for the full scale of the horror in Port-au-Prince today. Since the late 1970s, relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti's agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums. Although there are no reliable statistics, hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents now live in desperately substandard informal housing, often perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines. The selection of the people living in such places and conditions is itself no more "natural" or accidental than the extent of the injuries they have suffered.

As Brian Concannon, the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, points out: "Those people got there because they or their parents were intentionally pushed out of the countryside by aid and trade policies specifically designed to create a large captive and therefore exploitable labour force in the cities; by definition they are people who would not be able to afford to build earthquake resistant houses." A small minority of these migrants are lucky enough to land a job in sweatshops that pay the lowest wages in the hemisphere, around US$1.75 a day. Meanwhile the city's basic infrastructure – running water, electricity, roads, etc. – remains woefully inadequate, often non-existent. The government's ability to mobilise any sort of disaster relief is next to nil.

The international community has been effectively ruling Haiti since the 2004 coup. The same countries scrambling to send emergency help to Haiti now, however, have during the last five years consistently voted against any extension of the UN mission's mandate beyond its immediate military purpose. Proposals to divert some of this "investment" towards poverty reduction or agrarian development have been blocked, in keeping with the long-term patterns that continue to shape the distribution of international "aid".

The same storms that killed so many in 2008 hit Cuba just as hard but killed only four people. Cuba has escaped the worst effects of neoliberal "reform", and its government retains a capacity to defend its people from disaster. If we are serious about helping Haiti through this latest crisis then we should take this comparative point on board. Along with sending emergency relief, we should ask what we can do to facilitate the self-empowerment of Haiti's people and public institutions. If we are serious about helping we need to stop trying to control Haiti's government, to pacify its citizens, and to exploit its economy. And then we need to start paying for at least some of the damage we've already done.

[Peter Hallward is professor of modern European philosophy at Middlesex University, member of the Radical Philosophy editorial collective and author of Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide, and the Politics of Containment. London: Verso, 2007.]

See also The Militarization of Emergency Aid to Haiti: Is it a Humanitarian Operation or an Invasion? by by Michel Chossudovsky.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Pipeline Geopolitics: Major Turnaround. Russia, China, Iran Redraw Energy Map

by Amb. M. K. Bhadrakumar from Global Research 12 January 2010 The inauguration of the Dauletabad-Sarakhs-Khangiran pipeline in early January connecting Iran's northern Caspian region with Turkmenistan's vast gas field may go unnoticed amid the Western media cacophony that it is "apocalypse now" for the Islamic regime in Tehran. The event sends strong messages for regional security. Within the space of three weeks, Turkmenistan has committed its entire gas exports to China, Russia and Iran. It has no urgent need of the pipelines that the United States and the European Union have been advancing. Are we hearing the faint notes of a Russia-China-Iran symphony? The 182-kilometer Turkmen-Iranian pipeline starts modestly with the pumping of 8 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Turkmen gas. But its annual capacity is 20bcm, and that would meet the energy requirements of Iran's Caspian region and enable Tehran to free its own gas production in the southern fields for export. The mutual interest is perfect: Ashgabat gets an assured market next door; northern Iran can consume without fear of winter shortages; Tehran can generate more surplus for exports; Turkmenistan can seek transportation routes to the world market via Iran; and Iran can aspire to take advantage of its excellent geographical location as a hub for the Turkmen exports. We are witnessing a new pattern of energy cooperation at the regional level that dispenses with Big Oil. Russia traditionally takes the lead. China and Iran follow the example. Russia, Iran and Turkmenistan hold respectively the world's largest, second-largest and fourth-largest gas reserves. And China will be consumer par excellence in this century. The matter is of profound consequence to the US global strategy. The Turkmen-Iranian pipeline mocks the US's Iran policy. The US is threatening Iran with new sanctions and claims Tehran is "increasingly isolated". But Mahmud Ahmadinejad's presidential jet winds its way through a Central Asian tour and lands in Ashgabat for a red-carpet welcome by his Turkmen counterpart, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, and a new economic axis emerges. Washington's coercive diplomacy hasn't worked. Turkmenistan, with a gross domestic product of US$18.3 billion, defied the sole superpower (GDP of $14.2 trillion) - and, worse still, made it look routine. There are subplots, too. Tehran claims to have a deal with Ankara to transport Turkmen gas to Turkey via the existing 2,577km pipeline connecting Tabriz in northwestern Iran with Ankara. Indeed, Turkish diplomacy has an independent foreign-policy orientation. Turkey also aspires to be a hub for Europe's energy supplies. Europe may be losing the battle for establishing direct access to the Caspian. Second, Russia does not seem perturbed by China tapping into Central Asian energy. Europe's need for Russian energy imports has dropped and Central Asian energy-producing countries are tapping China's market. From the Russian point of view, China's imports should not deprive it of energy (for its domestic consumption or exports). Russia has established deep enough presence in the Central Asian and Caspian energy sector to ensure it faces no energy shortage. What matters most to Russia is that its dominant role as Europe's No 1 energy provider is not eroded. So long as the Central Asian countries have no pressing need for new US-backed trans-Caspian pipelines, Russia is satisfied. During his recent visit to Ashgabat, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev normalized Russian-Turkmen energy ties. The restoration of ties with Turkmenistan is a major breakthrough for both countries. One, a frozen relationship is being resumed substantially, whereby Turkmenistan will maintain an annual supply of 30bcm to Russia. Two, to quote Medvedev, "For the first time in the history of Russian-Turkmen relations, gas supplies will be carried out based on a price formula that is absolutely in line with European gas market conditions." Russian commentators say Gazprom will find it unprofitable to buy Turkmen gas and if Moscow has chosen to pay a high price, that is primarily because of its resolve not to leave gas that could be used in alternative pipelines, above all in the US-backed Nabucco project. Third, contrary to Western propaganda, Ashgabat does not see the Chinese pipeline as a substitute for Gazprom. Russia's pricing policy ensures that Ashgabat views Gazprom as an irreplaceable customer. The export price of the Turkmen gas to be sold to China is still under negotiation and the agreed price simply cannot match the Russian offer. Fourth, Russia and Turkmenistan reiterated their commitment to the Caspian Coastal Pipeline (which will run along the Caspian's east coast toward Russia) with a capacity of 30bcm. Evidently, Russia hopes to cluster additional Central Asian gas from Turkmenistan (and Kazakhstan). Fifth, Moscow and Ashgabat agreed to build jointly an east-west pipeline connecting all Turkmen gas fields to a single network so that the pipelines leading toward Russia, Iran and China can draw from any of the fields. Indeed, against the backdrop of the intensification of the US push toward Central Asia, Medvedev's visit to Ashgabat impacted on regional security. At the joint press conference with Medvedev, Berdymukhammedov said the views of Turkmenistan and Russia on the regional processes, particularly in Central Asia and the Caspian region, were generally the same. He underlined that the two countries were of the view that the security of one cannot be achieved at the expense of the other. Medvedev agreed that there was similarity or unanimity between the two countries on issues related to security and confirmed their readiness to work together. The United States' pipeline diplomacy in the Caspian, which strove to bypass Russia, elbow out China and isolate Iran, has foundered. Russia is now planning to double its intake of Azerbaijani gas, which further cuts into the Western efforts to engage Baku as a supplier for Nabucco. In tandem with Russia, Iran is also emerging as a consumer of Azerbaijani gas. In December, Azerbaijan inked an agreement to deliver gas to Iran through the 1,400km Kazi-Magomed-Astara pipeline. The "big picture" is that Russia's South Stream and North Stream, which will supply gas to northern and southern Europe, have gained irreversible momentum. The stumbling blocks for North Stream have been cleared as Denmark (in October), Finland and Sweden (in November) and Germany (in December) approved the project from the environmental angle. The pipeline's construction will commence in the spring. The $12-billion pipeline built jointly by Gazprom, Germany's E.ON Ruhrgas and BASF-Wintershall, and the Dutch gas transportation firm Gasunie bypasses the Soviet-era transit routes via Ukraine, Poland and Belarus and runs from the northwestern Russian port of Vyborg to the German port of Greifswald along a 1,220km route under the Baltic Sea. The first leg of the project with a carrying capacity of 27.5bcm annually will be completed next year and the capacity will double by 2012. North Stream will profoundly affect the geopolitics of Eurasia, trans-Atlantic equations and Russia's ties with Europe. To be sure, 2009 proved to be a momentous year for the "energy war". The Chinese pipeline inaugurated by President Hu Jintao on December 14; the oil terminal near the port city of Nakhodka in Russia's far east inaugurated by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on December 27 (which will be served by the mammoth $22-billion oil pipeline from the new fields in eastern Siberia leading to China and the Asia-Pacific markets); and the Iranian pipeline inaugurated by Ahmadinejad on January 6 - the energy map of Eurasia and the Caspian has been virtually redrawn. The year 2010 begins on a fascinating new note: will Russia, China and Iran coordinate future moves or at least harmonize their competing interests?

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Invitation to the Peoples’ World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth’s Rights

April 20-22, 2010 – Cochabamba, Bolivia

Considering that climate change represents a real threat to the existence of humanity, of living beings and our Mother Earth as we know it today;

Noting the serious danger that exists to islands, coastal areas, glaciers in the Himalayas, the Andes and mountains of the world, poles of the Earth, warm regions like Africa, water sources, populations affected by increasing natural disasters, plants and animals, and ecosystems in general;

Making clear that those most affected by climate change will be the poorest in the world who will see their homes and their sources of survival destroyed, and who will be forced to migrate and seek refuge;Confirming that 75% of historical emissions of greenhouse gases originated in the countries of the North that followed a path of irrational industrialization;

Noting that climate change is a product of the capitalist system;

Regretting the failure of the Copenhagen Conference caused by countries called “developed”, that fail to recognize the climate debt they have with developing countries, future generations and Mother Earth;

Affirming that in order to ensure the full fulfillment of human rights in the twenty-first century, it is necessary to recognize and respect Mother Earth’s rights;

Reaffirming the need to fight for climate justice;

Recognizing the need to take urgent actions to avoid further damage and suffering to humanity, Mother Earth and to restore harmony with nature;

Confident that the peoples of the world, guided by the principles of solidarity, justice and respect for life, will be able to save humanity and Mother Earth, and Celebrating the International Day of Mother Earth,

The Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia calls on the peoples of the world, social movements and Mother Earth’s defenders, and invites scientists, academics, lawyers and governments that want to work with their citizens to the Peoples’ World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth’s Rights to be held from 20th to 22nd April 2010 in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

The Peoples’ World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth’s Rights has as objectives:

(1) To analyze the structural and systemic causes that drive climate change and to propose radical measures to ensure the well-being of all humanity in harmony with nature

(2) To discuss and agree on the project of a Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights

(3) To agree on proposals for new commitments to the Kyoto Protocol and projects for a COP Decision under the United Nations Framework for Climate Change that will guide future actions in those countries that are engaged with life during climate change negotiations and in all United Nations scenarios, related to:
  • Climate debt
  • Climate change migrants-refugees
  • Emission reductions
  • Adaptation
  • Technology transfer
  • Finance
  • Forest and Climate Change
  • Shared Vision
  • Indigenous Peoples,
  • and Others
(4) To work on the organization of the Peoples’ World Referendum on Climate Change

(5) To analyze and develop an action plan to advance the establishment of a Climate Justice Tribunal

(6) To define strategies for action and mobilization to defend life from Climate Change and to defend Mother Earth’s Rights.

Evo Morales Ayma
President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia
Bolivia, January 5th, 2010

Monday, 11 January 2010

Avatar – Anti-imperialism in 3D

There is much more to Avatar than the spectacular special effects, says Nagesh Rao
from US Socialist Worker
7 January, 2010

AVATAR IS a visually stunning marvel of film technology, as many reviewers will tell you, but what really stands out in James Cameron's newest film is its unabashed critique of corporate greed and its inspiring tale of solidarity and resistance against occupation.

Set on a distant planet called Pandora, Avatar re-enacts the genocide of indigenous populations by colonial capitalism, and links this history to the rapacious resource wars of our own times. The film is not a moralistic wringing of hands that relies on "white-guilt fantasies" as some commentators have claimed; rather, it is an uncompromising defense of the principle of self-determination and the right to resist exploitation and plunder.


Sunday, 10 January 2010

A “public option” against the banks

by Daphne Lawless, editor
Editorial from UNITY Journal: Bad Banks: what are the alternatives? 
December 2009

A criticism often made of the radical left in this day and age is: “what is your alternative?” With the ruling class offensive against our living standards and the planet which started in the 1970s still going on, so much of our political practice is necessarily negative – protesting, fighting back, resisting. It is sometimes easy to forget that the struggle for a new world needs a positive – a program of concrete demands, based in the here and now, which point the way to what a better world might look like.

This issue of UNITY is an attempt to start the process of doing this for the Bad Banks campaign. If the banks are greedy, corporate vandals, who distort our society’s economic decision-making for their own profit, promote ecological vandalism and wreck lives and communities in the process... then what else might be done?

As socialists, we believe in the “transitional method”. It’s no good dreaming up a “revolutionary” schema of what we’d like to see, and presenting it to the masses as a way forward. The response will be – and rightly so – “who do you think you are?” Marxism isn’t a series of eternal principles, handed down through the generations like religious commandments. It’s a science of analysing a concrete situation and drawing conclusions for political and social activism.

So – the question of what practically can and should be done, here and now, to fight the Bad Banks starts in a clear analysis of what is actually happening. And, as we explained in the last UNITY journal, one of the things that is actually happening is that the banks are losing credibility.

The banks know this better than anyone. The Australian-owned trading banks are frantically trying to make good PR for themselves – to make themselves look less like the corporate criminals they are.

So, Westpac suggests bringing back small “community branches” in suburbs and small towns – those same branches they closed wholesale in the 1990s. Meanwhile, the ASB (owned by Australia’s Commonwealth Bank since 1989) are trying to convince us all that they’ve been “a Kiwi bank since 1847”. By the time UNITY journal goes to press, Bad Banks protests will have been held outside ASB outlets to show this up for the shameless lie it is.

Interestingly enough, though, that piece of ASB spin shows that the state-owned KiwiBank is ruffling feathers. KiwiBank – which, even though owned by the state, acts more or less just like a private bank – has been conducting its own spin over the last couple of years. Its ad campaign suggests that choosing KiwiBank is like being part of some kind of “resistance movement” against Australian bank domination! The clear success of this pretend “revolutionary” branding suggests that the corporate marketing gurus have caught onto a serious revolt against the Bad Banks brewing at the grassroots. So of course, their goal is to harmlessly divert this resentment into making consumer choices which benefit their clients. And our goal has to be to reverse this process.

Even the mainstream parliamentary parties realise that the four Australian-owned trading banks are out of control – gouging the public with fees and exorbitant interest rates, and the whole nation with their tax-dodging schemes. Hence the recent “parliamentary enquiry” into the banks by the Opposition parties. Of course, all these parties – including, sadly, the Greens – have bought into the neo-liberal myth that There Is No Alternative to free-market capitalism. Given that, their enquiry was good for pointing out a few problems, but could come up with no real alternatives – except a forlorn hope that the slavering dogs of banking profit can be brought under control with a verbal ticking off.

Grant Morgan’s piece in this issue of UNITY on the “four legitimacies” should be read in the light of the corporate shenanigans detailed above. Grant says: "On a global scale both leaders and led are losing faith in capi-talism’s destiny, eroding the broad social consensus that the world system needs for survival beyond the short term."

The essence of the Bad Banks strategy, therefore, has to be to accelerate this disintegration of the legitimacy of capitalism. And the weak point of capitalism’s economic legitimacy in the world today, after the economic shocks and convulsions of the last couple of years, has to be the multinational financial institutions, which we call by the short-hand of Bad Banks. Vaughan Gunson's article in this issue sets out this strategy in further detail.

So this issue of UNITY canvasses the spectrum of alternatives to the current financial system. At the basis of all of these has to be a thorough rejection of the global system of human and ecological exploitation that is capitalism. The late Chris Harman put it very clearly, in his article reproduced in this issue: "[I]t is necessary to take control of those corporations and coordinate their investment decisions, subordinating them to the fulfilment of democratically decided priorities.

But this risks being abstract, divorced from the here-and-now. So, in New Zealand of the early 21st century, what does Socialist Worker suggest for concrete steps that could begin to create an alternative to Bad Banks? Here are just a few:

• A Financial Transactions Tax (also known as a “Tobin Tax”).
A tax on “hot money” zipping across national frontiers, wreaking untold social damage as it goes, would not only put more of the economic levers back in our own hands, but earn revenue that could help replace anti-worker taxes like GST. Vaughan Gunson's article mentions this, and Dean Barker from Britain's Centre for Economic Policy and Research develops the argument.

• Bail out bank workers, not bank bosses. 
As it stands, we have the worst of both worlds – taxpayers pay through the nose to keep the banks afloat, but without any say in what they do next. FinSec, the union for bank workers in New Zealand, thinks this has to change. If we are paying to keep the banks in business, they argue, this means that “loan guarantees” for the corporates need to be matched with “job guarantees” for the workers. This just makes sense – a business which has dug itself such a huge hole should not be in a position to dictate its own terms as to how, or even whether, it gets bailed out.

We reproduce two position papers from FinSec, the main union for bank workers, and an interview with union secretary Andrew Campbell. What is particularly heartening about FinSec’s contribution is that the scope goes beyond the immediate interests of their members, to touch on what is good for NewZealand as a whole. Perhaps this is a sign of the new mood which Grant Brookes speaks of at the Council of Trade Unions conference – a growing willingness for unions to debate radical politcal and economic alternatives.

• Promote alternatives to corporate finance. 
The “green dollar” system – where local communities create their own means of exchange – became very popular in New Zealand during the 1990s as a way to hold local economies together during the darkest times of “Ruthenasia” economic scorched-earth policies. Sue Bradford, in her speech to the Socialist Worker forum, promoted this idea, and we include an article from local currency advocate Deirdre Kent. However, since the Bad Banks are an international phenomenon, a patchwork of local solutions in peripheral areas can't be a total solution. So that's why we must...

• Create a “public option” against the Bad Banks. 
In the US healthcare debate, this means creating state-owned health insurance to keep the private sector honest. Sadly, the Obama administration seems to have compromised away even this extremely minimal reform to predatory capitalism. But the principle of creating a socially-oriented corporation to compete with an unaccountable private sector is a good one.

In Venezuela, where an elected socialist government is entering its second decade in power, President Chávez is not letting the “banksters” rip his nation off. The Venezuelan government has over the last month closed down several banks which have been playing fast-and-loose with public funds. While the New Zealand government continues to bank with the tax dodgers at Westpac, the Bank of Venezuela has been nationalised, and financial power has been devolved to the “Community Financial Administrative Units” which have been set up in the neighbourhoods and villages of this Latin American nation. Venezuela shows that, even short of a complete overthrow of capitalism, a movement based on popular power can create reforms which not only make ordinary people's lives bette, but point the way forward to what a new and better world might look like.

But in all this, socialists must keep our heads, and keep things concrete. We print several arguments in this issue debunking assertions which often charge around as soon as the banks are criticised – ideas that fractional reserve banking or even paper currency itself is some kind of “scam” or “conspiracy”. This enables capitalism as a whole to wriggle off the hook, diverting public anger to some kind of imaginary elite.

This right-wing narrative has become hegemonic in the United States, and in the English-speaking internet, precisely because the USA is so desperately lacking a realistic socialist or even social-democratic voice. Bad Banks must put the concrete alternatives here and now to the pressing issues of “bankster” exploitation. But we must also make it clear that the whole system of corporate capitalism is the problem, not just the money side of things. We need a new economy from top to bottom, without corporate bosses or wage slavery, where wealth comes from the people and is spent by and for the people.

To purchase a copy of the 'Bad Banks: what are the alternatives?' contact Len, email, or phone (09)634 3984. Price is $5 plus postage.

To subscribe to UNITY Journal ($25 for four issues a year) contact Grant, Send a cheque made out to 'UNITY' to Box 13-685, Auckland, NZ, along with your postal details.